Here’s what I liked about Week 11.
1.) Stunting In Seattle
The Seahawks passing the baton from the 2010s dominant defense to the feisty squawking defense they currently have is led by their defensive line. Frank Clark, Quinton Jefferson, and Jarran Reed have been productive rushers, getting after the quarterback on their own. Each has more than ten quarterback hits, and Clark, the team’s best rusher, has taken down the glory boy with the ball ten times.
He’s ferocious out wide. He has long weeping arms dangling like rotting oaken limbs. These outstretched appendages become ripping and swimming weapons, especially when bending around the corner. On this sack of Aaron Rodgers from last week, Clark planted and jolted at Brian Bulaga, turning a corner scream into a bullrush. Even with Rodgers he long arms to extend Bulaga off him, then chases as Rodgers as he begins his trek.
Seattle doesn’t blitz often. They prefer to rush four with Bobby Wagner always on the field, the last artifact from the ancient past, and load up on defensive backs from there. Rushing four gets boring. One on one blocks from the same angles against the same blockers become repetitive channel flipping. To spruce things up, and kind of blitz without actually blitzing, stunts are called. Seattle is an awesome stunt running team. The look of the previous rush is integral. Their defensive line masks their stunts by having them mimic their usual edge and bull rushes.
Wide ‘5’ Clark is matched up against the right tackle Bulaga. Jarran Reed (#90) is a ‘1’ technique on the other side of the formation. Quinton Jefferson (#99) and Dion Jordan (#95) are playing ‘3’ and jet end techniques. When the ball moves Clark is an edge rusher before planting and attacking the inside shoulder like what just happened before. He slaps and rips around Bulaga. Bopped by the sliding guard his rush stumbles. Bulaga is committed to him. A looper on the other side isn’t a possibility with the rush he’s taken. Reed loops all the way around and claws at Rodgers’s feet like some monster under the stairs. Clark takes out two with his crash inside, gets picked up by the center, spins inside and decapitates the play.
David Bakhtiari is one of the best left tackles around. Even he gets trampled by Clark’s inside move, and never realizes it’s only setting up the looper coming around. This powerful move takes him all the way into Rodgers and forces him to step up. The looping defensive end from the other side, rookie Rasheem Green (#94), finds jubilation in the bedlam, and is able to bounce off Clark’s crash to pick up a sack of his own.
Seattle is 23rd in pressure rate at 26.4%, but 13th in adjusted sack rate at 7.7% and are tied 10th in sacks with 28. It’s hard to generate constant pressure when only four are attacking the quarterback. The Seahawks don’t do this. Instead they’re efficient. Clark makes the most of his rushes, and creates for the rest of his team by making his inside moves look just like his stunts.
2.) The Missing Link
Baker Mayfield. Sam Darnold. Josh Allen. Josh Rosen. And now Lamar Jackson, each of the first round rookie quarterbacks have started a game this season. Jackson, the last to be the driver of an offense, had played in bits and pieces all season long. Giving Joe Flacco a cigarette break while he ran some variation of the zone read, and the occasional play action pass. These plays were cute glimpses into the future to start the year, and recently they’ve become an effective change up for a stagnant passing offense.
Entering last week, Jackson had picked up 139 yards on 28 carries, 1 touchdown, and 5 yards an attempt. He accrued 6 DYAR and had a DVOA of -8.7%. Against Cincinnati for the hip stinging Flacco, Jackson had 117 yards rushing on 27 carries, and 150 yards passing after completing 13 of his 19 passes. It was a fine first time start for a player going from gadget to mainstay.
Jackson ran a variety of plays: zone read, option, sweeps, power, and draws on his way to 139 yards. Baltimore used heavy personnel while operating from the shotgun to create an interesting dichotomy. It was like watching Greg Roman and the 2012 San Francisco 49ers. Wait a second. Roman is an assistant coach of the Ravens? It all makes sense.
Expanding on this, the Ravens did a nice job changing who they read on their run plays. On this run-pass option Jackson is reading the Will linebacker. When he takes a couple of stomps inside Jackson pulls the ball down. Two to three steps is all Jackson needs to run right past him. On the near sideline, the receivers blocking the screen seal the defensive backs from making an early tackle.
This is a zone read where Jackson reads the Sam linebacker. Rarely are these outside linebackers the focal read on these plays. Typically a go and get it or sit and stay defensive end are spotlighted. The linebacker is flummoxed when he fits the run and sees no one around. Jackson has the ball and he’s slithering around the edge before sprouting feet and turning the corner. Watching him turn the corner is a blast.
On 3rd and 4 the Ravens spread things out wide. With five wide receivers, against a nickle defense, the linebackers are in the alleys. The interior section of the field is razed. The Bengals’ defensive line has two ‘3’ and two ‘5’ techniques, wide alignments. The guards and tackles stand up and turn their backs to the hole spreading the sea. Jackson follows his center 20 yards for an easy conversion.
He’s slick in the pocket too, and able to do the things that we’ve grown accustomed to around here by watching Deshaun Watson all these years. He spins in the pocket and maintains control with hands around his neck, reminiscent of New England 2017. Rolling right he finds the open receiver to get Baltimore into field goal range before the end of the half.
This. Well this. Words fail me now.
Tied for wildcard #6, I’m begging for Jackson to get the starts from here on out. Joe Flacco is gone next year anyways with his contract, going to Tampa Bay to start for a few weeks, before becoming some sideline ghost who appears in the background after third down throw aways. People pass. That’s Joe Flacco. The Joe Flacco? The one that won the Super Bowl. Yes, doesn’t he look terrible. I wonder what happened to him. Let’s get the future moving now. An interesting run game paired with a top ten defense is made for December football.
3.) Rank Em’, Rank, Rank Em’, Rank, Rank EM
To celebrate this momentous occasion here are my favorite, not necessarily the best, of rookie quarterbacks.
1.) Josh Allen: He’s a rockstar. He does things I’ve never seen before in a way I’ve never seen them. He can rock a 35 yard completion into triple coverage then bounce a wide open screen. I mean, he leapt Anthony Barr. I don’t know what he is long term, but for now he’s young, a ridiculous athlete, an inaccurate thrower, and the perfect Bills’ quarterback.
2.) Josh Rosen: Mike McCoy should have been fired before he was hired. He starved David Johnson. Every pass was short and quick and boring. Completely ineffective. No downfield tossing. Crossing routes tackled for two yard gains. Rosen is a little wild, but he’s playing in his second offense this year, and is composed behind one of the worst offensive lines in football. I admire it. The Cardinals are my favorite bad team. They’re perfect aside from their banal 2000s shake up jerseys.
3.) Lamar Jackson: I love power run schemes that isolate defenders. Jackson turns spying linebackers into rats after he animorphis into a cat. He’s like a lion playing volleyball with a mouse.
4.) Baker Mayfield: I’ve watched two Browns games this year thanks to Hue Jackson’s removal. The cyst has been popped. The wart was frozen and nibbled off. The boil is laying in a bed pan freshly extracted. All Mayfield has done is throw swing passes and dumpoffs. Whatever. I do really enjoy is looping throwing motion.
5.) Sam Darnold: He turns the ball over too often. 11 touchdowns to 14 interceptions and an interception rate of 4.5% that Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jameis Winston can only aspire for. Football is also becoming a multi-dimensional world. Pocket quarterbacks are going extinct. Offenses are super cool and require mobility along with everything else. Darnold doesn’t have this. He’s confined to the pocket. He makes terrible decisions. He plays for the Jets. This doesn’t look good.
4.) KC v. LARM
Jared Goff quick slant to Brandin Cooks, Goff high touching post to Robert Woods on play action; octopus offenses that spurt in into different colors, the same animal, the same formation, a hundred different shades and variations; punts! a monumental occasion, all yellow jerseys make play action look like a piss bag slinking down stairs, the ball placement on that Josh Reynolds touchdown, no more Mr. Nice Andy Reid, being down 13-0 meaning nothing and nothing meaning anything, Tyreek Hill in the slot going from full stop to cheetah, Goff rolling left feet reset, field goals are the defenses’ goal, run plays are breaths, a triple play action screen to Kareem Hunt, downfield throws where Steven Nelson doesn’t commit a penalty, the pacing of Aaron Donald’s pass rushes, Patrick Mahomes throwing on the run in any direction, judo chops, even the defenses score touchdowns, Josh Reynolds waiver wire acquisitions; crossing routes, slants, posts, curls, all of it being easy, wide open, leads never mattering, nothing mattering; And-1 mixtape downfield Hill touchdowns, the silliest football game I’ve ever seen and I absolutely love it, nobody being able to cover, Rob Havenstein screen blocks, curling up in fear of strip sacks; the evolution of man over millions of years, surviving by slinging pebbles, knives, axes, spears, culminating to Monday Night 11/19/2018; an interception, ending in a thud, 1,001 total yards, 95 points, and it still felt like each team could have scored more.
5.) Downfield Throws
Last week the Texans attempted one pass that traveled greater than 15 yards in the air. It was of the ‘Eff IT’ I’m going deep variety. Covered in hives, Deshaun Watson hurled a bowl of mashed potatoes in the air. Mason Foster dove and caught every drop of it. That was it. Despite having Watson, DeAndre Hopkins, Keke Coutee, Demaryius Thomas, and two exciting rookie tight ends, one attempt was all Houston mustered. The week before he attempted only three downfield attempts. I miss Will Fuller more than anything.
It’s breaking my heart. Not only can Watson be one of the premier downfield throwers in football, but it’s one of my favorite plays in all of sports, second only to Joey Gallo home runs. Seeing one in person is like going to a National Park. I’ve never seen Old Faithful in person. A Gallo home run is how I imagine it.
Downfield passes go waaaaaaay up high, travel past the bounds of the television screen, embarking into the unknown and leaving the pass blocking and scanning behind, solitary, the ball floats above it all. A lone bird in a bright sky, a sky that’s already been forgotten come November. Slowly it tumbles to its destination after reaching its apex. The rest of the play comes into view. Sometimes someone is wild and open, and it’s up to the man to run to the ball. Sometimes there are multiple men running to the ball. Sometimes it falls too far ahead, too far behind, or out of bounds entirely. Sometimes someone trying to catch the ball gets tackled by someone else. And sometimes someone catches it. All the result of the ball way up there spinning in a concise motion.
This week the most exciting end results were everywhere.
DeVante Adams double move, Aaron Rodgers follow through:
3rd and 9 forever:
Pop, pop, pop, pop:
Touchdown flash flooding:
Andrew Luck big shot:
The worst thing that can happen is the offense punts the ball early. Fine. This stab can be stitched. This scab can be itched. It can be recovered from. The big play, the creation of space, and leaving the apartment makes the risk worth it.
Someone email this to Bill O’Brien.
6.) Born Of A Broken Man
Blake Bortles is broken. He can no longer even manage. He’s taken the black pill. He’s scruffy and nihilistic. Quick crossing routes are inaccurate or dropped by the wide receiver. With a lead against Pittsburgh the Jaguars ran into nine men boxes, ended the game with four straight three and outs, and gave the Steelers opportunity after opportunity to come back and steal this one. He can’t throw sideline routes with any accuracy.
This is abhorrent. I feel awful. He listens to American Football more than he plays it.
It isn’t all terrible. Bortles can do one thing well. He can convert third downs with his legs. Ezekiel Elliot has 15 third down conversions on the ground, Mitchell Trubisky has 13, and Bortles is tied with Marcus Mariota with 12. But Bortles does have 87 yards on these plays and picks up 7.25 yards an attempt. Cheer up big guy. It will be alright. You can’t savor the good without knowing what the bad feels like.
7.) My New Favorite Player
Before Sunday Night’s win, the Bears beat a bunch of bad teams by a lot of points, and hadn’t beat anyone good. Wins over Seattle, Arizona, Tampa Bay, New York (J), Buffalo, Detroit, and now Minnesota. Losses to Green Bay, Miami, and New England. All while being near the top in point differential, DVOA, and any other performance metric. I didn’t know what to think. So I didn’t think. I just waited for them to beat someone, and after last week, I’m in, the Bears are good.
The best part of watching them last week was really watching Akiem Hicks. The defensive tackle has an enormous belly, in the all-orange he can morph into a horse drawn carriage and take step daughters to glass slipper dances. He moves way too quick for man of his weight. The size of a defensive tackle, who can move like a defensive end, he’s unstoppable. He’s an even better version of Jurrell Casey. Against the mediocre Vikings’ offensive line, and once again horrendous run offense, he had five tackles for a loss, two quarterback hits, and one sack. The Vikings had only 14 carries for 22 yards, and once again, they can’t run the football.
3rd and 6. Hicks (#96) crashes inside instantly. His entire body is in the gap, and he shoves a shoulder into the offensive tackle. Driving, he pulls down the running back with an arm.
2nd 4. Outside zone right. One on one against the center. Crashing into the center, slinging him to the ground, coming over the top of him to make the tackle for a loss.
1st and 10. Nickle formation. Outside zone right. Purposefully stays wide to keep the center away. Playing both gaps, the inside gap with his eyes, the outside one with his backside, while engaged, he makes the tackle with his butt and rolls over.
3rd and 3 in the redzone. Slide the protection left to help against Khalil Mack. A jump in the pool. A quick swim. Unblocked. Kirk Cousins spontaneously combusts.
I didn’t know what to make of the NFC North. Now I do. The Bears rule, and belong at the bottom of the NFL’s elite. They’re like a Duke or something. I don’t know how it works.
8.) Nostalgia Is A Rotten Thing
When I think of the 1990s I think of moms and screaming teachers with bangs, the 1996 NFC Championship game, and alternative rock radio. Between this woman who crawled from the machine and stood behind the endzone, the all-black Carolina jerseys, and the Nirvana unplugged oral history, there was way too much of what happened before seeping out of the computer screen.
9.) Remembering Jacksonville
In the post-modern all offense NFL I’ve really missed the Jags’ all-time great pass defense. Injuries to A.J. Bouye, and D.J. Hayden slowed them down. Barry Church hasn’t known who to cover. Too much zone coverage. Taven Bryan offering nothing as a pass rusher. Casual regression and the inability to repeat the spectacular. There’s been a slew of reasons for their drop off from first to sixth in defensive DVOA. Yet, for whatever reason, the Jags love to play the Steelers, and briefly last Sunday they looked like the jungle cats from last year.
Last week the Jags had a defense DVOA Of -32.2%, a run defense DVOA of -17.4%, and a pass defense DVOA of -36.6%. In their last 3 matchups Ben Roethlisberger has thrown 7 touchdowns to 9 interceptions, has been sacked 6 times, and is averaging only 6.8 yards an attempt. For whatever reason, Roethlisberger hates Jaguars.
It ended up not mattering. The Jags didn’t even allow Bortles to lose the game for them and instead gave the ball to Leonard Fournette, Carlos Hyde, and T.J. Yeldon incessantly, and Roethlisberger dived into the bathtub to seal the win.
Until that final drive there were multiple plays that made me cherish how wild their run was last year. There was a Yannick Ngakoue spin sack where he pounced on Roethlisberger from an overhanging limb.
There was Bouye flailing around and jumping quick slants. D.J. Hayden back and fulfilling the nickel corner role, and Jalen Ramsey making sublime plays. Confusing Roethlisbeger by taking the deep man and passing the short route to the safety.
Sticking his hand in Antonio Brown’s pocket, using his long arm to guide his path, and playing better receiver than him to extinguish a redzone threat.
It’s been a season from hell between the defensive regression, Bortles’s regression, injuries to the offense, and their one possession record. They, along with the Titans’ novice rock climbing season, the Colts’ early season slump, and the Texans’ talent, record, and performance failing to align, it’s been a down year for the AFC South. What was expected to from FUN to great, has just been general disdain. Hopefully next year we finally get that dream year where the AFC South dominates the NFL landscape.
10.) Vertical Running
Some running backs jump cut to the backside of the run play, some wiggle around blocks as they crawl underground searching for daylight, others wait and wait and wait and then blast off, others take everything outside, and some just run straight ahead. Kerryon Johnson and Joe Mixon are vertical runners. They run past defenders and blocks, soaking up all the yards they possibly can. Bouncing off low tackle attempts the legs never stop. I’ve loved watching both of these young backs this year, each straight ahead and straight forward, not requring all that zig-zag riff-raff.