I’m still catching up with games after my holiday, so it feels somewhat redundant to bringing your detailed round ups of the first week’s action with the third going on at the moment. Let’s face it, if you are coming here for your breaking news then I question your use of the internet. That said, there are still lots of relevant things to discuss as I take you through what I’ve been watching, and what I’ve been missing as well.
I’ll start with the Bengals, and whilst I’m hopeful that the defensive line rotation already looks more effective, and the first team offense look good as it marched down the field to get a touchdown on the opening drive.
What I really want to talk about here are quarterbacks. There is no question that everybody is waiting for Andy Dalton to backup his four playoff appearances in his first four seasons with a playoff win. In fact there’s no shortage of people calling for his head and saying that the Bengals should move on. However, whilst I’m not a Dalton apologist, I do think there is a more nuanced position to be taken in between the two camps.
There is no doubt that when is off, his play looks terrible. He can look lost, miss throws, and people question his leadership. The thing is that leadership is about how you do your job and get the best of those around you, and it doesn’t have to be done by shouting and leading from the front. But leadership also has to be earned, and in the recent seasons we seen the trend in the NFL has been to play quarterbacks much earlier and be less patient with them.
Now apart from the physical tools required to play the game, there is a huge quantity of data for a quarterback to process so he can execute the play for each play that he is on the field. To get good at this requires the right kind of brain, but also a huge number of reps, be them mental, practice, or in the game. There simply aren’t enough good quarterbacks to go round for a league of thirty-two, and so whilst everyone would love to have an elite franchise quarterback, you can win with above average quarterback play and I wonder how many players could win if they were in a situation where they were developed properly over time.
Last year’s playoff loss was horrible to watch, but the team were so injured in the skill positions when it came to receivers, that the offence couldn’t move the ball. Now at that point Dalton couldn’t throw the team better like Brady has done in the past. However, Brady is in the discussion as one of the best quarterbacks ever, and so let’s not throw Dalton out just yet.
Particularly as which of the Bengals’ quarterback would you replace him with? AJ McCarron had shoulder problems last year and has been troubled by a rib injury this season so I’ve yet to see him take a snap yet, even if his performance in game two was enough to have Josh Johnson released.
It was Josh Johnson’s performance that to me highlighted the problem of quarterbacking in this league. There were plays that he made with his arm and legs that demonstrated why he has hung around the league for six seasons already, but the lack of consistency was troubling. For me he is too quick to take off and use his legs, although he at least doesn’t take the kind of hits that are truly terrifying, but in the first game he threw two balls that should have been intercepted, and at least one if not both could have been returned for touchdowns.
It is coming towards the time where you may well have to decide that Dalton is not going to develop enough, and that it is time to move on, but I don’t think the Bengals are there yet. I am hopeful that with Hue Jackson going into his second year as offensive coordinator, that this team can get the playoff monkey off Dalton, and Marvin Lewis’ back.
So moving on from the Bengal’s first game, let us talk about preseason games and what I can see, as well as one of my favourite series around this time of year, namely Hard Knocks.
I haven’t been back to watch the years I wasn’t able to see, but as a football obsessive it doesn’t really matter who the team is as I love getting this glimpse of what is going on. This year is even better for me as we’re getting to watch JJ Watt in training, which should just be a series in of itself. However, I have enjoyed watching Bill O’Brien as a head coach, and it always nice to see the personalities behind the facemasks, which is all you see of so many players.
However, it has highlighted the problems of trying to analyse games deeply when you only have the TV copy, which is what you have for preseason on Gamepass. Through commentary, and replay you can see what’s going on if it is highlighted, but if you’re trying to look out for specific players, or watch certain coverage to figure out how s player got so wide open, it can be really difficult without the all twenty-two and end zone views. It also means that you tend to focus on skill players, and flashy defensive plays, but you miss a lot of what is going on around the lines or in the receiving game before the player catches the ball.
It is interesting to me that so often people seem to want their coaches to be all out disciplinarians, and that the term player’s coach is as often used more as a criticism than a complement. I have found it fascinating to watch the way Mike Vrabel has been coaching the Texans’ linebackers, and in particular Kourtnei Brown. I don’t want to single out Vrabel for criticism as he is working in a culture that he’s deeply steeped in, he was a really good player, and he is trying to bring out the best in his charges. But different people respond to different types of coaching, and I wonder if there was not a more nuanced way to approach the message he was trying to get across. That said, Brown had an amazing sequence of snaps in the third quarter of their game against the 49ers, getting two sacks along side multiple pressures as things really began to click for the NFL journeymen who may yet make the squad. I’ll be interested to see the rest of their games, and I shall make sure to have watched their third game before I watch the fourth episode of Hard Knocks as that is the only thing I am up to date with so far.
So, if I was frustrated by the camera angles in the Texans game as I was looking to spot the players I had been watching in Hard Knocks, the Colts at the Eagles was the game I made most notes about of the preseason week one games. I picked two teams because I wanted to look at their coaching thank to the offseason reading I had been done and this proved to be a good choice in this game.
The real proof of what Chip Kelly has been doing in the offseason will be how they perform in the games, and in this first preseason game, things looked pretty damn good. But what I really want to focus on this week is an aspect I particularly liked about the Eagles offence, and don’t worry folks, it wasn’t Tim Tebow.
There has been a lot of talk about how good Kelly’s system is, and that it is quarterback proof. I might not go that far as I don’t think any system can really cope with bad quarterback play, but it is really well structured, and what I really admired about it whilst watching this game was the commitment to deception, and specifically the run/pass questions it asked of the oppositions defence.
Apart from the use of quarterback options plays, if you watch the backfield of the Eagles, on almost every play the quarterback/running back gives you a look of the opposite of what they are doing. You have quarterbacks faking that they’ve kept the ball on run plays, play action passes, and draw plays. This commitment forces the defensive players to make a read on every play, which means they have to respect both possibilities and this can get you easy receptions just as much as route combinations designed to attack a particular coverage.
From what I can see, one of the reasons that rookie tight end Eric Tomlinson was wide open in the second quarter, was because Cam Johnson had to make a read on the play fake run as he dropped into coverage with Tomlinson, and so he was just a fraction late, taking too flat of an angle to make a tackle on the Eagles tight end and so what could have been a short gain goes for nineteen yards.
The pace of the Eagles’ offence is really hard to judge on the condensed view, other than that the coverage is frequently scrambling to catch up and a number of plays were missed or picked up half way through as they were too quick for the TV team who were still looking at the previous play, so you can see how it can stress a defence.
The final game I watched from the first week was the Chiefs at the Cardinals, and in this is the hardest for me to comment on. The Cardinals have had a change in defensive coordinator this year, and the number of defensive backs that they were typically using last year in combination with the way they rushed the passer is something that’s really hard to look out without really going over game film rather than the TV game footage.
However, it was really nice to Carson Palmer back and playing, and you can see the potential in Logan Thomas, certainly with his arm, but he still needs time to develop. The team moved the ball well with the first team, but I shall be really interested to see how they develop going forward, and hopefully will get a better understanding of what Bruce Arians is planning for the upcoming season.
I have a lot more games to watch, as I try to catch up with the NFL, but going over games isn’t exactly a chore. So roll on more games, the season is coming!