If you are reading this, then I have successfully avoided missing another midweek post and have managed to fit it around work and everything else that has been going on. The Bengals may have been on a bye week nine, I was very much not so let us see what I can pull together as we make the turn into the back half of the season with all teams now having completed eight games.
What I Saw
Week nine started with a very one-sided affair that saw the Green Bay Packers laying aside my concerns about their run defence and easily beating the San Francisco 49ers 34-17. I was not surprised that the Packers won as the 49ers injury problems were already widely known before they lost their starting quarterback and arguably the most complete tight end in the game, so when you added a short week and positive Covid-19 tests leading to the closing of the 49ers’ facility it was not hard to predict the resulting fifth loss. I don’t think this game did anything to set aside my concerns about the Packer’s defence, but the NFL did manage to keep its schedule going through nine weeks, which I’m sure the league are taking as a win in of itself given the state of things.
I watched two of the late games this week. In the first the Las Vegas Raiders took on the LA Chargers in a back and forth game where the Chargers outgained the Raiders by one hundred and twenty yards but true to form ended up losing 31-26. Rookie quarterback Justin Herbert was asked to more than his more experienced opponent Derek Carr, and achieved it throwing for three hundred and twenty-six yards and a pair of touchdowns but despite leading the Chargers offence down the field, the Chargers couldn’t punch the ball into score. Now Herbet spiked the ball on the Raiders four yard line with six second on the clock giving the Chargers time to get two plays off, but two consecutive fade passes into the right side of the end zone to different receivers produced the same failure and were in truth, pretty uninspiring play calls. It feels like something in the play-calling and clock management for the Chargers is not allowing this team to reach it’s full potential despite respectable rankings for both their offence and defence by DVOA, which has led them to competitive in every game and yet fall to 2-6. Meanwhile, I don’t exactly trust the Raiders either, their offence may rank a decent twelfth by DVOA and they have put together a 5-3 record over the first half of the season but a defence that ranks thirtieth still feels like it is going to be the Achilles heel for this team and their opponents won’t all be as accommodating as the Chargers. I should mention that the Raiders do have very respectable wins against the Chiefs and Saints, but I will be interested to see what they do against the Chiefs when they play them again in week eleven.
The other late game I watched the exciting nip and tuck game between duelling number one wearing quarterback Kyler Murray and Tua Tagovailoa that saw the Miami Dolphins win their fourth straight game as they beat the Arizona Cardinals 34-31. This game featured an even bigger disparity between the two teams’ yardage gain that the previous one as the Cardinals out gained the Dolphins by one hundred and thirty yards, but even Murray adding one hundred and six rushing yards and a touchdown to this two hundred and eighty-three yard three touchdown passing was not enough to win the game. Partly, this was because of the lone turnover of the game in the first quarter when Emmanuel Ogbah was able to strip sack Murray and Shaq Lawson scooped up the ball and returned it thirty-six yards for the touchdown. It might be oversimplistic to state this as the reason the Cardinals loss, but it does represent the more complete team performance the Dolphins gave. In the end despite scoring two touchdowns in the third quarter, the Cardinals bogged down twice around the Dolphins forty-yard line in the fourth quarter, the first time seeing Chase Edmonds stuffed for no gain on fourth and one while Zane Gonzalez missed a forty-nine yard field goal. Both teams leave this game with 5-3 records and probably feeling hopeful about their position. The Cardinals benefit from having Murray in his second year, and he looks dangerous running the ball whilst mostly avoiding taking big hits. The Dolphins will be happy to see Tagovailoa taking the step up he did from his first game last week, and whilst they may not do as well as the Cardinals this season, I feel much better about the direction the Dolphins are taking under Brian Flores but both teams have exciting quarterbacks to build with and that can only be a good thing for the league.
If the previous game was showcasing the future of the NFL at quarterback, the Sunday night game demonstrated in front of a national audience two greats of the game fighting against the dying of the light as they try to add one more championship before they finish their careers. Coming into the game you would have given the advantage to Tom Brady and the Buccaneers given they were top of the DVOA rankings and had the best defence in the league, but they were demolished 38-3 by the New Orleans Saints. This is the first time that Brady has been swept by a team in his division, although he never faced a quarterback of the quality of Drew Brees in the AFC East, but the highly ranked Bucs defence did little to help him in this game. The Saints offence scored on their first possession and continued to build their big lead with Brees throwing for modest numbers, but ably supported by one hundred and thirty-eight yards of rushing offence largely spread between Alvin Kamara, Latavius Murray and Taysom Hill. Meanwhile the Bucs could only manage a laughable eight yards rushing as they spent the game trying to catchup and Brady threw three interceptions as the Saints managed to constant pressure. The Bucs have to hope that this was a one off aberration, but they have yet to impress in a prime time game this season and how they recover from this game will be a test of how quickly they can forge their new identity round Brady. As for the Saints, the return of Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders did not generate impressive numbers for the returning receivers, but they seemed to help balance the offence as Brees distributed the ball efficiently. The Saints looked much more like the team we were expecting coming into the season and put themselves in the driving seat for the division whilst the Bucs road to play off success got harder but they still might have the team to manage that if they bounce back. This might not be the last time we see this teams face off this season and the Bucs will be hoping for a different outcome if there is a next time. Their season will depend on it.
What I Heard
There are two things I heard this week that I wanted to write about.
The first was an interesting what if that Bill Simmons mentioned on his podcast, which is namely the surprise retirement of Andrew Luck before the 2019 season. Simmons raised it as a what if given that in the last two seasons what the Colts have really missed is a quarterback, and what would the team look like if they still had Luck. For me it is a pertinent question and one that is likely frustrating for Colts General manager Chris Ballard as he took over a team with a franchise quarterback who was injured, rebuilt the roster around him and had one season with a playoff win before Luck retired at age twenty-nine. The Colts went 7-9 with Jacoby Brissett in 2019 and brought in Philip Rivers this offseason but the whilst the Colts are currently 5-3, Rivers has very little lateral movement now and the Ravens were easily able to trouble him and with two games against the Titans, a visit from the Packers and a trip to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers it is fair to speculate at what kind of record the Colts will finish. I’m sure Luck’s decision was the right one for him, but it a big what if for this franchise as they are left scrambling to find answer to maximise their current roster.
The other interesting thing amongst several linked thoughts that Michael Lombardi explored on his podcast The GM Shuffle was the importance of scoring in the fourth quarter and that the problem was the change in attitude when holding a lead was a problem because with the current rules defences cannot protect them and so you need to stick with the plan that got worked for you in the first three quarters of the game. If you look at the scoring in the two close games I watched this week you will see the fourth quarter deficit that ties in with this and whilst we should know that correlation does not equal causality, it is certainly something to think about. so
What I Think
The reasons I wanted to mention the above point is because of a criticism I have heard regarding certain coaches that I think is fair, and if not exactly damming, is worthy of consideration. There are several head coaches known for their tactical aggression when it comes to scheme, but this thinking doesn’t extend to their game management. When Kliff Kingsbury joined the Arizona Cardinals he was not afraid to draft a rookie quarterback even through the Cardinals had taken one the previous year, and Kingsbury has developed his scheme as he has worked through what does and doesn’t work in the NFL. However, it was he who was attempting a long field goal in the fourth quarter against the Dolphins on fourth and one.
Another coach who falls into this category would be Sean McVay and I just think it is an interesting juxtaposition and a further example of how important it is to maintain your approach across all facets of the game and not delve too deeply into a particular facet. There’s no way I can know precisely what the two coaches are intending in this balance and they could have very good explanations, particularly as they no question know more about football and running a franchise than I could possibly hope to find watching from a distance, but it is an interesting thing to think upon as we watch games entering into the final quarter.
What I Know
I know I am grateful for the escape football is giving me this year, and in particular the return of the podcast, even if it seems hard again to find writing time. Dan and I were both discussing the improvements to the Sunday in 60 editing as we prepared for an early pod recording so I think that will be more of my routine going forward.
What I Hope
I would like for the Bengals to beat the Steelers when they are at their best, but I would definitely take a win on Sunday in a prime-time slot. What I hope is that it is a start of a storied run of success for Joe Burrow against our division rivals, a 1-11 record since I started writing here is a painful stat I would love to see improve.
Roll on Sunday – I think…