Here’s 5 more observations from this last week:
1. The 2013 Patriots are not related to the 2012 Patriots
And with good reason. This is an organization that had developed a high-octane, mismatch offense built around two tight ends that required very unique players to cover them – Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Gronkowski is a huge individual at 6’6″ 265 and he also runs quite fast for his position. This means that linebackers are often burned trying to keep up, while safeties are too small to challenge him in the air. Hernandez was smaller at 6’1″ 245, but miles faster and more elusive. They utilized him as a quintessential ‘joker’ player by lining him up in the backfield, split wide, in line to find mismatches for him. He ran like a wide receiver with the size of a tight end. In these two players, the Patriots operated a quick passing, quick reading offense that was very difficult for most defenses to stop, particularly in the regular season. Without that, they look lost. Part of it is the new young receivers Brady is working with, but to me it is more about their lack of tight end depth. Their offense has become more predictable, and defenses are beginning to key on the running game without any threat in the air. Gronkowski should be back this week or next, so we will see how much it changes their approach. They need to replace Hernandez next season, while also developing more of a passing game with their wide receivers.
2. Are the Lions just Calvin Johnson?
The surprise inactivity of Calvin this week resulted in a questionable offensive result for the Lions and looking at this team like a GM I think it’s time to wonder how they can take the next step. Calvin is one of very few players who I believe generates an offense around him. He provides space through rolled coverage and it’s within this space that Reggie Bush operates most effectively. When the Lions came out this off-season and signed Bush, they had an idea of what Calvin provided this offense. He provides 1 v 1 match-ups almost across the board. This meant that what the Lions needed most were players that could win those consistently to create problems for defenses doubling Calvin or shifting entire coverages his way. With Reggie, they achieved this perfectly.
Now, if I were the Lions general manager, I would begin to create an offensive identity around this concept, similarly to how the Patriots have crafted their offense by recognizing that defenses expect them to pass and have to account for Gronkowski (and formerly Aaron Hernandez) in some way when they do pass. My solution would be to identify a tight end that can create problems in the passing game.
Currently they have Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler at the top of the depth chart, but neither has claimed the kind of role I am talking about. The role that Gonzalez or Gates – in the traditional tight end mold – occupies as a safety blanket, pulling coverage down over the long-term and opening up deep passes where Calvin would be lethal. Creating that kind of triangle is almost impossible to cover. Look at the Falcons over the last few years with Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez. Generally one of the three has a terrific day due to the other two (though this has diminished somewhat due to Gonzalez’s age and declining speed). Or a more relevant example might be the Chargers when their team employed LaDainian Tomlinson, Vincent Jackson, and Antonio Gates. Preventing the run game, the deep ball, and Gates’ chain moving aspects proved enormously difficult for opposing defenses.
The Lions seem to have two of those pieces in place and have been using Nate Burleson to excellent effect as the third, but Burleson is not young, nor is he a game changer like I imagine the Lions could find. They have a young tight end in Joseph Fauria (6’7″ 255) who has quickly become a menace in the red zone, but clearly is not polished as a route runner or blocker to see the field more. Maybe he is a long-term answer, or maybe this off-season is the time to look for another way to create more space within which Calvin and Bush can operate, but I know that currently Calvin is acting as two legs of that triangle, and this offense could explode with a legitimate third.
3. Boy are the Seahawks frustrating!
Seattle should be very concerned if they cannot get home field throughout the playoffs. This team seems unbeatable there and maybe its some mojo from their fan base or just adrenaline, but that same team is not present on the road. The good news is that they’ve already gathered up two wins on the road – Carolina and Houston – but lets examine those wins. Carolina they slithered by with a second half comeback, down 7-3 at halftime. Houston they were being soundly beaten 20-3 at half before their defense stood their ground and Schuab took over. Now they lose to a very good Colts team who dominated the 2nd half – holding the Seahawks to three field goals.
Their defense seems to lose their killer mentality away from home (though it still is generally good), but their offense seems completely different. They seem unable to finish drives and dominate. I think this team will get that home field for the first few games, but with New Orleans tearing up their schedule it seems hard for me to believe they’ll be able to secure the entire playoffs in Seattle. The best news is that they have very few hard games on the road – Arizona, St. Louis, Atlanta, San Francisco, and New York – and get a shot at the Saints week 13 (after their bye week) at home. If they can win that and the Saints drop another one along the way, Seattle could sneak their way home in January.
4. Are these Jets… for real?
Generally I have balked at the idea that this Jet team is good. I figured that their defense would keep them in games and they might eek out a couple wins against some worse teams. Just like they did week 1 in Tampa. Sure they kept it close against New England, but they didn’t have their weapons yet. And Buffalo is a little hot and cold so that win could’ve happened too. Then the Titans thrashed them, and I thought “Here’s the Jets I expected”, but they follow that up by going into Atlanta and winning a game against a desperate team. Furthermore, Geno looks good. He’s poised, he’s calm. He’s got a little swagger on him when he comes in late needing a drive to win. Now Sanchez pulled this act on us before, and it’s about long-term success, but maybe they found the right guy finally. They have massive holes all over their offense, but Rex has this defense fighting tooth and nail and so long as he can give Geno a shot to win it late, this team has a chance. They face a very, very tough set of four games coming up with Pittsburgh, New England, Cincinnati, and New Orleans before their bye. If Geno continues to take care of the ball and they can get a couple of wins in that stretch this team could have playoff potential with an easier end of the year set.
5. I’m thinking Pryor is actually pretty good
When Oakland installed Pryor I thought that it was the best choice this year because anyone watching Oakland’s offensive line knew that it was awful in pass protection. Pryor’s escape abilities allow that offense to function, but its been better than that. He looks incredibly poised as a passer, still scatter shot at times, but still confident in his arm and abilities. This team has no wins without him, and two with him. Hopefully they don’t pull the plug on this experiment and instead begin to accumulate talent around him.
My College Football Thoughts:
1. I think Zach Mettenberger is an NFL quarterback thanks to Cam Cameron and will likely be taken – at the latest – in the 2nd round.
2. I think Jadaveon Clowney has some bad people advising his decisions.
3. I also think Clowney is starting to scare me as a prospect. Some of the reports of his work ethic would give me serious pause if I’m thinking about drafting him.
4. I think ACC might be better than the Big 10. Clemson and Florida State certainly are better than any Big 10 school.
5. I think Lane Kiffin reached head coach far too early in his career. He’ll get a job as a coordinator or position coach, but it might take him awhile to humble himself to that again.
6. I think Kenny Guiton is probably hurting Braxton Miller’s draft stock. He looks like a much more polished passer with less experience.
7. I think a lot of people are sleeping on Miami this year. Very good football team, though how far the offense can take them is a major question.
8. I think Baylor and Oregon should be required to play every year and that the game should replace a Sunday Night Football game only because it would be prolific. Just look at the ratings of the Denver / Dallas game this week and tell me people don’t want to watch that kind of game every week.
9. I think Mac Brown’s days in Texas are done but it has been a great run. Sometimes you just need a change of scenery.
10. I really think I’m glad that we’re to conference play. I have a hard time saying that these cupcake games should stop because the major programs end up funding the minor ones through those games, but they’re generally pitiful to watch. Alabama 45 Georgia State 3, Oregon 66 Nicholls St 3, Oklahoma 34 LA-Monroe 0, Tennessee 45 Austin Peay 0, Missouri 58 Murray St 14, Wisconsin 45 Massachusetts 0. Sure you get the occasional Appalachian St win, or this years Eastern Washington 49, (25) Oregon State 46, but 1 every couple of years does not make it watchable. Conference play is watchable.