The Deep Route Fantasy Notebook features recaps and thoughts about the recent action in the NFL, along with weekly awards, draft spotlights, fantasy updates, and more. Unless stated otherwise, all stats are accumulated using Pro Football Reference, ESPN, or 4for4.com.
It’s Thanksgiving time in America and man was there so much to be thankful for in Week Eleven. It gave us one of the greatest games in recent NFL history and quite possibly changed the future of football. There were also some things to not be thankful for, like one of the worst injuries all season, the seat of a top coach heating up even more, and a troubling performance from a former MVP candidate. All this and more coming up in an early, jam-packed edition of the Deep Route Football Notebook.
THINGS I KNOW
I know that was a great game. I’m sure you know it too, but the Chiefs-Rams showdown was undoubtedly the game of the year. A couple of the best teams facing off in primetime? Check. A pair of young star quarterbacks throwing their arms out? Yep. Two of the most dynamic, modern offenses in football absolutely shredding the opposing defenses? You bet. If you’re still not convinced of the shear greatness of the matchup, just look at the numbers. Not only was it the first time where both teams reached 50 points in a game, but the Chiefs and Rams scored more touchdowns last night than the Bills have scored all season. Needless to say, it was a ridiculously entertaining game and likely the best of the past few seasons, but I wouldn’t call it an all-timer.
Some people are ripping last night’s game because of the lack of defense. At first, I agreed with them. After all, there were 105 total points scored, the third-highest combo in league history. However the more I reminisced about the epic Monday Night duel, the more my mind kept fluttering back to the game-changing defensive plays. There were seven turnovers and three defensive touchdowns, two of which gave the scoring team the lead. It may be easy to look at the scoreboard and wonder if the defenses flew to Mexico City by mistake, but to say that the defenses did nothing is simply wrong. To me, a great game has to be entertaining but the defenses have to hold their a ground a bit as well. This Chiefs-Rams game fits that criteria and I (and I’m sure many others) would love to see a rematch in February and for many more Februaries after.
I know that game could change the NFL. Obviously, that game will have significant ramifications for both teams moving forward. However, I’m more interested in how the game will affect the NFL in the long-term. It’s hard not to imagine that every team watching this wanted a piece of that action. Don’t forget that the NFL is a copycat league. Even the league’s best coaches admit to taking play from each other. The three best teams (Saints, Rams, and Chiefs) are all offensive juggernauts.
To me, the best part of watching this game was seeing the intricacies of each offense and how each coach used their handful of offensive playmakers. As effective as the play designs were, recent history opposes the league’s best offense winning a Super Bowl that same season. Still, it’s not hard to picture an NFL in five years where teams average 30 points a game. Passing overtook running about a decade ago, but now it looks like the NFL’s evolution into an offensively-driven league has finally been confirmed.
I know it’s a terrible time to be terrible. Well, duh. No one wants to suck, so why I am writing this? When teams perform badly, there’s always hope that the future will be brighter. Teams with a lousy head coach or an underperforming quarterback can always focus their assets on finding their next coach or franchise QB. This year, that task looks harder than usual. The consensus with this year’s quarterback draft class is that it’s relatively weak. As of now, only Justin Herbert appears to be a first-round lock and no one knows if he’ll even declare for the draft. The options within the league aren’t too inspiring either, as I outlined a couple weeks ago.
As for the coaches, there doesn’t seem to be many proven or hot options available. The trend today is that every team wants to find the next Sean McVay (a young, dynamic offensive guru), but the word on the street is pretty barren in regards to that prototype. Even the collegiate landscape looks bleak with only Lincoln Riley (35 years old) and Matt Campbell (38) generating buzz as of late. Those could be just wishful thinking, though, as the chances of prying Riley from a top program seem slim right now. Teams looking for a jumpstart to their franchise better hope they can dig deep in their searches, or else it’s ‘2020 or Bust’ for them.
I know I am so thankful for this football season. Yes, there’s all the action, storylines, and plays that normally come with a season, but this year has been a little different for me. Last year I changed the way I watched football. I started noticing things like offensive patterns and play designs before the snap. During the play, I started focusing more on the wider scope of the play rather than just where the ball was. This year, I’ve taken that perspective to a whole new level and honestly it’s made watching games so much more entertaining.
I’ve always said I feel like I can enjoy any football game, but now I can truly appreciate the details and actions of every single play. For all you math or chemistry nerds out there, it’s like looking at an equation and knowing what the numbers and letters mean rather than just knowing how to solve it. I highly recommend taking the time to notice little things in a play, like where a certain receiver motions to and how the defense adjusts to it. I’ve learned a lot more about football by expanding my perspective during games and it’s made me appreciate the game much more than I ever imagined.
THINGS I DON’T KNOW
I don’t know who’s to blame for the Dolphins’ continual mediocrity. Ever since Dan Marino hung up his cleats, the Dolphins have been bad enough to rarely make the playoffs but good enough to miss out on a high draft pick. Some people (myself included) believed Miami’s constant run of mediocrity would end this year with Head Coach Adam Gase getting a healthy, revamped roster. In his three years as the Dolphins’ head coach, Gase has been as average as you can be. After going 10-6 in his inaugural campaign and reaching Miami’s first playoff berth since 2008, Gase coached an injury-riddled team to a 6-10 record. Ten weeks through his third year as a head coach, Gase’s overall coaching record sits at 21 wins and 21 losses, a.k.a average.
This season has been no friend to the Dolphins either, as multiple starters have gone down with injuries. That includes quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who missed the final four games in 2016, all of 2017, and the past five games of 2018. Naturally, a team’s failures get pinned on the head coach. However, this case seems a little different. Gase already showed what he can do with Miami when they have a healthy quarterback. When healthy, Tannehill has flashed the talent that convinced the Dolphins to take him eighth-overall back in 2012.
Despite the highs between the pair, the lows have been pretty significant. This begs the age-old question: Are the Dolphins content with being average? If they fire Gase, Miami risks falling below average. On the other hand, maybe they’ll land the guy to take them to the promised land. The same can be said about letting Tannehill go. Obviously it depends how the season goes, but if the Dolphins go 8-8 like I predict they will, then the safe move would be to keep the consistently inconsistent duo.
I don’t know how Mike McCarthy keeps his job. At this point, the only way McCarthy stays in Green Bay is if the Packers win out. It’s been almost a year since the Packers last won back-to-back games and it’s not looking like that timespan will get any shorter. I’ll give some credit to McCarthy for constantly throwing younger, unproven players into the mix with general success, but most of the time it’s a guy named Aaron Rodgers who has a huge impact on that, too. McCarthy has been the Packers’ head coach for 13 years and he’s had Rodgers as the starter for eleven of those years. The other two years he had Brett Favre, which makes McCarthy’s lone Super Bowl even more disappointing.
On top of that, his play-calling these past two season has been questionable, which might explain why Green Bay had a losing record last year for the first time since 2008. This is a prime example of a team that should clearly be doing better but there coach is holding them back. If Aaron Rodgers ever wants to see a Lombardi Trophy again, Green Bay will have to fire McCarthy. Or he’ll have to find a replica. Both could work.
I don’t know how the Redskins bounce back from this. First off, here’s to hoping Alex Smith gets better from a gruesome leg injury. Losing your starting quarterback is always bad, especially if you just traded for him and then signed him to a four-year, $94 million contract. Oh, and Smith is 34-years old. The chances he recovers from this seems unlikely and it could not have come at a worse time. The Redskins were flying high among the NFC East, but two losses in three weeks leaves them with a mere one-game lead in the division.
Now the team will have to rely on Colt McCoy to steer them into postseason football. It certainly helps that Washington will currently face no team with a winning record. On top of that, McCoy wasn’t bad after filling in for Smith. He posted a 50 percent completion rate, a QBR of 76.8, and one touchdown. Despite that average performance, the Redskins should feel anything but okay. Not only will they have to worry about maintaining their divisional lead, but they might need to start thinking about long-term solutions at quarterback. Like I said earlier, that looks like it could be a pretty daunting task.
I don’t know why the Saints ran up the clock. Whether they wanted to get extra reps in for their starters, naively thought they’d lose a 31-point comeback, or were just being mean (for lack of a more vulgar term), it was not the safest move. I’ve voiced my concerns with playing starters for too long a couple times already, and while that certainly applies here, I will admit that the Saints have every right to pad the scoreboard. It’s not like the Saints care if they hurt the Eagles’ feelings. Maybe if Philadelphia, you know, played well then they wouldn’t have to worry about New Orleans dropping 48 points on them. If you’re up by 31, you can do whatever the heck you want. I might not agree with the Saints’ tactics, but I don’t disrespect them, either.
TRIVIA OF THE WEEK
Question: Who is the only player with multiple interceptions in each of the previous seven seasons?
Check out the ‘Awards’ section for the answer.
As fantasy football season rolls on, I’ll be focusing on a couple fantasy-related issues. This can include Players to Watch, Making the Case, questions from readers, or anything fantasy-related.
It’s everyone’s least favorite position in fantasy football: the kicker. Kickers are quickly becoming obsolete as more leagues opt to replace them with another flex position. Despite the growing rebellion, I’m not ready to give up on kickers as they can provide huge benefits for your teams. You just have to learn how to stream them. Below are my tricks to look out for when picking the right kicker each week.
- Plays for a high-scoring team. The more points the team produces, the higher chance the kicker sees the field. I will say I’d prefer a good offense to a great offense because good offenses tend to resort to field goals more often than the great offenses do.
- Team is facing a weak defense. This also seems like a no-brainer, but sometimes the best kickers are facing tougher defenses and likely won’t see the field as often. The worst defenses in the league are almost always projected to give up lots of points, which is usually an accurate indicator of a high-scoring game. Anytime you can get a piece of a high-scoring game, you should bite.
- Check the weather. If your kicker is scheduled to play in 15 MPH winds and rain, you’re wasting a roster spot. That’s why I prefer kickers who kick in domes because there’s no external conditions that could impede the kick. In the case of an indoor game, favor the home team a little more as domes amplify the home crowd’s roar against an opposing team.
Every week, I’ll feature a college football player who recently grabbed the spotlight. This week, Armchair Scout Rob Paul subs in and highlights Jonah Williams.
What are the three most important positions in football? Quarterback, pass rusher, and offensive tackle. Those are the three premium spots every competitive NFL team must have quality at and it’s not easy to find. NFL teams in need of a left tackle in the 2019 NFL Draft might be slightly disappointed, but anyone who questions Jonah Williams ability as a blindside blocker is simply nuts. The Alabama left tackle is a monster, but some question his athleticism and length and believe he should kick inside to guard. Well, the tape shows that despite these shortcomings he’s got franchise left tackle written all over him.
The 6-5, 301-pound Jonah Williams is everything an offensive line coach wants in a lineman. He plays through the whistle and finishes every block. Williams is an outstanding run blocker who plays with great leverage and drive. This allows him to move people downfield to open massive holes. When asked to work to the second level, he has no issues and can be a head-hunter looking for pancake blocks. Run blocking is Williams’ bread and butter, but the questions come with his pass protection. Despite having some footwork, length, and athleticism issues, Williams holds up. He has heavy hands that are like vice grips and lock onto pass rushers. With that, Williams also has an unbelievably strong anchor. Nobody will beat this man with power. This is the franchise left tackle teams are looking for every draft. Early Projection: Top Ten
The ‘Hands’ Award: Danny Davis
Someone check this man’s gloves for glue. Not only was Davis falling backwards on this sensational one-handed snag, but he didn’t need to use his body to cradle the ball. Reports say the ball is still stuck to the palm of his hand.
Uniform of the Week: New Orleans Saints
There was some stellar competition this week between the Bears’ orange tops, the Jaguars’ teal-and-black combo, and the Rams’ all-yellow throwbacks. In the end, the Saints’ clean white throwbacks finally get the recognition they deserve. The lighter shade of gold shines when complimented by the black outlines. These are among the best uniforms in football.
Mr. Bummer: Carson Wentz
Wentz was an MVP candidate before he got hurt last year. Now he’s a Mr. Bummer after dropping 0.8 fantasy points. He couldn’t even get a point! That’s beyond abysmal for any player, let alone supposedly one of the best young quarterbacks in football.
The Blunder Ball: James Conner
I’m still fuming after Conner dropped a wide-open, potentially game-winning touchdown pass that would have given my fantasy team the win. This is just inexcusable. I don’t even have to explain why Conner is “awarded” this. If it hits your hands, you better catch it.
Conspiracy of the Week: Alex Smith and Joe Theismann
Hold onto your phones because this one gets wild. Exactly 33 years apart, current Redskins’ quarterback Smith and former Redskins’ quarterback Theismann injured the same parts of their bodies on the third sack of the game on the same yard line while their teams ended up losing 23-21. Don’t believe me? Just ask Texans’ defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. He was on the sideline for both hits.
Con Artist Award: Chase Daniel
This isn’t me bashing Daniel or anything, but making over $26 million over an eight-year, five-team career is nuts. Wait, I forgot to mention that he’s started two games and tossed just one touchdown. Those stats (or stat, in Daniel’s case) makes $26 million look like a highway robbery.
Trivia Answer: Chris Harris Jr.
Question: Who is the only player with multiple interceptions in each of the previous seven seasons?
What might be even more interesting is that the 29-year old has had only two picks every season since 2015. From 2012-2014, he had three picks each season. Excluding his rookie season in 2011, Harris has missed one game and started all but six games. If that isn’t the definition of consistency then I don’t know what is.
ONE LAST THING
I talked a lot about coaches in this week’s column, so I figured I’d look at all the guys on the hot seat and how likely they’ll be with a new team next season, barring a major turnaround. I left off any first year guys because it’s rare to see them fired after one season, though nothing surprises me anymore in the NFL.
Todd Bowles, Jets – Oh, he’s gone. I heard it’s not in the Jets’ DNA to fire a coach midseason though. He’s gone 5-11 the past two seasons and has three wins so far in 2018. The team has little hope for the future and just got trounced 41-10 by a two-win division rival. Next, please.
Dirk Koetter, Buccaneers – Things have only gotten worse since I last ripped Koetter nearly two months ago. His job might be saved if one of their quarterbacks can finally play for longer than a half. I’m dubious.
Vance Joseph, Broncos – I disliked the hire then and I still dislike it now. Joseph was never ready to be a head coach after spending one season as Miami’s defensive coordinator. This team needs an offensive coach to kickstart the team back to the Peyton Manning days and I think John Elway is starting to see that.
Mike McCarthy, Packers – No need to be repetitive here. Just scroll up if you forgot.
Doug Marrone, Jaguars – I feel like someone will be blamed for the Jaguars’ disappointing season. It will likely be Blake Bortles, but Marrone’s decision-making as of late has me scratching my head. I don’t think Marrone will get canned, but his seat is warmer than most.
Jason Garrett, Cowboys – Another coach that prolonged his tenure with a win, but will it be enough to salvage a 5-5 season? Everyone knows Jerry Jones likes to go big or go home, and if Dallas can’t reach the playoffs, something tells me that Garrett will indeed be going home.
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