So, after the nostalgic euphoria of Marshawn Lynch returning to the Seattle Seahawks has waned, we’re all left to wonder:
What’s the fit going to be like?
The first item in this week’s “Things I Noticed” is about how new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer uses more zone running than Lynch — who seems to prefer more “gap” and “man” blocking — did in his Seattle heyday.
When asked about that this week, Seattle coach Pete Carroll didn’t seem too worried.
“It’s more similar than it isn’t,” Carroll said. “There’s terminology that’s tacked onto stuff in motions and formations and things like that that are some new things that he has to pick up. The fundamental part of it, it’s very much the same.”
After checking one of Beast Mode’s last games with his last team, the Oakland Raiders, it appears he did a lot of running in a zone scheme, as detailed in the video above. He rushed for only 376 yards and three touchdowns on 90 carries in 2018 before he was sidelined with a season-ending injury.
If he has taken care of himself since then — and all indications are that he has — his 4.2 yards per carry average that year show he still has something left in the tank, and the San Francisco 49ers, the Seahawks’ opponent in Sunday’s winner-take-all NFC West showdown, may have something to worry about.
“I was kind of surprised by it — guy is a hell of a player,” 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said, when asked of Lynch’s return. “He was unreal when he was playing. We’ll see what he’s got.”
The uncoverable route in ‘Madden’ and real life
I watch a lot of football every week, and I’ve got to tell you, rarely a game goes by where I don’t see a running back gashing a defense in the passing game via two primary routes: the “angle” and the “option” route.
They often look quite similar, and two of the league’s best pass-catching backs, Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey and New Orleans’ Alvin Kamara, are quite adept at running them. As detailed in the video above – which includes a guest appearance by former Philadelphia Eagles star Brian Westbrook, who spoke to Yahoo Sports while promoting the Crown Royal Water Break movement — if a defense’s linebackers aren’t super quick and adept at pass coverage, then they usually have no chance.
49ers’ Fred Warner, multi-dimensional weapon
One player who is starting to get a little (rightful) shine is 49ers second-year pro Fred Warner, who for my money is one of the best coverage off-ball linebackers in football. He displayed this on Saturday night, when he had an interception return in the 49ers’ 34-31 win over the Los Angeles Rams.
Look at the way he closes on this ball:
Given the pass-happy nature of today’s NFL, athletic linebackers with cover skills like Warner are at a premium, yet he lasted until the third round of the 2018 NFL draft.
I asked Warner about this earlier this season, as well as where he needed to improve.
“I was always confident in my abilities,” Warner said. “At BYU I played more out in space, so I did have a lot more experience in coverage. I think the biggest adjustment [for me] was playing inside the box, being the Mike ‘backer.
“I mean, being in college I didn’t really have to give the calls. So giving the calls as the Mike and obviously reading things a little differently behind the line, that was probably the biggest difference.”
Well, he’s gotten there, and he credits his coaches and teammates for helping him do it.
“My linebackers coach, DeMeco Ryans, him being there, having done it at a high level [helps],” Warner said. “Obviously [defensive coordinator Robert] Saleh, the other vets in the room, helping me out as a rookie. I think those [factors] all helped me go out on the field and perform.”
All hail Kevin King
As far as interceptions go, Kevin King’s pick, which came in the Packers’ Monday night win over the Vikings, was pretty sweet.
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins seemed to miss the cornerback, who drifted over to intercept this deep attempt to Stefon Diggs. And he did it with one hand, no less:
King, 24, is a former second-round pick who is having the best season of his career with 63 tackles, 14 passes defended and a team-high five interceptions.
When asked why, King just smiled.
“I’m just healthy now,” King told Yahoo Sports in the fall. “I feel good out there, being able to play a lot of consecutive games back to back. I’m still trying to get better out there, but things are definitely slowing down after a while.”
King, who played only 15 of 32 possible games in 2017 and 2018 due to injuries, said his offseason emphasis on health has paid off.
“I really stayed on the rehab side of it so I can just go out there and be available,” King said. “Because I know if I’m out there, good things happen.”
Josh Allen finally connecting on a deep ball
Here’s one of the most surprising stats in football: Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, possessor of one of the league’s strongest arms, is statistically one of the league’s worst deep ball throwers.
According to Pro Football Focus, Allen’s adjusted deep completion percentage of 31.3 ranks 32nd out of 35 qualifying quarterbacks, which makes this touchdown to John Brown in the Bills’ 24-17 loss to the New England Patriots on Saturday all the more stunning:
Allen’s accuracy will likely be an issue throughout his career, and this offseason, I’d expect the Bills to give him a bigger deep threat who can expand his strike zone. In the meantime, if the Bills are going to win in the playoffs, he’ll have to connect on a few.
Speaking of the Patriots ...
The Patriots’ offense is still lacking an important element
On the surface, it’s tempting to look at their win over the Bills and assume they’re “back.” I can already see people doing that after the Patriots host Miami this weekend and clinch the AFC’s two-seed.
Even if the Patriots win their third game in a row on Sunday, there’s at least one element I’ll be watching for to gauge how dangerous their offense will be in January:
The deep ball.
Brady’s numbers against a good Bills defense — 26 of 33 for 271 yards and a touchdown — were solid, but I noticed he threw only two deep passes, neither of which were complete:
Oh, the Patriots ran the ball well and connected on short passes in spades, which was the key to their Super Bowl run a season ago. Even then, they got some big plays downfield courtesy of a declining-but-still-studly Rob Gronkowski.
Bottom line: To reach their fourth Super Bowl in a row, they will need someone — be it Mohamed Sanu Sr., N’Keal Harry or Phillip Dorsett — to make those plays in January.
Speaking of the deep ball ...
Dak Prescott’s untimely injury played a role in Dallas’ doom
Dallas’ putrid offense was on full display Sunday, when it unacceptably lost to a banged-up Philadelphia team 17-9. Cowboys fans were relieved in a way, because the loss all but solidified the end for head coach Jason Garrett.
It’s also important to note that the shoulder injury that quarterback Dak Prescott played through was noticeable, with a capital “n.”
On all but two of Prescott’s 19 incompletions — he went a middling 25 of 44 for 265 yards on the day — the Eagles lined up in a single-high coverage. Sometimes it was man, sometimes it was zone. Teams that do not employ Earl Thomas in his prime only show this look repeatedly if they don’t respect an opponent’s ability to connect on deep balls in the alley.
And considering Prescott’s 109.7 passer rating on deep balls entering this game — seventh in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus — I believe the shoulder injury had something to do with it. I mean, take a look at this throw:
In the NFL, when a team has two receivers in single coverage on one side, with the nearest deep safety playing on the opposite hash, the offense has to make the defense pay. Far too often Sunday, the Cowboys — who went 1-of-7 on deep balls in the game — came up empty.
Prescott’s injury almost certainly played a role in his unusual inaccuracy.
Mahomes beating man coverage with his legs
The Kansas City Chiefs’ offense is rounding right into form at the perfect time. Play lots of zone against them? Mahomes will carve ’em up. Play man against him? Mahomes will do this:
Mahomes showing this type of mobility is critical for the Chiefs’ playoff chances. For starters, it adds one more weapon to his arsenal. What’s more, it shows he’s healthy which is a terrifying thought for defenses.
The revival of Chris Conley
It wasn’t that long ago when Chris Conley was turning himself into a rock-solid possession receiver and third-down weapon for Alex Smith with the Kansas City Chiefs. A torn Achilles in October 2017 ruined his breakout third season, however, and he lacked some of the explosiveness and familiarity he had with Smith last year under new starter Patrick Mahomes.
It’s been awesome to watch Conley become a weapon and playmaker for Gardner Minshew. Over the past two weeks alone, Conley has been a go-to guy down the stretch for Minshew, and on the season, he’s caught 44 passes for 737 yards and five touchdowns.
Conley, 27, is smack dab in the middle of his prime. Provided the Jaguars pick up his 2020 option, which they should, he’ll be entering a contract year. I expect a career season from him in 2020.
Keith Jackson Call of the Week
Our call of the week goes to a new honoree — CBS’ Dick Stockton. He earned it by capping Nyheim Hines’ badass punt return touchdown (his second of the day) with a “He’s gonna make it” that I felt in my soul.
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