I’ll be sharing my lukewarm takeaways for this weekend’s games in the Sunday FreakOut: Wild-Card Edition. What follows is the Football Things weekly preview column, which will come to you in the wee hours of Sunday morning as God intended…
1. It’s unclear how the least intriguing game of the weekend would end up in the Sunday night spot*, but I guess you’ll tune in anyway since the only viable counter-programming is reruns of BONE. (I think this is the episode where they find a bone.)
That’s been the case all season: For the Steelers to stay against quality opponents, they need to get a few takeaways and/or something like a blocked punt touchdown. The Chiefs lost a whole bunch of weird turnovers early in the season – which caused a collective panic – so that’s within the realm of possibility. But it’s hard to imagine how close the Steelers will stay on Sunday night unless Chad Henne has to get involved. And even then…
Here’s what we know about the Steelers: They rush the passer well. (“They” being TJ Watt, plus Cam Heyward in the passing lanes.) And that’s about it. Their run defense, still among the best in the NFL, allowed the most rushing yards per attempt in league and franchise history (4.99). Their offense is largely built around Najee Harris creating something out of nothing; they have the league’s biggest abomination of a passing offense north of Miami.
Considering the majority of viewers around the world have had their fill of Ben Roethlisberger’s farewell tour, this threatens to be a very unassailable lineup in the crown jewel.
*—I know, I know, Mahomes and the Steelers.
2. Having Nick Bosa leading a very good front four, as well as Fred Warner on the second tier, made his life easier, but 49ers freshman defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans deserves credit for making it work with a disastrous group of cornerbacks . Josh Norman ended up leading all of their CBs in the blink of an eye, and lately they’ve leaned heavily on third-round rookie Ambry Thomas. You can’t trust these cornerbacks. And when you can’t trust your cornerbacks, it limits what you can do as a defensive coordinator.
So Sunday won’t just be the fact that the 49ers’ greatest weakness will be paired with one of the Cowboys’ greatest strengths, or the fact that the 49ers can’t just rely on Nick Bosa and Co. to destroy this game. against a very good Dallas offensive line. Ryans will have to come up with something creative to slow down the Cowboys. In Dallas’ last loss, Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph did just that with a massive amount of fake pressure looks, constantly throwing Dak Prescott off the beat. But I’m not sure anyone will get Dallas with that kind of game plan again this season, and I’m not sure it plays to the strengths of the 49ers anyway.
3. The absence of Lavonte David will weigh particularly heavy against an Eagles team that wants to execute him several times and would rather execute him. The Bucs were the best defense in the league last season, but they’ve slipped back this year. And in the five games David has missed due to injury, they have allowed 4.96 yards per rush attempt.
Add to that the Bucs’ gun cast for Tom Brady, and things might be more interesting than you think in Tampa.
4a. There are a few teams that, in a typical year, would dive headfirst into the quarterback market this offseason. But this year is different; they walked a few aisles and realized that all they had on the shelves were these premixed containers of ketchup and mayonnaise.
Deshaun Watson will be moved, but isn’t for everyone (for obvious reasons) and also has a no-trade clause. Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson are possibilities but their availability is not guaranteed. If you don’t land one of those three and you’d like to win now… Kirk Cousins? Jimmy Garoppolo?
The Colts were the first to hint that they were open to new possibilities. Indy is a great destination for a quarterback; they’re one offensive tackle away from having a great offensive line, the defense is championship-ready, and Frank Reich is a great head coach. There may be a scenario where Russell Wilson forces his way there. But otherwise, without a first-round pick (in a disappointing QB draft class), they’re unlikely to find a better option than, well, bringing back Carson Wentz. And then they’ll just have to hope that a traditional offseason (remember, he missed most of last summer with a broken foot) will allow the coaching staff to wrest more from those disastrous hero games. to his system.
4b. The Colts, of course, should just kept and continued to develop Jacoby Brissett rather than cut the bait because he couldn’t make it work with a group of practice squad receivers during the one stretch where Matt Eberflus’ defense imploded .
5. It’s time for Football Things Honors. In a way, these are the only prizes that matter, as winners receive an Arby’s Five Roast Beef Sandwiches coupon for $5.95. Not for every winner – winners have to split all five sandwiches, so I need everyone who has won a prize below to email me with the dates you can go to a Arby to claim your prize, and which Arby location you prefer. Here’s how one person’s vote went:
MVP: Tom Brady (finalists in order of arrival: Aaron Rodgers, Joe Burrow, Josh Allen, Justin Herbert)
Defensive Player of the Year: TJ Watt (Aaron Donald, Myles Garrett, Darius Leonard, Micah Parson)
Offensive Player of the Year (aka Best Non-QB): Trent Williams (Cooper Kupp, Jonathan Taylor, Mark Andrews, Davante Adams)
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Ja’Marr Chase (Jaylen Waddle, MacJones, Kyle Pitts, Rashawn Slater)
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Micah Parsons (Patrick Surtain II, Christian Barmore, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Odafe Oweh)
Returning Player of the Year: Joe Burrow (Dak Prescott, Nick Bosa, Jimmy Garoppolo, Carson Wentz)
Coach of the Year: John Harbaugh (Mike Vrabel, Frank Reich, Bill Belichick, Matt LaFleur)
6. Ladies and gentlemen . . . Smash pumpkins!
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