We have the entire offseason to spit educated conjecture about NFL teams. But the bottom line is we don’t really know which defenses are going to bleed yards against the pass and which offenses will try to play at a break-neck pace.
Now that we’re a full month into the season, we have actual real-game data to draw conclusions from. These are some trends that project to hold all year.
CAN’T FIND THOSE TIGHT ENDS
That header isn’t a reference to your Saturday night. I’m talking about the defenses of the Raiders and Giants, who are outrageously poor in coverage against tight ends due to a lack of talent at the linebacker and safety positions. The Raiders have been hit by Tyler Eifert, Crockett Gillmore, Gary Barnidge and Martellus Bennett for a 31-380-6 line in four games. The Giants are at 27-337-2 via Jason Witten, Jacob Tamme, Jordan Reed and Charles Clay.
THE ABYSS BEYOND VONTAE
Vontae Davis is among the best cover corners in the league. He’s right there with Richard Sherman, Josh Norman, Aqib Talib, Desmond Trufant etc. in the tier right below Darrelle Revis. The problem is he doesn’t go into the slot and the Colts are in brutal shape behind him at the position. It means opponents simply avoid David and attack at other spots with volume. No. 2/slot receivers that have already lit up the Colts include Percy Harvin, Eric Decker, Kendall Wright and Allen Hurns.
LIVE FAST AND DIE YOUNG
Pace is an underrated statistic when projecting a box score. But if we know that a certain team will get more plays off per game and also allow their opponent to run more plays than usual, then we can increase expectations. More plays means more stats. Football Outsiders tracks how many seconds each team takes to run a play in scoreboard-neutral situations. The fastest are the Eagles, Texans, Patriots, Panthers and Colts. The slowest are the Redskins, Rams, Cowboys, Lions, Steelers.
PICKUPS OF THE WEEK
1. Ronnie Hillman, RB, Broncos – Hillman has been outplaying C.J. Anderson for three months now. The torch is getting passed.
2. Antonio Gates, TE, Chargers – Slides immediately off suspension and into a feature role with Stevie Johnson and Malcom Floyd hurt.
3. Willie Snead, WR, Saints – Sneakily moving past Brandon Coleman and Marques Colston with impressive play.
Fire up these borderline wideouts in Week 5:
1. Leonard Hankerson vs. WAS – Roddy White is done and Hankerson gets a dream spot against a Redskins’ secondary that is both bad and injured.
2. Jamison Crowder at ATL – Crowder has taken over the slot job from Andre Roberts and will avoid Desmond Trufant in this game.
3. Kamar Aiken vs. CLE – With Steve Smith (back) doubtful and Breshad Perriman still not ready, Aiken has to be the No. 1.
A lot of people like to talk about Tyrod Taylor’s running ability. We’re forgetting about Cam Newton’s legs. Newton is currently on pace to rush 172 times for 780 yards with eight touchdowns, massive numbers for a quarterback. It’s needed with Kelvin Benjamin out for the year, Devin Funchess a disappointment and Jonathan Stewart sputtering. The Panthers aren’t calling designed runs because they want to, it’s because they have to. Coach Ron Rivera confirmed this Tuesday, saying he is OK with Cam’s career-high rush attempt pace.