What have we learned?
Updated: Oct 19, 2021
DAK IS ELITE:
Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott’s quest for a long-term contract took us all through a torturous and windy road before both sides got together on a deal that keep him with the team thru the 2025 season, what would be his 10th year in the NFL. After what we have seen in the first six weeks this year, the question really is will he be a Cowboy in 2026? If I were the GM of the Cowboys, I would start planning extension talks already. Seriously.
Before this season, Prescott, to most NFL executives, was a nice QB in a pass happy system but not a guy that can carry a franchise. That, my friends, has changed. For my money, he has not only proven to be a “tier one” talent (to steal the nomenclature of my friend Mike Sando of The Athletic), but he has now rebounded from last year’s gruesome ankle injury to take his game to the next level. Prescott is making all the throws both inside and out of the pocket and he is making plays on and off script.
The Mississippi State product is throwing with accuracy and making decisions that are putting him on a pedestal, right now higher than Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, and Justin Herbert, the three guys who everyone say are the future of the league. Prescott has elevated his game, is comfortable in high pressure situations, and his intangibles and character are second to none in the NFL.
Prescott’s body of work over five years and six games is good enough to thrust him into the MVP equation this year. Some might say duh? But I believe he has kicked it up a notch this year with composure and poise to go with his skill set. What worries me (if I’m Jerry Jones) is that I only have him under contract for four more years.
ARIZONA IS MORE THAN A RECESS OFFENSE:
I, for one, have been slow to jump on the band wagon of the Arizona Cardinals this year. The Cardinals have a history of not being able to produce in the second half of seasons (when coaching adjustments really matter), which also includes Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury’s days at Texas Tech. I still lack some confidence that QB Kyler Murray can stay upright and healthy for a long 17-game season but time will tell on that one.
Murray has been blitzed less than every starting QB in the league, except for Patrick Mahomes, according to Pro Football Reference. That means teams are afraid of his playmaking ability with his legs and what might happen to them if he’s forced to go off script once he’s outside the pocket. So teams do not want to rush him, they’d rather keep him in the pocket but it hasn’t exactly worked.
Through six games what can’t be disputed is that this Arizona team is different. The last four weeks, they average running the ball 33.5 times a game for an average of 136 yards per game. That shows me that the Cardinals can control the pace of a game and keep defenses off balance.
On defense, this team added experience and leadership in the off-season and they are now being compared to some of the best teams in the NFL. This can be measured in their improvement on 3rd downs, allowing opponents to only convert 31% of the time, ranking third in the NFL and also 3rd in the league in scoring defense (more numbers credited to pro-football reference). This defense is forcing turnovers, 13 to this point, which puts the ball in Murray’s hands more often and allows their run game to flourish.
The combination of all of these numbers and the consistent game planning supplied by this coaching staff has positioned this team in the cat bird seat for the remainder of the season. The Cardinals also have a front office that is “all in” this year. They lost TE Max Williams on Sunday and quickly made a trade with Philadelphia for TE Zack Ertz three days later. I love the aggressive nature of the Cardinals and the message the front office has sent to the players in the locker room — nothing will stop us from improving this team. Players love this message.
Arizona is letting the rest of the NFL know they are a force to be reckoned with, not just a passing game that puts up numbers.
URBAN NOT RESONATING IN LOCKER ROOM:
I needed to see one clip from the media inside the Jaguars locker room after capturing their first win of the season and breaking a 20-game regular season losing streak to draw my own conclusions.
The clip showed the players giving the game ball to rookie QB Trevor Lawrence for what was his first win as Jags QB. Giving out game balls after wins is a common practice in the NFL. But in my history of being in many locker rooms post game, usually it’s the head coach receiving the game ball, in this situation. He’s supposed to be the team leader, the one everyone respects and wants to pay gratitude too, the guy who everyone is behind, especially after his first career victory. Hummmmm. Not with the Jags. They clearly view the QB as their leader. I took this as a bit of a slap in the face.
Next on the video was Urban Meyer speaking to his team in what would normally be a raucous and momentous rally the troops cry of “this is the first of many”. However, I watched the reaction of players in that locker room and it was quiet. The mood was one of almost disinterest and IMO it went over like a “lead balloon”. It was less inspiring than anyone could have hoped.
I hope I’m wrong, but this whole scene just seemed very disconcerting for the leader of a franchise that had won its first game under his stewardship. At the very least, it’s just something else to keep track of in Jacksonville.
JOHN HARBAUGH IS CURRENTLY THE BEST COACH IN THE NFL:
Nobody has more players on injured reserve than the Baltimore Ravens. Nobody has had to rebuild on the fly and has a QB who has taken more arrows regarding his playing style from outside his building than that of Head Coach John Harbaugh.
All Harbaugh does is keep steadying his ship, playing and planning each week to “win the game”. He believes in a group of players that, in my opinion, is less talented than prior years yet outperforms expectations each and every week.
Harbaugh lost three running backs early in the season and used this hardship to motivate his squad. The Ravens signed three guys off the street to replace them and turned a giant negative into a positive. Now its being reported that the Ravens are receiving calls from other teams seeking to add RB depth. What? I’ve never seen that before. A team picks up all the talent on the street at one position and others now seek that same quality. Sure, the front office should get credit, but the production that the Ravens have gotten from this group is 100% Harbaugh.
Nobody understands better than Harbaugh that the NFL is a player’s league. Players are the story and not the coach. I’ve experienced this dynamic several times in my 35-year career. The authoritative, coach centric model does not work in the NFL. Unlike college where the head coach has almost a cult following, this league is about the players first and that’s who Harbaugh is.
Harbaugh’s personality, consistent communications skills, and the humility, that is hard to find at the NFL level, has taken his game to elite status in NFL circles. He is a “leader of men” and trusts his players like no other. He is truly a player’s coach. Some talk about these new young coaches being the “template” for the future, but I feel as though this season has been Harbaugh’s best work to date. Right now, he gets my vote for Coach of the Year.