I have thought for years that the first third of the season is spent getting to know your team. You must learn about what you have from a personnel standpoint, from a coaching staff strengths/weaknesses standpoint and the like. The back half of the season is all about matchups and coaching adjustments to best use and profit from the knowledge you just gained in the first half of the season. It’s a fact that it is a copycat league so when a team shows weakness, there is always a reason. Coaches at the level, find reasons. Here is what I have learned in this crazy 2020 season:
Baltimore’s offensive coordinator Greg Roman has clearly figured out what their identity is with QB Lamar Jackson at the helm. This is not new news. The athletic and explosive former MVP is still struggling to find his way as a pocket passer. The Ravens’ answer has been to double down on the RPO’s and pure option plays for Jackson and to take that style to the next level. If the Ravens can keep from turning the ball over, they present a type of scheme that will continue to keep defensive coordinators awake throughout the second half of 2020 season and they will win a lot of games.
The Ravens, on offense, have shown great flexibility to do what their QB can do best instead of what makes the offensive coaches job the easiest or force Jackson to do things his skill set won’t allow. They are the only team in the league who does what they do. By adopting an option (it’s not that simple) game, they make you defend in a way that, as collegiate as it is, is hard to prepare for in only one week’s time. It presses defenders to do things that are not normal in responsibilities and reactions.
Furthermore, the way the Ravens possess the ball like they do also puts pressure on opponent’s offenses to take chances to score themselves for fear their number of possessions will be limited. It will be interesting to see how teams adjust and play them within their own division in the second half of the season.
Jackson has started his career at a 25-5 winning clip. If the opponent cannot match the Ravens’ physicality at the line of scrimmage, they are in for a long day and will get worn out in the second half. The Ravens are all in with this style of play and their commitment as a team gives them the best chance to win with the group that they employee. Kudos to the coaches.
Regardless of which quarterback is on the field, the Bears are soft up front, have no running game, and do nothing on offense that plays to their players’ strengths. Nagy’s inability to adjust his offensive philosophy and provide any answers is being felt by the players. QB Nick Foles said after the Tennessee game last Sunday, “If I knew the answers, we would not be in this situation”.
Instead, the Bears keep playing offensive linemen that are not athletic enough to do certain things, for example, they aren’t athletic or agile enough to pull and thus adjusting to moving targets is a struggle for their run game productivity sake. They give up penetration by trying to continually run outside the tackles by getting pushed off the line of scrimmage by bigger stronger defensive linemen. Same in short yardage and goal line situations. The Bears offense tries to be cute with motions and shifts that cause confusion to nobody but themselves, therefore penalties occur to get them behind the chains.
In their passing game, they ask their QB’s to continually do things that their skill sets just won’t allow. They started the Tennessee Titans game 0-8 on third downs and, in my opinion, that shows no imagination and gives you more questions than answers.
So much of being a general manager or head coach in the NFL is about fixing problems and managing your team. Once you get halfway through the year, nobody in the league has the same team that was constructed on paper during the off season. It’s all about adjustments to schemes and game planning for your opponent. Coach Nagy got his job in Chicago because of his offensive acumen. Bears fans are still waiting to see it. I’m not convinced he can get it fixed this year.
“Let Russ Cook!” has become the mantra in Seattle for fans who love the idea of shootouts being the norm for a team that’s built up a 6-2 record in the first half of 2020. That formula was not enough last Sunday on the road against a more complete Buffalo team. The Seahawks lost 44-34 in Buffalo and there is really no other way to describe what has become a historically bad defense other than to say, they just stink.
By giving up 40-plus points vs the Bills, the most in last 9 years, the Seahawks are in record breaking mode and not in a good way. They are now on pace to set a record for the most passing yards allowed per game in the Super Bowl era. Pete Carroll, a former defensive coordinator and defensive back coach, acknowledged that his team had a great plan for the Bills, if only the Bills had run the ball. Comical, if it wasn’t so sad. Look for the Seahawks to simplify their scheme and play more zone coverage. They no longer have personnel to play the aggressive m/m schemes that Ken Norton Jr (DC) wants to play.
Buffalo abandoned the run early on and QB Josh Allen had a giant day thru the air. Unless their pass defense gets fixed, the Seahawks are not going anywhere, regardless of how prolific their offense is. Mediocrity would win the day on defense. So, as the coach said after the Sunday loss, the plan has been bad and the scheme does not fit the personnel. For example, 45% of the time last Sunday they played a form of man-to-man in the secondary according to PFF vs Buffalo, and they got lit up through the air- AGAIN.
In the last eight years, Seattle has failed to retool their defense thru the draft, even with early picks. To make matters worse for the immediate future, the Seahawks have no first-round picks the next two years because of the Jamal Adams trade with the Jets. Adams strength is as a box player, not in coverage. This probably calls for some drastic changes to their defensive philosophy.
My early favorite for coach of the year:
Brian Flores, Miami Dolphins—He checks all of the boxes for me in what makes a really good coach. He puts together and sells very effective game plans to this team and then does something each Sunday to make a difference from the sideline. It seems simple but, believe me, it’s easier said than accomplished. Flores is tough and holds people accountable however, he is willing to adjust his thoughts based on personnel strengths and weaknesses. What he has done is instilled confidence in his troops to perform at their highest level and they totally trust that he will put them in the best positions to win games.
Sure Mike Tomlin, Sean Payton, John Harbaugh, and Andy Reid have better bodies of work right now and all have their teams poised for playoff runs and will no doubt be considered but if Flores’ move to start Tagovailoa works out, like some of us think it might, and the Dolphins go on to make the playoffs (they would qualify as of now), he would get my vote. Teams like Atlanta, Houston and possibly the Jets, Lions, Chargers and Jaguars who may be searching this off season for a coach to redirect their organizations need to find the next Brian Flores in my opinion.