WHAT WE LEARNED: NFL WEEK THREE
BY ADAM GREENE
There’s no reason for much preamble this week. We’ve got some issues to discuss.
THE NFL HAS NOT DEFEATED COVID-19
First off, you have to give it up for the NFL for being completely honest and open (seemingly) about their COVID-19 protocols. Of course, that’s easy to do when you’ve been killing it for the last two months with no outbreaks. It’s quite different when you’re hit with what the Tennessee Titans were Tuesday as three players and five team personnel all tested positive for the coronavirus.
The NFL acted quick, locked down the Titans and the Minnesota Vikings (the team they defeated 31-30 Sunday) and announced the positive tests to the world.
If you compare this to what’s going on in college football right now, and surely what is being hidden, it’s refreshing, really. The NFL doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to prioritizing player health.
First off, it’s time to place a little blame here and it rests a lot with the State of Tennessee. The southeastern states, to put it lightly, don’t have the best political leadership as the country faces down the most dangerous health crisis in a century. I live in Tennessee and, let me tell you, it’s a dumpster fire here and the only reason we aren’t the worst COVID-19 state in the country is because Georgia and Florida exist. It is awful and this state, it’s governor, state representatives, state senators and local leadership are a disgrace.
So it doesn’t surprise me at all that the Titans showed up as disease vectors this weekend because they live here, as I do, among the world’s deadliest plague rats. It’s kind of a nightmare.
The league has acted fast. The Titans are locked out of their facility until Saturday. The Vikings are waiting to see if they have any positive tests. If they’ve escaped their brush with Tennessee, they’ll be cleared to return. As of this writing, both their games are still happening. The 3-0 Titans are slated to host the 3-0 Pittsburgh Steelers in Nashville and the 0-3 Vikings are traveling to Houston to do battle with the 0-3 Texans.
The NFL does have some options here, thanks to byes on the schedule. The Titans and Steelers could take a bye this week, then play Week 7, with the league moving Pittsburgh’s regular Week 7 game against the Baltimore Ravens to Week 8. There’s also a chance the NFL moves the game to Monday night to give the team an extra day of testing. Barring some team-wide outbreak, that might be the most likely scenario.
The Vikings and Texans aren’t as easy to maneuver and a worst case scenario is for both teams to be stuck without a game (though they could push the playoffs a week – which I think no one would mind, and make it up in a “Week 18”).
This was bound to happen, especially with a team playing in Tennessee, in Georgia and three in Florida, so if the Titans are able to play in Week Four with no more hitches, it’ll show that the protocols the NFL has put in place work.
LAMAR JACKSON’S BIG GAME TROUBLES CONTINUE
Hey, you don’t have to like to read it. You can like Lamar Jackson and be excited that he’s in the league and the Ravens’ QB, but here’s how he shuts up this critique of his big game performance; win one. Win a playoff game.
Not only did Jackson not show up Monday night, he was never a factor in the game. Of Baltimore’s 20 points, seven came on a kickoff return. The other touchdown came after the Kansas City Chiefs turned the ball over on downs at midfield. Jackson finished 15 of 28 passing for 97 yards and a TD and rushed for 83. His most prolific receiver on the night was rookie running back J.K. Dobbins, who caught four passes for 38 yards out of the backfield.
After going 16-0 straight up last week in my NFL picks, I fell back to earth this weekend. But in spite of that, going into Monday night, I had no doubt that Kansas City would win the game. And it’s because Jackson can be schemed against and Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo lives for that. He’s won two Super Bowls doing it. And with Andy Reid’s help diagnosing how Baltimore’s offense works? Please.
Here’s the thing; this is a decent Chiefs defense. They are not an elite unit. Jackson was slowed by scheme, by preparation and coaching. It’s what’s knocked the Ravens out of the playoffs in consecutive years and it’s the kind of defense they’ll continue to see.
Baltimore has a cakewalk schedule over the next three weeks, outright gifts from the NFL with which to work on what’s obviously broken with their team. Now, what they can do is just continue unleash what works against scrub teams, dominate them and come into their Oct. 25 game against the Steelers 5-1, only to get shut down again by a competent defensive scheme.
Or they can do a deep dive, put more on Jackson’s plate on reading defenses. Greg Roman is a master at covering an athletic quarterback’s deficiencies, but the NFL catches up quick. The book on Jackson is out. Roman and the Ravens have to rewrite it.
Because after that cakewalk, they’ve got the aforementioned Steelers, the Indianapolis Colts, the New England Patriots, the Steelers again and then the Dallas Cowboys, who you obviously have to score 40 points to beat.
If they can adapt and overcome, get through that gauntlet, they go right back to easy street to finish the season against teams that will probably all be under .500 in that final month of the season with the Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Giants and Cincinnati Bengals wrapping up December and setting up a potential playoff run.
Which the Ravens and Jackson will blow again if they don’t fix this.