Tom Brady’s decision to move to Tampa Bay and join Bruce Arians had many heads turning when it was announced back in March, as one of the great play-callers in the league was going to get to work with quite possibly the greatest quarterback in the games history.
TB12’s decision to leave his spiritual home in New England and head south to the sweltering heat of Florida, surprised the majority of sports media who had spent a month predicting his imminent arrival in Los Angeles as a Charger.
Now however, with the dust settled, and Brady firmly moved into Derek Jeter’s sprawling mansion, its time to work out whether Arians is going to have to compromise his vertical system for a quarterback creeping towards 45 and a history of papercutting his opponents to death.
In 2019, Brady threw a total of 60 deep pass attempts in the regular season, with a 41.7% completion rate on those passes, which ranks 9th in the league per playerprofiler.com which certainly doesn’t sound like someone who is struggling to dial up the ball deep.
That being said, the season was probably best summed up, in terms of the deep throw, in the New England Patriots home game against the New York Giants in Week 6.
In that game, Brady made a throw well off the mark down the seam that was picked off at the 13 yard line by Janoris Jenkins less than 10 minutes into the game, only to come back in the 3rd quarter and dial up an almost identical deep ball, this one an absolute dime, over the defence and into the diving hands of Julian Edelman.
The big question is then, has Brady still got the skills to make Arians system tick?
So, what actually is the Bruce Arians system?
Arians offensive system has become known as a sort of air raid. Designed to drive the ball deep over the defence at any opportunity with as many receivers on the field as is possible.
Having spent a lot of his time in the NFL as a QB coach, to some of the best players that the league has to offer like Big Ben Roethlisberger and Peyton Manning, Arians has made his system very stat-friendly to whoever is under centre.
Known as a “QB-whisperer”, Arians has managed to get the best out of the players he has worked with, and Brady should be no different.
Despite all the benefits to working with Bruce, it does also rely on having someone who can make a five or seven step drop and take constant advantage of man-to-man coverage on the outside with accurately thrown deep-routes.
When Arians took charge in Tampa Bay, everyone could see that he had arguably the best receiving duo in football to run this down-the-field system with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
Arians duly took advantage of having such a dynamic combo in his first year, with both players going for over 1100 yards in 2019.
He also loves to have his receivers on the field at any time, in case a deep shot opportunity presents itself, but that means that his guys also have to be ready to block in the running game, something that Evans and Godwin were not shy to do last year.
They even got Breshad Perriman, former-first rounder and NFL journeyman, to rank fourth in yards per catch last year, as the Buccaneers saw all three of their receivers in the top 13 of that category which clearly shows how Arians is using his weapons to stretch the field as far as possible.
With Jameis Winston at the helm last year, there was no discussion at all whether they could take advantage of those 20+ yard routes with the arm strength, but ultimately, his 30 interceptions bought a close to the Arians and Winston experiment.
Brady will almost certainly be far more reliable with the ball, but whether he has the arm to make the most of Arians system is the real question.
Can Tom still make all the throws?
For Brady, it seems more as though he hasn’t been asked or provided with the weapons to stretch the field vertically since that infamous 2007 season and his time with Randy Moss, rather than his inability to make the throws.
In that unbeaten regular season where Moss average over 93 yards per game, Brady also experienced his first campaign with Wes Welker which led to TB12 registering career highs in almost all passing categories.
In that season, with the downfield threat on his side, Brady managed 8.3 yards per attempt, compared to the measly 6.8 that he scored in his final year as a Patriot.
For reference, that ranked sixth lowest in the league in 2019.
Some may say that the numbers come from putting together a “Tom Friendly” system, making use of short routes and throws to a committee of running backs to make up for his lack of physical gifts in the deep passing game.
It seems more likely however, knowing what Bill Belichik is best at, that the team instead chose to go death by a thousand papercuts based on the lack of deep threat that the roster offered last year.
The comings and goings of Antonio Brown and Josh Gordon showed glimpses of what Brady could still give you down the field, but a serious lack of over-the-top weapons hurt any chance the Patriots had of getting back to their own deep-ball system.
Compromising is Key
The answer to making this combination of styles work, is of course going to be some compromising and some progression.
With both Tom Brady and now Rob Gronkowski in Tampa, Arians has all the blueprints to making the most out of Brady’s mental and physical skillsets by including the best that the Patriots system has to offer.
A potential combination of the deadly air attack of Bruce Arians and the suffocating high percentage throws of Tom Brady is rather a terrifying prospect for any defence, and one that will likely catch out many teams this coming year.
And it seems as though these discussions are already in full swing, with the Buccaneers QB coach Clyde Christensen telling the Athletic that: “”I think what we’ll see here (in Tampa Bay) is Bruce’s offense with a Brady influence”
He also went on to say that Brady’s desire to do what is needed to win has already been noticeable.
“We did some good things last year. Tom has been terrific as far as saying, ‘Just tell me what you want to do’.
“He’ll make it better. That’s what the great ones do. He’ll have some great ideas so we’re anxious to get his take on things.”
Clyde Christensen – Buccaneers QB Coach
As fans, all of us are excited to see what the offensive scheme will look like, but the main takeaway should be that Brady can definitely still make all the throws and do so as accurately as any player Bruce Arians has had since he worked with Andrew Luck in Indianapolis when he’s asked to.
However this experiment goes between two of the greats in their respective fields, the marriage between Arians and Brady will be one of the major news stories all year long.
The 2020 NFL Draft has finished, the excitable young rookies have found their new homes and the ripple effects are in full force in the fantasy football world.
What are going to be the biggest headaches through the off-season and maybe throughout your 2020 league seasons? Here are some to just skim the surface and there are plenty more headaches out there that will make up part 2 of this series.
If you have any particular backfield or Wide Receiver room you want me to look at and guide you on, please let me know on Twitter (@Full10Yards).
Dallas Wide Receivers
CeeDee Lamb being drafted in the 1st round of this year’s draft was a jaw-dropper for everyone. He joins studs Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup in Dallas in what looks to be a case of too many mouths to feed. But is it?
The bad news is that there are very few offences ever that have supported 3 WRs in fantasy. The good news is that Dallas had the most yards on offence last year by some distance, almost amassing 7,000 of them, with 4,902 (71%) through the air.
To create a bit more wiggle room, Jason Witten (529), Randall Cobb (828) and a few other small contributors have vacated over 1,500 yards of receiving output so even if Amari Cooper (1189) and Michael Gallup (1107) sustain their high production or get near it, the left over could more than funnel its way to CeeDee Lamb to be able to break the milestone in his first season.
Even if you bring Dak Prescott’s high watermark in passing yards from last season down by 10%, there is still viability that these 3 WR could all achieve 1,000 yard receiving seasons, something we have not seen since the 2008 Arizona Cardinals (Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston) and has only been seen 5 times in the NFL since the merger.
So where’s the problem I hear you ask? Well unfortunately, there are going to be a multiple number of weeks where 1 WR comes to the fore and scores a TD or 2 and hits 100yds, 1 has a mediocre output (say 5 receptions for 76yards) and 1 which takes a backseat (1 catch, 12 yards). THIS is your nightmare! Not being able to predict where the targets are going week to week is what will keep you awake every day of the week.
With the amount of talent in each of those wide receivers, it could be a case of “flavour of the week” every week and for players that you are going to be spending early to mid round picks on, this is not ideal. Amari Cooper will likely be the defacto #1 (at least in 2020) due to his big offseason contract that was signed, making him a $100m receiver. But are you willing to spend a 2nd round redraft pick on him with the headaches that will come attached to it when you have the likes of Kenny Golladay, Cooper Kupp, the Tampa Bay WRs (which we’ll get to shortly) and Keenan Allen?
Michael Gallup, who had an under the radar stellar second year almost seems certain to fight it out with Lamb for the 2nd look. With Lamb being a shiny new toy, you’d expect him to go drafted ahead of Gallup so there could be value in taking Gallup in the mid to later rounds.
All of these guys will have safe floors and you’d expect them to all be low WR2/high WR3 come the end of the season. But on a week to week basis, there’ll likely be more ups and downs than the bigger dipper at Blackpool.
That being said, this definitely a WR core to invest in for your Bestball leagues.
LA Rams Running Backs
With the exit of Todd Gurley, the question before the draft was whether or not they saw fit to replace their former star RB… the answer was emphatic.
With their first pick in the 2020 NFL Draft at number 52, the Rams selected Cam Akers out of Florida State. Will Cam Akers come in and take the bulk of the load? Probably. But the nightmare here is the decision to hold either or both of the handcuffs as it could possibly be burning holes in your benches, especially in shallower leagues.
Dynasty leagues with bigger benches, you can probably get away with holding Malcolm Brown, but what if Henderson makes a 2nd year leap? What if it turns into a hot hand approach or a nasty 3 headed monster in the backfield?
For the Akers’ truthers, they’ll point to his tape behind a poor O-line in college and still managing to achieve 5ypc along with the fact that McVay and the coaching staff already knew what they had in Henderson and Brown, yet still decided to use their first pick in the draft on him.
However, the poor offensive line play from the Rams recently supercedes all of these backfield quandaries. If you have poor offensive line play to the tune of being ranked 31st in 2019 by PFF, it doesn’t matter how good your running back is or the volume he gets, the ceiling is already capped.
Do you want to be wasting a 1st round rookie draft pick on a guy that could be in a 3 way time share. Akers should get goal-line work which gives you a bit of hope that he’ll perform adequately in fantasy, but why give yourself the headache?
Cleveland Tight Ends
Tight Ends aren’t the most exciting of positions at the best of times, but to take the 2019 TE6 and usually reliable fantasy option Austin Hooper and slotting him into the Browns means that we potentially have 2 to choose from.
David Njoku has not pulled up any trees since joining the league and was injured for the majority of last season. THe nightmare here is primarily for Austin Hooper owners. Tight Ends generally take a few years to acclimatise to the NFL before any production is seen. David Njoku is now looking to hit that sweet spot and break out entering his 4th year and has had his 5th year option exercised by the Browns. Clearly the Browns plan to do something with him. Kevin Stefanski, the new Browns HC even had this to say:
“I think there’s an obvious skill set there. It’s a big year for David, and a lot of that is gonna be up to him and the work that he puts in to this. We have big plans for him, but it’s about for him coming back in the building and working. And then ultimately seeing if we can utilize him in role that will take advantage of his skill set.”
Kevin Stefanski – at the NFL Combine.
These two are going to be far from the Gronk/Hernandez pairing from yesteryear so that leaves you with the headache of which one (if any) could post usable fantasy points at any given week.
You need to weigh up whether Stefanski’s words about Njoku or the actions of signing Austin Hooper to a 4 year, $44m dollar deal are worth following up on.
Miami Running Backs
Of all running back conundrums, the Miami one is certainly the one that most warrants pulling your hair out over.
They signed Jordan Howard in Free Agency to a deal and then went and traded for Matt Breida during the NFL draft for a 5th round pick.
Since 2016, Howard has the third-most rushing yards and seventh-most rushing touchdowns in the NFL. Howard’s consistent touchdown production makes him one of just five players to rush for at least six scores in each the past four seasons, yet he finds himself on his 3rd team in 5 years.
During his three-year career, Breida averages an even five-yards-per-pop and he’s scored 10 touchdowns and compiled 2,463 yards from scrimmage on just 448 touches (381 carries and 67 receptions).
In summary, Matt Breida seems to at most be the 1b here as a 5th round pick investment doesn’t say too much that he’ll come in an get the lions share. Most will be surprised that the Dolphins didn’t invest in this years draft directly for a running back, and that says to me they are more than happy to roll with Howard for the most part in what could be a a lightning and thunder approach. Jordan Howard getting early down work and Breida getting the pass catching duties (though both are sufficient at either) and a mixture at the goal line.
What this means to your fantasy teams is that they are at best, week to week flex plays. Trying to decipher who will be better in positive or negative gamescripts can help, but its not going to be that simple with these two newly acquired backs. Add in a sprinkle of Patrick Laird and my friends, you have a nightmare.
Houston Wide Receivers
Time to look at another muddling wide receiver core. This time we take a look at the Texans. We don’t need to reopen the DeAndre Hopkins wounds for Texans fans but as we are all too aware, he packed his bags for Arizona.
The replacements? Randall Cobb and Brandin Cooks through Free Agency/Trades and Isaiah Coulter in the draft. Add these to Will Fuller and Kenny Stills and you have a mess bigger than the M25 at rush hour.
This wide receiving core may end up sorting itself out as most of these players have been dogged with injuries. Will Fuller would kill for working hamstrings and Brandin Cooks has had multiple major concussions that his alarm bells ring 24/7. But drafting these guys prior to season start or trading for them at any time will come with the compulsory crossing of fingers.
Let’s look at investments of the players brought in;
Brandin Cooks was traded to the Houston Texans for the 57th pick in the NFL draft, not quite the previous 1st rounders when traded to the Patriots and Rams but you have to say he could be the equivalent of Soccer’s Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink or Nicholas Anelka in terms of the amount of investment paid for a player. Considering the lack of draft capital the Texans had and currently have going forward, this is a big indication to me that DeShaun Watson and Brandin Cooks will be a constant sentence in 2020 (injuries aside).
Randall Cobb was given a 3 year $27m (almost $19m guaranteed) deal to move him just down the road from Dallas to Houston. Kudos to Randall’s agent on that one. I am reliably informed that the Houston Texan’s offence will suit Randall Cobb and could be a sneaky key contributor to this offence. So I’m all for it in the last round of PPR leagues, maybe a bit of bestball too. However, he himself has had injuries over his 10 year career in the NFL, so beware.
Talking of Bestball, that is where Will Fuller’s safest purchase can be found. He isn’t worth trying to figure out or rely on week to week and I don’t think he ever has. The former 1st round pick back in 2016 is an unrestricted free agent in 2021 and is currently in his exercised 5th year option. You have to wonder if BO’B let’s Fuller walk, especially with Houston’s lack of draft capital.
Kenny Stills isn’t going to trouble leagues unless it’s a deeper bench or unless the aformentioned teammates hit the treatment table.
Isaiah Coulter is highly thought of here at Full10Yards HQ and the 171st overall pick in the NFL Draft from this year is yet another piece of the cake that has too many ingredients in.
All in all, I would only consider Brandin Cooks if in the mid to late rounds of draft. There will be plenty that will have written him off. Randall Cobb as a late round dart in PPR redraft leagues and Will Fuller in the alter rounds of Bestball. If you pivot these players into formats other than those listed, welcome to nightmare heaven.
How things can look different after 12 months. This time last year, Bruce Arains was taking over at the helm, everyone was getting excited about an OJ Howard breakout and Jameis Winston was looking primed for a big season in a contract year.
Fast forward 365 days and we now have a new QB (Free Agency), new RB (draft) and a new TE (out of retirement) to add to the mix.
Tom Brady doesn’t strike many as a guy who can support 2x 1,000 wide receivers, mainly because he was devoid of any talent on the outside for so long in New England and became the dink and dunk master. Is that what Tampa Tom Brady looks like? TB12 will be 43 when the season (eventually) rolls around. Does he still have the arm? Possibly not. Does he still have the skill? Absolutely. Tom Brady will walk into Raymond James stadium and the player’s locker room and not know what to do with all the weapons at his disposal.
For fantasy, there is the potential headache of not knowing what the change at QB means for Chris Godwin and Mike Evans. Change generally means a dip in production in first year whilst you allow for the new player to acclimatise. Tom Brady will be no different, especially with the pandemic threatening to curtail the offseason workouts and building any chemistry.
Added to the mix of hungry hippos chomping at the bit for targets, we have 3 Tight Ends. We all know the history of Gronk and Brady and we all know the history of how much Brady loves tight ends. But was that as a consequence of a lack of outside talent? What will Tom Brady’s tendencies be in this new Bruce Arians offence – a typical vertical type offence. Does Brady still have the arm for it?
If the answer to that question is no, Mike Evans could be the guy that ends up disappointing those taking him with a 2nd round fantasy draft pick. Godwin’s versatility should see him be as safe as last year.
Another factor we must bear in mind is the decision making change at the quarterback decision. For all the intereceptions Jameis threw, he made up for it with the yardage and touchdowns afterwards whilst in comeback mode. You wont have that dynamic anymore in Tampa Bay, which will directly impact possessions and total yardage through the air. Couple that with the fact that the defence should be a bit better than it was last year (through talent but also probably having to spend less time on the field thus, being a bit fresher and not as worn down and ultimately should not concede as many points).
The nightmare was there for all to see last year with Godwin and Evans generally taking it turns to post big games with the other being taken out of the game, epitomised by only one game where both scored touchdowns.
The headache remains for 2020 and we no longer have gunslinger and interception thrower Jameis Winston to bail us out. Pass me the aspirin.
BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!
Not only do we have pass catching nightmares, we potentially also have rock carrying ones too.
Tampa Bay invested a 3rd round pick/#76 overall in Ke’Shawn Vaughn, running back out of Vanderbilt. He comes in to do battle with Ronald Jones, the much maligned 2nd round/38th overall pick in the 2018 draft.
So what’s the outcome?
One factor to key in on here is Tom Brady’s love of dump offs to the running back. This is one of the main reasons why James White, Rex Burkhead, Dion Lewis, Shane Vereen, Danny Woodhead, Kevin Faulk (the list goes on) are given more love in the fantasy world and are so undervalued in real life by fans.
In Tampa, considering the investments, this screams time share. Whilst Vaughn is more competent at the pass blocking which gives him a good opportunity to ciphen work away from Jones even from week 1 , Jones is still learning and is improving as his career and skill sets evolve. I think both with be flex worthy players during the season, but again may be one for bestballs rather than you redraft/dynasty leagues. Vaughn kind of fits the Arians/David Johnson mould of someone that can be a 3 down back but due to his exposure going to Tampa, everyone wants a piece and it’s not a piece I am looking to overpay for. He isn’t going to be peak David Johnson, before any starts to put those two dots together.
Still, there is one silver lining: at least we don’t have Peyton Barber to worry about – probably the only Barber that won’t be in demand after Covid19 is over.
What are your fantasy nightmares for 2020? Let us know through our social media @F10YFantasy and we’ll be happy to help solve them! Watch out for part 2 over the next few weeks.
From the record-breaking television ratings to the lack of technical issues, the NFL’s first virtual draft was an undoubted success (unless you’re a Green Bay fan). Like a bizarre episode of Through The Keyhole, we also saw inside the homes of the star players, and the makeshift war rooms of the general managers and coaches: Kliff Kingsbury’s huge villa, Dave Gettleman’s basement and Mike Vrabel’s total madhouse. As I alluded to earlier this week, some teams left us with more questions than answers but here’s a quick round-up on who ‘won’ the 2020 NFL draft.
Most analysts concur that Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta and Head Coach John Harbaugh knocked this draft out of the ballpark, with A and A+ grades being handed out like candy. They made their 10 picks count with good value on both sides of the ball and didn’t seem to reach. Instead, they waited for the likes of LSU linebacker Patrick Queen (#28) to fall into their laps, as well as Ohio State running back JK Dobbins and speedster WR Devin Duvernay on Day 2.
Queen should make an impact in the heart of the defence with his sideline-to-sideline speed, especially after Patrick Onwuasor and Josh Bynes left in free agency. Texas A&M’s Justin Madubuike also had many a pundit purring, with the defensive tackle getting snaffled at pick #71 despite being widely predicted to go in the 30s.
Alongside Mark Ingram, Dobbins should give yet more oomph to their league-leading rushing offense, while linebacker Malik Harrison and guard Ben Bredeson add depth across the board. Baltimore also picked up a couple of late steals, with receiver James Proche, who logged almost 4,000 receiving yards and 39 receiving touchdowns over four seasons at SMU, and Iowa safety Geno Stone, rated by both Move the Sticks’ Daniel Jeremiah and PFF’s Mike Renner as the best value pick of the final round.
Baltimore were exceptional last season and didn’t have many needs. But even so, they improved even more over the weekend, staying neck and neck with the Chiefs as the team to beat in the AFC Conference.
In short: they smashed it.
When drafting, the big question that faces every team now and again is whether you go for the best player available or fill your biggest need. The Cowboys entered the 2020 draft with the league’s top offense and obvious needs in defence, yet opted to spend their first-round pick on Oklahoma wide receiver CeeDee Lamb. Bullseye.
Lounging around on his quarter-of-a-billion-dollar super-yacht, team owner/president Jerry Jones must have been laughing into his champagne cocktail when he picked Lamb at #17. Arguably the best receiver in this loaded class, there was no way he should have been the third off the board. With the ‘Boys having signed Amari Cooper to a $100 million extension, Lamb probably wasn’t on the radar but taking him was a no-brainer: Christmas came early in Texas. Preventing their receiver-needy rivals in Philadelphia from securing his run-after-catch abilities was just the icing on the cake.
Only then did Dallas move on to address their two main areas of need, cornerback and defensive tackle, and they did so with great value picks. Stefon’s lil’ brother Trevon Diggs, mocked by many to go (to Dallas, as it happens) on Day 1, landed in the second round to help fill the void left by CB Byron Jones. Oklahoma’s huge defensive lineman Neville Gallimore also came a day later than many expected. Steals? All three picks border on daylight robbery.
Rewriting the draft textbook, the Cowboys also picked up Utah edge rusher Bradlee Anae with pick #179 (90 picks later than predicted by Mel Kiper of EPSN). I saw a comparison with Maxx Crosby recently, which means he should be a viable replacement for the departed Robert Quinn. They also snatched up another corner in Reggie Robinson, adding depth in a weak spot, and Wisconsin’s Tyler Biadasz, arguably this year’s top center. If he can stay healthy, he could step straight in for the retired Travis Frederick.
After a disappointing campaign in which they didn’t seem to want to win the NFC East, despite the stuttering Eagles handing them chance after chance, Dallas are shaping up nicely to boss the division in 2020. Jones can now start to focus on getting Dak Prescott’s deal inked. With a mouth-watering trio of targets at his disposal – Lamb, Cooper and Michael Gallup – it’s time to keep the franchise QB (and his bank manager) happy.
Vikes GM Rick Spielman is probably still resting up after selecting a massive 15 players in the 2020 NFL Draft, the biggest haul since the seven-round format was introduced in 1994.
He did a great job addressing the team’s needs, particularly in the first three rounds. To replace wide receiver Stefon Diggs, he used the 22nd pick to take LSU’s Justin Jefferson. Jefferson can play out wide or in the slot, and should give Kirk Cousins a tasty option alongside Adam Thielen, if his 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns last year are anything to go by.
They then moved down a few spots, giving #25 to the 49ers in return for the 31st and two later selections, but still found another would-be star in TCU corner Jeff Gladney. Minnesota then double-dipped to take Cameron Dantzler (#89) to boost a depleted cornerback room missing Xavier Rhodes, Mackensie Alexander and Trae Waynes, while Ezra Cleveland should add useful depth at left tackle.
A total of 11 picks on Day 3 brought several more decent pick-ups, including James Lynch, a defensive tackle from Baylor, Oregon LB Troy Dye and defensive end Kenny Willekes.
Boom. Job done.
Who knows if any trade offers were received and rejected but with the first pick in the draft, the Bengals held fast to secure their quarterback of the future and their franchise poster boy.
Joe Burrow was the obvious choice, having just completed the best college football season by anyone, ever. He starts from the get-go as the incumbent QB, Andy Dalton, was finally released (while I was writing this article) after a lack of trade interest. If Burrow’s success at LSU is any guide, the 2019 Heisman winner could eventually end Cincy’s three-decade playoff win drought and have the Who Dey Nation eating out of his hands. I bet they’re already planning a statue outside Paul Brown Stadium.
After last season’s struggles, just picking the Ohio native makes Cincinnati a winner in this draft. Admittedly, he can’t reverse their fortunes alone, so it’s just as well de facto GM Duke Tobin and HC Zac Taylor kept their foot on the gas. Mirroring the 2011 draft when they picked AJ Green and Andy Dalton in the first two rounds, they paired Burrow with WR Tee Higgins with the first pick of Day 2. The 6’4” jump-ball specialist notched 1,100 yards and 13 touchdowns in his final season at Clemson, and has been compared to Green, his new teammate (and favourite player). Higgins may even replace the franchise-tagged wideout in time.
With the only slight gripe being a (misguided) belief that their O-line didn’t need help, three of their five remaining selections were used to beef up their underperforming linebacker corps. Cincinnati opened Round 3 with Logan Wilson, who excels in pass coverage, while Akeem Davis-Gaither is a one-man highlight reel who might see some special teams action early doors. The Bengals chose a third linebacker in Purdue’s Markus Bailey with their final pick. Touted to break the Top 100 before suffering a season-ending ACL injury last season, Bailey may yet prove to be a real find, if he can stay healthy.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Let’s face it. Before Cincinnati was even on the clock, Tampa had probably won the offseason, having replaced turnover merchant Jameis Winston with GOAT Tom Brady, and then enticed TE Rob Gronkowski out of retirement for one last hurrah alongside his ol’ pal. But the Buccs complemented their trade prowess with a strong draft, focusing on giving their new (but old) QB some much-needed O-line help and more offensive weapons.
In Round 1, Tampa traded up one place to #13, coughing up their 14th and 117th picks to the 49ers, to ensure Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs, arguably the draft’s top tackle, was theirs. He wasn’t expected to drop that far after storming the Combine, so I bet the Buccaneers did some last-minute big-board shuffling.
In the third round, they turned to skill positions, collaring Vanderbilt running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn (#76) to beef up their backfield before diving into the deep wide receiver class to come up with Tyler Johnson (#161). Johnson’s Minnesota teammate, safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (#45), is a versatile ball hawk could yet turn out to be one of the best snares over the three days. For added spice, his dad was a Pro-Bowl defensive back who intercepted Brady in 2001 when playing for the Bills.
If Bruce Arians deploys the battle-weary Gronk sparingly, alongside his other tight ends OJ Howard and Cameron Brate, the Buccaneers could be a team to watch next season.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS GM Chris Ballard filled a lot of needs, even without a first-round pick (traded for 49ers DT DeForest Buckner, which won’t do them any harm). Second-rounder Michael Pittman Jr. from USC could become a top receiver, while explosive RB Jonathan Taylor – averaging 2,000 yards a year over three years – is a hot prospect, despite some concern about the tread left on his tyres after his heavy workload in Wisconsin. A day later than many predicted, the 6’6” Washington quarterback Jacob Eason got picked up in Day 3. The big-armed gunslinger won’t play next year but, under HC Frank Reich, he’ll be groomed to take over from Philip Rivers in due course.
The MIAMI DOLPHINS had 14 darts – including three first-rounders – and most hit the target (though they did use one on a long snapper). Despite some pre-draft smoke and mirrors, GM Chris Grier and HC Brian Flores selected Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa first. Who knows if his injury woes are behind him but the Dolphins had to take the risk on the most naturally talented QB out there. His hip injury was bad luck but it made him available at #5, an equivalent slice of good fortune after Miami didn’t quite #TankForTua. Tua will line up behind a shiny new offensive line including another Round 1 pick, tackle Austin Jackson, and while cornerback Noah Igbinoghene was one of Day 1’s biggest reaches, they got better value in later rounds with DE Jason Strowbridge and edge rusher Curtis Weaver. Outside the draft bubble, acquiring Kyle Van Noy, Shaq Lawson, Byron Jones and Matt Breida only increases the sense that Miami will be much, much better next year.
Earlier this month, I suggested going best defensive player available for a few rounds might be a wise tactic for the CAROLINA PANTHERS. Well, whaddya know? Despite having a new offensively minded Head Coach in Matt Rhule, GM Marty Hurney used all seven of his picks on defence, including a big ol’ run stuffer in Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown (#7) and athletic Penn State DE Yetur Gross-Matos (#38). Later on, they traded up to the last pick in Round 2 to get safety Jeremy Chinn, while cornerback Troy Pride Jr. was also good value in the fourth. The moves they made in free agency – replacing Cam Newton with Teddy Bridgewater and adding Jets receiver Robbie Anderson – should also reinvigorate the team’s offence, making the Panthers a contender again.
I also liked the high-risk, high-reward approach of the ARIZONA CARDINALS. Picking at #8, GM Steve Keim somehow ignored the team’s needs at offensive tackle and went for Clemson linebacker/safety hybrid Isiah Simmons. It might have been a risk (especially having shipped out their second-round pick in the DeAndre Hopkins trade) but 63 picks later, the ace in the pack came up when they snaffled Houston left tackle Josh Jones. After standing out at the Senior Bowl, there was some Day 1 hype about him but he fell… and fell… and fell. Apparently, Kliff Kingsbury even called Jones’ college coaches to ask if there was something he ought to know about. Some steals feel like pick-pocketing but getting Jones in Round 3 was a ram-raid.
Time to take a look at Mr 30/30 himself and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Arguably one of the most exciting teams to watch (not always for the right reasons) in 2019 but what did Bruce Arians achieve this season and what has he got to do to try and obtain a winning record in 2020? More importantly, does it involve Jameis Winston?
ENTERING THE SEASON
Hoping to improve on 5-11 from the previous year, Tampa Bay spent the spring re-signing, extending and acquiring a whole host of players. These included offensive tackles Donovan Smith and Demar Dotson, and leading rusher Peyton Barber. WR Breshad Perriman was a decent pick-up in free agency, but linebacker Shaquil Barrett was arguably the best signing (by any team) in 2019.
A couple of months later, former LA Rams defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh also joined the fray, and in the NFL Draft, the Bucs stayed D-heavy. Other than kicker Matt Gay and receiver Scotty Miller, every other pick was a defender. Headed by another linebacker (LSU’s Devin White) at No.5 overall, followed by corners Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean, NFL.com recently gave the rookie class an A+ grade.
Not surprisingly, the Bucs’ pre-season games were close, low-scoring affairs, with a two-point loss at Pittsburgh preceding wins over Miami (16-14), Cleveland (13-12) and Dallas (17-15).
DURING THE SEASON
To the uninitiated, their eventual 7-9 record might appear to have been an unremarkable campaign for the Bucs. But in many ways, it was anything but; in fact, the record-book writers were kept pretty busy.
Providing a snapshot of what was to come, Jameis Winston featured heavily in the highlight reel of the opening day 31-17 loss to San Francisco, for all the wrong reasons (three interceptions, including two pick-sixes). The Bucs’ win at Carolina in Week 2 featured some solid last-ditch defending to keep Christian McCaffrey out of the end zone but then they blew an 18-point lead against the New York Giants, with rookie kicker Matt Gay missing what would have been a winning FG as the clock hit zero.
In Week 4, Suh, a former LA Ram, iced the 55-40 victory over the reigning NFC champions with a 37-yard fumble return. The win took the Bucs over the 50-point mark for the first time.
Despite their early promise, the Buccaneers hit a wall and limped to 2-6 with a run of four defeats. In a lacklustre 31-24 loss to New Orleans, Teddy Bridgewater threw four TD passes, while the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson went one better a couple of weeks later. Worryingly, Tampa shipped almost 1,000 total yards in those two games alone.
In between, Tampa lost 37-26 in their Panthers rematch, with Winston (five interceptions – there’s a theme here, people) fumbling twice and getting sacked seven times in the second NFL game at the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London. After the bye week, our erstwhile quarterback hero (four turnovers) carried on where he left off in a 27-23 loss to the Titans.
Somehow, things picked up with a run of five wins in six, starting with Arians getting the better of his former team the Arizona Cardinals. After another loss to the Saints (Winston: four interceptions), the Bucs hit their stride, tormenting Matt Ryan, Nick Foles and Gardner Minshew in wins over Atlanta and Jacksonville. And in defeating the Colts 38-35, Winston (three turnovers) nabbed five total touchdowns and threw for 456 yards, surpassing his own single-season total with three games to spare. The win lifted the Bucs to 6-7, but it wasn’t enough to avoid elimination from postseason contention.
In setting yet another NFL benchmark – two consecutive games of 450+ yards passing – Winston threw for four TDs in a dominant 38-17 win over the Detroit Lions. Third-choice wideout Breshad Perriman – suddenly the target man after Chris Godwin and Mike Evans sustained hamstring injuries – set career bests down the stretch with 134 yards receiving (week 17 vs Atlanta) and three TDs (week 15 vs Lions), and finished the season with three 100-yard games.
Disappointingly, having battled to back to 7-7 and the chance for a winning season, Tampa lost their last two against the playoff-bound Houston Texans and NFC South rivals the Atlanta Falcons, in which Devin White returned a fumble 91 yards to the house.
Looking back, the season was awash with new franchise records: most touchdowns (54), most points (458), fewest rushing yards allowed (1,181) and, to put the icing on the cake, Shaq Barrett smashed his one-year ‘prove-it’ deal out of the park with 19.5 sacks. The Bucs also led the NFL in run defence, allowing only one player (Seattle’s Chris Carson) – and only three entire teams – 100 yards rushing.
Even Jameis Winston himself set new highs: 5,109 passing yards, 33 touchdown passes, 626 passing attempts and 389 completions. But on the flip side, he also led the NFL with 30 interceptions. Amazingly, that wasn’t a franchise record (thanks to Vinny Testaverde back in the Eighties).
Reaching 7-9 in 2019 – with Head Coach Bruce Arians at the helm for the first time since being hauled out of retirement – the Buccaneers weren’t a million miles from the playoffs. That said, their eventual failure extended the NFL’s second-longest postseason drought to 12 years.
At this time of year, which Bruce Arians has referred to as “monotonous”, there are no gaping holes to fill but Tampa Bay do have 19 unrestricted free agents, which muddies the waters somewhat. Even keeping the half-dozen regular starters like Suh, Dotson and Perriman will put a sizeable dent in their $92 million of available cap space (the third most in the NFL). While they’ll want to keep the bulk of their young defence in tact, the priorities remain two-fold: Shaq Barrett and Jameis Winston.
Back in December, Arians said that Barrett “ain’t going anywhere”. Alas, the Pro Bowl linebacker only signed for a year so if he’s staying, he’s gonna get paid. And if he’s not staying, he’s still gonna get paid. They could franchise tag him but if not, a DT like Javon Kinlaw (South Carolina) or Iowa’s edge rusher AJ Epenesa could be Round 1 draft targets.
As for quarterback, heaven only knows what they’ll do. At 67, Arians can’t wait forever for Winston to eradicate the errors. After their final game, he summed up the dilemma perfectly: “There’s so much good, and so much outright terrible.”
So do the highs outweigh the lows enough to pay Winston the $25m he could expect? It’s hard to tell.
They could move him on and get a bridge quarterback (a la Dalton or Bridgewater). They might keep him – possibly on a franchise tag – but still sign a new young thing to wait in the wings in case he goes turnover-crazy again. (And since his 30 TD/30 INT season ended, he’s had eye surgery so maybe we can expect something nearer 20/20 next year?) Or they could just let him compete against some of the game’s best QBs in a crowded free agent market, and sign a newbie. Whatever the case, Arians likes ‘em big and strong, so Oregon’s Justin Herbert, Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts or Jacob Eason from Washington could well be in the frame when they’re on the clock at the NFL Draft with pick #14.
So in summary, Buccaneers fans should be looking ahead to the coming year with a degree of optimism… as long as they can tie down a few of their best performers (#ShackleShaq) and solve The Great Winston Conundrum.
Massive game for those chasing the division titles in the
NFC and NFC North as the Dallas Cowboys host the Minnesota Vikings.
With Philadelphia on a bye, the Cowboys need to win to keep
their heads just in front of Philadelphia and it’s looking fairly likely that
the 2nd placed team in the East could miss out on the playoffs.
Minnesota at 6-3 still sit one game behind Green Bay over in
the North and whilst, this one is possibly less important for the #SKOL army,
they don’t want to run the risk of running in to the cowboys for the wildcard
and losing on the head to head tie breaker.
It may be a tight, cagey affair on Sunday Night Football,
and that’s just Kirk Cousins we are talking about. Whilst Kirk most recently
won vs the Redskins on Primetime television on TNF, it is more than well
documented that Cousins can have the tendency to be a rabbit in the floodlights
when push comes to shove.
Can Captain Kirk pull his socks up and lead his Minnesota team to a victory this week? His current record of 6-13 in primetime games suggests not.
Life after Cam
It’s going to be interesting watching how Kyle Allen performs down the stretch now that he is going to be starting from here on out.
Cam Newton has recently landed on Injured reserve, leaving
us to wonder whether Cam Newton will ever be seen in a Carolina jersey again
(look out for an article on that coming your way) but now you have to debate
whether the pressure is now more on Kyle Allen to perform as he is “the guy” or
whether there is less pressure on him as he no longer has to look over his
shoulder or live in Cam’s shadow.
Kyle Allen does have the pressure of getting the Panthers to
the playoffs though as they are right there in the thick of the wildcard race
and that adventure makes it’s next stop at Lambeau Field.
Lights, Kamara, Action!
Some of the NFL’s biggest superstars should be returning to
the field this week with Kansas City QB Patrick Mahomes and New Orleans Saints running
back Alvin Kamara should be available to suit up for their respective teams.
It’s fair to say though that the rest of the roster and the
Head coaches has performed admirably in their absences over the past few weeks.
It says a lot about the adaptability of these teams to be
able to read off a different script and still pull out the level of
performances that they have. Unfortunately now for the rest of the league, two
of th most potent and high octane offences get arguably, their main cogs back.
Will Wilson win in the West?
MVP frontrunner Russell Wilson and the Seahawks travel to
Levi’s stadium to face the last undefeated remaining team in the 49ers.
A win for the Seahawks here and the NFC West is all to play
for. A win for the 49ers, and the NFC West is pretty much all wrapped up.
Russell Wilson is coming off a 5TD performance vs the Buccaneers last week so
confidence couldn’t be much higher, and Josh Gordon has just walked through the
However, he will need to be at the peak of his powers once again as he faces one of the best defences in the league away from home to stand any chance of picking up the win on Monday Night Football.
Nowhere for haters to Hyde any more
We are just over the half-way point of the season and the general trend for feeding a lead back seems to be on the rise from twelve months ago, or maybe there has simply been less injuries at the RB position.
Standing at number eight in the 2019 rushing charts is a back that has bounced around the league and is now on his fifth team. This season, based on current projections, Carlos Hyde will break all of his own personal rushing records, and easily have his first 1,000+ season.
Hyde had two monster runs at Wembley last week, even if the longest resulted in a fumble on the goal line. His opening carry was as important as it was a tone-setter for the Texans – a 9 yard dart. That drive ended with Houston taking a 3-0 lead. Hyde ended the game with 160 yards rushing and the respect of over 80,000 fans.
For someone who never settled in Cleveland or Jacksonville, and didn’t even make it to the regular season in KC, this is a genuine comeback player of the year candidate. No need to Hyde in the shadows any more Carlos.
We’re all going on a Chubb-Hunt
Two seasons ago Kareem Hunt led the league in rushing with 1,327 yards, outpacing Todd Gurley and Le’Veon Bell as a rookie.
Fast forward to Week 10 2019 and Hunt finally makes his season debut for the Cleveland Browns. His last NFL action was over a season ago in the game of the season as the Rams beat the Chiefs 54-51. Hunt was cut by the Chiefs for lying, when questioned, about an incident of domestic abuse that was recorded and went on to be shared on TMZ.
Many people are still divided as to Hunt’s ability to pick up his career after a half-season suspension, and the majority of teams would have stayed away from signing him because of what they saw. It does seem that in the U.S.A. and especially the NFL that players in the main get a second chance despite committing acts that are completely unacceptable.
Hunt has been out a year and starting Browns tailback Nick Chubb is no slouch, but Cleveland do need to snap out of their nightmare stretch and Hunt could offer that spark in the red zone.
Steelers storming back?
With Big Ben Roethlisberger out for the season it was always going to be an uphill battle for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Following an abysmal 0-3 start Steelers are on a three game win streak and beyond the Rams face the Browns twice, Bengals and Cardinals weeks 11 to 14. Mason Rudolph has been streaky but is hanging in there. The Steelers run game has been a bit under par and James Connor is ruled out of this weekend’s contest. Another big dose of Swiss army knife Jaylen Samuels is expected. WR JuJu Smith-Schuster has been underwhelming 33-459 and 3 touchdowns and the #2 and #3 WRs Dionate Johnson and James Washington have been uninspiring.
Despite all this adversity the Steelers are on a three-game win streak and have only lost once, in an epic tussle against the Ravens, since the start of October. 1-4 to a genuinely possible 9-4 record will save Mike Tomlin his job and put the Steelers in an improbable playoff position. Enjoy Sunday’s game it will be a barnstormer.
Godwin and Evans epic season wasted
What a shame that easily the best wide receiver combination in the NFL at the half-way point, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, are on a 2-6 Tampa Bay Buccaneers team.
The Godwin/Evans combo has 104 catches, 1,608 yards and 13 touchdowns. Outside of this pairing any other WR combined have 14 catches for 145 yards and one score. Evans and Godwin have moved the chains 82 times between them to date and together are averaging 100 yards in the air each per game.
Under normal circumstances this pairing would equate to wins, but they are getting thrown the ball from an erratic Jameis Winston who goes from a 5 interception game (at Tottenham v Panthers) to a zero pick impressive display on the road at Seattle.
The Buccs offensive line is part of the problem, with Winston already on the receiving end of 30 sacks. It will be fun to watch this combo battle it out for the most impressive stat line. Who said both are going to the Pro-Bowl – I did right here!
Doggedly avoiding a cat-astrophe
In a sports league filled with bears, lions, Bengal tigers, jaguars, broncos, rams, panthers, and colts it took a four-legged friend to stroll across an NFL field last week to create a media furore akin to a niptastic Super Bowl reveal.
Some of the best social media and digital activity includes a mocked up Madden 21 cover featuring the black cat along with the Panini Huddle digital trading card app that issued a special cat card with a paw-print autograph. There has been previous animal hijinx on NFL fields before, a simple YouTube search will reveal squirrels and pigeons causing chaos in recent years.
Reality is that there are canines that make it into the seating areas of every NFL stadium every week, even when teams play in London, after all where would we be without a delightful half-time hot dog !!!!
Today’s Half-Term report focuses on the AFC and NFC South.
Which teams are heading south in terms of short term outlook and which teams will we be watching in January?
Let’s find out.
Indianapolis Colts 5-2
Houston Texans 5-3
Tennessee Titans 4-4
Jacksonville Jaguars 4-4
How has it gone so far?
Having your starting franchise quarterback retire on the eve of the season would knock many of a franchise for 6. Thankfully for the Colts, they had a very good back up plan in Jacoby Brissett. He has marshalled the troops to a 5-2 record and crucially a big win in the division against the Houston Texans. Another significant road win was earned at Arrowhead as the Colts took down the Chiefs. They are positioned nicely for any potential tie breaks that may come into play come the post season shake up.
Marlon Mack is on pace for over 1000 yards rushing as there has been a clear commitment to establish the running game. With that said, T.Y Hilton is also putting together a nice receiving campaign and has already found the endzone on 5 occasions.
Rest of Season Outlook:
With games against the Steelers and Dolphins next on the slate you would have to fancy the Colts reaching a 7-2 mark ahead of a vital 3 game divisional game stretch. They then face 3 foes from the NFC South before closing out the campaign away at Jacksonville which could be a hugely important contest.
Ranked as a top 10 defence, expect the Colts to continue to be involved in competitive games but get enough production offensively to come out on top more often than not, particularly if the ask is for Adam Vinateri to kick the game winning field goals, something he has done consistently better than anyone else ever has done.
Regular Season Record Prediction – 11-5(Division Winners)
How has it gone so far?
What a fun team to watch! The Texans always seem to be involved in a game packed with points or lead changes. DeShaun Watson is a special player who Texans fans can look forward to seeing playing for many a year, especially if he is protected. Thankfully the team took steps to address the protection issue by trading for Laremy Tunsil. Yes, the price was high but the pay off has been instant as the sack numbers have come down over the past month.
Carlos Hyde has been a nice addition in the backfield and DeAndre Hopkins is on pace to reach over 1200 yards receiving. The biggest surprise has been the production from tight end Darren Fells who along with Watson himself paces the team with 5 touchdowns.
Rest of Season Outlook:
Similar to the Colts, the Texans have a big stretch of key divisional games coming down the tracks. In an ultra competitive division it’s obvious to say how crucial these games will be. One of those games is this weeks matchup with the Jags in Wembley as they make the plane journey across the pound for the first time. A marquee matchup with the Patriots is also looming on the horizon which could have bearings on AFC playoff seedings all around.
Expect more great value out of the Texans as we head towards the business end. The loss of JJ Watt is a massive blow and possible keeps them behind the Colts but still very likely to be playoff bound.
Regular Season Record Prediction: 10-6(Wildcard spot)
How has it gone so far?
A huge opening day win had people talking about the Titans. 7 weeks on and rather unsurprisingly the Titans sit at a 500 record. A team so inconsistent they are impossible to get a read of.
The inconsistency has lead to a much overdue change at the quarterback position as former Dolphin, Ryan Tannehill has replaced the underwhelming Marcus Mariota. The Titans have responded with 2 wins in his 2 starts as he looks to stake his claim on the job for the long term.
AJ Brown has been a nice addition at the receiver position giving whomever plays quarterback a nice big target on the outside. Derrick Henry continues to churn out yardage and defensively Logan Ryan is having a nice campaign having forced 3 fumbles and compiled 3 interceptions so far on the year.
Rest of Season Outlook:
Almost impossible to predict what this team will do. One thing is for sure though, if nothing else, the next 8 weeks are a trial for Ryan Tannehill. The Titans only sit 1 game back on the divisional lead so they can not be written off by any stretch of the imagination but there can also be no amount of confidence placed in them either.
The only thing I can say with relative confidence is the Titans finish somewhere between 7-9 and 9-7.
Regular Season Record Prediction: 8-8
How has it gone so far?
The Jags celebrated the off-season moves to address the quarterback position. Nick Foles threw a beautiful touchdown pass in his opening game but got injured on that play. It might be the best thing that could have happened to the Jags.
Enter Gardner Minshew.
The unfancied rookie has been phenomenal, throwing for just shy of 2000 yards with 13 touchdowns to just 2 picks.
Leonard Fournette has put together a nice season on the ground and the locker room looks a far more harmonious place following the trade of Jalen Ramsey to the LA Rams. 29 sacks on the season also has the “Sacksonville” label ready to return.
Rest of Season Outlook:
The biggest question ahead of the Jags, is can Minshew hold onto the job when Nick Foles returns to fitness? The London game starts a sequence of 3 divisional games which as per all of these teams will be vital given the tight nature of the standings.
Outside of the remaining divisional games the schedule is favourable with the Bucs, Raiders, Chargers and Falcons on the slate a realistic playoff opportunity is in sight.
I feel they just miss out on a tie breaking scenario.
Regular Season Record Prediction: 9-7
New Orleans Saints (7-1)
Carolina Panthers (4-3)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-5)
Atlanta Falcons (1-7)
Midseason grade: A
How has it gone so far?
After franchise icon Drew Brees’ injury in week 2’s loss to the Los Angeles Rams, most hoped backup QB Teddy Bridgewater could keep them in playoff contention until Brees returned. Bridgewater managed that and more, winning all 5 of his games during the future Hall of Famer’s absence.
With Ryan Ramczyk and the rest of the O-line performing at a high level, running lanes have been there for both Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray, with Saints averaging well over 4 yards per carry this year and only giving up 12 sacks on the year so far, while largely neutralising rushers of the calibre of Khalil Mack and JJ Watt.
The defence has also more than played their part with the 2nd ranked rush defence, Cameron Jordan playing to all-pro standard and Demario Davis leading the linebacker core.
Rest of season outlook:
This squad is set up for a deep run in the playoffs and will hope to bring a 2nd Lombardi trophy back to the Big Easy. A matchup with the unbeaten 49ers looms large on December 8th which could go a long way to deciding playoff positioning.
Regular Season Record Prediction: 13-3 (#1 Seed)
Midseason grade: B-
How has it gone so far?
Carolina’s season has been a confusing one to say the least, franchise QB Cam Newton continued to struggle in the early part of the season, continuing a worrying trend from the latter part of 2018.
When he succumbed to lingering issues after week 2’s loss to the Bucs most thought the Panthers hopes relied on him returning form injury in short order, however up stepped second year undrafted QB Kyle Allen, winning 4 four consecutive games to drag the Panthers to the edge of the NFC playoff race before week 8’s sobering blowout loss to the 49ers.
Rest of season outlook:
While the odds would appear to be against the Panthers making a playoff run, any team with the talents of all-pro LB Luke Kuechly and the electric Christian McCaffrey can’t be entirely ruled out. It will no doubt hinge on when (or maybe even “if” at this point) Cam Newton returns and how much ring rust there is to shake off.
Regular Season Record Prediction: 9-7
Midseason grade: C-
How has it gone so far?
Tampa look like a franchise approaching a turning point. With QB Jameis Winston in a contract year and the same old issues of turnovers blighting the offence, it would appear there are poised to reset at the position after this year. However, there are other issues that need to be addressed before the Buccaneers can make a realistic run at the postseason. While Winston is certainly not without blame for his poor ball security and decision making, the offensive line is porous at best.
There are certainly pieces promising a better future, with Chris Godwin making his awaited step forward this year, to give a formidable 1-2 at receiver with Mike Evans. Shaq Barrett, Carl Nassib and Devin White have all impressed at times this season, but the secondary is a real weakness surely that must be addressed this offseason, with the 31st ranked pass defence this season.
A huge plus so far has been the top ranked run defence, shutting down the likes of Gurley, McCaffrey and Barkley. Certainly however, the Bucs have a lot of question marks going into the offseason, surely they must identify a QB to take the team forward but will HC Bruce Arians stick around to be a part of it?
Rest of season outlook:
Bruce Arians has a lot of deadwood potentially to clear out on the roster on the offence whilst the secondary always seems to be a quandry for the Buccaneers so i would expect the HC to use the rest of the season to assess players that he wants to use going forward and those that he wants to chuck out.
That includes 1 Mr Jameis Winston.
Midseason grade: E
How has it gone so far?
Arguably no team has been more disappointing than the 2019 Falcons, the defence has had a myriad of problems leaving HC Dan Quinn under huge pressure to salvage his job over the second half of the season.
While only 7 sacks in 8 games tells its own story of where things have gone wrong, things have hardly been much better at the other end of the field with the secondary giving up big plays on a regular basis. Keanu Neal’s season ending injury in week 3 meant one of the big leaders in the secondary was missing for almost the entire season for the second year running.
While the offence has got plenty yards from messrs Ryan, Freeman, Jones et al turnovers have plagued the offence, giving away 9 interceptions and 6 fumbles, ranking 28th in the league for turnovers allowed.
Rest of season outlook:
While spirited showings late in games seem to show the locker room is still working for Quinn, big questions hang over this franchise’s future direction. Don’t be surprised that if by the time you are reading this, he is out the exit door.
The season is already over to the dismay of the Falcons’ faithful and you have to wonder whether it’s time to blow most of this team up and try to start again because despite all the talent on both sides of the ball, something just isnt right here. Maybe all it’ll take is a coaching change…
The division standings are starting to take shape. We’re starting to see which teams and players are destined for the post season and which teams are already back at the drawing board.
Here are our main takeaways from week 3 in the NFL.
Fly (Low) Eagles Fly (Low)
You can have everything in place; A forward thinking, risk taking GM. An analytical playcalling coaching staff and head coach coupled with all of the necessary talent in the locker room to boot.
However, results are determined on the pitch and if there
talent isn’t out there, the playcalling cannot be executed to it’s maximum
Prior to this game, WR Alshon Jeffrey and DeSean Jackson
were ruled out of this game and Dallas Goedert “gave it a go”. Include on to
that list Jason Peters and 1st round pick Andrew Dillard leaving the
game due to injury. Other stalwarts including Malik Jackson are done for the
You can quickly see why this season is turning in to a bit
of a nightmare for Philadelphia and their fans. A loss to Detroit in a game
where they were behind for all of the game, still had chances to win it is a
testament to their ethos and how good they are. But now staring down the barrel
after falling to 1-2, travel to Lambeau on Thursday Night football and could
after Sunday’s results, be 3 games back.
Yay or Gay
In another parallel universe, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have never
had kicker problems.
Since Connor Barth had his troubles, it’s fair to say it’s
been a big mess at the kicking position. Roberto Aguayo, Chandler Catanzaro,
Nick Folk, Cairo Santos, Patrick Murray, Kyle Brindza, Rian Lindell are all
names that have come in and then gone back out the door of Raymond James
Stadium. The Bucs have had a new place kicker each of the last 8 seasons and whilst
they all haven’t had the investment of former 2nd round pick Roberto
Aguayo, they’ve all brought home the same amount of bacon (Peppa, you’re safe
Matt Gay up until his last kick in the game actually has
been spot on the money in this game and was 7/8 on the season.
Daniel Jones drove his New York Giants into a late lead with
1:21 left in the 4th quarter only for Jameis Winston to emphatically
reply. A 44yard toss down to Mike Evans (who, as predicted on the podcast had
himself A DAY!) who caught the ball at the Giants’ 9yd line. After a bit of
shenanigans, the ball was placed dead center at the NYG 16yd line. 34 yards was
the distance for Matt Gay to have himself a five star performance.
Unfortunately, just like many times before, it squeezed past
the upright and the Buccaneers lost the game. Ultimately, I think Gay will get
a bit more time as he has been fairly solid thus far, but in a world where there
aren’t many highlights for kickers, this one will be in a few recap reels to
add to the long notorious list in west Florida.
San Francisco Phoney9ers
Of all the 3-0 teams, surely the 49ers are by far the most
Easy defences beaten, backup quarterbacks and less than potent offences faced.
Yes, the 49ers have a talented HC in Shanahan, which was
there for all to see last week vs Cincinnati and yes, they beefed up their
defensive front to be one of the most piercing in the league to the tune of 9
combined sacks and 5 interceptions.
But I am sorry, I cannot buy the 49ers. I still think they’ll
miss the playoffs.
Their schedule isn’t as accommodating as the first 3 weeks
(although Pittsburgh wasn’t going to be an easy game coming in to the season)
and face the Browns and the Rams in weeks 5 and 6. They also have Green Bay, Atlanta
and probably a Saints team welcoming back Drew Brees still to play as well as
all of their divisional games ( went 1-5 last year). I think the 49ers despite
being top 5 in points for and top 10 in points against will continue to
struggle and the main reason is their handsome QB, Jimmy G. Yes he’s 58/84
(69%) but that’s all primarily going to the running backs Matt Breida, Raheem
Mostert and Jeff Wilson due to the genius of Kyle Shanahan. Garoppolo has an
adjusted Net air yards per attempt of 7.47 which is brutal combined with just
5TDs and 4INT.
In their game against the Steelers (notorious poor west
coast travellers), they turned the ball over 5 times and still won. There aren’t
many teams on that list, that’s for sure. Garoppolo was the culprit for 3 of
those (2 INT, 1 Fumble lost) turnovers and it’s fortunate the Mason Rudolph was
feeling just as generous and got absolutely nothing going.
They are on a week 4 bye and will be feeling pretty good about themselves and quite right too. After the turmoil over the past few years with Shanahan leading the team, it must be a breath of fresh air for those in the Bay area.
Of all the 3-0 teams though, the 49ers are by the least likely to make the playoffs. Yes you heard me, The Buffalo Bills will have a better chance at making the playoffs than the 49ers. Bank on it.
Not 3-0, But Still Undefeated
Did you know there is a team yet to taste defeat but without a perfect record? I ask the rhetorical question in jest as a way of illustrating just how little noise is following the currently undefeated Detroit Lions.
An opening night draw with the Arizona Cardinals has been followed up with wins against 2 teams with playoff ambitions in the Chargers and Eagles. I’m not buying into them just yet though. If you actually take a look into the game you will see that the Lions were there to capitalise on the Eagles beating themselves.
Winning in the NFL is hard, and that becomes almost impossible anytime you have to try and overcome 3 fumbles and 7 dropped passes. Fair play to the Lions for being in position to strike and I must say it was refreshing to see a kick off returned for a touchdown in todays NFL.
A win is a win however you get it and the Lions have yet to taste defeat so maybe they are better than we think. Chiefs up next though, good luck!
Can I Just Pop You On Hold?
Let’s all hail Tom Brady! I know it’s not an easy thing for us all to do but he possibly made the NFL much more watchable this week.
After a flag infested Thursday Night Football between the Titans and Jags, Brady tweeted his displeasure at the amount of times yellow laundry was thrown onto the field by officials. Fast forward to Sunday and the difference in the officiating was huge. Including the Thursday Night Football game there had been 188 flags thrown for offensive holding in the opening 33 contests.
On the Sunday games there were only 41 offensive holding flags thrown, or to put it another way – half as many on average. Yes the rules already favour offences but seeing every other play called back by a flag had become incredibly frustrating and following a conference call between officials on Friday we saw big changes this weekend.
Lets hope this continues moving forwards as a flowing game is a better game.
Cooking Up A Storm
I called out in last weeks look ahead that the Vikings needed to get back to pounding the rock and limiting what they ask Kirk Cousins to do.
Well they did just that this weekend and let me throw it out there now, Dalvin Cook is in the conversation as the league’s best running back.
Averaging nearly 7 yards per carry for his 110 rushing yards and adding a team leading 4 receptions for 33 yards he found the endzone for the 4th time this year. Before you think I’m jumping onto a bandwagon early, bear in mind Adrian Peterson spent 10 years with Vikings, yet Dalvin Cook is the first ever Viking to rush for 100 yards in 3 straight games to open the season. He is doing things nobody has done before him and with the Vikings gameplan (36 rushes/21 passes) favouring the run he has a chance to be the leagues leading rusher.
He has immense power but also great speed with the ability to hit a home run every time he gets the carry, Vikings fans should be excited.
Filling up your Kupp
If you stayed awake throughout this year’s Super Bowl snooze fest you came away with one abiding memory, that of Julian Edelman catching everything that came near him.
Possession receivers can have a huge impact on a game’s outcome, keeping the chains moving and helping drain the clock. Perhaps the personification of a powerful possession receiver was on display Sunday night as the Los Angeles Rams beat the Cleveland Browns.
Rams WR Cooper Kupp, who was injured in the 2018 regular season and unable to perform post-season plays, was pretty perfect in Week 3. His two touchdowns were the difference in the game, and his exquisite route-running made Jared Goff look like a Montana/Brady-esque clone. It’s absolutely no coincidence that with a fit Kupp performing wonders as a slot machine the Rams are now 3-0.
Todd Gurley may still not be right but Kupp has come back from a season ago stronger, faster and determined to prove he can be a difference maker.
Hey mr D.J. can you play that tune every week please?
When draft aficionados collectively sent their thumbs in a southerly direction when the New York Giants drafted QB Daniel Jones in the first round of the draft, I don’t think they were expecting him to be starting Week 3 as a rookie.
The agony for Big Blue fans was finally buried when they pulled Eli Manning from the starting line-up last week, opting for the Duke gunslinger. OK Jones’s win in his debut was delivered courtesy of his opponents missing a last-gasp field goal but putting up over 30 points, 353 passing yards, two scores by air and by ground and no picks in your debut is a pretty positive experience. Jones, the 2019 Senior Bowl MVP was given such bad treatment by the media that it’s a surprise he wasn’t psychologically scarred for life.
Thing is, wins have a funny habit of erasing pigskin prognostication, and by the look of the glowing pro-Jones headlines in the New York daily newspaper he has already won over some of his harshest critics.
Here’s a stat attack for you: Daniel Jones was the first rookie QB in the Super Bowl era with 300+ pass yards, 2+ pass TDs and 2+ rush TDs in a game. At 18 points in the hole, he led the Giants to their biggest comeback since 1970 whilst being under pressure on 47% of his dropbacks (3rd highest of Week 3). Eli Manning was 0-44 in games where he trailed by 18 points. Maybe Gettleman DID have a plan afterall….?
With Saquon Barkley injured for around a month, October will be a tough test for the 1-0 rookie.
Hey Cam, take ALL(EN) the time you need
If you are an ‘All or Nothing’ fan you would have seen how tough Cam Newton was, playing hurt for the vast majority of the campaign, before finally succumbing to a pine ride in Week 17. The quarterback who filled in for the Carolina Panthers was Kyle Allen, who looked solid if not spectacular.
Fast forward to 2019 Week 3 and Allen made his second start, this time producing a stat-line and a victory that will be hard to forget. Four touchdowns was impressive, but this has to be put into context this was against a poor Cardinals pass defense without the presence of All-Pro CB Patrick Peterson. Allen did complete 73% of his passes on Sunday and was not intercepted, but he faces a tougher test against the J.J. Watt led Texans in Week 4.
With the news this week that Cam Newton may have a Lisfranc injury and is definitely out this weekend Allen will be hoping to build on his impressive season debut. The ageless Panthers TE Greg Olsen, who is probably held together by frog-tape and bits of soldering iron, will be relishing catching balls from someone who is younger, more accurate and less crocked than Cam.
Burger me – I’ll take
a Big Mack and a Terry Mc
Monday Night Football may have witnessed a stunning second quarter from Chicago Bears WR Taylor Gabriel, who became the first player in MNF history to catch three touchdowns in a single quarter of play, but his performance was shadowed by his Tottenham bound colleague Khalil Mack who dominated from start to finish. Mack recorded two sacks and two forced fumbles as Case Keenum handed out turnovers like Thomas Cook did P45’s this week.
Elsewhere there was a small crumb of comfort for Redskins fans as rookie 3rd round selection Terry McLaurin became the first player in NFL history to record five catches and a touchdown in his first three NFL regular season games. If Mitch Trubisky continues to take what he is given, through intermediate routes to Allen Robinson, Gabriel and Anthony Miller (who has not yet shone this year) then this is a playoff bound team.
The defense is scary, and whilst the Washington offensive line was not the toughest test, this is a team that is a decent kicking game from an NFC Championship.
Week 2 is already here folks. Time flies when you are having fun!
Hope everyone enjoyed their stay at overreaction town, now it’s time to depart for context city, where hopefully you’ll be able to see some indicators as to what was the real deal and what were outliers from last week.
Here are 10 things we are looking forward to this week in the NFL:
The Panthers QB will be looking to rectify a performance from week 1 that was classic Cam. Some good plays but also a few errant and shocking high passes.
66% completion rate is about where Cam has been with Norv Turner pulling the strings but if it wasn’t for Christian McCaffrey, these numbers would not be great at all. You could argue that this is now the offence the Panthers will employ going forward.
As per next gen stats, Cam only attempted 1 pass over 20 yards in the week 1 game vs the Rams which agrees with the narrative that the offence is going to show similar results this season. Yes he attempted around 40 passes, but if they are averaging on 5 yards in the air, is it really a proper NFL throw?
The players they have in McCaffrey, DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel suit the style they are trying to enforce on other teams but I think this merely could be covering over some cracks. Is this the play style because of Cam’s shoulder or is this a coincidence?
The problem is, every team needs a vertical threat; if it becomes too predictable and similar to the chart above, Christian McCaffrey may struggle to be as efficient as he has been thus far because teams will just load the box and ask Cam throw longer passes. Below is DJ Moore’s routes run vs the Rams, not even an indication that there was an interest in throwing deep. Unfortunately, i dont have Curtis Samuel or Greg Olsen’s routes run because i feel these would probably be a bit more vertically orientated.
Back to Cam though, the reason I say all this is and that it is something we are intrigued in seeing in week 2 is that we still probably require further confirmation that Cam’s shoulder is #fine and that his play is not restricted by the multiples surgeries endured over recent years. We’d all love to see him at least attempt a few more deeper passes right?
What wont help is a short week this early on in the season so all eyes will be on Cam in Thursday Night Football as we try to ascertain whether or not everything is ok with #1.
Da do Ron Run Run da do Ron Run
Arguably the single most disappointing rookie performance by anyone drafted in the top two rounds of last year’s draft was Tampa Bay’s Ronald Jones II, who recorded 44 yards at 1.9 a pop in the whole season. Already Jones has almost doubled his performance with 75 yards on the ground in Week 1 (at 5.8 a carry) along with an 18-yard catch. If Jones keeps up this rate of rushing he can end up with 1,200 yards of ground and pound.
The Buccaneers face the Panthers in Week 2, a team that gave up over 150 yards rushing and two scores to the Rams combo of Gurley and Brown. Jones may not be listed as the starter but if his contributions remain positive then he will take carries away from Peyton Barber. Buccs fans will likely be in for another season of mediocrity but they could have bit of a dusty gem that is starting to sparkle in the Florida sunshine.
Don’t You Forget About Me!
It’s easy to forget that Sammy Watkins came off the draft board earlier in 2014 than both Mike Evans and OBJ. The former Clemson star has often been out performed when compared to his peers in the same draft class, but maybe, just maybe 2019 will be different. Watkins exploded out of the gate on Sunday with a 9 catch, 198 yard, 3 touchdown performance. Showing plenty of breakaway speed to pile up yards after the catch, he was the best friend of Pat Mahomes to open up the season. With the news that Tyreek Hill will miss 4-6 weeks through injury, Watkins is in a prime position to remind everyone of the talent he possesses for a red hot Chiefs offence that will surely have too much for the Raiders. Let’s see if his week 1 performance wasn’t just another tease of his brilliance and he can find some consistency.
Hype Train Derailed?
Freddie Kitchens wanted to know how his team would handle adversity, He gets his wish in week 2. Humbled by the Titans in a week 1 blow out, the eyes of the nation will be looking for a response on Monday Night Football. The talent in the skill positions offensively appears to be in place but can the Browns find a way to keep Baker Mayfield upright? He was harassed all throughout the opener as the obvious preseason concern was exposed by Cameron Wake and co. One storyline that has slipped under the radar in this one, is the fact that the Jets DC is now Gregg Williams who was actually the man in charge of the Browns during their renaissance in the 2nd half of last year. He will be out to inflict more misery on his former employers after not securing the job permanently. With the Rams ahead on the week 3 schedule could we already be talking about a must win game for the off seasons most talked about franchise?
Time to call a Gardner
After winning a Super Bowl by coming off the bench in the regular season, the irony is not lost in Jacksonville, as the Jaguars starting quarterback Nick Foles is now the one injured whilst his backup is now in the spotlight. The big difference here is the guy in the spotlight is the 2019 version of Nick ‘who the hell is that’ Mullens.
Gardner Minshew bounced around three colleges in four years of eligibility, starting at tiny Northwest Mississippi Community College (who gave us Damon ‘Snacks’ Harrison) and ending up at Washington State, helping them to 11 wins in 2018. The Jaguars drafted Minshew in the sixth round of this year’s draft, and we all know what happened to a certain gentleman who got drafted in the sixth round. Minshew’s surprise debut was special, 88% completion rate, two tds and almost 300 yards in the air.
Minshew will be an underdog against the Texans, but we have seen they are vulnerable in the air (Brees torched them for 370 yards in Week 1) so this suddenly becomes a fascinating contest where we get to see if the grass is greener when you use a Gardner.
I’m arriving on a Jet plane
The Antonio Brown saga has taken a turn this week that is beyond any form of joke, but keeping this strictly on the field the Jets are now part of this extrapolated storyline after the Patriots traded Demaryius Thomas to the Big Apple, the green ones of course.
Thomas comes into the Jets just as the incredibly unlucky Quincy Enunwa is put on season-ending I/R with a recurrence of a neck injury that cost him the 2017 season. Thomas is four years older than Enunwa and is more prone to dropping the ball, but the important factor of chemistry will be eased by the fact Demaryius was coached by Jets head coach Adam Gase when he was receivers coach and offensive coordinator in Denver from 2010-2014. Sam Darnold and Enunwa had worked on exclusive routes together and now it will be a case or re-establishing part of the offensive game-plan.
The Jets face the Burst Bubble Browns in Week 2 and they match-up well against Cleveland. It might only be Week 2 but the loser here goes 0-2 and starts facing a lot more scrutiny. Worth staying up for in the unsavoury hours of Tuesday morning to see how this one plays out.
Best Of A Bad Bunch?
They say that defence wins championships, the Broncos will be hoping that statement rings true based on the state of their quarterback room. Joe Flacco looked as advertised in week 1, not the worst quarterback in the league but immobile (always) and inaccurate (at times).
Vic Fangio, the former Bears DC who will surely have a perfect game plan to get the best of the Bears at home whilst also trying to confuse Trubisky with disguised coverages, I expect a turnover feast.
Both sides need to bounce back from opening week defeats and maybe for one of the few times this year, Denver will get superior quarterback play.
Talking of Chicago, many folk in Illinois including Matt Nagy, were not happy with the way the Bears performed on opening night.
“3 points is ridiculous” said the Bears HC after the game and he’s right. You do not win games scoring 3 points.
How will he, Trubisky and the Bears team rebound?
It gets even spicier once you realise that they travel to Denver, an already difficult away destination to get a W from. Why is it spicy? They not only travel to a hard and hostile environment, but they also travel to play a team whose HC is Vic Fangio, a guy who will know a hell of a lot about the team after being their DC last year.
Other storylines include how will the Chicago backfield work in the rotation? Will they lean to their defence once again to try and get a win on the road?
More importantly, are Chicago in trouble??
As for Mitch Trubisky, you want to give young guys time and we shouldn’t forget he only started 13 games in college but the fact is he still looks like a rookie in year 3. Several of his passes give opponents chances for picks, particularly when he throws across his body to the left.
Lot’s of intrigue in this one, just like a cabaret (Chicago reference).
DOING THE BARE MIN-IMUM
Staying in the NFC North, a tasty game for the eyeballs at Lambeau.
This game is another one of those that the fully guaranteed Vikings QB Kirk Cousins has to try and get the monkey off his back in the sense that he can’t do it when it matters.
Only attempted 10 passes in week 1, so his arm is going to be sore and you would expect him to throw more in this one.
Packers squeaked a win at Soldier field on opening night whilst the Vikings could not have been more dominant vs a fancied Falcons team.
A win for a the Cheeseheads here wouldn’t mean at the very worst, split records against their divisional rivals, something Minnesota probably need to avoid to have a chance at winning the division or perhaps even a wildcard spot.
The same fixture last year ended in controversial tie with 2 missed Field Goals both at the end of the game and 2 in OT, multitude of bad referee calls on hits. It had everything. The final spice in the melting pot.
If Minnesota get the win here, it’ll be another “really unique” thing for Cousins this season.
Remember, dont do the wave!
Every angle has been covered about the notorious non PI call from last year’s championship game (wonder if Paddy Power will do a special on whether a PI call will be reviewed).
Luckily for the Rams, this isn’t back at the scene of the crime but judging by LA’s fanbase, there will be a lot of Saints fans in the stands with referee uniforms on.
Can emotions stay in check for the Saints? Can Goff and company put the saga to rest? And will there be any more incidents as bad as that one back in late January?
Both of these teams met in a classic in the regular season too and this one should be no different. Two high powered offences with great players and playcallers. One for the everyone to sit down and enjoy on the late slate of games. Both will no doubt be expecting to make the post season and likely write in another log of this recently fierce rivalry.