Man or Zone Coverage, the Chiefs Can Still Burn You
Last week, we wrote about how the Chiefs were able to have lots of success on offense despite the Raiders taking away the big play. They didn’t have to worry about that against Tampa Bay on Sunday. The Chiefs racked up big play after big play, as Patrick Mahomes torched the Buccaneers for 462 yards and 3 touchdowns. Accounting for 269 of those yards and all 3 touchdowns was Tyreek Hill, who Tampa had no answer for.
Against cover-3 zone in the first quarter, the Chiefs were able to hit a 75-yard touchdown pass to Hill with an out-and-up route. Focus on the top of the screen. You can see that Hill was able to beat cornerback Carlton Davis (#24) deep despite an initial 10-yard cushion. His initial move to the outside got Davis to break just enough to eliminate that cushion and allow Hill to fly by him.
This is exhibit A for why Hill cannot be given free releases in zone coverage. The problem for NFL defenses is that he also isn’t so easily handled in man coverage. Watch Hill in the slot to Mahomes’ left below.
Carlton Davis (#24) had a difficult assignment all afternoon, to say the least.
Andy Reid and Eric Bienemy did a great job of finding ways to give Hill space to use his speed and run away from defenders, whether it was on vertical go routes or deep overs where he could run across the field.
And again, we saw Mahomes show why he is clearly the best quarterback in the NFL. Not only did he make throws downfield that few can, his ability to consistently (the key word here) succeed outside of the pocket and off script is something we haven’t seen before. It’s as close as you can get to being a planned element of the offense.
For the Buccaneers, is it fair to say they are a bully team? They beat up on their weaker opponents but really have not fared well against the better competition in the league. In fact, the combined record of opponents they’ve beaten is 33-46 (.418). The combined record of the teams they’ve lost to is 40-15 (.727).
Despite what you might hear in the panic-mongering areas of the sports media, the playoffs are really not in jeopardy for the Buccaneers. Tampa will be there in January. But the path to the Super Bowl would likely call for 3 road victories, which won’t be an easy task.
If Derrick Henry Gets to the Edge, Good Luck Stopping Him
In what was supposed to be a close, hard-fought battle for the AFC South division lead, the Colts-Titans showdown turned into a one-man show. Derrick Henry ran all over a very good Colts run defense (27 rush, 178 yds, 3 TD). Tennessee’s gameplan was clearly focused on designed runs to the perimeter, where Henry is so difficult to tackle. We saw tosses, outside zones, counter-flips, and even swing “passes” like the one below (which was considered a run) that found ways to get Henry on the edge.
To stop Henry, you have to make him stop his feet at or behind the line of scrimmage. When Tennessee is able to get him to the outside, he becomes nearly impossible to stop. On Sunday, Indy had no answer, and the Titans now have the division lead with 5 games remaining.
Can the Rams Trust Jared Goff?
After what appeared to be the beginning of a bounce back season through his first 5 games, Jared Goff has fallen back to earth. In his last 6 games, Goff has thrown 8 touchdowns, 7 interceptions and played to a 82.3 QB rating. The Rams have gone 3-3 during that span.
If you watched last Monday Night’s win over the Buccaneers, you could see that Sean McVay did not entirely trust Goff. He consistently played it safe on 3rd-and-medium or more, calling for lots of screens or even runs on 3rd down. This appeared to be more than just an opponent-specific game-planned approach.
Goff’s decision-making hasn’t exactly shown that McVay’s apprehension in turning him loose is unfounded. Goff continued that troubling trend on Sunday against the 49ers, finishing with 2 bad interceptions. This first one was a forced throw to a receiver whose defender was clinging to him from the start of the play (Focus on TE Tyler Higbee #89 to Goff’s right).
On his second INT, a pick-6, Goff was hit as he threw. But he was targeting a receiver (Cooper Kupp #10) on a crossing route who was accounted for by two defenders.
Someone was going to intercept that pass even if Goff wasn’t hit.
The Rams made it to the Super Bowl with Goff just 2 years ago. However, it’s becoming increasingly clear what type of quarterback he is. Goff needs the design of the play to work for him to be effective. This isn’t necessarily a knock on Goff. Many starting quarterbacks can’t even do that effectively. However, it does characterize his limitations as a quarterback. Limitations that will likely keep the Rams from playing deep into the 2020 postseason.
The Giants and Football Team Have Defenses Worthy of a Division Champ
Okay, we get it, the NFC East is bad. Insert your joke about the “NFC Least” or whatever else has been repeated by thousands of analysts ad nauseam since the beginning of the season. But there are elements of the current two first place teams (assuming the Eagles lose on Monday night) that are actually pretty good. The Giants and the Football Team have some decent defenses.
Entering Sunday, both were in the top 12 in scoring. The Giants were 7th in takeaways, 10th in pressure percentage, and 6th against the run. The Football Team was 2nd in sacks and 1st in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game. Both teams had their best on display in Week 12, with the Giants holding the Bengals to 155 yards and 10 offensive points, and the Football Team holding Dallas to 247 yard and 16 points. No, they weren’t playing against the NFL’s top offenses. However, they shut down their opponents, which is what good defenses do to bad offenses.
I’m not claiming that the G-Men or Washington are Super Bowl contenders. But if either wins the division, their defenses will make them a harder out than you think against whoever is lucky enough to get the #5 seed.
Patriots Still Hanging Around
Cam Newton gave the Patriots very little on Sunday (84 yards passing, 46 yards rushing, 2 INTs). But for the second time in three weeks, Bill Belichick’s defense was able to contain one of the most explosive playmakers in the NFL at the quarterback position. Kyler Murray was held to just 170 yards through the air and 31 on the ground, and the Cardinals mustered just 17 points.
One of the main reasons for the Patriots’ success on defense was their performance in the red zone. The Cardinals ran 15 plays inside the Patriots’ 20-yard line and gained just 39 yards. This included a goal-line stand at the end of the first half that was ultimately the difference in the game.
We’ve seen plenty of inconsistency from the Patriots this season, largely due to their lack of talent (and the early Covid mess). But they’re still very much in the playoff race, and they have some winnable games remaining against some weak opponents (Chargers, Jets). The tougher opponents they’ll face in the final 5 weeks aren’t unbeatable either (Rams, Dolphins, Bills). Remember, New England is 4-3 against teams with winning records this season, and they had the chance to win in the closing moments against 2 of those teams. There is a path to January football for the Patriots.
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