The Weekend Edition, and Sark vs. the Nitro in Falcons/Packers

David Malinsky

Friday, September 15, 2017 1:54 PM UTC

Friday, Sep. 15, 2017 1:54 PM UTC

A Sunday Night Special: Sark vs. the Nitro…We can use matchups to ignite a match in Troy/New Mexico State…Just when it was getting good for Shane Morris again…It is always the right season for a classic saison…

Point Blank – September 15, 2017

Texans/Bengals did not exactly provide a thing of beauty on Thursday night, but welcome to NFL 2017, and get accustomed to it. There are more good pass rushers than good pass blockers across the league, which is going to create some stodgy flows over the next few months. Now it is time to get busy on all fronts as the weekend approaches, and there are some terrific talking points to work with.

From a football purist’s standpoint, and perhaps even from a betting aspect, the Dom Capers vs. Steve Sarkisian/Matt Ryan showdown on Sunday night is absolutely appointment viewing, and there will also be a take today on how one can look for NITS (Not In The Spread) situations on the college gridirons, as we head to out of the way Las Cruces for a Sun Belt matchup.

Friday’s will bring the jukebox into play to help guide you through the frenzy ahead, and the aim will be for some classics that are worth listening to more than once. This week began with some elegant late-career Mark Knopfler; we’ll bookend it by going back nearly three decades, to a special performance of “Brothers in Arms” for a birthday party for Nelson Mandela in 1988, Dire Straits and Eric Clapton doing the backing -

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Now the sun's gone to hell
And the moon's riding high
Let me bid you farewell
Every man has to die
But it's written in the starlight
And every line on your palm
We're fools to make war
On our brothers in arms

This is Knopfler at his song-writing best, showing the same kind of maturity in theme that he has brought to his guitar work, and here the strings fulfill the dignity of the words. The ability of Knopfler to write both words and chords, and seamlessly weave them together, has been a major part of the soundtrack to a lifetime. If you aren’t yet a fan you should become one.

Sports lack such poetry, but there can be an artistic creativity that does spell the difference on some scoreboards, and that may be what happens in Atlanta on Sunday night.

Dom Capers and the Packers weren’t kidding about the Nitro; now Steve Sarkisian has seen it, but how good will he be at reading video

Back during the summer team-by-team tour, when it was time to sort through the rubble that was the Green Bay defense at the end of the 2016 season, the focus went to new schemes that Dom Capers was hinting at. It was to be a new “Nitro” package that would be extremely rare for the NFL, a grouping that would bring three safeties into play. There was certainly a need for change, with the Packers getting to the NFC Championship game last winter on the strength of brilliant play by Aaron Rodgers, which was need to overcome some horrific defense.

Green Bay managed to actually in a playoff game at Dallas in which the defense allowed 31 points and 429 yards at 6.7 per snap, while only generating one turnover. They were helpless against Matt Ryan and the Falcons the following week, allowing 44 points and 493 yards at 7.3 per play, with zero turnovers forced, and the off-season began.

The Packers talent wasn’t as bad as that, nor the schemes, but it was an injury riddled group at the end of the campaign that had little chance of holding up. It was also a cycle that threatened Capers job, after 31 NFL seasons, including eight with the Packers. But Mike Montgomery retained him, and Capers did what he has done often through a distinguished career – he went to work to change things up.

After doing his tinkering the alignments were finally unveiled on Sunday, and the Packers went out and held the Seahawks to just nine points, 12 first downs and 225 yards, proving to be staunch vs. both the run (Seattle got 40 of 90 rushing yards on two bursts by Russell Wilson), and the pass (Wilson was sacked three times, and netted only 135 yards on 30 drop backs).

Yet this wasn’t the Nitro that had been proposed during training camp but something even more extreme. Just how do we chart this? How about by studying the position grouping, using their own team listings of how the players are designated -

Green Bay Snap Counts (of 49 plays)
CB Davon House          49
SS Morgan Burnett     49
FS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix   49
FS Kentrel Brice          47
CB Quinten Rollins      46
LB Clay Matthews       43
LB Blake Martinez      42
LB Nick Perry              42
CB Damarious Randall 40
DT Mike Daniels         38
NT Kenny Clark           37
DE Dean Lowery         15
LB Kyler Fackrell         12

So just what was this, a 2-3-6? Yes, for the majority of the plays, with Morgan Burnett lining up as an ILB. They believe that at 6-1/209 he can hit well enough to contain the run game, and if he can do that just imagine the flexibility this unit has.

Seattle never did get comfortable, which can be expected when unusual looks are thrown out there. This week that challenge falls on Sarkisian and Ryan, who at least have the benefit of some video to work with. But even that will only be of 49 plays, and just how ready is Sark for the kind of chess match that will be thrown his way. To bring back a point made earlier in the summer, his only NFL experience was as the Oakland QB coach in 2005, which is almost a different era from the way the sport is played now.

I believe the only constant in the equation for these teams from 2016 to 2017 is the Green Bay offense. I believe the Packer defense will be much better, the Falcons offense worse (mostly on the coaching change), but the defense making strides. Dan Quinn has drafted a lot of players to generate the “run and hit” aggressiveness he wants on defense, and after learning on the job young talents like Vic Beasley, Deion Jones, De’Vondre Campbell and Keanu Neal are not only ready to step up individually, but are developing a chemistry as well.

Having said that you can probably anticipate where I am going here – with 54.5 currently available, and the prospects of a 55, there will be some #288 Atlanta/Green Bay Under (Sunday 8:30 Eastern) in pocket. I anticipate the Packers defense causing confusion both in terms of how well the Falcons can execute, but also how quickly; this is not the type of alignment that Ryan is likely to speed the tempo against, and Sarkisian may struggle for a while to figure out what the Packers are doing.

There wasn’t anything special about the Atlanta offense in the opener, that 88-yard Ryan/Hooper TD connection more a case of a Chicago breakdown than Falcons brilliance, nor did the Green Bay running game look any better than in 2016 (Ty Montgomery averaged only 2.8 on his 19 attempts). Hence a game flow that I don’t believe will reach the level of the market price plateau.

Some NITS in Las Cruces, and lighting a match with matchups

The daily focus for someone looking to beat the game must necessarily go to the side paths of what I call NITS, or items Not In The Spread. One of the reasons why NCAA football brings a better return per dollar wagered than anything out there has to do with the ability to use matchups, and not only do they point to a particular direction when Troy meets New Mexico State in Las Cruces this week, but there is a nice timing aspect as well.

Power ratings are the foundation for pointspreads, and because they are also a major part of what drives those that bet they are foundations that create limits for the upper floors of any structure. In the NFL and NBA, where styles do not vary much, that is not much of an issue, and across the MLB diamonds it is almost none at all. College football is different.

New Mexico State has its best team yet of the Doug Martin era, though having entered the season at 10-38 through his first four campaigns that isn’t saying much. But the 2017 improvements are reflected in the power ratings, which were enhanced by the Aggies upsetting New Mexico 30-28 last week. Here is the key – you shouldn’t attach as much weight to that win as the scoreboard/spread would indicate.

This was the second straight season that State pulled the outright upset in that local rivalry, in part because of how much attention Martin and his players put towards the game – when you are not good enough to win the necessary games to qualify for a bowl, beating your major rival can make your season. But there is also a “matchup” component – by going all-out for that game they spend more time studying Bob Davie’s option than any other New Mexico opponent, and have learned how to hold their own against it. The Aggies lack speed and depth in the secondary, but can play with enough grit to make some stops against the Lobos.

What happens when it is Troy instead, and the Trojans spread the field and throw the ball sideline to sideline? That same NMS defense would seem to get exposed on paper, and indeed it has on the field. The Trojans have rolled by nearly identical counts of 52-7 and 52-6 in the two meetings since Neal Brown took over as HC, now-senior QB Brandon Silvers completing 46-69 passes in the two routs, with seven TDs and no interceptions.

Now think about how much game flow the Aggies have to turn around from those defeats to cover the current line, which is a painted +7 across the board. The power ratings say they could do it, but it is an entirely different matchup than vs. New Mexico, and those matchup components are not built into the ratings.

It is not just about being able to contain Silvers and a deep cast of veteran receivers, however, but that the best way to combat them is to go to nickel packages, which creates a problem – in 240-pound senior RB Jordan Chunn the Trojans have someone that can overpower smaller defenders, which makes it harder for opposing DCs to take LBs off the field. For State it means the absence of senior safety Jaden Wright gets magnified.

This one goes beyond matchups. I like the timing of State potentially being a bit flat after last week’s major win, while for Troy there is no taking the Aggies lightly, despite how easy those last two encounters were – the Trojans only had a walkover vs. Alabama State last week, and there is no look-ahead at all to Akron on deck. Even more is the fact that with so many veterans in the skill spots Brown’s team has been well battle-tested on the road. They gained a lot of confidence in taking Clemson to the final possession in a 30-24 loss last September, and with the current seniors having played at Death Valley, Wisconsin, Mississippi State, Georgia and N.C. State, the maturity is there to handle this setting.

I’ll be putting #197 Troy (Saturday, 8:00 Eastern) into pocket, with value holding at -7 or less.

Revisiting Shane Morris and Central Michigan

One of the key items in the weekly NCAA review, which you will find a link to at the end of this column, was the potential for a rebirth of the college career of Shane Morris, who had a terrific game in leading CMU past Kansas on Saturday. Now comes the caution – the downside of that game was the loss of two keys cogs from a decent WR corps, Corey Willis and Brandon Childress.

Willis had already caught 16 passes for 183 yards, and will miss at least a month with a broken hand, while Childress has a torn ACL and is lost for the season. I had an interest in the Chippewas as a potential play-on team before the markets caught up to the impact that Morris might have had with this program, but that gets taken away now.

For your listening pleasure

This week’s House of Yards podcast, done with Matt Landes, is up. We sort through the trash bin that Sunday’s NFL games belong in; preview Cowboys/Broncos, Packers/Falcons and Lions/Giants in the NFL and Texas/USC on the NCAA gridirons; plus a whole lot more.

As noted from the start this is a work in progress that we can take into a lot of directions, so your feedback is appreciated as we put the pieces together.

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For your drinking pleasure

On House of Yards each week Matt and I will be focusing on particular advantages you can find at the betting windows, but also something every bit as important - putting it all together in a lifestyle that you can make work. Diversions are awfully important during the football season, when you need to maintain a high level of energy throughout, and there is nothing wrong with the occasional quaff or two as a part of that.

In fact, if you do it right, it can be a good thing, and that is a big part of what Matt will bring to us each week – his knowledge of things hopped is remarkable. You can follow him at Just Here for the Beer, and for this week’s Best Bet -

Brewery: Boulevard Brewing Company
Beer: Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale
Style: Saison/Farmhouse Ale
ABV: 8.5%

After the Chiefs turned in arguably the most impressive performance in the NFL's opening week, it's only appropriate to soak in football's return with a beer brewed masterfully in the shadow of Arrowhead Stadium.

One of the best and most widely available examples of a Belgian-style farmhouse ale, Tank 7 pours a straw yellow with a thick, pillowy head. Its biscuity, citrusy and peppery aroma and flavor mask the ABV deceptively well, as do the refreshing medium body and dry finish that keep you coming back for more.

While I'd enjoy it even more with the hops and ABV dialed back a touch for a truer take on the saison style, Tank 7 is an outstanding beer as-is. Pairs well with Kareem Hunt.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

What a Bettor Better Know – NFL Week #1

What a Bettor Better Know – NCAA Week #2


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