- Plus, the rise of Demarcus Lawrence, a shocking game plan from the Jaguars, and why the Lions have to be careful coming after Mitchell Trubisky
1. I have a rule: no studying garbage time film. It can paint a false picture, just like preseason film. But having never seen Nathan Peterman, curiosity pushed me to watch his final 11 snaps against the Saints. Flipping through quickly, I couldn’t help but notice Peterman’s decisiveness. He attacked route combinations on time, and the ball left his hands promptly. Maybe it was because he knew the Saints would be in soft zone coverage. Even so, there was a dropback rhythm that you almost never saw with Tyrod Taylor. We’ll find out about Peterman when he takes meaningful snaps against the Chargers this Sunday. But Peterman aside, benching Taylor was understandable. I’ve documented his limitations during this season, before the season and heading into last season. It’s not surprising that a coaching staff that didn’t bring in Taylor is eager to replace him.
2. Another team that made the right QB decision this week was Minnesota. Case Keenum should remain the starter unless he has a total meltdown (or two, since he hasn’t even yet had one). Keenum has played with the assertiveness that coordinator Pat Shurmur’s well-crafted scheme demands. Teddy Bridgewater has never been known for his assertiveness and is unfamiliar with Shurmur’s scheme. (Remember, Bridgewater was running Norv Turner’s system at the time of his 2016 knee injury.) The other part that’s easy to overlook is that Bridgewater is not significantly more talented than Keenum. Bridgewater is bigger and a tad more athletic, but arm-strength wise, both are below the NFL median.
3. With Tyron Smith out again for the Sunday night showdown against Philadelphia, the Cowboys will need to employ more six-and seven-man protections against Philly’s defensive line, which is the deepest and most dynamic in football. The narrative coming out of the Cowboys-Falcons game was that backup left tackles Chaz Green and Byron Bell were left helpless on an island. That’s not true. Yes, they faced more one-on-one scenarios than they should have, but many times they had help from chip-blockers. Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan will have to expand that.
4. Demarcus Lawrence is this season’s most improved defensive end, after being the most improved two years ago, as well. What stands out are his hands: They’re quick, violent and attached to long arms. Lawrence’s opponent this week, Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson, is athletic but, from time to time, can be sloppy in his hand usage. It could be another productive week for Dallas’s fourth-year end.
5. Cincinnati’s ground game ranks dead last—and it has looked every bit that bad on film. It makes you wonder: Why hasn’t H-back Ryan Hewitt played more? In 2015 under offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, Hewitt was an invaluable movable chess piece and lead-blocker. But his role diminished last year under Ken Zampese, and this season, playing primarily for Bill Lazor, he’s been on the field for less than 12% of the Bengals’ snaps. Teams prefer to play base personnel instead of three wide receivers against the Broncos. Will Hewitt have a bigger role in the base packages this Sunday?
6. I couldn’t believe my eyes watching Jacksonville’s offensive film against the Chargers this past week. In the second half of a game that was close throughout, the Jaguars called 42 pass plays and just 13 runs. The Jaguars! Fifteen of their 18 first-down play calls in the second half were passes. Los Angeles had bottled up Jacksonville’s ground game in the first half, but not to this degree. Predictably, Blake Bortles made a few costly mistakes in that second half. Thanks to its defensive playmaking, Jacksonville still won. Expect normalcy to be restored this week when Jacksonville faces a Cleveland defense that has played the run well most of the season but struggled without Jamie Collins against a subpar Lions ground game in Week 10.
7. In a shocking upset, here’s a second note about the Browns-Jaguars game: It will be interesting to see how deep Cleveland’s safeties play. This season, Jabrill Peppers and Derrick Kindred have consistently aligned almost 20 yards off the ball. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams likes to play this way. Against Leonard Fournette, however, that’s a bad idea.
8. The Lions should be judicious when blitzing Mitchell Trubisky out of man coverage; Trubisky is a potent on-the-move QB. Last week, DeShone Kizer had scrambles of 18 and 20 yards when Detroit’s man-free blitzes left the middle of the field wide open.
9. Washington right tackle Morgan Moses has improved steadily each year since entering the league as a third-round draft pick in 2014. Moses has a high-cut body, which hinders his anchor ability, but he compensates with strong hands. It’ll be fun watching him face Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan, one of football’s craftiest technicians.
10. An assistant coach name to file away: Ryan Nielsen. He’s in his first year coaching New Orleans’s defensive line. I’ve never met Nielsen and didn’t know what he looked like until I googled “Saints defensive line coach,” which I did after realizing that Cameron Jordan, Tyeler Davison, David Onyemata and Alex Okafor have looked great on film all year and are getting better each week. This week, those men will face one of the league’s most talented and best-coached O-lines, Washington’s, led by veteran offensive assistant Bill Callahan.
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