What a 'Bettor Better Know': Notes from NFL Week 6

Point Blank Thumbnail Thursday

David Malinsky

Tuesday, October 17, 2017 2:43 PM GMT

Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017 2:43 PM GMT

It isn't just about the QBs at Green Bay, but the entire Mr. Rodgers neighborhood. ... Dribbling for Dollar$ returns, though with less sizzle than expected.

Point Blank – October 17, 2017

Much like the NCAA board that preceded it, with a series of big underdogs winning outright, the Week 6 NFL outcomes were far from being the standard – it is rare when the league produces two favorites of -13 or higher in the same week, and almost unheard of for those two big chalk tickets to lose the games outright. Now one of the biggest injury adjustments we will ever have to make comes into play, so there is plenty of work to do as we absorb the Week 6 results and prepare for the next stages.

I will also touch briefly on tonight’s NBA openers, which may not bring much for either the pockets or the handicapping files, while the Tuesday MLB will be saved for the comments thread (the grey balloon on the left gets you there), after the early markets have settled those prices out.

 

Item: For Green Bay, it isn’t just about the QB, but also setting the real estate values across much of Mr. Rodgers' neighborhood

I might as well start at the top here because it has been the most talked-about topic across the betting markets the past 48 hours – just what is the adjustment to be from Aaron Rodgers to Brett Hundley? I gave an estimate of nine points when asked on Sunday afternoon and would have considered Green Bay around -5 over New Orleans to be proper with a healthy Rodgers (there was some -6 showing pre-Sunday, but I believe the Saints' win vs. Detroit would have called for some adjustment); now the visiting team is favored by a full -6 at Lambeau Field.

Some are using that as the “Rodgers value,” but I don’t believe that is accurate because there is much more in play – a Green Bay OL that finally got back to full strength for the first time on Sunday had a disastrous afternoon at Minnesota, while what had been a deep secondary was reduced to being paper thin. Let’s start with the OL.

Lane Taylor was carted off the field in the second quarter with both knee and ankle injuries; Bryan Bulaga did not play in the second half and may spend the week under the concussion protocol; and David Bakhtiari’s hamstring gave out again in the second half. At game’s end, the Packers had five healthy linemen left.

How bad was it? Justin McCray took the field at left guard when Taylor was injured. McCray then moved to right tackle when Bulaga went down, Lucas Patrick stepping in at left guard. And then McCray took over at left tackle when Bakhtiari couldn’t go anymore, newly signed John Ulrick, who was on the Cardinals' practice squad two weeks ago, the new right tackle.

That is just the OL. A deep secondary that allowed Dom Capers to experiment with those Nitro packages was without starters Morgan Burnett, Davon House and Kenny King to begin the game, then saw Quinten Rollins leave with an ankle injury in the second quarter. As was the case with the OL, the Packers were using all available CBs in the second half, no one left in reserve.

This is not just about Hundley replacing Rodgers, which is a difficult enough transition. No player is worth more to his team than Rodgers because there are things he does in the Green Bay offense that you just can’t plug anyone else into. He had kept this attack flowing with that injury-riddled OL and with a lack of experience and depth at RB, and the Packers succeed more than any other team on plays in which the defense has not left an opening. That comes from a combination of Rodgers' mobility, plus the ability to throw laser strikes through the tiniest of open windows, including all of those back-shoulder connections. And as for the leadership …

Hundley brings athleticism, which may be needed if the medical reports are not good for that wounded OL this week, but he had an awful time of it on Sunday, 37 dropbacks netting 137 passing yards, with three interceptions. Factor the value of the interceptions in, and he averaged less than a half yard per pass. For all of his physical tools, Hundley struggled when under pressure in the pocket at UCLA, and he showed those same flaws vs. the Vikings. It makes for a challenging matchup this week because …

 Item: The Saints defense is becoming interesting

When it was time to focus on New Orleans in the NFL team-by-team review this summer I put a major emphasis on a defense that showed legit prospects of making strides. That also led to a Saints Over 8 ticket as the best Team O/U value on the House of Yards podcast, and it looked a bit misguided when that unit opened with an awful showing in going 0-2. That can happen with two rookies starting in the secondary, but now those pieces are coming together, and it does call for a deeper dive from Sunday’s win over Detroit. What goes on the scoreboard as a 52-38 shootout was actually one of the better game-grades that has gone to a defense so far this season.

First, you adjust the scoreboard down, because the Lions got touchdowns from their own defense (interception return) and special teams (punt return). That still leaves 24 points, 18 first downs and 347 yards, but those call for adjustments as well because the Detroit offense had 76 snaps (the league average is 63.4 so far). What you then find is a defense that allowed 4.6 yards per play, while coming up with five sacks and five turnovers, two of those takeaways being returned directly for scores.

Something that made the files earlier this summer was about this formerly downtrodden unit showing a different level of buy-in than what one would expect, and that continues. Let’s go to the Sunday post-game, first from DE Cam Jordan: "This crew, it's just loving being part of the crew. We play for each other, and honestly, you can't help but love the way we've been playing right now. It's just enjoying the way each of us has been playing.”

And safety Kenny Vaccaro:"The vibe felt different, something out there that I haven't felt. Just taking the ball away, scoring on defense. We never, y'all have been here. We've never done that stuff, we've haven't done that around here. Have we?"

That may sound like a lot for a group that still only projects to being around average, but keep in mind that average is an improvement of two full grades. The players recognize that, and so should the shrewd handicapper.

 

Item: Now how do we re-grade Ben Roethlisberger?

One of the most important current grading challenges remains one of the most difficult. I have focused in a couple of times on Pittsburgh's Roethlisberger struggling with his downfield accuracy this season, to the point at which he struggled with just about everything in a disastrous Week 5 showing vs. Jacksonville. There were thoughts that he might come back off of that one with some professional pride at Kansas City, which indeed he brought, and the numbers show a more than respectable 17-25-252 in that win, with one touchdown pass and one interception. But be careful with them.

Once again, Roethlisberger misfired with his downfield throws, and what will be recorded as an explosive touchdown pass to Antonio Brown was actually a bad throw that could have easily been intercepted:

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Yeah... @AB84 caught that. 😳😳😳😳

PIT 19 | KC 10 pic.twitter.com/ZXcMejFEGh

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 15, 2017
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What the Steelers did right on offense was pound Le'Veon Bell against a Kansas City defense that isn’t getting great leverage against the run (the Chiefs are #27 in yards per game allowed over land, and #29 in yards per rush), Bell going for 179 yards in 32 carries. Roethlisberger was a little better, but only that. Though to be fair to him, getting roughed up by the Jaguars the previous week isn’t anything to be ashamed of anymore.

 

Item: On becoming even more impressed with the Jaguars defense
Sub-Item: On becoming even less impressed with any development from Blake Bortles
Sub-Item: And once again an * in Leonard Fournette’s files

Much like Detroit-New Orleans, you need to do some adjusting to recognize how well the Jacksonville defense played against the Rams. The Jaguars held what had been one of the NFL’s best offenses through the first five weeks to just 12 first downs and 249 yards, at 4.4 per snap.

That defensive front is becoming downright nasty, with a 10.4 percent sack rate that leads the league, and while someone will point out the quick flaw that the rush defense is dead last in both yards per game and yards per rush allowed, there is an * that will be in that column until the season smooths out, those TD runs of 75 yards from Bilal Powell and 69 yards from Elijah McGuire when they lost to the Jets back in Game 4. They aren’t great against the run but they also aren’t terrible, the same Bell who ran through the KC defense being held to 47 yards on 15 attempts last week.

The tenacity of that defense has not been able to jump start Jacksonville in the standings, even with some bursts from Fournette, which I will get to in a moment, because Bortles is showing zero signs of progress, his passer rating of 79.2 aligning eerily close to his 79.5 career mark, and his 78.8 of 2016. At 1,876 career pass attempts, this may be all that he is every going to be.

The Jaguars offense had plenty of opportunities to generate a win vs. the Jets, but scored only a lone field goal on the final 10 possessions. In beating Pittsburgh they were sitting on 223 yards until Fournette broke a 90-yard TD run with 1:47 remaining. Then Fournette opened the win over the Rams by going for 75 yards on the first play, but the offense managed only 10 points the rest of the game, just three in the second half.

Fournette’s numbers look outstanding over the last two games, 49 carries for 311 yards. But included in that is the best tally for consecutive runs in NFL history, his last carry vs. the Steelers and his first vs. the Rams going for 165 yards. It means that on the other 47 attempts it was just 146, at only 3.1 per pop.

The fact that Fournette can make such explosive plays is a big plus for this offense, but the struggles of Bortles will continue to keep them from developing to a higher level.

 Item: What now for the Giants offense?

One of the true shockers from this season, and one that hit me in the pocket, came when the Giants were able to take their limited assortment of players and lead wire-to-wire in winning at Denver. One of the curveballs in that game came when Ben McAdoo finally put his Denny’s menu aside and turned over the play calling to Mike Sullivan, which has led to a lot of positive attention from the Sports Mediaverse across Gotham, one of the headlines today even suggesting that there is still a path to get to a Wild Card spot for the playoffs.

It all begs for a caution. Yes, New York produced a shocking scoreboard result, but that offense only managed 12 first downs and 266 yards. There was one big play, a 47-yard run by Orleans Darkwa, and that was pretty much it, with all other snaps only generating 4.1 per play. Eli Manning dropped back 22 times and managed only 118 yards out of it, getting sacked three times. And as for that depleted WR corps, there were only two catches, Roger Lewis getting one for 15 yards and Tavarres King one for seven.

What the offense was provided with was a game flow in which it was able to stay conservative and get away with it. Is there any real ability to open up the playbook if they have to and can they protect Manning in situations in which they must throw? Those questions remain just as open now as they were heading into Sunday, especially with it now appearing that Sterling Shepard won’t return until after next week’s bye.

 

Item: As the Steve Sarkisian era unfolds in Atlanta

There is a part of me that wants to look to the Patriots vs. the Falcons this week, with a belief that the Bill Belichick/Matt Patricia defensive masterminds can befuddle Sarkisian and the Atlanta offense. But faithful readers already know one of the difficulties on that front – the New England defense continues to struggle, with the Pats becoming the first team in NFL history to allow six consecutive opponents to throw for over 300 yards.

How bad is it? Let’s examine this post-game take from Pats LB Dont’a Hightower on Sunday: “I think that’s a big boost for us defensively. We know how good our offense is. We know we’ve got Tom Brady and all that other (expletive). We know what we need to do as a defense when we haven’t been playing as well as we have. But again, done is better than perfect. We showed up, and we closed out when we needed to. So we’re going to take this and build on it, and hopefully, keep progressing in the right direction.”

This was after allowing 23 first downs and 408 yards to the New York Jets. Hightower somehow took pride in that. This defense is still dead last in yards per play allowed at 6.6, a significant gap before you get to #31 Indianapolis at 6.2. That keeps me from getting in play despite the flaws that I see coming from the Atlanta offense, and the markets being off in their appraisals.

If we use the closing Side/Total as the parameters, the Falcons were projected to score 28.5 vs. Buffalo two games back, and only reached 17. On Sunday it was 30, and they again only reached 17, not scoring at all in the second half vs. the Dolphins. Now go back to those end-games vs. Chicago and Detroit and you see how precarious this season has been; Atlanta could easily be 1-4 right now. It isn’t difficult to isolate the problem because it has been a talking point here since the start of the season – in going from Kyle Shanahan to Sarkisian, the OC position might be facing one of the biggest single-season drops of any team in my betting lifetime.

Season                  2016 2017
Points per game  33.8  24.2 
Yards per game  416   378
Yards Per Play     6.7    6.2
Passer Rating     117.1 87.3

Let’s go to Dan Quinn in the aftermath of a 17-0 lead at halftime vs. Miami becoming a 20-17 defeat, on the heels of a 10-7 halftime lead vs. Buffalo becoming a 23-17 defeat, the Falcons getting outscored 33-7 in the second half of those defeats, both at home:

“You try to find out what was the cause of not being able to finish like we wanted, and that’s what we will do. We’ll reset it and get right to it because in our league you’ve got to go back and get ready to play again. You’ve got to get the corrections first. All of the ones are teaching moments, but you don’t really get tested until you’re in the fire.”

Yes, it is about corrections and teaching moments in this league, but what if they are truly dealing with someone that may only qualify as a substitute teacher at this level? Sarkisian got the OC job despite only one year of NFL experience, that being as the Raiders QB coach back in 2005, almost a different era given how much the sport has evolved. That offense may again struggle to make the necessary adjustments as the game plays out; the question this week is how much trust I am ready to put into the New England defense.

 

Item: Dribbling for Dollar$ begins (though in low gear)

The NBA now enters our daily handicapping consciousness, and while the league did a great job of putting together tonight’s doubleheader to open the season, both games likely previews of the conference finals, I don’t expect to come out of pocket for anything. The problem is one of too much uncertainty, which crosses multiple fronts, from the road teams.

The Celtics will open with four new starters, and 10 of the 14 roster players wearing green and white for the first time. That means a long process of assimilation, and one that I will watch closely because of how much I respect the Brad Stevens playbook; this offense has prospects of becoming special. But where are the defense and rebounding going to come from, especially in the early part of the season before Marcus Morris returns?

Meanwhile, the Rockets are undergoing a transition with Chris Paul on board, and that got derailed when he missed two of the last three pre-season games. That not only means that both road teams tonight are a work in progress from a practical basketball sense, but also from a psychological one as well. Do Stevens and Mike D’Antoni actually downplay these games a bit and work more on getting their rotations in order than trying to secure the best possible scoreboard results? For all of the potential drama of Kyrie Irving returning to Cleveland in the opener, and the potential explosiveness of the nightcap, there may not be all that much to see from a practical handicapping standpoint.

 Vegas: Monday with the Review-Journal NFL Box Score page

You can get decent Middle Eastern food in many places across the Las Vegas valley, and it actually leads to a lament from several friends of mine from those various cultures. Their frustration comes from the fact that for many of the cuisines it is relatively easy to crank out average kabobs, shawarma combinations, spreads and the assorted condiments, and get away with it because average still comes across as being pretty good when compared to U.S. fast food staples.

I understand where they are coming from and also appreciated one of them recommending the American Gypsy Café (2790 East Flamingo). The first time I had food brought to my table I quickly recognized an aroma I had not experienced before; this is not just another attempt at being slightly above average, but instead folks taking pride in their own regional specialties and cooking without compromise.

You will be dining on Persian cuisine here, and though some of the menu items will sound familiar, there is a higher quality at play. And don’t be afraid to venture into the unknown because that is where some of the unique flavor combinations come together, like a “Gheymeh Stew” of yellow split peas, shredded beef and dried limes slowly simmered in a tomato-based sauce, that has already become a favorite of mine.

Monday brought a Chicken Koobideh Kabob lunch special, and while you can also get a marinated chicken breast kabob, I like the way the spices come together for the ground meat version. The kabob, mound of basmati rice, grilled tomato, fresh salad and pita bread rings a serious value bell at $7.95 (there is a lunch platter available that also includes hummus and their yogurt-based “Mast o Khiar”, but even with my appetite I have found that to be a little too much food). You will also want their iced tea, flavored with cardamom, to wash it down.

American Gypsy Café has been a welcome new addition to the rotation, Las Vegas continuing to develop as a place where one can eat their way around the globe, and not just do it but do it well.

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