An “emptying the notebook” with a collection of interesting angles, concepts, matchups and other analysis I uncovered this week which didn’t make it into my write-ups or analysis that I shared with clients for the week.
…referees throw multiple flags on the “final play of the game” for defensive holding against the Chiefs. This was extremely rare to see, especially when it was called on back to back plays. I am all for calling penalties regardless of when they occur in a game. I am opposed to the refs “swallowing the whistle” on the final play of the game. The problem is inconsistency. Those types of defensive holding penalties are truly never called on the final play of the game. I’d love to see the rules of the game enforced regardless of whether it is the first play or the last play of the game.
…the Falcons beat themselves in the second half against the Dolphins. Up 17-0, the Falcons took holding penalties and huge negative plays on early downs to set themselves up with extremely long yardage to go on 3rd down. In the second half, Atlanta faced an average of 13.2 yards to go on 3rd down. That is not a typo, and was by far the worst in the NFL last week. Atlanta absolutely cannot afford negative plays like that in their game tonight in New England, or there isn’t much of a chance for them to outscore the Patriots.
…the Browns coaching staff not do nearly enough to assist their young quarterbacks see success. The NFL average for passer rating and success rate is the highest to the short middle of the field (95 rating, 56% success). Not to the short left (89 rating, 48% success) and not to the short right (88 rating, 48% success). Yet for whatever reason, in week 5 the Browns rarely threw the ball to the short middle, and the same pattern continued last week. The last two weeks combined, while the NFL average is for 20% of all targets to be made to the short middle of the field, the Browns targeted that area just 3% of the time. That’s unforgiveable. It’s impossible to think the coaching is not to share in the blame. After week 5, adjustments should have been made. Yet it appeared, by design, the outside boundaries were intentionally targeted via play design, as opposed to the short middle of the field. Let’s hope as the Browns go back to DeShone Kizer, Hue Jackson reviews his play calls and targets this soft spot of the defense more frequently.
What I want to see from teams this week is…
…Brett Hundely show up against the Saints defense. Hundley has been groomed for this role. Throw out last week’s game, where he was inserted on the road against one of the NFL’s best defenses with nary a practice rep that week. Mike McCarthy indicates that he would be “an idiot” to give Hundely the same responsibility that he assigns to Aaron Rodgers. The big question is exactly what does he change? More hand offs to RBs, and if so, how much more? More designed QB runs? Less deep shots? Regardless of what the exact tailoring of the game plan occurs, you can be certain the best move for the Saints would be to get a lead offensively. That would potentially erase much of what McCarthy might want to use to aide Hundley. But I’m fascinated to see what McCarthy brings to the table.
…Ezekiel Elliott run wild against the 49ers. As demonstrated by the next two graphics, the 49ers struggle tremendously to stop runs to the offense’s left side, despite the fact that they have played the NFL’s easiest schedule of run offenses according to Sharp Football Stats. After a very slow start to the season against some good run defenses, the Cowboys modified their run game and started running less behind the center and more towards the perimeter of the line (see the second set of graphics below, from Sharp Football Stats). Additionally, the 49ers struggle tremendously to cover RBs out of the backfield. Following the bye, I want to see how Elliott performs against the 49ers.
…the performance of the Carolina Panthers defense against Mitch Trubisky. At some point, the Bears will run out of gimmicks and tricks. They covered two straight games with Trubisky but it’s taken a team effort, including solid defense and TD passes from punters and running backs. There should be sufficient tape on Trubisky from these two games to see exactly what the Bears are entrusting him with, and Carolina should be able to scheme against it. But the problem for the Panthers is that even with Luke Kuechly, the Panthers rank dead last in explosive run defense and that is the one strength of the Bears, where they rank 5th best in explosive rushing offense and 16th in overall rushing efficiency.
What I don’t want to see from teams this week is…
…the Seahawks take the Giants lightly, much like the Broncos did last week, only to lose as 14 point home favorites. Seattle is entering off of a bye week, and teams who usually do that tend to start out slowly. After beating their division rival LA Rams before the bye, the Seahawks can’t afford to drop to 3-3 and fall to potentially 2 games behind the Rams in the standings. The Giants are changing things up offensively, but despite the final score and the overly impressive first half production, the Giants still were bad offensively. They posted a 28% success rate on the ground and averaged just 5.4 yards per pass. Seattle’s defense, if focused, should be able to slow down the Giants offense and this game may make for an extremely tight game.
…the Cardinals decide to feature Adrian Peterson too much and continue to return to him even when it’s clear that the Rams are more than prepared to stop him. At times the last two years, teams with Adrian Peterson felt the need to run him on first down even when the defense keyed in on such plays and they resulted in no production. It ended up forcing these teams into 2nd and long and many trips to 3rd down. This Rams defense is not like the Buccaneers defense last week. Last week on first down, the Cardinals went 61% run on first down and Peterson gained 6.4 YPC with a 67% success rate. I would be shocked if Peterson delivered near that level of performance this week, and the Cardinals offense better adapt quickly if the Peterson first down runs are not as productive.
…the Steelers get trapped passing the ball too much against the Bengals instead of sticking with Le’Veon Bell and running early and often. The Bengals run defense ranks 7th vs the run and has faced the 6th most difficult schedule of run offenses. So it may be tempting for the Steelers to be a bit more balanced and reluctant to run if Le’Veon Bell struggles early. But that is exactly what led to their downfall against the Jaguars two weeks ago. I don’t want to see the Steelers scheme Bell out of the offense regardless of his productivity.
What I found is…
… the last 3 weeks, the Colts have faced the 19th most difficult schedule of pass defenses, but this week they face the top-rated Jaguars pass defense. Temper expectations for the Colts passing offense substantially.
… Atlanta has faced a brutal slate of defenses in their last few games, including a schedule which put them up against the 7th most difficult run defenses. Now they get to face the 23rd rated run defense of the Patriots which is also extremely porous against the pass.
… the Redskins defense is allowing 9.8 YPA (31st) and a 56% success rate (27th) to opposing tight ends, and now face one of the most productive this season, Zach Ertz of the Eagles, on Monday night.
What you need to know is…
…no team has relied on a RB as much as the Jaguars, and now starting RB Leonard Fournette will be out this week in Indianapolis.
…the Titans may be without TE Delanie Walker, who suffered a calf injury in Thursday’s practice and did not practice on Friday.
…the Ravens receive the return of DT Brandon Williams from a multi-week absence, and that should potentially help shore up their run game struggles assuming he is close to 100%.
…the Panthers anemic run game could look better this week, as starting C Ryan Kalil returns to the lineup for the first time since week 1.
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.