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One thing that drives me crazy in the NFL is when teams don’t make bold moves, even when the odds are in their favor. We’re not that far away from back in the day, when general managers guarded mid-round draft picks as fiercely as the kidnappers hid Liam Neeson’s daughter in “Taken,” even when they had in-season opportunities to fortify potential Super Bowl teams.
Thankfully, those days are largely over. The aggressive way the New England Patriots have shipped players in and out during the season over the past 20 years has made it OK for GMs to do the same, adding more intrigue (and fun!) to the NFL on a daily basis in the fall.
That’s why the first topic on this week’s edition of Things I Enjoyed is …
1. Dez Bryant signing with the Saints
I really like this for both sides. Bryant, 30, has been looking to play for a Super Bowl contender after the Dallas Cowboys released him this spring, and the Saints, at 7-1, certainly fit the bill in more ways than one.
While the big receiver’s passion isn’t for everyone, there’s a good chance the Saints’ Super Bowl-winning coach-quarterback duo of Sean Payton and Drew Brees is strong (and accomplished) enough to command his respect. That should help Bryant as he acclimates to the Saints’ culture and offense, and serve as a guard in the instances he gets fired up about not getting the football. Winning will help with that as well.
From the Saints’ point of view, this is a smart, low-risk addition. Sometimes people talk about Bryant like he’s 40, and while he certainly isn’t as athletically dynamic as he used to be, it’s a mistake to assume he doesn’t have pronounced strengths that can help the Saints greatly in a complementary role (assuming he hasn’t lost anything between now and the end of last season).
The first of which is his run-after-the-catch ability. Bryant does his best work short-to-intermediate, where his size (6-foot-2, 222 pounds), competitiveness and power help him run through arm tackles from weak-tackling corners regularly. His 21 broken tackles in 2017 ranked fourth in the entire NFL among receivers, according to Football Outsiders.
In 2017, Bryant also showed the ability to go up and make tough, contested catches in jump-ball situations:
And lastly, Bryant’s size, initial burst in the first 5 yards and competitiveness make him a slant-ball weapon on third down, especially if he embraces it as his role:
This combination of skills is understandably attractive for the Saints, who are getting Bryant cheap. They don’t have anyone who can consistently punish defenders for single-covering them across from New Orleans’ outstanding No. 1 receiver, Michael Thomas.
Bryant’s tendency to drop passes must be noted; he had 10 last year, which tied for first in the league, according to Football Outsiders. Some of them are mind-boggling. He dropped only three passes in 13 games in 2016 (while catching 50). I think he’ll be helped in this area by the pinpoint accuracy of Brees, who understands how to put passes right on the money and knows where his receivers like the ball on certain routes.
At the end of the day, this trade is a continuation of the Saints’ “all-in” philosophy for 2018. They dealt a pair of premium draft picks to move up and select Marcus Davenport — a sorely-needed edge rusher to pair with Cam Jordan — and they also traded a 2019 third-round pick so Teddy Bridgewater can be protection against an injury to Brees.
Now they’ve added Bryant to bolster a receiving corps that features Thomas and little else. They should be saluted for that; now it just has to work.
2. How Andy Reid tortures defenses
The Chiefs have one the league’s most entertaining offenses. Between Pro Bowlers like running back Kareem Hunt, tight end Travis Kelce and receiver Tyreek Hill, the Chiefs have far more firepower than the average team, and when you add Patrick Mahomes’ prodigious combination of arm strength, elusiveness and moxie, it has allowed head coach Andy Reid to test the limits of his creativity.
The results have powered Kansas City’s 8-1 start, all while delighting fans and maddening defenses.
In the video below, I broke down exactly how Reid does that, often by starting plays that look the same post snap but feature a completely different end game, leaving defenders grasping at air — as Broncos edge rusher Von Miller noted after their loss to the Chiefs a few weeks ago:
“I don’t know how many plays they got, they got counters as well,” Miller said. “They can show you the same play 10 times, run it 10 times and then on the eleventh time run something else.”
Hope you enjoy:
3. James Bradberry monster jam on Big Mike Evans
Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans is 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, with arms that stretch from Tampa to Jacksonville. He’s not someone who can be pressed easily. Yet, Carolina Panthers cornerback James Bradberry not only did it to him here, he made it look good:
Bradberry was on Evans like this all day, helping hold the big wideout to one catch and 16 yards on 10 targets.
Bradberry is emerging as a very good cornerback. Keep an eye on him.
4. When Joe Flacco (spitefully?) refuses to throw to his backup
Here’s some gallows humor: Imagine being offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. People are begging you to play your first-round rookie quarterback, Lamar Jackson, but you’re going with veteran Joe Flacco. So you try to be creative. You draw up a play that features Jackson running a jet sweep, which confuses the Steelers enough that they leave him open down the right sideline. All Flacco has to do is throw it there, and it’s an easy early touchdown in an important AFC North rivalry game.
Then, this happens:
Here’s what Flacco said when asked about it later:
“If you remember, we were kind of rushing around there. It didn’t get off perfect, and he’s the last guy out of probably five guys out there anyways. It’s one of those where maybe you wish you had extended the play and ended up seeing it late.”
5. Alvin Kamara’s route-running
By now, I shouldn’t have to convince you of Alvin Kamara’s greatness. But, if you want further proof, here’s a perfect option route he ran on safety Lamarcus Joyner for a 16-yard touchdown on Sunday against the Rams. It was so nasty it should be illegal:
THINGS I ENJOYED ARCHIVE
WEEK 8: How Golden Tate, 3 others dealt at NFL trade deadline can impact their teams
WEEK 7: These Amari Cooper plays can help Dak Prescott, Cowboys soar
WEEK 6: Flying to the football, Steelers’ nasty blocking & Matt Nagy channeling Andy Reid
WEEK 5: A Tale of two Cams (Newton and Erving)
WEEK 4: The juice of Patriots RB Sony Michel and lineman who slowed down Von Miller
WEEK 3: Mahomes magic and Lane Johnson’s acting chops
WEEK 2: Dallas’ deep ball, and the ridiculousness of Mahomes and Saquon
WEEK 1: Andy Reid’s goal-line circus and more
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