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.
What I saw heading into today’s action was…
… the Steelers continue to fall into the trap of phasing out LeVeon Bell from their game plans. Bell had a total of 12 rushes. All too often, OC Todd Haley involves Bell as if he’s a random role player at RB instead of one of the NFL’s best running backs. This game plan may work against teams like the Titans, but don’t count on the Steelers making a deep playoff run unless they heavily game plan for Bell touches.
… the NFL’s stable of decent QB talent continues to dwindle. This week we have Blaine Gabbert, Tom Savage, Brett Hundley and Brock Osweiler all making starts as backup QBs. Every single one of these QBs is borderline bad. Toss in Case Keenum and Ryan Fitzpatrick, who don’t deserve to be mentioned with that group but certainly are not a franchise QB yet have been starting due to injury for weeks. And then we have other QBs who are actual starters, such as Joe Flacco and Blake Bortles who are a legit bottom of the barrel. Finally, you have QBs who are entirely undetermined yet, such as DeShone Kizer, Mitchell Trubisky, and Nathan Peterman.
… the Cowboys defense once again fall apart without Sean Lee. With Sean Lee, they allowed the Falcons to record a 31% success rate and 3.7 yards per play. Without Lee, they allowed a 53% success rate and 5.6 yards per play. The Cowboys have yet to prove they are capable of succeeding without Lee in the lineup, and will be without him again on Sunday night.What I want to see from teams this week is…
… the Chargers defense to dominate what should be easy competition. Technically this is a home game, even though there could be 25% Bills fans in the crowd. The Chargers run defense has vastly improved with the addition of Denzel Perryman. They held Leonard Fournette to just 33 yards last week. While I agree with starting Peterman, I don’t agree that it should have been done this week, in LA. That said, with the offensive coaching staff of the Chargers, anything is possible. They routinely use too much Melvin Gordon on first down and too little Hunter Henry on any down.
… the Redskins try to defeat the strength of this Saints defense, through the air, because they are unlikely to have much success on the ground. The fastest path to beating the Saints is on the ground, but the Redskins starting RB is a receiving back (Chris Thompson) now that starting RB Rob Kelley is lost for the season. Thompson is one of the NFL’s most dynamic receiving weapons, but Washington is unlikely to have much success running the ball from traditional run formations. Thus, the team will have to attack the strength of the Saints, their pass defense. Without multiple starting receiving threats, such as Terrelle Pryor and Jordan Reed, it will be difficult to go that traditional route but I’m eager to see what Kirk Cousins can do on the road.
… more intelligent decision making and in-game adjustments from Jason Garrett. Last week, without starting LT Tyron Smith, the Cowboys allowed the Falcons defense to operate that LT position like a turnstile on their way to Dak Prescott. Instead of making adjustments, Garrett simply pulled the backup-turned-starter, and replaced him with an even worse LT. The results were (not surprisingly) the same. Against the Eagles this week, Garrett must find a way to line up a TE or FB on that side of the line more frequently, to help chip that DE, or roll Dak toward the right and away from that pressure. Most of all, Garrett needs to simply be faster to make in-game adjustments to whatever the Eagles bring versus his injury-depleted offense.What I don’t want to see from teams this week is…
… Derek Carr and the Raiders offense look anything but efficient against this poor Patriots defense. Much like it did last year, we’re now hearing about how the Patriots defense was “fixed” and is now playing tremendous bend but don’t break defense. But the reality is, this strong performance came against the Bucs, Jets and Broncos, three teams with offensive efficiencies well below average. They held the Falcons and Chargers down, but both teams have horrendous play calling and decision making from their new coaching staffs this season. The Falcons were playing in the fog and were running jet-sweeps at the goal line, while the Chargers were running wildcats for lost yardage on 3rd down and refusing to target their most efficient receiver (Hunter Henry). This defense still has many holes and I want to see what Derek Carr does with 2 weeks to prepare.
… the Seahawks defense to completely implode without Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor for the rest of the year. Long a strength, Seattle’s secondary obviously will be more of a weakness without these players. But I don’t want to see them completely turn into a gaping defense that prevents a playoff run. Russell Wilson will likely have to do more offensively, but seeing a strong Seattle team is good for the NFL and makes matchups fun, and I’d hate to see them implode on account of injuries.
… the Broncos fail to dispatch what should be an opponent ripe for the taking. The Bengals have the 24th ranked offense, the worst the Broncos have faced this year, and field an offensive line which ranks 28th in pass protection. That could jump-start the pass rush of the Broncos and help minimize the damage from the Bengals offense. It will be up to Brock Osweiler to perform against a middling Bengals defense.
What I found is…
… the Browns run defense matches up perfectly in this game which could be impacted by weather. Jacksonville prefers to run, but the Browns run defense is 2nd best in the NFL. The Jaguars may not be able to take advantage of the weakness of the Browns defense on account of the weather, so we could see a lower output from the Jaguars offense unless their defense sets them up.
… the last 3 weeks, the Patriots have faced the 12th toughest schedule of passing defenses. This week they face the NFL’s worst pass defense, the Raiders.
… the last 3 weeks, the Bengals have faced the 12th easiest schedule of run defenses. This week they face the NFL’s best run defense, the Broncos.
What you need to know is…
… the Cowboys will once again be without RB Ezekiel Elliott, LT Tyron Smith and LB Sean Lee. Apart from their QB, these are legitimately their 3 most important players on their roster.
… the Lions are without their leading pass rusher, Ezekiel Ansah.
… the Redskins are without two of their top receivers, as TE Jordan Reed and Terrelle Pryor are both out.
… there is a legitimate chance that Leonard Fournette misses the game against the Browns due to his ankle injury.
… the Packers are without their two leading rushers, as both Ty Montgomery and Aaron Jones have been ruled out.
… the Giants are without two key pass rushers, as OLBs Dee Ford and Tamba Hali are both not playing.
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.