I did not go apple-picking, but I did watch a lot of football.
That means I got to take a good look at Georgia, Alabama, USC-Colorado, LSU-Mississippi, Notre Dame Duke and Northeastern-Triad flag football (at the Cardinals’ surprisingly fancy football stadium to which I had not been since about 1991).
My main takeaway?
Sometimes the best way to maintain perspective on a team you watch all the time is to watch other teams more often.
Here are some thoughts from the weekend:
1. I did not see any dominant teams on Saturday.
Sure, the flag Jets ripped off big play after big play against the Fighting Cardinals, but no score was kept so it’s hard to quantify exactly how strong their performance was.
Yes, Michigan and Penn State crushed bad teams. The Wolverines and Nittany Lions are still waiting for a real challenge before we can figure out just how good they are, but I have no doubt they are very good.
Georgia and Alabama (who did not play each other, just to be clear) both seem to be a little short on offensive playmakers, the Tide more so than the Bulldogs, who at least have a bona fide star in Brock Bowers. Alabama also does not appear to have the offensive line to be considered a true contender this year, though as I have said and written in regards to Ohio State, that is a unit that can improve over the course of a season. Stranger things have happened.
Meanwhile, USC and Colorado are very short on defensive players, which is puzzling in the case of the Trojans.
LSU-Mississippi was a fun, back-and-forth game in which defense was again optional (and rarely the choice), while Notre Dame scored a vital comeback victory for Marcus Freeman’s program while dealing Duke a heart-breaking defeat in another very entertaining game.
2. I came away from Notre Dame’s win over the Blue Devils with a similar question I had from their loss to Ohio State.
Marcus Freeman’s Fighting Irish are legitimately good. I’m glad they won because it’s good for the sport, which is now living on borrowed time with the 12-team playoff and conference expansion set to ruin the regular season beginning next year, if Notre Dame is considered a contender from start to finish.
Freeman’s team is tough in the trenches on both sides of the ball, has a great running game and good back seven on defense, too.
I came away from both games wondering if they were at least a tad too conservative on offense. They bombed N.C. State with a wide-open attack I didn’t see the last two weeks, although they were dealing with some injuries at receiver this time around.
Also worth noting: The Duke pass rush had a better day against the Irish than Ohio State. The Blue Devils sacked Sam Hartman twice, and though they both appeared to be coverage sacks, that also implies the coverage was better.
3. The Bengals game couldn’t have been much less inspiring.
In a vacuum, hey, whatever. NFL teams have clunkers, especially on the road against teams with a lot of motivation because they got waxed last week and lost high-stakes games to you the last two seasons.
But Cincinnati has been pretty bad on both sides of the ball since the first snap of the season.
Maybe the defense turns it around, but they have always been more opportunistic than a shut-down unit. Perhaps they were due some bad breaks.
The offense is completely broken, and it’s not a matter of tweaking a few things here and there to get it going again.
The scheme is completely dependent on Joe Burrow being a special quarterback who solves problems with his mind, feet and accurate arm. Well, he can’t use his feet right now, and his brain and arm are both less accurate as a result.
4. Burrow needs to sit down.
After the ill-advised decision to play Burrow against the Rams on Monday Night Football did not blow up in their face, I seriously considered suggesting they go ahead and rest Burrow for a least a week.
Their game plan for the win over the Rams was never going to be sustainable once other teams watched the film, and two full weeks off seemed like hedging their bets on his calf making a big health jump. But they decided to put him out there in harm’s way and lost not much worse than they would have with you or me at quarterback.
So now what?
5. The major downside to having Burrow be the franchise quarterback is he seems to only want to run a spread-type offense that has many limitations if a player like Burrow isn’t at the controls.
Over the course of 15 seasons is that a net positive? Yes, it should be, though maybe they will actually incorporate more “traditional” offensive elements over the years. I’m not worried about that right now so much as I am the fact he can’t come close to operating at full capacity and it’s hard to see that changing before it’s too late even if Burrow does manage to get back to full strength at some point (which seems like a very precarious bet, by the way).
The Bengals offense has endured early-season doldrums the past two seasons and pleasantly surprised me with their response, but then they had a full-speed Burrow at their disposal.
Maybe given what I said about the scheme requiring Burrow to work means no backup has a chance to succeed in it, either, but it seems reasonable to think professional football coaches could come up with some sort of stopgap.
6. The Reds season could have been more inspiring.
But not much!
Of course seeing the annual David Bell Late Summer Swoon was disappointing, but one has to be happy to have actually been able to watch meaningful baseball in Southwest Ohio for 161 games, and it was a really fun brand of ball when they were winning.
More importantly, the Reds’ success is certainly sustainable because they have this wave of good players already on the roster with more to come, and getting so much big-league playing time for all those young guys should pay off next season.
Of course they need more pitching, but their young hurlers should improve and hopefully have better injury luck.
Beyond that, the Reds have the resources to make a big splash in the offseason that can make them true contenders next season. You have to give up something to get something, and the Reds have a lot to deal this December.