What I saw in Cleveland with the Browns victory over the Broncos, as an NFL GM, was an impressive win on a short week made possible by an offensive system supplemented by quantity and quality of depth.
Every NFL team has injuries (unless you’re the 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers) but what you hope for, is that they don’t come in bunches at the same position. We have now seen this happen to two teams this year- the Baltimore Ravens at the beginning of 2021 regular season at RB and now at all skill positions for the Cleveland Browns by week 7. The common key to overcoming these series of unfortunate events by both teams has been “the running game”. The Ravens have not only survived but flourished with a run game led by their QB and the Browns are on their path to “overcome” with a third string back and an offensive line that executes run game blocking technique at the highest level in the league. The Browns average 3.0 rushing yards on average before contact/rush and lead the league in rushing yards after contact/rush.
It’s the commitment to the run game and the physicality that it brings with it that allows these teams to compete, even though they have lost key players to injury. Having had to find replaceable parts due to injury for many years, I’m here to say that it’s easier to do when your run game has proficiency and is your identity than it is if you’re a high flying “greatest show on turf”. You just have more margin for error. Does anyone think that the Chargers will win if QB Justin Herbert sprains his left shoulder? How about their counterparts across town, the Rams? Can they win if Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods come up with ankle and hamstring injuries?
My only point is that a team designed with a propensity to run the ball gives you more margin for error when the inevitable happens regarding injuries.
DAN CAMPBELL’S WORDS ON EDGE OF A SLIPPERY SLOPE
After putting up 228 yards and 11 total points in a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, the Lions Head Coach chose to point his finger at “much maligned” QB Jared Goff. While admitting it’s hard to completely judge his level of play based on the lack of talent around him he made it clear that Goff needs to up his game and start making some throws that HE thinks should be made.
I understand where Campbell is coming from. I have never been a Goff supporter. Would I want him as my starting QB? No, but that’s not the point here.
Taking this approach to publically put his QB on notice is risky, IMO. He risks alienating his locker room if players don’t see their coach as having their back in hard times and it brings to light a discussion more suited for a therapy session with many levels of tentacles- all probably above my pay grade. My personal assessment is, I would not have done that, regardless of if Campbell believed it to be true or not. I know Campbell comes from the Bill Parcells school of thought that criticism builds thickness of skin. I get it, it’s the old school way of holding people accountable. What these comments did for me was send me to the film room to watch and break down the game for myself in order to see if I agreed with Campbell’s comments or not. The results of which had me questioning just as much offensive design and execution as it did Jared Goff’s performance. I saw a system that was simple, to a fault at times and one that provided very few schematic upper level answers. Frankly, this offensive design is not going to stress many NFL defenses. Detroit is 31st in the league in intended air yards/pass attempt and dead last in completed air yards/completion. I’m not here to place blame, I am here to say “we are all in this together” and our comments and frustrations just might create more problems than we realize.
I grew up with another “old school” “hard-nosed” coach in Chuck Knox. No matter how frustrated he may have been with an individual performance of a particular player his standard line was, “they just made more plays than us”. There is something to be said for always taking the high road. I learned early on in the game that we win and lose as a team and our message to the outside world should reflect just that. It minimized drama to manage in the locker room and made us closer as a team during the tough times.
IT’S NEVER TOO EARLY TO LOOK AHEAD
After only six games General Managers around the NFL whose teams are struggling and more specifically have identified their team’s weaknesses have two places to look for answers. The trading deadline of Nov 2 and/or next spring’s NFL college draft.
After a recent film study one player has jumped out at me above others. University of Pittsburgh QB Kenny Pickett. Pickett currently leads the ACC in Touchdowns, passing yards/attempt and passing efficiency and is second in completion percentage and passing yards.
At the onset of this year’s college season I heard many names being bantered around at the QB position as possible early picks in the 2021 college draft. I wasn’t sold on ANY. Even though I reserve the right to find better as the season plays out, for my money as we sit here at the end of October my favorite ice cream flavor is Pickett.
At 6’3’’ and 219 lbs this kid possesses a rare combination of size, arm and athleticism. He has both the velocity and touch to go with very good accuracy to make all the throws that will be required at the NFL level. He also has one of the most sought-after traits talent evaluators look for in 2021- an ability to make throws with arm strength that can be generated without his feet or legs being under him. He showed me he has the ability to beat you both from the pocket and when he escapes. And, escape he can, he’s an above average athlete by NFL standards and can move, not only within the pocket, but can tuck the ball and extend plays or run for positive yardage when things break down.
Picket has shown on tape the toughness to stand in the pocket and throw with pressure coming down the gun barrel in his face and is big and strong enough to take hits late in downs when the play needs extra time to develop. His release is slightly sidearm but because of it, the ball comes out with the quickness of another former Pittsburgh QB from the early 80’s. No, he’s not Dan Marino but if I’m the Detroit Lions, Denver Broncos, Atlanta Falcons or anyone besides Dallas in the NFC East, MY WHEELS ARE TURNING as to how I can get a top 5 pick in next year’s college draft.