1. I’ve got some bad news. I think you should sit down. Wait, maybe you’d better lie down. Actually, you know what, just curl up in the fetal position while you read this: It turns out . . . Lamar Jackson is going to get hurt. It’s true! All that getting tackled. If I were the Ravens, I’d start punting on second down or so to avoid it.
Injuries are quickly gaining on turnovers as things that are feared to an irrational extent. You could probably pick and choose a few spots where Jackson could better protect himself, and maybe he will get hurt, but the ratio of plays where quarterback takes hit and gets up vs. plays where quarterback takes hit and gets injured is still heavily in his favor on any given play. The only real risk is that Jackson’s body is more likely to break down in his early-30s (a la Cam) than in his early-40s (a la Brady). That would be unfortunate. But considering what the Ravens are doing to teams, and considering how rapidly Jackson is developing and evolving into something utterly unstoppable, why would you even think about reining him in? Let him do his thing, do a little extra scouting on the 2032 QB draft class, microwave a plate of those mini pizza bagels and relax.
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2. Nick Bosa is going to have an interesting day in Baltimore. He’s been spectacular for the most part this season, but this Ravens offense presents a different kind of challenge. It can be difficult to locate the ball against this offense; by the time you do, Lamar Jackson or Mark Ingram might already be five yards upfield.
If you go by measures like the final score, you know the 49ers shellacked the Packers on Sunday night. But watch Bosa getting turned around on two particular plays.
One play ended with a short gain by Aaron Rodgers, the other an incomplete pass (and David Bakhtiari was actually flagged for holding Bosa there). The 49ers are capable of shutting down the Ravens offense because they’re capable of shutting down anyone, but those kinds of missteps—losing track of the ball—tend to turn into chunk plays when you face these Ravens.
Bosa has been unleashed in the 49ers' scheme, and that's the way he should play. It has helped make this defense dominant. But against this Ravens offense, it has the potential to backfire.
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3a. One other thing about the Ravens’ emergence this season: The offense is, obviously, greatly improved, but the defense is taking the ball away at a rate that they didn’t a year ago. In fact, with 18 takeaways through 11 games, they’ve already topped last year’s total (17).
Last year’s meager takeaway total was certainly part fluke—after all, they had 34 takeaways in 2017. But GM Eric DeCosta made a concerted effort to stack the defensive backfield with ballhawks, first over the offseason when they cut ties with Eric Weddle and replaced him with the younger and rangier Earl Thomas, and then again at the trade deadline when he scooped up Marcus Peters for a bargain-basement price.
Peters is not for everyone. (He certainly wasn’t for the Rams, who wanted to use him as a true No. 1 corner in their scheme but quickly realized he didn’t git.) He’s going to give up some plays, but he’s also going to make a ton of them, and the former is mitigated in a scheme where he isn’t expected to shadow the opponent’s best target but can instead float as an off-coverage ballhawk. He has a team-leading three interceptions, including a pick-six of Russell Wilson, in five games as a Raven, and Baltimore has had multiple takeaways in every game since they got him. Considering the desperation that trying to keep up with this Ravens offense can cause opponents, Peters should have every opportunity to keep feasting.
3b. Of course, the downside of adding Earl Thomas is that he casually mentioned that he thinks the Ravens are going to play in the Super Bowl, which is bulletin board material that will make the New England Patriots unbeatable. I actually heard the Patriots were not going to show up for games in January because until now there was no motivation to do so. Tom Brady has a lot of good tweets he’s been working on and now he’s ready to share them. The McCourty Twins had already put a deposit down at the laser tag emporium for Championship Sunday. Bill Belichick has a ton of stuff he wanted to watch on Disney+ once the holidays are over. Mostly The Suite Life of Zack & Cody. He binge-watched The Suite Life on Deck a couple offseasons ago but had trouble following the plot and is hopeful that the original series will answer some of his questions (like, why is it “suite,” shouldn't it be “sweet”?). But anyway, now that Earl Thomas has said that he thinks his team is going to the Super Bowl, Belichick and Co. have decided to play out the season.
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4. I’ve stated the bulk of my case for the Panthers to go back to Cam Newton in 2020, but one more thing, this in regards to his contract, which is described by some as “large.” And $21.1 million sounds like a lot of money. Do you have $21.1 million? I know I don’t. At least not until someone pays market value for my Sonic the Hedgehog pogs.
But that number puts him on the low end among veteran starters. According to Spotrac, he’d rank 15th among QB salaries in 2020. And, unlike a lot of veteran starters, he’d have zero dollars committed beyond 2020. If he can be 90% of what he once was, Newton is better than Kyle Allen and Will Grier and probably anyone the Panthers could get their hands on through draft or free agency this offseason, making that $21.1 million downright reasonable.
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5. Over his past 16 regular-season games, spanning a calendar year, Jared Goff is averaging 7.01 yards per attempt with 17 touchdowns and 18 interceptions for the 9-7 Rams.
Some of it has to do with the six-man front/Cover-4 blueprint introduced by the Lions last November and mastered (well, not mastered, but executed with better talent) by the Patriots last February, which remains an unsolved mystery for Goff and Sean McVay. But more of it has to do with the limitations of a subpar offensive line. And a lot of that has to do with the Rams’ failure to develop young talent so far.
Last offseason, the Rams let guard Rodger Saffold walk and didn’t put up much of a fight to keep retiring center John Sullivan on the field. They banked on youngsters Brian Allen and Joseph Noteboom being ready to step in. It ended up being a miscalculation, as Allen and Noteboom were objectively terrible before both got hurt.
Both Allen and Noteboom are cut from different cloths—Allen is the heady technician short on traits, Noteboom the ultra-athletic project oozing with potential. The Rams’ roster-building plans hinge on finding those kinds of contributors in the middle rounds of the draft (the approach is basically: scratch as many mid-round lotto tickets as possible, find a few winners, and thanks to the stupidity of the rookie wage scale you now have multiple starters making six figures, which allows you to pay Goff and Gurley and Donald and Ramsey). The Rams—so far—have failed to develop any young offensive linemen, certainly not Allen nor Noteboom. In limited action, 2019 draft picks Bobby Evans and David Edwards have cleared the low bar set by Allen and Noteboom but haven’t approached what L.A. had up front last year. All this is even more alarming because the one reliable piece on the front five, Andrew Whitworth, turns 38 in a couple days and is finally showing signs of decline.
The Rams don’t have a first-round pick until 2022, and they don’t have the cap scape to pay the premium it would take to get one of the quality linemen that slip through into free agency. So unless Evans or Edwards (or Noteboom or Allen) get better quick, this offense’s biggest problem is going to get worse before it gets better.
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6. The Josh Shaw gambling suspension—which, considering his place on the fringes of the league, probably amounts to a lifetime ban—is harsh, especially if it was indeed the result of ignorance (even if it is an unfathomable level of ignorance). However, the league’s business relationship with gambling and daily fantasy companies, and its stated desire to have people outside the league betting on its games, has nothing to do with Shaw’s punishment. Players, coaches and team and league personnel can’t bet on NFL games. It would throw the integrity of the games into question. Even more than the league’s officials do on a weekly basis.
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7. Just so we’re all on the same page: The Cleveland Browns are going to the playoffs. They’re 5-6 and they still have two meetings with the Bengals. They get the Duck Hodges Steelers on Sunday, which really should be a win.
If they win in Pittsburgh, and beat the Bengals twice, and win at Arizona, that would get them to nine wins. More importantly, it would guarantee them eight wins over AFC opponents (with a chance for nine against the Ravens at home—remember that they won handily at Baltimore in Week 4, a lifetime ago). And that would likely be enough to win the tiebreaker against any 6-seed candidate except for the Titans, who beat Cleveland head-to-head. And the 6-5 Titans still have to go to Indianapolis, host the Saints, and play Houston twice.
The Browns just need to win the four remaining games in which they’ll be favored to win. And, I mean, this team would never do anything to figuratively shoot themselves in the metaphorical collective butt, right?
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8. Ladies and gentlemen . . . Queens of the Stone Age!
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