New York Jets Week 5 Observations

New York Jets
Photo Credit: Getty Images

The National Football League abroad has produced a mixed bag of results since its conception in 2007. Week 5 proved no different, as the New York Jets fell flat against a scuffling Atlanta Falcons team, 27-20. It was a disappointing loss, especially after Week 4’s win against Tennessee. 

However, every loss is a lesson. Sunday’s was a reminder that development is rarely linear. Some young guys took encouraging steps forward, while others stumbled back a few steps. That process is natural, though it’s important to keep tabs as New York continues their rebuild.

Zach Wilson

There’s no hiding it, Zach Wilson was bad on Sunday. The routine looked overwhelming and the offense sputtered badly. Again, they struggled to start hot and get in a rhythm, and it ultimately never came to fruition.

Wilson’s fit of hiccups on the “easy” plays are concerning and likely the epitome of his rookie experience. When the bullets are flying, the mundane must be automatic. For Wilson, that is simply not yet the case. He missed multiple open screen passes and failed to capitalize when Mike LaFleur took advantage of Atlanta’s defense. It stagnated the offense and resulted in some egregiously poor football. 

The Running Backs

Michael Carter is here to stay. He may have only seen 52% of the snaps, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that he’s the most talented back New York has to offer. His contact balance, elusiveness, and upside on third down are all superior to his fellow committee members. Expect his snap share to stay above 50% moving forward.

I’ve harped on Ty Johnson frequently, but his trip to London was fairly successful. He had a nice cut for a one-yard touchdown. It was also one of his better performances on passing downs. His athleticism shows up in short-yardage spots where his burst is amplified, as well as opportunities after the catch.

The Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

The Jets’ repugnant offense meant there was not a ton of production to go around. Similarly, there isn’t much to say regarding the group. It’s clear Corey Davis and Jamison Crowder are the team’s top two targets. Keelan Cole outsnapped Elijah Moore, though I thought Moore played well; Wilson’s play hurt Moore rather frequently on Sunday. Others got in on the action, with Braxton Berrios and Denzel Mims seeing 11% and 14% of the team’s offensively snaps.

Without knowing the extent of Mims’ playbook knowledge and/or practice habits, it is hard to say how New York should be using him. However, given Mims’ prowess as a blocker and the opportunity to script plays for the offense, I’d like to see the coaching staff put him on the field early. Perhaps this vote of confidence could help spur a rhythm or some semblance of positive momentum. 

As for the tight ends, Tyler Kroft’s injury allowed Trevon Wesco to see a significant boost in playing time. He was used almost entirely as a blocker and didn’t move the needle one way or another with his performance. Ryan Griffin again struggled to make any real impact, despite being on the field for 91% of the offense’s snaps. 

The Offensive Line

While the offensive line was a bit of a mixed bag, it’s hard not to be encouraged by their performance. After the disaster that was Week 1, even mediocre play deserves its flowers, and New York’s front five have surpassed that at times.

That starts with Alijah Vera-Tucker. He took another step forward in Week 5, as the New York Jets rookie allowed no pressured for the second consecutive game. After his tremendous struggles, he’s begun to show why Joe Douglas made him Mekhi Becton’s partner in crime.

Another relatively unsung hero would be George Fant. Since moving to the left side, he’s saw his play improve and has kept Wilson upright. On the other hand, Greg Van Roten regressed to his uninspiring status quo after Week 4’s victory. As a whole, the line struggled to consistently open up rushing lances.

The Defensive Line and Edge Rushers

Furthermore, the New York Jets defensive front had its ups and downs across the pond. The pass rush seemed to do all it could, though it was clear Atlanta game-planned around this aspect of the defense.

John Franklin-Myers played well in his first game since signing his extension and seemed to draw extra help. Bryce Huff had a nice day, too, even if the production wasn’t there. Shaq Lawson struggled a little bit. Yet, what stood out most was the play of Tim Ward. In only 12 snaps, Ward made his presence felt, racking up multiple pass deflections and a really encouraging run stuff. I doubt he sees his playing time skyrocket, but Saleh and Ulbrich may have a couple of packages with his name on it.

As for the interior defensive line, it wasn’t a great day. Nathan Shepherd and Sheldon Rankins saw significant struggles. Folorunso Fatukasi and Quinnen Williams were better, but didn’t exactly meet expectations. There were some nice flashes of stuffed runs, but neither New York’s interior defensive linemen nor linebackers played the run consistently, and it showed.

The Linebackers

Blake Cashman made his return to the gridiron on Sunday! He wasn’t particularly impactful, though it seems Saleh will continue to stress not putting too much on a recently-recovered player’s plate.

C.J. Mosley had his worst game of the year across the pond. We’ve seen him get exposed by weapons with elite athleticism, and this was no different. Christian McCaffrey bested Mosley in Week 1. In Week 5, Cordarrelle Patterson made lightwork of Mosley and the New York Jets.

To the contrary, there’s a discussion to be had about Quincy Williams. He’s one of the few players on the roster that completely shattered their preseason expectations. Thrusted into a starting spot, Williams has forced turnovers, made some huge tackles, and even added to the pass rush. Jarrad Davis will likely reclaim his starting spot once activated, but I suspect their may be a quicker trigger finger here for the staff if Davis struggles.

The Cornerbacks

Arguably the most disappointing position group in Week 5 were the New York Jets cornerbacks. Atlanta was without Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage, priming the Jets for a big day on defense. Instead, Kyle Pitts, Patterson, and Tajae Sharpe shredded the defense. Patterson was seemingly untouchable underneath, Sharpe was very efficient, and Pitts was seemingly impossible to guard. For that final point, I can’t say I blame New York.

Bryce Hall continues to be an encouraging tackler, but he struggled in man frequently on Sunday. Echols showed his typical ups and downs in coverage. Michael Carter II had his worst game as a professional and Javelin Guidry wasn’t much better. Interestingly enough, Jason Pinnock made a 15-snap appearance, too. 

Containing the shorter routes should have been priority number one for the Jets secondary. Instead, they were carved up after the catch and gave up a ton of long drives. Maybe it was an outlier, and New York’s cornerns suddenly played down to their competition, but all in all it wasn’t pretty. 

The Safeties

Losing Marcus Maye really puts a dent in this defense. With the possibility of him getting traded rising, New York’s safeties must improve. Jarrod Wilson was simply bad, and it cost him a roster spot. They all had their hands full and struggled at times, but there were still some bright spots for Sharrod Neasman and Ashtyn Davis. When Maye is off the field, expect these two to see the bulk of the playing time. 

The Special Teams Units

Outside of a failed extra point, I thought the Jets had a really good day on this side of the ball. Ammendola hit both of his field goals, including a 49-yard attempt. Justin Hardee was spectacular in helping to defend the punt return. Also, Tevin Coleman ripped off a nice kick return that put New York in wonderful field position. This phase of the game was likely the Jets’ biggest separation agent from Atlanta. Similar performances would eventually parlay themselves into winning football.

The Outlook

Week 5 should have ended favorably for the New York Jets. Instead, they came out jet-lagged and let a banged up Falcons team earn the privilege of a happy flight home. 

Much of this starts with Wilson, who played rather poorly. The uninsipiring starts to games and infuriating botched layups are both fixable, but his play was simply not conducive to a productive NFL offense. Sunday showed it will continue to take time for Wilson to grow into his potential. 

At the same time, other young players played really well. Vera-Tucker, Quincy Williams, and Michael Carter took legitimate steps forward that shouldn’t be overshadowed by a handful of missed throws.

New York heads into the bye at 1-4. Their play in New England in Week 7 could be an interesting referendum on the organization’s progress. Until then, it’s up to Saleh, LaFleur, and Wilson to fix the offense and keep the plane on the runway.

Florida Panthers 2021-2022 Season Preview: The Cup Window Opens

Floirda Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville
(Quenneville pouring Champagne into the Stanley Cup/Origin Unknown)

The preseason is over, the final cuts have been made, and the regular season awaits us. The Florida Panthers finally kick off their most anticipated season in franchise history. Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the FLA Live Arena.

On paper, this is the deepest Panthers team I’ve ever seen. Guys who were regulars in the lineup last season will see their ice time reduced. Via off-season acquisitions and the rise of several of the Young Cats. 

Recap

Patric Hornqvist, started last season on the second line and was a lock for PP1 minutes. He is now looking at a bottom six role and a role on the PP2 unit. Anthony Duclair floated between the top two lines last season, earned a contract extension in the offseason. He is projected to be a third line winger just because that’s how good this team is.

So much credit has to be given to the front office for getting the team to this point. Bill Zito and Co turned this team around from pretenders to contenders in a little over a calendar year.

But at the end of the day, roster moves do not determine who wins the Stanley Cup. The games have to be played. I know the boys are up for the challenge, and while minor I think the team’s new social media hashtag describes the energy in the locker room, it’s #TimeToHunt

This is a team that’s hungry. A team that knew they were good enough to win last year. They were just a bit unlucky with injuries and having to face the Lightning in the first round. This isn’t a group of individuals who are going to make excuses though.

It’s a team who would rather go out on the ice and show just how good they are. It’s a team filled with highly motivated players who all want to win and win together HERE. Aleksander Barkov’s comments at his extension press conference highlight this belief.

Opening Night Roster

As I mentioned before, this is the deepest Florida Panthers team we’ve ever had. The team has changed a bit since we recorded our season preview episode a few weeks ago though.

Noel Acciari received shoulder surgery and is expected to be out for a few months, while 7th Defenseman Kevin Connauton is currently on the IR with the expectation that he joins the team sooner rather than later.

On top of that, the team made a trade with the Vancouver Canucks for Olli Juolevi. Juolevi was the fifth overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft and has had an underwhelming start to his NHL career. The Panthers acquired him for Juho Lammiko and Noah Juulsen and the team hopes a change of scenery can help revive his career. We saw this work out for the Panthers last season with the acquisition of Sam Bennett, and it will be interesting to see how Juolevi plays with an opportunity to impress Joel Quenneville early.

(Panthers Opening Night Roster / @FlaPanthers twitter)

Forwards

The initial list is not surprising at all. Prospects Grigori Denisenko and Aleksi Heponiemi were cut early in camp, showing that they still have a ways to go in their development. This is a good thing for the Panthers, as they can get a full season of AHL hockey under their belts before being expected to become significant contributors for the team in the 2022-2023 season.

Of all the names on the list, all eyes will be on Anton Lundell. Lundell has been described as “Barkov Jr.” by fans and beat reporters since he was drafted, and we’ll get to see him start in the big leagues. How he plays will be a major area of focus when it comes to the personnel moves made by the team, as they may be forced to move lines around or acquire another center if he isn’t ready.

Defensemen

RIP the Matt Kiersted 7D hype train. Like the forwards list, the defensemen come with zero surprises as well. The team made clear who their six defenders were by their offseason moves, and Juolevi is a shot in the dark until Kevin Connauton returns.

If the Panthers are to make a big move in season, I think it’ll be to shore up their bottom four defensemen. We already know Mackenzie Weegar, Aaron Ekblad, and Gustav Forsling are locked in on defense. Radko Gudas plays the enforcer role, leaving Brandon Montour and Markus Nutivaara. Their play early in the season will tell Zito and Quenneville whether or not a personnel change is needed, and the front office has shown they’re willing to make moves.

Goalies

With Chris Gibson heading to Charlotte, the Panthers begin the season with Sergei Bobrovsky as their starter. Rookie phenom Spencer Knight as his backup. The word all offseason has been a goalie by committee approach, similar to last season, with Bob getting the bulk of the starts. However, I believe Bob will have a shorter leash than he used to. Knight’s development and play last season has accelerated the timetable for him to become the #1. As he went from winning the World Juniors with Team USA, playing at Boston College, to starting in the Stanley Cup Playoffs within a calendar year.

If Bob can figure it out in Year 3 here, that’s a good thing for the Panthers. The goalie by committee approach worked last season and if the former Vezina winner can get back to that level. The Panthers can ease Spencer Knight into becoming a full-time starter. This will be his first full season in the league.

Opening Night Line Predictions

Take these with a grain of salt, as Q loves to throw his lines in a blender throughout games and change things up.

*Original predictions from a few weeks ago have been scratched out and replaced with those now occupying their spots*

(also shoutout the voice of the Florida Panthers Steve Goldstein for taking the guessing work out of it)

LWCRW
1st LineCarter VerhaegheAleksander BarkovSam Reinhart
2nd LineJonathan HuberdeauSam BennettOwen Tippett
3rd LineFrank VatranoAnton LundellAnthony Duclair
Patric Hornqvist
4th LineNoel Acciari
Joe Thornton
Joe Thornton
Eetu Luostarinen
Patric Hornqvist
Anthony Duclair
LDRD
Defensive Pairing 1Mackenzie WeegarAaron Ekblad
Defensive Pairing 2Gustav ForslingBrandon Montour
Defensive Pairing 3Marcus NutivaaraRadko Gudas

When the team is fully healthy, I expect the guys with their names crossed out to return to their spots.

Line 1- Verhaeghe, Barkov, Reinhart

By the end of the season, this might be the best top line in the league. I wrote earlier this offseason that the team needed another Top 6 forward, and Reinhart is exactly that. Not only that, but Reinhart offers roster flexibility with experience playing at Center. He can help the team should Lundell or Bennett miss any significant time. If that were to happen, Anthony Duclair can be elevated to the top line and we’ve seen what 23-16-10 can do together. Reinhart’s skills should mesh with Verhaeghe and Barkov nicely, and I’m excited to see what they can do throughout the year.

Line 2- Huberdeau, Bennett, Tippett

Huberdeau and Bennett are locked into this line, but it’s the RW position where the debate begins. After finding his footing last year and having a strong preseason camp, I believe 74 has earned the right to start on the 2nd line. The chemistry they showed together in the postseason brought out the best in Owen Tippett, and the franchise needs to find out whether it was a fluke or the real deal. If it doesn’t work, Anthony Duclair is still there for the return of the 9-1-1 line (although it’ll need a new name with Duclair now wearing 10)

Line 3- Vatrano, Lundell, Hornqvist // Vatrano, Lundell, Duclair

I’ll break this into two parts, one to talk about early in the season and the other about the playoff push. Vatrano, Lundell, and Hornqvist isn’t a sexy line but I think it can work. You have a proven goal scorer in Vatrano with a guy who has made a career out of parking himself in front of the net in Hornqvist. Those pieces can complement Lundell’s style of play and help him settle into the NHL. I think the Duclair/Hornqvist swap was made to add some speed to the fourth line, and should swap once Acciari comes back.

If we get to see Vatrano, Lundell, Duclair later in the season watch out. We saw how well Duke played with Barkov last season, so we can expect similar results playing alongside Barkov Jr. With Vatrano playing for a contract (and most likely his last as a Panther) he’ll be even more inclined to produce and potentially be an attractive trade chip for the team as the deadline nears.

Line 4- Thornton, Luostarinen, Duclair // Acciari, Thornton, Hornqvist

With the team shipping away Lammiko, we found out Luostarinen is the team’s preferred 4th line center. I’m interested to see how much Thornton plays this season, as Ryan Lomberg and Mason Marchment are younger and can handle the wear and tear of an 82 game season. I’d expect Hornqvist to get similar treatment too, as he and Thornton are going to be more beneficial to the team once the playoffs roll around.

Once Acciari gets back, we’ll have a true grit line. Especially if guys like Lomberg and Marchment get regular playing time. Acciari, Thornton, and Hornqvist are capable of setting the tone and will be a tough line for opposing teams to play against. They’re capable of making teams frustrated and have enough offensive power to make a play when the game is on the line. Thornton came to South Florida to chase a cup, so we know he’ll be hungry and give his all.

Power Play Units

The first Power Play unit is already out there, and it’s lethal. Barkov, Huberdeau, Reinhart, Bennett, and the return of Aaron Ekblad. Like the top line, the power play has a chance to finish on top of the league. Tampa’s power play gave them the edge in the playoffs last season, and the Panthers upgrades should level the playing field.

The second Power Play isn’t set yet, but it’s going to include players like Verhaeghe, Tippett, Duclair, Hornqvist, Montour, or Weegar. That’s an upgrade from last season and should create some good scoring chances if the first unit isn’t able to get it done (which I suspect will not be often)

Penalty Kill Units

Off all units affected by the roster changes, the Penalty Kill took the biggest hit. Alex Wennberg is no longer here and Acciari is out for a portion of the season. I’m not saying that there will be a significant decline in the PK %, just simply stating that the personnel is going to change and we don’t know how effective it will be. Will be interesting to watch how Q and his coaching staff handle the personnel decisions here as the season goes on.

Quick Takes:

  • Barkov leading goalscorer
  • Huberdeau points leader
  • Owen Tippett breakout season
  • Knight takes over as the 1 before the Olympic Break
  • Everyone in the Top 6 finishes with 20+ goals
  • Panthers win the Atlantic

Season Prediction:

As I sit here today writing this, I can see this Florida Panthers team winning it all, which has never been a thought I’ve had as a Panthers fan going into a season. The teams bond is so strong, and that’s accredited to the culture change that’s taken place inside the building since Q arrived. They’re highly motivated to win together, and they’ll play harder than most teams across the league.

While this is just year one of the team’s newly formed Cup Window, I think this may be their best shot. The Cats kept their core together, had the best offseason of any team in the NHL, and have the prospect pool and roster flexibility to be buyers at the deadline. On top of that, this is probably Joe Thornton’s last year in the league, and he chose to chase a cup here.

Personally, I’d just love to see us win one playoff series, but the expectations are higher than that. This is a team that can make and win the conference finals, and this is a team that can win the Stanley Cup.

We’ll have to see how the team navigates through the season and the moves they make at the deadline, but it’s going to be a special few years in Sunrise.

Until next time, we move 🤝

Tennessee football looks to continue momentum as they host #13 Ole Miss

Photo courtesy of Vol Football on twitter

Tennessee football plays host to 13th ranked Ole Miss in what has become the most anticipated match up the Vols have played all season. The Vols play host to the ghost of their past: Ole Miss head coach, Lane Kiffin. Kiffin coached the Vols for only one season in 2009 and is considered a main part in the downfall of Tennessee football. Since Kiffin’s departure in 2009, Tennessee has beat Florida once and has yet to beat Alabama. What does Tennessee have to do to exorcise this demon? I have your answers.

The defense must force turnovers.

Tennessee Football
Photo courtesy of Vol Football

So far in the season, Tennessee’s defense has been exceptional in stopping the run; however, Ole Miss offense revolves around quarterback Matt Coral. Coral has thrown for 1,497 yards and 12 touchdowns and has yet to throw an interception; add in Coral’s 8 rushing touchdowns and he has an astounding 20 touchdowns in just 6 games this season. If Tennessee is going to come out the victors in this pivotal matchup, they’re going to have to limit Coral’s production and force his first interception of the season.

The offense has to dominate the run game.

Photo Courtesy of Vol Football

Tennessee has been running the ball at will so far this season. That starts with JUCO transfer running back Tiyon Evans. Evans has rushed for 486 yards and 6 scores, including a 92-yard sprint at Missouri in the Vols’ SEC opener. QB Hendon Hooker has also been a focal point to Tennessee’s rushing attack. The red-shirt senior has piled up 282 yards and 3 touchdowns in 4 games as a starter. Tennessee has been without Jabari Small for the past 3 weeks and it appears that Small will be back for this game against the Rebels.

The injury bug is ceased.

Tennessee played last Saturday’s game against South Carolina with a plethora of injuries. Cooper Mays, Jabari Smalls, Trevon Flowers, and Daneiko Slaughter were just some of the guys that were missing and who are set to make their return to the field this weekend. You never want to have injuries, but the time couldn’t have been better for the Vols. Tennessee got to play Missouri and South Carolina while undermanned. As Tennessee begins to get back healthy, it does so at the best time possible. In the next four games Tennessee plays: #13 Ole Miss, @ #5 Alabama, @ #11 Kentucky, and #1 Georgia. I’m not saying Tennessee will win all of these games, but it will feel good to Heupel and company to have all of their guys back to try and pull off some upsets.

Tennessee football announced that Neyland Stadium has been sold out and will be checkered for the first time since 2017. A lot of excitement is going into this game and could be looked back at as a key win for Heupel and company as they work towards bringing the Vols back to their rightful spot atop the SEC. The Vols can move 5-2 headed to Alabama next weekend and I think that is exactly what will happen.

My score prediction: Tennessee 48, Ole Miss 31.

NFL Power Rankings Week 5: 7 Up, 7 Down – Thrive at Five

NFL Power Rankings Week Five, Credit: BillsWire

A wild and wacky Week 5 is done and dusted. What were the biggest topics on the tongues and minds of NFL folks league wide? Who were the heroes and villains of the fifth week? 14 of the hottest storylines dotting the NFL landscape. The Weekly NFL Power Rankings for week five are here and the question begs itself: who had the drive to thrive in week five?

Up

1. Kyle Pitts FINALLY gets his first touchdown

– The rookie star tight end finally got his first touchdown against the Jets on the soil of America’s greatest ally. Topping off his greatest game as the focal point of the Falcons’ offense (which necessitated due to injuries to the emerging Calvin Ridley). Perhaps this game propels the precocious rookie forward into being the premier tight end league-wide as once was promised? Rookie tight ends are notorious for being fickle in their impact. Head coach Arthur Smith hasn’t been utilizing him as the promised future at the position until Sunday so there’s that factor as well. Maybe this is the game that changes that. Pitts’ fantasy owners will surely love it. 

2. Burrow to Chase is the goods

– Quite a burgeoning friendship one would suspect if both stay healthy and fulfill their endless potential. Chase on target to, well, chase down the GOAT rookie receiver season of Randy Moss 1998. The ascendant star receiver added another 159 yards and a touchdown on just six receptions on Sunday against the Packers. Burrow put a mighty scare into the Bengals after getting hit hard on a scramble (he ultimately returned) and he was admitted to the hospital for a throat contusion. If both players can stay healthy, they can be one of the more lethal quarterback and receiver duos in this league.

3. 1 PM window finishes 

– The early slate delivered some wild hijinks to close it out. Which made up for the relatively nonchalant finishes that the late afternoon games provided us. We all witnessed the crazy back and forth missed kick contest between the Packers and Bengals extend beyond the start of the late window. A game Houston squad made it tough for the Patriots and held the lead until the Pats came back late. Denver got past its offensive struggles and made it a contest deep into the 60th minute against the Steelers. Detroit actually held the lead in a dramatic affair with the injury-depleted Vikings before ultimately succumbing to yet another long-distance game-winning kick. It’s a fun league-wide trend that these games are so close this season. The fans are simultaneously reaching for the antiacids and their phones on an increasing basis this year. We’re all here for the drama. 

4. Browns and Chargers stop playing defense

– The late slate did provide the viewers with some incredible offensive fireworks as both the Browns and Chargers decided to play a game of H-O-R-S-E in the fourth quarter. It was mind-boggling as each team traded long touchdowns like cryptocurrency. After a relatively quiet three quarters, the teams combined for whopping FORTY-ONE points in the final stanza. Both teams went over a combined 1,000 yards of total offense in this one. Justin Herbert continues to solidify his case as a top-five quarterback in this league with every bomb throw he makes and game-winning drives. Where else could you get an entire defense actively trying to drag a runner into the end zone? 

5. The Jameis Winston Experience 

– We got the full ride on Sunday on that roller coaster. He threw a ghastly interception then follows it up with this beauty of a deep shot to Deonte Harris. Overall, Mr. Winston has had a great season controlling his inner turnover demons thus far. He’s played well in Sean Payton’s system and with Taysom Hill’s unfortunate injury, looks to be the only passer touching the ball for a bit. Comeback Player of the Year contender? 

6. The 2021 MVP race crystalizes

– The race for the 2021 MVP award is likely down to three contenders as we move deeper into October and beyond. The three lucky contestants: Kyler Murray, Josh Allen, and Justin Herbert. There could be a dark horse that looms on the horizon like grizzled graybeards Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and the like but it’s these three young guns battling it out. All three are off to fast starts and leading their teams as division contenders if not outright favorites. You can’t go wrong with any of them winning the award at the end. Allen is proving that he’s here to stay after a remarkable 2020. Murray is leading the league’s top offense. The Los Angeles Charger signal-caller has come on like gangbusters during his sophomore season after a remarkable rookie year. Allen likely wins it after establishing his bonafides last year. 

7. The 2019 MVP Stakes His Claim to the Crown

–  Lamar Jackson had a performance for the ages on Monday Night Football, leading the Ravens to a stirring comeback victory over the Colts. He’s well on his way to making the MVP race a four-way contest with the aforementioned three young guns above. It will be a thrilling race to the very end and Jackson has the precedence as a prior winner to know what it takes to win it. He has progressed every season as a passer under Greg Roman’s watch. Can he win the award for a second time?

Down

1. Special Teams coaches’ heart rates 
– The specialists in Week 5 were on one this week. A whopping 12 missed extra points plagued the league’s foot meeting with leather people, including THREE in the Texans-Patriots (in a dome, no less). The aforementioned Cincinnati-Packers featured both kickers missing game-winning kicks on repeat, including Mason Crosby missing THREE BY HIMSELF in about 15 minutes of game time. Of course, we can’t leave out the punters as a 0-yard punt AND a double punt happened! There’s nothing that epitomizes the weekend more than Evan McPherson pulling a Nick Young and celebrating a bit too early.

2. Injuries

– Another brutal week of injuries took a toll around the league as multiple stars are looking at long term issues. None more so than the Giants as Daniel Jones, Saquon Barkley, and Kenny Golladay were all knocked out of the game. The Browns didn’t escape as Jack Conklin, Denzel Ward, Greedy Williams, and JOK suffered game-ending injuries as well. Pittsburgh receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster injured his shoulder and is out for the season. The offensive linemen suffered heavily as Joe Thuney (broken hand), Oday Aboushi (ACL), Germain Ifedi (knee), Laremy Tunsil (hand), Sam Cosmi (ankle), Rodger Saffold (shoulder) were all declared OUT. At what point do the owners realize that the 17th game isn’t worth it? Do teams begin to schedule loss games like the San Antonio Spurs infamously made legendary?

3. Business is not booming for Miami 

– There’s no shame in losing to the GOAT quarterback. However, there is shame in how they lost. The Dolphins’ defense was dismantled in a devastating fashion as all three units were to blame. The secondary was lit on fire as Antonio Brown got loose on a pair of touchdowns. How dominant was the Bucs offensive line? Well, let’s say a picture is worth a thousand words. Not to mention that the Twitter account of Tua Tagovailoa’s gym went on a Brian Flores-related rant after the game. Things aren’t rosy for the denizens of Hard Rock Stadium right now.

4. Coaches wearing the scandalous scarlet letters 

– I won’t get into the Urban Meyer stuff this week as it’s been harangued into oblivion. It’s definitely not a great look for a coach with a questionable character already struggling to adapt to the pro game. The Jaguars looked relatively competitive on Sunday despite the week filled with questions about Meyer’s antics. However, on the west coast, Raiders head coach Jon Gruden is in a lot of hot water regarding racist emails about NFLPA director DeMaurice Smith. Then the New York Times broke the news that the Gruden emails got horrifically worse, way worse. Gruden has elected to resign, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero

5. Denver’s offense is who we thought that they were 

– Try as they might, the Broncos’ offense just couldn’t get it going until it was desperation time against the Steelers. Teddy Bridgewater, while a capable quarterback, isn’t the most physically gifted passer. Throw in an offense that is recovering a key asset or two like Courtland Sutton, it’s going to take a minute to gel together. Next week might be a get-right game against the tumultuous scandal-ridden Raiders in the Mile High City.

6. Seattle without Chef Unlimited 

– We will get a few weeks’ glimpses into the possibly not too distant Wilson-less future with Russell Wilson out due to injury. Geno Smith takes over as the starter. The schedule is demanding to say the least with a road trip to Pittsburgh, home against the Saints, away at Green Bay, and home to Arizona dotting the next four out of five games. Can the Seahawks keep their heads above water in the Division of Death with Mr. Unlimited? 

7. The Chiefs defense is bad

– Yeah, nothing new here but it’s dire for the men under the watch of Steve Spagnuolo. The numbers are disastrous and I’m not sure Spags’ pedigree can save them this time. Missing their best defensive lineman Chris Jones isn’t helping much, either. It’s a long season yet the defensive statistics reflect a team with a much lesser talent profile. Wherever the season ends up for the Chiefs to be seen, it is ominous. Patrick Mahomes can’t keep on rescuing the defense when he’s battling some issues himself. 

Previous Editions

Week 1: Opening Overreactions

Wk 2: Perceptive Repeats

Week 3: So Nice, Do It Thrice

Week 4: Good Quads Like Saquon

Texas Longhorns: Now is not the time for panic

Texas Longhorns

Saturday afternoon featured many of the same feelings Texas Longhorns fans have been accustomed to the past decade: disgust, anger, sadness, and nausea. Losing to Oklahoma in Dallas hurts. Blowing a 21 point lead hurts. Blowing a 21 point lead to Oklahoma, who had to pull their ‘Heisman front-runner’ quarterback, is a fate worse than hell to most Longhorns. However, with perspective, there are reasons to believe that things are indeed different now. 

Renewed energy around the program

The most obvious reason for optimism that things will be different now for the Texas Longhorns is that things are. There is an entirely new staff that has been hot on the recruiting trail the past two months. This staff recognized the inadequacies of the current roster.

There are already seven defensive line recruits committed to the Longhorns to go along with two interior offensive linemen. Beefing up on the lines is the quickest way to improve, as this is where UT has struggled so far in the Sark era. This goes into the next reason that things are different: the move to the SEC.

The three letters representing the Southeastern Conference are often tongue-in-cheek ridiculed by Twitter when a school breaks out into an S-E-C chant. We have grown exhausted from hearing our neighbors in College Station gloat about their SEC monopoly in Texas. With Texas’s (hopefully) imminent move to the premier conference in college football, there is a renewed energy around the program. The stakes are higher in our new home, but the benefits are as well.

Recruiting will obviously be positively affected (goodbye A&M recruiting advantage). Marketing will skyrocket for the most valuable brand in college football. Key states will be opened up for a brand new suitor to create pipelines. The benefits will be huge for Texas to contribute to a conference instead of carrying eight other members to national relevancy.

There have been improvements already

It is easy to be struck by Deranged Longhorn Fan Syndrome (DLFS) after witnessing what transpired in the Cotton Bowl. The trip to Fayetteville was a complete disaster that showed exactly where this team is lacking talent. It does take some perspective to see that the team has already improved at this point.

Mid-majors Louisiana and Rice were not even close contests; this could not always be said during previous administrations. Texas Tech vs. Texas in years past was a shootout usually won by the team possessing the ball last or the team not making the last mistake.

It was over by halftime this year, with Sark taking his foot off the gas after hitting the 70 point mark. TCU has been a problem for Texas since its acceptance in the Big XII in 2021. The Longhorns found a way to win in Ft. Worth when the passing game was not clicking in a hostile environment.  

The four wins so far should not be discounted or cheapened by what happened in Dallas. Texas still controls its destiny in the Big XII title race. Given what we have witnessed this season, Texas should have confidence that this coaching staff has what it takes to take care of business against the middle-to-lower-tier conference opponents.

A coach that has been through it all

Charlie Strong and Tom Herman had great resumes until they accepted the head coaching position with the Texas Longhorns. Transforming mid-major powers Louisville and Houston were impressive feats, with each winning a BCS/New Year’s Six bowl before departing for the 40 acres. However, neither had the resume, both on and off the field, as Steve Sarkisian.

Coach Sark was ½ of the golden boy assistants (With Lane Kiffin) that Pete Carroll featured on his staff. The Trojans won big, put up huge numbers, and met very little resistance (except January 4, 2006). Sark was on the fast track to stardom at this point and parlayed it to the head coaching gig at Washington. He was able to build up enough equity there to get his dream job at USC. But this is where the true education of Sark began.

We all know the story of his fall from grace, so ill spare the details. But what happened from that point is why I have the most optimism for the future of Texas. Sark rebuilt his image with an off-field role at Alabama, a mixed result dip into the NFL, and a return to Alabama. In 2019 and 2020, he piloted record-setting offenses for the Tide and captured the 2020 national title.  

Steve Sarkisian is not another coach coming off a hot run as a Group of 5 head coach or a Power 5 coordinator. Sark is someone who has had everything in front of him and lost it. He has ventured lower than most coaches will ever have to. He has scratched and clawed to get back to this point, once again powering a blue blood program.

As far as the future of Texas Longhorns football, Sark will not be afraid to make the tough calls on assistants, in-game management, or critical calls during a game. When you have lost it all once, you will do anything in your power to not lose it again.

Most importantly, Steve Sarkisian understands how special being the head coach on the 40 acres is, unlike his two predecessors. Standing beside Pete Carroll in cardinal and gold on January 4, 2006, Sark saw what can happen when the coach and program mesh together perfectly in Austin, Texas.

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