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Week 8 Pawns and Black Swans

By Jeffrey Beall (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

In this weekly segment on FY, Ty will identify the pawns and black swans from the previous week’s action. (Here’s Week 7, 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 his team.

Week 8 Pawns

Yeah, Dak displayed a ton of poise in the fourth quarter, as well as overtime, against the Eagles, but you can read about him just about everywhere else. You won’t find the following players anywhere but here.

Riley Dixon, Punter, Broncos

By Jeffrey Beall (Wikimedia Commons)
By Jeffrey Beall (Wikimedia Commons)

While Denver’s defense is receiving all the credit they deserve for picking off Philip Rivers three times on Sunday, and making one spectacular game-saving goal-line stand, there is a special teamer who made a difference late in the fourth quarter.

Following Denver’s impressive goal-line stand, where the Chargers had four attempts from the two yard line, Trevor Siemian and the offense were mostly concerned about giving up a safety. After three plays that netted just one yard, the Broncos were forced to punt the ball back to the Chargers from their own three yard line with more than two minutes left in the game.

With the Broncos searching for a spark to get their backs away from the wall, punter Riley Dixon came through. Dixon blasted a 68-yard punt from the back of his own endzone, pushing San Diego back into their own territory, forcing Rivers to start the drive from his own 33 yard line.

It may not seem like much, but the big boot fired up the fans and refuelled the defense. If the Chargers were able to start the drive from around midfield, who knows how this game would have ended. He may not be as valuable as Von Miller, but that punt was as good as a Von sack.

Titans Offensive Line

I have to give credit to the group as a whole, as singling any one of them out would be doing a disservice to the other four. I also feel it’s appropriate to not focus on any specific plays, since the entire game was one continuous display of sheer supremacy. So here’s to you: Taylor Lewan, Brian Shwenke, Ben Jones, Josh Kline, and Jack Conklin.

To start, this was the only group that kept its quarterback clean in Week 8, not allowing a single sack on the evening. DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry were solid, but Trent Richardson could even average four yards per carry behind this group. Alright, maybe I’m going a little too far, but you get the point.

Against the Jags, the Titans rushed for 214 yards at an average of 4.9 yards per tote. Had the game not gotten out of hand so quickly, they may have averaged more than six yards per carry for the game. The holes were huge, and both Murray and Henry were picking up big chunks before meeting any contact.

Thanks to the stellar play of their big boys up front, the Titans amassed 354 total yards on Thursday, proving they are a legitimate contender for the AFC South. Wait, what? The 354 yards was just for the first half? I won’t say anymore.

Bill O’Brien, Head Coach, Texans

Although this sort of ruined one of my fantasy tips from last week, I have to give credit where it’s due, and Bill O’Brien deserves it for his game-plan on Sunday.

Facing one of the league’s worst defenses against the pass, this was a prime opportunity for the Texans head coach to get his struggling quarterback some confidence, since he’s made it very clear that no one else will be taking the snaps anytime soon. But, O’Brien also knows his lead in the AFC South is far from safe, and that his team can’t afford to drop a game like this.

So, Osweiler only threw the ball 29 times in Week 8, a season low, and only four of those passes traveled more than 20 yards downfield. O’Brien asked his quarterback to take the safe underneath throws all game, and leaned on his running backs to control the game (28 rushing attempts).

Osweiler’s 186 passing yards may not look very sexy, but he did complete a season-high 68.9-percent of his passes and the Texans got the win. O’Brien’s game-plan may not help much moving forward, as Osweiler is going to have to start pulling his weight, but it did get them past a pesky Lions team.

Basically, I wanted to credit O’Brien for finding a way to win in spite of his dysfunctional quarterback.

Week 8 Black Swans

While it may be easy to pick on the officiating from Week 8, I’ll leave that to Josh Norman and Cam Newton, and focus my attention on these blunders.

Bradley McDougald, Safety, Buccaneers

The Bucs secondary gave up 498 yards through the air to the Raiders on Sunday, including the game-winning TD pass late in OT.

On 4th-and-three with less than two minutes to play in OT, Seth Roberts caught a pass over the middle for a first-down. His defender, Jude Adjei-Barimah, was at least there to make the tackle, and he would have had his own player, Bradley McDougald, not laid the boom on him. As Adjei-Barimah tried to wrap up Roberts, McDougald came in from his safety position and cleared him right out, setting Roberts free to scamper into the endzone and end the game.

If McDougald come in with his head up, they would have surely brought Roberts down, and potentially forced Sebastian Janikowski, who had already missed two field goals in the game, to put one between the uprights.

Sweet hit, though, McDougald.

Cardinals Offensive Line

I better get to this quick, as I have a feeling I won’t have much time here.

Eight sacks! The Cardinals offensive line allowed Carson Palmer to be sacked eight times by a Panther defense that only had 12 sacks on the season, and had to get extremely exotic to even get those sacks. Entering the game, no defensive lineman had notched more than 1.5 sacks, and safety Tre Boston was leading the team with two. Yet, the Cardinals allowed three of Carolina’s four defensive lineman to record at least one sack, with Star Lotulelei totaling three; and the lone man who didn’t find his way to Palmer, Kony Ealy, intercepted a pass to ensure there would be no Cardinal comeback.

The Cardinals front got dominated all game, and when they weren’t giving up sacks, they were taking penalties (four holding penalties and two illegal blocking infractions).

Don’t get me wrong here, Carson Palmer is not playing his best football, but Jared Veldheer, Earl Watford, A.Q. Shipley, Mike Iupati, and D.J. Humphries should be embarrassed by their performances from Week 8, especially Watford.

Kickers in London

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

This is a very easy one for me, so I’ll do my job and knock it through the uprights.

I can overlook Mike Nugent and Dustin Hopkins each missing a 50-plus yard field goal early Sunday morning, but I won’t excuse Nugent’s missed extra point early in the third quarter, nor will I overlook Hopkins’ missed 34-yard field goal in overtime.

Had Nugent converted the extra point attempt, Washington would not have been able to attempt a game-tying field goal with just over a minute left, as they would have been down four. If Hopkins had converted the short field goal late in the overtime period, the game would have been over, and I wouldn’t have to listen to Henry talk about ties for another week. Thanks, fellas …

Richard Sherman, Corner, Seahawks

Seattle made this one awfully tough on me, as I had to look beyond the glaring issues on the offensive side of the ball. You and I could line up against the Saints’ defense and pick up more than 15 first downs in 60 minutes. (I’m banking on you being athletic enough for the two of us.)

But if you dig deeper than Russell Wilson’s 74.8 passer rating against a defense that was allowing an average passer rating of 100.4, or Darrell Bevell’s insistence on making his banged-up quarterback shoulder the load, you’ll find a couple very costly mistakes by Richard Sherman.

The first one came with just under seven minutes left in the third quarter, with the Seahawks holding a 17-13 lead. It was 1st-and-ten, and the Saints lined up with three receivers bunched tight to the right. New Orleans got creative and ran a flea-flicker that went for 38 yards to a wide open Brandon Coleman. Seattle was in man coverage on the play, and Richard Sherman was responsible for Coleman. Sherman made a bad read and attacked the run, abandoning his receiver. I will credit the corner for hustling to recover and prevent the touchdown, but the big-play still resulted in eventual points for the Saints.

The second play came with 4:48 left in the fourth quarter, and was even more costly than the first error. It was 3rd-and-six for New Orleans on their own 45 yard line, with the score 22-20 in their favor. Seattle was in need of a stop to not only get the ball back, but to also prevent the Saints from expanding their lead. Willie Snead lined up in the slot to the right and drew Richard Sherman in coverage. Snead was running an option route, where he would sit over the middle against zone, or cut back out against man. The Saints receiver recognized the man coverage and had outside leverage on Sherman, but when he tried to explode back out, he was slowed by his jersey being tugged. Snead still broke open and received the ball, but he did not have the momentum to turn upfield and pick up the first down. However, the officials noticed the grab of the jersey and penalized Sherman for it, which resulted in an automatic first down.

Sherman was not happy with the call, but that’s only because he often gets away with that kind of play – the tape doesn’t lie. Thanks to the penalty, the drive was extended and the Saints were able to put three more points on the board, while running another 2:48 off the clock.

Sure, even if Sherman didn’t commit the penalty and Seattle got the ball back, there is no guarantee Russell Wilson would have been able to drive the offense down the field and set up a field goal to take the lead, but he would have at least had a chance. Maybe Hauschka would have missed, again. But he too would have had a chance. Unfortunately, the normally reliable Richard Sherman cost his team big in this one.

Lastly, I can’t sing-off for the day without mentioning this: Seattle running backs averaged 4.5 yards when carrying the ball, but only received 14 carries in the game. But keep throwing the ball, Bevell, it’s really working for ya.

Tags : Bill O'BrienBradley McDougaldCardinalsDustin HopkinsMike NugentPawns and Black SwansRichard ShermanRiley DixonTitans
Tyler "Ty" Worer

The author Tyler "Ty" Worer