If you popped into my football post from last week you know that I took a year off from watching the NFL. The great part about coming back after a pigskin sabbatical is that the excellence of the sport crashes into you like a wave. Great football is jaw-dropping and we live in a time when the rules favor a pass-heavy open floor plan type league. The sky is the offensive limit. You can air it to your heart’s content. Players are faster and shiftier and swishier. Quarterbacks (theoretically at least) are a more protected species. NFL offenses can sing a song of sixpence until the proverbial chickens come home to roost.
And we get to watch it.
Add to that the wonder of a player like Patrick Mahomes, only in his third year as a pro. His first year he redshirted behind a veteran signal-caller and then last year he took the reins of the Kansas City Chiefs and proceeded to become — immediately — the most shocking and terrifying quarterback in the league. He is a whole new thing and may single-handedly usher in a completely new era of football.
And we get to watch him.
.@PatrickMahomes said he spent his birthday (Tuesday) watching film and studying for Sunday’s game against the Ravens.— BJ Kissel (@ChiefsReporter) September 18, 2019
Had a “cheat” dinner on Monday night though, he added.
In addition to his poise and talent and genetic cannon arm, we can take comfort in the place he landed. His coach, with more than 200 career wins under his belt, (208-134-1) is still searching for his first Lombardi. Andy Reid is a poet who writes with x’s and o’s.
He is a modern route-designing master, cracking open defenses with a lifetime of knowledge, a steady hand and wildly creative offenses. And now he wields his greatest weapon ever in the form of Mahomes.
Watching Patrick Mahomes throw a dime under pressure and off his back foot for a 73-yard TD in a game he's ALREADY WINNING by three possessions is the most surefire way to feel absolutely hopeless about the future competitiveness of the AFC. pic.twitter.com/PzDENi4rPB— Brett Kollmann (@BrettKollmann) September 18, 2019
Mahomes may be the greatest weapon any coach has ever wielded in NFL history. Last week he threw for nearly 300 yards and four touchdowns in a quarter. He is gifted, even-keeled and studious. You can’t hate this kid.
He’s a dynamo. And the 2019 Chiefs? They are a bellicose, contemporary ballet of rocket men. It very well may be that you can’t stop them, you can only hope to contain them.
Which is why the coach of the New England Patriots, The Dark One, He of the Hooded Reign, has spent the last 36 months building the only defense that can even partially bring them to heel. The New England secondary is like nothing I can remember. They are a biological nickel and dime meat blanket that smothers receivers to death.
(I know no one wants to read about the Patriots. I certainly don’t want to write about them. But in terms of the current power rankings in the NFL, they are a mainstay, and therefore we must pay them some heed. But there is certainly no reason to ever root for them other than the vindictive joy one receives when the highest trophy of a very Red State type league perennially resides in a Blue State.)
In the preseason I heard an anecdote from universally loathed Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who was secretly worried about the Patriot offense this season. Apparently, (and I’m paraphrasing here) throughout Organized Team Activities in the early summer and then the beginning of training camp, the offense was struggling. Receivers weren’t getting separation. No one was ever open. Was it the wideouts or was Father Time finally catching up with Brady? He didn’t know, but day after day, the offense was laying an egg.
Fast forward to Detroit, where the Patriots visit the Lions to hold joint team practices and all of a sudden, Patriots receivers are all wide open. Brady realized that it wasn’t that the offense was bad, it was that the defense was that good. Twenty years in the league and he never saw it look like that.
And they’ll have to be that good. Because the Chiefs are populated with human missiles. Sub 4.4 speed wherever you cast your eyes. A massive, ridiculously gifted man-mountain on the end of the line. Taller than a lineman, but fast as a Clydesdale. The Chiefs also roster several pass-catching, hard-charging running backs. And Mahomes there behind center, ready to unleash hell.
The Patriots have the gargoyles on defense to lasso the sprites on the Chiefs offense. And then the Patriots will slooooowwwww the game down to a crawl, picking up small chunks of yards, and using their stable of tough, mashing runners to pummel the Chiefs into submission.
The Chiefs know this. And they’re trying to build the type of defense that can stymie that gameplan. But they’re not quiiiiiite there, yet.
So this is the chess match in the American Football Conference of the NFL. It really came into its adolescence last year but both coaches have been laying pipe for a while now. You want to know who’s going to win the Superbowl from the AFC? One of these teams. They’re playing go while the rest of the league is playing chutes and ladders. There’s no one else on the horizon that can trade body blows with these two NFL behemoths…
::The Baltimore Ravens have entered the chat::
Except the Ravens! Hoooo boy! The Ravens have a weapon that even the Patriots and Chiefs may not be able to contend with. His name is Lamar Jackson and he runs like Hermes chasing the wind. He moves over the land with the grace and speed of a figure skater and leaves stunned, gasping defenders in his wake. Last year, as a rookie, he was promoted to starter toward the end of the year, and he was promising, but green. Though he displayed world-class sprinting, he was among the most inaccurate passers in the league, which caused him to be labeled a “running back playing quarterback.”
But guess what Lamar Jackson spent his summer doing? Throwing footballs. And now he looks like the complete package.
I know we all like to HOPE for young quarterbacks to make that fabled second year jump, but rarely is that jump this pronounced.— Brett Kollmann (@BrettKollmann) September 17, 2019
Literally every single fatal flaw he exhibited last season looks drastically improved.
Every. Single. One.
That’s a testament to hard work, folks.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh is no slouch. He is a Mountain. Stoic and determined. A professional’s professional. While the Chiefs and Patriots were busy arming themselves for a duel, Harbaugh quietly refitted his squad, building it entirely around his young quarterback while wisely girding his defense. Everyone spent the offseason thrumming about the Chiefs and the Patriots. No one mentioned the Ravens. Baltimore can’t spread it and shred it like the Chiefs, but they have a defense and can hit the holes even harder than the Patriots. They are built to run and smash and pound. And the second you start to creep your safeties up to stop that, they’re built to go right up and over you.
So this dance in the AFC now has three contestants instead of two. And this Sunday, the Ravens will travel to Kansas City to see if, in fact, they have what it takes to join the NFL elite. Mahomes will be stopped by their defensive schemes for a series or two, and then he will tear them apart. The Ravens defense is solid, but they’ve never had to contend with a player like Patrick Mahomes. He’s going to drink their milkshake.
But can they then fight back? Can they use this switchblade, this jackknife, this transcendent multi-tool that is their second year quarterback to keep pace? Can he dip, dodge, dive, duck and dodge the Ravens to a W in front of the hostiles at Arrowhead Stadium?
This is the best throw I’ve ever seen @Lj_era8 make.— Brett Kollmann (@BrettKollmann) September 19, 2019
And honestly, it’s one of the best throws you will see all season. Absolutely, unequivocally disgusting.
You can’t defend that. pic.twitter.com/Dk53sdkytj
It’s going to be a flat-out, edge-of-your-seat, football extravaganza. The Poet versus the Mountain. The Dynamo vs the Switchblade. Two teams enter. One team leaves…with a victory.
I can’t wait. It’s what I missed so much when I was away from football.
But the unfortunate flip side is that I forgot about the terrible football out there. My goodness, I can scarcely express the low quality of the game. It’s almost sad to watch some of these teams ‘compete’ because what are they really playing for? They’re not going to win. They don’t have the juice. They don’t have the coaching. They don’t have the players. They don’t have the type of owners that invest properly.
There are thirty-two teams in the current NFL. About a third of them have truly shit quarterbacks. You can’t win with a shit quarterback. Sit down, thanks for popping by.
The middle third has average quarterbacks, meaning players who fundamentally understand the position and may even have been skilled in some area of the game, but can’t put it all together. This means a guy who has a strong arm but terrible accuracy, or a guy with spirit and determination, but who can’t read a defense, or a guy with great vision but he works for a lousy or uninspiring coaching staff that tamps down his upside. Or a guy with a noodle arm but he can scramble a bit and keep plays alive. You name it, the NFL middle third has it.
And then there’s the top third, split fairly evenly between the AFC and NFC. These are the teams with a prayer. Year in and year out, these are blue-chip franchises. Organizations that draft well, and have a defense and where the coaches improve the team rather than being dead weight. This is where the Eagles and the Saints and the Steelers and Rams and Seahawks and the Packers live. This is where teams struck gold and hired the right coach, like the Niners and the Colts, which elevates them to this tier.
And so every year, the Super Bowl winner comes out of this sector of teams, which can be a bit tiresome.
You can’t get into this echelon of play without a good head coach and a great quarterback and there aren’t thirty-two of either on the planet at any given time.
And so, when I’m watching the games, only two weeks in, it’s why I often shake my head at the quality of the product. At times it’s abysmal. Add to that the fact that as we enter week three we’ve already lost six starting quarterbacks. Two of them from the top tier, which further limits the amount of viable contenders. Vegas oddsmakers gave the Steelers 40-1 odds to win it all before the season and when they lost their veteran quarterback for the year, the number plummeted to 100-1.
And yes, it can make for a good human interest story. The Jaguars quarterback gets hurt and in comes Uncle Rico who dresses like Dirk Diggler and is actually not a bad player!
It’s fun! He may win a few games, but he’s not going to win the Super Bowl! Ever. You have the gold standard teams and everyone else is playing a ring-around-the-rosie, CTE war of attrition in the hopes that someday, based on their draft position, they’ll blunder into a college player who ends up being the next Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson or Tom Brady. A player that will forgive all their trespasses and deliver them from evil.
Except they typically don’t choose those players. Because they don’t have the scouting personnel, front offices, or coaches who know how to pick the right guys or how to evaluate a player properly. The teams that know how to do it are the ones at the top already.
So, as we look ahead to the various primetime offerings this season, it looks pretty grim.
I count four Thursday Night Games worth watching. But let’s see how the docket looks for Monday Night Football, the Rolls Royce of the NFL’s entertainment motorcade.
Half. Eight games probably worth watching. Eight games that don’t really matter. I mean, the Dolphins on Monday Night Football? The way they lost last week I’m not 100% certain that their coach doesn’t still work for the Patriots. Brian Flores may be the Trump to Belichick’s Putin, sent in to the organization to utterly destroy it from the inside.
But you don’t have to watch those catastrophes. I’ll watch them for you and report back.
Now, without further ado, here are my very off-the-cuff, Annie-get-your-gun, blam blam, quick hit thoughts of the week:
1) This is pretty much the best graphic ever shown on Monday Night Football.
It's just so incredibly rude pic.twitter.com/aydEeBt7jk— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) September 17, 2019
Sam Darnold OUT 3-6 weeks with mononucleosis is the most Jets injury ever.
2) Two uses of the world asshole: You have a real asshole. Like the ’80s bad guy with a blonde flat top. That’s a real asshole. Then you have the dumb version of asshole. Like when someone is carrying a glass of water and fumbles for their keys and spills the water on your shoe. You can say “you asshole.” That’s what I think whenever I see some imbecile run or catch a pass for like 8 yards and get up and do the elaborate first down tomahawk chop. YOU’RE LIKE TWO YARDS SHORT YOU ASSHOLE. GOD! MAKE AN ASSHOLE OF YOURSELF ON NATIONAL TV WHILE YOUR FOLKS ARE WATCHING, WHY DONTCHA? GOD.
There’s an epidemic of this. I saw no less than six players doing it this weekend. And it wasn’t the “I’ll claim first down to sway the refs” kind of thing. This was guys standing and showboating on third down. ASSHOLES.
3) My best friend growing up is now a youth football coach. I went to watch his game last weekend and was doubled over laughing half the time. The kids were six years old and incredibly confused. No idea which direction to face, forget knowing what to actually do. That’s probably not high praise for my friend’s fundamentals, but it probably has more to do with the imaginary elements of the game. In tennis, you have a racquet, a net, and a ball. Hit the ball over the net. Done. But there are abstract concepts in football. My friend told me later, as he recovered from the trauma of the game, “Trying to explain the line of scrimmage to a six-year-old boy is like trying to explain God.”
4) OverBrowned: How crazy and all-encompassing has the Antonio Brown news train been? I’m so sick of this ride and I want to get off. At one point last week it was 9 of the top 10 most popular articles on ProFootballTalk.com.
The only story with the power to prevent a clean sweep was Odell Beckham Jr. wearing a $350,000 watch. Can’t argue with his logic. If I had a $350,000 watch the first thing I’d do is wear it to play a contact sport. Makes perfect sense.
5) I absolutely love breakdowns like this. Give me those X’s and O’s, baby! (But more specifically, as in this breakdown, show me how a player navigates them better than his peers).
In-depth Breakdown: LeSean McCoy is the best runner on the Chiefs. His scheme awareness, processing, patience and footwork are elite. In a special offense with a top notch scheme, McCoy is going to rip off chunk plays. Here are 2 examples. pic.twitter.com/nfo6OZTmzw— J Moyer (@JMoyerFB) September 13, 2019
6) I didn’t love how Aaron Rodgers looked in week one. When I poked fun at him, some of my friends chastised me for judging him in the first game of a new offense.
In Week 1, only 33% of Aaron Rodgers' throws were deemed accurate.— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) September 10, 2019
That ranked worst of all 32 qualifying quarterbacks.
But he looked significantly better in week two. For the first half of the game or so. The league average snap-to-pass is 2.7 seconds, meaning the time it takes for the quarterback to receive the ball from the center, find a target and throw it. Brady is like 1.8. Rodgers is 3.3. So that means he’s typically extending plays, but does it also mean something else? Like his skills are fading a bit? I don’t know. There are a few quarterbacks that the football world loves that I manage to have concerns about. I’m also not as in love with Dak Prescott as everyone else seems to be, but you can’t argue that he’s playing the best ball of his career. Still, pressure is what will rattle his game and he’s seen the least of it this season.
7) Fantasy Football giveth and fantasy football taketh away.
8) So anyway, how’s the experiment going where you change the throwing motion of the former NFL MVP Cam Newton?
Highest percentage of uncatchable passes through two weeks:— Steve Palazzolo (@PFF_Steve) September 16, 2019
Cam Newton 34.2%
Mitchell Trubisky 27.8
Ryan Fitzpatrick 27.3
Kirk Cousins 27.0
Kyler Murray 22.9
Matthew Stafford 22.9
Cam Newton sans the ability to run on a defense is indistinguishable from Jameis Winston. Maybe sliiiiightly less accurate.
9) I was watching the Saints game at the end of an Alvin Kamara run I see a helmet go bouncing off the turf. Pretty obvious facemask. No call.
https://t.co/b2KHhTL53g— Honestyisthebestpolicy (@HonestyWins00) September 16, 2019
Is this legal????
Third poorly officiated game in a row for the Saints. They might get a complex.
10) I don’t have time to watch every game at their full broadcast length, so I use NFL Gamepass, which ‘condenses’ each game to just the plays, so you can get through it in about a half an hour. I do that for every game except the ones where Tony Romo is the broadcaster. Those I watch all the way through.
11) A football lingo term I can’t stand is ‘Launch Point’. YA SEE, HERM, JOSH ALLEN SAW THE DEFENSIVE END JUMP IN FRONT OF HIM SO HE CHANGED THE LAUNCH POINT OF THE BALL. It basically means he hucked it sidearm. Launch point. Pffff.
12) Kirk Cousins threw ten passes this week. He has an 84 million dollar contract. That nets out to about $1,750,000 per game. A quarterback’s primary job is to throw passes. Kirk Cousins threw ten. That comes out to $175,000 per pass. It would therefore take exactly two passes before Kirk Cousins could afford one of the super fancy watches that Odell Beckham Jr. was trying to destroy by wearing it into Gallipoli.
13) Kirk Cousins looks terrible. I’ve seen frozen turkeys with more competitive spirit than Kirk Cousins.
14) No one is running more beautifully than Dalvin Cook right now. My favorite part of this glorious run is that as soon as he bursts through the trash he sees he has one man to beat. Before he gets there, at the 44-yard line, he SWITCHES HANDS and puts the ball in his OUTSIDE hand. They teach you that in pee wee football. Solid fundamentals right there. Love this player.
That’s all for this week! Thanks for reading and happy footballing to you all.
Header Image Source: Getty Images