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Ten Things I Liked About Week Fifteen In The NFL

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A Jameis Winston Triple Crown Update, The Will Fuller Effect, Dallas’s Run Game, King Of The Rats, and six other things Matt Weston liked about Week 15.

NFL: Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

1.) JAMEIS WINSTON TRIPLE CROWN UPDATE

Jameis Winston is in pursuit of one of the most beautiful and absurd seasons in NFL history. Currently, he’s leading the league in passing yards with 4,573, passing attempts with 554, and interceptions with 24. He’s second in touchdowns with 30 and is 3 behind Lamar Jackson, and is third in sacks taken with 43 and is 2 behind Kyle Allen and 3 behind Kyler Murray.

To celebrate the nonsense, a triple crown has been created on these virtual pages to celebrate both his excellence, throwing the ball downfield and throwing a lot of touchdowns, and his atrocities, taking hilarious sacks to extend plays and throwing the ball to the other team. There has never been a quarterback as up and as down as Winston. He’s puberty reincarnated.

I’ve lost my mind watching Winston play. I’ll scream at every sack he narrowly avoids. The cops come over after an interception pinballs off three defenders. I put my pirate hat on and smile, oh I smile, a bloody gingivitis smile after every touchdown. No one understands the infinite yearning in my heart and what I want whatsoever.

All I want is a simple thing. For Winston to lead the league in touchdown passes, interceptions, and sacks taken. That’s all. That’s the triple crown. This past Sunday he did a little bit of everything. He threw for 458 yards and became the first quarterback to throw for 450+ yards in back to back weeks, and for the purpose of this very stupid thing, he also threw 4 touchdowns. These were easy. The Lions’ secondary has no idea who they are or what they are doing. This is why you have a defensive head coach.

This was my favorite touchdown he threw. Breshad Perriman runs a drag from the other side of the formation against Rashaan Melvin. Winston reads left to right. Perriman is open for like four seconds before he finally crosses Winston’s peripheral vision. I love how Winston ducks in the pocket, pops back up, and then leaves the mail at Perriman’s doorstep. Russell Wilson does this all the time. Winston has been an aquarium prisoned python in a third grade classroom. Wilson is a viper slithering and disappearing under hot rocks.

Winston was sacked twice. A lot of these sacks are his fault, as he searches, and holds, and looks, and finds nothing only to end up a skidmark in the backfield. Some of these aren’t. The offensive isn’t as good as you think it is when you look at the names, accolades, draft positions, and Twitter highlights. Alex Cappa gets beat by the big blitzing linebacker Devon Kennard (#42). There isn’t much Winston can do here.

Last week he threw three interceptions to his four touchdowns. Two of these went to Darius Leonard dropping back in coverage and standing in front of a slant route. This is the same thing, just a different name and shade of blue. Second round pick Jahlani Tavai shows blitz then scampers to the other side of the formation to sit in front of this one.

I have no idea why this keeps happening to him. There’s a beauty in what we don’t understand, and there’s no limit to the absurdity of the human consciousness.

Last week was the most Jamies game you’ll ever see. This one was similar, it was just missing two more interceptions, and a few more sacks. So close. What a shame. Jameis was too good last weekend. Luckily, for us, or just me, the Browns were unable to take down Murray once, and Winston’s interception record is indestructible.

There’s two games left. Houston is coming over to his boathouse this weekend and then he heads to Atlanta next week. There won’t be any resting. The Bucs are going for it. Bruce Arians is trying to establish a winning culture. It’s going to be up to Winston from this point onwards to fulfill this destiny I have created for him that he has no idea exists. Send him an email. Wish him luck. All of America is rooting for him.

2. THE WILL FULLER EFFECT

Entering Sunday’s pseudo AFC South Championship game the Texans were averaging 35 points a game with Will Fuller and 15.2 points a game without him, and yes, I’m including week six against Indy as without him. Deshaun Watson had only attempted 26 passes over fifteen yards through the air without Fuller in the lineup. The Texans’ offense turtles without him. This shouldn’t happen to the extent that it does. Kenny Stills is a slightly slower deep threat with better hands and can do, what, like 90% of what Fuller does. Yet for whatever reason Houston morphs into a play action flat throwing, DeAndre Hopkins slant running, ESTABLISH THE RUNning offense whenever he isn’t out here.

That being said, Fuller’s presence has a dramatic impact on the offense. Defenses are horrified of him. Sprinting deep down the field pulls defenders with him and opens spaces underneath for other receivers to run through.

Houston v. Tennessee was tied 14-14 entering the fourth quarter. After rarely throwing the ball downfield for the majority of the game, Houston went flying downfield when they had to score. It’s first and ten after an eight yard Carlos Hyde run. The Texans are running play action. They put Kenny Stills in motion across the formation to signal zone or man. Everyone sits. It’s cover three. Watson fakes the hand off to Duke Johnson, Will Fuller takes off down the seam, and Hopkins runs a deep dig underneath his route.

Fuller carries all three deep thirds defenders with him creating an empty vacuum of space underneath.

Kevin Byard (#31) is the deep middle defender. He sees what’s happening and turns back around to cover the deep dig. Watson holds this throw until Hopkins crosses past Byard. The safety does a nice job recognizing the route combination and is able to turn back and get in front of Hopkins, but the throw is absolutely perfect. Watson leads Hopkins up the field, allowing him to stray off of Byard, and puts the ball right on the sideline. This is a spectacular and beautiful throw. Unlike your frozen pizza, it deserves all the superlatives.

The throw is even better from the behind view. You can really see the red hue of the rocks and the ball placement from this angle. Also, Nick Martin does a nice job peeling back as a puller to lock up Harold Landry (#58).

That was all very simplistic and very true. Fuller is also valuable because it pushes the opposing cornerbacks Kenny Stills faces down the totem pole. With Fuller out there, Stills is matched up against an opponent’s third and fourth cornerbacks instead of the best ones they have to offer. Stills has the talent level of a second wide receiver. Houston has the upper hand against nearly every secondary when their three best receivers are on the field.

On each of Stills’s touchdowns he runs under and away from man coverage without having to worry about a safety over the top. The Titans kept Byard as their single high safety for the majority of the game and then used Kenny Vacarro to trounce around the box from there. On each one of these throws, Byard’s attention is on Fuller and Hopkins, giving Stills the opportunity to win one v. one matchups.

Logan Ryan (#26) is chasing the entire way. Watson sees his back and shoots the arrow right over the apple.

Tye Smith (#23) doesn’t see the cairn and gets lost at the top of Stills’s route. Byard is watching Hopkins breaking to the middle and is stuck in the swamp.

And, in case you forgot, Fuller is a really great wide receiver against individual matchups. He is more than a whale shark covered in little skin eating fish. Cornerbacks on their own against him scurry backwards. Fear creates easy outside breaking routes.

Any down and distance is a great time to take shots downfield to Fuller. This is 3rd and 4. Fuller runs the ladder to sell something that can break short outside or inside for the first down. This sticks Logan Ryan (#26) in place. From there Fuller flashes past him. Watson checks the safety, sees Ryan chasing, and places the ball to the sideline away from Ryan. Touch. Ball placement. Impeccable. The best part is Fuller actually catches this one.

Previously, I felt that Fuller’s injuries and inability to be relied upon isn’t someone Houston should keep without a first round draft pick next season, and without first and second round draft picks the season after that. They’ll have to build out their roster and fill the holes in free agency. Paying someone who can’t consistently play football, and the oppurtunity cost of being unable to use that money elsewhere, while missing valuable draft capital, didn’t seem like the best use of resources. Then Sunday was again a continuation of a common 2019 theme. The playcallers shouldn’t change their gameplan to the extent that they do when he’s out of the lineup, but they do, and Fuller running upfield has such a dramatic impact, that I don’t think Houston can live without him. Without Fuller in the lineup the Texans are a heartbroken husk.

Hopefully he can stay healthy and play this postseason. With Fuller in the lineup the Texans can score the 31 points or so needed to make up for their pass defense, and compete against any team, in any game, well, except for maybe Baltimore.

3. TITAN UP

Bless the Tennessee Titans. While the rest of the AFC South was hoarding their cap space and overvaluing their young players and prospects, and pushing its star player out by creating a disciplined high school football no tattoos, no beards, no chewing gum, helmet on when your on the sideline work environment, and limiting their dynamic rookie quarterback so they could bench him, the Titans have found themselves, and made the AFC South much more enjoyable.

After benching Marcus Mariota for Ryan Tannehill, they stopped trying to ESTABLISH THE RUN so much, started pushing the ball to the deep middle parts of the field, throwing play action between 10-20 yards, opened up the run game for Derrick Henry, throwing on any down and distance, and created the league’s best play action passing game on a per play basis. The Titans of all teams are doing the things most teams should be doing, and playing offensive football the way it should be played.

One of my other favorite things they do is throw the ball from their own redzone. Tannehill is 6/9 for 197 yards and 1 touchdown from within his own ten yard line. These 197 yards leads the league. Stacked boxes. A.J. Brown one v. one outside. Deep middle safety. Take the snap and push it. The ball is out in 2.08 seconds by my calculations. Tannehill found Brown against Oakland, and now against Houston in this manner. There’s like a drinking age difference between Brown and Johnathan Joseph.

There’s two ways to look at the Titans from a I love the Houston Texans perspective. You either think their racoon mascot is named Bandit because he steals meth from the other tenants at the trailer park, or you cherish good football from any city and find it adorkable that the great pineapple man in the sky has a racoon on his shoulder.

I fall in the latter camp. This is me at the Logan’s Roadhouse after every Tannehill play action pass.

4. PASSING MICHAEL VICK

It took 14 weeks. Lamar Jackson broke Michael Vick’s single season quarterback rushing record. I know me saying this doesn’t mean anything, but I’m very happy he did this. What he’s been able to do in this ecosystem created by Dean Pees has been extraordinary. The Tree Of Life isn’t my favorite film from this decade, the Raven’s rush offense is.

Of course it came on a zone read where motion turned the keeper into counter with two lead blockers following him outside the box.

Vick had the record with 1,039 rushing yards in 2006. Jackson is up to 1,103 rushing yards and there are two games to go. He’ll play this week. He probably won’t play next week. These are the top 15 rushing seasons by a quarterback of all time.

There are two things that stand out from this. One, look how young everyone is. They’re all babies. Aside from Michael Vick in 2010, everyone else is in their 20s. There’s only so many pumps in the heart, so many breaths in the lungs. The goal is to maximize a quarterback’s athleticism when they’re young, and then phase them into the pocket as they mature. See Russell Wilson, see Steve McNair, see Cam Newton’s broken body and blue cheese crumbly foot.

Two, who the hell is Bobby Douglass?

Damn, that boy was getting wild back in the day.

5. EMPTY

We’ve reached that point of the season where those despondent franchises have desolate Sunday stadiums. The tarps are out. The stadium seats are patchy, and there isn’t a pre-game giveaway, not even free beer, that could act as rogaine to stop this pain, and fill in these patches. Season ticket holders stay home and watch their fantasy players on Redzone instead. And some tune out completely, canning okra, picking leaves, buying BigDog clothing for the ones they love in their life.

As a faithful condensed game watcher I love it. Thousands of yelling people have disappeared leading to empty stadiums and pleasant murmuring. The NFL equivalent of the snap, it reminds me of the best part of going to a baseball game, that perfect time when the announcer shuts up, the walkup music is off, the wind blows in, the scoreboard stops begging you to make noise, and then it becomes just the bat and the glove and the ball and the chatter of a school cafeteria.

The worst thing about postmodern society is all the noise. There’s terrible music everywhere. The car groans. The office is loud with clacking, telephone ringing, email buzzing, coworker cackling. The radio is always on. The interstate is rumbling by the house. Dammit Cheryl please shut up and get me some Lonestar Lites. Tampa v. Detroit is finally on. I don’t know. Call your sister. Go for a walk. I’m watching Jameis. Thank you. That’s so much better.

6. HOW ABOUT THAT RUN GAME

The Dallas Cowboys have gone 2-4 in their last six games. And in these six games they have posted the following run offense DVOAs: -60.5%, -7.9%, 3.1%, -18.6%, 4.3%, and then, suddenly, 25.8% against the Los Angeles Rams. Dallas finally beat an above .500 team because of their rush offense. The Cowboys went up 28-7, forced Jared Goff to throw the ball 51 times, and picked up 263 rushing yards on 45 carries, which comes out to 5.84 yards a carry.

This was surprising. Dallas had been struggling to run the ball against competent teams, you know the ones they didn’t feast on like Miami and Washington, and the Rams have been battering offenses with a fringe top five run defense. Aaron Donald is the most double teamed player in football and still leads the league in tackles for a loss, and all those double teams have given Michael Brockers plenty of space to devour runningbacks. Cory Littleton is fantastic as a chase and tackler. And their edge defenders can maintain their ground.

Every member of the Cowboys’ offensive line had a great game, yes even Xavier Su’a-Filo as long as the occasional absurd Aaron Donald run tackle for a loss doesn’t get you down. The Cowboys have one of the rare offensive lines that aren’t married to a scheme. They can run every play imaginable and any play that can be drawn up. It’s a cornucopia of squashes in a wicker horn.

This is trap, and a very strange way to run it. The Cowboys are allowing Donald (#99) to run upfield and are trying to blindside him in the jaw with their fullback Jamize Olawale (#48).

It doesn’t work. Donald bursts around his block, but something strange happens, the running back who has struggled to break tackles breaks a tackle. From there Su’a-Filo makes a nice climb to the second level and walls off Littleton (#58), and Doug Martin (#70) does the same. After the broken tackle the middle of the Rams’ front seven is split open.

It’s outside zone to the left. You know what it is.

The Rams’ front seven do a fine job maintaining their gaps. Elliot reads outside in, nothing is available or open. He plants his foot to cutback. On the backside of the play Clay Matthews (#52) is playing the bootleg and turns into Jadeveon Clowney spinning out coming back to the ball. La’El Collins (#71) squashes the defensive end trying to plant and get back outside as well.

Tony Pollard was slippery and slimy. He broke numerous tackles, turned nothing into big gains, and was able to hold the sprint button. Kellen Moore has done a nice job using motion to create advantages, designing fun plays, but has struggled calling cohesive games that attack an opponent’s weaknesses. See ESTABLISHING THE RUN against Minnesota, and abandoning run the run game against Buffalo. This is a fun play though. Pollard is motioned into the backfield and receivers a quick pitch. The offensive line blocks this like outside zone on the playside with the fullback leading the way to the second level.

This is an especially great block by Collins to feed Morgan Fox (#97) to Martin, and then climb up to Littleton.

Pollard takes another quick pitch. This time he was lined up in the backfield. The only real block he receives is from his wide receiver. He breaks out of big play Samson Ebukam’s (#50) tackle attempt, runs away from another, and then busts out of Troy Reeder’s (#51) tackle to manufacture a 20+ run.

This run cut the head off of the snake. Outside zone left, he stiff arms Reeder, and sprints down the sideline to score.

Pollard ended the day with 12 carries for 131 yards. He picked up more yards than Elliot on half the amount of carries. This is the most carries he’s had since week 3 against Miami. He’s been sitting on the bench too long because of this insatiable desire to feed Elliot. Having two great running backs is important regardless how much you are paying the first one.

This is some great power running. The Cowboys have four linemen who are great at pulling—sorry Xavier. They love to run power, counter, sweep, and pin and pull actions. Blake Jawrwin (#89) blocks down on the defensive end as the pin. This gives Collins the path to pull to Matthews. Martin follows to the box safety masquerading as a nickle linebacker. Frederick (#72) reaches, seals, and pancakes the nose tackle. Football is better with him back on the field.

This run is also important because it came on first down. Dallas loves running on first down. Their offense relies heavily on it, even when they shouldn’t in certain matchup advantages, and force Dak Prescott to throw them out of the hole. Elliot averaged 5.75 yards a carry and Pollard averaged 7.33 yards a carry on first down. Everything about their run game worked against the Rams 3-4 and 4-2 defenses.

Last one. It’s counter to the left, but a variation of it. Dallas pulls Martin (#70) to Dante Fowler Jr. (#56) and the fullback (#49) pulls to Littleton (#58). Everything else is the same. Frederick blocks down on the nose tackle. Su’a-Filo (#76) and Tyron Smith (#77) have a strong double team against Donald (#99) that climbs up to the backside linebacker Reeder (#51).

Smith bends Donald into the center of the line of scrimmage like a cafeteria fork, and the spoonfed bib wearing Su’a-Filo turns him away from the play. The second level block here is great too. Reeder has had a rough jump from Delaware to the NFL. Fowler runs upfield and out of the play. Olawale gets his head on Littelton’s shoulder and drives him out of the hole.

This was a vintage Cowboys run game, the type that drove their team in 2014 and 2016. Dallas relied upon it to finally beat a team over .500 for the first time. Does this mean anything for the future? Who knows. Dallas’s advanced stats and point differential are absurd compared to their win-loss record. I give up understanding this team. I don’t know what they are and the same can be said about their upcoming opponent.

7. MANIFEST DESTINY

In August, back when were tan, smooth, and hot, we felt the feeling that training camps, mock drafts, and NFL preview magazines in the checkout aisle bring out of us, and then used that deep intrigue as a jumping off point to imagine a future colder, darker, and uglier reality.

Back then, I had a thought that everyone had. We were James K. Polk looking at the NFL schedule. Manifest destiny. The NFC East will be decided by Dallas v. Philadelphia in week sixteen. It’s going to happen. From the Atlantic to the Pacific. From week one to week sixteen. There’s nothing either team can do about it.

It almost didn’t happen. The Eagles could have stumbled to the Giants in overtime and Washington last week, but they managed to make it. The Cowboys could have run away with the division multiple times, but allowed atrocious game plans, lack of leadership, and a general listlessness to block them from doing so. A game where the consolation prize could have been the wildcard, will decide the division between two 7-7 teams.

I love these games. I love win and get in at the end of the season. I love division championships. Bathing in the Pacific, after all those days crossing the Missouri, the Mississippi, the Rockies, and scrambling through the great Mojave. Don’t ask me what’s going to happen though. Neither team makes any sense. I have no idea. Dallas has won the last four matchups. They’ve played better this season. Take that for what you will.

8. BEEN WAITING ALL WEEK FOR JOSH ALLEN

Jameis is the funnest quarterback to watch in the league, but Allen is my favorite. He’s frontal lobeless and irresponsible, a glorious manifestation of the beauties and pains of youth, and most of all, he’s a quarterback who does things no one has done, or ever will be able to do.

For too long his wonder has been relegated to Sunday at 12 p.m. Those eyes glisten brighter under the bright night lights, then under the fading winter sun. He understood what he needed to accomplish against Pittsburgh. Play smart. Don’t take negative plays. No turnovers—his only one bounced off Cole Beasley’s little fingers. Pick and choose. Make plays when you need to.

He did exactly that. Let it breath. Say less. His motion and play speaks for itself. For there is no way to critically analyze his game. Air yards, film study, it’s all a load of rubbish, a full stomach after swallowing air.

Allen climbed the pocket and tried to stiff arm Cameron Heyward. Did it work? Of course not. But you have to love the attempt. He picks up six regardless.

The one flaw in his game is his inability to throw the ball downfield. The quick passing ball placement has transformed into being pretty good. He can throw short and with touch. It’s just hard to wrestle a dragon, especially if it’s attached to your torso.

It takes a while for the superheroes in the movies to learn their powers. Every video games starts with a tutorial. It still needs more time to brew. He found John Brown once down the left sideline. I love how quick he carries this play action fake against the Steelers murderous rush. He puts the ball inside when he sees the cornerback’s back, which helps draw the pass interference. Probably not. This was probably a missed throw. Who cares. Brown makes the catch anyways.

He did all this in a bludgeoning defensive fight. Both teams are similar. The Bills just have a better quarterback, slightly better pass defense, and worse run defense. They came out alive after this one, and are an almost certainty as the #5 seed this postseason.

Primetime Josh Allen is already back again this week too. This Saturday is the greatest day of football I’ve ever seen. I don’t think my heart that’s corrupted by my family tree can take it. Houston going to Jameis’s boathouse at 12 p.m. Allen going to Foxborough at 3:15 p.m. And then the Rams trying to stave off the Vikings Wildcard clinch against San Francisco.

9. THE BEST BAD TEAM BOWL

The Arizona Cardinals. The king of the rats, defended their throne against the Cleveland Browns. The Browns are of course talented, but they are a bad football team. Too many penalties, too many turnovers, redzone inefficient, somehow couldn’t even sack Kyler Murray once—the most sacked quarterback in the league. Allowed four touchdowns to Kenyan Drake. Didn’t push the ball downfield against a bottom five pass defense. Rarely plays with pace. Missed a late coward’s field goal on 4th and 2. Get this off my screen.

The Cardinals tied Detroit when Matthew Stafford was in Leonardo’s laboratory testing out his flying machines, and have won four games since then against Cincinnati, Atlanta, New York (G), and now Cleveland. They played San Francisco close twice, were blown out by better teams, and the whole time they were fun, enjoyable, entertaining, and intelligent once Kliff Kingsbury stopped kicking 23 yard field goals. Arizona beat the bad teams, lost to the good teams, and are the rulers of the NFL sewer. You couldn’t ask for a better rebirth.

10. PRO BOWL PICKING

The Pro Bowl votes came out yesterday. You can see them here. It’s good to see the voters ignored the false start penalties and put Laremy Tunsil in, ignored DeAndre Hopkins’s drop off in efficiency since Houston has turned him into a middle of the field weapon, and that Deshaun Watson is in, not as a replacement this time, and has established himself as one of the five best quarterbacks in the league. Hopefully none of them play in this game because the Houston Texans are going to the NFL Championship.

The dumbest part about it isn’t even the Pro Bowl itself, or that period of time when they had team captains, or when they moved the game away from Hawaii, or the dodgeball competition. No, it’s the snubs articles and posts. The game is meaningless. No one watches it. No one cares. Infinite content and I’m infinitely depressed. The All-Pro teams are the only one ones that matters anyways. Save your snubs for then.