1. HOW GOOD IS GOD?
The average NFL fan has traversed an entire journey of thinking when it comes to Josh Allen. It starts off by thinking he’s awful after watching his video at Wyoming, brown and yellow, laughing at the Buffalo Bills for drafting a tight end to play quarterback. When his NFL career began one continued by with online slam dunks over his incompletions and interceptions. Allen becomes fun, yet flawed, as the Bills make the playoffs, and if only Buffalo had a quarterback is the common denominator. Then, Allen is a MVP candidate, the Bills are a Super Bowl contender, and one’s brain is left in the rubble of ruins, as they try to figure out what they overlooked, before fully buying in and enjoys watching Allen play the game.
There’s two enormous parts of watching sports in this information infested world we live in that has been lost in our hearts. One, you can actually watch football, instead of look up numbers so you can merely talk about football. Let me check Pro Football Focus to find out if Jesse Bates was good this year. Two, teams and players can be fun, a joy to watch, instead of watching everything through a lens of, “Is this player or team good or not?”
My own Josh Allen journey is as followed. It made sense for the Bills to draft a big arm quarterback playing in the Buffalo tundra. They didn’t want to fall victim to the ceiling Mark Sanchez, and other weak armed outdoor quarterbacks, put on teams in this quadrant of the United States. Allen leaped over Anthony Barr. He leaped over Anthony Barr. He’s an elite athlete, who needs to solve his accuracy issues and have his feet match his brain to figure it out. Once he learns out to throw the deep ball with accuracy and touch it’s over. How good is God? Allen and the Bills have arrived, and are a focal point of condensed game football watching.
I don’t know what it feels like to be a true Bills fan, someone who has been there week in and week out, watching J.P. Losman, Rex Ryan ruin their elite defense with Greg Roman morphing Tyrod Taylor into a dynamic quarterback, and the Patriots rule the division year after year. I’ve been a Bills fan for four years, and it’s been a beautiful life.
Last season Buffalo swept New England as they went through their first year of quarterback hell without Tom Brady. The goat became Cam Newton and Jarrett Stidham waving their pitchforks and flicking their tongues. It was one year in the below, before they resuscitated themselves back into playoff contention. A blizzard gave the Patriots a strategical advantage to use their run heavy offense to over power a neutered Buffalo passing game. 3 pass attempts, 1 turnover, 222 rushing yards, it was all they needed to push the Bills out of first place.
It’s one thing to beat a team when they’re mired in the abyss. It’s another to trounce them when both are back at respectable power levels. Since the blizzard, Buffalo ran the table after an overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and has a point differential of +42 on the bully that tortured them for close to twenty years.
This past weekend was a jubilation from the confines of the couch. 3 degree wind chill. Stefon Diggs Iceage cleats. Everyone bundled up in the stands, warmed by alcohol like the Titanic, and the players on the field pumped up with Viagra to keep that heart pushing warm lively blood. For those who survived and carried on week after week, it was an exorcism.
The Patriots were without Jalen Mills because of COVID-19, so it was next man up in the Patriots secondary. Can I interest you in Joejuan Williams, Myles Bryant, D’Angelo Ross, and De’Vante Basuby? New England opted to play cover one rat, funnel one linebacker into the flat, use the other to spy Allen, and keep a free safety deep to attempt to hinder the deep passing game. It didn’t work. Allen used his eyes to manipulate the secondary to create open throws and throw his receivers open, and when everything was covered, he was the running back, going through tackles, and stringing together multiple jukes to tear defenders’ groins, leaving them in the splits for the rest of their lives. Seven for seven, it was an all-time great playoff performance. A complete evisceration. A perfect game.
Here are the highlights:
We’re at the point now, because of Allen’s running and passing ability, that he maybe the best quarterback in the NFL. Brian Daboll runs the most quarterback heavy offense in the league, with Allen as the focal point of nearly every play, aside from the occasional pure run attempt that doesn’t have an option built in. Aaron Rodgers is the most valuable, playing through talent limitations and injuries. Patrick Mahomes is the best passer, pulling off the silly with two Hall of Fame wide receivers and a rebuilt offensive line. But with the combination of arms and legs, Allen is catching up as the best overall quarterback.
This weekend Buffalo looks to play it back after beating the Chiefs in Kansas City earlier this year, back when, every team who had been traumatized by the Chiefs in previous years, were able to get their shots in on them. The Chiefs have lost two games since then, one to Tennessee, and the other to Cincinatti. Buffalo has the pass protection, power run game, skill talent, speed, and quarterback, to match Kansas City’s offense to pull off the road upset. It will be up to Leslie Frazier to pull out another great game plan to muddy it up and prevent it from being a never ending volley.
We were here last year as well. The difference is the Bills are no longer Allen and nothing else. Last year their defense was mediocre, and Allen was the run and pass game. This season they have the best pass defense by DVOA, a top ten run defense despite playing primarily Nickle, and have found their best offensive line combination that can carry out a better run-pass balance.
Last year the Bills were a problem. This year they are ready for the throne.
2. A LIFETIME OF AUTOGRAPHS
In the early stages of the Bills-Patriots game, New England was trying to keep up the pace down 7-0. On their first drive, Mac Jones completed a 3rd & 14 to an open Hunter Henry to get them to the Buffalo 50, and a Jones scramble put them in Buffalo territory.
On first and ten, the Patriots dialed up a shot. Split shotgun backfield, one tight end right, twin wide receivers left. The ‘Z’, or #1 receiver, Nelson Agholor was matched up one v. one against Levi Wallace (#39) in cover one. Wallace had inside leverage to protect against the slant, surprising with deep middle safety help. Agholor fakes the slant at the same instance of the pump fake, getting Wallace to bite, and opening the big shot touchdown.
The problem is Jones throws the ball too far inside. Safety Micah Hyde (#23) was sitting at the hash, not in the center of the field, and has the range to scamper from this position to the sideline. If Jones puts it to the pylon it’s a score. Hyde takes the perfect angle, beats Agholor, since his bucket is bigger, and hauls in a career defining interception.
This was the type of interception that will have photos printed of it, and Hyde’s autograph in black sharpie and the #23 slathered all over it. Buffalonians will be gifted frame signings of this photo for birthdays and Christmases to come. In the end, it probably wouldn’t have mattered if Jones hit, with the Bills firepower and their offensive gameplan, but a touchdown would have created an interesting first half. Instead Allen found Dawson Knox in the endzone again, and the game was effectively over before it even really started.
3. THREE SAFETIES
The Philadelphia Eagles turned their season around by discovering and crafting a shotgun run game. Stretch and option runs from the shotgun formation, turned the Philadelphia Eagles from Jalen Hurts either holding onto the ball for seven seconds to find an open receiver or scrambling, into an effective offense. The Eagles went from 2-5 to 9-8, with an offense that averaged 184 rushing yards a game.
Then they played the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tampa had some problems stopping the run at times this season. A year removed from having one of the best run defenses in football, the Bucs statistically were slightly above average. The numbers are one part of the equation. The Bucs had injuries along their front seven, and when a team is up big, the offense has the fortune of running v. empty boxes, as the defense welcomes them to run the ball and keep the clock moving.
Philadelphia’s run offense was locked down by Tampa. Removing Boston Scott’s garbage time 34 yard touchdown run, once the Eagles were down 31-0, the Eagles averaged 3.6 yards a carry, and Miles Sanders only managed 16 yards on 7 carries.
Todd Bowles is one of the most creative defensive coordinators in the NFL, something lost in the sands of time, because of his stint as the head coach of the New York Jets, when they almost made the playoffs...once. The Bucs played three safeties throughout this game to limit the Eagles stretch and read run game. Their 3-4 became a 4-4. With only one safety deep, the Eagles never ran the route combinations needed to beat it, despite their pass protection holding up well enough.
The Bucs safeties Antoine Winfield played 66 snaps (100%), Jordan Whitehead played 66 (100%), and Mike Edwards played 52 snaps (79%). These three gave the Bucs the ability to have another defender in the box, who could also run with the Eagles running backs and tight ends in the pass game and get out in space to make tackles along the edges of the offense.
On 3rd and 2, the Bucs trot out their three safety set. Before the snap Devin White (#45) climbs down outside the line of scrimmage, to effectively make this a bear front. The Bucs have White, and Whitehead (#33), able to attack the edge of the offense. Hurts attempts to run a zone read with Miles Sanders (#26) running this like wide zone. Whitehead plays the back and quarterback perfectly. Hurts keeps, Whitehead peels off, and White is coming off the backside. Together, the two collapse and devour Hurts to force the punt.
On 1st and 10, the Eagles are in a shotgun left set with two tight ends. The Bucs roll Whitehead into the box once again, and have both their middle linebackers shaded to the running back’s side. Hurts is running an outside zone read run. Shaq Barrett (#58) squeezes the edge, and because of the handoff, there’s an opening around the edge for Sanders. Dallas Goedert (#88) is supposed to be the lead blocker, running the arc to the second level. He runs past Whitehead, allowing him to go low and make the open field tackle out on the edge.
Tampa Bay’s front is excruciating to play against. They can blitz, but they can also get pressure with their rush four, and no one knows which orifice defenders are going to eject from in Bowles’s defense. With Philadelphia facing 3rd and 8, Bowles dialed up a gruesome simulated pressure.
Tampa has a 1x3 boss front, and six defenders along the line of scrimmage. They only rush four, and the ones they rush are unexpected. Both Winfield (#31) and Jamel Dean (#35) rush off the edge. Ndamukong Suh (#91) and Vita Vea (#50) are the ones dropping into short hook zones. They make up two of the four underneath defenders the Bucs are playing cover three with. Hurts is shocked. He immediately drops his head to look to run, and is suffocated in the pocket, after Winfield comes inside the back to make the sack.
The Bucs are amphibious and amorphous. Bowles has the defensive talent to play a wide variety of fronts, and coverages, and control offenses in various ways. Only deep pass offenses that take advantage of single high safeties have trounced them, see Kansas City and Los Angeles (R), but everyone else, has fallen victim, to their range, speed, strength, and multiple looks. The Eagles are another team part of their playoff trophy case as a result.
Playoff football is better when the Dallas Cowboys around. We see horrors that have never been imagined. Impossible haircuts, crying with four minutes left in the game, trash thrown at their own, fake eyelashes that forced the scientists at Cal Berkley back to the blackboard to reestablish the laws of gravity. We know we are going to get something stupid and outrageous, something insane and terrible, whenever the Cowboys make the postseason.
This week, despite having an upper hand in talent, the Cowboys lost 23-17 to the San Francisco 49ers, in a game that will be defined by the quarterback sneak. The Cowboys spent all their timeouts, and after Trent Williams failed to get set, removing a quarterback sneak conversion that would have finally iced the game, Dallas had the ball back. The Cowboys moved the ball with a hook and ladder, a screen pass, and an out to Dalton Schultz. Things become interesting once again.
After failing to utilize a sideline defense to take away these three plays, Demeco Ryans finally changed his defense up. The Dallas Cowboys had an empty formation, five wide receivers, and six defenders glued to the sideline with 18 seconds left.
Instead of take two shots from the 41 with 18 seconds, including a favorable shot where the deep middle was wide open, the Cowboys opted to dance with entropy, and run the quarterback sneak, to try and get one shot at the 24.
This opened the door for numerous things to go wrong. Dak Prescott would have to break past the defensive line, slide at the perfect time, have his team get reset, allow the referee to spot the ball, and then spike the ball. Prescott ran the ball until there wasn’t grass available, instead of sliding based on the clock. The offensive line stuck their hand in the dirt, blocking the ref from getting to the ball. Prescott spiked it after the clock struck zero. Game over.
The question is, what’s more valuable, two shots with 18 seconds from the 40, or one shot from the 24? Based on the defense the 49ers were running when Prescott took off, with the middle of the field open, it seems clear, the better play would have been to take two shots from the 40.
This will be the grand failure forever remembered from this game, but the Cowboys had numerous errors that crushed them. Prescott threw to the outside shoulder which led to a pick in his own redzone, then, the following play, Deebo Samuel took a toss to score. 3rd and 4 became 3rd and 14 after back to back false starts. A delay of game penalty after a fake punt, where they kept the punt unit on the field, to only trick themselves, as they ran out of time once the offense trotted back to snap the ball. This put them at 1st and 15, leading to an eventual field goal. Neville Gallimore choked an offensive lineman to continue the 49ers game sucking vampiric drive. Randy Gregory tackled the edge blocker on a sweep run, negating Micah Parsons’s free ranging tackle, giving 49ers more plays to run out the clock. Even the architecture took away a completion, when Cedric Wilson lost the ball in the blaze of the sun.
These variety of errors did the Cowboys in. It wasn’t the talent, it was a sloppy team, missing a real leader at the head coach position, that let them down at the end and again. Hopefully we see them in the Super Wildcard Round next year. Something unfortunate and disastrous will always do them in. There’s no such thing as attrition in Dallas. Just cataclysmic failure.
5. MY NAME IS JONAH
One of last spring’s NFL Draft talking points, was if the Cincinatti Bengals should take franchise offensive tackle Penei Sewell, or Joe Burrow’s National Champion LSU running mate Ja’Marr Chase. The nerds cried and cried for the Bengals to take Sewell, to ensure Burrow would be protected forever, because of the Bengals issues pass protecting with five wide receivers, and their current skill talent.
They did the opposite of the smart thing. They took the transcendent wide receiver, a tiger striped ballerina, light footed route runner, and high point catching demon, someone who can score the football, instead of prevent others from creating havoc. They went with the jet ski over total liability insurance. It worked out. Chase was named to the second All-Pro team, should be the offensive rookie of the year, and has ensured Burrow always has an easy source of offense.
There was a vital point of the equation missing. The Bengals already had a franchise left tackle. Cincinatti took Alabama offensive tackle Jonah Williams in the first round two years prior. He missed the 2019 season after suffering a training camp injury, and missed the majority of the 2020 season as well. This year he was fully healthy, and locked down the left side of the line of scrimmage.
The concern for the Bengals facing the Las Vegas Raiders was their edge rush. Isaiah Prince, who replaced the veteran Riley Reiff, and Williams, would get Carl Nassib, Yannick Ngakoue, and Maxx Crosby. The Raiders had 11 pressures, 5 quarterback hits, and 2 sacks. The majority of their pressure came on the interior with Damion Square, and stunts and inside pass rush moves by Crosby through the ‘B’ gap, and, of course, Crosby getting the better of Prince on the edge.
The pressure didn’t come from the left side though. Williams locked down Ngakoue’s cross chop throughout the entire game. Ngakoue managed one pressure, despite playing 77% of the snaps. Williams’s feet were light. He drop stepped to create space as Ngakoue bounced wide. His hands struck once the chest opened up. Over and over again, Ngakoue failed to make an impact on Burrow.
Yannick Ngakoue's (#91) cross chop is heart breaking. What was once an elite pass rush move is now an uninspired zig-zag. pic.twitter.com/dqxifKfBUg— Matt (Double__Underscore) Weston (@Matt__Weston) January 18, 2022
As for Chase? He had 9 catches on 12 targets for 116 yards, and abused the Raiders’ second outside cornerbacks. Desmond Trufant is still searching for him.
The Bengals made the correct decision. It spurned them to a AFC North Championship, their first playoff win in 31 years, and gave their passing offense an enormous jolt, to transform them from a fun team we all want to be good, into an actual good football team.
6. ROCKET SWEEP
Football is a beautiful game. You can make it as shallow, or as deep, as you want to make it. You can simply enjoy the tackles for a loss, or you can learn about run fits, and how a pirate stunt created an empty ‘B’ gap for the linebacker to plow through. You can enjoy the cornerback’s interception, or you can learn about palms coverage, and how the outside corner peeled the vertical to trap the out and pick off the pass. It’s never ending. There is always something out there to learn.
After all these years, playing, watching, talking about writing, then writing and talking about the game, I still feel like I don’t know anything. It’s overwhelming the amount of players, schemes, information, and aspects of the game to learn. At the same time, it’s what makes the game great. I relish being wrong, I love learning something I didn’t know before.
This weekend I learned about a new play. It’s called the rocket toss. Facing 4th and 1, the Bengals lined up in a shotgun right formation. Before the snap, Burrow clawed down under center, getting the defense riled up to defend the sneak. The Raiders defensive line shifted closer to the ball, getting a defenders in each ‘A’ gap. Burrow motioned Chase behind the quarterback, using a rocket motion, and tossed him the ball. The key to edge runs like this is the outside blockers have to block the two wide defenders—something I learned from Greg Olsen this year. Joe Mixon and C.J. Uzomah become the two. Uzomah (#87) hooks the alley defender, Mixon offers help before leading the block, and Tee Higgins cracks back on the cornerback.
A difficult 4th and 1, becomes 15 yards. Rub it into your brain. Remember it forever. The rocket toss.
7. THE FREAK
I was wrong. I, like a doofus, picked the Cowboys over the 49ers. They had the talent advantage, the wide receivers to beat San Francisco’s man coverage and depth to throw numerous pass catchers at their zone coverage, competent enough pass protection to limit the front four rush, and the freaks along the defense, to limit the 49ers outside zone run game.
Dan Quinn’s defense wasn’t the issue. Aside from getting game scripted on an opening drive, the 49ers scorching them off a Prescott interception, Deebo Samuel tosses, and missing the occasional tackle to give up enormous yards after the catch, Dallas’s defense limited San Francisco.
There were three keys to their defense. One was using Leighton Vander-Esch has the short middle rat defender to key in on crossing routes and control the run game when runs were banged and cutback. He wrapped up, and limited yards after contact consistently. Second, was they keyed in on their dig and drag routes, focal points of an offense that lacks of a quarterback who can throw down the sideline, unless he’s rolling off play action. Third, they had Micah Parsons, playing everything from linebacker to edge defender, to chase and scurry all along the field to tackle the 49ers run offense.
.@dallascowboys @MicahhParsons11 was the MPP (Micah Parsons Problem) of the #NFL Enjoyed studying Micah this season as much as any player in this league; right to the Cowboys bitter end. He has everything it takes to be as good as he wants! What a future #BaldysBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/xGXJe0IJNe— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) January 18, 2022
I’ve never seen a player play this many positions along a defensive front, with the speed to make plays like this, and the range to cover the entirety of the field. Parsons can play linebacker, defensive end, outside linebacker, and carry out every task handed to him. He’s a gamebreaker. He’s what anchors an entire defense. Far and away, he was the best defender in the NFL last weekend. He’s the freak to outfreak all freaks.
When the Kansas City Chiefs rebuilt their offensive line, their meatball offensive guard, Nick Allegreti went from carrying out hits, to sitting in a lawn chair and sunning himself on union no-show construction jobs. After being devoured by the Bucs last offseason, Allegreti became Trey Smith, and Allegreti sat and watched, getting scraps of offensive snaps occasionally, and filled in once against Cincinatti.
His story isn’t over. Once the Chiefs had the Pittsburgh Steelers by the throat, the Chiefs played for style points. We’ve seen the fat guy touchdown before. Typically he releases from the backside of a run fake and sneaks into the endzone, unless you are the Jacksonville Jaguars and have Walker Little lined up as a tight split wide receiver running a post route. The Chiefs upgraded the sneaky release.
Allegreti was brought in as a sixth offensive lineman with the ball in the redzone. Patrick Mahomes boots right. Allegreti (#73) slide steps to lock up with T.J. Watt along with Travis Kelce (#87), who releases to the corner. Mahomes rolls right, and after three seconds, Allegreti slings Watt to the turf to release upfield. Mahomes flicks an easy one over the defender, to produce an all-time fat guy touchdown.
9. THIS IS THE END
One of the annoying aspects of football at the end of the last decade, were the old men hanging around. We had seen Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, and Tom Brady win Super Bowls before. We had seen Philip Rivers lose in the most heartbreaking and hollering ways. We had enough of it. We wanted to see new blood and young quarterbacks get their chance to replace the old guard.
All of them are gone aside from Brady, who is immortal, and whose entire body has been replaced by electric parts and silicone, turning him into a cyborg, and the drunken hamburger guzzling bowling head Roethlisberger. One kept his career afloat by drinking lots of water and avoiding strawberries, and the other, merely hung around and refused to say goodbye.
Roethlisberger should have retired after last season. That was the Steelers last chance with him. He was a point guard throwing short crossing routes and screens with a replacement offensive line and zero run game. The team was still carried by its murderous front four, who ensured their secondary would have to cover for blips of time, instead of seconds. Roethlisberger fumbled a snap which became a touchdown. Mike Tomlin punted like a coward. The Cleveland Browns ended their season.
For whatever reason, Roethlisberger wanted another go at it. He just had to throw two yard passes and get the ball out in 1.7 seconds. Someone forgot to tell him he can do this at the YMCA pick up basketball court. An heroic overtime win over Baltimore, and the Indianapolis Colts going full Carson Wentz against Jacksonville, gave him one more run at it.
Given this, he produced the typical production we had seen the last two seasons from him. Quick passes. Everything completed ten yards or less, and never being able to throw the sideline despite his receiving talent. This is a summation of two years of Steelers football.
Roethlisberger hasn’t officially announced it, but after crying at home following week 18, the stage is set for him to exit left. It’s time. It’s been time for two years now. We’ve seen it all. There’s nothing left. We need someone else to come in. Give us Jamies Winston, or some new rookie, just don’t give us Mason Rudolph.
Everything is in an of itself. It’s impossible to understand what love is, without knowing what the polarity of it feels like, and is. Meaning is creating from contrast. The conflict is where feelings come from. It’s the open hole they rush out of. Despite everything I liked about this past weekend, there was too much of it.
The 18th week sucks. The extra playoff game sucks. We don’t need more football. We have the perfect amount of football. You don’t need more football, you need Jesus and meditation, or whatever your personal equivalent of it is.
Everything was too perfect and square before. 17 week weeks, 16 games, play each team in your division twice, every team from one division in the other conference once, every team in the same conference who finished in the same spot in the division the year before, and the rest of the teams from one other division in the conference. Six teams in each conference. Two get a bye. Four games in the Wildcard Round. Four in the Divisional Round. It was perfect.
The NFL just has to have more. It isn’t enough having a sundae with chocolate sauce, nuts, and a cherry, the NFL needed to add sour worms, peanut brittle, and make it overkill. The NFL season is a grind as it is, adding another week to extend it has been unnecessary, and is especially ridiculous for a league who tries to parade player safety. The first round of the postseason was a slog, just like last year, and even extending it into Monday couldn’t help it. Six games is 24 hours of football. It’s four too many. We’re all too busy. We’re all too sleepy.
The seventh seed added two unnecessary games. The NFL is a game of parity, but there’s an enormous difference in talent and performance between the second best team and the seventh. So far it has given us Indianapolis, Mitch Trubisky, Roethlisberger continuing his career, and a 9-8 Eagles team. In four #2 seed v. #7 seed matchups, the #2 seed is 4-0, and has a point differential of +52. The only game that was ‘fun’ was last year’s Bills-Colts game, where Philip Rivers put together this gem of a game winning drive attempt, that lasted 14 plays for 39 yards, before ending with a game ending heave.
Despite all this, we were good little pink piggies. The NFL poured it into the trough and we guzzled it up. Next year we will do the same, even as the NFL eventually extends to 18 games. The NFL knows we love the game, and will continue to watch the game no matter what. We are prisoners to our own vice.
Dang, I guess after all, we’re the ones at fault.