We’ve reached the halfway point of the regular season, so what better time to get a midterm report. We asked former Dallas Cowboys, Houston Texans and New York Giants cornerback, and The NFL Show analyst, Jason Bell, how the NFL’s 100th season is shaping up.
How do you think the season has gone so far?
There was a lot of hype in the buildup because it’s the 100th season – which is a phenomenal accomplishment – and all the promotion associated with that, but you need a few games to kick in to really feel it. You normally break the season into quarters, the first quarter you shouldn’t get too caught up in because teams are still warming up a little bit. There’s no hiding now, though, you are what your record says you are.
Which teams have impressed you in particular?
Obviously the Patriots – they’re the most balanced team in football. The most impressive thing they do is constantly evolve, but we knew they’d be good, there are some other teams, however, who have really developed this year.
You have to talk about the 49ers. Kyle Shanahan is an unbelievable coach and the way in which he has set up his team and runs the ball looks like his dad (two-time Super Bowl winning coach, Mike Shanahan) used to do with the Broncos all those years ago. It’s the same kind of scheme, but they’ve also invested in their front, so their defensive line and offensive line are where they’ve spent some money and they’re playing great. You see the dominance on both sides of the ball and that’s how you win matches.
Another team that deserves a mention are the Buffalo Bills. They have a good offensive line, they win the line of scrimmage, they play balanced football and they’re cohesive. You can see them sometimes slow everything down to give the defense a rest – they’re coached really well.
Player that’s impressed the most?
I love what Christian McCaffrey is doing. Watching him live is amazing and he’s so dynamic running between the tackles. The Panthers offense runs through him because Cam Newton’s injury has forced the hand of his play caller and they’ve used him more aggressively.
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That said, I think Russell Wilson is a step up, mainly because he’s had more opportunities to impact games. Pete Carroll did a rebuild and we had to figure out what kind of team Seattle was. He’s got rid of everyone that thought he was stale and now these young guys are learning from him, but having Wilson pulling the strings is key to all of that.
Special mention to Teddy Bridgewater, too. This is a lesson to anyone who feels like they’re a potential Super Bowl team: pay good money for a quality backup quarterback. Saints knew they were good, but also that they were an ankle twist away from it all falling apart, so they covered for the loss of Drew Brees and they’ve been proven right. Also, credit Teddy. He could have taken a lot more money and been in Miami right now...
Teams that have disappointed?
There are some really bad teams but we knew who they were going to be. Aside from those, the Cleveland Browns came in with a lot of hype. Everyone was talking about these toys that they have, but you can have all the guys in the world and it means nothing if you’re not winning the line of scrimmage. All the people who knew football looked at that offensive line and thought it wasn’t good enough. People were anointing them as Super Bowl contenders, but they’ve overlooked their run game because of who their receivers are. They need to run the ball through Nick Chubb, but it’s difficult with that O-line.
Also, the Falcons defense has been disappointing – the talent and depth isn’t quite there. Their offense is giving them a chance in games, but they run that cover three defense, built for speed, and now people run right at them because they’re light in the middle. They have a good culture there, though, so they should be able to turn it around through drafting and developing.
And any players?
Jared Goff has dropped off a lot, but that’s down to his team as much him. People like to give him a hard time because he got that huge contract, but he needs protection and at the moment he’s not getting that. That whole offense was based around a run game and that’s no longer there – he’s never going to create chances with his legs, improvise and extend plays. They can’t run the ball as effectively and because of that they can’t do the play action pass that worked so well.
Best trade so far?
Speaking of the Rams, it’s still very early, but Jalen Ramsey is a great pick-up. There’s certain positions in football that you just can’t put people around to help out and they’re on the outside: tackles, defensive ends and corners.
Wade Phillips is a great defensive coordinator and he calls plays around the talent that he has. With Ramsey he can now shutdown a number one receiver and allocate resources elsewhere around the defense. It gives them a lot of flexibility that they didn’t have with Marcus Peters, who’s a great zonal player who can make plays, but he’s not a shutdown corner like Ramsey.
MVP so far?
I’d go for Russell Wilson. The Seahawks have gone under the radar a little bit. That happens to West Coast teams unless they are really dominant, like the Rams were last year. You have to be in the national narrative or people overlook you. Wilson has been the best player so far this season given the influence that he exerts and he’s right in the mix as an MVP candidate.
I really, really like Josh Jacobs. I saw him up close and he really stands out, it’s good that UK fans got to see him live this season, too. Jon Gruden wants players to buy into his personality and there’s a culture shift going on in Oakland at the moment, players like Jacobs are a big part of that.
Who’s going to make Super Bowl?
In the AFC the Chiefs and Texans look good, but it’s hard to see past the Patriots.
The NFC is the really hard part because teams will beat each other up, it’s impossible to tell. Maybe, maybe, the Seahawks make it. They are out-scoring their opponents in the 4th quarter, which means that they’re well conditioned, running the ball well and being more physical. And they have Russell Wilson.
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