By Nick Shook
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Typically, one of the first aspects of the NFL about which rookies comment is the speed of the pro game. It’s tough to truly understand from the television camera angle, but once at field level, it can be startling.
Another way to comprehend the elite level at which these players move is through quantifiable numbers. It’s 2016, and thanks to the beauty of the Information Age, we have Next Gen Stats.
This week’s look at Next Gen Stats starts with the speed of the NFL’s true burners. They’re often seen as the players lined up wide and sent on “go” routes, but this top-end acceleration exists in all parts of the game. Before we get to the less-glorified speedsters, we’ll first turn to the positions often referred to as “skilled.”
Thursday Night Football’s first Color Rush night of the season featured plenty of monochromatic blurs, but none was faster than Buffalo’s Marquise Goodwin. A decorated track and field athlete, the former Olympic triple jumper hit a top speed of 22.25 mph and zoomed right past Darrelle Revis on his 84-yard touchdown reception, which was good for the fastest recorded speed of any ball-carrier in the 2016 season — until Sunday night.
Stefon Diggs had a monster of a game Sunday night in a 17-14 win over the Green Bay Packers, recording nine catches for 182 yards and a touchdown. He was a reliable target for Sam Bradford in his first game as a Viking — more on that later — and subtly stole the crown from Goodwin not even 72 hours after he’d first earned it, hitting 22.50 mph on one of his receptions.
Diggs also tortured Packers defensive back Damarious Randall, who allowed a perfect passer rating when covering Diggs, according to Next Gen Stats. Diggs caught all five of his targets for 134 yards — including his 25-yard touchdown reception — when matched up with Randall. It’ll be a rough film session this week for the Packers defensive back.
All about the get-off
How difficult is it to be an NFL quarterback? Six players recorded at least half a sack in Week 2 in less than three seconds after the ball was snapped. Seahawks defensive end Frank Clark, lined up in the A gap, got to Rams quarterback Case Keenum in 2.2 seconds.
Consider this: Keenum was lined up in the shotgun, almost five yards behind the line of scrimmage. Clark went from a three-point stance, blew right past 306-pound center Tim Barnes and took down Keenum for a 10-yard loss in that amount of time. That’s speed.
Oh, and adding to the theme of pressure: Arizona, which blew out Tampa Bay 40-7, did so by getting to the quarterback. The Cardinals blitzed quarterback Jameis Winston more than any other team in Week 2, sending extra rushers on 47.3 percent of possessions. The results: one sack on blitzes (three total) and two forced turnovers.
Who needs training camp?
A week after the Vikings opted to start Shaun Hill (and rely heavily on their defense to produce a win) instead of trotting out new arrival Sam Bradford on less than a week of playbook cramming, Minnesota started the quarterback. And boy, did he shine.
Bradford looked like he’d spent years in the offense, hitting receivers for completions all over the field and at almost any distance within reason. A look at his passing chart proves it. Minnesota used short completions left to Diggs and others to allow them to make plays after the catch, and deeper shots to the right to take advantage of Bradford’s strengths and earn him a primetime win in his debut.
Man on the run
How does a coach help his quarterback out when his line is struggling to do the same? By moving the passer around, outside of the pocket and away from pressure.
Dallas has been the best example of this through two weeks (even if Dallas’s offensive line didn’t need the help), as Dak Prescott again led the league in percent of passes thrown outside the tackle box with 24.1 percent of his attempts coming outside the pocket. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan took advantage of Washington’s focus to stop the run by running plenty of bootleg play action fakes from the very first play of the game.
Linehan also designed a handful of tight end-heavy rollouts for Prescott, helping his rookie passer by giving him multiple safety blankets in the form of tight ends Jason Witten and Geoff swain. Next Gen Stats tells us Dallas broke the huddle in two tight-end formations 11 times, gaining 51 yards for an average of 4.6 yards per play. Four of those were pass plays, with Prescott going 3 for 4 for 33 yards and a passer rating on those plays.
Moving Dak out of the pocket is working, and it’s likely he’ll be near the top of this category again. Prescott completed 71.4 percent of his passes outside of the pocket in a 27-23 win over Washington, good to earn him Greatest on the Road honors this week.
Hats off to the young guy
All hail the source of hope and faith in future drafts in Cleveland, Corey Coleman. The rookie receiver had a heck of a day in an offensive outburst that put 20 quick points on the board for the Browns before they slowly and painfully gave it all away in a 25-20 loss to Baltimore. But let’s not focus on the loss; let’s get giddy over Coleman, who was drafted in the first round as Cleveland’s wideout of the future.
Coleman showed his devastating quickness and speed that made him the 15th-overall pick in the 2016 draft in beating Ravens corner Shareece Wright and safety Lardarius Webb for his first career touchdown on a 31-yard completion. Coleman scored again later in the quarter on a quick pass to him at the line of scrimmage, which he turned into an 11-yard score after stiff-arming Jimmy Smith and crossing the plane for six.
His final stat line: five catches, 104 yards, two touchdowns. And this route chart.