The Tom Savage hit ruined that entire Texans-49ers game for me. There was nothing enjoyable about after that hit. I didn’t like being alive and couldn’t vicariously through Jadeveon Clowney knocking around Jimmy G(!) or DeAndre Hopkins fumbling the football or Houston almost losing because the wide receiver wasn’t down and got up and fumbled, but was considered down because he gave himself up. Seeing someone grow rigid in pain and have his fingers curl was grotesque, and seeing him continue playing was unbelievable. I don’t ever want to see the body reboot because of the brain slamming into the confines of the skull. Never again should a player be able to continue playing after going through trauma like this. Things have to change.
I never said I couldn’t watch football ever again, I just couldn’t watch that game. So I let myself bask in the slams and catches happening in Carolina v. Minnesota, Kansas City v. Oakland, Baltimore v. Pittsburgh, Jacksonville v. Seattle, and others. These games made seeing the direct repercussions of a brain injury a ghost, a reconnection of past synapses.
Here’s what happened in week 14 that scrubbed San Francisco v. Houston out of my brain.
1.) Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye Dueling Interceptions
The best cornerback in the NFL, and the best cornerback duo in the NFL this year belongs to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Jalen Ramsey has been the best at his position, and together with A.J. Bouye, they have been the most frustrating batch of players to catch passes against. Ramsey has been targeted 73 times, has given up 4.9 yards a pass (2nd), has a success rate of 66% (3rd), intercepted 4 passes, is giving up an average of 0.8 yards after the catch (2nd), and the average pass attempt travels 14 yards in the air (6th). Bouye has been targeted 73 times, has given up 5.8 yards a pass (12th), has a success rate of 62% (11th), intercepted 6 passes, is giving up an average of 0.9 yards after the catch (3rd), and the average pass attempt travels 16.5 yards through the air (1st). All teams can do is close their eyes and throw the ball deep down field against these two and have it provide nothing to the offense.
Against the Jaguars, Russell Wilson completed some second half deep passes. They weren’t against these two. Each one involved a wide receiver breaking wide open due to either miscommunication or horrendous play from their safeties Tashaun Gipson and Barry Church. He was picked off by Ramsey once on a deep middle pass, and by Bouye on two deep sideline passes, one of which was a garbage time heave.
The Ramsey one was beautiful because he outbodies Doug Baldwin. It was first and ten. The Seahawks pre-diagnosed the defense to take a shot deep. They faked the outside zone left and Wilson dropped back. Baldwin attempts a fake to the outside at the top of his route, only an attempt because Ramsey doesn’t budge at all. When Wilson closes his eyes to heave it the two are completely even. With both players running with their eyes to the sky, Ramsey overtakes Baldwin by going over the top. Baldwin bumps into him and falls while Ramsey makes the interception. Spectacular.
The Bouye interception is also beautiful. Coverages are so confusing nowadays. It looks like the Jaguars are in cover four. Bouye drops and drops and drops on Jimmy Graham’s route. When the safety breaks down to try and jump the lower drag route he continues with Graham. From there he jogs slightly behind Graham like it’s an indian run. He takes a wide loop and hangs off of him. When the ball is in the air he accelerates in front of Graham to snag the pass. Graham, like the entire Seattle Seahawks team is a sore loser, he shoves Bouye out of bounds, and Ramsey gives him a push before he breaks into congratulations.
Last offseason the Jaguars went all on in on their defense. They added the two best defensive free agents available, Bouye, and Calias Campbell. And since, Jacksonville has crafted the best pass defense in football, and one that can give either Pittsburgh or New England fits in this year’s playoffs.
2.) Chris Jones Mr. Interior & Exterior
The great defensive linemen in football nowadays can make plays from the interior and exterior. They can obliterate tackles and use quickness to maneuver around guards. No matter who the opponent is they can find someone on the offensive line they can make their own. And it allows the defensive coordinator to use them in a variety of ways to put them in a position to succeed no matter what the blocking scheme attempts to do to take them out of the game.
Calais Campbell, Jadeveon Clowney, Jurrell Casey, Michael Bennett, Aaron Donald, Leonard Williams, and Chris Jones are all examples of this type of player. In last week’s season saving win over the Oakland Raiders Jones was the best player on the field.
This sack is what he did all game against Marshall Newhouse (#73). He didn’t really even fake outside and then counter inside. He simply went right through the weaker right tackle. Off the snap he beats the tackle to his outside shoulder. He gets exactly half of the lineman.
He punches the lineman off of him and long arms him to create even more separation.
After being driven back the tackle tries to correct this path. He stops, plants and sits on the bullrush to try and stop Jones’s momentum and the pocket from squeezing inwards.
He can’t. Jones drives the tackle into Derek Carr to make the sack, and Raiders’ fans continue to complain about their offensive line that is one of the best pass blocking units in football.
This next bit of disruption is the exact opposite. It’s third and one. Jones is lined up as the nose tackle over Gabe Jackson. The Raiders are running counter. Off the snap Jones slants outside. Jackson is blocking down on the defender covering the pulling guard, and the nastiest guard in football, Kelechi Osemele has a one v. one block against Jones.
The difficulty of this block is on Legendary mode. Osemele is supposed to hit one of the best interior defenders square on the chin and keep him from getting penetration. He’s over compensating to get inside quick enough. He’s trying to make immediate contact.
This simple slant outside decimates the play. Osemele doesn’t even smell Jones. The playside tackle is forced to bump him instead of get to the linebacker. The pulling guard bumps Jones, but can’t drive him out of the play. And Jones makes the tackle in the backfield to end the drive.
The Chiefs’ front seven has under performed this year. If you block the first level you can run forever. Derrick Johnson is creaky. Don’t tell Chiefs’ fans this, but Reggie Ragland is whatever. Justin Houston has been bad against the run. Jones has been their only good run defender this year, and in addition to it, he can rush the passer from the outside. Jones is the type of player you can build a defense around.
3.) Who Needs The A-Team
The Jaguars lost Allen Robinson early in the season to an ACL tear, Allen Hurns is out, and they have been relying on Marquise Lee crossing routes to move the football through the air. Then these last two weeks happened. Keelan Cole has 148 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns, and Dede Westbrook has 159 receiving yards and 1 touchdown. Cole is an undrafted free agent. Westbrook is a 24 year old fourth round rookie. And recently they have had incredible performances against putrid pass defenses. Each one caught some nasty touchdown passes against Seattle.
It’s incredible to say this. The Jaguars have the pass defense to hassle Pittsburgh and New England, and these possible playoff games may come down to the performances that these two unknown rookies have. Being alive is such a strange thing.
4.) Carson Wentz Pocket Monster
RIP the pride of North Dakota. I was skeptical for too long. I was never able to fully enjoy him. Once I got on the Wentz wagon, the contraption lost a wheel and busted an axle. The thing that astonishes me when watching Wentz play is his ability to make Wilson esque plays, all while being 6’10” and 260 pounds. He has the size of a Minotaur and the slipperiness of the snake.
In the win against Los Angeles he had me wearing out the rewind button. There were multiple throws, dodges, and pocket climbs that had me losing it. Right now he’s leading all quarterbacks in broken tackles with 28, 15 on runs and 13 avoiding sacks. This little ditty is just the usual for him.
The running back makes a mistake. The rule is you never let the inside rusher free. He sees the linebacker blitz. So he slides inside. The problem is the protection is sliding in that direction and the guard has picked up the linebacker blitz. He tries to correct his mistake and looks back outside. He’s late. It doesn’t matter. Wentz bunny hops up the pocket. He has a tramp’s room to run, but it’s 3rd and 11. So he sits, looks downfield, and hits the intermediate crossing route right in stride.
Draft talk has started now that the order is close to finalized, the near end of college football season, and Senior Bowl invites being passed out in cardboard boxes. I saw mock drafts the other day and swallowed that sweet, sweet, burning bile. Imagine being one of these draft nerds who watches and rewatches the same play over and over again and tries to extrapolate it to a NFL situation. Imagine watching running backs specifically. And while watching you think about footwork, vision, pass protection, the ability to fall forward for more yards, elusiveness, and churning feet. Wasting time because unknown to you is the fact that none of that matters.
The only thing that matters when it comes to running back evaluation is if the player can hurdle another defender or not. It takes an insane amount of strength and brawn to get hit that many times. It takes an insane amount of athleticism to play the position. The hurdle is both of these things combined. All great backs in the NFL pull it off, and two of the best, Todd Gurley III and Leveon Bell, each pulled off the feat last week. That’s all you need to know.
6.) Cam’s Clinch
I have seen a lot of analysis on the scheme and the individual pieces that made this run happen. The run in discussion is the 61 yard blast Cam Newton had in a 24-24 game against the Minnesota Vikings to clinch it. That’s fine if you are for it, but I’m not. The motion doesn’t matter, the linebacker scraping over the lineman to stop what is usually an outside zone run on the keeper doesn’t, the backside Ace doesn’t. All of it sets up the only thing that does. Newton evaporating Andrew Sendejo in the hole.
Whenever the sun is shining, and the birds are singing, Newton is the best quarterback to watch. I’m just trying to enjoy happy Cam as long as I can. Keep the Sorority Noise away from him.
7.) Defensive Line Depth
They have seven different defensive linemen that have played at least 225 defensive snaps this year. Vernon Butler (225 snaps, 6 pressures, 0 sacks), Kyle Love (300 snaps, 12 pressures, 0 sacks), Wes Horton (280 snaps, 13 pressures, 3 sacks), Charles Johnson (373 snaps, 8.5 pressures, 0 sacks), Julius Peppers (387 snaps, 7 pressures, 9.5 sacks), Mario Addison (509 snaps, 26.5 pressures, 9.5 sacks), Star Lotulelei (466 snaps, 8 pressures, 0.5 sacks), and Kawaan Short (562 snaps, 17 pressures, 6 sacks). Together this unit has accumulated 40 sacks, is 1st in adjusted sack rate at 9.5%, and has a pressure rate of 33.4%, which is 7th.
The best part of watching this unit, aside from a furious Peppers when he isn’t the one to register the sack, is trying to decipher which one of these behemoths is climbing out from the rubble with the the quarterback’s severed leg in his mouth.
8.) Chandler Jones’s Axe
If the Arizona Cardinals didn’t put their faith in an old used up quarterback, who was old and used up last year, they would be competitive right now. The defense has been incredible, but their quarterbacks: Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton, and Blaine Gabbert haven’t been able to do what the offense is built on, throwing the ball downfield, and is broken without David Johnson. If the offense was rocking, and the Cardinals were competing, Chandler Jones would also be a possible Defensive Player of the Year Award winner.
Like myself, Jones has really found himself in the desert. There’s just something about the heat, a perfectly efficient ecosystem, with exactly enough water, filled with plants and animals designed perfectly to live a difficult life, and pink rocks and skies that span forever that changes a person. Jones has become more than a long stepping speed skater and T-E pass rush master. He’s a one v. one tackle beater, and tackle for a loss maker. This season Jones has 32 pass pressures, 14 sacks, 2 passes deflected, 2 forced fumbles, 43 tackles, and 12 tackles for a gain of 0 or less.
He also has my favorite play celebration this year. When I first saw it I thought it was a windmill. But wait. No way? Yes. Jones is playing the guitar and hitting the imaginary strings at one spherical arm turn at a time. Get rid of the duck-duck-goose, and the potato sack races. I want more individual branded celebrations like this.
9.) Julio Jones Slant Routes And You
Jones runs every route, duh. My favorite is the slant route. He 100% runs the best slant in the game. If it’s man coverage he’s going to win every time. He’s just bigger and stronger, and him and Matt Ryan are on the same brain waves whenever this route is run.
Ryan puts the left slot receiver in motion. The defensive back follows. He has man coverage. Jones is the far right wide receiver in a trips right formation. The second receiver runs a slant outside and barely rubs against the defensive back. Jones gets the defensive back to turn his hips outside with one slight step to the right. He takes off inside. The back is chasing. Jones is open. Ryan puts it in the perfect spot. Jones then dodges the safety coming down to make the tackle and runs forever. This route is as automatic as it gets.
Later in the game, on the integral touchdown for the Falcons’ win, the Falcons are bunched left. All three receivers cross in front of each other. Jones, as the outside receiver, runs a slant inside and takes two defenders with him. Mohamed Sanu runs a deeper slant behind him. He beats the man coverage and scores.
When people say watch the film this is what they mean. To fully understand the impact a player has, the way he fills in all the empty spaces of an offense, you have to see the indirect impact a player makes. The numbers can’t measure this attention drawn to set up Sanu yet. Regardless, they too are wrong. The way to gain a deeper understanding is to combine all the information available, numbers, video, and gut to try and understand this wild and crazy game.
10.) Marshon Lattimore Press Coverage
Jones is a wide receiver created in a laboratory. Him and the snake brothers were born in the same nursery. He has it all: size, speed, hands, strength, he’s the best. However, something happened to him I’ve never seen before in last week’s game. Marshon Lattimore, the Saints newborn cornerback, pressed Jones at the line. He manhandled him within the five yard barrier. And when Ryan attempted a locked in and inerrant pass, Lattimore broke off and intercepted the pass. Afterwards, Jones took out is aggression and made a very mean and very angry tackle.