Over Reaction Sunday, Browns Edition

What went wrong in New England and where the Browns go from here.

Whew. Alright Browns fans, take another deep breath. It is needed.

Now that a few days have passed to calm down, it’s time to look at what is real, what is an aberration, and what should be expected going forward this season. First off, let’s dive back into the 45-7 drubbing New England gave Cleveland.

A Complete Team Beatdown

Since returning in 1999, the Browns have suffered their fair share of blowout losses. Whether it be the opening 43-0 loss to the Steelers in 1999, the 41-0 Christmas Eve loss to the Steelers in 2005, the 31-0 loss to the Steelers in 2008, the 30-0 loss to the Bengals in 2014, the 38-7 loss to the Steelers last ye…yeah, you probably get it. Anyway, the expansion-Browns have lost big many times. The loss to the Patriots last Sunday has a case for being not just one of, but the worst since the franchise’s rebirth. Cleveland’s DVOA was -114 percent, one of the worst single-game performances by any team this season. They were out-coached, out-played, and out-classed.

Lack of Defense

If the pitchforks weren’t out in Cleveland for Joe Woods job, they are now. The Browns defense was thoroughly manhandled in every aspect. The Patriots offense largely neutralized the Browns front seven. Myles Garrett played well. It just didn’t matter. Every pass play, Garrett was chipped or double-teamed while Jones got the ball out quickly. When the Patriots ran, they simply ran to whatever side #95 wasn’t on. The rest of the defensive line was almost a non-factor. The Patriots offensive line mauled Cleveland opening massive lanes for their backs to run through. Three starters on the offensive line had PFF run-blocking grades over 80. Rhamondre Stevenson finished runs carrying Browns defenders. Tackling was atrocious across the board.

As for coverage, there was no coverage. Patriot receivers were schemed open and ran free. Woods D had no answers and made no adjustments. Greg Newsome looked like a rookie, Denzel Ward was far from his elite self, John Johnson fell back to earth after a good two-game stretch, Ronnie Harrison was his typical liability-in-coverage self, and Troy Hill is likely still on the turf after a piss-poor tackling attempt on the Jacoby Meyers Touchdown. Myles put it best in his post-game comments: “We never had a chance just because we didn’t make any adjustments on the sideline or when we had time to.” Yikes.

Offensive Offense

Ask anyone on the Cleveland coaching staff and they will all tell you the same thing: the Browns want to run the ball and play-action pass off of it. You wouldn’t guess that if you watched this team for the first time this weekend. Baker Mayfield dropped back 23 times. Only two of those dropbacks were off play-action and both were on the first drive. Nearly every quarterback benefits from play-action and few benefit as much as Mayfield does. Mayfield has a 75 passing grade off play-action and a 67 grade on straight dropbacks this season. Obviously, teams will play-action pass less in obvious passing situations, but that does not excuse an outright abandonment of it. Expect a drastic change next week vs Detroit.

The Browns offensive identity is based around their offensive line. Outside of the first drive, the Patriots defensive line dominated. Wyatt Teller looked like a replacement guard and Jedrick Wills looked dreadful, again. Blake Hance is not a starter in this league and played like it. Jack Conklin cannot return soon enough. On a positive note, Joel Bitonio was the only Browns offensive player who graded higher than a 73 (80.0). The Browns cannot be a dominant run team if they cannot block.

Speaking of the run game, D’ernest Johnson ran efficiently. As the blocking wilted with each quarter and holes closed up, Johnson finished runs well and showed patience. There just wasn’t anything to be had in yardage production.

Baker.

This game was one of the worst, if not the worst, games of Mayfield’s career. A sizeable portion of the blame lies squarely at Baker’s feet. Mayfield consistently missed receivers and made poor decisions. Browns receivers did him few favors. The preseason glean of Donovan Peoples-Jones has completely worn off. DPJ struggles to get any separation from corners. His biggest plays are coverage busts (ex. at Titans 2020, last week at Bengals). That isn’t sustainable. The clock is quickly running out on his chances to be a starting receiver. David Njoku dropped a sure touchdown that nearly cost the Browns their only points of the day.

The Turning Point

Mayfield’s interception early in the second quarter was a dreadful decision. Mayfield cannot throw that ball. However, the decision isn’t entirely Mayfield’s fault. Stefanski called a flood passing concept. This concept attacks cover-3. Njoku is the slot receiver running a deep out while Peoples-Jones is out wide running a go route.

The idea is that the outside receiver clears out the corner dropping to the deep zone, allowing for the slot receiver, the primary read, to find a hole in the zone 7-10 yards downfield near the sideline. Jalen Mills jams DPJ off the line, causing him to be too shallow when the ball is supposed to come out. Njoku runs a terrible route, rounding his break and allowing Kyle Duggar to jump the route. Njoku is taken out of the play by Mills, the corner who was supposed to have been cleared from the zone by DPJ. Duggar easily intercepts the pass and returns it from a touchdown.

The Browns passing offense lives off timing. On that play, the Patriots defense throws off the timing immediately. Mayfield has to know better than to throw that ball while Njoku and Peoples-Jones need to run better routes. That play was the epitome of the Browns entire game.

The Sky Isn’t Falling

Browns fans may need the Aaron Rodgers treatment after this game.

R-E-L-A-X

in 2020, everything bounced right for Cleveland. They won close games and stayed mostly healthy, overachieving relative to their 11-5 record. The variance that went their way last season isn’t this season. This is to be expected, to a degree. They have dropped a few close games this year and are suffering from injuries, especially on the offensive line. Because of this, their offense has been less efficient in the run game. All signs pointed towards this being a 9-10 win (of 17 games) this season. at 5-5, they remain on pace for that. The Patriots loss can be chalked up to a combination of a bad matchup and poor play.

While the Browns maintain the status quo, pencil them in for a couple of blowouts per year. Last year was Pittsburgh and Baltimore. This year is Arizona and New England. The blueprint is the same. Build a quick lead, put Cleveland in a pass-first situation, and wait for Mayfield and Co to struggle. They cannot play from behind. This doesn’t mean this team cannot win. building a quick lead on them is not easy. Every team has a weakness. The Browns are no exception.

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Odell Beckham Jr. Addition Pushes Patriots Deep Into Playoff Discussion

When the story of Odell Beckham Jr. first surfaced nearing the trade deadline, the name Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots immediately began to surface in connection. The immediate reaction was: “Please, not again. We’re tired of this rumor”. As this would not mark the first time a potential link between the Patriots and OBJ has been brought up. Yet, this time around, Beckham is subject to waivers, not a mere trade target to appease Tom Brady. 

The situation presents itself a little differently. New England will likely be looking for that one last playmaker to differentiate their 4-4 offense. Making the possibility of this deal actually happening seem a little bit more real. Leading one to imagine, what the offense would look like, how Beckham could function in the offense, what he could add to it, and whether his addition, at likely a restructured salary, would be worth it. 

The waiver wire process, Patriots’ chances

Of course, Beckham is going through the waiver wire, where the Patriots stand middle of the pack at 15th. There are a few teams in front of New England, posing as threats to snatch him off the wire. Most would likely have more money to do so. As the Patriots sit with their estimated $2.5 million in cap space. However, something to anticipate is the mere fact that some of the under .500 teams would have to consider between surrendering draft pick value for a season that seemingly cannot be salvaged, and the value of bringing in Beckham, who could potentially become disgruntled in a losing environment. That is especially if the quarterback situation is less than optimal. Leaving many contenders, looking for that last push over the hump, the most likely candidates for his service. 

Many of whom also have limited cap space to absorb Beckham’s large remaining salary of $7.5 million for the nine remaining weeks of the regular season. In fact, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, there are only nine teams that can afford to claim Beckham without maneuvering any other money around. Many of those teams have reasonable questions regarding their competitiveness around the league, and or their quarterback situation. Leaving many to question if Beckham will get claimed off waivers at all. 

A lot still has to play out, yes. However, one thing to count on, if Beckham does in fact hit the open market, New England will be interested in some form. Beckham will share at least somewhat similar interest. The rest of the story is yet to unfold. 

With much speculation and possibility in the air, let’s try to address how he can fit in this offense. What does Beckham bring to the table, and how does he open things up for this offense?

How does Beckham fit? 

Adding Beckham gives you at the very least a fourth truly competent receiver to work with. With Jakobi Meyers in the slot, Nelson Agholor at the Z spot, the Patriots fit Beckham in at the X. That’s a receiver trio that Mac Jones should be comfortable with, and most other quarterbacks would agree. Especially with Kendrick Bourne also in the mix. Then, N’Keal Harry seeing some usage, the two tight ends in Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry, and the rushing threat of Damien Harris. That offense would have a lot of options at their disposal. They would be able to operate from a variety of different looks, and incorporate loads of pre-snap motion in order to create a multiplicity of mismatches on the field. On a consistent basis, they would have the personnel to beat the blitz, tight man coverage, and find empty holes in zone coverage, getting playmakers into space with the football.

Ability to draw favorable matchups from a variety of looks

Beckham would be that true number one receiver that New England is missing, and be the true X receiver they have been searching for. With top three receivers solidified and two top tier tight ends, the passing game could work out of almost any formation. 

That includes spreading out the field, and Jones reading out of a three receiver, two tight end set. With defenses focusing on not getting beat deep by Agholor and trying to account for Beckham and his playmaking ability, the defense would still have to account for both Henry and Smith in the passing game, along with either Meyers or Bourne (whoever is in the game) on the shallow route. Leaving those four to get favorable matchups in the passing game, and likely strengthen Jones’ quick passing game ability and options even further. 

Likely improvement on third-down conversions

Not to mention, the third-down conversion rate for this team (currently at 42.86%, good for sixth according to TeamRankings) would go up even further. Allowing them to compete for one of the top chain-moving offenses in football, which would be another way in which they could start to solidify themselves as a playoff threat. 

How the run game factors in; defensive stressors

Ideally, with solid offensive line play and Jones continuing to complete passes, avoid the mistakes, that offense plus Beckham makes them a serious AFC threat. Adding in the threat of the run game behind the offensive line still potentially awaiting the return of Trent Brown. Also factoring in the defense that has impressed throughout the season. A unit currently ranking twelfth in the league. Additionally, just won the game against the Los Angeles Chargers. Doing so by holding Justin Hebert to arguably his worst performance of the season. 

With the strong rushing attack, and the depth at the skill positions, play action would present problems for opposing defenses. Harris has been routinely rushing for 100 yards a game. So to have Harris or Stevenson as a rushing threat or a receiving threat, along with the two tight ends helping sell run until it’s a pass, would be enough stress on a defense. But also Beckham underneath, Agholor up top. Man, that puts a lot of different stressors on a defense and secondary. Especially when the offensive line can protect the pass. 

An underutilized wrinkle to call more: possibility of RPOs

Along those lines, the offense has not been afraid to dabble in the RPO from time to time this season. Offensive playcaller, Josh McDaniels, could also put defenders in a bind. With Alabama boys Jones and Harris, both familiar with similar RPO looks, have another weapon at their disposal. Beckham, who can be a threat on the slant route and with the ball in his hands. That RPO trio off different looks, including two-tight end sets, could be deadly. 

Beckham would get his targets, of course. He would likely be a big splash play guy. Play the role as someone who they would get the ball to in space. He’d be someone who could haul in given contested catch scenarios. Along with run those RPOs with on occasion. It would truly depend on how quickly he could get a feel for the offense and the environment. 

Dominating field position, moving the chains, & hitting the checkdowns

Regardless of Beckham’s individual statistical contributions, one thing is for sure. His addition to the offense would help in two of the three keys to winning football games (field position, turnovers, and penalties). This team with Beckham would be able to dominate field position on all three units. They’d be able to convert third downs at a high rate. By adding enough talent for defenses to need to respect, defenses get in a matchup bind. Therefore, allowing Jones to likely have his checkdown options and third-down chainmovers (Meyers, Henry, Bourne, potentially Smith) open even more. While for the times in which defenses don’t respect Beckham’s game-changing talent, you then have a big playmaker option in this offense. An offense that has struggled to produce plays of 20 yards or more in the first half of the season. 

What might Belichick think of all this?

That offense would have much at their disposal to push them into a Wild Card spot. It would be Wild Card at the very least, assuming this then high-powered team could go on a run to end the season. Given the team is currently the first spot out of the Wild Card, you better bet that Belichick is salivating at the idea of Beckham. The idea of being able to run his offense out of so many different looks and formations would be arousing to almost any head coach. The move would likely stamp his ticket to the team’s first playoff appearance of the Mac Jones/post-Brady era. A milestone that the he’s likely at least somewhat itching to get past. Buckle up folks, things could get interesting. 

As when Belichick was asked about mid-season acquisitions today, he responded with this:

And to top things all off for Belichick, this could sweeten the deal even more, given Beckham clears waivers:

Again, we’ve been looking at photos of Beckham cropped into a New England jersey for years. However, this time around, buckle up folks. It might just be that time a camera truly captures Beckham wearing the blue, red, and grey. Don’t buy the jerseys yet and monitor the weekend rumors distantly from the couch. Just keep in mind, if no team were to claim him Monday night, the Patriots will almost definitely swoop in hawkishly toward this missing puzzle piece to their offense. Making another aggressive push, just like the spending-spree bonanza they had this off-season.

Patriots Can Reframe AFC Playoffs Versus Chargers

Last year, the Patriots steamrolled the Chargers in SoFi Stadium. In front of no fans, the Chargers folded against an inadequate Patriots team whose strengths were often afterthoughts in the world of football. Special teams and defense carried New England to a 45-0 victory. A game where quarterback Cam Newton only had to throw for 69 yards. This game will surely be a whole different type of game. The Chargers have improved significantly, leading the AFC West, and look like an explosive team headed into the halfway mark of the season. Justin Herbert hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down and it looks like the hiring of Brandon Staley has worked wonders for the Chargers defense.

The Patriots are coming off of a 54-13 domination over the New York Jets. A game where the offense finally looked like it clicked. Mac Jones threw for 307 yards and two scores. Meanwhile, the defense suffocated anything New York gave them. The Chargers will be a taller task though, and will not be a walk in the park. The Patriots need to start stringing some big wins together. They’re just a game out of the playoff picture, the next several weeks will be huge in their push. So let’s get to it. Set it up Bailey, and let’s get this one underway.

Three Keys to The Game

Patriots vs. Jets: Live updates, score, news, game details - Pats Pulpit

Key #1: Keep Offense Hot

The Patriots finally put a complete effort on offense together last week against the Jets. Over 300 yards through the air, and nearly 150 yards on the ground. The Pats shouldn’t have any lack of confidence when it comes to the capabilities of this unit after such a dominating outing last week. Though the Chargers are far more talented than the lowly Jets, I don’t see any reason why the Pats should just collapse. There will be more resistance, but by no means should they be shut down. Josh McDaniels has opened this playbook just enough to show just how productive they can be. I wouldn’t expect another 300-yard day for Jones, but efficiency is within the realm of possibility for this squadron.

Key #2: Contain Justin Herbert

The sophomore slump hasn’t affected Justin Herbert in the least bit. The 2020 rookie of the year has been lights out through six games. The former Oregon Duck has already passed for 1,771 yards and 14 touchdowns, proving to be one of the most productive signal-callers in the game. He’s got a plethora of weapons to throw to. Mike Williams, Keenan Allen, Jared Cook, and Austin Ekeler out of the backfield could prove to be a nightmare for a beat-up Patriots secondary. Herbert will probably be airing the ball out and often to start, the Pats need to be prepared for the Chargers’ main weapon of choice.

Key #3: Neutralize Joey Bosa

Joey Bosa is probably the best pure pass rusher New England has faced to this point of the season. The sixth-year (yeah, that shocked me too) pro has already racked up 3.5 sacks and 8 QB hits on the year. Ranking top-10 in win percentage versus opposing lineman and the fourth-best graded edge rusher according to PFF. Isaiah Wynn or whoever ends up playing at right tackle this week will have their hands full versus the former Buckeye. If The Patriots are going to have a chance this week it’ll have to include making sure Mac Jones doesn’t get torn apart by Bosa.

X-Factor: Kyle Dugger

LOCAL PRO ROUNDUP: New England's Dugger 'hyped' for 2021 NFL season |  Sports News | hickoryrecord.com

Two interceptions in two games is really impressive for second-year safety Kyle Dugger. He’ll have his hands full against the crafty veteran Jared Cook this weekend. The Patriots love to man up against these tight ends with athletic safeties. Dugger certainly fits this bill and he’s taken over the Chung role to take on these freakishly talented tight ends. Adrian Phillips will play a significant role in this defensive gameplan as well, but I’m really hoping Dugger gets a chance to shine against one of the NFL’s best.

Closing Thoughts

Patriots-Rams betting: Sharps grab side, total | Las Vegas Review-Journal

What makes this game so appealing is that both of these teams are vastly improved from a season ago. The Patriots have totally remodeled themselves into an offense with some serious potential. Meanwhile, the Chargers have turned themselves into the top-tier AFC contender we all thought that they could be. Taking the AFC West and currently running away with it, with the help of the unforeseen collapse of the Kansas City Chiefs of course.

Even with all of that being said, I think New England is seriously onto something here. I haven’t seen the team this amped up since the departure of Tom Brady. No matter who it’s against, dropping a 50 burger on anybody is surely confidence-inspiring, and I think New England pulls out a tough win on this road trip getting back up to .500. Having them feeling good versus Stephon Gilmore and the Carolina Panthers next week.

Final Score: 31-28, New England (4-4)

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The Patriots Need to Close the Door on the Jets

The New England Patriots have a chronic issue. They can never close the door. Forget that all of their losses have been at home. They’ve been in every game they’ve played. There have been countless chances to win it. Versus the Dolphins week one, Damien Harris fumbled late and cost them. Versus the Saints week three, the defense held on just long enough but Jonnu Smith dropped a pass that got taken back to the endzone by Malcolm Jenkins. Week four against Tom Brady and the Bucs, a Mac Jones pass was batted down on the last drive of the game and forced the Patriots to kick a 56-yard field goal, just too much to ask of an injured Nick Folk.

Then last week against Dallas, they were simply outcoached and outplayed. They held a late lead but Mac Jones threw a pick-six and in overtime, Nelson Agholor dropped a pass that he could’ve taken all the way to end the game. The Patriots have nobody to blame but themselves for their 2-4 record. If it was not for the Dolphins starting out 1-5, they’d be perpetually in third place of the AFC East. Luckily, the third-place spot is about the floor for this team. As their opponent this week, the New York Jets, are more of a mess than almost anybody in the NFL. The Patriots floored them 25-6 in their week two matchup. Forcing four interceptions off rookie quarterback Zach Wilson.

I don’t foresee them having an issue keeping the Jets out of the game, but Gillette Stadium hasn’t been a good place for the Patriots this season. Which means we can’t rule anything out at home. So without further delay, set it up, Bailey! Let’s get this underway.

Three Keys to The Game

The Patriots-Jets rivalry has entered the Mac Jones-Zach Wilson era, but  the result is the same – The Athletic

Key #1: Confuse Zach Wilson … Again

In week two, the rookie in green threw four interceptions and saw ghosts, just as Sam Darnold did before him. It was obvious that the Patriots’ defense set the tone early and got in his head often. Obviously, Bill Belichick can’t just copy and paste his week two strategy. It’s been five weeks, and the Jets actually have a win under their belt against a solid Titans team. But being just as complex and overwhelming as they were in week two will go a long way. Get in the rookie’s head. I’m sure he’s baked more turnovers for the boogeymen to enjoy.

Key #2: Contain Quinnen Williams

The Jets aren’t good at much. But Quinnen Williams is a monster on the defensive line. A true force to be reckoned with. Not quite Aaron Donald, but he’ll wreck a game for your offense if you let him. He wins about 19% of his pass-rush snaps, which is in the top-16 for defensive tackles. He’s also already got three sacks on the year and is consistently ranked as one of the premier pass rushers in the NFL by PFF. Williams is a dominant force and the battered Patriots offensive line is going to have their hands full come Sunday afternoon. Mac Jones, per usual, won’t have all day to throw the football. Not only because the offensive line is that ugly, but that Williams is that damn good as well.

Key #3: Establish an Offensive Attack

The Jets quietly have a top-10 defense in both terms of rushing yards and passing yards. They stuffed the Patriots’ run game with only allowing Damien Harris and James White to have a combined 82 total yards rushing in their last meeting. Meanwhile keeping Mac Jones quiet, only allowing 186 yards through the air for no score. This is where closing the door comes into play. The Patriots cannot allow the Jets to get chance after chance because the offense stalls.

Simply relying on your opponent to be worse than you doesn’t work that often. Especially for the Patriots this year, no more evident than when they almost choked a game away against the Houston Texans, allowing Davis Mills to drop over 300 passing yards and 4 touchdowns on their head. Zach Wilson is much more dynamic than Mills. If he taps into his potential, he’ll take advantage of a lazy defense. Don’t make the defense work harder than they have to. The offense needs to pick up some of the slack. Whether it be Harris or Rhamondre Stevenson on the ground, or through Jones and the air attack, they can’t fall asleep.

X-Factor: Jonnu Smith

Jonnu Smith, <a rel=

A lot of Jonnu Smith’s teammates have been gassing him up, saying that a breakout game is coming soon. Could this be his opportunity? The Jets are a bottom-10 team against the tight end position according to fantasy points allowed. Not to say that Fantasy Football is the end-all-be-all of defensive rankings, but it’s a spot they’ve been vulnerable at and the stats show it. Hunter Henry has been eating the most recently out of the two. It might be Jonnu’s time to shine after a quiet handful of weeks. If he comes alive, this Patriots offense becomes so much closer to everything it’s supposed to be.

At this point, I’ll personally take any big-time impact from the new guys we brought in. We’ve seen Kendrick Bourne break out. Particularly last week versus the Cowboys. We’ve seen Hunter Henry become a consistent target for Mac Jones. It’s time to see Jonnu Smith become the same.

Closing Thoughts

3-Time Super Bowl Champion Richard Seymour Voted into Patriots Hall of Fame  | Bleacher Report | Latest News, Videos and Highlights

In case you missed it, Patriots legend Richard Seymour is getting his red jacket this weekend at Patriot Place. His induction into the Patriots Hall of Fame is on Saturday ahead of this matchup. Just to remember how much of a beast he was; he racked up 39 sacks over the course of 8 seasons with the team, 64 tackles for loss, and won three Super Bowls with the franchise. Making up one half of a deadly combination between him and Vince Wilfork, another surefire Patriots Hall of Famer and possibly bound for the NFL Hall of Fame at the same time. Seymour is well-deserving of this honor and will be remembered as one of the most fierce linemen of the Patriots dynasty, after terrorizing countless opponents in the biggest games imaginable.

As for the game at hand, there’s no reason Patriots fans shouldn’t be confident. This is a really abysmal Jets team, with a rookie quarterback and head coach still struggling to find their identity. Who were also dominated by New England just five weeks ago. But I think the Jets have a good chance of keeping pace with the Pats. The New England offense just hasn’t found its groove yet. They can compete with the best of them, but winning the game has proven to be something that they struggle with.

Despite all this, I will give New England the win. The Jets have failed to prove much of anything themselves. Despite good defense against the rush and the pass, they struggle to win more than New England does. Anything can happen though. We’ve seen Gillette Stadium become a grounds for losing it hasn’t seen in its almost 20-year history. I’d like to think that changes on Sunday.

Final Score: 28-12, New England (3-4)

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Motor City Bulletin: Week 6-7

We’re right around the halfway point between Weeks 6 and 7, and it’s time for my first Motor City Bulletin for Pro Football Press! This series will serve as a closing of the book on the previous week, and an early look forward to the next matchup for the Lions. In this edition, we’ll look at some comments after the Lions’ loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, as well as some comments from both the Lions and Rams sides of things as their Week 7 matchup approaches. We’ll wrap up with a very brief look at where the Lions and Rams are in the standings and a small discussion about the very obvious storyline surrounding this game. Let’s begin.

Closing The Book On Week 6

Photo Credit: Getty Images

As I mentioned in my Lions-Bengals review, frustration was apparent everywhere in the Motor City on Sunday. It was especially clear in Dan Campbell‘s post-game press conference. Speaking regarding starting quarterback Jared Goff, Campbell said, “I feel like he needs to step up more than he has. And I think he needs to help us, just like everybody else.” This is more of the now-familiar Dan Campbell brand of transparency we’ve seen since the day they hired him. Mixed in was that frustration I was talking about.

“We got whipped,” Campbell said to open his presser. “That was a beatdown,” Campbell admitted to being angry after seeing the performance. “That team is not thirty-something points better than us… we weren’t even in that fight. You look at our stats offensively, it’s because they were in Prevent Cover 2.” This version of coach Campbell comes in stark contrast to the version we saw last week in Minnesota with tears in his eyes after another heartbreaking loss. And yet, in the same vein, it’s not too different from that version of the head coach: he showed emotion. He showed, unlike past head coaches, that he cares.

After a day to clear his head, coach Campbell highlighted a bright spot to open his Monday presser. “I thought that one of the bright spots for us yesterday was that our defense, in the first half, was the most efficient we had played all year,” he said. “We just needed more of that in the second half.” Campbell said Sunday that he had “a million” ideas in his head on how to improve the team, but was vague about what exactly would change. He did mention that he liked the Lions’ offense while they were in a two-minute drill. And that while he thinks “there’s a place to huddle,” he may like to see them call everything at the line. “You gotta keep tinkering with it, and explore some of the things you haven’t done yet.”

When asked what the Lions’ offense has done well thus far, Campbell was blunt with his answer: “Not much.”

If you’d like to hear coach Campbell for yourself, you can watch Sunday’s presser here (starts at 13:50), and Monday’s here.

Looking Ahead To Week 7

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Paul Sancya

This upcoming game against the Los Angeles Rams is interesting for multiple reasons. We’ll get to the main storyline later on, but there is still a lot of interesting bits here. Detroit’s GM Brad Holmes and assistant GM Ray Agnew were with the Rams before coming to Detroit. Defensive lineman Michael Brockers is returning to LA for the first time since they traded him this past offseason. And Brockers is already focusing on this game following the loss to the Bengals.

“We’ve had some bad losses, and some losses where we barely lost,” he told the media on Monday. “One thing I know about this game, whoever is the most focused team, the team that executes the most, usually comes out to win on Sunday.”

When asked directly about his past with the Rams, the veteran defensive lineman didn’t give it much weight. “Yes, I do have a lot of ex-teammates on that team, and a lot of good friends. You know, there was no love lost between me and the Rams when I left. It’s understanding that I made a pro decision, and I came here, and we just gotta move forward.”

Shifting gears, coach Campbell mentioned on Monday a few players that he felt were coming into their own. He mentioned rookie corner Jerry Jacobs, who covered Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase on Sunday. “Jerry’s getting better. Jerry is improving, and he’s competitive, he plays hard, and he communicates well. We like where he’s going, and he’s only going to get better with reps.” Campbell also went on to mention how he saw improvement from guys such as rookie defensive tackle Alim McNeill, rookie linebacker Derrick Barnes, veteran defenders Austin Bryant and Tracy Walker, and second-year guard Jonah Jackson.

The Quarterbacks

Photo Credit: Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images
The Game

I’ve avoided the main storyline up until this point, but it’s time to talk about the quarterbacks. This game will be the first time that longtime Lions starter Matthew Stafford and longtime Rams starter Jared Goff will face their former clubs since the trade. And the way this season has unfolded for these two couldn’t be more opposite.

Goff has thrown for 1505 yards in six games this season, with seven touchdowns and four interceptions. His longest pass from scrimmage was a 46-yard pass to Quintez Cephus during the Lions’ Week 2 matchup. In these last two games, Goff has barely thrown for over 200 yards. It hasn’t worked out for him in the Motor City, and there is little hope that things will get better. Goff, like the Lions, is in something of a slump.

For Stafford, it’s been a much different story. He’s coming off a four-touchdown performance in a rout of the New York Giants. Stafford has thrown for 1838 yards, 16 touchdowns, and four picks. He currently sits with a 116.6 passer rating, which would easily be a career-high. Stafford helped lead the Rams to a 5-1 record, his only loss coming to the undefeated Arizona Cardinals. He went toe to toe with and defeated legendary signal-caller Tom Brady for the second time in his career. The Rams are one of the best teams in all of football, and they look like Super Bowl contenders.

Stafford also downplayed this matchup. “In pregame, am I going to be saying hey to some old teammates and friends, the Ford family, hopefully, if they make the trip? Absolutely,” Stafford said. “I’ve got nothing but great relationships with people over there, so have a lot of respect for the organization, the team, the ownership. It will be just another football game once the ball is snapped.”

Goff offered much of the same. “Pregame may be different emotionally, seeing some of these guys, old teammates, old coaches. But once the game starts, it’s all the same,” he said on 97.1 The Ticket. “It really is. We’re so focused on our own stuff right now, we’ve got so many things to worry about cleaning up and getting right and making it work on Sundays, that I don’t think me being selfish and making it more than it is will help us in any way.”

Campbell did acknowledge that these types of media storylines can add pressure on players’ shoulders, and it’s something he’s empathetic to. “As it pertains to this week, I think it’s really how do we give him the best plan possible to have success?” Campbell said. “I would do that with anybody, not just him. Shoot, I remember, last year, it was the Tom Brady and Drew Brees deal. You don’t think a lot about it, but those two guys going at it, that was all that was being pushed that week. It was a huge story and sometimes you take it for granted, the amount of pressure that those guys are under to perform.

“I know this is a little different, but in the same regard, I know it will be a big story,” Campbell said. “So how do we calm it down, just to where he can go and play fast and efficient? And us help him offensively — run game-wise, play action, anything that we can do that’s going to take a little bit off and help him play fast.”

The Trade

Monday saw Rams head coach Sean McVay revisit his handling of the trade that saw these teams swap signal-callers. “Yes, I wish there was better, clearer communication,” McVay told the media. “To say that it was perfectly handled on my end, I wouldn’t be totally accurate in that. I’ll never claim to be perfect, but I will try to learn from some things that I can do better, and I think that was one of them without a doubt.”

In the trade’s aftermath, Goff told the LA Times he hadn’t talked to the Rams since their season ended against the Green Bay in the playoffs. The trade left him “disappointed and upset.” Eventually, he grew to like the idea of playing in the Motor City. “Talking to the Lions,” Goff said, “is what made me go, ‘oh my God, this is how it’s supposed to feel. This makes me feel great,’ how excited they were, how fired up they were.”

Goff went back on 97.1 The Ticket on Tuesday and was asked if McVay’s comments meant anything to him. “I mean, yeah, that’s good to hear, of course. That’s good to hear,” Goff said Tuesday on the Karsch &amp; Anderson Show. “But at the same time, it was handled the way it was and there’s really not many hard feelings. It’s just the way the business is. We’ve had our talks obviously since the trade, back when it happened, but it’s alright. I mean, I appreciate him saying that, but it was handled the way it was.”

With or without this storyline, the Lions will be looking for their first win without Matthew Stafford since 2011. They are 0-14 in that stretch. To close this out, here is where the Lions and Rams are in the standings. Let’s look to see if the outcome of this game changes their divisional standing.

Standings

Detroit Lions: 0-6, 4th in NFC North. A win or loss doesn’t change their standing in the NFC North. The Vikings and Bears both have three wins, so they’re not losing ground to a one-win Lions team or a still winless Lions team.

Los Angeles Rams: 5-1, 2nd in NFC West. A win or loss won’t change their standing in the NFC West, even if the Cardinals lose to the 49ers. The Cardinals have a better head-to-head record, and therefore will retain first place even with a loss.

Featured Photo Credit: Daniel Mears/Detroit News

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The Kneecap Recap: Lions-Bengals Review

Following their loss to the Cincinnati Bengals and the Jacksonville Jaguars win over the Miami Dolphins in London, the Detroit Lions are now the lone winless team in the NFL this season. And unlike their losses to the Baltimore Ravens and Minnesota Vikings, they never had a chance. The Lions fell to the Bengals 34-11 Sunday afternoon at Ford Field, in a display that will not be fondly remembered. In my first edition of The Kneecap Recap, I’d like to look at where this game puts each team in the standings at the time of this writing, a few top performers for both teams, a big takeaway from both teams, before giving an overall closing thought.

Standings

Detroit Lions: 0-6, 4th in NFC North (next week: @ LA Rams)

Cincinnati Bengals: 4-2, 2nd in AFC North (next week: @ Ravens)

Top Performers

Detroit Lions: QB Jared Goff (28/42, 202 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT), RB D’Andre Swift (67 total yards, 1 rush TD), TE T.J. Hockenson (8 catches, 74 yards)

Cincinnati Bengals: QB Joe Burrow (19/29, 271 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT), RB Joe Mixon (153 total yards, 1 rec. TD), WR Ja’Marr Chase (4 catches, 97 yards)

Lions Takeaway: Frustration Abounds

Photo Credit: Kirthmon F. Dozier/Detroit Free Press

In my Lions-Bengals preview, I said that the fight that this Lions team had would prevent them from being well and truly blown out. In actuality, there wasn’t much fight from this Lions team. They replaced their fight with something else: frustration. The Detroit Lions were frustrated today, and it was clear no matter where you looked. Anytime the FOX NFL cameras focused on head coach Dan Campbell, you could see it in his expression. When you saw the Lions’ offense stall out, you could see it in their body language. Hell, anytime the cameras focused on the fans, you could see it on their faces.

And I guess I should have seen it coming. If there’s any team in the NFL you’d expect to be frustrated, it’d have to be the Detroit Lions. After all, what team wouldn’t carry some frustration with them after losing twice in three weeks on last-second 50+ yard field goals, one of which was an NFL record? Today, it just seemed like the team couldn’t bottle it up any longer. They wore their frustration on their faces, in the way they carried themselves, but they didn’t channel it into their play. And as a result, they got blown out.

Ultimately, this loss comes down to their failure to execute once again. They were consistent today, which may be a first, but they were consistently bad. They failed to execute on offense most of the game, until offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn just said to hell with it and instructed his receivers to run five-yard routes for most of the second half. And even, the offense struggled to execute much of anything. The defense, while better than the offense, eventually broke down, allowing the game to get away.

Bengals Takeaway: Exactly What They Needed

Photo Credit: David Reginek/USA TODAY Sports

This may sound like I’m down on the Bengals or their performance, but I assure you I’m not. It sounds boring to say, but this is exactly what this team needed all around. After narrowly escaping a then-winless-Jaguars team and losing in heartbreaking fashion to the Green Bay Packers, this kind of win is what the Bengals needed. They were strong on both sides of the ball and never took their foot off the gas. Unlike the Packers, who trailed at half to this same Lions team, they were never in danger of losing.

In my preview, I said the biggest mistake the Bengals could make was underestimating this Lions team. And it seems like they agreed. Taking a 10-0 lead into the half, the Bengals poured it on in the second half, scoring 24 total points to secure the win. Even when head coach Zac Taylor sat Burrow and had Brandon Allen under center, they kept pushing. And it was Allen’s TD pass to wideout Auden Tate that kept the Lions and their fans from having delusions of a comeback.

This is what good teams do. Good teams should be able to face a team like the Lions and win comfortably. And that’s exactly what the Bengals did. They have a huge test next week against the Ravens, but they’ll celebrate this one tonight.

Closing Thoughts

Photo Credit: Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

I am not under any delusions of this actually happening. I don’t believe it’s even under consideration. And I really don’t want this to appear as me jumping on the bandwagon. However, as I sat back at halftime and I considered Jared Goff’s 38-yard first-half performance, I wondered what it is the Lions coaching staff sees in Goff that they don’t see in backup David Blough. He certainly won’t light the world on fire, but I feel confident that Blough will at least see open receivers and/or feel confident enough to throw further than five yards down the field more than once per game.

The Lions are on the road next week to face their greatest quarterback in franchise history. A man who’s thriving with the Los Angeles Rams in a way he never was given a chance to in Detroit. I’ll obviously have clearer thoughts about the Matthew Stafford Derby, if I may borrow a soccer term, later on in the week when it comes time for the preview. However, I don’t see an outcome that doesn’t involve Stafford unleashing years of frustration with this organization onto their defense.

I’ll see you all later this week for The Hunt For Kneecaps Preview.

Featured Photo Credit: Daniel Mears/Detroit News

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The Hunt For Kneecaps: Lions-Bengals Preview

The Detroit Lions are still looking for their first taste of sweet, sweet kneecap this season, and will welcome the Cincinnati Bengals to Ford Field on Sunday. This is the first meeting between the two teams since Christmas Eve 2017 when the Bengals came out on top 26-17 in Cincy. If the Lions were to win on Sunday, it’d be their first victory over the Bengals since 1992, according to The Football Database. Let’s look at their place in the standings, the injury reports, and what exactly each team needs to do in order to pull out the win. And I will give a game prediction at the end of the piece. Let’s get started.

Standings

Detroit Lions: 0-5, 4th in NFC North (last game: L @ Vikings)

Cincinnati Bengals: 3-2, T-2nd in AFC North (last game: OT L vs. Packers)

Injury Report

Detroit Lions: LB Trey Flowers (knee, questionable), TE TJ Hockenson (knee, questionable), RB D’Andre Swift (groin, questionable), RB Jamaal Williams (hip/illness, questionable)

Cincinnati Bengals: G D’Ante Smith (knee, out), WR Mike Thomas (ankle, questionable), G Jackson Carman (not injury related, questionable), HB Joe Mixon (ankle, questionable)

Lions Gameplan: Execute and Execute Consistently

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Duane Burleson

It seems like the easiest thing in the world in discussing how this Lions team can win any game. And yet, Detroit has had serious issues with executing their game plan. A lot of this is because of their injury issues. Besides losing defensive back Jeff Okudah during their Week 1 loss to San Francisco, the Lions have also lost center Frank Ragnow (toe), wide receiver Quintez Cephus (shoulder), and pass rusher Romeo Okwara (Achilles) for the season. Starting kick returner Corey Ballentine is on injured reserve as well.

The Lions are going into this game with a lot of injury issues, but they cannot allow that to hinder them. They have to execute on both sides of the ball if they want to have a chance of winning this game. They’ve shown that they can put together scoring drives this season. This leads me to my next point: they cannot be wildly inconsistent in this game. The Lions haven’t played a good game of football this season.

They’ve had great stretches in a single quarter or half, but they’ve yet to put it all together for 60 full minutes. The closest they’ve gotten was last week against Minnesota. The defense played well enough to keep them in it, but the offense didn’t really show until the dying embers of the game. Even when the offense finally showed up, the defense disappeared, and the Lions lost once again on a last-second field goal. If the Lions can consistently execute their plays on both sides of the ball, they’ll give themselves the best chance to win.

The one player who absolutely needs to be better is quarterback Jared Goff. Yes, he has a makeshift wide receiver core and an offensive line missing key pieces. However, he isn’t guilt-free. He needs to trust himself to throw the ball further than five yards. If he sees an open receiver deep down the field, he needs to trust his arm and his receiver to make the play.

Bengals Gameplan: Don’t Underestimate The Lions

Photo Credit: Kareem Elgazzar/Cincinnati Enquirer

I might underestimate the Lions in my own right, which is weird as a Lions fan, but this is the one mistake I think the Bengals could make that would be costly. The Lions are not a good football team, that much is established. However, the Bengals have been in a similar situation this season. They faced the Jacksonville Jaguars, who are also winless, two weeks ago at home. And it was a game in which the Bengals barely escaped with a win.

It’s not like the Jags played super well. Signal caller Trevor Lawrence barely threw over 200 yards. Wideout Laviska Shenault Jr had 99 yards receiving, but 52 of them came on one play. The Jags’ defense had one sack and two tackles for a loss and didn’t force a single turnover. Despite all of this, Jacksonville led 14-0 at the half and took a 21-14 lead in the fourth quarter. The Bengals needed a last-second kick from rookie kicker Evan McPherson to snatch victory away from Urban Meyer.

This isn’t to say the Bengals are a poor team because they aren’t. I’m saying that the Bengals played down to the Jaguars, despite the result. They cannot afford to do the same to this Lions team. This might be my bias as a Lions fan speaking, but I believe the Lions are better than the Jaguars. They certainly have more fight in them than Jacksonville does. Cincinnati should not give the Lions a chance in this game as they did with the Jags.

For Cincinnati, they should look to the Joe Burrow-to-Ja’Marr Chase connection all game long. Justin Jefferson burned the Lions last week, and there’s no reason to believe that the 5th overall pick in April’s draft shouldn’t do the same. This connection has worked all season, so if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Prediction

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Emilee Chinn

I apologize, fellow Lions fans, but I cannot see them winning their first game this Sunday. While Cincinnati played down to Jacksonville, they went toe to toe with the Green Bay Packers. If it wasn’t for the most bizarre kicking sequence in recent NFL history, the Bengals would be 4-1. And I just don’t see the Lions putting it all together to beat this team. However, the Lions will fight like they always do, so I don’t believe they’ll be completely blown out.

Prediction: Bengals def. Lions 24-14

Photo Credit: Quinn Harris/USA Today Sports

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Patriots Will Be Challenged by Cowboys

The New England Patriots were barely able to escape last week with a 25-22 win over the Houston Texans. After a 312 yard, two-touchdown performance from third-round pick quarterback Davis Mills, the Patriots completed a 13-point second-half comeback. With an offensive line made from the scrap heap, Mac Jones was only sacked once. The pass protection wasn’t the problem last weekend. Ball security and sloppy defense were. Damien Harris fumbled yet again, costing the Patriots a touchdown early. Defensively they couldn’t stop a nosebleed. They relied on Davis Mills falling apart to steal the victory.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist (not you, Matt Patricia) to figure out that they probably won’t get that lucky against the Dallas Cowboys. Dak Prescott has been on an absolute tear to start the season, passing for 1,368 yards and 13 touchdowns on the year. Posting a 116.9 passer rating. He’s surrounded by a plethora of talent. Ezekiel Elliott, CeeDee Lamb, and Amari Cooper far outmatch the talent that Houston had last week. Meanwhile, the Cowboys’ defense is vastly improved. They’re a top-five rushing defense and they rank first in scoring. Not a great matchup for a Pats offense that struggles to put points on the board as is.

It’s not all bad though. The Patriots are finally getting healthy again with Michael Onwenu and Shaq Mason returning to practice. It shouldn’t be long until they’re full strength. So without further ado, set it up, Bailey. Let’s get this one going.

Three Keys to The Game

How the Patriots offense will find success against the Cowboys - Pats Pulpit

Key #1: Stuff The Run

Ezekiel Elliott is one of the best backs in the NFL. Even if the production hasn’t been the same since his first year, he’s a force to be reckoned with. The Dallas offense still revolves heavily around their success with the run game. The Cowboys average 5.3 yards per rush and about 172 yards per game on the ground. Tony Pollard providing some support on the depth chart shouldn’t be overlooked either. He’s averaging 60 yards a game as well. The run game will be a huge factor in the possible rain in Gillette Stadium. If the Patriots can slow them down they’re already in great shape. We’re looking at you, Lawrence Guy, and Davon Godchaux. Do what you do best.

Key #2: Keep Up With The Recievers

It’s not just the ground game that New England has to keep up with. The Cowboys have an MVP caliber quarterback in Dak Prescott, passing to pro-bowl caliber receivers in Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb. Not to mention sneakily dynamic tight ends Dalton Schultz and Blake Jarwin. You’d be hard-pressed to find an offense more talented than Dallas. I’m worried the Pats might not have the secondary to match.

Jalen Mills should be back this week to accompany J.C. Jackson and Jonathan Jones in taking on this tall task. But he’s no Stephon Gilmore. The Pats secondary will have to play infinitely better than they did last week if they want to be even semi-competitive against Dak Prescott. He’s not Davis Mills. Prescott will crush you if given the opportunity. If he’s given the windows that Mills was last week, he’ll make his case for MVP even stronger at our expense.

Key #3: Mac Jones Needs to Leap Forward

Listen, I’ve been just a big a fan of Mac Jones as the rest of the New England region. He’s been a nice change at the position by throwing the ball smartly, safely, and surprisingly accurate. At first, I thought the comparisons to 2001 Tom Brady were a bit reactionary. But I can sort of see it. And reports are from the ownership down, the Patriots organization absolutely loves what they have in Mac Jones. The confidence the organization has in him, and the confidence he has in himself are great. But the results need to start to come.

In the rookie’s first five starts, he’s been anything but flashy. He’s top 10 in total turnover-worthy plays for quarterbacks and his big-time throw rate sits with the likes of Daniel Jones and former Patriot Jacoby Brissett at 3.5 percent. It is possible that play-calling has hindered his ability to show what he has in store. But sooner or later he’s going to have to really hit his potential if the Patriots are to be contenders in 2021. The expectations are high, but that comes with being a first-round selection. He won’t get the pass that some late-round guys do for starting slow.

It’s almost mid-season, it’s put up or shut up time from now until the season’s close in Miami in 12 weeks. I’m sure that Bill Belichick intends on playing further into January as well. Let’s ease up on the training wheels and give Jones a chance to show off against a worthy opponent. Belichick didn’t sign Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Kendrick Bourne, and Nelson Agholor for no reason. Let’s see those big additions pay off in the biggest games, and I think this week against a Super Bowl contender certainly counts as one.

X-Factor: Jakobi Meyers

Patriots' Jakobi Meyers trying to carry on <a rel=

Did you know through three seasons in the NFL, Jakobi Meyers doesn’t have a single touchdown catch? He has a couple of throws to the endzone, but never a catch. Sure, he might’ve had one or two his rookie season if Tom Brady didn’t decide he hated rookies in his twilight in New England. But it’s unfathomable that despite being the Patriots’ best receiver last year and into this season, he’s been unable to find the endzone in his natural position.

If Jones is going to have the big day that he might just need to match up with Prescott, Meyers is going to have to break free from Trevon Diggs, and Anthony Brown, who has been electric to start this season. Diggs himself has put up a campaign similar to Stephon Gilmore in 2019 when he won defensive player of the year. If the passing game is to be the focus against the Cowboys, I wouldn’t be shocked if Meyers is the focal point of it and sees around 15 looks from Jones. Isn’t it about the time he’s found the endzone anyway? He’s only been the Patriots’ most reliable target since the conclusion of Julian Edelman‘s career. Which came about eight months before his official retirement announcement.

Closing Thoughts

3 Players Bill Belichick, Patriots Need to Get More Involved Immediately |  Bleacher Report | Latest News, Videos and Highlights

I cannot begin to fathom how bad of a look it would be for the Patriots to lose four straight home games to open the season. The last time the Patriots had a .500 or lower record at home? The 2000 season, Belichick’s first with the team, and effectively Drew Bledsoe‘s last as the starter. Even Cam Newton was able to pull off the wins in Foxboro. I get the schedule hasn’t been easy, and if it wasn’t for a few plays going the wrong way, the Pats are a 4-1 team. But we don’t live in the Marvel Cinematic Universe where “What If?” could be turned into something worthwhile. In the NFL, the win is all that matters.

I would be lying if I said I’m confident the Patriots can pull off a win, but that doesn’t mean they can’t. After keeping up with Tampa Bay’s offense at almost full strength, it isn’t impossible to picture Belichick being able to frustrate the Cowboys. We’ve seen the Patriots do far more with much less. It’s a common theme among various Patriots teams through the years.

The concern obviously lies with the Patriots’ offense making the most of their opportunities. Something they’ve failed on doing thus far into the season. Ranking 25th in total offense. Maybe Mrs. McDaniels can get Josh to finally start being a little more aggressive with the play calls, and let Mac Jones rip it a little. If they can produce at least three touchdowns worth of points on offense? I give the Patriots a real chance. So I’ll ride on the optimism train a little bit longer. Don’t let me down, Belichick!

Final Score: 27-23, New England (3-3)

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Lamar Jackson just put the “M” in MVP

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) throws the ball under pressure from Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle DeForest Buckner (99) and defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad (97) during the first half of an NFL football game, Monday, Oct. 11, 2021, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Lamar Jackson. Have yourself a night, young man.

Down 22-3 late in the 3rd, after 3 quarters of sloppy play, the Baltimore Ravens seemed out of this game. The defense couldn’t get stops, the running game was going nowhere, and the Ravens had failed to convert any 3rd downs. The deficit itself was daunting enough, but the play up to that point made it feel even larger.

Worse still, the game had been dedicated to Haloti Ngata, a team legend. Ngata was forced to watch the depressing performance instead of celebrating a victory with his family on a night made for him.

And then Lamar Jackson happened.

The Comeback

After a short two minute drive, Lamar threw a 40 yard bomb to Marquise Brown. The score was now 22-9 with time left in the third and seemed to jolt the Ravens’ offense awake. When the Colts predictably drove down the field and made a field goal to make it 25-9, Lamar got right back to work in the 4th.

Circumstance forced him to drop back snap after snap, and he responded with darts across the field to Mark Andrews. He checked down when he had to, ran when he had to, and punished the Colts down the field. Another touchdown and 2-point conversion later, and this was suddenly a one-score game. 25-17. The drive only took two and a half minutes off the clock.

Then the Colts started driving again, this time into field goal range. The Ravens’ defense still had no answers for anything Indianapolis did on offense. However, a huge Calais Campbell blocked field goal meant the Colts got 0 points for their drive. The game was still winnable.

Just like that, the Ravens drove down the field again behind Lamar’s impeccable throwing. The Colts’ entire defense seemed exhausted at this point, understandable given they had to chase receivers and worry about Lamar running every single play. With barely any time left on the regulation clock, Lamar found Mark Andrews for their second touchdown connection. 25-23. The two-point conversion was successful, and the game had somehow gone to overtime.

Once the Ravens won the toss, everyone seemed to know the game was over. Lamar even said so himself. And everyone who thought that was proven right. The final drive of the game was methodical, featuring checkdowns to running backs. The final play came on a dart to Hollywood Brown just inside the endzone. 31-25.

Lamar MVP?

On a night where seemingly nothing was going the Ravens’ way, Lamar Jackson stepped up like few quarterbacks in the game can. In the second half and overtime alone, he was 29-32 for 300+ yards and 4 touchdowns. He set a new career high in passing yards at 442. He accounted for all but 19 of the Ravens’ total offensive yards. The first QB to ever complete 85% of his passes in a 400 yard performance.

The list of records and mind-boggling statistics all point to one reality; Lamar Jackson delivered an all-time performance with his arm to bring a listless team back from the grave. His heroics also brought the Ravens to 4-1 on the year and atop the AFC North standings.

Such comebacks are the hallmark of franchise quarterbacks. In the truest sense of the title “Most Valuable Player,” Jackson stands out as an anomaly. No Quarterback in the game has accounted for a higher percentage of his team’s total offense. After games like last night’s, it’s also clear he can single-handedly win games for his team even when the rest of the team isn’t playing well. There is a compelling argument to be made that removing Lamar Jackson from the Ravens would hurt them more than removing any other player from any other roster.

Counterpoint

Despite his performance last night, there are also fair reasons why Lamar should not be the frontrunner in the MVP race. The largest factor is the way this Ravens team is 4-1.

While they’ve had an impressive win over the Chiefs, their remaining wins have come against less than stellar competition in the Lions, Broncos, and now Colts. With the Chiefs struggling, the Ravens’ victory over them looks less impressive by the week. Excluding the Broncos game, every win the Ravens have was nail-biting until the final snap. And when you factor in the improbabilities of their victories- a fumble from a running back that hadn’t fumbled since college, a missed delay of game, a 66-yard field goal- these wins look less and less definitive. Realistically, the Ravens could be 1-4.

Winning close games against poor competition is not what MVP quarterbacks do. To win the award, you need statement wins against good teams. Lamar himself benefitted from this during his first MVP season; his wins over the Seahawks, 49ers, and undefeated Patriots on Monday Night Football catapulted him from breakout star to unanimous MVP. Thus far this year, Lamar lacks such a statement win.

The second largest factor is the other Quarterbacks in the league. Tom Brady is ageless, Justin Herbert has been spectacular, Josh Allen has regained his 2020 form, and Kyler Murray is playing playground football on the NFL. All four of those Quarterbacks’ teams can match or exceed the Ravens’ team record, but their wins have been more decisive and against arguably better competition. While the Ravens squeaked by the Chiefs, the Bills dominated them. It’s telling that all four teams are above the Ravens in the latest NFL power rankings according to ESPN. The Ravens are also the lowest-ranked 4-1 team in the NFL in that poll.

So…is Lamar MVP or isn’t he?

The short answer is “yes, but no.” The long answer is “he’s probably the most valuable player in the NFL, but the award factors in more than that. It factors in team success, who a team beats, how they beat them, and even things like how “new” the player is. Lamar benefitted from being the “new” superstar in 2019; now, Kyler Murray and Justin Herbert get the same benefit against him. And right now, when factoring in all of the common criteria for MVP, the league will likely give it to Kyler Murray for his breakout campaign”.

However, the NFL season is long. Longer than ever, actually. There’s still a lot of time for the MVP race to become solidified. If Lamar continues this level of play, he’ll remain on the voters’ radar all season. Even if he doesn’t, one thing is perfectly clear; Lamar Jackson put the “M” in “MVP” last night.

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What’s Next For The Detroit Lions?

The 2021 NFL season is about a quarter of the way through its grind, but for Detroit Lions fans, it has already felt like an eternity. The team has lost their first five games of the season, and it doesn’t seem like there is much light at the end of the tunnel. No one had any delusions of grandeur for this football team. However, even the most pessimistic Lions fan has to admit that they hadn’t expected this. Saying the offense has performed poorly would be a monumental understatement, the defense is still disastrous, and the team has committed mistakes that even junior varsity coaches would yell and scream over.

Now that some time has passed and we have a clearer picture of how the team will perform, I’d like to look at what has gone wrong with the team, what are some areas of positivity, how the rest of Detroit’s schedule looks, and how the rest of the season could play out for them. I also want to look at the team’s draft prospects, and in which direction they could go in with their two first-round picks. Without further ado, let’s get started.

What’s Gone Wrong?

Detroit Lions QB <a rel=
Photo Credit: Mike Mulholland/MLive.com
Offense

The glaring issue with this Detroit Lions team has been the offense. Quarterback Jared Goff, who was acquired from the Los Angeles Rams in the offseason, currently leads the NFL in fumbles. Goff added to this lead with a fumble on Sunday against the Vikings. The turnovers have become such an issue that head coach Dan Campbell is considering trimming the playbook. “That’ll certainly be something that we look at, ‘cause it has — it’s killed us a couple weeks in a row,” Campbell said during an emotional press conference after the heartbreaking loss in Minnesota. “We’ll look at everything with it, but it hurts us.”

The turnover issues shouldn’t be entirely surprising. Over his final two seasons in LA, Goff led all quarterbacks in turnovers. And according to Pro Football Focus, Goff has made five turnover-worthy plays, which puts him in the top 10 for most turnover-worthy plays. And it doesn’t help that Goff is one of the most conservative signal-callers in the league. Only 2.3% of Goff’s throws last season were big-time throws according to PFF. A big-time throw is considered “a pass with excellent ball location and timing, generally thrown further down the field and into a tighter window.” Goff also ranks 37th this season in average depth of target (seven yards).

Goff’s receivers have been of little help, to be fair. He is in the top 15 for most drops with seven dropped balls, which puts him in the company of San Francisco’s Jimmy Garoppolo and Washington’s Taylor Heinicke. He still falls just outside of the top 20 in adjusted completion percentage. To say that Goff has underperformed is a colossal understatement, even with a skeleton crew at wide receiver.

Defense/Luck

The problems aren’t all on offense, however. The defense was historically bad last season, and it has been a little better this year. The Detroit Lions have the 23rd worst rush defense and PFF has them dead last in pass coverage. Safety Will Harris grades as the worst safety in the NFL out of safeties who have started at least four games. Julian and Romeo Okwara lead the team in missed tackle percentage. Linebacker Alex Anzalone has the highest total of missed tackles with six. Anzalone has been targeted twelve times in coverage and has allowed a catch every single time. He gives up an average of 10.3 yards per reception and a total of 57 yards after the catch.

Injuries have also been a nuisance. Romeo Okwara and cornerback Jeff Okudah have been ruled out for the rest of the season with Achilles injuries. They placed wideout Tyrell Williams on IR a couple of weeks ago due to a concussion. Wideout Quintez Cephus suffered a shoulder injury against the Vikings and will likely miss a significant amount of time. Tackle Taylor Decker has been on IR all season, and Pro Bowl center Frank Ragnow joined him not too long ago with a toe injury.

For all of this, there’s likely an argument to be made that the Lions could sit at 3-2 right now. However, the team has been painfully inconsistent this season. Against the 49ers, Detroit only truly showed up in the final two minutes of the game. In Lambeau, the Lions put together an entire half but imploded down the stretch against Green Bay. The Detroit Lions were a bit more consistent against Baltimore but failed to close the door. They were never truly in the game against Chicago, and the team again showed up late against the Vikings on Sunday. The Detroit Lions arguably could have picked up three wins, but have yet to put together a full four quarters of winning football.

What’s Gone Right?

Detroit Lions' OT <a rel=
Photo Credit: Junfu Han/Detroit Free Press

Not much has gone right in the Motor City but it also hasn’t been entirely poor. There have been a few bright spots. Top draft pick Penei Sewell, while having his share of struggles, hasn’t been entirely bad. He grades in the top 10 for pass and run blocking among rookie offensive linemen that have played at least 50% of their team’s offensive snaps this season. Cephus had taken some big strides before his injury Sunday and was coming off a near-100 yard performance against the Bears. Undrafted corner AJ Parker, while not excellent, has been decent in coverage throughout these first five weeks of the season. Parker’s only truly poor performance came on Week 3 against the Ravens. Rookie defensive tackle Alim McNeill has also been a bit of a bright spot, especially against the Bears.

The best thing I could probably say about the Lions right now is that they are a well-coached football team. Offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn have made impressive play calls this season, which is something we didn’t see a ton from the Matt Patricia regime. And this is, in part, a reason why the Detroit Lions have been close to winning a few times this season. The problem is not the coaching, it’s the execution, especially on offense. A few times the Lions have gone for it on fourth and short, and had a man open, only for Goff to go elsewhere with the ball.

The Lions have also shown a ton of heart and haven’t backed down from anyone. Despite their offensive woes, the Lions have been aggressive, leading the league in most fourth-down attempts. They’ve also kept pushing even when the game was all but over. This is clear from their Week 1 loss to the 49ers, where Detroit trailed 41-17 with two minutes left, only to bring the game within one score on their last drive. We also saw this type of fight against Baltimore, Chicago, and Minnesota to varying degrees. This team doesn’t quit, and with the lack of depth on this team, that is quite admirable.

What’s Next?

Detroit Lions head coach Dan Cambell.
Photo Credit: Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
Rest of the Season

The Lions have 12 games remaining in their season. Seven of these upcoming games are against teams who are over .500 on the season. This includes meetings with the Matthew Stafford-led Rams (4-1), the Bears (3-2), the Cardinals (5-0), and the Packers (4-1). Realistically, there are about two games remaining that I could see this Lions team winning. Those games being the Eagles (2-3) on Halloween and the Falcons (2-3) on the day after Christmas. Remember, I base this view on what I know right now, and that this could obviously change as the season progresses.

And I believe this team will improve. Whether this improvement comes from trimming the playbook offensively, getting guys back from injury, players on defense stepping up, or a combination of these factors, I believe the Lions will improve and steal a game or two that we don’t expect. In terms of performance, the best-case scenario for the Lions in my mind is a 4-13 finish. The worst case is a straight 0-17 outing, and a middle-of-the-road prediction is 2-15. For draft order, flip the worst and best-case scenarios. Speaking of the draft…

The Draft

The Lions, barring a truly unforeseen surge, will undoubtedly have a top draft pick this season. And they have several needs to address. They could use a quarterback, wide receiver, pass rushers, corners, etc. The most valuable position would be quarterback, but the issue is that there isn’t a true franchise signal-caller in this upcoming draft. At the very least, one hasn’t emerged. Oklahoma’s Spencer Rattler, UNC’s Sam Howell, and USC’s Kedon Slovis have taken steps back this year and have seen their draft stock fall.

On the other side of the coin, Nevada’s Carson Strong, Ole Miss’ Matt Corral, Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder have climbed up draft boards. At wideout, Ohio State offers a pair of intriguing options in Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave. And on the defensive side, we see possibly the best prospects in the draft in Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux. LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr., and Texas A&amp;M’s DeMarvin Leal.

Obviously, things will change between now and draft night. This is a way, way too early to look at the draft and how things will play out. However, it is something the Lions should keep in mind as their already bleak playoff hopes die right before their eyes. As of now, the Lions would have a top-two pick in the draft. The Jacksonville Jaguars, should they pick ahead of the Lions, do not need a QB. This affords Detroit the pick of the lot as far as available quarterbacks.

If Detroit goes QB early, Corral and Ridder are the likeliest options. If they decide to go elsewhere, look for them to target an edge rusher or possibly a safety. With the first-rounder Detroit acquired from the Rams, Detroit could go with Strong or Liberty’s Malik Willis at QB. If they’ve already taken one, Detroit could use this pick to shore up their defense or get a playmaking wideout.

I hope you all enjoyed this look at the Detroit Lions so far, and I can’t wait to revisit this article down the road once the season has progressed even further.

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Featured Photo Credit: Jamie Sabau/Getty Images