Do I really have to write about this game?

It’s Saturday, February 3rd. The Super Bowl is tomorrow. Being a fan of the game, and having a football blog, it would seem that I should write a post about this game. Preview what interests me about the matchup, what we should be looking for, what I think will happen, etc.

But here’s the thing: I can’t really seem to get excited about this game, to the point where I have very little interest in doing any sort of look at the X’s and O’s of the matchup. Sure, I could pretend to be interested and dig deep to find things to talk about. But what’s the point? At the end of the day, we all know what’s going to happen. The Patriots are going to win, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are going to get their sixth Super Bowl ring, and the rest of us that don’t live in New England are going to be subject to nonstop talk about how great the Patriots are and how Brady is the greatest of all time–or GOAT, in football speak.

This Super Bowl matchup ended up being about as bad as it could be. It’s been an off year for the NFL, as the league is in somewhat of a transitional period. A lot of great players from my generation have retired, and the current crop of young players aren’t quite ready to carry the torch yet. There also seems to be a lack of quality head coaches currently. The result has been an absurdly weak AFC in particular. The Chiefs were one of the few teams that could have held water with New England, but they got upset at home in the Wild Card round by the 9-7 Titans, with the help of some fluky plays and some god awful calls by the refs. The Ravens have played the Patriots well in the past, but they’ve been stuck in mediocrity ever since Flacco signed his post Super Bowl megadeal, and they blew their playoff chances with a Week 17 loss to the 7-9 Bengals. The only other real AFC Powerhouse outside of the Chiefs is the Steelers, but they look like a varsity team whenever they go to Gillette, and their coaching staff is incredibly overrated. It was probably for the best that they lost to upstart Jacksonville before having to face New England, as Jacksonville, who had a tremendous turnaround under Tom Coughlin, played the Patriots pretty well in the Championship game. Bortles played about as well as he’s capable of, but winning in Gillette with a limited QB and an inexperienced Head Coach ended up being too tall a task. When the 4th Quarter rolled around, it was the same old story for the Patriots. Brady went into clutch mode, McDaniels dialed up some trick plays, the o-line protected Brady well, Amendola got going underneath, and a situational defense that is historically good at protecting 4th Quarter leads at home, did just that. Just like that, the Pats were off to the Super Bowl. Again. Yawn.

Well at least there was still hope for the NFC right? Well the Packers were out of the mix, as the injury bug hit Aaron Rodgers this year, and Hundley was unable to keep them alive until Rodgers came back. (Well, technically, they were still alive when Rodgers returned, but only barely, and a 3 INT performance in Carolina by him was the dagger, as they would shut Rodgers down for the year after that loss.) The Falcons, despite an improved defense, were only a shell of their Super Bowl offense from a year ago, and they could only muster a mere 10 points in their Wild Card loss to Philly. Carson Palmer got hurt again… and then retired. The Lions and Cowboys, as usual, were stuck in 9-7 purgatory. The young Rams had a nice first year under Sean McVay, but struggled in their playoff debut. But hey, at least the Saints were back right? It was nice to have a Drew Brees led team doing well again, but unfortunately for them, they’re just not a very good road team, and they were unable to secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs. A Brady/Brees Super Bowl would have been fantastic, but first they had to get through the Vikings (after an impressive win hosting Carolina in the Wild Card round). In what looked like a great matchup on paper, the Saints looked awful and fell to a 17-0 deficit at halftime. They rallied to make it 23-21 late, and looked like they had a win secured. But, seemingly wanting to compete with Atlanta for “biggest choke in NFL history” title, they gave up a touchdown with 10 seconds left. The Vikings threw a deep out, trying to get into FG range, and after it was caught, Marcus Williams, the Saints safety, made one of the worst tackle attempts you will ever see. He not only missed entirely, but he then collided with the corner, leaving no one to tackle Diggs, who then sprinted to the endzone. Whelp.

Ok, so things really weren’t looking good for a good Super Bowl matchup. But there was still some hope. The Championship Game was Minnesota at Philadelphia. Sure, Minnesota was playing with their backup QB, Case Keenum, who, despite having a phenomenal season, is still a pretty unexciting player to watch. But it was still a great story for them to make it this far. They were clicking on all cylinders both offensively and defensively. And, if they could make it past Philly, they would have been the first team ever to play the Super Bowl in their home stadium. That would have been awesome story, and that homefield advantage combined with their awesome defense would have definitely given them a shot vs New England.

You had to like their odds coming into the Championship game. However, just before Jake Elliott kicked off, the announcers offered a troublesome stat: Dome teams on the road in the Championship round have never won.

History, and stats, tend not to lie, and this one wasn’t either. The Vikings, after their awesome Cinderella run to make it this far, fell apart entirely. They lost 38-7. Nick Foles decided to have one of the best games of his career, and the Vikings were outcoached and outplayed on both sides of the ball.

About those Eagles: Earlier in the season, they were one of the few NFC powerhouses. They looked awesome behind second year star Carson Wentz at QB–along with great defense, coaching, and some nice free agent additions. A Pats Eagles SB with Wentz at QB would have been great, and despite being a Giants fan, I couldn’t help root for Philly. Wentz is a great QB and a really likeable young player.

However, it all changed when Wentz got hurt against the Rams and was lost for the season. That left the Eagles with Nick Foles for the remainder of the season. He struggled to close out the regular season before getting hot in the Playoffs, with the help of some nice playcalling and play design. Despite Foles’s struggles, the Eagles had been good enough under Wentz to secure the No 1 overall seed and home field advantage throughout the Playoffs.

So with that Viking loss in the Championship round, this is what we’re left with: A New England vs Philly Super Bowl. As I said earlier, I’m not too interested in doing a deep dive of the X’s and O’s, because I don’t think the Eagles have that much of a shot to win this. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think they’re going to get blown out. They’re a good team, and it’s not like it’s a fluke that they’re here. However, at the end of the day, what you’re looking at with this matchup is the best coached and most experienced team in Football in the Patriots against a team with a limited backup Quarterback.

Nick Foles is not going to do against New England what he did vs Minnesota. He’s just not. Period, end of story. That was an anomalous performance by him. On a neutral site, against the New England defense, it’s not going to happen.

Philly can run the ball. They can run the “run pass option” plays that Foles is comfortable with and that they’ve been so successful with. But at the end of the day, there are going to be situations where your Quarterback is going to have to make plays to win. Not proactive plays, where everything is schemed up well, but reactive plays, where the Quarterback himself makes the play. If your Quarterback can’t do that vs New England, you’re not going to beat them. And call me a skeptic, but I don’t see it happening with Foles consistently enough for them to win.

Where is the path to victory for the Eagles in this game? The Pats are great on special teams. They’re great on offense. Gronk is healthy. Amendola’s a threat. Brady is Brady. McDaniels is McDaniels. They’re going to get matchups they like. They’re going to run the hurry up and go pass heavy if they feel the game demands it. If the last few years are any indication, they’re going to have success with it.

Defensively, they started the season a mess, but they’ve gone a total 180 and are just what we expect from the Patriots. No surprise there. Butler will take Torrey Smith. No problem there. Gilmore will take Jeffery. Shouldn’t be a problem there either. Ertz is a threat, but expect Belichick to double him.

Again, the Eagles will have some success. They will have plays that work. But will they have enough success consistently to the point where they out-execute and keep up with one of the best Quarterbacks and coaches to ever play the game? I mean.. you tell me if I’m missing something here.

No, what we’re most likely looking at here, barring some miracle or collapse, is a sixth ring for Brady and Belichick, who now seemingly have a second dynasty in 2014-2017 to go along with their first in 2001-2004. What goes around comes around, I suppose.

If I seem down, it’s because I am. If it seems like I want the Patriots to lose, it’s because I do. And no, it’s not because I think they’re “cheaters”. I think they probably broke some rules at some point, but I don’t think anything they did should really tarnish their accomplishments. It’s not because I think Brady is a two faced pretty boy (he is), or because the Patriots support Trump, or anything superficial like that. It’s not because I think the refs helped the Patriots a lot this year (they did).

No, I’m just sick of the Patriots winning. I’ve written about this before. What’s the fun in it? The NFL I know, the NFL that is interesting and fun, is one where anyone can win it any year. Sure, there will be perennially good teams and perennially bad teams, but ideally, everyone should have a shot.

Of course the Patriots earned this outcome, but it was also utterly predictable from the very start of the season. The NFL is weak. The Patriots are strong. When you combine the best coaching and execution of the game with a weak NFL and a couple breaks here and there, of course they’re going to win.

I’m just sick of them. I’m sick of hearing about them. I’m sick of hearing from their fans, who are some of the most boastful, pompous, and obnoxious people in sports. I’m sick of the media who won’t shut up about how great they are. I’m sick of hearing about the Patriot way, about how Tom is the GOAT. I’m sick of hearing the numbers about how often they’ve won and how what they are doing is unprecedented. I’m sick of being called a hater or jealous because everytime I turn on the radio or TV all I hear is someone else telling me how amazing the Patriots are. I’m sick of people calling nuanced analysis that doesn’t fawn over the Patriots “hating”. I’m sick of Patriots fans assuming I want to talk about their team when there are 31 other teams in the NFL.

It’s not fun. It’s not interesting. It’s bothersome, it’s boring, it’s repetitive, and it’s getting awfully old.

Anyway, that’s about all I have to say on this one. The Pats will most likely win, Patriots nation will freak out and won’t shut up about it, and the rest of us will collectively, sigh, shrug, and move onto whatever next thing we have to grab our attention. Maybe I need a new hobby.

Prediction: Patriots 27, Eagles 17

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Josh Rosen is the Best QB in the NFL Draft

Josh Rosen has officially declared for the NFL draft,  and I believe that he is by far the best QB Prospect in the draft. To be fair, I have only seen about 3 or 4 games worth of tape, and I haven’t substantively studied all of the eligible QBs this year. My opinion, like anyones, is always subject to change after watching more tape. And of course, this is by no means an objective judgment. Evaluating QBs is all about what you value, and everyone is bound to see the prospects differently. That’s what makes the process so fun and interesting.

Having said all that, in my mind, I’ve already seen enough to determine that Josh Rosen is the best QB prospect in the NFL Draft, and quite frankly, it isn’t even close.

It’s tough to sum up what’s so great about Rosen because there’s so much to like about him. But I think the best place to start is with his tremendous mix of NFL acumen/IQ and physical attributes. Quite often, it’s one or the other with QBs. The guys that are good with the more nuanced parts of the game (footwork, accuracy, anticipation) don’t have as good arm strength/speed/size, and vice versa. When you have one, you don’t really have to rely on the other. If you have great physical attributes, it’s easy to hang your hat on those and not develop the nuanced parts of the game. If you don’t have a great arm, you’ve got to be really great at the little things. That’s why the Quarterbacks that have both, are or have a shot at being all time greats (Aaron Rodgers, early Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck).

Josh Rosen has the best combination of NFL attributes and physical talent out of the draft prospects at QB. He has enough arm talent to make every throw. That in and of itself would be enough to make him an intriguing prospect. But when it comes to the nuanced parts of the game that make the great Quarterbacks great (like Tom Brady), he too is a master at those, far ahead of peers, and especially considering the level he is playing at.

Before I go into more specifics about Rosen, let me just preface by saying that my evaluations come from years of watching NFL Quarterbacks as well as following the smartest people in the business. This is not to say that I’m right or that you have to agree with me. It’s just to say that many of the attributes I pick up while watching Quarterbacks such as Rosen are subtleties of the game that might not be evident to casual fans. And this is what makes projecting (and evaluating) Quarterbacks to/in the NFL so difficult. You can’t just judge based on results, wins, or stats. Because there are some things that those just won’t and can’t qualify. (This is also not to say that people don’t fall back on cliches like “I watch film” or “I know the game” to justify their lack of substantive opinion. They do. Rather, I’m just attempting to give you an insight into how I evaluate Quarterbacks and where my opinion is coming from when I talk about them. A lot of these statements I make are based on subtle things you pick up on in watching Quarterbacks that you only start to understand after years of following the NFL.)

So let’s get into it and take a look at Rosen as a prospect, and what makes him so great.

Arm Strength/Physical Attributes

As I already touched on, Rosen has an NFL quality arm. He has the arm strength to make every throw, and the ball comes out of his hand with snap and velocity. He can also make deep down the field throws with little effort. While it’s not an insane arm a la Favre/Rodgers/Stafford, it’s significantly above NFL average and will be very intriguing to scouts. I’d give his arm a 9/10, only slightly below that top tier class of Rodgers/Stafford.

What is also so great about Rosen is that he’s a natural thrower of the football. The ball comes out of his arm very easily and he throws with very little effort. Being a natural thrower is related to arm strength, but it’s not the same. The best example of someone with good arm strength that isn’t a natural thrower is Blake Bortles. For Josh, the ball never comes out wobbly or short, and he’s always in a position where he can reload and throw with ease. He doesn’t have to work hard to throw the football, so to speak. It’s mainly about mechanics, but it’s also just an innate thing. Some people just throw the ball more easily than others. And Josh is always ready to throw and can always throw and put the ball where he wants with ease. That’s important, because as a Quarterback, throwing the ball is your No 1 Job – so you should be able to throw it as well and as easily as possible. Now, he doesn’t have the quickest or shortest release. I would say Sam Darnold’s release is quicker. But I wouldn’t say this is a problem. People have slightly different throwing motions, and his arm speed is quick enough and delivery is compact enough that he will be fine. In fact, sometimes guys with a slight windup are able to get a little more pop on the ball. His motion is somewhat comparable to that of Carson Wentz, maybe a little more compact. His ball position, windup, and release all allow him to get maximal velocity on the ball with minimal wasted motion.

At the end of the day, you’re looking at a high level arm talent and natural thrower of the football in Josh Rosen, and that in and of itself is enough to make him an intriguing prospect.

Footwork

You can almost always tell how comfortable or high level a Quarterback is by looking at his feet first and foremost. There are a few things to look for: 1) Are his movements calm, relaxed, and calculated? Or are they frenetic? 2) How do his feet and steps sync up with the timing of his drop and routes? Is he moving in a way that the play demands? Or is his movement haphazard, uneven, and/or random? and 3) How functionally mobile is the Quarterback? Can he shift and make subtle movements in the pocket in response to pressure? Movement is key at the Quarterback position. If the Quarterback has a clear and calm head, the feet usually follow. Two of the best Quarterbacks in the NFL when it comes to functional mobility are Tom Brady and Drew Brees.

Now, it’s worth mentioning that the timing of plays is very different in the College game than in the NFL. Mainly, College Teams on the whole often use much more of a spread offense than NFL teams do. This means that the Quarterback is in the shotgun or pistol almost all the time. There are far fewer deeper drops. You rarely see the five step timing throws, either from under center or out of shotgun, that you see in the NFL. Instead, what you get is a much quicker game. Often the QB is catching the ball and throwing right away (1 step timing), or taking a 3 step drop, or running play action out of multiple option looks. There is less nuanced footwork required. A lot of this has to do with the scheming of offenses in College Football. In college, the hash marks are much further apart than they are in the NFL. This means that the field is much less condensed than it is in the pros. When the ball is set on either the right or left hash in college, you have a ton of field to the far side to work with. Because of that, the college game becomes a lot about utilizing that spacing. This is why you see the prevalence of spread offenses in college. Its much easier to throw quicker timing throws, like WR screens, because it’s advantageous to get the ball to your WR in space. It’s much more effective to run deception based offenses (like those that utilize the option and reverses) because the wide side of the field is a far greater threat. It’s too much field for players to defend, and that leaves the defense vulnerable. One misstep on a fake or an option run gives the offense tons of field to get to the outside. As a defender, there’s too much ground to recover. (The opposite is true as well; over committing to to an outside man on an option play leaves the middle of the field wide open.)

Another thing this does is it makes running and improvisational QBs much more effective in college than in the NFL. In the NFL, to extend a play past 3 or 4 seconds, you need to be able to both manipulate the pocket, and get deep into your progressions to find the weakness in the defense. However in college, if a 3 step timing play isn’t there, the QB often has plenty of field to run around and improvise (the inferiority of college defenders has a lot to do with this as well, both in terms of closing speed in coverage as well as pass rush). In the NFL, if you’re running a 3 step timing play (a quick throw), the ball better be out within 2 seconds, or else you’re going to get walloped.

The spread/option offenses can lead to a far more interesting, fast-paced, diverse, and exciting product for the college game when compared to the NFL. But they also lead to QBs being less prepared for the NFL. Because of the aforementioned factors, you simply don’t see the type of QB drops in college required in the NFL: 5 step from under center, play action from under center, 7 step from under center, 5 step from shotgun. This is not something you can learn over night. The timing of NFL offenses and routes, how those routes sync up with the QBs drops, take time to learn. If you’ve never dropped back from under center, that will be an adjustment. It requires balance and precision with your mechanics. People don’t think about stuff like balance in your footwork and drop when evaluating QBs, but it’s the absolute basics when it comes to the position; every QB that is successful does those things well, and if you can’t do those things well, forget about everything else.

A great example of this is Robert Griffin III. He wasn’t ready for the NFL coming out of Baylor, so Mike Shanahan taylored the Redskin offense in 2012 to look like that of a college offense. It was run primarily out of the pistol, and combined option runs with quick, 1 and 3 step passing. RG3 was rarely asked to drop back straight and read the full field, because he couldn’t. Once NFL defenses learned how to play the option, RG3’s game fell apart. He simply never was able to learn the fundamentals of the Quarterback position.

This is not to say that guys who run spread offenses are incapable of transitioning, but simply that it will be a transition, and if a guy can show that he did things at the college level that he will have to do at the NFL level, then that’s a plus in his evaluation. Two great examples of this were Andrew Luck coming out of Stanford and Carson Wentz coming out of North Dakota. They both had experience running pro style offenses with success, and reading full field NFL type route progressions. This made their transition to the NFL game far quicker than it was for other prospects.

Successful college QBs, because of how different the college game is, often look different than successful NFL QBs. They often have a quicker release, are quicker twitch athletes, maybe have a slightly smaller frame, and can run fast. Two guys that come to mind in the NFL are Marcus Mariota and Derek Carr, both of whom have had their ups and downs in the NFL. Both guys are very quick twitch, as they had to be to run those spread offenses (with all the 1 step timing and option players). But they had less experience with pro style drops and progressions, and as a result have struggled at times. A guy who fits that college QB profile perfectly playing in college right now is Baker Mayfield.

Josh Rosen, on the other hand, is what I imagine an NFL Quarterback to look like. Taller, bigger frame, slightly longer release but stronger arm to go with it, slightly less twitch but also more calm in the pocket.

Of course, there’s a balance here. There are guys that can be the opposite of the college QB, and too deliberate to play in the NFL. Zach Mettenberger is a guy that comes to mind, Tom Savage another, and Jameis Winston at times as well. There are also guys that run pro style offense but just aren’t good enough to be in the NFL, so none of this is a zero sum equation.

But the point with Rosen, even more important than his physical profile, is how effective and smooth he was with his footwork, timing, and execution when it came to running an offense that featured NFL style drops and timing. His five step drop from shotgun and his play action from under center are about as pristine as it gets. He comes off his drop, plants, transfers his weight, and hits the proper read immediately. Or, he’ll calmly step up in the pocket, go through his progressions, and find his outlet receiver at the exact time the play requires it. Everything is in sync. His footwork always matches up with the timing of his routes and his drops. And it all works so seamlessly. He also feels where the pressure is coming from and is able to manipulate the pocket and move away from it without losing his composure. There is simply an NFL style command and control to his game that you don’t see with the other prospects, and this brings us to our final point with Rosen.

IQ

Josh Rosen has all the physical tools, but he also understands the game. This is evident from his complete and total command of a UCLA offense that asked him to be the guy. This is not the case with many offenses in College. Often, once a play is over, QBs will turn to the sideline to get the play call (as will other position groups, looking at different coaches depending on their position). He will run up to the line once the formation is set, then he may turn back to the sideline to get the audible. Coaches signal all this with hand signals or cards, and do so based on what the defense is doing. The QB isn’t running or directing the offense prior to the snap. He’s just one cog in a well oiled machine. This is mainly the case for spread offenses.

The UCLA offense with Josh Rosen, stylistically, could be called a spread offense in the sense that it was run primarily out of the shotgun (although it mixed in under center formations as well). But it differed from the traditional spread in that Rosen ran the show. When they went no huddle, he got the full play call and would portray it to the rest of his team. He also would audible based on the defensive look. Post snap, the offense primarily featured NFL style routes. These are all things a QB will have to do at the next level, and the fact that Rosen not only did them, but did them with such efficacy is a testament to his NFL readiness.

And he was always in command of this offense. He understood where to go with the ball. He directed his receivers based on the play and the defense. He moved with an elegance and nuance as if it was second nature to him. And he threw the football with both velocity and accuracy, especially down the field. One thing I saw that really impressed me from Rosen was the back shoulder throw. That’s an incredibly advanced throw to make and not something you see a lot of in College. It requires a perfect sense of timing and ball placement, as well as a shrewd understanding of the defense and chemistry with your receivers. Rosen had all of that.

Not to mention, his defense was absolutely horrible. He constantly had to play from behind and throw the ball a ton to get back into the game (often over 50 times). This was no problem, as he stacked up 300 yard passing efforts as if they were nothing. Perhaps there’s no better indication of this than his comeback win vs Texas A&M. Down 44-10, Rosen’s Bruins came back and won the game 45-44 on the back of Rosen.

If you’re looking for a guy who can put an offense on his back and has a command and understanding of how to run an offense from an NFL level (and has all the physical attributes to do so), Rosen is your guy.

Conclusion

The Bruins were 6-6 under Rosen this year, but that doesn’t really bother me. When evaluating college QBs, you have to look at traits and attributes, not wins and losses and stats. There’s so much variance in college that those things are useless without context. Besides, that record can mostly be attributed to UCLA’s awful defense. Here was the final score in their losses:

@Memphis: 45-48
@Stanford: 34-58
@Arizona: 30-47
@Washington: 23-44
@Utah: 17-48
@USC: 23-28

You’re not going to see those kind of scores in the NFL. In the wins under Rosen, UCLA scored 45, 56, 27, 31, 44, and 30 points. Is it concerning that all the losses were on the road? Perhaps, but that still seems to me to be a product of poor defense, and perhaps coaching as well (Jim Mora was fired midseason after the USC loss).

Josh Rosen’s Stats in his 3 years at UCLA are as follows:

Freshman Year (2015): 13 games, 60% comp, 3669 Yards, 7.5 Y/A, 23 TD, 11 INT
Sophomore Year (2016): 6 games, 59.3% comp, 1915 Yards, 8.3 Y/A, 10 TD, 5 INT
Junior Year (2017): 11 games, 62.6% comp, 3756 Yards, 8.3 Y/A, 26 TD, 10 INT

I think the improvement in his final year is especially noteworthy. You want a guy on the upward path.

The biggest concern for me with Rosen is injuries. He suffered injuries the past two years. It’s something I haven’t looked at to be honest, and something that will have to be scouted carefully (and absolutely will be) for any team who’s interested.

There have also supposedly been questions about Rosen’s attitude, but most of this is speculative, and therefore not something I can put stock into. Unless you’re in the huddle with the guy, there’s really no way of knowing. That is, unless the guy has off the field issues, which Rosen hasn’t. NFL teams will look into all this stuff when they evaluate Rosen, but as an observer, based on some ESPN gossip, it’s not something I’m going to value.

As I said, the evaluation is limited. It’s not as if I’ve watched every snap or seen every full Bruin game since his first start. Having said that, I’m confident in my evaluation and feel as if I’ve absolutely seen enough to assertively say that Rosen is the best QB Prospect in the NFL Draft. It’s evident from watching him on film. It’s certainly a great QB class, but Rosen’s mix of physical attributes, mental acumen, command of his offense, nuanced understanding of the game, and pro readiness, make him a can’t miss guy for any team looking for their next franchise QB. If drafted, Rosen is the type of player that would come in and make an impact immediately.

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NFC East Preview Podcast

So I was walking the dog around the block, and I figured why not try out an NFL preview podcast before the season starts? I ended up only doing the NFC East because I talked for so long, but… nonetheless, give a listen!!

Timestamps:

0:00 Intro

3:34 Giants

24:20 Cowboys

27:40 Redskins

31:51 Eagles

41:05 Wrap Up

Monday Football Primer: Your Guide to Week 2 NFL Action

The NFL is back and in full swing! Here are some of my thoughts and observations after two weeks of action.

Packers-Vikings: Bradford Shines, Rodgers Struggles

Sam Bradford has always been a bit of an enigma. He’s always had the skillset, and he looks like a prototypical strong-armed, rhythm, dropback, pocket passer. He’s just never really lived up to expectations. He’s played in a ton of different offenses, has struggled with injuries, and has often been surrounded by subpar supporting casts. Nonetheless, he just always leaves you wanting a little more. He’s never proven that he can really elevate his supporting cast, or that he can produce wins consistently (or that he can stay healthy).

History would tell you to be skeptical that Sam Bradford can be anything more than average. Nonetheless, I find myself wanting to be optimistic about Sam Bradford. That’s because, when you watch him, you see why he was a No 1 overall pick. He’s a really natural and easy thrower of the ball. His arm strength is significantly above average, and he has a quick, effortless release.

On the one hand, a Bradford skeptic could argue that last night’s win over the Packers really wasn’t anything too significant. It was only one game, and it was a 17-14 win that was mostly defensive driven. Still, two throws in particular stand out to me: The play action deep shot to Diggs, and the TD pass to Diggs running up the seam while Bradford was being hit. Those are two throws that Teddy Bridgewater doesn’t make.

I think Sam Bradford has the potential to be an upgrade over Teddy Bridgewater, at least as Bridgewater is at this point in this career. (That’s not to say that he will be, or that the Vikings should abandon Bridgewater.) I know a lot of people like Bridgewater. The folks at Football Outsiders are really high on him. But one reason why I thought the Bradford trade sort of made sense, and why I didn’t think the Vikings were necessarily doomed when Bridgewater went down, is because I don’t think Bridgewater played particularly well last year. That Vikings team went to the playoffs because of Peterson and the defense, for the most part. Bridgewater threw for 3231 yards, 14 TD, and 9 INT for a passer rating of 88.7. His 65.3% completion and 7.2 y/a are okay, but for the most part, those numbers aren’t very good.

One thing that concerns me about Bridgewater, which Greg Cosell of NFL Films brought up during the pre-draft process and which hasn’t really changed, is his arm strength and throwing process. Bridgewater throws a very slow ball, and he’s not a natural thrower of the football. He pushes it way more than he flicks it. It looks like he’s trying really hard to throw it, like I often do when I play in the backyard. One reason for this, I believe, is his small hands, which prevent him from spinning the football and really getting torque on it. People talk about his struggles with the deep ball and lack of aggressiveness, but this is all tied into arm strength. You’re not going to make throws into tight windows if you don’t think that you are physically capable of getting the ball there.

This isn’t to say that Bridgewater can’t become a serviceable quarterback. But it’s just one more thing he has to compensate for, and it limits how high his ceiling can be. Bradford, as I mentioned, has no such issue. Not only is he a better natural thrower of the ball, but he’s taller and he plays taller, with a more over the top delivery and less bend in his knees.

The Vikings are a good team built on a strong defensive foundation by head coach Mike Zimmer. Bradford in many ways has become an easy target for criticism because of some of his history– the multiple huge contracts he’s signed and inability to produce that kind of return, the demanding of a trade in Philadelphia, the fact that he’s incredibly injury prone… but as a player, there’s no doubt that he’s talented. And there’s no doubt that Minnesota can make the playoffs with him at the helm. Whether or not they will? That, only time will tell.

Now onto the Pack. Over the past few days, Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders has tweeted some interesting stats about Rodgers. He is now going on a 14 game streak without a 100+ passer rating. His yards per attempt was 6.7 in 2015 (career is 8.0) and through two games in 2016 is 5.9. He is 6-8 as a starter in his last 14 games, including the Playoffs. As Greg Rosenthal of NFL.com pointed out within the last few weeks, Brady and Manning never had streaks of futility like this in their primes.

Now, Rodgers is certainly not all to blame, and he certainly has not been horrible. But the TD/INT ratio (31/8 in 2015) does not tell the story of what a poor offense this has been recently and how poorly Rodgers has been playing.

Again, Rodgers hasn’t been awful, and he still has had a spectacular career, but you wonder how long this can go before he starts being criticized. There have been a lot of times where I’ve felt that Rodgers has been overrated and that he often gets a pass for poor play. Yes, I had him at No 1 for my QB Rankings coming into the 2015 season. Yes, he’s still probably the most talented Quarterback in the league in terms of arm strength, although that’s always a tough call to make. But people for years have taken it for granted that he’s been the best QB in the league, and many have gone on to claim that he’s on his way to being the greatest that’s ever played this game. That’s ridiculous. He’s only been playing since 2008, and he has one Superbowl ring and has been average in the playoffs since. In terms of the all time argument, he’s still in the shadows of Brady, Peyton, and arguably even Ben Roethlisberger, as well as several guys that are now retired.

But that’s beside the point. On a more micro level, what’s always bothered me most about Rodgers is the degree to which he just isn’t a rhythm player. He holds onto the ball way longer than he should at times, and he takes a lot of sacks, WAY more than the Brady/Mannings. That should play into the picture when talking about his phenomenal TD/INT ratio.

We’ve seen this lack of rhythm come to haunt Rodgers at times during losses and against high level defenses, but for the most part he’s had an effective career and done a fantastic jab of walking a fine line between structure and improvisation.

But that’s not how he’s been playing recently. Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders was talking about how the Green Bay Offense just looks broken. How it used to run so smoothly and efficiently, like a tightly oiled machine, like we used to see with those perfectly timed back shoulder fades. But recently, it’s just been so out of sync. It essentially relies entirely on broken plays. Last year, I bet if you took out of Rodgers’ numbers screens and plays where he got the defense to jump offsides to get a free play, they would be a lot worse.

This is how Rodgers is playing recently. There is no timing or play-to-play execution involved in the GB offense. He’s arguably the best in the league at making improvisational plays, but that can’t be your whole game. Every play can’t be backyard football. That’s not high level quarterbacking and that doesn’t lead to consistent execution. That’s why the GB offense has been inconsistent and struggling. It seems like almost every time Rodgers drops back, he’s running around or moving around in the pocket to try to buy time and “make a play”, or wait for something to happen.

Rodgers is consistently looked at as having great pocket movement, but it’s different than that of guys like Brady and Brees. When they move in the pocket, it is measured and methodical. And it’s fairly consistent. It’s drop back, step up, deliver. Slide left or slide right occasionally if needed. Rodgers is by no means frenetic in the pocket, and he certainly has a great feel for finding the empty space… but his movement seems more random than that of those guys. It’s a little more all over the place. It seems like he’s buying time/extending the play just for the sake of extending the play. When he moves in the pocket, it looks like he’s trying to complete a madden challenge where you’re asked to stay in the pocket without getting sacked as long as you can. It’s not very calculated movement.

In Week 1 against the Jaguars, Rodgers made an absolutely ridiculous touchdown pass. He threw it with precision down the field with a defender practically tackling him. But the talking heads were so caught up with talking about that play, that they ignored the bigger picture of how out of sync the GB offense has been. And that’s been the story for the past year it seems like with Rodgers. People just talk about the crazy broken plays, and ignore how inconsistent Rodgers has been when he’s not making those plays. Sometimes, you just have to drop back and get rid of it for a short gain. Those plays aren’t exciting and they don’t make the highlight reels. But the great ones are going to make those every time. Rodgers tries to improvise so much, that he leaves a lot of plays on the field.

And then there are the comeback woes, which reared their ugly head again on Sunday. As Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders (who keeps track of QB 4th Quarter Comeback records) has written about time and time again, Aaron Rodgers is essentially a frontrunner. This means if it’s the 4th Quarter and the Packers are behind, they aren’t likely to comeback with Rodgers at the helm. No one in the media talks about this, but if you look at his track record, it’s surprisingly accurate. Rodgers’ last pick in the Minnesota game was bad (although the receiver might share the blame), and so was the fumble before that, another example of Rodgers holding onto the ball too long (also poor RT play). 4th Quarter Comebacks have been a problem for Rodgers every year since his rookie year, so this aspect of his game is unlikely to change even if he does get back to MVP form. Some QBs just aren’t comeback QBs. This doesn’t mean you can’t be a great QB–Kurt Warner, one of my favorite QBs, is an all time great, and he too was a notorious frontrunner–but when guys like Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and even guys like Eli Manning, are spectacular in this department, it’s worth at least mentioning

Now, the poor GB offense certainly isn’t all on Rodgers. The O-line has struggled at times. The run game has been hit and miss. And most importantly, the receivers have been below average and have often been unable to separate. The GB receiving core has lost pieces throughout the years (Jones got old, Driver retired, Jennings left/got old, Finley got hurt), and it just isn’t what it used to be. Cobb really struggled without Jordy Nelson in the lineup. And Davante Adams is not a good No. 3. Everyone thought he’d be so good in 2015, but people were fixated on what were essentially only two good games for him (DAL and NE) out of the whole 2014 season. Greg Cosell of NFL Films was talking about, a while back, how it seems Rodgers doesn’t trust Davante Adams when he’s running the slant (the slant-flat is a staple route combination in the GB offense), because often he didn’t pull the trigger on those throws. And I’ve seen a few times where a slant to Adams almost ended up getting picked from the defender cutting in front of him. That kind of stuff messes with a QB’s head. The QB needs to trust that the receiver is going to be where he needs him to be. Otherwise, he either doesn’t throw it at all, or throws it a clutch too late, which is the difference between a completion and an incompletion/INT in this league.

I think 2015 was a perfect storm of factors for Rodgers. Somewhat similar to 2013 for Eli Manning. That year on the Giants there was no run game, the o-line was awful, the receivers were inconsistent, and the pass game concepts weren’t helping the issue. When Rodgers is uncomfortable, he plays fast at times (goes through his reads too fast/moves around too soon), holds onto the ball too long, and leaves plays on the field. When Eli gets uncomfortable, he chucks up absurdly dumb interceptions. Yes, it’s good that Rodgers has managed to avoid throwing picks throughout this slump, but that doesn’t mean he’s been playing well. There’s more to good quarterbacking than not throwing picks. Now, Eli did not at all have a good supporting cast in 2013, but he was part of the problem. A big part. By no means has Rodgers been as bad as Eli was then, but the GB offense has been bad, and that includes him. He too has been part of the problem. The bottom line is, it can’t all be about Jordy.

And it may seem like I’m overstating the issue (and perhaps I am), but this is the part of it that gets me. If I had a penny every time I heard someone talk about Jordy Nelson coming back and him being gone last year and the impact of that on the offense, I’d be rich. I know it matters. I know he’s a great WR, and I know the comfort level with Rodgers is huge. But there has to be more to it than that. Rodgers is supposed to be one of the best in the game. Does the production of the best QB in the game entirely depend on the presence of one WR? Does that also mean that when Rodgers has been so good in the past, it’s just been because of his receivers? Of course not. When Rodgers has been great, it’s been because of him. Why can’t we acknowledge that when he’s been not so great, it’s also because of him? Again, that’s not saying there aren’t other factors. It’s simply saying that he is one of the factors.

A guy like Peyton Manning, no matter who he was throwing to, would always get rid of the football quickly. That’s simply the type of player he is. Rodgers doesn’t have to run around for ten minutes every time he drops back. He needs to be more disciplined in the pocket, and he needs to be mentally sharper. That’s on him, and not anyone else.

Rodgers is one of the best in the game and one of the best to ever do it. And there’s a very good chance he bounces back. I was thinking similar things about him at the beginning of the 2014 season, and he responded by deservedly winning his second MVP award after telling everybody to R-E-L-A-X. But right now, he’s in a slump, and he’s struggling a bit. Let’s not be afraid to admit that, instead of just talking about Jordy Nelson and fawning over every time a broken play just happens to work out positively for him.

The Giants are 2-0 Thanks to Improved Defense and the Return of Victor Cruz

As a passionate Giants fan, it’s hard not to get over-excited about this. Yes, it’s just two games. Both were close games that included some mistakes and that really could have gone either way. But the thing is, we won. And that’s what the Giants haven’t been doing recently. If my memory is correct, this is our first 2-0 start since the 2010 season. That’s six years! That’s big, especially for a young, rookie head coach. Even more exciting is why we’re winning. The defense is looking better than it did a year ago, and Victor Cruz is back and contributing big time. He caught the go-ahead TD in week 1 on a great play to get open after the initial look was covered, and he caught a huge 3rd down in the fourth quarter this past week. He was running straight down the sideline, and the cornerback was right with him as he fought for position. Eli threw it up softly, and Cruz aggressively went after the ball and wrestled it away from the defender, who was in perfect position. That first down allowed the Giants to run the clock down before kicking the go ahead FG, so that they didn’t have to give Drew Brees the ball back.

It cannot be understated how big Cruz was in helping us win the SB in the 2011 season. Not to mention, he was undrafted and wasn’t even starting at the beginning of the 2011 season. And if you’ve ever seen or heard him talk, he’s a really great kid. I’m really happy that he’s come back from injury to be productive. He was out for a long time. And I bet he’s playing with a chip on his shoulder. There were a lot of people saying he wouldn’t be the same guy coming back. But I didn’t have much doubt. Every time he’s been healthy since 2011, he’s contributed. Really cool to see him back and on the field. Not to mention, Sterling Shepard is looking good as well. What’s interesting is that Shepard was a slot guy coming out of college, with questions about whether he could play on the outside. But Cruz was looked at as being primarily a slot guy as well, and most assumed he would take the slot while Shepard would go to the outside opposite Beckham. But from what I can tell, it looks as if Cruz has been playing outside with Shepard in the slot. I’m sure Ben McAdoo will mix it up–he even put Odell in the slot at times the past few years, from which he’s been very productive, just like he is everywhere else on the field–but this is an interesting move. For all the talk of Cruz being a slot guy, he did play on the outside a fair bit in 2011 with all the WR injuries we had. And he was pretty good from there as well. If Shepard can be a productive slot WR (which it looks like he can), we have a pretty good 3 deep WR core. We thought this was the case back in 2013. But Nicks wasn’t the same after injury, Cruz started getting injured, and Randle just was always a bit of a mess. But this is exciting going forward if you’re a Giants fan, no doubt.

Texans Putting Osweiler in Position to Succeed

I’m rooting for Osweiler, if not just because like Bradford has been in the past, he’s another guy that’s going to be under the microscope after signing a big contract. The Texans are 2-0 so far. He played pretty well in week 1 and was eh in week 2. There’s certainly no guarantee he’ll succeed this season. It’s early in the year. QBs really make their money in December. Hoyer in 2014, Fitzpatrick in 2011, and Orton in 2009 were all QBs who started the season well only to implode in the second half. Having said that, I’m cautiously optimistic, and I like what the Texans are doing with Osweiler.

Osweiler, like most QBs, is a system QB. He likely needs to be in a good situation to succeed. When you look at other free agent QB deals that have gone poorly in the past, it’s because these QBs were system QBs that were in over their head and asked to do too much. Kevin Kolb succeeded as a backup in Andy Reid’s system (which has been proven to be QB friendly) throwing to Maclin and Jackson. He wasn’t going to dig the post Kurt Warner Cardinals out of nothingness. Matt Flynn excelled in the GB West Coast with talented pass catchers, but the Raiders were no good when he went there. The same can be said for Matt Cassel in New England. Outside of one very game manager-ish year in KC, he was mostly a bust there.

Yes, these QBs didn’t play well on their respective new teams. But they were brought in to make losing franchises winners again. Usually, those types of Quarterbacks need to come from the draft.

But with Osweiler it’s different. The Texans made the playoffs last year with Brian Hoyer at QB and came close the year before with Ryan Fitzpatrick. So they’re already a good team. If Osweiler can prove to be even a marginal upgrade over those guys, then the trade is justified. Furthermore, lots of people were worried about how Houston might remain a contender with Brock getting so much money. But he has lots of team around him. We all know about JJ Watt. There’s also Clowney on that line, who definitely has talent. Bill O Brien wants to rely on defense, and has proven that he’s capable of doing so in the past. (He’s also a good coach, which wasn’t always the case with the other free agent situations I mentioned.) But offensively, they drafted Braxton Miller, a pretty good prospect at the slot position, as well as the speedster Will Fuller, to go along with Deandre Hopkins, one of the best X-ISO receivers in football. They also traded for Lamar Miller, who definitely showed flashes in Miami. They can mix him along with Alfred Blue, who’s proven to be a capable backup. Lastly, Bill O Brien comes from New England, and his pass game is very well schemed. It’s multiple, and aims to get the ball out quickly. All of this puts Osweiler in a very good position to succeed. Yes, he got the big contract. Yes, he likely will have the spotlight on him. But the investments look to be paying off two weeks in. He doesn’t have to be Tom Brady at this point. He just has to be Andy Dalton: efficient and smart.

~

Quick Hits

-It’s unfortunate that Garoppolo got hurt. Because I thought he looked really, really good against Miami.

-I was glad to see Matt Ryan bounce back against the Raiders. They came away with a W, but more importantly, he was aggressive throwing the ball downfield and confident, two things that have been missing from his game recently.

-It certainly doesn’t look like Cam Newton and the Panthers are taking a step back this season. Cam looks just as good as he did last year, and the addition of Kelvin Benjamin makes this offense scary. He’s quickly becoming one of the best young wide receivers in the league. What’s so impressive is his big body and catch radius, which gives Cam Newton margin for error. Then you have Devin Funchess as well, who people didn’t mention last year. WR often take a few years to develop, but he was a big time draft prospect. If he can become something too, then watch out. You also have Greg Olsen, one of the top receiving tight ends in the league, Corey Brown and Ted Ginn for deep shots, and then you ALSO have J. Stewart and that dominant O-Line… AND Mike Shula’s multiple option scheme which is so hard to defend. I don’t like Carolina, but it looks like they could be here to stay. If they play at their peak, they’re tough to defend.

-The Bills firing of OC Greg Roman struck me as a little strange, especially only two games into the season. He fits what they want to do in terms of being run first and then using Tyrod’s athleticism. Also, their problems over the last year seem to be more about defense than offense.

-Josh McCown gave us the usual Josh McCown treatment. Some nice gunslinger throws while under pressure (see the TD pass), and some bad gunslinger INT’s while under pressure (see the game ender). He did okay for himself last year, and should have been the starter this year (which isn’t saying much when RG3 is your other QB). But now he’s hurt, and the Browns might have to draft another QB next year. What number is that, now? Not to mention, they could have taken Wentz this year (who looks like he has the makings to be a star, at least based on week 1), but they traded the pick to Philly. They even spoke negatively about Wentz in the process (because the Browns are sooo good at evaluating Quarterbacks). What an embarrassment of a franchise.

-Can Chip Kelly and his offense succeed in the NFL? The jury is still out. On Sunday, we saw both sides of the equation. On the one hand, SF allowed 46 points. Yes, CAR is a very good offense, but as we’ve seen time and time again with Chip, when your offense plays so fast, you a) get into holes quickly if your offense isn’t producing, and b) your defense tends to suck. On the other hand, the 49ers were within one score of tying it in the 4th quarter. Before the Blaine Gabbert pick that basically sealed it, there was a dropped past by the niners that could have gone for a TD and tied it. Blaine Gabbert hasn’t played well by any means, but the offense has produced, albeit inconsistently. It’s hard to see anywhere else where Blaine Gabbert could go and even come close to this kind of offensive production. But that’s the Chip offense. They play fast, they get the ball out, and they get completions. Gabbert plays fast (wayyyy too fast), but the Chip Kelly offense is a good fit for him, because Chip wants the ball out. And when you have Blaine Gabbert as your QB (and Torrey Smith as your No. 1), you have to scheme offense. There’s nowhere Gabbert could go where they could huddle up, line-up, and simply out execute the defense. But Chip’s offense is at least giving these guys a chance, with a guy that is essentially a backup QB and a below average WR corps. And we’ve seen that with Chip in the past, where guys like Foles and Sanchez have looked serviceable. It hasn’t translated to wins consistently, but it does have the potential to morph offensive production.

-Speaking of Gabbert, he’s another guy that, like Bradford, can be frustrating. Like I said, at this point, he’s ideally a backup. He plays way too fast, and is way too overreactive to pressure. Because of that, his lower body mechanics become compromised, which leads to inaccuracy and missing throws he needs to make. It’s always been a problem with him, and pocket presence isn’t really something you can teach. But he also is capable of making really impressive throws. His TD throw this past week to Torrey Smith was an example. You do see the arm talent and the type of throws that explain why he was a first round pick. It’s just the other stuff that keeps him from being good.

-It looks like Mike Tirico is replacing Bob Costas as the host of pre and post-game Sunday Night Football. It’s unfortunate; I think Costas is better. I was never a big Tirico fan. He’s definitely a professional; I just don’t really like his voice or his style. But after the NFL told NBC they couldn’t put Tirico on Thursday Night broadcasts, they probably wanted to find something for him to do.

-We’re in the golden age of passing in the NFL, and we might be in the golden age of Quarterbacking as well. From vets to young guns, there’s a lot of talent in the NFL. I saw it all over the highlights this past sunday. Like I said earlier, Matt Ryan made some really impressive throws. Derek Carr as well. Marcus Mariota’s game winning TD pass was phenomenal, and Flacco’s TD to Mike Wallace was nice as well. Then as I mentioned there was Jimmy Garoppolo who looked really good, but Tanehill, although he’s dabbled in mediocrity, has a big time arm and is capable of big time throws as well, which can be seen with his TD pass to Jordan Cameron in the endzone. And Carson Palmer is back to MVP form; he continues to be a tremendous asset for Arizona.

-If it’s the golden age for passing, it might be the golden age for receivers as well. The NFL is full of physical specimens that we didn’t use to see, and these guys attack the ball. Late in the game, Amari Cooper went up for a first down catch on a short hitch that was spectacular. The ball was high and his arm extension was crazy. I was wrong when I said Larry Fitzgerald was done a few years ago, he’s rejuvenated with Palmer and is an absolute dog, attacking the football and running after the catch. Then there’s Julio Jones. A lot of people have been mentioning Antonio Brown’s name as best WR in the NFL, but don’t forget about this guy. Hardly anyone draws as much defensive attention as he does on the Falcons, yet he continues to make plays. He has a lethal combination of size and explosiveness. On a lot of those in-breaking routes, he reminds me of Andre Johnson, because he’s practically impossible to stop. He’s such a big target and so strong to the ball. Then there was the deep ball he caught from Ryan on the second and one deep shot. The ball placement was perfect, but his closing speed to the ball was ridiculous. He was double covered and behind the ball when the camera closed in on him, but by the time the ball got there, he ran through the double coverage and right into the ball. Phenomenal stuff.

Hopefully there’s plenty more great football on its way! Continue to stay tuned in to the blog to keep getting updates and analysis.

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