Blake Bortles beat the Patriots at their own game

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Mansur Shaheen

Blake Bortles and the Jacksonville Jaguars shocked the world last weekend when they defeated the New England Patriots 31-20. Bortles threw for 376 yards and 4 touchdowns on 45 attempts in the AFC Championship rematch. The oft-maligned quarterback was incredible and made throws that neither NFL fans nor the Patriots would expect him to.

New England came into the contest with a clear game plan. They were not going to let Bortles get easy dink and dunk passes over the middle and they were not going to get beat on any deep post or seam routes. They congested the middle of the field and forced the Jaguars passing offense to operate outside of the numbers.

Bortles has a history of being incredibly inaccurate and reckless with the ball and forcing him to play outside the numbers makes a lot of sense. These throws are hard to complete and if Bortles makes an ill-advised throw outside then a corner back can usually get in position to jump the route and intercept it. The quarterback played one of the best games of his career, though, and was only intercepted one time.

The Jaguars wide receivers were given 1-on-1 coverage deep outside the numbers. Even if the receivers were to get open it would still force the quarterback into a challenging pass. Bortles was able to complete those passes all game and it led to a lot of chunk plays for the Jaguars offense.

These well placed outside the numbers passes by Bortles were responsible for three of his touchdowns on the day, including this touchdown to Keelan Cole late in the first quarter.

Cole was split wide to Bortles left in single coverage. He ran a simple go route and the speedy receiver got a step on his man. The defensive back played it well but a perfect pass from Bortles linked up with his receiver for the touchdown.

The Jaguars took advantage of the Patriots sideline defense in the red zone as well.

On this play, Donte Moncrief was split out wide to Bortles left. He got 1-on-1 coverage and the Jaguars threw a fade to him in the corner of the endzone. The defensive back played this pass perfectly but an even better ball from Bortles ended up winning out.

Corner end zone fades are plays that have a very low success rate. They are hard for a quarterback to land and the receiver usually needs to make a great grab to bring it down. Majority of these passes ended up getting thrown out of the back of the end zone.

This makes it even more impressive that Jacksonville was successful trying the fade twice in the same game. It was a little different the second time around, though.

The two most outside receivers on the left of the Jaguars formation ran slant routes inside against man coverage. Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins was in the slot against 1-on-1 coverage. Jenkins ran a corner route towards the back pylon and his defensive back got caught in the traffic of the two slant routes. Bortles dropped a perfect ball over the top right into his receivers’ hands for a touchdown to end the first half.

Jacksonville used these shorter routes on the outside, sometimes accompanied by screens, all over the field. New England’s corner backs were so afraid of getting beat deep that they surrendered too much room in the shorter areas. In zone coverage, there were many times that not a single linebacker went out to cover the flats as they were all busy filling up space in the middle of the field. Jacksonville took advantage of this and continuously used these short, quick, out routes to get yards after the catch and move the chains.

New England refused to budge from their game plan, though, and continued to leave the flats uncovered to take away the middle of the field. They wanted Bortles to throw his passes outside the numbers and that’s exactly what he did. The touchdown that would inevitably decide the game came on one of these passes.

Jacksonville used a screen to get Dede Westbrook open underneath. With all the Patriots dropped back into deep zones over the middle the shallow area across the field for him was wide open. All the receiver needed to do was beat one man and he was off to the races for a long touchdown.

It was not just the passing game that benefited from the Patriots strategy. Bortles had 35 yards on 6 carries and was able to scramble for first downs off the edges when given a chance.

One interesting wrinkle to the Jaguars win is that they did it without running back Leonard Fournette. This poses an interesting question. Is Jacksonville’s offense better without their star running back on the field?

The running back ran for an inefficient 3.9 yards per carry last season and at times the offense looked better without him on the field. On Sunday Jacksonville was forced to play TJ Yeldon and Corey Grant, running backs who’s style does not give way to the power offense the Jagaurs like to run. This forced the Jaguars to play aggressively. If Fournette was in the game they most likely would have attacked the Patriots by trying to bulldoze them down with Fournette on the interior to free space for the deeper passes. A lot of the shorter, quicker passes that added up for huge gains would have been replaced with less efficient runs.

This was an issue for Jacksonville much of last season as well. When Fournette was out the offense played well as they were forced to be more aggressive with Chris Ivory in the game. Bortles obviously played better than he usually does but would the Jaguars look better in the future without using Fournette as a crutch for the offense?

 

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How UDFA Phillip Lindsay is surprising the NFL in the early weeks

Film Room, Game Film, Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

With all the wild storylines currently surrounding the NFL it is easy to have overlooked running back Phillip Lindsay of the Denver Broncos. The rookie UDFA is third in NFL rushing yards with 178 through two games. While the sample size is very small the 6.1 yards per attempt he is averaging is great for a player that was not supposed to be the main back in this offense.

The running back is a big play threat whenever he has the ball in his hands. He is incredibly fast and shifty. Lindsay is only 5’8 and 190 lbs but his exceptional balance and footwork allow him to pinball off of tackles without missing a beat.

He deke’s and dodges back and forth with ease, allowing him to break off huge runs when he is given any space.

On this draw play against the Raiders, he was given a hole to run through and managed to gash them for a huge gain. He took the handoff right up the middle then instantly jumped to his left. A Raiders defender dives at his feet for a tackle but the running back quickly jumps to dodge him. Lindsay short hops again as a second defender tries to dive beneath a blocker to take him down. He ends up beating the entire defense downfield before finally running out of gas and getting pushed out of bounds.

Lindsay’s quick twitch and change of direction abilities make him a huge threat in the open field. Defenders can rarely find a good angle of approach as his running style makes his movements extremely hard to predict.

Even when defenders can get a hand on him his balance makes him hard to bring down.

On this run, he fires through a hole that opened on the right side. A defender grabs him but Lindsay shakes him off as if he isn’t even bothered. Once he gets into open space an Oakland linebacker gets a hard hit on him at his hips, but instead of going down like a majority of running backs would in this situation he spins around and continues his run unphased until he is gang tackled.

His ability to spin off of tackles earns him a few extra yards at the end of runs as well. While barreling forward for extra yards is a trait you would expect out of a larger, power back Lindsay does a great job stretching for a few extra yards as well.

On both of those runs, he manages to keep his footing through a few tackles and spin forward to gain extra yardage. These yards pile up over the course of a game and could be the difference between 1st and 10 and 3rd and short.

While Lindsay’s lanky, balanced running style make him a threat to gash teams whenever he gets space he sometimes had trouble finding space even when it’s there for him. His vision fails him at times. Lindsay sometimes misses gaping holes and hesitates to hit a gap when coming out of the backfield. He overthinks his running path sometimes and makes things hard on himself.

The running back has potential to be special for the Broncos but there are some limitations to his play. His size will always leave him more vulnerable to injury and the number of hits he takes on every run will stack up over time. He is not strong enough to push the pile and is dependent on his blockers creating room for him. You would expect his skill set to translate well into the passing game but he has only been targeted 4 times in two games. It is unclear whether this is a result of Denver not fully working the UDFA into the game plan yet or a lack of skill on his part.

Denver may have nabbed a steal with Lindsay. The combination of him with fellow rookie Royce Freeman should strike fear into teams and they can come together to run over teams for a long time.

 

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How AJ Green dominated the Ravens

 

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How AJ Green took over against the Baltimore Ravens

Film Room, Game Film, Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

AJ Green stole the show on Thursday Night Football. The wide receiver reminded the league how talented he is by scoring three touchdowns in the first half of the Cincinnati Bengals 34-23 victory over the Baltimore Ravens. Green finished the game with 5 receptions for 69 yards alongside his 3 scores.

Green’s first score came less than five minutes into the game.

The Ravens disguised their coverage – showing zone but playing man. Green was given inside leverage by the corner across from him which gave him an advantage on his crossing route. The linebackers playing in the shallow areas of the field were tricked way to easily by the fake toss and Green was able to get into space. Once the receiver had a step on his man with quarterback Andy Dalton already rolling out towards him the quick throw and catch was nothing more than a formality.

The second touchdown the receiver scored was a great example of his dominating physique and overall athleticism.

This was another play drawn up to get Green open and like the previous touchdown there was never any chance that the ball was being thrown in any other direction. The Bengals used a screen to earn Green space but an overthrown pass forced him to make an athletic play just to get the catch. He shook off a tackle and outran everyone to the endzone.

Green showed off his exceptional speed and athleticism for his size. It is rare that a receiver as big as he is can haul in that pass and be limber enough to still shake off a tackle and instantly take off downfield. Green is an athletic freak.

His third touchdown came on an isolation play.

Cincinnati drew up this play to force the Ravens safety into a tough decision. They made him choose between the flare route to the receiver over the middle or Green running towards the sideline in the endzone. You could argue he made the correct choice by playing the middle of the field. He forced Dalton into a tough back-shoulder throw. The pass was not perfect but Green made a great adjustment to snag it for a third touchdown.

It is easy to forget about Green when you think about some of the league’s elite receivers. He got a chance to shine in front of the eyes of the entire league Thursday night and took full advantage. The Bengals also did a great job scheming him open and putting both he and Dalton in a position to succeed. Green is an elite receiver and games like this should make sure that fans never forget that.

 

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Odell Beckham Jr. vs Jalen Ramsey; Breaking down the key match up

Film Room, Game Film, Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

The biggest story heading into the New York Giants season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars was the matchup between wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Both are elite talents at their respective positions, and both are players who have captured the attention of social media the past few seasons with their antics both on and off the field. We were in for a legendary battle.

If you count plays that ended in penalties and remove plays where the receiver was a clear decoy for a shorter pass underneath, then the two ran a total of 23 routes against each other. Beckham was targeted 11 times, and if you include a 15-yard pass interference call that he drew then he totaled 8 catches for 101 yards against Ramsey. If you condense quarterback Eli Manning’s entire game to just passes to Beckham then he had an adjusted passer rating of 100.9.

While that number looks great at face value, Ramsey seemed to have the upper hand for much of the day. Beckham didn’t really get going until very late in the game when the Jaguars dropped into a softer prevent defense.

Ramsey obviously studied his opponent this summer. Beckham excels at forcing defenders to play him close inside, as he has the ability to torch teams on quick slant routes. He then uses his speed and great route running to punish defenses by beating them over the top. Ramsey knew of this and played him well. He never got over eager jumping the shorter routes, and instead positioned himself in a place where he could cut down Beckham before he could run at all after the catch.

The cornerback also had the advantage on intermediate routes. Ramsey is a freak of an athlete and he is incredibly fast for a corner. He played the game knowing that as fast as Beckham could break on his routes and take advantage of the space that Ramsey gave him the corner was fast and agile enough to get right back in position. The receiver could barely find any space on medium route’s over the middle and was rarely even targeted.

Beckham did get the better of his opponent on deeper routes, though. Once he was able to get outside of the mess in the middle of the field the receiver took advantage of all the open field deep. Ramsey couldn’t play as conservatively as he did further up the field as Beckham had so much space to beat him with.

This play late in the game is a perfect example.

The Jaguars are in a cover-3 look and Ramsey is playing off coverage across from Beckham. The receiver quickly eats up the seven-yard cushion he is given and once he is deep downfield he fakes inside as if he is going to break into a post route and Ramsey follows him. Beckham quickly flips his hips and breaks outside for a deep out. Ramsey gets all the way turned around and by the time he can recover Beckham already has a deep catch for a huge gain.

Beckham should have had a touchdown on this play after he beat Ramsey in the redzone.

Ramsey gives Beckham inside leverage as they line up in the slot. Beckham runs a post route but fakes a step outside before he breaks inside. Ramsey bites on the step outside and the receiver has a free run into the end zone. Manning throws a pass while under duress and overshoots what should have been a touchdown.

The Giants also found a few creative ways to get Beckham open downfield.

On this play, Ramsey leaves a large cushion for Beckham. Sterling Shepard is lined up outside against AJ Bouye in man coverage as well. Shepard and Bouye jam each other and battle as they run downfield. Beckham delays his route until the two crash into Ramsey then gets a free run to the sideline for a deep completion. I’m not sure whether or not a play like this is theoretically allowed, but it’s easy to see how the referees would see Shepard and Bouye mutually fighting each other and not call it pass interference.

It is hard to declare a winner in a matchup like this. Ramsey had the advantage on the shorter routes and Beckham on the longer ones. Beckham’s stat line looks nice at the end of the game, but Ramsey and the Jaguars walked off the field with a victory.

In the end, matchups like this are more of a victory for the entire sport of football.

 

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James Conner earned confidence in first NFL start

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James Conner earns confidence from the Steelers in first NFL start

Film Room, Game Film, Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

Shockwaves were sent through the NFL world when it was revealed last week that Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell had never signed his franchise tender and was set to miss the teams season opener against the Cleveland Browns. This meant that James Conner, the 2017 3rd round selection out of the University of Pittsburgh, was set to start. Conner had an impressive preseason but many worried that he wouldn’t be ready for the new role that he was thrust into.

Conner exceeded expectations in his first career start. The running back had 135 yards and 2 touchdowns on 31 carries. He also caught 5 of his 6 targets for 57 yards during the Steelers season opening tie.

Bell often is lauded around the league for his exceptional vision and patience and it’s clear that a few things may have rubbed off on to his understudy the past few seasons. Conner’s ability to read defenses and make smart, decisive, decisions was his biggest asset on Sunday. He is also great at keeping his feet churning in order to make sure that he falls forward for maximum yardage.


Conner impressed in the opening weeks of preseason


This third quarter play near the goal line is the perfect display of his skill set.

Conner takes the handoff out of the backfield and the Browns defense does a great job recognizing the run and plugging up the hole he is attempting to go through. The running back does a great job following his lead blocker and patiently waiting for a gap to open. Once he has a chance, he lowers his shoulder and barrels his way through defenders for a good pick up. Cleveland should have stuffed this run for no gain, but the second-year player created a decent gain out of it.

His ability to keep his momentum churning forward and finish runs by falling forward for a few extra yards was key to the success of the offense. Those few extra yards help keep the offense ahead of the chains even when they do not deserve to be and punished the Browns defense even when they played well.

When the Browns did not play the run well Conner gashed them. He managed to take advantage of almost any space he was given and his vision and pathing in the open field led to this third quarter touchdown.

The running back gets a great block from his fullback and the pulling guard to protect the edge and open a hole inside. A defender puts himself in a great position to stuff the gap Conner is running into. He is spotted by the ball carrier and Conner quickly readjusts. Conner spots another hole opening up between his guard and tackle on that side and bursts through into open space and cleanly runs into the endzone for a touchdown.

Conner was great at spotting his blocks, spotting defenders and leveraging them both in a way to create an open path for himself. His quick thinking and high football IQ make him a nuisance for defenders as there positioning must be near-perfect to grab him in open space. This makes him a dangerous receiving target.

The running back catches the screen out of the backfield here. He has his tackle in front of him blocking and two defenders closing in on him. The tackle gets the first man, leaving Conner one on one against the defensive back. Instead of turning his run towards the alley upfield Conner heads towards the sideline. He makes his way all the way around his blocker, forcing the second defender to get caught behind the same block. The tackle is forced to switch off of his block and Conner breaks back towards the inside and gains a couple yards falling forward after he is finally tackled.

He was not perfect as a runner, though. He still doesn’t have the long speed to burn teams once he is in the open field. Conner got caught in the backfield by a defender he had no idea was near him and was stripped for a costly fumble as well. It was a great start, though, and something the Steelers can build upon.

Conner looks like a great replacement for Bell’s abilities as both a runner and a receiver, but Bell is an elite pass blocker as well. If Conner wants to fully replace the impact of his predecessor, then he must get better in that aspect.

The running back was responsible for a sack and one play that should have been a sack on Sunday. While he is great at spotting oncoming rushers he doesn’t get his body into great blocking position quick enough to get underneath them and stop their pursuit. Pass rushers can easily bounce off of him and get by him to continue their run at the quarterback.

It is still unsure how long the Bell holdout will last. For now, it looks like Conner is the guy for the Steelers going forward, and this performance should instill confidence in him from fans and coaches. He isn’t the elite running back Bell is – and he probably never will be – but for now it looks like the Steelers running game is still in great hands.

 

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Mansur Shaheen

The New York Jets had one of the most interesting quarterback controversies this offseason. They retained 2017 veteran starter Josh McCown, added former Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and drafted USC product Sam Darnold 3rd overall. The plan seemed to be that they would let Bridgewater and McCown battle it out for the starting role, then let Darnold ease his way into the offense mid-way through the season.

That plan ended up getting thrown out of the window. Bridgewater was dealt to New Orleans and after an impressive preseason, Darnold is currently the projected day 1 starter.

Darnold played in the first three preseason games and sat out of the fourth, as starters usually do. He completed 29 of his 45 pass attempts – the 65% completion rate being great for a rookie in his first league action. The rookie also threw a pair of touchdowns and an interception.

One of the biggest knocks against Darnold coming out of Southern Cal was his recklessness with the ball and poor decision making. He would often get himself into trouble with his passes. Darnold was one of the most turnover prone players in college football in 2017 – his 13 interceptions were among the most in the FBS.

It is clear that he has grown as a passer over the past few months. He looks poised in the pocket and doesn’t commit as many blatant errors as he did in college. Darnold looks comfortable going through his progressions and does not get antsy as often when he can not find an open man.

Darnold was comfortable under pressure and did a great job moving his feet around. When he was put under duress he didn’t panic and was able to navigate the pocket and avoid taking sacks. He kept his eyes downfield and continued to look for open receivers despite the pressure. He knew when to tuck the ball and scramble when he got the opportunity as well, and when he was on the run he avoided taking any big hits.

He also throws with great touch. The rookie can lift the ball over defenders in his way and get it back down into reach of his receivers. This opens up passing angles that shouldn’t exist and makes it even harder to take away his throwing options.

While the poise he has shown in the pocket may be new his ability to make throws on the run was his most highly touted trait in college. When Darnold escapes the pocket he has the ability to make off platform throws and release the ball from unusual angles. While Josh Allen was the prospect who got all of the attention because of his arm strength Darnold is no noodle arm himself. He doesn’t need to set his base to throw and can launch passes downfield.

Darnold’s rare ability to punish teams after they flush him out of the pocket make him much harder to put down. He can make throws that many longtime NFL quarterbacks can’t and if the Jets can help him perfect his throwing mechanics he will have one of the most talented arms in the league.

While Darnold looked great this preseason he was not perfect. He made a few questionable decisions with the ball. Darnold threw an interception on a short fourth down pass when he tried to get it over three defenders and should have been intercepted on a rub play when he got rid of the ball way too quickly.

On the other side of the coin, sometimes he holds the ball on for too long. He has clearly made a conscious effort to avoid launching the ball into trouble, though sometimes he spends to much time scanning the field waiting for a target to open up. Darnold occasionally gets so focused on what was going on downfield that he misses the pressure coming up on him. At times after he escapes the pocket he continues looking downfield as nothing opens up and waits way to long to throw it away.

While his willingness and ability to make throws on the run is great he has to find a middle ground. The Jets obviously want him to continue to make the incredible highlight worthy plays he made in college but they also need him to know when to kill the play and just throw it away. He didn’t take any disastrous sacks in preseason, but once the real games begin and he is playing against the best in the business on every snap they will be able to punish him for holding the ball for too long.

Darnold looked like a raw prospect coming out of college but after only a couple month’s with an NFL staff he already looks pro-ready. He obviously isn’t perfect – he won’t be for a long time – but Jets fans should be readily excited about how great he looked in preseason. In week one he will get to start off his NFL career against one of the worst defenses in the league in the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football. The eyes of NFL world will be on Darnold next week, and there is no reason to believe he will not shine in the bright lights.

 

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Mansur Shaheen

We have reached the halfway point of NFL preseason and while some of the most exciting names to watch have sputtered, some unusual suspects have stepped up to capture the headlines. One of them being Raiders running back Chris Warren. As an undrafted free agent out of the University of Texas, Warren was a long shot to make the roster entering training camp. He was listed fourth on the depth chart behind longtime veteran Marshawn Lynch, newly signed yet oft-injured Doug Martin and 3rd-year player Jalen Richard.

The trio ahead of Warren most likely have their roster spots locked up, but Warren has managed to step up to compete for the fourth running back role. Through two games he has carried the ball 31 times for 196 yards and a touchdown. At 6.3 yards per carry, he has emerged as one of the most efficient running backs in NFL preseason so far.

Warren has the skill set of an old school bruising running back. He barrels through people and he is incredibly hard to bring down. The tailback gains momentum as he runs and gets even harder to bring down as he picks up speed. Warren does not need much space to be an effective runner and is not of afraid of taking hits running between the tackles.

The running back also has great vision when taking hand off’s out of the backfield. He can spot gaps even when they are not in his assigned running lane. The running back does a great job bouncing runs outside or switching fields if he needs to and rarely misses open holes.

Warren takes the handoff, spots a hole and chooses his path. He is a decisive runner that does not spend too much time dancing around in the backfield and he doesn’t try to do too much with the ball in his hands. The running back is a quick-thinking bruiser.

While he is big and strong, Warren lacks the quickness and athleticism a top tier running back needs. He is great at finding holes to run through, but he does not have the burst necessary to gash defenses once he gets to the hole. When he breaks into open space he doesn’t have the long speed necessary to take long runs the distance and usually gets chased down by defenders. The running back is great at making the first cut to get through the hole, but his cuts are fairly stiff and not quick enough to truly throw off defenders. It also means that after he makes the first cut he is usually stuck running one direction as he isn’t agile enough to make a second cut without losing all momentum.

As big and strong as he is durability could also be a concern for him long term. He is very upright runner and while he can barrel through people his running style leaves him incredibly vulnerable to taking hard, violent hits to the upper body.

These hits will wear down his body over time and make him more susceptible to injury. His upright running style also leads to him getting stonewalled at the line of scrimmage at times and makes him rely on his brute force to push the pile, instead of the natural leverage his body can create by getting low.

Warren is a running back that would have been an elite talent in the late 80’s. If he was a few decades older he would probably be a player stuffing the record books. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the quickness and agility necessary to really stick out in the modern NFL. There is still a place for him in the league today, but most likely as a change of pace back rather than a player who will be a main feature in the NFL offense. The Raiders grabbing him as an undrafted rookie may still prove to be one of the steals of this offseason, though.

 

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Mansur Shaheen

With Le’Veon Bell missing another preseason in an endless back and forth with the front office of the Pittsburgh Steelers the backups on the team’s roster are getting a chance to shine. In the opening two weeks of the NFL preseason running back James Conner has been taking the first team snaps.

Conner was selected by the Steelers in the third round of the 2017 NFL draft. A product of the Pittsburgh Panthers, the hometown kid was used sparingly in his rookie season. He carried the ball 32 times for 144 yards. He never saw the endzone and never started in the 14 games he played last season.

He has looked better than ever so far in preseason and has shown that he can be a valuable member of the team’s offense. In two games he has carried the ball 9 times for 72 yards. He scored a touchdown in the Steelers week 2 matchup against the Green Bay Packers. Conner has caught 1 pass for 9 yards.

One of Conner’s best traits is how hard he is to bring down once he gets moving. At 6-1, 233 pounds he quickly builds momentum and is a downhill runner. It takes multiple men to bring him down and simple arm tackles can’t do anything to him.

He has great balance and does a great job keeping his footing through any sort of contact. Tacklers bounce off of him and he keeps on running as if it doesn’t affect him. Seeing him rumble his way downfield is a scary sight for oncoming defenders.

Conner is not just a brute force coming out of the backfield either. He is a smart runner and has the vision necessary to find running lanes when they open. He does a great job pathing his runs and spots defenders arriving to close gaps then proceeds to adjust his running lane accordingly.

While his vision isn’t up to par with Bell’s, his mental skills and football IQ as a running back are great and give the Steelers a good foundation to build upon.

He is not the perfect runner, though. He does not burst through holes well when he see’s them and his long speed isn’t the greatest either. It takes a pack to bring him down but it’s easy for the pack to track him down due to his lack of speed. Durability could be a concern for him long term as well. He does a great job finishing runs by barreling through people, but over time that increases the potential wear and tear put on his body.

Conner also has work to do in pass protection. The Steelers rarely used him there last season as Bell is an elite pass blocker. They haven’t asked him to do much is pass protection this preseason either, but he has failed when called upon.

With Bell’s time in Pittsburgh winding to a close the Steelers will have to start thinking about finding his replacement. Conner does not have to much tread on the tires yet and has the potential to be a bell cow running back for the Steelers one day. This season may be another one where he spends much of the year as a spectator, though, as the Steelers have already shown that they are willing to run Bell as much as possible.

 

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Mansur Shaheen

The spotlight at quarterback was firmly focused on rookie Sam Darnold heading into the New York Jets week 2 preseason matchup against the Washington Redskins. The third overall pick in the draft was set to start an NFL game for the first time in his career. But it was his back up, Teddy Bridgewater, who stole the headlines.

The addition of Bridgewater in free agency seemed like a questionable move at first for the Jets. They had retained 2017 starter Josh McCown and had already traded up in the draft to put them in prime position to select a top quarterback – which they did by grabbing Darnold. Bridgewater seemed like a surplus. Bridgewater is only two years removed from a devastating leg injury he suffered during 2016 training camp with the Minnesota Vikings but came to New York to help get his career back on track.

Bridgewater looked like a starting caliber quarterback on Thursday night. He didn’t make many mistakes and looked confident under center. He completed 10 of his 15 pass attempts for 127 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. His completion percentage would have been even higher if it weren’t for his receivers dropping catchable passes.

The quarterback showed off his confidence and mobility by making a variety of throws on the run. Whether by design or improvisation he was comfortable leaving the pocket and making smart, accurate throws on the move.

Whether the receiver was able to bring the pass down or not, they were all well placed, some even perfectly placed. These are the passes that really helped him stick out when he was the starting quarterback of the 2015 Vikings team that won the NFC North.

One thing that Bridgewater was criticized for both coming out of Louisville and during his time in Minnesota was his struggles throwing downfield. He sometimes would get too reliant on checking the ball down and had issues hitting deep passes. His weakness looked like a strength against the Redskins, though.

He was willing to test defenses. Bridgewater looked fearless and free but avoided being reckless. Obviously, the preseason environment allows him to be a little more free and willing to take risks.

Bridgewater did take one huge risk that backfired. He threw an interception in the fourth quarter on a pass he should not have even tried.

The quarterback was feeling confident and wanted to continue testing the defense downfield but made a huge mistake. The receiver that he was targeting was well covered by the cornerback assigned to him and a deep safety was coming from the other side to bracket him. There is no realistic way this pass gets completed unless the receiver makes an incredible play on the ball. If he targets the receiver low, then the corner has a chance to break up or intercept the pass. If he places the ball just in front of him, like he did, then the safety is in prime position to make a play. It was a glaring error in what was otherwise a near perfect night.

New York is set to have three starting caliber quarterbacks on its roster this season, making Bridgewater a perfect trade candidate. He still does have a chance to win the starting role for the Jets but it is unlikely that anyone can keep Darnold on the bench for too long. Whatever team Bridgewater ends up with, it is great to see him get back to form after suffering an injury that almost ended his career.

 

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Game Film, NFL, NFL Preseason

Mansur Shaheen

The Cleveland Browns selection of quarterback Baker Mayfield with the first overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft surprised some. The 2017 Heisman winner measures just over 6 feet tall and doesn’t have the stature of fellow rookie quarterbacks Sam Darnold or Josh Allen. He doesn’t have the athleticism of Lamar Jackson or the highly touted football IQ of Josh Rosen either. The one thing that the rookie does have that many believed separated him from the pack was his perceived “x-factor.” The Oklahoma product was the most creative and hard to defend player in college football last season.

It did not take long for Mayfield to bring that creativity to the NFL level. The quarterback completed 11 of his 20 pass attempts for 212 yards and 2 touchdowns and overall played a very clean game with little mistakes. 

Cleveland handed the starting quarterback role to veteran Tyrod Taylor in their preseason opener against the New York Giants last week, and Mayfield played with the teams second offensive unit. This meant he was playing with a group of backup offensive linemen who were greatly outmatched by their competition.

Poor offensive line play led to him being under pressure on almost every drop back but the rookie was able to expertly navigate the pocket and effortlessly make plays.

Mayfield showed great pocket awareness and did a great job avoiding pressure while also keeping his eyes downfield. He avoided taking sacks but also wasn’t too overly eager to bail out of the pocket and run when he still had a chance to find an open receiver. His football instincts are off the charts and he very quickly got a feel for the NFL game.

While Mayfield was good at throwing out of a shifting pocket he also did a great job knowing when he had to tuck the ball and run it himself.

On both of those plays, Mayfield knew exactly how many yards he needed to convert the first down. He was put under pressure and kept his eyes downfield when he needed to. When he spotted an opportunity to take off and run he did so, getting just enough for the first down and safely getting out of bounds. His field awareness is amazing and it’s rare that a rookie looks this comfortable in his first game.


Baker Mayfield’s pre-draft scouting report


Mayfield made impressive plays from a clean pocket as well. His ball placement when throwing downfield was great. He knew when to throw back shoulder and he knew when to throw a pass that his receiver had a chance to high point. The Giants backup secondary had a pretty good day in coverage, but Mayfield was still able to pick them apart.

The quarterback wasn’t perfect but he was one of the most impressive rookies of the opening week of NFL preseason. Browns fans will know not to get ahead of themselves, though, as 2017 second round selection DeShone Kizer impressed in his preseason debut last season as well. For now, there is good reason to be excited for Mayfield and he looks as if he has a chance to finally end Cleveland’s desperate search for talent at the sports most valuable position. 

 

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