An “emptying the notebook” with a collection of interesting angles, concepts, matchups and other analysis I uncovered this week.
What I saw heading into Sunday’s action was…
… the Arizona Cardinals, who led the Lions after 3 quarters, lost their heart and soul when David Johnson went down. At the time, Johnson was leading the team in both rushing yards and receiving yards through 3 quarters. When factoring in the “worth” of Johnson, keep in mind that he’s not just a running back. He legitimately is/was the Cardinals leading receiver or at worst, WR1a. He will be missed.
… Le’Veon Bell’s hold out had a near disastrous impact on the Steelers in week 1. He clearly wasn’t ready to take full speed hits, and it showed as he was successful on just 20% of his rushes. The team was so ineffective running the football, they had to go extremely pass heavy (69% pass, 31% rush). And Ben Roethlisberger was shaky on the road, as he often is. Will they be able to return home and suddenly “get right” in week 2 against a much better defense from Minnesota?
… yet another terrible Thursday night game between the Texans and Bengals. The problem is, the day isn’t even relevant here. These teams are terrible matchups to watch. After ruining Christmas eve last year, why the NFL scheduling committee decided to trot these guys out on the first “short-rest” Thursday of the year. The result was inevitable.
What I want to see from teams this week is…
… Andy Reid to craft a game plan that continues to feature aggressive throws from Alex Smith. The Chiefs won’t win games in the playoffs with the “2005-2016” Smith. They only way this team beats great offenses in the playoffs is with “2017-?“ Alex Smith. They need to feature downfield passing and more explosive offense. It just so happens that this week, their opponent’s fatal weakness is in the secondary. This should make it clear what Reid needs to dial-up. I hope he does. Here was Smith’s passing chart from Sharp Football Stats last week. His 61% success rate was 2nd best in the NFL:
… the Panthers get RB Christian McCaffrey more involved. HC Ron Rivera said that the team will limit McCaffrey’s snaps in order to not “wear his batteries out”. The problem? That move has them relying more on a 30 yr old RB in his 10th season (Jonathan Stewart) as opposed to a 21 year old kid with endless energy. If the Panthers really wanted to ensure their running game was functioning late in the season, they should spell Stewart more, not spell the kid.
… the Patriots get back to playing efficient football. I don’t know why the team decided to have Brady take deep drops and chuck the ball down field as often as he did. Only 5 quarterbacks attempted 8+ deep shots in week 1. Brady was the only one with over 10 attempts. Brady attempted 15 deep shots. He connected on 3, and posted the lowest passer rating, success rate and yards per attempt of any of these quarterbacks. New England needs to try to replicate a higher success rate on offense through frequent, high percentage passes and targeted deep shots, rather than an onslaught of deep passing. That said, they are playing the Saints who have a defense far more exploitable than the Chiefs.
What I don’t want to see from teams this week is…
… more struggles from Marcus Mariota. In this exact space last week I cautioned about Marcus Mariota’s preseason and struggles throwing to his right. But I expected him to fare better at home against a bad Oakland pass defense. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Mariota posted a 69 rating throwing to his right last week. Now he’s going to have to go into Jacksonville, against a much better pass defense, and try to quiet the whispers that I believe should be starting to become audible. I don’t want to see Mariota struggle in Jacksonville, but I’m concerned we might.
…Tampa Bay get caught off guard with rookie RB Tarik Cohen. He is the key player for the Bears, leading Chicago in targets, receptions, receiving yards, and rushing yards. Especially with Jordan Howard’s injury status. This is going to be the Cohen show. The Bears did a crafty job of hiding him in the preseason, to unleash on the Falcons. The Buccaneers better prepare to stop the Cohen show, and in doing so, they’ll snuff out the Mike Glennon led Bears.
…Trevor Siemian struggle against a Cowboys secondary which is highly susceptible and without CB Orlando Scandrick, their top CB. After playing surprisingly well against a very stout Chargers defense which boasts one of the best CB tandems in the NFL, Siemian gets a far easier task this afternoon. He should be able to get even more usage out of his top 2 WRs this week but still should spread it around often to find the open receiver.
What I found is …
… I dislike trends, but teams that host the Saints and win are 0-17 SU and 3-14 ATS the following week if made an underdog. The trend plays into public perception. But the bottom line here is a healthy Sam Bradford carving up the Saints secondary at home is a far cry from playing the Steelers on the road on a bum knee. There are legitimate concerns as to whether Bradford goes, and if he goes, how mobile and successful he can be. Last year on the road, Bradford saw a 3 TD game against a terrible Packers defense in a big loss, and a 2 TD game against a bad Redskins defense in another big loss. In his other 6 games, Bradford threw a TOTAL of 4 TD passes. His offensive line is better than it was, but the Steelers defense could be strong and Bradford apparently is not close to 100% at the moment.
… the Bears marched for 3+ first downs on 5 of their 9 drives, and took the ball from their own territory on these 5 drives to the Falcons 0 (TD), 0 (TD), 14 (turnover on downs), 36 (FG) and 39 (punt). That was an offense led by Mike Glennon, without any capable WRs and a rookie RB carrying the torch for the passing and rushing attack. Aaron Rodgers has to be licking his chops to go against this Falcons defense. But the Packers offensive line has several injuries and is a situation to monitor.
… Melvin Gordon saw 8+ defenders in the box on 63% of his non-red zone carries. Denver was able to limit Gordon to an extremely bleak 3 YPC on 18 attempts. But the problem with Melvin Gordon is that he's not been a great NFL rusher. My metrics on Gordon last year were bad, and they were terrible in 2015, his rookie season. Ezekiel Elliott is no Melvin Gordon. He posted a 67% rushing rate on a very good Giants run defense, which included a 4.3 YPC average and 104 total rushing yards. Denver’s run defense may have their hands full.
What you need to know is…
… when you’re performing weekly research, you likely won’t find a more efficient use of your time than the advanced analytics Box Score tool at Sharp Football Stats. It’s designed to give you the fastest means of understanding why a team won and why its opponent lost.
… the Cardinals aren’t just without David Johnson. They are also without starting WR2 John Brown, starting G Mike Iupati and starting T DJ Humphries. This offense might not look as you’ve been accustomed to seeing, but then again, this is the Colts defense.
… the Browns held a strong offensive line and run game of the Steelers to just 2.1 yards per carry and a 24% success rate. Now they take on a far more mediocre run game of the Baltimore Ravens. Last week the Ravens ran the ball on 70% of plays and Joe Flacco attempted just 18 passes. Expect Flacco to throw more in this meeting.
… the Dolphins stayed out West for over 1 week, due to the issues with the hurricane back home. This team has been practicing with laser-like focus on attacking the Chargers defense. I’m excited to see what HC Adam Gase came up with.
About the author: Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) is a licensed Professional Engineer and is an inventor of custom & predictive NFL analytics/visualized data. He owns Sharp Football Analysis and Sharp Football Stats. His work has been seen at ESPN, FOX, the Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post and many other news/sports sites. He authored the bestselling 'Warren Sharp's 2017 Football Preview', available on Amazon or in PDF.