Week 13 isn’t over yet. So with three games to go, let’s go …
• I had a lot of fun putting together the lede for this morning’s MMQB column, so I figured I’d give you a little more on the Raiders’ play call: Troff Left 77 Z Spear Takeoff. First, let’s start with what the words mean …
Troff left: Trips left with the Y (tight end) offset.
77: The protection call—a standard six-man protection.
Z Spear: A full-field route concept with all in the “sharp weapons” family, and the Z (Henry Ruggs) running a dagger route (deep in-cut).
Takeoff: The adjustment to the Spear concept, with Ruggs faking the dagger and breaking deep.
At the line, Derek Carr saw the pressure and checked into 59 to keep an extra guy in. And Carr climbed the pocket to buy time for Ruggs to sell his double move on Jets rookie Lamar Jackson. Jackson bit, Ruggs went and the rest is history. Raiders coach Jon Gruden deserves credit for studying Gregg Williams, and finding where the spear concept would compromise his defense in a situation like this. As a result, Vegas maintained its playoff position. And the Jets maintained their position in the race for Trevor Lawrence.
• Sunday seemed to create a crossroads for both the Bears and Chargers franchises, with different looking, but similarly ugly, losses that sunk those respective teams further under .500. And yet, both Matt Nagy and Anthony Lynn are positioned to survive the day after. Why? Well, I think because we’ve already watched four GM spots and three head coaching spots open this year, the general public might feel a little more trigger-happy when things go the wrong way. And, to be sure, there can be a domino effect sometimes, where one firing leads to another, as teams try to keep up with each other. But I’m really not sure that there’s any great benefit to whacking a coach or GM earlier in the year. Now, if things have gotten so bad internally that it needs to be done (and that’s not the feeling I get with the Bears or Chargers), then that’s one thing. Otherwise? It’s a little bit of a plus that you can start your background work—though teams with sitting coaches and GMs have routinely back-channeled that stuff in the past, before actually firing guys. And it can send a signal to a coach who’s in demand that the job will be open, which affords him time to do his research. But even then, most openings aren’t exactly out of nowhere, so guys looking for their shot aren’t necessarily going to wait until someone’s actually whacked before doing homework. Maybe the biggest benefit is just giving the fan base its pound of flesh, and calming the external waters. So when I add this up, and I might be off here, I can see why a team like Jacksonville would let Doug Marrone play out the string, with the team still playing hard and competing week in and week out. And I could also see why the Bears and Chargers would be patient.
• Here’s a young coach to keep an eye on: Green Bay’s 40-year-old offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. He’s now got six years under his belt as a coordinator, has experience on both sides of the ball on his resume, and was part of breakthrough years in both Buffalo and Jacksonville, with quarterbacks who were, in the final analysis, pretty limited. And he’s worked with Matt LaFleur to get more out of Aaron Rodgers the last couple years, which is a pretty daunting task. Along the way, he’s gotten to learn the Shanahan system from LaFleur, which is similar to how, late in his time in Minnesota, Kevin Stefanski got to learn it from Gary Kubiak (and you can see how that’s playing out in Cleveland). One thing I have heard is that he used technology over the last eight or nine months to evolve the way he teaches, both in an effort to bridge gaps created by COVID-19 rules and to better reach and teach a younger generation. It’s something even the 36-year-old Rodgers has taken to, and I think it’s one of those little things you can pick out as a reason to believe a guy will be innovative and creative in an overarching role as a head coach. So long as Rodgers keeps playing well, my sense is you’ll start hearing Hackett’s name more.
• The Browns have the best run game in football—and a lot of people deserve credit for it. Stefanski, of course, for bringing the scheme to Cleveland and coaching it. GM Andrew Berry for successfully shoring up the tackle situation by signing Jack Conklin and drafting Jedrick Wills. And those lineman, and Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, for executing it. But no one deserves more credit than line coach Bill Callahan. Just as he effectively supercharged a talented group in New York with the Jets, helped build a monster in Dallas, and fixed what ailed Washington in the run game, he’s set the foundation for everything that Cleveland does on offense by getting the line right, and Chubb and Hunt rolling. That, in turn, has allowed the coaches to break Baker Mayfield into the offense more gradually, which is preferable in that system, and you’re seeing the benefits of that now. Really, there are few guys more valuable to have around than a line coach like Callahan. Whatever the Browns are paying him, it’s not enough.
• I had a really good back-and-forth on Sunday night with 11th-year Patriot Devin McCourty on his new quarterback, Cam Newton. And it was interesting hearing what a defensive player felt like Newton brought to the table: “The dude loves to win. He's fit in really well, because he's like everybody in this locker room. All we want to do is win. And I think you see it most when Cam gets in there and guts out a three-yard run, or it's on the goal-line and he runs and carries three guys into the end zone. I know he's a bigger quarterback, but quarterbacks aren't known to want to do that. And he's really gutted it out and done some things that I think when you watch, you're like, he's doing that for the betterment of the team. Last week, taking that hit on the sideline and getting back up, and we get in field goal range. He's just been awesome. And I think it's because deep down, he's just a winner. He wants to win. He wants to lead his team. He wants to continue to win for this team by just being the best version of himself that wins game. It's been awesome to see. I've really enjoyed getting to know him and getting to see his work ethic up close and personal. Because it's nothing like what it's portrayed as. He's really a hard worker, humble guy that for me has been awesome to see. He just wants to see all the young guys do well. He's been a big reason why some of these guys have stepped up and played well this year." And I can add this: The Patriots staff knows it has some deficiencies in offensive personnel. They see what you see. My sense is they very much appreciate how positive Newton’s been through a situation that isn’t optimal for a quarterback. They know, given his accomplishments in the NFL, it’s not a given that he’d be that way. That he has been, as they see it, is a big reason why the Patriots have been able to ride out some rough patches.
• The NFL’s rules for the looming hiring cycle are pretty interesting. In-person interviews, effective immediately, can’t happen until the regular season ends. And after that, they can only take place if the hiring team and the candidates’ seasons are over. (There are also normal distancing and mask rules, as well.) So the obvious question here: With coaching and GM candidates already having complaints that being in the playoffs puts them at a disadvantage in getting jobs, wouldn’t this only exacerbate the problem? The answer, simply, has to be yes, if you believe it’s easier to connect with people in person than over a laptop. The league’s EVP of football operations, Troy Vincent, pushed back on that idea on Monday, saying that he believes that teams will cast a wider net under these rules, because it’ll be less work getting people in for interviews. And I can buy that. But you still have to believe that while someone who can get on a plane and go somewhere might not have an edge in getting an interview, he would have an advantage in trying to win the interview. Which, of course, is the point of the whole exercise.
• That said, I fully understand why the NFL is doing this. The priority is to finish the season, and the league doesn’t want any teams that are playing games to be compromised in any way. With all the work that’s been put in, I agree with that part of it—you can’t put people’s personal interests in front of the huge collective effort it’s taken to make the 2020 season work.
• So you want to know how much it would hurt the Eagles to cut Carson Wentz after this year? Well, they’d owe him $25.4 million in cash for next year to start with. And then the cap charges would roll in—with about $33.8 million in prorated bonuses (basically credit-card charges) coming due on the cap, bringing the total to $59.2 million. And remember, this is a Philly team that already has around $260 million in cap money committed to 2021 as it stands now, and with Wentz on the books for $34.67 million. Add to that how difficult his contract would be to move, and it sure looks like the only real play here would be for Philly to try and make it work with Wentz next year, regardless of how many changes are made around him. Moving on gets easier in 2022, when the cap charges shrink and the guaranteed money is gone—there’d be $24.5 million in prorated cap money to deal with then.
• The Saints are 8–0 with backup quarterbacks starting the last two years (three straight wins with Taysom Hill and five with Teddy Bridgewater in 2019). That is a staggering statistic, and a huge credit to Sean Payton and Pete Carmichael, as well as Mickey Loomis, Jeff Ireland and Terry Fontenot on the scouting side. If you watch their games, you can see where they miss Drew Brees. That it hasn’t mattered that much is pretty impressive.
• Getting to see Washington tonight, and the Giants yesterday only highlights the disappointment in Philly and Dallas. Ron Rivera and Joe Judge have done a nice job pulling those franchises off the canvas. But based on the amount of building the Eagles and Cowboys have done, there’s no way they both should be trailing those two.