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 Sunday’s action was …
… Jacoby Brissett was acquired by Indianapolis just before their week 1 game. He obviously couldn’t possibly start week 1. But after what they saw from Scott Tolzien in week 1, the Colts went with the move to start Jacoby Brissett. Having minimal reps with the first team offense headed into that game, Brissett took 1 week of snaps with the starters and drove the Colts to a lead into the 4th quarter over the Cardinals defense. While his overall numbers were poor against a very solid Cardinals defense, Brissett was extremely impressive given the tough situation he was thrown into, and I’m intrigued to see him develop in the coming weeks.
… in 2016, Atlanta’s high-powered offense averaged 21.5 first half points at home. In their first home game this year, under a new offensive coordinator, the Falcons scored 24 first half points on scoring drives of 87, 86, 58 and 36 yards. Many believed the Falcons offense would fall off without Kyle Shanahan. So far, so good in the ATL.
… After a horrendous Thursday night game between the Texans and Bengals, we were treated to some extremely exciting football between two bad teams, the 49ers and the Rams. What made that game exciting was the offensive coordinators. Viewers love excitement and big plays. If the league wants to make Thursday night football work, they need to hope owners hire creative, innovative coordinators. We were treated to a great battle between Andy Reid vs Josh McDaniels in week 1, and now Kyle Shanahan vs Sean McVay.
What I want to see from teams this week is …
… The Titans to rely on Marcus Mariota against the Seahawks, and for Mariota to perform well. On the season, Mariota ranks 21st in passer rating, with a 78.7 rating. He’s thrown just 1 TD pass. And last week against the Jaguars, who boast a good defense and secondary, the Titans tried to hide Mariota. On early downs in the first half, the Titans went 50% run. When they asked Mariota to pass, it was a disaster. He completed just 55% of his passes, recorded a 27.5 rating with a 36% success rate. Marcus Mariota only came alive in the second half because the team went so completely run heavy (76% run on early downs) that the Jaguars were forced to overplay the run. That’s when Mariota was able to pass against loaded boxes, and produced 116 of his total 215 yards on just 7 attempts. I hoped we would see much more out of Mariota this year. I’m waiting to see if that comes this week against Seattle. I’ve been disappointed thus far this year.
… DeShone Kizer square up against a subpar secondary for once this year. It doesn’t get much harder than a rookie starting his NFL career against the Steelers and Ravens defenses. Finally, Kizer gets to face the Colts defense. This defense gave up 9.2 YPA and 332 passing yards to Carson Palmer. In week 1, the Colts gave up 11.4 YPA and 286 passing yards to Jared Goff, who only attempted 25 passes. The Colts pass defense ranks 27th in efficiency, 31st in yds/attempt and I'm looking forward to seeing what Hue Jackson has planned to for Kizer to attack this unit.
…Trevor Siemian playing on the road in an early start in Buffalo. Siemian currently ranks 5th in passer rating (min 35 att) and has tossed an NFL high 6 TD passes. In particular, Siemian’s 61% success rate on 3rd downs is 2nd best in the NFL. Inside the opponent’s 40, Siemian is 9/11 with 4 TDs, 0 Ints, a 69% success rate. and a 145 rating. The below visualization from the “Play Selection and Success Rate” page at Sharp Football Stats tells the story. Will Siemian be able to be as efficient in Buffalo? The Bills defense is not nearly as battered as the Cowboys defense that Siemian picked on in week 2. I’m excited to see if he takes the next step in a difficult environment.
What I don’t want to see from teams this week is…
… The Chargers blow another game thanks to poor kicking. Last week against the Dolphins, the Chargers were almost +2.0 in yards per play, produced a 54% success rate vs a 41% rate for the Dolphins, yet lost because their kicker could not make a basic, fundamental field goal. The Chargers will lose their share of close games because they are the Chargers, but missing field goals is a devastating way to flame out your season before it even gets started.
… Blake Bortles ruin a NFL game over in London. In the first half of games this year, Bortles is averaging just 5.3 YPA, a 47 passer rating, and his 38% success rate ranks 34th out of 35 QBs. But in the second half, in garbage time (either up or down, in most cases) Bortles has a 7.2 YPA, a 93 rating and a 52% success rate. It’s incredible how bad Bortles is when the game matters, and how much he improves when the game has been decided. Against a solid Ravens defense, the Jaguars absolutely need Bortles to take care of the ball and avoid doing anything stupid to cost the Jaguars the game.
… another subpar day from Melvin Gordon. Here is where the lines between fantasy football and real football get quite blurry. Due to his usage in the run game, in the red zone, and in the passing game, Gordon has been a solid fantasy producer. But in real football, as a running back, he’s been even more disappointing this year than he was last year or as a rookie in 2015. Gordon ranks 31st out of 32 in rushing success rate and 32nd out of 32 (aka worst) in yards-per-carry (min 17 att). He’s been a tremendous disappointment.
What I found is…
… The Chargers are the #1 offense in the NFL in my custom analytic Early Down Success Rate (EDSR), but they are one of the worst offenses on 3rd down. Despite averaging just 6.0 yards to go on 3rd down (6th least in the league) they rank 28th in success rate on 3rd down. Rivers must target his tight ends more on 3rd down.
… While it looks like the Buccaneers blew out the Bears, the reality is they averaged only 4.6 yds/play. And 21 of the Buccaneers 29 points came on an interception return TD and two other Bears’ fumbles which set Tampa Bay up at the Bears 13 and 35-yard line. On the 8 drives the Buccaneers started in their own half, they scored 3 FGs, and half of those drives they did not convert a single first down.
… Detroit’s offense has faced the stingy defenses of the Cardinals and the Giants. That perhaps could explain why the Lions rank 5th worst in early down pass success rate. Only 17 of 41 early down attempts have graded out as successful. So how is it that the Lions are 2-0? Offensively they are 7th in passing success rate on 3rd down, and they have the NFL’s most successful passing offense (67%) inside the opponent’s 40-yard line.
What you need to know is…
… The Bengals fired OC Ken Zampese and inserted new OC Bill Lazor. Lazor will be trying to get the ball out of Dalton’s hands quicker and get more production to AJ Green.
… The Ravens are without tackle Marshal Yanda, one of the NFL’s best offensive tackles. It doesn’t help that they’ll be facing the pass rush of the Jaguars in London.
… The Falcons are without their top pass rusher Vic Beasly and another solid performer, Courtney Upshaw. It will be interesting to see if the Lions continue to stick with strong balance or if they decide to pass the ball more often.
… The Dolphins defense had an extra week to prepare for the Chargers offense. They performed terribly. To their top 2 WRs (Keenan Allen and Tyrell Williams) the Dolphins allowed 13/14 for 154 yards (11.0 YPA). To their topmost used TE (Hunter Henry) the Dolphins allowed 7/7 for 80 yards (11.4 YPA). And to their top RB (Melvin Gordon) the Dolphins allowed 7/8 for 65 yards (8.1 YPA).
… The Packers are without Randall Cobb and LT David Bakhtiari on offense, in addition to star DT Mike Daniels, along with CB Davon House, LB Nick Perry and LB Jake Ryan. It’s an extremely beat up team at week 3 of the season.
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.