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Week 3 Pawns and Black Swans

By Navin75 (flickr) []

In this weekly segment on FY, Ty will identify the pawns and black swans from the previous week’s action. (Here’s Week 2, 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 that is colored mostly black; metaphorically speaking, it’s an unforeseen event with extreme consequences. In this segment, it’s a player whose unexpected blunder(s) cost their team.

Week 3 Pawns

Everything About the New England Patriots

Question of the day: could Bill Belichick possibly come up with a gameplan to mask the undeniable flaws that would be present if he himself took the snaps? (Or even co-writer Henry?)

That may be funny now, but when Julian Edelman gets injured in the second quarter against the Bills in Week 4, we may get an answer – one we probably won’t enjoy.

Back to Week 3, though. The Patriots absolutely embarrassed the Texans on Thursday night, and scared the hell out of the rest of the AFC. I credited Josh McDaniels last week for the preparedness of both Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett, so I’ll go even deeper this week.

Here’s to you: Moses Cabrera, head strength and conditioning coach; Jerry Schuplinski, assistant quarterbacks coach; James Hardy, assistant strength and conditioning coach; Chad O’Shea, wide receivers coach; Ivan Fears, running backs coach; Dante Scarnecchia, offensive line coach; Brian Daboll, tight ends coach.

While I’d love to show John Jastremski some love, too, it sounds like he no longer handles the balls, and I have no clue what happened to Jim “The Deflator” McNally. But what the hell: here’s to you guys, too!

Anthony Lynn, Offensive Coordinator, Bills

After another bad loss in Week 2, and another less-than-stellar offensive performance save for two big plays, the Bills fired offensive coordinator Greg Roman. Taking his place was running backs coach Anthony Lynn, who had never called plays in the NFL.

Prior to Week 3, the Bills had rushed for a combined 151 yards. LeSean McCoy was receiving his 20 touches per game, but not turning them into much (117 rushing yards and 43 receiving yards) and Tyrod Taylor’s legs weren’t being utilized.

Enter Lynn. In a massive Week 3 upset of Arizona (33-18), Taylor got nine carries, the Bills put up 208 yards on the ground, and McCoy looked like the explosive back we all remember from his Philly days. (Things are too bright in Philly right now; I have to remind them what they lost.)

It didn’t take any crazy formations or trick plays to get the ground game going. Lynn simply stopped trying to fit square pegs into round holes; Taylor wasn’t asked to be a pocket passer, and McCoy was given the opportunity to slash between the tackles. Catering to your player’s strengths?! It should be an obvious strategy, which is why Lynn’s offensive brilliance wasn’t celebrated after the game.

Can Lynn’s ingenious simplicity get the Bills back in the playoffs for the first time since 1999? Probably not. But it did help them beat the Cardinals in Week 3.

The Eagles Secondary

By Keith Allison (flickr)
By Keith Allison (flickr)

This will probably be the only time that a defense is celebrated for allowing a receiver to put up 140 yards. However, when that receiver is Antonio Brown, it’s viewed as holding him to 140 yards (and no touchdowns). So here’s yours: Nolan Carroll, Ron Brooks, Jalen Mills, Malcolm Jenkins, and Rodney McLeod.

I’m obviously being somewhat facetious, but the Eagles actually did do a decent job on Brown. In the first half, he had five receptions for 55 yards on seven targets. Philadelphia ensured that their safeties knew where Brown was on each passing play and dared Markus Wheaton and Eli Rogers to beat them. They combined for three receptions on ten targets.

Once the game was wrapped up, the Eagles backed-off in coverage and Brown was able to pad his stats. But he still only caught 12 of the 18 balls thrown his way, down from his 70-percent catch-rate over the last two seasons.

I guess I should probably mention the Eagles held the Steelers to 29 yards on the ground, too. Which feat is more impressive is too difficult to decide.

The Reputation of the Broncos Pass-Rush

I want to be clear that I’m not trying to take anything away from what Shane Ray (three sacks) did while filling in for DeMarcus Ware. But no Broncos defender had to do anything spectacular in their Week 3 win over the Bengals, as they had already done enough.

Early in the game, the Bengals offensive gameplan was clear: take away the Broncos pass-rush due to fear of Von Miller and company. Coming into Week 3, Andy Dalton had been sacked a league-high eight times, and the Bengals had to do something to protect him. What was their answer? Run the ball and only throw short, quick passes. The funny part is they actually executed this gameplan quite well.

On the day, Dalton completed 67.7-percent of his passes and only threw four balls that travelled at least 20 yards downfield; two of those came when they were down by 12 late in the fourth quarter. There’s just one problem with this strategy: the Bengals are a big-play offense. The team’s unwillingness to let Dalton sit in the pocket removed their best weapon, A.J. Green, from the game, turning it into a defensive battle – not the kind of game you want to find yourself in with the Broncos.

To give you some numbers for comparison: Dalton has never averaged fewer than 11 yards per completion in any of his five seasons in the NFL, and he was averaging 13.5 per completion coming into Week 3. Against the Broncos, he only averaged 9.8.

A.J. Green has never averaged fewer than 13.9 yards per reception in his five seasons, and was averaging more than 15 per reception entering Week 3. He only went for 77 yards on eight receptions (9.6 yards per reception) against the Broncos.

Before this game had even started, the Broncos were able to remove their opponent’s best offensive weapon, and they have their reputation to thank for that. (Now, if every other team could follow suit, that would be great. Go Broncos!)

Week 3 Black Swans

As much as I’d love to pick on the officials, again, for making me even more skeptical about what constitutes a catch, or even Jairus Byrd for embarrassing himself multiple times in the open field, neither of them swayed outcomes – the Ravens still won, and the Saints defensive issues go far beyond Byrd’s inability to remain in his jock strap. I can’t say the same about these guys, though.

Taylor Lewan, LT, Titans

By Thomson200 (Wikimedia Commons)
By Thomson200 (Wikimedia Commons)

This may be the bonehead play of the year. (There’s still a lot of football to be played, though.)

Down 17-10 to the Raiders with just over a minute to go, Tennessee was driving, sitting at the Oakland 22. Mariota dropped back to pass and found Tajae Sharpe for a 19-yard gain, setting them up with first-and-goal from the Raiders three-yard-line. That would have been the case, at least, had Taylor Lewan not charged in out of control trying to clear out Oakland defenders from the pile. Not only did Lewan draw a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness, but the only player he made significant contact with was his own teammate, DeMarco Murray. Adding wound to the salt, the collision left Lewan dizzied, forcing the officials to remove him from the game.

As we know, the Titans couldn’t punch it into the endzone on that final drive.

It’s hard to blame the entire loss on one player’s miscue, but it’s even more difficult to imagine a team that uses the word “smashmouth” to describe their offense not being able to score from the three-yard-line with four attempts – especially knowing they were averaging 6.2 yards per carry on the game.

Adam Jones, CB, Bengals

The situation was thus: the Bengals were up 7-3, running the ball with ease, and had just forced the Broncos into their second three-and-out in three possessions.

Then Pac-Man’s power pellets wore off and the ghosts turned on him. Jones fumbled the ensuing punt return, giving the ball right back to the Broncos in great field position. If that wasn’t bad enough, he was then beat deep by Emmanuel Sanders for a 41-yard touchdown, putting Denver up 10-7.

Although those two plays stand out, Jones had an awful day all around; he couldn’t do anything to slow Sanders or Demaryius Thomas, who both enjoyed 100-yard receiving days, and Trevor Siemian had his breakout game.

If this becomes a trend for the 32-year-old corner, I’m sure TNA Wrestling will welcome him back.

While we’re on the Bengals defense, though, how about those two dropped interceptions? (Sorry, Nick.)

Chan Gailey, Offensive Coordinator, Jets

Yes, Ryan Fitzpatrick deserves to be criticized for the six interceptions he threw, three of which occurred in the redzone – two from inside the six – but he doesn’t deserve all of the blame.

Let’s start here: Matt Forte only received 17 touches after seeing 32 and 27 over the last two weeks. Why? (An undisclosed injury would be the only rational reason to reduce Forte’s role at this point.) The Jets were gashing the Chiefs on the ground for 5.3 yards per carry, but continued to dial up passing plays in spite of Fitzpatrick’s accuracy being off all game. What’s more frustrating was their refusal to run the ball in the redzone, which comes one week after Forte scored three times on redzone carries. The Jets threw the ball 12 times from inside the 20 compared to just three runs. RUN THE DAMN BALL, CHAN!

As horrible as Fitzpatrick looked, Gailey has to share the blame. He kept giving Fitz the opportunity to fail, displaying a horrible sense in his play-calling, unless his goal was to prove that Fitzpatrick isn’t the solution at quarterback. In that case, he did a bang-up job.

Darrell Bevell, Offensive Coordinator, Seahawks

By Larry Maurer (Wikimedia Commons)
By Larry Maurer (Wikimedia Commons)

Speaking of play-callers whose refusal to run the ball is costing their team, I bring you Darrell Bevell – and I promise I won’t recall his decision to throw the ball from the one-yard-line in the Super Bowl …

Entering Week 3, Russell Wilson’s mobility was already limited by an ankle injury. But hey, that shouldn’t be an issue, right? The Seahawks offense should be able to pound the 49ers on the ground, just like Carolina did the week prior (176 rushing yards). Sure enough, Christine Michael took his first carry of the game 41 yards for six points.

Michael continued to rip off big gains on Seattle’s second possession, as well, capping that one off with another touchdown. The Seahawks were dominating the game and found themselves up 21-3 with the first half winding down.

It’s at this point that you’d expect Seattle to start sitting on the lead and protecting their already beat-up quarterback. Instead, they only ran the ball four times on their next 14 plays, the last of which resulted in a costly Wilson sack. It wasn’t costly for the outcome of the game. It was worse. Wilson’s ankle got caught under the defender, forcing his leg to bend in a pretty gruesome manner and leaving the QB on the turf in clear agony.

Wilson was able to walk around on the sideline, somewhat miraculously. Seattle had dodged another bullet with their franchise quarterback. Surely now they’ll breathe a sigh of relief and sit on the lead. Nope! Wilson returned to the game, and the Seahawks actually let him drop back to pass again.

At the time of Wilson’s injury, Michael had rushed for 98 yards on 14 carries, good for an impressive seven yards per attempt. But the Seahawks chose to continue putting their pivot in harm’s way. WHY?

It turns out that Wilson sprained his MCL on the sack and his status is unclear for Week 4. Here’s a good idea – and one I’m sure Seattle’s staff has already thought of – play a hobbled Wilson against the Jets’ ferocious pass-rush!

Tags : Adam JonesAnthony LynnBillsBroncosChan GaileyDarrell BevellEaglesJalen MillsJetsMalcolm JenkinsNolan CarrollPatriotsRodney McLeodRon BrooksSeahawksTaylor Lewan
Tyler "Ty" Worer

The author Tyler "Ty" Worer