1.) Throw It Deep
The worst thing the New England Patriots did to the game of football was turn passing offenses into spread out quick throwing cookies dunked into milk offenses. Sure it’s efficient and effective to run a bunch of rubs, quick slants, and screens to turn the passing offense into a better version of a rushing attack when you have an-all time accurate quarterback. There’s no fun it though. I want it all. I my wings to melt in the sun, becoming gooey and sticky and turning me into a sarcophagus as I tumble into the sea. I want the football to leave the boundaries of the television screen and rearrange itself forty yards downfield.
A deep early punt is the worst thing that can happen. I especially loved this play by the New Orleans Saints because Taysom Hill throws this ball. You can’t catch anyone off guard when Hill looks just like Drew Brees in the pocket. There’s no surprise when the defense still thinks it’s Brees at quarterback. Staring into the mirror and telling himself he’s a big star, Hill underthrows it and the Steelers pick it off in the endzone.
That’s the worst outcome. The next best outcome is an incompletion. After that it’s either a penalty, or a completion. And hell, even if it’s an incompletion, there’s at least the possibility to watch two of the greatest athletes in the world jump really high and jostle for the ball midair. The most exciting part of a short pass is when the receiver turns up field and falls forward for a first. Whoopee.
By throwing it deep the Saints were able to set up their first touchdown after a weak pass interference penalty on Joe Haden. He touched Alvin Kamara’s back.
The Seahawks drew multiple defensive pass interference penalties by falling whenever defensive backs grazed them.
And the best outcome is the most exciting play in sports. The quarterback rears back, everyone holds their breath, the ball goes really far, the catch is made, exultation, and then pinatas are smashed open. Ryan Tannehill, Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, Nick Foles, Deshaun Watson, and others made some extraordinary ones this weekend.
See, isn’t that better than a 12 play 75 yard where Julian Edelman picks up four first downs?
2.) He’s Pretty Good!
There’s something to be said about resilience. To be an absolute failure and to keep on going. Blaine Gabbert was the tenth overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars. He was one of the worst starting quarterbacks of all-time. While other franchises selected franchise altering non-quarterbacks, the Titans and Jags busted on their quarterback selections, stagnating their franchises. As a starter Gabbert went 5-22, averaged 5.6 yards an attempt, threw 22 touchdowns to 24 interceptions, and had a completion percentage of 53.3%.
Since then he backed up and eventually started in San Francisco, did the same in Arizona, and found his way back home to the AFC South. Do you want Blaine Gabbert to start a game for you? Absolutely not. But if he’s your backup, and you have a competent defense, and you’re forced to see him, there’s worse things in the world. It’s been a hell of a climb for Gabbert to go from abhorrent worst of all-time, to a it could be worse back up. You gotta love an underdog story. Maybe Mark Wahlberg could play him in a biopic.
Last week Gabbert came in for Marcus Mariota who had a ‘stinger’. Stop hanging out with Beedrill. If you want to make a Titans’ fan like myself mad, call Mariota injury prone. It receives an emotional response because the Titans have poured buckets of draft capital and cap space into their offensive line, and he still can’t stay healthy. So out came Gabbert to keep the Titans’ season going against the Washington Redskins. Down 16-12, he made precisely two competent throws. Each off play action. That’s all he needed to do.
He completed 7 of his 11 passes for 101 yards. He led a game winning drive. What more can you ask for? Mariota is expected to play Sunday Night in a probable win and get in game at home against the Colts. He should just sit out. We all know what we want, or at least I do.
3.) Counter Fakes
Teams have been pulling center and guards to sell play action and ear hole dumb youthful defensive linemen for centuries now. Usually they’re selling power, or having their center act as a personal protector, a pen in a front pocket, for their rolling wide quarterback. The only thing cooler than pulling one offensive linemen, is pulling two. I’ve been loving faking the counter by pulling two offensive linemen in the pass game.
The right guard and right tackle pull left. Nick Boyle blocks down on Joey Bosa. Hayden Hurst, the tight end lined up in the slot, runs a drag across the field. Lamar Jackson fakes the hand off on second and one and rejects a third down conversion.
Buffalo did something similar. They ran counter to the right, but had Josh Allen read the backside defensive end. When he crashes down, Allen keeps, then runs for a first down. He may not know how to read a defense, but he can understand to keep the ball when the end squeezes down.
Mobility is integral for young quarterbacks. They can have success quicker if they can make something out of nothing and pick up easy yards with their legs. Look at the difference between Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield, Lamar Jackson, and Josh Allen’s rookie seasons compared to Josh Rosen’s. Rosen is a traditional pocket quarterback playing behind the worst offensive line. It’s death for an offense. It takes players longer to win purely from the pocket. It adds years to their lives, but increases the maturation period. What you really want is for mobility at a young age to transform into late 20s pocket control to limit the chances for injuries. The one downside to all this running are that bones are fragile things swimming in skin.
I’m expecting for mobility to continue to factor in NFL draft evaluation. With the pressure to see what the kids can do right away, and the need to create advantageous offenses right away, there should be more fun expansions to cornerstones. Play action counters. Zone read counters. Zone and power combined with the quarterback keeping. Give me more.
4.) End Of New England
This is the worst New England team since 2010. Brady came back from his torn ACL. The Patriots went 10-6 and lost in the Wildcard Round. Since then they’ve won at least twelve games every year, have made it to at least the Divisional Round of the playoffs, and have made it to the AFC Championship in each of the last seven years. I’m so tired of it.
The Patriots have a pass offense DVOA of 29.1%, and a run offense that ranks 4th in DVOA. This is the worst pass offense they’ve had since 2013. It’s still really good, but it’s not close to the passing offenses they’ve had in years prior. Tom Brady is trying to stave off hits as often as possible, leaving throws on the table to avoid shots to the chest. He’s off target with his receivers, missing passes not because of bad throws, but because they have their walkie-talkies set to different channels. Rob Gronkowski has an elevator tied to his back. They have a bunch of pretty good wide receivers, that each do different things, but not one who dramatically changes the game. Brady has thrown 11 interceptions, an uncharacteristically high number. The power run game is the best part of the offense.
The problem is the defense is mediocre. Their secondary is pretty good. They tackle well. They generate a consistent rush that comes from a variety of different players, and is similar to their receiving group. It’s a collection that lacks incredible individual talent, and it isn’t the type of defense that can win games on its own.
All the Patriots have to do to clinch a first round bye is to do what they do every year, beat the New York Jets. They probably will. They’ll probably get either Los Angeles (C) or Houston at home. They’ll probably win because the devil’s evil has no bounds. But this is the most beatable Patriots team we’ve seen since 2010. There have been multiple times when others have tried to guess Brady’s downfall in week six. They were wrong each time. Yet, this is what the beginning of the end looks like. It starts with a drop off from first to sixth in pass offense, and then becomes weak willed soft tosses in two seasons. Unless the Patriots can build an all-time great defense overnight, or darkness prevails this season, I don’t see the swirls on the tips of Brady’s fingers imprinted on that piece of silver ever again.
5.) Tampa Bay Turnovers
The Buccaneers lead the league with 34 turnovers. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw 12 interceptions. Jameis Winston has thrown 13 interceptions. The team has lost 9 of their 22 fumbles.
It seems pretty obvious what the Buccaneers will do next season. They’ll invest heavily to improve one of the five worst defenses, and improve the right side of the offensive line. Winston will get his fifth year option and they’ll give it another try. He makes just enough throws to be intriguing. He’s like Ryan Tannehill without the injuries.
But damn does he make some Stegosaurus brain decisions. He’s a pretty slow straight runner, and hangs in the pocket for too long. Jameis still hasn’t learned that pass rushers can keep running after him even after they disappear from his view. There’s no sense of time. It gets dark at 5:30. The state park is a thirty minute drive. You can’t go today. It’s already 4:30. Randy Gregory runs back to sack Winston as he directs traffic. Taking his hand off the ball while running, he’s susceptible to the strip. This was his seventh fumble.
He’ll throw interceptions in every way possible. Winston will miss, underthrow, have too much confidence in himself, see through defenders, and just say screw it, and toss it deep. These are my favorite ones. Damn do I love the deep ball. Even the bad ones. It’s like microwavable macaroni and cheese.
34 turnovers is a hilarious number that will drop off next season because of regression. Yet, as long as Winston gets any time at quarterback, the turnover possibilities are endless.
6.) 4th & 46
I haven’t watched a Jags’ game in a while. They became dull and uninteresting once they were figured out. They were bad because they no longer had an all-time great pass defense that could ensure they would play with a lead, their entire offensive line was injured, the power run scheme didn’t work without Leonard Fournette, they couldn’t pass block at all, Blake Bortles went from being the 16th best quarterback to like the 26th best quarterback once he was no longer in a perfect situation, defenses caught onto the spread out offense filled with quick crossing routes, and Bortles lost all ability throwing downfield with touch. They were the worst type of football team, bad and boring.
Last week I decided to stop by and say hello. Like texting a friend from summer camp who lives seven states away. It was everything I thought it would be. Cody Kessler is terrible. The offensive line is worse. The pass defense can carry them to wins even with they don’t need to. Yet there was beauty. I don’t feel anything anymore but this made me feel something.
The Jags found themselves in 4th and 46. Calais Campbell forced and recovered a fumble that put Jacksonville’s offense in the redzone. 1st and 10. An incomplete pass to Dede Westbrook. 2nd and 10. Ereck Flowers was called for holding. 2nd and 20. Fournette tried to cutback a zone right play to the left and lost 8 yards.
3rd and 28. Kessler was sacked, but Patrick Omameh was called for holding. 3rd and 38. Another pass, because when you are already in the bottom of the ocean, go ahead, squirt some ketchup onto the carpet and eat that hamburger off the ground, jab that needle directly into your heart. Kessler was sacked by Cameron Wake and lost 8 more yards.
4th and 48. The longest fourth down faced in the NFL this season. The Jags are back baby.
7.) Being Wrong
I’m not a smart man. I’m a very dumb man. For example, it took me thirty minutes to realize the air raid sirens during the Jets game were because the team is called the Jets, not because it was some homage to first responders or something. I’ve been right about somethings this year, throw the ball against the Houston Texans, Nate Solder isn’t worth $15 million a year, Juli’en Davenport should play left tackle not right tackle, and Deshaun Watson wouldn’t replicate his touchdown rate are some things. I’m a Saints Super Bowl win from being a super genius.
Yet, I put on my roller blades, leaped off the ramp, and jumped right into a cholla garden. I picked the Cardinals to win the NFC West. I though the Rams made too many changes in one offseason and they’d be a disappointment as super teams often are. My tummy was wrong. I didn’t like anyone else in the NFC West, but someone had to win it. I picked the Cardinals because I loved their defense, thought Sam Bradford would be fine in a quick passing offense, and David Johnson could carry them to 24 points. I was wrong. Mike McCoy was fired. Bradford was released. Arizona has the worst offensive line. But hey, that defense is great, and I made like $250 betting on them to beat the 49ers around Halloween.
I also made it loud and clear Todd Gurley should be the MVP this season. The rushing attack is what makes the Rams’ 1-1-3 personnel offense work. He’s great in the pass game. He has 21 total touchdowns. I confused Gurley with the Rams’ run offense. Because the Rams’ run offense needs a person, not Gurley, to be spectacular. C.J. Anderson was cut by Carolina. The most carries he had in a game this season was seven. That was in week one. He hadn’t played in five weeks. Here he was as the Rams’ starting running back against the Cardinals’ defense picking up 167 yards on 20 carries, 8.35 yards a carry, and 1 touchdown. Give the best quarterback award to Patrick Mahomes.
I welcome it. Next year I’ll say more things and be wrong about most of them. I’ve learned to accept it. Be thankful you aren’t me. I have to spend the rest of my years stuck with this sponge that feeds me stupid cue cards, and these mortal coils are stuck carrying this puppeteer, existing only to give it the calories it needs so it can continue to be wrong about just about everything.
8.) The Two Sides Of The Coin
Football isn’t just winning games anymore. It’s office pools, pick pools, fantasy football, elimination challenges, and over/unders. It’s an entire ecosystem to explore and navigate. Last week JuJu Smith-Schuster let everyone know he would be playing this week, not so the Steelers would win, but so he wouldn’t let everyone down who picked him in fantasy. I had him in a championship game. I loved him for this. He scored 20+ points. I lost anyways because Kirk Cousins stopped throwing the ball to Adam Theilen and Eric Ebron bumped his head.
A lot on the line this week. The whole season comes down to this. Yes, I’m talking about the fantasy football championship round. Of course I’m playing Sunday!!! Theres no way I can let down the real ones who believed in me by drafting me!! Let’s get it!! pic.twitter.com/6YntwS4lpD— JuJu Smith-Schuster (@TeamJuJu) December 22, 2018
On the other side of it, games are played in attempt to win enough of them to make the playoffs and get the chance to win a championship, and money, players play well enough so they can make lots of money, but let’s ignore that. Earlier this year Todd Gurley took a knee against the Packers to seal a win, but allowed the Packers to cover by doing so. Screw fantasy, screw Vegas. We got the win.
As the meaning behind the end results become more and more obscure with challenges and wagering, it’s nice to see the core of the game remain, and we can set lineups and wager, and have it sit right there in the middle, instead of diversions overriding the main point, making lots of money.
9.) Absurd Andrew Luck
Andrew Luck is back. The Colts are here. With a win on Sunday Night they’re in the postseason, and could even win the AFC South if Houston loses. I’m telling you AL, this is a team you don’t want to play in the postseason.
10.) Alvin Kamara Back At It
I missed this version of Alvin Kamara. The one who slides off tacklers in the redzone, contorts his body to squeeze into tight spaces like a child stowaway in a 1990s movie, and is the Saints second best wide receiver. Against Pittsburgh Kamara had 2 rushing touchdowns, and 82 receiving yards on 6 catches.
This was my favorite run from him. He runs past an outstretched arm, sneaks past another defensive tackle, comes into the safety’s tackle attempt backwards, but spins at the same time to evade it, and the safety slides off as he saunters in to score.
The biggest impact he made was in the passing game. He drew a deep pass interference penalty. He caught a drag out of the backfield, cut outside and around a sprinting defensive back to let the Saints kick a field goal before halftime.
He caught swing passes with a deep safety trying to cover him, a distance too far to have any impact on his route.
These same swing passes caused commotion and opened up easy completions for those around him. Rarely does the back open up catches for the wide receivers, it’s usually the other way around.