The Browns are better than you think
Coming into Week 13, many doubted how good the Browns truly were. Sure they were 8-3, but they had allowed more points than they scored through their first 11 games. So how good could they really be? That question was answered on Sunday. Cleveland dropped 38 first-half points on the Titans in a game that was never as close as the final score indicated.
Browns Head Coach Kevin Stefanski did a tremendous job with Kirk Cousins in Minnesota a year ago as the offensive coordinator. He settled the game down for Cousins by increasing the Vikings’ usage of play-action. The script has been roughly the same in Cleveland. The Browns entered Week 13 with the 2nd highest percentage of passing yards coming from play-action (trailing only the Titans). On Sunday, the play-action was alive and well. Three of Baker Mayfield’s four touchdowns, as well as some other big completions, coming off of a run fake.
Play-action can do so much for a quarterback. It solidifies the protection. It influences defenders, creating huge holes in the coverage. It removes help defenders, creating more 1-on-1’s. And it defines throws or simplifies the read for the quarterback.
Baker Mayfield is still battling himself as a quarterback. He’s generally been frenetic in the pocket and over-reactive to pressure. But when some of the extraneous elements of playing the position are removed and Mayfield can just cut it loose, he often shows why he was the #1 overall pick in 2018. Play-action helps with that. It certainly did on Sunday. Stefanski has done a great job of putting Mayfield in position to succeed this season. The Browns are 9-3 as a result.
The Titans, on the other hand, are truly a Jekyll-and-Hyde team aren’t they? That’s what happens when your defense can’t rush the passer or do much of anything well. Last year, the defense helped guide the Titans to a surprise playoff run all the way to the AFC Championship. With the way they’ve played this season, Tennessee has “one-and-done” written all over them.
Gregg Williams’ terrible decision leads to awful Jets loss
Speaking of Jekyll-and-Hyde teams, the Raiders beat arguably the best team in the NFL in the Chiefs in Week 5. On Sunday, they should have lost to the worst team in the NFL. Jets Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams wouldn’t allow that to happen, though.
Williams has always been an aggressive defensive coordinator. And by the way, there is nothing wrong with bringing a blitz in a Hail-Mary situation. In fact, that’s probably what you should do as a defense to prevent the quarterback from having time to let his receivers get downfield before launching the ball towards the end zone. However, you can easily do that in a smart way, without sacrificing coverage. Why not bring an overload blitz with just 4 defenders from the quarterback’s right side and force him to move left? You’d still have 7 men in coverage and a chance at disrupting the offense. That’s just one idea, and it isn’t complicated. You can be aggressive without being stupid.
But that’s not what Williams did against Vegas. He played Cover-0, meaning no deep safeties, and rushed 7.
He left his defensive backs on islands against more athletic wide receivers in a situation where the Raiders absolutely had to go to the end zone.
The results were almost too predictable.
This play has led to plenty of conspiracy theories. Truthfully, it just seems more like typical Jets incompetence. Gregg Williams was let go less than 24 hours after it happened.
Give the NFC East division winner some respect
I’m going to double down on my claim from last week that the NFC East representative will be a more difficult out in the playoffs than most might think. The Giants have the inside track on the division title at the moment. With a back-up quarterback, they went into Seattle and came out with a critical win. So much for NFC East teams not being able to beat any quality teams outside their division.
The Giants have been in every game except one this season regardless of the opponent or the talent gap. At the beginning of the season, if I told you the Giants would have no Daniel Jones and no Saquon Barkley for a game in Seattle, you would have predicted an absolute bloodbath in Seattle’s favor. That’s a sign of great coaching by Joe Judge. It’s also a result of the Giants Defense playing like a legitimate contender. The Giants racked up a season-high 5 sacks on Russell Wilson using a combination of stunts, blitzes, and great coverage across the board. I love what Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham is doing with this unit right now.
If the Giants reach the playoffs, it will be on the strength of that defense, which will give any offense they face problems.
Patrick Mahomes is the best QB in the NFL, but Aaron Rodgers is the MVP right now
I know what you’re thinking… “But Ed, the Packers’ front office has helped Rodgers so much. They made one win-now move after another this offseason during free agency and in the early rounds of the NFL Draft…”
Tremendous offseason aside, the Packers would be absolutely lost without Rodgers. He is playing as well as he ever has, largely because he is consistently operating within the framework of the offense and limiting his run-around opportunities. In today’s NFL, where it seems like almost every team has a mobile quarterback, the key to playing the position is still playing from the pocket and within the framework of the offense. That won’t ever go away.
The Saints will welcome back Drew Brees
The Saints are 8-0 during the last two seasons when Drew Brees doesn’t play, which is a credit to head coach Sean Payton. That doesn’t mean they won’t be happy to have Brees back whenever he is healthy enough to return. Taysom Hill is a fun player who can throw the ball a little. He adds flexibility to the offense and has been a real asset, both as a back-up QB and as a player that Payton can package a few plays for each game. He is not a great passer, though. He’s a runner who can throw, not a passer who can run. And that’s a big difference. That doesn’t mean he won’t continue to be a key cog in the Saints Offense down the stretch and in the playoffs. But this offense still needs Drew Brees at the helm to make a Super Bowl run.
That said, why are the Saints 8-0 without Brees over the last two seasons? Their defense has been outstanding, allowing just 15 points per game without Brees in the lineup. Defensive Coordinator Dennis Allen has done a great job with this group, often mixing disguise with good gameplan-specific approaches. He’s as big of a reason as any why the Saints have the best record in the NFC.
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