1. NO, YOU SUCK MOTHER$&@%#$
I’ll always love Tim Kelly for this play call. After a month of Brandin Cooks failing to beat defensive backs vertically, and mainly being used to run deep crossing routes, and even being goosed in week four against Minnesota, Kelly situated Cooks on Houston’s first offensive play of the game to win exactly in this manner.
Deshaun Watson motioned Kenny Stills across the formation to confirm man coverage. It’s cover one. This leaves Brandin Cooks lined up against Chase Claybrooks. Cooks is running a fade toward the right sideline. The key here is his pre-snap alignment. He has a fairly tight split. The free safety is on the opposite hash. Cooks has plenty of space to run his route against a backup cornerback who’s backing up a bad cornerback.
Cooks chops his feet once the ball is snapped and plants on his left foot. The plant sends Claybrook inside, and as a result, Claybrook misses his press, something Cooks typically struggles to beat. This little bit of space is all Cooks needs. From there he takes off towards the sideline, and widens his route out, creating space vertically by running horizontally. After spending the first month of the season missing some of his downfield attempts, Watson puts this ball right on Cooks, meeting him along his path.
I’ll always love Romeo Crennel for this decision. It’s 4th and 4. A field goal keeps it a two possession game. A touchdown seals Houston’s first win this season, and the first for Houston’s interim head coach. Riverboat Romeo keeps his offense out on the field.
Houston gets man coverage again against Jacksonville’s big blitz. This time Jacksonville’s defensive backs are angling to wall off any inside breaking routes. Cooks takes a wide step at the top of his route to sell the corner, sending Claybrooks in that direction. Cooks breaks under Claybrooks. It’s a sprint from there. Against cover zero, without any safety help, Cooks takes care of the rest, and scampers to score.
Houston’s offensive finally broke through. After a summer of wishing upon Tim Kelly’s super vertical super cool kill em all offense there was finally some semblance of it this week. Sure, Jacksonville was without their two best defensive players Myles Jack, the anchor of their front seven, and Josh Allen, who’s almost the entirety of their pass rush, and were without multiple starting defensive backs on the worst pass defense by DVOA.
The Texans’ offense has the talent to be better, and it should have been better. The Jaguars were the slump buster the Texans needed. Hopefully this was the result of Houston understanding what Bill O’Brien didn’t grasp: throwing the ball downfield is good, putting Watson in more spread and empty sets is good too, and the universe doesn’t reward cowardice. Hopefully this wasn’t just the result of playing a terrible pass defense.
At 1-4, in the depths of the AFC’s dungeon, the playoffs are more eye closed laying on the mattress fantasy than reality. That being said, every weekend is beautiful without O’Brien around, and hopefully Kelly can put together enough interesting offensive game plans to make Sundays raucous, instead of hungover and listless, while we sit by the pool with pink umbrellas in our drinks and our Wayfarers on.
2. END AROUNDS
The jet sweep is part of the NFL’s zeitgeist thanks to the Los Angeles Rams, who used it to morph Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp into running backs who dabble as wide receivers, and then extract this motion to run play action passes, boot legs, shovel passes, and yank defenders to lighten up the boxes when running the outside zone.
Last weekend teams had success utilizing its cousin, the end around with success. Pittsburgh ran end arounds with Chase Claypool, a member of this advanced rookie wide receiver group, multiple times to convert on first down and score in the redzone.
It’s third and two. The Steelers are blocking the play like outside zone left. They have Eric Ebron peeling up to defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman (#31). Ebron (#85) is able to drive him wide, creating a seam for Claybrooks. Rodney McLeod (#23) fills in the blank from the free safety position, and makes a nice low tackle attempt, but Claybrooks is too monstrous, and carries forward for the first.
They ran the same play later on in the redzone. This time, they run the same outside zone look going right, but rather than allow K’Von Wallace (#42) or Nathan Gerry (#47) to chase Claybrooks, they leave Malik Jackson (#97) unblocked. Claybrooks, bursting into the hand off after the pre-snap motion, is able to run around Jackson. Trey Edmunds (#33) and Ebron make their blocks. It’s easy from there.
Later that afternoon, the New York Giants, had success in a similar way, in a similar situation, against the Dallas Cowboys. They opted to run this play with tight end Evan Engram (#88). Both teams left a defensive linemen unblocked to get their skill player in a position to out run him. Unlike Pittsburgh, New York (G) ran this play in as complicated of a way as possible.
New York pulls left guard Will Hernandez (#71) to sell power, which draws middle linebacker Jaylon Smith (#54) away from the end around. Left tackle Andrew Thomas (#78) blocks down on the defensive end, then moves up to seal the second level.
Engram comes wide around Daniel Jones to accept the hand off. Everon Griffen (#97) is sitting there, waiting for him, and in a good position to play the ball. He’s looked a little chunky this season though. Engram is able to widen out, jam a foot at him, and bounce his run wide around Griffen to score.
The Chiefs got one of their own with Tyreek Hill running the end around. They used pre-snap motion to disfigure this play even more. MeCole Hardman (#17) motions behind Patrick Mahomes to sell the end around, before Hill comes around from the other direction. The Chiefs block outside zone left. Hill takes the ball back around the running back. Finalizing the third layer to the play.
The fun block is Anthony Sherman (#42). He leads the way for Hill. First he is able to nibble at Clelin Ferrel (#98) and acts as enough of a hindrance to allow Hill to outrun him. Afterwards Sherman latches onto the defensive back. And Travis Kelce, split out wide, is able to block a defensive back of his own. This creates a rush lane for Hill after he outruns Ferrell.
It’s the same play, four different ways, four different times, and each time it was run to success. No matter how it was designed, the key to the play is the same. Get your fast and nimble against their slow and sloggy, allow them to be an athlete, and make a play with the ball.
3. I’M PASS PROTECTING ALL DAY LONG
After being tortured by Kansas City last season, losing 10-28 thanks to a 28 point second quarter, and 9-40, the Raiders delivered a blow of their own, scoring 21 points in the second quarter and beat Kansas City 40-32, in a game where it felt inevitable Patrick Mahomes would weasel his way back until he ultimately came up short.
The main reason why Las Vegas had success against what was the best pass defense by DVOA, was because their pass protection allowed Derek Carr to deliver beautiful deep passes to his zipping wide receivers.
Las Vegas runs a max protect play action pass with a Yankee concept. Nelson Agholor is running a deep post over a deep dig. Kansas City rolls into quarters after the snap.
The safety drives on the deep dig. This leaves Tyrann Mathieu (#32) relocating to his spot, chasing a galloping wide receiver from a flat footed position. The left cornerback Charvarius Ward (#35) is shallow pre-snap. He sees Agholor running the post and hurries to the deep fourth. This leaves Agholor pretty much one v. one against Mathieu.
Agholor is able to split both of them, and is tossed into the endzone by Mathieu. It’s a 59 yard touchdown.
On the back end the Chiefs send five, that turns into six once Devontae Booker (#23) stays in and blocks. The Raiders slide their protection scheme one gap over to the left. They swallow up the slants. Booker is able to recover and get in front of Ben Nienmann’s (#56) loop around to the quarterback. Derek Carr is calm. This is easy. He strolls up the pocket and delivers a perfect touch pass to Agholor.
Carr has shown throughout his career that he’s a top ten quarterback when he has great pass protection in front of him. He had this last year. He has this again this season, but the difference is he has actual wide receivers to throw too. Henry Ruggs III hurts my eyes, and it looks like time itself is slowing down when he’s speeding around the field. Agholor has provided a deep pass reception almost every game. These two are averaging 29.5 and 18.5 yards a catch. Josh Jacobs and Jalen Richards are plus pass catching running back. Darren Waller is one of the best receiving tight ends in the game. Hunter Renfrow has provided consistent production. And Jon Gruden has proved sordid football fans wrong scheming and crafting together a plus offense.
Throughout this game the Raiders were able to exploit the Chiefs’ zone coverage with speed and scheme, and devoured the Chiefs pass rush, allowing Carr to throw without worry.
On third and ten, from a bunch right formation, Ruggs III torched a confused zone turning Ward (#35) and leaped over Rashad Fenton for a 46 yard gain. Chris Clark’s hand fighting was miserable against Kolton Miller (#74) and Alex Okafor was swallowed by the 380 lb. Trent Brown (#77).
An off-set I formation became a vertical passing play, even without a play action fake, once fullback Alec Ingold ran wide around the formation, and peeled his route to the sideline. The protection is perfect here again. Gabe Jackson (#61) and Rodney Hudson (#66) turned into an octopus, and with eight limbs, they shunted Chris Jones (#95). Even Jason Witten (#82) got in on the action extending Tanoh Kpassagnon (#92) and curling him around the pocket.
On third and two, out of another bunch formation, Ruggs III was able to run horizontally to open up space inside against Ward (#35), turning his vertical route towards the middle of the field. The single deep safety Drew Sorensen (#49) bites and vacates his deep middle location giving Ruggs III a free run.
The pass protection had a little bit of interior pressure. The Chiefs sent six. The offensive line handled their assignments. Anthony Hitchens (#53) blitzed and rampaged through Josh Jacobs (#28). This carnage prevented Carr from climbing the pocket. With a short stride, and arm talent alone, he was able to put the ball on Ruggs perfectly for a 72 yard score.
And later in the game, on third and eighteen, Mathieu (#32) failed to follow Hunter Renfrow’s post in quarters coverage once the other safety drove down on the curl. The pass protection here is excellent. Taco Charlton (#94) is able to fabricate the illusion of pressure, but he’s too wild and out of control, a drunken parking lot doughnut, and Miller is able to drive him across of Carr. Calm and zen. Finding the center. Carr slide steps away from the rowdy and hits Renfrow.
Even without factoring in the Raiders’ incredible pass protecting offensive line, it’s difficult to rush the passer against Vegas. They use a wide variety of formations and play action fakes, based around their run game that can run both power and zone plays, making it difficult to get a feel for what they’re up to, and how to attack their offense.
This, combined with the deep threat speed they have, gives the Raiders the explosive offense they missed last season. Even with some defensive issues, the Raiders have the offense to be a wildcard team this year, and should be able to accomplish what they failed to last year.
4. DEMONS ARE REAL, AND THEY ARE LIVING AMONG US
Nick Foles was awful once again last week, but it didn’t matter because nothing matters, and nothing makes any sense whenever he’s the starting quarterback. The Bears are 4-1 after beating Tampa Bay 20-19, not because of their defense, or their short passing game, or Kyle Fuller’s skeleton rattling forced fumble, or Jimmy Graham’s one handed touchdown catch, or Tom Brady not knowing there are four downs, but because their demonic quarterback was able to do just enough, like he always does.
In the first half is accuracy was splintered wood. Passes exploding across the field, the result of force and entropy, instead of decided by his arm. On third and two, he missed Allen Robinson on a quick roll out to the flat.
He missed Robinson on and out and up, throwing him short, but Robinson is one of the best receivers in the league, and was able to pick this ball off the ground.
He missed Robinson on a fade down the sideline, putting the ball on his inside shoulder, instead of his backside shoulder, allowing the defensive back to play the ball, popping it up and creating the interception.
He missed Daryl Mooney on an easy corner route touchdown.
He took a weak roughing the passer penalty that helped swing the field position enough, to give the Bears an advantageous opportunity for a game winning drive.
But he almost blew it, by throwing a floppy pass while hit by Ndamukong Suh (#93), that somehow wasn’t intercepted.
He was able to hit one throw consistently all game. He could throw swing passes and wheel routes to receivers running routes from out of the backfield. He hit Cordarrelle Patterson in this manner.
And he was able to hit David Montgomery as well (#32). Foles motioned him from out wide to the backfield to sell Montgomery’s call to pass protection against a front filled with thrashing and slobbering bodies. Throughout this game, Tampa would use their edge defenders as funnels. If the back stays they rush the passer. If the back goes out for a pass, they follow in coverage. Montgomery was able to beat Shaq Barrett (#58) wide. Foles, against pressure, threw a fade away back foot pass, looking more like Dirk Nowitzki than as a NFL quarterback. This throw was all Chicago needed to set up a game winning field goal attempt.
It really is inconceivable at this point. That Foles, no matter how terrible he plays, or how many passes he’s missed, is able to pull off wins after making three competent throws. Foles isn’t the fish floating swimming through holy waters he claims to be. He’s the upside down cross hanging over the black crib. This isn’t light, this is darkness.
5. MINNESOTA GOING FOR IT
Up 26-21, facing a fourth and one, on Seattle’s six yard line, the Vikings made the right decision. At the time they had a win probability of 90.23%. A field goal would bump them up to 90.77%, a difference of 0.54%. Only adding a two point conversion requirement to Seattle’s game winning drive attempt, and it would give Seattle better field position as well. Most likely flipping them from the 6 to the 25. Converting would effectively end the game, giving them a win probability of 99.57%. They ran a lead play, and Alexander Mattison was crushed by Benson Mayowa and Bobby Wagner. The decision to go for it was correct though.
Out came Russell Wilson. 1st & 10 and 1:57 left down with the ball at his own six he went to work. He completed passes for 17, 39, 17, 15, and 6 yards to score, including converting a 4th and 10 and a 4th and 6, each one to D.K. Metcalf, to keep the drive alive, and to take the lead.
Metcalf had a full workload during this drive. He caught 3 of his 6 targets for 60 yards and a touchdown. Two misses were drops on his end. The other he got jammed on a fade route. In the end it didn’t matter because he beat Cameron Dantzler on a vertical route, where Dantzler completely lost the ball in the air, caught a quick slant against zone coverage, and beat Anthony Harris trying to drive down on his drag route through the endzone.
Last season the Seahawks went 10-2 in one score games. This season they’re 4-0 in such instances, with finger chomping wins over New England, Dallas, and now Minnesota, and some late game Miami haranguing. Nothing can be easy for them. There’s no such thing as regression to the mean. There’s only one possession wins behind their MVP quarterback.
6. STUPID STUPID STUPID
Both the Indianapolis Colts and Cleveland Browns are winning games with their quarterback, not because of them. Both Philip Rivers and Baker Mayfield made hilarious decisions and hilarious throws in last Sunday’s game between the two.
Rivers is still Rivers. At 38 years old he plays quarterback like he’s on a military boat traveling deeper and deeper into the Vietnam jungle, gunfire creates a strobe light effect, now his face is painted, now he’s on LSD, now he’s stuck in pocket, mad and crazed, with confused by the landscape, angered by his own morality.
Mayfield sees the game late. He makes throws after they should have already been made. Most of his completions are the result of rolling left or right. Nearly everything is off play action or on the move. Kevin Stefanski has done a great job designing route combinations to attack whatever coverages teams primarily play. He creates easy throws for Mayfield. The problem is zone confuses Baker Mayfield often enough, and goads him into mistakes. The key is to pounce on these mistakes when they arrive. Both Bobby Okereke and Anthony Walker were able to do exactly this.
Last week’s game between these two teams was a stupendous affair. Each team has offenses built in very concise and square ways that make sense, and each has one of the best offensive lines in the league. Defensively, the Colts don’t have any holes, and are above average at every position group, and have the best statistical defense partly because of the schedule they’ve played. Cleveland has an incredible pass rush with enough secondary talent to back it up, and they’ve gotten better linebacker play than expected.
But each team has high variance quarterbacks that struggle to play clean games. And they’re each going to be tripping over them as they chase each other in the Wildcard playoff race.
7. WHAT’S HIS IS HIS AGAIN
Seeing different names upon the sack leader board was fun while it lasted. What’s Aaron Donald’s is once his again. Donald (#99) had four sacks against the football team last week, and now has seven and half through five weeks this year, is one and a half up on Myles Garrett, and two and a half up on Yannick Ngakoue and Z’Darius Smith.
The first three involved a rip and bend; a punch, extend and rip; and a Ngakoue esque leap chop rip from a jet defensive tackle position. Welcome back Alex Smith.
The last was something absurd and obscene, and something no one has ever seen. He’s lined up as a jet rusher again. He’s a 4i matched up against right guard Wes Schweitzer (#71). He bullrushes Schweitzer eight yards backwards, and on their transit through the backfield, he casually, ever so slightly, reaches an arm out and knocks the ball out of Smith’s hands. This is like grabbing someone’s icecream cone while on a roller coaster.
8. I HATE TUESDAYS :(
Unfortunately, there are no Josh Allen highlights this week. The Bills played Tuesday Night Football against the Tennessee flu, and ended up losing 14-42.
Instead, there’s something else to bathe in. OUR Justin Herbert highlights. Herbert has been a top ten quarterback this year, despite playing behind a rotating band of carnies at offensive line, having no real ground game, and injuries to Mike Williams and Keenan Allen. Despite this, the kid, who still dries his face off with Stridex pads every night before bed, is staying strong against the blitz, outrunning and outgunning the pass rush, beating fine coverage with sniper shot throws, and pushing the ball downfield, especially to Jaylen Guyton.
As mentioned before, it’s even more remarkable he’s been able to pull this off with the offensive line he has. Scott Tevi and Trey Pipkins III were his offensive tackles against the New Orleans Saints, who have one of the best front four rushes in the game. Even while playing quarterback in a submarine at the bottom of the ocean, he was able to throw four touchdowns, and put his team in a position to kick a game winning field goal, and saw Williams stopped a yard short on his quest to tie it in overtime.
Yet, the Chargers remain the Chargers. I think we have our answer. It isn’t Philip Rivers who’s cursed. Rivers is just Rivers. Dag nabbit hollering, blood thirsty and screaming, whose play is soured by the occasional insane interception. During his career with the Chargers he went 58-71 in one score games. Including a 2-9 record in 2019. Justin Herbert is 0-4 in such games to start his career, after Tyrod Taylor led them to a one score win in week one, because Randy Bullock missed an easy field goal and feigned injury afterwards to water down the humiliation. This missed kick is probably going to be one of many Herbert will watch doink off of yellow and bonk into the turf.
9. RUN THE BALL
The Falcons fell to 0-5. The previous blew a 28-3 lead management group is out after a loss to the Carolina Panthers. The main reason for this is their pass defense is terrible once again. And Teddy Bridgewater picked it apart ruthless and efficiently, and hit crossing pattern after crossing pattern against them.
The second reason why is they didn’t attack Carolina’s biggest weakness—their run defense. The Panthers love to play Nickle with Tahir Whithead at linebacker. He’s really bad. Every team has been able to run the ball against them because of the talent, and the light boxes they utilize. The Falcons were able to as well.
In the first half the Falcons had 7 carries for 71 yards in the first half. If you remove Todd Gurley’s 35 yard down this still comes out to 6 yards a carry. In this same half Matt Ryan was 11/17 for 82 yards, and he was sacked for losses of 9 and 2 yards, which comes out to 71 net passing yards. They found themselves down 7-20 at the half.
The Falcons ran the ball multiple ways. They ran outside zone, they ran sweep, they ran inside zone out of the shotgun, duo, split zone, and inside zone. It was a buffet of run plays. Todd Gurley looked pretty good bouncing these runs out wide. He had four carries over ten yards. He picked up six first downs.
My favorite of which was this sweep play. I’m a Kaleb McGary guy, one of the rare few who felt he was worth a first round pick, and was one of the best offensive tackles in the 2019 class. His punches stifle edge rushers. He pummels defensive ends off the ball. I’m a sucker for any college prospect who shows the ability to pass and run block. Here McGary (#76) pulls around the downblocks and tumbles over a cornerback out in time and space while Brian Hill (#21) follows his lead.
The Falcons are 0-5. Their season died. They don’t have a young quarterback worth watching. Instead it’s Matt Ryan raging against the dying light, in what may end up becoming a Rivers situation next offseason. I’ll still be watching. Because they have McGary and his partner Chris Lindstrom. No matter how bad a team is, or how empty their performance may leave you, there’s always something you can find to enjoy, and of all the things the game has to offer, McGary and Lindstrom is one of my personal favorites.
10. S-U-C-K SUCK SUCK SUCK
Sam Darnold was out last week with an AC sprain, so in came that source of quarterback horror, Joe Flacco. Flacco was even worse than the expected disaster. Missing wide open short passes. Clunky throwing motion, Overthrowing open downfield receivers. But at least he didn’t take sacks, at least he didn’t take interceptions.
The best part of his performance was the connection he found with undrafted free agent wide receiver Jeff Smith. The week before Smith and Darnold paired together for 7 catches on 9 targets for 81 yards. This week Flacco targeted Smith 11 times, and completed 3 passes for 23 yards. And as a quarterback, Smith was sacked once and lost 16 yards.
Here are the lowlights.
This sums up the Jets 2020 season, more than everything else, more than Jerry Jeudy leaping over Pierre Desier to catch his first touchdown catch of the year, the double pick sixes Sam Darnold threw against Indianapolis, Le’Veon Bell blowing out his hamstring trying to catch a fade against Buffalo, Raheem Mostert’s first play touchdown, the mismanagement of Bell or Mekhi Becton’s injury, or the Jets spending the offseason renovating the entire offensive line, only to still have a bad offensive line.
Every time you think the bottom can’t drop any deeper there’s always another layer, another step down into the abyss. Like football, or the old testament, or the self, there’s no bottom to New York Jets’ football miseries. At least the New York Giants at 0-5, give a damn. That can’t be said for the Jets. Adam Gase speaks from the flap of space missing from the section of his neck that used to connect his head to his chest. He only exists to collect a paycheck. The axe is too blunt. Sharpen it up. Stop waiting. Start moving on.