2018 cap hits of top returnees:
Pending free agents: Josh McCown
Key stat: In three seasons under coach Todd Bowles, the Jets are ranked 29th in passer rating (80.6) and their touchdown-interception ratio (68-53) is 28th. That’s a big reason why he’s 20-28.
Money matters: Since 2014, the Jets have paid $32.9 million in salary to their quarterbacks, a relatively low figure. If they sign Kirk Cousins, they could be paying close to that amount in average per year.
Big picture: General manager Mike Maccagnan is 0-for-2 when drafting quarterbacks and his veteran acquisitions have produced two good years and one bad year. In other words, he has a checkered track record. Now is the time to change that.
With more than $70 million in cap room and the sixth pick in the draft, Maccagnan has no excuse. He must resolve the issue that has plagued the Jets for decades. And, for a change, a quality backup would be nice. Petty is on thin ice and Hackenberg could be shopped in trade talks, although it’s hard to imagine any team showing interest. The one exception could be the Houston Texans, coached by Bill O’Brien, Hackenberg’s first coach at Penn State. By the time the regular season starts, the Jets could have an entirely new look at quarterback.
Free-agent market watch: Cousins, Drew Brees, Case Keenum, Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater, A.J. McCarron, Jay Cutler, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Geno Smith.
Also could become available: Tyrod Taylor, Blake Bortles and Mike Glennon.
The game plan: It’s simple: Get Cousins. The Jets want him badly, and sources say they’re willing to pay whatever it takes — unless the Washington Redskins decide to tag him for a third time (unlikely). Money aside, the Jets hope to convince him he’ll have a chance to win in New York. Because of obvious deficiencies on the current roster, they must sell him a championship vision. Their recruiting pitch also will stress his familiarity with the offensive system. In addition to making Cousins wildly rich, the Jets want to let him know he’ll be comfortable with the scheme and coaches.
If they miss on Cousins, the only thing close to a franchise quarterback on the market, the Jets have to lower their sights to a stop-gap option. There’s always a chance the Jets re-sign McCown, who has expressed interest in returning. If he does, it would make quarterback a top priority in the draft. Other fallback options are Keenum and Taylor, who should have some scheme familiarity because his former offensive coordinator with the Buffalo Bills — Rick Dennison — is the Jets’ line coach/run-game coordinator.
Davante Adams, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ mystical and magical mind-melding connection
DAVANTE ADAMS TROTTED back to the Green Bay huddle, then barked out an order to Aaron Rodgers.
Throw it again, he remembers yelling.
Running back Aaron Jones recalls a more solicitous Adams on this evening in October 2017. In Jones’ version of events, both Adams and Rodgers tapped their jerseys, each extending to the other a silent apology. My bad, they meant to say. But Rodgers? He hews closer to Adams’ account. He offers a wisp of a smile, remembering his wide receiver’s pointed directive. Throw. It. Again.
“Not only did he want the ball,” Rodgers says now, several years, and a few hundred passes to Adams, later. “But he wanted me to throw it a little bit better.”
So forgive Adams his lapse in decorum, because Rodgers clearly does, and because the Packers trailed 31-28 in JerryWorld, and time was very much running out. Then zoom in. This mostly forgettable play from this mostly forgettable night shows how this season’s best quarterback-wide receiver tandem was forged.
On first-and-10 from the Dallas 12-yard line, Rodgers had lofted a fade down the left side in Adams’ direction. But it was low and inside, and the best Adams could do, ensnared as he was in a tangle of limbs, was try to bat the ball away from his defender, lest it be intercepted. But he wanted that ball again, only higher and outside this time. Which is precisely where Rodgers lofted it on Take 2. The Packers ran it back with 16 seconds remaining, a fade down the left side once more, and this time Adams leapt, snagged the football, pirouetted midair, then landed both feet in the blue end zone paint for a touchdown. In celebration, he chucked the ball with so much mustard that it might’ve hit Jerry Jones’ Texas-sized video board had he had the foresight to aim it that way.
Here’s the moral of this story: Adams gets Rodgers in ways so eerie they border on witchcraft, and this was the moment their sorcery was laid bare. Survey just about anyone on the field that night. Jordy Nelson says so. Jones does too. Rodgers makes three.
Just don’t ask Davante Adams.
IT’S NOT THAT Adams doesn’t appreciate why so many point to his touchdown against Dallas that day as Exhibit A in their case for what makes his connection with Rodgers special and different, and, yes, somewhat eerie. He told Aaron Rodgers, former Super Bowl MVP, what to do! And Aaron Rodgers, future gold jacket wearer, listened!
It’s just that there’s a different play — on the same drive, in fact — that he considers more emblematic of this bizarre, synchronized magic he has dabbled in with Rodgers over the years. Rewind the tape. Before the game-winning touchdown on the high and outside fade, before the missed connection on the low and inside fade, the Packers took the field way back at their own 25 with a minute and change to go. The offense had stood idle on the sideline for 8:43 of game clock time — a damn near eternity in regular old time — watching the Cowboys drive 79 yards over 17 plays to take the lead.
Back on the field for the first time in ages, Rodgers looked at Adams on the opening play of the drive, then looked at the defensive back guarding him. Adams, mind reader — or just extraordinarily adept interpreter of looks directed at defensive backs — got the point. “He looked at the DB a certain way,” Adams explains. He sort of explains. He at least tries to explain. “Almost to say, like, this is a situation where I need to throw that back-shoulder ball, like I did earlier in the game.”
Adams, now crystal clear (somehow) on exactly what Rodgers meant (but didn’t say), released much wider than he normally would have otherwise. And because he did not try to get on top, as instructed (apparently), Rodgers threw a perfect back-shoulder ball that dropped into Adams’ arms before the wide receiver did a half-twist, burst forward a few more feet, and then skipped out of bounds for a first down of 14 yards.
He and Rodgers didn’t need prosaic things like, say, words to talk to each other. No, their thoughts traveled via osmosis, or at least the hyper-understanding and knowledge that many years together affords. And that’s why Adams still puts this play on a pedestal, unheralded as it might be by anyone but him.
“I think this one was a little bit more impressive as far as the nonverbals,” he says. “Just a look and knowing what he wanted.”
There’s a hazy, quasi-mystical aura that settles over any discourse around the mind meld Adams has managed to nurse into existence with Rodgers since he arrived in Green Bay in 2014. It’s “hard to explain” and “you can’t really understand it,” and “it just sort of happens,” and, oh yes, it’s “hard to explain.” Their wordless connection, perhaps appropriately, seems to defy words. Or at least words that elucidate much of anything.
But that, too, is the point. If just anyone could understand these dark arts, anyone could be a magician. When Adams and Rodgers break from the huddle, their inner thoughts remain fused, locked, one, and the only people who could plausibly know those inner thoughts are Adams and Rodgers. Jones, for example, will be on the field, hear one run-pass option called in the huddle, then watch as an entirely different RPO unfolds seconds later.
“They’ll just give each other a nod, and something big happens,” Jones says. “They’re in each other’s heads.”
But Jones is there on that same field. He’s in that same huddle. He has seen that same nod. Doesn’t he have a semblance of a clue about what has transpired?!
“Not the exact play,” he admits. “I just know something special is about to happen.”
It makes sense, then, that no one besides Adams — save, perhaps, Rodgers — would catalog in their memory Rolodex a 3-year-old, visually unspectacular, otherwise run-of-the-mill pass-and-catch against Dallas in Week 5. Adams and Rodgers’ mind-reading escapades have resulted in touchdowns (many; 18 scored by Adams in 2020, tying a franchise record), and catches (also many; 115 this year, breaking a franchise record), and memes (Rodgers’ bewildered face after Adams caught a pass with one hand while a defender ripped the glove off his other hand). It hides in plain sight, this language spoken and understood by two, and indecipherable to the rest of us simpletons. To teammates like Aaron Jones. To former teammates like Jordy Nelson, who once spoke his own language with Rodgers, too.
Adams spent the formative years of his NFL career — his first four seasons — binge-watching the “Jordy and Aaron show,” as he dubs it, digesting the ways Nelson, one of Green Bay’s original mind readers, could communicate with Rodgers without speaking, how he became an extension of Rodgers, as if Rodgers had sprouted an alien, but useful, third arm. (And what a show it was. Nelson and Rodgers wound up Green Bay’s second-most prolific duo ever with 469 completions — until Adams came along and eclipsed them, and the Brett Favre-Donald Driver hookup (486), with a franchise-best 498 catches — and counting — from Rodgers.
They eventually became so enmeshed, the line where Rodgers ended and Nelson began grew so blurred, that when young receivers had a question for Rodgers — What was he thinking? What kind of route did he want run? — Rodgers would defer them to Nelson, wanting to hear Nelson’s take, then offer swift validation: Yep, what he said. Adams saw that, saw that Nelson could make a mistake once — he’d keep running through a zone, say, and Rodgers would throw the ball, thinking Nelson had stopped — then never make that mistake again, without a word from Rodgers himself.
Mostly, he saw how Rodgers responded to Nelson in those moments. Rodgers perked up. His body language changed. So Adams filed that away for later use, then went back to the business of finding his place in this league as a young receiver. Particularly because he was a young receiver who — spoiler alert — wasn’t doing all that well.
Adams didn’t set out to be Rodgers’ best friend forever or anything. There were no trust falls. No late-night, soul-baring confessions, a campfire crackling in front of them. (“Honestly, I don’t think that they spend much time together outside of the facility,” says fellow Green Bay wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling.)
There didn’t need to be, Adams had learned. Nelson and Rodgers operated like identical twins with a cosmic connection, but their bromance was always a touch over-dramatized. “This will be mind-blowing to some people, but I’ve never had a glass of scotch with him,” Nelson says. “I’ve played golf with him. We’d do dinners. But it wasn’t like every Thursday night we went out.”
Adams and Rodgers didn’t need to be attached at the hip, then. They just needed to think like they were. So Adams did the mundane, tedious work of watching Rodgers, and listening to Rodgers, and remembering what Rodgers did and said. How do you remember how to walk? It’s muscle memory. So it was with the art of reading Rodgers.
“We can jump back to a game from 2015 and he’ll say, ‘Run it like that one time where it was third-and-10 and you had the stutter going,'” Adams says. “And I’ll know exactly what he’s talking about.”
As one does.
They are, in other words, in the world’s most picture-perfect marriage. A blissful, finish-each-other’s sentences, can’t-get-enough-of-each other union. And the road to Super Bowl LV runs through Lambeau this year — first up, the Rams — right as Adams and Rodgers are playing their best, most in-sync football as a duo to date.
FULL TRANSPARENCY ALERT: Adams and Rodgers didn’t have a meet-cute at Lambeau Field, nor did they form an insta-connection. Adams didn’t parachute into Green Bay from the Bay Area and unlock the mysteries of Aaron Rodgers’ beautiful mind. No, for a spell, their partnership was fruitless enough that Adams descended into the netherworld of NFL bustdom.
His mother, Pamela Brown, eschewing the advice of anyone who has ever existed on social media, does read the comments section. In Adams’ second year in the league, she came across a Green Bay fan’s tweet calling her son the worst receiver in the NFL. Brown responded (“I just went in and said a whole bunch of stuff that I probably shouldn’t”) and a few hours later, she received a text message from Adams: “Mom.” That was the last time she engaged the haters.
“It was just a s— show all around,” he says.
Adams spent basically all of 2015 playing on a bum ankle, which is not ideal for any receiver, and especially one like him, who relies on misdirection and getting his feet outside of his framework. But his hands went bust too, uninjured though they were. He dropped six out of the 92 passes thrown to him that season, tied for seventh-most in the league, and Pro Football Focus ranked him 118 out of 119 receivers who played in at least 25% of their team’s snaps. (Fed-Up Green Bay Twitter User wasn’t all that off base, in retrospect.) All told, Adams and Rodgers connected on 57.2% of attempts sent his way in the wide receiver’s first two seasons.
Rodgers, Adams says, was one of the people who circled the wagons tightest around him back then and who helped him regain his equilibrium when the ground beneath was quaking. That Rodgers transitioned from steady hand to the world’s most vociferous Davante Adams champion makes a certain amount of sense, then. This season, Rodgers has, in no particular order: said he’s scaled Jordy Nelson-like heights in his connection with Adams; proclaimed Adams to be Charles Woodson-level dominant; and pretty much enthused Adams completes him. “I’m better because of him,” Rodgers said last month. “As a person and as a quarterback.”
If Rodgers is feeling starry-eyed these days, it has something to do with this: Adams finished the year with four games in which he recorded 10 receptions, 100 yards and two touchdowns, a single-season NFL record. Meanwhile, Adams and Rodgers are connecting. And connecting and connecting. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Adams had 63 more receptions than any other Packer, the biggest gap between any team’s top two pass-catchers in 2020; he was targeted on 34% of his routes, the highest rate among wide receivers since 2012; Rodgers and Adams connected on 76.7% of attempts this season, the second highest rate in the past 20 years among quarterback-wide receiver duos with at least 150 attempts. They’re not the first duo to reach mind-bending synergy (Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison, most glaringly), but they’re scaling similar heights.
Ask those around Adams — his coaches, his teammates, his former teammates — beyond his ESP with Rodgers, what separates Adams from other receivers in this league, and they’ll tell you it’s … literally separation. His ability to create space from the defender, his knack for being open: All. The. Time.
“Here lies the man who never gave a DB a break,” Adams envisions his future career tombstone saying. “Every single route that I take, I take a million percent serious. I’m gonna try to abuse you on every single route.”
To touch on the obvious, these are athletes who are exceptional at what they do. They would be just fine, mind meld or no mind meld. Adams would still get separation off the line like few other receivers in the league. And the famously cerebral Rodgers? Does he need someone to get on his level?
“He doesn’t need it,” Nelson says. He’s Aaron Rodgers, is what he doesn’t say. Of course he doesn’t need it. “But it makes life a lot easier,” he adds.
The point, in Adams’ mind, is that it’s these two with this connection. Without it, would they be great? Of course. Without it, would they leave a reservoir untapped? Of course.
“He’s the best quarterback in the NFL and I’m the best wide receiver in the NFL,” Adams says. “And the way that we jell, I don’t think that anybody else is doing it quite like us.”
LONG BEFORE ADAMS could read Rodgers with a look, or dust off a years-old play his quarterback referenced in a flash, his preschool teachers offered a plausible — in retrospect — explanation as to why he’d go on to perform mental gymnastics with aplomb.
He had a photographic memory, the educators at Stanford’s Bing Nursery School told Brown about her 5-year-old son. Pretty much anything he read, he’d remember.
“Maybe it goes back to that photographic memory,” Brown says, trying to divine how Adams has achieved one-brain status with Rodgers. “When he studies someone, he remembers everything. I guess he studies him.”
In truth, he’s been playing some form of mind games for almost as long as he’s been at this. He convinced his mom to let him play football when he was around 10 years old, thanks to a peer pressure offensive. Adams called Brown one day from his after-school program and asked to tag along to his friend’s Pop Warner practice; that friend’s father drove him home armed with an application to join the league. Despite a slew of reservations (Davante, you’re too frail, you’ll get destroyed out there; Davante, I can’t even afford cleats), she relented. For one, her reservations were met with rebuttals: Adams promised that if he ever cried, she had his blessing to remove him from football altogether; his friend’s father offered to chip in for accoutrements like cleats. For another, Brown figured the surest way to shield her son from the pitfalls of East Palo Alto was to keep him exhaustively occupied with sports. Theirs was a small city, but a hard one to rise above. In 1992, the same year Adams was born, East Palo Alto recorded more per capita murders than any other city in the United States.
“A lot of talent comes out of East Palo Alto,” says Josh Harper, Adams’ old teammate from Fresno State, who grew up in nearby Union City, California. “But there’s a lot of talent that doesn’t make it out of there too.”
So she abided Adams’ newfound zeal for football, frailty and all. (“He’s always been like his dad’s family,” Brown says. “My family, we have meat on our bones. His dad’s family, they’re tall and slim.”) And she nursed him through broken bones in his left arm, thrice fractured in the exact same spot — twice while playing football; once in a pickup basketball game — then made him run track and field while his arm healed to keep him active.
Because of that pesky, ever-fragile limb, he left football for a spell, but football never really left him. Jake Halas, the coach of Palo Alto High’s freshman football team when Adams was a ninth-grader, remembers Adams lingering around practice, tossing a football to himself with his one good arm. He’d sometimes lurk in the huddle as Halas broke the team down for the day, and the coach would think to himself, who is this guy, but let him skulk anyway, while the rest of the freshmen took a knee and listened to Halas pontificate on that day’s football exploits.
Adams did eventually return to the game, officially, as a junior in high school — not just late in the Wild West of college football recruiting, but practically a no-show. That delayed reentry toppled one domino, which hit another, which hit another, leaving Adams late to the party at each new juncture.
He was a mostly unknown wide receiver in high school, and received a grand total of two college football scholarships, the second of which he only earned from Fresno State because the school had ventured north to do some reconnaissance on Adams’ speedier counterpart at wide receiver. “I was a one-star recruit,” Adams once joked.
So he made his way to Fresno State, only to redshirt his freshman year in 2011. Then, in short order, he earned Mountain West Freshman of the Year in 2012, and in 2013, his redshirt sophomore season, he amassed 1,718 receiving yards, setting a Fresno State record, and 24 touchdowns, the most in the country that year. But Fresno State is not Ohio State, nor Alabama, nor Clemson. At his mother’s home that spring, he watched the first round of the 2014 draft come and go without his name ever called, then made his family dress in all black the next day. His point: “This’ll be everybody’s funeral and they’ll pay for it eventually.”
And they did, even if the 31 other teams only realized it was their funeral five or six, or maybe even seven years, after their passing. When the Packers finally drafted Adams in the second round, they united him with a quarterback who also knew the sting of a draft-day snub, and landed a wide receiver who had an established history of doing exactly what he’d wind up achieving in Lambeau in a few years’ time.
At Paly, he came on late but came on fast. He turbocharged his connection with his high school quarterback, and Christoph Bono remembers to this day staying after practice with Adams to discuss what Bono was seeing as the passer and what Adams was seeing as the receiver, the two hell-bent on fusing those visions into one. Adams replicated those efforts at Fresno State, where he became Derek Carr’s preferred roommate for away games and brain-sharer in rapid succession.
“Derek would look at Tae, give him this little eye contact, and he’d know exactly what to do,” Harper says.
It’s the catchy hook of the earworm song that’s the soundtrack to Adams’ career: He knew exactly what to do. With a look. With a nod. With nothing at all.
One time with Bono? Kind of neat. Twice, with Carr? A coincidence. Three times, with Rodgers? Now that’s a full-blown pattern.
IN EARLY DECEMBER, Rodgers stood behind the line of scrimmage, a shade under 10 yards from Philadelphia’s end zone. The playcall was a jet sweep, and Adams didn’t expect to get the ball at all, but wide receiver Allen Lazard motioned to the right, bringing the Eagles’ defense with him, and leaving just one man — Darius Slay, who retreated a few yards back — covering Adams on the left.
Adams saw all this — the motion; the retreating — and thought, “This could be beneficial for us,” and, what do you know: His quarterback had the same take.
Rodgers jettisoned said jet sweep, instead firing to Adams. One more (wordless) exchange, one more touchdown — the 400th of Rodgers’ career.
Fittingly, perhaps, this milestone was achieved more by Adams’ brute force than it was Rodgers’ lightning-quick thinking. Once he let it fly, Adams was left to muscle his way nine yards down the sideline with a defender draped over him like a cloak. But that’s what can happen when you play with a Hall of Famer, especially a Hall of Fame quarterback, especially especially a Hall of Fame quarterback in Green Bay. He blots out the sun.
“It’s always, ‘What a great throw by Rodgers!” Valdes-Scantling says. “You don’t get the ‘What a great catch by Davante!’ It’s a gift and a curse.”
His admission comes with a slew of footnotes, pearls of clarification that he VERY MUCH APPRECIATES PLAYING WITH AARON RODGERS. He couldn’t ask for a better quarterback. It’s a high-class problem to have. But it’s a reality that is baked into playing in Lambeau right now.
“It’s definitely a thing,” Adams says. “It’s not really hard on me. That’s just one of the risks that you run with having a Hall of Fame guy like that throwing you the ball.”
When the prevailing wisdom, as Nelson points out, is that Rodgers can make any wide receiver look like a Pro Bowler, said receiver might be late in getting his due. It might take having a year like 2020 to finally and irrevocably puncture the public consciousness. Even if he’s averaged over 1,000 yards per season since 2016. Even if that receiver is a Pro Bowler in equal measure because of how he works with Rodgers, not just that he works with Rodgers.
After Adams fought his way into the end zone, he reunited with his quarterback, then kneeled while handing him the game ball, to pay his respects. Rodgers laughed off the gesture, and told his wide receiver to stand up.
He wanted Adams to be on his level.
Brian Daboll went beyond X’s and O’s to revive the Buffalo Bills’ offense and his career
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll loves his players.
Not just their talent, fit or production. No, Daboll loves his players for the people they are, and that love is palpable.
Bills quarterback Josh Allen‘s grandmother died the night before a 44-34 win against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 9, although you would hardly be able to tell based on his play; 415 passing yards and four total touchdowns marked one of the best games of his career.
“I kept a cool head until after the game and I saw Dabes,” Allen said. “I’m just glad Dabes was there and I just let it all out. I love Dabes and I appreciate everything that he’s been to me here.”
Knowing what his quarterback was going through, Daboll met him in the locker room after the game. They shared an embrace and cried together.
“When he came in off the field and into the locker room, he kind of fell into my arms a little bit,” Daboll said. “A lot of emotion there, particularly for him, but for me also. When you love somebody and something happens like that, it’s tough.”
It’s not just X’s and O’s with Daboll, and that’s why those around him see him as an ideal leader — and why the Bills might be without their offensive coordinator of three years when the 2021 NFL season begins.
As they prepare to host the Baltimore Ravens in an AFC divisional round matchup Saturday (8:15 p.m., ET, NBC), the Bills do so in spite of Daboll’s potential departure, as he is a trendy candidate for some of the seven open NFL head-coaching jobs.
Daboll, 45, has interviewed with the New York Jets and Los Angeles Chargers and is believed to be a candidate with the Houston Texans — a reward for the brightest season of his seven as an NFL offensive coordinator. The Bills finished the 2020 season ranked second in scoring (31.3), second in yards per game (396.4) and third in passing yards per game (288.8). It’s the first time a Daboll-coached offense has ranked higher than 20th in those categories.
After stints with the Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs and the University of Alabama, working under coaching legends such as Bill Belichick and Nick Saban along the way, Daboll found his wheelhouse in his hometown of Buffalo.
Interest in him as a head coach stems from his creativity on the field and his ability to forge relationships off it — especially with Allen, who has vaulted into the league’s MVP conversation with Daboll’s help.
Those relationships run so deep his players are hesitant to brag about Daboll publicly.
“I hate to keep giving him so much credit because I don’t want anyone to steal him from me,” wide receiver Stefon Diggs said. “He’s a guy that knows what he’s doing, he knows the flow of the game, knows when to call what. We just trust him, whatever he calls, I’m running it. … He always has our back and I ain’t seen him miss yet.”
Daboll’s Buffalo roots have made this season’s success even sweeter. For him, this isn’t just a job, it has been a dream come true.
He grew up in Buffalo, graduating from St. Francis High School in Hamburg in 1993 — the next town over from where the Bills play in Orchard Park. So when the Bills won their first playoff game in 25 years Saturday, he felt it on a deeper level.
“These people around here have waited a long time for a competitive team. And we’re working to try to give it to them,” Daboll said. “To be part of this community, to grow up here, to understand that the Buffalo Bills mean a lot to this area, it’s important. It’s a testament to the people that came out and all the good people that had their parties going, watching on television. Just an awesome football town.
“It’s not surprising, I’ve seen it for my entire life here.”
‘A chef’s only as good as his ingredients’
The Bills’ offensive renaissance is even more impressive considering where it was over the past two seasons under Daboll.
Buffalo ranked 28th in total offense during his first two seasons (2018 and 2019) and was one of four teams to average fewer than 200 passing yards per game.
Especially after last season, when the Bills scored a paltry 19.6 points per game, Daboll became a popular scapegoat among fans.
But general manager Brandon Beane was realistic when it came to evaluating the Bills, Daboll included.
“Going back to when Brian was here in ’18, obviously [we were] very young on offense and inexperienced at critical positions,” Beane said. “Then you go to ’19 and, all right, we helped the O-line, it’s Year 2 for Josh and we gave him a couple weapons in [receiver] Cole [Beasley] and John Brown — but we still don’t have enough here yet … I thought what Brian did from ’18 to ’19 showed growth and it obviously starts with the most critical position — look at Josh’s growth and what he did. Brian was hands-on that, [QBs coach] Ken Dorsey, too.
“That’s what kind of gave us promise, ‘Hey, if we could just add some more, Brian and his staff will be able to help us score more points.'”
Beane said he wasn’t ready to make the same hasty decisions Daboll’s previous teams made when he spent one season with the Dolphins and one with the Chiefs. Before that, he was fired after two seasons in Cleveland.
But those offenses were lacking playmakers when Daboll was there. He had a couple of standouts — wide receiver Brandon Marshall in Miami and running back Jamaal Charles in Kansas City — but those front offices weren’t patient enough to let him incorporate his system and add enough talent to do so.
“I do see in the league sometimes where I feel like coaches get graded on players that there’s only so much you can do with,” Beane said. “A chef’s only as good as his ingredients.”
True to Beane’s word, Buffalo led the NFL in measurable continuity this season — the number of coaches and players returning. It included 10 returning starters on each side of the ball.
Daboll said that continuity is critical, not just in terms of the players’ development, but also the chemistry he builds with his fellow coaches.
“When you have continuity, it helps,” he said. “You can draw from past experiences. We could be sitting in a staff meeting and one of the coaches will say, ‘Hey, remember two years ago? We did this on this third down.’ That’s hard to do in the first year. It’s hard to do sometimes in the second year. We made a lot of changes from Year 1 to Year 2 with the coaching staff, we also did it with the players. So, chemistry is really good as long as you have it with the right kind of guys that you’re working with.”
That chemistry also led to arguably the biggest development in the Bills’ attack this season.
The birth of a new offense
Perhaps the most obvious change in Buffalo’s scheme for 2020 is how Daboll has used his personnel. For the first time in his career, he had the players to run a pass-heavy offense.
Lamar Jackson reveals he has never played in the snow and is hoping it doesn’t in the Ravens’ game against the Bills on Saturday.
Buffalo ran the second-most plays in the NFL this season with four or more wide receivers on the field (155) after running 14 over the past two seasons combined. With the offseason truncated because of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, it wasn’t immediately clear what the Bills had on offense.
“We knew the tight ends and the backs, but that whole four-wide package really didn’t come about until training camp, seeing the type of individuals we had and how they competed against the guys that we had on our defense and then the production that they had. And then you build it from there,” Daboll said.
Bills coach Sean McDermott called the decision to run more four-receiver personnel groupings a product of “collaboration and communication,” and even though it was unprecedented during his tenure with the Bills, they were quick to roll it out.
In Buffalo’s Week 1 win against the New York Jets, it ran 22 such plays in what became Allen’s first 300-yard passing game. By season’s end, Allen had set franchise records in passing yards (4,544), completions (396) and passing touchdowns (37) in a single season, thanks in large part to the scheme changes.
Allen and Daboll have an open line of communication over the course of a game, to the point the former often suggests plays to his coach — who trusts his quarterback’s judgment.
During the Bills’ rout of the Broncos in Week 15, Allen hit Diggs on a 55-yard completion to seal the game. The playcall was all his.
“I went to Dorsey, and I said, ‘This is the play I want to get called,'” Allen said. “And Daboll gave me the opportunity to do it. He trusts me in those situations if it’s not there to find my outlets down underneath. But it’s one of those plays we kind of got them with a quick count and our guys outran theirs, and I gave him the chance to go catch the ball.
“It means the world to me to know that [Daboll] trusts me enough to listen to my input. … When it’s a play I suggest to him and he calls it and it hits, it feels a little extra special.”
A blessing and a curse
If Daboll leaves, it puts a halt to the continuity that helped the Bills go from 6-10 in 2018 to a legitimate Super Bowl contender in 2020. But it’s a sign the organization has taken a step forward.
“When you win, people want a piece of winners and success and I get that,” McDermott said.
Beane hopes it makes Buffalo’s assistants more selective when considering other opportunities.
“What you hope is that you have a good situation — which I think we have here — to where Brian’s not just going to take the first job that’s offered to him,” Beane said. “If he’s going to leave, you hope that it’s a place that he feels good that he can win.
“[Defensive coordinator] Leslie (Frazier) is the same way, Leslie deserves a chance as much as anybody I know … He has done the head coach thing but definitely wants another taste of it, I’m sure. You hope that here in Buffalo, they’re both going to get interviews, that they say, ‘I like the opportunity, I liked the interview but I don’t know if they’re ready to win. I don’t know if it’s the right situation for me, I’ll go back to Buffalo for another year,’ or something like that.”
Beane made it clear there will be no hard feelings if Daboll moves on.
“Unless they’ve been [a head coach] before, I think most guys want to test themselves at the highest level,” the Bills’ GM said. “Brian hasn’t been a head coach, so I’m sure he falls into that category, like most, and he’s going to want to test his wits.”
Regardless of whether he leaves his hometown this offseason, Daboll said he is thankful for the opportunity to coach the team he grew up rooting for.
“It’s a class-act organization that does things the right way.”
A beautiful mind: How Saints’ Alvin Kamara stays ‘two moves ahead’ – New Orleans Saints Blog
METAIRIE, La. — New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton was jogging back to the locker room for halftime at Atlanta in Week 13 when he decided to pick the brain of one of his most trusted offensive minds:
Running back Alvin Kamara.
“It was just in casual conversation — he happened to be next to me walking to the locker room. And I said, ‘What do you like in the second half?’ Just getting his gut,” Payton said. “We talked about a few different runs. And then he said to me, ‘I really like that same play that we ran Taysom [Hill’s quarterback] keeper, but the run off of it.'”
Sure enough, Payton took Kamara’s advice. He installed an adjusted version of the play at halftime — this time with Kamara getting the ball — and it resulted in an 11-yard touchdown run on the opening drive of the third quarter.
Payton explains the origin of Kamara’s TD run against the Falcons. I remember shooting him and Payton talking going to half. Here’s the visual with Payton’s explanation: pic.twitter.com/efdrUpyYoZ
— Adam Ney (@sayneykid) December 9, 2020
Kamara led the NFL with 21 touchdowns this season — three more than any other player. But that one was probably his most satisfying.
“I was coming off and [Payton] was like, ‘You called that play!’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, you damn right,'” recalled Kamara, who said it was both validating to know he read the situation correctly and potentially useful in the future.
“It’s like, OK, I might have some money in the bank now,” Kamara said. “I might be able to call a couple plays in the game.'”
The truth is, Kamara has had “money in the bank” since the first time Payton went to Tennessee for a private visit before the 2017 draft.
The Saints were enamored with Kamara — not only because of his physical gifts, but because of the intelligence he showed while sitting in on a meeting with quarterback prospect Joshua Dobbs and the way he picked things up so quickly when Payton asked him to run several routes on the field.
“The whole day made an impact,” Payton said. “I could tell right away he was someone that was going to learn extremely quickly.”
Less than a week into Kamara’s first training camp, Payton compared his intelligence to that of Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk, whom Payton coached at San Diego State and described as “one of the smarter players I ever coached.”
Payton has routinely praised Kamara’s football mind since. So it should come as little surprise Kamara still touched the ball 25 times for a total of 116 yards and a touchdown in Sunday’s playoff win over the Chicago Bears, despite not being able to practice while on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
“There are some players that it might have affected more,” Payton said. “But he’s extremely smart, so he can pick things up right away. He was Zoomed in for meetings, [watched practices virtually via live stream]. And he is one of those players that understands what we’re doing formationally. So it made the transition a little bit smoother.”
A ‘rule breaker’
Kamara’s intuition was also on display the first time the Saints played the Bears in Chicago in Week 8.
On the final play of the first quarter, Kamara ran toward the flat and saw Bears edge rusher Khalil Mack dropped back to cover him while an extra blitzer attacked the Saints’ offensive line from the opposite side.
“The linebacker expanded, and he expanded. So the inside was butt naked,” Kamara explained. “So I was just a little bit patient and gave him some eyes and looked at him a little bit and broke in.”
The result: A short pass from Drew Brees, who recognized which choice Kamara was making on a three-way “choice route.” And a 47-yard gain up the middle of that wide-open field.
— NFL (@NFL) November 1, 2020
Deuce McAllister, a former Saints running back and current radio analyst, laughed while explaining Kamara is actually “a rule breaker” many times on choice routes.
“When I say that, it’s because he is so talented — and because he and Drew have done it so many times. So normally on certain routes, you don’t have the option to take it upfield unless it’s a called play by Coach Payton,” McAllister said. “That’s normally a big no-no, because the quarterback isn’t expecting you to (A) see that and (B) have enough time to do it.
“But Alvin is so sharp and understanding what the defense is doing to you. … He sees it, Drew sees it, and he takes it vertical.”
Brees said for choice routes like that to work, “it takes a guy with great feel, patience, understanding and timing.”
“He’s one of the most intelligent football players I’ve ever been around. You just tell him once, and he’s got it. Or he can just watch it on film or see it one time and he’s got it. And he’s got such good feel,” Brees said. “He doesn’t even need to get out there and rep it. He’ll remember it, he’ll retain it. And I think that’s just a rare trait.”
Brees and McAllister said they have seen Kamara’s natural intuition grow mature with four years of experience and time spent learning under coaches like Payton, offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. and running backs coach Joel Thomas and veteran teammates like Mark Ingram II and Latavius Murray.
Center Erik McCoy also described Kamara as “money” when it comes to knowing the Saints’ pass protections.
“When you kind of come into your own and your skill level is at an all-time high, then you add the experience of going on four years as an NFL player and being in an offense like this … it’s like when all of the stars align,” Brees said. “Like, man, he’s in his prime. And he’s poised to be able to do pretty much anything.”
Curing the boredom
The only problem with Kamara’s football mind operating at the same elusive speed as his legs is he admittedly gets bored in practice sometimes.
A couple years ago, Payton actually gave Kamara a fidget spinner to play with on those occasions where his mind started to wander.
“That’s like the ongoing joke with me, my attention span when it comes to some of these things,” Kamara said earlier this season. “I do kind of pride myself in being smart and being able to retain information. So there’s times where even Coach Thomas, I’m talking to him, and I’m like, ‘Yo, just chill, I got it.'”
“It may seem like I don’t, because I just got to try to have fun and keep it light. So they’re always checking on me. … But I’ve got it.”
Kamara said he has always wanted to know as much as possible about the offense and what opposing defenses are trying to do to him. He said that was the case as far back as he can remember. But it has especially ramped up because of the level of play in the NFL — and because he has gotten to work alongside a fellow analytical mind like Brees.
“I always watch him and how he dissects the game and dissects plays. And I always try to learn the plays, and I’ll call them out, like recite the plays when Drew is in the huddle and just try to know alignments, assignments, everybody, everything,” Kamara said. “So it makes the game easier. And it makes it fun, because I’ll be bored sometimes.”
Kamara also revealed another reason he has always approached the game this way.
“I’m gonna be honest. This might give you some insight into how I think and, like, the real football IQ. So me, I don’t like people saying s— to me,” Kamara said. “So when we install something, I try to take the time to know what’s going on before it’s even installed. So when it’s installed, I already know, then it’s just reinforced. And then when I get on the field, and you know, Sean might try to say something to me before the play like, ‘Hey, this is that one …’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, I got it already, I know it.’
“So it might be a little bit of pride for me.”
Of course, it’s also a fun payoff when Kamara can carve up a defense because he knows how it’s going to attack him.
Kamara is the first player in NFL history to produce at least 500 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards in each of his first four seasons. And he already ranks second in Saints history with 59 career touchdowns.
“A lot of that starts with identifying what they’re trying to do to him — and then being able to react,” McAllister said. “When you see Alvin run, it’s almost like he’s gliding — he’s so smooth. He’s either pulling away from everyone, or no one can really bring him down.
“It’s almost like he’s one or two moves ahead of where that defense is.”
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