Lombardi: My TNF thoughts, NFL power ratings and Week 4 preview

September 30, 2022 09:58 AM
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It was a scary moment on Thursday night in Cincinnati, watching Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa being removed from the field on a stretcher after being sacked by Josh Tupou in the second quarter.  Later, we learned that Tua was moving his arms and legs and flew back with the team to Cincinnati which is a huge sigh of relief for all of us.  Once Tua left the game, Dolphins head coach and playcaller Mike McDaniel had to become conservative and work off a small play sheet.  It’s one of the pitfalls of playing a Thursday night road game, after a Sunday win -- there is no practice time for the starters and none for the backups.   Yes, Teddy Bridgewater is a veteran and knows the offense, but without much rhythm and timing working with the starters, simple problems can occur as they did when the Fins were driving late in the game.  With the score 20-15 and Miami driving, Bridgewater threw a seam pass a little off the mark, resulting in an interception and the game.  Had this been a Sunday and Bridgewater had taken the practice reps because of the Tua injury, the Dolphins would have been more aggressive. 

 

The game featured two of the best wide receivers in the game: Miami’s Tyreek Hill and Cincinnati’s Ja’Marr Chase.  The Dolphins used an old Bill Belichick strategy of using their second and third corners to double Chase most of the game and single their best corner, Xavien Howard, on the Bengals’ second-best receiver, Tee Higgins.  Higgins won the matchup, catching seven passes for 124 yards and a 59-yard touchdown reception.  Howard not being able to shut down Higgins proved to be the difference in the game, allowing the Bengals to sneak out a win.  When Chase wasn’t doubled late in the game when Miami was in desperation mode to get the ball back, he responded with a 36-yard catch, sealing the win. 

 

The doubles on Chase forced Cincinnati QB Joe Burrow to quickly move away from Chase in his pre-snap progressions, thus looking for other options like tight end Hayden Hurst or slot receiver Tyler Boyd.  This strategy of taking Chase out of the game is one of the reasons the Bengals offense hasn’t been as effective as last year.  Besides the lack of adequate pass protection afforded to Burrow, Cincinnati’s failure to make explosive pass plays has slowed down its offense.  With no run game and no big plays, the Bengals offense until last night has looked average at best.  And even last night, it wasn’t firing on all cylinders.

 

As for Hill, after last night is there any doubt he is the best wide receiver in football?  Every time I watch him, I keep asking myself why Kansas City let him go.  I am sure is a tough to handle off the field, but he is also impossible to handle on the field.  He is impossible to double, impossible to jam at the line because of his quickness, impossible to overthrow because of his rare speed and impossible to tackle. He plays bigger than his size when the ball is in the air and will out-jump most taller defensive backs for the ball.  His hands are strong, and if Tua had a stronger arm there is no telling how many more yards Hill would accumulate.  The Bengals had no answer and were lucky the Dolphins decided to become balanced in their run-pass ratio in the second half.  When Tua was healthy in the first half, the Dolphins threw 21 passes; Bridgewater attempted seven and they ran the ball only nine times.  In the second half, in a one-score game, Miami ran the ball 13 times and threw 16 passes.  This lack of aggressiveness due to the short week allowed the Bengals to win and cover. 

 

Even though Cincinnati won, I am still not impressed with their overall team and their in-game decision making.  On the first drive of the game, running back Joe Mixon appeared to have a first down at the Miami 5, but the spot was awful, forcing a third down.  As the clock was winding down, Bengals head coach Zak Taylor called timeout, making me believe he is going to challenge the spot -- which clearly was wrong.  Nope, Taylor only called a timeout to avoid the delay of the game penalty. 

 

Then at the early stages of the second quarter facing a fourth-and-1 at the Miami 24, Taylor calls a toss crack play (you can hate the call because it didn’t work, but the decision should be hated more), instead of kicking the field goal and regaining a seven- point lead.  Why not take the points?  From the early flow of the game, it appeared as both teams would move the ball and every point was going to matter.  Why dismiss the 3?  Had he taken the 3 there, then on the last drive, the Bengals would have been ahead 23-15 instead of 20-15, proving once again the value of collecting points early in the game. 

 

Taylor needs to remind himself that his kicker Evan McPherson, his protection of the ball on offense and his defense were the reasons they became the AFC Champions last season.  Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo’s ability to adjust in the second half and create negative plays was the strength of the team, not the offense -- each time Taylor ignores the real reason for his winning, he hurts the team.  In four games, the Bengals have only allowed 15 points total in the second half -- so why not build the lead when you can in the first half? 

 

Understanding why you win and why you lose is hard for some teams -- and as long as Anarumo is there to cover up for Taylor’s sins, the Bengals will teeter on being a competitive playoff team. Placing any money on Taylor’s decision to manage the game for me is a huge risk. 

 

QB RATINGS

After three completed weeks of watching the quarterback play in the NFL, we can ignore last year and start to build our best list as of the current moment.  Now, this does not mean we don’t include proven elite players like Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, it means we adjust some of the ratings for the players who were great last year and maybe not as great this year. 

 

TOP FIVE

  1. Lamar Jackson -- Playing better than his MVP season in every area
  2. Josh Allen – Buffalo-Baltimore will feature two new-age, single-wing passers.
  3. Patrick Mahomes -- He will need to carry the offense and create big plays with his feet -- which he can do. 
  4. Justin Herbert -- They need to get him healthy and protect him now that his offensive line is facing multiple injuries. 
  5. Jalen Hurts --  Averaging 9.4 per attempt, 4.5 per rush carrying the ball over ten times per game. 

Honorable mention:

Trevor Lawrence is playing at his best level of his career.  Lawrence is finally looking like the No. 1 pick, making great throws, good decisions and distributing the ball.  Like Hurts, Lawrence has made significant improvement. 

BOTTOM FIVE

In no order, these quarterbacks are not helping their team and must show significant improvement soon. 

Justin Fields -- Currently, he is a running back playing quarterback, not a quarterback who runs.  He has shown zero improvement and the Bears must be concerned. 

Mac Jones -- Needs to stop turning the ball over and help his team win. 

Kyler Murray --  Unless the play breaks down and Murray can run around and make loose plays, he has struggled.  Averaging 5.9 yards per attempt. 

Mitchell Trubisky --  Not sure how much longer Mike Tomlin can continue down this path. 

Matt Ryan --  Ryan can still read and react, but if he continues to take a pounding from being sacked and all the hits, he will continue to play well below is usual standard. 

POWER RATINGS

Buffalo

Philadelphia

Kansas City

Jacksonville

Tampa Bay

Miami

Baltimore

Dallas

Cleveland

Denver

Green Bay

Rams

Chargers

San Francisco

Minnesota

New England

Pittsburgh

Cincinnati

New Orleans

Las Vegas

Detroit

Atlanta

Carolina

Chicago

Tennessee

Houston

NY Giants

Seattle

Washington

Arizona

Indianapolis

NY Jets

 

I’m not sure if the Jets can improve on their numbers with Zach Wilson taking over at quarterback.  He is prone to making poor decisions and facing the Steelers will be a huge challenge for him this week.  The Colts have been bad in almost all areas, and even though they are favorites against the Titans, they will need to show vast improvement over the next month to fix their problems. 

LINE OF THE WEEK

Washington at Dallas (-3)

After watching the Commanders for three weeks, it’s remarkable they are only 3-point dogs to the Cowboys.  The Boys handled them twice last year and are playing better football, which makes this line seem too low.  In my power ratings, the Boys should be favorite by six.  Something is fishy here.

 

What makes the line smell even worse is the Cowboys’ strength lies in their ability to pressure the quarterback, leading the league in sacks per pass attempt.  The Commanders are 30th in sacks allowed per pass attempt.  In the first half of the last two games, they have not scored a point, have punted 12 times and turned the ball over two other times in their 14 total possessions. 

 

There is no chance, none, zero, that I will recommend Washington on Sunday morning. This is either Dallas for me, or a stay away. 

 

COORDINATOR BATTLE OF THE WEEK

One of the best games of the weeks features the last unbeaten team in the NFL -- the Philadelphia Eagles -- against their old Super Bowl-winning coach Doug Pedersen.  So, you would naturally think the Jags have an advantage because of Pedersen knowledge of his former team.  Nope.  The Jags have the advantage because Mike Caldwell, their defensive coordinator was in Tampa last season and beat the Birds twice, slowing down the Eagles offense. 

 

Caldwell will borrow the plan from developed from Todd Bowles last season. Bowles defended the Eagles’ run game outside in, meaning he took away the perimeter runs forced Philadelphia to run inside into the teeth of his defense.  Then he mixed his coverages, using some man, some zone and man/zone dogs, always having a spy on Hurts.  In the game, the Bucs used the speed of their linebackers and their tackling ability to force the Eagles to play from behind and use their drop-back passing game. 

The Jags have similar personnel to the Bucs on defense in terms of speed at defensive end and linebacker.  Devin Lloyd, Foyesade Oluokin are fast backers and can tackle well.  Defensive ends Josh Allen and Travon Walker are also explosive and will be able to chase and catch Hurts when he starts to run.  The Jags have the players to execute the plan, now, can they?  I’m not sure, but 6.5 seems like too many points in this game. 

 

Check back on Sunday for the VSiN newsletter and my picks. 

 

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