Know this about coaches in professional sports: What they say about the opponents they are about to face is usually a bunch of malarkey.
They don’t care if they insult your intelligence. They’ll tell you why “those guys” are “very good” even when they are in last place and we can all see that they are very bad.
Part of it is respecting their foe. A bigger part is preemptive work, them covering their ass in case of a humiliating defeat.
“I told you so,” they can say.
And then there’s Bill Belichick and John Harbaugh, the best and second, third or fourth best NFL coaches in the business. They don’t need to play head games, but some days they still do.
Was Thursday one of those days?
Let’s start with Harbaugh, whose Baltimore Ravens are following up a season-opening thrashing of the Cleveland Browns with a road game in Houston.
Harbaugh had some flattering words about Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson on Thursday, and some of them were even true.
“He actually holds the ball longer than anybody in the league,” said Harbaugh. “I think their offensive line does a good job, the scheme is part of that, but it’s mainly him. And he does it to create opportunities for the pass game … it’s a big concern.”
Watson can scramble, and he is tough. Hence, he extends plays. But he does not hold on to the ball longer than anybody in the league. According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, the average length of time he held on to the ball was 2.59 seconds, which compared to the league’s other QBs was middle of the pack.
Does it matter? Probably not. The Ravens should crush the Texans on Sunday. But if they don’t, if Houston pulls off the upset and Watson’s play-extending ability is the difference, well, it won’t be because they caught Harbaugh by surprise.
“I told you so,” he can say.
Belichick was even more complimentary of Russell Wilson, who the Patriots meet in Seattle on Sunday. The Seahawks should stop Cam Newton’s winning streak at one.
“Honestly, I think he’s in a way underrated by the media or the fans, I don’t know,” Belichich said Wilson. “But I don’t really see anybody better than this player.”
Not Patrick Mahomes, whose been named the league MVP and the Super Bowl MVP in his first two years as a starter? Not Lamar Jackson, who was the NFL MVP in 2019?
Wilson has had success against Belichick.
As a rookie playing his sixth game in 2012, he defeated the Patriots 24-23 on home field while connecting on 16 of 27 passes for 293 yards and three touchdowns. Four years later, Wilson beat the Patriots 31-24 in New England, completing 25-of-37 for 348 and three touchdowns.
But in between those two wins was a devastating loss in the 2014 Super Bowl game. Wilson was good on 12 of 21 passes for 247 yards and had a pair of touchdown passes, but was also picked off by Malcolm Butler in a 28-24 loss.
Wilson has won a Super Bowl, but the Seahawks defence was the star of the game. He’s a six-time Pro Bowler, which isn’t too shabby for a guy in his ninth year, but he’s never been a MVP.
He was exceptional in last week’s 38-25 victory over Atlanta, finding his target on 31 of 35 passes for 322 yards and four TDs. But it was the Falcons defence.
Is he really the best in the league? Would Belichick have said that if Tom Brady was still in New England? Was it a little dig at the GOAT?
IN THE RED ZONE
None of the 2020 first-round picks made a bigger splash in their Week 1 debut than the 32nd and very last one, Clyde Edwards-Helaire. But despite starring in the Chiefs victory over the Texans with 25 carries for 138 yards and a touchdown, the 5-foot-7, 207-pound running back could have been better. Specifically close to the end zone, where he had six carries for minus-2 rushing yards in goal-to-go situations.
“Clyde’s got to do a better job of making (the blockers) right,” said Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. “He understands that. He has to be disciplined and sound with his footwork, and he saw that. I know, if anything, he’s probably the most critical person of his own performance. Although it was a good performance, he knows he left some things out there on the field that could have helped us to be better.” …
THIRD AND LONG
Giants RB Saquon Barkley was called out by Tiki Barber, the former star with the team who is now doing the media thing, for his shortcomings following a dreadful performance in Week 1. “He might not be an every-down back,” Barber said on his show, which airs on CBS Radio. “He cannot pass-protect. It’s becoming glaring, and it’s going to be a liability.” Barkley’s response? “Obviously, Tiki is a legend. Done a lot of great things for this franchise. So I’m not going to look at it as disrespect. I’m going to look at it as a challenge.” His first chance to meet that challenge comes Sunday in Chicago … Barring a last minute illness or accident, all 32 quarterbacks who started Week 1 will start Week 2 for the first time since 2011. Crazy, isn’t it, that it had been nine years since no team lost its most important player to injury, and not one signal caller played himself to a spot on the bench before the second game of the season? That’s almost as hard to believe as with a loss last week, the Cleveland Browns were 1-20-1 in Week 1 games since returning to the NFL in 1999 … A fan who was at the Chiefs-Texans game last Thursday has tested positive for COVID-19. In a released statement, the Chiefs said the fan entered the stadium in compliance with mask mandates, and that stadium employees and other fans who were near him have been contacted. Only Kansas City, Denver and Jacksonville allowed crowds in Week 1. Approximately 16,000 attended the Chiefs home opener.
The Chargers took a big hit with the news veteran centre and team captain Mike Pouncey will season ending hip surgery. The 31-year old four time Pro Bowler will be free agent in March … The Vikings have placed starting right guard Pat Elflein on injured reserve with an unknown ailment. Elflein played every snape in Week 1’s loss to the Packers … About Bruce Arians criticisms of his play in Week 1, Brady said: “He’s the coach, I’m a player. We’re trying to win a game.” … Bears defence is hurting. Akiem Hicks missed practice Thursday because of an illness while Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn were limited … 49ers DE Dee Ford was added to the injury report when he missed practice with a neck problem.
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