NFL Notes: Week 3

What looked like a “meh” week of football ended up being the opposite. Games we thought were locks were far from it, and we finally got to see Baker Mayfield. On top of that, there were SO MANY bad decisions made. The roughing the passer penalty still sucks.

Here’s a look at a weird week of storylines.

Personal Foul, Touching the Passer

This has become a recurring theme, but there’s still something new to add on to it every week. Clay Matthews was flagged again. That isn’t new. What is new is the increased injury risk to pass rushers making attempts to decrease injury risk to quarterbacks. That was a weird sentence.

Miami Dolphins defensive lineman William Hayes suffered a torn ACL while trying to avoid putting his body weight on Derek Carr. Hopefully the league sees this and realizes the new rules benefit nobody, and pose risks much greater than a 15 yard penalty.

The Bills beat the Vikings. Yes, really.

It wasn’t some lucky bounce last-second win either. Buffalo dominated the Vikings all day en route to a 27-6 victory. Minnesota didn’t score until late in the fourth quarter.  It was a pretty embarrassing performance.

Meanwhile, Josh Allen, who had been nothing short of abysmal threw for nearly 200 yards with a touchdown an no picks. He tacked on another two touchdowns on the ground, AND he hurdled a guy.

The Patriots lost to the Lions. Yes, really.

The newly acquired Josh Gordon was inactive on Sunday night.

Quick side note — Why was this the Sunday night game? I know it was Matt Patricia vs. Bill Belichick, but who thought this was the best game of Week 3?

Anyway, the Patriots might have wanted Gordon to suit up. Instead, they relied their run game, which was not great.

Perhaps more concerning was the predictability of the Patriot offense. Rookie running back Sony Michel played a season-high 23 offensive snaps, just under half of New England’s total. He touched the ball on 65 percent of those snaps, totaling 49 yards from scrimmage. The Lions might be bad, but the Patriots made it easy for them. This seems like poor game planning, but the Patriots don’t do that. Until now, I guess.

I shouldn’t have to say this, but it is not time to panic. Tom Brady is still their quarterback.

Houston, you have a problem

If you remember, I picked Bill O’brien to win Coach of the Year. I didn’t expect him to really do any of the work, though. I just though the Texans would be good and he’d win. Think of Jason Garrett in 2016. He didn’t do anything, but the turnaround earned him the award.

Bill O’brien might be doing too much. A team with as much talent as the Texans should not start 0-3. Blaine Gabbert and Eli Manning, handed them two of those losses, with the latter being a home game. Most of their problems can be traced to O’brien. It’s been a season of poor planning for crappy offenses and not letting Deshaun Watson play to his potential.

Raiders can’t hang

Soon after Jon Gruden said a good pass-rusher was hard to find (yikes), the Raiders blew their third second half lead in as many games. They have yet to score points in the fourth quarter. They came close on Sunday, with a chance to take a lead late in the game. Alas, they did not and Carr threw an interception in the red zone. A few plays later, Albert Wilson iced the game with a long touchdown reception.

You’re in, rookie

Going into Week 3, the only quarterbacks drafted in the first round not to see regular season action were Baker Mayfield and Josh Rosen. Both of them played this week, but the situations were very different.

Mayfield came in mid-way through the second quarter on Thursday night when Tyrod Taylor left the game, and led the Browns to a comeback win over the Jets. It was pretty fun to watch.

The Cardinals were down two with four minutes left, and THAT’S when they decided to put Rosen in the game. I’m all for rookies gaining experience, but making his debut on a potential game winning drive seems like a poor choice. Rosen proceeded to throw an interception, and the Cardinals lost. It wasn’t that fun to watch.

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NFL Preview: AFC South

A crucial point about the AFC South before we begin. It’s the best division in football. Each team has a quarterback they can feel good about, and some semblance of a plan (ok, maybe not you Indianapolis). All things considered, this division should produce some of the best games of 2018, and could potentially put three teams in the playoffs.

1. Houston Texans                                      Projected Record 12-4

Before Quarterback Deshaun Watson went down last season with a torn ACL, the Houston Texans looked to be one of the league’s most dynamic offenses. The team averaged over forty points a game over Watson’s final four starts, and they now have the benefit of playing a last place schedule. Houston’s offense will pick up right where it left off last season, and should continue to torch defenses from week one. Wide receivers Deandre Hopkins and Will Fuller complement each other beautifully, while running back Lamar Miller provides a steadying presence in the backfield. The major question mark surrounding the offense is the offensive line. Houston gave up the second most quarterback sacks and allowed the most quarterback hits of any offensive line in the league last season, yet failed to substantially improve the unit heading into 2018. Seantrel Henderson is the team’s new starting right tackle, and he played alright in seven starts with the Bills last season, but he is far from the solution. The one silver lining is Watson thrived behind a slightly worse offensive line last season, and there’s no reason to think he can’t again. Defensively, the Texans boast one of the league’s strongest front sevens with the return of superstar defensive end JJ Watt and the emergence of linebacker Jadeveon Clowney. The signing of free agent Tyrann Mathieu was one of the savviest in the league, and should pay dividends from the jump. Mathieu should help legitimize a secondary that gave up the second most passing touchdowns and the most plays over forty yards in the league last season. Overall, I predict huge things for the Texans this season behind the greatness of their quarterback prodigy Deshaun Watson.

2. Jacksonville Jaguars                              Projected Record: 12-4

After capturing the AFC South and making a impressive run to the AFC Championship game last season, the Jacksonville Jaguars will look to build off their surprising success. The team added All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell and wide receiver Donte Moncrief, but the offense looks essentially the same it did last season. The offense will still revolve around running back Leonard Fournette, but their ceiling is only so high with Blake Bortles at quarterback. He showed slight improvement over the course of last season, but overall he’s still a bottom tier signal caller. The Jaguars front office hasn’t done him any favors, surrounding him with an uninspiring group of receivers, but it will be interesting to see how much Doug Marrone and the rest of Jacksonville’s coaching staff asks of him. On the defensive side of the ball, Jacksonville remains one of the league’s most feared units. Lead by All-Pros Calais Campbell and Jalen Ramsey, this defense is overflowing with talent at every level. With no conceivable weaknesses and plenty of depth, it’s hard not to see this defense continuing to dominate and carrying this Jaguars team to the playoffs.

3. Tennesse Titans                                     Projected Record: 9-7

The Tennessee Titans spent the past offseason molding themselves in the image of  the New England Patriots, and if there is a team to model yourself after it is certainly the Pats. With the hiring of Mike Vrabel as head coach, and the signings of both Dion Lewis and Malcom Butler, the Titans front office clearly placed an impetus on bringing the New England culture to Nashville. Vrabel’s biggest concern is likely the progression of quarterback Marcus Mariota, and to that he turns to new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur. LaFleur, the first branch of the Sean Mcvay coaching tree, is the new offensive coordinator in Tennessee and Mariota’s new best friend. Mariota has never had a coordinator half as creative as LaFleur, and an offense heavy with play action, run pass options, and trick plays will best utilize Mariota’s unique skillset. At this point, Mariota has run out of excuses. The weapons around him have never been better; Corey Davis is an enticing option at wide receiver, Delaine Walker is still one of the leagues best tight ends, and the running back tandem of Derrick Henry and Lewis form an impressive one-two punch. On defense, the Titans have a number of enticing playmakers littered across the unit. Kevin Byard may be the most underrated player in the league, and Adoree Jackson showed flashes of dominance in his rookie season. Up front, Jurrell Casey remains one of the leagues best defensive tackles, and Derrick Morgan is a strong presence off the edge. The opportunities are there for the Titans to jump into the upper echelon of the AFC, but they all hinge on the play of Mariota. His improvement will almost singlehandedly determine the outcome of Tennessee’s season, and it could shake up the entire AFC playoff picture.

4. Indianapolis Colts                                  Projected Record: 4-12

Similar to most last place teams, the Indianapolis Colts roster is bereft of talent. Unlike most last place teams though, they actually have a plan at quarterback. Assuming he returns to his pre injury form (granted that’s a big assumption), Andrew Luck has enough talent to keep the Colts in almost every game they play. Their wide receiving corps is nothing to write home about, as T.Y. Hilton proved last season how ineffective he is without Luck under center, and running backs Marlon Mack and Jordan Wilkins have much to prove before they could be considered starting-caliber backs. Thankfully the Colts front office have finally placed a priority on protecting Luck, and a combination of center Ryan Kelly and guard Quenton Nelson should help keep Luck upright for the foreseeable future. Defensively, Indianapolis is lacking in elite talent and should be one of the worst units in the league. Free safety Malik Hooker is the only long term solution at any position for the Colts, as he and pass rusher Jabaal Sheard may be the only NFL  caliber players in the starting eleven. All in all, Luck will breathe some much needed life into this franchise, but their defense is far too young and inexperienced for the Colts to seriously compete in the cutthroat AFC South.

The AFC South might be competitive this year

The headline is kind of misleading. The AFC South was competitive last year, too.

The Jacksonville Jaguars won the division with a 10-6 record, and made a run to the AFC Championship game. A questionable down by contact call prevented them from putting the game out of reach and a trip to the Super Bowl. Instead, Tom Brady took the Patriots on a game winning drive like we all expected.

Those same Patriots beat the Tennessee Titans a week before that in the AFC Divisional round. Tennessee finished the 2017 campaign with a 9-7 record, good for a Wild Card spot. They stunned the Chiefs by coming back from a 21-3 halftime deficit on the road.

Until Deshaun Watson‘s season-ending ACL injury before Week 9, the Houston Texans were also in the mix. They were 3-4, so it would have been difficult, but Watson had started to figure it out and was a frontrunner for Rookie of the Year. He threw for 1,699 yards and 19 touchdowns in 7 weeks as the starter, plus the second half of the opening game.

I’m really looking forward to his return. He has the potential to have a Carson Wentz-like sophomore season.

The Indianapolis Colts were bad, but that’s a good place to start looking ahead to 2018.

Andrew Luck turns 29 during the season, which isn’t that old for a quarterback. He’s had an entire season to rest his shoulder, and took a nice trip to Europe for treatment. That wasn’t even the weirdest shoulder injury/recovery of 2017. Looking at you, Sixers.

Aside from the nagging injury, Luck’s biggest problem was getting sacked, often by no fault of his own. He was dropped in the backfield 41 times in 2016, and the Colts allowed a league high 56 sacks in 2017.

To address this, they added the best offensive lineman in the draft, Quenton Nelson. He should make an immediate impact on the Colts’ line. I’d compare him to Jake Long before his injury problems. They also took Braden Smith from Auburn in the second round.

To take some of the pressure off of Luck (all kinds of pressure), the Colts drafted running back Nyheim Hines from NC State. Frank Gore was never bad for Indy, but he probably shouldn’t have been the RB1. Hines and fellow rookie Jordan Wilkins from Ole Miss should improve the run game significantly.

A healthy Andrew Luck is a Top 10 quarterback, and a good quarterback puts any team in the playoff conversation.

For the past few years, intra-division games have played an important role in deciding the AFC South champion, but it’s never been between all four teams. That could change this year.

Things are finally on track for Tennessee and Jacksonville, with Houston not far behind. Indianapolis isn’t quite there, but improved its roster in the offseason.

8-8 can win a division, and sometimes a wild card spot if the rest of the conference is bad enough. The entire AFC south is capable of winning at least 7 games, which in theory, puts everyone in the playoff hunt. That probably won’t happen, but hey, it’s fun to think about.

Draft Grades: AFC South

Houston Texans: C- DZZICYWVQAALCtE.jpg

Round 3: Justin Reid, S, Stanford

Round 3: Martinas Rankin, C, Mississippi St.

Round 3: Jordan Akins, TE, UCF

Round 4: Keke Coutee, WR, Texas Tech

Round 6: Duke Ejiofor, DE, Wake Forest

Round 6: Jordan Thomas, TE, Mississippi St.

Round 6: Peter Kalambayi, LB, Stanford

Round 7: Jermaine Kelly, CB, San Jose St.

Houston made a healthy eight selections in this Draft. The problem is none of them are that great. Reid will certainly help a thin secondary, but not having any high picks really hurt. The good news is they gave up those picks for Deshaun Watson, who is pretty good, and definitely worth the trade.

Indianapolis Colts: B+

Round 1: Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame

Round 2: Darius Leonard, LB, South Carolina State DbwA-abXkAAphou.jpg

Round 2: Braden Smith, G, Auburn

Round 2: Kemoko Turay, DE, Rutgers

Round 2: Tyquan Lewis, DL, Ohio State

Round 4: Nyheim Hines, RB, N.C. State

Round 5: Daurice Fountain, WR, Northern Iowa

Round 5: Jordan Wilkins, RB, Mississippi

Round 6: Deon Cain, WR, Clemson

Round 7: Matthew Adams, LB, Houston

Round 7: Zaire Franklin, LB, Syracuse

This was somewhat of a boring draft for the Colts, but still a good one. They got Quenton Nelson, the best offensive lineman in the class, and used four(!) second round picks to add another guard and some defensive help. Trading back from No. 3 paid off with a good haul of future assets.

Jacksonville Jaguars: C+

Round 1: Taven Bryan, DT, Florida DQyomY4VoAAAX80.jpg

Round 2: DJ Chark, WR, LSU

Round 3: Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama

Round 4: Will Richardson, T, N.C. State

Round 6: Tanner Lee, QB, Nebraska

Round 7: Leon Jacobs, LB, Wisconsin

Round 7: Logan Cooke, P, Mississippi St.

Bryan certainly has value at No. 29, but Jacksonville has no real issues on the defensive line. Additionally, both their starting safeties are signed through 2020. Chark was their best pick, because they lack wide receivers. My question is why not take a better one in the first?

Tennessee Titans: B DTMgBUbXkAA_cyn.jpg

Round 1: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama

Round 2: Harold Landry, LB, Boston College

Round 5: Dane Cruikshank, S, Arizona

Round 6: Luke Falk, QB, Washington State

Realistically, the Titans should get a C for this Draft. I’m not sure about trading up for Evans, but he was certainly a good pick. Him and Landy are really what convinced me to bump them up half a letter. Expect good things from those two.

 

 

Draft Overview: Houston Texans

The Houston Texans do not have a first or second round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, but because they had the fourth-worst record, they are up next on our overview list for the sake of going in order.

The Texans traded Cleveland their first round pick in 2018 for the 12th overall pick last year, which they used to take Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. Their second rounder also belongs to the Browns, who acquired the pick in the trade Houston used to take Brock Osweiler off the books.

Unless they trade back up, which is unlikely considering they cannot offer much, the Texans won’t select a player until the 68th overall pick in the third round.

Houston needs an offensive lineman to protect Watson, and they can still draft a reliable one in the third round. Tackles Martinas Rankin (Mississippi St.), Jamarco Jones (Ohio St.)  and Desmond Harrison (West Georgia) could still be available by the time the Texans pick. Of course, there is also the potential that someone else impresses at the Scouting Combine this weekend.

The other big hole for Houston is in the secondary. Safety Ronnie Harrison (Alabama) is a versatile player with good run-stopping ability in the secondary. He’s a safe pick to make and could develop into high-tier safety.

Rams, Chiefs to play in Mexico City

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced at a press conference on Wednesday that the Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs will play in Mexico City in 2018.

“Over the past two seasons, we have seen the extraordinary passion that exists for NFL football in Mexico,” Goodell said.   “We are excited for another memorable event at Estadio Azteca … in 2018.”

This game, featuring the Rams as the home team, will be the third played in Mexico City since 2016. It is one of four international games on the 2018 NFL Schedule, the other three being in London. The date and time of the game will be announced with the rest of the 2018 schedule.

“It is great to be participating in the NFL’s international games again and working with the league to grow the game abroad,” Rams owner Stan Kroenke said. “Mexico has one of the largest NFL fan bases in the world and we are excited to bring Rams football to the millions of fans there.”

Because the Rams are technically the home team, they will only play seven games at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum next season.

The Oakland Raiders played in the past two games in Mexico City, taking on the Houston Texans in 2016 and New England Patriots in 2017.