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New Faces in New Places: QB Edition

A lot of quarterbacks moved around this offseason. To me, none are as impactful as Matt Ryan joining the Indianapolis Colts.

Ryan is joining the number one rushing offense from last season, and one of the things about Matt Ryan is that he’s a great play-action quarterback. Pairing him with Frank Reich, they can put it all together this season. I think they’ll have some explosiveness with the receiving core too, and obviously, with Jonathan Taylor doing his thing in the run game. This is a team that can be in the playoffs by the end of the year if they do it right.

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Andy Dalton Is an Underrated Asset in New Orleans

In this video, I discuss why I view Andy Dalton as an underrated asset in New Orleans.

I believe Dalton adds tremendous value and can wear multiple hats as the backup for the Saints. I am confident in Dalton’s ability to mentor Winston from a veteran perspective. Dalton understands what it takes to win and how to compete as an effective QB1 in this league. Dalton has certainly proven his ability to lead his teams to the postseason in the past. If Winston gets hurt, I think he can lead New Orleans to a playoff berth.

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Wannstedt: Three Reasons for Optimism in Chicago

This is the most optimistic I have felt about the Chicago Bears in the last 10 years.

I don’t want to call it a college mentality, but after being at training camp for an entire practice, guys were hustling from drill to drill. There weren’t guys sitting around on helmets. Everybody was up and moving. Their coaches aren’t wasting a lot of time.

Making The Hard Choices

I think new general manager Ryan Poles is doing a great job. The easiest thing he could do was to be sentimental and keep Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks and Danny Trevathan, and some of these older players that have been banged up a little bit but can still play at a high level.

Youth on Offense

On the other side of the ball, Poles has gone with a complete youth movement. Led by Justin Fields, the youth is prevalent everywhere. The Bears let their one veteran weapon leave in Allen Robinson, but they still have talent in RB David Montgomery and TE Cole Kmet.

Without doing what their front office has done, their offense would’ve been maturing and getting better and better and then a year or two from now they would’ve had to deal with these defensive guys from a contract standpoint. You look at that roster, and it’s filled with young players pretty much across the board. I like that part of it. They are going to grow together.

They are pretty settled on the inside of the offensive line, but there is some real competition at the tackle spot right now. How does it shake out? Nobody knows right now.

A Scheme Change on Defense

There are some changes on defense. After moving on from key veterans, new head coach Matt Eberflus is changing the scheme. The Bears for the last four or five years have been a 3-4. Now, they are going to a 4-3 similar to Lovie Smith, to what I did in Dallas and to what I did with the Dolphins. There isn’t a lot of blitzing.

If you look at what Eberflus did in Indianapolis, they’re going to blitz about 15% of the time, a little bit more when they have to, but they like to get the rush with four guys. Then, they run combination coverages on the backend. So, there’s a big philosophy change. More zone coverage. Less blitzing.

I like what they are doing. They are really excited about their rookies. There are a lot of positives going forward.

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Prepare For A Lot More Illegal Contact Penalties In 2022

Not all NFL rule changes have a major impact on the game. Some are just making penalty enforcements fairer or closing loopholes. Some do impact it and you just want to forget about them, like making pass interference a call you can challenge. What the NFL’s competition committee can do that always has a major impact on games is make something a point of emphasis for a season.

Remember Taunting Calls Last Year?

The taunting rule didn’t change in 2021, but the NFL made it a point of emphasis. The competition committee reviews different areas of game and looks at the film. If it sees there’s not enough calls in a certain area, they’ll make it a point of emphasis. They’ll tell officials to be stricter in enforcing that rule.

We saw this last season with taunting calls. There were only 12 taunting penalties in the 2020 season, and over five times as many in 2021: 61. We even saw taunting help affect the outcome of a Monday night game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears in Week 9.

Get Familiar With Illegal Contact Penalties

If there’s a point of emphasis the league could make the biggest impact with this season, I think it’s on illegal contact calls. Not counting player safety changes, illegal contact is the most important rule change the league has made in 50 years.

When the competition committee passed the rule in the 70s, it changed the style of play on the field. The league didn’t just pass college football and Major League Baseball to become the country’s most popular sport. You saw the results immediately looking at the numbers. Passing yards per game jumped from 300 to 317 the year the current rule was passed, and three years after that, there were over 400 per game for the first time ever. Since then, the league has found unparalleled success.

Why Emphasize Illegal Contact?

Last year there were only 36 illegal contact calls, the second-fewest ever in a season. Combine that with the number of defensive holding calls, and it’s the lowest combined total in a season since 2002. We saw average passing yards per game drop from 480 in 2020 to 456 last season, the second-lowest average for the league since 2010. The league noticed all of that, and they’ll be instructing officials to more strictly enforce illegal contact penalties.

The last time the competition committee made illegal contact a point of emphasis, the number of calls nearly tripled, from 52 to 148. As a result, the league had three of the five best passing seasons ever over the next three years. So expect to hear a lot of, “Wait a minute, there’s a flag down. Illegal contact, five yards, and an automatic first down.”

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Dave Wannstedt: Matthew Stafford’s Elbow Pain Not Yet Cause For Concern

The Los Angeles Rams stirred up some controversy this week when it was announced that star quarterback Matthew Stafford was dealing with elbow pain and they were continuing to limit his reps in training camp.

Rams Head Coach Sean McVay called the issue a “tricky deal” and something that was, in his experience, not normal for a quarterback. In fact, McVay likened it more to something an MLB pitcher might experience instead.

McVay also stated that the way they are handling this issue is totally new ground for him and that Stafford’s experience and mental toughness helps make McVay more confident in the team’s plan to rest and help Stafford heal.

McVay’s tough decision

Former NFL Head Coach and Contributor to The 33rd Team Dave Wannstedt believes that this is only an issue for the team if it reduces Stafford’s effectiveness or if Stafford can’t handle the pain.

“When you’ve got a guy like Stafford where he’s already limited, it’s not something he’s going to just work out in practice. It comes down to this for me: One, is he still effective throwing the ball? Two, can he tolerate the pain? Three, Is this something that’s going to get worse? That’s the criteria that Sean McVay will have to judge making a decision about his quarterback.”

Nothing new for the team

Stafford has been battling elbow pain even going into last season, when he led the Rams to a Super Bowl victory. The Rams have been monitoring this issue and came into the offseason with a plan to help alleviate the pain Stafford is feeling. While he has thrown in red zone and individual drills, Stafford did not participate in team drills for the last several practices.

McVay reassured Rams fans that the precautions are simply because the team cannot predict how Stafford’s arm will feel by midseason and want to control what they can before the season. Stafford was bothered by the arm pain last season but obviously couldn’t take days off.

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Bill Polian Suggests Colts Can Be Super Bowl Contenders

The Indianapolis Colts have been hoping to return to the Super Bowl for more than a decade. Andrew Luck, although an excellent quarterback in his own right, sadly faced too many injuries and couldn’t quite get the Colts back to a title.

Indianapolis might have an answer in longtime Atlanta Falcon-and now Indianapolis Colt-Matt Ryan.

Bill Polian, a former NFL General Manager, Team President, and current Contributor to The 33rd Team, weighed in on the new QB.

“He’s an experienced guy, he’s a highly competitive guy, he’s not had a lot of injuries in his career, and his arm is still good,” Polian said. “He can still throw the ball. His head, his processing, his leadership – it’s off the charts. And he brings with him a gravitas that they have not had at that position since Peyton’s been there.”

Ryan is reportedly already blowing away coaches and teammates in camp and has quickly established himself as a key leader for Indianapolis.

Polian is hearing of similarities between Ryan and Indianapolis Colts’ Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning. “[Current Indianapolis Colts wide receivers coach] Reggie Wayne said, “This is scary. He’s like, Peyton. Just like the same guy in terms of how he conducts himself and how he prepares and what he’s demanding of the team. This is a real, bona fide leader.”

Matt Ryan is not getting any younger and is not necessarily a long-term answer at quarterback for the Colts in the way we would refer to Justin Herbert or Patrick Mahomes.

But that said, according to Polian: “the end game for the Colts is a team that is ready to compete for the whole megillah.”

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Robert Smith Reveals His Top 3 NFL Running Backs for 2022

With new talent flooding the league every season, the race to finish as a top three NFL Running Back is as crowded as ever. Having finished his own career with four straight seasons of at least 1000 yards rushing, former Vikings back Robert Smith is an expert on what it takes to succeed in an NFL ground game. 

Here’s a look at Smith’s top three running backs heading into the 2022 NFL season.

 

3) Alvin Kamara – New Orleans Saints

Although Alvin Kamara might spend a few weeks sidelined due to a suspension, he still makes the list because he has all the traits that make a great running back. “What makes him so dangerous,” Smith says, “is his ability not just to run the ball out of the backfield, but to split out and be a great receiver as well.” Kamara has the vision, balance, power, speed and pass-catching ability to be an all-around threat.

2) Derrick Henry— Tennessee Titans

A throwback guy with incredible size, Derrick Henry is a dangerous runner. His ability to see over offensive lineman, at times, allows him to have a better sense of where defenders are coming from at the second level of the defense. And speaking of defenders, “once they get to the tackle point,” Smith says, “it’s one thing to get there. It’s another thing to make that tackle.” Henry is a running back that is incredibly difficult to prepare for, and even more difficult to bring down. 

1) Jonathan Taylor— Indianapolis Colts

Coming off a big, 1800-yard season, Jonathan Taylor combines all the traits of Kamara and Henry— aside from Henry’s size of course. The difference maker for Taylor, though, is his high-end speed. It allows him to break off long runs and those kinds of explosive plays are always a big factor in a team’s offensive success. “I think he’s the most dangerous running back in the league,” says Smith, “ he’s a guy that can take it to the house on any play.” 

 

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Indianapolis Colts Leadership and Energy ‘Impressive’

The Indianapolis Colts have found the leadership they may have been lacking since Phillip Rivers retired. The result? When I attended the Colts’ practice this week there was a high energy level and a great deal of excitement. One of the main reasons for that excitement is the stellar play— and aforementioned leadership— of new Quarterback Matt Ryan.

After being drafted third overall in the 2008 NFL Draft, Ryan spent 14 seasons with the Atlanta Falcons. The former MVP was traded to the Colts in March for a third-round draft choice. I think he’s already adapted to his new surroundings and is providing the Colts with much-needed leadership. 

So Far So Good for Matt Ryan

I thought Ryan looked as good as ever in practice. His arm strength was good, and it was apparent he was already growing comfortable in the offense. The quarterback will have an excellent running game to look forward to, led by running back Jonathan Taylor. Their only established receiver is maybe Michael Pittman Jr, but the team used rookie Alec Pierce a lot in the redzone during drills. Ryan has the chance to be the leadership element this offense has lacked since the departure of Phillip Rivers. 

The Colts also feel they have an edge because they are one of just five NFL teams holding training camp outside their regular practice facilities. Colts’ General Manager Chris Ballard feels it gives his team an edge thanks to the camaraderie these first few weeks of the year help build. 

New Coaching Leadership

Matt Eberflus, the Colts’ Defensive Coordinator last season, left to take the head coaching job in Chicago. It’s now up to former Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley to provide the Colts leadership on defense this season. Bradley’s system isn’t too different, but there will be some tweaks and adjustments to what they do defensively.  

The way the Colts win games this year is to play rock-solid defense, run the ball, and then let Matty Ice take his shots down the field.

Analysis

Let’s Back Off The Criticism Of Kyler Murray

When you get a young, star quarterback to work with, you don’t want to over-coach him. You want to let him be himself, and play to his strengths initially. That is what we tried to do with Ben Roethlisberger when I was coaching in Pittsburgh. And I’m reminded of that looking at Kyler Murray in Arizona.

Let The QB Be Himself

When Ben Roethlisberger came into the NFL, we tried to keep things simple for him at first. He was a creative quarterback, and we just wanted him to get out there and play his way. Looking in Arizona, I wonder what they’re giving Kyler so far, what reads and checks they’re asking him to make. Most importantly, are they letting him be himself?

I know the stories have been about “study hours” and his preparation, but that’s been overstated. I’m sure he prepares, he wouldn’t be succeeding as a starting quarterback if he wasn’t putting in the work preparing week after week.

When I look at Kyler Murray, I see someone who does so well at improvising with the ball. He makes that a signature of his game, and it works better when he isn’t overthinking anything out there.

Don’t Over-Coach Kyler Early

As quarterbacks gain experience, teams give them more, they start to work the systems in. Yes, there’s preparation that goes into it. But early on, let’s back off on the criticism. Just ask him to be Kyler Murray, a very talented player who is putting in the preparation that he needs to.

Don’t over-coach him. Just let him be Kyler Murray. We don’t have to apply the “five hours of tape” study requirement. Yes, preparation’s a part of it. But ask, what are you giving him and asking him to do?

With how talented he was, I didn’t ask Ben to do a lot, until he earned it and understood it a little more. I think as Kyler keeps playing, he’ll see it more and more, and really understand each opponent and what he has to do every week. Then, coaches can give him more to do based on how much they think he can handle, and it won’t take away from his natural abilities he has as a talented quarterback.