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The ‘A Gap’ halfway season observations by Josh Slocum

The ‘A Gap’

NFL MID WAY OBSERVATIONS

By Josh Slocum

Week 8 saw a couple of classics in the NFC, with the Falcons just getting over the Pack and 2 awesome rookies battled it out in Dallas, with Dak enjoying the upper hand in the 1st of many battles to come.  The Patriots keep rolling along and keep pulling trade surprises.  This time it was Jamie Collins being dealt away.  It’s a brutal game.

The story of the season so far is how well Wentz, Prescott and Cody Kessler have played.  We’re half way through the season (sort of, it does go 17 weeks) so let’s have a look at where the players and teams are at!

Rookies QB’S rule:

Check out the following stats for attempts, completions, percentage, TD, INT, yards & QB rating.

Prescott:    144     221     65.2%     9 TDs     1 INT        1773      99.6

Wentz:       150     228     65.8%     9 TDs     3 INTs     1526     92.5

Kessler:      89      133      66.9%     4 TDs     1 INT       947        94.4

Combined an impressive 22 TDs to just 5 INTs.

All this without #1 overall pick Jared Goff.  Have the Rams screwed up or are they being smart?  I think they’re being smart.  Look for him to play soon yet despite the learning time I doubt he will put up great stats.  So much of QB play is the system and under HC Fisher the Rams have never had a good offensive passing system.

That could also be because the background in coaches are so different.  Fisher was a defensive back.  Garrett, Pederson and Jackson?  All former quarterbacks.  If you throw in 2nd year man Trevor Siemian’s success with Kubiak’s history and that’s 4 young QB’s who are playing well with the help of former QB’s as their head coaches.

Other notable rookies:

Good:  Zeke.  Looks great but who wouldn’t behind that line?  2 weeks ago he had more yards before contact than the Jags did all year.

Jalen Ramsey- bright spot in Jags secondary.

Laremy Tunsil.  There’s a reason why Jay Ajayi is rushing well and Tunsil is doing his bit.

Karl Joseph.  Raiders D has been a disappointment (worst in the league for yards) but by all reports it hasn’t been due to him.

Will Fuller looked good when Brock was playing well.  Now he’s not, very little action.

Bad: Treadwell.  Yet to have a reception and undrafted rookie Adam Thielen has taken the starting spot.

Ronnie Stanley- Baltimore offense struggling and o-line play has been poor- Stanley a culprit.

DeForest Buckner.  Think he’ll be ok eventually but he’s 1/3rd of a line that is abysmal.  (He’s playing the most snaps of any 49ers lineman).

Teams:

Good.

Patriots.  Didn’t even seem to miss Tom or Gronk.  Speaks volumes of the system Bill (and to some extent OC Josh McDaniels) have carved out.  Now that Tom and Gronk are back and with the addition of Bennett at the other TE spot, they’re going to put up 30+ points every game.  D doesn’t seem to be missing Jones at OLB either.

Broncos.  D hasn’t missed a beat after Danny Trevathan and Malik Jackson departed.  3rd for yards & 6th for ppg.

Cowboys.  Perfect slow offense is a helping the D out and meaning they are rarely in a bad spot.  Prescott has done this largely without best WR in Bryant too.  Minimal mistakes, lots of runs.  Accurate, quick throws mean few sacks, lots of 3rd and shorts.  Reminds me of the Chiefs offense now.

Eagles.  Carson Wentz excellent start and Eagles D and Jim Schwartz a perfect fit.

Chiefs.  Just ticking along nicely.  Playing solid playoff football.

Raiders. The D still has issues defensing the pass but their offense has stepped up another gear.  Carr to Cooper is sensational to watch.

Vikings.  Their d-line has improved and linebackers and secondary remain excellent.  A heap of injuries to offense including the big 3, QB, RB and LT, and now RT too.  Bradford trade was good but they couldn’t foresee the amount of injuries on the o-line that has impacted them so much in the last 2 games.

Bad.

Jaguars.  The passing offense was a bright spot last year (in spite of the poor o-line play), even though if Bortles passed for more than 300 yards the Jaguars never won.  Now that the play of Bortles has regressed, his talented young WRs aren’t getting a look and the rushing game is ranked 3rd last for yards per attempt.  The defense lacks identity despite the big names joining.  It was always going to take a while to gel but it just seems poor coaching is evident in many areas.  (Why was the secondary playing off the WRs vs the Ravens?  Why are there so many breakdowns on the o-line?)

Panthers.  We thought the secondary would be average after letting Josh Norman walk and not signing any veterans at CB to replace him, but it’s the play of the d-line that is really disappointing.  Johnson, Lutelelei, Short and Ealy are all playing short of their potential (although the did dominate the Cards o-line on Sunday)..  Their lack of pressure on opposing QB’s is the biggest difference from last year to this.  The offense is also struggling to establish their running game and then deep play action off that.  The tougher schedule with more talented pass rushers is affecting their ability to protect Newman on the deep asses they like so much.

Bengals.  This was the year to shine with so much of their cast returning from last year, however losing TE Eifert for so long has really impacted their offense.  Meanwhile the defense finished 2nd last year in ppg.  They’re currently 18th.

49ers.  After shutting out the Rams in wk 1 the defense has been one of the worst ever against the run.  The 2 x 6’8” 1st rd picks in Armstead and Buckner are being moved too easily and injuries at NT and to both starters at MLB have decimated a team with no depth.  Kelly’s offense needs at legit number 1 target at WR but has lacked imagination in getting WR Smith involved.

Bears.  Despite injuries to QB, WR (in White again) and RB the offense has done their bit.  The defense has been a major disappointment though.  Yes OLB McPhee and CB Fuller have been absent (McPhee returned last week) but only Willie Young can hold his head high.

Players:

Tom Brady continues to amaze, and thankfully it’s not just with regard to ability to destroy mobile phones.  His stats thus far read 12 TDs, 0 INTs and a rating of over 133.  Incredibly there was no sign of rust from his 4 game suspension and he has hit the ground running in his 3 games.

Julio Jones and AJ Green are the 2 best WRs in the game at the moment.  AJ has 896 yards and 3 TDs and Julio has 859 yards and 4 TDs.  It’s not just the stats though.  There have been so many incredible catches from both players this year and most of all?  They’re class acts on and off the field.

Zeke Elliot has been a phenom in his rookie year but the o-line is easily the best in the game.  David Johnson for me is the new AP.

Aquib Talib and Von Miller just get better every year.  They’re the major reason why the Broncos D continues to dominate.

Lorenzo Alexander has been just the person Rex Ryan needed with injuries to their 1st two draft picks.  He leads the league with 9 sacks.

Marcus Peters gambles but there is only one way to lead the league for INTs.  He has 5 and also a league best 16 passes defended.

Where to from here?

The race to the playoffs is going to be a fascinating one in both conferences.

The AFC central is wide open after Big Ben went down with a knee injury.  The Bengals might be getting their mojo back but the Ravens have seemed to have lost their early form.

The Bills were riding a 4 game streak and the D looked terrific yet then they let Ajayi go for 200+.

The Texans started well but then Osweiller has lost a lot of confidence after going against a tough Vikings D and hasn’t recovered.  They escaped with a miracle win against the Colts which may be a massive result in the context of the year.  The Titans are improving with every game so they are a dark horse to win the division.

Both wildcards could well come from the AFC West with the Chiefs, Broncos and Raiders all clicking along.  Had the Chargers won 2 of their 4 close losses then they would be in the running too.

The NFC has seen the Vikings fall back to earth in the North with Aaron Rodgers struggling for early form, although he is looking better now.  The Lions are on a hot streak but history says the Pack are the biggest competitors to the Vikings.

With the Panthers bizarre decline the Falcons are a monty to win the South.

Even with a physically ailing Russell Wilson and no running game the Seahawks are looking the goods in the West.  The Pats exposed the Cards in wk 1 so now everyone- actually every good team- is taking away the deep ball and QB Palmer is struggling.

The NFC East could see 2 or 3 teams in the playoffs.  I remain unconvinced by the Giants but the Eagles and Cowboys  are legit and Washington at this stage is thereabouts with a resurgent Cousins, although that tie may cost them.

Super Bowl

At this point my Super Bowl prediction of the Cards and Pats is in serious jeopardy.  The Pats are easily the most complete team in the AFC yet the NFC is far more open.

The Cards are struggling and won’t make the post season.  The Cowboys look so impressive however playoff football is about defenses and the Vikings, Seahawks and Eagles are the 3 best for ppg thus far.  Could a rookie QB guide their team through to the big dance?  Can the Vikings have post season success with the worst rushing offense in the league?

The Seahawks have the best QB out of those teams but he is ailing big time.  He hasn’t thrown a TD in his last 3 games.  Still, they managed to have a spectacular back end to last year and I’ll back them to reach the big dance again.  A rematch from 2015 awaits but it’ll be the Patriots who extend their dynasty.

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Born into the red and white of the South Melbourne Swans, I remember being amazed at age 7 to see a team with our colours that actually won something when the 1984 49ers won the Superbowl. I've been following the red, white and gold ever since. Of recent times my frustrations at not winning a Superbowl since 1994 can be heard occasionally on the aussieguysnfl podcast.

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