The NFL’s Problem is Still a Reflection of Society

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Welcome to what I plan will be a series deliberately scattershot and partial take on the NFL offseason. The sheer quantity of news during the offseason is too overwhelming for one person to cover comprehensively so I’m going to go through the bits that grabbed me for positive or negative reasons and hopefully a couple of other posts on things I want to look at through the season.

However, I feel like I have to start with a couple of negative stories given the importance of them and how one of them ties into a major strand of the offseason news and a continued problem the NFL faces.

It was hard to miss the news that Robert Kraft had been charged with two misdemeanour counts of soliciting prostitution last month. He was the headline news of a wider investigation into sex trafficking in Florida but his charges only relate to two separate visits to a day spa, including one on the day of the AFC championship game. There were plenty of jokes flying around but there is a serious point behind the headlines in that although there has been no evidence that the people he saw had been trafficked, that doesn’t mean that others at the spa had not been. Kraft has pled not guilty and also has been offered a plea deal, but he has not accepted it and is fighting to stop the video evidence from going public.

There is likely going to be some kind of investigation and punishment from the NFL as part of its conduct policy that covers owners and staff as well as players, but we don’t know what punishment the league is going to hand down.

One case where we do know the punishment is for ex Kansas City Chief and now Cleveland Brown Kareem Hunt, who has been handed an eight game suspension for an incident where he kicked a woman as part of an altercation that took place before last season. This means that half way through the season the Browns will get Hunt back who was a focal point of the Chiefs last season before video of the incident (that had already been investigated by the league) was released by TMZ and the Chiefs promptly cut him.

Sadly, at twenty-three Hunt was both too young and talented a football player for someone not to pick him up and the Browns were that team. If you look at the roster it might have been a surprise given how good Nick Chubb looked once he was heavily featured by the Browns, but the other factor that needs to be considered is who is making the decisions for the Browns.

There is no denying that Browns’ GM John Dorsey has done a good job with the resources his predecessor Sashi Brown accumulated before he was fired. Dorsey looks to have found a franchise quarterback in Baker Mayfield and this offseason swung a trade for Odell Beckham to further augment the roster amongst sever other moves. However, for all that many pundits are saying the Browns are favourites for the AFC North and could be a contender in the AFC, things might not actually be so straight forward.

There’s a reason hat Odell Beckham was available to be traded and it is only speculation that his friend and college team-mate Jarvis Landry (he of the ‘Bless Em’ Hard Knocks clips in pre-season) will help Beckham stay focussed and productive. Certainly there have never been any incidents of the likes that triggered Hunt’s suspension but the Browns have a first year head coach in Freddie Kitchens who has a whole new world of responsibilities to take care of as well as a potentially combustible set of players. The thing Dorsey is relying on will be how effective Mayfield was when Kitchens took over the offence last season and that Kitchens will utilise Beckham in a way that will keep the talented receiver happy as his complaints were mainly about productivity with the ageing Eli Manning, but Kitchens will have to deal with the Hunt situation.

The reason I am really focussing in on this is that although lots of teams have players with troubling pasts and the Browns are certainly not the only ones to have given chances to players because they think their ability will outweigh the negative press, but John Dorsey has a history of taking chances on such players. Not only did John Dorsey draft Kareem Hunt for the Chiefs and give him a chance in Cleveland but he also drafted Tyreek Hill in the fifth round for the Chiefs despite him already having a domestic violence conviction. In his three seasons in the league Tyreek Hill has gone from being the player with the past and a special team’s ace returner that was discussed in context of his past to one of the most dynamic players in the game and one of the faces of the NFL. As his skill blossomed so the coverage of him transformed, which to an extent is understandable as your NFL broadcast team are not exactly in a position to breakdown the complex nature of society’s struggles with male violence. However, whilst I do believe in the importance of rehabilitation, we have seen that professional sports is not exactly the place to rigorously hold people to standards of behaviour when people are getting a second chance handed to them with an extra degree of latitude because of their on-field talents.

In the case of Tyreek Hill, he has been involved with two domestic incidents in recent months and whilst he was not charged after the first, we are waiting to see if he will be charged with a crime related to a possible battery of a child at his home.

I don’t want to speculate too much more on this as we don’t know the details, but if charges are brought then there could be a swift reaction by the Chiefs again. Still, given the quick resigning of Hunt or a player like Rueben Foster I would not be surprised if Hill doesn’t gets picked up again. NFL teams don’t seem to be able to help themselves if the players is young and talented, even Greg Hardy got another chance in the league.

I don’t know if John Dorsey would want to take the risk again, but if I were a fan of the Browns I might be getting nervous. I love the fact that the long suffering Browns fans have something to hope for but I also know how downright horrible it is having players with such histories on your team. I would love for Hunt to realise the wrongs he’s done and seek amends. I want the Browns to have success (if not against the Bengals) but I can see a path for it to go wrong, and that path starts in John Dorsey’s office.

More importantly than any of this, we should be trying to tackle the culture where such acts of violence happen, or are tolerated because of a player’s skill. However, such change is painfully slow and in the meantime the very least we can do is remember who these players are and try to hold them to account where we can.

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AAF: How the Super Bowl was Won

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So as usual for my final post of the 2018 season I have gone through the coaching tape of the Super Bowl, and this year I was looking at the New England Patriots’ offence going up against the LA Rams’ defence.

I will probably watch the reverse match-up, but given the media focus on the Super Bowl has featured lots of tape focus and the news cycle moving on to the off-season already it shall be for my own amusement and stay in my notebook rather than generating another post. I mention it because I already know the Patriots’ defence lined up with six on the line and jammed the outside zone rush as this alignment stopped the Rams offence line being able to double team. I know this through the discussions I listened to and whilst I always learn things from such discussions, I do try to limit these posts to what I was able to see myself, so on to how the Rams managed to limit the Patriots to just thirteen points.

The first thing I should mention is that a numbers fact has my notes wrong about the defence personnel used in my notebook as whilst Mark Barron wore number twenty-six, which to my eyes has him as a member of the secondary, he is listed as an inside linebacker so the Rams played a lot of 3-4 defence. Now, the hybrid line still did come into play when they played nickel and dime as they would stick to three defensive linemen and outside linebacker Dante Fowler rushing from a standing position on either side of the line. It has become increasingly common for linebackers to become lighter so they can match up against the speed NFL defences currently are using, but it does make life interesting when you face a team like the Patriots who still use 21 personnel a lot and you have an inside linebacker like Barron who is only (only!) 230 Ibs.

One  of the interesting things to me watching this game back on tape compared to me live tweeting with Dan during the game, is I remember a period of the game where I was worried about the Patriots getting away from the run, which seemed odd as whilst they were having problems sustaining long drives, they were successful running the ball. Watching back however, it was only at the end of the first half when they were running two-minute offence that they dropped back and passed a lot. However, they did go quite pass heavy at times because one of the features of this game was the way that Julian Edelman was able to get open in the passing game.

The Patriots moved Edelman in motion a lot, allowing him to get free releases and in space without hands on him Edelman is lethal because of how shifty he is. I saw multiple Rams defensive backs fail to stay with him, and even when they moved Marcus Peters to follow him, who did a better job of covering him there were still plays where Edelman got wide open.

However, the Patriots didn’t have it all their own way so what did the Rams do to have the success on defence they did? Well partly, their defensive coordinator Wade Philips mixed in more zone than I am used to seeing with his defence, and he managed to confuse and disrupt Tom Brady enough to stop the Patriots from being able to sustain long drive. This was despite the Patriots running for over one-hundred and fifty yards from thirty-plus carries. Now these figures benefit from some long runs in the fourth quarter, and certainly a combination of Ndamukong Suh, Aaron Donald, and Dante Folwer all stuffed runs for short gains or losses, but the real problem was that apart from Edelman the Patriots receivers were not able to get open consistently. There were some lovely plays by Rob Gronkowski in the passing game, but Chris Hogan couldn’t bring in any of his six targets and apart from two quick passes to Cordarrelle Patterson no other Patriots receiver caught the ball and even the reliable James White out of the backfield connection was off with him only able to catch one of his four targets. This lack in the passing game meant that the Rams were able to make enough splash plays to limit the Patriots and thanks to an outstanding day of punting by Johnny Hecker the Rams defence were never put in bad field position.

There has been talk that Brady has been off this year, and certainly his receivers played a part in not being open, but there were also throws he flat missed with his first being intercepted as he simply didn’t account for the zone exchange between Rams defenders and so Nickell Robey-Coleman was able to get under Chris Hogan and bat the ball into the air so Corey Littleton could get the interception. If the Rams front seven were largely handled by the Patriots offence, Littleton did really impress me as the linebacker who never came off the field, led the team in tackles and got two pass deflections as well as this interception.

If anything won this game for the Patriots, it was a late game adjustment on offence that I have seen the Patriots use before, but which we since heard had not been practised. The Patriots lined up on the drive where they got the touchdown in 21 personnel, but lined up in shotgun flexing out full-back James Develin and this gave them the match-ups they needed to move the ball in chunks and get to the goal-line so they could run the ball in.  The Patriots found one play they ran three times out of different looks and threw the ball to different receivers and that was basically the game. So even when he wasn’t at his best, Brady was able to execute Josh McDaniels’ tactical switch, which is a very Patriots way to win a game as once more it demonstrates why their focus is on smart players and tactical flexibility.

If you had offered the Rams before the game that they would limit the Patriots to thirteen points, I’m sure they would have taken it expecting that to be enough to win the game.  The Rams defence did enough to win this game and Wade Philips demonstrated all his experience, but the Rams offence couldn’t finish the game off and that will hurt for a long time.

The Super Bowl Aftermath

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This is not quite the final post of the 2018 season for me as I have at least one coaching tape post that I am going to write on the Super Bowl, and frankly I’m tempted to do both sides of the ball for both teams but I’ll get to that in a bit.

So what can I tell you about the Super Bowl that you don’t already know or saw for yourself? I was intrigued by the game and I really am looking forward to digging into the coaching tape, but no one can claim it was a spectacle. For a season so dominated by high powered offences, the Super Bowl was a demonstration that not only can defences still compete, but they can still win championships.

I joked on Sunday that my dream of a game without touchdowns decided by a safety was still in play after the first quarter, but whilst we got a field goal in the second quarter, we didn’t see a touchdown until the fourth quarter and the game finished 13-3 to the Patriots.

Whilst all the headlines have understandably gone to Belichick and Brady as they won a sixth Super Bowl, it is worth pointing out that Brady had his own problems thanks to the Rams’ defensive coordinator Wade Philips and it was only due to an unpractised switch by Josh McDaniels in the fourth quarter that the Patriots scored any touchdowns. This is the first match-up I am going to look at in the coaching tape so I can see what was happening but Tom Brady started the with an interception on his first pass and the Patriots struggled to move the ball effectively all game. The obvious stand out offensive player of the game was Julian Edelman, which explains why he was declared MVP but as important as his contribution was to the Patriots win, in a game that was so dominated by two sets of defences, perhaps a defensive player should have won that award. After all, Stephon Gilmore finished the  game with five tackles, forced a fumble and picked off Jared Goff, which led to the Patriots effectively sealing the game with a second field goal.

To just put this into context, Bill Belichick and new Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores managed to limit the second best offence in the league by DVOA to a field goal. The surprising thing about this was given the innovation that Sean McVay and the Rams have shown all season, they didn’t find an offensive adjustment or try anything on special teams. I felt sure going into this game that McVay would have something up his sleeve, and I need to watch on tape to be sure of what happened but it didn’t feel like the Rams moved away from 11 personnel and that was something I had seen them do in the playoffs. I don’t know if we’ll ever know precisely what was going on with Todd Gurley, but with ten carries and a couple of pass targets he was not a big part of the game. In fact the Rams only gave CJ Anderson seven carries and for a team that builds its offence off running the ball and play-action, they were too often in a third and long situation. The Patriots managed to do what I thought they might, make Jared Goff drop back and beat them with his arm and he was not up to the task. Goff has already spoken up and shouldered the blame, whilst Sean McVay admitted he had been out-coached and veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth reminded us we are going to die so whilst this loss is going to hurt for a while, I suspect that the Rams will learn and be competitive next season. There are a lot of free agents on their roster so we’ll have to see how they chose to go about assembling a new roster the off-season, but McVay will need to develop an adjustment to what happened in the Super Bowl as defensive coordinators around the league will be studying the coaching tape of it in the off-season.

As for the Patriots, would anyone be surprised if Bill Belichick was already working on next season. I think it is likely that we’ll see Rob Gronkowski retire given the toll his career has taken on his body and apparently he has been dealing with a bulging disk in his back this season, but Tom Brady is still planning to carry on. As I keep saying, I will believe the Patriots are done when they finally stop winning. They are the masters of doing just enough through the season and peaking for the playoffs so let’s see how they shape up, but given the premium they place on depth of roster I would expect their off-season to be quiet and who can argue with their success. How resilient do you have to be as a franchise to go to so many Super Bowls in a period where the league is designed for parity? As much as you may be fed up of watching them win, we are living through history and we should not take such excellence for granted. That said, a playoff tested Patrick Mahomes won’t be spotting the Patriots a fourteen-point lead at halftime next season so things could well be very different next times the Chiefs play the Patriots.

As I mentioned briefly, Patriots defensive coordinator Brian Flores has been formally announced as their new head coach. The Bengals have also announced that Rams quarterback coach Zac Taylor will be their tenth head coach. We won’t know how either of their tenures will go for a couple of seasons, but we are already into the season of hope as many teams announced via twitter pretty much the moment the Super Bowl was done.

I am going to take a look at the coaching tape of the Super Bowl, focusing on the Patriots offence versus the Rams’ defence this week for a post I hope to get up on Sunday, and I may well look at the job the Patriots defence did on the Rams the week after, but then I will focus on other things for a little while. I’ll write some posts round the major off-season events as well as occasional football posts but I won’t be posting more than once or twice a month until preseason starts.

In the meantime, thank you for reading all season and good luck with the long off-season, but between free-agency and the draft, there’s plenty of news to follow and soon it will be time for training camps.

There’s just one final thing I have to share today, but I’ll let Dan’s Dad, winner of this season’s pick competition and trivia master extraordinaire have the final say on the 2018 season

Well, there we go. Another season closes with a record breaking Superbowl in the bag but as we prepare for the quieter months to come we have to put a lid on the 2018 Trivia competition.

You will remember that this final game became a simple shoot out as Dan and Gee were on exactly the same scores so, literally, all to play for.

Question 1 wanted the player making the longest kick off return and it was Dan who took the early lead correctly identifying Jakeem Grant’s 102 yard return ending in a fine TD.

Question 2 asked the same for the longest pass of the year. Well, like the English cricketers the scorers were not troubled here. Patrick Mahomes was a logical choice but Big Ben Rothlisburger who threw a 97 yarder run in for another TD.

Third was a simple NFC/AFC question on which had won the most Superbowls. Well the score, before today, was 27 – 25 in favour of the NFC so Gee draws level.

Well done both on stotting that with 2 points at stake it was likely that there would be 2 QB’s who played in and won 4 Superbowls with no defeats. Well, I’ve dropped a few names into the mix recently so Gee’s choice of Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana against Dan’s Elway/Montana combo sees Gee gaining 2 to Dan’s 1.

Finally I asked about how many franchises have won a Superbowl. The answer is 20 so again, no points I’m afraid.

Therefore by just 1 point, for the record 22 to 21, this year’s champion in Gee. Congratulations to both for some interesting and impressive answers. I have the benefit of Google but this pair have only gone to it after they have made their responses so Kudos there! 

In closing I had set a tie breaker in case it was needed and, would you believe it, they both went for the same answer so it wouldn’t have got a result after all. I asked about the total Passing yardage for all 32 teams last season. 128,000 wasn’t a bad try but if you are interested it was 121737 – and for the geeks rushing delivered 58643 so now I see why a QB with a good arm is so valuable.

I hope you have enjoyed the quiz – its been an interesting thing to compile but I’ve been pleased by the responses. Enjoy the Off-season.’

Th…Th…That’s All Folks!

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of weeks, you’ll have seen that Sunday brought the 2018 NFL Season to a close with the Superbowl, which saw the New England Patriots emerge victorious over the LA Rams in what turned out to be one of the lowest scoring and most Defensive ‘bowls in recent memory.

Personally, I didn’t think the game was a classic (Sorry Gee!). You may be aware that I’m more of an offensive man than a defensive one, so the fact that the score was just 3-0 at half time meant that we were in severe need of something worth staying-up for… unfortunately, that meant Maroon 5, who produced one of the worst Superbowl half time shows I think I’ve ever seen!

The half time show feels like it’s lost some of it’s magic. It’s a good few years since we’ve had a show which I’ve genuinely looked forward to… It’s not that long since we had a run of shows which included Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, The Who, The Boss, The Rolling Stones and Prince, so the latest crop really have struggled to offer up anything worth sticking around at half time for. At least it gave me time to go and make some pop-tarts and a hot chocolate… A stark reminder that I’m getting old!

Back to the game though, and one thing which surprised me was the performance of Jarred Goff. He’s looked good all season and has been a real shining star of Sean McVay’s time with the Rams. He looked very shaky all game, and found himself making poorly judged throws, being rushed often, and got sacked 4 times. On the other hand, Tom Brady (the supposed ‘GOAT’) didn’t do much better – he only made 30ish more yards, and his completion percentage wasn’t a huge amount better than Goff’s, but what he did have was Julian Edelman, the eventual game’s MVP, who did a fantastic job at making extra yards after the catch and generally causing the Rams Defence all sorts of problems.

None of my bets came off either… I stood to win £85 had the Rams won the game! On the plus side, the defensiveness of the game gave us a good look at what Brian Flores, Miami’s newly anointed Head Coach, was capable of. If Sunday was a job interview, I’d say he well and truly passed with flying colours, even if he did have the might of Brucey B behind him.

But I think the main thing which came out of the game, and actually probably of the season as a whole is what a brilliant job the NFL (along with Sky and the BBC) are doing at raising the awareness of the game over on this side of the pond. I lost count of the number of people who spoke to me about it over the weekend, and have spoken to me about how they caught some of the game since, and while neither the game or the halftime show were classics, there’s definitely something to be said about the prospects for the league going forward.

This became even more clear to me on Sunday afternoon when I was walking home from the King Power stadium. 2 young lads were behind me who couldn’t have been more than about 11 or 12 years old. They’d just left a football (soccer) game where they’d seen their team unlucky not to get something of a result, and they were talking about how much they were looking forward to the Super Bowl! One was talking about how Tom Brady was going to have a huge game and throw for “like… 500 yards!” And the other was more concerned about how Todd Gurley was going to get “at least 4 touchdowns!”. While neither of them were correct (it would have made for a much better game, I think we can all agree… well, maybe not ‘all’) I was seriously impressed that 2 lads of their age were talking about The Wrong Football the same as you would expect them to be discussing the ‘other’ football!

We’re winning… keep spreading the news, and I’ll speak to you all in a few months!

@TWFDan

Super Bowl Sunday

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Here we are on Super Bowl Sunday, and there’s a game to preview and a number of trivia questions to separate Dan and I in our competition.

‘A bumper crop of questions in the hope that a winner can be found – along with a tie breaker which would only come into play if we are still at loggerheads. So, here goes:

In the 2018 Regular season – who scored the

  1. Long kick return   (For 1 point)
  2. Longest Pass   (1 point)
  3. For Superbowl LIII I want to know which conference has had most wins in the preceding 52? To be clear the NFC includes the NFL and the AFC the AFL.   (1 Point)
  4. Which QBs have Played in 4 Superbowl’s and won all 4   (2 points)
  5. How many franchises, including teams that have relocated to another city, have won the Super Bowl?   (1 point)

And finally, the Hail Mary Tie-breaker……… IF it’s needed.

In the 2018 season what was the Aggregate Total of Passing Yards of all 32 Teams.

Its Game On – Over to you.’

So this is a pretty tough set of questions and I’ll try to work my way through with guess work as I don’t know:

  1. I’m struggling on this one, but I think Alex Erickson of the Bengals had a long one, like over seventy yards, and whilst it wouldn’t surprise me if there was one from the endzone, I can’t think of it.
  2. I’m not exactly sure on this one either, but I feel comfortable in plumping for a guess of Patrick Mahomes as it’s not exactly a stretch for him to have the longest pass of the season.
  3. Okay, so I’m going to go with the maths on this one, and hope that fifty-two is a large enough sample size for the big runs to even themselves out. However, whilst I suspect the numbers are close, I do remember the ridiculous run of NFC winners we had in the mid-eighties into the nineties thanks to the Cowboys and 49ers so I’m guessing NFC.
  4. This one is one that I think I have a solid guess at assuming I’m right in thinking two points equals two names, and whilst there are a few quarterbacks with a great pedigree, I’m going to name Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana as the logical guesses given their team’s successes and hope that Steve Young isn’t going to trip me up!
  5. So I think this is actually going to be surprisingly low given that there have been fifty-two games, but we have had a lot of teams like the Steelers, 49ers, Patriots who have won a lot so even throwing in moved franchise I’m going to guess at something like twenty-five

Bonus question time!

I could actually work this out from data but I’ll employ a little maths and as I know that the Chiefs threw for over five thousand yards, and guessing the lowest is somewhere around say three thousand so the mid-point is say four thousand yards. That would give me total of one-hundred and twenty-eight thousand passing yards for thirty-two teams as a rough guess.

‘Ok, my final trivia answers. With everything neck and neck (we promise it wasn’t planned this way!!):

  1. Long kick return – I feel this is unfair, but I’ll take it! Jakeem Grant of the Dolphins got a 102 yarder against the Titans week one. It was also the longest game of the season. I’ll take the extra point there too…!
  2. Longest Pass – Not sure about this, it really could be anyone. I’ll say Patrick Mahomes.
  3. For Superbowl LIII I want to know which conference has had most wins in the preceding 52? – Hmmm… bit of a toss-up here. I’ll guess at the AFC
  4. Which QBs have Played in 4 Superbowl’s and won all 4 – it’s going to have been a while back, so I’ll go with John Elway and Joe Montana
  5. How many franchises, including teams that have relocated to another city, have won the Super Bowl? This will be quite high, but I know not everyone has… I’ll go with 26

In the 2018 season what was the Aggregate Total of Passing Yards of all 32 Teams. – 128,000 is my guess. To show my working, I’d say the best teams get about 5000, and the worst end up on about 3000, so averaging at 4000 per team, over 32 teams, makes 128k.’

So with the trivia competition out of the way it is time turn our attention to tonight’s game.

New England Patriots vs Los Angeles Rams

I will start by looking at both teams when they have the ball and the I’ll throw in some final comments and there will be nothing left to write before the big game.

The match-up of the game for me will the Patriots’ defence going against Rams’ offence so that’s where I will start. The often-cited tactics of Bill Belichick is to take away what you want to do and force you to play left handed. I’m not sure who they will focus on in terms of coverage, but I imagine given how much of the Ram’s offence is based off running the ball and play-action, that the Patriots will want to force Jared Goff to be a drop back passer and dare him to beat them with his arm. Now the Rams almost lucked into a powerful backfield duo when they picked up CJ Anderson late in the season to spell Todd Gurley who was struggling with a knee injury. The Rams are insisting that Gurley is healthy despite him spending most of the Conference Championship game on an exercise bike and one of the big unknowns in this game is how effective Gurley will be. That said, Anderson has rushed for over one-hundred yards in three of the four games he has played for the Rams since getting signed in December.

The story of the Rams’ offence this season has been the use of 11 personnel and the myriad of looks and motions they build of this group of starters who predominantly play the whole game. However, in recent weeks they have been mixing in more 12 personnel with the extra tight-end helping in both the running and passing game. The don’t have a dominant receiver, with both Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks finishing the regular season over twelve-hundred yards and within fifteen yards of each other. The loss of Cooper Kupp to injury did seem to disrupt Jared Goff but Josh Reynolds has done what he can from the slot to replace him.

I am really looking forward to this match-up as it is the meat of the contest between the all time great Bill Belichick and the young genius as Sean McVay has been heralded, and I think it is likely to be the most important for the Rams if they hope to win. I’ll come back to that later, but for now I will just say that I am intrigued to see what McVay and his staff have cooked up in terms of things that run counter to the Rams’ usual offensive tendencies that will be tried in an effort to catch Belichick out.

When the Patriots have the ball things will be just as interesting, and the contest between Josh McDaniels and Tom Brady going against Wade Philips is hardly less intriguing what I’ve just written about. Particularly as Philips has already masterminded a winning defence against Brady and the Patriots on the way to a Super Bowl win with the Broncos. In Aaron Donald the Rams’ have a pass rusher every bit as effective as the Broncos’ Von Miller and they can also line up Ndamukong Suh next to him. The conventional wisdom is to beat Tom Brady you need to be able to get pressure with four pass rushers and with these two supremely talented tackles and Dante Fowler the Rams stand some chance of doing this. The difference between this defence and the one the Philips and the Broncos used to beat the Patriots is the secondary is not as talented and in a game such as against the Saints what the Rams have are explosive moments rather than consistent play. Yes both Suh and Donald has outstanding moments, but the Saints were able to get them on their heels and I have feeling that the recent tactics of the Patriots could well negate the Rams’ defence.

The Patriots, as has often been their want have recently reinvented themselves as running football team using 21 personnel and fullback James Devlin as both a lead blocker and pass catcher. In addition, in the last few weeks Rob Gronkowski has looked really effective as a blocking tight-end who has caught some passes and whilst he’s looked for from his league conquering best, in the last few games he has looked closer to it. The form of Julian Edelman in the playoffs has also been a big boost to the Patriots whilst their running backs committee was able to generate one-hundred and seventy-six yards and four touchdowns against the Chiefs. This may not be the high flying iteration of the Patriots’ offence that has so dominated previous seasons, but they have found a way to control the clock and win games comfortably having earned yet another playoff bye.

The advantage this gives the Patriots is that if they can grind out the game against a defence that was twenty-eight in the league against the run during the regular season then they can dominate time of possession and win a close game.

I am really excited by this year’s Super Bowl, which I think should be tactically fascinating but who do I think is going to win?

This has been a year where your defence only needed to be so good given the power of offence, but I feel like the Patriots have a slight edge in match-ups and I have more faith in Belichick and staff’s ability to maximise their team’s performance in the unusual circumstances of the Super Bow given they have been there nine times in eighteen and this is their third in a row. The Rams absolutely can win this game, and I would love for former Bengals stalwart starting left tackle Andrew Whitworth to get a Super Bowl win but whilst my heart wants Rams for this reason, my head says that in a close game the Patriots will edge out winners with their better balance.

Whatevver happens, I think I will have some great coaching tape to dig into next week.

AAF: LA Rams’ Defence

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So for my final amateur adventures in film post I took a look at the LA Rams defence playing against the New Orleans Saints’ offence.

This was an interesting match-up as the Saints’ offence ranked fourth in league by DVOA and the Rams’ defence ranked nineteenth.

For most of this game the Rams did not play in a base 3-4 four defence, predominantly playing a 3-3 nickel or 3-2 dime defence. The hybrid defensive line consisted of three defensive linemen and Dante Fowler moving to either side of the line as a stand-up pass rusher. This highlighted how important the trade for him mid-season was, and against the Saints the Rams’ defence held them to under three hundred yards. However, whilst the Saints were only able to run for forty-eight yards, there were stretches where they were able to move the ball freely and Drew Brees threw for two-hundred and forty-nine yards and two touchdowns.

The Rams rush defence was not great this season, but they managed to bottle up the Saints pair of runners in Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, but this was partly due to moments of brilliant from Suh and Donald rather than consistent run fits, although that did happen on some snaps. Still, it was very impressive to see Suh pushing back a centre of the quality of Max Unger as happened on a couple of plays.

However, for a lot of the game I was more impressed with the design of the Saints offence, with combinations of routes creating natural picks between defenders and several times using motion to get players open in the passing game. In the much talked about play where Nickell Robey-Coleman committed uncalled pass interference and a helmet to helmet hit, he was behind the Saints’ motion from before the ball was snapped so you can see why he desperately flew across the field and committed the interference to stop a touchdown. The problem for him this week will be that he admitted it and so the refs will be likely watching him closely in the Super Bowl and so despite him having some impressive pass breakups in this game, I wonder if he could struggle in a match-up against Julian Edelman in the slot.

The Rams secondary has some impressive names at corner, but Marcus Peters in known to gamble for the big play and Aqib Talib is ten days away from his thirty-third birthday. Too often the Saints were able to move the ball with short plays or scheme someone open, even if Michael Thomas was kept to a modest thirty-six yards, but Ted Ginn continued to prove his used in stretching the defence, whilst Alvin Kamara picked up ninety-six yards through the air as various players tried to follow him round the formation and often failed.

Overall there are a lot of big names in the Rams’ defensive unit, but they are really designed to play with a lead and counter a team passing the ball to catch up. For most of the year this was absolutely fine, but we shall have to see how it fairs this week in the Super Bowl. What price they will pay going forward given the number of high-price free-agents that comprise their star players, but the new acquisitions for this season were meant to get the Rams to the Super Bowl, so as far as the Rams are concerned the gamble was probably worth it.

Super Bowl Build Up

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So amidst the swirling and annually swelling Super Bowl coverage we have to take stock ahead of the big game on Sunday.

I’ll start with the continuing saga in New Orleans, and I mention the city rather than team as apart from what befell the Saints in the Conference Championship game, this past Monday NBA superstar Anthony Davis said he will not be resigning with the New Orleans Pelicans and put in a trade request. This was a story big enough to fight the Super Bowl for attention in American sports media, which has to really hurt fans of in New Orleans.

Still, it’s hard to tell too much about how these stories battled for attention from over here in the UK, but it was certainly interesting and there are still stories about the Saints coming out. We had Ben Watson calling out Roger Goodell’s silence a week ago in a well-reasoned complaint on twitter.

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Drew Brees clearly is begging to prepare for next season, and his Instagram post certainly showed why he’s been successful for so long.

‘I’ve spent this last week navigating the heartache and disappointment from the game. Some things within our control and some outside our control that caused us to fall short. So much of our motivation is to represent the Who Dat Nation with determination and resiliency. We want to play for you, fight for you, and win for you. You deserve that. 
The longer I play I realize that we truly are one heartbeat with our fans. Our success is your success. Our disappointment is your disappointment. We are inspired by one another to accomplish things far greater than what we could ever do on our own. 
Everything that has ever happened to this community, we have bonded together, galvanized and leaped forward every time. 
The frustration we feel now can be channeled in the same way. Pour that passion and emotion into your families and communities. Inspire others with your focus & determination and positive outlook. This will make us stronger, this will bond us tighter, this will be a source for our success in the future. 
There is no place like New Orleans. There is no community like ours. No fans like the Who Dat Nation. I refuse to let this hold us down. I refuse to let this create any negativity or resentment. I embrace the challenge. 
So keep your chin up, hold your head high, puff your chest out because WE are the Who Dat Nation and WE will always persevere.’

Drew Brees Instagram

Meanwhile his head coach Sean Payton has revealed that he spent several days locked in his office with ice cream and Netflix, and this was a story on NFL.com that followed only the Goodell press-conference when I looked at lunch time.

I was fighting my schedule again this week and as a result I was juggling when to publish posts, but part of the reason I held my mid-week post back a day was so was I could hear what Roger Goodell might have to say, but the honest answer is not much. This seems to have very much been the approach for Goodell this season who has kept a low profile, as demonstrated by his slow response to the bad no call that everyone is talking about. Even then he didn’t move past general quotes supportive of the referees and said we’ll look at replay in the off-season. Now he was never going to reverse the winners of the game and the Saints’ fans trying to bring a law suit won’t get too far either, but the interesting nugget I did read was that one of the reasons that the missed call against the Saints couldn’t be reviewed is that teams have always been against the review of no-calls. Now this will be to do with limiting the effect on the flow of the game and the influence of replay, but for something to change it has to get through the competition committee and then pass a vote amongst the owners. We shall have to see what comes out of that, but I am not expecting anything radical to come of this process. Certainly we have got used to Goodell not saying much of anything.

Getting back to the game, the media circus is in full swing with a mixture of really good break downs and less football related antics of media scrabbling for news round the Super Bowl. I’ll get to the game in my Sunday post, and I am not going to write a complaint about the quality of some of the media coverage here, but I do want to take note of it taking place.

The reason I want to do this is picking up from something Solomon Wilcots was saying on the Inside the Huddle podcast, namely that you can’t win a Super Bowl in the week before the game, but you can lose one. Now the story he tells is of the 1989 Bengals team who lost Stanley Wilson to a cocaine relapse on the eve of the Super Bowl, and his job was to block Ronnie Lott. Now I very much want to not say something like that is going to happen, and we have learnt a lot about addiction in the intervening years and it still wasn’t enough to help Josh Gordon stay clean whilst with the Patriots this season. However, with all the demands on player’s attentions and the unusual circumstances as well as changed to their routine like the extra-long half time, the team who adjusts to this environment the best will set themselves up with a good chance to win. The Patriots have been to nine Super Bowls in eighteen years and this is the third straight year they have reached the big game. That is a simply phenomenal record and has to give the Patriots some kind of edge in their preparation. The attention to detail of Sean McVay is also pretty well know so I’m not saying that the Patriots are going to walk the game, particularly given all the Patriots Super Bowls have been close, but it could be a small detail covered in a meeting this week that turns the game. Now to be fair, mostly it will be decided by the players on the day, but you never know.

I’m really looking forward to this game given both teams use a lot of deception as part of their scheme and I think it could be a fascinating match up to study in coaching tape, but for now enjoy the build-up and look forward to Sunday.

There’s not long left to go now!

Anyone got any plans for the weekend?

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So, here we are! It’s that time of year again where all of your mates, even the ones who don’t watch any other games all season, become big NFL fans! We’re down to the final two, with the best of the AFC, namely the New England Patriots, facing off against the NFC’s LA Rams.

It’s an exciting one this year. I genuinely believe that either team could be leaving Atlanta with the Vince Lombardi trophy, and I can’t wait to see how the game goes. Lets take a look at the two teams involved.

A handy guide for Sunday night…

AFC: New England Patriots – 11-5

What can I say about the Patriots that hasn’t already been said? The combination of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick is one of the most successful partnerships in NFL history, having lead their Patriots to 5 Super Bowl championships; 4 of them with Mr Brady winning the Super Bowl MVP! This is the Patriots third representation of the AFC in the big one in row with them beating Falcons and losing to the Eagles in the last 2.

But this year, I believe that they’re a little more beatable than they have in the run up to the last couple of outings. This year, they’ve dropped games against the Jaguars (Week 2), Lions (Week 3), Titans (Week 10), Dolphins (Week 14) and Steelers (Week 15), none of whom made it to the post-season. On top of that, you can’t argue that Tom Brady is getting on a bit. It’s been interesting this week to hear him say that he ‘doesn’t know’ if Sunday’s game will be his last [He did say he had zero intention to retire -Ed.]. Personally, I can’t see it, but at the same time, if he does play again next year, I can’t see him being able to keep up the standard that everyone is used to seeing from him.

His target men have been a little bit unexpected this year. James White (a Running Back) has been targeted the most, and made the most catches this year, and losing someone like Josh Gordon towards the end of the season to suspension won’t have helped. On top of that, if you exclude the 2016 season when he was injured for half of the year, this has been statistically his worst year since 2013 – something which hasn’t helped to silence the noise about him potentially retiring too.

If things don’t go their way on Sunday, we really could be watching the end of their franchise dominance… (much to the delight of the rest of the AFC East!).

NFC: Los Angeles Rams – 13-3

It seems a long time since the Rams entered LA in 2016 with a 4-12 record. Since then, certainly in the last couple of seasons, they’ve been one of the most exciting franchises to watch in the league. This will have been in no small part down to the introduction of current Head Coach Sean McVay, who has breathed new life into the team.

Their route to the Super Bowl, via an overtime victory over the New Orleans Saints, was marred with more than a little controversy – with a missed interference call on a play that also had a helmet to helmet hit at the end of the fourth quarter which may well have lead to a different end result – but for me, you win some and you lose some throughout the year, it just happens to have come at the perfect time for them!

What has surprised me a little is that the Rams frankly loaded defence ranks 19th in the league this year. When you think that their line is stacked with the likes of Aaron Donald (who I think I’m developing a Gee/JJ Watt style man-crush on! [No fair, you are an offence man and I have an ethical polly approach to my love of destuctive interior defensive linemen – Ed.]) and Ndamukong Suh, I really would expect them to be much higher up the list.

On the other side of the ball, Jarred Goff has had a great season in his second year as starting QB. He’s been helped out by Brandon Cooks and Robert Woods who have done well, and you can’t talk about the Rams offence without taking a look at Todd Gurley. He was just slightly under his rushing yard total from last season, but has been extremely important for the team, running in 17 TDs throughout the year.

And their other benefit is their kicking game – as a team, you’ve got to go a long way to find a better pairing than Johnny Hekker and Greg Zuerlein, who have made some monster kicks and punts this year.

My Verdict

This is the most difficult Super Bowl to pick for a good few years. I had a hunch about the Rams back in March, and on balance, I think I’m going to stick with them for the win in the early hours of Monday morning. That being said, if you saw how my picks went this year, they may not be thanking me for that…

One final update on the bet before I sign off – as you’d expect, the cash out value has fluctuated a bit throughout the week and a half since they made it through, but it’s now at its most tempting!

And that’ll be it from me for now. One more post next week, and I’ll be taking a well earned break. As always, I’ve got Monday off work, so Sunday will be America day in our house, where I drink American lager, eat Corn Dogs, and watch the big game… and I can’t wait!

I’ll be tweeting throughout the game, so can’t wait to hear how you’re celebrating the occasion, and what your plans are for Sunday night – tweet me and let me know!

Oh, and if you know where I can get hold of some Corn Dogs in the UK, I’m reaching Def-Con-One here!

@TWFDan

AAF: Patriots Defence

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For the first coaching tape I watched in preparation for the Super Bowl was me taking a look at the Patriots defence and how they contained the Chiefs offence, holding them scoreless in the first half and limiting them to under three hundred total yards. In fact their two hundred and ninety total yards was the lowest for the Chiefs’ offence all season and only the second time they were kept under three hundred yards.

So how did the Patriots manage this and how did the Chiefs score thirty-one points in one half of football?

Well the game plan was pretty consistent through both halves and I will start with the coverage choices and work my way forwards. It is a well known fact the Patriots will often double cover a team’s best receiver, but they will use their best corner to cover the teams second best receiver. Now I confess that I didn’t track which corner was covering each player through the entire game as I have to limit what I track to get posts out. If someone wants to pay me to go more in depth I’m all for it! What I can say is that the Patriots doubled Tyreek Hill for the entire game and played with one high safety. This was a gamble that paid off and it needed to as this meant they were effectively playing cover 0 for the rest of the Chief’s receiving options. However, Hill was only targeted three times in this game and had one catch when running a route from the slot where he got a clean release and therefore was able to use a fake in and out break to find a soft part of the bracket coverage and catch his one pass that did go for forty-two yards. The rest of the receivers were then singled covered and whilst Sammy Watkins did catch four balls for one hundred and fourteen yard, he got no touchdowns. The other thing to mention regarding the Patriots’ coverage was they were hardly ever in what would be considered a base defence of 3-4. Mostly they played a mixture of 2-4 nickel and 3-2 dime, using the extra defensive back(s) to cover Travis Kelce, who himself only had three receptions from three targets although he did get a touchdown.

The counter to lining up with this kind of personnel and formation would be to run up the middle with more power, but whilst the Chiefs did use more 12 personnel in the second half, full back Anthony Sherman only got one snap on offence in a goal line formation. In case you are curious, Sherman did have twenty-three snaps on special teams so it is not like he was not contributing to this game, but he was not a part of the offensive game plan. The Chiefs were not however, able to get their run game going consistently on this game anyway. Their longest run of the game was a ten yarder by Damien Williams, and if you remove that from his rushing totals then Williams’ pedestrian three yards per carry drops to a woeful two point two. The second longest run was Patrick Mahomes, who scrambled for nine when the defence opened up before him but he is not a rushing quarterback and with that I have covered all the Chiefs’ runs in this game!

Now part of this is to do with game flow. The Patriots set out to run the ball and control the clock, which they managed to do and having put up a lead and amassed double the time of possession, the Chiefs had to rely on their explosive offence to catch up. It took time for Mahomes to adjust to what the Patriots were doing and to find ways of completing passes. Often there were no receivers open and Mahomes got bailed out a couple of times by defensive holding or pass interference penalties, several of which were given away by JC Jackson. Mahomes also got sacked four times as the Patriots racked up ten quarterback hits, but the good news for the Chiefs going forward is that Mahomes did find those ways in the second half and going forward he is only going to improve in such situations as he gains experience.

I’ll finish up with the two players in the front seven who particularly caught my eye. The obvious candidate is Kyle Van Noye who lined up all round the linebacker spots and racked up ten tackles, eight of them solo, as well as two sacks and a quarterback hit as well as forcing a fumble. If Van Noye was the all action super star, then Trey Flowers was the man causing the disruption in the front seven with his hand in the dirt. He may have only got two tackles but he paired that with a sack and two quarterback hits as well as getting one of those tackles for a loss.

It is kind of appropriate for a team like the Patriots to not have people leaping of the screen all over the defence, but to posses a collective doing their jobs to make an effective whole. There’s no guarantee that the same players will shine in the Super Bowl, or that the same scheme and personnel groupings will be used. I suspect they could well use the coverage trick I described a start of this piece again, but seeing what they come up with to limit the Sean McVay and the Rams’ offence is probably what I’m most looking forward to watching this Sunday. Until then, I shall take a look at the Rams defence given that I watched the Rams offence only a couple of weeks ago.

Trivia for Pro Bowl Weekend

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With a week to go until the Super Bowl we have had a bit of fun in the Pro Bowl skill competitions and I have watched my first game of coaching tape that I will write up, but we also have two trivia questions to contend with so here goes:

And then we move onto Week 21, the Pro Bowl and there are 2 questions this week with 3 points up for grabs.

Firstly, in the 2018 Regular Season who (player) kicked the most field goals? As a bonus How Many was that?

Secondly, for 1 point, whose foundation (player not team) raised a record $41m following Hurricane Harvey?’

So the second question is the easiest for me to answer as the damage that Hurricane Harvey caused in Houston was very memorable, as was the fund raising effort that was led by JJ Watt.

As for field goals, I’m going to plump for probably the best field goal kicker in the league, who just happens to play for a team who relied heavily on him and their defence for the first half of the season so I’m plumping for Justin Tucker and say he got thirty-two field goals.

‘Ok, quick answers this week. Question one I should really know as the kicking connoisseur of the group, but I’m afraid it’s going to be a guess. I’ll go with Baltimore’s Justin Tucker with about 38 kicks made.

Question 2 is easy, and unfair as the answer is Gee’s Spirit Animal and all round good guy, Mr Julian* Jonathan* Watt!

* – may not be his real names… it’s JJ Watt.