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Ten Things I Liked About Week Fifteen

The color blue, Case Keenum’s evolution, certainty, the San Diego Chargers, and six other things I liked about week 15.

Cleveland Browns v Denver Broncos Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

1.) If I Was Green I Would Die

When I was a little thing my favorite color was red. Eventually it became blue. I don’t know why the switch. I don’t know why I remember this. And it’s really lame to be a grown adult and have a favorite color, but it’s woven in your identity to have one at such a young age that it now feels like an important aspect of personality. For a blue person, Dallas v. Indy was super pretty. Two different shades of it, and it was everywhere.

These are the things you think about when it’s 11:30 on a Sunday Night and you’re watching Dallas v. Indianapolis and come to the realization that the Colts won because they dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Connor Williams has had a terrible rookie season. Ryan Kelly cements the interior of Indy’s offensive line, and him and Quenton Nelson are those monsters you’re afraid of when you get off the bus. Both Randy Gregory and Demarcus Lawrence couldn’t get around the edge. It took the Colts some time, but they’ve made it this year. They’re going to win like a million games next year.

2.) Wide Receiver U

There have only been 21 wide receivers since the merger to be selected from the University of Clemson. Dwight Clark came from there. So did a bunch of dudes who no one has ever heard of unless you were alive way back then. Then in 2013 oil was struck after a missed place bullet from a possum hunt. DeAndre Hopkins was selected with the 27th overall pick, then came Martavis Bryant, then Sammy Watkins, then someone named Charone Peake who caught 22 passes for the Jets, which somehow sums up the Jets skill players better than anything else could, and then Mike Williams. Bryant and Watkins don’t exist. Hopkins is the most skillful wide receiver around, and Williams is now a monster.

Hopkins only caught 10 passes on 11 targets for 170 yards and 2 touchdowns. Yet, it felt like he could have gobbled up even more. Every time I watch Houston it seems like there’s some weird predetermined limit the Texans have on how often they can target Hopkins. Like they can’t give him the ball 40 times in a game even if he’s open that many times. Guess what? There isn’t. Give him the ball. He’s really good! I’m still ecstatic Hopkins was finally targeted deep downfield and they’re throwing up sideline fades to him again. Sometimes this football thing isn’t that hard.

Williams only had 11 catches his rookie season and missed the majority of it, and by majority, I mean just about all of it. This year he only has 37 catches, but has 9 touchdowns. The dude is a ladder. He can climb up and dunk on everyone. It’s hilarious how much bigger he is than some teensy little cornerback. With Keenan Allen out against the Chiefs, Williams came in and took over the rest, catching 7 soft serve Phillip Rivers passes for 76 yards and 2 touchdowns, scoring off a toss play even, and clinching the win.

I love this play so much. The misdirection with the jet sweep, the toss against the grain with the tight end leading. It’s magnificent.

3.) Backup Running Backs

It’s that time of year. It’s the fantasy football playoffs where those running backs you selected in the first round have croaked just in time for your opponent to play their backup they stashed five weeks ago and use them against you. Jaylen Samuels had 142 yards. His running style can be best described as squirting. He gets really small and squishes through the hole then squirts out. Or sometimes, like every running back who’s played for Pittsburgh, ran through wide open holes against a bad run defense.

Did you pick up Spencer Ware? Too bad. It’s Damien Williams time. He was a monster in the pass game, and soaked up Kansas City’s touchdowns like white bread and bottom bowl juices.

Kalane Ballage had 123 rushing yards, Gus Edwards broke 100 again with 104, Jamaal Williams had 55 for Green Bay with Aaron Jones out, Derrick Henry had 170, who’s kind of like a back up running back since Dion Lewis got the bulk of the carries for the majority of the season, Tevin Coleman had 145 yards after taking over the starting spot from D’Onta Foreman, and Marlon Mack is back with 149.

It’s been awesome to see the running back position have a resurgence with Todd Gurley, Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffr3y, Ezekiel Elliot, and others carry offenses. But at the same time there’s the vicious opposite. Any running back can be good when the blocking is good, and the offense can set up easy receptions with filled with space. Like all things, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

4.) Case Keenum Is Evolving

The Broncos had the easiest four game stretch you could have to make the postseason. They played San Francisco, Cleveland, Oakland, and Los Angeles in a game that may not matter. They lost back to back games to San Francisco and Cleveland and are out. Good riddance.

At one point during their lost to the Browns they found themselves on the goal line. They ran a play action pass with only one route option available. It was covered by two defenders. Keenum pump faked, then scurried outside the line of scrimmage and scored. The key here is how he dived. He went in face forward. Keenum is turning into Ryan Fitzpatrick.

He’s come a long way to reach his destiny. A backup quarterback who can occasionally put together a great season, enough to give him a chance to start and obtain a multi-year contract. Keenum has evolved from eff it I’m going deep, bangs spiked up and cemented together with blue hair gel, khaki cargo shorts, bright orange fifth grade photo Hawaiian Shirt, to a sad year starting under Jeff Fisher, to an insane season where he figured out how to climb the pocket and just get the ball close enough, to where he is now, a quarterback with some mobility that can make the occasional downfield throw, but will crush you with some obscene decisions. This is Fitzpatrick.

He has one more year left in Denver. Then he’ll backup somewhere again. Get a chance to start. Have an incredible season. Trick the team into letting him start again the following year and then fall apart. Then he’ll ride the rails around and find his way back to the AFC South. Keenum is 100% going to play quarterback in Tennessee one day.

Look at that scruff. He’s even starting to grow out the beard.

5.) Certainty

While we’re in it we forget the NFL season is a long thing. 16 games is 4 months. That’s a quarter of the year. Damn I went to college for this. Along the way we get lifted high and sunk low by the week to week ferris wheel. What is true one week is false the next. The eventual champion we name in week six is never it in week sixteen and especially isn’t at the beginning of February.

It’s nice to have some certainty. To say that something is in unequivocally true feels good dude. The Bears have the best defense in football. That’s it. That’s one of the universal truths of the 2018 season. The Bears are 1st in defensive DVOA at -25.6%, are 1st against the pass at -23.3%, and 1st against the run at -29.3%. They’re allowing 18.9 points a game, which is 3rd. They’ve allowed only 251 first downs (1st), allow 5.4 yards a pass attempt (2nd), have picked off 26 passes (1st), and have allowed only 3.8 yards a rush attempt (5th). Ten players have multiple sacks, and fifteen have picked up at least one sack. The most points they’ve allowed is 38 to Tom Brady and the Patriots.

This is it. This is the best defense we got. If you are sick and tired of passing and scoring this is your team from here on out.

6.) We Can’t Be Doing This Again

Reality is such a fragile thing. When Nick Foles barraged through and played two great games and four bad ones to win a Super Bow it was a cute and cool little thing. Philadelphia had never won a title. Backup quarterbacks aren’t supposed to either, no matter how the rest of the team is playing. Some dude ate poop. Fans vandalized the city. It went as expected.

But it can’t happen again. With Carson Wentz out with a cracked back, Foles is in. And of course they beat the Rams 30-23. It just had to happen. He was fine. He made enough throws, mainly heaving it up to Alshon Jeffery. The Eagles defense created turnovers and put the offense in situations where points were a certainty.

If Foles and the Eagles get the six seed, turn it on, and Foles starts throwing for 400 yards a game and can’t be stopped I’m out of here. The foundation everything rests upon would be dissolved. I’d lose the ability to believe that anything actually exists. Now I want the Eagles to get the six seed and get curb stopped in the Wildcard Round. If the impossible happens, I’m out of here. I’d have to vivisect myself and pour honey into my open hole and let the buzzards pluck out the rest.

7.) Darius Leonard Pass Coverage

The Colts have one of the better defenses in football. They have a top five run defense, and somehow scrapped together a competent pass defense with undrafted cornerbacks, and defensive linemen nobody wanted. Denico Autry, Jabaal Sheard, Margus Hunt, and Al Woods. Yet, the best player they have is the 23 year old rookie and second round pick Darius Leonard. He has 146 tackles, 99 solo, 12 tackles for a loss, 8 quarterback hits, 4 forced fumbles, 1 interception and 7 sacks. When I watch him and Anthony Walker make every tackle on the field, I feel like I’m watching another Thomas Davis-Luke Kuechly esque linebacker combination a defense can build around.

The best part of watching Leonard play are the times when they put him in the slot to play man coverage against wide receivers. He prevented two passes to DeAndre Hopkins the week before, and this week stopped a fourth down conversion to Cole Beasley.

It’s genius to bait the quarterback into thinking he has a matchup advantage pre-snap, to have him lock onto an idea that is actually the wrong one. In this Dime package, eight men in zone version of football, this is rarely seen. Leonard is going to be really good at this for a long time.

8.) Everyone On The San Diego Chargers

As I’ve watched football outside my own lines, I’ve fallen in love with a different team every year. Someone I catch onto early and ride with for the rest of the year. 2015 Carolina. 2016 Atlanta. 2017 New Orleans. All lose in a destructive manner that leaves me open and bleeding on the bathroom floor. This year it’s the Chargers. This is definitely not going to go well.

It had never been a question of talent for this team the previous couple of years. It had been a fortune issue. They’d lose close games. Rivers would throw spine twisting and yanking out in one swoop interceptions to end games. They couldn’t kick field goals. The defense fell apart like things always do.

This season they started off losing to the Chiefs and Rams, and at 2-2 they kind of withered away and off of everyone’s radar. I was still impressed. Yet, still unsure. I couldn’t get the misfortune out of my end. Then they made a 59 yard field goal to end the half and I was all in. If they could make extra points, let alone 59 yard kicks, they’d have the talent to make an actual run.

It’s not just a talent and this team is good discussion with them. They’re just an enjoyable team. I can’t find anyone I don’t like on them. Rivers is 37, and is one of the greatest players to never win it all. He runs like claymation, but it doesn’t matter because he’s mastered the pocket. The sidearm passes make him look like he’s throwing a bowl of chili in a 1950s domestic dispute.

Antonio Gates was alive the instant before the big bang. Did you know he used to play basketball is the Ryan Fitzpatrick went to Harvard for a different generation. He’s entered that Jason Witten mode where he’s always open because no one ever covers him, and somehow makes five catches for around 35 yards, and each catch is devastating for the defense. If he jukes you, you have to retire. Those are the rules.

They have four jerseys and they’re all spectacular. They play sixteen road games a year. Keenan Allen gets buckets. Travis Benjamin is a banshee. The universe would implode if Joey Bosa and Aaron Donald held hands. Brandon Mebane is a bowling ball. I’m horrified that Melvin Gordon has already been in the league for five years. Derwin James is a rhinoceros that’s yet to have his horn sawed off. Hell, I even tell myself, ooo I like that guy, when their seventh defensive linemen picks up a late game sack. If you want to adopt another horse if Houston gets knocked out, this is the team.

9.) Shut It Down

Cam Newton is more than injured. He has a demon sitting on his shoulder. Newton couldn’t even reach up and grab the Sierra Mist for an old lady at some Carolina grocery store who’s logo involves a racoon. The man can’t hold his fingers over his head. It’s devastating.

The Panthers’ defense fell apart with their defensive line. Once they were unable to generate pressure with their front four, the entire scheme was shredded. The Norv Turner offense filled with double screens, reverses, wing-T run plays, play action, options, and zone reads, was the most interesting offense being run this year. A homage to a previous era of football with a post-modern twist. Like an old fashion but garnished with a rat instead of an orange peel. The Panthers were too talented to miss the postseason this year. But a shoddy rush and Newton’s shoulder cratered their season.

The good news is they’re shutting Newton down for the season. Hopefully he’s 110% when 2019 starts off. I can’t believe Taylor Heinicke is going to start another football game.

10.) Lucas Patrick v. Khalil Mack

I found myself really captivated by Lucas Patrick in last week’s Green Bay Chicago game. The guard turned tackle, an undrafted free agent from Duke, really held his own against Khalil Mack. Sure he gave up a sack on a vicious rip under his punch.

But these things happen against Mack. Patrick looks like he should be a starting right tackle. Just trust me on this one. The Packers grow offensive linemen out of cheese, like Rita grows grotesque creatures out of clay.