Evan Coleman

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Keep an Eye On It: Week 13

Now that the Texans have won eight straight, they’ve put themselves right in the middle of the AFC race for home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Going into Sunday’s games, Houston sits at 3rd in the AFC playoff standings. Although they have the same record as the Patriots, New England owns the head-to-head tiebreaker due to winning the Week 1 matchup between the two teams. Kansas City leads the conference with a 9-2 record, putting Houston just a game back of having the best record in the conference. If the Texans are going to earn a first round bye for the first time in team history, they’re gonna need some help. Let’s take a look at some games that Texans fans should keep an eye on this week.

Minnesota at New England (Sunday 4:25 ET)

As mentioned previously, the Patriots own the tiebreaker with the Texans. The only way the Texans pass them in the standings is if New England takes another loss before the season ends. Looking at their schedule, this game is one of two challenging games NE has remaining, the other being a road game against Pittsburgh two weeks from today. Minnesota is also in the playoff hunt and needs to keep winning to avoid falling behind in the NFC wild card race. They are a talented team, but New England is tough to beat at home. Texans fans should hope the Vikings bring their “A” game.

LA Chargers at Pittsburgh (Sunday 8:20 ET)

The Chargers head to Pittsburgh Sunday night to take on the Steelers in what could be a playoff preview. If the season ended today, this game would actually be one of the wild card matchups in the AFC. LA is a well balanced team, but they will be without RB Melvin Gordon due to injury. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh is coming off of a loss to Denver which dropped them to 4th in the AFC playoff standings. As it relates to the Texans, fans should be pulling for the Chargers in this one. A win by them not only keeps Pittsburgh behind Houston, but also keeps the Chargers’ hopes of catching Kansas City for the AFC West division title alive. Those two teams meet in Kansas City in Week 15, and if Houston wants to be the number 1 seed, the Chiefs have to lose a couple of games along the way.

Kansas City at Oakland (Sunday 4:05 ET)

Speaking of the Chiefs, they travel to Oakland to face the Raiders in a divisional matchup. KC has been one of the more impressive teams in the whole league, led by MVP candidate, Patrick Mahomes. They are coming off of a bye, but they had a big change to their team due to the release of RB Kareem Hunt. Hunt was caught on video tape getting into an altercation with a young woman back in February and was cut from the team. He was one of their best offensive weapons, so it remains to be seen how the team will perform without him. Texans fans should be pulling for Oakland to win this, but it’s a longshot, at best. Oakland has been absolutely awful. One has to wonder if they are already in tank mode. Being that it is a division game, anything can happen, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up.

*All stats and records via ESPN.

NFL Power Rankings: Week 11

We’re coming down the home stretch of the of the NFL season.

Teams with legit championship aspirations are starting to separate themselves from the weaker side of the league. The Week 11 slate of games has some interesting matchups, including what could be Super Bowl preview down in Mexico City. For now, though let’s look at how all 32 teams stack up going into next week. All records below are via ESPN.

Power Rankings

  1. New Orleans Saints (8-1)
  • After handing the Rams their only loss of the season, the Saints went on the road and trashed the Bengals putting up 51 points in the process. Drew Brees is in a zone and has that offense rolling. The only thing that can slow this team down it seems is injuries. (Next week: VS Philadelphia)

2. Kansas City Chiefs (9-1)

  • The Chiefs played a closer game than most people thought against Arizona, but they still got the job done. QB Patrick Mahomes has already set the Chiefs record for most TD’s thrown in a season with 31, via ESPN. There are still six games left in the season! (Next Week: At Rams in Mexico City which was moved to LA)

3. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2-1)

  • Winners of 5 straight, the Steelers look like they’ve finally put the Le’veon Bell drama behind them. They absolutely dominated Carolina last Thursday night, scoring 52 points while limiting the Panthers to just 242 total yards. Ben Roethlisberger had more TD passes (5) than incompletions (3). (Next week: At Jacksonville)

4. Los Angeles Rams (9-1)

  • The Rams knocked off Seattle on Sunday, which put them on the cusp of winning the NFC West. They can clinch the division with a win next Monday night against the Chiefs and a Seahawks loss against Green Bay on Thursday. On a disappointing note, the Rams lost WR Cooper Kupp to a season-ending injury during the game. It remains to be seen what impact that’ll have, but it could be a big blow. (Next week: vs. Kansas City in Mexico City which was moved to LA)

5. Los Angeles Chargers (7-2)

  • The Chargers extended their winning streak to 6 games and remain on the Chief's heels in the AFC West. While the win against the Raiders wasn’t that impressive a W is still a W in the record books. In my opinion, they are a dark horse to win the AFC. (Next Week: vs. Broncos)

6. Chicago Bears (6-3)

  • The Bears picked up their first division win in more than two years when they beat Detroit on Sunday. QB Mitch Trubisky threw for a career-high 355 yards and LB Khalil Mack returned from injury and had 2 sacks. Chicago remains the lead dog in the NFC North. (Next week: vs Minnesota)

7. New England Patriots (7-3)

  • The Patriots got blasted by the Titans last Sunday. I know Gronk was missing, but that doesn’t explain the lack of effort New England showed in all 3 phases of football. I know it gets asked every year, but is this really the start of their demise? Only time will tell. (Next week: Bye)

8. Houston Texans (6-3)

  • The Texans come off their bye week still atop the AFC South, but with work to do. Tennessee beat the Patriots which trimmed their division lead to 1 game. The Colts also won and have looked good the last month or so. While they should get some key guys back for the stretch run, Houston can’t afford to misstep, or their turnaround will be all for nothing. (Next Week: at Washington)

9. Minnesota Vikings (5-3-1)

  • Minnesota heads to Chicago for a pivotal NFC North showdown. The Vikings still have a chance to win the division only being one game back. They just got back RB Dalvin Cook from injury, so maybe the offense can hit another gear. (Next week: at Chicago)

10. Washington Redskins (6-3)

  • The Redskins picked up a solid victory on Sunday vs. Tampa Bay. While their offensive numbers weren’t great, they took advantage of the short field they got by forcing four turnovers. Tampa had 501 yards of offense but managed just 3 points. Washington will have their work cut out for them going against a much better defense in the Texans. (Next week: vs. Houston)

Best of the rest

11. Carolina Panthers

12. Tennessee Titans

13. Green Bay Packers

14. Dallas Cowboys

15. Indianapolis Colts

16. Baltimore Ravens

17. Seattle Seahawks

18. Philadelphia Eagles

19. Cincinnati Bengals

20. Cleveland Browns

21. Atlanta Falcons

22. Miami Dolphins

23. Detroit Lions

24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

25. Jacksonville Jaguars

26. Buffalo Bills

27. Denver Broncos

28. Arizona Cardinals

29. New York Jets

30. New York Giants

31. San Francisco 49ers

32. Oakland Raiders

***All stats are from ESPN.com***

Texas vs. West Virginia Preview

The 15th-ranked (AP) Texas Longhorns welcome the 12th-ranked (AP) West Virginia Mountaineers on Saturday in Austin. This is a pivotal Big 12 conference matchup, where the winner will have markedly increased their chances to appear in the conference title game at year’s end. Last year, Texas went up to Morgantown and knocked off a ranked West Virginia team. With the stakes this high and revenge certainly on the mind for WV, this could turn into another classic showdown. Let’s take a look at some keys and factors for this game.

Texas secondary vs West Virginia passing attack

Arguably the most important matchup of this game will be the Texas DBs vs the trio of West Virginia WRs. Led by junior receiver, David Sills, the Mountaineers have three receivers with at least 500 receiving yards. Texas will be tasked with slowing down a passing offense that ranks ninth in the country, averaging 331.3 YPG through the air. If QB Will Grier has time to pick his spots, it could be a long day for UT.

Can Texas keep up?

Much like in the circumstances heading into the Red River Rivalry game, Texas will have to score consistently to win. In that game, they put up 48 points and pulled out a victory. West Virginia scores about 40 points a game (39.9 PPG, 17th in the country), so it’s not far-fetched to say the Longhorns will need another 40 to win on Saturday. Another thing that Texas cannot afford is a slow start. Last week, they got down early to Oklahoma State and couldn’t complete the comeback. Playing at home, the crowd has to be a factor, and the only way that can happen is if the game is competitive.

Kill the clock

One way to keep West Virginia from lighting up the scoreboard: keep them off the field. In order to do that, the running game for Texas has to be on point. RBs Keontay Ingram and Tre Watson, along with QB Sam Ehlinger, will be key. Churning out yards on the ground will wear down the defense later in the game. West Virginia’s rush defense isn’t poor (34th in the country, 132.9 YPG), so it will take a strong game from the offensive line to get the job done. Texas must avoid penalties (especially pre-snap) to keep them from long down distances that will force them into passing situations.

(All stats provided by cfbstats)

Is Lincoln Riley the Next Sean McVay?

There’s an offensive explosion happening in the NFL right now. With the changing of the NFL rules to benefit offenses, the yardage and point totals are piling up. What these changes also bring in is a change in offensive philosophy. The spread attack that is so prevalent in college football has made its way to the pros. Now coaches are studying film from their NCAA counterparts in order to learn how to implement them at the highest level.

As the dynamics of the NFL landscape change, there is a need for new and innovative minds to lead teams into the future. Look no further than LA Rams Head Coach Sean McVay as the perfect example of this. He’s transformed that team from one of stagnation and bland offensive football into arguably the most exciting team to watch on Sundays. In the next series of articles, we’re going to profile coaches who might fit the bill of what teams should be looking for if they want to make a similar jump in success. First up is University of Oklahoma Head Coach, Lincoln Riley.

Coaching Background

Lincoln got his start coaching in 2003 after playing QB at Texas Tech, where he learned the Air Raid scheme under HC Mike Leach. He was Student Assistant until 2007 when he began to coach Wide Receivers. He left in 2010 when Defensive Coordinator Ruffin McNeill brought him along to East Carolina University to run that offense. From 2010 until 2014, Riley was the Offensive Coordinator. During his 5 years there, the Pirates averaged 34.1 PPG and 448.5 YPG.

His success at East Carolina led to him getting hired as OC at Oklahoma for 2 years until Bob Stoops stepped down prior to the 2017 season. In his first year as HC, the team won the Big 12 Conference Championship and the Sooners were one game away from playing against Alabama in the national title game. His starting QB Baker Mayfield won the Heisman trophy and would eventually become the Number 1 pick in the following NFL Draft.  Here is a look at Oklahoma’s offensive ranks since Riley stepped on the sidelines in Norman:

2015: 43.5 PPG (4th in FBS), 530.2 YPG (7th FBS)

2016: 43.9 PPG (3rd in FBS), 554.8 YPG (2nd in FBS)

2017: 45.1 PPG (3rd in FBS), 579.6 YPG (1st in FBS).

2018 (as of 10/12/18): 48 PPG (8th in FBS), 524.7 YPG (11th in FBS)

Offensive Scheme

As mentioned earlier, Riley runs the Air Raid offense he learned while at Texas Tech. While the Air Raid scheme is designed to hurt defenses aerially, his version of this offense has also built an above-average running game into it. Inside/Outside zone runs are a staple of the Air Raid, but Oklahoma added counter run plays to the playbook last year. They were able to do this for two reasons: Their offensive line play is, and was, outstanding and their ability to still recruit elite RB’s.

Even so, Air Raid allows for the passing game to act as an extended running game with the use of Bubble/Tunnel screens. This offense is designed to get the playmakers in space and get them the ball quickly, whether it’s by run or pass. By spacing out the offense it also puts pressure on the D by having them cover more ground. Instead of having your offense bunched up, you spread them out and force the defense to decide who they want to cover. 

One of the staple plays of the Air Raid offense is 4 Verticals.  On this play, you have four receivers wide and have them run identical routes evenly spaced out. Receivers are given the option to break off their routes if they find open space or continue to stretch the route. This allowed for everything underneath those routes to be opened up. The defense cannot double team every receiver and it puts them at a disadvantage.

Another staple play “Mesh,” calls for two receivers to run crossing routes that opens up the middle of the field. From this very formation, the Sooners run draw plays, QB Runs, and more. They also use pre-snap motion to get their receivers into the matchups they want. Seeing as how Air Raid primarily runs out of the Shotgun Formation, and NFL offenses are in Shotgun a majority of the time now, it’s an ideal fit. With their ability to run the ball well, OU was also able to add some RPO (Run/Pass Option) plays as well, which adds another element of disguise.

Final Verdict

I think Riley would be a great hire for a team with a young franchise QB. Particularly a team who’s QB can make plays with both his arm and his leg. Had they not given Bill O’Brien an extension, I would’ve liked to have seen him work with Deshaun Watson and the Texans. I think he has the football mind to unlock Watson’s talents similar to how he was used at Clemson.

The other team that comes to mind is in Cleveland and being reunited with his old QB, Baker Mayfield. The Browns are finally respectable, largely in part to Mayfield. Hue Jackson is an okay coach but I don’t think he will be the coach to take them to true contender status. I predict that NFL teams will come knocking on Riley’s door by the end of the season, if they haven’t already.

(All stats provided by https://www.sports-reference.com/cfb)

2018 Red River Showdown Preview

For the first time since 2012, the annual contest between rivals Oklahoma and Texas is a ranked affair. Texas sits at #19 in the country and are winners of 4 straight games, 2 against ranked opponents. Oklahoma(#7) is undefeated and so far is the class of the Big 12 conference. Who will emerge from the Cotton Bowl wearing the Golden Hat? Let’s take a look at a couple areas that will likely determine the winner.

Keep Kyler Contained

If Texas wants to walk out of Dallas with a victory, they’ll have to limit Kyler Murray’s effectiveness. The junior QB is top 10 in every passing stat you could imagine. Not only that, he’s averaging 6.2 YPC on the ground. The Longhorns will have to play disciplined on defense in order for them to stay in the game. Wide receivers CeeDee Lamb and Marquise “Hollywood” Brown are his main targets through the air.

The Sooners ground game took a huge hit when they lost star RB Rodney Anderson earlier in the year. However Murray and RB Trey Sermon have picked up the slack. It’s a tall task to ask this Texas defense to slow down a team that averages close to 49 points a game. It starts with Murray as he’s the engine that powers their high octane offense.

Consistency on Offense

Defense is the stronger side of this Longhorns team. If they want to win this game though, they’ll have to put points on the board. Coming into this game they’re only averaging 28.8 PPG. Unless their defense is playing lights out, that won’t be enough against a Sooners team who’s capable of scoring on every drive. The running game will be key. RB’s Tre Watson and freshman Keontay Ingram will have to shoulder the load.

Oklahoma’s defense has been less than impressive, giving up 405.2 YPG. Texas will have to run the ball effectively to drain the clock and keep Kyler Murray off the field. QB Sam Elingher will need to limit his mistakes through the air. If he can play poised, they can score on this Oklahoma secondary. Wide Receivers Lil’Jordan Humphrey and Collin Johnson have the size, speed, and skills to exploit the Sooners weak pass coverage.

This is a measuring stick game for Tom Herman and his squad. He’s been tasked with returning the Texas program to national prominence. Winning this game will go a long way into changing the whole “Texas is Back!” opinion. If his team is focused on playing clean football, they have a chance to upset OU. If they aren’t disciplined though, Oreos and Twinkies won’t be the only thing getting fried at the State Fair on Saturday.

(All stats referenced from https://www.sports-reference.com/cfb/ and ncaa.com)