Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The game film suggests that ‘freelancing’ is a smear campaign. Plus, how the Cowboys can survive with Brandon Weeden, what Gary Kubiak must do to get Peyton Manning right, and Bill O’Brien’s early mistake

By Andy Benoit
September 23, 2015

1) I think the Jets have the best defense in football right now. The Rams are still young and will likely be up-and-down these first two months. The Seahawks are missing Kam Chancellor. The Broncos are immensely talented but not quite as sturdy at linebacker. The Jets through two games have forced a staggering 10 turnovers thanks to suffocating coverage fortifying an attack-oriented scheme that features the game’s most destructive three-man D-line.

2) After watching the Jags-Dolphins bout, I think the rumor about Ndamukong Suh’s freelancing is merely a smear campaign. (The question is, Initiated by whom?) I’m not privy to defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle’s play calls; it’s possible Suh drifted off script a time or two. But there was absolutely no negative evidence of this on film. In fact, Suh was the key component of a Dolphins’ run defense that was very stellar against zone concepts. Suh’s ability and willingness to eat up multiple blockers allowed fluid linebacker Jelani Jenkins to play clean and fast.

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3) I think the Cowboys can survive for two months with Brandon Weeden at quarterback as long as they commit to a run-first approach. A run-first approach doesn’t mean simply running the ball a lot. It also means conducting much of their passing game out of run-based formations, with two tight ends or two backs on the field. Doing that forces the defense to play its simpler, more straightforward (and often less athletic) base 4-3 or 3-4 package, minimizing the blitzes and disguises at their disposal. Weeden is a fine passer. His problems in Cleveland centered on making decisions. By simplifying, you take parts of the decision-making out of his hands.

4) I think Chuck Pagano was taking a shot at GM Ryan Grigson, not quarterback Andrew Luck, when he was asked about Luck’s struggles Monday night amidst a subpar O-line performance and said, “That's been the case for three years now, has it not? He should be more than comfortable dealing with what he’s dealing with.” Luck, I can almost guarantee you, would agree.

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5) I think the Broncos need to return to being a no-huddle, shotgun-based passing team. And enough of working Peyton Manning into Gary Kubiak’s system. Let the veteran QB do what he’s always done best: control the game at the line of scrimmage.

6) I think Texans head coach Bill O’Brien jumped the gun by replacing Brian Hoyer with Ryan Mallett after one week. I thought this after watching the Texans’ Week 1 film against the Chiefs, and I still think it after seeing their Week 2 film against the Panthers. Hoyer had a few costly mistakes in the opener (still no idea what he was throwing at on that first interception), but he was accurate and played on script the rest of the time. Mallett, on the other hand, really struggled with ball placement in the first half against Carolina. Precision accuracy has been his bugaboo since entering the league. He sharpened a bit in Sunday’s second half but had a bad interception to A.J. Klein when he misestimated a matchup-zone coverage. The Texans don’t have a lot of talent offensively; they must win through play design. Hoyer gives them the better chance to execute their designs.

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7) I think Josh Norman is looking like one of the league’s most improved cornerbacks. A nightmare as a rookie and recipient of multiple benchings over his first three seasons, Norman shadowed Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins on Sunday and thoroughly won that battle. It’s telling that the Panthers, who typically prefer straight zone coverages, would even ask a corner to match up to a specific wide receiver. The prior week, Norman had a 30-yard touchdown off a horrendous Blake Bortles interception.

8) Speaking of Bortles, I think he’s clearly a late-in-the-down type of quarterback. Think Ben Roethlisberger Lite, if you will. That is, if we’re talking about Roethlisberger of six or seven years ago. (So far this season, Roethlisberger has picked up right where he left off in 2014: as one of the game’s preeminent timing-based pocket passers.) Bortles doesn’t have Big Ben’s physical strength, but he’s a slower-twitch mover who is more comfortable on longer developing plays. Jags offensive coordinator Greg Olson knows this. Olson did a great job against Miami, eschewing quick-strike concepts for downfield play-action. Expect this to become Jacksonville’s M.O.

9) I think Green Bay’s Josh Sitton is the best left guard in football, run or pass.

10) I think Minnesota’s Xavier Rhodes has a chance to become one of the league’s top corners. Last Sunday he was tasked with shadowing Calvin Johnson. At 6’1” and 210 pounds, Rhodes’s body structure matches up to Megatron’s, while veteran corner Terence Newman, at 5’10”, 190, is better suited for Golden Tate. Nevertheless, that was a significant task Rhodes drew, and he fought Johnson to a near-draw. In the first half, the Vikings, who had no trouble stopping the Lions’ ground game with a lighter box, played a lot of Cover 2 to Rhodes’s side. But as the game progressed, more was put on the third-year corner’s plate. Don’t be surprised if Rhodes shadows other No. 1 receivers this year.


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