Scouting Report: Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma

Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff Semifinal-Orange Bowl-Alabama vs Oklahoma

Height: 5’10 Weight: 207 lbs.

Tape Viewed: 2018 vs. Texas, 2018 vs. UCLA, 2018 vs. West Virginia, 2018 vs. Alabama (Orange Bowl)

 

OVERVIEW

Murray is a unique prospect, in that his stature is so striking, even at the college level. One could imagine once Murray takes an NFL huddle, the difference will be all the more accentuated. Trailblazers like Drew Brees, Russel Wilson and Doug Flutie have shown the workaround for extremely gifted QBs who are height-challenged. The key is finding passing lanes, and working the protection in the pocket. Another option is to be highly mobile, able to escape the pocket entirely and improvise as plays break down, count Murray in the number of the latter.

With his stark quickness, long speed, ability to navigate blocks, and willingness to take off as soon as he sees lanes forming, Murray is a running quarterback, first and foremost. He thrives most working outside the framework of a traditional NFL offense, much like Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes. The game is evolving in such a way that players like Murray not only are viable options, they’re becoming the new ideal. His arm talent, too, is impressive, but his scattershot accuracy brings questions about his ability to consistently keep his completion percentage in the high 60’s. Regardless, his big play potential and clear intelligence and patience will make him a player that has a high chance of early success.

 

PASSING

Accuracy: 10 out of 15

The actual mechanics of Murray’s game display his lack of experience. His footwork constantly affects his accuracy, even on passes he completes. He flashes incredible accuracy, especially deep downfield, but can miss simple throws because of his happy feet and lack of a tight release.

 

Power: 3 out of 5

Flashes functional throw power for most throws that will be asked of him, but will never be considered as having a rocket arm. Struggles driving balls to the sideline from the opposite hash.

 

On the run: 3 out of 5

This is where Murray’s best and worst plays tend to occur. Especially on one deep TD against Alabama, Murray throws an absolute dime in a full forward sprint. However, Murray also puts balls behind, too high, and too low, often on film. Most of those throws are when he’s scrambling.

 

Consistency: 8 out of 10

Murray typically plays at an extremely high level for a college player, displaying an excellent understanding of situational football. There are occasional bizarre lapses, where all fundamentals go out the window and he can look fully out of rhythm.

 

Field General: 16 out of 20

Murray does a great job operating his offense, moving around receivers and making strong reads presnap. He struggles with reaching intermediate reads, though he often didn’t need to at school. The system typically had him throwing to his first or second read, and they were usually open. There are occasional flashes of ability to run quickly though 3 or more reads, but it’s rare.

 

Athleticism: 5 out of 5

This is where Murray really shines, he displays incredible acceleration, and sufficient top speed to run away from top-level college defenses. His ability to work outside the script makes him a dangerous threat on every play.

 

Pocket awareness: 9 out of 10

While Murray does an excellent job using his pocket, and moving around it, he doesn’t often step up. This hasn’t gotten him into much trouble yet, but bares watching going forward.

 

Poise: 10 out of 10

Murray’s best comes out in big games, as the game against Bama displays, he showed heightened ability even from his incredible standards.

 

Clutch: 5 out of 5

Murray is definitely a late-game QB, he has a knack for rallies, as well as closing out close, hard-fought victories, with intelligent decision making.

 

Size: 2 out of 5

Clearly lacking ideal size, Murray’s slight frame could become an injury concern and will give many teams pause.

 

Reliability: 8 out of 10

 

Murray has had no injury issues, It’s a small sample size, but he’s been available consistently. However, there has been differing word on his interviewing ability and recall at the whiteboard. To me, this is a minor red-flag, because this could very well be a smokescreen.

 

Total Prospect Rating: 79/100

 

Pro Comparison: Doug Flutie, QB, Retired

Murray 1

Doug-flutie

Flutie was a diminutive quarterback that took his height limitations and crafted an incredibly unique and explosive game around his strengths. Both Flutie and Murray are outstanding natural runners, though with the nature of the game as it is today, Murray should expect far more career rushing yardage than Flutie’s 1634. Just as Flutie was a sensation and sparkplug for any team he suited up for, Murray definitely has that star quality needed to be a top-level NFL QB.

 

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Scouting Report: Nick Bosa, Edge, Ohio State

Nick Bosa, Edge, Ohio State

Bosa

Height: 6’4 Weight: 263 lbs

Tape Viewed: 2018 vs. Oregon State, 2017 vs. Wisconsin, 2017 vs. USC, 2017 vs. Michigan

 

OVERVIEW

Bosa has the same relentless effort and superior hand technique his brother has. He is a player that pops on tape numerous times with second, third and fourth effort sacks. His ability, willingness and patience setting the edge in the run game is also very impressive for such a young prospect.

Bosa will benefit from an NFL weight room, as he is sometimes beaten at the point of attack, and needs to build up steam to win with power in both pass rush and run stop situations. He intelligently handles double teams by using his superior speed, hand usage and leverage understanding to win, where brute strength is lacking.

His technique, tool box of pass rush moves, and diagnosis ability vastly improved from 2017 to 18. His game tape against Oregon State is easily his most impressive, but even in that one he shows his tendency to be fooled by reverses. This facet will need to improve with the increase in dual threat QBs that is sweeping the NFL.

 

PASS RUSH

Moves: 4 out of 5

Bosa prefers finesse moves, like the swim and rip, but also developed usage of a spin move as his career progressed. He also flashes bull rush, as well as quick and explosive lateral moves.

 

Technique: 13 out of 15

This is an important part of Bosa’s game as he uses this to mask his slight deficiencies in play strength. He shows a superior understanding of the minutiae of the position, but can get in trouble as the game goes along and he gets more tired.

 

Bend: 4 out of 5

Though it doesn’t happen often on tape, Bosa shows the bend reguired to run under a table sideways at full speed, which is crazy considering his size and frame.

 

Finish: 5 out of 5

Bosa always either gets the sack or affects the QB when he has the opportunity, it’s the most impressive part of his game.

 

Tenacity: 5 out of 5

Second most impressive, and most similar to his brother, Bosa hustles all over the field, hunting the ball with reckless abandon.

 

Consistency: 8 out of 10

While Bosa boasts an elite toolbox and skillset, he can disappear in pass rushing snaps, usually due to extra attention by larger linemen.

 

RUN STOPPING

Edge Setting: 9 out of 10

Bosa shows extreme discipline and patience in forcing runs inside where the help is, but there were a few instances on tape where he jumps inside and loses contain as a result.

 

Tackling: 9 out of 10

I don’t recall any one-on-one missed tackles on tape, but Bosa doesn’t have many as he’s often mixing it up in the middle and has swarm tackling help from his active defensive teammates.

 

Double Teams: 3 out of 5

This is the way to win against Bosa in the run game, if he doesn’t win with agility, he can get washed out. He’s quite good at masking this most of the time, but NFL OC’s will be able to exploit it.

 

Lane Discipline: 7 out of 10

This is perhaps his biggest weakness, and it has majorly improved in his most recent tape, Bosa showed a tendency to jump laterally at the line in order to have a free penetration into the backfield, but both running backs and quarterbacks were able to outrun him in many of these situations. This is by no means a negative area of his game, however, he is still often very disciplined, there are just a few glaring examples on tape.

 

Consistency: 8 out of 10

Bosa can get washed out of plays, but very often positively influences them with his leverage and technique.

 

GENERAL

Reliability: 9 out of 10

Despite the injury that prematurely ended his career at Ohio State, Bosa has shown no indication that injury problems will plague his NFL career, he also has no character concerns.

 

Total Prospect Rating: 84 out of 100

Pro Comparison: DeMarcus Lawrence, DE, Dallas Cowboys

Bosa 1

Lawrence

The relentless motor, edge setting ability, and similar size with tendency to take false steps against reverses are areas these two players share. Lawrence is a much stronger player, but didn’t come into the league that way and was a bit of a late bloomer. Bosa could have similar struggles early, especially if asked to be the sole provider on defense as a rookie. However, he has the toolbox and natural athleticism to be a top player at his position at some point.

 

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Gut Picks Week 11

Another week, another humbling experience eh? If you’re a faithful listener to the show, you know that Shae and I agreed on every pick last week and believed there was at least a possibility we’d have a perfect picking week.

 

Boy, were we wrong. Six misses (only five in my official picks, as I flipped to Dallas at the last moment on nothing more than a hunch). After five consecutive weeks of only four misses, I was feeling good, but the NFL loves to show you how little you know and I swallowed my humble pie. With that in mind, join me in my fruitless quest to make sense of the madness.

 

Packers @ Seahawks

This is a battle of teams I think of quite similarly, the Packers have an elite quarterback, and a solid defense. The Seahawks boast the same essential elements, but are far more balanced in their offensive play calls. They’re running perhaps the most consistent 50-50 run pass balance in the modern version of the NFL, and it’s working to keep a team that is in the midst of a rebuild in the wildcard conversation. The Packers have more on the line, as they’re within striking distance of the division lead, whereas the Seahawks can pretty much give up that dream after being swept (in very competitive fashion) by the division-leading Rams. I thought last week was going to be the end of the Thursday Night Blowouts, and I think the same this week. This is a close game that hinges, ultimately, on the location: Seattle is still tough at home, and that’s enough to be a tipping point in a game that looks even.

Pick: Seahawks

 

Cowboys @ Falcons

If you know me, you know I’m picking the Cowboys. Major props to the Boys in blue (and white) for winning the game they had to and justifying my last-minute flip flop. Linehan changed his tendencies, at least for a week, and Garrett was clapping for the right reasons. The Cowboys defense remains elite (a much stronger unit overall than the one that stifled Ryan and company in Cleveland last week) and the passing offense showed a definite ability to exploit mismatches in the secondary with an improved top 3 of Cooper, Gallup and Beasley. The Falcons meanwhile, are bitter and disappointed that they couldn’t get over the hump. They’re desperate, but they’re also wounded. If this Cowboys team is any good, it should smell blood in the water.

Pick: Cowboys

 

Panthers @ Lions

The Lions sit at a lowly 3-6, despite a roster that should have them just a touch above .500 (some obvious flaws in the construction of the defense hold it back). Usually, the culprit is coaching, but I believe in Matt Patricia, and the product has been very strong at times. The Panthers, with the mirror record of 6-3 have been classic overachievers, riding a one-dimensional offense (albeit with dynamic playmakers) and a defense that has far more attitude than top end talent. That caught up with them last week when they met an offense with a dynamic enough vertical element to fully exploit the overall weak secondary of Carolina. The Lions have that too, if only they can close the running lanes and force the Panthers to pass. I don’t see that happening, so the Panthers should pick up the road win, while giving up plenty of points.

Pick: Panthers

 

Titans @ Colts

This one is fascinating: On both sides, we have some of the hottest up and comers in football, in a divisional battle that has major playoff implications. The Titans just blasted the Patriots and beat Tom Brady into submission with their punishing defense, while the Colts outlasted a comeback bid by the Jags (who beat the Patriots in week 2, remember?) The Colts have the homefield advantage, though that hasn’t really existed for them (2-2 home record, vs. 2-3 away). More importantly, they’ve developed some of the best pass protection in football, allowing zero sacks in 4 games (200 Andrew Luck pass attempts). The Titans might have trouble getting home on Luck, and the Titans have needed their defense to set the tone in their last couple of games. As long as Luck doesn’t fold, this one should stay close until the end. Ultimately, I see the Titans as the more talented team overall, and in this case that’s enough to win this game.

Pick: Titans

 

Bucs @ Giants

JPP is ready to roll for this one, and the Bucs defense has another get-well opportunity against a weak NFC East offense. If Fitz and company can continue to drive the ball, and add in some redzone efficiency, the Bucs should roll, regardless of what Barkley and OBJ get up to. Side note: The Bucs had 501 yards last week, and just 3 points. That level of point-scoring inefficiency is not sustainable.

Pick: Bucs

 

Texans @ Redskins

This one is difficult, because I see it being a low-scoring slugfest. I think the Texans have played far above their heads during their six-game win streak. Regression to the mean seems inevitable. The Redskins, however, can’t score points consistently, and against an explosive offense, that will be the end of them. Stick a fork in them, I said last week; I stick by that bold statement: The 2018 Redskins are done.

Pick: Texans

 

Steelers @ Jags

A very briefly mighty team has fallen completely off the map. The Jags perceived strength (their pass defense) has been dismantled due to injuries that exposed underlying depth issues. The starting 11 on that side of the ball remains perhaps the best in football, but they can’t seem to get on the field at the same time. The Jags D is always tougher at home, and the return of Fournette was a huge boon, especially to their redzone offense. The Steelers are rolling though, the offense is borderline unstoppable and the defense has a penchant for sacks and turnovers. Joe Haden also looks to be back in his prime. This is very bad news for Blake Bortles.

Pick: Steelers

 

Bengals @ Ravens

Despite featuring the same two records and division rival characteristics of the Titans-Colts matchup, this one just lacks the panache. These teams are both going down the tubes. Both have lost their most relevant games on the schedule lately and are hovering around .500 after starting strong. The Ravens offense mirrors the Bengals defense (both units have talent, but major flaws in both the starting lineup and the depth). The Bengals offense has fallen off without AJ Green, and for whatever reason they underused Joe Mixon against the Saints, despite him being the catalyst for the only successful drive the Bengals mounted against the Saints first-team defense. The Ravens are tough at home and AJ Green still isn’t healthy, the Bengals injuries on defense also hurt.

Pick: Ravens

 

Raiders @ Cardinals

The Raiders have folded, next…

Pick: Cardinals

 

Broncos @ Chargers

In one corner, you have a team that can’t finish games, in the other you have winners of six straight, many of which have been close finishes. Can you believe the Chargers are the latter? This point is meant to demonstrate one thing: the 2018 Chargers are different, and Melvin Gordon is the big reason why. Joey Bosa is coming back soon, all the better for them, all the worse for anyone in the path of this wrecking ball. The Broncos should put up a fight, but I don’t see Keenum and company being able to keep up with the Chargers’ balanced and explosive attack.

Pick: Chargers

 

Eagles @ Saints

Remember last week when the Saints feasted on a secondary riddled with injuries? Rinse and repeat, right? Not so fast, these Eagles are a highly talented, albeit highly underperforming group. Pederson is a good coach that should be able to coax the best out of his team in a game which is by all means a must-win. The Saints have suffered their only loss in the cozy confines of the Dome, so it’s not unheard of to think they could stumble here. The intangibles say yes, but the matchup says an emphatic no. I’ll meet it in the middle, Saints win by the hair of their chinny chin chin. Enjoy those sweet color rush unis, Who Dats.

Pick: Saints.

 

Vikings @ Bears

This is one I’ve flip-flopped on. The Bears have yet to win a game against a top-quality opponent, though their schedule hasn’t given them much opportunity. Losses to the Patriots and Packers imply they’re not ready to play with the big boys, but the lack of Khalil Mack against the latter puts on a big fat asterisk to that result. Trubisky has improved leaps and bounds over the season, even if the run-pass balance hasn’t. More to the point, are the Vikings a top-quality opponent? I would say no, so I don’t think the matchup precludes the possibility of a Bears victory. When you get down to the nitty-gritty, this should be a relatively low-scoring game in which the more poised team wins. Give me Zimmer’s group by decision.

Pick: Vikings

 

Chiefs @ Rams

The main event, especially considering it’s now back where it belongs in LA. We’ve been waiting all weekend for Monday night and I expect this matchup to look a heck of a lot like the battle in New Orleans a couple of weeks ago. The Rams are down Kupp, which hurts, but the Chiefs defense has shown little ability to limit yardage, and the Rams are excellent in the redzone. Points should come in bunches, as the Chiefs should be able to slice up the very vulnerable zone defense of the Rams. Gurley and Hunt are almost a wash, as are Mahomes and Goff. I would give the Rams the edge in defensive talent, but the coaching (regular season Andy Reid versus Sean McVay) may also come to a draw. This is a matchup of very similar teams, and I expect the final score to resemble an Oklahoma-Oklahoma State scoring bonanza. This is a true gut pick, but…

Pick: Chiefs

 

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Gut Picks Week 8

We were unfortunately unable to do a show this week, but that doesn’t mean we can’t put out great content, below are my gut picks, which were personally requested. Enjoy!

  • Trentyn

Dolphins @ Texans

This one’s pretty simple, the Dolphins and Texans are trending in different directions. The better team wins, and this has the potential to be another Thursday night blowout.

Pick: Texans

 

Eagles @ Jags

When will the Jags defense get back on track? They have easily the most stacked defensive roster in the league, which means that either there’s a lack of effort on the part of the players or an issue in scheme. Regardless, even in the loss last week, the defense allowed only 20 points, so this won’t be an easy win for the Eagles, who have struggled to consistently score points this year. The Barnett injury is also concerning.

Pick: Jags

 

Jets @ Bears

Bounce back time for the once-mighty Bears defense. So far, the AFC East has been their kryptonite, but the Jets don’t have the same firepower as the Patriots and I still see the Dolphins loss as a major fluke. Bears win big.

Pick: Bears

 

Buccaneers @ Bengals

Two teams that have had mostly explosive offenses. The Bengals have the far superior running game and their defense is at least capable of making some plays and putting pressure on the QB. The Bucs defense is a hot mess and the first half against the Browns was a lone exception to an otherwise dreadful season.

Pick: Bengals

 

Seahawks @ Lions

The Seahawks are coming off their bye week and were hot going in, coming off a thrashing of the Raiders. The Lions, much like the Seahawks earlier in the season, have been much more disciplined in their run versus pass lately. Patricia’s team is buying in, and the fact is they simply have a better roster than the Seahawks. Expect a tight one, this could be the weekly OT game.

Pick: Lions

 

Broncos @ Chiefs

This one’s a no brainer. The Broncos offense didn’t play particularly well against the Cardinals, and they still force Keenum to throw the ball too much. Until they learn to play ball control, I give them no chance against a team they couldn’t beat in their own house a couple weeks ago. Chiefs roll.

Pick: Chiefs

 

Redskins @ Giants

Not brave enough to pick the upset, but I’m smelling it. Funky things happen in divisional games and the Redskins haven’t been nearly as dominant as their 2 game lead in the NFC East would indicate. I’m still majorly concerned about how the Saints dismantled them a couple weeks ago. The Giants will try to run the ball, but if Eli takes some shots downfield, he’ll enjoy the results of OBJ vs. Norman. Screw it, I’ve convinced myself.

Pick: Giants

 

Browns @ Steelers

The Browns have done a good job containing Roethlisberger and company lately, and showed resilience in rallying from a 14 point deficit week 1. Baker Mayfield has undoubtedly improved the offense, but the Steelers defense has also looked better lately, and the Browns defense worse. This one will be close, and I wouldn’t be surprised if another extra period was needed to decide it. But ultimately, none of that matters, Steelers sweep.

Pick: Steelers

 

Ravens @ Panthers

My weekly crusade against Carolina looked to be on its way to ultimate justification… then THAT fourth quarter happened. And worst of all, THAT play. Seriously, Eagles? Couldn’t contain the unstoppable duo of Cam Newton and Torrey Smith on fourth and ten. Anything less than ten yards and the story would be about how the Eagles held off a late Panthers rally and how Cam Newton failed to deliver in a big moment once again. Sadly, that’s not the world we live in and the Panthers are 4-2. I, however, do not see a scenario in which the Panthers consistently move the ball against this stout Ravens defense. SO I’m picking against the Panthers again. Sue me.

Pick: Ravens

 

Colts @ Raiders

No Amari Cooper, but that doesn’t change the look of this Raiders offense too much. They’ll move the ball against the Colts, who have struggled against good quarterbacks. Big bounce-back game for Carr in what should be a shootout with Luck and the red-hot, no-name Colts offense. Colts by a hair.

Pick: Colts

 

Packers @ Rams

Doesn’t this feel like the type of game the Rams could lose? A date with the Saints in New Orleans is looming and no one would blame the Rams for looking ahead. Looking past Aaron Rodgers could prove deadly. I have this game as a major upset alert, but I promised I’d pick the Rams until they lose, and literally no one has stopped Todd Gurley. This Packers D is not up to the task. I’m not sure anyone is, but that game against the Saints will feature his stiffest challenge yet with the Saints holding the number 1 rush defense in the NFL.

Pick: Rams

 

49ers @ Cardinals

Man, this matchup has about as much sizzle as Broncos Cards from last week. The Niners will bounce back from the rough outing against the Rams, but the Cards were embarrassed more last week. This is purely a feeling, but I think Rosen and the crew get it done.

Pick: Cards

 

Saints @ Vikings

As per usual, I’ve spent way too much time thinking about this one to truly call this a gut pick. As mentioned earlier, the Saints have the league’s best run defense (big credit to free agent addition DeMario Davis). We’ve seen the Vikings struggle mightily when they get off their run-pass balance. The Vikings also have a major laundry list of injuries including but not limited to starters CB Xavier Rhodes, DE Everson Griffen, DT Linval Joseph, LB Anthony Barr, and G Tom Compton. The Saints are basically completely healthy. Yes, this is at the Vikings, but I think the Saints have an opportunity not only to win, but to win convincingly.

Pick: Saints

 

Patriots @ Bills

Patriots are on a major roll, having put up 38 or more every game since losing to the Lions, all wins. So of course the Bills are going to destroy them. That’s just how Sean McDermott rolls.

 

Had you going there for a second, huh?

Pick: Patriots

 

Well, that was fun. Come back tomorrow for my thoughts on the recent trades and more.

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Game of the Week: Steelers vs. Chiefs Preview

steelers-vs-chiefs-sm

The Chiefs came into week one with one of the toughest tests in the AFC, playing against a stacked, veteran squad led by the perennially underrated Philip Rivers and the ferocious pass-rushing duo of Ingram and Bosa. Even before the game was played, one of those three factors was erased with Joey Bosa’s foot injury forcing him to miss the game. It’s arguable just how much that loss affected the outcome of the game, but it has to be noted that the Chargers pass rush was significantly less effective in a game that was much closer than the ten-point spread indicated.

On the other side, the Steelers struggled to get anything going offensively outside of the consistent ground attack of James Connor against a highly talented Browns defense. It wasn’t too big of a surprise, what was a surprise was how streaky Roethlisberger was, considering he paired three bad interceptions with a poor completion percentage (56), touchdown number (1) and a solid yardage mark (335). His Total QBR of 22.8 showed a player that mainly struggled against a tough challenge. What that means going forward into the season, and especially into week 2 against a much weaker Chiefs defense remains to be seen.

Ultimately, the key to this game is number ten of the Chiefs. If Tyreek Hill can be as effective this week as he was last week, the Steelers will struggle to keep up in a track meet. If the Steelers pool their resources into stopping Hill, logic and a look at the Chiefs skill positions suggests that the production could come from elsewhere, with Travis Kelce, Kareem Hunt, Spencer Ware, Sammy Watkins, Chris Conley, DeAnthony Thomas and DeMarcus Robinson all capable of breaking out if given the opportunity.

Of those options, Hunt appears to be the most likely beneficiary of the extra attention Hill will warrant, Stretching a Steelers defense vertically which already struggles in the middle with the subpar linebacker play is a strategy the Browns already successfully employed in week 1. With an even more potent downfield passing game from the Chiefs, it’s hard to imagine the Steelers being able to reign in Hunt if he finds a few creases.

However, the Chiefs offensive line is not very good. The 7 qb hits allowed and 3.9 ypc the Chiefs were able to rack up in week 1 are much more indicative of the Chiefs skill on the line than the only one sack allowed. Mahomes’ mobility obviously offsets some of these potential struggles in pass protection, but the poor protection will yield more sacks going forward and that could start this week against a team that racked up seven sacks and 12 qb hits.

The Steelers D-line in particular has a decided advantage, with the front three of Stephon Tuitt, Javon Hargrave and Cam Heyward challenging the thoroughly underwhelming Chiefs trio of Andrew Wylie, Mitch Morse and Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff. That could clog run lanes, which will make it hard for Hunt to get going at the beginning of runs and offset the relative weakness at the linebacker level. Expect plenty of tackles for loss for the Steelers, and some splash runs from Hunt to form an overall respectable stat line, similar to that of Ezekiel Elliott last week against the Panthers.

Steelers Chiefs Football

Of course, the X-factor here is Mahomes, and breaking down his spectacular 2018 debut is the key to understanding how this matchup might play out. While Mahomes was excellent at extending plays and downfield passing, he struggled with chemistry to any receiver not named Hill, and it was especially concerning that he couldn’t get all-pro tight end Travis Kelce involved. Take away the deep pass completions (20 plus yards), and this is Mahomes’ stat line: 10 of 22, 78 yards, 2 TD and a sack. In the first half in particular, he was a putrid 4 of 11 for 23 yards and a sack outside of the 20-plus yard pass completions. It should be noted that the 2 TD’s were on one-yard shovel passes, so they were essentially handoffs. All of this is not to take away from Mahomes’ performance as he was an incredible 5 of 5 for 178 yards and 2 TDs on throws 20 yards or more down the field, it’s to show that some of the essential aspects of being an NFL QB (short and intermediate accuracy) are areas where Mahomes continues to struggle.

On the other side, while Roethlisberger struggled in week 1, it was against a vastly superior defense from top to bottom. The fact is, the Chiefs just allowed a comparable quarterback in Philip Rivers to throw for over 400 yards, and that includes a bad drop from Travis Benjamin that would have been a TD of over 50 yards. There will be room for Roethlisberger to throw it down the field, where the only player that could potentially hang with Antonio Brown is Chiefs corner Kendall Fuller. However, that leaves Juju Smith-Schuster, Justin Hunter, and perhaps rookie James Washington free license to tear up the relatively weak Chiefs secondary.

Antonio Brown, Phillip Gaines, Daniel Sorensen

This is a game script that could look like a track meet at times, but the inefficiencies for both offenses should get in the way and keep it relatively reasonable. I expect the inexperience of Mahomes and the Steelers’ advantage in the secondary and the trenches to offset the potential strong running game that Kareem Hunt could enjoy. It will be close, but the Steelers will roll towards the end.

Prediction: Steelers 33 Chiefs 24

Season Record: 1-0

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Game of the Week: Saints vs. Bucs Review

Sometimes in this league, one play can change everything. It’s a mental game after all, at its core, and it is this mental aspect which is often mistaken for in-game “momentum”. This was the case in the stunner in the Dome Sunday. The Saints defense allowed 41 points to the Bucs, at least in large part due to the fact that the Bucs believed they could.

It was the fifth play of the Bucs first offensive drive, right around midfield, safety Marcus Williams was playing single high, with some underneath and middle zones. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson streaks past Patrick Robinson who settles into a zone in the flat, running past linebacker Alex Anzalone who settles in the middle. Fitzpatrick uses his eyes to manipulate Williams into a false step which gives Jackson a clear path past the last line of what figured to be an improved Saints pass defense: touchdown.

Jackson touchdown

This followed a highly impressive opening drive by the Saints, who marched down the field themselves, in about four minutes, to score the game’s opening touchdown on a 5-yard Alvin Kamara touchdown run.

But for Williams, there had to be some familiarity. His last drive ended the exact same way, him failing as a last line of defense and allowing a touchdown. A strong offseason, a renewed focus, everything was supposed to be different this season. This Saints defense were pushovers no longer. And yet, the fifth play left some creeping doubts.

On the other side, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, bolstered by a strong group of skill position playmakers and a stout offensive line, was told all offseason how his team would finish last in the NFC South after presumed starter Jameis Winston was suspended the first three games for an incident with an uber driver.

After the big play, this young Saints defense had to be a little rattled. They’ve seen this story before, just last year when another wily veteran quarterback carved them up in week 1 last year. On the other side, it had to feel like vindication for a unit that was embarrassed in their last visit to the Dome, a 30-10 Saints victory in which receiver Mike Evans was so frustrated, he took a harder-than-necessary shot on cornerback Marshon Lattimore in retaliation to Lattimore poking Winston.

Make no mistake about it, this game was personal, for a lot of people involved. Fitzpatrick now had the confidence to uncork several deep shots and tight-window throws. The receivers, having seen Jackson’s breakthrough fed off the energy. Wide receiver Chris Godwin’s insane diving grab for a first down on an early third down in the first quarter illustrated this. As did Godwin’s touchdown, beating near-perfect coverage by cornerback Ken Crawley.

Throughout the day, Jackson beat Crawley twice on deep routes, once for a touchdown. Mike Evans constantly got the better of Lattimore in their one-on-one matchups. The exclamation point coming when Evans streaked by Lattimore, who lost his footing and allowed his first career touchdown. Miscommunications between safeties Williams and Kurt Coleman didn’t help on either of those touchdown catches, as both corners were one-on-one with no safety help.

Evans

To make those touchdowns happen required pinpoint deep ball accuracy, after nailing the early touchdown, Fitzpatrick’s deep ball touch and accuracy was nearly flawless. He only missed one shot play in the entire game, an unprecedented success rate.

It certainly helped that Fitzpatrick’s quick trigger effectively eliminated the Saints pass rush, which finished with zero sacks and two quarterback hits. Saints Head Coach Sean Payton explained it well: “You have to disrupt the timing of the passing game on one end or the other.”

Fitzpatrick not only had a masterful performance through the air, he was highly efficient on the ground, constantly scrambling to turn neutral and negative plays into positives.

The Saints offense with Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas leading the way, was highly efficient as well, outside of Thomas’ fumble, drop and running back Mike Gillislee’s fumble. The mistakes happened at bad times, as all three resulted in what might have been at least a ten point swing, and potentially as much as 21 points.

Thomas fumble

The script turned quickly into a track meet, which has been a bit of a specialty in the Payton-Brees era, but those mistakes compiled a lead for the Bucs that was ultimately insurmountable.

It all started with that one play, that well-designed, well-thought out, ego-shattering, reality-inducing deep strike. Fitzpatrick and the Bucs offense never looked back, and the Saints defense in particular, could never stop looking back.

 

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Game of the Week: Bears vs. Packers

gb v c

Let’s set the scene Sunday Night: Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers glances at the play clock, a typically expressionless face a bit haggard and covered in a thin layer of sweat. He sees the clock ticking down, 10…9…8… He’s waiting in a shotgun formation, trips receivers to the right, his favorite target Davante Adams isolated on the left, where Bears precocious star corner Kyle Fuller has been blanketing him the entire game.

To this point, Rodgers has tasted turf too many times, that’s why he has running back Jamaal Williams next to him: to buy him the extra time he needs on this last-ditch attempt on 4th down from the 20-yard line. The scoreboard reads Packers 13 Bears 17, but Rodgers has been here before. He knows how to take care of business in these situations.

So, how did we get there? How did the little brother Bears push Rodgers to his absolute limit? With a ferocious young defense, boosted by the addition of a superstar pass rusher and an offense with far too many playmakers to be blanked completely.

The signature on the 4 year, 42-million-dollar contract by DT Eddie Goldman effectively serves as an exclamation point for a front seven that is not only peppered with top of the line talent, but has no discernible weak point among the starters.

Up front, the aforementioned superstar Khalil Mack bookends an extremely talented 3-man defensive line including Goldman, Akiem Hicks coming off a career year, and former third round pick Jonathan Bullard. Rushing from the other end is Leonard Floyd, a man who was a top ten pick and has a seven-sack season on his resume. Behind that stout five is a pair of linebackers that might be unmatched in the entire league in terms of athleticism: Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith.

Expect this group to rough up the Packers relatively weak o-line (David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga are the only above-average starters). Goldman, Bullard and Hicks will look to clog the running lanes and make life uncomfortable for Rodgers if he tries to step up in the pocket. As a result, I expect Jamaal Williams to have a relatively quiet and frustrating week 1.

Rodgers, of course, has the ability to get outside the pocket and typically thrives once he’s there. He’s especially good at finding top receiver Davante Adams in those situations, as Adams is one of the more physical and savvy receivers in the league. He, and his Packers counterparts in Geronimo Allison and Randall Cobb have a tough draw in this Bears secondary which is also stacked with young up and coming talent: Kyle Fuller is the star, but Prince Amukamara is a rock-solid number two, while Bryce Callahan is highly efficient in the slot and should matchup well against the veteran Cobb.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears

One of the biggest advantages for the Bears figures to be their safeties against the Packers tight ends. Jimmy Graham was once a field stretching monster between the twenties, in addition to his considerable redzone prowess. No longer: Graham couldn’t consistently find the field in Seattle due to his major deficiencies in the running game. He’s also lost a step, and with it, his ability to separate down the field consistently and pick up yards after the catch. He’s always struggled against physical and athletic safeties and the Bears have a pair of them in Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos. If Graham affects this game, it most likely will have to be on back shoulders and slants from around the ten-yard line to go.

The Packers field an impressive front seven in their own right, headlined by the incredibly tough defensive tackle combo of Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark, so the Bears may also struggle to find yards up the middle with consistency. However, their linebackers may struggle with run fits, as a rookie, in Oren Burks is in line to start. As such, off tackle runs, and a more horizontal ground game figure to be a wise gameplan for a Bears squad that features two very strong and versatile options to attack what figures to be an improved Packers defense.

The Packers’ predominantly veteran presence in the secondary could make it very difficult for young quarterback Mitch Trubisky and coach Matt Nagy to get this highly promising offense off the ground consistently. Expect Trubisky to target tight end Trey Burton early and often to try to exploit safety Kentrell Brice, new to the starting lineup after Morgan Burnett left for the Steelers this offseason. Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller may also find openings against whoever lines up in the slot (Davon House or Jaire Alexander).

All of this adds up to a low scoring, defensive slug fest where heavy pass rush, punishing run defense, and strong secondary play dominate the day. Both teams will find their openings, and in the scenario I mentioned above, there’s a very small number of players I trust more than Rodgers to get it done. Win or lose, though, the Bears will be highly dangerous as long as they remain relatively healthy. They have a much stronger roster overall than the Packers and could push them for second place in this division by season’s end.

Prediction: Packers 20 Bears 17

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