1.) FRANCHISE QUARTERBACK
It’s been obvious the entire time. Teddy Bridgewater is a franchise quarterback. See. Did you see what he did on Sunday? 34 attempts for 314 yards and 4 touchdowns against the 13th ranked defense by DVOA.
The past had been unkind to him. He went manager v. manager against Russell Wilson in arctic booger noodle temperatures until a missed field goal ended Minnesota’s season. His leg exploded into a charnel house. Backing up. Waiting for his time. Then the flute played his tune. Maelstrom. The sea monster levitating out from the frothing ocean.
He was bad coming in for Drew Brees after Brees broke his thumb in Los Angeles. The Saints were down. It’s a hard to be carried in the arms of cheerleaders in a situation like that. The following week he beat the Seahawks on the road single handedly by throwing 177 yards and 2 touchdowns, and ensured the death of Dallas by making zero mistakes and playing proper football in a classic 30 attempts for 193 yards performance. He was a perfect babysitter. No boyfriends coming over. Kids in bed by 9:30. Checkdown the fleaflicker. See ya next week.
Well next week he painted his face and poured it all over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Sean Payton finally gave him the keys to the bayou boathouse. This was the plan all along. No need for risks. You can never be too careful. There’s bad men in your neighborhood and at the gas station. Payton let him throw the ball downfield and duel it out against Jameis Winston. His average attempt traveled 7.3 yards through the air, and his average completion 6.7 yards. I don’t want to go to dinner with Margot and Harold. The 3.3 and 1.8 he averaged in Seattle was a long time ago.
His first touchdown to Michael Thomas was a genius decision. We could have been born anytime, and anywhere, and we are more fortunate than the entire existence of our species to have our lives intersect at the same time as this auteur. Bridgewater puts the fullback in motion, and leaves him in an off-set I right formation. This shifts the linebackers to the right and creates an open throwing lane to Thomas on the slant. Quick drop back. Ball out. Thomas is only able to score because of the ball placement. Bridgewater is only able to make the throw because of the scene he creates before the snap.
It’s another slant touchdown to Thomas. The Bucs blitz and play man coverage. They are blackbearded swashbucklers and treasure hunters now. Bridgewater doesn’t need a back to pass protect. He thrives in an empty backfield. 1st and 10. He throws the slant to Thomas against man coverage. Ball in the perfect spot. His leadership gives Thomas the strength to cross the line of scrimmage. Thomas did this for him. You can’t measure this. Take that loserlytics.
Bridgewater carried his team to a 17-10 lead entering the second half. He needed two completions to make it 24-10. Classic Bridgewater. Thomas is against Vernon Hargreaves II, a former first round pick, and the Bucs’ number one cornerback. Bridgewater doesn’t care. He isn’t afraid. No one is safe from his wrath. Somehow, simultaneously, Bridgewater leads Thomas and allows him to turn and catch the ball. Such a swell guy. He ensures his teammates can’t fail.
Two plays later it’s touchdown time. Bridgewater is an acrobat under pressure. This is what it’s like to watch someone at the peak of their mountain top. He treats the defensive lineman like a ghost only he can see, ignoring the chatter coming from inside the walls, and calmly delivers a spiral so pristine that it manipulates the air and gravity around it to travel in an extraterrestrial manner that the oblong has never traveled in before. The Navy launched an investigation on Monday. Their findings were inconclusive. Sealed deep within the Pentagon.
Quarterbacks around the globe will be rubbing this play deep within the folds of their brain with a neurotransmitter. Look at this footwork off the play action. He glides back, bounces at the top of his drop, checks his watch, and throws an immaculate pass to Thomas running a post. Watch it again. Take a look at the fake. Even faking the handoff to mediocre running back Alvin Kamara, who had only 62 rushing yards, pulls the defense because the fake is so good. This is a man at the height of his powers. A man who can not be stopped.
The Saints were a .500 team with Drew Brees. They are undefeated with Bridgewater. The Saints are undoubtedly better with Brees giving speeches on the sideline and grooming Bridgewater after another perfect touchdown drive. This week it’s Jacksonville. Next week it’s Chicago. After that it’s Arizona. 7-1 at the bye. This is Kurt Warner coming in for Trent Green. Tom Brady coming in for Drew Bledsoe. And now it’s Bridgewater in for Brees.
It’s his team, his dream, his destiny. Bridgewater is manipulating time and space and reality and we are all thankful, and our lives infinitely better, to have him distort the constraints we move through.
2.) FEEL THE THIELEN
I missed Adam Thielen happy, yellow sentient hambruger helper gloves catching passes and providing hearty easy to make meals for single mothers feeding multiple starving mouths, and bringing down catches zooming way above his head. I don’t like him angry. Saying hurtful things like Kirk Cousins isn’t playing his best football. Rude.
He has every right to be angry. Last week he caught 2 passes on 6 targets for 6 yards. 1 yard a target sounds impossible, even if he was a running back. I wonder what his PFF Grade was? Let me guess. 47.3. Close. 51.3. Maybe I’ll get it next time.
Playing the New York Giants is marriage counseling for any quarterback-wide receiver combination heading towards that dreadful word—DIVORCE. The way it even looks on cyber paper makes my heart regurgitate acrid fork tongued venom. The Giants are hallucinogenic therapy where both parties can splay open their brains and heart, unleash their true feelings, and get at what’s troubling them. They are 29th in pass defense DVOA, 20th in pressure rate, their outside cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and DeAndre Baker rank 55th and 61st in success rate out of 65 qualified cornerbacks, and New York is 26th at defending the deep pass according to DVOA.
On Thielen’s first touchdown he’s lined up in the slot against Haley Grant. At the stem he breaks down his route, melting Grant’s feet to the turf, and then cuts the route into a corner away from Grant. The throw is bad. It’s underthrown. A better cornerback could have played the pass even with his back to the ball. Sorry. I’ll be nicer. Cousins puts it on Grant’s outside shoulder and plops into Theilen’s basket.
Stefon Diggs skipped school this week. The upcoming winter filled with frozen windshields, and parkas, and frosty skeletons is on its way. It’s impossible to play for an Osweilerian quarterback and deal with that everyday. Diggs wasn’t fantasy good, as DeAndre Hopkins put it, but he was football good. The Vikings did a nice job forcing the Giants’ secondary to make decisions. Diggs manipulated the coverage, pulled defenders into his orbit, and allowed Thielen to run freely. The Vikings and Giants yanked each side of the wishbone and the Vikings grasped the bigger piece each time.
The Vikings can get away with having only two receivers on passing plays because of these two. They love to go heavy, heavy, heavy, and run play action with only two routes, and another dropping into the flat. It’s cover four from New York. Diggs runs a deep post. Thielen delays his route and runs behind the linebackers after Diggs clears everything out. He’s hollering for the ball you never appreciate me. Makes the catch. Outruns Jabril Peppers. Turns it into a 40+ gain. Don’t be so dramatic.
His second touchdown came in the redzone. The Vikings stack Diggs and Thielen tight to the line of scrimmage. It’s play action again. Jenkins can’t jam Diggs. Somehow the Giants have three covering two and both get open. Diggs pulls the safety. Thielen runs his route into the cornerback to prevent him from breaking across to play the ball. It’s a legitimate throw from Cousins. I love watching Thielen make catches over his head. He’s one of the best in the league at it. Say more nice things. Strain out the best parts of each other. Prod at what’s there.
It takes more than one session to repair a relationship. Something breaking needs weeks and months to recoup what happened before, and even then, what it once was will probably never be the same, it will be good, but just different. It won’t get easier though. Things are far from rescued. The Vikings have a dinner party with college friends in Detroit, and will take a trip to visit some of Kirk’s old friends the week after. Then, when winter rolls in, things will get really brutal once they are locked in together, and the schedule becomes malodorous.
3.) HAPPINESS IS A LIE
I have a disease passed onto me from the Houston Texans. I love disgusting sloppy football. Oink. Oink. Oink. I slop around in the mud, the fumbles and incompletions, the empty crowds and stupid penalties. Bring on the truly bizarre. Before the Texans became talented playoff contenders they were really bad. Four win bad. Number one overall pick horrid. 3-10 v. 4-9 AFC South football is the only football I truly know, and the only football I really love.
It’s for me and only me. While everyone else is deliberating online about the merits of going for it down 4, at the opponent’s 47 yard line, on fourth and seven, with two timeouts left, I am staring into the abyss and cackling at it all. It’s like finally being happy after years of depression, and in a sick way, missing those dreadful feelings. You have the good life you’ve always wanted. Monetary independence. Someone finally loves you. Quarterbacks on magazine covers. Yet you miss the comfort of all that gray. Bundled up in your parent’s house in overweight pasty skin and body rotting without exercise and testosterone. It’s always nice to take the old car, the one with the splotchy paint job and hanging bumper, out for a drive, and put on the old sad songs through a crackling blue tooth connection made in China.
This week we had our first truly putrid football game. 0-4 Cincinnati v. 0-3-1 Arizona. Damn it feels good to be back.
The record is important to capturing a terrible football game, but it isn’t everything though. There has to be general meaningless to it. The Bengals have the worst linebacker group in the game, a terrible offensive line, and Andy Dalton trying to survive, and play his last year in Cincinnati before he and his whiskers are sent to Denver, and John Elway says, I think Andy still has a lot of great football in him. The Cardinals are trying to teach, coach, evaluate, feed Larry Fitzgerald more career receptions, and see how many different wide receiver formations they can run.
The crowd has to be scattered. The seats have to be seen. The denizens laying in a sea of green.
The crowd shots have to be perplexing and miserable. These are people? We are made out of the same things? There has to be some sort of mistake. Tag yourself. I’m the guy in the orange poncho who’s pondering whether or not he should eat what he just picked, but damn, it must feel good to eat popcorn in the rain in a pink Bengals hat.
The announcers have to hate their jobs. Their voices must growl. Their teeth falling apart and out of their mouths like gravel. There’s a flag yet again. I have no idea what he’s thinking here. Ooooooo, he’s going to wish he had that one back. You know what, maybe death doesn’t sound so bad.
The uniforms have to be pleasing. I’m a sucker for the orange Bengal tops. It will never not be funny that these men get paid millions of dollars a year to run around in tiger stripes. I want an all-orange color rush. I want Thursday Night Football tiger face paint.
It has to be a family reunion. Like seeing an old friend working in a supermarket instead of on Facebook. I remember him. What’s up man? Life’s so rad. Andre Smith is starting at left tackle. J.R. Sweezy still has a ninja turtle shell strapped to his back. Carlos Dunlap would be a Hall of Famer if he played anywhere else. Chris Hubbard jumps off the screen. Charles Clay won me a fantasy matchup once. Remember when Randy Bullock missed that field goal on Christmas Eve so Houston could clinch the division in 2016. Oh, how I have missed, David Johnson wide receiver fades.
There has to be obscene plays, the brutal and the stupid, that leave the players themselves question their autonomy. Are we merely play things for some supreme cosmic surfer, riding the supernovas, and blocking defenders in the back preventing first downs?
To fully enjoy it, you have to unfurl the pathways in your brain and really see the images that appear as you watch and hear the game. Everything with connection has meaning. Let the tiger stripes remind you of the second book you ever read, the one about the tiger in the grass, that you couldn’t read, that you hated, until it all came together, like hands slapping water, spelling W-A-T-E-R with fingers, and everything coming into color, the world opening up, the tiger curled and hid. Who knows what you may find.
Each one has to have a central theme. You come into it confused and horrified for the mad captain voyage you are embarking on. Oh, I got it. This one is two teams with terrible offensive lines, running the ball way too much, with hundreds of penalties and field goals, so many field goals. This one had six field goals within the fifteen yard line, and five within the ten.
The game has to be close. There’s nothing enjoyable about one cupcake engulfing the other.
And when it comes to an end, it has to tie up all the loose ends. Ending perfectly, in a way that only makes sense. This one ended with Andy Dalton vanquishing those earlier demons, and leading back to back touchdown drives once he finally threw the football.
The Cardinals had too much time. Kyler Murray ran around like a little action figure through the legs of monsters to put the ball in field goal range. Of course it ended in a field goal. This one, good, from 31 yards.
The entire history of human misery summed up in one picture.
This is bad football Sunday. It will make you question why you enjoy football in the first place, and if you can pass the test, you’ll come out with a fuller heart, and one that’s better at loving and cherishing the games that matter, and even life itself. And who knows? Maybe you’ll see that tiger in the grass again and learn something about yourself along the way.
4.) NOT EVERYTHING IS A WILDCAT
At the end of the previous decade the Miami Dolphins won the AFC East and took down the Patriots in purple mouthed punishment by using something called the wildcat. It was just a bunch of running backs taking snaps at quarterback and running the ball. From this game on, other teams have used it, and while it’s not a focal point of any offense, it’s a nice change up to have multiple reads and running options to skew the numbers in the offense’s advantage.
Ten years later every one of these play calls leads to the announcer yelling, WILDCAT. No matter what team uses a running back at quarterback, it gets the same response. This should be changed. The Falcons don’t run the wildcat with Mohamed Sanu. They run the freebird. The Titans don’t run the wildcat with Derrick Henry. They hit the glasspipe. See isn’t that more fun. Cliches breed a boring life. In these tethered days we need all the help we can get.
5.) BIZARRO FOOTBALL
This was a spiderman pointing meme week of bizarro funhouse mirror football.
It was the Falcons and Texans. Two talented teams, where people around the country look at the boxscores and their record and have no idea what the hell is going on. I hope the Texans stared at the Falcons and their incessant and unquenchable thirst for maintaining ‘balance’ and running the ball on first down, their inability to get Julio Jones and their receivers in general open, and a timid defense, and saw the worst parts of themselves, ripping it out, crushing it, and moving onward for the rest of the season.
The Titans and Bills are versions of one another. Tough football guy head coaches. Great blitzing defenses with good secondaries, linebackers that can play coverage and blitz, run heavy offenses, and perplexing young quarterbacks—this is a narrative, Marcus Mariota will be saying he’s a millennial to push off adulthood until 2035, and Josh Allen is beautiful and perfect. The Bills are just a better version of it. They’re what the Titans wish they were. At least we don’t live in Buffalo, they yell, I’m not owned, I’m not owned, I’m not owned.
Arizona and Cincinnati have new young coaches. Arizona’s is just hotter, and runs an offense that spreads the ball around in interesting ways, instead of trying to establish the run with a crappy offensive line.
Cleveland and San Francisco are both confusing, and both have been atrocious for awhile now. I still don’t know if San Francisco is good. They still haven’t played anyone really, and no the Browns don’t count, even if they have beat some awful teams by multiple possessions. Cleveland is dumb and has no idea what to do with all that talent. They make too many mistakes. The 49ers are just coached well and finally have a pass rush.
Oakland and Chicago are entirely different, but they are tethered together, one team going all in, while the other turning ashes into sand castles with the other’s remains, and for the sake of this block of words, that’s a close enough of a leap to make.
6.) SAY IT LOUDER FOR THOSE IN THE BACK
I had a premonition this summer. The Packers would have a top five pass rush. Last season they had a great interior rush with Mike Adams and Kenny Clark, and Blake Martinez occasionally blitzing. Kyler Fackrell had a lot of sacks without the pressures, due to regress. Clay Matthews was a better singer songwriter than pass rusher. Despite this, the Packers finished 10 in adjusted sack rate and 14th in pressure rate.
This offseason they added Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith who combined for 12.5 sacks, 30 quarterback hits, and 63 pressures in 2018. They drafted former top recruit Rashaan Gary. And most importantly, Matt LaFleur made his best coaching decision by retaining Mike Pettine at defensive coordinator.
So far the Packers have done exactly that. They are 4th in pressure rate at 33.5%, are 8th in adjusted sack rate at 8.5% with 15 sacks, and are 5th in pass defense DVOA at -16.6%. The Smiths have combined for 10.5 sacks, 21 quarterback hits, and 34 pressures.
Fackrell has no sacks, but 11 pressures. Kenny Clark is driving the pocket and has 1.5 sacks and 6 pressures. And occasionally, Pettine calls in the bombers and unleashes free lane rushes.
Premonitions come true even if it takes five years for it to happen. In the case of the Packers’ pass rush, it’s been immediate.
7.) CALLING IN SICK
I try to watch every game every week using NFL’s Game Pass condensed versions. It’s the best way to do it. Play after play and after play. It’s pure football. No nut scratching, or coach close ups, or banal telivision man banter, or capitalistic marketing trying to kill you with pizzas made out of Cheese Its, or making you feel bad because you aren’t driving that cool car next to the ocean, which you can always murder your credit and savings to make happen.
I don’t succeed every week. I’m not the professional football writing man. Imagine being able to do that in this market! Impossible. I work at the factory all week. Time is limited. It’s attainable even after shooting pure football into my femur’s marrow.
As a result, there are teams that I have to ignore, and praise be. I haven’t watched Miami since Juli’en Davenport broke his leg. Josh Rosen ain’t that interesting. Aquamarine is disgusting. I haven’t watched the Jets since Sam Darnold got sick from kissing me. It’s just Le’Veon Bell’s murder and resurrection. I haven’t watched Washington since it become apparent they are finally going to bottom out. And the Broncos are almost there after playing abysmal football that doesn’t take advantage of its talent. Also, have you ever watched Joe Flacco play football?
8.) LET’S CHECK IN ON AARON DONALD
Last season Donald was once again the best professional football player in the land of professional football. He had 20.5 sacks, 41 quarterback hits, 59 pressures, and 25 tackles for a loss. He lost a Superbowl, but he won defensive player of the year again.
I hadn’t heard much about him this season. The box score is empty. Like a cupboard filled with flies. He has 1 sack, 4 quarterback hits, 17 pressures (T-9th!), and 5 tackles for a loss. Clay Matthews has six sacks. I don’t have the analytics in front of me, but I know for a fact, they are all directly attributed to Donald.
Let’s check in on last Thursday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks.
Yep, box scores are meaningless. Donald is still absurd.
9.) RUN GAMES MATTER
I don’t like this pass, pass, pass football we all see nowadays. Look, I understand. It’s more efficient and effective and a better way to move the ball. But football is better when there’s a wide of variety of teams doing a wide variety of things. Sunday was an integral confirmation of faith, and this season has been in general. Teams are running the ball is super cool ways: Greg Roman has fullhouse backfields, San Francisco creates beautiful cutbacks, Minnesota loves the outside zone, Carolina knows how to get Christian McCaffrey out wide, and Indianapolis is a thresher, powerful and straight ahead, mowing down teams and spitting out a smoothie of copper and jagged bone.
The following teams won composed of the following rush lines. Indianapolis: 45 attempts, 180 yards, 1 touchdown; Seattle 43-167, Minnesota 34-211, Carolina, 27-285-3, Denver 32-191-1, Oakland 39-169-3, Green Bay 29-120-4, Indianapolis 45-180-1, San Francisco 40-275-2, and Baltimore 40-138-1.
Yes, I know teams run the ball more when they are winning, and winning teams run the ball more. Don’t make me pull this bus around and call your father because I swear that I will.
10.) PLAY OF THE WEEK
The last time we saw Will Fuller he was laying in a heap, like a pile of clothes, crusty and crunchy, in the corner of the bedroom, and in this case, the bedroom was the endzone. Last Haloweenish when everything was orange and black [NAME REDACTED] came to Houston on a Dolphin and the Texans got their revenge for that wasted season, a lost second round pick, and all that dead money. For the first month of this season Fuller was there, but he wasn’t really there. The numbers say he had 14 catches on 23 targets and 183 yards. But, honestly, I can’t remember any of them at all.
That changed last week. Fuller had 14 catches on 16 targets, 217 yards, and 3 touchdowns. My favorite of which broke the prophecy’s tomb along the Falcons’ head. Every Texans game this year had to be close, no matter the opponent, and had to end in one possession. Last Sunday was set up for it. Run, run, screen pass. Butts clenched. Then the Texans threw the ball. Then they scored touchdowns. Scrubbing the inevitable from existence.
My favorite catch of Fuller’s 14 was his last one. Two routes. Cover zero with the safety moving post nap. Play action. One v. one against Desmond Trufant. Out and up. Touchdown.