On Christmas morning I woke up in my own bed at my own house for the first time in my life. All the other Christmases I stayed at the folks house and woke up to Playstations, and then it slowly morphed to being awaken by screaming children who are now getting Playstations of their own. And now they live in a shoe out in the hill country with nowhere to sleep, and walls blasted through with the wails of an online gamer. I left the house at 9 a.m. on a Monday to drive there. A different morning commute. The sky was gray. A few other sleepy eyed losers on the road. Things were free and open, street lights were red for only one turn, I was first in line at the stop sign. The entire world has stopped.
On the way back home it was around 9 p.m. Everything was shut down. The Taco Bell empty and sleepy. H-E-B haunted and glowing. The only thing open was the occasional gas station. I got gas. Stopped in and grabbed a beer. The place was raucous. Everyone chattering on phones lying to their mothers about what they are doing and what they were getting, snacks were picked up to replete stomachs after bad meals, and the line was like Black Friday.
Before Monday I had no idea about this side of Christmas. The empty roads. The scoundrels at the gas station scrounging around to refill. That’s what I liked about Christmas this year. Here’s what what I liked about week 16.
1.) FINISH HIM
Week 16 and week 17 are all about ignoring games like Denver v. Washington, Dolphins v. Chiefs, and getting sucked into elimination games and games that finalize playoff seeding. Last week two teams were eliminated. Detroit lost a cat fight to the Bengals. The Cowboys blew it against the Seahawks.
I’m so glad the Lions are gone. They are a mediocre football team. They are destined to go 8-8. They are 16th in DVOA at 2.1%, 13th in offensive DVOA at 3.3%, 21st in defensive DVOA 21st, and are 7th in special teams DVOA at 5.1%. They are 3-4 in one score games after going 8-5 in one score games the year before. In this loss their game winning drive attempt ended after Jim Caldwell failed to challenge a possible completion on a possible 3rd and 28 conversion. Instead they punted and Giovani Bernard put them away.
Last year their season ended in a 26-6 playoff loss to the Seahawks. This season we won’t be able to watch them get mounted on the wall in the postseason. They are going to go 8-8, and miss the playoffs just as they should. Damn I love this time of year.
The Cowboys were in a loser leaves town match against the Seahawks. They lost 21-12. In this game they had Ezekiel Elliot back and gave him 24 carries. He gained 97 yards. They outgained the Seahawks 283 to 136 yards. How do you lose a game where you hold the opponent to 60 net pass yards? Sit down I’ll tell you.
In this game the Cowboys had three turnovers. One was a pass slightly behind Dez Bryant in field goal position that he flipped up into their, which allowed K.J. Wright to snag it. Another happened on a sideline throw to Bryant. He turned to the sideline to pick up yards after the catch. He was stripped by Byron Maxwell. In this game Bryant was targeted six times. He caught 3 passes for 44 yards, and created two turnovers.
Their passing game was ineffective again. The Cowboys are still unable to push the ball downfield. Dak is either given plenty of time to throw which leaves him scanning and waiting, scanning and waiting, and dumps it off for nothing, tosses quick passes that are extinguished right away, or has him dealing with pressure and inerrant passes. He averaged 5.35 yards an attempt in this one. That’s Flacconian. That’s Osweilerian.
In addition to this the Cowboys had the following sequence. Jason Witten converted a 3rd and 3. With the ball at the 3, Dak ran a zone read, kept it and picked up one yard. On 2nd and 2, Dak rolled right with nothing open and Witten was called for a holding penalty. On 2nd and 13, Dak was sacked for a 9 yard loss. On 3rd and 22 he completed 7 yard pass. On 4th and 16, Dan Bailey missed a field goal. Game over.
Dallas will be back next year. The defense will be even better, and is a great one as long as Sean Lee is healthy. They just have to add speed to the receiver position, and need outside receiving help. You can’t run an offense that fails to pick up seven yards an attempt.
Next week there aren’t any one v. one elimination matches. There’s a Seattle win and Atlanta loses to get in, an Atlanta win and get in game, and a mess for AFC wildcard spots with Baltimore, Tennessee, San Diego, and Buffalo all fighting for spots five and six. As long as Tennessee doesn’t get in I’m happy. Never again will I TITAN UP. They ruined another week 17 AFC South championship game. Life isn’t fair though. They’ll probably beat Jacksonville while the Chargers and Bills are left feeling dumber than hell.
2.) DeAndre Hopkins Beach Volleyball
This was a terrible Texans’ season. The brightest light in the mundane cave was Hopkins. It’s possible he could lead the NFL in touchdowns, receiving yards, and receptions, just needing to pass Antonio Brown and Jarvis Landry to do so. It’s not impossible. It’s just improbable in a meaningless game with T.J. Yates throwing him the ball.
This week in the sublime was a Hopkins catch where he was matched up 1 v. 1 against Joe Haden. HE CAN’T COVER ME. I imagined him scream pre-snap. Yates took the snap and threw him high. The pass was so bad it looked like he was purposely trying to throw it to Haden. Hopkins boxed Haden out, reached his right hand up, flipped the ball up, outstretched his left hand to haul the ball in, and then stomped two feet down all over Haden’s corpse.
3.) Jaball Sheard and The Colts Defensive Rebuild
The Colts are 3-12. Their super-star, can’t miss franchise quarterback, has thrown zero passes this year after years of playing while injured, and playing before he was ready to come back from said injury. No one knows when he will be back. He’s just been hanging out in Europe like Capote, sitting at a beach in Spain, hoping to feel better.
In a strange way this season is successful for the Colts...after week four. Once they were out of the playoff run the best thing to happen was for Andrew Luck to play zero snaps. Keep him fresh. Savor him. Let him have as much time as he needs to possiblly play again. He didn’t need to get caught in car wreck after car wreck on a horrendous football team.
Additionally, just about every move the Colts made to fix their defense worked this year. New general manager Chris Ballard opted to sign lots of short and dead cap free deals to lesser known free agents instead of going out and giving the top guys bookoos on bookoos of dollars. He signed Jabaal Sheard, Margus Hunt, Barkevious Mingo, and John Simon. Sheard has 47.5 pressures, Hunt has 27.5, Mingo has 18, Simon had 14 in only 9 games. The Colts couldn’t band together to sack the quarterback, but they could pressure him. Their pressure rate leaped from 18.0%, last in the NFL, to 31.8%, which is 12th. All by bringing in guys on short and reasonably priced deals.
Sheard has been the best of their signings. He’s been a legitimately great edge rusher this year. Putting up pressure numbers similar to Aaron Donald and Demarcus Lawrence.
This is an outside rush. Sheard strings together a long arm and rip like a Street Fighter controlled by, an E-gamer?, I don’t know what you call them. And in one smooth motion he bats down Flacco’s sad pass attempt.
Here is an outside rush that Sheard counters inside on. He leaves Ronnie Stanley, a former top ten pick, chasing and diving at his ankles. Mingo gets all the glory though in a game that Sheard dominated in.
They also signed Damon Harrison who helped turn the run defense from the worst in the NFL to mediocre. The Colts run defense DVOA has gone from 4.5%, last in the NFL, to -11.9%, which is 11th. And in Malik Hooker they found a safety who can cover the entire center part of the field. He’s like Earl Thomas without the bone rattling tackles.
The Colts found good defensive pieces. Next season they have all their draft picks, and the third pick in the NFL draft. They also have $83,677,477 in cap space, and don’t have a bad contract on their roster. If Luck comes back strong and healthy, they maybe one of those teams that makes a quick rebuild from the worst in football to a playoff contender.
4.) The Ravens’ Front Seven
If you have a smart and wrinkled brain you say the Ravens’ have the best defense in football. They lead the NFL in defensive DVOA at -16.7%, and are 2nd in pass defense DVOA at -19.3% and 9th in run defense DVOA at -13.4%. If you have a smooth brain, one smoother than a stone under a fast moving Southern Utah river you may say that Minnesota’s defense is better because they have allowed the least amount of yards, 4,214, and points, 16.1, while failing to understand context, opponent, and situation, and remove the effect the offense has on the situation it puts its defense in.
What has amazed me about their defense this year is their front seven. Ozzie Smith can find front seven players like Craig Childs can find water in the desert. This year the Ravens have 14 defensive linemen and linebackers that have played at least 100 snaps and a minimum of 10% of all defensive snaps. C.J. Mosley, Terrell Suggs, Matt Judon, Patrick Onwuasor, Willie Henry, Michael Pierce, Za’Darius Smith, Tim Williams, Carl Davis, Tyus Bowser, Kamalei Correa, Brandon Williams, Brent Urban, and Chris Wormley are the men that have composed this front seven.
Each player was either drafted by the Ravens are signed by them as an undrafted free agent. Insane. Mosley and Suggs are the only first round picks. Suggs, was the highest drafted of the bunch and was the tenth overall pick in 2003. Two were drafted in the second round, four drafted in the third round, three drafted in the fourth round, one was drafted in the fifth, and two were undrafted free agents, one of which is Onwuasor who replaced Zach Orr, and has played 59.3% of the team’s defensive snaps. In addition to the players on this roster, are Pernell McPhee, John Simon, Arthur Jones, and Timmy Jernigan, all players who you probably know for playing significant snaps on other rosters.
No matter what year it is the Ravens have a horde of purple wearing, ooze soaked monsters, who are bigger and stronger than the wimps the offense fields, reminding me of the skull ordained orcs holding human heads in a Warcraft game manual that fascinated me when I was kid.
5.) MAN WHEN WE PLAYED IN THAT COLD WEATHER WE WAS COLD
MAN WHEN WE PLAYED IN THAT COLD WEATHER WE WAS COLD.— Michael Irvin (@michaelirvin88) January 5, 2014
6.) Rams’ Screen Passing and Zig-Zagging
Jared Goff has had the easiest job in football this year. Sean McVay has been a master play caller and schemer, putting Goff in situations to complete easy and open throws. Goff either escapes a rush and throws it away, tosses it to open downfield receivers, hits quick rub routes, or slips it to Todd Gurley. He’s had a great year, and I’m happy he’s gone from all-time worst rookie quarterback of all time, to competent, but he’s still coddled.
Last Sunday’s game was a perfect example. Goff threw for 301 yards and 4 touchdowns against the Titans. More than half of these, 158 of them to be exact, went to Todd Gurley. In this game Gurley had 10 catches on 13 targets.
The Rams are great at getting their blockers downfield on screens. They release at the same time as the catch. The receiver always has tower shield holding monsters slowly marching up field to protect him. On this simple 1st and 10 conversion Gurley has four blockers in front of him.
The big play was the 80 yard touchdown. The Titans sent the house on 2nd and 11. Goff completes the screen and Gurley runs forever.
Gurley is my selection for MVP this year. He’s leading the NFL in rushing yards and touchdowns, and running backs in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. There isn’t a quarterback that stands out this season. Also I can’t wait to get some better numbers and see exactly how many yards Goff has picked up on screens, how efficient the Rams have been on screens, and the number of yards they pick up after the catch.
7.) Bucket Jumper
Last season Elliot hopped in the Salvation Army bucket like Mario jumping down the pipe. Wright mimicked this on his pick six of Prescott, and broke out my favorite celebration of the year.
8.) Russell Keenum
Last week I wrote about the beating Aaron Donald put on the Seahawks. One of his brutalizing plays he had Wilson wrapped up in his arms. Wilson tried to negate the sack by tossing the ball out of bounds. He threw it backwards and Seattle took a 23 yard loss. Against Dallas something similar happened.
The Cowboys rushed three. Demarcus Lawrence beat the right tackle by grabbing his hands, playing mercy, and shedding. Wilson ran an entire circle, saw Lawrence at the end of his pirouette, and tried to run backwards away from him to, I don’t know, toss a leaping ball out of bounds like a shortstop. Instead he was spun around and took another 20+ yard loss.
I love watching Wilson slither around and slip out of tackles, but I love when actions have repercussions, especially in sports when you can see them immediately. For all the wiggles, an occasional head needs to be cut off.
9.) Alvin Kamara Faded
You already know Kamara is a spectacular runner and receiver, a real Marshall Faulk. The Saints know this too and use him in interesting ways in both the pass and run games to get him open. I love this. I love two-dimensional backs that can run and catch, and if you can’t do both you can get out of here.
On this play the Saints have a split back formation out of the shotgun. They put each backfield player in motion to line up as a slot receiver. With this motion Drew Brees picks up that the Falcons are in man. On the left the trio receivers are running a combination of quick routes meant to beat zone coverage. On the right Kamara is in the slot. He breaks out to the sideline and runs off the outside receiver, leading to the defender covering Kamara rubbing up against the outside receiver like a cat in a hallway. The perfect route combination to beat man coverage. From there Brees delivers a perfect ball.
10.) Vontaze Burfict Tackles
Burfict should be in prison. The things he has done on the football field shouldn’t be allowed in any facet of life. He kicks, he gouges, he claws, he punches, he derailed the only great Bengals’ team this century because of his antics. He’s too easy to hate, but dammit he can tackle.
Eric Ebron is 6’4” 245 pounds. Burfict is covering him on his own. Ebron runs into the flat and catches a quick completion. Burfict chases him down and makes him look like a toddler, absolutely thrashing him like flood waters.
Another great tackle prevented a 3rd and 2 from being converted. The three linebackers drop back into short zone coverage. Matthew Stafford dumps the ball short to the running back. The back goes through the first tackle and is on his way to the first. But before it can happen, Burfict wraps his arms around this throat and shakes him backwards.
You can appreciate things you hate, dislike, or find despicable. Like I hate Bradley Cooper, but I enjoy listening to him voice a racoon in a colorful movie. I don’t care for Burfict, he’s a war criminal, but damn do I love watching this tiger striped hellion wrap up and flatten ‘skill players’.