It was always my intention to look at the coaching tape of the matchup between Odell Beckham and Josh Norman as it was one of the most enticing prospects of the year coming into week fifteen. We were expecting to see a competition between two of the young stars of the NFL, with Beckham making breathtaking catches all through his short career and Norman being talking about as a candidate for defensive player of the year. I am going to focus on what I saw on tape, rather than go fully into all of the mess that has so dominated the post game coverage, but with Norman fined and Beckham suspended I cannot just ignore what went on after the whistle and sometimes during the play.
The first thing for me to say is that I can’t know what was said before or during the game, the amount of accusations thrown around after the game seems to be an attempt to distract from a spectacle that made neither player look good. However, there is plenty of blame to go around as there were plenty of signs that Beckham was not playing under control and neither team leaders nor coaches were able to bring him back from the edge. It is understandable that in such a physical game as football that players have to play with a fire, but there has to be a line that you don’t cross and Beckham hurt his team with a number of penalties. It is also disappointing that in 2015 we are still dealing with the questioning of a player’s manhood and the throwing around of homophobic slurs as accepted ways of trying to get into the opposition’s head. There is not the same organised chanting at football games in the States as there is over here in terms of songs and a terrace willing to say anything to put off the opposition, but the culture of masculinity is very similar and it is something that should be dismantled in a systematic way. Without going back and watching the game as broadcast it is hard for me to comment on what was going on between plays, but this was not what the NFL was hoping the matchup would look like going into the game.
Anyway, moving on to the game film, this game didn’t look to me quite as eventful as the highlights and the coverage has made it appear. I will be asking Dan about the game on the next podcast as I know he is intending to watch it, but in terms of what I could see on tape there were more snaps where Norman and Beckham lined up and not a lot happened than there were problems. The Giants move Beckham round the formation and bring him in motion to try to get him open. Meanwhile the Panthers played a mixture of zone and man, with Norman covering Beckham at times and others he was on the opposite sides of the field as both players lined up on either side of the formation.
We are used to seeing the spectacular catches and the impressive numbers for Odell Beckham, but he only had six catches in this game and a lot of the yards he did gain were wiped out by penalties he gave away. He also had a couple of drops, but what was striking on tape was his ability to get open. He is both quick and sudden, which enables him to often get open whether he is finding a way through zone coverage or in a one on one matchup. The touchdown he caught at the end of the game was from a lovely double move, that allowed him to get behind Norman to make the catch, and that wasn’t the only time he got behind Norman. There was a lovely deep post pattern that he ran in the third quarter creating a deep play opportunity, but Eli Manning couldn’t quite get the ball to him. The thing I will say about Beckham’s temperament in this game was that it was not just Norman that Beckham was petulant with, he ran into several safeties and other corners as the coverage rotated. I was also getting frustrated by his blocking in the running game as several times he bumped with a shoulder rather than truly engaging as a blocker. I don’t know how he is coached so it may be that this is what the team want him to do, but later in the game there was a snap where he engaged and turned his corner on a run play so he can do it. The egregious play to me was the running play where he went past Norman who did take a swipe at him, but Beckham came back down the field and clearly tried to take Norman out with a helmet to helmet hit. With the emphasis on player safety it was an outrageously dangerous play and you could easily argue that he should have been ejected from the game for that alone. It was hard to always see what was going on between snaps, but there was at least one play where part of an officiating crew put themselves between Beckham and Norman after the whistle had blown.
Focussing on Josh Norman, the coverage of him this season has been very positive, but looking at his play I would not say that he is quite the man on man lockdown corner that some would have you believe. That is not to say that he isn’t playing well as he really is, but the Panthers play a fair amount of zone but it looks different to the three deep zone with almost man corner play that you see if you were to watch Richard Sherman in Seattle. However, Norman is similar to Sherman in that he moves well and has the length to bother receivers and cause disruption. This is however, a great defence at all levels and on the all twenty-two you could see receivers passed smoothly between corners, safeties, and linebackers, as the receiver ran their route through the defence’s zones. Norman was clearly taking his chances to be physical where he could, and was called for his own unnecessary roughness penalties apart from the retaliation for the helmet to helmet hit. It was clear that he was niggling at Beckham for chunks of the game, and there was one play were he clearly just went for the head area of Beckham.
With one player suspended and another fined, neither has created a good look for the NFL. More worryingly for Beckham is that he clearly let things get to him and so he will see a lot more of this needling tactic as he is too good a receiver to cover conventionally, and has revealed a potential weakness that the rest of the league will see if they can exploit. Only time will tell if this will be a problem, but in what is one of the most team orientated of sports, Beckham will have to learn integrate his phenomenal talents into the team ethic if he wants to win games. As for Josh Norman, he will be watched closely, and let’s hope he can find the balance between being competitive and detrimental to his team.
And now onto the first picks of week sixteen that are immediately around Christmas day, with me managing to eek out another game on Dan last week.
Gee: Week 15 11-5 Overall 119-105
Dan: Week 15 10-6 Overall 110-114
Chargers @ Raiders (-5.5)
The Raiders have definitely made progress this season, but they are still making the mistakes of a young team. They lost to the Green Bay Packers last week, and still have plenty of areas that they need to develop, but in 2014 they drafted Khalil Mack and Derek Carr, then followed it up this year with Amari Cooper, so there is hope for a franchise that sat in the doldrums for too long that they can continue to build and develop. This is another team that could be on the move, although I’m not sure any team has the votes they require to get a move approved by the other owners, but given the games last week I expect this to be an emotional occasion in Oakland.
The Chargers got the win that so many players wanted in what was possibly the last game at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. However, there is so much in flux for this team with it being up in the air where they will play next season, and likely who will coach them. They have been beset by injuries on the line, but they had problems with this last year as well, and they have a closing window given that as good as Philip Rivers has been, he is thirty-four.
In this game I think that the Chargers come back to Earth as they are not a good team, and with the Raiders at home for possibly the last time and them definitely heading in the right direction I think they will cover these points. It might also be another big day for Khalil Mack given the problems in pass protection that the Chargers have had all season.
Gee’s Pick: Raiders
Dan’s Pick: Raiders
Washington @ Eagles (-2.5)
There was a power struggle in the offseason at the Eagles, which Chip Kelly won, but I am not sure how much the total control of personnel has been of benefit. Initially I could see a plan in what he was doing, trusting his scheme on offence and focus his efforts on getting players for their defence, but the plan seemed to be ignored for some of his moves. However, a lot of talent has been shipped out over the last couple of seasons and it will be telling if he retains control over personnel and is given time to continue with his plan, or if some power is taken back or worse still if he is fired. On the field it has been a real mix with some good performances but nothing for them to really hang their hat on. The offence started of struggling, before they found a way to run the ball, but whilst high priced free agent DeMarco Murray might lead the team in rushing, he seems to have slipped down the pecking order and does not seem to fit the system. It appears that Sam Bradford is becoming more comfortable in the offence, but this is not the offence people were expecting to see coming into the year. More worrying is that the defence, which for much of the year looked like the stronger unit, has struggled in recent weeks and has given up forty points or more in three of the last five games.
This week the Eagles welcome a Washington team to Philadelphia who are currently a game clear at the top of the NFC East and who could clinch a playoff birth with a win in this game. It was not the most auspicious of starts for Jay Gruden in Washington, but you have to admire the way he stuck to his guns regarding the Robert Griffin situation and it would appear the starting quarterback question has been solved for now. The other thing that seems to have helped was the appointment of Scott McCloughan as GM, with his focus on building through the draft looking like it has been of benefit already, and I will be curious to see how they continue in the offseason. On the field the team has not excelled on offence or defence, although their special teams are ranked sixth in the league by DVOA. However, Kirk Cousins has managed to find a balance between willingness to make aggressive throws and protecting the ball. The team have played better in Washington than on the road, which makes me nervous about picking this game, but I do not trust the Eagles and if I am getting two and a half points then I am going to take them.
Gee’s Pick: Washington
Dan’s Pick: Washington