We are approaching the halfway point of the NFL Season. Week to week, the narratives change. The standings change. New teams emerge. Other teams fall. The weeks keep trucking along. That is the 17 week stretch of the NFL season every year. I love everything about it. That being said, time for my Monday Not So Morning Thoughts.
First and foremost, I have to address the hometown team. The Saints are on a tear right now without Drew Brees, notching their 4th win in a row defeating the Jaguars on the road 13-6. The defense is swarming opposing QBs and putting them on their ass with 18 sacks thus far. The offense is good enough thanks to playmakers Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas who both help them play in front of the chains. Teddy Bridgewater continues to be efficient. Then, you have Thomas Morstead who is punting opponents inside the 20 on 65% of his punts (1st in NFL). Keep the Who Dat train rolling.
In a weird year among receivers where many of the undoubted top 10 in the league look so pedestrian, Thomas sure as hell does not, even with his backup QB. He is currently first in receptions and second in yards. Since Drew Brees has gone down, Thomas has amassed 41 catches, 486 yards and 3 touchdowns. One of the things I love about Thomas is the fact he catches an incredibly high percentage of his targets. With Bridgewater, he has been targeted just 52 times for a catch rate of 78.8%. At what point do we start talking about him being the possibly the best in the league?
After starting out 3-0, the Cowboys have unraveled dropping the last 3. Luckily for them, the NFC East is wide open. On a 3 game skid, we are hearing that they aren’t that good and Jason Garrett is on the hot seat, especially after losing to the 0-4 Jets. The other two losses came to two of the top 3-4 teams in the league (Saints and Packers). I wouldn’t hit the panic button yet. They were playing without their two starting tackles and a banged up receiver in Amari Cooper. Something I have always said about that defense is it is not built to play from behind. The Cowboys are a boring brand of football. Run the offense through Zeke and let Dak utilize the play action. Play the field position game. They haven’t been doing that. On the surface, a loss to the Jets looks bad. That brings me to my next point…
The Jets offense actually looked formidable once they got their starting QB back. Luke Faulk was cut immediately once Darnold was declared a go. That should tell you something about the Jets the last few weeks. The playbook was opened so the Jets aren’t the same team they have been recently. The margin of error in the NFL is so tiny. You can go from competitive to shit show in the blink of an eye. The Jets don’t have a great roster to carry bad QB play, period. The defense is solid enough when the offense can keep them off the field. Are they a playoff team? Probably not, but I think you see a much different team moving forward, at least a more competitive one.
Late in the game, I just don’t know if there is a QB I trust more to move the ball (except maybe Brady or Rodgers). If the season ended today, Russell Wilson is my front runner for MVP. He is tied for second in TDs, 1st in Completion% and is averaging over nine yards per attempt. What I love most about Wilson is he doesn’t need a ton of passes to be successful. He is throwing a TD on 7% of his drop backs thanks to his ability to get outside the pocket and make plays downfield. He is consistently in the mix of the top 5 QBs and has been for years now. He is unbelievable and he has that offense clicking on all cylinders. He is the only QB in the league not named Tom Brady that doesn’t have a losing season to his name. Even with an awful roster in 2016, he was able to win.
49ers – Contender
I am sold and I am putting the chips in on the 49ers. That defense is fucking relentless getting to the QB. Nick Bosa is worth every bit of pre-draft hype. Up front defensively, I am not sure there is a better group in the league. They are six deep with big bodies who can apply pressure and move the line. Offensively, all I need is two words, Kyle Shanahan. When Atlanta made their run to the Super Bowl (28-3 though), he was the mastermind behind the offense. He seems to be working his magic again. Jimmy Garoppolo has room for improvement, but looks stable enough to win. The run game is the magic of that offense. They’re averaging 39 attempts per game with a running back stable of Tevin Coleman, Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert. Those three have led them to the second best rush attack in the league at 179.8 ypg. Pair that with a pass defense ranked second, it’s psychological warfare. They ground and pound to control the clock so teams feel like they have to make up ground quicker than they do and that plays right into their strength.
If they want to have a serious run deep into the postseason, that defense needs fixing. They’re giving up too many yards on the ground. If you look across the board at the offensive numbers compared to the defense, it is basically a wash. Patrick Mahomes’ numbers aren’t looking as video game-esque over the last 3 games, but still great. Yesterday, they had less than 30 seconds to halftime and pinned inside their redzone. They attempt a pass and the Texans strip, sack and recover the fumble. It led to a TD and the lead. When your defense is that bad, you have to give them help and be conservative sometimes.
NFC North Dog Fight
Best division in football right now and it isn’t close. They are going to beat the hell out of each other for the division title. Tonight we get to see that on display with Monday Night Football and a big game between the Packers and Lions. I still like the Packers in that division right now and tonight, but the Vikings are finding their mojo at the right time. That offense is starting to click and the pass game is re-emerging. It’s going to be a wild couple of weeks up north.