I had a really smart thought the other day. There are only four more weeks left in the NFL season. That’s it. That’s the really smart thought I had. Days turn into weeks until something ends. And this something is something I really enjoy, so to fully enjoy the rest of the season, I’ll rejoice instead of lament that the Texans are going to have a top seven pick that they’ll never get to use.
Here’s what I liked about Week 13.
1.) Joe Flacco Goes Deep
When the sun goes down, I don’t have to say goodbye. When the sun goes down, I can watch Joe Flacco let it fly. The onset of December brings plastic candy canes replacing pink flamingos in front yards, Christmas songs blaring over laptop speakers to fill the cavities online shopping brings, and most importantly, Flacco chucking the ball downfield.
For the first eleven games of the 2017 season, Flacco was an absolute disaster. He has been the worst quarterback in football not named DeShone Kizer, who is a rookie playing in a difficult offense without any outside receiving talent. Every passing attempt is a long winded checkdown. There’s been a lot of staring downfield until the ball limps into the flat. Throughout his career, Flacco’s only consistently redeemable quality was his ability to push the ball deep. With that zapped away, he’s nobody.
Last week, there was a glimpse of hope. Flacco actually threw the ball downfield. He went 3-8 for 108 yards against the Detroit Lions.
It doesn’t look like a lot, but it is for Flacco. Entering this game, Flacco was 11-47 for 236 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions. This is a glimmer, but a glimmer means so much when you are in the bottom of a muddy pit.
2.) Tarik Cohen Punt Returns
I <3 Tarik Cohen. Since scrambling brains like egss in Week One, Cohen has been relatively quiet, aside from a nice Week Three performance against Pittsburgh. He hasn’t been fed as often, and when he has, there hasn’t been much going on. Yet there was life on Sunday. The red laser dot flickered right to left and covered 127.4 yards on a 61 yard punt return touchdown.
Going the wrong way
Now he’s really going the wrong way
Trying to reverse field and look at this
He was going the right way, Cohen all the way
3.) Brain Melting Carson Wentz and Russell Wilson Throws
The Philadelphia Eagles blew last Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks. They were expecting a close fight with blunt objects and broken noses. Rather than do what worked all season, the Eagles ran the ball a lot up the middle and opted to throw quick and short. It was a conservative game plan similar to what the Eagles used last year. It was a game plan that didn’t work.
After falling behind and time started passing them by, the Eagles finally started having fun. Wentz began throwing the ball downfield, and when he did, it was spectacular. Wentz is making some absurd throws on the run that travel 50+ yards through the air with a tackler around his waist. He’s making throws that Ben Roethlisberger used to make before he became an wrinkled and lion scarred elephant hide.
On the other end was Russell Wilson, slithering around through wider meadows. Now that Wilson has an actual left tackle in left tackle (or to continue with animal metaphors, a scarecrow to keep the birds from flying down and plucking Wilson when he’s in the pocket), Wilson too made some wild throws.
I’m all up for these two teams playing again next month.
4.) Blake Bortles Devouring The Colts
The Colts bring the best out of Blake Bortles. If Bortles played the Colts each and every Sunday, we would be asking if he was elite, and we’d be assured that the Jaguars had their franchise quarterback. Against Indy, Bortles has completed 161 out of his 264 throws (60.98%), thrown for 2,064 yards, 12 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, 8.2 adjusted yards an attempt, and 32 carries for 197 yards with 2 rushing touchdowns. By comparison, against Houston, Bortles has completed 136 out of his 255 attempts (53.3%), thrown for 1,374 yards, 7 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, 4.53 adjusted yards an attempt, and 18 carries for 127 yards. Additionally, Houston has sacked Bortles 24 times, 8 more times than Indy has.
In his two games against the Colts this season, Bortles completed 44 out of his 61 attempts for 639 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. I hope Jim Irsay reads this and bookmarks it to his browser. This is something he 100% needs to reference whenever he fires Chuck Pagano this month.
Additionally, I love anything that puts the Colts in a bad light. They are the blandest team in the NFL. They have boring colors, and their hero is a Budweiser shilling, Papa John kissing psychopath. The Colts have ruined a generational quarterback talent with terrible personnel decisions and making him play injured.
The other thing is the Jaguars’ passing offense has changed. Before it was a lot of Bortles heaving deep down the sideline to his go-up-and-get-it receivers. They made plays and he put the ball just close enough. Without Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson, along with a focus to run the ball 50 times a game, a sweeping reform has come to Jacksonville’s offense. Now the Jaguars run a spread horizontal offense. Yards per reception are now 11.1, down from 12.5. There are lots of five wide receiver sets with drags and slants all over the field. When Jacksonville actually has to throw the football, the football field is a bunch of prongs with rubber bands strewn across.
And it’s working. This is Bortles’ best season since his gilded 2015, and there’s a bite of meat here instead of fluffy, white laced rococo garbage time stat-padding.
5.) Backfields Are Back
I used to be anti-running back. They get used up quickly. You can find them late in the draft. They are easily replaceable, so don’t use your resources on them.
I’ve flipped. I don’t think a team a should use a top ten pick on a back, but the world is a better place when there are incredible backfields and running backs slashing through defenses.
New Orleans has Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. New England has Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead. Baltimore has Buck Allen and Alex Collins. Houston had Lamar Miller and D’Onta Foreman. Los Angeles has Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler. Atlanta has Telvin Coleman and Devonta Freeman. Tennessee has DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. Philadelphia has Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, and LaGarrette Blount. Washington had Samaje Perine and Chris Thompson.
Football is a better game when running backs are juking, hurdling, trucking, splitting, and whatever else the thesaurus drums up.
6.) Nobody Can Tackle Alvin Kamara
Never have I seen anything like Kamara. The closest I’ve seen is Marshall Faulk, a dual threat running and passing back on a great offense that was impossible to tackle. But I was a child then, with only flashes of memory. Kamara is real and tangible instead of a heart tied to the past.
This season, the rookie running back has broken 46 tackles, tied for third in th NFL; 20 were on runs and 26 were on receptions. This comes out to a broken tackle rate of 34.8%. The only players with more broken tackles, Le’Veon Bell and Kareem Hunt, have broken tackle rates of 16.3% and 30.5%. I mean, Kamara has a rushing DVOA of 67.6% on 86 rushing attempts. That’s nuts.
Nobody ever tackles him head on. Tacklers are meeting only half of him. He quickly scraps and steps aside on his way to more yards. Those that even get a half of him are the rare ones. Most of the time he stutters and trounces by defenders.
When a defender is lucky enough to get his head on him, they can be demolished and have all their bones evaporated in a flood water of energy.
I have no clue how Kamara does it. The best running backs are ones that make you rewind the same play multiple times and still leave you scratching your head. You have no idea how he makes his decisions, and it takes minutes to follow along the cuts to the open field. If you say you do, you are a liar. The greats just see the world in a different way.
7.) Case Keenum Stepping Up
The problem with Case Keenum had always been his pocket presence. He would see the rush, turn his shoulders, and try to outrun defensive linemen faster than him. This would lead to long sacks and missing open receivers downfield. Last season was so long ago. Keenum’s time in Houston was even longer ago.
Keenum now has footwork. He actually sits and reads the defense, even with defensive ends whizzing through his peripheral vision. When defenders are close enough, he can maneuver the pocket; he sometimes even steps up to find receivers breaking open.
He has always had some nice touch on downfield passes. He throws high, grazing, skyscraping passes that land in a bucket. Until this year, most of them were a last ditch effort or were force-fed. Keenum is now a real quarterback. He takes shots when they are there and he utilizes the space in the pocket available to him instead of running to the master closet once fireworks start to pop off.
I’m so happy for the Keenum truthers. Those that stuck around were actually always right and have always been smarter than the rest of us.
8.) DeMarcus Lawrence Shedding
Lawrence is leading the NFL with 13.5 sacks, is 0.5 up on Chandler Jones. All elite pass rushers have some insane skill that they can fall back on to get to the quarterback. For Lawrence, it’s his hands. Look at this. I’m still sweating.
9.) Nothing About Tennessee’s Game Plan Against Houston
Last Sunday was a hard day to be a Titans’ fan. Pineapple Man can dance around all he wants, but it was a sick and sordid affair. Exotic methmouth is good and fun. Teams are using smaller, lighter, faster, and more versatile defenders. The boxes are lighter. Running the ball a lot out of three tight end sets makes sense. Through that vessel, the Titans move around the football field.
The problem is they never change their game plan up. They run plays just because they feel like it. There isn’t a catering to their opponent. All they want to do is punch the opponent in the mouth, smile with bloody teeth, and try to see who the strongest is.
Against the Houston Texans, this didn’t make sense. The Texans have murderous run defense monsters in Jadeveon Clowney, Benardrick McKinney, D.J. Reader, and now Zach Cunningham. The Titans have been struggling running base plays like zone, power, lead, and counter. Houston also has a leaky deep pass defense. But rather than throw downfield passes with a talented young quarterback in Marcus Mariota, Tennessee instead decided to play fisticuffs in the manure. As a result, they scraped and clawed their way for 50 minutes and didn’t really move the ball until they started throwing the ball downfield to Delanie Walker and picked up a garbage time Derrick Henry touchdown.
Last season, the Titans had an offensive DVOA of 10.8%, which was ninth in the league. This year, it’s 0.9%, which is 16th. This is a sad and hideous drop-off. They kept the same core components of their offense, added outside receiving talent, and Marcus Mariota added another year to his career. There is merit to the offense the Titans run. But if they keep up with this faux machismo, it is only a meme and not a viable way to score points or win games.
10.) This Play To get Telvin Coleman Open
I hate pick plays from a defensive perspective and rub plays from an offensive perspective. They are unfair to defenders who are already at a disadvantage. They force defenses to play more zone coverage, which is easy for great quarterbacks to diagnose. I’m all for innovation, though. Even when it involves things I hate.
This was a spectacular rub play by Atlanta. They had Tevin Coleman in the backfield running an out route. From this insane position, they were able to run him around a wide receiver that came across the field to slow down the linebacker covering him. This play design got Coleman open to the sideline to convert a 4th and 2.
Atlanta’s offense has been sick all season. They haven’t been right and don’t look the same. I don’t know why they are starting and stopping, but they are and have been all season. It isn’t because of a lack of trying new things on offense.