NEW YORK, N.Y.- Heraclitus,
a Greek philosopher, described the NFL best when he said, “Change is the only
constant in life.” Nothing speaks truer about the parity, turnover and landscape
of the NFL. Change is rampant, from players to coaches to philosophy.
Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay has been at the
center of the latest philosophical change in the NFL, engineering a pass-happy,
wide-open offensive system that took the league by storm and helped guide the
Rams to the Super Bowl in just his second season at the helm. At the time of
the hire, McVay was the youngest head coach in NFL history, which has since
changed the way executives look at head coaching candidates.
NFL offenses have changed dramatically, now geared towards establishing the pass, spreading defenses out with four and five wide receiver sets, and emphasizing speed. Enter the Baltimore Ravens, whose offensive game plans have been the latest change agent in the NFL, deviating from the throwing craze and instead opting for an old-school approach that has been unstoppable up to this point.
The Ravens, led by Lamar Jackson, have not only set the
league on fire with their dominant run style, they have changed the way the
quarterback position is defined. In an era that is predicated on and dominated
by throwing the ball, the quarterback position has become the most important in
all of sports. With that comes a certain pigeonholed set of standards that a
quarterback must check off in order to succeed in today’s NFL. This was
especially the case for the Louisville great during the draft process, as teams
continued to quibble over whether they could fit the square peg that was
Jackson’s skillset into the round hole of what NFL offenses should be.
What many of us failed to see coming was the latest change
in philosophy: the Ravens scrapped the idea of the traditional quarterback and
catered their entire offense to fit the style of their first round pick.
After the rookie had his ups and downs in an offense built for Joe Flacco, head coach John Harbaugh decided to go all-in on the style that helped guide Jackson to win the Heisman Trophy and promoted Greg Roman to offensive coordinator. This decision has helped to reinvigorate the Baltimore franchise and flip the narrative that more passing equals more winning.
This idea of the Ravens zigging when the rest of the league is zagging has paid immediate dividends. The Ravens are currently second in the NFL in total offense, averaging 428 yards per game, while leading the league in rushing yards per game with 203. What makes Baltimore so dynamic is that they aren’t just running the ball with their running backs; they are using Jackson at the point man for the entire operation. The second year starter is the leading rusher on his team and 10th in the entire league in rushing, amassing 781 yards.
With defenses focused on containing the pass game and
getting after the quarterback, the Ravens have feasted on a scheme that’s
extremely difficult to game plan for and defend on a weekly basis. They’ve swung
the pendulum so far in the other direction that while they are the only offense
averaging over 30 points per game, the Ravens have actually attempted to throw
the ball the least amount of any team in the NFL.
Baltimore has blended the perfect combination of smash mouth
football with current speed concepts that has resulted in highlight-worthy runs
and spin moves that leave defenders bewildered. While Jackson has been
extremely successful with his legs, the 22-year old has actually been more
dangerous with his arm.
Lamar is completing 66% of his passes, a percentage that is
higher than Chiefs superstar Patrick Mahomes. He’s thrown 19 touchdown passes, which
are more than Aaron Rodgers and Deshaun Watson while his five interceptions are
the same amount as Tom Brady. His quarterback rating is 106.3, which is good
enough for fourth in the NFL. So while the passing attempts may be limited,
Jackson is making the most of his opportunities and flat out torching defenses.
Baltimore isn’t just having success against bottom of the
barrel teams. Jackson and the Ravens already own wins over the Seahawks in
Seattle, the Patriots and most recently the Texans. The big question for the
rest of the league is how long will this last? The litmus test for this run
heavy, throwback system continues the next few weeks as the Ravens travel to face
the Rams, host the 49ers and visit the Bills in consecutive weeks.
There’s no doubt Lamar Jackson with this new offense have
changed the fortunes of the Ravens. Sitting in second place in the AFC winners
of six in a row, including handing the Patriots their lone defeat of the season,
has hopes bright in Baltimore. Not to mention the last pick in the first round
of the 2018 draft has catapulted all the way the MVP rankings, currently owning
the best odds to take home the award.
Louise Penny once said, “Life is change. If you aren’t
growing and evolving, you’re standing still, and the rest of the world is
surging ahead.” It’s safe to say the Ravens have changed, and right now, they
are surging ahead of everyone else in the NFL.
NEW YORK, N.Y.-
What a weekend it was in college football. Two of the initial top four teams in
the College Football Playoff went down, including Minnesota upsetting Penn
State and LSU defeating Alabama in the “Game of the Century.” The big question
after that SEC clash was: “Where will Alabama land after this loss? Are they
still deserving of staying in the top four?”
Ultimately Georgia was slotted fourth this week while the Crimson Tide slipped to fifth to the dismay of many. The committee got it right this week, as they valued impressive wins by Georgia over a close loss to the top team with Alabama.
There is a growing notion that a “good loss” can actually
boost your resume when it comes to arguing your case to be one of the final
four teams. This can absolutely be true when the sole loss can be paired with a
few solid wins. When the biggest brag about a team’s resume is that they lost a
close game at home to the number one team in the nation, that shouldn’t trump
having wins over ranked opponents.
The biggest indictment for Georgia was their home loss to
South Carolina, a team that beat the ‘Dawgs with their third string quarterback
and likely will finish the season 4-8. An inexcusable loss for sure, but one
game doesn’t tell the entire story of their season. The Bulldogs own two top-10
wins this season, defeating No. 7 Notre Dame at home and No. 6 Florida in
Jacksonville. Two wins over highly ranked opponents should definitely outweigh
a brutal loss.
Alabama’s resume on the other hand is completely different. They have the best loss by far of any one-loss team when they fell to now top ranked LSU. Outside of that, they have nothing else to lean on. The Tide did beat Texas A&M when the Aggies were ranked No. 24, but have since fell out of the rankings. The only chance ‘Bama has left of notching a ranked win will be in the Iron Bowl at Auburn, who could have three losses if the Tigers fall to Georgia this weekend.
Alabama’s ranking will be a hot button topic for the rest of
the season because of their resume, or should I say, lack there of it. Owning
the best loss is helpful, but can only take you so far, especially when teams
behind the Tide have opportunities to pad their resumes. Oregon and Utah,
should they win out, will face each other in the Pac-12 title game and the
winner will own a conference title and a win over a top 10 team, neither of
which Alabama can claim. Minnesota still has two ranked opponents left on their
schedule in Iowa and Wisconsin plus gets a shot at most likely Ohio State in
the Big Ten Championship should the Gophers make it. Penn State has a chance to
avenge its loss by traveling to Columbus to play the Buckeyes next week.
Oklahoma and Baylor play each other this weekend and most likely again for the
Big 12 title, helping to boost one of their resumes.
Since the College Football Playoff has been implemented, two teams have made it without winning their own division: 2016 Ohio State and 2017 Alabama. The common dominator with both were their big wins throughout the season as the Buckeyes captured three wins over ranked opponents, including No. 3 Michigan while ‘Bama opened the season with a win over third ranked Florida State and tallied two other wins over ranked opponents. Their impressive victories were the reason they made the final four in those respective seasons, not their “good losses.”
This may seem like I’m just picking on Alabama, but the
truth is you could insert any team with the Tide’s resume and the argument
would be the same. I understand the eye test is a big component of what the
committee factors in when they are judging teams, but the body of work can’t be
ignored either. Wins have to matter in college football. If they don’t why are
we even playing the games?
New York, N.Y.- The green and yellow faithful packed in to
watch another Packers game. Screams of “Go Pack Go” reverberated throughout the
stadium as Green Bay enjoyed a nice advantage given to them by their fans. The
only issue is this game wasn’t being played at Lambeau Field, it was 2,000
miles away in Los Angeles.
The NFL’s thinking that Los Angeles could support and welcome
two teams after not hosting any team for 21 years has backfired. The Rams have
benefitted from their history in the City of Angels as a large chunk of their
fans remained loyal when they returned home. The Chargers have been kicked to
the curb and left virtually irrelevant in the second biggest media market in
the United States.
This has turned the Chargers into a punch line, as no matter the opponent, the visiting fans take over and deck the stadium out in their colors. Even small market teams take over the Dignity Health Sports Park eight times a year.
A change has to be made because the NFL can’t be comfortable
knowing Los Angeles is apathetic to one of it’s franchises. A move has to be
made, but with San Diego all but out of the question, is there a place that can
allow the Chargers to flourish? An answer might come across the pond.
Athletic reported late Monday evening that while the Chargers still plan on
moving into their new home in Inglewood next season, they would listen to the
option of permanently playing in London. The report also went on to say that NFL
owners, who expressed concern over the viability of the Chargers in Los
Angeles, would support the move to London if pursued.
Bingo. This is it. This is the perfect situation for the
Chargers to take advantage of. For the record, I’ve never been a fan of the
London series and thought the idea of having a full-time team there was ludicrous.
But this situation with the Chargers is different. I’m all-in on the Chargers moving
to London, as this would provide a fresh start and more importantly, a fanbase
they can call their own.
If your argument against a move to London is that the NFL
should look at domestic options first, no U.S. market without an NFL team is as
expansive, lucrative and already set up to embrace a franchise better than the
London market. Moving the team to Oklahoma, Alabama, Mississippi or any other
state wouldn’t generate the revenue to make it a logical choice. Not to mention
with many of these states treating their college teams like professional teams,
the Chargers wouldn’t capture the market as easily as they would in London.
The NFL in London has grown exponentially since it was first
introduced 17 years ago. Of the last 28 games played in England, 25 have drawn
at least 83,000 fans. While many of the locals that attend these games don
jerseys of all 32 teams, having a team to call their own could draw them to
drop the one team they were rooting for and latch on with the home team. I’m
sure the Chargers would welcome this with open arms as they’ve never felt the
home town support since leaving San Diego three years ago.
The infrastructure needed to house a team is already set. The recently completed Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was built with the NFL in mind and half of the games played across the pond this season were played there, so it’s been tested and passed. Saving the cost of having to build a new stadium is an extraordinary advantage for London, as it was the lack of funding for a new stadium that forced the Chargers to leave San Diego in the first place.
The Athletic laid out the growing fanbase in the United
Kingdom, citing that there are five million NFL fans, with four million of them
being labeled as avid fans. Between streaming, social media engagement and an
increasing digital presence, all of the numbers are pointing up, a good sign
that the interest in the NFL is rampant in a soccer-crazed country.
This solution is without hurdles as travel, division layouts
and other issues will need to be ironed out before this can be a practical
solution. Would players be willing to play for a team in another country? The
obstacles can be tough, but the reward of tapping into an international market
full-time is something the NFL and the Chargers shouldn’t pass up.
New York, N.Y.- For too long this season, the most dominant unit in football hasn’t been getting their proper recognition. Monday night was a coming out party for this unit that finally got the attention of many around the nation. Don’t try to discredit their accomplishments by pointing to their schedule or lessen the impressiveness by pointing to flaws in opponent’s offenses instead of the strengths on their defense. Don’t do it. Folks it’s time we finally time to put some respect on the name of the defense of the New England Patriots.
The Patriots defense has statistically been the greatness defense we’ve ever seen in the Super Bowl era through the first seven games. Better than the 1985 Bears. More dominant than the 2000 Ravens or any other defensive stalwart you want to point to. For all of the times Tom Brady had to bailout this bend but don’t break defense, the script has flipped this season. It’s been the defense leading the way in support of the offense.
Monday Night Football was the latest showcase for this group of elite defenders as they intercepted Jets quarterback Sam Darnold four times, strip sacked him once and recovered a muffed punt that added up to six turnovers caused by New England. The Patriots have now taken the ball away 22 times during these seven games, an average of over three turnovers per game.
Even more impressive than their penchant for taking the ball away are their defensive passing numbers. New England has intercepted opponents 18 times so far while yielding just one passing touchdown. In a league where passing is in vogue and rules are created to benefit offenses, this seems statistically impossible.
Their scoring defense has been outstanding all season long, allowing a league-best 48 points through seven games, a mind-numbing average of 6.86 points per game. This has led to owning the best point differential at plus-175 since the 1920 Buffalo All-Americans. While the biggest knock to the Patriots success has been the schedule they’ve played, no schedule is bad enough to accidentally post a point differential record that hasn’t been topped in 100 years.
The gold standard for defense has always been viewed as the 1985 Bears. During that dominant season, that Bears defense allowed a 51.2 cumulative quarterback passer rating against them. Through seven games so far, the cumulative average rating against the Patriots defense has been 35.6. Think about the dominance it takes to best the ’85 Bears in an era that’s bred for quarterbacks.
While I can bore you to death with numbers and stats, hearing what a current quarterback says about this defense can lend credence to the point I am making. ESPN mic’d up Darnold during Monday’s game and picked up a sound bite that went viral on social media. The second year quarterback was on the bench looking perplexed after yet another turnover when he muttered how he’s “seeing ghosts” on the field.
This is a testament to not only the scheme that Belichick employs, but the disguise of it as well. Plenty of times we saw Pats defenders crowd the line with Darnold thinking their defense would be doing one thing while instead they would do something completely different. This confused his reads once the ball was snapped and had the USC graduate throwing the ball into windows where defenders were waiting. Don’t forget, this was the same quarterback that torched the Cowboys defense the previous week, throwing for 338 yards and two touchdowns.
Don’t get me wrong; the tests are coming for this vaunted Patriots defense. The next six games are against the Browns, Ravens, Eagles, Cowboys, Texans and Chiefs. All six teams will push the Patriots like they haven’t been pushed before.
But for now, please soak in just how historic this New England defense has been in an era dominated by offense. One touchdown pass allowed and the highest point differential in 100 years doesn’t happen by accident. I’m not projecting the Patriots to be the best defense in the history of the game once the season comes to a close. I’m just trying to bring to attention that through the first seven games, they have been.