In a week of mixed fortunes for Dan and my teams I am wondering what trends are going to hold as divisions begin to stabilise, and which are shaping up to be competitive as we get a better idea of who is good, bad and somewhere in the middle.
What I Saw
The first game played on Sunday that I saw was the Jacksonville Jaguars hosting the Miami Dolphins, which was a closer contest than some expected as the Jaguars eked out a 23-20 win thanks to a pair of late fifty-yard-plus field goals. For all the criticism of Tua Tagovailoa, he put in a solid performance working his way back from fractured, albeit with a bad interception and a poor third down incompletion where he could have simply scrambled for third down. What both Tagovailoa and the Dolphins most need right now is for him to get a run of games so he can settle and the team really find out what they have. As for the Jaguars, one win does not convince me that Urban Myer is going to make a success of the pros, and it’s probably more useful to remember the thin margins between the best and worst teams in the NFL. The whole idea that on any given Sunday any team can beat another one is a cliché for a reason and in a now seventeen-game season where scheduling plays a part and you don’t get to play every team home and away, random things have much less of a chance to work themselves out.
The other two games I watched this week blend into each other in week seven. I wrote on Sunday that if the Bengals want to build on the winning first quarter of the season, then they will need to beat the Lions. I was worried about the game given that the Lions had played everyone tough so far this season and we are really not very early into the experience of the Bengals under Zac Taylor having a winning record. It turns out that Dan’s faith in the Bengals was a better judgement in this case than my caution, as the Bengals ran out 34-11 winners and even had backup quarterback Brandon Allen in the game for the fourth quarter where he threw a solitary pass that added a touchdown to the score. The Lion’s head coach Dan Campbell had some interesting thoughts on quarterback Jared Goff, which were more nuanced than the, ‘I feel like he needs to step up more than he has. And I think he needs to help us just like everybody else.’ quote that most of us got a small digest on. There is an good blog post on that here if you are interested. The Lions rebuild was always going to be a long project and Dan Campbell has been something of a quote machine, but if his team responds to this first big defeat then they can still get something out of this season, but the longer the losing streak goes on the more pressure there is going to be, particularly as it’s not so long ago that the Lions had a winless season.
The final game I watched was the Ravens ominous 34-6 demolition of the LA Chargers. Now, watching this game with the Chargers on the road I thought a lot of the problem was that this was Justin Herbert’s first time playing the Ravens’ defence and they very strike me as a team that you can watch all the tape you like, it’s just different in the game. As long as the Chargers bounce back, then this is an understandable bump for a team who are 4-2 with a second-year quarterback and a rookie head coach. I generally like Brandon Staley’s aggressive approach to fourth down, and I understand the argument about needing to go for the win and be aggressive, but there where one or two occasions where the Chargers were deep enough in their own side of the field that punting surely had to be a better option. As for the Ravens, they have shown they can beat teams in multiple ways and are probably looking forward to hosting the Bengals this week in a contest that I hope the Bengals keep close, but I wouldn’t bet much more than that right now.
What I Heard
It’s been something of a scattered week for me, so right now I am feeling the opposite of what usually happens for this section. Rather than having heard things on the podcasts that I’ve noted down to write about or found things today that inspired me I’ve hit this section and gone blank on what I have listened to.
However, that doesn’t mean I don’t have anything to write about as there’s a new podcast that has hit my rotation this season that is not directly NFL related but is really interesting. The pod is called Make Defence Great Again, which setting political reference aside is very on brand for my football interests and it is fascinating to listen to the detail of coaching defence at the high school and college level. It’s this pod and it’s host Coach Vaas that has me rethinking how I am going to approach my offseason and diving into coaching tape or perhaps some clinics/courses. That said, there is something for just listening to different people’s approaches even if I don’t have much of the vocabulary or technical knowledge getting to hear what both drives coaches or keeps them up at night is a lesson in of itself. If any of that sound of interest have a look at the host Coach Vass’ site for more details.
What I Think
Now we are into the second quarter of the season I am curious to see how the teams develop in the coming weeks. The Indianapolis Colts have had a rough start to the season, but are only two games back from the Titans (who are beginning to accrue injury concerns themselves) and while I’m not predicting that the Colts will definitely fight back to win the division, they are not as out of it as the 2-4 record might have you believe. The Detroit Lions may be the worst team in the league by wins and losses, and ultimately, they are what counts as the NFL is a results business, but their DVOA ranking of twenty-sixth is not nothing either and I wonder how they might progress over the coming weeks.
As for the winning teams, the Bills wobbled on Monday night, leaving the AFC race slightly murkier, whilst the NFC has four teams with five wins who are trying to keep up with the unbeaten Cardinals. No one knows what injuries, Covid-19 or flat bad luck could derail any team’s chances but if feels like in the NFC at least we are getting a sense of who the real contenders are.
What I Know
There will be focus on Jared Goff’s return to LA with the Lions, and I don’t think anybody will expect the Lions to win. It does appear to me however, that Goff is a quarterback who needs the right elements around him to succeed. That shouldn’t be sniffed at as he has played in a Super Bowl – but the difference in the Rams this season amply demonstrates why teams are so desperate to find not just a good quarterback, but a real difference maker.
What I Hope
I really hope the Bengals can make it competitive against the Ravens this week. I can live with a loss if they play well, and with the Bengals ranked a lofty thirteenth by DVOA a fan can at least dream of winning this weekend, even if they dare not hope for a win.