NFL Week 9: What We Learned

It’s all downhill from here.

We’ve moved past the halfway point for the 2013 NFL season and there’s a lot of information to sift through.

One thing is certain: we don’t know as much as we know.

What do I know?

  • It’s going to be a dogfight for the AFC wild cards. Assuming the Bengals, Colts and Patriots hold their divisions and assuming that neither Kansas City no Denver collapses, you’ve got five of six spots pretty well secured. Leaving one spot for the Jets, Dolphins, Browns, Titans and Chargers to go after. The Jets have to cushiest schedule but are the most inconsistent. But anything can happen, so hang on.
  • Given the injuries the Packers and Bears are dealing with, the Lions are the favorite for the NFC North title. It’s going to come down to consistency and getting out of their own may. The Lions have not been penalized as much as they have in years past—57 flags through eight games at a rate of 7 per game puts them just in the top ten for most penalized—and they have to continue to improve if they want to lock this down. They have a chance to beat the Bears and Packers for the title if they play smart football over the second half of the season.
  • Adults can be bullied. As much as we don’t want to believe it (or some don’t), it happens. We shouldn’t be blaming the victim—it’s a bad look.
  • Speaking of Miami specifically, what a disaster. Even taking away the Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito mess, this team has looked a bit rudderless. They have a solid running back in Lamar Miller who they have only just started giving more than a dozen carries and still won’t give him a full load—despite a 4.8 yards-per-carry average. The offensive line was a disaster before they lost two of their starters and their big money receiver—Mike Wallace—has been completely ineffective.  If they were winning, the other stuff would seem trivial. Now? It looks symptomatic.
  • The chickens could be coming home to roost in Green Bay. For a long time there have been concerns—primarily among national media but occasionally among fans—that having unproven or just flat out bad backups behind quarterback Aaron Rodgers was a bad idea. The Packers were willing to gamble since Rodgers is one of the tougher guys out there, but now that he’s out with a fractured collarbone, and now that we’ve seen Seneca Wallace play, it has to be a concern. As we’ve discussed when Jay Cutler and other quarterbacks have gone out with injury the pickings are slim in free agency and the trade deadlines are past. We expect GM Ted Thompson to pull some magic out of his bag of tricks, but while the rest of the team seems to be fine with “next-man-up” talent, quarterback is too important a position. If the team collapses it will highlight one of the rare times when Thompson has failed to find talent to develop.
  • Coaching is rough. Media and fans both get on coaches about failings on the field but few people realize how much of a grind the job is. Denver’s John Fox and Houston’s Gary Kubiak both ending up in the hospital in one weekend is a reminder, as was the sad situation with Andy Reid’s son not long ago. Ultimately, criticism comes with the job, but it’s important to remember how much these guys put into their jobs and the toll it takes on them and their family.
  • I don’t know what to make of the Bengals, Jets or Browns. I’m having a hard time buying the Chiefs.  The Panthers are proving to be the contender I thought they might be in preseason.
  • Andrew Luck is a damned fine quarterback. Eddie Lacy should have been the first running back in the 2013 NFL draft. The rookie quarterbacks this year are just as inconsistent and raw as I expected them to be.
  • Everyone says “Wait until Seattle is on the road, then we’ll see how bad they are” but they’re 47-1 on the road. So what are we waiting for?
  • Even the Jacksonville Jaguars look at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and say “Oh man, that’s bad.”
  • The last few years have seen some great quarterback classes and all indications are that 2014 will have another stellar crop. This year seems to be the year of the running back though. Eddie Lacy, Giovani Bernard and Zac Stacy are all performing well—Lacy and Stacy especially the last two games, though I suspect if the Bengals gave Bernard 20 carries, he’d be right there with them. That said, it’s going to be the rare back worth a first round pick—with Trent Richardson and David Wilson’s struggles, it doesn’t seem to be worth the risk to grab a back in the first round. Bernard and Lacy were second round picks, Stacy was grabbed in the fifth. Add in Andre Ellington, who is going to have a strong second half of the season and was a sixth round pick and, if you have a good scouting department, you can grab value anywhere.

That’s all for this week. I’ll be back later in the week to highlight the Thursday night matchup as well as break some plays down with the All-22 coach’s tape.

Until then, thanks for reading.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at, the NFL writer at and an NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

Chalkboard: Packers Jordy Nelson’s 76-yard Touchdown Highlights Chemistry with Aaron Rodgers

Bromance! Rodgers and Nelson are a match made in NFL production heaven. (image via

It’s taken place quietly, but this season has shown the NFL that there are few—if any—better quarterback/wide receiver combinations in the NFL than the Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers to Jordy Nelson.

That was on constant display Sunday night when the Packers—minus three key pieces in Jermichael Finley, Randall Cobb and James Jones—took the field and appeared to have not even missed a beat.

Yes, props need to go to Jarrett Boykin and Myles White, two players who were an afterthought going into the season and Eddie Lacy, who has given this team a legitimate ground game.

Still, it was Nelson who Rodgers looked too most in the game and Nelson who caught all but one pass thrown his way.

Rodgers knows where Nelson is, where he will be and that if he puts the ball anywhere near Nelson, the receiver will catch it. We saw it all day Sunday, just as we have all season.

Nelson’s 76-yard touchdown in the second quarter was a great example of all of the above, but also featured an interesting defensive shift which Rodgers saw and was able to take advantage of.


The play takes pace on a 3rd-and-6 in the second quarter with the game tied 10-10.

The Packers set up with four wide receivers and just fullback John Kuhn in the backfield. White is in the slot (or “Y”) position, while Boykin is lined up at flanker (or the “Z”). Both are off the line of scrimmage.

On the far side (top of the picture), tight end Andrew Quarless is lined up at split end (or “X”). Jordy Nelson is lined up on the line in the spot where the tight end would normally be, which might be part of the reason why the pass works so well.

The Vikings are lining up in their 4-3, despite defensive end Everson Griffin up and walking around. He eventually settles inside, though he remains upright without his hand in the dirt.

NelsonTDGBroutesAs Rodgers snaps the ball, all four receivers head out on routes, as well as Kuhn. The Packers keep nobody back to help protect Rodgers so the line has to hold up and Rodgers needs to get the ball out as soon as possible.

Kuhn runs a screen while Quarless clears out the cornerback with a short slant in. Boykin runs a post route while White goes underneath with a short slant.

Nelson also appears to run a post, though his cut is very shallow, so he might have been running a go and just adjusted to Rodgers as he ran.

NelsonTDMINstuntMeanwhile, when the ball is snapped the Vikings run what I call a “ripple stunt.” A regular old stunt is when two players on the defense (usually defensive linemen but sometimes they involve linebackers or defensive backs) trade roles in the hopes that the offense will be confused, making it easier for the defenders to beat them and get after the quarterback.

This particular stunt is what’s sometimes referred to as cross-rushing—when a defensive lineman drops back and a linebacker charges forward hoping to take the offensive line by surprise.

I call this a ripple stunt because it involves three players in a sort of waterfall effect.

Griffin drops back to the linebacker position while strongside linebacker Chad Greenway shifts to the right and middle linebacker Erin Henderson blitzes. If you’re wondering where the other outside linebacker is, it looks as though he was replaced on this play with an extra defensive back. No. 35, Marcus Sherels is lined up across from White and blitzes.

Which is a gamble anyway because it leaves White completely uncovered. If Sherels doesn’t get to Rodgers in time—and he doesn’t—Rodgers has an outlet for the first down anyway.

It’s not a bad stunt as far as gambles go, but it has one (other) fatal flaw.

NelsonTD3Looking at the left side of the above screen-capture, you can see how far Greenway has to go to get in position to cover Nelson.

All things being equal, Greenway does a good job getting over to Nelson, though his momentum is moving in the wrong direction and his back is to Rodgers.

Still, he’s where he is supposed to be.

Here’s where that remarkable chemistry between Rodgers and Nelson comes in.

Nelson knows he essentially has Greenway beat. He knows the ball will be coming quickly and he has to be ready.

Meanwhile, Rodgers likely read the coverage shift as soon as the snap went off (assuming this isn’t something he saw in film study last week) and loved the mismatch of a linebacker on Nelson. He also knows that the sooner he gets the ball into Nelson’s hand, the better.

So Rodgers gets the ball out quickly and Nelson is ready for it when it rips past Greenway’s ear.

Because Greenway’s momentum is going the wrong direction, he loses precious moments as he tries to adjust.

Meanwhile, Nelson accelerates and few bad angles and missed tackles later, he’s in the end zone.

This was just one example of the synergy that Nelson and Rodgers have. The first touchdown Nelson caught was much the same sort of throw—pinpoint accurate and on a rope.

Rodgers knows he can throw it that way to Nelson because he knows Nelson will make that catch happen 99 times out of 100.

As for the Vikings, this is the sort of gamble which can pay off big but when it goes wrong, it really stings. While the real kill-shot was probably the 93-yard punt return touchdown by Mycah Hyde two minutes later, this was the play which really seemed to open up things for the Packers’ offense.

In a close game a gamble like that can turn things in your favor. In this case, it started an avalanche of momentum that spelled doom for the Vikings.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at, the NFL writer at and an NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.