Riverboat Vic Fangio and Urban Meyer for Hire
Welcome to the 21st century, Vic Fangio and the Denver Broncos!
The Broncos converted three fourth downs in their 27-13 victory in the Meadowlands on Sunday, including a fourth-and-7 from the Giants' 37-yard line late in the first quarter. All three conversions extended scoring drives. All three were Teddy Bridgewater completions, including his nifty scramble-and-toss touchdown to Albert Okwuegbunam early in the third quarter.
The fourth-down conversions are significant because Fangio and the Broncos ranked dead last in the NFL in Aggressiveness Index in 2020. They attempted just three of 84 discretionary fourth-down conversion opportunities last year. "There have been 192 men since 1983 with at least one year as an NFL head coach, and out of that group Fangio's AI over two seasons ranks 185th," Aaron Schatz wrote last season.
If Fangio is now going for it on fourth down because he has suddenly embraced analytics, he's not the type to admit it. "That was just my gut," Fangio told the Broncos website of one of his conversions. "When I brought it up, I didn't have a lot of backing by anybody. It was kind of cricket-like. … But I said we're doing it. I just felt like we I had confidence in the offense, number one. And obviously, number two … I knew if we got the first down we could go get some points—didn't know if it would be three or seven. I thought it was important."
Quick note to NFL coaches and leaders in any other field: it's never a good idea to surround yourself with assistants who fall silent when you are seeking opinions on fourth-and-short. Suggesting play calls would be ideal. Insisting upon a punt or field goal would be suboptimal, but at least it's a sign of coaches coaching. Silence is a sign that your subordinates may not feel empowered. But I have a funny feeling Fangio knows all of this and was just adding a little self-aggrandizing drama to his tale.
Anyway, the Broncos now have a quarterback who makes excellent decisions, plus plenty of weapons and a solid offensive line. They should be converting fourth downs and extending drives more often. It will make them more competitive. It has already made them a heck of a lot more fun. Watching the Broncos punt from midfield year after year because they did not trust their offense became exasperating. Fangio's newfound daring should turn some of the games the Broncos lost by 16-13 final scores in years past into victories.
Let's hope the fourth down fun 'n' games continue after the Broncos fail their first conversion attempt of the year, when John Elway grows so angry that even the crickets fall silent.
Early-week news and notes from around the league.
Josh Gordon Reinstated
Gordon's five most likely landing spots:
5) Back on the suspension list.
4) Back on the suspension list.
3) Back on the suspension list.
2) Tampa Bay (He can live with Tom Brady! That never fails!)
1) Back on the suspension list.
Ryan Fitzpatrick Out Six to Eight Weeks with a Hip Subluxation
You didn't expect Fitzpatrick to have a subluxation that wasn't hip, did you?
Jets OT Mekhi Becton Out Four to Six Weeks After Knee Surgery
The over-under on the number of Jets starters the typical fan can actually name has dropped to 2.5. The over-under on the number of Jets starters the typical veteran NFL analyst can name is hovering around (does a quick count in his head) 4.5.
Lamar Jackson, Who Doesn't Have an Agent, is Too Busy with Football to Negotiate a Contract Extension
It's like being too busy with life to fill out the rebate paperwork for your new dishwasher, except that the rebate is not for $200 but $200 million.
Several Saints Coaches Test Positive for COVID
Special Assistant to the Head Coach Taysom Hill (gotta read the fine print on those $21-million contracts, folks) will finally get his chance!
Jeff Bezos, Jay-Z Surface as Potential Bidders to Purchase the Denver Broncos
John Elway orders Heimdall to destroy the Bifrost.
Walkthrough Tank Watch: Jacksonville Jaguars
Every Wednesday, Walkthrough will check in on one of the NFL's worst teams to determine what's going wrong, what (if anything) is going right, and what (if anything) they can do to start heading in the right direction.
The Jaguars story so far: Sunday began with an insider report from Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports that gives the impression that, behind the scenes, Urban Meyer behaves like an anti-masker at a Massachusetts school board meeting. The Jaguars were then humiliated by the Texans in a 37-21 defeat that had some serious Sun Belt/Fun Belt energy.
What's going wrong? Where to begin?
- The Jaguars lined up illegally on their first offensive snap, with an eligible receiver covered at the line of scrimmage. They incurred two more illegal formation penalties because their tackles kept lining up too far behind the line of scrimmage, plus a 12-men in the huddle penalty. In other words, they did not look very well prepared.
- The Jaguars defense rushed two (2) defenders on third-and-5 at one point, allowing an easy Texans conversion. It appeared to be a "Contain-a-Tyrod" tactic, with would-be edge rushers dropping into the flats. If that's how Joe Cullen approaches stopping Tyrod Taylor, imagine what he might do against Kyler Murray in two weeks!
- The nadir of Sunday's loss came with 59 seconds to play before halftime, when the Jaguars already trailed 20-7. Trevor Lawrence threw three incomplete passes, at least two of which were catchable, taking just 22 seconds off the clock. The Texans then drove 69 yards on four plays, including a scramble-and-bomb to Brandin Cooks and two receptions by Danny Freakin' Amendola. The two-possession sequence neatly illustrates just how listless and sloppy the Jaguars were on both sides of the ball.
Is anything going right? There were times when it was possible to imagine Lawrence, DJ Chark, Laviska Shenault, the running backs, and the veteran offensive line coalescing into an efficient and entertaining offense in the foreseeable future.
What needs to be done? Here's a partial list.
- Clean up the penalties. The illegal formations are bush league stuff. Four holding penalties may be the residue of protecting a rookie quarterback forced to throw 51 passes. But there were too many roughness fouls, including a play where Rayshawn Jenkins channeled his inner BillsMafia and tossed Taylor into a yard marker 5 yards out of bounds. The Jaguars won't be very talented in 2021, but there's no reason why they cannot be better disciplined.
- Let Urban Be Urban. Look, Meyer is an easy punchline for many reasons. But the Jaguars offense was mostly Darrell Bevell/Brian Schottenheimer porridge on Sunday, with a little of Meyer's quick spread game sprinkled on top. If we're doing this, let's do this by giving some variation on the old Florida/Ohio State offenses an NFL whirl. Because if Meyer isn't bringing his scheme to the table, why is he even at the table?
So how bad are the Jaguars? DVOA ranks them 27th. But of course there are some teams like the Packers below them, because opponent adjustments are not yet a thing. I think they are better than the Falcons and Jets coming out of Week 1, with the caveat that I have some faith in the Jets and Falcons coaching staffs and an asymptote approaching zero faith in Pope Urban.
What's next? USC fired Clay Helton after about 36 hours on the job on Monday, and of course the Meyer-to-Trojans jokes and whispers arrived on schedule and in volume. Men like Meyer don't admit mistakes readily, so while he may be miserable in the NFL, he's surely far too obstinate to admit it just yet. Let's give him until November before he goes Full Bobby Petrino. Until then, a two-game homestand against Broncos and Cardinals teams coming off convincing Week 1 victories will only make the Pac-12 look better and better.
Walkthrough Prop Watch: the NFL MVP Race
Every Wednesday, Walkthrough will handicap the field in an NFL awards race or some other type of futures bet.
The MVP race is always volatile, and it's only natural for the market to react—or overreact—to Week 1's results.
Aaron Rodgers' moneyline rose from +1100 to +1600 after Sunday's spitefest against the Saints. Avoiding Rodgers because you think he is losing games on purpose to make the Packers look bad is ridiculous. Avoiding him because you don't like the guy is more justifiable. Avoiding him because the Packers got pushed around in both trenches and may be in for one of their disappointing seasons, with or without Rodgers adding tension to the situation, seems prudent. Still, +1600 is very tasty. We're unlikely to see that moneyline again after the Packers face the Lions next Monday night.
Patrick Mahomes fell from +600 to +550. That's a tiny payout for an awards prop, even though it feels like free money after Sunday's performance. The smart play for Mahomes lovers may be to wait for him to have a weak game. His moneyline may be richer after this week's matchup with the Ravens.
Josh Allen held surprisingly steady at +1400. Sunday's loss illustrates my concerns about Allen: the Bills schedule is tough, and even a tiny regression to the mean will utterly sabotage his MVP chances. Lamar Jackson was sitting at +1600 on Tuesday after Monday night's loss. Too much is going pear-shaped around Jackson right now to get excited about him as an MVP contender.
Tom Brady is the anti-Allen: his schedule is soft, and his reputation and supporting cast provide a cushion if age finally catches up to him. Brady's odds fell from +1400 to +1000 after the season opener. Betting on Brady requires a degree of meta-gaming the vote: will a great season be taken for granted or rewarded with a Lifetime Achievement Award? It's less risky than wagering on Rodgers' mood swings, but the payout isn't as good.
Matthew Stafford's odds fell from the +2000 range all the way to +800. No, thank you. Jameis Winston fell from +5000 to +2500. It was a much more interesting play at +5000. Kyler Murray moved from +2500 all the way to +1000. I will write in more depth about Winston and Murray tomorrow, but the market is clearly overreacting to shovel-pass touchdowns and 5-yard scoring drives. The fact that Allen and Rodgers now offer much better payouts than Murray tells you all you need to know.
Overall, there's very little value in the MVP field after Week 1. The house expects us to be busy with weekly game action anyway. But the MVP odds offer a fascinating glimpse at how one sharply one game can change perceptions about a player or his team. The NFL looks a little topsy-turvy with the Eagles and Texans in first place and the Packers and Titans coming off embarrassing losses. In the betting market, that results in lots of bunching toward the center, plus a healthy serving of shmuck bait. By the time the field sorts itself out, it will be too late to jump on the juicy payouts. Which makes that Rodgers moneyline look even tastier.