Lombardi: My thoughts on running QBs, NFL power ratings and Week 8 preview

October 29, 2022 11:58 AM
USATSI_19309228

In his wonderful book, “Path Lit by Lightning: The Life of Jim Thorpe," author David Maraniss dispels many misconceptions about football, and specifically Jim Thorpe.  Maraniss essentially gives his readers a history lesson of the evolution of the game we love, focusing on Coach Pop Warner (the head coach at the Carlisle Indian School Project).  Warner the father of the single wing offense, and used Thorpe and others to dazzle the crowds with his deceptive running game using an unbalanced line and unconventional formations. In Warner’s single wing there was no true quarterback, as all the backs were a vital part of the running offense. Every eligible offensive player ran the ball, forcing the defense to defend all six players all the time. The single wing was a six-skill position offense or what I call a Six Back Offense.    

Because of the lack of passing, the single wing eventually faded.  Now to some degree, the seven quarterbacks below are running an offense that forces the defense to defend all six eligible players. 

Lombo

Every one of these seven teams make the quarterback part of their run game, using the threat of the quarterback involvement in the run game as a decoy to fool the defense.  Each week the opposing defense is forced to account for the quarterback altering their coverages to account for his skill set.  Understand this offense is different than an offense featuring a quarterback with movement skills.  Patrick Mahomes can move and avoid the rush, and is more than capable of getting first downs with his feet, but the Chiefs don’t enter the game wanting to establish him as a runner; every run, or loose play is a bonus.  Yes, the defense must account for Mahomes scrambling, but that attention is built off the pass rush, not the run fits -- a big difference. 

After the Bill lost to the Patriots in the wind game in Buffalo, they shifted from a conventional offense to the “six-back” offense, featuring their best player Josh Allen in the run game.  At the end of the 2021 season before the playoffs, Allen had rushed 122 times.  After the Week 12 game with only five remaining, Allen rushed 47 times accounting for 38% of his rushing total.  The shift in offensive philosophy was obvious and since that game the Bills offense using the six-back approach has been at times unstoppable. 

The seven teams using their quarterback as a runner -- more than a read-option runner -- is a take on the Lincoln Riley-at-Oklahoma, Chip Kelly-at-Oregon variation of the spread, forcing the defense to account for the quarterback as a runner on every play -- even though they only give him the ball between 7-15 times per game.  Obviously, Philadelphia is more invested in this style of offense, as is Baltimore, resulting in more carries per game for their star quarterbacks.  Chicago has no choice but to run this offense, as Justin Fields is challenged to complete more than 10 passes per game.  Marcus Mariota is running a version of his Oregon offense in Atlanta, limiting his involvement in the passing game. After seven games, Mariota only attempts 21 passes per game, and only twice has he thrown for over 200 yards -- yet the Falcons rank fifth overall in the NFL in third down conversions and fourth in red zone production.  

The single wing faded when passing evolved and the value of the quarterback position became enhanced.  No team wanted to risk injury to their quarterback, so they removed him from the running game.  Daniel Jones has attempted only 18 passes per game, many of them under 10 yards, and like Mariota has only thrown for over 200 yards twice so far this season. The Giants understand that to maximize the skill set of their quarterback, he must be involved in the run game. 

The other advantage to this “six-back” offense is the speed of the game is different and it takes the opponent time to adjust, which is the case when facing the Eagles.  The Birds start slow, scoring just 14 total points in the first quarter, then adjust and take over the game scoring 112 in the second quarter.  They have only scored 35 in the second half, in part because the defense can adjust to the speed, understand how to better defend their run game.  The misconception about the Eagles offense is their run game is explosive -- it’s not.  Their longest run of the year is 35 yards and Hurts averages only 3.8 per carry.  The team averages 4.2 per attempt which ranks 23rd in the NFL.  They average 37.5 attempts per game, leading the NFL.  The Eagles wear teams down with their speed, deception and uniqueness, much like the old single wing teams did.  (Note:  Five of the top seven rushing attempts teams in the NFL are all “six-back” offenses).

Bill Parcells once told me regarding the college draft, “we can only take what they give us.”  And right now, colleges are sending the NFL athletic quarterbacks who some lack timing and rhythm but have superior athletic skills.   Take Anthony Richardson at Florida.  He is big, fast, powerful, and tough, yet he is far from polished as a passer.  At 6-foot-4 and over 230 pounds, he has a Josh Allen feel to his running style and the same accuracy issue that haunted Allen at Wyoming.  Will Richardson be able to become a better passer like Allen?  That's hard to predict and certainly another year of college would help answer that question.  But we all know some team is going to believe they can improve his throwing and run the Eagles “six-pack” offense to highlight his immense talents. 

Thursday night review

Last night, the Ravens for whatever reason went into Tampa and wanted to establish the pass.  After only attempting 16 passes last week against the Browns, the Ravens attempted 30 passes and seven runs in the first half.  Once the second half began, and Lamar Jackson took off for a big run, the Ravens ground game became hard for the Bucs to defend and they scored points on every drive in the second half, winning the game going away.  They controlled the ball for 20 minutes and 47 seconds in the second half and took the game over in the third.  Tampa fought back with 12 points in the fourth, but the damage was done, and Tom Brady had his first three-game losing streak of his career. 

Will the "six-back” offense work and win a title?  Yes, when the quarterback can make plays with his arm -- like Allen.  If Buffalo falls behind in a game, Allen can throw they back into it.  Can Hurts?  That is the question still unanswered after seven weeks of the season. 

QB RATINGS

TOP FIVE

  1. Josh Allen. The Packers lead the league in allowing the least number of completions for opposing quarterbacks and Allen should be able to run the “six-pack” offense to full effect as the Bills are well rested coming off the bye week.  
  2. Patrick Mahomes.  He might make a few mistakes and turn the ball over from time to time, but he is remarkable at playmaking.  Think of Mahomes as an elite point guard in the NBA. Yes, he will have a turnover from time to time, but his assist rate is so high, it can offset his one bad play. 
  3. Lamar Jackson.  Last night was the perfect example of the six-pack offense led by Jackson.  He carried the ball 9 times second most on the team and made plays in the short passing game, longest pass play of the night was only 22 yards. 
  4. Joe Burrow.  When Burrow is connecting down the field with his wide receivers, his offense is hard to defend.  He finally looks like a top quarterback the last two weeks and now losing Ja’Marr Chase will stress their offensive line and other receivers. 
  5. Jalen Hurts.  Pittsburgh struggled to stop the Bills “six-pack” offense and will be interesting to see how they handle Philadelphia’s.  In that game, Allen threw for 424 yards and 4 touchdowns controlling the game with his arm more than the run as the Bills only attempted 18 rushes with Allen having five.  Can Hurts duplicate Allen?  Doubtful, but he will have more than 5 carries for sure. 

BOTTOM FIVE

28.         Justin Fields.  Has fumbled 11 times in 7 games and still averages just 10.01 completions per game. 

29.         Andy Dalton.  For moments of the game, Dalton looks effective.  Then the bad turnover and it all goes astray.  He should play better this week against a Raider secondary missing Ellis Hobbs. 

30.         Mac Jones.  Jones must stop turning the ball over.  His talents lie in his ability to play smart and make good decisions.  Last season as a rookie his interception percentage was at 2.5%.  In five games, his interception percentage is at 5.8%. 

31.         Kenny Pickett.  Like Jones, Pickett must play smart, make timely throws and function within the framework of the offense.  Last week against Miami, he didn’t. 

32.         Sam Ehlinger.  Will get his first start of the Colts this week.  Ehlinger has enough athletic talent to move and avoid the rush and his arm is good enough especially when playing at home.  How much worse can he be than Matt Ryan?  He can’t, this move is an upgrade. 

POWER RATINGS

Buffalo

Philadelphia

Kansas City

Cincinnati

Minnesota

Baltimore

Dallas

San Francisco

NY Giants

NY Jets

Tampa Bay

New England

Jacksonville

Chargers

Seattle

Las Vegas

Indianapolis

Rams

New Orleans

Cleveland

Green Bay

Tennessee

Denver

Miami

Washington

Arizona

Atlanta

Chicago

Pittsburgh

Houston

Detroit

Carolina

Remember this is all numbers based, not subjective. 

Cincinnati made a huge jump in part to its ability to finally make explosive plays down the field. 

Minnesota looks bad at times, but when examining the crucial numbers for winning in the NFL, they are very good. 

There is a significant drop off from Kansas City to Cincinnati further proving the point that the NFL has three good teams and a bunch of other teams looking for ways to improve. 

HALL AND OATES PLAY, I CAN’T GO FOR THAT

Each week we give out recommendations for picks and each week the coaches do something ridiculous to make us never want to endorse their team.  Against Dallas, Dan Campbell of the Lions was horrible with his in-game management and decision making.  How can anyone feel secure enough with the line to play the Lions? 

Many handicappers will believe the Lions can cover and stay close to the Dolphins because they are playing at home and the Fins are not an explosive scoring team outside of the fourth quarter against the Ravens.  But in the last two games, the Lions were shut out by the Patriots and held to six points against the Cowboys. 

For me, this game has too much uncertainty on both sides.  Both coaches are horrible in-game decision makers.  Both teams only are in the top seven of 19 categories that factors into winning.  Miami is in the bottom-eight in six of those areas and the Lions not surprisingly are in the bottom-eight in 12 of the 19 critical factors of winning. 

Bad on bad means I cannot go for that. 

LINE OF THE WEEK

When watching tape on the Vikings, they are not always impressive.  They have moments of solid play, on both sides of the ball, but remain inconsistent for most of the game.  Yet their numbers are amazing and don’t show the inconsistencies.  In my 19 critical factors towards winning games in the NFL, the Vikings are in the top eight in seven and are only in the bottom eight in one.  By contrast, the Cards are in the top 8 in only three and bottom eight in 6.  My line for this game came out to Vikings -6 for the Vikings, which is nowhere near the -3.5 that is available today. 

Professional bettors started taking the Cards on Sunday night and have not stopped since.  There has been little buy back on Minnesota which makes this line fishy and will either prove my ratings for the Vikings are too high, or too low on the Cards. 

COORDINATOR BATTLE

Last season the Browns beat the Bengals twice, once in Week 9 and then in Week 18 when nothing mattered for Cincinnati.  The Browns defense turned the ball over three times in their 41-16 win and were able to run the ball effectively against the Bengals defense.  Without Chase, the Browns can play more man to man and take advantage of the poor Bengals offensive line.  Lou Anarumo, the Bengals defensive coordinator has struggled to slow down the Browns' running/play-action attack and if the Browns play from in front, it might be a hard game for the Bengals defense to get control.  Cleveland is a desperate team, and Cincinnati is wounded.  And prior success could indicate future achievement for the Browns. 

Check back on Sunday for my picks: 17-9-1 for the 2022 season and 124-85-7 for my VSiN career. 

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