It is one of those tricks of time that the last games of the regular season are being played today, and it has been a long season, yet it doesn’t feel like five minutes since the season started. One of the good things about being a fan of American football is that you go into the cold gloom of January with excitement for playoffs, although as a Bengals fan there is usually a fair amount of trepidation.
The end of season head coach firings have already begun, with Chip Kelly being let go from the Philadelphia Eagles earlier this week. It feels like an odd time to do it, and I am not sure I buy the reasons stated by the team as no one from other NFL teams are going to be contacting him this week. It also seems strange to me that you would hand over control of your roster to someone, and then fire them after a solitary season, but then again I am not in the building so it could be seen as making a strong decision to stop something that has gone wrong as quickly as possible. Only time will tell, but there will need to be some consistent effort in Philadelphia to establish if there is a long term plan in place. I will be curious to see what route the Eagles take next as well as if Chip Kelly gets another chance. Kelly has already stated that he doesn’t want control over personnel in the future, but with all the new training ideas he was trying it was exciting to have him in the league, even if I am not sure if his up tempo offence, with the results it also has for his defence, can lead to sustained success in the NFL.
It is kind of frightening that the offseason will start on Monday, with the annual coach firings, and all that means for the staff involved. It is very easy to forget in amongst all the news stories, that their will be numerous families moving cities, and various coaches nervously waiting to see if they are staying or will be looking for an opportunity elsewhere. It will also see the usual jockeying for coaches, and trying to hire from the teams in the playoffs. In addition to all the usual coaching and player moves, we have three franchises that could be moving to LA. This is always a strange topic UK fans as it is incredibly rare for a team to move location over here, where as it is not uncommon for NFL franchises to change cities, and two of the teams in flux have played in Los Angeles before. The NFL has become a year round news generator, with perhaps the only true time off for those working for the teams being between OTAs and the start of training camp, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves; there is still a week of football left followed by the playoffs.
I decided to treat myself this week with the coaching tape given that it won’t make sense to look at something from a team not going to the playoffs next week so I took a look at the performance of the St Louis Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
The Rams were playing the Seattle Seahawks in Seattle, and not only did they win this game, but they managed to sack quarterback Russell Wilson six times and hit him a further thirteen. Now Aaron Donald may have only hit Wilson twice in this game and failed to add to his tally of eleven sacks that has him inside the top ten for sacks in the league, but he still had a big effect in this game.
The first thing that became obvious to me was Donald generating a consistent pressure up the middle, sometimes slipping between offensive linemen, working round as part of a stunt, or simply beating his man. The Seattle line struggled to block him with only one player, and frequently used two players to control Donald. In fact, there was one snap in the fourth quarter where despite the Rams rushing only four players, three Seahawk offensive linemen blocked Donald. What I was not expecting to see was Donald drop into shallow zones as part of a zone blitz, but he did this five times in this game and the Rams were not punished when this happened.
Although his stats were not gaudy, Donald did get pressure, only missing out on getting a sack by small margins on several snaps, and he was also disruptive in the running game. He demonstrated the ability to shed blocks to make tackles, but as well as making tackles or getting pressure by getting past or shedding his blocker, he interrupted several plays simply by driving his blocker back. He effectively stopped the run several times with this simple drive, and on one play I am still not sure how Russell Wilson completed a pass given that Donald drove the Seahawk’s right tackle back into Wilson as he threw the ball. Even when double teamed he was sometimes able to affect the play as his push was directed towards the running back, clogging up the running lane. He also created a penalty when JR Sweezy held Donald as he went passed and took him to the ground.
I don’t think Aaron Donald struck me as having quite the same explosive first step as Geno Atkins who I watch week in week out, but in his second year in the league Donald has established himself as one of the top defensive players in the league. He constantly has to be accounted for and creates room for the players around him to work as well as directly contributing against both the run and pass. I am looking forward to seeing how the Rams play next season, and if the strong finish they have put together can finally lead to them competing in the division as so often has been suggested in recent years.
It is going to be an odd week to pick games given there are a lot of teams with little to play for, or teams resting players ahead of the playoffs, but for the final time in this season’s competition, here are Dan and mine’s picks. Let’s hope they are better than last week…
Gee: Week 16 6-10 Overall 125-115
Dan: Week 16 6-10 Overall 116-124
Saints @ Falcons (-4.5)
The Saints surprised me last week, but the Falcons seem to be finishing the season strongly and will be looking to build for next season, whilst things look to be difficult again for the Saints next year.
Gee’s Pick: Falcons
Dan’s Pick: Falcons
Jets @ Bills (+2.5)
The Bills are talking about this game being their Super Bowl, but the plain fact for me is that one team just beat the Patriots and need this game to get to the playoffs, and the other gives away too many penalties and are inconsistent. I’m backing what I think is the better team in this one.
Gee’s Pick: Jets
Dan’s Pick: Jets
Lions @ Bears (-1.5)
The Bears have done well this season, and look to be building something going forward although I am sure the fans in Chicago will be hoping to hold onto offensive coordinator Adam Gase given the job he has done with Jay Cutler this year. However, whilst the Lions may have the same record as the Bears this season, they are 5-2 since their bye week and new coordinator Jim Bob Cooter seems to have found a formula to get the Detroit offence running. I think the Lions finish the season strongly as I trust them more than the Bears.
Gee’s Pick: Lions
Dan’s Pick: Lions
Ravens @ Bengals (-7.5)
The Bengals are heading into the playoffs with a lot of questions, but AJ McCarron did okay in the first half against the Broncos, and I think they will have enough to deal with the Ravens in Cincinnati. However, I am looking forward to seeing what Ryan Mallet does this week, but I don’t think the Ravens have enough to win this one and with the Bengals needing to win to push the Broncos for the second seed, I’m hoping they cover this one.
Gee’s Pick: Bengals
Dan’s Pick: Ravens
Steelers @ Browns (+9.5)
The Browns are limping to the end of the season, and somehow Johnny Manziel entered the concussion protocol on Wednesday so it feels like they season is ending the way it has gone since week one. The Steelers need this win to try to get into the playoffs and I think they will cover this with their high powered offence being too much for the Browns.
Gee’s Pick: Steelers
Dan’s Pick: Steelers
Washington @ Cowboys (-2.5)
I am really not sure what to do with this game as the talk seems to be that with nothing to play for, that Washington will be resting players, but almost on principle I refuse to back the Cowboys, even in Dallas.
Gee’s Pick: Washington
Dan’s Pick: Washington
Titans @ Colts (-6.5)
This is a horrible game to pick, as the Titans have lost a lot of games, whilst we don’t actually know who will be playing quarterback for the Colts as their season falls apart. They need ten results to go their way for the Colts to make the playoffs, and I’m not sure that the one they have under their own control will go their way, yet alone that they will win by a clear seven points.
Gee’s Pick: Titans
Dan’s Pick: Titans
Patriots @ Dolphins (+9.5)
The Patriots have had so many injuries this season, and yet still I think they will win this game against a Dolphins team that have been simply bad this year. However, the Patriots will be looking to keep their key players healthy so I don’t see them winning by ten points.
Gee’s Pick: Dolphins
Dan’s Pick: Dolphins
Eagles @ Giants (-2.5)
Often when a team does lose a head coach during the season, it can produce an immediate reaction, but given how the Eagles have been playing, plus a Giants team at home with a point to prove I can’t look past the Giants in this one.
Gee’s Pick: Giants
Dan’s Pick: Giants
Jagaurs @ Texans (-6.5)
The Houston Texans may be coming into form at the right moment, but I’m not so sure that their offence is that good. Whilst the Jaguars have consistently been unpredictable, they have a great core on offence and I’m not so sure that the Texans are going to win by a clear seven points.
Gee’s Pick: Jaguars
Dan’s Pick: Texans
Chargers @ Broncos (-8.5)
The Broncos defence looked like best unit in the game in the second half of their win against the Bengals, and this week welcome a Chargers team that are headed into an offseason of change. I think that the Broncos will win, but I am not sure they are going to win by nine points given the way their offence is playing.
Gee’s Pick: Chargers
Dan’s Pick: Broncos
Raiders @ Chiefs (-6.5)
The Chiefs are on such a run of form, with a defence that is as scary as anybody’s in the league. The Raiders have some good young players, but Derek Carr has faded a bit down the stretch and I think this is a game where the Chiefs will run out comfortable winners.
Gee’s Pick: Chiefs
Dan’s Pick: Chiefs
Rams @ 49ers (+3.5)
The Rams have now won three in a row since firing their offensive coordinator, and are on something of a run, where as the 49ers will be looking forward to the offseason and getting this year behind them.
Gee’s Pick: Rams
Dan’s Pick: Rams
Seahawks @ Cardinals (-6.5)
The Cardinals are such an aggressive team, and if this was truly competitive game then I might think about them covering this game, but at the end of the year with nothing really on the line in a divisional game I’m not sure I can seem them winning by seven against a Seahawks team who will be looking to right the ship after a bad loss last week.
Gee’s Pick: Seahawks
Dan’s Pick: Cardinals
Buccaneers @ Panthers (-10.5)
The Panthers might be better off not having the pressure of an unbeaten season hanging over them, but I’m not sure how they will play in this one so I can’t bring myself to back them by eleven points even if the Buccaneers are not finishing this season strongly.
Gee’s Pick: Buccaneers
Dan’s Pick: Buccaneers
Vikings @ Packers (-3.5)
Right now I think the Vikings are the better team, with a tough defence and an offence who know who they are and how to get the job done. I don’t expect the same performance from the Packers back in Green Bay as they had last week, but with injury worries on their o-line as well as the problems they’ve had all year on offence, I don’t expect it to be that much better.
Gee’s Pick: Vikings
Dan’s Pick: Vikings