Wet Paper: Week 3 NFL Picks

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We are eschewing our ordinary litany of reasoning behind our NFL picks to address something that is a mainstream topic of conversation among NFL circles this week: The shoddy offensive line play.  Scoring and Yards Per Passing Attempt are down, but completion percentage is up.  NFL offenses have adjusted to the poor protection with short safe throws and now there is a paucity of big plays. 

As a resident of Seattle, I have been a first hand witness to the carnage that has encompassed the battle in the trenches the last few seasons.  Poor offensive line play has been a story for a few years in Seattle, and the Seahawks have been vocally blaming college football and the lack of padded practices 

The change in college football to mostly spread offenses in the past fifteen years has resulted in a chasm between the technique taught in college and the technique taught in the NFL.  In the spread, the footwork is different and simpler, the hand placement more rudimentary.  Pass rushers in college are unpolished, and often struggle to reach the quarterback before the ball is out of his hands.  How many colleges regularly ask their linemen to line up in a three point stance? Few, I'd guess. In the NFL, you do see some schematic concepts from college including the pistol and the read option.  However, that does not fundamentally change the technique.  

Due to the last Collective Bargaining Agreement, the "middle class" of the NFL, which are average plays whose rookie contract has ended, are getting phased out of the league.  It is cheaper to draft rookies and coach them up rather than overpay for a middling veteran and reteach him some of the particular techniques that fit each teams offense. The extra money goes to the exploding salaries of quarterbacks, the very people offensive linemen are enlisted to protect. Of course, naturally an overcorrection has occurred in the last year or so, with offensive linemen getting dramatically overpaid. 

The lack of two a days and the lack of reps has been brought up as well.  Offensive linemen require, more than any position, repeated reps with the same linemen around them.  The ever popular zone blocking is fundamentally based on knowing and trusting that the linemen to either side of you is going to do what you believe he is going to do.  In gap schemes, where each linemen has a more specific and independent job, cohesion is important, but not as fundamentally important as a zone scheme.  Naturally you see a lot more inside zone and outside zone than traps and power plays in the current NFL. 

I was listening to Walter Jones on the radio, which if you haven't heard of him, shame on you, he is likely the best left tackle who has ever lived.  He brought up something that I had noticed as well about current offensive linemen. The rush moves that defensive linemen are beating them with aren't new or creative, these are fundamental moves taught at the high school and college level. That is to say, offensive linemen should know how to block these moves when they get to the NFL.  Jones' point was that a modicum of film study after practice would reveal that their opponents would be using those moves and know to expect it.  So, along with the spread schemes in college, the lack of veteran talent, and the lack of practice time, its possible offensive linemen are being outdone by their own vile laziness. 

Onto the picks(In caps):

RAMS (-2.5) at 49ers

RAVENS(-4) at Jacksonville (London)

Broncos (-3) at BILLS

Saints at PANTHERS (-6)

Steelers (-7.5) at BEARS

Falcons (-3) at DETROIT

BROWNS (-1.5) at Colts

TAMPA BAY over Minnesota (No Line)

TEXANS at Patriots (-13)

DOLPHINS (-6) at Jets

GIANTS at Eagles (-6)

Seahawks at TITANS (-3)

BENGALS at Packers (-9)

ChIEFS (-3) at Chargers

RAIDERS (-3) at Redskins

Dallas (-3) at ARIZONA