Week 5’s Jekyll or Hydes
Week 4 in the NFL and again, some interesting results. There were a few standout games for me, involving teams who can’t decide whether they are contenders or not. I’ve looked at the game film a bit more closely to try and understand what’s going on.
Oakland Raiders vs Indianapolis Colts:
I wrote about how impressed I was with the Raiders in week 1, only for them to lose their next 2 games in uninspiring fashion. The Chiefs and Vikings look good so far this year, but Oakland didn’t put up much of a fight in those games. Contrast that with the Colts, whose only loss came by one score against a good, pre-injury bug Chargers team. Going by the form book you’d expect the Colts to have taken care of business in this game, but you know the saying…any given Sunday…
The Raiders started hot in this one, looking more like the Raiders from week 1. From their opening drive Derek Carr was assured and efficient. He never forced the ball, finding the open receiver and checking it down when necessary, helped by his offensive line who was giving him a clean pocket, and his receivers who found the spaces in coverage. Josh Jacobs was also getting involved too, with nicely balanced play calling. All of this led to 7 points on the opening possession and then Oakland’s defence had a nice opening drive of their own, Lamarcus Joyner made a particularly impressive play coming off his man to deflect a pass that looked to be going for a long gain. The Secondary was covering well and making it difficult for receivers. On the occasions receives did get open drops didn’t help the cause. This would be a recurring theme, with Eric Ebron accruing 3 before the end of the game.
On the second possession the Raiders extended their lead when the colts defence bit hard on a run fake and Trevor Davis took the end around 60 yards for a TD. Down 14-0 early, the Colts couldn’t recover although they settled down and made it a game.
Prior to this season, I was more hopeful about Jacoby Brissett, rather than being a true believer. He’s shown poise and an ability to play QB at an NFL level so far. Brissett played well in this game, unaided by the drops and other miscues from his supporting cast. With T.Y Hilton out, the downfield throws just weren’t there, and the Raiders secondary was good at making quick tackles and limiting yards after the catch.
Oakland’s week 2 and 3 losses were to good teams, so while there is reason for optimism in Oakland, they also have a tough run of games coming. A slew of teams are at 2-2 teams in the AFC and with the Chiefs looking like they’ve not lost a step from last year, they need to find a way to string a few wins together. The Colts, disappointing first half aside, are probably still going to be the team to beat in the AFC South.
One notable exception to the impressive tacking mentioned above was Vontaze Burfict. After an ejection for a brutal and needless hit on a defenceless Jack Doyle, the league sent a message and suspended him for the season. The number of tweets I have seen trying to defend him are surprising and disappointing. Things like “that’s football” or “other hits were worse, where are suspensions for those players?”. Yes, players such as Jonathan Jones (who put a hit on a running Josh Allen) were also bad, but as first offender, who doesn’t leave his feet and tries to turn his shoulder in order to not to lead with his head, it’s comparing apples and oranges. Jones tried to avoid an egregious hit but took a bad and angle. Flag, yes, fine, maybe. But to compare that to a player who launches and leads with his head time and time again is ridiculous. Burfict has been suspended for 22 games and accrued over £4 million in fines or lost game checks. He refuses to change his ways, so the league must act. We have escalating fines for repeat PED or recreational drug offences, so why not for this? The league either cares about player safety or it doesn’t. Burfict clearly doesn’t, so another slap on the wrists was never going to achieve anything or be any sort of disincentive for him (or his coaches).
Tennessee Titans v Atlanta Falcons:
One other game that flipped the script was Tennessee vs Atlanta. The titans were coming off a humbling loss to the Jaguars, Atlanta had a win against the Eagles and a game in which they ran the Colts very close. The Falcons were favoured here, at home against a team with various question marks. Much like the Raiders, Tennessee came out looking more like the week 1 version of themselves. Mariota looked comfortable and accurate, and the defence caused Havoc for Matt Ryan. Dean Pees has been a positive influence on this defence, Ryan found coverage windows were tight and they stuffed Atlanta’s run game. Ryan made some throws and was effective when he had a chance to be, but that wasn’t often enough. Ryan often tried to pull Atlanta back into this, only to be thwarted by a good defensive play.
By Contrast, this Atlanta Defence left holes for Mariota and his receivers to exploit, particularly A.J Brown. Dan Quinn was one of the architects of Seattle’s Legion of Boom, and this defence is a shadow of that. Tackling after the catch was poor and receivers were catching balls uncontested when previously those line backers and safeties would have been flying to the ball. One particular example was the TD to Corey Davis, where Mariota placed the ball perfectly to lead his receiver away from the oncoming defender, who took a bad angle in pursuit and missed his tackle, leading to a walk in TD. There were signs of life in the 4th quarter, with some good pressure on Mariota, and stuffing Derek Henry to stall a drive but it was too little too, late after getting into a 24-7 hole at halftime.
Looking forward for these teams, Tennessee at 2-2 are in a 4-way tie in the division. If they can keep up the standard from weeks 1 and 4, as opposed to weeks 2 and 3, they have a chance to be right in the mix. On the other hand, Atlanta now fall to 1-3 in the NFC where, if things ended today, they are already 2 games back from the other wild card teams. Looking at their schedule it’s tough to see a win coming soon, unless they up their game. Their lone win came against an Eagles team with a seriously beat up receiving corps, and it might be time to wonder if Dan Quinn’s chair is getting warm.
Looking forward to week 5 and beyond some of the storylines I have my eye on are:
- The Daniel Jones hype train is alive and well but after playing against the QB friendly defences of Tampa Bay and Washington, a much firmer test is ahead when the Vikings come to town.
- The Bears handled a tough contest against Minnesota, can the offence continue its growth and not fall back to relying on Khalil Mack and company to bail them out?
- Bruce Arians got another impressive performance out of Jameis Winston, but the defence continues to let opposing QBS throw it all over them. Is Winston fixed and can they sort things out on the defensive side of the ball? If the answer to both of those is yes, then they can be a real threat in the NFC.
- In a game that’s important for both teams to keep up momentum, will a bye week stall the 49ers good run after playing so well through 3 weeks? They’re up against a Cleveland team who had a bounce back of their own by taking it to the Ravens.
- Green Bay vs Dallas could potentially be game of the week with Dallas wanting to prove they aren’t just beating up on bad teams and Green Bay needing to bounce back from a Thursday night loss to the Eagles.