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Time to Snap Data adds a New Wrinkle to Tua Tagovailoa’s Game

The future of the Miami Dolphins is murky to say the least. Following the return of Tua from a rib injury, the Dolphins fell to the Jaguars 23-20, losing their 5th straight game. However, there is a silver lining after losing to the Jaguars and the never-ending swirl of Deshaun Watson trade rumors.

Coming off of fractured ribs, Tua threw for 329 yards and 2 touchdowns, showing some promise Miami desperately needs.

Although, Tua made some questionable plays, Tua led Miami to 2 long touchdown drives in which he made several solid throws, finding rhythm early on scripted drives and finishing strong with a 90 yard drive to keep Miami in the game.

Through the first 12 starts of his young career, a pattern is starting to emerge in the success of Tua. After charting every dropback from Sunday’s game in London, I noticed a strong correlation between yards gained and time-to-snap.

Quick to the Line

Of Tua’s 49 dropbacks, nine of them resulted in plays of 15 yards or more. All nine of those big plays came with seven or more seconds remaining on the play clock. Five of those nine snaps came with more than 10 seconds left on the clock.

Tua Tagovailoa snap stats
Percentages of Time on the Play Clock Remaining on 15+ Yard Plays.

Currently, this offense is designed to get to the line quickly, as Miami drafted a QB who ran one of the most efficient collegiate offenses at Alabama.

Running a variety of RPO’s (run-pass options), Tua was able to lead a prolific 3rd ranked scoring offense in his Sophomore year. It was clear that playing in pace was key for his decision making process. Tua played instinctually and caught defenses off guard with quick throws.

However; with the blueprint for success outlined, Miami came to the table with different plans. In press conferences throughout the season, coaches and Tagovailoa himself stated that their idea was to get to the line quickly, but delay the snap of the ball in order to identify coverages, call-out blitzes, and find soft spots.

In doing so, Miami also causes themselves unforeseen consequences. Defenses now have more time to recover from the previous play, and the ability to make their own counters to what they see on the field. This also has led to significantly worse results for Miami’s young quarterback, particularly early in drives.

The Effects of Starting Slow

Of Tagovailoa’s 11 drives, five of them started with gains of two yards or less (including his INT). ALL five of those snaps came with 10 or less seconds left on the play clock, with minimal gains causing Miami to fall behind on down-and-distance, preventing sustained drives.

Tua Tagovailoa’s Drive Starting Dropbacks with Play Clock Time and Yards Gained.

It’s clear that getting to the line fast, especially early on in drives, significantly increases Tagovailoa’s confidence, pace, and production. Miami had five drive-starting snaps with 11 or more seconds on the play clock, and ALL of them started with gains of at least five yards.

Upping the Pace Late

One of those drives, a 90 yard TD drive in the 4th quarter, started with a snap with 14 seconds left on the play clock. Tua was able to find to find Mike Gesicki over the middle on a game-high 32 yard pass.

On that drive, which was Tua’s best of the game, Miami made quick snaps a priority, snapping with 10 seconds or more remaining on three of the first four plays. The result? Each of those three plays went for 12 yards or more.

The flexibility of Miami’s offense grows with Tagovailoa’s comfortability, however, as the Dolphins were able to wait longer to snap the ball later on in drives, with a similar level of success.

It is clear that the early drive gains are dependent on getting to the line fast, as Tua’s footwork sees a significant drop-off when he is forced to beat the clock early on, which throws him out of rhythm for long portions of drives.

As he was in college, Tua is very much a rhythm based QB, and the ability to get him to act more off of instinct is one that Miami relied too little on, too late in the game.

As a result of that, Miami’s offense was only able to put up 20 points on the Jaguars, the least a Jacksonville opponent has scored all year.

The Bottom Line

With Chris Grier and Brian Flores potentially on the hot seat, Miami is in must-win mode for the rest of the season, and the key for success lies in the hands of a fast-paced Tua Tagovailoa led offense, that we have seen the flashes of.

In the midst of the Deshaun Watson trade rumors, we have seen the narrative on Tua shift to one of a young QB who needs support from his staff and to be put in places where he can succeed. While it is certain that Miami’s staff hasn’t done so to this point, the perfect opportunity to change the narrative lies ahead.

On Wednesday, it was reported that Flores and his staff will be open to different methods of teaching in order to battle through adversity. It will be interesting to see if it includes a shift to a faster paced offense. It may improve Miami’s success rate in early drive situations, much how it has up to this point.

View the Full Chart with Time To Snap, Down, Distance and Success here!

Follow Tyler DeSena on Twitter

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Panthers vs Islanders: Postgame Thoughts

Panthers vs Islanders
(Jonathan Huberdeau, Sam Bennett, and Aleksander Barkov celebrating Huberdeau’s 500th career point// @FlaPanthers Twitter)

After winning their season opener on Thursday, the Panthers were back on the ice Saturday night vs the New York Islanders. In their first meeting since the 2020 NHL bubble in Toronto, the Panthers left the ice victorious, winning by a score of 5-1.

The Islanders, led by Barry Trotz, are expected to be one of the top teams in the Metropolitan Division if not the entire Eastern Conference this season. The Islanders, like the Hurricanes, are one of those teams you don’t want to play from behind against. They’re sound on the defensive end, and have enough playmakers on offense to make it a tough day at the office for their opponents.

Luckily for the Panthers, today was not one of those days.

Panthers vs Islanders Recap

The Panthers struggled to get themselves going in the first period but did take a 1-0 lead into the locker room thanks to a Sam Bennett tap in off a Radko Gudas blast from the top of the zone.

In the second period, you could see that the Panthers were playing with more intensity. I’m sure they got an earful from Q during intermission, and it’s what they needed. Bennett continued his scoring with a beautiful wraparound goal to make it 2-0 (props to Owen Tippett for his work near the crease before the goal) and we can’t tell the story of the second period without talking about the Hail Duke.

This play doesn’t happen without the awareness and pass by Mackenzie Weegar, but man that finish by Duclair was filthy.

Once we got to the third period, it felt like the Panthers were going to coast to an easy victory as long as they kept themselves out of trouble. Outside of a power play goal by the Islanders, they were able to do just that.

Benny finished off the night by taking everyone in the arena’s hats with him, bagging his second career hat trick with a beautiful shot to make it 4-1 Panthers.

Of course, the Captain wanted to get in on the fun and net his first goal of the season, and first since his extension last week.

Quick Thoughts:

  • Was awesome to see Huby get his 500th NHL point, I had the privilege to be there when he scored his first NHL points, and I hope to be there once he scores his 1000th NHL point (hopefully still with the Panthers)
  • Lundell continues to impress early on, and shows why the team has so much faith in him. Getting huge penalty kill minutes and 4 v 4 time with the big guns will only help him gain confidence
  • Bob has been a whole different Bob so far this year, and that’s a great thing for the Panthers. 72 getting back to his Vezina roots elevates the floor of this team, especially the goalie room. With an improved Bob and a young star in Spencer Knight who will get better with every start, the Panthers are looking at having the top goalie tandem in the league.
  • Sam Reinhart learned what it’s like to play for Joel Quenneville tonight. After taking a delay of game penalty in the second period, he and Duclair swapped lines. Reinhart saw limited minutes on the fourth line for the rest of the game while Duclair was reunited with his line mates for most of last season. Reinhart should be back on the top line on Tuesday, but he learned he will be benched for poor performance on the ice.

Overall, a very solid game for the Cats. The Panthers weren’t forced to play from behind vs the Islanders which was part of the game plan. Next up for the Panthers, a quick trip across Alligator Alley for the first edition of the 2021-2022 Sunshine State Showdown vs the Lightning. If you have plans for Tuesday night, you better cancel them because this will be must see television.

Until next time, we move 🤝

Would We See the Same Justin Herbert in Miami?

Credit: Oregon Live

It is very clear that Los Angeles Chargers QB Justin Herbert is the real deal. Through five games this year, he’s thrown for 1,576 yards, and 13 touchdowns to just 3 interceptions.

Herbert’s recent play and Tagovailoa’s injury have led to people questioning whether Miami drafted the wrong player.

If Miami drafted Herbert, would we see the same Justin Herbert in Miami?

Pre-Draft

Before Tagovailoa suffered a severe hip injury, most scouts and draft experts had him as the consensus first pick. In 2019 the plan was obvious, Miami assembled their roster to fail.

They were going to have a high pick in the 2020 draft, and most people had believed since the start of the rebuild that the Dolphins were aiming to select Tagovailoa. The phrase “Tank For Tua” was seen all over social media and had even been mentioned in National media.

The local Miami media was calling the Dolphins to “Tank For Tua” on the second day of 2019.

Tagovailoa being the consensus QB1 wasn’t without reason either. He threw for 7,442 yards, a completion rate of almost 70%, and 87 touchdowns to just 11 interceptions.

Tua is the quarterback who took over for Nick Saban’s team at halftime in the National Championship game and led a comeback win in OT to beat Georgia as a freshman. The hype around Tagovailoa was warranted.

After Tagovailoa suffered a near career ending-injury and LSU QB Joe Burrow broke NCAA records, most people began to fall in love with Burrow as their QB1. However, Tagovailoa was still QB1 for some people. For everyone else, he was QB2 at worst. No one had Justin Herbert higher than QB3. 

Heading into the draft, it was clear the Cincinnati Bengals were going to select Joe Burrow with the first pick. It was very likely that Miami was going to select Tua Tagovailoa, which would have left the LA Chargers to “settle” for Justin Herbert.

With draft season many smokescreens are sent into the media. The Dolphins set smokescreens to cause chaos and uncertainty among other teams, many did not know if they wanted Herbert or Tagovailoa; however, some knew Tua would be the pick.

Rumored Disagreement

A recent article by DolphinsNation.Com stated that Brian Flores wanted to draft Justin Herbert.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard this though. Over the last year, people in the National Media would speculate that there was discourse in the Dolphins Organization and not a unanimous decision on the right pick at QB.

Brian Flores has spoken in support of Tagovailoa numerous times and emphasized how he feels about Tua’s leadership and ability.

The right pick?

Hindsight is always 2020. If you told Chris Grier and Brian Flores that Justin Herbert would win OROY last year and be in MVP conversations after 5 weeks in his second season, I’m sure they’d have selected Herbert.

Unfortunately that’s not how it works. Really that’s not how anything in life works. Hindsight is always 2020, and you have to work with what you have.

Again, Justin Herbert is an amazing quarterback. He’s reached Star status after just 20 games and is being compared to Miami Dolphins Hall of Famer Dan Marino. 

He’s doing it all well right now.

Is he Dan Marino level already? No. He looks like he could be though.

The point is, saying “Miami drafted the wrong QB” isn’t fair or true. At the time, most people would agree that Tagovailoa was the better prospect and a better pick at 5th overall than Herbert. 

Herbert is going to be a great QB in the league for years to come. This does not mean that Tua can not be a good QB. Tagovailoa has 12 games to prove he’s the guy in Miami.

Contextualization

Let’s get one thing clear. It is by no means a safe assumption that Justin Herbert would have the same success in Miami. 

The system in Miami is different, the offensive line is the worst in the league, and the offensive coaching staff is a mystery, and the WR corp has the highest drop percentage in the league since last year. 

Through five games, Jacoby Brissett and Tua Tagovailoa have been sacked 16 times. That number would be a lot higher if Jacoby Brissett didn’t use his superhuman strength to avoid sacks. Justin Herbert has only been sacked 9 times. In week 4, the Dolphins allowed 2 sacks but a whopping 11 pressures. 

That clip sums up the Dolphins OL performance through the first 5 weeks of the season. 

This season, the Chargers of Los Angeles have a top-10 OL.

The offensive line’s performance has a huge impact on QB play, and there is a drastic difference between the Miami OL and the LAC OL.

Career Path

Since Herbert and Tagovailoa arrived, they’ve had different paths to reach where they are today. After taking over for an injured Tyrod Taylor in week 2 last year, Herbert played well enough to earn the starting job. It was his team going forward and there was no doubt he was the starter.

In Miami, Tagovailoa took over after the Dolphins bye week with the team sitting at 3-3. Unfortunately, it’s been rumored that Chan Gailey did not agree with the decision. Downfield success was clearly an issue when Tagovailoa. Clearly the playbook was limited for Tagovailoa.

The Dolphins were also in playoff contention last year. In games where Tagovailoa was managing the game but not doing enough to win the game, Brian Flores pulled him in favor of veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick went 1-1 in his save attempts.

Having a veteran QB who was clearly unhappy with his benching looking over Tua’s shoulder probably was far from the best case scenario.

This year, the Dolphins have two offensive coordinators and a QB coach who all have a part in the play-calling. Similar to playing “telephone” in elementary school, it never ends how you want it to. Tagovailoa is already on his 2nd and 3rd offensive coordinators in just his second year. 

Lastly, playmakers and supporting cast were a big issue for Tagovailoa and the Dolphins offense. In just week 17 alone, the Dolphins had 13 dropped passes. There were games in which Tagovailoa’s starting wide receivers were Antonio Callaway and Mack Hollins. Callaway isn’t with the team, and Hollins is primarily a special teams player. 

Herbert on the other hand had Mike Williams, Keenan Allen, Hunter Henry, Austin Ekeler for a little more than half the season.

These are by no means an excuse for the underwhelming start to Tagovailoa’s career. Last year, they were valid reasons. To say Herbert would be having the same start to his career in Miami as he is in Los Angeles is almost laughable.

Herbert is an excellent player and will be for years to come, but his supporting cast, coaching staff, and improved offensive line are all due credit.

The Future

It’s clear that Tagovailoa isn’t as physically gifted as Herbert. He’s smaller and doesn’t have as strong of an arm. That does not mean he can’t be a great quarterback in the NFL going forward. 

Tagovailoa is in Miami and we can’t change that. He has shown flashes of potential. He will need to rely on his weapons to become the player we think he can be.

Herbert is a stud. Tagovailoa can still become really good. Both can be true. Sitting here and saying Miami chose the wrong player is a useless and untrue(at the time) conversation to have. 

Tagovailoa makes his return from IR this Sunday in London and hopes to make his presence felt over the next 12 games of the season.

Follow Rishi Desai on Twitter.

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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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Bengals Position Grades after 25-22 loss to Packers

Bengals position grades
Katie Stratman – USA Today Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals showed they are worth taking seriously this week against a Super Bowl caliber team in the Green Bay Packers. NFL teams do not celebrate moral victories, and I’m not suggesting Bengals fans do either. But, these position grades will reflect the fact that the Bengals played mostly well in their 25-22 loss to the Green Bay Packers.

Like it or not, the Cincinnati Bengals are on the radar now across the league. If just a few plays go differently, this is a 5-0 team right now. I said in our preview article for this game, the Bengals didn’t have much to lose in this game as long as they kept it close. The element of surprise is now gone. NFL teams will pay closer attention now when preparing to face this team. It wasn’t a perfect game by any means, particularly for certain position groups. But, the most frustrating part is it should have been enough to come away with a win.

Cincinnati Bengals Position Grades: Offense

Quarterback grade: C-

You can never truly count Joe Burrow out, as evidenced by his gutsy drives down the field late in the second half. Were it not for a holding penalty on Quinton Spain and a missed field goal by Evan McPherson, he might have done enough to come away with a huge statement win.

Unfortunately, the way he played in the final 20 minutes of regulation doesn’t tell the whole story. He threw a bunch of passes pretty far off target, looked like he was having trouble getting the ball where it needed to go, and threw two costly interceptions in the third quarter and in overtime. 

The first interception was severely underthrown and killed all of the momentum they had built by scoring just before halftime. The second interception looked like he didn’t even see De’Vondre Campbell right in front of him. It should have directly led to the game-winning field goal kick. Luckily, Mason Crosby missed on his third straight attempt and the Bengals got the ball back.

Running Back grade: B+

Samaje Perine was an absolute machine this week. The man refused to go down no matter how many Packers were on top of him. He turned in an impressive 5.4 yards per carry on the day, which you always love to see. He also caught the Bengals’ first touchdown of the day that gave them an early 7-0 lead at the end of a rough first quarter for both offenses.

Joe Mixon played through an ankle injury many thought could keep him out this week. Although, he certainly looked limited, only turning in 3.3 yards per carry. However, he did score the Bengals’ game-tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter. The 8-yard conclusion to an eight-minute drive breathed new life into a Bengals team that almost came back and won it near the end of regulation.

Wide Receiver grade: B-

It’s really hard to be overly critical of this unit’s performance when Ja’Marr Chase turns in six receptions for 159 yards and a touchdown. At the end of the day, Chase was one of the biggest reasons why the Bengals were in this game with a chance to win at the end.

The problem is the drops. Chase had a big one that would have gone for a first down and added to his already impressive totals. Tee Higgins… man. He had two absolutely brutal drops that would have extended drives and likely led to the Bengals putting more points on the board. In close games like this one, those huge missed opportunities matter. Boy, did they matter this week.

Tight End grade: C

We didn’t see much from the tight ends this week. CJ Uzomah was targeted twice and caught both passes for 16 total yards. Unfortunately, the first catch is largely forgotten about because it didn’t result in a first down. However, it did put the Bengals within long field goal range for Evan McPherson. Why Zac Taylor opted to punt the ball on the Green Bay 41 yard line is baffling. But, we’ll talk about that in later in the article.

Offensive line grade: C-

On the whole, the Bengals’ offensive line didn’t really have the best night. Joe Burrow was regularly under pressure, and quite a few of the rushing yards were only attained by plowing through a sea of defenders. That said, it wasn’t an all-out terrible night for a unit that did help put over 100 rushing yards on the day and only allowed Burrow to be sacked two times. 

He was sacked three times total. But, one of those was on a failed blitz pickup by Samaje Perine. Then again, maybe being happy he was “only” sacked three total times is an indication of how bad this unit has been in the past.

Cincinnati Bengals Position Grades: Defense

Defensive line grade: C

Going into this game, Bengals fans were hoping to see a much more disruptive performance by the defensive line. Not only has this unit been playing really well this year, but the Packers were missing three starting offensive linemen. Trey Hendrickson had a pretty good game. He constantly got in the backfield, took down Aaron Rodgers twice, and hit him a third time.

Unfortunately, Hendrickson was the only member of the defensive line to have a particularly good day. Cameron Sample and DJ Reader were able to get a bit of pressure, but for the most part the unit got shredded by Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon. Not to mention, DJ Reader’s killer tripping penalty that extended a Packers drive in the fourth quarter. The drive eventually resulted in a field goal. Without that penalty, the Bengals would have held the Packers to a 3 & Out immediately before the late eight-minute touchdown drive. There would have been no overtime, only victory.

Linebacker grade: B

It was a relatively quiet game for Logan Wilson, although he still had the third most tackles on the team this week. He was largely responsible for most of the Packers runs that were stopped for a short gain. Akeem Davis-Gaither was largely quiet too, primarily showing up as cleanup duty on broken plays.

Germaine Pratt, on the other hand, was a huge part of the defense’s ability to keep the Packers’ offense largely in check. Twice he stopped Packers running backs for a short gain, once for no gain, and once for negative yards. He did have to play cleanup duty on a couple big catches by AJ Dillon in the backfield, but in general he brought this unit’s grade up.

Cornerback grade: C+

Guarding Davante Adams is a nearly impossible task. He’s a top-two receiver in the NFL, and he’s clearly not number two. So, as ugly as it looked, I’m not going to destroy the Bengals’ corners for getting worked by him all game. Honestly, the fact that they only allowed Adams to get in the endzone once was remarkable. Other than Adams, there were a couple of big plays by Randall Cobb. But, that was about it.

Chidobe Awuzie once again showed why the Bengals believed in him this offseason  with two pass deflections, a tackle for a loss, and a huge interception on Aaron Rodgers early in the game. Mike Hilton got worked by Randall Cobb early in the game, but he cleaned things up as the game went on. He had a tackle for loss in the second quarter. After that, he only allowed one more intermediate play the rest of the game, an eight-yard pass to Davante Adams. 

Trae Waynes generally played well against his man. Eli Apple got burned by Davante Adams for a 22-yard catch that eventually led to a touchdown. But, you didn’t hear much else from him during the short period while he was filling in for an injured Awuzie.

Safety grade: C-

Jessie Bates was back this week and went right back to being the Bengals’ leading tackler like it was his birthright. It wasn’t exactly the most exciting night from him though, as he was regularly the one having to clean up big plays by Davante Adams. Adams burned Bates on that explosive 59-yard catch that ended up being his longest of the night.

While Bates was cleaning up big plays by Adams, Vonn Bell spent most of the night cleaning up big plays by Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon. Except for the one play where he didn’t, absolutely whiffing on Aaron Jones in the backfield. He had him absolutely dead-to-rights on what would have been a big loss. But, Jones stepped to the side and ended up with a 57-yard run that eventually set up a chip shot 36-yard field goal by Mason Crosby late in the fourth quarter. Luckily, Crosby shanked it wide left. But, that could have been the back-breaking play that could have killed the Bengals’ comeback hopes.

Special teams grades: F

From what I understand, there was a wind current running through Paul Brown Stadium near the end of the game. That partially accounts for why Mason Crosby and Evan McPherson combined for five missed field goals at the end of regulation and in overtime.

That said, it’s no excuse for McPherson missing two opportunities to win the game. Granted, one was a 57-yard field goal that would have tied the all-time Bengals record for longest kick. But, the other was from a much more manageable 49 yards. He’s a rookie and I’m sure he’ll learn from this and be better in the future, but it’s something he and Darrin Simmons need to work on.

Kevin Huber had an ‘OK’ day punting the ball. But, poor special teams coverage ruined the punts he did hit well. Then again, there was the one time Zac Taylor decided to punt from the Packers’ 41-yard line. Huber couldn’t pin the Packers deep in their own territory despite the short field.

I’m not entirely sure what Darius Phillips was thinking trying to return a punt at the six-yard line. It likely would have resulted in a touchback. Instead, the Bengals’ offense ends up with the ball at the eight. After they went three-and-out on the ensuing drive, Huber was only able to get the ball to the 38-yard line. Luckily, Rodgers threw an interception on the ensuing drive. But, you still never want to set an explosive team like the Packers up in good field position.

Coaching grade: D-

Oof. I will give Zac Taylor credit for the Bengals never giving up every week. If two or three plays goes differently on the season, this Bengals team could be 5-0 right now. The way they played this week, it makes you think they are right on the cusp of winning games like this. If they manage to sneak into the playoffs, you have to believe they might be able to make some noise.

That said, I really don’t understand Taylor’s decision making this week. Why the hell did we punt the ball from Green Bay’s 41-yard line? Or later in the third quarter from their 40? The defense was playing well and Evan McPherson hit a 60-yard field goal in warm ups. It sounds weird to say after all those misses at the end of the game. But, those misses hadn’t happened yet in the first and third quarters. 

What happened to that aggressive mentality he assured us they would have all season after that weird 4th down call he made against Minnesota? Why all the conservative playcalling? Why did they not utilize their running game more considering how effective it was when they actually did run the ball?

It’s Taylor’s third season as a coach and mistakes like this really shouldn’t be happening at this frequency. On the whole, they’re having a decent season. He’s going to look pretty good at the end of the season, if they win more games than they lose.

But, when they lose games like this, you can’t help but question what the hell he was thinking.

Week 5 Preview – Know Thy Enemy: Jacksonville Jaguars

Key Numbers + Info (2021 season)

Record: 0-4 (0-1 AFC South)

Points scored: 74

PPG: 18.5

Points allowed: 115

PPGa: 28.75

Average yards per rush: 4.9

Avg. yards per rush allowed: 3.5

Average rush yards per game: 112.5

Avg. rush yards per game allowed: 106.25

Rushing TDs: 4 for, 6 against

Avg. pass yards per game: 209.25

Avg. pass yards per game allowed: 312.25

Passing TDs: 5 for, 6 against

Pass Completion Rate: 57%

Pass Completion Rate Against: 75%

Leading Rusher: James Robinson (49 attempts for 238 yards, three touchdowns)

Top Receiver: Marvin Jones, Jr (20 receptions for 218 yards, two touchdowns)

Leading Tackler: Myles Jack (32 tackles, one tackle for loss)

Key Additions: QB Trevor Lawrence (rookie), WR Marvin Jones, Jr, RB Carlos Hyde, S Rayshawn Jenkins, DL Jihad Ward, DT Malcolm Brown (trade), CB Tyson Campbell (rookie), S Andre Cisco (rookie), CB Shaquill Griffin, WR Tavon Austin, OT Walker Little (rookie), DL Roy Robertson-Harris, TE Dan Arnold

Key Losses: QB Gardner Minshew (traded), RB Travis Etienne (IR), WR D.J. Chark (IR), OL AJ Cann (IR), RB Duke Johnson, LB Dylan Moses (NFI), LB Joe Schobert (traded), CB CJ Henderson (traded) HC Urban Meyer (locker room and very little remaining integrity)

Series History

Tennessee leads the series 32-21-0

Tennessee Call Out, Ball Out

Derrick Henry. Jaguars Killer

– Henry is a notorious Jaguars killer and has made a career’s worth of ending careers via stiff arms solely against Jacksonville defenders. He has multiple 200-yard games against his hometown team. Tennessee will need him as the other weapons don’t even register a threat against a tough Jaguars defense. The Titans will probably have to ride him in yet another game as the offensive line cannot provide pass protection for whatever reason. He’s also continuing his good run of form as a legitimate threat out of the backfield. 

Shane Bowen is not #good

– Trevor Lawrence hasn’t been off to the greatest starts so it’s expected that he will get right and light up a wounded and abysmal Titans defense. A get-right game for the Titans defense would be ideal for under-fire defensive coordinator Shane Bowen to keep the hounds at bay. If they can’t stop him, then it will be another long season and possibly put Mike Vrabel’s status as the head coach under more scrutiny. Advisor Jim Schwartz is in the wings as a consultant who could be hired as the defensive coordinator should Bowen continue his horrifically poor run of form. Vrabel’s hands aren’t bloodless either as this is his defense with a new name on the DC door. 

Business Trip

– Tennessee failed to put away the Jets and paid dearly for it with a shocking loss last week. They need to win this one to show something as an AFC contender or be known as false hope. Get in, dominate, and get out as healthy as you can. This needs to be the mindset of the team after last week’s miserable failure. Nashville’s team needs to quit playing down to the level of its opponents and treat every game like it’s the playoffs. A loss to Jacksonville won’t kill the season entirely but it will put a severe dent in the Titans’ aspirations to win the division again.  

Keys to a Jaguars Victory

Establish. The. Run

What’s a good way to get a struggling rookie quarterback going? A running game to take the load off his shoulders of course. James Robinson has ascended to the top of the depth chart once again and increasingly looks like his breakout rookie self in his second season. Trevor Lawrence has yet to reach his full potential and has looked overwhelmed like a typical rookie quarterback at times. Tennessee is coming into the game, heavily injured, and once sported a whopping 20 players on the injury report. The Titans’ defense has been massively depleted, particularly the front seven. A recipe for the Jaguars to unleash its run game. 

Pressure the Quarterback

The Titans’ offensive line has been categorically, undeniably, a horrendous farcical portrait of quality line play. They have surrendered an insane 17 sacks to match Tannehill’s jersey number. Teams are beginning to use the Titans as the “get right” game to cure whatever ails their anemic pass rush. Chandler Jones still hasn’t matched the sack totals he accumulated against Tennessee. The Jets teed off to the tune of SEVEN sacks last week. Jacksonville has the weapons but not the production to cause havoc. If Josh Allen and co can get home, it will be a miserable day for the Tennessee offense missing key starters. 

Team Mentality

What’s it like after a week full of the scandalous Urban Meyer brouhaha? It can’t be positive after reports emerged that Meyer has already lost the locker room amidst a winless season. How does the team respond after all that mess? Do they fold or rally around each other to win one?  

Injury Report

Update: Tennessee has since downgraded EDGE Bud Dupree and OT Ty Sambrailo to OUT

What are the odds?

Caesars has the Titans as 4.5 point favorites at -110 while the Jaguars are +110 dogs. The over/under has been set at 48.5. The money line is the Titans at -210 and the Jaguars at +175.

BetMGM has the Titans as 4.5 point favorites at -110 while the Jaguars are +110 dogs. The over/under has been set at 48.5. The money line is the Titans at -200 and the Jaguars at +165.

Wynnbet has the Titans as four point favorites at -115 while the Jaguars are +105 dogs. The over/under has been set at 48.5. The money line is the Titans at -215 and the Jaguars +165.

Prediction

TENNESSEE 24

Jacksonville 17

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Previous KTE Editions

Know Thy Enemy: Seattle Seahawks

Know Thy Enemy: Indianapolis Colts

KTE: New York Jets

NFL Week 5: Dolphins vs. Buccaneers Preview

Dolphins vs Buccaneers

After a disappointing 27-17 Week 4 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, the Miami Dolphins head to Raymond James Stadium to take on the reigning Super-Bowl Champs, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Quarterback Jacoby Brissett remains under center for Miami as Tua Tagovailoa is unable to return until Week 6. Take a look below for the start time, channel, and live stream information,, as well as a preview for the Dolphins vs Buccaneers. 

Who do the Miami Dolphins play?

  • Game: Miami Dolphins vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers 
  • Location: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa Bay, Florida

Miami Dolphins Gameday | Start time, channel, live stream

  • Start time: 1 PM ET
  • Channel: CBS
  • Live Streams:
    • Sling
    • Hulu + Live TV
    • fuboTV
    • YouTubeTV

Dolphins vs Buccaneers Preview

One more week until Tua’s return, and this was supposed to be the hardest game of his three week absence. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers continue to play good football. Going 3-1 so far this season, QB Tom Brady continues to lead the offense at a high level.

The Dolphins defense is more than familiar with Brady under center. However, this will be the first time in a while where the receiving core around Brady is as solid as himself. This Dolphins’ defense can hold the Bucs’ offense, but the question is how long and will they receive any support. 

Speaking of support, any measly chance of winning this game hinges solely on the production of the offense. Miami’s offense was largely inept in their Week 4 loss, failing to find any real momentum until the fourth quarter.

If Brissett opens things up early to guys like rookie WR Jaylen Waddle and TE Mike Gesicki, the Dolphins might put up a fight. But, being down WR Will Fuller and possibly Devante Parker do not help those chance.

Let’s be honest here for a second folks, this Dolphins vs. Bucs preview seems pretty one-sided. That is mostly because these two teams are currently on opposite ends of the spectrum in the football world. But you know what they say Fins fans, any given Sunday.. Tampa wins this game with ease, but Miami at least scores points this time: Bucs 31, Miami 17.

Follow Zachary Knerr on Twitter

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DeVante Parker is hurt again, but Miami is Prepared

The Miami Dolphins’ receiver room has had as much shakeup over the last 3 days as any unit in the NFL. Following the trading of Jakeem Grant 3 days ago and the placing of Will Fuller on Injured Reserve on Wednesday, DeVante Parker has come down with a hamstring injury that leaves him questionable for Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay.

Coming off of his best game of the season, Parker snagged 4 balls for 77 yards and a TD. Among these, multiple tough contested catches on deep throws, an element Miami hadn’t seen thus far.

Jacoby Brissett throws a TD to DeVante Parker.

This Dolphins receiving unit has been reminiscent of last year, which saw a myriad of injuries. With Parker and Preston Williams going down, Miami relied on unproven receivers such as Mack Hollins, Antonio Callaway and Lynn Bowden Jr. for production in 2020.

But, even through injures, Miami’s group this year is much deeper. After seeing an inability to separate in 2020, the Dolphins made a commitment to improving the group, adding the aforementioned Fuller as well as young QB Tua Tagovailoa’s collegiate teammate in Jaylen Waddle.

The Dolphins also had some notable returns in Preston Williams and Albert Wilson, the latter of which opted out of 2020 due to COVID concerns.

The bottom line is that Miami’s group is still deep, and more than capable of being good enough for Tagovailoa or Brissett to win games.

While they will be looking for contributions from their veterans, young speedster Jaylen Waddle is in a prime position for a bigger role.

Jaylen Waddle

Waddle has seen his fair share of targets, leading rookie wideouts in catches with 25. But even with the volume of touches, the scheming has been questionable at best, as many of his opportunities have come in situations where it has been different to get yards after the catch, something he flourished with at Alabama.

Jaylen Waddle scores an explosive TD.

But with the slot position open, Waddle is now undoubtedly the most explosive healthy wide receiver on the roster, and his usage rate will be increasing with him now being the number 1.

He should also see more downfield targets, as he has been open on several deep routes, but Jacoby Brissett has missed him. With Miami reviewing the film and ways to beat a high powered Buccaneers team, I expect more shots to be taken.

Jaylen Waddle was wide open…but Jacoby Brissett misses it.

The ever interesting aspect of Waddle’s game that we haven’t seen enough of is his ability to make quick cuts. Often times in college, a jet sweep, screen or slant route could turn into a 50+ yard score. It’s no question that Waddle has top end agility, but it’s also clear Miami is figuring out how to use him.

Tua Tagovailoa throws a TD to Jaylen Waddle.

While he only saw 3 catches against the Colts, his looks and routes were promising. He was often running farther down the field, and was able to average 11 yards per catch. That’s up from less than 5 in the previous game against the Raiders.

If Miami’s Offensive Co-Coordinators are able to figure out the learning curve of Waddle’s explosive playstyle, his production could grow exponentially, especially with the injuries to Parker and Fuller.

Williams and Hollins

As for other potential contributors, 2 receivers have a connection with Tua Tagovailoa, who should come back next week against the Jaguars.

Mack Hollins and Preston Williams were both some of Tagovailoa’s main targets in 2020, both catching a TD vs the Cardinals (widely looked at as Tua’s best game).

Mack Hollins scores a TD vs. the Cardinals.

After losing Williams to a foot injury, Tagovailoa looked significantly less comfortable, and he could look for his security blanket in his first weeks back from a rib injury.

Tagovailoa also showed some chemistry with Albert Wilson in camp, as the 2 connected on several deep passes in the offseason. Although Wilson has struggled of late, a push into the lineup could bring some of the explosiveness he showed in 2018 before a season ending hip injury.

Tua throws a BOMB to Albert Wilson

The Tight Ends

We could also expect a bigger role from the tight end group, namely Mike Gesicki.

Gesicki, along with Waddle, has seen a lack of manufactured space on targets, but with these injuries, he could see more target share.

Mike Gesicki catches a TD.

Synopsis

It’s going to take a group contribution to make up for the element DeVante Parker brings to this offense. His ability in 1-on-1 situations is elite, showing an ability to snag jump ball deep passes.

But after seeing this situation play out last year, Miami is much better prepared. Explosive slot players in Waddle and Wilson hope to bring speed and agility, while Hollins and Williams bring an element of chemistry to a returning young QB. It will be interesting to see how the Dolphins distribute snaps and who gets a lion’s share of the targets on Sunday and beyond.

Follow Tyler DeSena on Twitter

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Florida Panthers sign center Aleksander Barkov to eight-year extension

Aleksander Barkov
Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images

Panthers fans, you can exhale now. The team announced this afternoon the signing of the franchise cornerstone through the 2030 NHL season. For the next decade, Aleksander Barkov will be a Florida Panther.

The deal comes in at an even 10 million dollars annually. That makes Barkov tied for the 11th highest paid player in the NHL, pricing him in a similar range to players such as Jack Eichel, Anze Kopitar, and Tyler Seguin.

Undeniably, this number pays him like the franchise player he is, but Barkov almost certainly would have earned more on the open market. Barkov made his intentions to stay in South Florida clear, and reiterated those statements as a press conference today.

“I really love every second here, my whole career.” Barkov said, “Never thought about anything else but being here and playing here and trying to win a Stanley Cup here.” He continued to say, “I feel like I have two homes now, South Florida and Finland,”

General Manager Bill Zito expressed similar enthusiasm about signing Barkov, calling today “an exciting day for the Panthers”

Indeed, Barkov is the type of talent to singlehandedly grow a sport. For many years, hockey and South Florida were thought to be incompatible. Barkov is a huge reason that has changed. “The whole hockey community in South Florida is growing. I see it every day.”

Barkov may not admit it, but he is the catalyst for that growth. The talent he possesses brought the Panthers out of the dregs of the league and has made them into a true cup contender. He means as much to this franchise as anybody.

Keeping Aleksander Barkov in a Panthers uniform had to have been priority number one for Zito and his team. As the season rapidly approaches, both sides must feel a huge weight lifted off their shoulders. Overall, this extension is a true win-win: the Panthers keep their superstar, and Barkov gets paid like one.

Follow Sam Schetritt on Twitter

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Thunder vs Bucks: Preseason Preview

thunder vs bucks

The Oklahoma City Thunder will be back in action this coming Sunday as they travel to Milwaukee, Wisconsin for an intriguing matchup vs the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks. 

The Thunder most likely will not have to play against the majority of the starting lineup that won the NBA Championship last year as the Bucks are choosing to be precautious with Giannis Antetokoumpo , Khris Middleton, Bobby Portis, Jrue Holiday, and Rodney Hood. Here are my projected starters for each respective team, and a preview of what to expect from Thunder vs Bucks. 

Bucks

Point guard- George Hill

Shooting guard- Grayson Allen 

Small forward- Jordan Nwora 

Power forward- Thanasis Antetokoumpo

Center- Brook Lopez

Thunder

Point guard- Shai Gilgeous Alexander

Shooting guard- Josh Giddey 

Small forward- Luguentz Dort

Power forward- Darius Bazley 

Center- Isaiah Roby

In their last game against the Hornets the Thunder had a difficult time scoring the ball, going 38% from the field, and 31% from three. I don’t believe they are that bad of an offensive team, so I do look for a bounce back game here. On the flip side, the Hornets went 49% from the field and 27% from three. Oklahoma City did a good job it seems on defending the perimeter, but struggled guarding in all other situations. As predicted, the Thunder were putrid in the paint on defense, giving up 62 of Charlotte’s 113 points in the paint. That will most likely carry over and be a huge storyline throughout  the season. 

And in their last game against the Memphis Grizzlies the Bucks struggled on the offensive end without their veteran leaders, going 41% from the field and 28% from three. This game on Sunday does have the potential to get ugly offensively. Oklahoma City would probably prefer for it to. On defense, Milwaukee gave up 46% from the field, and 31% from three to the Grizzlies.

As mentioned earlier, this has the potential to be an ugly game that could go down to the final buzzer. I do expect the Bucks to exploit the Thunder’s weakness in the paint, and I predict Milwaukee pulls off the win.

Oklahoma City Thunder 88 | Milwaukee Bucks 104

Match of the Month: September

When Christmas is so close you can smell the yuletide on Michael Bublé. The time when New Year’s Eve plans start to unfold and we are always smacked with year-end list. Wrestling of course is no different. People start to rattle off matches from eight, nine months back and you have a faint memory if it.

Well this isn’t going to be the exact solution to that problem. However it might just help you along the way. These will be our favorite AEW matches we watched from the past month. Sometimes they’ll be universally praised matches that everyone thinks were great. Other times it’ll be a little cult classic that we thought didn’t get the buzz it deserved.

What, we here at Around The Block can promise is these matches will be worth checking out.

Dan Soden

My favorite AEW match this month is obviously Bryan Danielson vs Kenny Omega on the September 22nd edition of Dynamite. It was one of the greatest TV matches of all-time with everyone buzzing about it. Everyone knows about this match and everyone has written about this match. With that said I’m going to switch it up because I can. I’m going to write about my second favorite match this month.

This was a difficult choice, had a few matches that ranked highly up there and right below Danielson vs Omega. It came down to the last round. JD Drake vs Daniel Garcia from Limitless Vacationland Cup edged out Big E vs Bobby Lashly’s steel cage match on RAW.

AEW
via Limitless Wrestling

I know the Vacationland Cup was on August 28th but I watched the show in September, so I’m counting it. Thou who writes the laws, makes the rules.

My goal is to give recommendation but stay spoiler free as much as possible. If you haven’t done so already find the match and watch it. It was one of the best matches I’ve seen in the indies this year. Garcia has been on a tear for the last few months. Everything that man touches seems to turn to gold.

JD Drake also isn’t the one to mess with. Don’t let the Amish Roadkill cosplay fool you this, this man can move. He can go up against just about anyone and not only allow them to shine, but look good while doing it. Coming out of his feud with Austin Theory in EVOLVE I had high hopes for Drake and it seems like that might come true for him

All in all the three matches I’ve listed are well worth checking out, and if you’ve seen them already another watch can’t hurt.

Kaleb Burchett

AEW Bryan Danielson vs Kenny Omega
via AEW

I hate to choose the obvious – The tag title cage match at AEW All Out, ZSJ’s early run in the G1, and the recent triple threat main event from NXT UK all deserve a shout – but honestly, it’s near impossible to not list Omega v Danielson as match of the month. It’s been a dream match for so long, and there was a strong chance we’d never see it, yet, we did, and it was everything one could’ve hoped for.

Professional wrestling is special, and Omega v Danielson is a prime example of why. You could see it on Danielson’s face from the start. The atmosphere, the in-ring work, the storytelling… This is my current match of the year, let alone month.

Blake Meek

There were several great matches in the month of September, but in my opinion the two matches that were both the best matches and my favorite matches were The Lucha Bros vs. The Young Bucks cage match from All Out and of course Bryan Danielson vs. Kenny Omega on the September 22nd edition of AEW Dynamite.

If I had to pick just one match for the match of the month it would be Danielson vs Omega. This match was as good as any match I’ve watched in a long time, if not ever. These are two of the best professional wrestlers in the world and they showed that for 30 straight minutes. The fight never felt like it was slowing down. It never felt like they were just stretching it out to make it last. Fans were on their feet from start to finish. This fight absolutely felt like two men who just wanted to prove that each was better than the other one.

From the technicality of it, to the big moves, to the counters and near falls it was an absolute masterpiece from start to finish. While some will feel like the time draw was a cop out way to end it, it didn’t diminish the match at all to me. The Lucha Bros vs. The Young Bucks might have had more big spots, a better ending to it and more emotion when The Lucha Bros finally toppled their rivals. However, the match between Danielson and Omega is one that will be talked about for years as one of the best matches ever in my opinion. It was that good.

Is DeAndre Ayton worth the max?

DeAndre Ayton
DeAndre Ayton, Credit: NBA

In 2018, the Phoenix Suns selected DeAndre Ayton with the first overall pick. Taking him two spots before Luka Doncic and four spots before Trae Young. Ayton had a rough start to his career, but he has blossomed into one of the league’s premier young centers. Ayton’s 2020 playoff run showed how valuable he can be to a playoff team. Ayton averaging an extremely efficient 15.8 points per game, with fantastic rebounding and mostly good defense (he struggled against Giannis in the finals, but who doesn’t). Due to this, DeAndre Ayton is looking for the max.

Come 2021, Ayton is expected to have an even bigger role for the defending western conference champions. DeAndre Ayton is eligible for the rookie max. The max comes in at 5 years, $172.5 million. With boosts and bonuses that could push it to a total of $207 million. So far Ayton’s camp will not budge on anything less than the max, his peers have received the same contract why shouldn’t he?

Reasons to not resign

The Suns have reservations about giving Ayton the max, they have seen how quickly the landscape of the league changes, especially with Bigs. Big men who can’t knock down 3’s, or run an offense have seen their value quickly deteriorate. Even the league’s best defender, Rudy Gobert has had trouble staying on the floor due to his offensive inabilities. The modern NBA big has a new role in the game, and many teams are still figuring out how they view these players.

Ayton will need to add more to his game, we have already seen his a capable mid-range shooter. Ayton shoots above league average from within 5 feet, 5-9 feet and 10-14 feet, where he struggles is anything over 15 feet where he is below league average. Adding a reliable 3 point shot to his game, would do wonders for Ayton and help keep him on the floor during the playoffs. We have seen traditional bigs add the 3 to their game, from Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge and Brook Lopez.

Reasons to resign

Ayton’s rare combination of size and athleticism combined with a consistent deep ball would make him one of the league’s best centers. His defensive IQ and footwork also need improvement. Physically Ayton has the tools to be an elite center, who disrupts the middle and shuts down other teams bigs. Thus far he has shown flashes of greatness but those have been few and far between. Ayton’s best defense performance to date, came against the Lakers in the first round of last years playoffs.

The Lakers averaged 42.6 points in the paint per 100 possessions with Ayton on the floor, with Ayton on the bench that number ballooned to 58.5. Ayton held Anthony Davis one of the league’s best to a pedestrian 40% shooting when guarded by him. Davis shoots 40% on just jump shots when guarded by the rest of the league. If Ayton can continue to take these strides on the defensive side of the ball, he could become one the league’s best two-way players.

Overall

The Suns need to be careful how they approach this situation, Phoenix does not have a great reputation for taking care of their guys. Suns owner Robert Sarver has been the center of media attention multiple times, and not for the right reasons. The longer this story goes, the worse the trust gets between the players and ownership. Ayton of courses feels as though he deserves the max.

Ayton is the second most important player for the Suns future. The combination of Devin Booker and Ayton are the keys to success. The Suns need to make sure both players continue to play for this team. Otherwise we could see the Suns short run of success doom itself very quickly. While I understand the risks that come with giving Ayton a max contract, the upside far outweighs the risk of possibly losing Ayton to a team willing to pay him the max.

Detroit Tigers: Reminiscing About the 2021 Season

Detroit Tigers

A season that featured their highest win total since 2016, the 2021 Detroit Tigers gave fans the biggest peak into a potentially very bright future in recent memory. Rookie phenoms, historic milestones, and a flair for the late inning dramatic became the bedrock of this season.

Heading into the offseason, Tigers fans are clamoring for Al Avila to open the checkbook and bring in the blue chip free agents that will turn the Tigers into official contenders.

But first, let’s reminisce…

Jaelan Phillips is coming into his own for the Miami Dolphins

Jaelan Phillips Miami Dolphins
Miami Dolphins OLB Jaelan Phillips. Credit: Sun Sentinel

Four games into his rookie season Jaelan Phillips is continuously improving in the Miami Dolphins defense. For Phillips it’s always about him trying to improve consistently.

His statistics don’t jump off the page but his play style does.

Phillips’ best game so far came against the Indianapolis Colts. He displayed all the qualities in his lone season with the Miami Hurricanes: speed, power, and aggressiveness. It’s not a breakout just yet but the foreshadow has already come.

“I think he’s playing with a lot more confidence. Fast. Aggressive. Better.”

Head Coach Brian Flores

The game is slowing down for Jaelan Phillips.

Phillips is a versatile player that has experience playing with his hand in the dirt on the edge, rushing the passer along the interior and in a standup role in space.

Primarily, Miami has utilized on the edge with his hands in the dirt to maximize his get off and release. He’s had 5 QB pressures and consistently in the backfield.

His 6’5 266lb blend allows him to combine a mixture of his size, length, power technique and athleticism to challenge opposing OL’s and double team him.

Against the Patriots, New England offensive line had to double team, chip block and sometimes hold onto dear life against Phillips.

“I think he is a diligent worker, He comes in, puts a good day’s work in, and he is working hard to improve some things that he needs to improve. And, the things that aren’t going so well, you know he is working to improve those. I would say Jaelan is going to get better and because of his work ethic and his skill set and I think he gets a little bit more comfortable, umm, and the more experience he has the better off he will be.”

Defensive Coordinator Josh Boyer

Furthermore, Phillips is getting comfortable within the game. He’s able to work on different moves in practice and apply it in game. For this defense it’s all about him creating pressure, getting into the game flow and find out what is and is not working.

Now, Phillips is focused on having fun and executing against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers this week in Tampa.

Follow Hussam Patel on Twitter

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Panthers vs Lightning Round-up: Levine’s Line of Thinking

Panthers vs Lightning

If you were in the Amway Center Tuesday night, you were in for a treat. For the first time this season, the Cats and the Bolts shared the ice and it was absolutely electric. I’ve never been a big preseason hockey fan, but the first edition of the Sunshine State Showdown has me looking forward to Thursday’s encore and Saturday’s grand finale of the Panthers vs Lightning series.

1. This was just a preview of what’s to come

There really is no other way to say it; we hate them, and they hate us. There’s always been beef in the Panthers vs Lightning series, but the playoff series in May only amplified that. I mean look at the penalty minutes accumulated in the THIRD PERIOD OF A PRESEASON GAME.

Shoutout Bryan for bringing it up, but the Panthers-Lightning battles may just be the best rivalry in hockey right now. The battles are only going to get more intense as the season goes on, and if we see them in the playoffs, you better hold onto your butts. Maybe we see the modern day version of the iconic Sabres Senators brawl, but that will have to wait for now.

2. Owen Tippett is a Top 6 Forward

Henrik Borgstrom walked so Owen Tippett could fly. Tippett has continued to build off his strong finish to last season by adding two goals against Vasilevskiy on Tuesday.

Tippett’s first goal Tuesday vs Tampa

Tippett showed flashes last season alongside Jonathan Huberdeau and Sam Bennett, and I think a full season alongside them can lead to some magic from 74. We’ll see the 9-1-1 line (Huby, Bennett, Duclair) reunite at some point in the season, but right now you have to let Tippett play on the second line and evaluate him from there. On top of that, Duclair offers more stability alongside Anton Lundell than Tippett does, which is important in building confidence of the young Fin.

If all goes well, Tippett will become the most impactful first round draft pick (as a skater, Knight will earn this overall title soon) for the Cats since the arrival of Aaron Ekblad in 2014.

3. Noel Acciari’s Injury

Unfortunately a consequence of the intensity of Tuesday’s game. Acciari left the game early with a shoulder injury, and the Twitter Doctors believe it to be severe.

If Acciari is to miss 5+ months, what the team does from there will be interesting. Acciari projected to play on the fourth line and was going to figure into the teams penalty kill rotation, so his absence will have to be dealt with. Does Joe Thornton center the fourth line or do they look at giving Eetu Luostarinen the opportunity instead?

4. Knight’s Watch is Coming

With Sergei Bobrovsky being unable to play last night (Big congrats to him and his wife on the birth of their child!) it was Spencer Knight’s time to shine.

Knight continues to show that he’s ready for an increased role with the team this season, bringing a sense of calmness in between the pipes along with his elite puck tracking ability. While Bob is expected to be the main guy this season, I feel that his leash is shorter than ever. The franchise used a high draft pick on Knight (otherwise we could be sitting here talking about Panthers legend Cole Caufield) and his rapid development may force Q to make a change earlier than they expected to.

Overall, the team showed they’re ready for the regular season to start and so am I. Looking forward to being in the FLA Live Arena next week when the Cats kick off the season against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Until next time, we move 🤝

Follow Andrew Levine on Twitter

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  • You pick 2-5 players and can win up 10x on any entry.
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NFL Power Rankings: 7 Up, 7 Down – Good Quads like Saquon

The first quarter of the 2021 NFL season is in the books! Time sure goes by fast when we’re having fun. Which seven most burning topics of the who, what, why, and the how of week four stood out? Which teams have some work to do as we exit the first quadrant of 2021? Let’s take a look at some NFL Power rankings and answer the question: Who had a good quads like Saquon Barkley?

Up

1. Matty Ice can still flash the fastball 

Our NFL power rankings begin in Atlanta. The old aging warhorse showed he’s plenty capable of uncorking the heater on occasion, as he did on Sunday. He was great against a dominant WFT front and showed some life just yet, including a beautiful whistling dart to Kyle Pitts. Add in four scoring tosses (three to sudden WR1 / RB1 Cordarrelle Patterson) and a hilarious, spritely gallop to extend a must-have late drive.

While he won’t be the Matt Ryan of old any longer, he still has a bit left in the tank to unleash performances like the one on Sunday. It’s quite unfortunate that his defensive teammates can’t stop Falconing so often. Next up for the Falcons, a date across the pond with the one-win Jets. 

2. Kyler Murray is always fun

What else can we say about the kid at this point? He’s on a rampage even against the best of defenses. Murray is easily the frontrunner for MVP as we exit the first quadrant of the 2021 season. The electric playmaker is proving all the doubters wrong every week. Defensive coordinators are just flabbergasted and torn asunder trying to scheme against him. Murray has the potential to be the fully evolved and weaponized Michael Vick in an offense that fits him perfectly. 

3. The Dallas buddy cop show is back on the air

Dak continues to round back into pre-injury form and for the first time in a long while, we had a dominant Zeke performance Sunday (against the top-ranked run defense, no less). If the offensive line can somewhat keep Dak and Zeke going to match their suddenly performing defense, Dallas might be an NFC contender. The NFC East has habitually shown that any competent team could win it. Is America’s Team truly back? Time will only tell. 

4. Justin Fields sans Matt Nagy calling plays 

Much to the chagrin of fantasy owners who picked up the Lions’ defense, Justin Fields had a nice rebound game after last week’s disaster. The difference? Matt Nagy not calling the plays and being a bemused bystander/delegator. OC Bill Lazor took over the play-calling duties and the difference in Fields was night and day. If Nagy can just stick to being maddeningly furtive and nonsensical during press conferences and avoid the headset, the Bears can do something. It’s only the Lions but baby steps, people, baby steps. Up next for Fields and co are the hapless Raiders defense who Justin Herbert dissected with ease on Monday night.

5. Sam Darnold revivalist movement

Speaking of young quarterbacks trying to redeem themselves, enter Sam Darnold. OC Joe Brady certainly has begun to rebuild Darnold after his Jets tenure was so rocky. It only has been four weeks but the signs of a Darnold revival are there. Many people were skeptical of him being able to play the position but he has proved that he’s more than capable early on. He has been the first passer in team history to throw for 300 yards or more in three straight games. Who leads the entire league in rushing touchdowns? Not Derrick Henry. Darnold does. The young buck could be on his way to stardom if this keeps up.  

6. The Diggs holiday family football games must be INTENSE

Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs has ascended to the ranks as one of the best corners in the game this season. Receiver brother Stefon was one of the best receivers already. Trevon has had an impressive start to 2021, snagging five interceptions and shutting opposing receivers down. Stefon continues to be the focal point for the Bills offense. Just how crazy are the holiday backyard games in the Diggs household? We need the All-22 footage right now! Could we see the brothers go up against one another on a sunny day in Los Angeles in the month of February? 

7. Russ Cooking to 💯 wins

Bonus Ups: Chris Jones really tried that bounce pass off the Referee + Hunter Renfrow is Vegas DB1

First up, we have Chris Jones trying to imitate LeBron’s self alley-oop dunk with the ref acting like the glass on the way to the failed fumble recovery. *Insert at least he tried Bart Simpson cake meme*

Next, Hunter Renfrow makes an astute observation of the incoming Chargers fake punt and destroys the receiver

Down

1. A bad day at the office for the Texans offense

If players and teams are rising in the NFL power rankings, others must be falling. We all knew that there would be bad days for the hapless Texans but Sunday was a horrifying example of what happens when a vastly superior team shows up. Davis Mills had a massive “welcome to the NFL, rookie” game, throwing four interceptions en-route to a Bills 40-0 rout.

Three straight losses for Houston and a date against a smarting Patriots squad looking for a rebound. Somehow, some way the Texans are in second place in the AFC South. 

2. Mike Vrabel and Sean Payton

Both of these coaches deserve to lose their parking spots for their abject failures in leading their teams to painful defeats against vastly inferior opponents. Vrabel had no excuse in particular against the previously winless Jets. Payton even less so with them blowing a lead in the fourth quarter, allowing for a walkoff TD to young Saquon Barkley.

It’s time for both men to make changes. The Saints need to scrap the two quarterback thing and stick with Jameis Winston for good or bad. Tennessee needs to let DC Shane Bowen go and move Jim Schwartz into a full time role. 

3. Big Ben is what he is

The end has come for a once-proud, aging star quarterback, and Father Time waits for absolutely no one when he arrives. The mind may still be willing but the body just isn’t responsive at this point in his career. Roethlisberger tried his best to hang on to what little gifts he has left but he should retire at the end of the season to save face for himself and the organization.

The offensive line issues are aplenty but Ben is sadly beyond the pale. He should get ready for the Hall of Fame enshrinement in 2026 instead of giving it another go in 2022. 

4. Jared Goff and Detroit had a Jared Goof type of day

How’s the Lions season going, you ask? Well, it’s going kind of like this:

5. Bill Belichick and late game management

Speaking of questionable late game management, we enter into evidence Bill Belichick’s mystifying decision to attempt a 56 yard field goal on fourth and short. If he opts to go for it, either way the game is likely over at that point. In a year that more and more teams are going for it on fourth down in plus territory, he opts against it.

The Patriots don’t convert, Thomas Brady has to drive down the field on an absolutely rain blasted soaked pitch and he looked shaky at points in the game. If they do get it, they can continue to milk the clock for a closer attempt on the very same slick surface. Did Belichick outsmart himself trying to teach the old man a lesson? 

6. Jimmy G as the 49ers starter 

We may have witnessed the end of the Jimmy Garoppolo regime by the Bay through no fault of his own. He injured his calf during Sunday’s contest and Trey Lance had to step in for a cameo appearance. The kid wasn’t half bad, tossing two touchdowns to no interceptions.

Calf injuries, like most soft tissue injuries are notoriously finicky so it will be interesting to see if Jimmy G can go next Sunday or the rookie stepping in for a start. Garoppolo has been nothing but a consummate professional dealing with the notoriety of being “Mr. Right Now” while assisting Lance in his development. 

7. Captain Kirk vs. The Baker

Let’s just say that it won’t go down as the preeminent quarterback duel of our lifetimes any time soon. Both passers were, to put it mildly, not up to expectations on Sunday. Sorry, Kirk and Baker, absolutely no one progressively liked that. Not even opposing defensive coordinators. The Vikings did win an enthralling 14-7 stare-down, however. Perhaps it is best that the tape gets burned before everyone’s retinas are pervasively damaged from watching that horror show. Minnesota hosts the Lions while the Browns travel to Los Angeles to face rising superstar QB Justin Herbert next.  

Previous 7 Up, 7 Downs

Opening Overreactions

A Perceptive Repeat

So Nice, Do it Thrice

Quarter-Season 2022 Mock Draft

Welcome to the Quarter-Season 2022 NFL Mock Draft! Where I, Ryan McAloon (@ryfootballscout), will draft for every team in the first round if the draft were to happen tomorrow. This is just a fun exercise to get a feel for what player might be taken in the first round next April, while also taking a step back and evaluating what your favorite NFL team is lacking at the moment. However, I will not just draft for need and I will try my best to do what I think these Organizations would do. Please, grab yourself your favorite beer, cocktail, or a cup of coffee and let’s run through it!


A special thank you to Tankathon, as I used their website to set the draft order & RiseNDraft, as I used their website & database to get all players heights & weights.

2022 mock draft
Image via ClutchPoints.com

2022 First Round Mock Draft

1.) Jacksonville Jaguars

Derek Stingley jr. — Cornerback — LSU — 6’1” 195 lbs.

A huge curveball to start the 2022 Mock Draft. A cornerback has never been taken first overall or second overall in the history of the NFL. Derek Stingley jr. is that special of a talent. Furthermore, the NFL has continued to progress into a pass-happy league and the cornerback position is increasing in value each passing year. Stingley is an absurd athlete, coming in at number nine on Bruce Feldman’s: Freaks List, highlighted by his 4.30 40 yard dash time and 42 inch vertical. Stingley’s been an elite cover-man since the moment he stepped on the football field for LSU.

Jacksonville can certainly go in a number of different directions here. Kayvon Thibodeaux, Kyle Hamilton, Evan Neal, etc. are all solid options. With Jacksonville recently drafting Jawaan Taylor and Walker Little I opted to pass on Neal. Jacksonville has also spent two first round picks on edge rushers in recent years, drafting Josh Allen seventh overall in 2019 and K’Lavon Chaisson twentieth overall in 2020. As good of a player as Kyle Hamilton is, Stingley plays a more valuable position and one Jacksonville is desperately trying to fill since shipping Jalen Ramsey off to LA.

2.) Detroit Lions

Malik Willis — Quarterback — Liberty — 6’0-5/8” 215 lbs.

Another pick that isn’t necessarily “chalk”. Malik Willis is the definition of a playmaker. Willis plays the position like he is always looking for the big play, whether that be with his arm or his legs. He had trouble with consistency with his throwing mechanics and accuracy in 2020, but has looked much better thus far in 2021. Malik Willis is also going to play a huge role in the run game and can be a one-man offense if need be, similar to Lamar Jackson.

Detroit may opt to wait on a quarterback until the 2023 draft. However, I imagine Dan Campbell is ready to start winning and this roster isn’t completely dearth of talent. I’m not sure they will lose enough games in 2022 to earn a top-5 selection again. So instead, Detroit opts to take a high-risk/high-reward quarterback who will have a chance to sit a full year behind Jared Goff before playing meaningful snaps.

3.) New York Jets

Kayvon Thibodeaux — Edge Defender — Oregon — 6’4” 250 lbs.

Arguably the best player in the draft falls to number three overall. Thibodeaux is a former number two overall recruit and wasted no time making a name for himself at Oregon. Kayvon accounted for nine sacks as a true freshman in 2019. As good of a pass rusher Thibodeaux is, he is equally as good as a run defender. Kayvon consistently sheds his blocker, keeping his head up and looking for the ball carrier.

The New York Jets are another team who could use help everywhere. The defensive line is actually pretty solid in New York with the now-injured Carl Lawson due to be back for the 2022 season along with John Franklin-Meyers and Quinnen Williams. Robert Saleh’s defense is reliant on a consistent pass rush, Kayvon will complete a great rotation up front for Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich.

4.) Philadelphia Eagles (via Miami)

Kyle Hamilton — Saftey — Notre Dame — 6’4” 220 lbs.

Kyle Hamilton also has a case to be the best player in the draft. At 6’4” and 220 pounds you would assume he is a box-safety/linebacker. You would be incorrect. Hamilton possesses an incredible amount of range at his size and can legitimately play as a deep middle-of-the-field safety, if needed. Hamilton’s overall versatility and size will give Philadelphia a potential superstar in the backend of their defense.

Philadelphia currently has three draft picks in the top-ten due to the numerous trades they made last off-season. Indianapolis’ first round pick will turn into a second round selection if Carson Wentz fails to play in 75% of Indianapolis’ offensive snaps. I imagine if Indianapolis continues to struggle and lose games they will bench Wentz and keep their own first round pick, so dont get too excited Philadelphia fans, but an early second round selection is still a steal for Carson Wentz at this point in time.

5.) Atlanta Falcons

Evan Neal — Offensive Tackle — Alabama — 6’6-5/8” 350 lbs.

The number one freak in Bruce Feldman’s aforementioned Freaks List. Evan Neal is an incredible athlete at his size. That athleticism is going to look very good in Arthur Smith’s outside-zone running game.

Atlanta’s defense is still in need of a rebuild, but with the three best defenders (in my opinion) all gone Atlanta opts to take the next best player available at a premium position. Atlanta still may be looking at the 2023 draft as a place to find their next franchise signal caller.

6.) Philadelphia Eagles (via Indianapolis)

Carson Strong — Quarterback — Nevada — 6’3-1/2” 215 lbs.

Half of Philadelphia will praise the selection of a new quarterback, while the other half will call for my head in the comments section. Jalen Hurts has not been a difference maker at quarterback so far, in my opinion. He has clear physical limitations as a passer and puts a ceiling on Nick Sirianni’s offense. Carson Strong breaks through any ceilings with his natural arm strength. Strong has shown he has an absolute howitzer on his shoulder and seemingly has a new highlight throw every week. His deep ball touch and accuracy are also present often in his game. Coming from a lower level of competition, Strong could afford to sit and adjust to the NFL’s game speed. Philadelphia will still have Jalen Hurts on the roster and are in a good position to be patient with Strong.

7.) Houston Texans

Demarvin Leal — Defensive Line — Texas A&M — 6’4” 290 lbs.

Demarvin Leal is a big, strong defensive lineman who can play at any position on the defensive line. Leal is an elite athlete for his size as well, highlighting how well he can play on the edge despite being 290 pounds. As good as Leal has been in his college career, he has plenty of room for improvement with his technique. Leal’s upside is immense, making it easy for him to be a top-ten selection.

The Houston Texans are in a horrible situation. One they have put themselves in by letting Bill O’Brien run the team into the ground while having complete control of the football operations. The Deshaun Watson situation is also a terrible situation and something no one has any idea what will happen. As of right now I will operate as if Watson will never play a down of football again. Houston has so many holes on this roster that they are poised to be one of the worst teams in the NFL for a couple of more years. Drafting a quarterback at this point will either ruin a young talented signal caller or waste his talents on a terrible roster. Instead I opt to take a premium position player with high-end upside.

8.) New England Patriots

Kaiir Elam — Cornerback — Florida — 6’2” 196 lbs.

Kaiir Elam has been another elite cornerback in the SEC. Elam also has NFL bloodlines with his father Abram playing seven seasons with various NFL teams. His Uncle, Matt Elam, also played in the NFL for three seasons with the Baltimore Ravens. Kaiir Elam has impressive athleticism and speed for a corner of his size. Elam also excels as a press-man corner. With his size and coverage skills he is a perfect fit as a Bill Belichick cornerback.

New England is currently re-loading their roster and nabbing a star cornerback to presumably replace Stephon Gilmore is a great use of a top-ten pick. The Patriots have their future quarterback in Mac Jones and will look to surround him with more weapons, but the value is not here right now and they are better off waiting for a wide receiver at this point in the draft.

9.) Philadelphia Eagles

Aidan Hutchison — Edge Defender — Michigan — 6’6-3/8” 265 lbs.

Aidan Hutchison is one of the the biggest risers this season with his play. Hutchinson reportedly dropped roughly 15 pounds this off-season to get to 265 pounds. Hutchison wanted to play strictly on the edge and have more speed, it has worked as he currently owns the highest pass-rush win-rate in the country, according to PFF. Hutchison also checked in at number two on Bruce Feldman’s Freaks List.

10.) New York Giants

Tyler Linderbaum — Offensive Center — Iowa — 6’3” 289 lbs.

A center in the top-ten? Yes, although I admit it’s unlikely to actually happen come April, Tyler Linderbaum is that good. Linderbaum is a menace in the run game and consistently blocks up-to and sometimes past the whistle, finishing his blocks on every whistle. That type of attitude is something that will rub off on an offensive line and make the entire group play with an edge. Linderbaum is more than a mauler, in fact he actually is at his best on the move on pulls and screens looking to throw defensive backs and linebackers out of the club. The Giants could use an upgrade and attitude adjustment to their offensive line to help highlight Saquon Barkley again.

11.) Minnesota Vikings

Andrew Booth jr. — Cornerback — Clemson — 6’0-3/8” 200 lbs.

Minnesota is in a weird spot with their roster. They aren’t really in a place to contend, but also aren’t bad enough to grab a high-end quarterback to replace Kirk Cousins with. Minnesota drafted Kellen Mond in the third round last April, I’d assume he will be brought along and hopefully be developed into their next starting quarterback. Meanwhile, Minnesota will continue to plug its other roster holes. Andrew Booth has been rock solid for Clemson this season and would help a struggling Minnesota secondary.

12.) Pittsburgh Steelers

Matt Corral — Quarterback — Ole Miss — 6’1-5/8” 205 lbs.

Ben Roethlisberger is done. He will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer and the city of Pittsburgh will remember him fondly, but his time on the field is over. Pittsburgh has put-off finding his heir for too long now. Matt Corral may not be the choice come April, but Pittsburgh must look long and hard at all of these quarterbacks and choose wisely. Corral has enjoyed a stellar season so far and at one point was the Heisman favorite. Matt Corral has improved his accuracy and decision making from the 2020 season.

13.) Miami Dolphins (via San Francisco)

Kenyon Green — Offensive Lineman — Texas A&M— 6’4” 325 lbs.

The Miami Dolphins are in a tough spot. Trading their own 2022 first round pick in the off-season, then proceeding to start the season (1-3) is not ideal. Their biggest weakness is easily their offensive line. Miami’s offensive line is the worst in the NFL, but not for their lack of effort. Chris Grier and company have spent plenty of draft capital on the trenches, but seemingly haven’t been rewarded with any hits. They’ve drafted six offensive linemen in the past three drafts, including three in the first two rounds. Miami must go into free agency to address the offensive line as well, but Kenyon Green is a big and versatile lineman who can play at tackle or guard. Miami and Grier have shown they value that kind of size and versatility.

14.) New York Jets (via Seattle)

Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner — Cornerback — Cincinnati — 6’2” 188 lbs

The New York Jets continue to build up this defense by adding “Sauce” Gardner out of Cincinnati. Gardner is a long and tough corner who excels as a press-coverage corner. He sometimes is a bit too handsy and can get flagged for it. The Jets could use a wide receiver as well, but Gardner is one of the best corners in this class and fits perfectly in Robert Saleh’s defense.

15.) New Orleans Saints

Sam Howell — Quarterback — North Carolina — 6’0-3/4” 225 lbs.

New Orleans is another team in quarterback-limbo. They aren’t a bad enough roster and are too well coached to have any chance of drafting high enough for a blue-chip quarterback prospect in the near future. Instead I’ve decided to take Howell here, a flawed but solid quarterback prospect. Howell is an undersized quarterback who is best working inside the offense on-time, delivering the ball accurately and with anticipation. Does this sound familiar, maybe like a recently retired New Orleans Saints legend? I’m joking! It’s just a joke! However, Howell would make a nice pairing with Sean Payton. New Orleans’ roster is still ready for playoff contention, but it seems as if Payton doesn’t have trust in Jameis Winston to not turn the ball over. Howell should prove to be a better decision maker in his first couple of seasons.

16.) New York Giants (via Chicago)

Drake Jackson — Edge Defender — USC — 6’4” 250 lbs.

With the trade back that netted Chicago Justin Fields, New York now has their second selection in the first round. With them addressing their offensive line earlier, they now turn back to their defense which ranks 27th in DVOA, per Football Outsiders. Drake Jackson is an excellent athlete with enough bend to get around blockers with ease. Jackson struggles as a run defender at times, but overall has a high ceiling with room to improve. The Giants have a talented roster, it isn’t perfect but if Daniel Jones is the guy they should be a playoff team in 2022.

17.) Kansas City Chiefs

Treylon Burks — Wide Receiver — Arkansas — 6’3” 225 lbs.

Kansas City has plenty of holes defensively, but they also have shown they have missed Sammy Watkins. With no cornerbacks worthy of a Top-20 pick left on the board, Treylon Burks is the pick. Burks has plenty of size at 6’3” and 225 pounds, but also has shown impressive speed at that size and excellent yards after the catch ability. This Kansas City roster is going to be constantly in playoff contention as long as Patrick Mahomes is playing. General Manager Brett Veach is going to have to continuously add talent through the draft to keep this roster under the cap. Kansas City can continue to take best-player-available and neglect need as long as Veach and company hit on their draft picks.

18.) Cleveland Browns

Garrett Wilson — Wide Receiver — Ohio State — 5’11-3/4” 188 lbs.

Baker Mayfield had a brutal game Sunday against Minnesota. I don’t believe the narrative that Mayfield is better without Odell Beckham jr., but I do think it is incredibly strange that those two just cannot get on the same page. Mayfield is still Cleveland’s franchise quarterback and will most likely command a healthy raise, north of $35 million, soon. Cleveland has assembled one of the most complete rosters in the NFL and can now re-focus and surround Mayfield with more weapons in the passing game. Whether you believe in Baker or not, you can’t argue that if Cleveland pays him they are going to have to make sure he performs well. The best way to do that is by giving him a new playmaker in the passing game. Garrett Wilson is arguably the best wide receiver in this draft class. Wilson is a gifted route runner fluid movement skills. He’s also a dynamic yards after catch threat as well.

19.) Tennessee Titans

Jordan Davis — Defensive Lineman — Georgia — 6’6-1/4” 340 lbs.

Tennessee still has issues on the defensive side of the ball. Currently ranked 26th in DVOA, per Football Outsiders, Tennessee must continue to add more talent alongside Jeffery Simmons. Bud Dupree signed a 5-year $85 million deal this off-season to pair with Simmons and Harold Landry. So far, Dupree has not provided anything for Tennessee as he works his way back from an ACL injury he suffered last season. Jordan Davis should provide Tennessee with a dominant nose tackle capable of clogging up the middle of the trenches every run play. However, Jordan Davis has also improved as a pass rusher and could legitimately be a three-down defensive lineman. Jon Robinson has had some misses in the draft lately, most notably 2020 first round pick Isaiah Wilson. Jordan Davis should provide a safe floor as a solid run defender in the middle of this defense with the potential to be a game wrecker in both the run game and as a pass rusher.

20.) Washington Football Team

DeMarvion Overshown — Linebacker — Texas — 6’2-3/8” 223 lbs.

I know, “Washington JUST took a linebacker in the first round last year!” I get it, I get it. However, DeMarvion Overshown is special. Overshown’s size and athleticism are hard to come by and rarely last past the first 20 picks. Overshown is a converted safety who is in his second season playing linebacker at the University of Texas, he’s already shown vast improvements as a tackler and has begun to trust his natural instincts. Overshown is great in pass coverage, using his length to erase throwing lanes. He has also shown to be a capable blitzer using his acceleration and bend to get around and through offensive lineman. Washington is in dire need of a franchise quarterback, I know. I’m afraid, like last year, they are in a dead-zone here though. There isn’t a quarterback in my opinion that is worthy of a Top-20 pick and instead Washington can work to get this defense back on-track by adding another young, talented front seven player.

21.) Buffalo Bills

Ikem Ekwonu — Offensive Lineman — N.C. State — 6’4” 320 lbs.

The Buffalo Bills have shown they value their defensive line. They have drafted four defensive linemen in the past three NFL drafts. Now Buffalo must address the other side of the trenches. Cody Ford has not been the answer at right guard or right tackle, like Brandon Beane hoped he would be. Ikem Ekwonu is a very similar player in terms of size (Cody Ford is – 6’3” 330lbs.). Ekwonu is the definition of a mauler in the run game, constantly blowing defensive linemen off of their spots. Ekwonu has the versatilityto play tackle or guard in the NFL, although Buffalo would most likely want to start him at right guard immediately. Buffalo will also be looking for another cornerback to try and pair with their star, Tre’Davious White.

22.) Carolina Panthers

Nicholas Petit-Frere — Offensive Tackle — Ohio State — 6’5-3/8” 315 lbs.

The Carolina Panthers might be one of the biggest surprises of the season thus far. Sam Darnold’s career has been rejuvenated by Matt Rhule and Joe Brady in Carolina. This roster is extremely young and promising, but they have numerous holes on the offensive line, specifically at left tackle. Nicholas Petit-Frere was previously Ohio States right tackle before switching over to the left side this season. Petit-Frere has proven so far that the switch has been a success. He has allowed zero sacks so far this season for Ohio State. Carolina will look to add more beef to their offensive and defensive lines throughout this draft to keep their moment from the early part of the 2021 season going.

23.) Green Bay Packers

Chris Olave — Wide Receiver — Ohio State — 6’0-1/2” 189 lbs.

If the Green Bay Packers actually trade Aaron Rodgers away this off-season like everyone thinks they are going to and Brian Gutekunst’s first draft pick after is a wide receiver, I think the internet will break. The pettiness that would take would be absolutely mind blowing and hilarious. In all seriousness though, Green Bay needs more talent at wide receiver. Especially if a quarterback with no starting experience is expected to lead this franchise to yet another playoff run and NFC conference championship. The Packers still have needs on the defensive line, at linebacker, and could use another cornerback (yes, even though Eric Stokes looks like a solid #2).

24.) Cincinnati Bengals

Darian Kinnard — Offensive Lineman — Kentucky — 6’5-3/8” 342 lbs.

Has Joe Burrow officially arrived? Burrow has been outstanding this year leading the Bengals to a (3-1) record, despite head coach Zac Taylor’s best efforts to lose more. It seemed like most fans were furious when Cincinnati opted to take Joe Burrow’s best friend and favorite wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase over left tackle Penei Sewell last April. Chase and Burrow have tried to prove those critics wrong as best as they could, as Chase has caught 17 passes for 297 yards and 4 touchdowns in the first four games. However, now Cincinnati has to add more talent to the offensive line. Burrow is on his way to becoming a star signal caller, but he needs help around him and this offensive line is still full of sieves. Darian Kinnard is a hulking power-player with incredible strength. Kinnard also has the feet to play tackle, although I Cincinnati will likely slide him into guard with Jonah Williams and Riley Reiff operating as the bookends.

25.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Trent McDuffie — Cornerback — Washington — 5’11-1/4” 193 lbs.

I was tempted to give the Buccaneers a quarterback to develop here, but they just drafted Kyle Trask in the second round last year (yuck). Instead I’ve opted to continue Jason Licht’s draft strategy of taking defensive backs early and often. Trent McDuffie is the next defensive back to come from Jimmy Lake and the Washington Huskies. McDuffie possesses high-end athleticism and instincts. He will excel in zone coverage schemes that let him play off-coverage, allowing him to make plays on the ball in the air and highlighting his acceleration and instincts. Tampa Bay is another roster that is very complete. However, you could argue every team in the NFL can afford to add defensive backs to their roster.

26.) Detroit Lions (via LAR)

George Karlaftis — Edge Defender — Purdue — 6’4-1/4” 275 lbs.

George Karlaftis’ unintentional slide in this 2022 NFL mock draft has officially ended. Karlaftis is an incredibly talented edge rusher who took the nation by storm his true freshman season, accumulating 7.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss in 12 games played. Since then, Karlaftis has not put up those numbers, but it isn’t because he has regressed. Karlaftis is constantly double teamed and sometimes even triple teamed because he’s head and shoulders the best player on Purdue’s defensive line.

The Detroit Lions are nice beneficiaries here, as they passed on the top edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux earlier in the draft to take their future franchise quarterback. Detroit still has holes on the backend if their defense and at linebacker, but this team is coming together nicely. Dan Campbell seems like the right coach to take this franchise out of the gutter, finally.

27.) Denver Broncos

Sean Rhyan — Offensive Tackle — UCLA — 6’5” 320 lbs.

The Denver Broncos could be a team in the mix to trade for Aaron Rodgers after the 2021 season. They were the team most rumored to have been all-in on trading for Rodgers last off-season and it would make sense for them to be aggressive again. They have one of the best rosters in football if you ignore the quarterback position (no offense Teddy Bridgewater, all offense Drew Lock). Denver has one of the best defenses in the NFL coached by one of the best defensive minds, Vic Fangio. This team is tailor-made for Aaron Rodgers to come in and have complete control over the offense, similar to when Peyton Manning was in Denver. However, if Denver does keep this pick they need to continue to improve this offensive line. Sean Rhyan has been a great run blocker for Chip Kelly at UCLA and possesses the athleticism and feet to improve as a pass protector as well.

28.) Baltimore Ravens

Kingsley Enagbare — Edge Defender — South Carolina — 6’4” 265 lbs.

This is a classic Baltimore Ravens pick. Baltimore seems to always draft late in the first round but always seems to stay where they are and find value. Although edge rusher is hardly a need for Baltimore right now, especially after drafting Odafe Oweh last year (who is impressing early this season), Kingsley Enagbare is too talented to let go. Enagbare has been dominating college tackles this season, grading as PFF’s top pass rusher on the edge so far this season with a 93.7 pass rushing grade. Baltimore could use reinforcements at offensive line, especially if Alejandro Villanueva plays as bad as he has been at right tackle (although he’s improved since taking over at left tackle for Staley, he still isn’t great). Baltimore could also look at adding another linebacker here to pair with (or replace) Patrick Queen who has struggled to start his career.

29.) Dallas Cowboys

Jaquan Brisker — Safety — Penn State — 6’1-3/8” 204 lbs.

The Dallas Cowboys historically do not value the safety position. However, Dallas has to continue to upgrade this defense if they want to contend for a Super Bowl anytime soon. Jaquan Brisker gives them their best chance at finding an early contributor on defense this late in the first round. Brisker is a bruising safety who has a boom stick in his tool belt. He isn’t just a hard hitting safety though, coming in at #76 on Bruce Feldman’s Freaks List, Brisker reportedly ran a 4.07 shuttle time coupled with a 35-inch vertical. For context Tyreek Hill, one of the most fast and agile players in the NFL, ran a 4.06 shuttle at his pro day. Dallas drafted Micah Parsons last year to be their star linebacker, but may have stumbled upon a really good edge rusher when they tasked him to play on the edge more often while Demarcus Lawrence is injured. The Cowboys should continue to add talent at cornerback and along the defensive line, but this team is very talented.

30.) Los Angeles Chargers

Drake London — Wide Receiver — USC — 6’5” 210 lbs.

The Los Angeles Chargers are faced with a decision to re-sign Mike Williams this off-season or let him walk in free agency. Regardless of what they choose to do though, Drake London would be a welcomed addition to this offense led by budding superstar Justin Herbert. Drake London is a towering receiving threat, able to go up and get jump balls that defensive backs tasked to guard him could never reach. Not only is London a mismatch against cornerbacks, but he also is effective as a yards after the catch creator. Los Angeles has found their franchise quarterback and now has to make sure they surround him with enough weapons to compete with the likes of Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City. The Chargers can also look to add a cornerback or defensive tackle wherever they find value later in the draft.

31.) Las Vegas Raiders

Nakobe Dean — Linebacker — Georgia— 6’ 225 lbs.

The Raiders are BACK. Even after a tough loss to Los Angeles on Monday Night Football, Las Vegas remains the top team in the AFC due to their strength of schedule. Jon Gruden and Gus Bradley have got Derek Carr playing like an MVP and the defense finally looking like a competent unit, respectively. This defense is still lacking a true difference maker at linebacker though, Nakobe Dean can fix that. Dean plays like he’s stepping on hot coals, running sideline to sideline on every play. Dean is undersized for the position but has the athleticism, toughness, and character to be successful in the NFL anyway. The Raiders have some holes on the defensive line and at wide receiver that they can address in free agency of later in the draft.

32.) Arizona Cardinals

Daxton Hill — Safety — Michigan — 6’0-1/4” 192 lbs.

Through four weeks Kyler Murray has been the league MVP and Arizona’s offensive line has been the best pass blocking unit in the NFL. Kliff Kingsbury was talked about as maybe being in the hot seat if this offense didn’t pull it together, those rumors are now gone as we’re looking at the best offense in the NFL. Arizona still has their issues defensively, especially on the backend. With the sudden retirement of Malcolm Butler, Arizona was forced to start rookie fourth round pick Marco Wilson. With no great cornerback prospects available in the mock I’ve decided to give Arizona one of the best coverage safeties in the draft, Daxton Hill. Daxton Hill is an incredible athlete with the speed and quickness to break on balls and put fear in the minds of opposing quarterbacks. Arizona has invested heavily on their front seven with Chandler Jones, Isaiah Simmons, Zaven Collins, and J.J. Watt all starting. Budda Baker, Byron Murphy jr., and Jalen Thompson have all had success but Arizona would be wise to continue to add talent in their defensive backfield.


Thank you to everyone who read this article, be sure to follow me @ryfootballscout on Twitter to stay up to date on all the articles I post! Also be sure to follow Around The Block (@ATB_network) for all of the content we are producing daily! Comment and share what you loved and hated about this 2022 NFL mock draft, Peace!


Check out some of my other articles:

Chicago’s Football Miracle

Tyler Linderbaum Scouting Report

DeMarvion Overshown: Texas’ Brightest Defensive Star

Yankees Wild Card game preview

Yankees Wild Card Preview

This is what we have all been waiting for. Postseason baseball: Yankees and Sox. This is the type of stuff that makes legends. Let’s get into it with a Yankees wild card game preview:

Yankees Wild Card Preview:

The Yankees have their ace on the mound. Today is the type of game you pay Gerrit Cole for. Cole has a 4.35 ERA in his last 7 games, which isn’t what we are used to with Cole. However, in his playoff career Cole has a 2.68 ERA. That is the number the Yankees want tonight.

On the other side, The Yankees take on Nathan Eovaldi — who they have notoriously struggled against — touting a .250 batting avg. against him. However, Anthony Rizzo has owned Eovaldi during his career batting at a .556 avg. Judge has also had success vs Eovaldi batting at a .400 mark with a 1.079 OPS.

Batting-wise, look for a big game from Giancarlo Stanton. Red hot at Fenway, Stanton had 10 RBIs and 3 HR in the last series there. Higgy will likely catch, Gary Sanchez may DH as Cole is pitching. Gleyber Torres will likely be leadoff per Aaron Boone filling in for the injured DJ Lemahieu. Expect Stanton, Joey Gallo, and Aaron Judge in the outfield. 

Narratives to Watch:

Cole isn’t Clutch:

Cole has struggled down the stretch when the Yankees have needed him most. People have begun saying Cole isn’t clutch because of this. I believe he will prove them all wrong tonight. 

Gardy and Gary’s last games as Yankees?

With Brett Gardner aging and Sanchez struggling, their time as Yankees is seemingly coming to an end. Gardy is not going to go out to the Red Sox in his final game. Look for big games from them, if either end up playing.

Judge is Bad in the Postseason:

After a rough postseason, people have forgotten how good a playoff Judge can be. Look for Judge to put the team on his back. Judge has 8 go-ahead hits in the 8th inning or later this year, tying a Yankee record. The most important of which was the walk-off Sunday vs the Rays. Hopefully, he can carry that momentum over to the Wild Card. 

Last Word:

THIS IS IT Y’ALL. The 2021 Yankees have been a roller-coaster. From triple plays to no-hitters, and even locker room turtles. This team has had it all! They have been easy to love but hard to watch. That will be true tonight, too. The season is on the line tonight. Beat Boston.

Charlotte Hornets vs Oklahoma City Thunder: Post game report

Charlotte Hornets vs Oklahoma City Thunder

The Charlotte Hornets got the best of a young Thunder team on Monday night in the Paycom Center. Here are some key takeaways from the Charlotte Hornets vs Oklahoma City Thunder.

Josh Giddey is the real deal- 

Look, I know it was only a preseason exhibition, but the way Giddey played with pace and let the game come to him was reminiscent of a veteran, not a rookie who has yet to play any regular season basketball. His ability to break down the defense and get to the rim in both the transition and half court game showed potential to be very effective in getting the Thunder some easy looks. He showed above average court vision with cross court skip passes, drop offs, etc. Giddey finished the game with 

The Thunder will be a fun team to watch-

Let me preface this by saying the Thunder aren’t likely to win many games this year. They are very young, and lack post depth. But the Thunder will be a fun team to watch. That much was evident in this game even during what technically was a blowout loss. Between Giddey in transition breaking ankles and dishing dimes, Lu Dort knocking down threes and posterizing defenders, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander with his crafty shooting and finishing, the Thunder will have multiple opportunities to put together some highlight reels for years to come. Even in defeat, this will be a fun team. Mark my words. 

Long way to go-

As I briefly mentioned and referenced in the prior section of this “post game report” there is a long way to go until the Thunder are winning a lot of games and are competing for championships. They are young, and it shows. Aleksej Pokusevski still isn’t sure how to finish in the NBA and still makes some rookie mistakes on his passes. Josh Giddey still isn’t where he needs to be as far as shooting the ball, and the defense is pretty much nonexistent outside at times. But don’t fret, there’s still plenty of time for improvement. 

Other notes-

This was just the first of four preseason games for the Thunder, their next bout is this Sunday, October 10th at 7:30 pm ET, and will be televised on ESPN as the Thunder travel to Milwaukee to take on the defending champions the Milwaukee Bucks. We’ll see if any lessons were learned from the Charlotte Hornets vs Oklahoma City Thunder game.

Texas vs TCU: Longhorns Week 5 RECAP

The Texas Longhorns handled the TCU Horned Frogs Saturday afternoon, beating them 32 — 27. Texas has not had a win in Fort Worth, Texas since 2013. The offense looked sloppy at times and struggled to throw the ball all game against an average TCU defense. Pete Kwiatkowski and Jeff Choate’s unit also struggled at times and had numerous missed tackles. Texas needed this win and fans should be excited to get it.

But the Longhorns did struggle against a mediocre TCU team and cannot play like they did Saturday if they want to contend for a Big-12 and even College Football Playoff berth. In this recap of Texas vs TCU from Week 5, I’m going to highlight something: good, bad, and surprising in this game and what it means for the future. Grab yourself your favorite beer, cocktail, or a cup of coffee and let’s run through it!

Texas vs TCU Week 5 Recap
Image via ESPN.com

The Good

Kyle Flood has done an excellent job so far this season progressing this offensive line as run blockers. Week one and two this offensive line was getting blown off the ball. Defenders were making contact with Bijan at or behind the line of scrimmage regularly. Now, this offensive line has seemed to find their groove and has really excelled at getting a push and moving the line of scrimmage as a unit.

Texas has averaged roughly 345 yards per game on the ground in their last three games. Texas averaged roughly 154 yards per game in their first two games. The offensive line specifically excels when running outside zone and stretch plays. This allows Bijan and the other running backs to use their vision to find the hole in the defense. The interiors the offensive line is more athletic than they are powerful, especially Center Jake Majors, so getting them on the move and in front of the opposing defensive linemen works perfectly.

The Bad

There were a plethora of concerns after this sloppy game against an average TCU team. The defense continued to miss tackles in the run game, special teams allowed a handful of big returns, and most troubling Casey Thompson did not look sharp. Thompson had an incredible game versus Texas Tech. He completed 18/23 passes and threw for five touchdowns. However, Saturday afternoon Thompson struggled against TCU’s defense.

Thompson only completed 12/22 passes for 142 yards, adding one touchdown and one interception. The interception was especially bad, throwing into triple coverage on a first down play. There was absolutely no need for Thompson to take that risk at that point of the game. Texas was on their own 31 yard line, leading TCU 23 — 17, with 1 minute remaining before halftime. Thompson also had a questionable decision on the 2-point conversion.

With four receivers bunched to the field side and four defenders covering them pre-snap, Thompson opted to throw an uncatchable ball to Joshua Moore on a fade route on the boundary side where he was one on one. The field side play was a screen pass designed to get Bijan the ball with blockers in front of him, seemingly an easy play to gain two yards.

Thompson had numbers and good matchups on both sides of the formation, but the one-on-one fade route is the harder throw and the way he threw it gave Joshua Moore absolutely no chance at making a play on the football. Thompson had an easy screen play to the other side where he could’ve given the ball to the best player on the field and he opted not to. That choice cost Texas two points.

The Surprising

The most surprising take away from Saturday’s Texas vs TCU game is that Andrej Karic has proven to be one of Texas’ five best offensive linemen. Unfortunately he was forced into the game due to Denzel Okafor being injured. After the injury, Derek Kerstetter moved to left guard while Karic came in and served as Texas’ right tackle. The move allowed Kerstetter to play at his more natural position, in my opinion.

Kerstetter excels at fighting in a phone booth and though he has some athleticism, is much better as a power player. Kerstetter is extremely valuable to this offensive line because of his positional versatility. Karic proved to be a solid pass protector on the right side. Karic also did not give up any ground in the running game and should continue to improve if he keeps the starting job.

Closing

Overall, The Longhorns had a below average day and still managed to win. That is new to Longhorn Faithful. Usually a poor performance would end up as a loss, especially to a conference rival like TCU. It may have been closer than some fans wanted, but Texas vs TCU did provide us with many reasons to be encouraged.

Next week is the biggest game of the year against Oklahoma. Texas and Casey Thompson cannot play as poorly as they did last Saturday if they want to win. Oklahoma has been vulnerable. Even though they have talent, have not been able to hone it all and dominate anyone so far this season. Texas will be the best team they face thus far and we have a legitimate chance to beat them regardless of AP Poll rankings. Get ready Longhorns Faithful, because next week will be a fun one!


Follow Us on Twitter: @longhorn_atb & @ryfootballscout

Check Out some of my previous articles: Agent Zero: Texas’ Brightest Defensive Star, Meet Steve Sarkisian, How Texas Stacks Up In The SEC

Want Merch? Check out our store here: Around The Block — Longhorns Merch

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Know Thy Enemy: New York Jets

The 2-1 Tennessee Titans head to the Big Apple (well, Jersey) to take on the hapless but competitive Jets after consecutive weeks of emotional victories. Can they keep the good times rolling or will the injuries prove too much to overcome? Robert Saleh will be looking for his first signature victory while trying to rebuild the once-proud “J-E-T-S Jets, Jets, Jets!” franchise. Will New York #TakeFlight for the upset? What do the numbers say? 

Previous KTE Editions

Know Thy Enemy: Seattle Seahawks

Know Thy Enemy: Indianapolis Colts

Key Numbers + Info (2021 season)

Record: 0-3 (0-1 AFC East)

Points scored: 20

PPG: 6

Points allowed: 70

PPG allowed: 23.3

Average yards per rush: 3.9

Avg. yards per rush allowed: 3.8

Average rush yards per game: 80

Avg. rush yards per game allowed: 110.66

Rushing TDs: 0 for, 5 against

Avg. pass yards per game: 170

Avg. pass yards per game allowed: 217.33

Passing TDs: 2 for, 1 against

Pass Completion Rate: 55%

Pass Completion Rate Against: 72%

Leading Rusher: Michael Carter (24 attempts for 89 yards, 0 touchdowns)

Top Receiver: Braxton Berrios (14 receptions for 150 yards, 0 touchdowns)

Leading Tackler: C.J. Mosley (24 tackles, one pass defensed)

Key Additions: WR Corey Davis, WR Keelan Cole, OL Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL Dan Feeney, TE Tyler Kroft, QB Zach Wilson (rookie), EDGE Shaq Lawson (trade), LB Hamsah Nasirildeen (rookie), P Thomas Morstead, LB Jamien Sherwood (rookie), CB Brandin Echols (rookie), WR Elijah Moore (rookie), DT Sheldon Rankins

Key Losses: QB Sam Darnold (trade), Mekhi Becton (IR), EDGE Vinny Curry (NFI), LB Jarrad Davis (IR), S Lamarcus Joyner (IR), EDGE Carl Lawson (IR), S Ashtyn Davis (IR), LB BJ Goodson (retired), C Pat Elflein, EDGE Henry Anderson, LB Jordan Jenkins, LB Tarell Basham

Series History

Tennessee leads the series 25-19-1

Tennessee Call Out, Ball Out

Derrick Henry. PPR Superstar

– Henry is on pace to smash his career-best in receptions and receiving yards, posting 12 catches for 105 yards thus far. The already ultra dangerous runner is a beast, but to add the passing game dimension makes him even deadlier for defenses to try to scheme against. With the Titans’ top two receivers out, Henry will be relied upon more, not only as a runner but as a receiver out of the backfield as well. Can the stout Jets defense contain him? 

Make Zach Wilson Uncomfortable

– The young rookie signal-caller has been sacked an astounding 15 times in just three games, thanks to a suspect offensive line. Tennessee has improved on defense but with a litany of pass rushers out for this game, including megabucks signing Bud Dupree, it will be interesting. Harold Landry has quietly emerged as a leading pressure man along with team sack leader Ola Adeniyi. Wilson definitely has had some rough patches while trying to pilot the moribund Jets offense. Tennessee must be licking their chops against an offensive line missing its best player, Mekhi Becton. 

All about business

– The Jets aren’t the most talented team on the Titans’ schedule, admittedly. Tennessee will need to make quick and efficient work of a rebuilding team and move on to next week. Ryan Tannehill hasn’t had THAT breakout game and he’s coming off a pedestrian performance so he will need to lead Tennessee. The banged-up offensive line will need to keep Quinnen Williams and co at bay.

Keys to a Jets Victory

Wilson must be decisive

Wilson has had an inauspicious start to his pro career, completing just 55% of his passes and throwing a 2/7 touchdown to interceptions ratio. He needs to be decisive and take command in order for the Jets offense to expose Tennessee’s injured defense. It’s safe to say that the Jets’ efforts to surround him with talent haven’t worked out just yet. WR Denzel Mims will be active so there’s that  

Corey Davis Revenge Game?

– Davis admitted that he was affected personally by the Titans’ decision not to re-sign him in favor of other targets. He will love to have his revenge as the Jets WR1 and he faces a Titans secondary that is hemorrhaging numbers to receivers on a weekly basis. It will be interesting to see which Titans corner faces him, Jackrabbit Jenkins or the rising Kristian Fulton. The Jets and Wilson will need him to step up, that’s for sure.  

Cut off Henry at the pass 

As mentioned earlier, the “new” found pass game dimension that Henry has added to his repertoire will be challenging for Robert Saleh to scheme against. Julio Jones and AJ Brown are both out with injury in this one, leaving Henry as the sole big-name threat. If the Jets can adequately cover the other Titans receivers like Nick Westbrook-Ikhine and Chester Rogers, they have a shot at pulling off the upset. We will see if Saleh’s men can get to Henry at the front to protect their “unproven” linebackers. No infamous proclamations from the Jets defense about wanting Henry like most college teams wanting Bama. 

Injury Report

What are the odds?

Caesars has the Titans as 6 point favorites at -110 while the Jets are +110 dogs. The over/under has been set at 44.5. The money line is the Titans at -280 and the Jets at +230.

BetMGM has the Titans as 6 point favorites at -110 while the Jets are +110 dogs. The over/under has been set at 44.5. The money line is the Titans at -300 and the Jets at +250.

Prediction

Tennessee 20

NEW YORK JETS 24

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Wilson’s Week in Review: Week 3

It’s been a troublesome start to the New York Jets season. Zach Wilson’s Week 3 only added to those concerns, after New York went a second consecutive game without scoring a touchdown. The production isn’t there, the points aren’t there, and the wins seem even further behind. We’re witnessing the beginning of the long road that is Wilson’s development. That doesn’t mean there weren’t significant takeaways to be had.

What Wilson Did Well

Showed Off His Upside

The best play of Wilson’s day didn’t move the chains. It didn’t score points and it certainly didn’t give New York a lead. We can point to Corey Davis and blame his toughness at the catch point or give props to the defensive back for knocking the ball out. Either way, it was a gentle reminder that Wilson is still stupendously talented.

This play was, in many ways, a showcase of what Wilson does well. He evaded pressure well while keeping his eyes downfield. Once he found his way out of a muddied pocket, he had the athleticism to create space from pursuing defenders. From there, he showed off the arm talent and delivered a 40-yard strike while still drifting.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about how Wilson can keep an offense afloat even when things go south. Once again, he showed how that’s possible, even if the Jets couldn’t cash in on it. Eventually, those plays are going to result in six.

Poise

It’s been a long three weeks for Wilson, in part due to the lack of support around him. He’s been under pressure frequently, at times, by his own fault. Nonetheless, it was inspiring to see Wilson retain his arm talent and make plays with guys in his face.

With a linebacker in his face, Wilson shows off proper timing, accuracy, and a quick release. He hits a wide open Jeff Smith for one of the longest gains of the day.

Wilson’s issues with pressure won’t fix themselves in a week. Still, it is encouraging to see him unfazed here. This situation doesn’t call for it, but stepping through throws in the face of pressure are likely the next steps in his development.

A Referendum on Wilson’s Floor

I’ve talked a lot about Wilson’s struggles in structure as a rookie. They’re still plentiful, but the warts show themselves in more difficult scenarios.

Here, things get simple. It looks like Cover 2 to the left pre-snap. He gets Cover 2, and the concept beats it easily. Drop, hitch, throw. When the picture is clear, Wilson can operate quickly and accurately.

Ultimately, plays like this are a referendum on Wilson’s floor. Despite how ugly things get at times, nothing is lost in translation when the pre-snap picture doesn’t change. It isn’t much, but it’s a higher floor than his lowest points would suggest. If anything, let is say that New York chose the right guy, it’s just a matter of development.

Where Wilson Struggled

Indicator Tunnel Vision

Wilson’s Week 3 added two interceptions to the ledger, but only one was truly his fault. Unfortunately, this one was ugly.

Here, we see a flood concept. It’s similar to the concept Wilson was picked off on against New England, where Devin McCourty looked like he was fielding a punt. However, I think the process that led to this interception is similar to Wilson’s first career interception in Week 1.

Denver’s running a quarters-like coverage to the concept. Jeff Smith is taken vertically by the boundary corner. The “apex” or slot corner, in this case, plays man defense on Braxton Berrios. From there, it seems that Davis is going to have a favorable matchup against the inside linebacker. Unfortunately for Wilson, the linebacker is just walling Davis from crossing the middle of the field. Meanwhile, Justin Simmons is in a robber assignment, rather than a deep zone.

Wilson sees that the defender covering Davis has inside leverage. Given that Davis is running an out route, it seems like an easy decision. Unfortunately, Wilson takes that as an indicator to throw at Davis’ break. He failed to account for Simmons, who explodes to the ball and picks him off. At this point in time, it seems Wilson is developing tunnel vision on particular indicators in an effort to comfortably get through his progressions. As a result, he loses other zone defenders and makes some brutal decisions.

Overcoming this bad habit will be a key part in developing his play within structure.

Accuracy Regression?

Coming out of BYU, Wilson was touted for his ability to make plays out of structure with unorthodox arm angles and a lack of a platform. So far, he’s struggled to do that consistently.

Wilson if moved off his base and forced to deliver this pass to Ty Johnson with his feet parallel to the line of scrimmage. He drops his arm and releases it in an atypical sidearm fashion. Circumstances are far from ideal, but Wilson is expected to hit throws like this. For someone that did this consistently at BYU, it can be frustrating to see those passes hit at a significantly lower rate.

Moreover, this inconsistency is troubling because we’ve seen him make similar, better throws before. Wilson has more than enough talent to hit said throws, but he’s yet to retain the necessary accuracy.

Sensing Pressure

Wilson has showed time and time again to be instinctive and twitchy within the pocket. At the same time, he’s justified comments scolding him for holding onto the ball for too long.

Here, Moses gets beat badly by Von Miller. Ty Johnson’s incompetence and Miller’s alignment don’t help, but the result is the same. He quickly barrels down on Wilson and gets a free shot on the rookie.

As a general rule, good quarterbacks can evade a single pass rusher. Of course, the individual rusher here and how quickly he wins makes that more difficult. Still, opportunities are there for Wilson to escape. There are lanes to step up and potentially out of the pocket. Instead, Wilson doesn’t feel Miller honing in and pays for it. Moving forward, being able to sense pressure while keeping his eyes down field will play a role in extending plays and keeping the football safe.

Getting the Ball Out

The final play of Wilson’s week in review relates strongly to the previous one. Wilson needs to protect himself, and the offense, by getting the ball out quicker.

Simply put, the check down is open. He’s under duress and knows the downfield options aren’t viable. Instead of checking it down and living to see another day, Wilson makes an additional pocket movement and is eventually taken down for a loss.

Part of what makes Wilson so dangerous is his ability to hit home runs out of broken plays. Still, there’s a time and place for everything. Here, he’s better off gaining a handful of yards. His choice puts more stress on his offensive line and leaves yards on the field.

All in all, Wilson looked like a rookie who just played the most daunting coach the sport has ever seen. Against a comparable defense, he struggled again. Wilson’s struggles now are all opportunities to grow.

He’ll have a chance to show that growth Week 4 against a lesser Tennessee defense.

Bengals Position Grades vs Jacksonville Jaguars

Bengals position grades

The Cincinnati Bengals put up a game for the ages in front of the whole country on Thursday Night Football this week. It was a tale of two halves, but by the end of it both teams turned in a spectacle worthy of a battle between two No. 1 overall picks. Coming off a dismantling of the division rival Pittsburgh Steelers, this team’s confidence is sky high, and the Bengals position grades reflect that.

After roughly 29 minutes of play, the Cincinnati Bengals looked cooked. They simply couldn’t get anything going on offense, and when they did they had the absolute worst luck with penalties and even a missed field goal from the chosen one, Evan McPherson. But, to their credit, after an absolutely clutch fourth down goal line stand at the end of the first half, they made the necessary adjustments and put together a win that properly honored the inaugural Bengals Ring of Honor class that was inducted at halftime.

Cincinnati Bengals Position Grades: Offense

Quarterback grade: A+

Our look at the Bengals position grades starts at the top. Joe Burrow’s box score stats this week read: 25/32, 348 yards, 2 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 132.8 QB rating. It was a signature win that showed all the swagger and moxie the Bengals hoped they were getting when they selected him No. 1 overall in last year’s draft.

Perhaps more impressive than the final stats, however, was his mentality. Despite the first half going so badly, Burrow kept his head and responded with laser-focus. He only threw three incomplete passes the entire second half, and none on the Bengals’ game winning drive at the end. It’s the kind of performance we’ve seen from Burrow a few times since he’s been in Cincinnati, but this might be the first time the Bengals took advantage of it and actually won.

Running Back grade: B

As with many of these Bengals position grades, it’s going to be hard to grade the running backs too high considering how bad things looked in the first half. Part of the reason the Bengals weren’t able to generate much of any offense in the first half was the ineffectiveness of the running game. But, Joe Mixon got things going in the second half and ended up averaging 4.2 yards per carry by the end of the night. Those aren’t eye-popping numbers, but in theory you’d get roughly 12 yards per set of downs if you only ran the ball all night, so you’d have to take it.

However, the entire unit was virtually absent in the passing game. Samaje Perine only averaged 2.3 yards per carry. So, the unit’s overall grade takes a bit of a dip because of that.

Wide Receiver grade: B+

Tyler Boyd and Ja’Marr Chase alone accounted for 195 receiving yards on the day. Neither found the endzone, but the Bengals were very close to having two 100+ yard performances by wide receivers on the day. Chase ended his run of consecutive games with a touchdown reception, but he did turn in a 44-yard grab early in the third quarter that helped spark the Bengals’ 14 unanswered point explosion. Trenton Irwin even made a major contribution with a 25-yard reception on the Bengals’ game-tying touchdown drive.

There seemed to be a few chemistry issues from the unit, however. It seemed like the receivers just weren’t where Burrow wanted them to be in the first half. Mike Thomas, in his one opportunity to contribute on the day, couldn’t even pick up the two yards necessary to keep the drive alive while the offense was sputtering in the second quarter. Overall, however, it was a really impressive performance from a unit missing Tee Higgins.

Tight End grade: A-

CJ Uzomah had the best performance of his Cincinnati Bengals career on Thursday. He nearly broke the 100-yard mark as a pass catcher, got in the endzone twice, and snagged the crucial catch that put the Bengals in game-winning field goal position. He even graded pretty well, per PFF, as a pass blocker (70.2) and decently as a run blocker (61.6).

Drew Sample didn’t perform nearly as well. He was a non-factor in the passing game and allowed Burrow to be pressured on one of his three pass blocking reps. He performed better as a run blocker, but on the whole he didn’t come close to measuring up to Uzomah this week. That said, Uzomah had such a good day I can’t knock the unit’s grade too hard.

Offensive line grade: B

It wasn’t exactly the best night from RT Riley Reiff and RG Jackson Carman. Reiff allowed three pressures on Burrow and two hurries, while Jackson Carman struggled to stay on his man and also allowed a pressure on Burrow. In Carman’s defense, he graded fairly well per PFF in true pass sets (73.0), but he struggled to do much in less traditional passing situations. Nothing particularly concerning considering he’s a rookie and, on the whole, appears to be an upgrade over Xavier Su’a-Filo. But, something to keep an eye on as he looks to shore up the last glaring hole on this Cincinnati Bengals offensive line.

That said, Joe Burrow only took one sack and Joe Mixon was able to be pretty effective in terms of yards per carry. Jonah Williams, Trey Hopkins, and Quinton Spain all performed well as pass blockers, and Reiff measured up to those three as a run blocker. If the offensive line can consistently play at least at this level, this Bengals team can be special.

Cincinnati Bengals Position Grades: Defense

Defensive line grade: B-

You have to give the Bengals’ defensive line credit for getting some pressure on Trevor Lawrence when it mattered. But, it seemed, way too often, Lawrence had all day to throw. Lawrence’s 3.32 seconds to throw on average was nearly a full second longer than any game Joe Burrow has played all season. To the Bengals’ credit, some of the best performers on the defense this week were defensive linemen. Trey Hendrickson, B.J. Hill, Sam Hubbard and D.J. Reader combined for 12 QB hurries, 12 tackles, and an average PFF grade of 74.5. But, they struggled to hit home in most situations.

In fairness, the Jaguars’ offensive line has been one of the few bright spots for their team this year. Coming into this game, Trevor Lawrence had only been sacked five times, tied for fourth best in the NFL. But, to their credit, they did come up clutch when Larry Ogunjobi combined with Logan Wilson for a huge stop at the goal line on fourth down with 59 seconds left in the first half. They gave Burrow the chance he needed and the rest is history.

Linebacker grade: A+

Logan Wilson is having a hell of a season. Right now, he looks well on his way to a Pro Bowl season. Not only did he record the Bengals’ only sack of the night, but he provided the final push that kept Trevor Lawrence out of the endzone on that crucial fourth down goal line stand at the end of the first half that ignited the Bengals’ momentum in the game.

Also, at one point, Germaine Pratt looked like he made a HUGE stop on the Jaguars behind the line on the Bengals’ 8. The Jaguars were knocking on the door to score after the Bengals tied the game in the third quarter. The following play, Trey Hendrickson sacked Trevor Lawrence for a 10 yard loss and it looked like the Bengals were about to put together another incredible stop. Unfortunately, Vonn Bell was called for defensive holding and the Jaguars ran the ball in the endzone on the following play. So, that great series of plays was largely forgotten. But, I didn’t forget. I see you, Germaine Pratt.

Cornerback grade: C-

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Eli Apple showed he is a solid option at cornerback this week. He allowed only a 77.1 quarterback rating after starting the day batting away a pass intended for Laviska Shenault. The play came on a key third down on the Jaguars first drive that could have set the Bengals up for immediate success had the following offensive drive not stalled and resulted in a missed field goal. He also stopped Shenault short of the goal line immediately before the Bengals’ game-changing goal line stand. Jalen Davis had a couple good plays too. He only got in for two snaps but he didn’t allow a reception on either play, despite being targeted on one.

Unfortunately, the rest of the Cincinnati Bengals’ cornerback room allowed a 114.4 quarterback rating. Mike Hilton and Darius Phillips both got bullied and whiffed on a pair of tackles. Hilton stood out like a sore thumb being responsible for nearly half of Lawrence’s completions on the night

Safety grade: D+

Dear Mike Brown, please pay Jessie Bates whatever he wants immediately. Vonn Bell got picked on this week filling in at Bates’ free safety position. He also got dinged with an awful defensive holding penalty, immediately killing all the energy generated by a Trevor Lawrence sack by Trey Hendrickson. On the following play, the Jaguars reacquired the lead with a 4-yard James Robinson touchdown run. It felt like a step back in the middle of a massive Bengals comeback attempt that had very little room for error at the time. 

Brandon Wilson slotted in at strong safety, filling in for Bell who had to fill in for Bates, and it didn’t go particularly well either. He didn’t miss any tackles like Bell did. But, every time he was involved in a play it went for 20 yards. In addition to Bates, Ricardo Allen’s absence looked glaring this week as well. Hopefully both make it back soon, because the safety plan this week was a massive liability.

Special teams grades: D

I truly wonder if Darius Phillips makes any sense as the answer at the return position. Personally, I was hoping the Cincinnati Bengals would draft a talented returner like Khalil Herbert or Ihmir Smith-Marsette. Right now, Phillips is the only answer and it’s a problem. He’s regularly making infuriating decisions. For example, retreating behind the point of the catch this week for a -1 yard return to the 14 yard-line. On the one good return he had, Mike Thomas got it called back with an illegal block above the waist. Oh, and don’t forget about the decision to return a kickoff from five yards deep in the endzone. A decision that set the Bengals’ offense up at the 19 yard-line.

Kevin Huber didn’t have a good day either. His first punt was fair caught at the 27. The second was a touchback. His third was fair caught at the 38. Evan McPherson, the chosen one, missed a 43-yard field goal wide left. It highlighted an abysmal first half for the Bengals. The missed field goal was part of a scoreless first half. It hurt them in the second half too, as they never held a lead until the end. Though, to his credit, he did hit the game-winning 35-yard kick as the clock expired. It erased the memory of an otherwise awful special teams day in the minds of viewers. It is the only reason why I didn’t give this unit an F to round out the player portion of the Bengals position grades.

Coaching grade: B

Coaches aren’t exempt from our breakdown of the Bengals position grades! That first half was ugly. The Cincinnati Bengals looked wholly unprepared for Thursday Night Football against a winless Jaguars team. It looked like they were falling victim to the classic trap game situation. The play calling was questionable at best. There was weird looking clock management at the end of the first half. That is what was largely responsible for the boos from the crowd as the players went into the locker room.

But oh man did that second half save Zac’s ass. One of Taylor’s greatest strengths through his career with the Cincinnati Bengals has been his ability to make halftime adjustments. They’ve struggled quite a bit in the fourth quarter throughout his career. But, they tend to come out looking better after the half than they did before. Halftime adjustments were a huge black mark on Marvin Lewis’s career in Cincinnati. So, seeing that improve so drastically under Taylor is huge for his argument to keep his job this season.

A lot of people are crediting Joe Burrow for keeping the Cincinnati Bengals focused and not panicking at halftime. But, I think Zac deserves credit for being the kind of coach the players want to go to war for. You can criticize some of his decision making. But, you can’t deny these players love him and it is making a difference.

Tennessee wins vs Missouri on the road, 62-24.

Tennessee vs Missouri
Tiyon Evans celebrates his 3rd touchdown of the game. Photo courtesy of Vol Football on Twitter.

Tennessee picked up its first SEC and road win of the season under 1st year head coach Josh Heupel vs Missouri. Tennessee sprinted out to a 28-3 at the end of the first quarter and the Vols maintained momentum throughout the game.

The Tennessee rushing game takes off vs Missouri

Tennessee came into this game knowing exactly what Missouri’s defense brought to the table. Quite frankly, it wasn’t much. Missouri allowed over 250 yards of rushing per game coming into this game. The Vols capitalized on this and opened the run game early with running back Tiyon Evans. Evans had 3 rushing touchdowns in the first quarter alone, including a 92-yard sprint on the Vols 3rd scoring drive of the game. Tennessee coach Josh Heupel spoke intently regarding the quality of possessions that Tennessee needed to put together during this game. The guys in orange did just that early and often.

Hooker secures starting spot

Hendon Hooker runs late in the third. Photo courtesy of Vol Football on Twitter.

Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker proved once again he is the starting quarterback for this Vol football team. Hooker was 15/19 passing for 225 yards and 3 TDs to three different receivers. Hooker also added in 74 rushing yards and another score on the ground. With the QB position up for battle in previous weeks this fall, it’s clear that Hooker has secured that starting spot. Hooker was relieved of his duties late in the 4th quarter and is the presumable starter moving forward on the year.

Tennessee defense steps up

Jay Blakley attacks the Missouri offensive line in the 2nd quarter. Photo courtesy of Vol Football on Twitter.

The Tennessee defense played one of its best games of the season so far. The Vols picked off quarterback Connor Bazelak two times and converted both of them for touchdowns on the offensive end. Once again the rushing defense from the Vols showed out, limiting the Tigers to under 100 yards in the contest. Tennessee also limited RB Tyler Badie to 41 yards on 21 carries. Going into the game the job was presented to this defensive unit and the Vols stepped up in a big way.

As Tennessee moves forward with SEC play, it’s nice to see the Vols put up big points moving forward as well as controlling the tempo of the game from start to finish. The Vols come home to play South Carolina in Neyland stadium, Saturday Oct. 9th at 12:00pm.

It’s Time for a New Playcaller: Charlie Frye

Charlie Frye and Tua Tagovailoa
Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

The Dolphins offense was a cause of concern this offseason.

Being middle of the pack in points and near the bottom of yards in 2020, Miami needed to make a change.

In an effort to maximize a group led by 2nd year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, Miami acquired deep threat receivers Will Fuller and Jaylen Waddle. The goal was to produce more big plays and create separation, a category Miami heavily struggled with in 2020.

Catering the offense to Tagovailoa was clearly the main goal, and truly showed when Miami made their choice at offensive coordinator.

New OC’s

Rather than bringing in an outside hire such as Mike McDaniel or Pep Hamilton, the Dolphins promoted position coaches George Godsey and Eric Studesville to “co-coordinators.”

The idea was to incorporate more of the RPO game and make the offense earlier for Tua, allowing him to make easy reads and control the ball.

Former QB Dan Orlovsky speaks on Tua’s ability in the RPO.

Changes were visible, as we saw a more comfortable and confident Tagovailoa in preseason, but as we have progressed through September, it seems that the idea may have been fools gold.

Although Tagovailoa has missed the majority of the last 2 games with fractured ribs, his time in the offense wasn’t as productive as many would have hoped.

Failure to Launch

Putting up a meager 17 points in week 1, Miami struggled to move the ball, as the RPO (run pass option) game became easy to stop, and big plays were hard to come by.

But following the injury to their starting QB, the Dolphins’ offense has shown more of it’s flaws.

Playcalling has been as bad as ever, with Miami getting away from the run early, lacking situational awareness, not taking enough shots, and, most importantly, misusing their weapons.

Miami runs a screen pass that gets stopped for a safety.

Players such as Jaylen Waddle, who was one of the fastest players in the 2021 draft, aren’t being given room to work, being used as security blankets, similar to Jarvis Landry’s usage in Miami (Landry is much less athletic).

Jaylen Waddle is being misused in Miami’s offense.

Meanwhile, Dolphins fans on Twitter and elsewhere are getting impatient, looking for a change. Many are looking for a replacement coordinator for next year, with some already calling for the firing of Brian Flores over his failure to produce a high quality group.

But Miami needs to make a change now, and it should come in the promotion of Quarterbacks coach Charlie Frye.

Prior Experience

Frye, a former NFL QB, has experience calling plays in college, leading the Central Michigan offense to an explosive 31.3 points per game in 2020. Behind his run calls game, CMU finished 3rd in their conference in rushing yards per game.

Frye is also looked upon as someone who helped turn the program around. Behind his offensive creativity and explosion, Central Michigan went from a 1 win team in 2018 to a MAC West Division winner in 2019.

Charlie Frye and Tua at the Elite 11

Coming out of high school, Tagovailoa participated in the Elite 11 football camp, where the best young QBs in the nation compete to be the best of the group.

Going into the camp, Tua was looked at as a raw prospect. Former NFL QB Trent Dilfer questioned his technique and looked at him as a raw talent, and was unsure if he could play the position.

But, through the coaching of Charlie Frye, who worked with the camp (and developed a relationship with Tua), Tagovailoa was crowned Elite 11 MVP.

Trent Dilfer names Tua Tagovailoa Elite 11 MVP

His ability to maximize the former Alabama QB is one Miami doesn’t have in Godsey or Studesville. Their relationship is clearly strong. Frye relays the plays into Tua’s ear, and they have known each other since the latter was in high school.

Bucky Brooks explains Tua Tagovailoa’s relationship with Charlie Frye.

If Miami hopes to maximize Tua Tagovailoa (when he returns from injury) , along with former college teammate Jaylen Waddle (among other weapons), promoting the former NFL QB seems like the obvious move.

Synopsis

The bottom line is this: Miami’s offense needs a spark. They are currently 28th in yards, and lack the ability to make big plays. Charlie Frye, and his potential promotion to offensive coordinator, may be the best way to deliver that spark.

It will be interesting to see how Miami attempts to max out their young offensive unit, and if Frye is in those plans, as Miami fights to remain in the playoff race.

Follow Tyler DeSena on Twitter

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The Deshaun Watson-Miami Dolphins Saga

Deshaun Watson Miami Dolphins Saga
Credit: Miami Herald

The Build Up

The Deshaun Watson-Miami Dolphins Saga started nine months ago when he officially requested a trade out of Houston. Since January 28th, the Dolphins have been rumored to be interested in the Pro Bowl QB.

Miami was heavily discussed among the national media when Watson’s preferred destinations became public and Miami was first on that list. The media questioned whether Chris Grier and Brian Flores believed in Tua Tagovailoa. They also thought Stephen Ross was pressing for Watson. Maybe it was everyone in the organization wanting Watson because he gave the team a better chance to compete for a Super Bowl now rather than a year or two later.

Everything became a lot more complicated in the spring, though. Between March 16th and April 14th, Deshaun Watson was accused of sexual assault and harrassment by 23 different women. Many expected Watson to be placed on the Commissioner’s Exempt List until his legal matter was sorted out, but that didn’t happen(and still hasn’t). This would have shutdown trade talk as he wouldn’t have been able to play for the time being. 

The Watson to Miami rumors continued throughout the offseason, but finally cooled down a few weeks before the season started.

Well, that was until August 29th. Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports reported that the Miami Dolphins were frontrunners to land Deshaun Watson. The NFL world picked up right where they left off, debating what it would take for Miami to land Watson.

The Latest Updates

Over the first three weeks, talks about Watson to Miami had decreased again.

This time, it was Jay Glazer who dropped big news. On September 29th, Glazer tweeted Miami is still the most likely landing spot.

Glazer never said a deal was sure to get done. He just said that if a deal were to happen, Miami is the likeliest to make it happen. He then doubled down, telling fans to “keep an eye on this situation.” 

On September 30th, Alex Donno suggested a trade was very likely to happen and said Monday is the day it will get done.

Josina Anderson reported similar news soon after.

All of this could just be speculation and smokescreening. Alex Donno’s source is someone close to Nick Caserio. Could that be Caserio trying to drive up the asking price? There are way too many scenarios at this point to know what’s going to happen with Watson.

Is Watson an Upgrade over Tua Right Now?

Whether Watson would be an upgrade over Tua Tagovailoa at this point in time doesn’t seem to be much of a debate. Deshaun Watson has proven to be one of the best QB’s in the league when healthy and playing. 

Watson is a 3x Pro Bowler who has only improved as his career goes on. Last year, Watson threw for 4,823 yards and 33 touchdowns to just 7 interceptions. Watson is also a significant threat with his legs. Over the equivalent of 3.5 seasons, Watson has 1,677 yards on the ground and 17 touchdowns. 

The numbers and play speak for themselves. Watson can be a franchise QB for years to come.

Does this mean Tua Tagovailoa is a bust? No. Does it mean Tua can not become what Watson is? Also no. 

But at this point in time, Watson is a better QB than Tagovailoa. For that reason it’s understandable why Miami, or any team, would be doing their due diligence on Watson.

Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple and there are numerous risks involved.

Potential Risks of Bringing Deshaun Watson to the Miami Dolphins

There are numerous significant risks involved for the Miami Dolphins. Most of the risks all branch from one main issue: 23 sexual assault allegations.

  1. If Deshaun Watson is traded to the Miami Dolphins, his allegations will not disappear. Although he is able to play right now, it’s possible he’s placed on the Commissioner’s Exempt List after a trade is made. This would make him ineligible to play. Yes, Miami would negotiate something in the deal that would void the trade if he isn’t able to play a snap; however, it’s a risk nonetheless.
  2. Since he isn’t already on the Exempt List, it could be fair to assume he won’t be placed on it until at least the end of this year. Assuming Watson can play immediately, he’d play 13 games at the most this year. After this season, his legal situation may still be undecided and put next seasons status in question.
  3. Miami would be giving up a lot of assets to secure Watson. According to the most recent reports, the Texans are asking for 3 first-round picks and 3 other assets. Those three other assets would likely be a variation of second and third round picks. Giving up 6 draft picks that could be used to build a deep team would be a major risk for an organization that seems to be headed in the right direction after 20 years of mediocrity.
  4. There’s also a risk from the long-term POV. If Tagovailoa develops into the QB we all know he is capable of being next year, this move will be questioned for years to come due to the amount Miami will have given up. Of course, it’s a risk in and of itself betting on Tua to reach a great level. However, from long-term, giving up 6 high picks and letting Tua become a great QB on another team would make the Watson move seem unnecessary in retrospect. The Dolphins are in year 2 of a rebuild, and don’t need to force success right now. They have time to see if Tagovailoa can develop into who they think he’s capable of being. 
  5. Innocent until proven guilty is a thing. At this moment, Deshaun Watson is innocent. But when a person has 23 allegations of sexual assault, giving up 6 picks and likely giving up on Tua Tagovailoa may not be a great look for the organization. Obviously, if Watson comes to Miami, the legal issues go away, and he wins, then all will be peaceful. But now, trading for him would reflect poorly on the organization.

Are the Risks Worth the Reward?

If someone told the Miami Dolphins management and staff that Deshaun Watson would constantly be top-5 QB in the league and the Dolphins would be Super Bowl Contenders for at least the next 10 years, they’d absolutely pull the trigger. They’d probably do it for more than “just” six picks.

Unfortunately, as I explained above, it isn’t that simple. 

When taking into account what Miami will have to give up, the backlash they’d face, and the fact that Watson’s legal matters are far from complete, a trade to Miami does not make sense.

In 2019, the Dolphins stripped their entire roster and were assembled to fail. The end goal was to have a high enough draft pick to select Tua Tagovailoa. They did exactly that. He started 9 games and went 6-3. 

This past offseason, the Dolphins added playmakers on the offense for Tua. They drafted Jaylen Waddle and signed Will Fuller. The Dolphins also named Charlie Frye their QB Coach. Frye has worked with Tua since high school. Co-OC’s George Godsey and Eric Studesville designed an offense to fit Tagovailoa that is RPO based. This offense allows him to use his accuracy and quick decision making to move the ball.

It’s been almost 18 months since Tagovailoa was drafted. He’s started 10 games, and won 7 of them. The organization has built around Tua as if he is the man of the future.

Risking the last 18 months of work and giving up a plethora of valuable future assets for a QB with an uncertain legal matter seems very dangerous. The reward would be huge(so would the price for that reward), but as of now, the risk is bigger.

Overall

We in the public have no clue what’s going to happen. We have heard this rumor more times than I can recall at this point. If it’s going to happen, it may get done as soon as Monday. But we’ve heard this so many times, it’s likely the same this time. Houston smokescreens, media narratives, and fan impatience seem to be driving this discussion more than anything.

Trading for Watson would require Miami to give up substantial future assets, be extremely confident that the legal matters will have absolutely no further impact on his NFL career, and likely mean giving up on Tua Tagovailoa.

That seems like a costly price to pay for anyone. 

The Dolphins should stick with Tua Tagovailoa and give him the opportunity to lead the team to the finish line this year. If they are displeased and ready to make a move, maybe Watson’s situation will have more clarity in the offseason. At that point, Houston may reach the point of trading him for far less than what they’re asking now.

At this point, it makes no sense for the Miami Dolphins to trade for Deshaun Watson.

Follow Rishi Desai on Twitter.

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Week 3 RECAP: Chicago Needs New Leadership

The Chicago Bears fell to (1-2) with the loss to Cleveland on Sunday, the final score being 26—6. The Browns dominated from start to finish defensively. Chicago was out-coached as well, with little adjustments made throughout the game to help Justin Fields while playing behind an over-matched offensive line. This recap is going to be short and sweet, fire Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace.

Image via dogpounddaily.com

Matt Nagy

As an “offensive guru” Matt Nagy should have this offense looking competent and at least average. Nagy’s biggest draw as a head coach in 2018 was his scheme coming from Andy Reid’s coaching tree. As it turns out, Nagy’s biggest weakness is actually calling plays in a game. The scheme means nothing if you don’t know how to tie them all together to keep the defense off-balance.

It might be okay if Nagy was just a bad play caller, but he also has shown he’s incredibly ignorant to his own shortcomings. At the end of last year Bill Lazor took over as offensive coordinator and the offense looked and played better on Sundays. This off-season Nagy announced he would resume calling plays for the 2021 season, highlighting his arrogance. Nagy has always come off as thinking he is the smartest guy in every room, exuding arrogance.

Ryan Pace

Ryan Pace has a long list of questionable decisions. One of the worst he has made is releasing Charles Leno, in favor of keeping Jimmy Graham. Pace signed Jimmy Graham before the 2020 NFL Draft. In that draft, Pace used their first selection (#43 Overall) on Tight End, Cole Kmet. Pace has a history of signing deal with players then immediately drafting their replacements in the same year, doing it with Andy Dalton and Mike Glennon as well. However, Pace did not let Graham walk and save the team roughly $7 million. Instead he cut Chicago’s starting Left Tackle, who saved them roughly the same $7 million. Pace also re-structured Graham’s deal right before the 2021 season, Graham now will be on the roster for the 2022 season as well. The unwillingness to let go of Graham is perplexing.

Ryan Pace has also shown a complete disregard for the future of the franchise. Highlighted by the Jimmy Graham re-structure, Pace has a long history of pushing money into the future. This is most famously used by the New Orleans Saints, however they were perennial Super Bowl contenders with Drew Brees. The Chicago Bears are not that at the moment and haven’t been for a very long time. 2018 was a great year and I can understand being aggressive in the off-season to go all-in for the 2019 season.

That did not work, Chicago ended with an 8-8 record on the season. At that time, Pace should have just accepted that this team was not ready to contend for a championship. Mitch Trubisky had taken a step back and was not looking like a franchise signal caller. Instead, Pace traded for Nick Foles. A quarterback who was outplayed in 2019 by an undrafted free agent. This was a desperation move to win-now and hopefully not get fired.

Pace would continue to sign players in hopes of winning and therefore saving his own job. Robert Quinn would be signed to a five-year $70 million deal in 2020. A significant over-pay for an aging pass rusher. Pace would continue the trend by signing Andy Dalton to a one-year deal and restructuring it to be spread across two-years. Again, highlighting how Pace continues to push money into the future to try and win right now. A bad strategy or a team that is in no position to even make the playoffs, let alone actually contend for a championship.

Conclusion

Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace have displayed an incredible amount of arrogance and self-preservation. Something this franchise needs to purge and start new. As most Bears fans are aware, the problems do not stop at the General Manager, they go all the way up to the CEO and President, Ted Phillips. The McCaskey’s have to make a change, similar to what Washington has done. They brought in former NFL player, Jason Wright as their President. Bringing new life to the franchise and someone who has knowledge and experience in NFL locker rooms. Ted Phillips has made plenty of bad hires at the general manger position, it’s time for Phillips to look in the mirror and wonder if he is the problem as well.


My apologies for the gloom and negative article, but after Sundays showing I’m not sure there is anything positive about this Bears organization. As long as Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace are the Head Coach and General Manager I can’t imagine Chicago developing and maintaining a championship-level team. Furthermore, as long as Ted Phillips is running the front office I can’t imagine Chicago finding a championship-caliber General Manager and Head Coach.

Follow Us on Twitter: @bears_atb & @ryfootballscout

Check Out Our Other Articles: Chicago’s Football Miracle & Darnell Mooney’s Hype Train

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Cincinnati Bengals Position Grades after beating the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-10

Position grades are always a fun exercise, especially when the Bengals slay one of their biggest demons. This week, they beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in Heinz Field for the first time since Week 8 of the 2015 season. Almost 6 years ago. The convincing victory also gives the Bengals an early lead for first place in the AFC North.

It wasn’t a perfect game from the Bengals, who sputtered a bit in the fourth quarter and gave Bengals fans across the world heart palpitations. That sputtering will be reflected in the position grades, mostly because we’ve seen the Bengals lose too many games like this in the past. But, to their credit, they buttoned up where it mattered. That will also be reflected in the position grades.

Offensive Week 1 Position Grades

Quarterback grade: A-

If you only look at the box score and watch the highlights, you’re likely to think Joe Burrow was an interception away from being nearly perfect on the day. It was certainly a great day for him. But, the interception was an absolutely boneheaded decision to throw into triple coverage with Terrell Edmunds also in the area. It was an interception reminiscent of some of the worst he’s ever thrown in a Bengals uniform. On top of that there was a pattern of overthrowing the ball that Joe will likely want to address in the film room. Luckily, on one of those overthrows, Ja’Marr Chase bailed him out with an incredible touchdown catch.

Other than that, you have to like what you saw from Burrow this week. He was mostly accurate, willing to scramble when he needed to, and didn’t let mistakes turn into patterns. At the end of the day, he only missed four throws and found the endzone three times. So, I really don’t have much to criticize.

Running Back grade: A

Joe Mixon’s 5.0 yards per carry was a huge reason the Bengals performed as well as they did this week. The Bengals only ran 42 offensive snaps as opposed to the Steelers’ 73, but they still managed to dictate the tempo of the game. That was mostly because Joe Mixon ran the ball so well.

The only reason this grade isn’t higher is because Mixon was largely non-existent in the passing game. However, Samaje Perine turned in an 8-yard catch on a scoring drive. So, you can’t knock the unit’s position grades too hard for that one element.

Wide Receiver grade: A+

Yelling and screaming about how the Bengals made the right choice taking Ja’Marr Chase with the No. 5 overall pick is starting to feel a bit redundant. At this point, it just feels like beating a dead horse. This week, Chase put the conversation to rest by becoming only the ninth receiver in NFL history to score a touchdown in each of his first three NFL games. In fact, he tacked another one on in the third quarter.

Tyler Boyd also got in on the touchdown action in the first quarter. He caught another 3 passes for a total of 36 yards across all four receptions. Despite the absence of Tee Higgins, Mike Thomas and Auden Tate both got their catches in on the day. Tate came down with his catch for 14 yards and Thomas went for 19. I’m not sure what more you could want from a unit that looks like one of the best in the NFL.

Tight End grade: C-

The Bengals’ tight ends didn’t really do much in this game to swing their position grades one way or the other. CJ Uzomah was only targeted once in the passing game. You could argue he could have been more aware of the ball and come down with the pass. But, I would argue it was Burrow’s fault for throwing the pass behind him. Drew Sample helped prevent a pick six on the interception, but that was about it.

Offensive line grade: A-

After two weeks, the Bengals’ offensive line looked dead in the water. Arguably, the worst performing member of the unit was Xavier Su’a-Filo. A knee injury kept him sidelined this week in favor of second round rookie Jackson Carman. It looked like a massive upgrade, and Burrow was barely touched all game. In fact, he was only pressured twice all game.

Upon further review, per PFF, Carman seemed to struggle a bit as a run blocker (35.8). However, he graded generally well as a pass blocker (68.8). His poor performance as a run blocker was essentially negligible given high quality run blocking performances by Jonah Williams (79.0) and Isaiah Prince (85.6).

In fairness, the Steelers’ defensive line was decimated by injuries. TJ Watt, Alex Highsmith, Stephon Tuitt, and Tyson Alualu were all out this week. Let’s see what they do against teams like the Ravens and Browns before we call this unit “fixed”. But, aside from a smattering of penalties in the first 35 minutes of the game, it was a refreshingly solid performance from a much maligned unit.

Defensive Week 1 Grades

Defensive line grade: A

Another week, another great performance from the Bengals’ most improved unit in 2021. The four sacks from BJ Hill, Trey Hendrickson, Cameron Sample, and Sam Hubbard felt like an homage to the early 2010s Bengals units that dominated in the trenches. Najee Harris couldn’t get a thing going on the ground, putting up a measly 2.9 yards per carry. Six times the Bengals managed to stop a Steelers ball carrier in the backfield for a negative gain. The Bengals are looking like a truly competitive team through 3 weeks, and this unit looks to be the most responsible.

Linebacker grade: A+

Logan Wilson looks like the next elite NFL linebacker. Not only did he lead the team in tackles (14) but he also recorded two interceptions on Ben Roethlisberger. The first interception came a few plays after Joe Burrow’s interception, essentially nullifying the impact. The second interception set the Bengals up in the red zone for an easy touchdown drive that gave the Bengals a 24-7 lead in the middle of the third quarter.

Germaine Pratt, Akeem Davis-Gaither, and Jordan Evans also assisted in some really big stops. On the whole, the unit was above average in pass coverage, elite against the run, and instrumental in creating turnovers.

Cornerback grade: C

Opposing teams seem to be catching on to the fact that Eli Apple is a liability. Chase Claypool tripled the receiving production of anyone else on the team other than Najee Harris, likely due to there being an obvious mismatch. Apple was regularly getting burned by Claypool and combined with Chidobe Awuzie for a pair of infuriating pass interference penalties that didn’t need to happen. Darius Phillips also struggled on the day, particularly down the stretch.

Other than that, it was a pretty solid performance from this unit. Awuzie may have had that pass interference on 3rd and 11 that gave the Steelers a free first down. But, he generally held his man in check most of the day. Mike Hilton rarely got beat and got to enjoy celebrating a much needed revenge win over his former team.

Safety grade: B

It was another day where the safeties didn’t have to get involved much, which is always nice. It’s a huge change of pace from last year where Jessie Bates was required to be the superhero so often. This week, he played well on cleanup duty, only once allowing a play to go for more than three yards when he got involved. Vonn Bell was used sparingly as a blitzer and contributed to the pressure the Bengals were able to generate on Roethlisberger. But, other than a single pass deflection, he didn’t have much of an impact on this game.

Special teams grades: C-

Kevin Huber continued to prove he is an absolute weapon this week, pinning the Steelers inside the 20 three times and inside the 10 once. Unfortunately, the same sentiment can not be had about the punt coverage, or the return unit. Early in the game, Huber punted the ball inside the Steelers’ 6, but poor coverage allowed a 14 yard return. The defense held the Steelers to a punt on the following drive, but mistakes like that could be critical against more explosive teams.

Evan McPherson did hit a 43-yard field goal early in the second half that gave the Bengals some momentum coming out of halftime. But, it wasn’t exactly the prettiest kick. It’s nit-picking, for sure, but it was probably the first time I’ve seen McPherson attempt a kick that I wasn’t 100 percent sure was going to go through after it came off his foot. But, he did hit it, and converted all his extra points. So, it’s still infinitely better than what the Bengals dealt with at kicker last year.

Coaching grade: A

Personally, I went into this game thinking – if they lose, I’m out on Zac Taylor. But, if they win, that’s huge for their confidence and momentum going forward. Well, they won, and I think Zac earned at least the rest of the season to make his case for continuing to be the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals.

It was a very well coached game from start to finish. For the second time this season, the Bengals held onto a lead despite the best efforts of the opposing team. The play calling was on point all game, the gameplan was clearly well thought out, and the Bengals generally avoided most huge mistakes.

Even when mistakes were made, they didn’t turn into meltdowns, which has been an issue the Bengals have needed to solve during Taylor’s tenure.

The Seattle Seahawks and RAS

In regards to the Seahawks their front office has been in place since 2010. Trends come and go and front offices sometimes change. We are only going back through the 2016 draft which gives us six years worth of drafts to pull data from. You can also find Kent Lee Platte’s website here: ras.football

Quarterbacks:

The Seahawks have only drafted one quarterback since Russell Wilson, Alex McGough in 2018. So obviously not much to go off there. He did post an RAS score of 7.82.

Running backs:

To the running backs, the Seahawks have drafted 7 since 2016, which equals out to at least one a year. If you average out the scores you get a 6.81, which is only a bit above average. If Look at all the picks though outside of two guys Alex Collins and Deejay Davis they all scored a 7.28 or higher. This shows that overall Schneider and Carroll like their running backs to be relatively athletic. Looking further into the numbers the Seahawks like to draft bigger backs. five of the seven weight 217 pounds or more. They are all between 5’10-6’0. One key seems to be 40 speed. All of the running backs drafted have at least average speed or better.

Six of the seven outside of Alex Collins all scored at least average in explosion. Agility does not seem to be something that Carroll/Schneider emphasize. Three of the seven scored poorly where two only scored average. Going off this data we can say they like bigger backs with good 40 speed and at least average explosion.

Tight end:

Since 2016 the Seahawks have drafted four tight ends. Nick Vanett in 2016, Will Dissly in 2018, and Colby Parkinson and Stephen Sullivan in 2020. Their average RAS scores comes to a very average 5.77. That is mostly brought down by Dissly’s 3.79, although the rest are not all that high either. The highest is Sullivan with a 7.44. All four tight ends weight 250 or more. Interestingly enough they all vary in height. Vannett is 6’6, Dissly is 6’4, Sullivan is 6’5, and Parkinson is 6’7. Three of the four have good to great agility scores.

As for 40 times they do not seem important to the Seahawks. They vary from 4.89 to 4.66. Another interesting thing is three of the four had poor explosion testing. So that seems to be another test they do not find important. Two of them had 33″ arms and the other two had 34 and 35 respectively. So it seems Carroll and Schneider like their tight ends at least 250 and with decent agility scores.

Wide Receiver:

This position is some what interesting. The Seahawks have drafted eight receivers since 2016. The average of those eight is a decent 7.61. The one guy that really brings that grade down is Kenny Lawler, his RAS score was a 2.08. With his score removed the average goes up to 8.39. So it can be surmised that they look for pretty athletic receivers. Looking at the agility scores it seems this is another position that they do not care about agility numbers. Seven of the eight receivers drafted had average to poor agility numbers. Only John Ursua had high level agility scores. The Seahawks front office also seems to prefer receivers over 200 pounds; six of the eight drafted are 200 or over, with even four of the six being 214 or heavier. Five of the eight are over 6’0.

They do seem to prioritize 40 speed. Six of the eight ran 4.45 or faster. Seven of the eight though had a vertical of 35 or better (which is considered about average). Those seven also had broad jump scores of at least 10′ which is considered average, but six of those seven had a broad jump of 10’4″ or better which is considered above average. So it can be said they also prioritize explosion drills. Five of the eight also had above average bench scores. So it seems they like big, physical, explosive but linear fast receivers.

Offensive line:

The Seahawks have drafted eight offensive linemen since 2016. Four tackles, two guards and two centers. The average RAS score of the eight is 6.21. Two of their draft picks really bring the score down. Justin Senior and Jamarco Jones both had sub 1 RAS scores which is terrible, the rest were 7.76 or above. Also right off the bat the Seahawks seem to like bigger offensive linemen. Six of the eight are 310 or heavier, with four of the six being 320+. Their heights are kind of all over from 6’2-6’8, so it does not seem to matter to them. Of the offensive tackles all have had arm length’s of 34″ or more. The interior guys have all been around 33″

We have no testing numbers for Joey Hunt, not even arm measurements. Outside of Jones and Senior the rest all score at least average on explosion testing. As for speed testing, again outside of the two outliers they all tested at least average in speed. The agility testing is all over for them so they must be tests that the Seahawks do not worry about too much when it comes to OL. On the bench testing six of the eight all tested out at least average to very good.

Defensive line:

Since 2016 Carroll/Schneider have only drafted four interior defensive linemen. Jarran Reed in 2016, Nazair Jones and Malik McDowell in 2017, and Demarcus Christmas in 2019. The average RAS score of the four is an even 5. Looking more into those numbers you find that Malik McDowell is the one that really boosts that number up with his score of 9.03. The rest of them are 3.9 or lower. So athleticism does not seem to matter to the Seahawks.

They seem to prefer the linemen on the lighter side. The heaviest one is Reed at 307. Three of the four have a 40 time of 5.11 or faster. Another common factor across the roster is agility scores. They are all either average or below average in agility. Explosion drills are also treated the same.

Edge defenders:

The Seahawks from office has also drafted four edge defenders in the last six drafts. Rasheem Green in 2018, LJ Collier in 2019, Darrell Taylor and Alton Robinson in 2020. Taylor has no testing on file. So the three that do their RAS scores average out to a solid 7.09, mostly brought down by Collier’s 3.25. So none of them are over 6’4 which is kind of interesting. Two of them actually are under 6’3.

The Seahawks like them on the heavier side, the lightest one is 264. Two of them are over 275. All three have average to good testing numbers on the explosive drills. Green and Robinson had 40 times of 4.73 or faster. They both also had average numbers on agility testing. This might be the one position so far that they at least seem to look at agility numbers. There is not much else to go off in regards to this position, other than they seem to like guys who are relatively athletic.

Linebackers:

Linebacker is definably an interesting study in regards to the Seahawks. Schneider and Carroll have drafted five linebackers in six drafts. Jacob Martin and Shaquem Griffin in 2018, Ben Burr-Kirven and Cody Barton in 2019, and Jordyn Brooks in 2020. The average RAS score of four of the five drafted (Jordyn Brooks didn’t test enough to get a score) was a crazy athletic 8.72. So with those numbers we can assume the Seahawks like their linebackers to be elite athletes. With having athletes of this level there is of course a trade off, three of the four are 237 or smaller-with two of them being 230 or less. Also they are not exceptionally tall. Two of them are 6’2 and the other three are 6’0.

One test that definitely stands out is 40 times. They all run a 4.64 or better, with three of the four running a 4.56 or faster. The four that tested in vertical and broad jump all had at least average numbers there. This does seem to be a position that they prioritize agility testing. three of the four that tested put up elite agility testing and the other had a great 3 cone drill but a less than average short shuttle. The Seahawks definably emphasize speed and agility testing here with at least average explosive testing.

Defensive backs:

As for defensive backs they have drafted eight since 2016. Schneider and Carroll have drafted five corners, and three safeties. The Seahawks here are a bit of a mixed bag. Their average score is a slightly above average 6.91. They have two guys with sub 5 scores, but then they have three with scores over 8.3.

In regards to corners they seem to have two different types. They have three corners that were 6’0-6’3 194+ or 5’9 185-200, Tre Flowers is the talled at 6’3 the other two are 6’0-6’1. With the corners the Seahawks drafted they all ran 4.5 40’s or faster. Again they do not seem to care much about agility drills all the corners were average to poor in those drills. Four of the five put up average to above average scores in the vertical jump and broad jump. So it seems size and speed are of importance at corner with at least average testing in the vert and broad jump.

With the safeties all three are 6’0-6’1, but not exceptionally big, Delano Hill was 216 but Thompson is 204 and Marquise Blair is 196. Again explosion and agility testing was poor or average. Tedric Thompson ran a 4.6 but the other two ran sub 4.5, so it seems they emphasize speed at safety with average size for the most part. Somewhat similar thresholds to their corners.

Final Thoughts:

The Seahawks are anther interesting study in regards to what RAS and pro-day/combine testing says about their draft preferences. Roster wide it seems they do not care about agility drills outside of off ball linebacker and Tight end…kind of. They only take highly athletic linebackers. They like big fast receivers. Their defensive linemen are pretty unathletic. Their corners and safeties are held to similar thresholds. Finally they like their offensive linemen bigger guys with average speed and explosion.

Chicago Bears Week 3 PREVIEW

Matt Nagy and the Bears took care of business week 2. Beating the Cincinnati Bengals 20-17. In that victory the Chicago Bears lost Andy Dalton, their starting quarterback. Dalton is reportedly dealing with a knee injury and is return date is up in the air. The injury sets the stage for Justin Fields to lead Chicago’s offense this Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.

With the defense playing better in week 2 and Justin Fields taking over as the new QB1, Chicago’s faith has seemingly been restored in the Bears 2021 season. How will the Bears’ offense look this week versus a good Browns defense? How will Chicago’s defense look against a great Cleveland running game? This will be one of the best teams Chicago plays all season long, so grab yourself your favorite beer, cocktail, or a cup of coffee and let’s see how they matchup.

Image via clevescene.com

Chicago’s Run Defense

Chicago’s run defense ranks eleventh in DVOA. With Eddie Goldman as a limited participant and Akiem Hicks as a DNP for Thursday’s practice, Sean Desai will likely bring in a consistent rotation of Hogs upfront. Bilal Nichols, Angelo Blackson, Mario Edwards, and rookie Khyris Tonga will all get snaps Sunday. Eddie Goldman has not played yet this season, but figures to be an important piece to this defense. Bilal Nichols and Akiem Hicks have been getting the start but Goldman is the best run defender of the bunch.

Cleveland has the best offensive line in the NFL currently. Featuring second year standout Jedrick Wills at left tackle, three time pro-bowler Joel Bitonio at left guard, NFLPA president J.C. Tretter at center, second-team all-pro Wyatt Teller at right guard, and two time first-team all-pro Jack Conklin at right tackle. This Browns running game also features two of the best running backs in the NFL, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.

Sean Desai and Chicago’s front seven will face an incredible test this Sunday. If Eddie Goldman and Akiem Hicks play and are close to 100% healthy, I think the Bears will stack up well. I imagine we will see three defensive linemen plus two edge rushers often on Sunday. Khalil Mack will have to play at an elite level to help disrupt and force the running backs to cut back into the teeth of the Bears defense. Robert Quinn and Jeremiah Attaochu will have to do the same on their side to prevent Cleveland from dominating in the run game.

Chicago’s Offense with the New QB1

As mentioned above, Justin Fields is now Chicago’s starting quarterback. Get excited, the future of Bears football is now upon us. Justin Fields is unlike any quarterback Chicago fans have ever seen. In college he excelled in big moments, including a college football playoff win over eventual number one overall pick, Trevor Lawrence.

Matt Nagy should be creating a game plan to highlight Justin Fields strengths while also protecting him from the Cleveland pass rush. Jason Peters has been great through he first two weeks at left tackle. Ifedi has also been serviceable at right tackle. However, the interior of the offensive line has been a problem. Whitehair, Mustifer, and Daniels have all been below average at their positions according to PFF.

The Bears offense should feature plenty of outside zone, read option, and bootleg play action plays. Giving the interior offensive line an easier job. This will also help highlight Justin Fields’ athleticism by getting him outside of the pocket and on the move. The offensive line is not equipped to handle five and seven step drop backs consistently. The Bears will have to attack deep down the field on play action plays to stall the Browns defensive line, even if it’s just slightly.

Closing Prediction

Overall, the Bears are (+7.0) underdogs this Sunday. They are facing one of the best and most complete teams in the NFL. The Browns have a much-improved defense this season and have an elite running game to compliment them. Baker Mayfield has taken steps forward and looks like a true franchise quarterback. Justin Fields is in his first start in the NFL and has limited talent around him on offense. I don’t see the Bears winning Sunday and I honestly do not even see them covering the 7 point spread.

Final Score: Cleveland — 35, Chicago — 17

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Know Thy Enemy: Indianapolis Colts

The newest edition of Know Thy Enemy enters divisional territory in the AFC. The Indianapolis Colts, fresh off their loss to the Rams, travel to Nashville for their first game against the Tennessee Titans. Can they escape all the bachelorette parties and honky tonks despite a crazy quarterback situation? The Titans want to put on a show with so many legendary Oilers alumni in town. Who will gain the upper hand in an eminently winnable division? 

Previous KTE editions

Know Thy Enemy: Seattle Seahawks

Key Numbers + Info (2021 season)

Record: 0-2 (0-0 AFC South)

Points scored: 40

PPG: 20

Points allowed: 55

PPGa: 27.5

Yards per rush: 4.0

Avg. yards per rush allowed: 4.3

Avg. rush yards per game: 111

Rrush yards per game allowed: 120.5

Rushing TDs: 0 for, 1 against

Avg. pass yards per game: 234

Avg. pass yards per game allowed: 255.5

Passing TDs: 3 for, 6 against

Pass Completion Rate: 64%

Pass Completion Rate Against: 70%

Top Rusher: Jonathan Taylor (32 attempts for 107 yards, 0 touchdowns)

Leading Receiver: Michael Pittman, Jr (11 receptions for 152 yards, 0 touchdowns)

Top Tackler: Khari Willis (15 tackles, two tackles for loss, one interception, one pass defense)

Key Additions: QB Carson Wentz, OL Eric Fisher, OT Julien Davenport, RB Marlon Mack, CB TJ Carrie, EDGE Kwity Paye (rookie), S Andrew Sendejo, WR Mike Strachan (rookie), TE Kylen Granson (rookie)

Key Losses: QB Philip Rivers (retired), OT Anthony Castonzo (retired), DL Denico Autry, T.Y. Hilton (injured), OT Sam Tevi (injured), WR Dezmon Patmon (injured), QB Sam Ehlinger (injured)

Series History

Indianapolis leads the series 35-18

Keys to a Titans Victory

Get AJ Brown Back to Form 

The third-year star receiver had a rough outing against Seattle and hasn’t connected effectively with Ryan Tannehill to begin 2021. Julio Jones got going last week, snagging over 100 yards and a questionable touchdown reversal. It could be time for Brown to get going versus a weakened Colts secondary susceptible to the big play. He’s more than capable of generating monstrous YAC on any play. In Brown’s case, he has been massaging a knee injury which has repeatedly placed him on the injury report. Can the star join Julio in scaring the Colts defense this week? 

Establish. The. Run

Derrick Henry appeared to generate very little production until the second half last week. He single-handedly outgained the entire Seahawks offense by himself in the three quarters. The King faces a much stiffer test in the Colts front seven who could have an argument that they are better than Seattle’s front. The Titans’ best offense features a ton of play-action concepts due to the defense’s fear of Henry’s punitive retribution. Tennessee’s offensive line is a bit banged up and Todd Downing’s play-calling capabilities are somewhat in question, however. 

Pressure the QB 

Indianapolis has a severe issue at quarterback, regardless of Carson Wentz’s status (he has injuries to BOTH ankles). Wentz has continued the poor run of form that plagued him from his Philly disillusionment. If he can’t go on Sunday, then frequent signee Brett Hundley would get the nod over current backup Jacob Eason. Not to mention, the glaring issues on the line that Eric Fisher and Quenton Nelson don’t occupy. Fisher is just coming off a serious knee injury and Nelson is coming off a stint on the COVID list. Both players proved capable last week but their linemates did not. Tennessee would be wise to apply a ton of pressure on the right side to see if they can crack them. Enter former Colt Denico Autry to do the job.  

Keys to a Colts Victory

Target the left side of the OL

The last time we saw Taylor Lewan, he was being utterly emasculated and delineated into rookie mincemeat by Chandler Jones in week one. He was a last-minute inactive due to a knee injury suffered in pregame warmups last week. Although he practiced fully for multiple days this week, it appears that he isn’t as ready to return to full fitness from the ACL injury suffered last season. Tennessee has a new (old) fire to put out on the line as left guard Rodger Saffold exited the game last week due to injury. It’s gotten to the point that Tennessee might have to rely on backup caliber players at both tackle spots, Ben Jones being a constant injury worry, and regressed right guard. Enter a venomous and fierce Colts’ front seven featuring DeForest Buckner, Darius Leonard, Kwity Paye, and Bobby Okereke.

Get Titans Killer Jack Doyle Going

The former Tennessee Titans tight end has carved out a starring role for the hated rival Colts. He’s been a frequent bugaboo for the Titans due to their inability to cover the tight end for whatever reason. Indy would be wise to use him due to a lack of other receiving weapons outside of its running backs (they are very good at receiving) and a solitary threat in Michael Pittman, Jr. Unfortunately, the Titans get back linebacker Jayon Brown so he will be a boon for the much-maligned Tennessee defense.  

Run the Ball. A Lot

The best way to protect a less-than-ideal quarterback situation? Run the ball. Fortunately for the Colts, they have one of the best young running backs in the game in Jonathan Taylor. Whoever starts for them isn’t the best of options even if Wentz can go. The mere threat of Taylor and Marlon Mack should neutralize a frugal and anemic Titans pass rush. 

Injury Report

What are the odds?

Caesars has the Titans as 5.5 point favorites at -110 while the Colts are +110 dogs. The over/under has been set at 48 even. The money line is the Titans at -250 and the Colts at +205.

BetMGM has the Titans as 5.5 point favorites at -105 while the Colts are +115 dogs. The over/under has been set at 47.5. The money line is the Titans at -250 and the Colts at +200.

Prediction

INDIANAPOLIS 28

Tennessee 24

OKC Thunder: Way too early NBA mock draft

We are merely 25 days from the writing of this from the NBA regular season opener for the Thunder in Utah against the Jazz, so, naturally it’s time to look forward to the 2022 NBA Draft.

 As it sits the Thunder currently have 5 possible picks in the 2022 Draft giving them many options on draft night. 

WITH THIS PICK IN THE NBA DRAFT, THE OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER SELECT PAOLO BANCHERO, FROM DUKE UNIVERSITY.

Banchero is a six foot ten inch incoming freshman power forward. He’s a strong athlete with very good mobility. Has nice fundamentals on his jumper, and is very skilled in getting the foul line and converting at the stripe. Very versatile defender, can guard almost anyone on the floor at any time. Very polished for his age. Will be a great player at Duke, and has high potential to be an NBA All Star.

WITH THIS PICK IN THE NBA DRAFT, THE OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER SELECT NIKOLA JOVIC, FROM SERBIA.

The Thunder once again go for young post depth, something they desperately lack and need. Jovic is another all around versatile player. He’s not shy when leading the break and creating fast break opportunities. In the modern NBA it is very important that every player on the court has the ability to put the ball on the floor and create and Jovic gives the Thunder another guy along with Poku and Banchero, all three who have no problem doing just that. 

WITH THIS PICK IN THE NBA DRAFT, THE OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER SELECT KENNEDY CHANDLER, FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE.

Chandler is arguably the best point guard in the draft, his speed along with his athleticism sets him apart in the fast break. Possesses a knack for setting up his teammates for easy shots, and has no trouble creating his own. Chandler could probably step on an NBA court now and not be a liability on either side of the ball. 

WITH THIS PICK IN THE NBA DRAFT, THE OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER SELECT OCHAI AGBAJI, FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF KANSAS.

Agbaji would most likely be a “project” pick for the Thunder here. He has a very high motor, and is a very solid playmaker. Just needs to be more consistent in many facets. 

WITH THIS PICK IN THE NBA DRAFT, THE OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER SELECT JOHNNY JUZANG, FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, LOS ANGELES.

Juzang is a former Kentucky Wildcat who transferred after his freshman season to find a more prominent role, and find one he did. Juzang was the leader of a Final Four UCLA team that would’ve made the championship game if it weren’t for late game heroics from Jalen Suggs. He’s an all around scorer and would be another shooter on the wings for the Thunder.

Week 4 Florida Gators vs Tennessee Volunteers Preview

  • Date: Saturday, September 25
  • Time: 7:00 ET
  • Venue: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville, FL
  • TV: ESPN
  • Record: Gators (2-1) Volunteers (2-1)

Week 3 Recap

The Gators had a close loss to the Alabama Crimson Tide, 31 to 29. Florida missed an extra point, and then subsequently had to go for two. If they had simply made both extra points, they would have been tied. Obviously, other factors led to the loss. Most notably, giving up 21 points in the first quarter. After that, the defense really tightened up significantly. Alabama finished the game averaging just 6.9 yards per pass attempt and 3.3 yards per carry. Florida’s offense also ran for 245 yards on 43 carries for an average of 5.7 yards per carry, which is extremely impressive against Alabama. However, they threw for just 195 yards. That is not a recipe for winning, especially when you go down big early. The absence of Anthony Richardson, who looks to be back for this game, was a big factor in their struggles. Richardson provides a much higher level downfield passing game than Emory Jones.

What to Watch

Florida’s Quarterback Rotation

With Anthony Richardson expected to be fully available for this game, it will be very interesting to see how often Dan Mullen uses him. Throughout the first two games of the season, Richardson looked like the better quarterback. Emory Jones played well against the Crimson Tide, but struggles with ball placement leave concerns about whether or not he is the answer at quarterback. Richardson gives an added dynamic as a passer while also being a superior running threat. Richardson has the skill to eventually overtake Jones if Mullen sees fit, and a game against an inferior opponent is the perfect opportunity to test it out.

Florida’s Run Defense

Florida has yet to give up more than the 3.3 yards per carry average in a game that they gave up to Alabama. The Gators will looks to continue this trend in this game. Tennessee’s top two running backs from last year transferred out, and they haven’t had the same level of talent come in to replace them. The Gator defense is still without linebacker Ventrell Miler, but played well despite not having him last week. The defensive line is very deep, and has three studs along it in Zach Carter, Brenton Cox Jr, and Gervon Dexter. They are a threat to any offensive line. The Gator’s will look to have to stop a running quarterback as well this week.

Keys to Success

Limit Turnovers

Emory Jones has thrown at least one interception in every game so far this year. That has to stop, or he simply cannot play anymore. If the Gators can not turn the ball over, they are a superior team in terms of talent, and can rely on that to easily win this game. Turnovers in small numbers could be overcome in this one, but is something they really need to focus on going forward.

Corner Two Play

Again, if this is one of their few issues, they can still probably win this game. However, to be totally effective as a defense both in this game and going forward, they must get solid play out of whoever is corner two. My favorite for the position is Jason Marshall, who as a freshman has flashed his skill and athleticism, but lacks much consistency in his play. If he can prove to be a consistent player in this one, he can win the job going forward. If they do get good play out of corner two, they can shut down any and all hopes of offense from the Volunteers.

Run Game

The Gators have dominated everyone they have faced on the ground offensively. They have a large stable of talented running backs, and a powerfully built offensive line that is best going forward. The quarterbacks both are tremendous runners. Anthony Richardson being back adds explosion in the running game. Jones, is a consistent runner who is good on read options. Having a backfield made up of Dameon Pierce, Malik Davis, Nayquan Wright, and Demarkus Bowman is just downright unnecessary. If they can continue their previous performances, they will be able to control time of possession and dominate both field position and on the scoreboard.

Score Prediction

Gators 45 – Volunteers 24

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Miami’s Backup QB Job is in Good Hands

BILL INGRAM / Palm Beach Post via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Let’s be honest: the last week has sucked for Dolphins fans.

Going into the most important game of Miami’s young season, the hype was building for a potential upset against the reigning AFC East Champion Buffalo Bills. This was the week where it all was supposed to come together.

Tua Tagovailoa, Brian Flores, and the Miami Dolphins were looking to make a leap into being true contenders. This game was prime real estate to make a statement.

But as we all know, the complete opposite happened.

Behind a struggling offensive line, Miami was unable to get anything going in the air or on the ground. Unable to score any points, Miami couldn’t capitalize on multiple red-zone trips. But the worst consequence came from under center.

Young franchise quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was knocked out of the game with broken ribs, and will miss the game this Sunday. He could also miss more games depending on pain tolerance.

But even after the tough loss, the season isn’t over.

The Dolphins are still second place in the AFC East, holding a 1-1 record. Along with this, they face the 3rd easiest schedule over the remainder of the season.

While Tagovailoa gets back to full strength, the Dolphins have a more than capable backup in Jacoby Brissett.

Early Career

Brissett was drafted with the 91st overall pick by the New England Patriots in 2016, and following Tom Brady’s Deflategate suspension and Jimmy Garoppolo’s injury, he was able to go 1-1 as the starter. He was also able to form a connection with former Linebackers Coach Brian Flores.

Showing the ability to manage the game, the Colts traded for Jacoby, following injury concerns to Andrew Luck. While his team disappointed, posting only a 4-11 record with him as the starter, Brissett was able to make several nice throws, post a solid 3,098 yards, including a long of 80 yards.

Development

After a 2018 season where he didn’t start a game, Luck retired before 2019, which led to Brissett being inserted into the starting lineup.

Considering the circumstances, he was solid, posting a 7-8 record, nearly 3000 yards and an 18-6 TD:INT ratio, including 14 in the first 6 games. Following his hot start, he suffered an MCL sprain that hindered his ability to move in the pocket. Combining that with injuries to key receivers, Brissett struggled in the second half.

Jacoby Brissett throws a touchdown to TY Hilton.

Following a season in which he showed flashes, Brissett was replaced with Phillip Rivers, and saw little opportunity in 2020.

2021

After Ryan Fitzpatrick signed a deal with Washington, Miami was in the market for a new backup.

With Tagovailoa’s injury history, the Dolphins were looking for someone with experience in managing games. Also looking for someone who could help Tua learn the ins and outs of the game.

With his relationship with Head Coach Brian Flores, Brissett was the perfect fit. He signed a 1 year, 7.5 million dollar deal with Miami on March 16, 2021.

Brissett signs with Miami.

Brissett looked solid in camp and preseason, making nice throws throughout, including a touchdown to Salvon Ahmed in Chicago. He also had a stout performance vs. the Falcons, going 8 for 8 with 99 yards and a touchdown. He has seemed to fit with the system that new offensive coordinators George Godsey and Eric Studesville are running.

Jacoby Brissett throws a TD to Salvon Ahmed.

Now, with Tagovailoa out for at least this week, Brissett offers another chance to prove himself as a starter in this league. In little experience, he has put up solid stats, doing enough to win games, and that’s just what Miami needs, going up against the Raiders, Colts, and Buccaneers over their next 3 games.

Given his previous experience, it is clear that Jacoby Brissett has what it takes to keep the Dolphins in the thick of the AFC, and it will be exciting to see what he can do as Miami waits for their franchise QB to return.

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Wilson’s Week in Review: Week 2

Sunday’s loss to the New England Patriots was the quintessential Bill Belichick masterpiece against a rookie quarterback. For this edition of Zach Wilson’s Week in Review, we’ll dive into each of his four interceptions to assess blame, acknowledge concerns, and draw conclusions before Week 3’s matchup against the Denver Broncos.

A Quick Statistical Update

It goes without saying that eight quarters of football is not nearly enough to decipher whether or not a quarterback will be a franchise guy. That sentiment is amplified with projects like Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, Drew Lock, and Wilson. Of course, New York Jets fans hope Wilson’s future is closer to those first two names, even if it takes some time.

That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be acknowledged that statistically, Wilson has been arguably the worst starter in the NFL. Tej Seth of Pro Football Focus does a good job of quantifying this with his Passing Composite Score. By compiling one’s Accuracy Rate Over Expected (AROE), EPA/Play, and Raw PFF Grade, we can determine who have been the best and worst passers through two weeks. For Wilson, his 29th-ranked AROE (-15.46), 31st-ranked EPA/Play (-0.33), and 28th-ranked Raw PFF Grade (-0.05) are emblematic of a quarterback who has struggled mightily thus far.

In simpler terms, Wilson has played-turnover prone football and has not retained enough explosiveness to keep the offense viable. Is that entirely his fault? That almost certainly isn’t the case. Still, Wilson needs to get better. They’ll never overtake New England without said improvement.

Interception 1: Reckless Aggression

Wilson’s first interception of the day also came on his first drop back. Simply, it was a masterclass in trying to do too much.

Needless to say, the above call was likely not optimal, given the play New England ran. Living with that is part of the chess match football is. In terms of the process, I actually give Mike LaFleur some credit. The zone play action is a staple of the offense, and utilizing pre-snap motion is only going to help your young quarterback. There’s nothing inherently detrimental from the Mills concept, and it even resembles a pass that netted Corey Davis about 35 yards in Week 1.

However, the blitz beat the flawed interior protection and with only three routes on the field, Wilson found himself in a pickle. Wilson quickly forced the pass into murky waters over the middle of the field. The defensive back made a nice play, and once the tip drill was initiated, it was game over.

Belichick won this round not with an exotic coverage call, but with fast, disciplined play in the front seven. Getting in the face of Wilson on what was supposed to be a relatively easy tight-window throw was all that was necessary. It was a bad read not out of confusion, but out of reckless aggressiveness in the wake of pressure.

Additionally, it wasn’t too dissimilar from plays against Carolina that should have been sacks. At this point in time, Wilson’s priorities have too often been on making the big play, instead of the smart one. Thankfully, we can reasonably expect this issue to be coached out of him with time.

Interception 2: Electric Boogaloo

Moreover, the second interception of Wilson’s day came on his very next pass attempt. It… wasn’t the most confidence-invoking start of his life. Unfortunately, I found this pick nagging at me after I suggested more half-field progressions last week.

While this interceptions wasn’t truly on Wilson, it’s never fun to see easy throws take turns for the worst. Here, we see a play action bootleg that results in a nice three-level read. Wilson has shown to be comfortable on the move and with these types of progressions.

He’s got two hittable throws in front of him, and makes the right decision. Elijah Moore underneath likely would have been completed, but only for a short gain. There’s a defensive back in position to make a tackle well before the first-down marker.

Davis’ crossing route is the intermediate option of this progression. Against this single-high look, there is a legitimate window to throw into. Wilson identifies it and hits Davis with a catchable ball, even if it’s a little high. For a receiver making as much money as Davis is, New York should expect that to be caught.

Obviously, it wasn’t, and the Jets quickly found themselves in the midst of a nightmare scenario. There isn’t much blackboard material to work with here; Wilson did his job. From there, it’s a matter of keeping oneself in the right state of mind amidst adversity. I cannot and will not speak for Wilson’s emotions. Still, it is worth noting that Saleh and LaFleur may recognize it as part of the learning curve.

Interception 3: Unacceptable Execution

There are a lot of interceptions that exemplify how football is a team sport. The offensive line may break down, a receiver may drop a pass, maybe a coach draws up a horrific play. Sometimes, it’s all on the quarterback.

In the fog of war, there are few opportunities for easy completions. You have to hit your layups.

LaFleur calls a fairly easy play call, fit with a reliable pre-snap indicator for Wilson. Braxton Berrios’ motion shows New England’s hand of man coverage. From there, Wilson should hit Berrios for a short gain or quickly pivot to Elijah Moore’s corner route. He opted for neither.

On third-and-four, the indicator and early separation should have been all Wilson needed. That move-the-chains attitude is necessary sometimes, even if it isn’t fun. Instead Wilson hesitates and puts himself in a precarious situation. He’s late to make the read, throwing to the sideline from the opposite hash, and doesn’t have a legitimate third option in the progression. It’s a two-read throw that he took too long to process and immediately felt the consequences. Wilson delivered a poor, easily-undercut pass, and found himself out of luck once again.

Furthermore, Wilson will continue to toe the line between playmaker and game manager; all the great ones do. Wilson’s instincts and raw talent make explosive plays the expectation, but it also gets him into trouble. This isn’t unique to Wilson either. If you recall, Buffalo’s MVP candidate was uncorking 40-yard, cross-body throws to free safeties on first down not too long ago. On the other hand, this is yet another example of processing miscues while in structure.

Is it coachable? Yes, but that doesn’t mean it’s a done deal. Intangible issues like these can linger into the later parts of a passer’s learning curve.

Interception 4: The Ugly Duckling

Even if it wasn’t actually Wilson’s worst play, no snap illustrated Sunday’s performance better than Devin McCourty’s de facto punt return on second-and-28.

Before I comment on this play, I’d like to link to Vitor Paiva’s work. He broke down Wilson’s Week 2 performance very well, including an in-depth discussion on this very play.

Through two weeks, New York hasn’t been afraid to call the deep shot. It’s been a relatively surprising development, given how Sam Darnold’s offenses operated. That in itself should be a vote of confidence for the rookie.

Here, we see a flood variant, where Berrios’ orbit motion turns into the flat aspect of the passing concept. Davis is running a deep-out from the slot, and Moore intends to carry the safety deep. Against Cover 3, as the pre-snap look would suggest, this should be fairly successful.

However, the Patriots rotate their safeties post-snap to play what looks to be a Cover 6 variant. At this point, Davis, the primary read, is not likely to become open. In turn, Wilson moves on to Elijah Moore and (acceptably) makes the aggressive decision to throw the “go.” The only problem is, it seems Moore did not run his streak. After a vertical stem, Moore tails off to the sideline, corrupting the spacing of the concept. Wilson clearly did not anticipate this miscue and threw what looked like the worst interception of the young season.

Final Conclusions From Week 2

If there is one thing that Sunday showed us, it was that New York is still in the very early stages of this rebuild. Wilson looked downright bad, even if the lowlights weren’t entirely his fault. To some extent, this was to be expected. Part of the process of developing a project passer like Wilson is enduring the bumps in the road. This team is not going to compete in 2021. It likely will suffer a similar fate in 2022. All that matters is that Wilson develops into “the guy” for this franchise.

Overall, it was an incredibly ugly day. No team wants to get embarrassed in their home opener, much less so when their new face of the franchise receives the worst of it. Now that it’s over, the most important part of Week 2 is leaving it in the rear-view, taking what you can, and making sure it doesn’t happen again. Playing in Denver, against an elite secondary and Von Miller, there will be no time for Wilson to wallow.

Five Step Drop – Week 4

Photo: James Cocherell

In this weeks Five Step Drop, we focus on last weekends game verse the Cincinnati Bearcats and their game on Saturday at WKU.

The Hoosiers lost in front of one of the largest crowds in Memorial Stadium history.  Falling 38-24 to the Cincinnati Bearcats, IU found a multitude of ways to shoot themselves in the foot and cost themselves a top 10 win. 

From the opening kick until the 5-minute mark of the 2nd quarter, the Hoosiers were well on their way to dominating, leading 14-0.  At that point, UC had only crossed the 50-yard line once and IU had squandered a redzone opportunity that would have given the Hoosiers at least a 17-0 lead.  Then, on a 3rd and long, Micah McFadden drew a targeting call that led to his ejection and a UC first down.  From that point on, it was all Bearcats thanks to the Hoosiers continually getting in their own way with 4 total turnovers, 2 of which in the redzone. The most difficult part of this game to swallow for fans will absolutely be the fact that if you change 1 or 2 plays, it is completely conceivable that the Hoosiers win.

First Step – Week 3 Offense

Another game, and another inconsistent performance by the Hoosier offense.  Do you blame the play calling?  Quarterback? The overall execution? Honestly, in this game it came do simply shooting themselves in the foot.  The Hoosiers had a total of 4 turnovers and failed to score on 3 redzone trips.  This game was winnable.  THAT is the most difficult thing to explain.  The offense showed signs of returning to last seasons level, but still lacks consistency.  The key cogs to the Hoosier attack all had inconsistent days.  Ty Fryfogle had arguably his worst game as a Hoosier, with only 1 catch and 4 drops.  Michael Penix went 17-40 with 3 interceptions.  Stephen Carr also joined the inconsistent crowd by collecting 52 yards on 21 carries with a long of only 7.  Simply put, this was a very poor overall performance by the offense and the offense continues to be the glass ceiling on this team.

Second Step – Week 3 Defense

For the third straight game, the Hoosier defense showed signs that it can hang with good offenses.  Sadly, things got a little messy in the closing minutes of the first half following the ejection of Micah McFadden following a targeting penalty.  I’m sure many fans were frustrated with how drastically it seemed the fortunes changed for IU following the ejection.  The thing to realize is that McFadden is probably the most important singular piece on the defense given his role.  When he was on the field, the group was flying around and creating havoc.  While things did get messy and the defense ended up surrendering 31 points, they held the Bearcats to 328 total yards and 3.3 yards per carry.  Simply put, the defense put forth a plenty strong effort for the Hoosiers to have walked away with a victory.  If this is what the defense can provide going forward, IU can still have a successful season.

Next on the schedule for IU is the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.   Coming off a bye week, WKU welcomes IU to their house hoping to score a big upset on a Big Ten squad.  The Hilltoppers will look to use their bye week to tighten up their defense and take advantage of the slightly turnover prone Hoosiers!

Third Step – Week 4 Offensive Preview

For as prolific as Western Kentucky’s offense is, their defense is close to the polar opposite.  Their defense surrendered 21 points to UT-Martin and 38 points to Army.  Naturally, their defensive metrics are skewed thanks to playing the run heavy option attack of Army.  Regardless, this defense appears to present a nice opportunity for the Hoosier offense to get back to the basics.  For the Hoosiers, the gameplan will likely look similar to the Idaho game.  Expect to see a heavy dose of Stephen Carr with a nice sprinkling of Michael Penix with some play action and shot plays.  However, I would love to see a few changeups from OC Nick Sheridan.  If the Hoosiers could utilize some tunnel and bubble screen action or jet motion/pop pass to get the best athletes the ball in space, it could help open up the inside run game.

Fourth Step – Week 4 Defensive Preview

Western Kentucky historically is an all gas, no brakes style of team.  They’re going to spread you out and throw the ball a ton.  Through 2 games this season, the Hilltoppers have scored 94 points and have over 900 passing yards.  Senior transfer Bailey Zappe is the key cog in the WKU attack, throwing for 10 touchdowns this season and 83 total touchdowns in his career.  For the Hoosiers, the key will be about creating pressure on Zappe and having good communication in the secondary.  If IU can force WKU into longer drives, they should be able to create some negative plays.

Fifth Step – Player Spotlight

Last weeks players we spotlighted both had great first halves.  Sadly, following Micah McFadden’s ejections, things went downhill.  This week, the spotlight is not on one or two players, but an entire unit.  Verses an inferior opponent with a less than stellar defense, IU’s offensive line MUST step up on Saturday.  This is arguably the last “get right” game on the schedule and it’s time for some gelling to happen.

Florida Panthers’ Media Day Takeaways

The unofficial start to any team’s season is its media day. On Wednesday, the Florida Panthers had theirs. Several key players addressed the media for the first time this season, including Aaron Ekblad and Sam Reinhart. Here are some key takeaways from the 2021 media day.

Aaron Ekblad is ready to go

The last we saw of Aaron Ekblad, he was carted off the ice after suffering a major leg injury.

The experience was gut wrenching for teammates and fans alike, and severe injuries always carry the risk of setbacks.

Thankfully, Ekblad calmed the collective hearts and minds of Panther nation today. During his press conference, the star defenseman said he feels “99.99%” in regards to his injury. He continued to say that he feels great and he cannot wait to get back on the ice.

“I’ve never been more excited for training camp or an exhibition game in my career, I’m happy with all of my progressions to this point and confident that I can reach the same level of play from last season and exceed it.”

Aaron Ekblad

If true, Panthers fans should rejoice, as Ekblad’s presence was sorely missed in the Playoffs. A healthy Ekblad may be the biggest X factor coming into this season, as he could have swung the Tampa series last year.

Sam Reinhart will fit right in

Most Panthers fans needed no sales pitch for Sam Reinhart as a player.

The perennial 20 goal scorer fills a need for this team with incredible offensive talent and an amendable play style.

During media day, Reinhart found a way to endear himself even more to fans and teammates alike. He noted that he chose to wear number 13 for the Panthers “to follow a former club legend like Mark Pysyk.”

Pysyk, of course, played for the Florida Panthers from 2016 to 2020, and was teammates with Reinhart for 2 years before that. Reinhart’s tribute to the widely popular former Panther will not be lost on the fanbase.

Joe Thornton sees something special with this group

When Joe Thornton signed with the Panthers this offseason, it took almost everybody by surprise.

The former Hart trophy winner is coming off a season in Toronto which ended in a disappointment. The team lost to the Montreal Canadiens in the first round. Thornton is still chasing that elusive Stanley Cup, and now entering his age 42 season time is running out for him.

To choose to sign with the Panthers over other cup contenders such as the Lightning or Avalanche speaks volumes as to what Thornton thinks of the roster. He expressed some of those thoughts during media day. “I think this is going to be a special year” Thornton said.

He noted how last year was such a huge step forward for the organization, and how he hopes to build off that momentum. If Joe Thornton has confidence in the team, Panthers fans should too.

The Barkov Extension will be done soon

Yes, Aleksander Barkov is scheduled to be a free agent after this season.

Many had hoped an extension would be done by now, the lack of a deal has led to some increased anxiety.

With out giving away too much information, Barkov did his best to calm the collective nerves about his contract situation during media day. “I love playing hockey here, I love what were building here,” Barkov said.

“Hockey in South Florida is getting bigger and better. I’m really excited about everything that’s going on here. I haven’t really thought about anything else. Wearing a Panthers jersey is a huge honor for me.” In regards to the contract extension itself, Barkov commented, “I think were for sure making some progress…It’s all good,”

Aleksander Barkov

Echoing similar sentiment from other parties involved such as Bill Zito. The bottom line is that Barkov loves playing hockey in South Florida, and Panthers’ fans have no reason to worry about his impending free agency. Whether it is this week or some time during the season, a deal will be done.

Side note: Barkov’s insight on a “typical Finnish Summer” of lake swimming and grilling sounds delightful.

Follow Sam Schetritt on Twitter

Week 3 Game Preview: Dolphins @ Raiders

Credit: Harry How/ Getty Images
  • Date: Sunday, September 26
  • Time: 4:05 ET (21:05 UK Time)
  • Venue: Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas, NV
  • TV: CBS and NFL Gamepass International
  • Record: Dolphins (1-1) Raiders (2-0)

Week 2 Recap

They say time heals all wounds and eases the pain. As I am writing this, and as I’m sure when you are reading this too, we all know as Dolphins fans this plainly isn’t true. With the foul taste of Week 17 still lingering in the minds of many Dolphins fans, it was almost inconceivable that things could get any worse. They did. In what can be a contender for one of the coldest takes of the year, led by my heart, I predicted that the Dolphins would win in a shootout. Oh how wrong I was. So where did it all go wrong?

In my preview article I stated there would be 3 keys to success against Buffalo:

Contain Josh Allen

With the threat of Josh Allen widely known the Dolphins needed to contain him. For the most part they did as Allen was only able to rush for 35 yards. However, with the Dolphins pass rush only creating 1 sack across the first two games, there was not really much need, as Miami were unable to generate consistent pass rush, despite Buffalo’s issue at tackle.

Elite Secondary Play

The Dolphins secondary deserved a lot better from this game. They held Josh Allen to 17-33 for 179 yards. Stephon Diggs completed 4 catches from 8 completions. Xavien Howard continued to show why he is the best corner in the league with yet another INT this time against Diggs. Rookie Jevon Holland recovered a fumble forced by Jerome Baker. The coverage of the secondary was elite and by the half Allen only had 62 passing yards.

Protect Tua

And this is where it all went wrong. Not only did the offensive line allow 6 sacks, 11 QB hits and 24 pressures of 45 dropbacks, starting QB Tua Tagovailoa left the game on a back of a cart following a sack by AJ Epenesa. After an average 2020 season, it very much feels like we are back in 2019 after last weeks performance. It was by no means pretty and was not addressed during the game. Flores and Jeanpierre have stated openly that they will address the offensive line this week, how though remains to be seen.

Star Performer

In an elite secondary like Miami’s it is very hard to stand out, especially if you are a rookie. Just ask Noah Igbinoghene. Jevon Holland however has had no such issues, even replacing Eric Rowe during the game. Against the Bills he was the second highest graded player on the defense, in what was a good defensive performance. Furthermore, he is the highest rated rookie defender in the league. It will be interesting to watch his performances compared with Raiders’ rookie safety Tre’von Moehrig who was the widely regarded No.1 safety in the 2021 NFL Draft. A lot has been said this week about Chris Grier’s drafting capabilities. Thus far, Holland is looking like a home run pick.

Expectations Heading into Week 3

The Raiders come into this game very hot. The Raiders lead the league in passing yards, averaging 8.8 Yards/Attempt, while managing 12 plays for 20+yards over two games. In that time the Dolphins have managed 3. What is all the more impressive is the teams that they have beaten in the Ravens and the Steelers, two elite defenses. Despite heavy reliance on Darren Waller Week 1 with 19 targets, Derek Carr began to spread the ball around against the Steelers, including Henry Ruggs, Kenyan Drake and Hunter Renfrow.

Nevertheless, without Josh Jacobs in the backfield their offense does look very one dimensional which plays into the Dolphins’ strengths. In Week 2 the Raiders run game managed 2.1 YPC on 25 attempts.

In a week that has been full of negativity, one positive has emerged in the return of Will Fuller. Fuller looks set to make his Dolphins debut against the Raiders. For the first time the Dolphins have all of their receiving options available to them, a luxury that has been missing for a long long time. A strong Dolphins’ receiving corps against a young Raiders’ secondary will be a key matchup throughout this game.

Key Matchup:

We all know that Darren Waller is a freak. Despite Eric Rowe being one of the best safeties in the league at shutting down TEs, he was no match for Waller when the two sides faced each other last December. With the performances of McCourty and Holland impressing in the first weeks of the season, it is unclear as to who will be guarding Waller and how the defense plans on shutting down the main focus of the Raiders’ offense.

Keys to Success

#1 Improvements on Offensive Line!!!

If the offensive line can improve to be just a functional, average, yet stable the Dolphins can win this game. A big if. It has been reported that Eichenberg has been taking reps at LG, RT and LT. In addition, Solomon Kindley looks at risk of being dropped or shifted back to RG if Jesse Davis does not feature, pushing Hunt back out to RT where he played last season. I believe that it should be Eichenberg who starts at LT which then pushes Jackson inside at LG, who typically does better with linemen around him. The offensive line will need to perform better against a strong Raiders pass rush who have 5 sacks on the season already

#2 Explosive Pass Rush

Miami did better at getting pressure to Josh Allen than they did against the Patriots, but it will not be enough. With the speed of Ruggs a potential mismatch against most likely Byron Jones, the Dolphins front seven have to do better at getting pressure in the face of Carr before those routes can develop downfield. The Raiders offensive line underwent quite the overhaul in the offseason, and with Richie Incognito out and Jermaine Eluemunor a player that didn’t make the Dolphins’ roster while losing Ronnie Stanley, this is a good time for Miami’s pass rush to get started.

#3 Put Points on the Board

There were several instances where the Dolphins left points on field and it should not have been a shutout. Down 14-0 DeVante Parker dropped a 33 yard TD pass from Brissett right into his hands. Following this Xavien Howard then intercepted Allen just outside the redzone. The Dolphins then elected to go for it on 4th and 2 at Buffalo 16 yard line. If the TD pass was completed and then the Dolphins elect to kick the field goal, the Dolphins are back in the game down 14-10 with the momentum on their side. From the dramatic ending last season in Vegas thanks to a game winning field goal by Jason Sanders, the Dolphins need to ensure they are coming away from drives with something to show for it.

Injury Concerns

The BIG news coming out this week is that starting QB Tua Tagovailoa is OUT this week and most likely for the next couple of weeks with fractured ribs. A disappointment to many fans in an all important evaluation year for Tua. Thankfully however, the Dolphins do have one of the best backup QBs in the league who will not lose us this game based off his performance. As it stands, the only other players who may be in doubt to feature are Jakeem Grant and Jesse Davis who were both limited in practice after leaving the game against the Bills.

The most notable names on the Raiders injury report is that it is looking unlikely that Josh Jacobs or Richie Incognito will play after not participating in practice, while DE Carl Nassib has been limited.

Score Predictions

After last weeks horrendously bad prediction on my behalf of Dolphins 31- 28 Bills, I am going to be much more reserved. Until I see some notable improvements on the offensive line early on in the game I cannot predict a Miami victory at this time. That is not to say it will not happen, so hopefully I am proven wrong this week. Check out the ATB Dolphins staff’s predictions below:

Bradley Davies 27-21 Raiders

Hussam Patel 24-17 Raiders

Chris Spooner 24-17 Raiders

Tyler DeSena 23-10 Raiders

Rishi Desai 20-17 Miami

Tanner Elliot 28-10 Raiders

Jared Vandermyde 17-14 Miami

Conclusion

This game is winnable. The Dolphins are tied with the Bills and the Patriots in the division. While it may seem that the sky is falling in after this Past week, the Dolphins still have a better record than this time last season. The Dolphins beat the Raiders last year. These next two games against the Raiders and Colts will be vitally important in getting the Dolphins’ season back on track if they are to mount any playoff push. Fins Up!

Follow Bradley Davies on Twitter:

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Julian Edelman’s return to New England

New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman signals a first down against the Miami Dolphins during an NFL football game at Gillette Stadium, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020 in Foxborough, Mass. (Winslow Townson/AP Images for Panini)

Julian Edelman will return to Gillette Stadium this weekend. He will be the New England Patriots’ guest of honor this weekend, as the Patriots will honor their former wide receiver at halftime of Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints. Edelman retired in the offseason after playing 12 seasons in Foxborough. He was taken in the 7th round of the 2009 NFL Draft out of Kent State where he was a quarterback.

Edelman was a popular player and made plenty of big plays throughout his career. He finished with 620 receptions for 6,822 yards and 36 touchdowns in the regular season. He played well in the regular season but was exceptionally better in the postseason. His postseason numbers included 118 receptions for 1,442 yards and five touchdowns. Those numbers put him in second place on the career postseason list behind Hall of Famer Jerry Rice.

He would win three Super Bowl Championships and made great plays in all three of those. He was the MVP of Super Bowl LIII against the Los Angeles Rams, helping New England win their 6th Lombardi Title. He finished with ten receptions for 141 yards, which was half of the Patriot’s total receiving yardage. While he was great against the Rams, few fans will never forget his unforgettable catch against the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI. That catch would help the Patriots to go on and complete the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history. In their Super Bowl XLIX victory against the Seattle Seahawks, he caught nine passes for 109 yards and one touchdown.

Edelman was great for the Patriots, especially in the playoffs. One question that has been asked is whether or not he is a Hall of Famer due to his postseason numbers. That is a debate for another time, but this weekend in Foxborough, the Pats will honor him for a great career and a job well done.

New York Jets Week 2 Observations

Simply put, Sunday did not go as planned. Week 2 saw the New York Jets get embarrassed 25-6 by the New England Patriots in their home opener. Most of the blame fell upon rookie Zach Wilson, but that doesn’t mean there were not signs of life. The following observations help shine a light on underrated performances before this weekend’s clash in Denver.

Zach Wilson

There isn’t a way to sugarcoat Zach Wilson’s performance last Sunday. The offense failed to find pay dirt, tallying six points on the day. Wilson struggled to the tune of 4 interceptions, a league-worst -0.418 EPA/Play, and a -7.2 Completion Percentage Over Expected (CPOE). The Jets’ biggest fears were vindicated. As consolation, they get the privilege of facing a Broncos defense that has shredded Daniel Jones and Trevor Lawrence.

Bill Belichick did what he does best and made life hell for the rookie quarterback. He looked skittish and second-guessed himself repeatedly. Facing a vaunted Patriots defense is always tough; doing so while battling yourself is toilsome at best and downright impossible at worst.

Give Wilson credit, he battled and had a handful of encouraging plays amidst his struggles. Still, it’s obvious he needs to play better. Denver poses a similar challenge, even with the loss of Bradley Chubb. Bouncing back in any significant capacity against a defense of that caliber would say a lot about the mental makeup of New York’s biggest investment.

The Running Backs

Generally speaking, Michael Carter, Ty Johnson, and Tevin Coleman improved upon an adequate Week 1. The biggest takeaway, like last week, is how their snap counts illustrate the Jets’ intentions. Carter and Johnson saw 33 snaps each (45%) and Coleman saw seven snaps (10%). A contrast from the Carolina game, Coleman’s drop off is not a reflection of his play. More so, it reveals New York is willing to give looks to their young, talented playmakers when they are in need of a spark. On Sunday, that was virtually the entire game.

Carter easily looked the best out of the backfield. He showed off great contact balance throughout the game and added two catches for 29 yards through the air, along with 11 carries for 59 yards. As he becomes more comfortable in the offense, he looks increasingly similar to the quality back he was at North Carolina.

Johnson saw 12 carries for 50 yards and played much like he had in Week 1. For now, his role in the offense remains unchanged. Coleman, on the other hand, saw his snap counts plummet, though he made more noise with the opportunities he was given. I’d expect Coleman to smoothly transition into the last spot of the committee and serve as depth, rather than the workhorse as New York’s season continues.

The Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

Week 2 offered a mixed bag in this department. Mims was notably inactive. According to Head Coach Robert Saleh, it was a matter of special teams value (or lack thereof) for that last receiver spot.

Furthermore, it was nice to see continued success for Braxton Berrios. He led the team in targets (11), receptions (7), and yards (73). Filling in for Crowder in the slot, Berrios has frequently been the hot read and has performed amply as a security blanket for Wilson. To add, his special teams play has been good, too.

Another sign of progress for the Jets was Elijah Moore. He looked much more comfortable and got twice as many looks as he did on Week 1. So far, the second round pick seems like Wilson’s favorite deep threat.

Perhaps one correlation to watch is Corey Davis and Wilson’s success. Davis was shut down on Sunday (5 targets, 2 catches, 8 yards) and made virtually no impact downfield. He was the target on multiple interceptions, including one that he probably should have hauled in. Without Davis creating separation, Wilson struggled to progress through his reads and found himself in trouble more often than not.

For what will likely be the second out of 17 times, New York’s tight ends played poorly. Tyler Kroft and Ryan Griffin totaled 8 yards each. Neither looked particularly good in the run game, either. It’s a spot of weakness that lacks a light at the end of the tunnel.

The Offensive Line

The Jets offensive line looked better than one would expect in their first full game without Mekhi Becton. It would be a stretch to call them great, but they certainly exceeded expectations. George Fant filled in adequately for Becton on the left side. Alijah Vera-Tucker and Connor McGovern played significantly better than they had in Week 1. Morgan Moses was, for the most part, fine.

The biggest issues New York faced were interior pressure and miscommunications/poorly set protections. To some extent, that was to be expected. Still, New York’s backs have to be better in pass protection. Doing so would help mitigate the detrimental play of Greg Van Roten. Overall, the unit made steps in the right direction; continuing said progress against a dangerous Denver front will be critical.

The Defensive Line and Edge Rushers

The Jets once again showcased their greatest strength on Sunday. Quinnen Williams, Folorunso Fatukasi, and Sheldon Rankins have played well. John Franklin-Myers has arguably been the team’s best defender. They were able to put pressure on Mac Jones fairly well and did their part in the run game.

Furthermore, I was more impressed by Shaq Lawson than I initially anticipated. He had some really nice flashes of burst and bend, while also adding a couple tackles for loss. Second-year edge rusher Bryce Huff also looked explosive as he continues to carve out a role for himself.

The Linebackers

It didn’t come without some brutal mishaps, but C.J. Mosley had possibly his best game as a Jet. If it wasn’t clear already, he is going to be a vital part of this young defense. There were additional flashes from Quincy Williams and Del’Shawn Phillips, too, especially in coverage. Williams displayed good click-and-close speed on a handful of occasions.

Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends regarding this group. Hamsah Nasirildeen looks unplayable two weeks into his career. New York’s linebackers were gashed multiple times in the open field by both James White and Damien Harris and struggled to consistently stop the run. The defense did not tackle well all game, and it showed.

Looking forward, these Jets linebackers will have their work cut out for them in Denver. The Broncos are not afraid to run the ball, and Teddy Bridgewater does a very good job of manipulating underneath defenders. They’ll have to step up in a big way or risk falling victim to a surprisingly good Mile High attack.

The Cornerbacks

Another positive from this Week 2 massacre was that we witnessed more of the same from the Jets young corners. Like all young secondaries, they are yet to gel together, and they were not without miscommunications, but Saleh’s fingerprints are showing up in a good way.

Bryce Hall, the team’s undisputed best cornerback, looked great again. Much like Week 1, he was not tested a ton, but he’s done well to prevent targets. Michael Carter II matched his debut performance with a sequel that again saw him outperform Javelin Guidry in a similar role. The latter had been exploited during his 13 coverage snaps. Moreover, Brandin Echols seemed to improve, too, though level of competition may have played a role in that.

Denver’s offense remains dangerous, even without Jerry Jeudy. Hall and Courtland Sutton could be a litmus test for how much progress he’s made since last year. Carter and K.J. Hamler will likely duke it out in the slot, though his speed may attract Guidry. Echols could also see an interesting challenge in Tim Patrick, one of the league’s most underrated players. Leaving Denver relatively unscathed from these matchups would be the first big developmental victory of Saleh’s head coaching career.

The Safeties

Unsurprisingly, Marcus Maye was the best Jets safety on the field. By this point, that shouldn’t be a surprise. He was all over the place, including a couple of well-executed blitzes. His contract situation remains fluid, but as long as he’s in the green and white, expect him to perform every Sunday.

Adrian Colbert also saw significant time against New England. He wasn’t great, but virtually anything would have topped Sheldrick Redwine’s tribulations against Carolina. For now, it is simply a waiting game for Ashtyn Davis to return and allow Saleh to truly get creative on the back end.

The Special Teams Units

As a whole, I liked what I saw from this phase of the game. Matt Ammendola’s stint at punter concluded and he went 2/3 on field goals. He missed from 53 but hit both chip shots. Newly acquired Thomas Morstead was overwhelmingly fine, which is all the Jets are really asking him to be in Braden Mann’s absence. Again, Berrios looked good on his returns, as he has for some time.

The Outlook

In summation, this was the nightmare scenario for Wilson, and it cost New York the game. He was dreadful, and understandably so. Yet, it’s hard not to see the progress other units had made. Michael Carter (the RB) had a great day. Vera-Tucker and Moore played significantly better than they had in Week 1. The corners have been a pleasant surprise, and the interior defensive line continues to meet high expectations.

Playing in the altitude against an elite secondary, Von Miller, and Vic Fangio’s scheme will be another difficult game. Sustaining success will be difficult against such a difficult team, but is far from impossible. Of course, the biggest factor in how New York will look is Wilson’s play. If he recovers from his mess of a day, there’s a good chance the Jets remain competitive. If not, the coaching staff will be tasked with saving a roster that could quickly spiral into irrelevance.

OKC Thunder: The top five must see matchups.

The 2021-2022 NBA Season is guaranteed to be one with some amazing basketball being played, with so many storylines and questions for many teams. For the Thunder, has Shai Gilgeous Alexander hit his ceiling? Was Josh Giddey the correct pick? Is Luguentz Dort an All NBA defender?  Those questions will all be answered in 82 games this season for the Thunder. These are the five biggest games for the Thunder this year in my opinion.

#5- Thursday, October 20th, Vs The Utah Jazz.

This game had to make the top five simply because it’s the regular season opener for the Thunder. It will definitely be a tall task to ask the Thunder to come out of this game with a win, they will have to hold off Donovan Mitchell who for his career has averaged 23.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.8 assist in 12 games vs the Thunder. For the Thunder, it will be Derrick Favors first game back in Utah since being traded to the Thunder. 

#4- Sunday, November 4th, Vs The Brooklyn Nets.

This will be Kevin Durant’s 11th game against the Thunder since leaving for the Golden State Warriors, he has averaged 31.9 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 3.0 assist. The Thunder would have to execute a near perfect game to pull off the upset. Look for Shai Gilgeous Alexander to have a stellar game in this one, as he usually plays up to his competition, and the competition in this one is definitely elite. 

#3- Friday, November 19th, @ The Milwaukee Bucks.

Anytime you play the defending champions it should be considered a “big game”. With the Thunder’s lack of size it shouldn’t be a surprise to see Giannis Antetokounmpo have a big game. He has averaged 22.3 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 4.5 assists in his 15 games against the Thunder. 

#2- Monday, November 1st, @ The Los Angeles Clippers.

The Thunder and Clippers have had some pretty exciting games in the past, in this one OKC will travel to face former Thunder player Paul George as he attempts to lead the Clippers without Kawhi Leonard who will miss some if not all of the season this year. For his career George has averaged 18.7 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 3.3 assists in his 15 games against the Thunder. Shai Gilgeous Alexander will most likely be looking to make a statement against his former team, and make them pay for trading him. 

#1- Wednesday, October 27th, Vs The Los Angeles Lakers.

This should be a fun one, as the Thunder welcome Russell Westbrook back to OKC  with the Lakers, and their old friend (sarcasm, of course.) Lebron James. For his career Westbrook has averaged 27.4 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 10.8 assists in his five games against the Thunder. Meanwhile James has averaged 28.0 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 7.5 assists in his astonishing 33 games against the Thunder. It will be interesting to see how LA is welcomed in the Paycom Center, has the Westbrook nostalgia worn off? How will the new look Lakers perform? This is probably the game I look forward to the most, hence it being the number one game on this list. 

Sound off on Twitter @Thunder_ATB and let me know what game you are looking forward to the most. Thunder Up!

Baltimore Ravens and RAS

This next part will focus on the Ravens. As you guys continue to read through this series you will see the connect with RAS and teams drafting strategies are not as easy as saying all teams want to get bigger, faster, stronger. While yes that’s true in a way, but its not that simple.

See my previous parts:

Las Vegas Raiders | San Francisco 49ers | Indianapolis Colts

Teams have different things they are looking for athletically. The Ravens as you will see are kind of different.

Quarterback:

Since Eric DeCosta took over for Ozzie Newsome he has drafted one quarterback. Trace McSorley in 2019. McSorley did it all and came away with a pretty good score of 8.29. But with such limited information there is not much to go off. Ozzie Newsome did draft Lamar Jackson the year before Decosta took over. So you might want to keep an eye on athletic quarterbacks, but I don’t see it as a definitive.

Running backs:

In DeCosta’s three draft classes he has drafted two running backs and one fullback. They drafted Justice Hill in 2019 and J.K. Dobbins in 2020. The lone fullback they drafted is Ben Mason in 2021. In regards to the running backs Hill did put up a score of 9.33. He did not do any agility testing. His speed and explosion numbers were elite. in Dobbins case he did no testing except for height and weight. Interestingly enough both are about 5’9 1/2, although I don’t think that means anything in particular. They both also had over 20 reps on the bench. Again I don’t know if it means much with a small sample size, but interesting none the less.

With Mason he is almost tight end size at 6’3 246. He had great explosion numbers and just ok to average speed and agility numbers. Since he is the only fullback drafted again we can’t take too much from it.

Tight ends:

DeCosta has not drafted a single tight end in his three years, so nothing to go off on here.

Wide Receivers:

In three short years DeCosta has drafted six receivers. He has drafted two receivers in each of the last three drafts. Marques Brown and Miles Boykins in 2019, Devin Duvernay and James Proche in 2020 and Rashod Bateman and Tylan Wallace in 2021. The six of them have an average ras score of 6.93. Wallace and Proche both scored on the low end, both below 5. Three of the other four scored 7.87 or higher. Marques Brown did not do any testing. One thing I can find in common with all the receivers is they scored very fast 10 yard splits. So that looks to be something that the Ravens find important with their receivers.

Pure speed also seems to be of importance to DeCosta. Four of the receivers drafted ran 4.5 or better. Three of those four ran 4.43 or faster. There is no 40 yard dash time on James Proche. Another thing is they do not seem to like exceptionally tall receivers. Outside of Boykins none of the receivers DeCosta has drafted were over 6’0. Four of them were 5’11 or shorter. The agility numbers are all over the place so it seems like the Ravens have no preference there. As for explosive drills they seem to like guys who are at least average or above. Wallace was the only one that tested poorly in those drills.

The weight of the players also stands out. Outside of Marques Brown every receiver weights 190+. Even Brown now is listed at 180. One final thing that stands out about the receivers drafted is arm length. Outside of Proche they all have 30″ arms or longer, and even Proche was close at 29 3/4. Bateman and Boykins both have 33″ arms. It could be said that they do not like receivers with arms that are short at least relatively to their bodies.

Offensive line:

This position is also of interest in regards to the type of players DeCosta has drafted. He has drafted four offensive linemen in his three drafts, and all four are guards. He drafted Ben Powers in 2019, Tyre Phillips and Ben Bredeson in 2020, and finally Ben Cleveland in 2021. Average out their ras scores and you get a very average 5.95. That is mostly due to Cleveland who brings a score of 9.63, Powers and Phillips both scored under 5, Bredeson did not do any testing. Even if you go back to some of Newsome’s recent drafts the offensive linemen did not score high. Guys like Orlando Brown for example.

DeCosta seems to like big strong guys. All four of his drafted guys were 6’4+ and all are above 307. Cleveland and Phillips are 330+. Explosion and agility scores are not important at all for DeCosta and the Ravens. Bredeson did no testing at all. All three that tested were either average or below average. On the agility tests all three tested poorly. Phillips and Cleveland were the only ones who ran the 40 and both were on opposite ends. Bench Press does not seem important either; two of the three could only did 20 and 21 reps respectively.

Defensive line:

In his three drafts DeCosta has drafted three defensive linemen. Daylon Mack in 2019 and Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington in 2020. Washington did no testing outside of the bench press. Mack scored a 4.16 RAS and Madubuike had a 9.32. It does seem the Ravens prefer shorter/squattier defensive linemen. All three are between 6’1-6’2. Also both Mack and Madubuike had great 10 yard splits, identical 1.73’s. Both also did well on the bench with over 30 reps. Although it is a small sample size we can say they like their defensive linemen on the shorter size and quick fast 10 yard splits.

Edge defenders:

The Ravens have drafted three edge defenders/defensive ends in DeCosta’s reign; Jaylon Ferguson in 2019, Odafe Owah and Daelin Hayes in 2021. The three’s average ras score comes out to a 7.77 which is pretty solid. Ferguson is on the bigger size at 270 where both Owah and Hayes are in the 250’s. All three also have good arm length between 33-34″.

As for RAS Ferguson had the lowest score with a 5.46, Owah was a freak with a 9.92, and Hayes with a solid 7.93. Ferguson had average scores across the board except for agility which were poor. Owah was elite on all testing while Hayes was above average on everything. The number are all over the place, so there is not enough information to get a good idea on what the Ravens look for at the position out side of decent arm length and that they do not emphasize agility drills and they like guys who have at least decent speed.

Linebackers:

DeCosta has drafted only two linebackers in his three drafts. He has drafted both Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison both in 2020. Queen had a RAS of 7.99, which was mostly brought down by his height and weight. Harrison scored a 9.42. Both of them had great scores in explosion. Both of them had broad jumps of 10’2″ or higher. Harrison had the slower 40 but still ran a solid 4.66. Queen did not do agility drills but Harrison did and put up an elite 3 cone time of 6.83 with an average short shuttle of 4.32. Also their 10 yard splits where a 1.64 and 1.58, those are above average to elite.

In regards to linebackers it seems size isn’t important to them, but explosiveness, 10 yard dash, and 40 time as well seem important to them.

Defensive backs:

Eric DeCosta has drafted 4 defensive backs since he became GM in 2019. He has drafted three corners and one Marauder (safety). The average of their four RAS scores is 6.95, which is a little surprising you would think it would have been higher. DeCosta drafted Iman Marshall in 2019, Geno Stone in 2020, and Shaun Wade and Brandon Stephens in 2021. All three corners are 6’1 or just under and all are 192 pounds plus, and 2 out of the three are over 200.

So it can be said that the Ravens front office likes larger corner. Again a theme that seems to play out with all their draft picks is that agility scores are not important to them. Marshall and Stephens had average to poor scores. Shaun Wade did not participate in agility drills. Explosion also seems to be a test they do not find important, of the three corners none have similar scores. Their scores run the gamut from poor to great and in-between. This is one position where the 10-yard splits may not be important. Brandon Stephens had a poor 10-yard split of 1.62. All of their 40 times are 4.53 or faster. So it can be said they like their corners to have at least decent speed.

To Stone the only marauder of the group, his overall speed is decent, and he has decent size at 5’10 207, but had poor explosion grades. This falls in line with the rest of the defensive backs, in that DeCosta does not seem to care about these tests.

Final Thoughts:

The Ravens are very peculiar in regards to their draft picks and athletic testing. It does not seem like they put a huge emphasis on it outside of certain tests. They seem to find 10-yard splits important almost across the board. They like freaky athletic linebackers, big physical corners, Shorter defensive linemen, Big strong offensive linemen, and DeCosta also seems to prefer solid built, but not overly tall wide receivers with good speed.

7 Up, 7 Down: A Perceptive Repeat?

Week 2 was full of intrigue as teams tried to shake the stark realities of Week 1 debuts or build upon progress. Which teams / players did the thing? Who needs some work as we look ahead to Week 3 of the young 2021 season?

Up

1. Micah Parsons is certified #good

– The former first round selection validated the Cowboys with a monster performance on Sunday. He was moved closer to the line due to injuries and showed well despite not playing EDGE since high school. PFF gave him an overall grade of 89.9, which was good for highest defensive rookie this week. He had eight pressures on the most promising young quarterbacks in the league. It looks like the pass rush moves he was working on with the legendary DeMarcus Ware on Hard Knocks paid off. The versatile linebacker was a freak athlete that played in a variety of roles while at Penn State. Certainly a good start to the young linebacker’s career. Could a permanent move to EDGE be in the cards after his initial performance? 

2. Late Game Window

– If the early slate was a bit of a dud (it wasn’t) but in comparison to the late slate, it was quaint. There was a period of a few minutes where multiple games came down to a game winning field goal attempt. Arizona survived the Vikings last dash attempt (in a candidate for game of the year) while Tennessee and Dallas made their field goals to sneak out road wins. Dallas kicker Greg Zuerlein delivered after a litany of coaching errors and his own demons from last week.  All of which served as delicious appetizers to the big showdown on Sunday Night Football. 

3. Lamar Jackson and John Harbaugh’s “GUTS”

– Speaking of Sunday night action, there was plenty of it as Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes put on a show. Jackson, especially put on a show during the fourth quarter leading the Ravens to an upset win over the Chiefs. He struggled early on, throwing multiple interceptions to Tyrann Mathieu, including a pick six. It was a shootout until the very end when the Chiefs inexplicably took the ball out of Mahomes’ hands on a crucial drive. 

Lamar then took the ball on a game icing drive, which led to the now famous do you want to go for it question asked by Harbaugh. A fantastic preview for a potential rematch in January?

4. Carolina D fences in the Saints

The Panthers defense held the explosive Saints offense to a mere seven points and harried Jameis Winston into two interceptions and just 111 yards passing. They also kept the electrifying Alvin Kamara to just 30 yards on 12 touches while getting four sacks and 11 hits on Winston. DC Phil Snow’s men have been dominant through the first two games, leading the league in numerous categories. They get to face a largely untested rookie leading a dysfunctional Houston Texans team on Thursday night. Undoubtedly for which they will be salivating for.

5. Explosive Teddy Bridgewater

– The amiable Teddy Bridgewater has appeared to revamp his game into a more high powered attack with Denver it seems. He has looked downright aggressive compared to his reputation of being “safe”. He’s in the top ten in passing yardage, touchdowns, QB rating, and true to form, has no interceptions. Bridgewater has seized the starting job over Drew Lock and it appears that the Broncos are going to ride with him despite their dalliances with Aaron Rodgers. I’m excited what the future weeks portend for him armed with a much better offense and a stout defense. He deserves all the flowers as a veteran QB who has more than his paid dues. 

6. Houston being competitive 

– Everyone wrote off the Texans as the worst team in the league and yes it appears that way talent wise. HC David Culley has them fighting and competing early on, even if the competitive level isn’t the best. That’s admirable. They’re even in first place in the AFC South. Well, we’ll see how much of that competitive spirit is retained as the opposing teams’ talent level ratchets up. They’re about to face a brutal six game gauntlet of the Panthers, @ Bills, Patriots, @ Colts, and @ Cardinals. All this without the hot start of injured Tyrod Taylor and managing the tricky Deshaun Watson situation. Let’s hope for Culley’s sake that his team can win at least two of these games. 

7. Kyler Murray is FUN

– Murray is one of the most fun quarterbacks in the league right now. It just wasn’t the Titans that were bamboozled and mystified on how to cover him. Mike Zimmer’s Vikings defense was similarly flummoxed as well on Sunday afternoon. He was unstoppable uncorking passes from seemingly improbable locations like a mini-Mahomes all game. The clip below probably wasn’t even his best HOW??? throw of the game. When the Cardinals offense is truly clicking, it’s really entertaining for fans everywhere. Now that he has AJ Green, rookie Rondale Moore, along with the erstwhile superstar DeAndre Hopkins to go along with a solid line, they will be a tough out for anyone. I would go as far as to say that the Murray led Cardinals are everyone’s second favorite team and a Red Zone darling.  

Down

1. The Dolphins OL

– Yeesh. That wasn’t the best effort in the world against the stingy #BillsMafia defense, getting shutout, 35-0. The biggest part, the unit was responsible for franchise QB Tua Tagovailoa getting injured by a virtually free oncoming pass rusher. It remains to be seen how long Tua will be out for due to this latest setback but it appears grim. The line gave up six sacks and 11 hits on the QB overall. The line needs major upgrades in the worst way possible. They need to get right in a hurry for Brian Flores’ men to compete for the playoffs. 

2. Taunting rules

Let the great Field Yates surmise everyone’s thoughts on this needlessly obtuse and useless rule:

Also, a compilation to further outline this outlandishly farcical rule that NO ONE wants:

3. Wentz is Cooked?

– Russ is cooking while Carson Wentz might be officially cooked as a starting level quarterback after Sunday’s tough minded performance that resulted in a spectacular shovel pass interception and an injury. The trade that brought him to Indianapolis may be a bust but it’s early yet. The Colts are currently projected to have a top five selection but they owe it to the Eagles should Wentz play 75% of the snaps and the Colts make the playoffs. If their record gets worse in a downtrodden AFC South similar to last year’s NFC East, they might be inclined to sit Wentz to avoid paying the premium cost. 

4. The Chiefs defense merits banishment from the Kingdom 

The KC defense just has to be league average to complement an all world offense yet they are failing to do just that. By most metrics, they are in the bottom tier. It’s not like they are not chock full of talent, either. There is too much talent on the defense for it to be this bad. Patrick Mahomes can’t continually save the day even if he’s capable of it every game. It’s early but DC Steve Spagnuolo has proven to be capable of fixing defenses. #ChiefsKingdom surely expects the defense to be better, it has to be, right? 

5. Welcome to the League, Rook QBs

– Week 2 was a mixed bag for the much ballyhooed class of 2021 rookie quarterbacks as they have had several welcome to the big leagues moments between them. Zach Wilson in particular had a rough go against the wizard Bill Belichick, throwing for four interceptions and 0 scores. Trevor Lawrence is continuing to throw interceptions like the cookie monster devours cookies, throwing two against Denver. Trey Lance sat. Justin Fields got a lot of time after Andy Dalton was injured, throwing a hideous interception in a crucial moment against the Bengals and was just 6-13 and 60 yards. In more positive news, Mac Jones was effective, leading the aforementioned Patriots to a dominant win. Davis Mills of Houston will get the start on Thursday after subbing in for an injured Tyrod Taylor on Sunday. This was expected growing pains for a rookie class.

6. Injuries are the worst

– It was a brutal week for injuries as a litany of stars were hurt enough to get knocked out of the game or had to sit out a few plays. Most notably, Andy Dalton, Tua, Carson Wentz, Bradley Chubb, TJ Watt, and Tyrod Taylor left and did not return. Baker Mayfield was injured trying to make a tackle on the player who intercepted his pass, dislocating his shoulder. Speaking of Cleveland, Jarvis Landry exited the game and subsequently placed on IR. Big Ben and Eagles OL Brandon Brooks are dealing with pectoral injuries. Eagles EDGE rusher Brandon Graham has a reported torn Achilles. Chubb underwent ankle surgery and is expected to miss significant time and may have ended his time in Denver. It’s only week three of a long 17 game season and it’s going to be a slog with all these injuries to key players already.

7. Zac Taylor is not a good head coach nor OC

– Taylor has proven repeatedly that he isn’t ready for the big time yet. There’s no reason that he shouldn’t call the offense more aggressively than he has. An example that is none more glaring was Sunday when he refused to unleash Joe Burrow until it was too late. The Bengals don’t have the greatest talent along the offensive line, sure but the play calling has been way too conservative. He has to be more mindful that he has a franchise quarterback that needs to be let loose. The Bengals have drafted well over the years but I don’t think he’s that dude that can maximize the short window of contention that a rookie QB contract provides. Perhaps he isn’t ready for a head coaching job just yet and went too far ahead of his skis riding the McVay wave.

The Same Old Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins were outmatched and outplayed by the Buffalo Bills for the eight straight time. Every season the Dolphins find a way back to revert to the mediocre teams of the past and do not recover.

Failing the Defense

Since 2020, Miami Offense has not been able to sustain drives and keep the defense fresh. Ultimately they cannot score points on the board, allowing our Defense to put pressure on opposing offenses.

Buffalo’s first two touchdown drives went for 46 and 52 yards, respectively. The Dolphins were able to come away with with two takeaways, but only gained 10 yards on those turnovers. This came in the first half.

At halftime Buffalo had only 152 yards at halftime. Josh Allen had only 62 passing yards. 46 of the Bills rushing yards came on a single carry by running back Devin Singletary.

Miami’s defense kept the Dolphins in the game until the fourth quarter, even though it was a shut out. The Bills had only 245 yards in the beginning of the fourth quarter. Miami got put to bed at the start of the fourth on a touchdown by Zach Moss to go up 28-0 with 13:38 remaining.

Miami’s offense could not score points on the board nor sustain strives, thus putting pressure on the defense.

Offensive Line Woes

Miami’s offensive line was horrendous abysmal. Plainly abysmal. The return of tackle Austin Jackson, who returned from the COVID-19 list and missed practice, did not help. Neither did Jesse Davis’s play.

The line got Tagovailoa hurt when Buffalo defensive end A.J. Epenesa got through untouched to hit Tagovailoa and injure his ribs, and the Bills already had two sacks before that when a pair of defensive backs got through untouched on disguised blitzes.

Stat of the day: Miami allowed six sacks and 12 quarterback hits.

Run blocking was not good either. The Dolphins averaged 3.6 yards per carry, failed to convert on a 4th & 2 run and could not even run the ball their other fourth down attempts.

With Tua now dealing with a bruised rib cage and Jacoby Brissett under duress for much of the game, the Dolphins need to figure it out.

They need to figure it out. They have to.

Drops, Drops, Drops, Drops, Drops, everybody

Lets highlight this play sequence:

Down 14-0, Brissett was moving the offense down the field to potentially score. At the 33 yard line, Brissett threw the ball right into Parker’s hands, but the wide receiver dropped a would be touchdown that could have swung the momentum.

A couple plays later, Brissett throws to Albert Wilson on a curl that would have gone for a first down, but Wilson dropped it.

The very next play, Brisset throws to Jakeem Grant who tried to go upfield and then fumbled the ball. Potentially blowing the best scoring chance the Dolphins had all game.

Waddle had a muffed punt. However, we should remember that he is a rookie and unfortunately mistakes will be made. He led the WR Corp with six catches and 46, but he also did drop multiple passes headed his way. He has not shown us the difference making abilities he had at Alabama. At least, not yet.

Overall, the Miami dolphins need to game plan better, coach better and play better against the Las Vegas Raiders.

Follow Hussam Patel on Twitter

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Buffalo Bills Shutout Miami Dolphins – Week 2 Review

Bills shutout! The Buffalo Bills continued their dominance over the Miami Dolphins in Sunday’s Week 2 matchup at Hard Rock Stadium. I predicted a narrow win in the preview article with our Dolphins team but Buffalo had other ideas. The Bills earned their first shutout since 2016 in the 35-0 win. Coming into the game, there was a lot of noise about the Dolphins stepping up and challenging for the top spot in the AFC East. The Bills silenced that talk and proved they are still tiers ahead of their divisional opponent. This game got out of hand quickly with Buffalo bringing the pressure on defense and scoring with quick strikes on offense. Tua Tagovailoa took a hard hit from AJ Epenesa early in the game and never returned due to a rib injury. The Bills left a lot on the table on offense but still cruised to an easy victory. Buffalo now sits alone atop the AFC East where they hope to remain for the rest of the season.

AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

The Good

Young Pass Rushers

This should be known as the “AJ Epenesa game”. Epenesa only played 34 snaps but recorded 9 pressures and 2 QB hits, one of which was the clean strike that forced Tua out of the game. He didn’t get the stats but his pressure directly led to 2 sacks and Levi Wallace’s interception. Epenesa was by far the Bills’ best pass rusher. As for this year’s top pick, Gregory Rousseau had 2 sacks in the stadium he called home in college. He led the Bills defensive ends in snaps against Miami and rewarded the team for showing that confidence in him. Rousseau’s length and motor were on full display as he cleaned up in the pass and run game. Epenesa and Rousseau led the Bills shutout effort with 9 and 8 pressures, respectively. The young duo complement each other well and give the Bills an exciting tandem for the future.

Taron Johnson

Johnson has arguably been the Bills best defender through the first 2 games. He played 61 defensive snaps, good for 4th most on the team. Johnson recorded 4 total tackles, 2 passes defensed, a forced fumble, and a sack. He has been playing on another level, earning praise from teammate Jordan Poyer who called him the “best nickel in the league”. Johnson is earning himself a big payday with this hot start to his contract year.

Leslie Frazier

Frazier coached a perfect game for his defense and deserves credit for the Bills shutout. The team was excellent at taking away the first read on every play and was creative with their blitz packages. Defensive linemen, linebackers, and defensive backs all got in on the fun with multiple sacks credited to each group. In total, the Bills forced 38 pressures and 6 sacks along with 3 turnovers and 2 stops on 4th down. This was a statement performance by the group and Coach Frazier.

Run Game

Devin Singletary went untouched on a 46 yard house call on the Bills second offensive play. He averaged over 6 yards per carry for a second straight week and looked good doing so. Zack Moss was active after being a healthy scratch last week. He fumbled early in the game but got a second chance and made the most of it. Moss punched in 2 touchdowns on hard fought runs that showcased his toughness and ability to run through contact. Josh Allen also had success on his 5 runs gaining 35 yards. The offensive line looked much better this week opening up lanes for the backs. Jon Feliciano had a notable bounce back performance after some people (me) called him a liability last week. I hope he continues to show out like he did in Miami.

The Bad

Passing Game

For an offense that scored 5 touchdowns they sure did struggle. After jumping to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, Buffalo had 6 straight drives end in zero points. The passing game was inconsistent and disappointing for a second straight week. Miami’s secondary is elite but that hasn’t stopped Josh Allen before. He finished with a stat line of 17/33 for 179 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception. Just as concerning as Allen’s play, Brian Daboll failed to adjust and give the offense a more favorable look. It’s not so bad that we should be panicking but it is a definite concern at this point that things look so out of sync. On a positive note, we won this game 35-0 so we know that the rest of the team can step up while they get things figured out.

The Ugly

NFL Taunting Policy

The NFL decided to put an emphasis on shutting down “taunting” this year. Not only is this penalty subjective and impossible to call consistently but it’s downright embarrassing that anyone in the NFL would want this. I’m a firm believer that if you don’t want the other team to celebrate, don’t get beat. NFL refs were throwing taunting flags at everything this week and taking a lot of great plays off the board. Levi Wallace played a hell of a game on Sunday but fell victim to this dumb rule. At the end of the first quarter, he made a perfect pass breakup on Devante Parker and celebrated while he was still overtop of Parker. This harmless act gave the Dolphins 15 yards and a first down. Luckily, Wallace got the last laugh with an interception just 2 plays later.

What’s Next?

Buffalo will head back home for a Week 3 matchup with the Taylor Heinicke led Washington Football Team. It’s a shame that Ryan Fitzpatrick is out but I hope he can still travel and receive a warm welcome in Buffalo. Vegas isn’t giving Washington much respect as 9.5 point underdogs but Sean McDermott knows better than to overlook Ron Rivera.

Check back in later this week for a Week 3 preview. Go Bills!

Who Belongs On the Heavy Metal Mount Rushmore?

What is THE Heavy Metal Mount Rushmore?

I know it’s fall, which means Mount Rushmore season is ova. We have football to watch, no need to pass the time with intriguing Mount Rushmore topics. But this one in particular was very frustrating to me.

You only get four choices, yet without even thinking, I’m sure we could come up with a list of 15+ bands that you can’t discuss the history of heavy metal without mentioning.

There is no proper answer, this is a subjective topic, and unfortunately, there will be plenty of bands that are considered the titans of metal, omitted. When I first tried to come up with a mount Rushmore, I took about five minutes and tried to set some sort of parameters. I ended up considering a band’s global impact and overall influence.

It led to this:

1) Black Sabbath
2) Cannibal Corpse
3) Slayer
4) Venom

Sabbath is an easy choice, and in my irrelevant opinion, the only must-have on this list. Heavy Metal began with Black Sabbath on Friday the 13th, 1970. One of the few things metalheads have generally agreed upon.

But the remaining three all have the same image: dark, violent, evil, which leads to redundancy. It also ignores an enormous catalog of important music. So while I still think the parameters are okay, I’m going to try to broaden the scope.

For the sake of brevity, we will try to accurately identify the main subgenres of metal.

  • Thrash Metal
  • Death Metal
  • New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM)
  • Nu Metal (Just relax)
  • Traditional Heavy Metal

These five subgenres are typically associated with a distinct period in time, but in this exercise, we will also include genres that they spawned. For example, Black Metal, Doom Metal, Extreme Metal, and the like all hang out at the same bar as Death Metal.

For those that wish to “well actually” about bands that fit a few of the five listed, I don’t care. You ruin every party you attend.

So now the mission becomes finding three other bands in addition to Sabbath with the proper influence and global reach in something besides death and thrash.

Slayer

In my previous article Revisiting A Classic: Show No Mercy, I explained how Slayer’s evil thrash debut became the inspiration for death metal. Terry Butler of Obituary is even on record stating “Show No Mercy was the blueprint for the beginning of death metal”

Adding Slayer to the Mount Rushmore of Heavy Metal covers an influence that reaches both the thrash and death metal communities, more so than the evil influences of Venom or Mercyful Fate. By selecting Slayer, I’m omitting absolute juggernauts like Death, Cannibal Corpse, Megadeth, and Metallica.

Judas Priest

Rob Halford’s iconic falsetto wail and leather regalia spearheaded the NWOBHM movement in the 1970s, carrying their music—and sound—to incredible global success. They get the nod over Iron Maiden, but honestly, it’s a horse apiece. They both featured iconic singers, with similar styles, as well as a defining image.

The NWOBHM was a direct influence on Metallica and Megadeth, Dave Mustaine stated he answered Lars Ulrich’s ad in the paper for a guitar player strictly due to the band’s Lars had listed as influences.

Judas Priest is the poster child to our parent’s favorite bands, as well as being a part of the bedrock of the European metal scene, makes them a worthy selection. The addition of Priest means bands like Iron Maiden, Motorhead, and Diamond Head unfortunately do not make the cut.

And finally…

Slipknot

Everybody, just relax.

It’s now 2021. To continue the story of metal, we must acknowledge bands like Slipknot, Lamb of God, Korn, and Sepultura have reached a level of influence that most of the metal founding fathers have. I’m not here to argue that Slipknot or Korn is on the same level of influence as Sabbath or Slayer.

I AM here to argue that bands like Slaughter To Prevail, Spiritbox, and Tetrarch all exist in large part because of Iowa.

The modern metal scene has evolved into a sound with a vast number of influences and sounds. Much like the nine-piece unit that has incorporated elements of hardcore, hip hop, thrash, and death metal over their illustrious career.

Our resident heavy metal heart surgeon Bill Gioia had recently asked if Slipknot should be considered nu-metal. If not nu-metal, then what?

The resulting discourse concluded that while they may not distinctly and solely fit with a specific genre (still nu-metal), the music is objectively metal.

Slipknot rounding out my Mount Rushmore means no previously stated Pantera, Lamb of God, or Sepultura, our other favorite bands we couldn’t decide exactly what they were, besides awesome.

With my updated and calculated Heavy Metal Mount Rushmore complete, I would like to officially apologize to the absolute legends that have been omitted. This rendition probably sucks too. There is no correct answer.

Texas Longhorns: Week 3 RECAP

Steve Sarkisian and the Longhorns had a nice bounce back game last Saturday against Rice. Dominating The Owls 58-0. Texas looked disciplined, tough, and focused. To highlight their discipline: Texas had just two penalties for twelve yards all game. Let’s look at what else propelled Texas to bounce back and get ready for conference play next week. Grab yourself your favorite beer, cocktail, or a cup of coffee and we will get started.

Image via burntorangenation.com

The Longhorns Run Game

Texas might have the most talented backfield in all of college football. Headlined by Bijan Robinson, one of the most talented running backs in college football. Texas also boasts strong compliments with Roschon Johnson and Keilan Robinson, giving Sarkisian balance with toughness and game-breaking speed, respectively. Johnathan Brooks was a four-star running back out of Halletsville, TX. Brooks was someone who no one thought would be a big contributor as a true freshman, but he was given an opportunity Saturday during the blowout. He took it and ran well for 63 yards on 9 carries, good for 7 yards per carry. These running backs are all talented enough to play for conference champions, the only thing holding them back is the offensive line.

Kyle Flood inherited a talented but raw group. They were not developed well with the last regime and Flood is progressing them along slowly. As run-blockers, this offensive line is solid. They had good movement upfront this week against Rice, but overall they will get over powered by better competition. Arkansas proved that in Week 2. Jake Majors, a redshirt freshman, is forming into a good offensive center and leader on this line. Junior Angilau (RG—RS Junior) and Denzel Okafor (LG—RS Senior) have also been solid contributors in the run game. Christian Jones (LT—RS Junior) and Derek Kerstetter (RT—Senior) have been the two weakest links in the run game thus far.

Steve Sarkisian Highlighting Playmakers

Sarkisian did not waste any time Saturday getting the ball into his playmakers hands. Sark called on true freshman wide receiver Xavier Worthy to be his secondary playmaker behind Bijan. Using touch passes, screens, and the quick game, Sarkisian made life easy for Casey Thompson and the offensive line early in the game. Worthy would finish the game with 7 catches for 88 yards and a touchdown.

This was the type of offense I was expecting from Coach Sark to help protect the inexperienced quarterbacks. Quick throws and screen passes that stretch the defense horizontally also help the offensive line in pass protection. The fact that Sarkisian chose to highlight Xavier Worthy over Jordan Whittington was shocking to me. Whittington had an outstanding Week 1 against Louisiana-Lafayette, but struggled against Arkansas. Whittington’s natural yards after catch ability is obvious, something Sarkisian obviously knows how to use. His struggles with drops and ball tracking have seemingly took him out of favor with the offensive staff. Hopefully Whittington has a good week of practice and works hard to earn more opportunities against Texas Tech next week.

The Defensive Front Seven

Keondre Coburn (RS Junior — 6’2” 345 lbs.) is a run stuffing nose tackle. Next to him is Moro Ojomo (RS Junior — 6’3” 290 lbs.). Ojomo has a little more in his toolbox as pass rusher, but is another rock-solid run stuffing defensive tackle. Behind them on the depth chart is T’Vondre Sweat (Junior — 6’4” 335 lbs.) who continues the trend as a solid run stuffer. There were times when all three of these, what I like to call “Hog Daddies” were in the game at the same time. Clogging up all running lanes in the middle of the field. Overshown and Brockermeyer would do a nice job cleaning up and making tackles, but the Hog Daddies upfront are the reason the linebackers don’t get blocked.

The Concerning

As good as Bo Davis and Texas defensive tackles are, they still have some problems on the edges. Ovie Oghoufo had a good game as a pass rusher, accounting for one sack. As a run defender though, Oghoufo was undisciplined. Crashing the edge and allowing the runner to get around them instead of holding the edge and forcing the runner inside, to the teeth of this Texas defense. He also allowed Rice’s quarterbacks to get by him on bootlegs with the same problem. Ben Davis had similar problems. Pete Kwiatkowski and Bo Davis will need to work with the edge rushers and stress the importance of setting the edge, instead of running past their landmarks and allowing a runner to get around them.

Another issue was Texas’ offensive line in pass protection. Even against Rice, Casey Thompson was under pressure often. Christian Jones and Denzel Okafor have been two of the worst pass protectors for Texas. When Rice used stunts or delayed blitzes, the left side of the offensive line was dreadful. Both playing in the left side of the offensive line is also not helpful, teams will continue to attack that side until they improve. Andrej Karic (LT—RS Freshman) and Tyler Johnson (LG—RS Sophomore) both deserve a start, in my opinion. Okafor has been good as a run blocker, but you cannot have two bad pass protectors next to eachother and expect to win many games.

Closing

Overall, The Longhorns bounced back in a big way Saturday and should be celebrated. Coach Sarkisian called a great game plan that protected his quarterback and offensive line. Pete Kwiatkowski also bounced back by calling a shut out. Even against Rice, it is impressive. This team has plenty of room to grow with a tough schedule of Texas Tech, TCU, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State all coming up. If they continue to develop and get better we could still see a 9 or 10 win campaign by the Longhorns.

Follow Us on Twitter: @longhorns_atb & @ryfootballscout

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Series Recap: Astros best D-Backs

Photo by: Elizabeth Conley/Houston Chronicle

The Houston Astros beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 7-6 on Sunday afternoon to win the series. The Astros will now get ready to head out on the road for their final road trip of the season. They will begin a four-game series on Monday night against the Los Angeles Angels and then a three-game series against the Oakland Athletics. The Astros currently lead the American League West by six games over the A’s and eight over the Seattle Mariners.

Getting back to the game on Sunday, the Astros got a two-run home run from Jose Siri and a solo shot from Chas McCormick in the eighth to complete the comeback and take the series. Peter Solomon (1-0, 1.29 ERA) got his first career win after taking over for Zack Greinke in the fifth inning. Greinke started for the Astros and went four innings allowing five runs, on five hits, with three strikeouts, and a walk. Solomon pitched four innings and allowed one run, and one hit while striking out three.

Carlos Correa got the Astros on the board with a three-run home run in the first. It was his 24th homer of the season, which ties his career-high. After a Kyle Tucker double in the fourth, which scored Correa to make the score 5-4, the Astros would not get anything else until Siri and McCormick home runs in the eighth to give them the win. 

Notes

Framber Valdez (10-5, 3.26) will start Monday night’s game against the Angels. He was scratched from his last start on Thursday due to a cut on his left index finger. 

The Astros lead the division by six games with 13 left in the regular season. They trail the Tampa Bay Rays (92-58) by 3 ½ games for the best record in the AL.   

Michael Brantley was throwing and hitting on Sunday. He is currently on the Injured List (IL) due to right knee discomfort.

Kyler’s “Luxury” Legs

This past offseason Kyler made it clear he wanted to use his legs as more of a luxury than a primary feature that the offense is reliant on. This also insinuates he wants to utilize his arm more this season.

Through two weeks so far, Kyler is averaging 96.3 more passing yards per game than last season. Even in comparison to just the first 2 games of 2020, Kyler passed for 86.5 more yards per game. His 400 passing yards yesterday was the 2nd most of his career.

Obviously 2 games isn’t a large sample size, but the rushing usage has also gone in the direction Kyler wants, cutting in half from 51.2 yards per game in 2020 to just 25.5 rushing yards per game so far. Last year he averaged 79 rushing yards on 10.5 rushing attempts the first 2 games. In the first 2 this year, Kyler’s received half as many rushing attempts per game at just 5.

Tennessee and Minnesota clearly don’t have the best pass defenses so I wouldn’t expect Kyler to average nearly 100 more passing yards per game through the whole season (but he might get close with a full healthy season). Most importantly, Arizona should be able to continue this ratio of utilizing Kyler’s arm more and his legs as more of a secret weapon this year.

Grading the Bengals’ positions after their Week 2 loss to the Chicago Bears

Grading the Bengals’ performance in Week 2 is not an easy task. The final score will show the Cincinnati Bengals played decently well against the Chicago Bears in Week 2. However, they did not play well, unlike Week 1. For the majority of the game, the Bengals looked absolutely lost. Nobody wanted to tackle, they couldn’t generate any offense, and they fell apart at almost any opportunity they had to generate momentum. It wasn’t until a really clutch succession of plays late in the fourth quarter the Bengals looked truly competitive in this game. When grading each position this week, you have to take that into account.

Offensive Week 1 Grades

Quarterback grade: D+

In what might have been the worst performance of Joe Burrow’s professional career, he barely completed 50 percent of his attempted passes until waking up on the final two drives and pulling the Bengals out of the jaws of a blowout. The biggest problem? He threw three straight interceptions before the remarkable comeback attempt. Even before the interceptions, he looked out of rhythm with his receivers and inaccurate on a lot of his throws.

Knowing Burrow, he’ll likely put this game behind him and come roaring back next week to put together a bounce back performance. But, he couldn’t make it happen in time this week. The Bengals proved, even with all the new talent they added, they still aren’t good enough to overcome Joe being off his game.

Running Back grade: C-

It was not a game to remember for Joe Mixon. He finished with 69 yards on 20 attempts, quite often being stopped for only a yard or two. In his defense, the offensive line did not block well at all. He also flashed a few really nice runs here and there, so you have to consider that when grading him this week. But, on the whole, the running game looked generally ineffective.

Wide Receiver grade: B-

A big part of the reason the Bengals lost this game was the turnovers. Burrow’s three interceptions were really bad. But, Tee Higgins fumbling a 14-yard catch killed any momentum the Bengals’ offense was building after halftime. This is what I meant earlier when I said they fell apart at almost any opportunity to generate momentum. However, Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase both turned it on near the end of the fourth quarter when it was crunch time.

They each secured key tou