Lombardi: My TNF thoughts, NFL power ratings and Week 3 preview

September 25, 2022 08:58 AM
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Last night’s game between the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers was a classic example of two teams attempting to protect themselves from their quarterback.  Neither team attempted to beat the other one, they only wanted to not beat themselves. Both Jacoby Brissett and Mitchell Trubisky have limitations, which isn’t a knock, only a reality of the NFL today.  Most every quarterback has limitations, only a few are limitless.  Teams that understand there are no perfect quarterbacks and manages those limitations are the ones that succeed, as the Browns did last night beating Pittsburgh 29-17 and covering the four-point line plus helping the books by going over the total of 38.

Brissett has played well in three games.  He has protected the ball, made accurate short throws and converted some key third-and shorts-with his ability to sneak, using his big body.  He has played within the framework of their offense, relying on running backs Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt and their offensive line to control the game, get the lead and control the clock. The Browns have played their style for three games -- starting fast (they’ve outscored opponents 14-0 in the first quarter) and get control of the game, never having to become a drop-back passing team.  Cleveland has held the ball over 35 minutes in three games, allowing its defense to only be on the field for 172 plays in three games.   By contrast, the Steelers D had already played 180 snaps going into last night game.  What’s the difference? 

The Browns have a better team around Brissett and can execute a larger volume of offense. The Steelers can only manage Trubisky with a simple and easy college offense, before his overall limitations rear their ugly head.  All the talk about Trubisky being rehabbed during his time in Buffalo is simply talk.  There is no rehab for making Trubisky improved. 

After the game, there are several questions regarding both teams that need to be addressed.   Let’s start with the Browns.  The first one is easy: Can the Browns continue to win in this manner?  Yes, they can because they won’t change who they are regardless of the score. Even if they get behind in the first quarter, they will continue to pound Chubb and run the ball.  They know who they are -- and will not concede or play outside their comfort zone. 

The second requires some thought:  Can the Browns adequately throw the ball in the fourth quarter to get back into the game?  The simple answer is yes.  This method and style will produce regular season wins, with help from their defense. The more complex question is: Can they win playoff games and throw the ball to come back in January?  The Browns are a 1970’s style team right now -- they throw short passes (average only 9.8 yards per reception) run the ball, manage the down and distance, slow the game down and throw fewer than 35 passes per game. (averaging 30.6 passing attempts per game. If a team makes them play lefthanded, taking away their running game, by building the lead and controlling the clock, the Browns will struggle -- unless when Deshaun Watson comes back and then it’s a whole new ball game. 

For the Steelers the questions are easy, but the answers are hard.  The obvious question is how much longer can Trubisky continue to play with rookie first-round pick Kenny Pickett waiting in the wings?  Playing in his sixth season, Trubisky’s limitations are well known throughout the league.  Make him play from the pocket, change the coverage post snap and make him a reactionary player.  For Trubisky to be successful, the play in the game must go as practiced, or else the breakdowns will result in a bad play. 

The Steelers have excellent skill players around him and still cannot make plays down the field, averaging 5.5 yards per attempt.  Playing Trubisky is like taking the road to nowhere -- it serves no benefits short or long term.  The second and more challenging question:  Is the Steelers offensive scheme under Matt Canada good enough?  Are they a college offense?  We will never know the answers to these questions with Trubisky under center.  Their offense must be a college one if they play Mitch, and until they switch players everyone will throw blame towards Canada and Trubisky.  If you’re Mike Tomlin, you realize after three games that your defense isn’t good enough to carry the team and regardless of how well they play, by the fourth quarter they are exhausted and wore down.  Changing quarterbacks might not produce more wins for the Steelers, but it will give them a glimpse into their future -- which is worth making the move. 

QB RATINGS

Where have you gone Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers?  Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.  Yes, both Brady and Rodgers have not played like Blue Chips, even though their teams won last week.  They are struggling not because of their skills, rather the skill players around them.  This week they face off and sportsbooks have the total at 42, which must be the lowest total when these two elite passers haved face off.  For me, both are still Blue-Chip players and after two weeks, here is the best of rest. 

  1. Josh Allen -- playing at the highest level of anyone
  2. Patrick Mahomes -- improved and becoming more like the Patrick Mahomes of 2019. 
  3. Lamar Jackson -- After two weeks, Jackson’s numbers are back to his MVP level (averaging 9 yards per carry and 9 yards per pass attempt). 

Jalen Hurts has made progress in the first two games -- using his skills much like Jackson in both run and pass.  Hurts is averaging 5.3 yards per rushing attempt, and 9.1 on passing attempts.  If he continues to throw the ball with great accuracy along with rhythm and timing, he will fit into the Red Chip level.  Remember, doing something once is wonderful, it doesn’t make you a superstar.  Great players play great every week. 

POWER RATINGS FOR TEAMS

With more coaching data and statistics, my power ratings are coming together.  In the three years I have been doing my ratings, using my evaluations of coaches, quarterbacks and critical stats, Buffalo after two weeks has accumulated the best power ranking to date. 

Tennessee has taken a huge fall, in part because of its level of talent and injuries to their offensive line.  Jacksonville is improving, and the Jaguars are the best team in the AFC South right now. They will surprise people if Trevor Lawrence continues to develop. 

My rankings are never going to look like others, as my statistical data is not based on any bias, or preconceived ideas.  The numbers often never lie. 

Buffalo

Kansas City

Tampa Bay

Philadelphia

Jacksonville

San Francisco

New England

Baltimore

Chargers

Dallas

Denver

Cleveland

Green Bay

Rams

Detroit

Pittsburgh

New Orleans

Minnesota

NY Giants

Carolina

Miami

Las Vegas

Houston

NY Jets

Washington

Cincinnati

Chicago

Indianapolis

Arizona

Atlanta

Tennessee

Seattle

Indy has huge issues to address, the first being to get its offensive line to perform at a high level.  Until that occurs, it’s hard to correctly evaluate the rest of the team. 

LINE OF THE WEEK

Based on my power ratings, Jacksonville being a seven-point dog, was a great pick. Factoring in home-field advantage I make the Chargers a 1.5-point favorite.

The Chargers have several injuries that can impact this game, the most notable is quarterback Justin Herbert dealing with a fractured rib cartilage. He is listed as questionable and didn't practice on Friday. When that news emerged, the line moved to Chargers -3. I am sure he can play, with padding and a shot for pain. How effective can he be? That’s a hard question to answer.

Another big issue for the Chargers will be if center Corey Lindsey and right tackle Trey Pipkins play. Both left the game last week against the Chiefs and their return is questionable.   

COORDINATOR BATTLE OF THE WEEK

As bad as the Panthers played last season, their defense has performed well against the Saints.  Phil Snow, the defensive coordinator of the Panthers held the Saints to six first downs in Week 2 of the season last year, after the Saints soundly had beaten the Packers the week before.  Remember, Jameis Winston was healthy in Week 2 and the Panthers easily won the game 26-7.  Then in Week 17, when the season was long over for the Panthers, they held the Saints to 15 first downs and 280 total yards, losing 18-10.  Snow understands how to attack the Saints and that might prove to be a huge advantage on Sunday. 

Check our VSiN daily email on Sunday for my picks. Enjoy the games. 

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