On Dolphins/Ravens, and a Tale of Two QBs

Point Blank Thumbnail Friday

David Malinsky

Thursday, October 26, 2017 2:22 PM GMT

Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017 2:22 PM GMT

Why hasn't Adam Gase liked Moore more, and how much of the Baltimore offensive blame goes to Joe Flacco...Are Thibs and his players on opposite wavelengths...Time to bet some NCAA football, and to listen to House of Yards...

Point Blank – October 26, 2017

Wednesday night brought us the drama of sport taking to a spectacular level, Marwin Gonzalez hitting a home run off of Kenley Jansen on an 0-2 pitch a moment for the ages, setting up a series of late explosions. I hope most of you enjoyed that, because Dolphins/Ravens sure as hell won’t bring that same kind of sporting elegance. There is plenty of intrigue, however, so as has been the case throughout the season, I’ll use the Thursday canvas to paint a mural of the game inside the game. In this one, so much revolves around the QBs.

 

Item: Why doesn’t Adam Gase like Matt Moore a little more

There has been a lot of talk across the Sports Mediaverse this week about Miami actually being better after Jay Cutler’s injury, and I can understand where it comes from, Cutler being a piñata across the latter stages of his career, much of that deserved. The comments of the Dolphins also point that way, and I will get to a few of them in a moment, Moore bringing an energy to the locker room that Cutler never has anywhere, much less with a new team.

There is one aspect that has me confused, however: why did Gase not believe enough in Moore to turn the reins over to him back in August, and why was Cutler almost immediately moved to the top of the depth chart?

Moore started three games when Ryan Tannehill was injured in 2016, and ran the offense well – the Dolphins went 2-1, and he averaged 8.3 yards per attempt in building out a 105.6 passer rating. He has been with the team since 2011, so it would have seemed like an automatic that he got the promotion when Tannehill was injured again. He brings aggressiveness to the position, if not the poise to consistently make good decisions, and for this roster could be a catalyst.

Let me start with WR Kenny Stills: “Matt is a fiery guy. He loves to have fun. He has been doing this thing for a long time. He’s still the guy in here every day that’s talking trash. Every time you see him throw a good ball, he’s screaming, ‘Dimer!’ or doing the shots fired (pose). He really just enjoys his job. He loves being here. 

“That kind of just ... It spreads to everyone else on the team. We go out there and we have fun. We know he’s going to give us an opportunity to go make plays as a receiving corps. We know he’s going to be prepared to help us win the game.”

From OL JA’WUAN James: “Matt just comes in with a different level. I don’t know if it’s energy or presence because he’s a second quarterback, so he knows he has to bring that. I feel like he does a good job of getting everybody to where they need to go and getting a boost of confidence to everybody, just by how he is.”

And how about even OC Clyde Chistensen: “He’s an electric guy. He comes out there and he’s the Pied Piper. He takes the young guys under his wing. He’s a popular guy in the locker room, and I think that his energy is contagious.”

It all sounds good, doesn’t it? Which makes it even more of a challenge to grasp why Gase wasn’t willing to let Moore run the show back in August. There is plenty of reading between the lines ahead, and much of that will focus on the play calling this evening, on the road against a tough Baltimore defense.

The play calling by the Ravens will not be nearly as interesting to watch, because they don’t have all that many plays that they can run.

 

Item: How do we separate Joe Flacco from the rest of the Baltimore offense

The Raven offense has been terrible, in particular the passing game. The QB stats are abysmal, DeShone Kizer the only starter with a lower passer rating than Flacco’s 70.0. And if you want to put it on the shoulders of the Baltimore signal-caller it is easy to do, seeing 2017 as merely the extension of a long slide:

Season YPP   PR  Sack%
2014  7.2    91.0   3.3
2015  6.8    83.1   3.7
2016  6.4    83.5   4.7
2017  5.3    70.0   7.1

But before allowing the paint to dry on that, note that the 2017 circumstances have been more difficult on Flacco than any QB in the league.

It started with major problems in the OL, which have been a feature topic here a couple of times, the biggest blow being the loss of Marshal Yanda. LT Ronnie Stanley is the only one playing in the same position as he did in 2016, which doesn’t exactly mean much leadership because Stanley was a rookie in 2016. The current group lacks experience, depth and talent, the right side manned by Matt Skura, and Austin Howard, both really rookies (Skura was signed as a free agent last spring but did not play in a game), and neither of them good enough to be drafted.

As bad as the OL has been, the WR corps has matched it. Baltimore has played the last two games without Jeremy Maclin, most of the last two without Jeremy Maclin, and almost all of Sunday’s loss to Minnesota without Mike Wallace. Added to the injury list are Michael Campanero and Chris Matthews, which has left only Chris Moore and Griff Whalen healthy enough to practice when the week began. Moore is in his second season and hasn’t proven yet that he will make it in this league; Whalen was just signed off the streets last week, having caught 47 passes across a non-descript career with the Colts and Chargers. Meanwhile top pass catching TE Ben Watson is also fighting through a knee injury.

In terms of tonight there is the hope that Perriman will pass the concussion protocol; his actions on the Wednesday practice field indicated optimism. There is the prospect that Kenny Bell, who spent much of 2016 on the Baltimore practice squad, could be activated to add another body, so there will be an info pipeline to follow across the day.

Because of all of this it has been easy to grade the Ravens offense as being every bit as dismal as the numbers show – the pieces just aren’t there to make much happen. But in terms of Flacco there is work to be done. Is he really a QB in a long-term decline, or have the circumstances of this season made it impossible for him to have done much more than he has?

There is plenty to see tonight, but for me not much to bet, far too much volatility in what could turn into a sloppy game more determined by which team makes the most mistakes, rather than who makes the most big plays.

There is something I will bet in the college ranks, however, which I will get to in a moment, but first it is time to put the Minnesota Timberwolves under the microscope again.

 

About Last Night, NBA…

Yes, Jimmy Butler being out the last two games has been a big blow to Minnesota, but to get dominated by lightweights Indiana and Detroit, by a combined 252-208, sets off alarms. The T’Wolves lost to the spread by 52 points in the process.

In last Wednesday’s edition there was a lead topic on both the problem of One-and-Done players across the league in terms of learning defense, but in particular the issues for Minnesota because of Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony-Towns, Wiggins grading near the bottom of defenders at his positions last season, and Towns indeed dead last at his. That was despite them working under Tom Thibodeau, who is considered among the best defensive coaches in the sport.

There hasn’t been any sign of anything getting better through the early stages of the current campaign, so let’s bring the comparisons into play, looking at the 2016 season before Thibodeau come on board, and then tracking his attempts to elevate that defense:

Season  PP100/Rank
2016     107.1 (#27)
2017     109.1 (#26)
2018     114.0 (#30)

The showing the last two nights was so awful that there must now be the legitimate question as to whether Thibodeau can connect with those two special young talents. While his defensive acumen has been respected across his NBA tenure, his ability to handle players has been an open question.

I found this from Jamal Crawford, an 18-year veteran who is new on the scene but not new to the league, to be a telling takeaway in the aftermath of the loss at Detroit: “We’ve lost our way a little bit and until we change our mentality in some aspects, there will be similar results. Basketball is a humbling game, and you have to respect it or else it will humble you.”

I believe we can safely assume who Crawford is referring to when he talks about respecting the sport. Thibodeau may not be the ideal coach to get those younger players to develop that respect, and if the buy-in to a better defensive focus hasn’t happened this early in the season, is there reason to believe a change is coming any time soon?

 

In the Sights, Thursday NCAA

Back on Monday, part of the weekly NCAA review took a trip to Eastern Michigan, and brought into play just how grueling of a stretch Chris Creighton’s team has gone through, both from a physical and mental standpoint. I believe that will bring in a team short on both energy and confidence into the short turnaround for their trip to DeKalb tonight, and that will put #108 Northern Illinois (7:00 Eastern, note the time change) into pocket at -7 or less.

While EMU has been going through the grinder of six straight games that went down to the final possession, two of them into overtime and the last five ending in defeats, it has been a different flow for the Huskies, who have opened 3-0 in conference play. Their short practice week was made easier because of a non-taxing 48-17 rout of Bowling Green on Saturday. Rod Carey’s team has had to adjust the offense through injuries at QB and RB but has held up well through it, and the development was aided by a tough non-conference schedule by MAC standards (home game vs. Boston College; trips to Nebraska and San Diego State).

The key tonight is the offense settling in under talented freshman QB Marcus Childers, who has grown up quickly back-to-back road wins, and an aggressive defense that is #2 in the nation in tackles-for-loss. It is the physical play of that defense that can take control over the course of 60 minutes vs. an opponent that may not have enough in the tank for four hard quarters.

 

For your listening pleasure…

The weekly House of Yards podcast is ready to go, Matt Landes and myself breaking down the key games on the NFL schedule, as well as our weekly Moment of Troy with USC football. That segment has turned out to be awfully good for the pockets this season, but this may be the week in which one of us might be shifting gears. And of course the music of the Hambones and the Beer of the Week help to bring it all together.

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