Lombardi: Looking ahead to NFL Week 1

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Last Night’s Game and a Look Ahead to Week 1

WT Purkiser was a Christian minister from a small town north of Indianapolis called Kokomo. (Not the Kokomo the Beach Boys made famous—that was warm and had ocean breezes.) Purkiser wrote several books, exploring the concept of faith and its significance in the life of believers. In his book, A Search for Meaning, Purkiser wrote, “Faith is not jumping to conclusions. It’s concluding to jump.” Last night, Andy Reid jumped. 

 

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Reid demonstrated enormous faith in Patrick Mahomes by deciding to go for a 4th-and-25, even though he had all of his timeouts and the two-minute warning, trailing by one point. Did anyone, including Reid, think Mahomes could pull a rabbit out of his hat and convert? Based on the way the game was going, Mahomes didn’t look anything like the best player in the league as his supporting cast was far from supporting. 

We said and wrote in the updated VSIN Betting Guide this summer based on the pre-season struggles, the Chiefs’ offense lacked explosiveness. And by removing their best receiver Travis Kelce, and receiver Kadarius Toney looking like he forgot how to catch the ball, combined with Skyy Moore disappearing, the Chiefs were even less explosive. The Chiefs looked slow and lacked the power to control the front offensively. Moore and Toney, two players the Chiefs were counting on to pick up the slack, combined for eight targets. Toney had one catch for one yard and a volleyball drop that resulted in a pick-six for the Lions. The numbers are bad; watching them play is worse. 

In the fourth quarter, when the game becomes a standalone game, we witness two coaches making strange decisions. With 12:16 to go in the game, winning 17-14 facing a 4th-and-2 at the Lions 21-yard-line, Reid decided to kick a field goal. Now, as many might know, I am a huge proponent of collecting points as the game proceeds, passing up the urge to go for it on fourth down. However, in the fourth quarter, when the game has been declared, with each coach understanding the matchups, the collection of points especially when you can only advance the lead to six points, isn’t always on my mind. 

When Reid kicked, I wrote down in my notes, why? My why was based on knowing the Lions would have at least two more chances with the ball in the quarter and being up six is always problematic. On the next drive, the Lions go 80 yards in nine plays and take the lead. Now, Reid is on the seesaw, which isn’t a good place to be in the fourth. Had he scored seven on the drive, he still maintains control of the game, even if the Lions scored. The three at that point was like checking into a five-star hotel late at night and getting upgraded to the Presidential suite, but you have a 7 a.m. meeting the next day. There is no time to enjoy the comforts. It’s nice, but everyone knows it won’t last. Reid needed to be more aggressive, especially seeing his offense struggle all game to be productive.     

The Chiefs, now trailing by one point with five minutes to go in the game, seem ready for Mahomes to be Superman—to put on his red cape and take the game over. Only no one helps him, and three plays later, they’re punting. Now, here is where the game starts to look more like checkers than chess. Campbell’s Lions got the ball on their own 34, go five plays, and they are facing a 4th-and-2 at the Chiefs’ 45-yard-line with 2:30 remaining in the game. At this point, the Lions decided to go for it and not punt. Why? The Chiefs haven’t been able to consistently move the ball all game. When the Lions fail to convert, they give the Chiefs field position to move the ball twenty yards and kick the game-winner. 

Naturally, the supporting cast of the Chiefs failed to help Mahomes, and four plays later, the Chiefs offense, lost 15 yards all due to penalties and Reid decided to go for it on 4th-and-25, jumping with faith for Mahomes to leap tall buildings in a single bound. I am still shaking my head. Yes, I know if he punts there, he might never see the ball again—but what are the chances of converting a 4th-and-25 compared to getting a three-play stop? 

Both teams have a ton of work in front of them to become a playoff-caliber team. The Lions offense wasn’t what we expected from last year. The playcalling seemed off; their execution was inconsistent, especially considering the Chiefs were without Chris Jones. They averaged .20 points per play, 5.25 yards per play and struggled on third down, converting just five out of 13 tries. They can be much better and will need to improve. My one question after watching the game was are they good enough at receiver, especially if Marvin Jones doesn’t play well? 

The Chiefs need Kelce back—that’s obvious. They need better offensive line play, particularly at tackle. Right tackle Jawaan Taylor was in the backfield the entire game, and it still didn’t help him with his protection. The skill players for the Chiefs are not the same, and teams will keep doubling Kelce and force someone else to win. The Chiefs need someone in the receiver room to step up, and I am not sure they can. Where is Josh Gordon? The Chiefs might be calling. 

It’s great to have football back, it makes Friday morning’s sunrise even better.

QB RATINGS

TOP FIVE BLUE CHIPS FROM THE GM SHUFFLE

1. Patrick Mahomes – Even as great of a player as Mahomes is (he led the Chiefs in rushing last night), he needs help from his skill players. 

2. Joe Burrow – I never doubted he would get paid, nor did I doubt it would happen before the season began. 

3. Jalen Hurts – Can he keep running and stay healthy?  Will he keep running?  The offense runs because of his threat of a run, and he needs to always be threatening. 

4. Justin Herbert – So talented, and when receiver Mike Williams is healthy and on the field, he becomes more dangerous. 

5. Josh Allen – Will be fun to watch as the Bills incorporate more 12 personnel into their offense. 

BOTTOM FIVE

28. The unknowns – CJ Stroud, Anthony Richardson, Bryce Young.  All rookies, all going to have good and bad games—all not known.

31. Baker Mayfield – With better skill players, can Mayfield throw the ball down the field?  Better yet, can he see down the field? 

32. Joshua Dobbs – It’s going to be a long, long year in Arizona based on their talent level.  Dobbs is smart and tough, but can he overcome a bad roster? 

Power Ratings for 2023

Based on last year and this summer.  The cluster of teams from Minnesota to Detroit are close in terms of their numbers—and will be adjusted after Week 1.