Start paying more attention to the Chicago Bears’ quarterback ... plus, why the Steelers have no faith in Michael Vick and why the NFL should tweak its rules about fumbles in the end zone
1. I think the Steelers have little to no trust in Michael Vick right now. Nearly every play they called against the Chargers on Monday had a design that hid the quarterback. Expect that to continue this Sunday when the Cardinals, with their multifarious pressure packages, visit Heinz Field.
2. I think ESPN’s Monday Night Football production crew, headed by veteran producer Jay Rothman and director Chip Dean, does as good a job as any in the business. But please guys, no more live shots from the spider cam. It happened on at least seven plays in the Steelers-Chargers game, and every time the viewer’s depth perception was compromised by the camera angle.
3. I think Washington, under coordinator Joe Barry, has the most vanilla defense in the entire NFL. For them, that’s not a bad thing. Last year, under Jim Haslett, Washington may have had the league’s most voluminous and diverse scheme. That D ranked No. 29 in points allowed. This year, with a more talented front but largely unchanged secondary, Washington ranks No. 12 in scoring.
4. I think when the offense fumbles into the end zone and recovers, as Julio Jones did on the Devonta Freeman’s fumble against Washington last Sunday, it should retain possession but be moved back to the opponent’s 20-yard-line with a new set of downs, rather than be given the touchdown. Fumbles are always either a bad play by the offense or a good play by the defense, and as Football Outsiders has documented over the years, fumble recoveries are generally a randomized 50/50 proposition. So why reward the offense with points here?
5. I think the Chiefs are in real trouble with Jamaal Charles out. (Major limb to climb out on, huh?) I tried to argue the opposite with Robert Klemko on our podcast this week. Then I watched more KC film and felt dread sweep through me. Why did I play The Contrarian? The Chiefs are almost a purely scheme-based offense that is totally dependent on out-leveraging the defense via play design. Charles was their only player who could create anything from scratch.
6. I think the most overlooked young QB in the game right now is Blake Bortles, and the most overlooked running back is T.J. Yeldon. Bortles is still understandably inconsistent, with a tendency to predetermine his throws before dropping back (it was most evident last Sunday against the Bucs on play-action). But when he does make the right read, which is more often than not, you see very stellar arm strength from a guy who also moves well. As for Yeldon, stylistically he offers similarities to Le’Veon Bell.
7. I think the NFL needs to sharpen how it keeps “turnover” stats. An interception thrown on fourth down or at the end of a half is not a turnover—the ball would have changed possession after that play anyway. In fact, in most instances, an incompletion on fourth down is more damaging to the offense than an interception there.
8. I think the Cowboys presented a good formula last week for how to play the Patriots. They went with a 3-2-6 dime package that featured a nose tackle and a pair of wide-9 defensive ends. That front eliminates a lot of double-team blocking possibilities. In coverage, they played press-man across the board, dedicating a hybrid cover corner/safety (Byron Jones) on Rob Gronkowski. Bizarre fronts and press-man are the only ways to disrupt New England early in the down, where their passing game primarily resides.
9. I also think you need two variations of your game plan when facing New England. One for the first half and one for the second. The Patriots figured out Dallas’s man coverages at halftime and carved them. Changing up how you use your linebackers would be a good in-game way adjustment to your scheme without overhauling it.
10. I think more attention must be paid to Jay Cutler. In Chicago’s last two outings he has orchestrated come-from-behind, game-winning drives despite a suspect offensive line and paucity of proven wide receivers. Cutler’s pocket movement was absolutely sensational against the Chiefs. And we sometimes forget that he has one of the best pure arms in the league.