The Tennessee Volunteers went on the road and took a top-5 Alabama team into the final quarter. The final score does not depict just how close this game was; the Vols played hard enough to win for all four quarters. So, what happened?
Hendon Hooker continues to impress
Coming into the season, Tennessee fans were unsure of who was going to be the man under center for the Volunteers. That question has since been answered with the phenomenal play of Hendon Hooker. The Virginia Tech transfer threw for 282 yards and three touchdowns against the ‘Tide, including a 70-yard touchdown pass to Cedric Tillman.
Hooker kept the Vols in the game all the way into the fourth quarter. He threw his first interception as a starter on a miscommunication with his receiver that put the game out of reach for the Vols and began Alabama’s fourth quarter run. Hooker finished the game 19-28 with 282 yards, 3 TD’s and 1 interception.
The 4th Quarter dooms Vols
The score was 17-24 in favor of the ‘Tide entering the fourth quarter; it appeared that Tennessee was going to take this game down to the final minutes. Queue the unlikely miscues and iffy officiating. Alabama sophomore quarterback Bryce Young ran the ball in from 6 yards out to open the fourth quarter scoring.
However, Young fumbled the football as he was breaking the plane of the end-zone. After further review, the official confirmed the fumble but said it was recovered by Alabama. The only problem was Makai Hadden of Tennessee came out of the pile with the ball. This call, as well as the Hooker interception, took all the wind out of Tennessee’s upset-minded sails.
The Vols enter a bye week as Josh Heupel gets his first chance to show fans how well his teams prepare for opponents coming off a bye. The Vols will travel to Lexington and play SEC East rival Kentucky November 6th. This bye week is timely as Tennessee looks to get fully healthy for the first time all season.
After a quick road trip to Tampa on Tuesday, the Panthers were back on the ice vs the Colorado Avalanche. While it’s only game four of the season, it’s nice to see how the team matches up against one of the best teams in the National Hockey League.
The first period was not the best start for the Panthers vs the Avalanche. Colorado controlled the flow of the game early on. That changed after Sam Reinhart got the Cats on the board. While Reinhart gets credit for the goal, the Panthers don’t score there without the hustle by Mason Marchment to get the icing call waived off. Unfortunately, the Cats couldn’t take the lead into the locker room as Mikko Rantenen tied it up 1-1 with 54 seconds left in the period.
The second period is where the Panthers won this game. And it was a complete team effort to make it happen. First, the power play one unit finally got going, with Sam Bennett netting their first goal of the season and looking the best it has all year. I don’t think Patric Hornqvist will be in the top unit all season, but he’s definitely made an impact in front of the net over the last two games.
Also, the defense and Sergei Bobrovsky made a difference as well. Bob made a great stop on a 2 v 1 created off a poor play by Kevin Connauton. He made a few more saves that kept the Panthers ahead when momentum really wasn’t on their side, especially in the last four minutes of the period. Credit to Gustav Forsling for covering Bob on an empty net, blocking a shot that should have been a goal for the Av’s to tie the game up. The Panthers capitalized on that, with Carter Verhaeghe scoring to make it a 3-1 game with 53 seconds left in the period.
With the Panthers up by two with 20 minutes to go, they were able to control the third period and force the Avalanche to play their game. While the Panthers weren’t able to capitalize on a Gabriel Landeskog boarding penalty (and what should have been a 5 v 3 if the refs were doing their jobs), they were able to close out the game. Anton Lundell closed it out with an empty netter as the Panthers went on to win 4-1.
Sergei Bobrovsky has had himself a heck of a start to the season. After allowing four goals in the season opener (with none of them coming from poor play by 72), he’s allowed two goals over his last two starts. Tonight he was excellent once again, stopping a few quality chances by the Avalanche at times where the Panthers weren’t controlling the game. I’ve been thoroughly encouraged by his play so far. I’m excited to see how strong our goaltending tandem is early on this season.
The third line continues to impress me as well. While we thought Sam Reinhart would mesh with Aleksander Barkov on the top line this season, early on that chemistry has come from playing with Barkov Jr. on the third line. What a player Anton Lundell is. Four games into his NHL career, you can see why the organization has been so high on him. He’s continued to get
Officiating almost became an issue tonight. It’s concerning there was not a second boarding call in the third period. Thankfully, poor officiating has yet to cost the Cats a game, but it just felt tonight that every time the Panthers went on the Power Play there was an ensuing penalty to even out the game.
I didn’t think Connauton had his best game, and put the Panthers in difficult situations a few times tonight. I’d like to see Priskie get his first appearance on Saturday, but we’ll have to wait and see on that.
Overall, another solid display by the Panthers early in this season. We now look forward to Keith Yandle’s revenge game on Saturday night in Philadelphia.
The Tennessee fan base showed up and showed out in a sold out Neyland Stadium vs Ole Miss. The fans produced a season-high 115.6 decibel rating during a pivotal third down late in the fourth quarter. Regardless of a checkered Neyland Stadium, the hometown Vols lost to the #13 ranked Rebels 31-26 on multiple questionable calls. It was clear to see the frustration on everyone.
The Scoop n’ score that never was.
Let’s begin in the middle of the first quarter. On a third down play, Ole miss quarterback Matt Corral keeps the ball on what appears to be an ordinary read option play that is blown up by the Tennessee defense. After a forced fumble, linebacker Tyler Baron scoops up the ball and takes it back to make the score tied at 7. However, officials call the play back and gives an explanation that anyone with a football mind would find boggling.
The play was ruled dead because Matt Coral was “giving himself up” according to a statement released by the officiating crew. Coral was not giving himself up. By definition, the ball carrier must be making an effort to getting to the ground. Corral was standing up-right when contact was first made.
The ‘injury’ bug bites Ole Miss.
Now, I would like to start this off by saying I have never and will never cheer for a player that is genuinely injured on a play. Ole Miss did not fall into that genuine category. Ole Miss had 28 defensive injuries Saturday night against vs Tennessee on 78 offensive plays. So every 3.4 plays a player went down with an “injury.”
These injuries were absolute ludicrous. Many thought seemed every time Tennessee gained momentum a player went down and slowed down the Vols offense. As big as tempo has been to this offense, it is clear to see that this was designed by Lane Kiffin and proved beneficial to the second year head coach.
Tennessee falls to 4-3 on the season and will now travel to Tuscaloosa to battle the fourth ranked Crimson Tide. Josh Heupel has an uphill battle to climb. Heupel does have his this team trending in the right direction as the Vols lost yet another game due to calls and/or plays that were out of their control.
Five weeks into the NFL season, the picture is coming into focus for the Atlanta Falcons. With the team in a bye week, I am looking at where each position group stands and what we may expect from them as we advance. I’ve already covered Matt Ryan and his offensive line. Today I am focusing on the skill players. We’ll start with the running backs and finish up with the receivers. Let’s jump in.
Cordarrelle Patterson has been the offensive MVP. He’s been nothing short of a revelation for the Atlanta Falcons. He accounts for five of their twelve offensive touchdowns and nearly thirty percent of their total yardage. Even though many wrote him off as a return specialist and part-time gadget player, I tried my best to convince people he would be a significant part of this offense. Even with lofty expectations for him, I’m still surprised at how effective he’s been.
PFF agrees, grading him as the second-best running back in the NFL through five games. However, Football Outsiders doesn’t see it quite the same way. They have Patterson ranked 27th (of 40) in DYAR (reflects total value) and 24th (of 40) in DVOA (reflects value per play). I won’t sit here and pretend I understand that. Patterson eclipsed a 50% snap share for the first time all season against the Jets but still manages to carry an outsized portion of the Atlanta Falcons offensive production. Part of that is due to the impotence of the offense for the first three games, but Patterson has been a dangerous weapon through five games.
I supposed Football Outsiders is knocking him for the hot/cold nature of his runs. They list his success rate at 46%, which is 30th (of 40) in the NFL. Patterson has been a bit boom or bust in terms of rushing. Or perhaps they weight rushes higher than receptions, which make up the bulk of Patterson’s production. Either way, even if Patterson doesn’t stand out in terms of advanced metrics, he certainly passes the eyeball test.
Mike Davis Doing it the Hard Way
On the other hand, Mike Davis hasn’t gotten off to the start many of us expected. In terms of raw production, he’s been terrible. He’s averaging 3.3 yards per carry and has only one rushing touchdown. He’s added another receiving touchdown, but only 88 yards on 18 catches. Football Outsiders ranks him as the 35th (of 40) best running back in DYAR and DVOA and 39th (of 40) in success rate. PFF grades him out as the 50th best overall running back in the NFL. However, those stats aren’t giving you the complete picture.
Of Mike Davis’s 204 rushing yards, 176 have come after contact. Read that again. Over 86% of his total rushing yardage has come after contact. The top five runners in yards after contact are all significantly lower. At least 10% lower than Davis’s ridiculously high number of hard-won yardage. Who’s to blame for this inefficiency? There is plenty to go around. The line has to block better for him. Smith has to give him carries in less obvious situations. Davis isn’t blameless either. He has been slow to get to his gap on a few reps I’ve reviewed. On balance, though, his teammates aren’t giving him much room to operate. If this line can start to gel, I suspect we’ll see better production from Davis.
TLDR: Atlanta Falcons Running Backs
Patterson has been an absolute animal, despite mediocre ratings from Football Outsiders. This team would have struggled to win a game without Patterson being a dangerous weapon as a runner and receiver. Though his usage saw a massive uptick in week five, I suspect he will continue to see a relatively limited role as he will continue to share snaps with Mike Davis.
Mike Davis hasn’t been effective, but this offense hasn’t done him any favors. The lack of yardage he’s been able to gain before contact is paltry, and the fact that he’s managed to move the ball at all is somewhat surprising. I suspect the dual-threat nature Patterson presents makes it a bit easier on the line when he’s in the backfield. Perhaps this offense would benefit from getting Davis carries in situations that aren’t quite as obvious moving forward.
The Atlanta Falcons Look for a #1 Receiver
I’m going to lump tight ends and wide receivers into one category because there isn’t much of a divide between the two. This group hasn’t been highly productive, although we finally saw Kyle Pitts breakout against the Jets. Let’s start with the options on the outside.
Come Back Calvin!
Calvin Ridley is the only receiver of note on the Falcons roster. Russell Gage went down with a calf injury before he could make his presence felt, and Olamide Zaccheaus, Tajae Sharpe, and Christian Blake haven’t proven to be more than rotational depth at this point. Even Ridley’s season has been marred with drops and his sudden and mysterious departure from the team for “personal reasons.” I won’t speculate on the nature of Ridley’s personal matter, but the team has been openly supportive, and we as fans owe him as much too.
Before his (presumably) momentary departure, Ridley wasn’t overwhelmingly effective. Per Football Outsiders, he ranks 60th of 72 in DYAR and 57th of 72 in DVOA. PFF grades him as the 65th best of 113 qualifying receivers in the NFL. His yards per reception have fallen from 15.3 in 2020 to 9.4 in 2021. This is particularly alarming as his targets per game are at a career-high. It has been an inauspicious start for the newly minted #1 receiver in Atlanta.
We can rationalize this in a few different ways. One argument is that Ridley is getting more attention with Julio Jones’s departure, but that argument doesn’t hold water after reviewing the film. He’s getting looked at like a number one receiver, but he hasn’t demanded the same respect/fear as the departed Jones. In fact, he’s been open quite a bit through the first four weeks. Whenever faced with man coverage, he’s winning his matchup at an impressive rate. For a variety of reasons, Ryan hasn’t been able to take advantage of these moments.
Matching Talent to Scheme for the Atlanta Falcons
I propose the most significant reason for Ridley’s depressed production is how Arthur Smith uses him in the passing game. Ridley feasted on deep digs and comeback routes in 2020. However, in 2021 he’s seen a majority of his receptions on shallow crossing routes. It’s a mismatch of talent to philosophy. Arthur Smith prefers getting the ball into the hands of his receivers early and charging them with making plays after the catch. Ridley isn’t awful at this, but it undercuts his best trait, his crisp route running.
This mismatch of scheme and skill has led to all manner of undue criticisms of Ridley. Fans call him soft and unwilling to fight for tough yardage. Instead, we should call for Smith to use Ridley in a way befitting of his skill set. Hopefully, Ridley quickly rejoins the team, and when he does, let’s all hope Smith has a better plan for him. There is no excuse for his production to fall off a cliff as it has.
Can Anyone Else Step Up at Wide Receiver?
The other receivers aren’t worth mentioning. It sounds harsh, but aside from a few timely third-down conversions, they haven’t impacted the game. Of the top 113 graded receivers, only Sharpe has cracked the top 100, and he’s ranked 79th. When Russell Gage returns from injury, he may find a way to move the needle, but until then, this group is one of the worst in the NFL.
Unicorns and Rainbows
Fans were quick to bemoan Kyle Pitts’ slow start to the season. Despite never playing a snap in the NFL, many fans already envisioned his bust in the Hall of Fame. With the immense hype surrounding him before the draft, it was hard to temper expectations, but those expectations had grown far beyond anything close to reasonable. For context, Kyle Pitts was on pace to finish with the fifth-best rookie season for a tight end in NFL history through the first four weeks. Still, it wasn’t enough to satisfy the onlookers.
Week five against the Jets was the breakout game everyone was waiting on. A nine-catch, 119 yard, one-touchdown stat line is what everyone expected from the beginning. Now Pitts is on pace to threaten the all-time yardage record for rookie tight ends.
Pitts is still a mediocre tight end despite this newly achieved historic pace based on Football Outsiders stats. Of 42 ranked tight ends, he’s 13th in DYAR and 20th in DVOA. PFF is much more bullish; he’s graded as 8th of the 70 qualifying tight ends.
As it tends to be, the truth is somewhere in the middle of all these advanced metrics. Pitts proved he could be a dangerous weapon in week five. However, I doubt he ever sees as much single coverage as he faced against the Jets. On his first career touchdown, the Jets left a defensive end on an island against him. That’s not going to happen often. Does that mean this breakout game will prove to be an anomaly? Absolutely not. However, I wouldn’t bank on him putting up gaudy stats week in and week out.
What people tend to forget about Kyle Pitts is he is still incredibly young and unpolished. He turned 21 a week ago. Pitts is literally still growing. He is still learning how to be an effective receiver, and is far from a polished route runner. Pitts doesn’t fully grasp how to take advantage of the gaps in zone coverages. He has had reps where corners with a distinct size disadvantage have defeated him in press overage. Despite the promise he showed at Florida, he is far from a finished product. That’s ok. None of us should expect him to be an all-pro from day one. He is going to get better at all of those things, but it will take time. We got a taste of it last Sunday, but it won’t always be a smooth trip to the top of the NFL. Be patient.
The Legend of Lee Smith
The rest of the tight end group has been one of the most shocking things I’ve seen so far from this squad. Hayden Hurst, who I had penciled in as a very productive member of this team, currently grades out as the 69th of 70 qualifying tight ends, per PFF. Lee Smith, who I imagined as nothing more than a sixth offensive lineman, ranks 9th. Hurst is currently fourth in receiving yards for the Atlanta Falcons with 103 yards and a TD. Meanwhile, the great Lee Smith is only five receptions away from matching his career-high of 12.
To be fair, fumbles are behind Hurst’s poor grade, but I do expect more from him. His emergence as a viable threat will be even more critical if Calvin Ridley isn’t able to rejoin the team soon. Hurst has already proven he can be a productive tight end in 2020. Smith needs to find a way to get him more involved, and when his number gets called, Hurst needs to prove he can protect the football.
TLDR: Atlanta Falcons Receivers
With the departure of Julio Jones, everyone wondered how effective this group would be. Kyle Pitts is loaded with promise, but it’s never safe to gamble on a rookie. Calvin Ridley has everything it takes to be a primary receiver, but he has been miscast in this offense, and now his availability is murky. Depth is an issue across the board for the Falcons, but it is incredibly thin at wide receiver. Russell Gage and Olamide Zaccheaus are effective slot receivers, but neither has proven effective as a #2. Tajae Sharpe has been a lunch pail guy, but he isn’t someone you want to start. Frank Darby has run the same number of routes this season as I have.
Considering the relative inefficiency with the run game, this receiving group needs another player to emerge. My money is still on Hayden Hurst, but someone needs to step forward and prove they can be counted on to help keep the offense on schedule. The Falcons have been lucky to face a few incompetent defenses, and the schedule isn’t as favorable moving forward. Generally speaking, early bye weeks are undesirable. In the Falcons case, it came at the perfect time. Hopefully, it allows them time to get Russell Gage and Calvin Ridley back on the field, while Arthur Smith has an extra week to tweak the offense to better suit the players on the roster.
Wrapping Up the Atlanta Falcons Offense
All in, it’s been a less than ideal start for this offense. Despite the stellar performances in weeks four and five, this group still hasn’t put together a game where they are firing on all cylinders. It may be asking too much to expect a good performance from every unit on this offense this season. There is so much youth and inexperience on this team from the top down. We may need to find a way to be contented with flashes of promise rather than total fulfillment. If this offense can’t offer up a near-perfect game against the 7th softest defensive schedule so far, it may be too much to expect them to pull it together against better defenses. The Falcons face four of the top ten defenses (in DVOA) over the next five weeks. The sledding gets a lot tougher from here.
Still, there are numerous reasons to be cautiously optimistic. Matt Ryan has strung together a pair of games that surpass anything he’s done since the Sarkisian era. Arthur Smith’s offense is predicated on a strong run game, and if this offensive line can continue to progress, we will see what this offense looks like when it doesn’t have to play left-handed. The most promising sign is this is a team that shows it can learn from its mistakes. Arthur Smith was needlessly cautious, and it cost them a game. The following week he didn’t hesitate to attack when the same situation presented itself. Ryan seemed hesitant to throw into contested windows early, but we saw him firing balls into tight windows last week. Jalen Mayfield is cleaning up his technique. Mike Davis is still fighting for yards. This team is close to putting it together on offense; it’s just a matter of time.
The Cardinals have a tough task ahead. As everyone knows, Arizona will be missing Chandler Jones, Rodney Hudson, Zach Allen, HC Kliff Kingsbury and QB Coach Cam Turner. But the Browns aren’t without their fair share of obstacles to overcome either. RB Nick Chubb was ruled out a couple days ago. Luckily for them they have a stud right behind him in Kareem Hunt. But now LT Jedrick Wills and RT Jack Conklin have also been ruled out. And according to the Browns official depth chart, rookie James Hudson is the backup LT and there’s no backup listed at RT. So Cleveland will likely have to play some guys out of position on the OL today. Expect interim HC Vance Joseph to dial up lots of pressure on the defensive side to take advantage.
Being without our Head Coach and playcaller seemingly gives AZ an immediate disadvantage. But on the flip side, someone else calling plays could make the offense a bit unpredictable today. With Kugler being the run game coordinator, we may see an uptick in runs, but who knows. Assistant WR coach Spencer Whipple will also be helping Kugler call plays.
The Browns are 1st in the NFL in rushing with 187 yards per game and the Cardinals are 8th with 128/game. Stopping the run will be key for both teams but in the end, whoever can protect their young QB the best, may be the team who wins. Give us your keys to today’s game @Cardinals_ATB on Twitter.