Butt-Punting Is A Bad Idea, And Other NFL Lessons Learned From Week 3
maya (Maya Sweedler, copy editor): Football fans in Florida are probably feeling good about now (well, unless you’re in Tampa). Week 3 had some eyebrow-raising upsets, and by the time the dust settled Sunday, I was marveling at the AFC-leading undefeated Miami Dolphins and AFC South-leading Jacksonville Jaguars. We’ll be sure to touch on the Kansas City Chiefs’ loss to … Indianapolis (?), Tom Brady v. Aaron Rodgers and a fun new trend of baffling late-game decisions, but let’s start with Trevor Lawrence and his magnificent flow. Is anyone here believing in Lawrence and these Jags?
neil (Neil Paine, acting sports editor): Sort of? Lawrence has certainly improved in a way that is consistent with any optimistic outlook for the Jags moving forward from last year’s disaster. He’s currently seventh in Total QBR, a huge improvement from his 28th-place ranking last year.
joshua.hermsmeyer (Josh Hermsmeyer, NFL analyst): I am a Jags believer. Mostly because they seem to be leaning into the passing game. Against the Chargers, they passed 4 percent more often than what we’d expect from a team in those situations, and Lawrence paid off those decisions. There wasn’t a situation on offense that didn’t benefit from his throwing on Sunday.
Ty Schalter (Ty Schalter, FiveThirtyEight contributor): There’s no question Lawrence is making some big-time plays. But don’t sleep on the potential return of Sacksonville; the Jaguars are fifth in defensive efficiency, third in defensive expected points added, and second in pass-rush win rate.
maya: Yeah, I agree with Ty — and it’s all facets of the defensive game. Their secondary is fourth in total defensive pass EPA!
Ty Schalter: Great point, Maya — and they’re No. 1 across the board in rushing attempts, yards and touchdowns against, and No. 2 in opponent rushing success rate.
neil: But IDK if I fully buy their defense’s improvement from 30th to third in EPA per game. To me, abrupt defensive improvements are far more ephemeral than big improvements from touted young QBs.
And how much of that defensive success is tied up in the QBs they faced, anyway? They’ve gone against Carson Wentz 😬, a past-his-prime Matt Ryan and an ailing Justin Herbert.
Ty Schalter: Very fair, Neil — but next week’s matchup against Jalen Hurts might be the last time they face a hot QB until … November? If they run up six or seven wins by the time they get to the Raiders/Chiefs combo in Weeks 9 and 10, they might have the AFC South all but won.
maya: What I find so fascinating about this team is that, with the exception of the Urban Meyer Experiment, there hasn’t really been a wholesale reinvention of the wheel dating back to that 2017 AFC Championship run. This was always a trenches-focused team that tried to win at the line and rely on speedy guys in the secondary to do the rest.
(Doug Marrone is furious right now, I’m sure.)
joshua.hermsmeyer: Elo seemed to think it was a legit win over the Chargers! It nearly doubled Jacksonville’s playoff chances in one game.
maya: Meanwhile, is anyone freaking out about the Chargers? Why, when your quarterback has messed-up ribs, do you call dropbacks on 81 percent of plays? It was the highest such figure of the week, through Sunday.
For a team that looked as strong as it did in the first two weeks, and then put up just 10 points yesterday, what does an injured Herbert mean for the Chargers’ season?
joshua.hermsmeyer: The Chargers are down more than just Herbert. I think I saw that they had five key starters out or injured. Like, their five best players are all ailing.
neil: Yeah, with all those injuries, that puts even more pressure on Herbert to carry them. When healthy, he can do that, but I felt like maybe Chase Daniel should have been called upon yesterday. Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor.
Ty Schalter: My biggest concern about the Chargers coming into the year was the coaching staff — would they be able to maximize all that talent? Now, they’re down a lot of talent and may have just been outcoached by Dougie P. Fresh.
neil: I will also say the Chargers were probably the most QB-carried team in the league last year. According to SOS-adjusted EPA, they were below average in literally every facet of the game except passing offense last season. So it’s not shocking to see them lose 38-10 at home vs Jacksonville when Herbert isn’t right.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Amazing how far passing will take you.
maya: We came into the season riding high on the AFC West overall. Now, we’ve got a Chargers team beset by injuries; a Chiefs team that seemed to have solved its offensive line issues for all of six quarters; a Raiders team that’s the only 0-3 squad in the league; and a Broncos team that, well, can’t quite Hackett in the big leagues.
neil: Lol, Maya. You’ve been saving that one.
maya: Yeah I’m gonna regret pulling that out in Week 3.
But seriously! This division was looking like it could send three teams to the playoffs. And now … is anyone going to put money on multiple teams coming out of the West?
neil: Well as mediocre as the Broncos have been, they’re somehow still 2-1! That’s after we all realized on Sunday Night that Jimmy G. isn’t automatically going to be the Niners’ savior. (Contrary to the narrative around them all week…)
Ty Schalter: Today’s QBs might not need to start preseason games to play well in the regular season, but it turns out practicing with the team at all is pretty useful.
joshua.hermsmeyer: If you’re 2-1 right now and have been basically terrible, you can tell all kinds of hand-wavy stories about how you’ve persevered through adversity (leers at Chicago), but the Broncos just aren’t a good offensive team. And for $250 million, they expected a good offense.
neil: Yeah, I don’t really buy them going forward either. It feels like they are a lot worse than 2-1. Russell Wilson is 21st in QBR. 😬
Ty Schalter: How much of it is on Russ? Wilson just hasn’t looked as dynamic, either with his legs or his arms, and he’s missing some throws that are there to make. I didn’t believe they had enough of the right kind of talent to Let Russ Cook, but it’s not all Nathaniel Hackett’s fault.
Wilson is 29th in completion percentage above expected, at -5.8 percent.
maya: His average yards per attempt has also fallen through each week of the season thus far. I’m not sure what that actually means, but Ty, I was struck by the same thing watching him against an admittedly strong front seven last night.
neil: But really, maybe the most surprising thing Sunday night was that an 11-10 final was not a Scorigami.
(Apparently the Steelers and Chargers also did it in 2008.)
maya: OK, let’s talk about one of the weirder losses from yesterday: The Chiefs struggled in the red zone and had some tough special teams luck against the previously winless Colts, who knocked them off by 3 points.
Did you guys see anything in that game to give you pause about Kansas City? Or is this just another early season blip for the Chiefs, who seem to generally get off to slow starts?
neil: I definitely did not have “Chiefs find a way to lose to the Colts” on my Week 3 Bingo card.
Ty Schalter: Yeah, Maya — the special teams were awful, including a late missed field goal that would have put K.C. up 7. Special-teams coordinator and assistant head coach Dave Toub was thought of as The Next John Harbaugh for years, but his unit put up a horrific -15.64 in special-teams EPA on Sunday, almost twice as bad as the next-lowest team through Sunday (the Saints, -8.2).
joshua.hermsmeyer: Mahomes outplayed Matt Ryan, which was the expected result. I mean, it wasn’t even close.
maya: The Colts also averaged 3.75 yards per play, third-lowest on the week.
neil: By all rights, K.C. should have dominated that game. ESPN Stats & Information Group has a measure called “LOS EPA”, which tracks expected points added on just scrimmage plays. The Chiefs were +12.3 on that yet somehow lost by 3.
Since 2006, that was the 3rd-biggest edge in LOS EPA by a team that lost a game.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Yeah, Neil, I am still selling on the Colts. The final scoreboard was the only thing that surprised me about this game, which sometimes happens in the NFL.
neil: For sure. Ryan seems cooked, sadly.
maya: Speaking of games that surprised on the scoreboard — the Miami-Buffalo game was an interesting result. At what point should we stop being surprised by these Dolphins?
neil: Despite a possible concussion (or back injury?), the Tua Train keeps rolling @Ty Schalter!
Ty Schalter: Right, some of us were not surprised!
joshua.hermsmeyer: Yes, Ty has been the conductor of that train. The thing about the Fins is they’ve beaten good teams, have a new coach hype narrative and feature a shiny, expensive new WR to help out a young, former high draft pick. There are just too many reasons why the Dolphins could be good to discount their start as a fluke.
maya: What was the LOS EPA on that game, Neil? The Bills absolutely dominated in time of possession, holding the ball more than 21 minutes longer than the Dolphins and gaining 285 more yards.
neil: Bills were +0.55. So it was actually about as close as possible — but I think that sort of also felt right? That was a game of pure attrition. The players could barely drag themselves off the field afterward in that heat and humidity.
Ty Schalter: It says something that it took this long for us to notice that the 2015 renovation of Hard Rock Stadium left the visitor’s sideline as the only place on the field that doesn’t get shade.
neil: Miami also inexplicably tried really hard to lose at the end, failing to move the ball away from their own goal line, throwing when they needed to kill some clock and then butt-punting. Which really made Mark Sanchez jealous:
maya: Along those lines, my favorite genre of tweets yesterday was former QBs seeing their most embarrassing moments replicated. See also, this from Dan Orlovsky when Jimmy Garoppolo stepped out of bounds and gave the Broncos a safety:
But OK, let’s turn to the final game of the week played in Florida, which saw the Bucs narrowly miss a 2-point conversion (on which they took a delay of game penalty) and fall to the Packers.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Is Brady finally washed?
maya: Honestly, Brady’s looked a bit jumpy to me all season. To be fair, his receiving corps isn’t fully healthy, but his time-to-throw is pretty low. He’s been pressured on 19.3 percent of dropbacks thus far — which falls beneath his career average of 21.0 percent — but averaging 2.4 seconds before the pass, according to ESPN Stats & Info. This metric only goes back to 2006, but it’s tied for the fifth-quickest release of his career.
Ty Schalter: For all the hype around this as the possible final meeting between Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, what we got was a showcase of why they aren’t likely to meet again — Rodgers didn’t play great in a big spot, but Brady hasn’t shown a single sign of life yet this season.
neil: Right, Maya, I feel like he is putting a major premium on getting the ball out literally as soon as possible.
maya: I don’t think he trusts his o-line. And his interior linemen certainly aren’t giving him much reason to…
joshua.hermsmeyer: The receiving corps in Tampa is not healthy, and Mike Evans was suspended, but Brady has made do with less before. I think at the very least he is far more dependent on his surrounding cast than at any point in his career.
neil: And yet, I do need to point out that Brady still is 16th in QBR in Week 3 (heading into Monday Night Football). And he very narrowly missed leading them on another one of those patented comebacks. If this is what washed looks like, maybe we should all be so lucky.
If not for that strange delay-of-game penalty on the 2-point conversion (which he was lucky not to also get called on the preceding TD), Fournette walks into the end zone and they force overtime.
Ty Schalter: I’m not writing about Brady’s time finally having come, because I predicted it right here in 2017 and he’s made me look dumb every year since.
That said, as we identified in that piece: Once old quarterbacks start to decline, they tend to decline quickly.
The other graybeard QBs had a rapid decline
Stats in last great seasons for Warren Moon, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning, between the ages of 39 and 41
|Year||Age||ANY/A||passer Rating||Record||ANY/A||passer rating|
neil: Manning is such an interesting comp! This season from Brady is giving me big “Peyton in 2015” vibes.
maya: And who can forget how that one ended…
[[insert pic of Peyton with Lombardi]]
Ty Schalter: [[insert pic of Brock Osweiler taking the field in a Bucs uniform]]
neil: There would be something so ridiculously poetic about Brady following the same path — a great defense carrying him in his subpar final season.
(But we are getting WAY ahead of ourselves here.)
maya: There have been a couple baffling late-game decisions and occurrences already this season — penalties, bad timeouts, too-bold and not-bold-enough calls. While I will never forget Brian Daboll going for 2 in his first game as a head coach, do you guys have a favorite weird late game call?
neil: A high standard was set early, as Hackett came out HOT in Week 1 with that bizarre failed FG drive versus Seattle.
Ty Schalter: Well, I don’t know about favorite, but Dan Campbell trotting out a replacement-level kicker with a career long of 53 to attempt a 54-yard field goal — rather than going for it on 4th-and-4 or trusting excellent punter Jack Fox to pin the Vikings deep — certainly stands out in my mind.
neil: So many coaches have been weirdly obsessed with setting up unnecessary field goals.
joshua.hermsmeyer: I like that Campbell came out and said he regretted it — and seemed to mean it. Perhaps there’s hope he won’t make the same mistake twice.
But you shouldn’t be trying to go up 6 like that anyway.
Ty Schalter: Ben Baldwin’s bot says it all:
But even if the field-goal numbers look slightly better than punting, these models are based on real-world leaguewide norms, and most coaches don’t trot out shaky kickers without big legs to attempt game-defining 50-plus yarders when there are better options.
neil: Another (sort of opposite) favorite in this bad-coaching genre is when they don’t try to get into FG range and score those quick points right before halftime. Patrick Mahomes got into it with K.C. offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy for basically giving up at the end of the first half against the Colts.
maya: Perhaps field goals only look better as long as punters send footballs into their blockers’ backsides?
joshua.hermsmeyer: For all the FiveThirtyEight staffers and readers who have had babies recently, here’s something you can tuck away from this weekend to help with future parenting:
Check out our latest NFL predictions.