1. WHO WORE IT BETTER?
When I was growing up, one of my best friend’s family subscribed to every magazine imaginable. Their coffee table was like an airport terminal without the nudie magazines. When I was over there, I’d flick through everything from Sports Illustrated, to TIME, to even PEOPLE, during spells of stillness. PEOPLE had a section titled Who Wore It Best? or something along those lines. In this section there were two different robotic plastic creatures wearing the same outfits, with information about each outfit, and then, I guess, it was up to the reader to decide which ghoul wore it better. I didn’t understand it then. I don’t understand it now. I guess this is why I am the way I am.
One of the joys that comes along with watching every single football game, and devouring the entire league, instead of focusing solely on one team, is you know the context your team, in this case the Houston Texans, fits in the rest of the league, you have a better understanding of how the game is being played, and then patterns emerge from there. Baltimore and Pittsburgh are pure single high safety teams, but how they use Minkah Fitzpatrick and DeShon Elliot aren’t the same. Minnesota and Tennessee are foundational outside zone teams, but they differ dramatically in how they expand upon this offensive staple. Seattle and Arizona have similar mobile quarterbacks, but how they scramble, and how they’re used in the run game, vary wildly.
One of the patterns that pops up, is you’ll see different players make the same play. Take for example week six when Houston played Tennessee. The Texans preferred to line J.J. Watt on the weak side of the formation. When he was matched up against Dennis Kelly, and the Titans ran outside zone in that direction, Watt was able to plant, swim inside, and devour the run attempt.
This week his brother made the exact same play, utilizing a similar move, against the same opponent, and tackling the same running back. The only difference is T.J. had discovered the monolith and was upright.
So, who wore it better?
Who Wore It Better?
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Both rookie quarterbacks Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert hit their receiver’s back shoulder 20+ yards through the air. Who wore it better?
Who Wore It Better?
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Both Brian Burns and Myles Garrett were wide edge rushers on the right side of the defense, and each was wrapped in cheetah print. Both used a quick and efficient outside rip to get around the blind spot and force the fumble. Who wore it better?
Who Wore It Better?
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I still don’t understand the vanity in picking which person looks better in the same and similar clothes. Maybe it’s different brains, maybe it’s an aesthetic enjoyment beyond my comprehension, maybe I’m just too unrefined. But there’s a novelty I enjoy of seeing different NFL players, in a competitive environment, carrying out the same tasks in slightly different manners, at a similar level of difficulty. I don’t understand that, but I like this.
2. COUNTER FUN
There’s a misnomer that I hate the run game. I love the run game, when it’s effective and used in an efficient manner, instead of pulverized into nothingness for some archaic reasoning like, thou shall must ye establisheth the runneth, that was taught at a D-II school in Minnesota back in 1982, so that the establish the run meter can be filled all the way up, and unlock the play action pass. The run doesn’t open the pass. The pass and run work in unison to craft a viable and vibrant offense, and for most teams, the pass opens the run, and the run game doesn’t have the affect on play action, or opponent attrition that most people claim it has.
It’s good when Washington runs the football, because the other option is horrific. It’s good when Seattle runs the ball this year, because they have crafted pink vial run designs that create big plays. Both of these teams called wild run plays that unlocked my rib cage and sent my soul flying.
Washington picked up 40 yards on an end around counter run. They used a bunch left formation with the ball on the left hash. This forced Dallas to match with five defenders on this side of the ball, even though the strong side of the play was on the opposite side. They block counter. The rules aren’t different. The first strong double team (between the right guard and right tackle) has to get to the play side linebacker. The center Chase Roullier (#71) blocks down so left guard Wes Schweitzer (#73) can pull (#2). The difference is they use a jet motion, and have Cam Sims (#89 #1) pull, instead of another offensive linemen or tight end. He kicks out Anthony Brown (#30) and Schweitzer kicks out Jourdan Lewis (#26).
The key to this play working out is Morgan Moses’s block (#76). Because of the defensive line alignment he can’t help out on the 2i Tyrone Crawford (#98). He climbs directly up to the second level. Rather than chase Leighton Vander Esch (#55), he maintains his angles and head placement. He stays on his inside half. This prevents Vander Esch from having a direct path to the running back. He comes flat under Moses, and runs himself out of the play. Antonio Gibson (#24) takes the ball as the first receiver in the bunch formation. He accentuates the great blocking and scampers for 40 yards, putting Washington near the goal line.
Seattle’s counter read is hilarious. Like Washington, the foundation is counter. Seattle has a strong play side double team to the play side. The difference is right guard Damien Lewis (#68) isn’t climbing to the second level. He’s moving to the open field. Left guard Jordan Simmons (#66) is pulling to the first play side second level defender, and Duane Brown (#76) is pulling to the second. Ethan Pocic (#77) is blocking down. All of this comes together to give Russell Wilson an easy read. If Devon Kennard (#42) bites inside, he keeps, if he sits, he gives it to Carlos Hyde. After this, Wilson reads Jordan Hicks (#58) and runs a pitch option with the orbit motion receiver Tyler Lockett (#16).
Kennard crashes inside. Hicks flows wide to chase the fake end around to Lockett. Wilson has an easy seam.
The zone read took over the NFL in the early 2010s. It’s now an option for every team with a somewhat mobile quarterback. The Giants run it with Daniel Jones. The Chargers even run it with Justin Herbert. Other teams, who’ve been running it for a decade, have taken this play, merged it with others, and have taken it to outlandish frontiers that seem impossible. Counter read with an end around motion that provides a potential pitch is absurd. As offensive coordinators continue to take from the college game, and mold plays together into diabolic concoctions, the game will continue to evolve.
Seattle ran another lovely play. It’s a play blocked like outside zone, but with one major change. They line the wide receiver tight to crack down on the edge defender. This creates a pin and pull action. With D.K. Metcalf (#14) blocking down, it allows Brown to pull and act as a motorcade taking Carlos Hyde safely down the sideline.
See, the run game can be as successful, and as dramatic, beautiful, and intricate as the passing game. It just takes revolting against the disgusting bland normality most offenses run play after play in the name of conservation, or establishment, or setting up.
3. FOUND MY WAY BACK HOME
The NFL Trade Deadline is November 3rd. Previously this date would come and go with nothing new, nothing changing. Moving homes during the NFL season is complicated. You can’t just show up and play. Entire playbooks and learning how you fit in with ten other players has to be learned, and teams are always hesitant about swishing their locker room around midseason.
All of that has changed in recent seasons. Teams actually make moves around this time of year now. Already Markus Golden was moved from New York (G) to Arizona. Everson Griffen, or the man who ate Everson Griffen, has moved from Dallas to Detroit. And the big fish was Yannick Ngakoue moving from Minnesota to Baltimore for a 2021 third round pick and a 2022 fifth round pick.
Yannick was still Yannick in Minnesota. He’s a great #2 pass rusher, but isn’t someone who can carry an entire pass rush on his own. The plan was to pair him with Danielle Hunter, but Hunter had surgery on his back, and failed to play a snap this season. Ngakoue, and a collection of others who provide flash plays here and there, but fail to consistently produce aside from Ifeadi Odenigbo, crafted a mediocre pass rush, one that wasn’t good enough for a secondary composed of C.J. Dantzler, Mike Gladney, Holton Hill, and Mike Hughes. This is why Minnesota had one of the worst pass defenses in the league.
At 1-5, Minnesota’s season is over, and with cap issues of their own, they recouped some of what they lost, by getting a third and fifth round pick for Ngakoue, after trading a second to get him out of Jacksonville before the season started.
For Ngakoue this means a return home to Maryland, and for Baltimore, this is a trade made to try and beat Kansas City. The Ravens have a blitz rate of 46.1%, the highest rate in the league. Matthew Judon, Chuck Clark, Marlon Humphrey, Tyus Bowser, Patrick Queen, are sent often to terrorize quarterbacks. It works against Philadelphia, and Houston, and Washington, but it doesn’t against Kansas City. Against the Chiefs teams have to rush four, keep as many defensive backs in coverage as possible, and then pray from there. After slicing up Baltimore in their Monday Night match up when they blitzed, Baltimore has gone in on improving their front four at a small price.
Ngakoue (#91) has one of the best pass rush moves in the league. The leaping chop-rip is not only one of the most aesthetically pleasing pass rush moves around, but it’s also devastating. Yannick consistently creates pressure by jumping to create space, and chopping the punch attempt at the same time.
This move is great against the Ty Sambrailos of the world, but Yannick struggles finding a balanced pass rush attack against elite offensive tackles, like Laremy Tunsil, or even Mitchell Schwartz. His inside move is a true counter, something set up after outside rip after outside rip. All that being said, he isn’t asked to carry a rush on his own in Baltimore. He’s one weapon in the arsenal. Him combined with Judon, Bowser, Pernell McPhee, Jaylon Ferguson, and especially Calais Campbell, is what matters.
The Campbell piece is important too. Ngakoue and Campbell have spent years together. Back before Jacksonville nuked their entire defense, Ngakoue and Campbell operated together on stunts to dismantle pass protections. Campbell is one of the best players in the league at creating for others. Now he has Ngakoue as another player to throw alley-oops up to.
Losses like the one Baltimore suffered to Kansas City, create the idea of an end January conclusion. Although Lamar Jackson hasn’t been the same passer since teams have caught onto their gap-read rushing attack and have limited its effectiveness, Baltimore still has the offensive talent, and the defensive and special teams production to compete this postseason. Ngakoue offers something vital to improve Baltimore’s front four rush, a prerequisite required to stay on the field against Kansas City. Even though they have some offensive issues to work out, the defense should feel confident next time these teams step on the field, if they ever even do.
4. MY SUPER SWEET SIXTEEN
The NFL’s regular season is an ecosystem. Each teams plays a role, like a toupee of moss latched to a tree, or buzzing bees percolating among boiling yellow flowers, or vampiric annoyances, in some way. Jacksonville exists so other offenses can work out their issues and bust their slumps. New York (J) exist so teams and players understand how deep the abyss can get, and it gives defenses the chance to time mold their blitz packages, and see what coverage and pass rush combinations work best for the players they have. And Houston, well Houston is an offensive playscape that provides a location for the best players in the league to have career days in.
Last week Derrick Henry had the second most rushing yards in a single game of his career with 212, and had the most total yards from scrimmage in his career with 264. He was a rhinoceros rampaging through Houston’s front with devastating cutback runs, schemed and executed perfectly. What a beautiful Sunday that was.
This week it was Davante Adams. He had 13 catches on 16 targets for 196 yards and 2 touchdowns. It was a personal high score for him receiving yards wise, and it was the easiest almost 200 yard receiving game you’ll ever see.
Adams torched Houston’s secondary, and Matt LaFleur torched Anthony Weaver’s defense. Here’s every target from Adams’s career game.
Adams (#17) was effective from every pre-snap location, on every route, against a wide variety of defenders and coverages. On his first catch he was in a normal alignment on the left side of the formation. He ran a quick drag against cover one. The ‘Rat’ defender Zach Cunningham (#41) doesn’t wall him off, allowing him to outrun Vernon Hargreaves III in man coverage.
On target #3, touchdown number one, Adams is lined up bunched with Marquez Valdes-Scantling. In this alignment, against man coverage, cornerbacks will usually switch this based on who has inside and outside leverage. It’s a little something we call ‘Banjo’ or ‘Zebra’ in the film room. Adams fakes the inside route under Valdes-Scantling, signaling a slant-corner combination. Instead, he runs a juke route, and bounces outside against Philip Gaines (#29).
Houston opted to run cover 3 early in the downs, and in run situations. Cover 3 is a football staple in these situations because you get eight defenders near the box to stop the run, while having three vertical defenders to stop the deep passing game. There are holes. But it’s a fairly balanced coverage scheme. Houston tried this. They were repeatedly burned by Adams in this coverage. Often he’d break inside, and the Texans’ defense would either be biting on the playfake, or failing to snuff out the crossing route coming back towards them.
On target #4, Eric Murray (#23) doesn’t pick up the drag.
On target #6, the play action fake draws the hook defenders to the line of scrimmage. No one recovers to carry the intermediate middle. This forces Gaines to turn back around after taking a zone turn, and run for his life to save the touchdown.
On target #10, Adams catches a quick smoke pass in anticipation of the cornerback rolling to cover the vertical one third.
On target #12, Rodgers threw the ball behind Adams on a deep dig. This pass on target could have scored, and would have at least pushed Adams over the 200 yard boundary.
And even when he was lined up one v. one, running a vertical route into the teeth of the zone coverage, he was able to win. On target #5, which came on 3rd and 9, Adams bounces inside to create space along the sideline. Hargreaves III never turns and looks for the ball. It’s a great throw and catch. It’s atrocious coverage.
The big play came on 3rd and 4, target #13. The Packers had four receivers and had them each line up tight to the line of scrimmage. Adams lined up in the slot against Houston’s cover one defense. The thing is, the Texans don’t have a competent cornerback aside from Bradley Roby, who could have held Adams to 120 yards, instead of 196 yards, and they especially don’t have a slot corner. They’ve used Eric Murray as a free safety, strong safety, box defender, and even as a slot cornerback. He’s getting the Tyrann Mathieu treatment.
On this play, this meant Murray v. Adams in press man in the slot. The deep middle defender is Justin Reid, who’s lined up on the opposite hash, instead of shadowing where Adams is located. This isn’t a Green Bay offense with another wide receiver you have to gameplan around. It’s Adams and that’s it. Regardless, Houston is completely oblivious to the situation. Adams uses a hop release inside, breaks wide of Murray, and torches him in .28 seconds. Reid never sees the pass. Stops moving completely. And can’t even play janitor on the yards after the catch. Absolutely embarassing.
Houston’s failure was personnel and scheme based. They didn’t have a personnel response to Adams, and Weaver didn’t put the castoffs he had available in a spot to save them embarrassment. Rather than dust off Romeo Crennel’s Tyreek Hill bracket coverage with trail techniques game plan, he instead called for cover 3, cover 4, and pure man, and turned Houston’s pass defense into goop.
The evidence is mounting that Weaver maybe too much like Rex Ryan in a bad way, opting for the exotic for the sake of exotic, instead of calling and developing a gameplan that makes sense. The talent is empty, but there’s too many bizarre decisions being made every single week to blame performance solely on talent.
Next time we see Houston they’ll play Jackonsville. Maybe this is the week Garnder Minshew’s inconsistencies are shed, D.J. Chark hits some double moves, James Robinson averages 4.2 yards after contact, or they finally convert on fourth down. Probably not. No matter how desolate Houston is, you can always bank on them beating Jacksonville.
5. SUIT AND TIE
For the first time in his career, Josh Allen played a boring football game. He said yes sir and no mam. He went to Costco after church and browsed the Blu-Ray aisle before opting to be fiscally responsible, and picked himself up a slice of pizza instead with a napkin tucked into the collar of his shirt. His hair was combed and parted to the side. His polo shirt, tucked into his jeans, was fresh from wrinkle release. He drove the speed limit. He was punctual and on time. Here are the highlights.
For Buffalo this game was important though. They moved the ball every drive, and the point total suffered thanks to redzone penalties, a turnover, and two missed field goals. Their drives for this game were: missed field goal, fumble, field goal, field goal, field goal, field goal, missed field goal, field goal, field goal, end game. Beautiful. Allen did a nice job holding the Jets pre-snap forcing them to step out from the dressing room and show off their blitz schemes before hand. The quick passing was punctual and accurate. And the Jets did a good job holding the vertical game with one single high safety, and limiting Stefon Diggs with double teams.
Most importantly, they finally had a great defensive game. Jerry Hughes had his first sack. Their blitzes put Sam Darnold in a sarcophagus of his own misery. They tackled well. And their defensive line actually controlled the line of scrimmage again.
It was the tuneup they needed before they play their BIG game of the season against the team they can never seem to beat, the New England Patriots, in their attempt to finally let someone else have the remote in this division.
6. PUMP AND GO
Justin Herbert continued his downfield passing ways. Proving that dudes rock by finding Jalen Guyton down the sideline against cover 1.
Shoved Virgil Green back into the collective NFL consciousness, remember me (?), I still exist, by placing a touch pass over the trailing Joe Schobert along the boundary of the endzone from the opposite hash.
The best throw was was this obscene zipper against the blitz, waltzing backwards, like stepping away from the urinal, all arm, he stuck it on Keenan Allen for an 11 yard conversion.
The newest development from Herbert in this game was his legs. He finally let those things breathe, those long illustrious things. With Myles Jack on ice, he was able to have a little success on the zone read, and pulled off the occasional successful scramble. The best of which, was this boot leg touchdown run, where he hit the pumpfake and then took off to score. I’m a sucker for pump fakes on the run, like she’s a sucker for anything acoustic and slow.
Herbert has been the best offensive rookie this year, and you can make the case for him being over Kyler Murray as the best one to two year quarterback in the league, a justification that’s a little more difficult to make after Kyler Murray’s Sunday night. Regardless, Herbert is the saving grace Los Angeles (C) football needed, a franchise so putrescent, and lacking originality to such an extreme that they had to go and copy the Tennessee Titans.
BOLT UP. KILL ME.
7. HAIL LARRY
With new young coaches, trying out new cool things, the NFL is evolving quicker than it has previously. Football looked the same year and year out, but he last four seasons, it feels like it’s entering an advanced stage. The typical is harder to find. It can’t just be outside zone, it has to be outside zone where Ben Jones takes a slide step instead to sell duo and open the cutback without having to actually block the second level. It can’t be counter, it has to be counter read with a pitch available. It can’t be mesh, it has to be mesh where one of the crossers peels up the field.
Everything is being rethought and reshaped. Even the Hail Mary. The Bengals, with their own young dork head coach, as seen his offense getting tighter and tighter, as he and Joey Buckets continue to figure each other out. They’re far and away better in week seven then they were in week one.
His newest millennial implementation was the tap back Hail Mary. Rather than play jackpot and toss the ball to other side of the swimming pool, the Bengals had Tee Higgins stand in front of the goal line, and tap the ball backwards into the endzone. It gave me PTSD. It felt like Vlade Divac in 2002. It almost worked. A.J. Green has made every catch look laborious and is reeking of 2013 Andre Johnson. Even in the endzone he was unprepared, and unable to box out the smaller corner to play this ball. Maybe Tyler Boyd could have pulled this off.
I just like the name Laviska. It sounds like some puppy mill poodle your evil Aunt has, you know the one, the one with strange moles on her neck, and long curved nose, gray hair spray painted red, and clothes that never fit, with an insidious dog that sits on its own chair, and hates children as much as she does.
Laviska is strange and sounds sharp like geometric shapes. And the player with this name, plays football in a strange way of his own. First and foremost, he’s an athlete, like something from a NCAA Football digital recruiting class.
He plays like Cordarelle Patterson, if Patterson was a better wide receiver, but a worse running back. Like Patterson, the Jaguars will use Laviska on the ground. As a runner he has accumulated 40 DYAR (5th), 54 yards on 11 carries, and has a DVOA of 25.9%. He’ll take jet sweeps, end arounds, and even line up as a running back in the backfield.
As a wide receiver, it’s all about what he does after the catch, not before the catch. He’s currently averaging 6.2 yards after the catch, in a west coast offense that is designed to flood segments of the field, making it more difficult to scamper after making one man miss. He can turn a baby pool into a man made lake. He’s just an athlete man, once he gets the ball in his hand. These are just a few of the wild examples of the things that he pulls off.
What makes Laviska different, is that unlike most cutesy gadget players, he’s a legitimate wide receiver. His routes aren’t just straight lines. There’s subtlety involved, and he’s been able to run his routes correctly to find the perfect depth against zone coverage.
When you sit there, football obsessed, with your waxing gibbous moon shaped head, and think about how absurd this rookie wide receiver class is, don’t forget Laviska, just because he’s toiling in the AFC South’s cellar, and is a secondary option after D.J. Chark, or Chris Conley. I don’t know if he’ll make it to the once a decade great Jaguars team, 2029 is a long ways a way, but he’ll be somewhere out there navigating the smooth waters of the open field like a dog riding a jetski.
9. PITTSBURGH RUN STOPS
Pittsburgh has the second best run defense in the league, behind only Tampa Bay. Without Devin Bush and Tyson Alualu they controlled Derrick Henry on the ground well enough. Ensuring Tennessee’s balanced offense wouldn’t dismantle them on the ground, like it has done to so many teams before.
Not only that, this game was filled with vicious nasty little things. Brutal tackles. Bone liquefying attacks on the human body. Helmets yanked at. Cartilage saving lives. I’m hundreds miles away and I’m horrified of Vince Williams. I’ve never seen Derrick Henry hit so hard before, or move backwards like this in my entire life.
10. MAN ON FIRE
One of the big questions this season, was if the sacks Kyler Murray took last season were a problematic issue with who he is as a player, or if they were a business decision made by a coach coaching a bad and losing team. Was this to ensure disaster in the face of nothingness? Or trembling fear shaking within a fun sized body?
After taking a league leading 48 sacks last year, Murray has taken only 9 this year, which is the 23rd lowest total. The offensive line hasn’t improved substantially. It’s better, but it’s not that much better. The difference is rather than going down for post juice box naps like this:
Murray is staying strong in the pocket, or upright and bounding through the defense, slinging from defender to defender and turning his legs into the key turning Arizona’s offense. This season Murray has the most rushing value from the quarterback position. He has 19 scrambles (5th), is averaging 11.4 yards a scramble, has 146 DYAR (1st), and a DVOA of 35.8% (4th).
Last Sunday night, Murray and Wilson played PAC-12 football, combining for 748 yards passing, 151 yards rushing, and 7 total touchdowns. On Murray’s end, while combating against Russell Wilson making the throw of the year three times in one game, he was sacked zero times and hit zero times. Seattle’s pass rush has struggled for two seasons now, but they weren’t goosed in this game. They were able to get close to Murray, but every time they were in his vicinity, he’d zap out of the pocket, and rematerialize at a different location of the field.
On this nine yard scramble, the Seahawks brought six and were able to create internal pressure. Murray spun around the inside blitz, escaped wide, and looked for an option through the air. He laughed at Jarran Reed’s jiggling belly, and scampered for 9 yards.
Here, against a four man rush and E-T stunt, he climbs the pocket and outruns two leg grasping zombie tackle attempts.
In his own endzone, he was able to escape from interior pressure brought by Reed (#90), turn to double check no one is behind him, and out run the end man on the line of scrimmage. A safety turns into five magical yards.
Murray is known for his scurries and scampers in the passing game this year. All these joyous words take away from his improvement standing strong and winning from the pocket. With pressure bending around the edge, he’s still standing with a hand around the back of his neck. A little leap is required to get the ball out to the flat.
Similar to Seattle, in a different way, they were able to use Murray in the run game. They plunged in a touchdown run with a zone read run, if you can even call it a run. It was more of an Allen Iverson cross over with an imaginary basketball. Two tackles spun around, and dive to the goal line. There isn’t a NFL player around who moves like this.
Arizona’s offense hasn’t reached the expected levels this season. They can’t run block, and can only run the ball on toss plays and Murray scrambles. Murray has had his own accuracy troubles and looks hungover some games. Their screen game has been bad. And they’ve had trouble getting consistent production from their skill players who aren’t the best wide receiver in the league. Murray’s pocket problems from last year aren’t a problem this year. This question was answered. Last season was red-shirt practice football to save bruises from the skin. This season Murray’s a nightmare to bring down, and even when pressure is created, actually taking him out is an impossible task.