The Path to the NFL Now Extends to the UK

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The NFL offseason has swung into the next stage now the draft is well behind us and the OTAs or organised team activities are in full swing. In fact we’re not far away from the final break of the year for NFL teams before training camp starts and everyone is grinding until the end of the season. Under the current  collective bargaining agreement the current practices do not involve pads and even training camps these days are very different to the two or three practices a day structure that used to dominate the NFL offseason programmes.

The rigours of playing American Football are alien to many people here in the UK, even fans at times because it is such a fundamentally different game to the sports that are popular over here. No one on a football (or soccer as the Americans would call it) has such strict instructions on what they should be doing at every moment as each player has for every snap of an American Football game.  Yes there are formations and set plays in football but there is no play book filled with complicated instructions on where you have to be down to the yard as there are in American Football. It is also very different because American sport is largely built around situations, be it third and seven in American football, bottom of the ninth in baseball, or down two with 12 seconds left in the NBA. The stop start nature of these crucial moments is a different animal and of particular importance in American football, which is often referred to as a coach’s game.

However, the path for players to get to the NFL, like all the major American sports, is very different to how things work across the pond. We have school and university sports in the UK but nothing like the US high school teams or their college setup where for the big sports the student/athlete is for all intents and purposes a professional player being paid in access to education. We leave player scouting and development to the professional teams.

It is hard to get your head around a secondary school day scheduled around being up at five o’clock so you can get a lift in before school, or the spring and summer training young players put themselves through to prepare to play for their high school in front of a huge section of their local community. There were certainly no pep rallies for any of my sporting activities growing up and my name may have appeared in the local paper one or twice whilst playing for my local football team but never regarding what I did in school sports.

It was therefore eye opening to read Beyond the Gridiron: How to Successfully Transition into Collegiate Football by Travis B Key & Ashton Henderson. The authors took me on a journey through a different world where schools were changed just to improve the football experience and increase the chance of making it to college. The college walk on, who we often hear about in NFL media had to go through a gruelling day of practice having prepared on their own to fight for maybe one or two spots on the team. That’s just to get a chance to compete with the rest of the team to earn actual playing time.

19-06-11 Betyond the Gridron

However, whilst I read this book trying to get an insight into how a work colleague made it to the NFL. The recent announcement by the NFL could make it a useful book for students in the UK with an interest in American Football. In conjunction with Barnet and Southgate College there is to be an NFL Acadmey in the UK which is being co-sponsopred by Nike and has player ambassadors of the likes of Osi Umenyiora, Jay Ajayi, Odell Beckham and Patrick Mahomes.

This is a new venture so there are no guarantees but with a potential pipeline for a player to get into an American college and maybe one day the NFL, it looks to definitely be another step in the development of American Football in this country. There are well established leagues in the UK but giving 16-18 years old the chance to dedicate more time to training can only help both their development and perhaps in time the general standard of play. The odds of any player making to college yet alone the NFL are small, but for the first time there could be a path without a family having to move to America for someone with the requisite physical ability and wish to develop it.

It is that development that is key. You can’t help but understand that reading Beyond the Girdiron, as it outlines all that goes into being a student athlete. How much time you have to dedicate to it, how much effort it will be to physically prepare, learn the playbook and not just your assignments but those around you as you have to know football. Additionally you have to make sure you study enough that you are academically eligible to play. The pipeline is well established in America, but as the NFL continues its efforts to expand into Europe there is another avenue that could be opening up. It will be a learning experience for all who participate but early success could be a real driver in establishing a path to the NFL from the UK and establish a model to expand into other countries.

I am sure we will hear more about this in the coming months. The trials take place over the next two Saturdays anyone who earns a spot could benefit from getting themselves a copy of Beyond the Gridiron to help them blaze a new trail by learning how those in America follow the existing path and carry out what is relevant over here.

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A Cynic’s Reaction to the Draft

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I don’t think that you can know how good a team’s draft was until at least three years after the players were picked, and even then the process can be logical and the players don’t work out for injury or various other reasons. Not to mention that as someone who listens to draft podcasts but doesn’t actually watch college games I don’t have strong opinions on individual players.

I would suggest one of the reasons the Bengals have failed to make the playoffs the last three years is that the first four pick from the 2015 draft are not on the roster right now. You are never going to have every pick working out, but the combination of missing on the two offensive tackles selected in the first and second rounds in 2015 and letting Andrew Whitworth go undermined the offence because Andy Dalton is a quarterback who needs a clean pocket to operate and neither of Cedric Ogbuehi or Jake Fisher played well enough at tackle. I don’t generally believe that there are simple solutions to complex questions, but this is pretty clearly the start of the Bengals’ problems on offence. At least two of the last three seasons were also derailed by cluster injuries and that can happen to any team, but getting the depth of roster right is part of being a winning franchise and there are plenty of teams who are competitive nearly every year.

So, whilst I don’t think we can know which teams have drafted well last week, I can take a look at the moves I liked and what I have questions about.

I will start with the three franchises supported by the TWF team, although not my Bengals for once.

I am increasingly impressed by the Miami Dolphins’ approach this offseason and they sealed this by not reaching for a quarterback in the first round and then acquiring Josh Rosen for only a 2019 second round pick and a fifth round selection next year. This gives the Dolphins a top ten quarterback prospect for minimal draft capital, they only have to pay him $6 million dollars for the rest of his contract, and they have the fifth year team option for a first round draft pick. This gives them outstanding value and even if Rosen doesn’t work out they can draft a quarterback next season in a draft that is supposedly a better one for quarterbacks. The simple fact is that there is a clearly identifiable plan in in Miami, and they are sticking to it. That doesn’t mean it will definitely succeed, but they stand more chance of winning big by resetting and rebuilding than they did on the constant treadmill of not quite being good enough that has been the approach for the last few seasons.

As for the Bengals 2019 draft, the pick of tackle Jonah Williams seems very logical given our roster and quarterback. A lot of draft experts liked the player and enough said he was the best tackle in the draft so I’m pretty happy he will start somewhere along the line this year. There were comments about the Steelers trading up to the tenth pick to grab Devin Bush and hurting us in the process, but the Bengals did pick a linebacker in the third round and that would be the kind of move that I would usually associate with the Bengals given their approach to value and where they typically invest their draft capital. The Bengals have generally been really good at drafting for a number of years (the 2015 draft obviously being an exception) and whilst this never resulted in playoff success there were rarely criticisms of the talent ofnthe roster. The 2015 season is still the one that feels like it got away where Andy Dalton was playing as well as any quarterback in the league before he broke his thumb. I’ll be really interested to see they go under the new regime. I also like the trade up to grab quarterback Ryan Finley in the fourth round as whilst I don’t think there is a pressing need to replace Dalton right now and wasn’t expecting the Bengals to aggressively go after one, Finley has time to develop behind Dalton. The new regime looks to be building competition across their entire roster and this includes the quarterbacks’ room. I think it is a good idea to keep a flow of young quarterbacks into the room as you never know who you might found and these can often be traded away towards the end of their contract if they are not challenging your starters. Just look at how many quarterbacks developed behind Tom Brady that the Patriots have later traded away for picks and who have also helped them win games.

The Minnesota Vikings’ offseason has not created a lot of news in the corners of the NFL media I follow, and nor has their draft despite them selecting twelve players. I am not at all surprised that with their first four picks they addressed concerns on offence by picking a centre, guard, tight-end and running back. I will late Dan’s dad take it from here as he’s been following the Vikings’ offseason more closely than I have:

‘While I accept the excitement that the bringing in of new faces has for the fans I will admit to never totally understanding the process. I know that last year’s position determines where a team sits in the pecking order for the draft but allowing teams to trade up and down almost makes a mockery of the event. I’m sure some of you understand it better than I but to me it’s like explaining cricket to a French exchange student, or an American for that matter.

What I do understand are numbers and the comments of the GMs explaining their strategy. For example I understand that there was a record of 40 draft day trades across the league this year and the Vikings GM Rick Spielman was involved in 6 over the 2 days.

What did strike me though from looking at the names the Vikes went for is that firstly there were no marquee names, often there is hype around one or more names which cause a stir in their selections. Secondly the balance of positions throughout the team suggests a considered approach looking for general strengthening rather than a quick fix. Indeed ‘quick’ isn’t really the aim, it takes time to bring new blood into any team especially in the NFL when everyone has and works to very specific roles.

This year then, for me the big ticket item is Boise State running back Alexander Mattison. Only a 3rd round pick but Spielman’s patience was rewarded, managing to land N.C. State centre Garrett Bradbury in round one and Alabama tight-end Irv Smith Jr in second were on the list and fortune left them both available in what can become a lottery.

Trying to absorb all the changes it does seem clear that the selections have, as should always be the case, been ones which will ‘fit’ alongside what is already there. To me that is a huge positive. In a season long grind you don’t need ‘show ponies’ when well drilled and safe hands are what’s needed. Mike Zimmer is a builder of teams and scouting will have found the best targets. That said getting them from your wish list and through the draft takes luck and I think this year luck has been on the Vikings side.

Time will tell but for now it’s encouraging!’

I think that’s a pretty full summary but did want to pick up on a thing Dan’s Dad mentioned about augmenting your roster with the draft. Although I think that a team should look to build through the draft rather than relying on free-agency, I do think it is important to go into the draft with no glaring needs on your roster. You can have priorities but where I think teams get into trouble is reaching for a player that solves a problem rather than picking the best player available. It can be dangerous to go after a star free agent but you can still augment your roster carefully so come the draft you get what your players is available and sure, if you have comparably rated players and one is a weaker position you would take that player but it is dangerous to reach, and it looks like the Houston Texans did just that after the Eagles traded up above them to take Andre Dillard. Now, the tackle the Texans took could work out and I really hop Tytus Howard does work for them as I generally want teams to be successful but it does feel like the Texans just went down their list of tackles rather than their overall list.

If balancing your roster and picking best player available is my key concept going into the draft, then I would generally prefer a team to trade down rather than up, although this gets more flexible the deeper into the draft you go. I think the only player you should really move up for in the first round is a franchise quarterback unless there is a player deep in the first round that you think is worth coming back up for to get the fifth year option. That said, I didn’t mind the Pittsburgh Steelers’ moving up to ten to take linebacker Devin Bush as their defence has just not been the same since Ryan Shazier suffered his horrible injury and this should give them a real boost. I also understand why the New Orleans Saints have been so aggressive in trading picks to get the right players as they are trying to maximise their chances of getting Drew Brees another ring before he retires and they have to carry out a longer term reset.

I liked the Colts moving down to acquire more players as their rebuild continues to progress and I get the feeling they could be really competitive next year. I’ve not been a fan of Washington approach to the offseason in recent years but they have to be pretty happy that quarterback Dwayne Haskins fell to them at fifteen. It looks like the Baltimore Ravens didn’t miss a beat in their first post Ozzie Newsome draft and I suspect the AFC North is going to very competitive this season.

The Denver Broncos did well to move down and pick up and extra second round pick yet still get quarterback Drew Lock in the second round. The worry will be that apart from Peyton Manning so far John Elway has failed to find a franchise player at the position he himself was so good at. There’s time for Lock to develop behind Joe Flacco who the Broncos traded for in the off-season, but Elway really needs one of them to work out soon or questions really might be asked by ownership about if Elway can get them another Super Bowl.

However, if there is one team where ownership should be asking questions it is the New York Giants given that a year after refusing to listen to offers and picking Saquon Barkley with the second pick they ignored the order of most draft grading and picked Duke quarterback Daniel Jones. If he works out and plays better than Sam Darnold then David Gettleman can prove his doubters wrong to a degree, but Jones would likely would have been available at pick seventeen, which they got for trading away Odell Beckham and who did they get with the seventeenth pick? A run stuffing defensive tackle to replace the one they traded away during last season which hardly seems to be a good return for one of the most dynamic receivers in the game. As I say Gettleman could prove his doubters wrong but I don’t like the way he’s gone about this and the aim isn’t to pick a quarterback that does better than the one he had last season, it’s to win a Super Bowl and that feels a long way away for the Giants as currently constructed.

Still, the only way to tell for sure is to wait three years and see how things pan out so lets sit back and wait out what is the quietest bit of the NFL year, but it’s the beginning of May so before you know it we’ll be starting training camps and gearing up for the one hundredth NFL season.

When the Going Gets Tough…

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I’ve been putting this off for a while now as I wanted to get my head properly around the goings on in the off-season in South Florida. It’s been a difficult off-season to swallow, if I’m honest. One of the most difficult that I can remember in my 20 years of following the ‘fins, and I have a feeling that’s only going to become a theme when the season finally rolls around in a few months time.

Where to start? Well, probably the most logical place would be at the Head Coach position, where Adam Gase was (to the surprise of nobody) relieved of his duties and replaced with former Patriots Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores. This is his first head coaching position, having fulfilled various roles in New England since 2004. It would be easy to be a bit sceptical about his abilities given this fact, but personally, I quite like the sound of the noises he’s making.

B-Flo (as I will be referring to him forever more) has a hell of a job on his hands. It’s a season of change in Miami, and he’s the one who has to oversee that change. There have been a LOT of big names who have also left the franchise, some of which had been around for years. The likes of Ryan Tannehill, Cameron Wake, Danny Amendola, Frank Gore and Ja’Wuan James have all departed this year, and it’s left an extremely young, team with fairly limited experience in some areas.

Some of these names came as more of a shock than others. It’s always going to be difficult when someone who you had pegged as being your franchise quarterback departs, but I do think it was Tannehill’s time to go. It’s an interesting move for him though, going to the Titans. I can’t imagine Marcus Marriota is particularly pleased about the move, but then again, he’s hardly set the league alight in the last couple of seasons.

In his place, we’ve signed Ryan Fitzpatrick. Yes, Dolfans, you can be forgiven for calling him Fitztragic a few years ago when he was in the green half of New York! It’s a move which comes with a number of questions for me, not least surrounding the draft and our strategy this year. We’ve got pick number 13 this year (assuming we don’t trade between now and the draft – this writer can’t be held responsible for that!) and many fans have been expecting a QB to sit under Fitz for a year and take over the reigns next year. And I can see why that’s a popular opinion – it makes sense after all. Fitzpatrick is no spring chicken and has played for pretty much every team in the league (near enough!) so I’d expect his best days are behind him. However, for me, that’s not the pick we should make this year. I absolutely think we’ll pick up a QB in a later round (possibly the second) but for me, first round needs to focus on our pass rush positions.

The loss of Ja’Wuan James was a big one without question – our loss is the Broncos’ gain there. And while he didn’t play much last year due to injury, it would have been extremely useful to have Josh Sitton around the place, but he has decided to hang up his boots. If we don’t strengthen our offensive line, it doesn’t matter who’s throwing the ball, they’ll be spending more time on their backside than actually passing. Besides, from what I understand of the draft classes of this year and next year, the QBs are going to be much stronger next year, and given that we’re potentially in for a rough season, we should be quite high up the draft board and in a position to pick someone who can take us forward.

But lets see what happens. The Draft is always interesting and always throws up some unexpected turns somewhere so anything really can happen. You watch us go and take a Wide Receiver in round 1 now…

It’s been a while since I’ve written so I’m trying to think of what else I have to tell you… I’ll do it in pictures!

I was clearing out my spare room over Easter weekend and this little beauty turned up – this was my playing jersey when I played at Uni. I’d imagine there are kids all over the place now wearing 31 in my honour…

I’ve also got to pick my Super Bowl winners bet – I’d like to do it in the next few days as I’m already a lot later than I was in last years’ losing effort in picking the Rams. Any ideas would be much appreciated, but this is how the top few odds are looking as of today (24th April) – the Dolphins are at 125/1 and Bengals at 80/1, out of interest…

And with all of that said, I’m off to watch this! [Not exactly a realistic negotiation stratergy – Ed.]

Until next time…

@TWFDan

The Season of Hope is a Con but Enjoy the Draft Anyway

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We are days away from the NFL draft and with so much having gone on already I shall be taking a particularly personal swing through the offseason with no intention of preparing you for the draft, but I’ll come to that in a bit.

This season I’m going to mix things up a little and so in season I’m going to be moving the newsletter format into my regular Wednesday posts and try writing only one thing a day to make life easier on myself.

This is a little taste of what I’m planning.

I will email that out as a newsletter with modifications for those subscribed so do sign-up at here as there will be bonus bits, just not a whole second post!

So without further preamble let us get to the off-season so far, or the season of hope as I tend to call it.

What I Saw

There has been a swirl of news over the offseason and team activities have already started for the teams with new coaches, whilst there were plenty of free-agency moves.

Some of the things that caught my eye include:

  • The New York Giants trading Odell Beckham to the Cleveland Browns, who have very much won the off-season and are already being tipped to be the team to beat in the AFC North this year with the various talent they have acquired in recent years and this off-season.
  • Antonio Brown got his wish and was traded to the Oakland Raiders by the Pittsburgh Steelers, which is somewhat at odds with the Raiders apparent drive to acquire youth and draft picks.
  • The Raiders also handed out a four-year contact with $36.25 million guaranteed at signing to left tackle Trenton Brown after his year-long stint with the Patriots and their famed O-line coach Dante Scarnecchia. It is a very typical Patriots move to let another team overpay one of their players and I wonder how Brown will play outside of the Patriots structure as I’ve not heard him mentioned as the kind of player who should have the biggest on-signing contract guarantees for a left tackle in the league.
  • The three 2019 free-agent contracts with the largest guarantees at signing are:

    Nick Foles – who signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars to give them a quarterback who presents a credible passing threat as he reunites with the Jags’ new offensive co-ordinator John DeFilippo
    CJ Mosely – who bucked the trend of inside line backers being devalued by getting a contract that guarantees him over $40 million from the New York Jets who have cap space to use whilst having a quarterback on rookie contract.

    Trey Flowers – whilst the Lions are trying to become the Detroit Patriots under ex-Patriots Matt Patricia and GM Bob Quinn, they made the distinctly un-Patriots like move of paying top dollar for a pass rusher as they try to build their own version of the New England culture. The problem could be that you can’t just recreate Bill Belichick as several of his coaches have demonstrated in the past. I am curious to see how things develop for the Lions this second season of the new regime. Not many coaches get the old fashioned three seasons to turn things around; although I’m not sure that’s always a good thing.

  • It should surprise no one that the top five guaranteed at signing contracts all belong to quarterbacks. Now that Russell Wilson has signed an extension last week he becomes the player with the highest average salary in the league right now, which will last right up until the next franchise quarterback signs their new deal.
  • In case you were interested, the contract with the sixth largest guarantee at signing was the one that Khalil Mack signed last season after being traded to the Chicago Bears.
  • After the market was slow for safeties last season, we saw three 2019 free-agent safeties sign contracts that put them in the top ten for guaranteed money at signing this off-season.Earl Thomas – I like the individual signing for the Baltimore Ravens, but there has been so much turnover on defence that I’m not sure how good they will actually be. Certainly we have seen the effect not having Thomas has had on the Seahawks’ defence in previous seasons, he has amazing range and his broken leg shouldn’t be a hindrance but only time will tell. I’d quite like the other AFC North teams to stop acquiring big name talent though…

    Landon Collins – there was an implication from some that Collins picked up a huge contract because he was a big Washington fan, but they will be hoping he can recreate his form of 2017 rather than last year, although at twenty-five he is a good age to be signing such a big contract.

    Tyrann Mathieu – signs with the Kansas City Chiefs as they overhaul their defence. He will give them a flexible near the line player but doesn’t solve the lack of pass rushers on the roster after the Chiefs let go or trades their outside line-backers. As the Chiefs transition to a 4-3 defensive scheme we will have to see how much support they can give an impressive offence that almost has to take a step back from last year’s stellar performance since it will be nearly impossible to maintain.
    The will still be good and keeping a lot of defensive players and coaches up this Autumn.

What I Heard

Lots of offseason coverage.

There may not be any games to analyse, but NFL coverage has truly gone year round. We hadn’t even played the Super Bowl before teams started announcing new coaches and the game is barely over before we start the new cycles of new coaching staffs, free-agency, and preparation for the draft.

I have followed along in my usual ways, so I can hardly say I’m above paying attention to the season of hope but I am wary of it and if you’ll follow along to the next section I’ll explain why.

What I Think

One of the reasons that the NFL news cycle dominates nearly the entire year in the States is because of one of the strengths of the league. It is curious that for a society so distrustful of social democracy yet alone socialism, that one of the most conservative of American sports is almost actively socialist in how it is managed.

It is a league that features a regulated market place for labour with a salary cap to ensure fair competition, redistribution of wealth via revenue sharing and a young talent acquisition system that favours under-performing franchises by rewarding them with high draft picks.

What all this means is that it is not unusual for a team to jump from first to last in their division and so for all but a handful of franchises their fans can believe they can compete next year or at least be better.

This is why I call the off-season the season of hope.

However, I also think the season of hope is a big con.

The teams who have a strong off-season, particularly the high spenders in free-agency, often struggle when games are being played and it is rare for a team with a high pick to have their fortunes turn around with one player, even if getting the quarterback right can lift an entire city.

However, as much as the draft is a fascinating process, it is part science, part art, and whole dollop of luck. Even the best of franchises can only get so many of their draft picks right.

There’s a reason that only the Patriots have managed sustained success under the current CBA, and even then it is because they build their rosters round a specific profile of player that doesn’t rely on star talent but is built on a foundation of player development, trading down to acquire more picks and constantly churning the bottom of the roster. They also never overpay players and look to move players on a year early rather than a year too late.

I tend to prefer some teams’ approaches over others but that doesn’t guarantee success so by all means enjoy the season of hope, analyse rosters and players but don’t put too much faith in what this all means for the upcoming season.

We don’t know and really can’t tell who did well until games that mean something are being played.

I will mention one more team before I start to wrap up.

The Miami Dolphins are a team who are changing tack after years of being around 8-8 and not quite making the next step. They have shipped out older talent and now have a very young roster. I’m not sure tanking is the right word, more like building for the future, and certainly the coaching staff and players will be trying to win as much as they can. Things may get rough next season but for the first time I see a clear plan by the front office that meshes with the approach of the head coach. We don’t know if first time head coach Brian Flores will be any good, but there is at least an obvious cohesive plan in plan. It now just rests in the execution.

The last time I made such a statement about a franchise it was the Cleveland Browns, but I am also the one warning not to expect too much of them this season.

What I Know

That draft grades are the biggest waste of time ever.

By all means read analysis of the players and individual picks, there are valid opinions on all of that but we won’t know how well a team’s draft went for something like three years.

An A grade from a draft guru in April means nothing.

What I Hope

That the Bengals draft well.

More on them soon.

 

‘Do I contradict myself?
Very well, then I contradict myself,
I am large, I contain multitudes.’
Walt Whitman

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.

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.