AAF: Bears’ Offence Scheme

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For this week’s amateur adventures in film I decided that rather than take a look at an individual player I would take a look at the Chicago Bears’ offence and specifically how Matt Nagy and his staff and schemed up the open receivers that allowed Mitch Trubisky to throw for six touchdowns.

Now I am cheating a little as I heard Greg Cosell talk about this a little in the week and so I know that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers play  a relatively straight forward zone defence where they tend to only rush four and when watching the tape it quickly became apparent how much the Buccaneers were playing with a single high safety. This was what most of the big passing plays took advantage of but I shall get to that in a minute.

The Bears used a few different personnel groupings, but it wasn’t easy to keep track of them as the all twenty-two film was shot from a surprisingly low angle to what I’m used to as so identifying numbers etc were not always easy to see but they were not afraid of using heavy sets with three tight-ends on the field as well as the frequent eleven personnel in shotgun formation. They also came out multiple times with two running back with Jordan Howard in the backfield and Tarik Cohen lined up in the slot. What was also obvious was the way they frequently lined up with lopsided receiver sets and then used these groupings of receivers to attack multiple levels of the defence and this is how they kept springing long plays. Multiple times they would force the high safety to play one or two players attacking deep that allowed a player to run a combination or under route to catch the ball in space and pick up a lot of yardage or score. I thoroughly enjoyed watching how the routes of the receivers interacted, particularly as there were often several other players kept in to protect the quarterback. It’s not every week that my long suffering partner here’s me muttering about how clever a coach is

The other thing I noticed, which I believe is happening more across the NFL these days, is that apart from your classic play-action or the quarterback initially looking one way before turning to where the play is designed to go, I the use of multiple fakes and consistently using them on the majority of plays. This was also present in the read-option run plays where Trubisky would run even if he’d handed off the ball, but in the passing game the Bears would say start with a standard play action fake handoff, then fake a receiver screen throw before turning to actually throw the ball to the other side of the field. There is so much more deception going on and this puts the single safety in a real bind, which the Bears were able to take advantage of as they kept asking the difficult question of the Buccaneers’ high safety who did not have an easy adjustment to make to solve the issues that were being caused.

So did Trubisky look like a quarterback capable of throwing six touchdowns? Well the flippant answer is yes because he did. However, it was not all simple throws to open receivers. He also threw balls with timing and made some difficult throws even if there were also misses and he is far from the finished product. Yet Trubisky did throw six touchdowns against the league’s worst defence by DVOA and was able to execute the plan that Matt Nagy laid out and that is all you can ask of a quarterback. There will be more difficult tests for both Nagy and Trubisky, but this is a hopeful sign that the Bears could really compete this year and with the various options available to the offence they have the chance to do so given the way their defence is playing.

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Competition Thursday: 2018 Week Five

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So a couple of better weeks picking has seen me overhaul Dan’s dad’s lead at the top of our picks league. However, my trivia game is not as on point as you will see at the bottom of this week’s post. However, I have Dan and his dad’s pick for tonight so let’s look at what could be a tasty Thursday night game.

Gee:     Week 4   11-4              Overall   34-29
Dan:    Week 4   6-9                Overall   29-34

Colts @ Patriots (-10.5)

The Indianapolis Colts record maybe 1-3 but they’ve run three teams close and beaten Washington who themselves are top of the NFC East. I start with this because yes the New England Patriots got back on track with a big win last week, yes they are at home, yes it’s October and yes the Patriots are very good against the spread even when giving away large numbers of points. However, whilst the Colts can’t run the ball at all, their defence is currently ranked tenth by DVOA and Andrew Luck is coming off a game where threw for a career high yardage last week. My default pick for the Thursday night game is take the home team unless there’s a very good reason not and in this case, I think an eleven point win is too many points when the teams are next to each other in the overall DVOA rankings. I could well be gifting a point to Dan and his dad but my evaluation is Colts to keep this within eleven and I’m sticking to it. That doesn’t mean I feel great about it…

Gee’s Pick:      Colts
Dan’s Pick:      Patriots

Not only are the Pats at home they have also started to get the formula running. Bill B doesn’t let issues hang around for long and while the Colts have been given a serious boost in the spread I think momentum and home field will bring this one in.

Dan’s Dad Says PATRIOTS’

Week 5 Trivia

Last week I asked Who Captain Fear was and which team he supported. I think we got as far as this being a Mascot and Dan managed to bring the ship home.

Dan 2, Gee 1 on aggregate. 

This week is, I hope, straightforward:

Which NFL player kicked a 62-yard field goal, the longest of the 2017/8 season?

Quarterbacks and Injuries

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Image Credit: milehighsports.com

Here we are, preparing for week five after which all the teams will have played four games and I can try to run through the entire league in a panic at the quarter pole post, but we are already beginning to get a bit more of a feel for how the league is shaping up.

Of the young quarterbacks that seem to be the story of the league so far this year, Patrick Mahomes traveled to Denver Monday night and struggled comparatively for him so far this year but still found a way to get the win for the  Kansas City Chiefs against the Broncos, whilst Mitch Trubisky threw for six touchdowns as the Bears thumped the Tamps Bay Buccaneers. I have only seen the highlights of the Bears game and yes there were a lot of wide open people catching the ball, but I thought Trubisky looked good in terms of his footwork and whilst you can’t expect this every week it is a promising sign that Matt Nagy can find a way to keep his team competitive in the division with Trubisky as his quarterback.

Speaking of the NFC North, the Green Bay Packers pitched a shutout against the Buffalo Bills who reverted to type and were bad in this game. This leaves them one game behind the Bears but one ahead of the Minnesota Vikings who could not keep up with the LA Rams on Thursday night but then no team has this season. With quarterbacks on the mind I should also mention that one of the reasons the Rams look so good is that Jared Goff is absolutely thriving in Sean McVay’s office and threw some absolutely amazing balls to beat the Vikings coverage. The Detroit Lions lost a close game to the Dallas Cowboys who managed to find some offence this week, which is not how the Lions and Matt Patricia will have wanted to follow up their impressive win against the Patriots.

I hesitate to do this, and it is perhaps lucky that Dan is on holiday this week as the Miami Dolphins got demolished in New England. There is a reason why everyone was hesitant to write off the Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, and this was it. They ran for one hundred and seventy-five yards and got themselves back to 2-2 before Julian Edelman comes back next week. Things could well still go wrong but it would surprise no one if come December the Patriots are once again top of their division.

The other perennial contender that is struggling at the start of this season were not so lucky as the Pittsburgh Steelers failed to win their second division game as they lost at home to the Baltimore Ravens to go 1-2-1. We have seen dips of form before with the Steelers, but with the Le’Veon Bell situation rumbling on and a defence that is not the kind we usually associate with this franchise there could be real problems. They face the Atlanta Falcons next week in a game that will very much be decided by who can score the most points as the Falcons are struggling to stop anybody on defence. In week four this benefited the Cincinnati Bengals who squeezed out a 37-36 win game despite losing Tyler Eifert to a season ending injury for the third straight year. This was heart breaking as Eifert had finally had a healthy offseason and it was a horrible ankle break, but at least it wasn’t connected to his previous back/ankle injuries. Eifert has so much talent and it’s really sad he’s so seldom been able to make the most of it or get to that lucrative multi-year second contract given what he has produced when he has been on the field.

The other big injury from the weekend was to Earl Thomas who had been playing well for the Seattle Seahawks despite hardly practicing in protest at the Seahawks refusal to trade him after not giving him a new contract. The middle digit he offered to the bench was a sign of the frustration a player must feel when what he feared materialises, but a broken leg is at least an injury that shouldn’t affect him next season. That may not be that much comfort to a safety going into his thirties though, particularly given the lack of activity in signing veteran free agent safeties this off-season and this is exactly why Le’Veon Bell is holding out as he fears a similar injury when running backs are treated with even more scepticism as they approach thirty.

I think I will end this week’s round up though with a team who may not be playing pretty football week to week, but have got themselves a winning record despite multiple injuries. In week one the teams with new head coaches went 0-7 but rookie head coach Mike Vrabel and his staff have now won three straight games despite Marcus Mariota sustaining a nerve injury in week one that has led to numbness in the fourth and fifth fingers of his throwing hand as well as grip issues, and his backup Blaine Gabbert being lost to a concussion in the opening quarter of their week three game against the Jaguars. The Titans may only be ranked twenty-sixth on offence by DVOA and fifteenth by defence, but they are top ten in special teams and are finding a way in win games. It also helped that Mariota looked better in this week’s overtime win against the Philadelphia Eagles where Mariota played with a modified glove on his throwing hand where the first and second fingers had been cut off so he could feel the ball but the glove could help his week fingers/hand. I’m sure this is not what offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur was not expecting to have to deal with this when he joined the staff, but the Titans have remained competitive in the AFC South and will be looking to build on this solid start. This is a pretty impressive achievement for Mike Vrabel who does not have that much coaching experience compared to a lot of coaches yet alone experience running a team. Let’s see how sustainable this is.

2018 Week Four Picks

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These are not a nice set of lines as we head into week four of the regular season, but first there’s the matter of our trivia competition:

So, now we move onto Week 4 where I want to know Who is Captain Fear and which team does he support?’

I’m going to have to take a complete shot in the dark here and suggest he founded the Black Hole fan group and therefore supports the Oakland Raiders.

‘It’s back to guessing again this week for me, but I think the word ‘Captain’ is the giveaway – I think Captain Fear is the pirate mascot of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Bengals @ Falcons (-5.5)

This is an important game for the Bengals as they will want to keep the pressure on the Ravens in the AFC North and they will want to bounce back from last week’s loss to the Panthers. They were in the Panthers game until the fourth quarter even if their run defence was bad, but the turnovers weren’t really Dalton’s fault and this week they travel to face an Atlanta team that keep losing starting players. The Falcon’s offence found its scoring mojo in last week’s crazy game with the Saints but the Bengals defence is a very different unit. I’m not definitively predicting the Bengals to win, but I absolutely feel like they will be within six points by the end of the game and I’m hoping for the win.

Gee’s Pick: Bengals
Dan’s Pick: Bengals

‘I actually think Bengals could end up doing pretty well in this one. Not only do I think they’ll cover, I think they’ll win!’

Bills @ Packers (-10.5)

The Green Bay Packers went to Washington and got thumped so I’m a little surprised that they are giving eleven points in this game. I’m not saying that everything is suddenly fixed for the Bills, but they got a tough road win and whilst there could be a let-down, this is too many points for me to give when Aaron Rodgers is not fit and the defence of the Packers is ranked twenty-seventh in the league by DVOA

Gee’s Pick: Bills
Dan’s Pick: Bills

‘This is REALLY difficult to pick. A week ago I’d have said easily Packers, but with that spread, and with their performance last week against the Vikings, I’m going to go with the Bills.’

Buccaneers @ Bears (-2.5)

This is a truly fascinating game. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers nearly managed to pull back their Monday night game against the Steelers after a disastrous first half where Ryan Fitzpatrick kept throwing interceptions. Given that he was the first NFL quarterback to throw for four hundred yards in three straight games it feels like he has to come back to earth a little. Particularly against a Chicago Bears defence that currently ranks number one by DVOA and boasts the early candidate for defensive player of the year in Khalil Mack who is making every Raiders fan sad about the strange trade that sent him to the Bears. The problem for the Bears is that as well as Matt Nagy’s offence looks to be schemed, the instinct of Mitch Trubisky is to tuck and run, which right now looks as if it could hold back this team. I’m not confident about this, but in the end I’m going with the quarterback that I have a little more faith in and the thing that he seems to have going with his co-ordinator Todd Monken calling the plays.

Gee’s Pick: Buccaneers
Dan’s Pick: Buccaneers

‘Could we see the return of Jameis Winston? Probably not. Buccs win.’

Lions @ Cowboys (-2.5)

This is a fairly straight forward pick to me, which probably means I’m about to get this horribly wrong but the Dallas Cowboys look to be in trouble. The offence just isn’t working as they haven’t replaced either Jason Witten or Dez Bryant and so Dak Prescott is lacking options in the passing game just when the offensive line has some injuries and isn’t the dominant unit it has been in recent season. If things weren’t bad enough, the defence’s talisman Sean Lee is out and so I don’t fancy them at all against a Detroit Lions team who seem to have been improving week to week and who I fancy to get a win on the road in this one.

Gee’s Pick: Lions
Dan’s Pick: Lions

‘Fourth game in a row I’m going for the road team! Lions for me in this one.’

Eagles @ Titans (+3.5)

This is very much a strange game to pick given that the Tennessee Titans have won the last two games by a field goal despite the nerve injury that is hampering Marcus Mariota who didn’t even start the last game and they have an overall ranking of twenty-fourth by DVOA. The Philadelphia Eagles are having a difficult start to the season thanks to the injuries they have but at least Carson Wentz is back behind centre. Thanks to the points I’m really undecided about this one so in the end I’m going to grab the points for a home underdog.

Gee’s Pick: Titans
Dan’s Pick: Eagles

‘Make that 5! The Titans haven’t actually looked as poor as I thought they might after week one, and have won their last couple. That being said, I think the Eagles have a good feel about them and will want to really establish themselves with Wentz back. Eagles win.’

Texans @ Colts (-0.5)

This is a really important game for the 0 – 3 Houston Texans who have really struggled thanks to an offensive line that is not getting the job done and problems in their secondary. This week they travel to face an Indianapolis Colts team who have looked competitive all season as Andrew Luck works his way back from his long term shoulder injury and the defence quietly has improved to just outside the top ten by DVOA through three weeks. I’m trying to balance up the desperation of the Texans to finally get a win vs the clear problems they are having and a line that is giving me no help whatsoever. This is another game I don’t have a hugely strong feel for so I’m going to grab the home team and hope.

Gee’s Pick: Colts
Dan’s Pick: Texans

‘Difficult one to call, but I think the Texans will do this.’

Dolphins @ Patriots (-6.5)

I find this a curious line because as difficult as it is to see the New England Patriots losing three games in a row there are real problems with both the receiving options and the balance of the offence as well as the defence. The Miami Dolphins however have hugely benefitted from having Ryan Tannehill back from injury and look to have impressive speed on offence whilst the defence has played tough all season and the Dolphins are currently ranked second in the league by DVOA. I’m not saying the Dolphins will definitely win but I they are more likely to be within seven than not.

Gee’s Pick: Dolphins
Dan’s Pick: Dolphins

‘Miami to win at Gillette Stadium for the first time since 2008.’

Jets @ Jaguars (-7.5)

I am going to resist reading too much into the Jaguars loss last week as divisional games can be funny but they will want to get things back on track this week as they host the New York Jets who have very much struggled since their opening win against the Detroit Lions. I find it hard to predict that Sam Darnold (who is going through the usual rookie difficulties) suddenly having an easier time against the Jaguars defence. The Jets were competitive with a poor roster last season but on the road I see them struggling yet this number of points worries me. However, in the end I can’t quite bring myself to pick them. I may well regret this.

Gee’s Pick: Jaguars
Dan’s Pick: Jets

‘New York will want to get back to winning ways after losing to the Browns, and while I don’t think they’ll do that this week, they won’t lose by more than a touchdown I wouldn’t have thought.’

Browns @ Raiders (-2.5)

The Cleveland Browns travel to Oakland to seek their first consecutive wins in four years with the Baker Mayfield era definitely started. However, it will be a different test coming in as the starter but Mayfield made such a difference to the way the Browns’ offence operated whilst their defence has been better all year. That said, whilst I don’t exactly trust them, the Browns face a Raiders team who are winless this season but there are signs that the Browns won’t have it all their own way. The Raiders have been competitive for the last two games and having started the season against the juggernaut Rams they have been on the road for those two games as well. The Raiders will be desperate to get their first win and I find it just too hard to predict a Browns win two weeks in a row.

Gee’s Pick: Raiders
Dan’s Pick: Raiders

‘Can’t see the Browns winning this week. The Raiders didn’t look too bad last week and I think they’ve got enough about them to win here.’

Seahawks @ Cardinals (+3.5)

I thought the Arizona Cardinals would have a tough season but they have truly struggled and have now made the move to start rookie quarterback Josh Rosen but he faces an uphill task. That said the Cardinals did manage to get out to a fourteen-point lead last week until they succumbed to a Chicago Bears comeback. However, whilst the Seattle Seahawks have not exactly looked good, they have been competitive and are coming off their first win of the season. I don’t have a strong feel for this game, which has recent years has been a tense close battle between divisional opponents and in the end I’m going to grab the points and not feel confident at all.

Gee’s Pick: Cardinals
Dan’s Pick: Seahawks

‘Can’t really decide on this one, but seeing as I’ve got to, I’ll go Seattle.’

Saints @ Giants (+3.5)

The New York Giants got their first win last week on the road going against a poor Texans team and this week they welcome a New Orleans Saints team whose offence is top five by DVOA and whose defence is bottom five. There is a big difference for the Saints when Drew Brees is on the road outdoors than in a dome but the bad weather has not truly hit yet and I have so much more faith in the Brees led offence than what Eli Manning is producing at the moment. I might really regret this but I’m backing the Saints in this one.

Gee’s Pick: Saints
Dan’s Pick: Saints

‘They might have needed overtime to get the win last week against Atlanta, but I think they’ll settle this one fairly comfortably this week. Saints to win.’

49ers @ Chargers (-10.5)

This is a tricky game for me in that yes the San Francisco 49ers have lost Jimmy Garoppolo for the season but I mentally have a picture of the LA Chargers struggling to win games by a lot However, they have managed a win by eleven already this season and totalled five such wins last season and so now I swinging back and forth on this one. In the end this feels like too many points for a team that I don’t entirely trust so I’m reluctantly picking the 49ers to cover against one of the worst home advantages in the league but I’m not convinced.

Gee’s Pick: 49ers
Dan’s Pick: Chargers

‘It’s tempting to pick the 49ers given the 10.5 spread, but I’m going to say LA because the 49ers are a bit broken.’

Ravens @ Steelers (-3.5)

This should be a cracking game that sees the Baltimore Ravens facing the Pittsburgh Steelers in a huge divisional game where the Steelers will be looking to get their second win of the season. The Ravens got back to winning ways last week having paired an improved offence with their traditionally strong defence. I like them to keep this game close and given the issues the Steelers have on defence and how I don’t expect Flacco to turn the ball over with the same rate as Fitzpatrick did on Monday I think this will be a close game and the extra half point has me backing the Ravens to keep this within a field goal if not win.

Gee’s Pick: Ravens
Dan’s Pick: Ravens

‘This could really go either way. I’m going to call Ravens but I won’t be overly surprised if I don’t get this one.’

Chiefs @ Broncos (+5.5)

The Denver Broncos have improved on offence this year but their defence also looks to have taken a step back and as much as they have a good home advantage, particularly early in the season, they face a Kansas City Chiefs team with the best offence in the league right now. Andy Reid will be very comfortable with his trading away of Alex Smith given that Patrick Mahomes has thrown for thirteen touchdowns and no interceptions through the three games of this season. Even with their home advantage the Broncos have not beaten the Chiefs since 2015 but the question is whether they can keep this game with six and that still has me struggling to make up my mind given the Chiefs bottom of the league defence. I expect the Chiefs to win this game but on the road for the third time in four weeks against a divisional opponent I’m nervously going to grab the points.

Gee’s Pick: Broncos
Dan’s Pick: Chiefs

AAF: Josh Allen

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After this Thursday night’s game it would appear that the Minnesota Vikings defence might not be the same unit as it was last season, but for the week three coaching tape I had to look at the break out game from Josh Allen for this amateur adventures in film post.

The first thing I think it is important to say is that although Josh Allen finished with a passer rating of 111.2, his performance was a little bit mixed but that isn’t perhaps surprising given that he only had a completion percentage in the fifties whilst in college. The obvious thing that will have tantalised the Bills’ coaching staff is his arm as he can and did make some amazing throws, including jumping in the air on one play in the second half. However, the flow of the game meant that most of what was impressive happened in the first half if not the first quarter. His first touchdown of the game demonstrated his impressive athleticism even before he did his best superman dive to get to the pylon. The Bills’ offensive coaching were clearly helping him with a lot of play action when passing and he was not asked to sit in the pocket and make complex reads but make quick decisions and get the ball out. There was a play in the second half when he did drop back nicely, sit and then deliver the ball sharply but he doesn’t have the smoothest footwork and he will often have his coaches heart in his mouth as he believes in his arm and will let it go. However, he will really have to work on the fine details of being an NFL quarterback and one of them that was highlighted through the frequent play action plays was his frankly perfunctorily fake handoffs where the ball was more gestured at the running back than offered and it is the small details like this that could really help him as it will keep the defence off balance by making them commit to defending the run. It definitely began to bug me through the game so I’ll treat you all to the fake Andy Dalton pulled off last week and it shows the power of working on a fundamental of being a quarterback so watch this.

In the second half as the game drew on the Bills very much started to run the ball to run out the clock, but take nothing away from this young man who has given his team a spark after they really struggled in the first two games and he does not have a great offensive line or skill players. He did spin into trouble a couple of times, and was very lucky that a ball that was stripped because he spun with the ball held out was recovered but I have no doubt the coaches will have been highlighting that this week. It is far too early to tell how far he can go, but Josh Allen definitely has talent and the big question is how he develops with NFL coaching, which will be crucial to see if he can become the franchise quarterback the front office of Buffalo are hoping he’ll be. As I say a lot, only time will tell but he at least has the tools to work with and as more and more college concepts find their way into the NFL he has a fighting chance.

Competition Thursday: 2018 Week 4

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Thanks to a bit of a recovery last week, Dan and I are now level on points and only one point behind his dad, although I would still like to get back to a winning record. We also finally opened our accounts in the trivia quiz! Anyway, time to size up what is one of the best Thursday night matchups I can remember.

Gee: Week 3 8-8 Overall 23-25
Dan: Week 3 6-10 Overall 23-25

Vikings @ Rams (-6.5)

These two teams come into this game coming off very different Sundays with the Rams winning pretty easily against the Chargers and the Vikings getting thoroughly outplayed by the Buffalo Bills. The Rams have some injuries that worry me at corner given that both Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters are injured but whilst I do think their last game was a blip, the Vikings are on the road and I fancy the Rams to roll out winners in this one. The points give me pause for concern but the Rams don’t let up in games and will be looking to avenge the loss they had in Minnesota last year so I’ll lay the points and hope during what should be a cracking game.

Gee’s Pick: Rams
Dan’s Pick: Vikings

‘I’m picking the Vikings – I think the Rams will win but despite last week’s result I think it’ll be closer than a touchdown. Don’t know why – just a feeling!’

Week 4 Trivia

‘Last week I asked what was the Newest NFL Stadium to be opened and both Gee and Dan opened their account for this season.

So, now we move onto Week 4 where I want to know Who is Captain Fear and which team does he support?’

Plays, Penalties, and Injuries

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18-09-26 Josh Allen TD

Image Credit: wyosports.net

So Wednesday marks the transition from one NFL week to the next as I move from catching up on games and highlights, evaluating the news to preparing to make picks, even if I won’t start the coaching tape for Week three until tomorrow, but more of that later.

I’m currently reading The Score Take Care of Itself by Bill Walsh, and whilst I haven’t got very far yet, the section on the 49ers losing to the Miami Dolphins and coping with adversity rings ever so true. This week we have some coaches who will be facing down despair and problems, whilst others will have taken a moment to savour a win before swiftly moving on to the next week’s game.

The usual king of this, as exemplified by his famous, ‘We’re on to Cincinnati.’ press conference back in 2014, is Bill Belichick who will be trying to turn around the fortunes of his 1-2 team who got thoroughly outplayed by the Detroit Lions. I’m not sure too many people saw that one coming and we had a couple of reminders in week 3 of the old maxim that anything could happen on any given Sunday. The Patriots struggled on offensive as they continue to falter when running the ball and haven’t found the right mix in the passing game. We may see Josh Gordon if they can get him worked into the mix this week and after they take on the Dolphins this weekend they will have Julian Edelman back from suspension but it could take a while for this be sorted. I’m not going to overreact as it is early and I’ve written several times about how the Patriots plan to peak later in the season but for context the Patriots haven’t lost three straight since 2002 when they had a four game losing streak and missed out on the playoffs (they still had a winning 9-7 record).

Perhaps more surprising even than the Lions getting a win over the Patriots was the Buffalo Bills travelling to Minnesota and beating the Vikings 27-6 as Josh Allen managed to rushing touchdowns as well as a passing one. The Vikings will be looking to shake things off quickly as they are on the road in LA for the Thursday night game against the Rams and I’ve heard several people suggest that the Vikings had one eye on this game and that is why they had such a surprisingly poor game against a team they overlooked. I always find such talk a little troubling as I have no way of verifying and the infrastructure for the Vikings is such that my default would be to think it was an aberration that will quickly be righted but given the Packers (who the Vikings drew with last week) lost to Washington this week and the only team the Vikings have beat are the 49ers there is perhaps some concern that there might be deeper problems. Definitely one to keep and eye on, whilst I will have to take a look at Josh Allen on coaching tape this week to find out just how he managed to lead the Bills to a comfortable win.

In fact, there’s quite a lot I wish I could watch in more details including games I didn’t even see the highlights for. Apart from the two upsets I have already mentioned, the New York Giants travelled to the Houston Texans and won, surely placing even more pressure on head coach Bill O’Brien, whilst the Tennessee Titans managed to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars despite starting Blaine Gabbert and then having to play Marcus Mariota despite the limitations he has from a nerve injury when Gabbert was ruled out the game with a concussion. It has to be said that Mike Vrabel has done well to win two games given his quarterback situation and whilst it is far too small a sample size to draw any big conclusions about him as a coach, it is encouraging. Less encouraging is a third loss for  Oakland Raiders under Jon Gruden who along with the Arizona Cardinals join the Texans as the only teams yet to register a win this season.

The Atlanta Falcons lost a barnstormer of a game 42-37 to the New Orleans Saints, with Drew Brees spinning to get the winning score and the Falcons losing a second starting safety for the season to injury so things are getting increasingly tough for them.

Sadly for the San Francisco 49ers, Jimmy Garoppplo was lost for the season with a torn ACL as he tried to gain some extra yards rushing out of bounds. There has been a lot of focus on the steps the NFL are taking to protect the quarterbacks and with the effect losing that one player has on a team I can understand it up to a point. However, with another seemingly form tackle by Clay Matthews resulting in a penalty, not to mention the string of penalties some linemen are picking up in games the new interpretation of the roughing the passer penalty is definitely a huge talking point. In fact the Dolpins (who I’m sure Dan would like me to remind you are 3-0) lost William Hayes to a torn ACL on a sack that head coach Adam Gase is blaming on the new rules. If players are injuring themselves trying to comply with the new rules and some of the bigger name quarterbacks are suggesting that things have gone too far then perhaps the league will look at it. I don’t want to argue that the league has gone soft, and frankly I think this has more to do with keeping the star quarterbacks playing the safety concerns, but a lot of the plays that have been penalised were simply tackles and I have no idea how a two hundred and ninety pound player fighting his way past an offensive linemen to tackle a quarterback, who are often not exactly small themselves, are supposed to lay said quarterback gently to the turf so they don’t risk an injury. You need a certain amount of momentum to tackle a player and explosiveness to get there before the pass is thrown so a lot of these defenders are being put in a very difficult if not an impossible position.

There have been a number of exciting games, and I think we’d all much rather be focussing attention on say the amazing start to the season Patrick Mahomes has had in Andy Reid’s offence or how the LA Rams are ominously rolling through the season, but until the roughing the passer penalties slow down the conversation about the zebras could keep dominating the conversation and frankly I’d much rather be focussed on the surprises and the good play that is happening in the league. After all, the Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills won this week, all things are possible.

High-fives All Round!

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So, we’re three weeks into the season now, and things are starting to spice up a bit!

Where to start this week? Suppose I’ll start with the Dolphins as is traditional. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we’re 3-0 – how on earth did that happen?! We’ve not looked overwhelmingly fantastic this year so far, but have been doing enough to win games, which I suppose is all that matters. With only one of our first three opponents going into Week 4 with a winning record (the Titans, if you’re asking), the Patriots this week are going to be a real test.

Performance-wise, it was a bit of a mixed bag. Tannehill and his receiving team seem to be on the same page and working well together, and a special mention this week has to go to Albert Wilson for not only taking the QB role in a trick play touchdown, but also managing to run in a 74 yard touchdown which won us the game – if he doesn’t get a Madden Team of the Week card in Ultimate Team this week, I’ll be very disappointed.

On the other side of the ball though, the Defence weren’t as good as they have been for the first two weeks. Some of that’s down to injury (and ejection!) meaning the line were taking a lot more reps than they would usually have in the Florida sun, but we’ll have to wait and see how they pick up next week.

Elsewhere, there were some comings and goings at the QB position – it was Carson Wentz’ first game since his mid-season injury last year, and he wasted very little time in getting back into the swing of things. That’s hardly surprising though given that the reports coming out of Philadelphia suggested he was keeping deeply ingrained in the foundations of the team during his absence, and was frequently seen as the Eagles biggest fan in their run up to the Super Bowl. Bit harsh on Nick Foles though, I must say. He’s not done too badly this year so far but it’s clear they feel that Wentz is their Franchise QB for years to come, so it makes sense to bring him back.

Jimmy G though has gone the other way. He came off mid-game on Sunday with an injury which has turned out to be an ACL tear officially ruling him out for the rest of the season. I’m really disappointed about this – he was such an energising force for the 49ers at the end of last season (who remembers how badly they were doing before he joined?!) and while it hadn’t completely carried over into this season, he won’t be playing any further part this year.

Oh hang on, how have I got this far into this week’s post without mentioning the BROWNS?! The fans in Cleveland woke up on Friday feeling like it was Christmas morning… not least because the last time they woke up after a win it WAS Christmas Day… in 2016! (Note – I cant take credit for this. Neil Reynolds pointed this out on twitter the other day!). I’m really pleased for Browns fans. I don’t think they’ll get too many wins this year, but they seem to be in a much better place than they have been.

Betting update:

At what point should it get tempting to cash out?! The Rams are now showing themselves as the actual favourites for the Super Bowl this year (according to bet365 anyway!) but it is of course still early days!

Oh, and less said about picks and fantasy the better – stupidly, after sending my picks to Gee, I think I forgot to actually submit them, and as a result, it didn’t register, so this week I’m very thankful to Gee for being the organised member of the team who keeps spreadsheets of this kind of thing! I take back everything I said last week when I was rubbing in the fact I was beating him (although… I think I still am!). [We are in fact level after three weeks -Ed.]

How are your team doing so far this year? Is anyone particularly surprising you so far? Drop me a line on twitter and lets have a chat!

This time next week, I’ll be in Dubai with Mrs. B celebrating our anniversary, so my Dad will be filling my shoes and making his picks for the week against Gee. Be gentle on him – he’s a Vikings fan so hasn’t finished scratching his head over how they managed to lose to the Bills!

Speak to you in a couple of weeks…

@TWFDan

AAF: Patriots Offence vs Jaguars Defence

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So for week two the matchup that cried out to be looked at in my continuing amateur adventures in film was the New England Patriots offence as they took on the Jaguars defence.

The Jaguars defence looked much how they did last season in that they really rely on their defensive line to get pass rush (although I thought they blitzed a bit more in this game than I was used to) and good coverage to stifle offences. It was also very obvious, particularly in the second half although I could have missed it that they were working really hard to disguise their coverages as their safeties move back and forwards trying to not give anything away.

The Patriots offence is always interesting to study and this game was no different. They use a lot more 21 personnel (two running backs and a tight end) than most teams but that didn’t necessarily mean that would line-up with two backs in the back field. If fact they would even go as far as to line-up with an empty backfield and both James White and fullback James Develin would run routes with White in particular being a genuine target for Brady and finished the game with seventy-three passing yards on seven receptions from eight targets. In fact I think the Patriots do a greater variety of things with the same personnel groupings than any other team in the league (waits for someone to prove me wrong).

However, there is a reason that they just traded with the Browns for Josh Gordon and that is that James White actually led the team in receiving yards in this game. They ran plenty of nice route combinations where the outside receiver run an in behind the slot receiver, which created a lot of space for the receiver against the Jaguars scheme. The problem is that they were not able to stress the defence long, which is why they will be hoping that if nothing else Gordon will be able to make opposing defences stop doubling Rob Gronkowski and run deep routes.

However, if that helps solve the problems in the passing game the other side of the offence still struggled with a faintly anaemic run game that only managed eighty-two yards on twenty-four rushes for an average of 3.4 yards per carry, which would look even worse if you removed the twelve and fifteen yard runs from Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel as well as the ten yard scramble from Tom Brady. That’s cherry picking a little but there were not a lot of holes opened by the Patriots offensive line, and whilst the Jaguars defensive line is very good, it’s something to keep an eye on. Particularly as whilst the Jaguars only sacked Brady twice, they affected a number of throws with their rush and a lesser quarterback than Brady would not have got rid of the ball as quickly or as safely as Brady does.

Still, I wouldn’t be hitting the panic button yet and I will be interested to see if Gordon can be assimilated successfully. The Patriots are a team whose scheme changes from week to week, and so how things develop is definitely something to keep an eye on as the season progresses. Maybe that could be an offseason project!

2018 Week Three Picks

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So after the Browns finally get a win our attention turns to the rest of the week three slate, and I can begin to panic that we’re nearly at the quarter pole of the season already! First the minor matter of the trivia question, which this week is:

Tell me, which is the newest of the NFL Stadiums (in the Lower-48) and when did it open?’

I believe this is the Mercedes-Benz stadium of the Atlanta Falcons that was opened last year and as seems traditional is hosting the Super Bowl this year.

I’ll be taking my first point of the year this week – the answer is the Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, which opened in 2017!’

Saints @ Falcons (-3.5)

I am really interested in this game as two teams who haven’t looked fully together take each other on. The Atlanta Falcons recovered from their opening week loss to get a solid win against the Carolina Panthers but both their offence and defence are ranked twenty-third in the league by DVOA and another of their starters was put on IR for the season when their best offensive guard Andy Levitre tore a tricep. This week they host a Saints team whose offence is characteristically top ten but whose defence has taking a big step back from last year’s iteration that made a big jump. A team’s defence is often more volatile than their offence from year to year and those units who make a big jump often take a step back the following year. Still, given how the Falcons have played and the fact that the clear best unit in the game is the Saints offence I’m backing them to at least cover this line.

Gee’s Pick:      Saints
Dan’s Pick:      Saints

Bills @ Vikings (-16.5)

So this is an easy game to predict but a slightly trickier one to call. The Buffalo Bills have got off to a horrid start to this season and look to be in a competition with the Arizona Cardinals for the worst team in the league. Following the logic from last week that I failed to remember, it is more likely for a team to go 2-1 or 1-2 than lose or win all their games but this week the Bills are travelling to Minnesota to face the Vikings in their newish stadium that has given them a distinct home advantage since it opened in 2016. The question is can the Vikings repeat the kind of win the Ravens had over the Bills in week one and given the chasm between the teams and where this game is being played I’m going to nervously back the Vikings to cover.

Gee’s Pick:      Vikings
Dan’s Pick:      Vikings

Bengals @ Panthers (-2.5)

Of course I am nervous about this game as the Cincinnati Bengals head back out on the road for the second of the three road games they have to start the season. This week they travel to face a Carolina Panthers team where Cam Newton seems to have taken to Norv Turner as his coordinator but the defence is an uncharacteristic twenty-fourth rank by DVOA. The worry for everyone I’ve heard talking about this game is that second year running back Joe Mixon is out having had a scope on his knee but I am starting to have faith in the rebuilt offensive line and what Bill Lazor is doing on offence. I think that the Bengals can keep this close but I’d feel a lot happier if the line was -3 rather than -2.5 yet I’m still going to grab the points.

Gee’s Pick:      Bengals
Dan’s Pick:      Bengals

Broncos @ Ravens (-4.5)

The Denver Broncos head out on the road for the first time this season and have the added difficulty of traveling to Baltimore to face a rested Ravens teams. The Broncos offence has been helped by the addition of Case Keenum and rookie running backs Royce Freeman and Phillip Freemand whilst their defence has done a job even if it is currently ranked sixteenth by DVOA. However, they have had the advantage of opening the season at highest stadium in the league whilst most teams get their legs under them after pre-season so this will be a real test of how far this team has come. The Raven’s defence is top five by DVOA and their offence looks to have more options amongst the skills players although I’m not sure the packages that have been put in for Lamar Jackson are really helping. The Broncos have eeked out two wins at home and could keep this one close but I’m not sure they will on the road but can the Ravens win by five. I’m once again going to grab the points as I don’t feel that strongly about these teams yet.

Gee’s Pick:      Broncos
Dan’s Pick:      Broncos

Packers @ Washington (+2.5)

The Green Bay Packers travel to Washington this week and frankly if I had the option to stay away I would as so much rides on the injured knee of Aaron Rodgers. He played well enough to win last week and the Packers offence looks good with him but the drop off if DeShone Kizer has to play is pretty startling. Their defence rank of twentieth by DVOA actually matches where they finished last season but we know that the big driver for the Packers is Rodgers. Washington fell back to earth with a bump last week as the Colts beat them in their home opener. I don’t trust Washington and I can’t hang my hat on the Packers given the injury to Rodgers.. This game feels like it could get ugly quickly, but having lost to the Colts I can’t quite bring myself to back Washington in this game although that would change if Rodgers can’t go.

Gee’s Pick:      Packers
Dan’s Pick:      Packers

Titans @ Jaguars (-7.5)

The Tennessee Titans managed to get a win last week with Blain Gabbert at quarterback but facing a Texans team with a rocky start is a very different prospect to going on the road to face the Jacksonville Jaguars and their fearsome defence. It looks like Gabbert will likely start again this week and this probably doesn’t bode well. I liked the aggressiveness the Jaguars’ offence played with last week and I would hope they keep that when Leonard Fournette returns from his hamstring injury and that they don’t automatically return to grinding out yards on the ground. I think this is a tough spot for the Titans even with some key Jaguar players being listed as questionable and that’s enough for me to lay this number of points.

Gee’s Pick:      Jaguars
Dan’s Pick:      Titans

Colts @ Eagles (-6.5)

So this is a really awkward game for me to pick as the Indianapolis Colts have looked pretty good so far this season with new head coach seeming to do well with Andrew Luck and a couple of promising break outs on the defence. They travel to Philadelphia to face an Eagles team who have a number of injuries but are getting Carson Wentz back from injury and he looked like the league MVP last year before he was lost. The Eagles defence is top ten by DVOA but the offence has struggled and the big question for me is will the skills players and the injuries at running back allow Wentz to look his best. The worry for me with this pick is the points and frankly there are too many unknowns with the Eagles for me to back them to win by seven even if I could regret this as I do think the Eagles are more likely to win this game.

Gee’s Pick:      Colts
Dan’s Pick:      Colts

49ers @ Chiefs (-6.5)

One of the most impressive things about the Chiefs 2-0 start is that they have managed to get themselves ranked the top offence by DVOA playing on the road and this week’s home opener sees them welcome a San Francisco 49ers team who haven’t quite lived up to the promise many expected in the pre-season. The Chiefs have been a lot of fun to watch given that they’ve paired the top rated offence in the league with the worst ranked defence. The offence hasn’t gelled for the 49ers yet this season whilst the defence has improved. This is quite a lot of points for a team to cover who has the worst defence in the league by DVOA but the Chiefs have a good home advantage and the crowd is likely to hugely excited given the play of the offence and so I’m going to back the Chiefs to cover.

Gee’s Pick:      Chiefs
Dan’s Pick:      Chiefs

Raiders @ Dolphins (-3.5)

The Oakland Raiders have got off to a tough start under Jon Gruden and despite improving last week are still yet to have a win and face a second road game as they travel to face an unbeaten Miami Dolphins team. I’m still not convinced by the Raiders as whilst the offence looked better last week, the defence is still struggling, is currently ranked twenty-seventh and frankly I’m not that convinced by Gruden as a coach. The Dolphins are a tricky team to gauge at home but I think Adam Gase is a good coach and it looks like he has more of the team he wants this season while Tannehill is currently managing the offence well. The extra half point should tempt me into making the opposite play here but the seventeen places between them by overall DVOA with Gruden on the road means I’ll be joining Dan in his Dolphins optimism this week.

Gee’s Pick:      Dolphins
Dan’s Pick:      Dolphins

Giants @ Texans (-5.5)

One of these 0-2 teams have to win and the line would indicate that one of these teams is a much more likely candidate. The DVOA rankings would agree with the Houston Texans ranked sixteen places higher and having a top ten defence but they also have problems at offensive tackles and a young quarterback. That said they have also been on the road for their first two games and welcome a Giants team whose offence hasn’t recovered despite getting Odell Beckham back from injury and adding the talented Saquon Barkley at running back as well as Nate Solder at left tackle. I think the Giants made a mistake by not drafting a quarterback as Eli Manning has not looked better so far and has been in decline for several seasons now. The line is what worries me though as this feels like too many points but I do not trust the Giants either and in the end that’s how I’m going to go.

Gee’s Pick:      Texans
Dan’s Pick:      Texans

Chargers @ Rams (-6.5)

The battle of LA see the Chargers travel to the Coliseum to face a Rams team who have yet to let a team get closer than twenty points to them. The Chargers should manage that but having got back to winning ways last week against the Bills last week can they make this game competitive? They would stand a better chance if they had Joey Bosa but his foot injury looks to have him out for a little while yet and whilst their offence is ranked third by DVOA their defence is ranked seventeenth and the Rams are one of those teams who never let up on offence. I’d like to think this will be competitive and later in the season I think it would be but with where these teams are at right this second I think they Rams continue their strong start.

Gee’s Pick:      Rams
Dan’s Pick:      Chargers

Bears @ Cardinals (+4.5)

The Chicago Bears got their first win last week as Khalil Mack continues to be a one man wrecking crew and Matt Nagy coaxes offensive production out of a talented group of skills players but a young quarterback in Mitchel Trubisky who seems to look good early with the scripted plays but whose instinct too often is to tuck the ball and run. This week however they travel to face a Cardinals team who have offered very little so far this season. They have struggled to move the ball on offence and their defence has not been much better, leaving them ranked thirty-first overall by DVOA. It seems strange to be laying this number of points on the road, but there still aren’t enough for me to back the Cardinals in this one.

Gee’s Pick:      Bears
Dan’s Pick:      Cardinals

Cowboys @ Seahawks (-2.5)

The Seattle Seahawks are 0-2 for what I would have said was the first time in a number of years, but they actually started the 2015 season also losing two road games. I’m not sure they’ll be able to finish 10-6 like they did then but they might be more competitive at CenturyLink Field than they have been on the road. The problem is that the offence has not looked good under new coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and this has led Russell Wilson to a ranking of thirtieth in passing by DVOA. This week they host a Dallas Cowboys team who got their first win of the season last week but whose offence is not exactly looking great despite their ranking of eleventh by DVOA but that combined with a defensive ranking of thirteenth means they shouldn’t be overlooked. However, I find it hard to see them travelling well as Seattle is a notoriously difficult place to play and the Seahawks will be desperate to get back to winning ways. I have a lot more faith in Pete Carroll and so I’m backing the Seahawks to get back to winning ways rather than fall to 0-3.

Gee’s Pick:      Seahawks
Dan’s Pick:      Seahawks

Patriots @ Lions (+6.5)

It’s not exactly unusual for the New England Patriots to have a loss or two early in the season as Bill Belichick very much aims to have his team peaking at the end of the season and there is no shame in losing to the Jaguars these days. That said there must be some concern with the offence given that they have traded a fifth round pick to the Browns for Josh Gordon, who is expected to play in a limited fashion this week. The Patriots travel to Detroit to face a winless Lions team and their old defensive coordinator and new head coach Matt Patricia. The Lions looked better last week but still lost to the 49ers and so it’s hard to see a rookie head coach get his first win against Belichick, particularly as Belichick’s coaching tree has not exactly had a great track record outside of New England. This feels like a lot of points but I haven’t seen enough of the Lions to get the way they played in pre-season and week one out of my head so whilst I could regret this, I’m backing the Patriots to get back to winning ways as they seldom lose two games in a row (I didn’t find a time since 2013).

Gee’s Pick:      Patriots
Dan’s Pick:      Patriots

Steelers @ Bucaneers (+1.5)

The Monday night game sees a winless Pittsburgh Steelers team travel to Tampa Bay to face a Buccaneers team whose offence is rolling at second in the league by DVOA but whose defence is thirty-first so they are basically the Chiefs mark two. I absolutely did not see this coming but one of the big difference this year is that Todd Monken is calling plays rather than head coach Dirk Koetter and Ryan Fitzpatrick has been outstanding in deputising for the suspended Jameis Winston. I don’t know if they can keep this rolling but this looks to be a great game as the Steelers desperately need to get their season back on track. There is no sign of Le’Veon Bell ending his holdout and having disciplined Antonio Brown for not reporting on Monday the Steelers will hope that they can get their first win of the season. The question is whether they can heal the locker room and more importantly improve a defence that is currently ranked twenty-fifth by DVOA. I’m not sure that this is the game to turn it round, but equally I find it hard to believe the Steelers will go into week four without a win and I can’t quite bring myself to pick it even if it definitely could happen.

Gee’s Pick:      Steelers
Dan’s Pick:      Buccaneers