Last week was a very crazy Sunday in the NFL. We were shown again that just about anything might happen on any given day. We had upsets and we had surprises but I think more than anything, what we really had was some head coaches starting to make adjustments to game plans and their personnel. Coaches are very good in this league and the ones who can make those adjustments best tend to have the most success. We saw results of some teams practicing, some NOT. The Tennessee Titans surprisingly won a pair of games in the middle of their own COVID-19 chaos and, on the flip side, we saw the results of the New England Patriots only practicing three times over a 16-day stretch due to COVID-19 issues. Not so good. Cam Newton’s play and Baker Mayfield’s breakdowns need to be discussed. Welcome to the latest version of unpredictability.
Monday Morning Quarterbacking
Riverboat Ron Rivera’s reputation for taking chances in games got the best of him yesterday against the New York Giants. I didn’t like the switch of QB’s early in the week and Kyle Allen’s less than stellar play on Sunday confirmed my initial thoughts (he is limited). Rivera’s decision to go for two points was one of desperation and just trying to be cute. Sure, people can say “it’s ballsy”, “we are going for the win” or “that’s what we do” but I thought his best chance to win this game was to go ahead and kick the extra point and then try to win the game in OT. They were the better team, why take the game out of your players hands? Was Rivera afraid of a Danny Dimes explosion? Jones was just as likely to have thrown a pick to your defense and they would have won the game for you. Rivera’s gamble just didn’t come at the right time and place in my opinion.
Romeo Crennel, the interim coach of the Houston Texans, also made a curious decision. Crennel elected to go for a two-point conversion late in the 4Q to put the game out of reach. If the Texans had been successful, it would have given them a 9-point lead late in the game. If Crennel would have just kicked the extra point he would have gone up eight and forced the Tennessee Titans to successfully convert a two-point play should they score. He takes away having to have the good fortune of converting his 2 pt play and force the Titians to do it instead. To me, that made the most sense. As it turned out, the Texans did not convert their two-point play after all and came away with only a seven-point lead which gave the Titans a chance on their final drive. Tennessee marched down the field, scored a touchdown in the final seconds of regulation and then kicked their extra point to tie. They then won the game in overtime.
One can say that hindsight is 20-20 but this aggressive decision by Crennel gave Tennessee the opportunity they needed to go the length of the field and, more importantly, tie the game by simply kicking the extra point. Perhaps we need to give Crennel some credit though. His defense is not good and they hadn’t stopped the Titans much in the game. Giving up 600 yards in a game doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. In this situation, he may have thought that going for two was his ONLY chance to win.
Kyle Shanahan did a masterful job with his starting quarterback in the San Francisco 49ers upset victory over the Los Angeles Rams. Shanahan knew that Jimmy Garappolo was missing easy throws. He knows he still holds the ball too long at times. He also knows that, at times, Garappolo gives you the “deer in the headlights” look. However, Shanahan dialed up enough successful plays to milk the clock (starting in late 3Q) and come away with a huge win. I saw visible body language reactions from Shanahan on the sidelines that showed his frustration with Garappolo’s accuracy and execution. He managed his QB with outstanding play calling and, in my opinion, does so better than any coach in the league currently.
Not sure what Pat Shurmur, the offensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos was thinking in the latter part of 4Q. The Broncos threw the ball in the last five minutes of the game, resulting in two interceptions that gave the New England Patriots a chance to win the game. Shurmur and the Broncos didn’t need to do this. These decisions, on top of almost getting his backup QB Brett Rypien killed at the end of the Jets game two weeks ago with needless passes, are starting to make me wonder the agenda. Just run the ball please. We learned the Jets debacle was maybe a response to something personal between coaching staffs but these passes late against the Pats are starting to make me wonder. The Broncos did their best to try to give this game away. Yes, I know, they have won both these games but it has me shaking my head.
A Closer Look At Baker Mayfield/Cam Newton
Mayfield got exposed yesterday from a coverage standpoint (fooled to often by Steeler schemes) and from a physical standpoint, I’ve always questioned if he can hold up for 16 games (durability of smaller guys is always an issue). Case and point, Mayfield took some shots against the Steelers that a bigger Josh Allen would shake off. He is small compared to the norm of other NFL QBs, and must have a clean pocket to operate. Let me just say, that the pocket is not for everyone. Because of his lack of height, the Browns are going to have to be very creative when it comes to the passing game and make sure they have put Mayfield in positions to succeed. He is really challenged by his lack of vision as well as post-snap coverage reads when he’s standing stationary in the pocket. Roll outs and bootlegs have to be the norm for Mayfield. But as we know, when you do that, the field shrinks for the defense. I believe Mayfield will struggle when the run game can’t carry the offense or when his team gets behind. When the Browns get behind and play action is not a factor to slow the rush or slow the drops of linebackers, Mayfield is forced to stand in the pocket and throw the ball downfield. He isn’t very effective because that’s not his skill set nor his strength. How can the Browns solve this issue?
Scouts that said or thought he was another Drew Brees or Russell Wilson coming out of college overlooked some obvious deficiencies. Those guys can beat you from the pocket. Maybe Mayfield can still develop some of those traits needed but currently he is a work in progress, at best. Browns Head Coach Kevin Stefanski has his work cut out for him. In my opinion, the game just looked a little BIG for Mayfield yesterday.
As for Patriots QB Cam Newton, he showed several things on Sunday: 1) He needs to practice to be successful. 2) Even more alarming, he looked slow and lethargic. I thought Newton lacked juice in his arm strength and outside of two runs in the fourth quarter, looked very ordinary. His release had no snap. The ball did not jump off his hand and his lower body footwork/fundamentals was out of sorts. He missed check-downs, he held the ball too long at times, and he lacked fine point accuracy. Maybe this was rust from being away for a couple weeks? I also think the Patriots offense is going to have to make adjustments. They started two rookies on the offensive line and have moved their best lineman, Isaiah Wynn, from LT to LG because of some injuries. Then they lost their starting RT to injury in this game before the end of the first quarter. They later moved Wynn back to LT (and he got abused by Denver DE Bradley Chubb) but my point is, the offensive front struggled with any continuity during this game. Denver did a nice job of sneaking an extra guy into the box and making it tougher on the run game. A loaded box should come with equally weakening pass defense. Since the Pats perimeter players don’t strike fear in anyone, they did this without much risk of giving up big plays over the top. Look for other Patriot opponents to do the same.
The Patriots ran 57 plays according to my count, on offense. That gives you zero margin for error and you have got to be much more explosive and/or efficient to win in this league. Denver’s defense played very good but Patriot fans have got to hope this is an exception, not the new norm.