In this weekly segment on FY, Ty will identify the pawns and black swans from the previous week’s action. (Here’s Week 14, if you missed it.) “What are pawns and a black swans?” you ask.
A pawn is a piece in chess that is often sacrificed to set up a bigger move. In this segment, it’s not the player who scored the touchdown, but the one who made the key block to spring the play, or the receiver who ran a brilliant route to pull coverage away from his teammates.
Literally speaking, a black swan is a bird from the Cygnus family that’s colored black; metaphorically speaking, it’s something that causes an unwanted event with extreme consequences. In this segment, it’s a player whose unexpected blunder(s) cost his team.
Week 15 Pawns
Matt Moore threw four touchdowns in his first start since 2011, but at this point you know his much-lauded performance isn’t making this list. Here’s who’s being overlooked…
Chris Boswell, Kicker, Steelers
This is an easy one. The Steelers put up 24 points in Cincinnati on Sunday, 15 of which were unanswered to come from behind and take back the NFC North lead. But they only scored one touchdown.
Chris Boswell was responsible for 18 of their 24 points, going 6/6 on field goals. While dealing with a frozen ball in 23 degree weather, Boswell nailed field goals from 30, 40, 45, and three from 49 yards. Without Boswell’s heroics, the Steelers would find themselves in a much different situation heading into Week 16. Atta boy, kicker!
The Colts’ Offensive Line
We all know Andrew Luck had a great game on Sunday. The Indy signal-caller posted a 125.6 passer rating against a Vikings defense that had held opposing QBs to a passer rating of 77.0 coming in (third-lowest). Luck should be awfully grateful for the work his offensive line put in.
Entering the week, Minny had tallied 35 sacks on the season (third-most) and the Colts had surrendered 40 (second-most). It was a matchup that had Jim Irsay praying he’d still have a quarterback on Monday. But that’s not how it played out. (As we at FY predicted.)
Anthony Castonzo, Jonotthan Harrison, Ryan Kelly, Joe Haeg, and Le’Raven Clark kept Andrew Luck clean all game; there was not one sack allowed. Not one! Luck had plenty of time in the pocket to complete his drops and hitch-up to find receivers running open deep down the field. The Colts were able to complete three passes of more than 25 yards, two of which went for touchdowns.
The five aforementioned linemen deserve a ton of credit for the Colts’ victory, which may have saved their season. Hopefully Luck isn’t too stingy with his $140 million contract; these boys deserve nothing short of an A5 Kobe strip steak. (Maybe a couple each.)
Dont’a Hightower, Linebacker, Patriots
If you look back to the box score from Week 15, Hightower’s line wasn’t very impressive – one solo tackle and two assisted tackles. So why is he getting praise? For his role in the play that changed the game.
— Rutgers Football (@RFootball) December 18, 2016
Logan Ryan is getting all the credit for jumping the ill-advised Trevor Siemian pass and returning it into Denver territory, but Hightower is the one who forced the quarterback to throw off his back-foot. Hightower lines up over top of left guard Max Garcia and comes hard on the snap. He gets so far upfield that Siemian isn’t able to step towards Emmanuel Sanders – I’m not even sure if he could see Ryan – and the ball gets hung-up.
The Patriots would score a touchdown on the ensuing drive and never looked back. Without the great effort from Hightower, Siemian likely sees Ryan jumping the route and the whole play may not happen; Denver would have had a short field goal at worst and gotten to play with a lead. Who knows what happens under those circumstances.
Week 15 Black Swans
This just in: Denver’s offensive line still sucks. But I’m pretty upset about it, so I don’t want to talk about it anymore. Instead, we’ll discuss these poor performances…
Andy Reid, Head Coach, Chiefs
My boy Henry already pointed out Andy Reid’s awful decision to “ice” Ryan Succop, but I want to go a little further into Reid’s day.
A couple weeks ago, I credited Reid for his creative play-calling and willingness to roll the dice. He has done an excellent job this season masking KC’s problems on the offensive line. But none of this stayed true when the game was on the line this past Sunday.
A failed two-point conversion by Tennessee left the Chiefs with a one-point lead and 3:12 remaining on the clock. The Titans did not have any timeouts left, so one first down would have ended the game. But Reid went all conservative with three-straight power-run plays. This was the perfect time for Tyreek Hill to get his second touch of the game. (He took his only touch 68-yards to the house.) Or maybe bring in your other explosive back: De’Anthony Thomas, who only had two touches in the game.
As you know, the Chiefs went onto lose and, in the process, handed the AFC West lead back to the Oakland Raiders. You’re better than this, Andy. (You think he’ll ice a kicker again this year?)
The Buccaneers’ Right Tackles
The Bucs were without starting right tackle Demar Dotson in Week 15, and they must be eager to have him back. Gosder Cherilus started in his place and was not able to protect Jameis Winston against an average-at-best Cowboys pass-rush.
Cherilus gave up two sacks on the day and let his QB get pressured on many more occasions. What makes this even worse is who Cherilus was getting beaten by: David Irving. Never heard of him? That’s not surprising; he’s far from a household name. In 12 games in 2015, Irving recorded 0.5 sacks; he had one to his credit in 2016 prior to this game.
Under the bright lights of Sunday Night Football, Irving looked like a ferocious pass-rushing specialist. His second sack of the game came when Cherilus had help to the outside, but Irving just tossed the over-matched lineman out of his way before getting to Winston. Irving was also the cause of Winston’s second interception of the game (when the game was tied at 20), as he bore down on the Bucs’ pivot as he released the errant throw.
Tampa Bay tossed Leonard Wester out there to see if he could do any better than Cherilus; unfortunately, the only thing Wester accomplished was furthering Dotson’s case for a raise.
Deon Bush, Safety, Bears
— Green Bay Packers (@packers) December 18, 2016
Deon Bush recorded five tackles against Green Bay on Sunday; he also gave the game away on the play seen above.
On the first replay, you can’t see what Bush does. Once you see the final replay, though, you’ll be left as puzzled as I was. This play is the epitome of the Bears’ 2016.
Vernon Davis, Tight End, Washington
This is the play that changed the game.
— NFL France (@FirstDownFR) December 20, 2016
And it was Vernon Davis’ blunder that caused the fumble. Panther defensive end Wes Horton runs right through Davis, pushing him back into Cousins, even though Davis had the momentum of coming across the formation. Carolina would punch it in two plays later and take a commanding lead; this allowed their line to pin its ears back and the secondary to play a simplified scheme, keeping everything in front of them. (They did a better job than Chicago.)
It’s funny that this play came shortly after Jon Gruden praised Davis’ for the way he’s filled in for the oft-injured Jordan Reed. But hey, Josh Norman got his revenge, right? (HA!)