Denver Broncos fire Nathaniel Hackett: What’s Next?

Calling the Denver Broncos’ 2022 season “disappointing” would be a gross understatement. A team that was projected to be a playoff contender before the season began, the Broncos have imploded in a variety of ways.

Their season has been confusing to say the least. The Russell Wilson trade ignited fans’ preseason hopes, and for good reason. With a new head coach and a star quarterback to pair with one of the best defenses in the league, expectations were understandably through the roof. That, unfortunately, hasn’t panned-out. The latest episode of this saga is the firing of head coach Nathaniel Hackett, who wasn’t able to last through his first season.

So, what are the next steps for the Denver Broncos?

Denver Broncos QB Russell Wilson
Photo Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Denver Broncos’ Salary Cap

The biggest bust of Denver’s season has undoubtedly been Russell Wilson. Wilson was projected to be Denver’s savior on offense, yet he’s been quite the opposite. To make matters worse, Wilson’s current dead-cap hit for the 2023 season is an astounding $107 million.

With that in mind, it wouldn’t make sense to get rid of Wilson if they’re still on the hook for that much. Wilson will almost certainly be back next year, and his price tag will only be $22 million. With Wilson, Denver will only have about 15.4 million in cap space to work with.

Denver has some money coming off the books this offseason, but the largest contract they could lose in free agency is $2.5 million. Kareem Jackson will become a free agent, as will several other starters around the roster. If Denver can keep some of their players around (that deserve it), they shouldn’t have too much trouble, even while being hindered by Wilson’s contract.

Finally, one thing to look out for this offseason will be restructured contracts. Since the aforementioned contract will be significantly hindering, players like Justin Simmons and Garett Bolles could restructure their current deals.

2023 NFL Draft

Denver gave up a lot of NFL draft capital in order to land Wilson. One of those picks was their 2023 first rounder, which went to Seattle. That draft pick would have given Denver the #3 overall pick in next year’s NFL draft.

Luckily, they were able to get a first-rounder, albeit from another team. Denver currently owns the 49ers’ first-rounder, through the Dolphins, via the Bradley Chubb trade.

Denver also owns two third-rounders, a fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh-round draft picks. While the loss of picks to Seattle hurts, it wouldn’t be fair to say Denver doesn’t have an at least decent supply for the 2023 NFL draft.

Hire a Head Coach Who Can Work With Wilson

The next head coach of this franchise is an absolutely massive decision. With Wilson’s contract, Denver will likely be forced to carry him for at least a couple more years. With that in mind, it’s paramount that the new head coach works well with Wilson.

Sean Payton has been dominating the headlines in recent weeks, and with the Broncos becoming the first big team to part with their head coach, expect rumors to swirl. Denver, while currently facing their own issues, are still a solid landing spot for a head coach. If they can find one to help bring the best out of Wilson, then this experiment could still work out. What’s one bad year anyway?

Solving The Mystery of Quarterback Play in 2022

The 2022 NFL Season is off to an interesting start, and the quarterback position has some of the most intriguing trends thus far.

We are about a month into the NFL season: the perfect time for storylines to develop, narratives to run rampant, and for trends to begin to take shape. We have certainly seen our fair share of each since the beginning of the season. However, none quite contend with the oddities in 2022 at the most important position in sports: the quarterback.

Quarterback play is, far and away, one of the most difficult levels of success to quantify. Some use advanced stats, carefully calculated metrics which mean nothing without context, while others use “the eye test”, rummaging their way through hours of film in hopes of validating their takes. Both are certainly valuable, but neither can explain the trends we have seen this year.

To put it bluntly, 2022 has been one of the weirdest, and statistically worst, years of quarterback play we have seen in quite some time. The mainstays of years’ past have been inconsistent and, in some cases, outright disappointing, thinning out the upper echelon of signal callers.

Unless, that is, you look at the top of any of the league’s advanced stat categories, in which you will find many new faces. However, these aren’t the anomalies of years’ past, such as Mahomes in 2018 or Herbert in 2020. No athletic freak getting his first true chance with a high powered offense. Rather, a collection of veterans and castaways whose offenses have seen astronomical jumps through the first month.

The most astounding example thus far? None other than Geno Smith.

No Russ, No Problem

When Seattle shipped off Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos for a king’s ransom, it was widely anticipated that the Seahawks would not only be inheriting a downgrade in quarterback play, but a substantial one at that. However, Geno Smith has been, by almost all accounts, phenomenal for Seattle through the first five games.

Smith is currently first in passer rating, completion rate over expected, completion rate, and a higher average intended air yards, per NextGenStats, than Patrick Mahomes (8.8 to 7.7).

Smith had largely been written off by the league after his tenure with the New York Jets. He was viewed as a career backup and, despite his nine year career, only has two more starts than Justin Herbert. However, being called to start the season for only the third time in his career, he has outplayed his predecessor in future Hall-of-Famer Russell Wilson.

A Healthy Balance

However, this isn’t the statistical anomaly we typically see from advanced stats. Smith’s success has transferred over to the tape as well. His ability to make tight-window throws along with making big plays under pressure, in particular, have been the catalysts to his success.

Geno Smith throws with timing and anticipation to the end zone.

What has distinguished him from the ‘efficiency darlings’ of the past has been the carry over of efficiency to aggressive throws. Typically, many stats favor the conservative and those quick to take the check down. Geno Smith has once again been the outlier, combining getting the ball out quickly with a knack for hitting his occasional shots downfield.

Geno Smith has been efficient on his aggressive throws.

Smith has found ways through the first month to maximize his talent in ways that Wilson had struggled with. Without their former Super Bowl champion, many expected Seattle to be in the running for the number one pick. However, they’re still in the thick of a difficult NFC West with Geno at the helm. If these quarterback trends continue throughout 2022 for Smith, it’s feasible to see Seattle sneaking into a Wild Card spot.

Rocky Mountain Disaster

It is the other side of the trade involving Seattle and Denver that, for multiple reasons, has been a struggle thus far. Wilson’s had a rough go of it to start his career in Denver. While it isn’t all on him, he certainly bears some of the blame.

Wilson has long garnered the reputation as a playmaker. He has been regarded as somebody who can not only deliver in the pocket, but also when the pocket becomes murky. This year, Wilson has tried many of the same plays, putting a supreme level of trust in his weaponry. However, he’s been slower to reads, unwilling to let a play die, and all around worse as a passer.

As someone who has disregarded throwing over the middle of the field, Wilson made his money on his “moon ball”- the deep throws down the sideline to Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf were the center of his game. However, when defenses are taking away the deep game, Wilson has been just as aggressive, albeit in risky situations.

Per NextGenStats, Wilson ranks top ten in both average intended air yards and aggressiveness percentage. However, this has resulted in a completion percentage 6.3 percentage points below expectation, among the likes of Joe Flacco and Jimmy Garoppolo.

Late Night Woes

All of this was on full display on primetime against the Indianapolis Colts. More specifically, on the throw shown below. Wilson feels pressure early, in large part due to the Broncos line, which hasn’t helped him much. However, the game situation would clearly dictate throwing the ball away.

It’s third down in the fourth quarter of a low scoring game. Living to play another down would likely mean the end of the game. Denver would be up by six, and Indianapolis had instilled no confidence in scoring a touchdown.

Despite this, Wilson decides to live and die by the big play, forcing the ball down the field and vastly overthrowing his target. Thus, Indianapolis is able to stay within a field goal and get the game to overtime.

It was in this overtime period, specifically the last play of the game, where Wilson and Hackett showed their pitfalls once again.

Denver has the ball on the five yard line on fourth and one. It’s do-or-die. If they fail to convert, Indianapolis wins the game. All Denver needs is a yard to keep the drive alive. Considering Denver’s rushing success on this drive, running the ball would likely be the solution. But Nathaniel Hackett and Russell Wilson had other plans.

Uncharacteristic Mistakes

Hackett comes out in a light gun look, making it clear that he wants the end zone, and draws up a good play for Wilson. A simple pick to his right opens up KJ Hamler coming over the middle for what should be an easy touchdown.

However, Wilson, with all day to throw it, continues to stare down Courtland Sutton to the left. Keep in mind that Sutton is guarded by Stephon Gilmore, who already has a pick in this game.

Stephon Gilmore ends the game for Indianapolis.

Wilson continues to stare, forces the ball to his first read, and never sees Hamler. Gilmore is able to knock the ball down and win the game, on what looked like a rookie mistake from Wilson. It’s not often that we see a ten-year veteran stare down his first read this badly, much less force it into coverage.

The Broncos were widely expected to be a Super Bowl contender this year with Wilson and Hackett. However, both clearly have issues that must be ironed out, and are suffering because of them early on.

Super Bowl Hangover?

The Denver Broncos and Russell Wilson aren’t alone in their struggles, as the Super Bowl runners up have had their fair share as well. In the Cincinnati Bengals’ case, it’s also due to a combination of factors.

Last year, the Bengals’ deep attack was one of the best the league has ever seen. Jamar Chase and Tee Higgins excelled in one-on-one situations down the sideline, and Joe Burrow was hitting them at an all-time clip. It was the perfect storm of high-level deep accuracy and elite deep threats. Through this, they were able to annihilate defenses, and specifically single-high shells.

That being the primary feature of their offense was enough to get them a spot in the Super Bowl. In their championship bout, Cincinnati largely competed with the Los Angeles Rams. However, it was then that we began to see a counter form against their high-powered offense.

Simply put, teams began to move into more two-high defenses, preventing the deep passes the Bengals thrived upon. Along with this, Cincy faced more zone defenses, leading to fewer one-on-one situations for Chase and Higgins.

Not Enough Help

The typical counter to this would be to run the ball, and the numbers are simple. Coming out in two-high takes a player out of the box, and often gives a numbers advantage to the offense. The Bengals, on the other hand, haven’t been efficient enough in the run game to force teams back down. This is, in large part, due to their offensive line play.

It was well documented that Cincinnati’s fatal flaw last season was their offensive line. Joe Burrow was sacked more than any other quarterback, and the run blocking wasn’t much better.

Thus, the Bengals spent significant capital this offseason on revamping the line. Signing La’el Collins, Ted Karras, and Alex Cappa, they hoped the veteran presence up front would solidify a contender. However, it’s clear that they haven’t gelled yet as a unit, and their individual play hasn’t been up to par either.

Despite these struggles, Cincinnati has largely been in close games, which is where more struggles — specifically Zac Taylor’s and Joe Burrow’s — have begun to show. The former’s play calling has been predictable and inefficient. Resorting to trick plays in the red zone and poorly managing short yardage situations have stood out among Taylor’s woes.

Law of Averages

Some of the blame, as stated before, does fall on Burrow’s shoulders. Unlike last year, the expectation wasn’t to hit on a historic percentage of difficult passes. However, this year has certainly been a fall from grace.

Along with the successful one-on-one shots being few and far between, Burrow has tried to overcompensate elsewhere. This was on full display in Week 1, where he threw four interceptions. What stood out on these plays was how much Burrow forced the ball into tight windows. Rather than taking what was in front of him, he tried too hard to be a playmaker and wrote checks that his arm — along with a majority of NFL arms, for that matter — couldn’t cash.

Minkah Fitzpatrick takes a Joe Burrow pass back for a pick-six.

This over-aggressiveness, along with the lack of help from his offensive line and coaching staff, has led to struggles for Burrow. While potentially predictable, it’s certainly uncharacteristic for what we’ve seen to this point in his career. Burrow has looked better recently, in particular against a depleted Dolphins secondary.

He will almost definitely improve down the stretch, but his quarterback play has been an interesting trend thus far in 2022, to say the least.

Other Interesting Trends in 2022 Quarterback Play

While Smith, Wilson, and Burrow have been the most interesting three, they aren’t the only quarterbacks to play outside of their expectations so far in 2022. Matthew Stafford and the Rams have struggled on offense, largely due to their offensive line play. Going into Week 5, they ranked 19th in pass-block win rate. When coupled with Stafford’s elbow injury concerns and the loss of Odell Bekcham Jr., regression has been rough.

On the flip side of the 2022 quarterback trends, we have also seen the development of several young quarterbacks. Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts rank third and ninth in passer rating, up drastically from last season. Each with new and improved weapons and circumstances, they have taken advantage of a great opportunity. Both were in their “prove-it year”, and they have shown out to this point.

No article about the quarterback trends of 2022 would be complete without mention of Cooper Rush in Dallas. Now 5-0 in his career as a starter, Rush has kept the Cowboys afloat in relief of Dak Prescott.

However, it’s clear their offense misses their 40 million dollar quarterback and will start him when he returns. That isn’t to discount Rush, though, who has shown he belongs and made the most of his opportunity.

The Cowboys are certainly a better offense with Dak Prescott in the lineup.

The year is clearly still very early for quarterbacks. We may very well see the high risers fall back to Earth, or positive regression for the struggling veterans. However, it certainly has been a different year to say the least.

The NFL always has something new to offer, and their most important position has been no different. It will be exciting to see how these quarterback trends progress and change as the 2022 season moves on.

Week 11 NFL Power Rankings

Week 11 NFL Power Rankings
Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images

In the Week 11 NFL Power Rankings, I had to make a few leaps. They might seem a bit over-the-top at first. But, trust me, it just reflects another truly crazy week in the NFL. This is what we love about the NFL. Any team can beat any team any week. Just when you thought you had it figured out, it’s time to throw all that knowledge out the window. Here’s what things are looking like after Week 10.

32. Detroit Lions (0-8-1)

Last Week: 32

Last week I asked if it was possible the Lions could go 0-17. Not anymore! That said, somehow, a winless season is still on the table. As hard as the Lions have fought this year, sloppiness and poor execution is still preventing this team from getting in the win column. 0-17 might not be possible. But, could 0-16-1? This week really felt like their best opportunity with a brutal schedule over their next eight weeks.

31. Houston Texans (1-8)

Last Week: 31

The Texans were on bye this week. Frankly, their season has gone so poorly that nothing that happens in the NFL really affects them. That is, other than what happens with the draft positioning. The Texans are currently in control of the Dolphins’ first round pick as well as their own this year. Unfortunately, the Dolphins won and probably knocked their spot down a few pegs.

30. New York Jets (2-7)

Last Week: 29

So much for Mike White SZN. After his hall of fame worthy performance against the Bengals, he got hurt against the Colts and threw four interceptions against the Bills. Things got so bad at one point Joe Flacco went in and immediately put up the Jets’ only passing touchdown of the game.

The only winner here is Zach Wilson, who likely won’t have to worry about a quarterback controversy anymore when he comes back.

29. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-7)

Last week: 27

A two-spot drop is probably a bit harsh for a Jaguars team that almost pulled off a comeback over the rebounding Colts. Unfortunately, I can’t get that performance from Trevor Lawrence out of my head. He barely helped generate any offense all day and didn’t get the ball in the endzone once. Also, he fumbled the comeback away at the end. Painful way to lose for the Jaguars.

28. Miami Dolphins (3-7)

Last Week: 30

One underrated benefit of not having a first round draft pick in a wasted year is Dolphins fans get to root for crazy, weird wins. It’s not like the Dolphins can tank for better draft positioning. So, maybe it’s nice to see your former No. 5 overall quarterback come in and save the day when it looked like Jacoby Brisket couldn’t take the gift the Ravens were trying to give him.

That said, why wasn’t he starting in the first place if he was healthy enough to play? Even in a win the Dolphins look like a mess. Tua should probably request a trade in the offseason.

27. Atlanta Falcons (4-5)

Last Week: 22

I really need to stop buying into the Falcons. This is what they do, right? They get your hopes up by playing well enough just to get you to step on the rug one more time. Then, they yank it out from under your feet. You’d think I’d learn right? I hope Falcons fans have learned. Back to the basement you go.

26. New York Giants (3-6)

Last Week: 26

Rough bye week for a Giants team that saw each of its NFC East opponents come away with a win this week. They do hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over Washington. So, technically, they should be ranked ahead of them. Right? Let’s see what they do after the bye week. 

25. Chicago Bears (3-6)

Last Week: 25

After the Vikings win, the Bears are now alone for third place in the NFC North. Luckily, the Lions can’t seem to get out of their own way so they won’t have to go anywhere near the basement this year. But, at 3-6, it’s hard to imagine anything positive is going to come of this year.

24. Washington Football Team (3-6)

Last Week: 28

Washington put together a complete game. Taylor Heinicke looked like the guy people were thinking he might be able to be when these two teams met in the playoffs. This time around, it was Heinicke with a 110.4 passer rating who outdueled Tom Brady, who threw two early interceptions.

However, you have to give credit to them for saving their best play for the second half. That’s why they see a large bump in the Week 11 NFL Power Rankings.

23. Seattle Seahawks (3-6)

Last Week: 21

Russ is back! Aaaaannndd… it didn’t matter. The Seahawks’ offense was a complete non-factor as Russell Wilson wasn’t able to cook up much more than turnovers. They managed to keep the game close at 3-0 until the Packers broke the game open in the fourth quarter.

But, it wasn’t enough, and things are starting to look rough for a Seahawks team that couldn’t buy a win with Geno Smith and looks like they’ll need a miracle to get back in the playoff race.

22. Denver Broncos (5-5)

Last Week: 19

Somebody please explain this team to me. They completely dominated the Cowboys last week. This week? They completely fell apart. It was looking like they were going to get ready to make a comeback in the fourth quarter.

But, Melvin Gordon’s fumble-six killed any semblance of momentum they have. By the time the offense got its act back together, it was already nearing the end of the fourth quarter. One step forward, one step back.

21. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3-1)

Last Week: 18

The Steelers are still desperately clinging onto a wild card seed they probably don’t deserve. Somehow they failed to generate any offense against the Browns, played losing football against the Bears, and let the Lions march down the field in overtime twice. Yet, they didn’t lose any of those games. The Steelers’ five game win streak after starting 1-3 feels a lot like that fake 11-0 start from last year.

20. Carolina Panthers (5-5)

Last Week: 23

You couldn’t make up a story better than Cam Newton triumphantly returning to Carolina to put the season back on track. It kind of reminds me of when the Cincinnati Bengals brought Boomer Esiason back in 1997 to rescue a 1-7 Bengals team.

That team finished 7-9 behind the former MVP. Just two games behind the No. 6 seeded Miami Dolphins. Could Cam play well enough to provide the same kind of false hope in Carolina?

19. Philadelphia Eagles (4-6)

Last Week: 22

Don’t look now, but the Eagles are actually back to being a .500 team over the last six weeks. They also almost played well enough to complete comebacks against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Los Angeles Chargers. I’m still not sure who the Broncos are just yet, but a dominating win is all that matters. Believe it or not, this team is actually only one game behind in the race for a playoff spot.

18. San Francisco 49ers (4-5)

Last Week: 20

The 49ers defense made life hell on Matthew Stafford and Jimmy Garoppolo followed up with an efficient night. Deebo Samuel and George Kittle proved earned their keep this week, combining for 147 yards and two touchdowns.

The 49ers get a modest boost in the Week 11 NFL Power Rankings because they’re not the only basement team to upset a contender this week. But, the Rams are still a solid conquest for Kyle Shannahan’s trophy case.

17. Las Vegas Raiders (5-4)

Last Week: 14

I think losing Jon Gruden, Henry Ruggs, and Damon Arnette in back-to-back-to-back weeks may have been a bit much to overcome. The Raiders famously overcame the Gruden drama to decisively beat the Denver Broncos.

But, losing Henry Ruggs clearly crippled their offense against the Giants. This week, they looked totally lost in Kansas City. It’s a shame, because this team had so much potential. But, I think it’s time to start thinking about regrouping in 2022.

16. New Orleans Saints (5-4)

Last Week: 15

Trevor Siemian continues to play well for the New Orleans Saints. Who would have guessed! The Saints actually took one of the hottest teams in the NFL to the wire this week. But, a couple costly mistakes here and there killed them. For example, the fumbled kickoff at the beginning of the second half that set the Titans up at the Saints’ 19. Five plays later, they were down 20-6.

They managed to come back and almost win. But, it was too little too late at that point. This Saints team can be good, but I don’t think they’re quite where they want to be.

15. Cleveland Browns (5-5)

Last Week: 12

Cleveland’s offense looked so much better without OBJ last week. What happened? The Browns got punched in the mouth after their emotional conquering of the Cincinnati Bengals on the road. No such luck in Foxborough, as the Browns fell 31-7 before a knee injury forced Baker Mayfield to sit the rest of the game out. Case Keenum was somewhat more efficient, but less explosive, which is what the Browns really needed at that point.

Luckily, it sounds like Baker will be ok going forward. But, the Browns are going to need to get something figured out if that is how they look without Nick Chubb.

14. Indianapolis Colts (5-5)

Last Week: 16

Staving off a Jaguars comeback might not be the most impressive way to win of all time. But, the Colts are turning their season around. They’ve won four out of their last five, and the one loss was a close overtime loss to the Week 11 NFL Power Rankings best team in football. Don’t sleep on this Colts team’s potential to be alive in January.

13. Minnesota Vikings (4-5)

Last Week: 17

When the Vikings play in sync, special things happen. Kirk Cousins and Dalvin Cook both played smart, heads up football in what will likely be looked as an upset win over a floundering Chargers team. Also, it helps that Justin Jefferson went off for 143 yards on nine catches. I don’t consider this one a huge upset, however. If the Vikings can play a complete football game, they’re as dangerous as anyone in the NFL.

12. Los Angeles Chargers (5-4)

Last Week: 9

Justin Herbert’s inconsistency that had a lot of people worried about him during the Draft scouting process is starting to rear its ugly head. That’s not to say that he’s terrible or anything like that. But, he has been much less efficient than he was last year. His up-and-down day against the Vikings is a big reason why they lost this game. That’s why they find themselves out of the top 10 in the Week 11 NFL Power Rankings.

11. Cincinnati Bengals (5-4)

Last Week: 13

It’s not too often an NFL football team sees as complete of a victory on their bye week as this. After a rough two weeks against the Jets and Browns, the Bengals almost got vaulted back into control of a playoff spot this week. The Ravens equaled the Bengals’ Jets loss with a loss to the Dolphins. The Browns equaled the Bengals’ blowout loss with an even worse blowout loss to the Patriots (albeit on the road).

The Steelers tied with the winless Lions. Had the Lions’ kicker even made his missed extra point attempt, the Steelers would have lost and the Bengals would be in control of the No. 7 seed. That said, they have the opportunity to go earn it themselves this week against a Raiders team that looks dead in the water.

10. Baltimore Ravens (6-3)

Last Week: 7

Did the Cincinnati Bengals expose a major flaw in the Baltimore Ravens’ offense? Allegedly, Brian Flores took some cues from Lou Anarumo’s playbook to pick the Ravens apart defensively this week. Greg Roman is going to need to cook something up fast to avoid proving how easy his system is to figure out. Their remaining schedule is brutal, so hopefully they can make that happen.

9. Los Angeles Rams (7-3)

Last Week: 8

For the second week in a row, Matthew Stafford looked more like the erratic Detroit version of himself. That’s not what the Los Angeles Rams need right now as they try to get back on track. They’re now losers of two straight after looking like one of the hottest teams in the NFL through the first eight weeks. Hence, why they’re now creeping near the edge of the top 10 of the Week 11 NFL Power Rankings.

8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-3)

Last Week: 6

I would probably have knocked the Bucs down harder in the Week 11 NFL Power Rankings, if not for all the other major upsets. The Bucs’ offense made the Washington defense look like the elite unit they were expected to be this year. Tom Brady threw two early interceptions the Bucs were just never really able to recover from. By the time he regained his focus, Washington was already up 13-0. They put together a pretty decent comeback near the end but it was all for naught. 

7. Kansas City Chiefs (6-4)

Last Week: 11

I’ve been assuming the Chiefs are going to bounce back in a big way all year, and they did that this week. Considering the narrative surround them this season, it seems weird to have them in the top 10 of the Week 11 NFL Power Rankings, right? Well, this team is 6-4 and top of the AFC West right now, despite their struggles.

Perhaps we shouldn’t read too much into one blowout win over a division opponent that has had the kitchen sink thrown at them over the past month. But, I’d be shocked if the Chiefs missed the playoffs at this point.

6. Arizona Cardinals (8-2)

Last Week: 1

I know the Cardinals still don’t have Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins. But, to be fair, part of the reason I had them at No. 1 in the first place was their ability to win despite those setbacks. They’re out of the top 5 of the Week 11 NFL Power Rankings because the Panthers were supposed to be cooked.

Colt McCoy was inefficient and the Cardinals could barely get anything going on the ground. Perhaps this team will be more dangerous when healthy. But, right now, they don’t look so hot.

5. New England Patriots (6-4)

Last Week: 8

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Bill Belichick is back in a big way, leading the Patriots into the top 5 of the Week 11 NFL Power Rankings. Mac Jones and Brian Hoyer both put on an absolute clinic against a Cleveland Browns team that was riding high on emotion after a crazy Week 9.

Oh, not to mention 184 yards on the ground. The Patriots employed their standard running back committee this week between Rhamondre Stevenson, Brandon Bolden, and JJ Taylor and they STILL had one of those guys hit 100 yards (exactly) this week.

4. Buffalo Bills (6-3)

Last Week: 5

The Buffalo Bills finally conquered Hall of Famer Mike White this week, forcing four interceptions. So, yeah. Maybe the Jets aren’t ready to take off like everyone thought they were. But, great teams blow bad teams out of the water. That, plus the demise of the Cardinals, is why the Bills see a climb in the Week 11 NFL Power Rankings.

3. Dallas Cowboys (7-2)

Last Week: 4

The Cowboys bounced back in a big way this week by doing to the Falcons what they should have done to the Broncos. Some might not value a win like this over the lowly Falcons, but I do. The Cowboys see a jump in the Week 11 NFL Power Rankings because this is not the way teams typically beat the Falcons.

Dak Prescott resumed his Comeback Player of the Year campaign this week with a stunning performance over a Falcons team that has done its fair share of losing this year. But, they typically avoid getting nuked like that.

2. Green Bay Packers (8-2)

Last Week: 3

Aaron Rodgers didn’t look like himself coming off his COVID adventure. But, the rest of the Packers picked up the slack around him much like they did for Jordan Love last week. The Packers’ defense tormented Russell Wilson all night and pitched a shutout at Lambeau.

AJ Dillon found the endzone twice and the Packers escaped with a 17-0 win. This is starting to turn into Rodgers’ worst nightmare. The Packers might not need him anymore and can probably plug anyone in at quarterback if he doesn’t want to play nicely.

1. Tennessee Titans (8-2)

Last Week: 2

The Titans’ rushing attack clearly isn’t the same without Derrick Henry. Adrian Peterson is an easy first ballot Hall of Famer. But, at 36 years old, he’s clearly nothing more than a rotational piece at this point. No matter. Ryan Tannehill is putting this team on his back and willing them to victories. The only question is… is this new formula sustainable?

It might very well be. That is why they’re at the top of the Week 11 NFL Power Rankings, and likely will be most of the rest of the year with their schedule. They’ll probably be the AFC’s No. 1 seed at the end of the season. But, are they going to be able to continue that efficiency when every game gets hard in the playoffs?

Tua Tagovailoa is Developing Right Before Our Eyes

Miami selected QB Tua Tagovailoa in the 2020 NFL Draft, and his rookie season was up and down. But he is taking the strides needed to become a franchise QB.

22.

That’s the number of starting quarterbacks the Miami Dolphins have started since Dan Marino retired in 2000.

Names like Jay Fiedler, Dante Culpepper, Chad Pennington, Ryan Tannehill and Jay Cutler bring back painful memories for fans who were searching for Miami’s next franchise QB.

But number 22, 2020 first round pick Tua Tagovailoa, feels different than the rest.

After an up and down rookie campaign where he went 6-3 as the starter but was pulled in 2 starts, Tagovailoa’s future in Miami was questioned.

The prospect of trading for established QB’s such as Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson, and Aaron Rodgers spread through the media like wildfire. Analysts were questioning Tua’s physical tools, believing that he didn’t have what it takes to play on the pro level. Every time a QB looked to be available, Miami was instantly named a top destination.

But through the controversy, Tagovailoa remained locked in on his craft.

Rehab

The first step in improving his game was getting back to the shape Tua was in when he was at Alabama.

Coming off of major hip surgery in 2019, Tagovailoa didn’t have the opportunity to train during the offseason. Instead, he had to do rehabilitation work on his hip, just to get to a level in which he could play in 2020.

But 2021 is a different story.

Working with renowned trainer Nick Hicks of PER4ORM gym, the former Alabama QB has been able to get to a condition beyond what he was in college.

Tua Tagovailoa has been working with Per4orm this offseason.

With the physical strength that Tagovailoa has been able to amass, the expectation is that he should be much stronger with his throwing motion. This seems to be working, as we have seen clips from camp of the second year QB making several deep passes, something he didn’t do much of in 2020.

Mental Leap

On top of his physical rehab, Tua Tagovailoa wanted to improve his processing, progression through reads, grasp of the playbook, and getting the ball out quicker.

As Tagovailoa stated in a press conference, he wasn’t fully comfortable with former Offensive Coordinator Chan Gailey’s playbook. While much of that comes from the playbook not being a fit for his skillset, he still put maximum effort towards learning his new scheme, under George Godsey and Eric Studesville.

Chemistry and Accuracy

Along with learning the playbook, Tua was working on his chemistry with weapons, new and old. Going to the fields with guys such as Will Fuller, DeVante Parker, Albert Wilson, and Mack Hollins, Tagovailoa truly used the offseason to his advantage, gaining knowledge of the intricacies of his receiver’s game’s. Whether it’s their timing, route tree, where they want the ball, or just getting to know them, Tagovailoa has put effort into having strong relationships with his receivers.

This relationship is starting to show in both training camp and preseason. Tagovailoa’s accuracy, which stood out in college, looks second to none, and is improving as he figures out his receivers. He has been able to put the ball on them in stride, where they can make plays.

Tua Tagovailoa was throwing with precision, leading to YAC opportunities.

Similarly to what Tua did at Alabama, he has become the point guard of this Miami offense, putting pocket passes in the hands of guys who can make plays, like speedster Will Fuller, who has taken notice.

Will Fuller is impressed with Tua Tagovailoa’s accuracy.

Pocket Presence

Although Tua has made strides in categories such as accuracy and strength, few have been has big as his pocket presence. Known for making plays at Alabama, we saw flashes in Tagovailoa’s rookie year (such as the Cardinals game). Unlike previous Dolphins QB’s, his ability to see the pass rush before it gets to him looks like an elite trait, and it seems to have only gotten better in the preseason.

Tua Tagovailoa scrambles against the Cardinals.

On several occasions against the Falcons, Tagovailoa was able to make a subtle move and proceed to deliver a strike. His eyes remained up, even though the pocket was collapsing around him, and he was able to make the correct read. Even with many of his snaps coming against pressure, he was still able to put up impressive numbers.

Tua Tagovailoa makes an impressive throw with pressure coming in.
Tua Tagovailoa was great against pressure against the Falcons.

Although this ability was one that we knew Tua had in him, it’s impressive to see it as he returns to the “Tuscaloosa Tua” that we saw in college.

Brian Baldinger breaks down Tua Tagovailoa.

Leadership

Although the physical traits are flashing on film and in practice, the MOST important developments that we have seen from him are newfound senses of confidence and leadership.

In 2020, it seemed like things were largely set up for a lack of confidence from the rookie QB. He was coming off of major hip surgery, he had a COVID-19 shortened offseason, his offensive coordinator ran a scheme he didn’t feel comfortable with, and the QB who was supposed to mentor him was put in twice to replace him.

But 2021 is a different year, and largely, a different Tua. Teammates and coaches have raved about how confident he is in the offense, and how willing he is to lead, and it has shown in the preseason. He has taken more shots down the field, and has even implemented some elements into Miami’s offense.

Tua Tagoviloa pressed the issue of getting to the line quickly.
Tua has an instructional conversation with Jaylen Waddle and Jakeem Grant.

As stated before, he had also arranged meetings with his teammates during the offseason, citing the need to get a better understanding of the offense.

Tua Tagovailoa works with his receivers during this offseason.

It looks like this taking of initiative is working, as countless teammates have spoken on rallying behind him and their willingness to play with him.

Mike Gesicki cites Tua’s leadership skills.

2021 and Beyond

Although Miami has had struggles with the Quarterback position in the past, Tua Tagovailoa is looking be the outlier. His willingness to get better, physically, mentally, and as a leader is something Dolphins fans haven’t seen since Dan Marino hung up the cleats in 2000.

Thus far, it looks like Tua is taking the strides we expected when he was selected in 2020, and we can only hope they continue into the season. But if Tagovailoa keeps putting in the work he has this offseason, then QB number 22 will finally be the savior Dolphins fans believe him to be.

Another Year to Re-define Seahawks Football

The Seattle Seahawks have had a rough couple years trying to re-define their old stereotypes and be the team they can be. After losing to the Patriots on what could be, The worst play call of all-time, the Seahawks have yet to fully bounce back. Going on almost six years since that point in time, and nothing has changed since that point. Russell Wilson being the quarterback of the Seahawks seems to be the only thing that is working right, but it has yet to be enough. With some help over the course of free agency, trades, and the draft, they are looking to bring a title back to Seattle in what could be, the most difficult year of Russel’s career.

The Seattle Seahawks have their guy, but his time in the league is closing down each year they wait to truly make a push. With recent developments on the offensive side of the ball, and the defensive side of the ball, they are going to make the push for the Super Bowl yet again. The Seahawks had multiple seasons in the NFC east that was incredibly easy, this year won’t be anywhere close to that. After the off-season that the Rams had, the potential bounce-back of the 49ers, and the Cardinals, the Seahawks are going to have quite the road ahead of them. However, where do expectation lie within the Seahawks organization and fan-base will be something to consider as well.

After getting into the playoff’s last season, and Russell having a great season, it’s clear that they are still in win now mode. With that being said, they will be looking to take on some of the toughest teams in the NFC this year that will lead to a lot of gruesome battle’s ahead. There is a chance that with that being in perspective that the Seahawks may not even make the playoff’s this year. In a win now situation, the Seahawks are not lacking offensive weapons with Chris Carson, D.K. Metcalf, and Tyler Lockett, they have one of the best offenses in football. So what could potentially hold them back? The answer is actually extremely simple, their defense.

The Seahawks office has tried to do a lot of different things to help keep teams off the score-board, but when you draft as poorly as they do, they need to do a lot more than just that. Looking at some of the players they have drafted over the past couple seasons: Jordyn Brooks in the first round, Deejay Dallas, Freddie Swain, L.J. Collier, Cody Barton, and a lot more. Now some of the names mentioned weren’t necessarily ‘bad picks’ but the value of the picks makes the picks bad. When looking to become a true contender, it starts with developing players through the draft process, not just through trades and free agency. That idea and concept has seemed to be lost on them, and it needs to be corrected.

Looking at what the Rams, 49ers, and Cardinals have done throughout the course of the last couple seasons, the Seahawks team doesn’t even hold a candle to them. With a head coach that has been holding them back for years, there has yet to be any growth within their team. As a defensive minded head coach, you would expect a good defense… that’s not the case. The Seahawks have had a rough go lately, but that doesn’t come as a surprise when your team selects L.J. Collier and Jordyn Brooks with their first round picks. Making selections like the two I just mentioned is going to be a big problem going forward. You need to have players on your defense who are leaders, but who can also perform, and unfortunately they don’t. So what can they do to change that?

Well at this point in time, there isn’t much they can do, but this off-season is a different story. Looking at their previous draft selections and the development of their draft picks, it’s not unlikely there could be a coaching change. There is only one thing that seems to be a problem each and every year since 2015, Pete Carroll. For those Seahawks fans who follow football, think back to the situation with Earl Thomas. Even while being a beloved fan of the Seahawks, he ended up wanting out due to the coaching and how the team was ran. It’s easy to say that he was just being a baby, but if that was the case, why haven’t they made a run for the Super Bowl since 2015? If they want to win again, they need to let Carrol go.

Alongside letting Carrol go, they should also look to bring in help on the positions of need. With money tied up into only a couple players, they should still be looking to bring in talent to help Wagner, Adams, and Wilson. Wilson has to be prepared to run for hundreds of yards each and every game due to horrendous offensive-line play. How can a quarterback make smart choices with the ball when he has be running outside the pocket for just about every play? The answer is he can’t. When teams started blitzing, like the Cardinals, you could see the decline from that point on. The Seahawks should be taking a note or two from the Chiefs off-season this past year.

The Chiefs had Mahomes run 500 yards in the Super Bowl due to offensive-line play, so what did they do? They signed offensive-linemen to help protect their quarterback. Russell Wilson can be considered by most a top five quarterback in the NFL despite always having to run for his life. If the Seahawks front office was able to take into consideration what it would mean to the organization if they could protect Wilson, they’d be so much better off. That start to any good organization is to make sure you build a team around your quarterback to: Keep him happy, and make sure he can be the best player he can be. There are a lot of problems within the organization, but the fact that they have not gone out to get him some protection shows how little they care about him.

Next, if you go back to the beginning of the off-season you can probably recall about Russ and the organization being in disputes about his role. As the leader, and heart and soul of the team, he felt as though he should be consulted and have an opinion in decisions. With that being said, normally I’d say that isn’t his role on the team but after years of playing with the organization, he felt disrespected. Which can you blame him? His job as the quarterback is to be the leader, but how can you win with a team who doesn’t help you out? It’s the same thing Rodgers had going on this off-season as well. As the quarterback, you should have a say in who you are going to have on your team and players you think would be a fit in the organization.

There are a lot of things that will result in the outcome of the Seahawks this season, but with the roster they have right now, they are going to be in for a tough season. It’ll take a lot of great situational coaching and great play calling, but it is obtainable. Russell is a great leader, and having him under center puts the Seahawks in a great position.