Welcome to the Tuesday Fake Punt, your skip-through guide to the weekly NFL stories you might – or might not – be talking about.
Bomb Down The Sideline, 60-yard TD
We talk about understanding risk, but not all risks are created equal. Doug Pederson’s Eagles excelled last year by knowing when to take risk, rather than taking it blindly. This week provided a decent example of how that works in practice. The Titans, 23-20 down in overtime, had a 4th-and-2 at the Eagles’ 32 yard line. So, they would need a 50-yard field goal to tie. Meanwhile, in Indianapolis, the Colts, tied 34-34 with 27 seconds of overtime left had a 4th-and-4 at their own 43. Both teams went for it, the Titans got a first down and ultimately won, the Colts didn’t convert and the Texans sneaked a win.
So why is Vrabel’s decision for Tennessee good, and Reich’s for Indy bad? Well, if you’re Indy – 4th-and-4 does not have an amazing chance of success. Depending on who you listen to, success is between 20-40% for that down-and-distance. But the stake Reich put out was giving Houston a chance to win where otherwise they’d have zero chance. Reich’s got the right idea, sure, but he should probably go revisit his log tables this week. Whereas Tennessee had a field goal chance for a kicker who struggled at that distance, but a very manageable down-and-distance to get a first down. Tennessee weren’t gambling with much – a less-than-50% chance to not lose. Whereas Indy were gambling with about a 2% chance to not lose. And Tennessee’s odds were much higher. But you know, ties are un-American and communist, or some other unthinking garbage opinion.
It’s bizarre to think now that the Jets opened the season full of hope, trouncing the Lions with a dynamic, thrilling performance. Sunday’s 31-12 defeat to Jacksonville seemed a million miles from that. Sam Darnold has gone from a starring role, conducting and delivering a great offensive performance to, at best, flashing potential. Todd Bowles has gotten more and more timid, kicking field goals when down 2+ scores, which only makes the scoreline appear less severe. The defense is getting picked apart as it gets tired late in games. Receivers aren’t making plays. Running backs are getting stuffed at the line.
It’s considered in some quarters impolite to talk about coaches getting the sack, especially midseason. But Bowles feels increasingly like a dead man walking – we can be pretty sure the Jets aren’t making the playoffs, so why not look for spark? This is Bowles’ fourth year in New Jersey, and the team hasn’t improved at all – it’s getting worse. The gameplanning looks more and more outdated as coaches with an understanding of how to take risks come into the NFL. Bowles is a average defensive coach in a league which requires defensive excellence if you’re going to focus on it. Save for a remarkable turnaround, this time next year the Jets will have a new Head Coach
Punter Pass falls incomplete
Four weeks into the season, we can often start getting an idea of who might be quarterback-hunting this offseason. Two stand out: the Giants and the Broncos. Big Blue in particular should have a high enough draft slot to grab – or trade up for – any consensus QB1. Denver right now look like they’ll be picking around the teens, which would make it trickier. We’ll have to wait and see for any others – either those unsure about established starters (Tampa and Miami spring to mind), or with aging incumbents (Chargers, Patriots, Saints).
Punter Takes It To The House!
It’s been great to see Derwin James thriving in Los Angeles. James was one of these players who slid for no real reason, just ending up in range of a bunch of teams who didn’t want a safety. Until the Chargers arrived at 17. James not only can play strong safety and free safety, he does. He’s a versatile, do-it-all member of the secondary. Teams can take years trying to develop their own. The Chargers lucked into a top-5 talent midway through the first round who should do it for years. And yes, he deserves to be Defensive Rookie of the Year favourite.
James is a decent bet for Defensive Rookie of the Year already (Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports)
Turnover on downs at midfield
I don’t think anyone had this week’s Falcons-Steelers matchup as being one where both teams will look to avoid only having one win in their first five games. Time is running out for these teams, especially for Atlanta in the competitive NFC South. Atlanta have had their fair share of bad luck, losing the majority of their best defensive starters to injuries already, and losing a bunch of close games.
The Steelers’ self-immolation over Le’Veon Bell was perhaps not avoidable per say. But, when teams look to repeatedly franchise tag players to keep them on the roster, they should maybe pause to think about whether that motivates the player. Obviously Earl Thomas’ injury throws a new light on Bell not wanting to play for a team he, well, doesn’t want to play for. But in Bell’s case, it’ll be his seventh year in the league before he’s given chance to choose where he plays. As a running back – where so few even make it that far – that doesn’t seem much good for players.
Blocked Punt Returned For TD
Week 5 of the season is often the week players come back from suspensions. Couldn’t help noticing this year a lot of those are for players banned for taking performance-enhancing drugs. When I’m not talking football, I’m a big road cycling fan, and I’ve written before how odd I find the difference in how fans approach PEDs in both sports. A key player for my team – Mark Ingram – is coming back from such a ban. He’s been, as is often the case, welcomed back with relatively open arms. Just as Julian Edelman is being in New England, Jimmy Smith in Baltimore etc.
I can’t be doing with this. Taking performance-enhancing drugs is doing something against the rules to gain an advantage. It’s cheating. No matter what the circumstance, potential excuses or whatever, it’s cheating. Yes it’s maybe a bit more complicated in the NFL than something as purely fitness-based as road cycling. But it’s still cheating, and it still sticks in the craw. I’ll find it harder to enjoy Ingram’s contributions this year. I can always hope that fans of the sport come around to feeling the same, but I’m not holding my breath.
Taysom Hill throwing for a first down is perhaps not the flashiest fake punt. But it’s also not that surprising. And that’s why it’s fake punt of the week, to flag up how interestingly the Saints are using their #3 QB. Hill made the roster last year as a special teamer, and has come on enough as a quarterback enough he now gets used in the wildcat – running, throwing, handing-off – and it doesn’t seem like a desperation play, which the wildcat can. And, of course, he’s still a core special teamer. So you can do stuff like this.