1.) Kansas City’s Big 3
The Chiefs’ defense is horrendous. They gave up the most first downs in the NFL history, which was partly due to the fact that their offense scores a lot of points and opposing offenses get additional drives. They were once again last in run defense DVOA. But the Chiefs can cover a little bit on the back end, and they have three dominant front seven players. Justin Houston is healthy, and once again is trouble. Chris Jones is one of the best defensive ends in football. Dee Ford is a flash on the edge. This trio combined to have 31.5 sacks, 70 quarterback hits, and 105 quarterback pressures this season, and against one of the best offensive lines in football, they were dominant.
This was one of the many things the Colts’ couldn’t let happen. They had to control the line of scrimmage on offense and limit what these three did. They didn’t. As a trio, they had 4 passes defensed, 3 sacks, and 5 quarterback hits. The Colts went 0/9 on third down. The one part of Kansas City’s defense that could inject terror into Andrew Luck’s brain stem did exactly that.
Jones spent the game rushing on the interior. It was him against Ryan Kelly, Quenton Nelson, and Mark Glowiniski. He fought through double teams. The space was too tight to exhibit any true pass rush moves. A rush too far in either outside direction brought the help upon him. So he spent the game bull rushing and bull rushing and bull rushing without ever giving up. This constant vertical movement brought him into the airspace. From there he would fling his arms and steal bats from the dawn. Don’t show Booger McFarland this. He may start posting.
Despite playing against the worst run defense in the league, and putting up close to 200 yards on the best run defense in football last week, the Colts struggled to pick up anything on the ground in the first half. The big problem they had was on the backside. The Colts’ tight ends struggled sealing Ford when pulling back against the play. Unblocked, Ford would squeal behind the line of scrimmage and turn nine yard runs into six, setting up impossible to convert third downs.
Throughout the game Ford was trouble on the edge. He’s a true speed rush, bend and rip edge rusher. You want him wide and one v. one against opposing tackles. After watching J.J. Watt fail to get around Braden Smith in two games this year I though the feat was impossible. It isn’t. A pure edge rusher like Ford was able to. Following a Sammy Watkins fumble, Ford strip sacked Luck on his own and put the cayenne back in the spice cupboard. I love how quickly he forces Smith to turn and run, and the rip with the right, strip with the left is miraculous.
Houston had a defensed pass of his own. His rush was cemented by left tackle Anthony Castonzo. Rather than get wide, he shuffles and reads the play. With the back sneaking behind him like a possum behind a searchlight, he peels back to create enough space to knock this one out of the air.
His sack was a matchup exploit. The Colts’ worst pass blocker is Glowiniski. The Texans either didn’t realize this last week, or made a conscious decision to neglect this fact, and left Watt and Jadeveon Clowney rushing wide throughout the 21-0 first half. The Chiefs didn’t. They put Houston right across from Glowiniski. These hands. Houston is a masseuse. Luck is 1950s animation trying to escape from this immediate interior pressure.
Next week the Chiefs are playing against a great Patriots’ offensive line. Even if they don’t have the talent Indy has, they’re coached perfectly, and don’t make mistakes. The first point of action for both teams involves these three on their respective sides of the ball.
2.) Tyreek Hill Slow Motion
Whenever I watch Tyreek Hill run I never feel like he’s fast. This thought is a very dumb one. Hill is incredibly fast. He’s so fast that he’s the fastest player in the league. He’s so fast that it’s impossible to tell how fast he really is. He blind folds my eyes, puts them in a truck, drives around the block a few times, and leaves them out in the desert.
When Hill runs it looks like everyone else is in slow motion and he’s running at a normal pace. He makes it seem like everyone else is just slower, not that he’s faster. It’s an optical illusion. Hill is a damn Gameshark who will never die because he has infinite lives.
All this speed makes him impossible to cover. Either play him close and get beat deep, or sit back and let the slant routes pluck your eyes out. Or play zone, and let Travis Kelce run cute little comebacks and outs and find the empty cushion on the couch.
3.) Kenny Moore Slot Blitzes
I had no idea how much I loved slot corner blitzes until Matt Eberflus unleashed Kenny Moore on the world. Moore is a 5’9” 190 pound undrafted cornerback from Valdosta State who was another Storage Wars purchase that made Chris Ballard millions. Moore was the Colts’ best cornerback this season, and he primarily played on the outside with Pierre Desir on the other side. Yet, sometimes he would trickle into the slot and bring it. Despite his frame, Moore had 4.5 sacks and 6 quarterback hits this season. When Indy was desperate for a pass rush he was the broken glass. In the second half Indy pulled the switch and used him to finally get some stops.
Finally a third down stop. It’s third and seven. Moore looks like he’s covering Kelce in man coverage. He isn’t. He blitzes and dips under Kelce’s wimpy chip. Patrick Mahomes is turned to him. No clue of the imminent future. This is what those reptiles must have felt like millions of years ago. If only they had a space program.
This time it’s 3rd and 7. Moore has a free rush. This time Damien Williams is ready for it. He looks inside out and gets wide to take on Moore. Ferocious, an explosion happens between Williams and Moore that turns Williams’s arms and legs, fingers and toes, into shrapnel. From there Moore turns back around and chases Mahomes from behind.
On another slot blitz Moore was able to leap and deflect the pass at the line of scrimmage, his only pass defensed of the game. I know Indy’s secondary isn’t all that great, and they were afraid of getting torched deep in a close game they were looking to make sloppy, but, the pass rush was the best option they had to make this happen. They just found it a little too late. Whatever, I want a giant gust of wind to blow across Indy’s defense to spread this fantastic little strategy across the league.
4.) A Playoff Game Decided By The Run
In terms of NFL football it’s the year 2018. The pass game has taken over. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs are the tipping point. Every man below the age of 40 with a pass heavy playbook is a head coaching candidate. The future is closed roof and air conditioned where running plays are midrange jumpers.
Yet, the future isn’t here yet. We are still way way over here. Even in the midst of a spread revolution, the run game decided a playoff game. The Dallas Cowboys had the fifth best run defense by DVOA. The Los Angeles Rams had the best rush offense by DVOA. In 2018 C.J. Anderson picked up 123 yards on 23 carries, and Todd Gurley pikced up 115 yards on 16 carries. Against one of the best run defenses around, a run defense that carried Dallas to this point, a run defense that held Seattle to 3.04 yards a carry last week, the Rams’ backs averaged 6.1 yards a carry. Jared Goff averaged 6.6 yards an attempt.
The Rams’ backs did this with a little effort of their own. Gurley had some bone scraping cutbacks. Anderson was a pot bellied boulder running through tackles. The majority of their yards were the result of great blocking though. The Rams’ front five dominated the Cowboys’ front seven. On just about every run the Rams were moving the first level and blocking the second.
The Rams’ run offense, an exhibit.
Stay tuned. I’m done folding clothes, cleaning refrigerators, unpacking boxes, and buying shower curtains. I should be able to write all about this this week.
5.) 4th Downs
Imagine being one of those big tough football men who thought going for it fourth down was a bad idea. It wasn’t. It isn’t. It’s been proven time and time again that extending a drive is more valuable than giving the ball away, and that the probability of an offense converting short fourth downs makes it worth it. But not only that, fourth downs are a raucous good time. Punts are lame. Keep the feet out of football. Do or die situations with enormous field position swings and potential points on the line are infinitely more fun than standing behind the yellow tape.
This week every team went for it on fourth down. Well, every team except for Philadelphia, you know the team that made this strategy famous last postseason. This week teams went 13/15 of fourth down conversions. Ezekiel Elliot was stopped on an inside run. Patrick Mahomes was trapped in the pocket. But overall, every team had success putting it on the table and keeping the bal in their offense’s hands. I can’t wait for some zany high school coach who never punts somehow works his way into the ears of a NFL coach.
6.) New England’s Scoring Drives
The Patriots outplayed, outhit, and outcoached the Chargers. I’ve never seen a team as talented and balanced as the Chargers get dominated the way they did. Defensively the Chargers had two weaknesses, they struggled covering deep passes, and were susceptible to inside run plays. The Patriots attacked them with their power run game. Sony Michel had 24 carries for 129 yards. All this running set up easy and short third downs. Without a pass rush, zero blitzing, and against seven man zone coverage, Tom Brady picked and popped his way down the field.
Look at these scoring drives they had. 14 plays 83 yards 7:11 touchdown. 7 plays 67 yards 3:21 touchdown. 8 plays 58 yards 3:57 touchdown. 6 plays 87 yards 3:08 touchdown. 3 plays 3 yards :53 punt. Finally. Desmond King fumble. 4 plays 35 yards 1:40 touchdown. 35-7. This was a stop hitting yourself older sibling beatdown.
In a way it feels like the Patriots were prepping for how they’re going to play Kansas City while playing Los Angeles (C). I’m expecting a lot more inside power running and third down scrap picking next week too.
7.) Sleepy Times
Somewhere along my skill tree I’ve learned how to sleep anywhere and everywhere. I don’t know what level I learned this or trait I selected to make this happen, but my life is better for it. Everyday has two halves. Before nap, and after nap. Little tastes of nothingness to continue throughout the day.
In the desert I’d eat a mound of hummus, sleep on the rocks, wake up and plant fake plants. At work, I’ll lay in the grass for 25 minutes on my lunch break and awaken to make the city a great place to live again. At home, I’ll nap for 25 minutes, sometimes even at 8 p.m. to make sure that yes, loyal reader, you have your content and writing for the day.
I say this because yesterday was a great day for napping. Like a tubby cherubic sun bathing yellow cat, I slept throughout the second half of the Patriots Chargers game once it was 35-7. I slept during halftime of Saints-Eagles and woke up right when the second half started. I’m going to be a great single father one day.
8.) Nick Foles Corner Route
This was the best throw of the week. Play action. Defender in his face. Quick side arm skip release. The ball leading Jordan Matthews and put in the perfect spot. Oh, no. Here it is. There’s no way this can happen. Even after starting 14-0 it didn’t happen.
9.) Philadelphia DB Plays
One of the strangest turns to this season was Philadelphia’s secondary. I’ve never seen a group turn from abhorrent to incompetent to pretty good as quickly as this group did. They were great against Chicago last week, and this week they were eaten up like freshly hatched sea turtles making their way to the sea by Michael Thomas, but they stayed strong and made BIG plays on the ball.
It started right away when Cre’Von LeBlanc picked off Drew Brees on the first play of the game. The 40 year old quarterback threw the ball short to Tedd Ginn Jr. LeBlanc kept his eyes on the ball the whole way and made a jackpot catch.
Avonte Maddox made a similar play to erase a touchdown pass to Taysom Hill. Once again it was a Brees underthrow. This time Maddox leaped back and popped the ball with his fingertips to keep it away. I get these two confused all the time. One of them needs to get a new hair cut.
Maddox also turned and ran down the sideline to cover Thomas one v. one and keep the ball away from the goalline.
Behind these two was Malcolm Jenkins, where he has been throughout it all, still making plays as Ronald Darby and others were replaced by the young and inexperienced. The best player on the Eagles’ secondary is a tremendous tackler and keeps scampering at a minimum. It’s rubbed off onto the kids too. LeBlanc jolted off his assignment to bring down Alvin Kamara on a swing route. This tackle forced a field goal, the same field goal that was missed to set up a Nick Foles game winning drive attempt that ended before it should have.
10.) Michael Thomas
I’ve never seen a receiver as wide open as Thomas was yesterday. He would run off the screen and reappear with no one around him. There was a force field around him where no defensive backs could trend. Against off man coverage he would break towards the center of the field and make catch after catch. 12 of them in fact. 12 of them that went for 171 yards and one box out touchdown.
11.) BONUS—I Hate It
I thought this was going to be a great weekend of football. It was fine. Everything the Colts needed to have happen didn’t happen. Dallas kind of made it a game, but surprisingly they couldn’t stop the run. The Chargers were the most balanced team in football this year and what could have been another step in a legendary Philip Rivers run became a disappointing blowout. Eagles-Saints was kind of great. It felt like it was setting itself up for an all-time ending. Instead, a pass went through Alshon Jeffery’s hands, cutting the drama short.
Instead there was more ron hate than to love this week. This week I hated: field warmers that melted the snow off the field for Chiefs-Colts, Dallas’s linebacer play, just about everything in the Patriots-Chargers game, the Ram’s whose house? our house chant despite playing in a rented stadium and preparing to move to a shared stadium and the fable that this is some sort of historic franchise when it’s really just a hog that scours to whichever marsh that will feed it the most, the Jeffery interception, Brandon Brooks’s injury, Fletcher Cox’s foot, Sheldon Rankins’s injury, Sean Payton forcing the run, Taysom Hill’s negated passing touchdown, and wimpy penalties.