A few days ago, I came up with an idea for a new series of posts. In a perfect world, I would have come up with it last week. In a more perfect world, this would have been posted yesterday. But I had to watch a lot of football and work the kinks out. The idea is that every week until the end of the season, I will rank every NFL team, power rankings style, and arrange them into four blocks:
Super Bowl contender
Each week, I will write about four teams, one from each block. It's nice and square. Every team gets written about twice until the season is over.
My biggest problem with traditional power rankings is they take too much in account of every week. Each game is exacerbated. Every loss is the end of the world. Every win is another stitch in a dream season. Part of it just goes along with football in general. These games happen only once a week. There are only sixteen of them. Exaggeration is just part of it. I'm going to try and remove that by looking at the big picture instead of bumping up and down based on one loss or one win. The rankings below are simply adjustments made based on what I thought heading into the season; in the future, they will be adjusted based on an entire body of work and trends, not because of a single HUGE win or one BAD loss.
Now, I understand this is Battle Red Blog and you come hear for Texans stuff. But it is good to read and learn about the rest of the league, and that is what I want to write. Additionally, Battle Red Radio, Incompletions, and The Film Room aren't going anywhere. I'll still write those things. This is just a big ol' fat plop of something to add on top of it all.
32.) Cleveland Browns--Record: 0-1. Point Differential: -19. DVOA: -61.5%.
31.) Los Angeles Rams--Record: 0-1. Point Differential: -28. DVOA: -57.9%.
The Rams lost 28-0 to the San Francisco 49ers. Now Blaine Gabbert is pretty good and the 49ers should improve with a better defense and head coaching with Chip Kelly taking over so Jim Tomsula can become a plumber that cleans crematorium pipes. But 28-0...that shouldn't be possible. If you lose 28-0 to this version of the 49ers and Blaine Gabbert, you should be relegated to the AFL2 and play the Florida Firecats every week.
The person to blame when things like this happen is the quarterback. The Rams' quarterback is Case Keenum. We all have seen Keenum. We all know he isn't good, yet in spite of that, he and other Texans quarterback trash keeps bobbing around the league. In this putrid start, Keenum threw for 130 yards, 2 interceptions, 0 touchdowns, and completed less than 50% of his passes. He saw ghosts and the 49ers knew the Rams' route tree pre-snap. Keenum was miserable.
I had no problem with Keenum starting ahead of Jared Goff entering the season if the idea was to try and groom Goff and get him prepared to play. If you want to redshirt Goff and let him simmer until he's ready, that's fine. The problem is the Rams made pledges and blood oaths to make the playoffs this year. If that is the case, go with Goff. You don't know what you have with him. At the very least, he will improve as he plays. He can occasionally stretch the defense and open things up for Todd Gurley as he runs the ball thirty times a game. With Keenum, you aren't making the playoffs. You are going to sit on the back seat of the struggle bus while he turns and scampers backwards from sacks, chunks up bile-inducing passes, and wastes everyone's time en route to a six win season.
Despite throwing for 130 yards, Keenum is again going to start this week against Seattle. And again, he's going to be miserable. The Seahawks are going to jump throwing lanes on broadcasted routes. They are going to stack seven in the box in their mixed 4-3 defense and swallow Gurley up. Last time these two teams played, with pretty much the same offense and defense, the Rams won 23-17, thanks to a few big Gurley runs, a defensive touchdown, and their defensive line. Not because of Keenum. In that game, Keenum completed 14-23 passes for 123 yards, 28 of which came on a touchdown pass to Kenny Britt while looking like a wounded dear Michael Scott hunted. The Rams might not score (again) this week.
After Seattle, the Rams play Tampa Bay, Arizona, Buffalo, Detroit and the New York Giants. They could re-sign Jeff Fisher and Les Snead tomorrow but end up going 0-7. It's unbelievable. The only thing they have to save themselves is Jared Goff. If he's really bad, they can point to a rookie quarterback for their lack of success and run it all back again next year. If he shows promise, they can say, hey, Goff is good, we need another chance at this thing. Hopefully this doesn't happen. Hopefully the charade ends and Jeff Fisher goes out to pasture to fulfill his destiny of becoming someone's stepfather.
As a fan of football, I really like good football. You like really good football. We all like really good football. This is the biggest travesty of it all. The Rams have one of the best defensive lines in the league. They are incredible at controlling the line of scrimmage. This has led to effects that ripple through the rest of their defense. Their linebackers have easy tackling paths. Their corners have a short amount of time to cover. They don't have to blitz to create pressure. LA can stifle running backs in the backfield. Since Jeff Fisher and Les Snead took over the Rams in 2012, they have finished 7th, 11th, 9th and 7th in defensive DVOA.
With Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers, Robert Quinn, dinosaur-truther William Hayes, and Chris Long until this year, they have fielded really good defenses, all while middling away because of quarterbacks like Austin Davis, Keenum, Nick Foles, and Sam Bradford, with their best wide receiver being Kenny Britt and Tavon Austin being the greatest wide receiver to play running back of all time. Other than the occasional Todd Gurley freak run or Tavon Austin end around, nothing they've done on offense has worked. They've yet to field an offense that has cracked 20th in offensive DVOA. They still can't field an average offensive line. Every quarterback decision has been a disaster.
It's all such a bummer. There's nothing worse when teams with legitimate talent turn out like this. Rex Ryan ruined the Bills' defense that finished 4th in DVOA because he learned the 3-4 as a graduate assistant back in 1978 and refused to adapt for his personnel. Mike Mularkey is using Marcus Mariota as a complement instead of putting together an offense that matches his skill set. And the Rams will continue to waste their defensive line, along with players like Donald and Quinn's prime, because of their repeated insistence of going with game-managing quarterbacks that evoke numbness and a plodding rushing attack that will forever be hampered as a result.
I hate the Rams. I hate Jeff Fisher.
30. Tennessee Titans: 0-1. Point Differential: -9. DVOA: -13.7%.
29.) Philadelphia Eagles: 1-0. Point Differential: +19. DVOA: 44.3%.
28.) San Francisco 49ers: 1-0. Point Differential: +28. DVOA: 60.1%.
27.) Atlanta Falcons: 0-1. Point Differential: -7. DVOA: -33.4%.
26.) Buffalo Bills: 0-2. Point Differential: -6. DVOA: -30.7% (these rankings don't include TNF last night).
25.) Chicago Bears: 0-1. Point Differential: -9. DVOA: -16.6%.
24.) San Diego Chargers: 0-1. Point Differential: -6. DVOA: 11.8%.
23.) Miami Dolphins: 0-1. Point Differential: -2. DVOA: -54.8%.
22.) Minnesota Vikings: 1-0. Point Differential: +9. DVOA: -4.0%.
21.) New Orleans Saints: 0-1. Point Differential: -1. DVOA: -19.9%.
20.) Jacksonville Jaguars: 0-1. Point Differential: -4. DVOA: -18.4%.
19.) Washington Redskins: 0-1. Point Differential: -22. DVOA: -44.9%.
18.) New York Jets: 1-1. Point Differential: -1. DVOA: -20.4% (again, rankings don't include TNF).
17.) Indianapolis Colts: 0-1. Point Differential: -4. DVOA: 0.3%.
Heading into this season, I thought the Colts' defense could be mediocre. After last week against the Lions' brutal quick passing offense, I have a 99% confidence interval that it will never reach that point. Against Detroit, the Colts gave up 448 yards (332 passing and 116 rushing). They allowed 37 points. Their DVOA was 42.7%, even worse than New Orleans, and their passing defense DVOA was 74.4%.
The Lions didn't do anything special, either. They ran a lot of short to medium routes, throwing it to Golden Tate, Eric Ebron and Marvin Jones on crossing routes. To complement this, they dumped passes off to Theo Riddick and Ameer Abdullah. These two feasted on the Colts' slow, old veterans. Both Riddick and Abdullah caught five passes on five targets and combined for 120 yards and two touchdowns receiving. Not only could Indy not cover them, but they couldn't tackle either. Abdullah broke four tackles on passing receptions and two on rushes; Riddick broke two rushing tackles (via Pro Football Focus). The difference in the Lions' and Colts' speed was like going from the North Rim to the South Rim.
If all that wasn't gross enough, the Colts couldn't rush the passer despite blitzing often. In this game, they had one sack and six quarterback hits. Their edge rushers (Erik Walden at 31, Robert Mathis and Trent Cole at 34), don't have the speed to get around the edge. Their interior is much of the same, except for the occasional Kendall Langford rush that gets there. So the Colts are forced to blitz to manufacture a rush that is impotent anyway. This puts more pressure on their linebackers, which forces guys like Sio Moore to cover Riddick, which leads to Riddick having 63 receiving yards on 5 passes.
It's not going to get any better. Indianapolis has the second oldest team this season, with a snap-weighted age of 27.6 years. The last two years, their defense was the oldest in the NFL. This isn't a team filled with babies who are going to improve and get better. Their young players are already on the field, and their strategy of using their high draft picks on the offensive side of the field has left the cupboard empty. Aside from Vontae Davis, who's great but not great enough to transform this defense when he gets back, there isn't a reason for this defense to get any better. This is an old, slow, bad defense that's going to stay old, slow, and bad.
However, there is an angelic light cascading amongst the decapitated rubble. For as ridiculous as Matthew Stafford was (31-39, 340 yards, 8.7 Y/A, 3 TD, 0 INT, and a QBR of 89.6), Andrew Luck was just as ridiculous. Luck's stat line was 31-47 for 385 yards, 8.2 Y/A, 4 TD, 0 INT and a QBR of 89.4.
With Rob Chudzinski at offensive coordinator, the passing game already looks different. Luck operated mostly from the shotgun. He was able to see the field and get a head start on the pass rush. Additionally, they ran a lot more short routes. T.Y. Hilton, Donte Montcrief, and Dwayne Allen all averaged less than fifteen yards per catch and each caught at least four passes while attacking the short to intermediate part of the field. Luck wasn't forced into taking five step drops in two tight end sets, waiting for the pass rush to obliterate him. He was able to dictate the flow of the game. When he did throw deep, he completed some beautiful throws to Phillip Dorsett, who averaged 23.5 yards a catch.
In case you forgot, Luck is really great, and he quelled those silly notions that he's overrated. This is not just one game and confirmation bias. It's last week compared to 2015 and his performance all those years before. It's obvious that last year's horrid play was the result of injuries, a silly scheme, and offensive line issues.
Although the defense is going to be a disaster. It's never been good, and the Colts have won with a terrible defense before. Back in 2012, when the Colts first made the playoffs, their defense had a DVOA of 14%, which was 31st i the league. They were successful because Luck threw the deep ball well, they played the easiest schedule in the league, they won a lot of one possession games, opponents dropped interceptions, they recovered fumbles, and they had a great turnover margin.
This is shaping up to be a similar season. The schedule is easy. The defense is a gag reflex. The key is going to be for them to win the games that they lost on Sunday. If they are going to compete for a playoff spot, they need to get lucky and win these one possession games. As long as Luck is making throws like this, they should be in plenty of close situations to utilize that horseshoe of theirs.
16.) Dallas Cowboys: 0-1. Point Differential: -1. DVOA: 12.5%.
15.) Denver Broncos: 1-0. Point Differential: +1. DVOA: -12.8%.
Heading into the season, I declared that either Denver or Carolina would miss the playoffs, the reason being they were the luckiest teams in the NFL last year. Their actual win total was higher than what was expected. They were the ones who were received Fortuna's loving embrace.
|One Possession Record||9-3||7-1|
|TO Differential||-4 (T-19th)||+20 (1st)|
|Adjusted Games Lost||56.7 (10th)||50.9 (4th)|
|Strength of Schedule||4.1% (10th)||-8.6% (32nd)|
For Carolina, it takes bounces to win fifteen games. Regression is expected after a season filled with fortunate turns of the universe that led to those fifteen wins. The key is they kept most of their roster and Cam Newton is 27, looks to have made the leap, and is entering the prime of his career. Josh Norman is the best player Carolina lost, and he isn't as important because of their front seven and the amount of zone they play in the secondary. Lastly, they are playing in an easier division with three mediocre teams.
Denver, on the other hand, dragged a corpse around who reanimated to put his lips on Papa John after a Super Bowl win because they employed a top ten defense of all time. That defense lost Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan. The drop-off from them to neck-bearded Jared Crick and UDFA practice squad free agent Todd Davis is enormous. Additionally, their quarterback is now Trevor Siemian, who is probably better than 47 year old Peyton Manning, after Brock Osweiler left them brokenhearted at the Starlight Diner, deciding to find himself and become his own man down in Houston. So naturally the Broncos beat Carolina last week.
Denver won after Graham Gano missed his second game-winning attempt after the first practice shot he hit didn't count and a Chris Harris superhuman, cover the slant, tip the pass, dive for the ball interception that set up a short field for Denver's game-winning touchdown. It took a turnover and a lucky break Denver had no control over for them to win this one.
The Broncos' new offensive line was the reason why they were even able to be in a situation to take this one from Carolina. The Broncos' offensive line was subpar last year. They were 19th in rushing DVOA, dropped from 1st to 13th in adjusted sack rate, and from 1st to 22nd in pressure rate. In the offseason, they lost Evan Mathis to Arizona and Louis Vasquez will probably never play football again.
With their remaining roster, they moved Mark Schofield to guard, Matt Paradis remained as the starting center, and Max Garcia was left at guard after moving from center. Then whichever deity they pray to brought in two new tackles, Russell Okung and Donald Stephenson. This new mismatched offensive line crafted together from position switches, free agent bargains, and late round picks dominated Carolina up front.
This is the play the Broncos ran over and over again against the Panthers with success. It's a lead play with Andy Janovich stomping the way to Thomas Davis. Russell Okung has a one-on-one block against Kony Ealy (#94). Paradis and Garcia are doubling the defensive tackle Star Lotulelei (#98) to Luke Kuechly. The backside is stepping into the inside gap and hinging to seal off Carolina's left side from the play.
Before the snap, Thomas Davis moves over the center. This small pre-snap change is what saved Carolina from getting gouged on outside zone plays. Both Kuechly and Davis would scoot over to increase the distance for the linemen to get to them. This allowed them to have extra speed and dexterity to run or move away from the block. The times it didn't work were on lead plays like this where they moved away from where the play was going.
At the snap, Paradis aims for the inside shoulder of Ealy. This way he can turn the defensive tackle's back away from the play and put himself between him and the ball carrier. Garcia takes a slight 45 degree step so he can gain horizontal and vertical ground. Okung makes a power step towards Ealy's sternum. This is one step horizontal and one vertical. The backside is taking their inside step. The greatest player of all time, Janovich, who played 62% of the Broncos' offensive snaps, is heading through the hole.
Garcia punches the tackle with his eyes up at Kuechly. His punch turns the defender's shoulders to the right. This open up his sternum for Paradis. Paradis comes underneath and wraps his hands around the tackle's sides and turns him like some giant manual clock.
I hated Okung in Seattle. I found him to be an overrated player and atrocious pass blocker. But man, in this game, he made some incredible one-on-one blocks like this that you never see anymore. Most of the time, you just want to see a stalemate. Okung got under and all over defensive ends last Thursday. Here his hands are inside and he's low and driving.
Okung extends and forces Ealy outside. The hole is open.
The tackle is turned. Kuechly tries to go underneath the block and Garcia easily seals him off. Janovich comes to make his block. What's important is his head placement. He's wanting to ram into the outisde shoulder of Davis. This keeps him from getting across his face to where C.J. Anderson is going.
The Ace is perfect and seals off both their targets. Janovich brings it and buckles Davis, who he bullied the entire game. That was a sentence no one would ever think was possible to write with a speck of truth. Anderson has a huge hole. The only block left to make is for the slot receiver on the safety.
The receiver comes at high speed, gets his head on the defensive back, and thrashes him backwards. Janovich turns Davis inside. Anderson is free to run. He cuts past the last play-side defensive back for a 32 yard gain.
Plays like this and the one below happened throughout he game. The ace block dismantled the defensive tackle, whether it was rookie Vernon Butler or the excellent Star Louteli. Okung was a monster putting defensive ends on their backs. Janovich made me the love the fullback position again by getting his head into and knocking around two of fastest linebackers in the game. Anderson left defensive backs behind with sharp bunny rabbit cutbacks.
The run game allowed Siemian to play decently in a Kubiak-controlled environment. He threw to his first read every time. He made plays happen on the run. But he left two deep touchdowns on the field because of the game-managing, risk averse way he's going to play the game.
At the beginning of the game, with 14:17 left in the first quarter, Denver has twin receivers right. The Panthers lined up with their defensive backs hovering over receivers and played Cover One. Both Carolina defensive backs run with the post route. This left the inside receiver wide open when he looped around the post and headed down the sideline. Siemien's eyes are to the right. He either never sees it or doesn't have the confidence to attempt the throw. Instead, he takes the hit from the blitzing safety and flails a pass to the flat.
This one isn't as egregious. Like most passing plays, Siemien was locked on his first route and to one side of the field. If it wasn't there, he would look to run or get out of the pocket and improvise. There's 3:36 left in the fourth quarter here. Siemien takes the snap and stares right. After two seconds, the receiver breaks free out of his cut and loses the defensive back. Siemian gets antsy without pressure coming his way. He turns, looks the other way, and misses the wide open receiver. Shortly after, he takes the sack. The Broncos punt on this drive and give Carolina the opportunity to comeback and win.
It was a great win for Denver even if the performance wasn't great. Denver had a DVOA of -12.8%. This is just the type of game they are forced to play with Siemian under center. The offensive line, which was spectacular, will need to dominate and open up lanes for C.J. Anderson, who has the ability to cut back and turn good blocking into huge gains. The past top ten defense of all time will need to hold opponents to less than 20 points. Siemian will need to make plays occasionally while not making mistakes. Somehow, some way, they are going to need to hold on and win close games.
You can win games like this. We've seen it. But with Kansas City being a Super Bowl contender and Oakland on the way up, it's going to be exasperating to try and win ten games playing like this. But if the offensive line, running attack, and defense limit Siemien as much as possible, maybe they can fight the regression bug in a tough division, even if it is highly unlikely.
14.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 1-0. Point Differential: +7. DVOA: 25.0%.
13.) Baltimore Ravens: 1-0. Point Differential: +6. DVOA: 19.8%.
12.) Oakland Raiders: 1-0. Point Differential: +1. DVOA: 1.2%.
11.) Houston Texans: 1-0. Point Differential: +9. DVOA: 3.1%.
10.) Detroit Lions: 1-0. Point Differential: +4. DVOA: 38.2%.
9.) New York Giants: 1-0. Point Differential: +1. DVOA: -16.9%.
8.) Kansas City Chiefs: 1-0. Point Differential: +6. DVOA: 2.7%.
7.) Green Bay Packers: 1-0. Point Differential: +4. DVOA: 31.6%.
6.) Carolina Panthers: 0-1. Point Differential: - 1. DVOA: 6.4%.
5.) Cincinnati Bengals: 1-0. Point Differential: +1. DVOA: 6.2%.
4.) Arizona Cardinals: 0-1. Point Differential: -2. DVOA: 3.8%.
3.) New England Patriots: 1-0. Point Differential: +2. DVOA: -25%.
The Patriots have done it, did it, and will continue to do it. They went to Arizona and beat the NFC favorite without the quarterback who has led this team since 2001, all while playing without their best player (Rob Gronkowski) and without starting offensive linemen Nate Solder and Jonathan Cooper. Additionally, Brady's replacement's biggest weakness coming out of college was dealing with pressure. In this game, Jimmy Garoppolo was facing a blitz-heavy defense without his best receiver and two starting offensive linemen, on the road, against one of the best teams in the league. Everything was stacked against New England.
What the Pats did to counteract all of those predisposed disadvantages was run specific plays to slow down Arizona's pressure. They ran screens, end-arounds with Julian Edelman, pulled guards on play-action to manipulate the defense, and used cutbacks to run effectively. New England also used formations that kept a lot of players around the line of scrimmage to help with the blitzes that came from every direction. Often there were seven players on or near the line of scrimmage, and they kept running backs in to supplement the pass protection. When they did run prototypical passing plays, everything was based on quickness. Garoppolo would take two or three steps and get the ball out immediately. Arizona's defense was constantly yanked in different directions.
Most of the game looked like the play below. Garropolo takes the snap and flings it out in the flat to Martellus Bennett. There's no hesitation. Just get the ball and throw.
When there was pressure, Garoppolo had issues evading sacks and threw the ball errantly instead of just taking a sack. Yet the pressure occurred so unfrequently because of the excellent game plan New England had. Arizona managed to generate only two quarterback sacks, three quarterback hits, and six quarterback pressures (via Pro Football Focus) in 33 dropbacks. This made it difficult to get a read on how Garoppolo deals with pressure.
The one problem I saw was that Garropolo locked onto one read or one side of the field. This wasn't an issue when players were open and the pressure wasn't there, but when the opposite occurred, plays like this happened.
Garropolo takes the snap and stares left the entire time. He doesn't look to the middle at Bennett breaking. He never glances to the right, where his receiver is uncovered toward the sideline. Instead, he stares down Edelman and doesn't know what to do when the safety charges downhill. During this time, Chandler Jones is ripping and spinning around the right tackle. He blindsides him for the sack.
When things aren't open immediatley and he has to scan, Garropolo does a nice job of maneuvering around the pocket and opening the play up. There has to be no pressure for this to work, though. An example is the play that snuck New England past Arizona's borders and led to what would be the game-winning field goal. Garropolo can't find anyone open, so he steps up and hovers around the line of scrimmage. Amendola changes his route and heads up field. Garrpolo hits him in stride.
This game was perfect New England. They took advantage of Garropolo's strengths: strong arm, quick release, and ball placement by running a sideline-oriented quick passing offense that masked his biggest scar when coming out of college.
All of this is going to be a blessing in disguise for the Patriots. They get to see what they have in Garropolo and get to show him off to the other quarterback-desperate teams in the league while getting the opportunity to see what he can do against NFL defenses. Instead of blindly losing or appointing him the next in line without any NFL film to back it up, the Patriots will have substantial evidence to make their decision. If Garropolo continues to play like this, with the desperation surrounding the quarterback position across the leauge, and the hauls Cleveland and Tennessee got for unproven players, it's likely New England could exchange him for a first round pick and more. That opportunity would have never arrived if Tom Brady wasn't suspended.
Now the Pats are 1-0 after winning the toughest Bradyless game on their schedule. They still have games against Miami, Houston and Buffalo before Brady returns. New England should be at least 3-1 by the time Brady gets back. After that, it is a division with three mediocre teams and Pittsburgh as the other team to beat for home field advantage in the AFC playoffs. With or without Brady, the Patriots are going to win 12 games again.
2.) Pittsburgh Steelers: 1-0. Point Differential: +22. DVOA: 40.0%.
1.) Seattle Seahawks: 1-0. Point Differential: +2. DVOA: 42.3%.
Chiefs vs Texans coverage