1. Sony Michel’s juice
Prior to the New England Patriots’ 38-7 dismantling of the Miami Dolphins, there was plenty gnashing of teeth in the greater Northeast about an offense that uncharacteristically ranked 25th in the NFL entering the contest.
But while many have chosen to focus on the lack of speed at receiver — which prompted a trade for trouble-but-talented Josh Gordon and a hero’s welcome for Julian Edelman this week — one of the Patriots’ issues has been the void created by the offseason departure of running back Dion Lewis.
Lewis, who signed this offseason with the Tennessee Titans, is one of the league’s most elusive running backs, someone who was adept at turning a 1-yard gain into 4. Given the Patriots’ reliance on short passes, this came in handy but it also gave New England some playmaking on general running plays.
That’s where rookie running back Sony Michel comes in. Michel rushed 26 times for 112 yards in the win against the Dolphins, and this guy’s juice — his elusiveness and big-play ability — has a chance to really help this team.
Take his 23-yard run, for instance.
I love the design of this lead play. The right guard, Shaq Mason (No. 69), picked up the stunting lineman and used his momentum to drive him out of the hole while fullback James Develin (No. 46) led through the hole and wiped out the linebacker, leaving Michel in a one-on-one situation vs. the safety. In the NFL, running backs are expected to make a defender miss with this much cushion, but what they don’t always do is avoid linebackers. In this case, one closed in to Michel’s left. But Michel is so quick, he split the two of them and picked up an extra 20 yards.
If Michel can do this consistently, defenses will have to start dropping an extra defender closer to the box in certain situations. That will open things up more for quarterback Tom Brady and a passing game that will likely have another top-10 finish.
2. Mitchell Schwartz’s big night
Von Miller had a tackle for loss and two quarterback hurries in the Denver Broncos’ 27-23 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday, but Chiefs right tackle Mitchell Schwartz gave Miller all he could handle in the pass game.
Schwartz, who has not surrendered a sack this season, is one of the league’s best pass protectors at right tackle. His supreme footwork makes him a tough counter for Miller, who uses his burst and pass-rush savvy to confound most offensive tackles. Schwartz surrendered a pressure to Miller, according to Pro Football Focus, but it came more than 2.5 seconds after the snap, and quarterback Patrick Mahomes drifted from the pocket, which pretty much absolves Schwartz of responsibility.
But Schwartz’s highlight of the night was his crushing down block on Adam Gotsis during the game-winning touchdown:
Here, you see Schwartz (No. 71) lined up as the tight end next to left tackle Eric Fisher. Left guard Cam Erving and right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif will pull behind Schwartz’s down block — I love “G-block” schemes like this — and running back Kareem Hunt slips between the three of them for a game-winning score.
3. Jadeveon Clowney’s burst and swim move
Houston Texans outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney had three offsides penalties in the Texans’ 37-34 overtime win over the Colts, and yeah, that’s not ideal.
However, Clowney is playing in a contract year, so his eagerness to make plays makes sense. His talent is really popping now, too. Take the play below, for instance:
Clowney aligned on the outside shoulder of Denzelle Good (No. 72), who is playing as an unbalanced tight end. It was second-and-10, and the Colts tried to play power football, but Clowney was too quick off the ball for tight end Ryan Hewitt (No. 45), who is tasked with getting a body on him. Clowney uses a nifty swim move to narrow his hips through the hole and penetrate the backfield, resulting in a 3-yard loss.
As a run defender, Clowney was awesome on Sunday, and generally, he has been good all season and throughout his career. Given the pass-centric nature of today’s NFL, however, it’s his rush that will get him paid, and he needs to pick up the pace. Sunday’s effort — two sacks, four hurries — was a good start.
4. Marcus Mariota’s red-zone mastery
The Titans improved to 3-1 with a 26-23 overtime win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, and if you’re a Titans fan, the most promising thing about it was the way fourth-year quarterback Marcus Mariota looked against the defending Super Bowl champions.
Mariota was very good, completing 30 of 43 passes (69.8 percent) for 344 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He also rushed 10 times for 46 yards and a touchdown. But most important, he came through when it mattered, hitting receiver Corey Davis for a game-winning 10-yard touchdown with 17 seconds left in overtime:
Davis’ catch was outstanding and the play was a really good example of why Mariota is so great in the red zone — where he’s thrown 35 touchdowns to go with zero interceptions in his NFL career. The 24-year-old’s ability to put this ball in a place where only his receiver could get it — despite being under pressure — is a good example of the touch and moxie required to be as good in the red zone as he is.
5. Big Mo Hurst doing Mo Hurst things
For Oakland Raiders fans, the Khalil Mack trade is gonna be like those old-school franchise seasons in “Madden” where a favorite player suffers a career-ending injury. You’ll always remember it, even when you move on to other franchises and seasons.
And while Hurst, a rookie fifth-round pick from Michigan, won’t come close to fulfilling the vast pass-rush void left by Mack, Raiders fans can at least enjoy a super-quick interior pass rusher who plays his tail off and is very disruptive. Check out the play below here:
Hurst lined up as a three-technique defensive tackle. This pass rush was gorgeous. He fired into the guard, unleashing a furious rip move to the right shoulder of Kevin Zeitler — who is no slouch — and heads upfield with quickness. Watch him close the pocket on Cleveland Browns QB Baker Mayfield and swat the ball away, setting up an Oakland recovery that led to a touchdown.
Oakland — which ranks dead last in the league in sacks with five — will need an “all hands on deck” approach to replacing Mack. Getting interior help from youngsters like Hurst on a week-to-week basis would be a big help to at least fielding a passable pass rush.
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