Over the past two head-coaching cycles, NFL team owners have been falling all over themselves to find the next Sean McVay. And after the Los Angeles Rams’ turnaround in 2017 and Super Bowl run in 2018, that made plenty of sense.
But during that time, little was said about San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan, another young head coach with offensive chops, someone who could coach quarterbacks and had great bloodlines to boot. Oh, he had respect across the league, but after the 49ers’ disappointing in 2018 — in which star quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo got hurt early and the team limped to a 4-12 finish — you weren’t necessarily hearing the “we’ve got to find the next Kyle Shanahan” talk.
That will absolutely change this offseason. Shanahan’s 49ers are rolling at 10-1, thanks to a nasty defense and a well-schemed, creative offense that draws upon old-school run concepts and punishes teams in the passing game whenever they compensate to handle the run game.
Shanahan, like many of the league’s best offensive coaches, has figured out that one of the best ways to move the football is to throw out of traditionally run-based personnel groupings that include two- or three tight ends or a fullback, and in the lead item in this week’s Things I Noticed column — highlighted in a video expertly stitched together by my main man and Eagles fan Ron Schiltz — I show you exactly how he’s doing it, why it’s so effective and why Shanahan is getting all the respect in the world in league circles right now. Enjoy.
Designed run for Trubisky
The Chicago Bears’ 19-14 win over the New York Giants on Sunday was definitely ugly, and so was the fact struggling quarterback Mitchell Trubisky’s 278-yard performance somehow managed to be a season-high for him.
We’ve covered how much Trubisky has struggled in this space before, but one thing I really liked in this game was how we finally saw the Bears use Trubisky as a running threat:
Trubisky finished the game with seven rushing attempts — a season-high — and 18 yards. The numbers are paltry, but the volume is what matters. When a quarterback is struggling to throw, he can sometimes gain confidence by using his legs (if he’s got the athleticism to do it). Trubisky does, and since I’m certain Bears coach Matt Nagy knows this, my hunch is that Trubisky is running more because he feels healthier, which might be a sign of improving play going forward. We’ll see.
Cooper’s lack of involvement is an indictment on coaching
When I saw that Dallas Cowboys’ receiver Amari Cooper was held catchless in their 13-9 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday, I was stunned.
But after reviewing the tape closely — and watching how the New England Patriots defended him — it made more sense. First off, the Patriots used their stud corner, Stephon Gilmore, to defend Cooper whenever he lined up split out wide … at least for the most part. That’s how Gilmore ended up with this ridiculous interception early in the second quarter:
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) November 24, 2019
That interception — in which Gilmore read the drag route, baited Dak Prescott into making the throw and then made a diving interception to seal it — was arguably Gilmore’s best of the year, one that only a handful of corners in the entire league would have been able to make. In a vacuum, it makes sense that Cooper only got one more official target after that.
But here’s the thing; Gilmore didn’t shadow Cooper every play. A healthy number of times, when Cooper lined up in the slot he had slot corner Jonathan Jones on him. Jones is a hell of a player in his own right, but if you line a receiver up in the slot, there are ways to get him the football if you really want to. The Cowboys’ inability to do that was stunning.
Here’s who the Falcons will likely attack
There aren’t many reasons to be excited about the Atlanta Falcons’ Thanksgiving home game against the New Orleans Saints on Thursday, given the teams’ records (Atlanta is 3-8 and New Orleans is 9-2).
But here’s one thing to keep an eye on for Atlanta — how they opt to attack Saints cornerback P.J. Williams, who is coming off a rough game Sunday against the Carolina Panthers in which he allowed four catches, 110 yards and two touchdowns on five targets (according to Pro Football Focus):
Considering Falcons stud receiver Julio Jones feasts on chunk plays, and the Saints have surrendered 73 receptions for 20 yards or more since 2018 — tied for the second most, according to Yahoo Fantasy — well … hell, you do the math, folks. The Falcons shouldn’t be able to hang in this one, but if they can get some plays going in the passing game, they’ll have a shot.
The emergence of Vita Vea
The only thing I enjoy more than well-schemed run plays is well-schemed passing plays to 350-pound defensive linemen. Oh yeah, I’m all over that.
So when Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians brought out the trickery in the Bucs’ win over the Falcons on Sunday, let me tell you — I was here for it.
Vea, 24, is listed at a monstrous 6-foot-4 and 346 pounds, but he was taken 12th overall a year ago due to his rare combination of power and athleticism, which has not only allowed him to thrive as a defender this year – he generates a pass rush and is incredibly difficult to move in the run game — it also allows him to serve as a short-yardage threat on offense, as he did Sunday.
In the first clip of the video below, you’ll see Vea flex from fullback to tight end, where he simply blocks his man. But in the second clip, you see Vea lined up as a fullback and snuck into the flats for a wide-open touchdown:
I threw in the last two clips of Vea killing it on defense for fun. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by his athleticism; he was a killer high school running back. And eventually, he’ll make some Pro Bowls in the NFL as a defensive player, too.
The Marcus Peters Experience
The least surprising development of Week 12 was Baltimore Ravens cornerback Marcus Peters’ interception against his former team, the Los Angeles Rams:
No cornerback in football — hell, no player — has shown the knack for making a big play in intensely meaningful games (to him) as Peters, who also intercepted his former team, the Kansas City Chiefs, a year ago and regularly makes plays whenever he returns to play in his beloved hometown of Oakland.
Keith Jackson Call of the Week
Surprise, surprise — it’s our good friend Andrew Catalon of CBS again, whose terrific call of Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree’s strip-sack of Ryan Finley legit had me rolling.
“He’s in trouble … Finley goes down, he lost the football … Bud Dupree knocked it out, and Bud Dupree … HAS IT!”
Just perfectly captured emotion, and a hell of a way to head into a holiday week. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.
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