JL's Observation Deck - Week 4
Sep 25, 2013
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After three weeks of the season is when I feel like I can finally start to really see what a given player's stamp may be for 2013. It is obviously impossible to see into the future, but now is the time when you can at least start to form an idea of what may come next. There are some pressing issues around the league that need to be addressed, and I am up to the task to take them on.
Where is the read option?
Before 2012, the term 'read option' was not even considered a football term. In fact, when I was a player in college we called it the 'zone read.' But now, read option doesn't even need to be in quotations it is such a commonly used term football analysts and even the casual fan recite regularly. During the off-season, it was quite possibly the league's very hottest topic. Was it here to stay? Could teams figure out how to stop it? Was it going to change the face of the NFL as we know it? All were legitimate questions that were consistently brought up on radio and TV shows across America. Now instead, people are asking where it has gone.
For starters, the myth you might hear - defenses have figured it out. That would be an overreaction to results, strictly. Schematically, defenses really aren't doing anything special to stop the read option. The only thing they are doing though, hitting the quarterback legally any chance they get, is making coaches think twice before calling the play. What do Jim Harbaugh, Mike Shanahan, Pete Carroll and Chip Kelly all have in common? They are all not willing to risk their quarterback's health in order to make the read option a staple of their offense. With the rule clearly stating that a quarterback who is still in 'read position' is fair game to hit legally, you can be sure that each coach does not want their star player taking unnecessary hits.
In a sense, these coaches have came to the realization it is more important to keep their quarterback healthy than it is to use them at full effectiveness. Robert Griffin III, although to me clearly not letting go of his knee injury mentally, just simply can't be counted on a weekly basis as a pocket passer at this point in his injury recovery. In 2012, the Redskins ran the ball over 50% of the time, and RGIII averaged less than 30 pass attempts a game. In 2013, while the Redskins defense isn't doing them any favors, the Skins haven't thrown it less than 40 times in any of their three contests thus far. If they are going to rebound at all in the NFC East, their defense will need protecting. That protection will come in the form of a running game, and without a shadow of a doubt, their running can't get to the level it needs to be without the use of the read option. Will Shanahan have the guts to let Griffin be himself? There is no way to know, but if he doesn't, you are looking at a four win team.
You can guarantee that Chip Kelly would absolutely run his quarterback more if Vick's injury history was not so extensive. I can assure you it is the coaches who have told Russell Wilson to hand the ball off whenever running the read option as Wilson isn't really making a 'read' of any sorts on the backside defensive end. I can also assure you the team that will need to put the read option back into their gameplan the most is the San Francisco 49ers. Nobody is higher on Colin Kaepernick's talent than I am, and it's evident that with less than a full season's worth of starts under his belt, he still has some flaws in his game.
Those flaws have been amplified to the full effect the last two weeks though as teams are not afraid to man up with the 49ers receivers across the board. Without Vernon Davis in the lineup, the Niners have nobody who can threaten the defense by creating separation in their pro-style offense. If Harbaugh doesn't adjust, which I don't believe he will, you will see a team who will have to fight and claw their way into the playoffs. The most interesting and ironic thing about all of this is, when the Niners do enter the playoffs as a wildcard team, you can bet they will make sure defenses can stop the read option.
Moving on to a quarterback who has run better in his frist three NFL games than he did at any point in his college career - Geno Smith. I wrote an article on this wonderful site back in April on the top ten quarterback prospects entering this past year's draft, I ranked Smith second on my board and proclaimed he was the most NFL ready by a good margin. We are starting to see why.
In Week 2, on Thursday night football I was slightly disappointed because a lot of people got the impression Geno Smith has trouble throwing the deep ball, when in fact, it was the strongest part of his game at West Virginia. Sure the offense was a lot of dink and dunk, but he was dynamic throwing the ball deep down field and he showed off that accuracy on two huge bombs to Stephen Hill and Santonio Holmes for touchdowns vs Buffalo this past Sunday. Geno threw with anticipation, made stick throws into tight coverage and used his legs when it was essential that he did so.
The Bills defense is a bottom ten unit in the league, and very poor vs the running game in general, so temper your expectations moving forward. With that said, Geno has made two receivers fantasy relevant and the running back in this offense, Bilal Powell, is a full-blown RB2 for the time being while Chris Ivory is sidelined with a hamstring injury. Dare I say it, the New York Jets offense finally has some life.
The NFC East is one division that has really taken shape early in the 2013 season. I was extremely pleased and impressed with the play of the Cowboys offensive line Sunday vs a solid Rams front seven. They mauled the Rams up front, finished blocks and gave DeMarco Murray the corner several times in the first three quarters of Sunday's game. And while this unit up front is one who has been much maligned for not being capable of establishing a running game, there are definitely reasons for optimism that the Dallas offense can become a bit more balanced. I do fear this game will give them a false impression of what this offense is best at. The Cowboys may get stuck too long trying, but failing to establish the run and it could lead to them falling behind early in games as was the case often in 2012 when ultra-conservative Jason Garrett was calling the plays.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the Giants offensive line play was atrocious vs Carolina. Four man rushes by the Panthers defense got pressure and sacked Eli Manning early and often in the football game. The Giants offensive line could not sustain blocks, and even lost on double-teams a couple times when Manning hung in the pocket thinking he'd have more than two or three seconds to get rid of the football. Making matters even worse, the running backs for the Giants in blitz pickup were directly associated with three sacks as both Brandon Jacobs and Da'Rel Scott struggled when called upon to help out left tackle Will Beatty. This is an issue that will need to be resolved quickly as the Giants travel to Arrowhead Stadium to take on quite possiblly the best pass rush in the league today in the Kansas City Chiefs.
Lastly, in the coming weeks you can bet I will be coming out with a fantasy football buy-low and sell-high trade article. For now though, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to tell you to buy-low on Bills running back C.J. Spiller. No touchdowns on the season, a 3.6 yards per carry average and a thigh injury on top of it all. The Spiller owner is absolutely frustrated and looking to upgrade at running back. Do your best to give him the 'upgrade' he is looking for by giving him a back who has scored some points and grab one of his starting wide receivers a long with Spiller. Of course, don't consider giving up one of the very few elite running backs in fantasy football this year. But using a RB2 who is producing for the time being, such as DeMarco Murray, and in return upgrading at wide receiver is the kind of foresight that wins you games later in the fantasy football season.
Thanks again for reading and follow me on twitter @JohnnyLFootball. Don't be afraid to ask for a second opinion regarding start/sit options and prospective trades. Have a great week.