1a. It’s hard to find two offenses that are drastically different from their previous iterations than that of the Steelers and the Browns. Cleveland, under Kevin Stefanski, uses a run-first zone attack that is augmented with game action, unlike last year when someone presumably spilled spaghetti sauce all over the team’s playbook and they simply decided everyone was doing something .
On Sunday, they face a Steelers defense that has a reputation for being lightning heavy, and that’s partly true. Pittsburgh flashes a ton on first and second descent; We’ll see how that affects the Browns early down run – the Steelers approach is effectively lightning fast and they are the best run defense in the league ̵
Third place will be interesting though. Pittsburgh is one of the at least Lightning-happy teams on third downs, when there are usually four of them and (often camouflaged) reporting. The formula has worked for the past two seasons, but not last week. There are many number 2 and 3 corners in the league that have ranged from quality starter to absolute liability throughout their careers, and Steven Nelson (now Pittsburgh’s second corner) is one of them. A week ago against the Eagles, his two boxing interceptions looked fine, but one came thanks to an unsolicited interference penalty for defensive passes from Vince Williams and the other was on Hagel Mary. Otherwise, Nelson had a neon arrow pointing at him when Carson attacked Wentz Nelson and celebrated Travis Fulgham. For example, a Philly offense avoiding a sleepwalking Zach Ertz and a group of late-round newbies and (at least for boys) street free agent types went 10 to 14 on the third descent.
Playing is often no longer an issue on third downs and the Browns have to produce by simpler means. Mayfield only makes 54.6% of his third throws. The Steelers will give him a lot to think about in situations like this, but last week there were some weaknesses in the backend. Mayfield hasn’t had one to win as the Browns have taken and held a lead in four games during their winning streak, but Sunday could be a scenario where he will have to make some big throws on third tees.
1b. After years of stagnant alignments and separate iso-routes relying on their superior talent to win, Steeler’s offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner appears to have been visited by the spirit of Sean McVay at some point this summer. Pittsburgh has used more Presnap movement and misdirection concepts attacking underneath in four games than in Ben Roethlisberger’s first 16 seasons combined. It was Sean McVay’s ghost from the future; I’m not sure why you assume ghosts can’t travel back in time.
For the Steelers’ offensive to succeed on Sunday, neutralizing Myles Garrett is a must. Garrett is officially the Five Weeks Defensive Player of the Year – they’ve already mailed him the gift card to Quiznos – in large part because he’s forcing a ton of sales. Cleveland has 11 takeaways over that winning streak in four games. However, Garrett has so far eaten up some less competent opponents. He moved to get cheap matchups; The Bengals and football team may not have three starting caliber offensive linemen between them, the Cowboys decided they could handle an uncovered rookie single-blocking Garrett, and the Colts were without Anthony Castonzo and Garrett last week chose Le’Raven Clark. Steeler’s legal attack on Chukwuma Okorafor (for the injured Zach Banner) is likely to see a lot of Garrett on Sunday, which is bad news for Pittsburgh, especially given that Roethlisberger is a statue at this point in his career. But the good news is that Roethlisberger is getting the ball out of the game faster than any quarterback in football this year, which is a great way to alleviate the Garrett problem.
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2. Aaron Rodgers is bringing Davante Adams back to Tampa for the trip and considering how well he’s been operating on the structure of Matt LaFleur’s offense this year, this is one case where the rich keep getting richer. In the meantime, there’s a good chance Tom Brady will get Chris Godwin back, adding to a reception corps with a limping Mike Evans and little else during his Thursday night defeat in Chicago.
The point is, we could see Rodgers and Brady at their best. As much as you’d like to see Fitzpatrick-Flacco IV this late afternoon, I’d recommend at least keeping an eye on Packers-Bucs.
Is it Fitzpatrick-Flacco IV? Perhaps. I don’t know, and I suppose you don’t either, so I’m just skipping the fact check.
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3. There are three ways you can tell Andy Dalton is not Dak Prescott: (1) They spell and pronounce their names differently. (2) Dalton has traditionally fought in a muddy pocket – something he will deal with frequently since both the first tackles are over – while Prescott has been excellent despite protection issues this year, and (3) Prescott has been an ongoing threat to to keep the back of the defense honest. Dalton’s mobility is above average, but not in Prescott’s class.
All in all, last week, Dalton was able to prevail against a Giants defense that has no Pass Rush presence on the sidelines. And on Sunday he faces a cardinal defense who has just lost the all-world edge rusher Chandler Jones. Ultimately, Dalton should be pretty fine on Sunday (especially if the Cardinals offensive continues their utter refusal to attack downfield).
In the long run, however, the Cowboys could revert to a race-heavy identity that would hide the quarterback and defense to some extent. Ezekiel Elliott has to deliver behind an offensive line with duct tape and remove some of the heat from a front office that pays for the rewind and linebacker running hot and cold without making a deal with the quarterback or the No. 1 cornerback.
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4a. Two more things about Dan Quinn’s release five days after the last time someone thought of Dan Quinn’s release. First, the narrative that the Hawks never recovered from Super Bowl LI is not entirely true. They won a playoff game the next year and had a shot on goal to beat Philly, the eventual Super Bowl champion, in the conference semifinals in the final seconds. The NFC has been absolutely brutal for the past two decades. In the 32-team era, the only NFC team to go to back-to-back Super Bowls was the 2013 and ’14 Seahawks, and the only other team that made it back with largely the same core were the Giants (2008 and ‘ ). 12).
As for Quinn’s coaching, the Falcons are still a loose Seattle-style defense, and that scheme is based on your fast, good players who play fast and well. Deion Jones missed 10 games in 2018, Ricardo Allen 13 in 18 and Keanu Neal 28 between 18 and 19. When the Seahawks played five straight playoff games in the Legion of Boom (2012-16), Bobby Wagner missed out on five years eight games in total, Earl Thomas five and Kam Chancellor eight. You were never without all three at the same time.
That’s not to say Jones-Neal-Allen is Wagner Chancellor Thomas, but the Falcons trio is a poor version of the Seahawks who played in the middle, and when they were outside it was massive downgrades to that defense. Part of the problem is that Quinn’s plan was not designed to overcome injuries. A bigger part of the problem, however, is that its top players have missed a lot of games over the past two seasons.
4b. It also likely remains stuck in Arthur Blank’s scrum that Kyle Shanahan and Matt LaFleur, two former offensive staff under Quinn, are successful as head coaches. Especially LaFleur, who was passed over for the offensive coordinator job after Shanahan’s departure in favor of Steve Sarkisian. To be fair, who knows how much LaFleur’s year under Sean McVay or two years under the Titans’ offense (according to mixed reviews) made him the coach he has become. LaFleur may not have finished in 2017 – you won’t be competing against the Falcons for not hiring 14-year-old Bill Belichick for their inaugural season. (Or maybe it’s us; we have to feed the contented beast.)
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5. Kareem Hunt announced that “this one is for Myles Garrett”. As in Figure 2, the Browns will draw motivation from the time when the Steelers backup quarterback’s skull got in the way of the helmet Garrett wielded. Elsewhere in the NFL, Ryan Tannehill proclaims that the criticism raised against them has motivated the Titans to largely ignore the applicable COVID protocols so that football can be played without people dying. The lesson: Everything is motivation. For example, I got sick at a family event last weekend. Some criticized me, saying it was my insistence on “pre-gaming” before my niece’s baptism, consuming copious amounts of sweetcorn and bourbon all morning, which ruined the day for everyone. I will take this review and use it as a motivation to improve my performance in Trivial Pursuit competitions for families on vacation. Motivation to memorize all the Trivial Pursuit cards.
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6. Ladies and gentlemen . . . Talking heads!
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