For Rams and 49ers, Coaching Changes are Evident

The (now LA) Rams just defeated the 49ers 41-39 on Thursday Night Football in San Francisco. It was a great game and an absolute treat to watch, as I can’t remember the last time before this there was a good TNF game. I genuinely came in thinking this could be a 6-3 game. But the offenses went blow for blow, and towards the end as it was looking like the Rams would pull away, the 49ers rallied and almost came back to win. There were lots of great plays during the comeback including a fumbled kick return that SF recovered, a 4th down TD conversion, and an amazing onside kick. The 49ers brought out the kicker Robbie Gould to do the kick (their punter Bradley Pinion normally handles kickoff duties), and he rushed to get setup and approach, which I think caught the 49ers a little off guard. The onside kick was a gutsy call as the 49ers had the 2 minute warning and a timeout and only needed a field goal, but it worked and was crazy to watch, as the ball bounced off a 49er’s helmet and into the hands of another 49er.

(Also side note, after talking to my cousin I realized this: Apparently the goal of an onside kick is to have it bounce off the ground quickly before it goes up in the air the needed 10 yards, because if it doesn’t bounce off the ground, then the hands team can just call a fair catch. Which means that all those wonderfully executed onside kicks that look like short lobs actually were bounced off the ground. That is REALLY hard to execute and makes me respect the successful ones even more. Even on replay I couldn’t see the ball hit the ground after Gould kicked it as it must have happened so quickly, but Collinsworth confirmed that it did. Realizing I had been looking at onside kicks wrong, I thought of another notable one, Steven Hauschka’s onside kick during the 2014 NFC Championship game vs the Packers. This was another kick that from the camera angle just looked like the kicker pooched it up, so I pulled it up on my computer to see if that one too had hit the ground. And sure enough, though I couldn’t see it, Aikman did mention it hitting the ground. So there – ya learn something new every day!)

The Rams ultimately held on to win this game. There was a key offensive pass interference penalty which pushed the 49ers back to 3rd and 20 on their final drive. It really didn’t look like a penalty from the replay angle we saw, but that penalty basically decided the game. Hoyer was off target on 3rd and 20 and was sacked on 4th and 20 as the Niners struggled to block the Rams all night.

But what is evident from watching this great game is that these two teams are worlds apart from where they were last year, in a good way. And I credit the coaching changes, specifically, the hires of Sean McVay to coach the Rams and Kyle Shanahan to coach the 49ers.

Coaching is so important in football. Especially on offense. In this day and age, creativity and scheme is so important. These two young coaches recognize and understand that and know how to scheme and coach offense as well as anyone. And the messages seem to be getting through.

What’s distinct about these coaches is how young they are. Sean McVay is 31 and Kyle Shanahan is 37. That’s very young for coaches. But in the modern NFL, which is ever more tilted towards the offense, these coaches seem to know how to create offense in ways that the older generation might not. Constrast McVay, the youngest head coach in modern NFL history, with the Rams’ previous coach, Jeff Fisher. Fisher was 59 years old. He took the Titans to the Superbowl in 1999, but has struggled in the more recent years. He’s an old school disciplinarian, a hard-nosed defensive coach. He’s well respected around the league, but his offense lacked firepower. With their No 1 overall QB Jared Goff looking lost and virtually no passing game last year, they needed a change. And McVay seems to be providing it. Goff, as well as the offense, looks a lot better.

McVay and Shanahan may be young, but they are both very qualified. McVay was the OC in Washington under Jay Gruden, and that offense was one of the best schemed offenses in football. The same can be said for Kyle Shanahan, whose Atlanta offense under Matt Ryan shattered records on the way to the Superbowl last year. Andy Benoit of the MMQB at SI once stated that last year, Kyle Shanahan flat out embarrassed some of the best defensive coordinators in the game. Both of these coaches use formations and route concepts–often with a heavy emphasis on play action–to simplify reads and scheme open receivers for the Quarterback. They both provide a sense of timing, rhythm and tempo to the offenses, as well as clarity to the Quarterbacks. Shanahan is also really good at scheming the zone running game and the play action boot game off of it. You see the quick strike play action slants with both teams, a staple. And Goff just seems so much more comfortable and in command than last year. SF did the right thing in ditching the sandlot and undisciplined Kaepernick (and for everyone saying that was a mistake, it was essentially his decision to leave). Brian Hoyer is not going to wow anyone and he’s just keeping the seat warm for their eventual franchise QB (who they will likely draft next year), but he can efficiently run a well schemed offense like we’ve seen him do in Cleveland, New England, Chicago, and Houston. Kaepernick, at this point in his career, has not shown that he can do that.

Rise of the Shotgun Football

Kyle Shanahan when he was in Atlanta, with Falcons Quarterback Matt Ryan

The NFL will continue to evolve, and its on coaches to keep up, to draw up and scheme plays in ways that will continually help and make the best of use of their players while keeping defenses off balance. Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay understand this, and their perspectives have brought a youthful energy into two teams and two offenses that simply haven’t been that good in the recent past. If the beginning of 2017 is any indication, Shanahan and McVay won’t be going away anytime soon.

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Bears-Giants Thoughts

This was the first Giants game that I actually watched most of, seeing as I’m on fall “break” (which means I have Thursday and Friday off, really not sure that constitutes a “break”) and seeing as this game was on Thursday, I did not have to worry about homework lurking in the background. In addition, the live streams on my computer are slightly more watchable when the feed is from NFL Network for some reason. Still miss having my own TV and not being surrounded by Saints fans, but I digress…

Nice being able to relax and watch a whole game without worrying about homework. At 0-5 (0-6 now), the Giants have been a complete embarrassment and have left fans such as myself utterly depressed, confused, and empty inside. I’m not really in my best state on sunday as I usually wake up very late and out of it after a completely inactive saturday and am half-watching the games on my computer and dorm TVs while simultaneously thinking about all the homework I have and haven’t done and should have done yesterday and when I’m going to do it while simultaneously trying (and failing) to motivate myself to take a shower. Being in this state, flipping on the game on my computer on these sundays and seeing the Giants (in full 8 bit resolution) self destruct with horrible play after another while at the same time the cruel, painful, and unnecessary jeers from the Saints and Patriots fans on my floor (you know who you are) get louder and louder like a knife stabbing my chest, does not bode well for my persona.

Maybe that was all a little dramatic, but the point is it has not been a happy football season for the freshman in college Giants fan. The stress of sunday mixed in with the complete sucking of the Giants is not a great combination.

Well, tonight it was nice to relax and be able to watch almost the whole game without having to be stressed about other stuff, AND it was nice to have the Giants put up somewhat of a fight.

I guess there are some positives to tonight’s game, and I guess I should start with those. We went on the road and played a good football team and played pretty well for most of the night. Like I said, I haven’t seen most of the previous games so I can’t say for sure what those games were like, but I got the sense that for the most part we played better tonight than we had previously this season. Sure they made some plays and there definitely were some times where we got lucky (Jay Cutler misfired on a couple sure TD’s) but for the most part our defense, for what it is played ok, or at least better than it has in the past and in previous seasons. I don’t expect them to be a great defense, they’re just not. Tonight, it was clear that Brandon Marshall is just bigger than our DB’s, he matched up well. Would have been nice if we doubled him not sure why we didn’t, but nonetheless our D they kept the game manageable, which is a step in the right direction. As for our offense, I really wasn’t a fan of bringing back an old Brandon Jacobs initially. However, we need a run game–we can’t just throw it all the time like we’ve been doing, it’s not a good strategy, Eli this year just isn’t good enough, neither are our WRs–and if Jacobs can deliver then why not. It’s clear Coughlin trusts him more than David Wilson. A lot of his nice runs were at wide open holes, it’s not like he was breaking a ton of tackles, but he’s running hard and reading his blocks correctly. He seems to be playing with more effort than he did when we got rid of him. Small sample size, obviously. But we need a run game and we need to keep being patient with the run and keep handing off. I know that’s hard when you’re behind, but play calling has been too heavily tilted toward the pass when it doesn’t need to be and those pass plays have not been creative at all. It’s a lot easier to make mistakes when you’re throwing and with all the tipped balls, misreads by WR, inaccurate throws, or all the other things that have led to interceptions from these short passes, we’re just not a team that can be efficient with the short passing game to pick up yards. We never have been, but we especially can’t with this year’s personnel. So enough with all this empty backfield and all the slants we’ve been running in previous games. I liked our commitment to the run today. Whether the production from it will hold up, we will see.

And we gave ourself a chance at the end, which is what I was surprised to see. I felt good for most of the game, there were plenty of times where we could have let it get out of hand but we didn’t. So that’s the good stuff. But honestly, at the end of the day, that ending just kills you, and that’s what’s going to–and should, for the most part–define this game. This is what bad teams do, they blow it at the end. It was a good looking drive and a play that could have worked, but Eli has been high and inaccurate with his throws for a lot of the year. A throw just out of reach of Brandon Myers–who is smaller than Martellus Bennett, why did we get rid of him by the way? That play can’t happen, obviously. The disappointing (to say the least) season continues. 0-6, at this point we can DEFINITELY say (if we couldn’t before) that the Giants season is over.

What about the Bears? Watching them under the command of Marc Trestman was interesting. Jay Cutler disappointed me last year. I was a fan of him, and everyone expected him to … I hate to say this because it’s getting so cliche … “take the next step” as the media would say, due to the acquisition of his BFF Brandon Marshall and his former QB Coach from Denver Jeremy Bates. Instead, he did not have a good season. Most people wanted to blame it entirely on the offensive line (as usual), but last year was a clear regression. Not counting his nightmare 2009 season (his first year in Chicago with 26 INTs), in 2012 we saw Jay’s lowest Y/A and lowest passer rating since his rookie year. Despite playing 15 games, he barely surpassed 3000 yards. He’s never been a guy with great stats, but I was not seeing the impressive throws that I was used to seeing from him. So when the media started asking if Marc Trestman could “fix” Jay Cutler, I was highly skeptical. If 2012 was supposed to be “the year” and he had Jeremy Bates and Brandon Marshall and he couldn’t do it with them, why would we ever see it?

Well I can’t speak for the season, but I tonight I was very impressed with Jay Cutler. He looked good. It seems I was wrong, and it seems Marc Trestman (former Montreal Alouettes Coach–CFL LETS GO!!!!) has had an impact on him. He was getting rid of the ball very quickly. He was taking the checkdown, taking what the defense was giving him, not hesitating to throw it away when the play wasn’t there. Play calling was fantastic. Matt Forte seems to be having an “on” year as well. I don’t know a ton about this team, I don’t know how far they can go. But for me it’d be nice to see them back in the playoffs. They’re a hard working, quiet team, not talked about too much. Their last playoff run ended so strangely and abruptly with Jay Cutler getting injured and sitting out the AFC championship. I was impressed with Jay and their offense tonight, and they seem to be on the right track to make a push for the playoffs.