Inside the Isolator – Week 15 Edition

Warren Sharp

Sunday, December 17, 2017 12:51 PM UTC

Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017 12:51 PM UTC

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 …

… both Philip Rivers and Mitchell Trubisky each toss 3 interceptions and lose by double digits on Saturday night. Rivers is the old school veteran near the end of his career and Trubisky is the rookie at the start of his. Both should know that it’s highly unlikely to win a game when you lose the turnover margin. It’s in Rivers’ blood to be a gunslinger at the end of games. But it’s a big reason why the Chargers will never win a Super Bowl with him under center.

… Brock Osweiler put his team on his shoulders and dominate the Colts in the final 3 quarters. This, however, was a bit of a ruse. The Colts lost LB after LB, and soon were unable to even stop standard draw plays from the Denver running backs. However, Osweiler did hit on a number of big throws. The performance should undoubtedly pull the curtain on the career of Trevor Siemian in Denver, who is out for the season, and it leaves John Elway in the position of deciding to draft a new QB or rely on an underqualified and underwhelming Paxton Lynch.

… the Browns do it again, by not just losing when it’s improbable to lose, but by losing easy covers as well. Catching 3.5 points at home and being up by 14 points entering the 4th quarter is rare. In fact, it’s so rare it’s happened only 1 other time in the last 30 years, where a home underdog of 3+ points is up by 14+ points heading into the 4th quarter and not only loses but also fails to cover. That was over 10 years ago, in 2005.

What I want to see from teams this week is …

… how Aaron Rodgers looks in his comeback. The talk weeks ago was that several players were frustrated he was even put on the IR-designated to return list, because of how great he looked in practice. He ran the scout team last week and according to teammates, showed a ton of zip on his passes. Two key areas which Rodgers will help immensely: deep passing and red zone efficiency. Rodgers posted a 103 rating as compared to Brett Hundley’s 68 rating on deep passing, and Rodgers posted a 17 yards per attempt mark which was almost 8 yards per attempt better than Hundley. And in the red zone, Rodgers led the Packers to a 79 percent conversion rate, by far the best in the NFL, as compared to Hundley’s 50 percent mark.

… the Rams use the Seattle injuries to their advantage and attack those weaknesses. The Seahawks are already without two of the three “Legion of Boom” in the secondary, and lost LB K.J. Wright this week with a concussion. LBs Bobby Wagner hasn’t practiced and is listed as questionable. Rams HC Sean McVay typically is strong at attacking the weaknesses of opposing defenses. I presume he’ll run Todd Gurley but the strength of Seattle is their run defense, so I hope he’ll target Gurley often in the pass game, and pass more than they run to expose the soft spots in the Seahawks injured back 7.

… the Steelers attack the weakness of the Patriots defense. The most efficient strategy for the Steelers to upset the Patriots will likely be the one they choose to avoid, and that relies heavily on rushes from Le’Veon Bell. Over the past month, the Steelers have gone 72% pass, the most pass-heavy offense in the NFL. Since week 8 the Patriots have allowed a 40 percent success rate on passes, the fourth best in the league, while their run defense ranks worst in the league, allowing a 57 percent success rate. The Steelers must get away from the pass-heavy strategy if they want to ensure victory, and instead, stick with

an approach whereby they run the ball on 40-45% of their offensive plays. If they decide to do that, they will have a much better chance of winning.

What I don’t want to see from teams this week is …

… Nick Foles look terrible as a fill-in for Carson Wentz. The losses of Wentz and Deshaun Watson this year were brutal. Not only were they great QBs who meant a ton to their teams, but they also were young, developing QBs who now have to rehab and hope to get back to their prior form, instead of continuing to cultivate their craft. Wentz was incredible. On 3rd and 10+ yards to go, Wentz posted a 138 passer rating w 13.8 YPA (both best in NFL) & a 38% success rate. The NFL average is 21%. I am very concerned that Foles will not be able to replicate that performance and it will really set the Eagles offense back. However, Foles has filled in admirably before in Philadelphia and I’ll hope he can replicate that.

… the Panthers struggle against this highly overrated Packers defense. Dom Capers defenses historically struggle in a major way against rushing QBs, and Cam Newton is running early and often this year. Additionally, the Packers secondary is down some personnel, and they are allowing tremendous output to decent opponents. The Packers success rate of their pass defense ranks 5th worst, and that has come against the 24th rated schedule of offenses.

… the Steelers return kickoffs out of their own end zone. The Patriots are masters of executing the mortar kick strategy. The kickoffs land at the 2-yard line and they excel at getting down the field to tackle the returner inside his own 20. A kick that is downed in the end zone allows a team to start at their 25-yard line. In the rare instances where the Patriots mess up, and actually kick the ball slightly too far and it goes into the end zone, the Steelers must not return it, or they undoubtedly will end up with starting field position at times near their own 10-yard line.

What I found is …

… the Cowboys pass offense, after facing the 14th toughest schedule of pass defenses the last 3 weeks, now get to face the NFL’s worst pass defense, the Raiders.

… the last 3 weeks, the Redskins have faced the 26th toughest schedule of run defenses. This week they face the NFL’s 3rd ranked run defense of the Cardinals.

… thanks completely to Jimmy Garoppolo, it’s not just the 49ers offense that has seen a resurgence. The defense has improved from 26th to 14th in pass success rate allowed, and from 20th to 1st in rush success rate allowed. They’ve also improved from 29th to 4th in explosive rushing allowed. It’s because the defense has been in better positions, has had more rest, and is able to play in situations where their opponent is forced to pass more often thanks to 49ers leads.

What you need to know is …

… TJ Yates is starting for the Texans in Jacksonville while the Jaguars will be without Leonard Fournette, leaving Chris Ivory to carry the lion share of touches.

… the Patriots will be without run stuffer Alan Branch and Lb Kyle Van Noy. However, they do get back DE Trey Flowers, who has missed the last couple of games.

… the Dolphins will again ride Kenyan Drake at RB in a tremendously good matchup with the Bills.

… this is the final home game for the 0-13 Browns this season.

… there could be hard, steady rain in Seattle for their game against the Rams. Check the weather report on to see what the latest forecast projects. 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.

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