In this weekly segment on FY, Ty will identify the pawns and black swans from the previous week’s action. (Here’s Week 16, 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 17 Pawns
Aaron Rodgers is still on a tear, but these guys turned in great performances for their teams as well.
Donald Stephenson and Russell Okung, Offensive Tackles, Broncos
I have ragged on the Broncos’ offensive line all season, so I had to reward them for their performance in Week 17. With no playoff berth on the line, and having to deal with two great pass rushers in Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin, Denver’s offensive tackles had their best performance of the season.
Mack and Irvin had combined for 18 sacks coming into the game, and that number didn’t change after 60 minutes of play. Stephenson and Okung kept their quarterback clean all day and played their role in the Broncos’ best rushing performance since Week 7. Even though it’s very likely that neither will be a Bronco next year, kudos for going out on a high-note.
Damon Harrison, Defensive Tackle, Giants
In a game that meant next to nothing for the Giants, their performance portrayed a team that was hungry for a win. One player in particular who showed a voracious appetite was Damon “Snacks” Harrison. You can find his name on the stat-sheet thanks to four tackles and a sack, but those numbers do not do his stellar game justice.
Washington came in averaging 4.5 yards per carry, but only managed 38 yards on 15 attempts against the Giants’ defense. Washington’s offensive line had also only allowed 19 sacks through the first 15 games, but gave up four on Sunday. While “Snacks” didn’t make all the tackles nor pile up the sacks, he consistently clogged the middle of the field and took on multiple blockers to free up his teammates. Pointing to one specific play would not be right, since the big-man was a force on all 25 snaps he played in Week 17.
Mohamed Sanu, Wide Receiver, Falcons
On a day when the Falcons’ offense was rolling yet again, Sanu caught all four of his targets for 32 yards and a touchdown. But you know that’s not why he’s being praised in this article. Instead, I want to applaud his perfect fielding of a pretty good onside kick.
Saints kicker Wil Lutz laid down a great grubber and it looked like the big bounce was coming, but Sanu attacked the ball and scooped it like a true shortstop. It should be noted that New Orleans recovered an onside kick two minutes earlier and scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive. Drew Brees and the Saints offense had a lot of momentum and would have had about 40 seconds to add another score.
Sanu’s unexciting yet critical play ensured Atlanta would not be returning to Seattle in the playoffs.
Week 17 Black Swans
Cleveland lost again, but that’s probably for the best anyway; let’s take a look at how these non-Browns cost their respective teams this past Sunday.
The Lions’ 12th Man
Texas A&M originally used the phrase “12th Man” to refer to E. King Gill, who was hailed from the press box to suit up for the Aggies; the Seattle Seahawks also use the phrase to refer to their disruptively loud crowd. The Lions don’t understand metaphors, apparently. They took things a little too literally in Week 17 and it cost them the game and the division.
Up 23-17 with 5:26 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Packers were facing a third-and-ten. Aaron Rodgers recognized that Detroit was having an issue substituting and rushed his offense to the line. Detroit linebacker DeAndre Levy did not make it off the field before the ball was snapped and Detroit was flagged for having too many men on the field, setting up a much more favorable third-and-five. The Packers converted and capped the drive off with a touchdown 2.5 minutes later.
It’s hard to put the blame solely on Levy, as substitutions can be an issue of communication from the sideline, but it’s also hard not to wonder how the game would have ended if 2016 comeback king Matthew Stafford got the ball back with close to five minutes remaining and only a six-point deficit. Good luck next week in Seattle, though.
The Chargers’ Gunners
The Chargers had nothing but pride to play for on Sunday. That didn’t mean they were going to lay down for the Chiefs in what was potentially their last game in San Diego. The Chargers were playing tough and hung around the game until late in the third quarter when this happened.
His teammate cannot even stop Tyreek Hill on this 95-yard TD return. https://t.co/PARxnSs7XG
— z-Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) January 1, 2017
I have a bone to pick with the two San Diego gunners, Robert McClain and Trevor Williams. If this were anyone but Tyreek Hill fielding the punt, I would understand playing the ball instead of the man, but this is the most explosive player in the league right now. At no point did Hill signal for a fair catch, yet the two gunners completely lose contain and don’t even crowd the returner while looking to make a play on the ball at the goal line. This allows Hill to turn it into a foot race to the sideline against Charger linebackers, and the rest is history.
The Chargers probably wouldn’t have won the game anyways, but this put it out of reach. I guess it’s fitting that the Bad News Chargers found a brand new way to lose their final game of the season.
The Rams’ Protection
Before I get into this, I want to make it clear that Jared Goff has not displayed any sort of ability to read a blitz, and he has not helped his own pass protection whatsoever; but his offensive line played terribly last week. So here are some quick call-outs for each of the seven sacks the Rams allowed on Sunday.
- The Cardinals overloaded to the Rams’ right side, and center Tim Barnes and right guard Andrew Donnal completely blow the protection. Both players slide to the left and free up a hole for the blitzer, Kevin Minter. This forces Goff to make a move and he gets brought down from behind by Markus Golden.
- It looks like Lance Kendricks is at fault here, but he actually doesn’t do a bad job in a one-on-one situation with Markus Golden. The bigger problem lies with Todd Gurley and the left side of the line getting pushed back into Goff, not allowing him to step-up away from Golden. The Rams had seven in protection against six Cardinal rushers.
- Left guard Jamon Brown does not recognize the late blitzer and fails to pass his defender off to the left tackle to pick him up.
- Backup tight end Tyler Higbee is left one-on-one with Chandler Jones; Gurley should have helped, and Goff does not get the ball out on time.
- Brown gets beat horribly with a swim move and no one picks up D.J. Swearinger on the right side.
- The offensive line does a pretty good job; Goff needs to get rid of the ball.
- The Rams purposely leave an unblocked defender, who gets to Goff. I’m repeating myself now, but Goff needs to get rid of the ball!
I’m glad firing Fisher is working out so well.