Andy Dalton, Auden Tate, Baker Mayfield, Baltimore Ravens, Bill Callahan, Bruce Arians, BW Webb, Carolina Panthers, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Cooper Kupp, Dalvin Cook, Emmanuel Sanders, Freddie Kitchens, Jameis Winston, Kyle Allen, LA Rams, Lamar Jackson, Minnesota Vikings, NFL, Nick Bosa, Raheem Mostert, Robert Mays, Ryan Finley, Ryan Tannehill, San Francisco 49ers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans, Tevin Coleman, The Ringer, Trent Williams, Washington, Zac Taylor
There seemed to be more running around than usual to get there, but I definitely don’t take for granted the opportunity to get to see my team play a game at the weekend, even if they have fallen to 0-8 but more of that later as I go through the results in week eight of the NFL and some of the results.
What I Saw
Week eight started with a professional looking if unspectacular win by the Minnesota Vikings over the visiting Washington team. The things that really struck me were that Dalvin Cook might be one of my favourite running backs in the league, and he is so deadly with just a little space thanks to his spread. The Vikings were efficient all game between the twenties but if there is a concern it is that they only scored one touchdown, although the margin of victory could have been bigger if the Vikings had not run clock out in the fourth quarter in a drive that took eight minutes but yielded no score as there was no attempt to pass the ball. I think one of the easy things to forget is that the margins between teams are not that great and whilst Washington are not suddenly a good team under Bill Callahan, they do at least look more competitive and the defence played its part in limiting the Vikings. Even the return of holdout left tackle Trent Williams is unlikely to help turn the team’s fortunes round and the important decisions will be made in the off-season, but until there is an overhaul of the front office I’m not sure when the team might look competent on the fired. Meanwhile the Vikings are improved to 6-2 and look a very dangerous proposition for any team to face.
The game I watched on Sunday was obviously the game I was at, as the Cincinnati Bengals lost 10-24 to the LA Rams hosted at Wembley. The start of the game saw both teams match scoring drives up un to 10-10 but then the quality differences really began to show in the second quarter. It was not that the Bengals couldn’t move the ball, they gained over four hundred yards of offence, but it was often a struggle and couldn’t be accurate enough in the red zone when it really matters. There were a couple of great plays, Auden Tate made a spectacular catch but too often plays were left on the field, including some open ones that Dalton admitted to after the game. The sign that things are different -this year under Zac Taylor, apart from the losing is that Andy Dalton has been benched and so Ryan Finley, the rookie who looked so good in pre-season will get the start against the Baltimore Ravens in week ten. More of that nearer the time, but back to this game, if the offence was a frustrating nearly performance, the defence was bad again. You don’t give up over two hundred yards to one receiver if you are a good team. One of the dirty secrets of watching a game live is that you don’t always get the best view and so I don’t know how Cooper Kupp kept popping up open in the middle of the field, but it kept happening. This week I have limited time for coaching tape and so because I’m a glutton for punishment I’m going to look at Cupp’s catches along with the incredible double-reverse flea-flicker that netted the Rams an impressive touchdown, helped by BW Webb falling down. The only thing I will say is that it seems a bit odd to be using such a cool play against a team that you were pretty obviously better than. The Rams record has stabilised a bit over the last couple of weeks, but there are going to be much tougher tests to come.
Whilst waiting for the morning rush hour to go so I could head home, I watched the Tennessee Titans hosting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which I had seen on the stadium screen had been competitive and the Titans are one of those teams that I don’t have a feel for yet. It has to be said, I’m not wholly sure about them now as their offensive stats were not that impressive and they benefited in the opening quarter by starting with two short fields thanks to turnovers. It’s not a surprise that Jameis Winston turned the ball over for the Bucs, but a day that saw him throw two interceptions and lose two of his three fumbles wasn’t even his worst in the last two weeks. I can see how the talent that allows him to make the spectacular plays is intriguing, but by now we know what kind of player he is and whilst he may well get another chance somewhere else, it is hard to see him staying with Tampa. For the Titans, whilst Ryan Tannehill is not exactly a future solution, he at least looked to be getting the ball out on time and executing the offence. The Titans looked competitive but given the turnovers and the problems the Bucs have I wonder how they will fare against tougher opposition. They are 4-4 so should be respected, but again I wonder what might happen for them at the quarterback position over the off-season.
The final game I saw this week looked like one of the best matchups of the week, but turned out to be a demonstration that yes the San Francisco 49ers are for real as they hosted the Carolina Panthers with a fifty burger – winning 51-13. There were a couple of performances that leapt off the screen for the 49ers. A strong candidate for rookie defensive MVP, if not league wide is Nick Bosa who finished the game with three sacks and interception he got leaping into the air having been cut by an offensive lineman. If that wasn’t impressive enough, the 49ers offence looked deadly with their chunk plays coming in the running game thanks to impressive speed of Tevin Coleman and Raheem Mostert. You don’t expect a team to run for over two hundred yards in any game, yet alone a Carolina Panthers team who have looked good all year. This kind of thing can happen when you are on the road, and Kyle Allen was not going to go all season without throwing an interception but the Panthers will need to rebound quickly, and we shall have to see if they can do that next week against the Titans. Meanwhile as one of the two remaining unbeaten teams, the 49ers will be hoping that Emmanuel Sanders affect will increase his production as he gets used to the offence but they already have established themselves as the team to beat in the NFC.
What I Heard
One of the interesting bits of commentary I heard was actually from the back end of last week when Robert Mays talking on The Ringer NFL Show was discussing a conversation he had had with a coach regarding young quarterbacks and the important thing to consider was not their strengths but their weaknesses. If a quarterback cannot adjust to counter their weakness they are not going to last in the NFL and you can see some of this already floating around this season’s performances and I’m going to take a quick look at three players to explore this.
There are a number of problems affecting the Cleveland Browns, but part of the problem is that over the off-season enough coaches put in time studying Baker Mayfield whose completion percentage has dropped by 6.2 percent so far this season. Additionally, having played half the number of games that he did last year, Mayfield is twenty-one touchdowns behind his season total of twenty-seven but only two interceptions behind his 2016 total of fourteen, effectively reversing his 2:1 touchdown to interception. Now, it is far too early to say that Mayfield can’t turn it around, particularly with a first time head coach in Freddie Kitchens who seems to be calling a different style of game than what was successful for this pair last season, but if Mayfield can’t adjust to what he’s seeing then he could well be another NFL quarterback who was able to flash but not maintain success.
Meanwhile, an almost classic example of somebody who has never been able to adjust to his weakness is a quarterback I mentioned earlier. Jameis Winston has never learnt to look after the ball, and is this failure more than any other that hampers him. It feels like this could be his final season in Tampa Bay as he is an unrestricted free-agent and I don’t know if the Bucs will franchise him or if they feel that he’s just not going to change as a player and there are plenty of people who will argue that if Bruce Arians can’t turn him around then who will.
Finally, we have Lamar Jackson who turned the Baltimore Ravens season around last year and who has continued that into this year with the Ravens currently standing 5-2 at the top of the AFC North. No one is saying that Jackson is suddenly picking apart teams with surgical passes, but his completion percentage is currently up by 5.1% and he’s has thrown five more touchdowns in his seven starts this season than he did in his seven starts last season. More importantly, there appears to be no sophomore slump so whilst we can’t pretend that he won’t be found out or that he will definitely adjust when he’s astonishing athletic ability begins to fade, he passed the tests asked of him so far and it looks like the Ravens are set at quarterback for a while yet.
What I Think
As I mention earlier, the Bengals have announced that for the first time in his nine year career Andy Dalton is missing a game that is not due to injury as he has been benched for rookie Ryan Finley. This does make sense given that the Bengals find themselves at 0-8 and need to find out what they have ahead of next season. Interestingly, despite many commentators suggesting otherwise, the Bengals were not sellers ahead of the trade deadline and they will be hoping that with a good off-season they can turn things round if Finley doesn’t give them a start. He certainly looked good in pre-season but you can’t trust that so it makes total sense to give him half a season to see what he can do. The timing for Dalton makes less sense as the announcement being so close to the trade deadline precluded any trade options for him and he will have to spend the rest of the season in limbo with a year left on his contract but no guaranteed money next year.
What I Know
To my eyes, the game between the New England Patriots and the Baltimore Ravens looks to be the marque game of week ten and for a week I don’t have to worry about the Bengals losing another one.
What I Hope
The I’m always hoping for is success for teams and players and the difference between them being one reaching a higher peak so I’m hoping the Browns turn it round, that someone else in the AFC joins the six teams with a winning record, and that we get exciting games, starting with tomorrow’s contest between the 49ers and the Cardinals – stranger things have happened!