1. JUST AS ADVERTISED
The teams who took advantage of and invested in the 2020 all-time great wide receiver class have already seen their selections pay off. Back in April, when general managers hung out with their friends online, thirteen receivers were selected in the first two rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft. This season they have combined for 102 catches for 1,452 yards and 5 touchdowns in three weeks.
This week Justin Jefferson was unleashed. Gary Kubiak read last week’s TEN THINGS and realized that, yes, I should get Jefferson integrated in the offense. Kirk Cousins working out of three step drops under center and trying to complete every pass to Adam Thielen isn’t a framework for a successful offense. Jefferson had 7 catches on 9 targets for 175 yards and 1 touchdown.
Jefferson played primarily from the slot at LSU, but he has the skill set to win from any pre-snap alignment on the field. On 2nd & 8, he used a hop release against Malcolm Butler (#21), who’s playing press-man. The release gives him inside leverage, and opens up Butler’s hips. Conjoined together in motion like this, Jefferson swipes Butler off with his forearm and breaks on the out. After the catch he turns to fight from the bear trap tackle to pick up the first.
This same release was used on 3rd and 3 to beat Butler in man coverage again. This time he doesn’t snap off the route. He carries it up field, without squeezing himself into the sideline. His inside arm staves off Butler’s near arm, the one closest to the catch point, without fully extending. Butler is turned and chasing. Jefferson leaps over him to high point the ball, and show off his yellow hamburger helper gloves.
He sat in weak spots against zone coverage, used his arm to swipe away limbs and create space, and of course, there was the deep post play action touchdown. On 2nd & 8, the Vikings lined up in an I-formation and motion Thielen across the line of scrimmage to create a twin left wide receiver formation. Against cover one, this puts Johnathan Joseph (#33) against Jefferson, and Butler against Thielen, with Kenny Vacarro (#24) acting as the deep middle defender.
Joseph is unprepared and wishes he built that concrete bunker. He shuffles and attempts to catch Jefferson in a desperate fit. Jefferson takes a slight stab upfield to keep Joseph stuck to the turf, and then busts to the numbers. Then it’s just called being an athlete. He outruns Joseph’s diving leg grasping attempt, and cuts inside of Vacarro’s pursuit angle, before tap dancing into the endzone like that cartoon frog who died in the 1990s.
Minnesota’s outside zone play action offense worked the last two seasons because of the dynamics Stefon Diggs and Thielen offered. After a messy breakup, it’s up to Jefferson to slide into this role and provide the big plays offered against single high defenses stuck filling the box in an attempt to stop Dalvin Cook.
Of this rookie class, Jerry Jeudy is my personal favorite so far. He turns even simple slant routes against man coverage, into a spectacular display of dance.
This is as much as it is a seizure, as it is a shuffle release.
He’s been best from the slot so far, running these crossing routes and winning with speed alone. His vertical game has been limited by his quarterbacks, Drew Lock, who’s the anti-Josh Allen, and Jeff Driskel. Hopefully one day he’ll play with a quarterback who can fully utilize him. For now, it’s obscene route running, that makes up for the dropsies, and limited route tree.
I’m also a fan of his Denver teammate KJ Hamler. He’s more than a return man. His speed on the outside creates meadows of separation between him and the corner. Speed like this opens up digs, outs, and comeback routes. Like Jeudy, he’s going to horrifying once the quarterback position is settled.
CeeDee Lamb is the leader entering week four with 245 receiving yards. He looks like he’s performing a hyperrealized version of football in a soft drink commercial, than actually playing football. Out in space, he’s a great spinning carousel, flashing pastel lights and colors, and if he was a carousel creature, instead of the carousel itself, he’d be the ostrich. This out route against Atlanta happened two weeks ago, and I’m still wrapped up in it.
Jalen Reagor started the year off with a bomb against the football team. He caught one pass that game for 55 yards. Against quarters coverage a dino route froze the corner, and then liquefied him. The golden retriever frisbee catch turned 3rd and 22 into a first down conversion.
He torched the corner, and split the safety, on a post route that flattened to the sideline, out running the secondary both vertically and horizontally. Carson Wentz was just a little too juiced up.
Unfortunately, Reagor is out until at least week nine because of a thumb injury. He’s lucky that’s all he escaped the Rams game with after Wentz led him into the volcano multiple times.
Henry Ruggs III is Jeudy’s former Alabama teammate. He hasn’t contributed much aside from a deep play action catch against Carolina. The speed is easy until he does though.
Tee Higgins caught two easy touchdown passes against Philadelphia. His best catch was a deep out against cover three. It’s a great attack at the catch point, and he snags it away from his body. He’s big, and he’s from Clemson, and even if he looks a little slow, he’s probably going to be good.
Brandon Aiyuk, like Reagor, is a deep play threat. In his second game against New York (G), he caught 5 passes for 70 yards, but it was pretty mild. A lot of squatting against zone, except for his end around touchdown run. He’s almost too fast on this touchdown, and nearly drove his car off the field, and into the ravine along the sideline. I’m sure Kyle Shanahan has some great big plans for him that will leave FilmTwitter dripping throughout this season.
Chase Claypool caught a fade route he shouldn’t have been able to catch against a deep third vertical defender. The foot race after the catch is awe inspiring, and rarely seen, from a player of his size.
Laviska Shenault Jr., is a running back and a receiver this year. He has 8 carries and 11 catches. As a receiver, he’s mainly running crossing patterns and stampeding through the secondary after the catch. He’s like if Cordarrelle Patterson was a worse running back, but a better receiver.
As for the rest, Van Jefferson broke a tackle in week one against Dallas to score, and is fighting for leftover targets with Josh Reynolds. Michael Pittman Jr. sat in zone coverage a few times, but never started his downfield work with Philip Rivers before leg surgery zapped his season. And Denzel Mims is on the injured reserve because of hamstrings, not a hamstring, but hamstrings. He’ll be better off waiting until Adam Gase is fired before playing a snap anyways.
Every generation is better than the previous one. They’ll keep pushing the mind and body into undiscovered dimensions and unheard of athletic feats. These receivers seem more than that though. They’re advanced. A different species birthed from years of incubation in the womb of 7 v. 7 national camps and spread offenses. The speed, skill, and talent, is already superseding what you see from typical rookie receivers.
It hurts my eyes. They’re little blurs across the screen. I can barely keep up. I don’t even know if I like it. But they’re here, and they’re going to transform the league anyways.
2. G-TE COUNTER
After smashing hands until they’re bloody purple mangled mashes, and heads into sternums until there is a dull ringing, pulling is a liberating experience for an offensive lineman. Nothing beats a nice drop step, coming around your teammate’s hip, and BLAM-O.
My favorite power run play iteration is guard-tight end counter. In the battle of OHIO, the Cleveland Browns ran this play to perfection to hollow out the Cincinnati Bengals front seven.
Since they’re running this play to the weak-side of the formation they end up getting two individual down blocks, and left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. (#71) drives the defensive end out wide on his own. Both Wyatt Teller (1) and Austin Hooper (2) pull to the box linebackers. It’s a perfect play for a seven man box, with the strong side alley defender a safety on the opposite side of the formation.
Teller strangles the chest. Hooper, an underrated blocker, has perfect inside head placement to act as a shield between the defender and the ball carrier.
Then, from there, it’s time for the secondary to tackle Nick Chubb, which is like trying to grind a train to a halt with a lasso.
Minnesota ran the same play to score from 39 yards out against Tennessee. The first play-side double team takes the two tight ends to the first linebacker. The ‘duece’ between Dru Samia (#73) and Brian O’Neill (#75) isn’t required to get to the second level. They only have to drive the ‘3’ technique off the line of scrimmage. After that it’s down blocks to ensure clean pulls, and Dakota Dozier (#78) and Irv Smith Jr. (#84) to lead the way.
It’s a great mix up to the outside zone. Front seven defenders flow with the direction of the offensive line and get sucked up away from the play. The down blocks on the play-side get the front moving in this direction. Here, it leads to (1) Kenny Vacarro (#24) breaking away from the play, and scampering back to the ball directly into Dozier. Each double team does its job. Smith Jr., like Hooper, understands the importance of head placement. And Dalvin Cook gets to play race car once the hole materializes.
The Browns and Vikings look into the mirror and see each other. The trunk of both offenses is the outside zone, and other plays are tendrils shooting off it. The lateral movement of the outside zone, hypnotizes the defense into following the movement of the line of scrimmage, instead of the steps themselves. Which then opens up change up plays like this for enormous gains.
Guard-tight end counter rules. Keep your eyes open for it, and off the ball, as you watch more and more football before the Titans ruin it all.
Jeffery Simmons fell in the 2019 NFL Draft because of a torn ACL, and character concerns, which turned a top ten talent into the 19th overall pick. The Titans got their Jurrell Casey replacement who could play every technique on the interior up to the five, and anchor Titans’ defensive lines in the future. As a rookie, he flashed, but didn’t provide consistent production, having to learn the pro game on the fly, while trying to work himself into shape.
After bathing in the lake, and drying off this offseason, Simmons has dived into this season. From the defensive tackle position, he already has 12 tackles, 2 tackles for a loss, 2 quarterback hits, and 1 sack. Against Minnesota, he was tumor that poisoned the Vikings’ offense.
The entirety of the Vikings’ interior, Sumia, Garrett Bradbury, and Dozier, were trampled by Simmons’s power.
On his first sack, Simmons picked up Dozier (#73) and carried him into Kirk Cousins’s lap. He drives him four yards backwards, extends him with his inside arm, and pops over to the top to devour Cousins.
The Vikings are running a quick pitch play. Simmons is the ‘1’ against Bradberry (#56). Immediately off the snap he turns him into soup.
On first and ten, Simmons is the 4i against O’Neill (#75). Simmons slants inside with the line backer looping around and ends up crunching O’Neill. He’s supposed to create space for the linebacker. Instead, he uses his inside arm to drive O’Neill, and swims wide to force a Cousins squirter.
In the run game, he has the strength to take on the entirety of one blocker. He doesn’t have to attack half of him to gain control of the block. Two hands punch the chest, extend the blocker, and control the block. Simmons overwhelms two gaps on his own, allowing linebackers to graze freely, and for himself to slip off and strangle the ball carrier.
Against combo blocks, Simmons was able to beat the offensive linemen off the snap, split them, control the blocker stuck to him, and go find the ball. He’s a garbage trunk gurgling in the mud.
And at the end of the game, with the Vikings throwing it down after down to comeback, Simmons cut his ears off and bullrushed the Vikings interior play after play to pressure Cousins, leaving him flapping and trembling unable to find composure in chaos.
In year two, Simmons is already a premier interior defender. He completes every task asked of him. He can shoot one gap to pillage the backfield, control one blocker with both hands to defend two gaps, slant inside to create space for his teammates on stunts, sink the center to detonate the interior of the line of scrimmage, and overwhelm pass protectors with strength and pad level alone. Now, the Titans just need Jadeveon Clowney to get in football shape, to finalize their transition from mediocre to fearsome.
4. MESSING WITH MESH
When John Gruden signed his ten-year $100 million deal with the P.F. Changs appetizer guzzling bowl cut demon, snarky internet football chatter languished the decision, expecting the Raiders to adhere strictly to Triassic era football decisions, and toil in the depths of the league.
This hasn’t happened. Instead, the Raiders have put together one of the ten best offenses in the league, based around a bone chewing offensive line, that’s surrounded by a first round running back, play action, multiple tight end sets, young wide receivers, a never ending ‘Is he good?’ questioned quarterback, all because Gruden knows how to manipulate the defense to create easy open throws.
This near touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow is a perfect example of the opportunities Gruden conjures up. Out of a trips left formation, with the two slot receivers stacked, the Raiders run two shallow crosses. Hunter Renfrow (#13) is running the under. Bryan Edwards (#89) the over. The rest of the routes are made to clear out space and hold the deep middle safety in the center of the field. Carr has Edwards to set up an easier field goal, or, he has Renfrow.
The difference is Renfrow breaks his route upfield once he gets past the safety horizontally.
With great pass protection in front of him, Carr is able to sit and hold the safety, until opening up his heart and tossing a lovely touch pass that sounds like a flute as it spins over the trailing defensive back, and in front of the chasing safety.
The Raiders’ passing offense is filled with horizontal movement, and sneaky deceptions that open up opportunities for Carr, who has shown, once again, that if he has elite pass protection, he can be one of the league’s better quarterbacks. The real fun is going to be if the Raiders can ever establish a presence out wide.
Ruggs is hurt. Bryan Edwards is fine. Nelson Agholor is stretchy. Renfrow is the archetypal white guy slot receiver. But their best receiver is Darren Waller once again. In the meantime, Gruden is going to have cook up kooky stuff like this to scheme open routes for Carr.
5. TYTUS v. T.J.
Tytus Howard has the perfect body for an offensive tackle. Reminiscent of Duane Brown, he’s wider than the planets themselves, has enormous bulky arms, powerful belly, and feet that scurry like mice. But, unlike Brown, he didn’t start playing offensive tackle until late in life, played SWAC football in a cheesy college offense, and had a long way to go to learn how to play the position.
Last season there were sparkly run game blocks. The body was beautiful. Even if his pass set was wonky, because of his girth, it was a cross country drive for defensive linemen to get around him and attack the quarterback. He survived his rookie season, until an injury knocked him out, but he was far and away from being an actual offensive tackle.
To start 2020 he had similar run game issues. He’s been meek at the point of attack when pulling. He, along with Zach Fulton, are high and pushing in the run game, nauseating and green. Stunt and blitz pickup issues have poisoned him, like the rest of the offensive line. And he’s been late and rigid off the snap a few times in pass protection, giving up immediate pressure.
All that being said, Howard was revelatory against T.J. Watt in pass protection last week. Without chips, he was able to meet Watt fairly square at the point of attack. Latching onto his inside half, and extinguishing his rushes. The punch timing was perfect. And Watt rarely tried to take an inside path because of Howard’s red spot size. Play after play, Watt was neutralized when rushing against Howard. With blitz pickup improvement, and Laremy Tunsil sticking Bud Dupree on the other side, the Texans pass protection was competent for the majority of the game against one of the best fronts in the league.
Out of all of his reps, this one was his best. Howard is lined up against Watt (#90) who is a wide jet rusher. Despite how detached Watt is from the end of the line of scrimmage, Howard is still able to take a flat pass set. He isn’t vertical and giving Watt an easy inside path. Although he opens up the gate a little early; it’s acceptable.
The key to this rep is his punch timing. Watt is looking to chop Howard’s punch away, rip around the outside shoulder, bend, and attack Deshaun Watson. Rather than play frenetically, Howard is zen, patient and calm, a forest creek humming over rock. He waits for Watt to show his cards first, while keeping his hands ready at his side. Watt raises his tomahawk.
And after he slices downwards, Howard’s hands follow over the top of it, and catch Watt. His inside hand is on his chest, and his outside hand is on his inside shoulder.
In this position, his feet dance along with Watt’s along the curvature of the pocket. Watt loses his momentum, and Howard rock bottoms him. This wide rush attempt opens up the entire B gap, giving Watson space to glide through, and create an easy completion on the run.
The majority of Howard’s day against Watt looked like this. Here’s every rep he had against Watt without a chip involved.
Houston also used chips sporadically to help Howard. The chips closed doors for Watt, forcing him to chase after the quarterback in specific ways, making the infinite finite. It messed with his timing. And in the back of his head, whenever a receiver was lined up in the slot, he had to expect a knife in his side. The chips worked even when they weren’t used by fogging up Watt’s brain with caution. Here’s every pass rush with a chip involved.
The chips worked until they didn’t. Howard set too wide, and it looked like he wasn’t expecting Darren Fells (#87) to shove Watt inside. Someone give Fells a half a sack for this sling-shot.
To start the 2020 season, the Texans’ offensive line has been a hindrance to their offensive production. The run blocking is sickening. The blitz pickup had been just has bad until last week was fine most of the time. That being said, Howard and Tunsil’s bookend pass protection has been the only bright spot from the front five. This development from Howard is especially beautiful. Howard’s body gives him an enormous margin of error, but his performance against Watt, was more than being a galactic body, it was a combination of skill and athletic prowess, with some help sprinkled on top.
Now, someone just needs to pierce his septum, twist his nipples, and give him rose colored goggles on run downs.
6. YOUR JOSH ALLEN HIGHLIGHTS FOR THIS WEEK, AND BY YOUR, I MEAN MINE
Orange juice, and roses, the world has awakened to the beauty of Josh Allen. This year he’s providing great quarterback play with the absurd and absolutely stupid, instead of last season, when he combined the absurd and absolutely stupid with somewhat competence.
Last week against Los Angeles it was all on display. Downfield lasers, sideline touch passes, easy arm strength, who do you think you are pocket dodging, hornets nest scampering, facemask clenching, deranged locomotive throws, and a game winning drive only Allen could pull off. Here are your highlights for the week.
I’m one of those sick souls, who is cautious of things that are too popular. I like specific things that are just for me. They are special, and not watered down and tempered by others thoughts and feelings. It’s sordid, and it’s gross, and I’ve always been this way.
The breakout Josh Allen season is hurting my heart. It’s painful reading the takes that I typed out two years ago become the forefront, and listening to the podcast clips that regurgitate what I said on Battle Red Radio, that place for cool people to hang out while they do cool things, a year ago. What was once mine is now everyone’s.
That being said, Allen is too beautiful, and too tremendous to lose because his play is ubiquitous now. It exists for everyone, and not just for me, and not just for those living in yellowing western New York. I guess this is what Matthew, or Peter, or James felt. And I guess that’s fine, it’s just one of those things.
7. KANSAS CITY SCREENING
Andy Reid has been the king of screen passes going back to his Alex Smith days, when he turned the football field into a basketball court, making Smith a point guard, distributing quick and short and horizontal passes across the field, so his light bending skill players could outrun defenders after the catch.
The previous two seasons Reid has turned Patrick Mahomes into the best quarterback of the league, a demigod parading the brands of mass produced products, a MVP, a Superbowl Champion, the face of the league. He took what was horizontal and made it vertical. Injected the air-raid into the NFL, and scorching defenses, doing doughnuts in the parking lot, ruining grass and turf with tire tracks and skidmarks.
To start 2020, the Chiefs’ offense has been more horizontal than vertical. They’ve taken more of a suit and tie approach. Saving the deep heaving partying for when they need it, and using the 2020 regular season as a warm up for January.
The best screen pass they have going on right now is this multi-layered one. Each outside receiver is running vertical to draw the corners. Out of a split shotgun backfield, Patrick Mahomes fakes the swing pass left, then flips, and rolls right. Both end blockers are blocking the first edge defender. The right guard and tackle, show pass, then follow the linebackers, flat and into the alley. During this confusion, Travis Kelce (#87) tosses his block and leaks up the seam, wide open, and all alone.
The timing here is perfect. Immediately after Kelce flings his defender, Mahomes puts the ball on him. Once the catch is made the only thing in front of him is the deep middle safety. Fortunately, for Baltimore, the linebacker quickly chases back and saves this from being an enormous gain.
This play has two fakes before the ball is dumped off to Kelce. And, of course, if the inside linebacker sits on Kelce, Mahomes can throw the screen with two blockers against one, giving the back ample space to take off.
And if that wasn’t rude enough, along with the rest of their passing attack this game, the Chiefs were able to hit Eric Fisher on a touchdown. Last week this space discussed delayed tight end releases. This week the Chiefs used a delayed offensive tackle release.
Kansas City has anointed themselves as the best team in the league once again after baking the Ravens into a pie. Baltimore fell behind early, their rushing attack isn’t as good as it was last year, they kicked a coward’s field goal, and as good as Lamar Jackson is, his passing ability is in a lesser universe than Mahomes’s. The first matchup wasn’t the riveting call the babysitter game it was expected to be. If there’s a second one, hopefully Baltimore can work out the wrinkles in their rushing attack to be better prepared for it.
8. PLAYS WHILE LEADING
Entering this season, I picked the Falcons to win a wildcard spot. There’s no question the team has the talent of a top offense, and enough defensive talent to be below average, but so far, they’ve choked on their own success, and blown two games with a 29-10 and 26-10 lead. At 0-3, with the Packers coming up, this is probably going to be an Atlanta season similar to the previous two Atlanta seasons, except this time, the offense is better, and somehow, the defense is worse.
Next summer, if I’m still doing this, I’ll finally do something I’ve always wanted to do. I’ll build a model that creates a score to measure how fortunate teams are. Turning wins over Pythogorean total, turnover differential, schedule difficulty, and adjusted games lost, into a nice easy number. For this, instead of one possession record, I would want to use plays while leading instead.
I’ve always had this hunch, that plays while leading is a better indicator of success than anything else is, and can act as a replacement for one possession record, which is an enormous net that has no room for specific details. Plays while leading captures teams that blow close games, and removes the misery from falling short in comeback attempts that they never should have had anyways. This, too, could be turned into some expected games won model. For now, it’s all just stuff stuck in the puddy of my gray and soggy brain.
This season, the Falcons have run 123 offensive plays with a lead. The third most, behind only the Buffalo Bills with 131, and the San Francisco 49ers with 148.
An absolutely bonkers number, the result of a horrendous tackling secondary, and an offense, that gets bogged down by incompletions and a poor rushing attack that elongates the game, giving offenses additional cracks at Isaiah Oliver and company. A team with this many offensive plays run with a lead should be at least 2-1. Instead, the Falcons find themselves 0-3. I wonder, what they exchanged in the underworld to find themselves up 28-3 a long time ago.
Oh, and if you’re wondering where Houston is, they’re 27th with 29 plays run with a lead.
9. BIG BLITZING
The Buccaneers defense is insidious. Like Pittsburgh, they have the front four that can create pressure on their own, but that isn’t enough, they have to blitz and blitz and blitz, and vivisect and splay out the quarterback so they can inspect his entrails, and then, only then, can they be sure a pass can’t be completed.
Close to their own goal line, with backup quarterback Jeff Driskel leading the team, the Broncos operated out of the shotgun with 11 personnel. Tampa matched with their Nickle defense. On 3rd and 15, they of course bring six, because four is never enough.
The Broncos are sliding the right side of their line over one gap, and blocking man on man to the left, with Melvin Gordon (#25) picking up the blitzing linebacker Devin White (#45). Tampa has a defender filling each gap along the left side of the line. Simple enough. The devilish aspect, is the stunt on the right side. Ndauakong Suh (#93) is playing the B gap. They’re blitzing a defensive back off screen from the edge. And Shaq Barrett is looping over Suh and into the interior.
By doing so, Barrett is looping not only over Suh, but over White’s rush as well. Gordon is able to shove White wide, which forces Driskell to slide left in the pocket. Barrett takes an outside path around Lloyd Cushenberry (#79), so when Driskell resets in the pocket, after maneuvering from the path of one rusher, he walks right up into Barrett. Settling for a safety, Driskell is lucky he didn’t lose the ball and give up more.
10. ALVIN, THEODORE
Without Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara is the entirety of the Saints’ offense, and not only that, he’s the best quarterback on their roster. Through three games Kamara has 438 yards from scrimmage. The Saints as a team have 1,092 total yards. Kamara has accounted for 40.1% of their total offensive production from the running back position. Who says running backs don’t matter?
Against Green Bay last week, Kamara took passes hovering along the line of scrimmage, and broke them into deep passing plays.
On 3rd and 15 he turned one air yard into 21 yards, to convert the first down.
On first and ten, with nothing open downfield, Drew Brees labored a dump off into the flat, that was four yards behind the line of scrimmage, and Kamara transmogrified it into a 52 yard touchdown.
He slaughtered the linebacker on an angle route after following Jared Cook’s corner route.
And he punctured Adrian Amos’s tire (#31), and gave him a telepathic dead leg on this duo run play.
Kamara is back to being Kamara after playing with a peg leg last year. His legs are stripper poles defenders slide down. His cuts are surgical. He’s back to being what he was, a Christian McCaffrey type of running back who can carry an entire passing and rushing offense on his sown.