I’m back to being a football man. I’m no longer walking around the neighborhood and looking at the pink bursting Crape Myrtle trees that make me think about a pinata I busted opened at birthday party I went to when I was nine years old and the curtains that used to hang across the Alamodome. No, I’m no longer thinking about the connection of images to verify meaning, and looking up words, and exploring the boundaries past the fences of my mind. My heart is in a mason jar. I haven’t picked up a book in two weeks. This brain is folded around zone coverages, hurdles over defenders, crossing routes, and my heart, my heart is devastated by what has happened to Juli’en Davenport and Martinas Rankin, not by what I think of when I drink beet juice and run and smell Sunday night’s trash while listening to Never Hungover Again. No, Sundays are for football, and this brain is once again filled back up with it.
Here’s what I liked about Week 3.
1.) Calvin Ridley And Two Wide Receiver Offenses
If you put on a NFC South game you’re going to have a fun time, I guarantee it. This week we got Falcons-Saints in an absurd 43-37 overtime game, one where Matt Ryan threw 5 touchdowns and 0 interceptions and still lost because Drew Brees turned into the Tazmanian Devil and spun in to score a rushing touchdown. This wasn’t football. This was Olympic table tennis. It’s not ping-pong. They hate it when you call it that.
My favorite part of this game was watching Calvin Ridley turn P.J. Williams into an emo album called something like ThisWillDestroyYouButIDontCare. In the first half of this one, Ridley was matched up with Williams in man coverage, and he decimated him with route running alone. There’s nothing that flashes with Ridley during a game. He’s not monstrous. He’s not lighting in the combine. He’s just a spectacular route runner.
His first touchdown came on a super cool play. The Falcons are in trips right. They have Ridley as the outside or ‘Z’ receiver. Ridley runs a stop and go. The weird part is the stop takes him just outside the numbers. Usually a route like this is run closer to the sideline. Additionally, the Falcons are faking the wheel route with the tight end lined up in the slot. As Ridley does some death metal drumming on the stop, the slot corner pulls his eyes down checking to see if the tight end will be the deep route down the sideline he would need to switch to. There’s a hilarious late reaction. Ridley blows past him.
On his second touchdown he’s smelling Williams’s breath pre-snap. It’s press-man coverage. One v. One. Ridley takes a quick jab inside that pulls Williams with him. That slight step is all he needed. Williams is never able to recover. Ridley runs around his outside arm and accelerates past him. Without a safety recovering over to the sideline this is a robe strolling walk to the mailbox.
His third touchdown was creating something out of nothing. In the redzone, Matt Ryan was in West Texas hitting the seek button in an attempt to find something in the static to mask the sound of rolling tires and spinning rabbits until he could reattach his umbilical cord to the internet. Marcus Williams is covering him. He’s an incredible young safety, even after the, ahhh, nevermind. Ridley is covered on his curl route. He seeps inside and follows Ryan, and then explodes back to the corner of the endzone once Ryan leaves the pocket to the left. This is the future the NFL wants once the pass rush is removed. It will all be defensive backs covering receivers for twenty seconds until someone gets open like this.
Overall, Ridley caught 7 of his 8 targets for 146 yards. Each one of his catches was for a first down, and he drew an enormous defensive pass interference penalty. Julio was second in receiving yards with 96. And no one else on the team had more than 50 receiving yards.
Teams with two spectacular wide receivers are one of the offensive aesthetics I enjoy. The middle of the field becomes infinite since safeties are forced to hang near the sideline to help out defensive backs facing an impossible task. There’s so many go up and get it throws. The route combinations are endless. Everything is free and easy for the rest of the pass catchers.
This is a good season to see these type of teams too. You got Houston with Will Fuller and DeAndre Hopkins, Tampa Bay with Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson, Pittsburgh with Antonio Brown and Juju Smith-Schuster,
San Diego Los Angeles (C) with Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, New York (G) with Odell Beckham Jr and Sterling Shepard, and Minnesota with Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. There are other teams with more than two great receivers, but I’m not counting the Rams and Chiefs that have a Brockhampton number of receivers. Just the duo is what I’m interested in. I think it has something to do with that halcyon Chicago Alshon Jeffery/Brandon Marshall nicorette gum chewing Jay Cutler season.
2.) Christian McCaffery Is A Running Back
One of the emerged football trends is that every team now tries to throw the ball to the running back. It’s made the game better. I love a good swing pass, or fly route against a lumbering linebacker. However, it’s no longer a treat. It’s like Christmas every day. Teams are force feeding their backs in the passing game, or using them as dumpsters once the pass rush never arrives. Saquon Barkley had 8 catches for 32 yards at one point against Dallas.
McCaffery was this sort of player last year. I don’t have any specific memory of watching him play. I just remember the sheer volume of it. Constant three yard runs, screen passes for five, little curl and crossing routes as a wide receiver that barely passed the yellow line. He was a mosquito buzzing in the ear of defenses. An annoying thing to swat away. In his career the most rushing yards he had in a game was 66 yards on 15 attempts, a big 4.4 yards a carry. That changed against Cincinnati last week. McCaffery broke on through to the other side and became a NFL running back. He gained 184 yards on 24 attempts, which comes out to an enormous 6.57 yards an attempt.
Here the Panthers are running that screwed up outside zone play that I’ll never fully understand. It’s the one where the guards pull so they can get some extra space and time to block the linebackers. The right guard trips and falls. This free fail block is about to slam into him. Luckily McCaffery smashes the break and cuts back against it all, runs past a diving ankle biting tackle, and falls across for the first. This is some nice vision for a back who doesn’t have much experience as an outside zone runner.
This is how you design a play. The Panthers pull the receiver in the backfield to give the aura off an option play. This pulls the slot corner into the box to defend the possible option, which then pulls the linebackers into the running lane. This gives the pullers on this counter play a more accessible block. Their blocks are right in front of them when they came around the corner. There’s no searching. They are standing in the middle of the highway. The right guard and tight end make their blocks in unison. The front seven is covered. McCafferey turns the safety into a scratched cd, taking the offense into the redzone.
McCaffery is bigger than you think he is. He’s an NFL running back sized man at 5’11” 205 pounds. I think standing next to Cam Newton all the time has given him the illusion of being a gnome. He shows off his strength by burying his fist into Hardy Nickerson’s face and shoving him to the ground. With this, Will Fuller, and Vance McDonald, it was a hell of a week for stiff arms.
All of this rushing came against one of the best defensive lines in the league too. The Panthers’ offensive line has been decimated by injuries. Yet they handled the Cincy front with some plug and play recently unemployed Guitar Heroes. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner has done a spectacular job making up for this, and building a post-modern offense around Cam Newton that has expanded upon the iterations that preceded him.
3.) Norv Turner: Screen Designing Genius
When I’m hiking and the weather isn’t thirty degrees, and it isn’t always on the verge of raining, and I’m not wearing blue jeans in the mountains, I like to sit by the creek and listen to the water. I’ll close my eyes and let my brain call attention to different plops and rumbles and rushes. My focus will be stuck to one assortment of sounds until another speaks up. After enough of this I’ll open my eyes and watch the flow of water, and the water will cycle from exploding upwards, to smoothly running over rock in a constant rhythmic patter.
This kitty-cat bowl screen pass is the NFL version of creek sitting. There’s so many moving parts, each one changing as the play progresses. Newton pulls McCaffery from the wide receiver position to the backfield. Newton fakes the option with him that uses the flex-wing tight end as a faux lead blocker. This drags four defenders to cover two skill players. The pulling left guard acts as an overbearing chaperone to Newton. The rest of the offensive linemen block the interior. C.J. Anderson fakes pass protection against the unblocked defensive end, then sneaks into the flat. The outside receiver runs a post that pulls the cornerback and keeps the safety in the center of the field.
After the fake to McCaffery, Newton turns and lobs it over to Anderson. This is what he has in front of him when he starts his run. Anderson has three blockers to pick up two defensive backs. They deliver.
Now I don’t even go outside. I listen to a video of a creek on Youtube and rewatch this play, staring intently at each individual player, watching him over and over again, until the next draws my attention.
4.) Jags-Titans Aesthetics
As an AFC South acolyte this game had everything I could ever want. There was a fake punt stopped by Dane Cruikshank, the same Cruikshank that caught a fake punt touchdown the week before, some terrible Blake Bortles overthrows, some snazzy Marcus Mariota scrambles after Blaine Gabbert was murdered in his old bed wetting backstreets, more incredible recognition from Harold Landry, Derrick Henry unable to break past the first level, lots of field goals, lots of punts because the two teams combined to convert just 10 of their 29 third down attempts, Corey Davis stiff arms, and some skyscraper ripping Jurrell Casey and Calais Campbell pass rushes.
And the jerseys. September sun. Jacksonville teal and white tops clashing with Tennessee blue jean tops and white pants. Garish colors in Florida makes me want to runaway to a trailer park filled with plastic pink flamingos.
We’ve come so far from such sad horrible diaper changing Thursday night 2-10 v. 3-9 times.
5.) Wait, He Can Do That?
I don’t watch college football. That’s too much football. I already watch Houston LIVE, condensed versions, coach’s film, and write about it. I can’t spend a Saturday watching it as well. That’s too much football.
So when Josh Allen came into the league I new nothing about him other than he went to Wyoming and was big and strong but couldn’t do anything else and played horribly even in his own conference, and dammit, I know somethings about him. I have wasted too much of my life mindlessly scrolling through takes that now reside in my mind. Let me start again, I knew somethings about Allen, but I never actually watched him play an entire game. I saw some surreal downfield throws, strong broken tackles, and some passes so hideous that even Jake Locker would mock.
Through all this sampling I formulated an opinion. I wanted Allen to be good. I wanted him to laugh at the howling winds up in Buffalo and become some northern football savior. All because the football nerds hated him and the typical NFL scouts loved him. Football nerds tend to fall for pocket presence, touch, pocket climbing, and ball placement, and often ignore being big and strong and throwing the ball far. Athleticism is important. Allen has it. And a big-armed quarterback is a must have in an outdoor howling hellscape in Buffalo, unless you want to devour defenses with a cannibalistic power run game like they have in the past, someone who can throw the ball like this is a requirement once it gets dark at 4 p.m.
This week I watched my first Allen game. It was fine. He went to the driving range and shouted fire away. He completed some wide open throws. The Vikings lost two fumbles in their own territory and the game unraveled from there. However, I had no idea Allen could do this.
Now, Anthony Barr ran a 4.66 40 in the combine back in 2014. He’s probably slower than he was now that picking up weights and putting them down and picking them back up is his job, instead of kind-of-sort-of being his job. Allen treats him like a swamp monster here. Barr’s pursuit angle is even taken aback by Allen’s speed. At the pylon Allen unhinges his arm Space Jam style.
It didn’t end there. Everyone saw the gallop over Barr that stopped the internet. The internet is terrible, and I can’t wait to never log on again, but sometimes it puts some fool’s gold in your heart. This hurdle is absurd. Not even Todd Gurley should be able to leap over Barr like this.
The scrambling didn’t end there either. Allen also ran away from an inside rushing Danielle Hunter and calmly dumped the ball off to Chris Ivory for an enormous gain.
It all culminated into a horse tackle by Barr. This turned a likely field goal into an elongated drive, which turned into a touchdown, that turned this game into an embarrassment.
I don’t know if Allen is good or not, but this was a moment. This was a gritty version of Patrick Mahomes’s million touchdowns, or Mitch Trubisky’s four completion win over Carolina, or Deshaun Watson’s rabbit hat yanking against New England, or Baker Mayfield killing the streak, or a Deshone Kizer redzone interception. We’ve been spoiled by some classic yung quarterback performances lately. This is another one. I want nothing more than for Allen to be the cowboy and become an actual NFL quarterback.
6.) QUIT IT NOW
I hate that the Chargers are in Los Angeles. I hate the abbreviation LACH. Ugh. Gross. I’ll never stop calling them San Diego. My brain is too filled up. That location will always be stuck in my head when I see that horizontal bolt. I can’t overwrite it. The only good thing to come from this location change is that every four years I’m reminded to bust out the Code Red Mountain Dew and listen to The Battle of Los Angles, which then leads to me listening the greatest LIVE album of all-time. I get anxiety thinking about being like 23 in 1997. The only good things that could have came from it would be wearing a backwards hat all the time, listen to Kenny Rodgers pitch, and seeing RATM. I shudder thinking of seeing Sphere on a Friday night.
Anyways, I was wrong about the L.A. Rams. I picked them to miss the playoffs because of my gut: the collection of personalities, the plexiglass principle, the enormous amount of roster turnover, the summer hype. The Rams are going to win this division. It’s already over. And they’re probably going to win 14 games this year.
The Rams’ offense is absurd. Every play is a positive gain. They run plays at a pace even too fast for the condensed version. They’re always in 1x1x3 personnel. Every play sets up another play. Each fake is meaningful. They use the jet sweep to perfection. They have the best screen game in football. Sean McVay is the best yards after catch creator. Jared Goff has a killer release, arm, and plenty of time to throw.
They eviscerated the Chargers’ talented defense. Goff had a career high 29 completions. They had 521 yards. They scored 35 points in 42 minutes. They’re second in offensive DVOA, just slightly behind the Chiefs, and just put on a performance so spectacular that it removed this Phillip Rivers’s throw from the collective consciousness.
The Rams have the also have the sixth easiest projected schedule the rest of the way. They’re going to go like 14-2. Hand the keys over to the NFC West, and no, they won’t be home by midnight.
7.) The Idea Of Arizona In My Mind
I had an idea of Arizona football entering this year. This idea doesn’t meet the actual reality. I imagined cut off shorts, 97 degrees in October, Gin Blossom songs, surreal cacti, Sam Bradford throwing quick and accurate passes, David Johnson embarrassing linebackers and going back to being one of the best receivers and running backs in football, Larry Fitzgerald slant receptions, and a defense constantly blitzing and digging its fangs into quarterbacks.
The Cardinals aren’t this. Instead they are 0-3. Their offensive DVOA is -51.75, which is last, and their defensive DVOA is -2.8%, which is 14th. Instead they are averaging 5 yards an attempt when Bradford throws the ball, David Johnson is running the ball up the middle and standing on the sideline during the most important parts of the game, and the defense is aggressive, but not dominant.
Yet for the beginning of Sunday’s loss to the Bears I got to see what that could have been like. On back to back possessions the Cardinals threw a fade route touchdown to Johnson out of the backfield, and then strip-sacked Mitch Trubisky by a raucous six man blitz. This is what I thought 2018 would be like for Arizona. Johnson touchdowns and big blitzes. Sadly, it isn’t.
8.) Wash Out The Streak
The Lions haven’t had a hundred yard rusher since Reggie Bush did it in a 40-10 win over the Packers in 2013. Bush picked up 117 yards on 20 carries. Since then, the closest they got was when Ameer Abdullah picked up 94 yards last year, and when Joique Bell picked up 94 yards in 2013. That was until Kerryon Johnson picked up 101 yards on 16 carries. It’s over. It’s finally over. Lions’ fans can now die in peace.
They also did it with some nasty blocking. Johnson was skiing through the Patriots’ defense. The holes were caverns. Consistently, he wasn’t touched until the second level. This, plus, some nasty cut backs, and perfect vision, led him rampant through the line of scrimmage.
Look at this. This is run production heaven.
Damn, I can’t wait to spend a Saturday watching Lions’ All-22.
9.) New England Is 1-2
The Patriots are 1-2 for the first time since I don’t know, people played videogames with cartridges. They’re 1-2 because they couldn’t convert on third down and they couldn’t stop the run. The Patriots had four three and outs this game. They ran only 48 plays. Brady completed only 14 of his 26 pass attempts. I wish I could melt that sentence down and shoot in right into my aorta. The Lions on the other hand ran 74 plays, and picked up 54 yards on 9 carries up the middle. The Patriots couldn’t score, and the Lions refused to give the ball up.
Bask in it while it lasts. The basilisk will soon come crawling out from a crypt inside some subterranean warlock zoo. The Dolphins are 3-0 because of an easy schedule. The Patriots play them this Sunday. There’s not a damn chance they lose that one.
10.) The Universe Makes Sense Again
I understand nothing is stagnant. Butterflies turn into moths and the ceiling fan clicks and eventually everything becomes different. Eventually you get to a point where a previous version of yourself, the one that was forced to watch Case Keenum start half of an NFL season, couldn’t comprehend. Last season Keenum led the NFL in DVOA, and the Vikings to a NFC Championship game. I’ll never get over that.
Now he’s in Denver. And in week three, Keenum finally looked like Keenum. That holy ghost must have found a new soul to latch onto. He finished 28th in DYAR last week with -58, and picked up only 194 yards on his 22 completions. This isn’t the really-really Keenumy thing. It was the lack of pocket awareness. A few times he was absolutely pulverized by a rusher piledriving him in the back.
See that makes sense. Cars can’t drive themselves. That’s the world I know.
The other reassurance I received was watching J.J. Watt play spectacular football again. He had 8 tackles, 3 sacks, 4 tackles for a loss, 4 quarterback hits, and 2 hurries against the Giants. It was one of those classic 2014ish Watt performances. For a while there I didn’t think if we would ever see these again. Sure, he could be a competent run stopper and have the occasional eight sack season, but this, this was something pulled straight from the past. Despite Houston’s 2018 season being over, if we get like three more of these games, 2018 won’t be such a despicable thing.
I really did missed this.