Ross Jacobs is a budding football analyst/scout and a long-time friend of FFM. He’s been working on a project all season watching/studying all the games/studying the line play as a key indicator for handicapping and fantasy play.
Weekly, he’s been sharing his notes on each game with me…what he saw with the games that just happened and what he sees coming up with the games about to play.
I’ve enjoyed reading his study notes on the games all season and asked him if I could share them with the FFM audience, and he was happy to. So, please enjoy Ross’s takes on the games more from a line of scrimmage/O-Line standpoint but with an overall view of seeing all these teams and taking notes for data analysis all season.
These are his notes from the Week 5 games…
*Forgive typos, just notes transcribed.
Steelers vs Falcons
Don't think that this was a return to Steelers dominance. They played ok, but they benefited from a blocked punt that gave them a short field and a Matt Ryan fumble for a TD with less than 4 minutes to go. Without those two scores you have a 27 to 17 win, and the Falcons were only down 13-10 at the half. These two teams are much closer than the final score indicates, and that is bad news for the Steelers because the Falcons defense has been wrecked by injuries. Obviously the Falcons defensive line couldn't touch Ben all day. Bet Takk McKinley isn't running his mouth now. TJ Watt though can talk all he wants because he made Ryan Schaeder's life miserable this day. I've said it all year, Schraeder is the weak link in this Falcons line. Credit Watt though, he put a few really good moves on Schraeder. He's defintely been getting tips from his brother and has quickly developed into the Steelers best pass rusher.
Eagles vs Vikings
Games like this are why you absolutely cannot box score scout. I have a lot of notes so let's get to it. First, the Eagles should have won this game. No doubt in my mind they were the better team but just had tons of things go against them. Smallwood dropped an easy 1st down near the goalline. Ajayi, who publicly criticized Pederson's playcalling after the game, fumbled at the 5 yard line. Diggs picked up a 1st down for the Vikings after slipping through multiple Eagles tackles that they normally make. Vikings defensive end Stephen Weatherly blew past Lane Johnson on an inside move which caused a Wentz fumble that popped straight to Linval Joseph who somehow rumbled 64 yards for a TD. Michael Bennett was flagged for a low hit sack on Kirk Cousins. Alshon Jeffrey dropped a crucial 1st down late in the game. Kirk Cousins got blasted off of a play action pass late in the game, but somehow managed to blindly sling a pass forward that went straight to Thielen who picked up a 1st down. All in all I thought the Eagles not only should have won but won solidly. This is the best they've looked all year to me, and I am much higher on their prospects from here on out. They will run away with this division. I've talked about how good the Eagles pass rush is, and they were certainly giving right tackle Rashod Hill fits which is to be expected. Hill has struggled all year, and this is the best pass rushing team in the league. But then Riley Reiff went down with another injury at the end of the 1st quarter and Hill was moved to left tackle with rookie Brian O'Neil sliding in at right. After that it was a track meet for the Eagles D-line to see who could get to Cousins fastest. Captain Kirk was under tremendous pressure all day, and credit to him he hung in there and slung some miracle passes that landed in the arms of Diggs and Thielen. I don't know if he could manage that all again, but he did this day and the Vikings pulled out a win because of it. Unfortunately for the Vikings this is a very bad development, and they have greatly diminished chances on winning the division if Reiff is out very long. Also something to monitor with the Eagles, Jason Peters left the game halfway through the 3rd quarter. His replacement Vaitai is no slouch, but he's no Peters either. The Eagles one weakness in 2017 was how much pressure they gave up, and Vaitai was part of the reason why. One thing that might get overlooked by national analysts here was cornerback Jalen Mills mouthing off at Thielen after he broke up a pass near the goalline. Fletcher Cox appeared to scold Mills, and Mills began jawing at him too. The rest of the defense didn't seem to want anything to do with Mills after that, and the announcers felt the need to mention that Pederson has voiced support of him. I'm guessing there's some other story going on here with Mills, but this is the first I've seen or heard of a possible issue. Zach Ertz had a big day in fantasy, but much of his work in this game was in the final two minutes with Minnesota in a prevent defense and nearly every pass going to Ertz including the TD. Ajayi getting hurt is going to be a hidden blessing to the Eagles, at least for most people.
Bengals vs Dolphins
Well the Dolphins completely outplayed the Bengals here, but somehow lost this game by 10. Cincy benefited from, not one, but two defensive TD's. Both plays looked identical. The Bengals defensive end beat the tackle and hit Tannehill's arm as he was throwing. The ball then goes straight to a Bengal lineman who waltzes in for a score untouched. The Bengals were down 17-0 at the half, and were well on their way to getting stomped before the football gods decided to ruin Miami's day. Credit the Bengals, they pressured the Dolphins heavily all day, and these are the kinds of things that can happen when you get after the QB. That is precisely why I pay such close attention to pass rush matchups. Pressure wins games plain and simple. And speaking of pressure, the Bengals have such a deep talented group. They can continue to rotate in fresh bodies all game and not just scrubs either. Their backups are almost indistinguishable from the starters. One guy stands out above the rest though, and that is Geno Atkins. He was a one man wrecking crew on the interior of this Dolphins line. The man has been playing top tier football all year. One of the most impressive players week after week. After watching this game I'm still not sure what to take away from it. Clearly the Dolphins outplayed the Bengals, and yet it was precisely the Bengals strengths that put them in position to benefit from some good fortune. Their pass blocking has been very good all year, and they constantly pressure opposing QB's into mistakes. It's a recipe for success and the reason why I'm not so quick to write off this win as pure luck. As for the Dolphins, I thought they looked like a terrible 3-0 team two weeks ago, and then they got smacked by an even worse looking Patriots team and I knew their season was about to crumble. This week they look pretty good barring two crazy interceptions. So how good are the Dolphins really? I'm not sure. Somewhere around .500 I'd guess. They are definitely the second best team in the AFC East and very well might find themselves in the playoffs with 9-10 wins. Definitely a team to watch as they might be flying under the radar right now.
Lions vs Packers
This was another crazy game in a week of crazy games. The narrative is that the Packers should have won if it weren't for Mason Crosby and his four missed field goals and one missed extra point. There's definitely some truth to that, but it should be noted one of the field goals was from 56 yards which Crosby, and Crosby has never been very good from that range. Ignoring that one, we wouldn't have been surprised if Crosby had missed one field goal and an extra point try and the game finished 31-29 Lions. Now the Lions also were lucky to grab a loose ball when a punt hit a Packer in addition to a couple of fumbles by Rodgers. The fumbles are completely on Rodgers however because his line was giving him absolutely all day to throw and he simply held it far too long a few times. Now all of that said, if the Lions don't get lucky and race out to a 24-0 lead, I don't think the Packers go into Rodgers-throwing-every-single-play mode and make the game close either. It's honestly pretty sad that the Packers have to be losing by 20 points for the coaching staff to let Aaron Rodgers do what he does. They should absolutely be running their offense like this all the time. They did the exact same thing against the Bears in week one and most of the 2016 season when all of their RB's got hurt. Let Rodgers throw the ball 50 times and good things happen! It's not complicated. Why in the world would you prefer your average, no-name RB get 20 carries at the expense of your MVP QB? It just makes no sense. Just watch next week though when the Packers don't turn the ball over a ton early and give the other team a huge lead. They'll muddle along giving Aaron Jones carries while the game is still within a score or two. All of this is another way of saying I think the game script had a lot to do with the outcome of the score here. This was by no means a typical game, and I think it negatively affected the perception of the Lions and bolstered the Packers. I'm still going to stick to the theory that the Packers are an average team and the Lions are slightly better until I see more evidence.
Browns vs Ravens
I didn't take a single note about this game because there were only a few things that stood out and we already know them. These are two pretty good teams and both have a salty defense. The Ravens have one of the best offensive lines in all of football while the Browns have a pretty poor one. But the most important thing by far to take away from this game is this: Baker Mayfield is far superior to Joe Flacco right this second. He is far superior to most of the QB's in the league right this second. Now I've seen some quarterbacks come in their rookie years and look really good really fast, but this is absolutely ridiculous. Mayfield looks like you took Drew Brees and smashed him together with Aaron Rodgers, and I'm not exaggerating or saying that for effect. He looks like Drew Brees bouncing on his toes but with the ability to move like Rodgers. His accuracy is as good as either, and he's got an arm like Rodgers where he can just whip it at the perfect velocity no matter the type of throw required. He's processing the game just fine, moving through his reads like a veteran, just in complete control, even calling audibles already. And he's going to get better. I've been a big fan of Baker's going back to January when many were predicting he'd be a 2nd or 3rd round pick and I started proclaiming he was the best player in the draft and that I thought John Dorsey would agree and select him #1. He's even better than I imagined. RC is 100% not kidding about Mayfield. If you are in a dynasty league go get Baker Mayfield right this second. It doesn't matter what you have to give up, he's still underpriced. The investment probably sounds expensive right now, but Baker Mayfield is the football equivalent of the type of premium stock that made Warren Buffett massively wealthy. Was Coca-Cola an expensive stock back in the late 80's when Buffett bought? Yes. Was it still a tremendous investment because of the huge growth that would follow year after year after year? Absolutely. Mayfield is our Coca-Cola. He is going to pay dividends for the next 15 years and you want in now because very, very soon he is going to be untouchable. The final thing to note from this game, and the only thing that can slow down the Mayfield train: Hugh Jackson is the worst. I know RC and I complain about him a lot, but my God how utterly incompetent can one man be? Literally everything he does is the wrong decision. He starts the wrong players, his gameplans suck, he hires the wrong coaches. He has a young Aaron Rodgers and had to check the tape even after his beloved Tyrod Taylor got hurt. Hue is the inverse King Midas. Everything he touches turns to dog crap. I am literally praying to the football gods to let the Browns keep losing so they fire Hue quicker. And just in case this analysis is seen by John Dorsey: John, please, when you hire your next batch of coaches, do not hire an offensive coordinator. You don't need one. Just let Baker do it himself. Trust me. It's the smartest decision you could make outside of drafting him #1. The third thing you can do would be to give him some actually good weapons to throw to. He doesn't need them exactly, but if you're interested in turning great into utterly unstoppable then that's a good starting point. There's even a blueprint for how you do it. Just go watch a Chief's game or two. You're welcome.
Cowboys vs Texans
Two bad teams played, and one of them won in overtime. Of course the story from this game is Jason Garrett playing it safe and punting on 4th and one with a chance to win the game while Bill O'Brien went for it and won his team the game. Funny how now all the same people that cried about Frank Reich going for it are applauding O'Brien. These type of fans justify any action based on the result, and that is simply not a sustainable way to success. You have to consistently follow a process even when it fails temporarily if you want good results over time. Reich made the right decision and failed. O'Brien made the right decision and succeeded. Jason Garrett made the wrong decision even if the Cowboys had won the game. I think we just witnessed the nail in the coffin for Garrett as head coach of the Cowboys. This team is going nowhere fast, and while that doesn't all fall on Garrett, he'll be the one that pays for it. Now this is not a bad team per se. They have a lot of talent and could easily be back in the playoffs as early as next year, but right now they are playing terrible on offense. As best I can tell there are two problems. First, this wide receiver corp is awful which surprises absolutely no one. They need to dump Williams and Beasley next year and go stock up on some good young talent. Why they didn't draft Courtand Sutton is beyond me, and I think that will come back to haunt them nearly as bad as passing on Jalen Ramsey. The second problem is the offensive line. A dominant unit as recently as two years ago, there are multiple issues at play now. Tyron Smith isn't playing bad exactly, but he no longer looks like the best left tackle in the game. I'm not sure if his injuries from last year robbed him of some athleticism or what but he just looks above average now and is blowing blocks to some lesser pass rushers. Obviously Travis Frederick is one of the best centers in the game and he is currently out battling his own health issues. Right tackle La'el Collins is still struggling and would seem to fit better as a guard. And the biggest problem is left guard Connor Williams still looks out of his depth. If I was running this team I would be drafting two tackles highly next year, put the better of the two at right tackle, and move Collins to left guard in place of Williams. I've already outlined all the Texans issues before so I won't rehash it here. They may have won here, but they only managed 16 points in regulation time against a Cowboys defense without Sean Lee. Color me not impressed. Both teams will be picking top 10 come draft season.
Jaguars vs Chiefs
What was it I said about Blake Bortles being a magician turning the ball over? These teams are more evenly matched than it showed here, but you're going to get stinkers like this from Bortles every few games. Why in the world the Jaguars have stuck with him so long is beyond me. The guy just sucks and everyone knows it now. One other thing stuck out to me on the replay here. The Chiefs pass rush was all over Bortles which did cause several of the bad decisions he made. I'm not excusing Bortles by the way. Even the best QB's make bad decisions and throws when under pressure. My point though is that the Chiefs finally mustered a good pass rush, although I have some doubts that it was a Chiefs breakthrough. It really just looked like the Jaguars tackles weren't ready for the speed of the Chiefs rushers. With Cam Robinson out the Jaguars had Josh Wells and Jeremy Parnell at those two spots, and they faired really well against a good Jets front last week. Unfortunately this week they looked like turnstiles, and Wells left the game at some point. In addition, guard Andrew Norwell was injured, but it's being reported that he'll be fine for the Cowboys this Sunday. Still unsure about Wells. If this was the Chiefs rushers finally getting into sync then the rest of the NFL should be very very worried as it would give the Chiefs another threat to help out their impressive offense. The defense as a whole still gave up a ton of yards, but a legit pass rush would help ease the load on them. If on the other hand this had more to do with the Jaguars fielding two bad offensive tackles, then they have a serious issue that is really going to hold them back this year. Bortles can look alright at times if protected by a good line and a strong running game, but at the moment the Jaguars have neither, and that is going to spell disaster for them if something doesn't change. I'll be watching closely to figure out which team was more responsible for the pressure allowed by the Jags here. The Chiefs have some potentially serious injuries now too. Guard Duvernay-Tardif was placed on injured reserve and Justin Houston is dealing with a bad hamstring. If Houston is out any amount of time the Chiefs will be limited to only two legit pass rushers in Dee Ford and Chris Jones. Jones by the way is playing excellent football. I've seen him pop up with some big plays every single week this year.
Chargers vs Raiders
This was a boring game beginning to end. The Chargers handled the Raiders no problem whatsoever, which is rather unusual for the Chargers. It just goes to show how bad this Oakland team is. We know they have the worst pass rush in the entire NFL since trading away MVP candidate Khalil Mack, but now their offensive line isn't even good. The Raiders are crumbling, and I see no hope for redemption here. Their offense is an overrated Derek Carr, old Jordy Nelson, old Marshawn Lynch, fat Amari Cooper, and a surprisingly resurgent Jared Cook. How are you supposed to score points with that corp? It's just not happening this year. Can't really take anything from the Chargers here due to the quality of their opponent. They handled their business which is refreshing from this team, but I still don't trust them moving forward, and I certainly don't think they are suddenly a Superbowl contender because they beat the sad-sack Raiders. One player catching my eye a little bit is Austin Ekeler. Now I'm not saying he's a star or anything, but he's been a surprisingly useful player, essentially filling the old Darren Sproles role. He makes for a good bye week fill in for your fantasy team with upside if Gordon goes down with an injury.
Seahawks vs Rams
This was precisely what I was worried about taking the Rams to cover 7. They can pull that off against many teams, but even a bad/ok team like the Seahawks can stick with them when they have a Russell Wilson. This Rams defense isn't good, and obviously they give up lots of extra yards and points because teams are furiously throwing trying to keep up with the offense. They are opportunistic though, and that's why I'd be inclined to side with the Rams over the Chiefs. They are similar teams, virtually unstoppable on offense but with poor defenses. I give the Rams a slight advantage there, at offensive line, WR, and RB. The Chiefs have the better TE and that's it. If those two teams play for the Superbowl we might see 100 combined points. On the whole though I thought the Rams didn't play bad here. The Seahawks got a little lucky to hang in it like they did, but it wasn't bad. They definitely have some skill although most of that skill is Wilson. Mike Davis is head and shoulders better than Chris Carson though and should be starting and taking a heavy workload. Gurley however, owes half his paycheck to Goff. Gurley is good for sure, but all these TD's he's getting each week are from inside the 5 yard line. I still really haven't seen Gurley run near as well as he was late in 2017. People really should watch the actual games and stop making decisions like MVP favorites based off of box score scouting who has the most TD's. Gurley isn't close to playing as well as Goff or Mahomes.
Jets vs Broncos
Didn't have many notes here. Darnold and Keenum both suck, but we already knew that. This Jets defense is pretty decent, and the Broncos defense is overrated. The Jets really weren't that much better than the Broncos here, but for some reason they were able to rip off several long runs where the Broncos linebackers were just completely blocked out of the play and Crowell run untouched to the 2nd level. This is the first I've seen of a possible Broncos run defense problem, so I kind of doubt it happens again. Might just have been a one time fluke. Neither team is very good so long as they have these two QB's.
Cardinals vs 49'ers
Another thriller. The Cardinals may have one, but in my estimation they got outplayed or at least matched by an injury plagued 49'er squad. This game was 14-12 Cardinals with only 6 minutes left and somehow ended up 28-18. I expected much more out of Rosen here, but he really disappointed. This team really needs to start using David Johnson heavily including much more in the passing game (down the field, not just checkdowns) if they want to start winning games. Until further notice, avoid this offense. Kirk had an awesome 75 yard TD very early, and then we never really saw him again. As I said I thought the 49'ers played the better game here, but they suffered from some pretty unlucky turnovers including multiple fumbles that set up the Cardinals in good field position. I've said since game one that the Cardinals have a run game weakness on defense, and this game was another example. Matt Breida had all kinds of room to run whenever they gave him carries, and I would have liked to see the 49ers stick with that a bit more as the Cardinals absolutely couldn't stop it. Start your fantasy RB's against the Cardinals. One more positive note for the 49ers: rookie tackle Mike McGlinchey looked much improved here, and I'm hoping this was a turning point for him. His ascension will really help this team play much better as they won't be facing top 5 pressure rates every week. The other thing that really helped the 49'ers this week was having Tomlinson and Person back manning their starting guard spots. The offensive line play was much, much improved over the last several weeks and should be in a good place going forward. The 49'ers could be a tougher out for teams coming up.
Titans vs Bills
Well of course as soon as I hype up the Titans they manage to lose to the Bills. Such is football. Honestly though, I'm still intrigued by the Titans after watching the game. They played sloppy and had quite a bit of unfortunate luck to lose this. In a normal game I think the score is closer to 20-6 Titans. The Bills really only scored 3 points on their own. The others came off fumbles at the 50+ yard line which isn't going to happen every week. Now I know I've bashed Josh Allen since draft season, but he really is terrible. All this team can do to try and move the football is run the RB's over and over and mix in a few screens and some short out routes every now and then. Maybe Allen scrambles and hits a miracle pass down the field into broken coverage once a game but that's it. Keep starting your fantasy defenses against the Bills. It's paying dividends. With the Titans you're getting a sneaky good defense and a ball control offense that is decent but not dynamic. This team is going to win games by scores like 23-17 and 20-14. They don't score a lot themselves, but you aren't going to score much either. Still think they can get to 9 or 10 wins and into the playoffs. If they get completely handled by the Ravens this week then just ignore everything good I've said about them.
Patriots vs Colts
Oh boy are people drawing the wrong conclusions from this game. You have to consider the context here: the Colts were missing nearly every top player they have on both offense and defense. Castonzo, Haeg, Good, Hilton, Mack, Doyle, Leonard, Ridgeway, Moore, Hairston, Wilson were all inactive. That's both starting offensive tackles, your top WR, your great young playmaking linebacker, the top three cornerbacks, and a starting TE, DT, and RB. And yet the Colts were still only down 24-17 in the 4th quarter at one point. This ought to make you incredibly nervous as a Patriots fan. Yes the Patriots were better here, but they should have absolutely rocked what remains of this Colts team. This wasn't an announcement that they are back. Quite the opposite actually. There are issues here, and while I think New England is still a threat in the playoffs, I'm not seeing a top tier team right now. At the same it's a signal that the Colts are a much better team than what many people think, and they could be pretty darn good if they could ever get everyone healthy. Don't sleep on them.
Giants vs Panthers
It looked like the Panthers weren't expecting a dogfight from the Giants. They got a lucky fumble on a punt return when Beckham accidentally touched the ball and then looked like they thought the game was over. The Giants had other ideas though and battled their way back into it. This is another underrated team that should improve their record as the season wears on. Getting Olivier Vernon back would help an awful lot too as their biggest weakness is a lack of pass rush. The Giants #1 priority this next off-season should be improving their pass blocking and rushing. They actually did a very good job protecting Eli this game, and it looks like the switch to Chad Wheeler from Erik Flowers is actually paying off. Credit the Giants because Wheeler looked awful his first couple of weeks but really settled in here and looked much more comfortable. I wouldn't knock the Panthers too hard here. They didn't play bad exactly, just got an early lead and took it for granted a little bit. They got a bit lucky to win the game, but are still the better team so it doesn't really matter. They can be a bit up and down but still look like a pretty good NFC team. A few quick notes on individual players: Saquon Barkley is so unbelievably athletic it's ridiculous. When he runs it looks like his body flailing around completely out of control because it shouldn't be moving that fast. He's still not a good pure runner of the football, but his athletic gifts are unmatched and he's going to put up good fantasy numbers. Not sure I'd want him on my actual football team because he is really inconsistent at picking up easy yards, but he works great for fantasy. Saw a few flashes from DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel this game. Not sure why the Panthers aren't throwing more bubble screens to those guys because they both have a little Cordarrelle Patterson DNA in them.
Saints vs Redskins
I don't think this was as bad as it looked for the Redskins. They had the Saints stopped early after a Ryan Kerrigan sack, but the Saints got a 1st down after a stupid penalty. Later they were driving for a score at one point but blew a block and let Sheldon Rankins rush straight to Alex Smith for the easiest sack of his life. After that they blew a coverage assignment and let Trequan Smith score a long TD. Alex Smith threw the stupidest interception of his life on a 4th down play and that set the Saints up for another easy score. The Saints didn't pressure Alex Smith any more than they have all year, so I'm seeing some small, one-time events that let the Saints snowball the game out of control, but I don't think this was a beatdown by a dominant Saints team. They are pretty good yes, and they might get better, but I would caution against assuming they are suddenly the cream of the NFC. Don't forget that just a couple weeks ago they had the NFL's worst defense and we were questioning if they would even make the playoffs considering how bad they looked. As a corollary to that, the Redskins don't suddenly suck either. They are still a pretty solid team and should finish somewhere around .500. The game got away from them off a few big mistakes, but those aren't likely to repeat in the future.