What a 'Bettor Better Know' - NFL Week #2, and the defenses were well ahead of the offenses again...You can get free fish tacos in San Diego when the Chargers lose, but can have a proper one in Las Vegas any day...
Point Blank – September 19, 2017
The somewhat reluctant acceptance in sorting through the detritus of the first two weeks of NFL play is that this may be what we have in stock for the next few months, though those that are quickest to grasp the game flows can be at significant advantage at the betting windows. After what seemed like truly inept offense in Week #1, this past board brought us a second helping, with 13 teams scoring one offensive TD or none in Week #2. Yes, there has been some good defense, and in the case of at least the Broncos and Ravens great defense, but there is a whole lot of bad offense.
Consider this, four teams have one offensive TD or none through their first two games. To set the proper perspective, there were only four teams that fell into this category over the previous five seasons combined. Before delving into the particulars, how about a quick look at the bottom line, comparing the full seasons of 2015 and 2016, to what we have sifted through so far in 2017 -
Season PPG YPG YPP
2015 22.8 352.7 5.5
2016 22.8 350.4 5.5
2017 20.1 322.2 5.2
Now time to examine some of the particular notions behind what is going on across the league.
Item: This isn’t the Wade Phillips defense in Denver anymore, but that’s just fine
In a season filled with either Good Defense or Bad Offense across the board, it is difficult to find a better grade for a defense than what the Broncos did to the Cowboys on Sunday. Yes, Dallas scored 17 points, but the first TD came on a three-yard drive after a turnover and the second was also on a short field, just 39 yards, while trailing 35-10 in the fourth quarter.
In this one the individual numbers tell the tale better than the overall counts. Ezekial Elliott was held to a shocking eight yards on nine rush attempts. Dak Prescott netted 228 passing yards on 52 drop-backs, with a pair of interceptions. That is 4.2 less per rush than Elliott averaged in 2016, and 3.9 fewer yards per drop-back than Prescott averaged in 2016.
The Broncos being superb on defense isn’t news; back when it was time to focus on the team during the summer NFL tour the notion was brought up about whether this group had been the best pass defense in NFL history over the past two seasons. Things have changed a bit now, with former secondary coach Joe Woods taking over at DC after the departure of Wade Phillips, and there has been the additions of Domata Peko and Zach Kerr (who hasn’t played yet because of injury) in the DL, while Justin Simmons has replaced T.J. Ward in the secondary. For now it appears that the quality has not dropped at all, but there is a style notion that does matter.
Denver was only #28 in rushing yards allowed in 2016, some of it the natural issue of having some athletic guys that can get after the passer, but also not as good at shedding blocks to stop the ground game. Enter Peko, enter Simmons, who is bigger than Ward, and enter a tweaked playbook.
Some of the Sunday success was the strength of that secondary, which gave Woods the confidence to leave his CBs one-on-one, and have the others closing the running lanes. Some of it was also attitude. Let’s go to LB Todd Davis - “We wanted to put them in an uncomfortable position. We felt like they hadn’t really been challenged in certain ways, and we were going to challenge them in every way.” And to Peko - “It’s an attitude, man. It’s all of us. It’s a whole defensive effort.”
This defense just took a team filled with Pro Bowl talents in the offensive huddle and held them to 4.1 yards per play. That sets some perspective for what is next, because...
Item: Buffalo did not have a play of more than 15 yards at Carolina
I don’t like the schedule setting much at all for the Denver trip to Buffalo, the Broncos possibly a touch flat after a pair of major home games. But there is a matchup consideration to examine here and it is part of the on-going issue in tracking the Bills offense – how long is it going to take Tyrod Taylor to develop a rapport with his WR crops, and just how high is the ceiling anyway?
Buffalo entered the season with only one WR on the roster who caught a pass for the team in 2016, Brandon Tate, and he only had eight reception over 145 snaps, having more plays (184) on special teams. Tate has only been on the field for two offensive snaps through two games. The WRs now are Jordan Mathews (117 plays), who was with the Eagles in 2016; Zay Jones (115), who was playing at East Carolina last fall; and Andre Holmes (73), who was with the Raiders last sason.
Developing a rhythm and timing with a new QB is tough enough, but it is being exacerbated by the offense learning a new scheme, under HC Sean McVay and OC Rick Dennison, with the assimilation getting muddled because Taylor missed so much August time because of a concussion.
It did not matter much in the opener vs. the Jets, when the Bills were mostly in control, although over half of Taylor’s completions went to RB LeSean McCoy and TE Charles Clay. But they needed to make something happen at Carolina on Sunday, and couldn’t – over 51 snaps there was not a single play that gained more than 15 yards, and they finished with just 176 at 3.5 per snap.
Taylor has 58 drop-backs through two games, and only 11 completions to WRs. That is how many passes McCoy has caught by himself. While I am not going to back the Broncos as a side in this setting, there may be somewhere to go in the props market – if Woods trusted his CBs enough to handle the Dallas receivers one on one he can surely do the same here, and the Bills may be hard-pressed to make the weapons they do have (McCoy’s running and receiving may be about it) generate much.
Item: The Saints defense has shown zero improvement
I haven’t had a worse fundamental idea this season than believing that the New Orleans defense had a chance to make strides, a case of Dennis Allen settling the team into a scheme that he has preferred to coach in the past, and also bringing in some players in the secondary that can run and hit, to implement those press coverage packages. There may be a degree of truth to the physical attributes of some of the new faces, but there is a problem – they haven’t shown a lick of coverage skills.
Through two games the Saints have been shredded to a horrific 11.2 yards per pass, with six TDs and zero interceptions. They haven’t been able to cover wide receivers, tight ends or running backs, and passes have been completed at an 80.3 percent rate. Now the question becomes whether the new packages can still be a work in progress, or whether particular doubts and frustrations have already set in, which is a big part of digging beyond the box scores each week. In New Orleans, the digging unearthed some awkwardness.
Safety Kenny Vaccaro, who was expected to be the leader of the group, has performed so poorly that he was replaced by second-year man Vonn Bell, and he wasn’t happy about it. "I don't know what happened. I don't know why I got pulled out of the game. I didn't understand."
And one of the worst signs comes when any part of a team snipes a bit about the others. So file away this, from DE Cam Jordan, after the pass rush at least got five hits on Tom Brady, two of them resulting in sacks - “At some point coverage and rush goes hand in hand, whether we hit him and they still make plays — and he was hit today. He was pressured today.”
Perhaps the only positive to take away is that at least there was some frustration, instead of a soft unit merely taking it in stride as another bad season being on the way. They genuinely believed that they were making strides in the off-season, which might leave a little fighting spirit to build around, but until they show that the athleticism of young contributors Bell, P.J. Williams, Marcus Williams and Marshon Lattimore also brings a hint of coverage skills, there is much work to be done.
Item: And as for that New England defense
Hidden amidst what was an easy scoreboard romp was yet another subpar game from the Patriots defense, which allowed 6.8 yards per play, with no takeaways, and only one sack in 46 drop-backs by Drew Brees. New Orleans completed seven passes of 20 yards or more.
Needless to say, the Saints are dead last in the NFL in yards per play allowed through two games at 7.6. But who is #31? New England at 7.5. For perspective, both the Patriots and Saints have allowed a full yard per play more than any other team that has played two games.
Making the New England outing look worse on Sunday is that the Saints only had center Max Unger and RG Larry Warford playing in the same position as their opener, three other players shifting positions because of the injury to Zach Strief. It leads to an intriguing foundation from which to build a handicap this week – how often do we find a 13-point underdog that clearly has the better defense, and perhaps far better?
Item: The WR/TE injuries in 2016 weren’t Ken Zampese’s fault, nor is the current bad OL, but…
From a lot of the reading between the lines, it is pretty clear that Marvin Lewis needed to give a pink slip to Ken Zampese after the Bengals failed to score a TD through the first eight quarters of play. While there have certainly been mitigating factors in the offense failing to perform under Zampese, it became apparent that the players had lost confidence in him, and when that happens sometimes there is a break that can’t be patched up.
Will there be big changes under Bill Lazor, who has been around for a while but has rarely set off fireworks anywhere? There isn’t all that much he can do with an OL that can’t block, and he tried to soften expectations this way –"At this moment, what we have to view is OK, where are we as an offense? And we spend an awful lot of time – and I say 'we,' everyone that's in the building – we spend an awful lot of time building what we have as an offensive system, as an offense and trying to get it to the particular players that we have.
“Especially when something like this happens during the season, you can't go much further than that. It'd be nice if you could, but we've got a real tough task at hand, so we're just going to tackle that and we'll let the philosophy work its way out as we go."
Making matters more difficult is that TE Tyler Eifert is dealing with both back and knee injuries. The Bengals offense struggled mightily in the red zone without him in 2016; if he misses time this season there will be struggles to merely get to the red zone this time around. The RB and WR corps have plenty of talent and depth, but if they can’t block opposing defensive fronts the skill players won’t get many opportunities to make plays.
Now for some quick-hitters to file away across the rest of the NFL landscape…
Item: Jordan Howard isn’t finding any running room
Howard burst on the scene in a big way in 2016, running for 1,313 yards at 5.2 per attempt in an impressive rookie season that got overshadowed by Ezekial Elliott. So far this season it has been just 59 yards in 22 carries, a 2.7 that is only a tick above half of his 2016 rate. That speaks volumes about how little opposing defenses fear Mike Glennon beating them down the field (certainly those Tampa Bay defenders that had seen him in practice every day for several seasons had little concern).
Item: Eli Manning isn’t finding any passing room
Let’s go to the flip side of the Bears issues. As noted when it was time to focus on the Giants during the pre-season NFL team tour, they may have the weakest group of RBs in the league. The opposing defenses have already acknowledged this, basically ignoring play action fakes and setting their sights on Manning in the pocket, more than content to allow Perkins/Darkwa/Vereen ramble for unsubstantial overland yards.
How bad is it? Let’s go to Manning's sack percentage –
And this is despite the fact that the first two defenses faced were the Cowboys, who were #19 in Sack% in 2016, and the Lions, who were #31.
Item: Seattle scored one TD out of 79 offensive snaps
Sub-Item: The 49ers defense has a short week after those snaps
I will save some of the key San Francisco parts of this one for Thursday, in breaking down the matchup vs. the Rams, but for the Seahawks it was another abysmal showing, the only TD coming with 7:54 remaining, perhaps because the 49ers defense was tired. Seattle won the game despite a miserly 3.9 yards per play, which will almost assuredly be the best count that San Francisco will produce in a road game this season.
Item: About those Los Angeles Home Field Advantages
Yes, the Trojans out-drew both NFL games combined. And yes, you can say that was because a lot of Texas fans made the trip, but if you listened to the two NFL games, you would have been aware of many Redskins/Dolphins fans as well.
File this away, from Philip Rivers - "The loudest roar came at the end after the missed field goal, you got to see how many Dolphins fans there were."
At this point I will be using a zero HFA for many LAC home games, including this week vs. the Chiefs. And if you live in San Diego how about this for a little fun – a local taco shop will be giving away free food every time the Chargers lose. And if you are a local in Las Vegas and searching for some of the best fish tacos in town, keep reading until the end of today’s column.
Item: The Dolphins flew home this week
It was a big confidence boost for Miami, and in particular Jay Cutler, to escape with a win on Sunday, but there is plenty of reading between the lines to do this week, in what becomes a most awkward setting. The players and coaches now return home for the first time since Hurricane Irma, which can mean a lot of non-football items to address, and they don’t just head to New York to play the Jets this week, but instead have to prepare to fly to London afterwards, where they will meet the Saints next Sunday.
There may be a lot of distractions impacting the Dolphin preparation before facing the Jets, and perhaps the fact that it is the Jets making it even more difficult, since they are a hard team to take seriously.
Item: Blake Bortles did it again
Over the years there have been a few references here at the old platform to how many fluky good numbers Blake Bortles put together when games were out of range, and a month I linked out a month ago to a good piece from the folks at 538.com on that very subject. On Sunday he pulled off the same trick.
Bortles and the Jaguars offense were simply terrible most of the way against Tennessee, falling down 30-3 with about 10:00 to play. But then he did what he has done so often, directing TD drives of 75 and 77 yards against a Titan defense sitting back in prevent mode. It ends up putting much more respectable statistics into the data-bases than merit calls for, nearly half of all of the Jacksonville offense coming on those drives. The official data-bases are forced to track them as being legit, you don’t have to.
Vegas: Monday with the Review-Journal NFL Box Score Page
The second Monday of the NFL season brought another opportunity to spread out the box scores and search for competent offensive play, and in truth it wasn’t any better than the opening week. But while the football may be hard on the eyes it could be extremely profitable for those that get on top of it first, and of course all the while a guy should eat well. This week I did.
I will spend many of the early Mondays of this season celebrating new places across Las Vegas, and long-term readers will understand why Bajamar (1615 South Las Vegas Boulevard) is already a part of the regular rotation – I have a fondness for those that put a real pride into what they serve their customers, and Manny and his crew do just that.
Manny is from Tijuana, and Bajamar is that classic cuisine one would find from San Diego down through the Baja Peninsula, fresh seafood tacos coming front and center. But there is more than that, which helps to develop the quality standard all the way around – there is a suite of Mexican-style seafood cocktails; tostadas; a trio of soups; and also several shrimp aguachile preparations, which I am saving for when the beer/wine license is granted, and I can have one with a Negra Modelo or two (it is unthinkable to have an aguachile without a cold cerveza).
Monday focused on a couple of favorites, their basic fish taco (using tilapia) that is anything but basic, and an in-house creation called the Lucas Taco, named after a young boy in San Diego (if you stop by have Manny tell you the back story for that one; it is special). Lucas is unfolded in the photo, to showcase the diverse elements, sautéed shrimp, with a grilled Anaheim pepper and chopped purple cabbage, brought together with Monterey cheese and a chipotle cream. There is a sweet/spicy/earthy aspect that works beautifully, and I hope Lucas is proud.
Two tacos may be enough for lunch most days because these are loaded up pretty well, and will also bring back change from a $10 bill, but there is nothing wrong with having a third – I would suggest the sautéed octopus, with chile de arbol and salsa fresca. There are also televisions on hand for game watching, which will definitely fit into the rotation once there is the proper libation to play off of an aguachile.
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