1. WELCOME TO HELL
Here’s the story. The Indianapolis Colts drafted Peyton Manning in 1998. He played thirteen years there. Ten Pro Bowls. Five All-Pro teams. A 147-67 record. One Superbowl. Broken hearts, trash cans filled with tissues, Bill Belichick smirking, these were their postseasons. Then he hurt his neck, and by hurt, I mean fuse his neck back to his spine to keep his head on. He was a real life version of that very scary story of the woman with a ribbon tied around her neck. One yank. One brutal hit. And we’re rolling and tumbling.
Missing the entire 2011 season Manning was a MVP candidate. They dropped off from 10-6 to 2-14 without him. Curtis Painter, Dan Orlovsky, and Kerry Collins all played quarterback in his absence. Poor Colts fans have been through so much. The Texans lost to this Colts team on Thursday Nigh Football. During this same run of misery Andrew Luck was up in Stanford, making every throw imaginable, displaying perfect pocket presence, being sneakily athletic, and directing a fun heavy formation passing game. The Colts were rewarded with the first overall pick and the opportunity to select Luck.
They traded Manning to Denver where he eventually won another Superbowl after riding in the bed of Von Miller and Demarcus Ware’s pickup after being the worst non-rookie quarterback in the league that season. Luck lasted six seasons. The pocket was a pillowcase filled with batteries and bars of soup. He had enough of it. Mangled shoulder. Lacerated kidney. Strained calf. It wasn’t all perfect. The Colts had to see glimpses of Matt Hasselbeck and Josh Freeman, but the majority of it wonderful. From one all-time great quarterback, to what should have been another.
It looked like it finally came together last season. The Colts had a dominant offensive line, a variety of pass catchers, talented young defensive components, and cap space they never used. Tragedy struck again. Booed off the field. At the peak of his powers, on the best team he’s ever been on, the swamp monster returned home to his books and South American backpacking trips.
Replacing Luck was Jacoby Brissett. After this occurred, Colts fans still assumed they’d walk through the AFC South, and the only thing that would change would be their playoff seeding. From 12-4 to maybe, if everything goes to hell, 10-6. Oh, honey, I’m so sorry.
The Colts haven’t suffered enough. Even when you think things can’t get any worse they do, they somehow always can. I think Murphy spent his entire life living like this. Last week Jacoby Brissett hurt his knee. Brian Hoyer came in. Adam Vinateri missed a game winning field goal.
Brissett missed another game. It was another week of the Brian Hoyer experience, which isn’t even an experience, but a loss of life. Fleeting feelings. The clock hurdles by. Time spent in traffic, waiting for the beans to finish cooking, scrolling on the phone during conference calls. General ennui.
As Texans’ fans we know this life. How many wasted Sundays were there watching Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum, Tom Savage, [NAME REDACTED], T.J. Yates, Taylor Heinicke, Ryan Mallett, Brandon Weeden, and B.J. Daniels? O’Brien’s trash orbits the league, and occasionalLT it falls back down to the Earth in the same location. Fitzpatrick. Hoyer. Praying for Chicxulub. Here we are again.
The Colts dealing with a game and some change of these miserable experiences isn’t comparable. We festered in it. Limbs green then amputated. For them to even get a whiff of it is spectacular. You love to see it.
Last week they lost to the now 2-7 Miami Dolphins. Their offensive line didn’t have it. They missed first level blocks and had some first down run struggles. The Colts abandoned the run game after they fell down early and tried to throw it ten plus yards down the field. They couldn’t. Ryan Fitzpatrick beat them with some nifty scrambles, chomped his tongue in half failing to make those same absurd Fitzpatrick decisions, and completed easy short passes, instead of heaving deep down field forever like he typically does. The Colts were jealous zealots, wishing they had this level of quarterback play.
They put the ball in Hoyer’s hands, and oh, did he deliver.
Indecisive. So many throws to no one. Flailing passes to big vats of space in the center of the field. Redzone possession to win it. Three incompletions. 4th and 10 and short of the sticks.
The Colts are now 5-4, instead of the 6-3 they would have been if they had done the thing they should have done, beat the 31st ranked team in the league. At 6-3 they would have been a half game up on Houston, and with the Texans about to embark on a horrifying three week stretch, they could have expanded upon their lead. Houston won by not playing. Brissett may also miss this week against the Super Bowl MVP reawakening in Jacksonville.
Welcome to hell Indy. Booing your team off the field. Where have we seen this before? We’ve been waiting for you.
2. EDGE RUSH INTERIOR
Love this. I love seeing edge rushers move over to the interior on obvious passing downs. Get into Dime or Nickle. Get your interior rushers as ‘3’ or ‘4i’ techniques. Get the guard traditional kick sliding and doing something he occasionally does. Create space in the interior where it’s scarce. Stand him up. Jolt the blocker with speed he’s not accustomed to.
Love this rush by Melvin Ingram. He’s a stand up ‘4i’ on the right side of the line of scrimmage. He gets Gabe Jackson pass setting wide. Slap the punch way. Cut inside. Split Rodney Hudson coming over to help. Shred both apart like a failed, or successful, lab experiment, life is all about your attitude, shredding barbed wire to break out of the lab’s premises and scurry into the woods away from helicopter flood lights. Derek Carr can’t escape this.
Love it. I want to see more of it. Chandler Jones, Von Miller, Whitney Mercilus, whoever, if they have the outside linebacker or EDGE designation get them inside a little bit. Let them feel how the wind in their hair feels differently.
3. THE 40 YEAR OLD QUARTERBACK
In an extremely Bill Simmons’s voice, who’s the better quarterback?
Player A: Record 2-2, 1,068 yards, 5 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, 98.8 quarterback rating, 1 game winning drive.
Player B: Record 5-0, 1,370 yards, 9 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, 98.9 quarterback rating, 2 game winning drives.
A quarterback’s record is the only stat that matters. You play to win football games. Opponent, defensive performance, offensive line injuries, none of that matters. At the end of the day the only thing that does is the ‘W’. Player B is the better quarterback. Player B is Teddy Bridgewater. The player the Saints mistakenly benched Player B for is Drew Brees, the reason why they scored 9 points against the 30th ranked defense, and lost to 9-26 to the 2-7 Atlanta Falcons.
3rd and goal. Alvin Kamara stumbles trying to make up for Brees’s lack of arm strength. Drew has to climb the pocket when Kamar slips, and instead takes a redzone sack. Inexcusable.
Pocket escape. On the run. I promise I didn’t do it. Pass is high. Doesn’t lead the receiver. Easy throw made complicated. Zero is a real number.
3rd and 14 checkdown to the fullback.
Plenty of time to throw. Taking a sack on 3rd and 4.
Another third down checkdown.
Another redzone sack taken.
An audible to a screen on third down in the redzone.
Sack #6. At home.
Bridgewater is 5-0. Brees is 2-2. The Saints are really going to derail their season to appease a 40 year old quarterback. Stop waiting. Start moving on. Let Bridgewater put that second glove back on.
4. WINTER FITS
I’m a lizard person. I either have bad circulation, thin blood, limbs that are too long, flesh that can never be satiated, cold weather coward genetics, wide pours meant to sweat and taste the sun. Something. I don’t know what it is. But I’m always cold. 65 degrees. I’m shivering. I almost died in August in San Francisco. I didn’t bring a jacket to the baseball game. The sun went down. I couldn’t make my way out of the maze.
This time of year I try everything. Flannel lined chinos. Corduroy pants. Wool sweaters. Japanese denim. Whatever thermal crap Academy sells. Layers. Winter Texans’ hats. It doesn’t matter. I oscillate between scratchy, sticky, and crumpled; and white numb fingertips. Every season I try to find the answers to my problems and nothing ever arises.
This season I think I finally found it. Ron Rivera saved my life. Fresh new hoodie. The insides are still soft with mounds of towels stuffed in the hood. When it warms up take some towels out. When it cools back down stuff them back in. They better sell this at Burlington Coat Factory.
5. A MILLION MILES TO GO
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
6. NIK NEEDHAM
I haven’t watched the Dolphins in forever. Shoot. Now that I think about it, I don’t think I’ve watched them yet this season. They chose to be bad. They don’t deserve anyone’s attention. Don’t buy into this propaganda that they play hard, and are trying to win because they go for it on fourth down. They set themselves up to lose. Every win is a failure, well, except for that win over the Colts.
That being said, I was pleasently surprised by how much fun I had watching them. I forgot Allen Hurns is there. DeVante Parker is having the best season of his career. Christian Wilkins is wide and can rush the passer some. Fitzpatrick is still a complicated individual who combines a fancy boy education with some of the dumbest pizza crust diving decisions you’ll ever see.
My favorite player on the field for Miami was Nik Needham though. He’s an undrafted rookie cornerback from the Franklin Mountains in UTEP. I watched him make a run stop matched up one v. one against Jack Doyle, run stops against tight ends are something defensive backs never do. He’s 6’0” 193 lbs. A bigger cornerback. Doesn’t even need the ‘C’. That plays into it. Three of Brian Hoyer’s passes were knocked away by him. And on a simple roll out, Hoyer held onto the ball for too long, allowing Needham to run across the field and jump in front of one.
Needham is a perfect player you stumble upon during a rebuilding process. Strip to the frame. Get rid of the olds. Let the kids play. Scratch the pink off enough tickets, and eventually you’ll match enough 5’s to buy another one. I’m going to have to go back and watch the Jets game from last week. I read Needham led the team with nine tackles and had a sack. I bet he bullied Jamison Crowder and his 5.7 yards a reception around. Nick Needham. Love that guy.
The best game on Sunday was a dichotomous quarterback battle. On one sideline you have Team America fully guaranteed Kirk Cousins. He completed 23 of his 32 passes for 220 yards and 2 touchdowns. 86 of these yards went to Dalvin Cook, and these weren’t go routes run out of the backfield either. Lots of YAC. His average completion traveled 3.9 yard through the air. One of these touchdowns was an absurd Kyle Rudolph one handed grab.
It was a lot of play action, screens, dump offs, and roll outs. It was all bland. At least Cousins didn’t take negative plays or turn the ball over. He hit the open throws. He was sacked once. He manged things well. He complemented the absurd things Dalvin Cook did. I like that he can roll in either direction.
The Vikings paid Cousins to make the players around him better. He doesn’t do this. Fine. That’s the level he strives for in Minnesota. Fine. Don’t be a negative. But then, when the Vikings rely on him to be anything more, he falls apart. See New England 2018, Chicago last year, or Chicago this year.
Dak Prescott, on the other hand, had one of the best games of his career. He completed 28 of his 46 passes for 397 yards, threw 3 touchdowns to 1 interception, and took 1 sack that lost 4 yards. His average attempt traveled 12 yards, and his average completion traveled 10.9 yards. On throws 10+ yards through the air he was 16/23 for 265 yards and 2 touchdowns. Cousins was 3/9 for 43 yards.
Dallas did block well on the exterior. Both Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes (yes, Waynes missed this game and was replaced with Mike Hughes) have had problems covering outside, and the pass rush was the reason for their pass defense success. Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter had combined for 14 sacks, 30 quarterback hits, and 53 pressures before this game. Tyron Smith and La’el Collins held their own out wide.
It wasn’t perfect though. Even when pressure came, sometimes from both Griffen and Hunter at the same time, Prescott stayed in there, and still managed to throw downfield against pressure.
And on the run, rolling to the right, he found Amari Cooper twice, and gave him enough space to be the toe tapper.
On third downs he was especially great. He was 10/14 for 169 yards and averaged 12.1 yards an attempt. Dallas faced an average third down of 6.4 yards to go, and picked up 9 first downs. Ezekiel Elliot had one third down carry. He lost three yards. Some of these throws had me sweating through my shorts.
This first and ten throw from his own endzone was my favorite. He hits the post from the slot and puts it right between the levels of the zone coverage. Can’t wait for the All-22 to come out.
The one thing that careened the offense was all the rushing. Every run felt like the bedroom door opening. On first and ten Elliot had 13 carries for 35 yards, which is 2.69 yards a carry. Prescott was 9/13 for 108 yards and 1 touchdown. This is 8.3 yards an attempt. You gotta love establishing the run because you paid your running back.
Not only is this dumb in a vacuum, but it’s dumb in the environment it occurred. Dallas was down 14-0 right away. The Vikings have a great front, but have struggled covering on the outside. With Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen blocked well, Prescott was able to hit his throws downfield. Whatever. Keep establishing the run.
All of the games this weekend were interesting. I could tap forever. There were eleven one score games, and the two blowouts, New Orleans losing to Atlanta, and Baltimore mopping up the tiger’s blood, had their moments. The only downside were the end results. The rest of the season would have been more interesting with Dallas and Carolina winning. Green Bay now looks locked into a playoff spot. The Panthers, with two games left against the Saints, would have been within striking distance. There could have been a possibility for two NFC East playoff teams. So close.
8. LONG DEVELOPING SCREEN PASSES
I’m sorry you had to hear all that. I’m sure it was very negative and catty. I do enjoy watching the Vikings’ offense. It’s hilarious. It’s been amazing to watch everything they do to negate and remove the quarterback position from the game entirely.
Dalvin Cook is a shadow. A shade. Flat he swims across the turf. This season he’s now 1st in yards from scrimmage with 1,415, 2nd in total touchdowns with 10, 1st in rushing yards and has almost already eclipsed the 1,000 yard barrier, and has added 424 receiving yards on top of it, second to only Austin Ekeler. He’s the gas, the natural resources, the fuel, the heart, the sun, the soul.
My favorite thing the Vikings do with him is run really long developing screen passes. These things take forever. Entire lifetimes pass by. There’s three offensive linemen downfield.
Death. Reincarnation. A new set of downs. Another play to run. Spin in circles and land in the same place. Do it again.
And even when they don’t work perfectly, Cook is able to flutter around and three tackles to convert another first down. Even the Cowboys quick running linebackers couldn’t contain him very well, or tackle him head on and bring him down on their own first try.
The screen pass is the Vikings’ best offensive play. They have 343 passing yards on screens, and average 9.8 yards an attempt. Cousins is averaging 8.3 yards an attempt on all other passes. The Offensive Player of the Year race between Cook and Christian McCaffrey will be a fascinating one.
9. THE INTERCEPTION RACE
The Cardinals and Buccaneers played a very important game. The battle for being the worst best team in the NFL. The Bucs finally squeaked out a one possession win of their own after finding themselves past the midway point at 1-4 in these games. Good for them. They took down the Cardinals, who beat Cincinnati, Atlanta, and New York (G), to become the best bad team in football. They’re finally going to make the playoffs next season.
That’s not what I care about this week. What I care about is the Jameis Winston experience. Entering this season Winston was tied with Baker Mayfield for the most interceptions. If Winston threw 12 this season it would have been a monumental win for him, an astounding feat. He’s already surpassed this mark. Mayfield failed to toss one to Buffalo last weekend, and Winston is now in first place after throwing interception #13 and #14.
These picks were his fault. He stared down the route, but at the same time, Byron Murphy and Budda Baker made some plays to hand their offense back the ball. Poor Jameis.
Strangely, he’s never led the league in his career. He’s come close. In 2016 he finished second behind Philip Rivers. Last season he may have if he didn’t split time with Fitzpatrick. I hope he finally makes it home. The stew has been cooking for too long.
In addition to the interceptions Winston is leading the league in sacks taken with 34. He could be the first quarterback to lead the league in both since Blake Bortles did it in 2015. Hopefully Tampa franchise tags him so we can get another season of it.
Personally, I’ve loved the league confusing coaches even more, and giving them something else to fail at. The ability for coach’s to challenge pass interference penalties has made football even funner. Red faced. Flummoxed. Losing timeouts to prove a point. I can’t get enough of it.
Well, last week we finally found out what it takes to turn an incompletion into a pass interference penalty. It takes the defensive back death rollIng into the back of the wide receiver’s legs. I’m glad that’s settled.
Bruce Arians didn’t even smile or celebrate afterwards. He finally cracked the code, but was too focused on the next play, winning the game, to even care. That’s a little something called professionalism.