The Ducks-Niners Report 9/22/16

THE DUCKS

LAST GAME: Nebraska 35 Oregon 32 (2-1)

NEXT GAME: vs. Colorado Buffalo (2-1)

Before this game started, I want to point out the classy move Oregon made by leaving flowers on the field in honor of the Nebraska punter that just passed away. Last week Nebraska ran this play, which I’m sure created a lot of non-dry eyes.

There are things more important than a game and it’s amazing how the game itself can play homage to them.

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Now last week I talked about the Ducks being tested and that was definitely the case. This is the first time Dakota Prokup has been in front of the type of crowd and environment that is Lincoln. Nebraska was chomping at the bit to prove that it’s turning the corner and relevant again. When the Ducks came out in the beginning of the game, they moved the ball well.

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The trouble started when Royce Freeman went down with an apparent shin injury. The moment that happened, the offense struggled to adjust. The obvious issue was the production Freeman provides. His power running style was suited for the Nebraska defense. I think had he been healthy, he would have pounded away for 150 yards and a couple of scores.

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The backups performed admirably after a period of struggle but they had to change the dynamic of the offense. You saw Dakota and Taj Griffith running a lot of jet sweep plays with options for Dakota to keep it. Kani Benoit‘s speed around the edge exposed Nebraska a couple of times. Tony Brooks-James had a great game and found the endzone 3 times.

The biggest difference for me however is not as obvious. The first couple of series after he went out, Dakota got way more antsy in the pocket. As great of a runner Freeman is, it speaks to his pass blocking ability that Dakota all of a sudden looked like a lost child without his safety blanket. They had to start going to 2 back sets more to provide him more protection.

It is the Oregon way not to speak about injuries but if Freeman is out for an extended period of time, Oregon will  have find a way to better protect Dakota in single back sets in order to move the ball against more aggressive Pac 12 defenses. If they can’t, we may see more screens come into play.images-1

The news came down early this week that Oregon has also lost Devon Allen to a season ending ACL injury. Devon’s speed as an Olympic grade hurdler, definitely hurts the offense’s ability to stretch the field deep. There are still weapons on the edges with Darren Carrington and Pharaoh Brown but players like Dwyane Stanford are going to have to step up into that role.

It is also the Oregon way to go for 2 point conversion whenever possible. I have noticed a couple of things about this. It used to be that Oregon would go for 2 point conversions early in the game and then go back to kicking extra points. It was never 5 times in a game like it was on Saturday.

The theory is, Oregon lines up for the extra point, and the spreads out into a formation that gives them several options. It becomes a numbers game. If the defense spreads out to cover the options then they bring the formation back in and kick the extra point. If the holder/quarterback sees that there is a numbers advantage, they attack it. I.e. If there are 2 receivers and 2 blockers on the edge against 3 defenders.

In the past, Oregon has been very successful at converting these, however this season it has been not as effective. The key is the holder/quarterback. They are the one that makes the call on the field whether to go or not. The problem is, they are not making the right call half the time this year, and the half they are making the right call on, the Ducks simply aren’t executing.

Also, in past years, Oregon’s offense was so good that they could afford to be a bit cute and extra aggressive, especially early in a game, because it was assumed that if they didn’t get the conversion, they would be back in the end zone in 2 minutes anyway to get it back.

Oregon’s offense is simply not as good right now. This team is too young to leaving points on the field, especially in a big game on the road. It ended up biting Oregon this game because they lost by 3 points and left 3 points on the field due to missed 2 point conversions. I hope that the coaching staff pulls these plays back a bit until they are truly on the level of execution needed for them.

Here is an article that votes in favor of going for 2 point conversions due to statistical probability. The problem is, you do have to execute the plays.

Defensively, Oregon again proved to be Jekyll and Hyde. There were moments of brilliance and moments of awful. Interestingly, Mike Riley brought more a pass heavy offense in the first half which Oregon did OK with. It was when he went back to the ground in the 2nd half, which is what he really should have done in the 1st half, that Nebraska gutted Oregon up the middle for 228 yards.

Now there are earned yards and there are given yards. It’s a matter of positioning most of the time. Earned yards is when offensive lines are blocking their tails off and/or ball carriers are running hard through and around tackles. Given yards is when defensive players are so out of position that Moses must have decided to part the green turf sea. Oregon is giving up way to much given yardage.

The linebackers were all over the place. Part of this was we were missing Troy Dye and  but as a linebacker myself, I had to cringe a couple of times. I don’t think some of the younger guys are reading well. I watch their stance and they are so concerned about getting off the ball fast that they are not reading, guessing, and taking themselves out of the play while leaving huge lanes were they were.

As a linebacker, I have learned the importance of the read step. On the snap of the ball, I take a slight step forward while I read. This one step, slows me down enough that I can read and then make the correct play. I noticed the linebackers just go a lot which takes them out of the play and is why they are struggling with gap control. They need to be slow to flow and fast to go, as one of my coaches told me that stuck with me.

The secondary was in great position most of the time during this game but they ran into a flag happy set of refs. The problem is, a lot like a pitcher in baseball, you have to adjust your coverage to the style of the refs. Some games you can get away with more. It’s my opinion that you start aggressive until they start flagging it, however, at some point, Oregon had several flags and should have adjusted.

Next up for Oregon is a home game against a Colorado team that took Michigan several rounds last week. It’s great to see Colorado finally start to turn the corner for the first time that they have joined the Pac 12. It will be interesting to see how they do in Pac 12 play but they have definitely improved. I was able to see bits and pieces of their game and it looks like their defense is fairly aggressive. They apparently need to work on punting as Michigan was blocking kicks all over the place.

Hearing the interviews from Oregon, it looks like the Ducks are taking Colorado seriously. As they should because it’s the beginning of the Pac 12 season. If Oregon wants to compete for a solid bowl game, they have to get momentum back.

 

On the fun side, Oregon caught wind of a feud between Florida and Tennessee and in true Oregon fashion added their own flair to the conversation.

 

And if that weren’t enough, here are the Duck unis for next week. I think I am kind of undecided. I need to see the color on TV of the socks to decide if it’s brilliant or ugly. I do really like the “Once a Duck, Always a Duck” writing around the collar.

 

THE NINERS

LAST GAME: Panthers 46 – 49ers 27 (1-1)

NEXT GAME: @ Seattle Seahawks (1-1)

We knew that this game was going to be tough. Carolina is still probably the team to beat in the NFC. They just lost a close game to Denver that they really should have won. This was their first home game after nearly winning the Super Bowl last year. They were going to be hyped and bring it no matter what.

This was a game in which the Niners figured out how far they need to go. I will be honest in that so far, this Niners team has impressed me in that we definitely have more fight than last year. We fought all the way to the end which is a great sign for Chip Kelly as it means people are buying in to the process.

San Francisco 49ers v Carolina Panthers
Blaine Gabbert #2 of the San Francisco 49ers scrambles from Charles Johnson #95 of the Carolina Panthers in the 2nd quarter during their game at Bank of America Stadium on September 18, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

The first half of this game the Niners hung tough and went into the locker room only down 7. Even though the defense gave up yards, they were able to create turnovers which kept the Niners within striking distance. That is until the 3rd quarter happened and the Panthers pulled away. The Niners fought hard in the 4th but it was too little too late.

Blaine Gabbert himages-2as improved a lot from last year. He spread the ball around as 9 total players caught a pass. He hasn’t made a lot of mistakes really until the last 5 minutes of this game. Early in the game he showed poise and in the early 4th he got the Niners within 1 score. The last 5 minutes you saw him trying force throws in an effort to lead a comeback. In that case, I am totally OK with him being ultra aggressive because they had nothing to lose. I’d rather my quarterback be aggressive in a comeback than conservative. It also shows you that Chip trusts him. As this offense matures, those mistakes will turn into touchdowns.

The running game took a hit this week. It all started with a Carlos Hyde fumble that led to an instant 6 for the Panthers and got worse from there.The team went a combined 26 rushes for 65 yards. That’s a 2.5 yards per carry average. That is not good. Granted, the Panther defense is very fast and athletic. Defenses with their kind of athletic ability are able to cover the space against Chip’s offense well. However, the run game is going to have to work some blocking issues out in order to be effective against those upper echelon teams.

Defense gave up yards and big plays, and then randomly made big plays. They are going to have to work on being more consistent if they want to push towards the next level. The defense gave up 7 play607555090-0s of at least 15 yards. That is a combination of gap control in the run game and being out of position in the pass game. Hopefully they can learn from this game and shore up their communication more so that they don’t have to rely on their athleticism trying to save touchdowns by being in the right position in the first place.

It is great to see Navarro Bowman flying around and making plays. 11 tackles is a solid day.

This week, the Niners head up here to Seattle to face a Seahawks team that is having some issues. Their offensive line can’t seem to make holes or protect anyone, Russell Wilson is on one ankle, none of their running backs can stay healthy for long, and they can’t seem to find the endzone.

If the Niners defense wants to improve from giving up over 500 yards offense last week, they need to get better in a hurry and take advantage of a banged up Seattle team. If they want at all a shot at competing in the division, they have to show up this weekend. Give up 500 yards of offense to Seattle and you just solved their offense and gave them confidence to get back on track. Show up like you did against the Rams, and Seahawks fans will think the sky is falling.

The Seahawk defense is still strong and Blaine will have to make good decisions. I don’t foresee the Niners doing much on the ground if they couldn’t against Panthers. I would expect a lot of short passes and maybe runs by Blaine. Look for Vance McDonald to have another solid game at tight end as Blaine’s safety blanket.

This game should tell us a lot about the state of the division.

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