NFL Observations

The good, bad and ugly from the NFL this weekend

Aaron Rodgers finally matched up with Tom Brady. It did not go well. Getty Images

Week 9 of the NFL was highlighted by several key matchups. Some decided conference supremacy, while others were clashes of quarterback titans. Here’s how I saw it all go down:

The Good

-In what was billed as the two G.O.A.T.s, Tom Brady’s Patriots bested Aaron Rodgers’ Packers 31-17 Sunday night. It’s not often that we get to see two of the very best duel in prime time. It reminded me of the September 20, 1993 Monday Night Football game between the Chiefs and Broncos that pit Joe Montana against John Elway. I watched that game on a TV my parents plugged into the cigarette lighter in the car as we drove back to Atlanta.   

-So much is made of older quarterbacks like Brady, Rodgers, and Drew Brees that we tend to sleep on what Philip Rivers is doing with the Chargers. He now has 19 touchdowns, only three interceptions with a 69.1 completion percentage on the season. He only completed 50% of his passes in the win against the Seahawks Sunday, but his two touchdowns made up for it.

- Much has been made of Chief’s quarterback Pat Mahomes and his historic start. I truly think it is Kareem Hunt that provides so much versatility to that offense. The 141 total yards from scrimmage on 18 touches and three touchdowns in their 37-21 win over the Browns proves my point.

The Bad

-The Ravens were 4-2, leading the AFC North and had a feared defense. Since then, they’ve lost three straight by an average of less than eight points per game. No longer are they leading the division, they’re now looking up at the Steelers and Bengals with little to no hope of making the playoffs.

-Jon Gruden continues to play Madden with the Raiders. His latest move was to release veteran pass rusher Bruce Irvin. Irvin was their highest paid remaining defensive player. He’s been seldom used as if he turned into an out of date version of the popular football video game Gruden seems to be replicating in real life. Part of me hopes he can turn the moribund franchise around, but part of me loves the trainwreck.

-Monday Night Football featured two 3-4 teams in the Titans and Cowboys. I know those teams may be popular around Texas given one is located here and the other used to be. But they’re both trash and don’t deserve my attention outside the +6.5 I put on the Titans in the pick ‘em challenge.

The Ugly

-The Redskins lost at home to the Falcons 38-14. They were down at one point, two or three starting offensive lineman. Had they lost one more, defensive tackle Matt Iaonnidis would’ve been thrust into duty. The fact that they had almost twice as many penalty yards (147) as they had rushing (79) is something I don’t recall seeing happen very often...

-…until I saw what the Bills did against the Bears. They managed to actually double their rushing yards (64) with penalty yards (129). I’m imagining this happens more often than what I care to notice. Bad football gives me cooties.

-The Dolphins beat the Jets 13-6 in a game that set football back 30 years. The teams combined for 450 total yards and a collective 5/29 on third down conversions. The only touchdown scored was off a pick six with 11 minutes left in the game. 

Week nine went down as the week the Rams finally lost (’72 dolphins are popping champagne), Brady emerged victorious over Rodgers, the Chiefs machine kept rolling. Dolphins/Jets set a new low for performance, and Monday Night Football rendered itself ineffective. Teams continue to establish their positions as others fall further into irrelevance. Question is: whose built to last and who’s scouting for the draft? 

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

Here's what the data tells us about Bregman. Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Alex Bregman had a rough season in 2020 by his standards. He slashed .242/.350/.451 in 42 regular season games. His regular season included a trip to the 10-day IL for a hamstring strain he suffered in mid-August. His surface-level struggles continued in the postseason, where he slashed .220/.316/.300 in 13 games. However, that postseason sample size does include a tough luck game against the Tampa Bay Rays where he went 0-for-5 with five hard hit balls.

All-in-all, 2020 felt like a lost season for Bregman. He never really got going. He got off to a slow start, but he's always been a slow starter. Once he started to pick it up, he strained his hamstring, and he played poorly after returning from the hamstring strain. Then, he started to turn his batted ball quality around in the playoffs, but he hit into a lot of tough luck outs.

Hard Hit % - 33.6%

Barrel % - 3.9%

K% - 14.4%

BB% - 13.3%

Chase % - 18.1%

Bregman comes from the Michael Brantley school of hitters. He has elite plate discipline and elite bat-to-ball skills. This makes Bregman a fairly consistent hitter. That may sound odd considering his 2020 "struggles" but even an extended period of poor performance for him resulted in a .801 OPS and a 122 wRC+. If his valleys are still 22% better than the league average hitter, then that's a pretty reliable producer.

There aren't any alarming trends in Bregman's statistics. Yes, his K% was slightly up, his BB% is slightly down, but it isn't a massive difference in either category. His Chase % was up, but again, 18.1% is elite discipline. The biggest drop was in his Hard Hit%, where he fell from 38% to 33.6%. Even so, his average exit velocity only dropped .4 MPH, so there's not really a catastrophic trend here.

His .254 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) was low, but he's never put up really high BABIP numbers. In fact, his BABIP has gotten worse every year of his career, from .317 to .311 to .289 to .281 to .254. While his BABIP will likely spike back up next year, it isn't enough to be the difference between the 2019 and 2020 versions of himself. His xBA and xSLG weren't out of whack either. His .256 xBA isn't much better than his .240 AVG, and his .400 xSLG is actually worse than his .451 SLG.

Bregman is as forthcoming with his hitting mechanics, approach, and mental cues as any big leaguer out there. Here is what he had to say about his swing this year. This was a Zoom press conference with the media following the Astros game on September 25th against the Rangers.

Bregman says he wants to hit balls in the air to the pull side and on a line to the opposite field, but in reality, he was hitting flares to the opposite field and hitting them on the ground to the pull side.

The data mostly backs up that claim. In 2019, on balls hit to the pull side, Bregman had an average exit velocity of 90.7 MPH at an average launch angle of 16°, a 40% Hard Hit %, and a 16% HR%. Since Bregman has elite bat-to-ball skills, most of those metrics didn't change. In 2020, his average exit velocity was 90.6, essentially the same as 2019. His Hard Hit % was 42%, a touch better than in 2019. However, his average launch angle dipped from 16° to 11°, which contributed to his HR% dropping all the way to 9%. Bregman hit 47% of his pull side swings on the ground. In 2019, that number was 40%. He absolutely had less production to the pull side in 2020.

The data gets a little hazier going the opposite way when comparing 2019 to 2020, as Bregman actually performed slightly better to the opposite field in 2020 than 2019, but he also only had 20 batted balls to the opposite field all season. Considering the small sample size, it isn't worth diving too deep into the data.

He's right that most of the balls he hit that way were flares. He had an average exit velocity of 83.4 MPH with an average launch angle of 32°, but that's about the same as what he did in 2019. A lot of the statistical drop off comes from balls that were backspun rockets to the pull side in 2019 becoming top spinners or roll overs in 2020.

Bregman also performed horribly against breaking balls in 2020. He batted .150 with a .250 SLG against them in 2020. He had an 84 MPH Average Exit Velocity against them and whiffed 26.5% of the time against them.

It was a far cry from 2019, when he hit .265 with a .588 SLG, 87 MPH average exit velo, and whiffed 18% of the time.

Those numbers lend credence to his statement on his mechanics. It's tough for a hitter to have adjustability against breaking balls if he's blowing out his front side and pulling off of the baseball.

Bregman will spend the offseason working on these mechanical fixes and getting back to the hitter he used to be. If he's consistently hitting the ball in the air to the pull side next year, and he's performing better against breaking balls, then he should be right back in the mix for AL MVP.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome