Monday, February 24, 2014

Bengals: A Pre Draft Look

It's been a while. PFF's look at every teams lineup has me ready to take a look at the squad heading into the draft/free agency. Previews, very well done previews at that, for all 32 teams can be found here. Of course, I'll be focusing on the Bengals. I've pasted the lineup picture below for easier reference and will go category by category with my thoughts. I'll be looking at the team as far as the 2014 season is concerned and nothing beyond. There are too many variables going multiple years forward and the thought of an Andy Dalton contract extension has me wondering how bad heroin can really be.


QB: My thoughts on Dalton are no secret. But for 2014 alone, he makes $1.6 million and that's a bargain. PFF has him as an adequate starter and I agree. I'd look for an upgrade in the draft, and would consider trading up if a Bridgewater or Manziel started to slip. What I wouldn't do, is take another high intangibles/limited skills QB to sit behind Dalton like Aaron Murray/AJ McCarron as I've seen suggested. My hope for him is that Hue Jackson commits to running the ball and getting more out of Dalton by asking him to do less. If you don't commit to trading up and replacing Dalton in the first round, you have to go the other way and continue to surround him with great pieces and hope he doesn't blow it.

RB: Love Gio. Think he has a great year with his former RB coach as the OC. BJGE can be effective in a limited role, and there are rumors that we may bring in Hue Jackson's old friend Darren McFadden. I'd have zero issue with this. As bad as McFadden was last season, his YPC was only .1 of a yard lower than BJGE and he has much better hands. I wouldn't mind drafting a guy in the middle rounds here as well and cutting BJGE loose and getting his $3 million off the books. Either way, Gio will be the top dog here.

WR: We're in great shape here. AJ is great. Marvin Jones had a dynamite year. Andrew Hawkins should be healthy next year and Mo Sanu showed flashes of solid play. Brandon Tate was solid returning kicks and Dane Sanzenbacher is a fine #6 WR. I guess. Whatever.

TE: Oh boy. As you see, Gresham is our only starter listed as "poor" by PFF. And that's being generous as they had him ranked 64th out of 64 TEs from his play last season. He's in the last year of his deal and scheduled to make over $3 million dollars. The two TE look was Jay Gruden's project so I wouldn't be surprised to see the run oriented Jackson make Eifert the starter and go to a FB more. I'd trade Gresham for what I could unless you want to bank on him putting it together in a contract year. I would not.

OL: As you can see above, our line is also in good shape. The chart does not account for free agent LT Anthony Collins, who hasn't allowed a sack since week 4 of 2009. If he re-signs, and I certainly hope he does, that moves Whitworth to his natural position of LG and pushes Clint Boling into supersub status. Cap space is not an issue, so I'm really hoping we can bring Collins back. He won't be cheap, but protecting Dalton's blindside is a worthy investment. If we can't re-sign Collins, I'd love to go after Browns center Alex Mack. He'd replace Kyle Cook and improve the weak link on our line.

DL: Another big FA here with DE Michael Johnson. I'd love to have him back, but I just don't see it. The team drafted Margus Hunt in the second round last year, and Johnson is coming off a 3.5 sack season after a 11.5 sack campaign in 2012. Wallace Gilberry led the team in sacks last year with 7.5 and would certainly take some of those snaps, as well. Geno Atkins is on pace to be with the team in training camp and that's great news because the middle of the line fell apart without him. Domata Peko had a subpar year, Brandon Thompson showed signs of good play and Devon Still couldn't stay on the field. I imagine an early pick will go towards the defensive line. As the article mentions, cutting Peko could save $4.2 million and allow us to upgrade the position. I wouldn't mind having Peko back, but on a restructured deal for sure. There's also the option of cutting aging DE Robert Geathers who struggled in 2012 and missed most of 2013 with injury. That move would save $2.7 million.

LB: I actually think we're fine at LB. Burfict is a stud, Vinny Rey was great in limited stretches and Maualuga was improved (for him). James Harrison was solid when he was on the field, plus we should get last years fourth rounder Sean Porter and projected starter from last year Emmanuel Lamur back from injury. In this passing league, you see less of three LBs on the field in a 4-3, and more nickel packages. I feel more than confident with Burfict/Rey in there with someone from the Maualuga/Harrison/Porter/Lamur quartet backing them up.

DB: Leon Hall is great, but coming off his second achilles tear (different legs) in three years. Jones and Newman are solid, but 30+. Kirkpatrick is young, but unproven. Our first round pick will probably be a CB, and I'm fine with that. Newman will be 36 this year, who knows if Hall can get back to where he was and Jones is best in slot role. If Kirkpatrick turns out, hopefully you've got your starting DBs of the future. As far as safeties, Reggie Nelson will be 31 but had another fine year. George Illoka is the wild card. He played much better in 2013 and if he can continue his improvement, we're in pretty good shape here. Taylor Mays is a free agent and played well enough before his injury that I wouldn't mind him back. Shawn Williams will also be in his second year after a solid rookie campaign mostly on ST. I think we're good at safety.

ST: Not listed here, but I think we're set here too. Mike Nugent hit 82% of his FGs last year and Kevin Huber

Overview: I don't follow the draft nearly enough to know specific names, but I do know what positions I feel like we need. In order:

1. DE
2. CB
3. QB
4. DT
5. RB

Obviously, you go best player available in the first round and I'm hoping that Teddy Bridgewater goes on an Aaron Rodgers type of slide. If not, I'd have no problem going DE in the first and letting Michael Johnson walk. I'd then use his money to re-sign Anthony Collins at LT. A CB in round two would give him an opportunity to learn and not be thrown into the fire. I also wouldn't be opposed to trading up for a QB. I feel this team has did very well at acquiring depth at many positions and could withstand a few less draft picks.

As a whole, we're in very good shape. Per the chart, we have only three below average starters (Gresham, Peko, Maualuga) and an unknown (Hunt). I would figure that each of those guys play a lesser role in the upcoming year due to younger, better backups (Eifert, Thompson/Still, Rey) and Hunt will probably be competing with a free agent or first round draft pick. I feel very good about the prospects of this team and look forward to our annual first round playoff defeat.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Seahawks vs. Broncos: Super Bowl XLVIII

Denver offense vs. Seattle defense.

What a battle this should be. A Broncos offense that scored more points than any team in history against a Seattle team that allowed 30 points once all season and hasn't allowed more than 20 since before Thanksgiving. I think the Seahawks secondary goes into this game looking to mug the Denver receivers at every snap until the refs show they'll call it consistently (Hint: I don't think the refs will). I think they'll be even more physical than usual. This will lead to a lot of checkdowns by Manning, who has barely hit the ground this postseason because the ball has been out of his hand in a flash. I'd count on Moreno to have a big day, and could see him winning game MVP if Denver wins. He'll get his chance to run against a Seahawks front that has given up 100+ YPG on 4+ YPC in each of their two playoff games. He'll also catch plenty of short passes as the Seahawks secondary will disrupt the timing of the Broncos routes. Julius Thomas will also be key, but I can't imagine a better safety tandem to keep him from going crazy than Earl Thomas/Kam Chancellor. The Broncos function on a ton of short routes to pick up a little YAC and keep the chains moving. The Seahawks are a sure tackling team that doesn't give up much YAC. I think the Broncos will struggle a little with the physical nature and the speed of the Seahawks defense...of course "struggle" for the highest scoring offense in league history is relative. Welker and Decker should have plenty opportunity to move the chains in the even that Sherman puts the clamps on Thomas when they are matched up together. I still think Moreno is the guy to watch here.

Seahawks offense vs. Denver defense.

The Seahawks offense struggled in the past two weeks against the Saints and 49ers. That sounds about right as those two teams were fourth and fifth in the league in yards surrendered per game during the regular season. The Broncos were 19th. Lynch had great days in both victories, but it seemed Russell Wilson never could really get in much of a rhythm. I think that changes here. Von Miller would make life a living hell for Wilson, but alas, he's not here. The Denver defense has eight combined QB hits in the past two weeks against statues Philip Rivers and Tom Brady. I think Wilson will have more than enough time to scramble around to extend plays and frustrate the Broncos defense. The Denver defense has given up 129 yards on the ground total to the Chargers and Patriots, but that number is a bit misleading. Neither team really had success against Denver, but both also fell in the hole relatively early and had to throw after finding themselves down three scores. I don't think the Seahawks will find themselves in that predicament and will be able to stick with the run game. You also have to figure in Percy Harvin. The Broncos have just about zero tape for how the Seahawks want to use him and Seattle has had two weeks to work him into some packages. I don't think he goes crazy here, but he'll show the versatility that made him a very rich man this offseason. More importantly, he'll bump the limited Seahawks receivers down a notch. I don't love Doug Baldwin or Golden Tate, but I like them a lot more when they're matched against Denver's second and third cornerbacks, as opposed to their top two. Then you remember that Chris Harris is out of the game and Champ Bailey will be matched up with one of those guys. I don't like that one bit for Denver. I think whatever guy is matched up across Champ Bailey will find himself getting quite a bit of targets.

Seattle special teams vs. Denver special teams.

I figure that the alleged bad weather will play a factor here more than on offense or defense. Cold air will lead to more short kicks and more kickoffs, and I think that favors the Seahawks. Percy Harvin will be back returning kicks and the Broncos special teams is amongst the worst at covering kicks. I don't know if Harvin will necessarily take one to the house for the two quarters that he's healthy, but I do think that he'll be able to consistently give the Seahawks above average starting field position. Hauschka and Prater are two of the better kickers in the league this season so that one's probably a draw.

TL;DR

I've liked the Seahawks since the beginning of the season and I'm going to stick with them. I think their defense will be able to (reasonably) limit the Broncos damage on offense, and I think they have the advantage when they have the ball and a slight upper hand at special teams. More importantly, we get to see a terrified commissioner hand the trophy, and hopefully, the microphone to Richard Sherman.

Seahawks 27, Broncos 23

Super Bowl Preview

It's the Super Bowl, jack.  Sadly, neither of our teams are in it.  In addition to that, I don't really care for either of the teams that made it.  Well, I wasn't a fan of either of the teams in it.  Allow me to explain.

As you know, I have had a long-standing hatred of Peyton Manning.  When people ask me why, I used to roll with the same things: he shoves his teammates around, he has a history of throwing his teammates under the bus, etc.  Basically, he has cultivated a friendly, good-ol'-boy personality, so he's almost universally loved.  When I break out those stories, I'm always met with things like, "He's a good Christian man," or something to that effect.  It falls on deaf ears.
These days, my go-to argument goes back to the 2004 playoffs.  As you may recall, the Patriots beat the Colts 20-3 in the divisional round.  The Patriots' defensive backs were a bit rough with the Colts receivers, although no more than any defensive backs were with receivers.  However, Peyton and Dungy complained about the treatment of their receivers ad nauseam after the game.  The next season, the defensive contact/holding rule became a point of emphasis, which opened up the offensive explosion we see today.
I like offense as much as the next guy, but it was the aftermath of that game that gave the offense an unfair advantage.  (This rule emphasis may have hit Packers fans harder than others, as we had to suffer through the Ahmad Carroll years in this new period of offense.)

Needless to say, I still don't like him.  I can respect what he's done this year, but this year was made possible due to his excessive complaining after the 2004 playoffs.  Defensive backs can't make any contact past 5 yards, meanwhile this Broncos team runs an offense based on pick-plays and offensive pass interference on screen passes.

On the other side of the ball is the Seahawks defense.  They're fast.  They're nasty.  They hit hard.  They jam receivers.  In other words, they're a better version of that Patriots defense that caused all of this in the first place.
I hated these Seahawks.  I don't like Pete Carroll.  I don't like the constant yapping on defense.  I hate Golden Tate.  I feel like Russell Wilson is vastly overrated.

I was ready to cheer, not for the Seahawks, but against Peyton Manning.

But then I started to watch film on the Seahawks defense, and I fell in love.  Yes, they talk, and it gets on my nerves.  But they're really, really good.  They rarely have defensive breakdowns.  They rally to the ball.  They hit hard.  They're sound tacklers.  They don't really disguise what they're doing on defense, but it's still extremely hard to put together a scoring drive on them.

The Seahawks mainly play two defensive schemes: Cover 3 and Cover 1.  They change up whether they're in man or zone underneath, but those are the main schemes they play.


This is your basic Cover 3 Zone Under.  The Seattle corners will usually line up closer to the line than they are here, but the concept is the same.  They could also go Cover 3 Man Under, with the corners playing man and the linebackers (or additional DBs) dropping back in a deep zone.  Against the 49ers, they played a lot of Cover 3 Zone Under to account for Kaepernick's running ability (against a mobile QB, you want to limit the man coverage, as you don't want to turn your back on a running threat).  Against Manning, I wouldn't be shocked to see the Seahawks play predominantly Cover 3 Man Under, and mix some zone concepts in the middle of the field to disrupt the Broncos' short passing game.
The size and speed of the Seahawks' corners should help to limit a lot of the WR screens the Broncos love so well.

The two main weaknesses of the Cover 3 are underneath routes (specifically in the middle of the field) and seam routes (between the deep safeties), both of which the Broncos excel at.  But the Seahawks don't give up many deep passes, which means the Broncos will have to settle on the underneath routes.  Again, the Broncos are great at those routes, but they rely on yards after catch, which the Seahawks are terrific at limiting.  To beat the Seahawks in this defense, the Broncos are going to have to move the ball down the field via a series of short passes.  The more plays it takes to move down the field, the more chances there are for a stop or a turnover.  The Seahawks will happily allow a ton of underneath routes, forcing the Broncos to move methodically down the field.  The Broncos will struggle to move the ball at times because of this.


Here is your basic Cover 1 Man Under.  The Seahawks will also run this a lot.  They only have one deep safety, but, with Earl Thomas manning that spot, it's all they need.  Taking a deep shot with this kind of defense is tempting, but the Seahawks are very good at stopping those.  They rarely get beat deep, even with this kind of defense.  The weaknesses here are sideline routes and pick-plays, both of which the Broncos do very well.  But, again, the Seahawks defense is very good.  The corners should be able to stick with the receivers on the sideline routes, and they will likely mix in some zone in the middle of the field to make the pick-plays in the middle easier to deal with.

Here's an image from the 49ers game showing the Seahawks in this defense:


It will likely be in this defense that you will see the Broncos take a deep shot.  It looks tempting.  If the receiver at the bottom of this formation gets free of the tight coverage, the safety won't be able to get there in time to stop a completion.  But the Seahawks wouldn't play this defense if they didn't think they could handle the receivers.  Even a big receiver like Demaryius Thomas will have a hard time shaking a corner.

It's also worth noting that, according to Pro Football Focus, the Seahawks had the best pass rush in the league this year.  Manning usually doesn't take much time to throw, but, against this secondary, he may have to wait longer than usual to get rid of the ball.  By that time, the rush may be in his face.  He'll be sacked at least once, and get hit a few times.  If it happens early (and I believe it will), it could disrupt his rhythm for the entire game.

I mainly focused on the Seahawks defense vs. the Broncos offense because that's the most intriguing match-up here.  Still, there are some words to be said on the Seahawks offense vs. the Broncos defense.

According to Pro Football Focus, the Broncos had the 6th ranked defense this year.  They were ranked 3rd against the run, which is significant against an offense that is built on the run.  I believe Lynch will have a good game, but I doubt he'll get to 100 yards on the ground (although he's also great in the passing game, so he'll end up with 100+ total yards).  They're ranked 13th in pass coverage, and they're particularly vulnerable against deep passes, which is where Wilson excels.
Whether or not it works early, the Seahawks won't abandon the run.  They'll attack by pounding the ball with Lynch (who led the league with 75 missed tackles and came in second to Adrian Peterson with 752 yards after contact), wide receiver screens, and the occasional deep shot.  They'll hit on a few deep shots, and the running game will work well enough to keep the defense honest.

I think Manning is good for at least 1 interception (he's had a few in recent weeks that should have been picked off), and that could be the difference.  This should be a hard-hitting game, with quite a few huge plays.  I went from being nonchalant about this Super Bowl to being pretty excited about it.

My pick: Seahawks 27, Broncos 24.

One last word on Peyton Manning.  I've heard a lot of "legacy" talk the past couple of weeks.  "What happens to his legacy if he wins/loses this game?"
Let me answer that: nothing should happen.  Nothing should change.  I've never been a big fan of the guy, but it's hard not to be impressed with what he has accomplished in his career.  Rings are not the end-all, be-all.  Football is the ultimate team sport.  Look at what happened last year.  Yes, Manning threw a backbreaking interception in overtime (which I obviously loved).  But, if Rahim Moore had been in position to knock Flacco's pass to Jacoby Jones away, he wouldn't have been in that position in the first place.

I'm not going to say that Manning is the best QB of all time, mainly because it's impossible to judge QBs between eras.  The offensive environment is much different now than it was just a couple decades ago.  But it's hard to look at what he has done and not think he's at least in the top 10 all time, regardless of what happens today.
And, for those people who talk about another Super Bowl ring clinching his spot as the best QB of all time: Joe Montana went 4-0 in the Super Bowl.

Enjoy the game, everyone.  It should be a great one.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Super Bowl Preview: PFF Edition

I'm working on a Super Bowl preview that should be up by Saturday at the latest.  In the meantime, poke around this page a bit.  It's amazing.

https://www.profootballfocus.com/blog/2014/01/27/super-bowl-xlvii-infographic/

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

How Glen Davis is Ruining the Orlando Magic

Glen Davis is ruining the Orlando Magic. Ok, maybe "ruining" is a little strong. Glen Davis is...making it very difficult for the Orlando Magic to evaluate all of their young talent properly.

And thus ruining them.

On the surface, Davis' season numbers of nearly 14 PPG, 7 RPG on 45% FG shooting are nearly identical to last years 15/7/44% FG campaign. He really seems like a bargain at $6.4 million a season, when you consider Kendrick Perkins makes $8.5 million a season, Joel Anthony is getting nearly $4 million a season and that Byron Mullens gets paid at all. Davis' shot selection is still iffy, he still can't jump and he struggles moving his feet in defense. But you know that already. What you don't know is how he's ruining season #2 in Orlando's "Tank without Tanking" process.

There's a surprising amount of NBA talent on this Orlando roster. You know about Davis. Jameer Nelson has an All Star appearance under his belt and could help a good team off the bench. Arron Afflalo should be an All Star this season. Oladipo is in the rookie of the year running. Vucevic is a double double machine. Tobias Harris was a steal of a trade by GM Rob Hennigan. Moe Harkless, Andrew Nicholson and Kyle O'Quinn all had solid rookie campaigns. So how is Glen Davis ruining a 10-28 team? Because he's not letting many of these young guys get minutes where they need to get minutes.

Orlando is in no position to win ballgames this season. If things ended today, the Magic would have the #2 and #15 picks in the draft, due to the Dwight Howard trade. This season was supposed to be a year of playing all the young talent from last year as many minutes as possible to see what we really have here. There's legit talent at several spots, but not star talent at any. So play the young guys as many minutes as you can to gauge their value while you hope to hit a home run in next years draft, right? Wrong. Because Glen Davis is ruining the Orlando Magic.

Davis is getting around 32 MPG at PF, and a little C from time to time. His minutes have pushed Tobias Harris to SF, when he played better last year as a stretch PF. That move has pushed SF Moe Harkless to the bench, where he has struggled to continue his nice end to last years season (13 PPG, 5 RPG, 2.6 blocks and steals per game on 46/32/57 shooting after the All Star break as a 19 year old). That move has pushed Andrew Nicholson into very inconsistent minutes backing up Davis and Jason Maxiell (Yes, that Jason Maxiell) and THAT move has pushed Kyle O'Quinn right into obscurity.

Tobias Harris averaged a 17/8.5 on 45/31/72 shooting in 27 games last year in Orlando, mostly as a stretch PF. This year as a SF, while battling an ankle injury, he's averaging a 12/7 on 40/20/75 shooting. A Davis trade would allow him to play more minutes at PF where he could use his quickness against bigger PFs. As is, he's a good athlete but there are plenty of of good athletes playing SF. He can't really work his strengths there. Harkless' minutes have bounced back recently, but he was recently getting single digit minutes after closing last year averaging nearly 36 minutes per. It's hard to get into a groove when you don't know what kind of minutes you'll be playing on a night to night basis. Harkless is a guy that doesn't need the ball in his hands, so I feel he's more effective in the starting lineup. He'd benefit greatly from the open looks that being the fifth option in the starting lineup would bring.

Andrew Nicholson is the biggest loser here, though. Watch this, this or this and tell me why this guy is only playing 12 minutes per game this month. The Cavs aren't exactly defensive stalwarts, but the Grizzlies and Pacers are very good defensive teams. Nicholson has a legit back to the basket game, can put the ball on the floor and shoot out to three point range. His rebounding and defense have improved noticeably since last season and he's 24. I'm not saying that there is Tim Duncan potential there, but he drew some David West comparisons coming out of college and you can certainly see the similarities. In a three game stretch at the end of last month, he played 12 minutes combined. In two games last week against the Heat/Clippers where Orlando lost by a combined 36 points, Nicholson saw the floor for 10 minutes. It's unforgivable. He's played more than 25 minutes in a game just nine times this season and in those nine games, check his numbers: 29 MPG, 13.7 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 0.9 BPG on 55/41/90 shooting. 6'9, 250 pound power forward that's 24 years old with that type of skill, and he's routinely watching Maxiell get his number called right in front of him. I'm sick. Ideally, he'd start at PF alongside Vucevic, with Harris coming off the bench where his versatility could dictate whether he plays SF or PF depending on the matchup.

Kyle O'Quinn was a second round steal last season that had some nice flashes as a rookie. During a four game stretch late last season while Vucevic was injured, O'Quinn averaged a 14.5 PPG, 10 RPG, 2.5 APG on 64% FG shooting in 29 MPG. Again, I'm not saying that O'Quinn is a 20/10 guy waiting to be unleashed, but on a team at this point in the rebuilding phase, there's no reason for him to be logging DNP's while Jason Maxiell gets free reign to do whatever the hell it is that Jason Maxiell does.

With only this year and next year (at another $6 million and change) left on his contract, I'm hopeful that Hennigan is showing off Davis for a trade. I think he'd be great coming off the bench at either frontcourt spot for a playoff team. He'd be an upgrade for the Clippers who are giving Ryan Hollins and Antawn Jamison 10+ MPG a piece off the bench. He'd be a nice fit in Atlanta, who just lost Al Horford for the season, but is tied for the 3rd seed in a terrible Eastern conference. Portland is in the running for the top seed in the league, yet Joel Freeland and Thomas Robinson are their backup bigs. Think Glen Davis could give them 20-25 minutes a night off the bench? Either way, please get this man off my team.

Friday, January 10, 2014

A Look at the Jay Gruden Era

As expected, Jay Gruden has been named head coach of the Washington Redskins. I wanted to take a look at his tenure in Cincy, as well as the work of our new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. First, a look at some offensive numbers the past three seasons:


Clearly, numbers don't tell the entire story but this offense improved every year with Gruden despite working in seven rookies on the offense over that time. He deserves plenty of credit for this. This years offense was one of the more balanced attackes in the league, finishing 12th in passing attempts and 8th in rushing attempts (despite being the only team in the top 18 to rush for under 4 YPC). The Bengals had at least six players with at least 400 receiving yards, a feat only matched by the Patriots and Saints.

So Gruden inherited a 4 win team, with new pieces, a lockout shortened summer and got a playoff berth out of them. Then got a full summer out of them, and improved again. Then got a couple new rookies, and improved again. Plenty is made of what a limited QB Dalton is. Well, Gruden got him as 2nd round pick and turned him into a Pro Bowler that broke many Bengals team records in just his third season. He deserves credit for that. But at the same time, as someone that has watched each game of the Gruden tenure, I'm not all that sad to see him go. 

First off, look at the talent on offense. Five first rounders (Green, Zeitler, A. Smith, Gresham, Eifert), three second rounders (Whitworth, Gio and Dalton) plus the emerging Marvin Jones. You should be able to craft a decent offense out of that, no? As mentioned above, Gruden got a lot of these guys as rookies. Their natural development as players alone would figure to improve this offense. Even guys like BJGE, Mo Sanu and Andrew Hawkins are decent pieces. That's one of the best pass blocking lines in the league and plenty of weapons and I still feel like this offense underwhelmed. Eifert never really got in rhythm this season, BJGE ran more toss plays than I'd care to watch and Gio had two 20 touch games all season, none coming after November 10th. AJ Green was targeted 180 times, but "only" had 98 catches. Gresham still got #1 TE snaps despite registering as the 64th ranked TE (out of 64 measured for PFF). Marvin Jones had an eight catch, four TD game and then caught eight passes over the next four games combined. Andrew Hawkins was never really able to get in the flow of the offense after missing time due to injury. Forget about what a guy like Tom Brady or Andrew Luck would do with these weapons, what do you think another limited QB like Alex Smith could have done with them? I don't think all of the blame for their underutilization should go on Dalton.

Second, I believe Dalton was Gruden's pet project. There are reports that Gruden argued to draft Dalton over Colin Kaepernick and Ryan Mallet in 2011 and he got his man. Surely, he felt he had to get the most out of him, even if it meant stretching a mediocre QB thin. There are reports that Gruden was way too soft on Dalton, and I've been reading those since last year. It makes sense he was brought in to Washington to work with RG3, who is reportedly sensitive enough to the point that he asked Washington coaches not to show his bad plays during film study as they did at Baylor. Is that the best thing for development? It probably depends more on the individual, but we shall find out shortly (in Washington and Cincinnati) because new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is a hard ass, by all accounts.

Third, the benefit of a great defense (ranked 7th, 6th and 3rd in ayrds per game during Gruden's years here) and a solid special teams unit have helped. They've consistently given the offense the ball with great field position. You could also look at how the offense has faltered considerably in each of the Bengals three playoff games. The Texans defenses we saw the past two seasons were top 10 units, but this Chargers unit was not. And yet multiple Charger players have made claims that the Bengals didn't run anything they weren't prepared for. Some of this has to go on the man calling the plays

Now a look at some Hue Jackson's time as offensive coordinator/head coach for the Falcons, Ravens and Raiders.
  • In 2003, as OC for the Redskins he became the first person to call plays for a Steve Spurrier team not named Steve Spurrier since...well, ever. The offense finished 23rd in the league, but his QBs were Patrick Ramsey and Tim Hasselbeck. His running back by committee was Trung Candidate/Rock Cartwright and Ladell Betts. 
  • After Spurrier left, Jackson became WR coach for the Bengals where Chad Johnson/TJ Houshmandzadeh each hit career highs in his three years there.
  • He then became offensive coordinator for the Falcons....the Bobby Petrino "led", first season post-Vick Falcons. Surprisingly, an offense that started Joey Harrington, Byron Leftwich and Chris Redman at QB and featured a 32 year old Warrick Dunn, finished 29th in the league. Weird. 
  • After that debacle, he became QB coach for the Ravens. He inherited a 5-11 team and 24th ranked offense and helped a rookie Joe Flacco turn that into an 11th ranked offense and a conference championship appearance. In a second year in Baltimore, the offense jumped to 9th and Flacco had what is still his second best year as a QB. 
  • He then became OC for the Raiders. He took a 31st ranked offense to 6th in the league with Jason Campbell and Bruce Gradkowski starting games for him. How? The 4th ranked rushing offense in the league. Darren McFadden had 1,600 total yards that season. He's had a little over 2,000 yards combined in the three seasons since. After the season, Jackson was promoted to head coach after previous HC Tom Cable may or may not have broken the jaw of an assistant coach. I'm not here to speculate. The Raider started off 4-2 before Jason Campbell got hurt and the Raiders traded for Carson Palmer. The team finished 8-8 with the 16th ranked offense, somewhat of a miracle seeing as McFadden played seven games that season and Palmer threw 16 picks in nine starts.
  • He then came back to Cincy as a secondary coach, running backs coach and now, offensive coordinator. 
So a couple of things, stand out to me here. First, bad luck. The Spurrier, Petrino and Cable eras were hardly normal procedure. Here, he'll have some stability that he hasn't seen in some time. Two, bad quarterbacks. Dalton is arguably the best QB he's worked with, depending on how you feel about Flacco. And we have more than enough pieces on offense for him to work with. Three, he likes to run the ball. A lot. I'm not sure this offense is currently constructed to his liking, so stay tuned. Four, he was the advocate behind that awful Palmer trade. He won't be making personnel choices here (praises due). Five, again the word on the street is that he's a hard ass. He's going to push Dalton in a way that he hasn't been in Cincy. We saw what coddled Dalton gave us, so I'm more than willing to see what Dalton does with Jackson willing to call out his mistakes. I wish Jay Gruden all the best in Washington, but I'm more than comfortable with Hue Jackson leading our offense next season.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Five Things: Bengals vs. Chargers. Part Deux

Ok. I'm finally ready to talk about this.

Five good things: 

1. Marvin Jones. One of the very few bright spots of this game. He caught eight of the 12 passes thrown his way for 130 yard, setting a new team playoff record. 49 of those yards came on this ridiculous catch:



2. Rey Maualuga. Not a perfect game by him (Rey gave up four receptions on four targets for 34 yards in coverage), but he still managed 15 tackles (more than twice the amount of anyone else). Crazy since we had plenty of opportunities to tackle Charger players. Plenty. He also had a huge tackle on 3rd and 1 at the Cin 1. Maualuga shot through the gap and tackled Ronnie Brown for a four yard loss which forced San Diego into a field goal. Again, he's solid when he can run downhill and make the play in front of him. 

3. Jermaine Gresham. I told you that there were very few bright spots. THIS is how few bright spots there were. Gresham did have a nice game though, grading as a neutral blocker per PFF and catching seven of the eight passes thrown his way for 64 yards and the Bengals lone touchdown. He had a holding penalty on a first down play, but the pass was incomplete so it didn't hurt us as bad as his penalties normally do. #Progress.

4. Benjarvus Green-Ellis. He only played 14 snaps on the day, as the team got down and passed the ball plenty in an attempt to catch up. In his 14 snaps, he had eight carries for 42 yards. After not cracking the 5 YPC mark once in the first 15 games of the season, he did it in each of his last two and appears to be more effective with less carries. Something to monitor going into the offseason.

5. Zoltan Mesko. Yep, the new punter off the streets gets a spot here. Mesko only punted three times on the day, but two of those landed SD inside their own 14 yard line. Not bad in frigid conditions for a guy signed during the week of the game.

Five bad things (Put on some coffee. Get comfy): 

1. Andy Dalton. 29/51, 334 passing yards, 26 rushing yards, 1 TD, 3 TOs (2 INTs, 1 fumble lost). Boy oh boy oh boy. I will start by saying this was not all Dalton's fault. That will be covered later. By a whole heap of this loss goes on Dalton. To the GIFs!

Turnover #1, from two angles. SD gets a FG off of this. I actually like the decision to run there but uh...



I hear Benny Hill music here.
Turnover #2, the following possession SD got another FG off of this one. 
Note the bad pass protection there, but still a horrid throw.
                    Turnover 3, the FOLLOWING POSSESSION. SD didn't score off this one.
Linebacker Melvin Ingram on the coverage.
Awful x 3. On the bright side, Dalton managed to set career highs in postseason passing yards, TDs and rushing yards. By 2025, he'll be Joe Montana. #Progress.

2. Offensive players not named Marvin Jones or Jermaine Gresham. Jones and Gresham were credited above, but everyone else shit the bed here. AJ Green caught three of the nine passes thrown his way for 34 yards. He dropped a deep beauty that Dalton put right in his hands because he tried to basket catch it instead of going up for it. Tyler Eifert had more tackles (one, in the GIF directly above) than catches and only played three snaps. We went two TEs all year, so only having Eifert in there for three snaps forced us out of our comfort zone. Perhaps Eifert was still banged up from a stinger that caused him to miss week 17. Gio Bernard had a nice box score (19 touches for 128 total yards), but had a brutal fumble on the SD 4. A score there puts us up 14-7 with 1:47 left in the half, all three timeouts at our disposal and the ball back after halftime. He later had a bad drop on third down with the score 20-10 SD, and Cincy driving the ball. Mo Sanu and Andrew Hawkins were nonfactors.

3. Offensive line. Dalton dropped back 57 times (57!) and was pressured on 13 of them, per PFF. To be fair, he often panicked and ran himself into some of those, but still. I said I was going to re-watch the game because that number seems low but I'll pass. It just seemed like he was on the run a lot more than 13 times. Dalton was sacked three times and hit six times. RG Kevin Zeitler blew the block that lead to Dalton putting his first INT for grab. You may remember him from blowing the block that lead to the game ending safety against Miami. OT Dennis Roland checked in 12 times as a TE to block and registered a negative score on every single snap. The offensive line didn't exactly do Dalton any favors either.

4. Defensive line. A very disappointing showing. The defensive line generated zero sacks and two hits on Phillip Rivers. Even with starting C Nick Hardwick missing most of the game due to an early injury, the Chargers offensive line dominated. PFF shows that Rivers was pressured on nine of his 19 (19!) dropbacks, and again I disagree. Rivers seemed to have just about all day to do what he wanted in the pocket, and the few times the pass rush got home, he was able to evade them long enough to get rid of the ball. The line also got blown up in the running game giving up 196 yards on 40 carries (4.9 YPC) and 2 TDs including the 58 yard clincher by Ronnie Brown (Ronnie Brown!!!) with under three minutes left in the game.

5. Coaching. Not a particularly good showing by Lewis, Gruden or Zimmer. Lewis chose to go conservative twice in the first half by punting on 4th and 4 at the SD 48 and 4th and 1 at the SD 45. Great punts by Mesko and showings by the defense kept the Chargers from capitalizing but I feel like regular season Marvin Lewis goes for those. I don't have any numbers to back that decision up, but in watching every game this season I can say that I was actually shocked Lewis brought out the punt teams both times. Jay Gruden gets some blame too. There were times when we threw the ball on 3rd and 1, or Gruden failed to leave a back in to pass block and had Dalton running for his life. Even blog favorite Mike Zimmer deserves some blame. The Chargers used a combination of Ryan Mathews, Danny Woodhead and Ronnie Brown to run the ball right down our throat and there wasn't a thing we could do about it. Mathews was banged up and SD lost their starting center and we couldn't take advantage.

Nothing, summer.

I'll probably get a season recap up here shortly after a few things shake themselves out, namely coaching decisions. Until then, it's tears in my beers while I watch the rest of the postseason.