The Departed: Tyler Lockett breaks the game

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Before we look ahead to the Divisional Round, let’s take a nod back at the four teams eliminated last weekend; the dearly departed. Here are some collected thoughts from Wild Card Weekend, focusing on the teams no longer competing.

Tyler Lockett Does More With Less

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Lockett’s fourth season was a historic one, his long-awaited breakout. Every Lockett stat is my favorite one. The Seahawks had a perfect quarterback rating on passes to Lockett this year. Lockett posted the highest yards-per-target number since the league started tracking the target stats in 1992. He also led the NFL in yardage drawn on pass interference.

All wonderful things, but how do the Seahawks let Lockett finish the year with 76 piddly targets over 17 games? He had six in the Dallas loss, and his high for the year was a modest seven. It’s a red herring to state that Lockett’s efficiency would go down with more opportunity — no one can maintain his obscene per-target juice from this year. But why would Seattle not push Lockett into the 90-110 target range and see what’s possible?

No one suggests Lockett can turn into a Julio Jones-level workhorse, but a hunk of meat was left on this bone. Sometimes teams trick themselves into thinking a limited role is sparking a breakout (think Todd Haley and Jamaal Charles in Kansas City). These are cases where you should stop playing so cautiously; let the potential for upside breathe. At least find out what you have.

Tyler Lockett was a constant highlight in a breakout fourth season (AP Photo/John Froschauer)
Tyler Lockett was a constant highlight in a breakout fourth season (AP Photo/John Froschauer)

Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is the villain in all this. While the NFL offensive game continues to trend in an aggressive, modern direction, he’s trying to push dated football concepts on the Seattle offense. Yes, the Seahawks ran the ball well most of the year — Saturday was an outlier. But Russell Wilson’s low volume (and Lockett’s as well) cannot be defended. Schottenheimer is the Wheel of Fortune contestant who won’t use the free spins in his grasp. The NFL is giving away yardage, especially in the middle of the field, but Seattle won’t be proactive in taking what’s there.

The best coaches are able to mold their current talent into a scheme. Schottenheimer might be a coach who thinks the other way around, and this lack of forward thinking puts a cap on Seattle’s future upside. As much as I enjoyed Lockett’s explosion, the presence of Schottenheimer makes me think Lockett will be mildly overpriced next year.

The Lamar Jackson Problem

Given that Baltimore had modest playoff upside this year, it’s probably for the best Jackson wasn’t pulled despite a nightmare opening three quarters. Why scar his confidence for the long term? Moving back to Joe Flacco is not a sustainable path for anything good. Mind you, we can wonder about Jackson’s true upside, but at least there’s an upside there.

The Chargers booked up on Baltimore and used the earlier loss to their gain. Los Angeles picked up tells from the Baltimore offensive line, and using seven defensive backs as a base defense — prioritizing speed over power — was brilliant.

Ultimately, Jackson’s ball security issues sank the Ravens, not to mention the inability to throw the ball downfield. Baltimore was sitting at minus-2 passing yards in the middle of the second half. Jackson’s going to be a tricky player for an overall fantasy offense because he’s going to cannibalize the running game, and he might not develop into a kingmaker for his receivers. He’s not the type of player you score parallel to.

Houston needs more horses

I was relieved when the Texans season ended. It was a frustrating game to watch — Bill O’Brien with his punts, Deshaun Watson getting beaten up, DeAndre Hopkins at less than 100 percent. Keke Coutee had a useful game Saturday, but the Texans desperately lacked another consistent downfield weapon. The offensive line had a lousy year, and there isn’t a difference maker in the running game (though that’s the last thing to worry about long-term; it’s not hard to hit on a cheap back).

Maybe it’s time for O’Brien to pass the offensive reins to someone else. If nothing else, O’Brien probably needs a strong second in command — someone to talk him out of a bad idea or plan.

Hopkins, as you probably heard, didn’t have a drop all year. That’s amazing on his volume. But the Texans can’t be a one-horse town next year.

Tarik Cohen on a milk carton

It’s hard to imagine that the Bears lost despite a two-turnover advantage and Mitch Trubisky mildly outplaying Nick Foles. But Chicago left too many points on the field, and Matt Nagy had a poor strategic endgame. Settling for a 43-yard kick doesn’t make sense, either — but with a relatively-inexperienced quarterback, maybe Chicago didn’t have the nerve to push it.

This loss reminded me a little of the Rams loss to Atlanta last year. Maybe Chicago needed a step back before a possible step forward. I’d still bet on Nagy long-term, even if I’m never sure what to make of Trubisky.

That said, Nagy doesn’t get a total pass here. I threw some DFS bucks at Tarik Cohen, making what ultimately turned out to be a foolish plea for rational coaching. Cohen had four touches and a mere six opportunities in Chicago’s most critical game of the year. What are you saving him for?

Cohen took a step forward in Year 2 — finishing at RB13 (in Yahoo’s default half-point PPR), scoring nine total touchdowns — but there’s a lot more room for growth. His catch rate nudged forward a few percentage points, and his average catch jumped from 6.7 to 10.2. This is a splash play waiting to happen, but the Bears have to take the training wheels off. Let your best players be your best players.

It was refreshing to see Allen Robinson ball out like it was 2014, dominating for three hours. He was a hard pass for me last summer, but I’m going to strongly reevaluate him this spring.

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