Once is an accident. Twice is a coincidence. Three times is a pattern. In Week 3, nine NFL teams will attempt to move to 3-0 while nine more are looking for their first win. There’s not a whole lot about the slate that interests me on paper, so let’s start with a look back at something NFL Network completed last night before we get to the early game of the year (BAL-KC) as well as my thoughts on Ben Roethlisberger’s season-ending injury.
100 Greatest Plays
Last night the NFL wrapped up its four-part series on the 100 Greatest Plays in NFL history (see list here). When you have more than a million plays to choose from, narrowing it down to 100 is no easy task. Okay, granted we can chop off hundreds of thousands runs for 4 yards or less, but it’s still a challenge.
For the most part, I thought they came up with a pretty solid list. The biggest omission for me was the TD pass Joe Flacco threw to Jacoby Jones with Rahim Moore blowing the coverage. That was a more stunning and ultimately more important play than the 76th-ranked Tim Tebow OT winner to Demaryius Thomas from the previous season. It’s not like the argument that one play won the game while the other forced overtime is valid either, because they put John Elway’s TD pass to cap off The Drive to force overtime at #30. In the context of highlighting singular plays rather than drives or full games, it’s pretty absurd that ranks 30th and Jones doesn’t rank at all. In short, they really botched the Denver playoff games with this list.
But I thought they did well to include perhaps the funniest play in NFL history (The Butt-Fumble), the most memorable blocked punt in NFL history (Steve Gleason in 2006), the best lateral-filled plays (River City Relay, Miracle in Miami), the most shocking punt return TD (Miracle at the Meadowlands II), and my favorite QB run ever (Steve Young TD vs. Vikings). A little too much love for RBs, but like I always say, that nostalgic love for the workhorse back dies hard with old-school fans.
There’s an error on the NFL site that attributes Elway’s aforementioned TD vs. Cleveland to being a 49ers play. So the 49ers are tied with the Vikings for the most plays (15) in the top 100. Obviously they weren’t always on the positive side of those plays, especially the Vikings with He Did What, Old Man Willie, The Hail Mary/Push Off, Tony Dorsett 99 yards, Vick’s OT TD run, Cromartie’s 109 yard TD return, 65 Toss Power Trap, and Steve Young’s TD run. The other teams in double digits were the Cowboys (10), Packers (10), Patriots (12), and Giants (12).
While they only had 9 plays, I have to say the Steelers are as well represented as any team in this feature. They have four of the top 12 plays, including The Immaculate Reception (#1), Roethlisberger to Holmes in the SB (#6), James Harrison’s 100-yard pick-six (#7), and Lynn Swann’s SB Circus Catch (#12).
I would be remiss not to highlight the six positive plays that were featured from the Patriots dynasty (2001-present):
- No. 99 – The Butt Fumble (Mark Sanchez runs into his own teammate for a fumble returned by NE for a TD)
- No. 85 – Brady throws an interception to Champ Bailey, but Ben Watson tracks him down 100 yards to prevent a pick-six
- No. 84 – Randy Moss makes a one-handed touchdown catch against Darrelle Revis in 2010
- No. 22 – In SB 51, Brady’s pass goes through Robert Alford’s hands and is caught by Julian Edelman inches off the ground for a 20+ yard completion.
- No. 18 – The greatest FG in NFL history is Adam Vinatier’s snow kick vs. Oakland after The Tuck Rule.
- No. 5 – The greatest INT in NFL history is Malcolm Butler at the 1-yd line vs. Seattle in SB 49.
Notice who isn’t highlighted in any of these plays: Tom Brady. He was on the sideline for three of them. As for the other three, he should have had two interceptions (including a pick-six), but was bailed out by his teammates, and Moss made a great catch for him. While it’s not like inclusion on this list is necessary for being the greatest player (Jerry Rice has zero plays too), this just shows what I’ve been saying for years. Some of the greatest plays in history have gone NE’s way because of players not named Brady, and he’s taken advantage of that to get such a surplus of rings and SB appearances.
Half the rings disappear without three of the top 22 plays in history. That’s why they’re understandably so high on the list.
Steelers without Ben Roethlisberger
Ben Roethlisberger (elbow surgery) is out for the season. He’s had plenty of injuries throughout his career, but he’s always avoided the serious ones until now. With this season-ending one, he’s up to 29 career games missed due to injury and you can see where that ranks among active starters:
So now what? The Steelers look terrible on defense too, but NE-SEA was a tough opening slate and the schedule should ease up. Second-year QB Mason Rudolph takes over as the starter and he’s more talented than previous backups such as Dennis Dixon, Landry Jones and Josh Dobbs. The Steelers have had a significant decline in passing production without Roethlisberger in his career, but there are some reasons for optimism around Rudolph beyond just having a college rapport with WR James Washington.
For one, the Steelers might have to actually coach for a change. I think there’s a serious downside to having a franchise quarterback that no one ever talks about or has studied. It’s when your team becomes so reliant on that player that the other parts of the team slack off and don’t pull their own weight because they trust the QB can pick up the slack. You can apply this to the careers of Dan Marino, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers in recent years, etc. Smart organizations like Bill Walsh’s 49ers or Bill Belichick’s Patriots don’t rely on the QB as much so if Joe Montana or Tom Brady missed games, those teams didn’t just fall apart like the others did.
The Steelers got off to a sluggish offensive start this season, but there were some clear trends in the limited time that Roethlisberger was the QB. Without Antonio Brown, they have tried to field a variety of wide receivers to fill the production and things have started poorly with Donte Moncrief playing terrible football.
Basically, with Roethlisberger the 2019 Steelers tried to go with an empty backfield and have Ben throw quick, short passes to receivers who couldn’t catch or do anything with the ball in their hands. There was no running game to speak of. It wasn’t working and they only scored 3 points in NE before another slow start against Seattle. But once Rudolph came into the game, the Steelers went to the play-action attack, something they do the least in the league since last season. They called a flea-flicker, which Rudolph completed for 45 yards even if it was a little underthrown. He also got one great catch out of rookie Diontae Johnson, so those two plays accounted for more than half of his yardage last week.
Leave it up to Mike Tomlin’s staff to think that they have to make the game easier on the young QB by using play-action and getting the tight end involved more. Meanwhile, they could have been doing the same things with Roethlisberger in the game as we know play-action can be such an effective tool for anyone. Unfortunately, the Steelers have this mindset that without Le’Veon Bell no one will respect the run, but that’s just not the case with how play-action gets linebackers to instinctively pause to play the run before adjusting to it being a pass. So if the Steelers are going to call more “easy plays” to help out Rudolph, then it’s a good thing even if these are things they already should have been doing with Roethlisberger. Benching (hell, flat out cutting is the right move) Moncrief and getting Washington and Vance McDonald more involved are moves that should get the offense back on track, but it could very well be a long season.
So we’ll see how the offense changes with Rudolph, but also keep an eye on the defense. That unit can field eight first-round picks to start the game now that they traded for Minkah Fitzpatrick, so Tomlin and Keith Butler have no excuses about not having the talent. It’s not good that the game is in San Francisco and the 49ers are the only offense to not go three-and-out so far this season. 0-3 could be the reality for Pittsburgh, but I still believe the schedule has 7-9 wins if Rudolph plays well.
Ravens at Chiefs (-6)
I’m really excited about this game after it was one of the best in 2018, and these definitely look like two of the only three good teams in the AFC. So this one should be important for seeding. I’m a little surprised the Chiefs are still a 6-point favorite after being a 6.5-point favorite last season over a Baltimore team that didn’t look as good offensively as it has this year.
The quarterbacks have been awesome, but what’s it going to take for Patrick Mahomes to have a so-so game (let alone bad) in the NFL? It hasn’t happened yet, but the Ravens came the closest to keeping him under his scoring threshold (26+ points) last year. Remember, the Chiefs were down 24-17 after 59 minutes of last December’s meeting. Baltimore ran the ball a lot that day and played some keep-away from Mahomes, though he did still dazzle with the no-look pass in the first half. Harrison Butker missed two FGs that day too, but the fact is Mahomes had to convert a miracle 4th-and-9 to save this game as well as a TD on 4th-and-3. That 4th-and-9 bomb was to Tyreek Hill, who is still out injured. Eric Fisher and Damien Williams are also out so injuries are piling up for the offense. Baltimore may not be as strong defensively and CB Jimmy Smith is out, so it does suck that we’re already talking about so many injuries for a Week 3 game.
I like the Chiefs in this one because I was encouraged by Arizona’s 23-17 final in Baltimore last week. If Kyler Murray was able to throw for 349 yards and repeatedly get his offense inside the 5-yard line, I trust Mahomes to do the same and finish more drives with touchdowns instead of wimpy FGs. But don’t discredit the way Lamar Jackson has started this season, and I’m sure he’s licking his chops at a defense that is allowing 6 YPC and over 70% completions. Baltimore could go on some really long drives again that shrink Mahomes’ opportunities and force him to be close to perfect.
This should be a lot of fun.
NFL Week 3 Predictions
It’s pretty embarrassing to see spreads of 22 and 23 in any week in the NFL, let alone Week 3. I like to believe that teams take that to heart and usually cover, but I’m not sure the Jets and Dolphins care right now.
I can’t figure out the Titans once again this year. I was probably too trusting of the team that beat Cleveland by 30, but they looked terrible in Jacksonville. They might be the worst team in the AFC South actually.
Keep in mind road teams have been killing it with 11 wins ATS in each of the first two weeks. I have a lot of home teams getting the job done this week, though that’s not on purpose.