THE NFL REPORT

NFL Week 15 observations: The good, bad and ugly

Marcus Peters and the Chiefs put it on the Chargers. Chiefs.com

Week 15 saw the return of one of the NFL’s faces as Aaron Rodgers returned for the Green Bay Packers to face the Carolina Panthers and Cam Newton. Another heavyweight bout was played as Tom Brady and the New England Patriots faced Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Let’s get into this week’s action…

The Good

-The Jimmy Garoppolo era of the San Francisco 49ers has started with a third consecutive win by a score of 25-23 over the Tennessee Titans. The Titans kicked a field goal to go up 23-22 with 1:07 left in the game. All the time behind Brady as a backup, plus Kyle Shanahan calling plays, allowed Garoppolo to lead the 49ers on a game winning drive as Robbie Gould kicked go-ahead field goal as time expired.

-The Minnesota Vikings locked up the NFC North with a 34-7 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. Case Keenum solidified himself as the Vkings quarterback with another great performance going 20 of 23, for 236 yards and two touchdowns. Perhaps the best part was seeing former Vikings starter Teddy Bridgewater get his first regular season game action in 714 days. The reaction of not only the crowd, but also his coaches and teammates was pretty damn awesome. It got a bit dusty and my allergies may have acted up.

-Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy eclipsed the 10,000 rushing yards mark in their 24-16 win over the Miami Dolphins. At 29, “Shady” still has some juice left in the tank as he looks every bit as elusive as he did when the Philadelphia Eagles drafted him in the second round out of the University of Pittsburgh in 2009. While he’s not mentioned as one of the all-time greats, I’d like to see where he ends up once he hangs up his cleats. Oh, and that win keeps his Bills squad in the No. 6 seed spot in the AFC.

The Bad

-Rodgers made his return for the Packers, but it was spoiled by the Panthers defense. They got three interceptions off of the future Hall of Famer as he tried to keep his team’s playoff hopes alive. They still had a shot to tie the game after pulling within a touchdown and recovering an onside kick, but Geronimo Allison fumbled at the Panthers 28 with 1:50 left in the game. The Packers will miss the playoffs now for the first time since 2008.  

-In the Oakland Raiders/Dallas Cowboys game Sunday night, referee Gene Steratore used an index card to measure a very important fourth down on the Cowboys game-winning drive. The NFL is a multi-billion dollar industry which uses technology all over its organization. Why haven’t they figured out a more technologically advanced way to figure out what’s a first down? That was akin to our government used smoke signals to communicate.

-The Los Angeles Chargers played the Kansas City Chiefs for the lead in the AFC West and a clear shot at a playoff spot. The Chargers have come a long way since starting 0-4, and appeared to be hot enough to overtake the faltering Chiefs. They not only lost 30-13, but gave the Chiefs four turnovers to boot. Quarterback Phillip Rivers picked the wrong day to throw three picks. Now they’ll need tons of help and weird scenarios in order to get a wildcard spot.

The Ugly

-In a battle for the No. 1 seed in the AFC, the Patriots beat the Steelers 27-24. But it’s the way they lost that landed a mention in The Ugly. Down by three, the Steelers got a 69-yard catch and run by Juju Smith-Schuster down to the 10 yard line. Jesse James appeared to have caught the game winning touchdown, but it was reversed as the refs say he didn’t maintain possession when he hit the ground crossing the goal line. After a 3 yard gain, they appeared to want to down the ball, but Roethlisberger faked it and tried to thread the needle on a slant to Eli Rogers that was tipped then intercepted by Duron Harmon. Game over.

-The Washington Redskins beat the Arizona Cardinals in a game in that featured a combined 11 punts, three turnovers, 15 penalties, and seven field goals. The Redskins won mainly because of a fumble recovery and return to the 6 yard line by Preston Smith set up the first of their two touchdowns. That, and Blaine Gabbert remembered he is a 1st round bust by going 16 of 41 for 189 yards and an interception. I’d rather have rewatched the blizzard game from last week than to watch this one.

-The Seattle Seahawks fell to the Los Angeles Rams 42-7. I looked at this game as a potential passing of the torch and expected to see a bit of a dog fight. However, the Rams beat the snot out of the Seahawks allowing a paltry 149 total yards of offense with the aid of only two turnovers. The Rams came into Seattle, smacked the Seahawks around, and took their lunch money, as well as control of the NFC West. There’s a new big dog on the porch, and they appear ready to sit there for a while now.

The catch rule, measuring for first downs, touchdown/not a touchdown, helmet to helmet collisions…the list continues to grow as far as the problems the NFL has yet to fully solve or figure out. While earlier this season, people had their panties in a bunch over anthem protests, the league has many more issues at hand they need to deal with. Some of these rules need to be clarified and made simple (the catch rule). Some, they need to apply their vast billions into better technology in order to better officiate the game (first downs and touch downs). How about bringing in former players to help re-write some of these rules? This would help ease tensions between the players and a commissioner that have a rocky relationship. Plus, it just makes damn good sense. But why would the NFL do anything that makes that much sense?

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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