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Cowboys should start Tony Pollard over Ezekiel Elliott, how Derrick Henry keeps the Titans afloat, and more NFL things to watch in Week 9

Welcome back to Establish the Fun, where my main goal here is to share with you some schemes and players you should watch for when you sit down and turn on the first NFL game of the day on Sunday. We’re entering Week 9! Give it up for Week 9!

In addition to watching copious amounts of football, I also watch an abnormal amount of anime. So this week, we’re going to be looking at some players that I think you should be watching for, with an anime twist. So let’s dig in, starting down south.

Spoilers ahead if you haven’t caught up to the points I’m talking about in these animes.

Derrick Henry activates the Rumbling

The Tennessee Titans won a game against the Houston Texans despite only throwing the ball 10 times. Rookie QB Malik Willis, who was making his first career start, threw one pass in the second half.

That is PREPOSTEROUS to think about considering the game was only 7-3 at halftime and there were no bad weather conditions. This was just the Titans stomping the Texans into the ground using their own Attack Titan, Derrick Henry. Henry ran for 219 yards and two touchdowns, with a crisp 6.8 yards per attempt and a 0.21 EPA per attempt. How the Titans essentially removed the Texans run defense from the face of the Earth was really cool, and highlights some of the most impressive things about Derrick Henry.

Let’s start with Henry’s first touchdown. With Malik Willis as QB (and possibly Ryan Tannehill to some extent), the Titans leaned more into zone read action. With Willis’ legs being such a dynamic threat, it forces the backside end to “surf” or shuffle his feet in order to play the QB. The problem with this is simple though. If you’re not moving full speed and try to tackle Derrick Henry, you’ll end up on the highlight reel.

The backside end “surfing” gives Henry enough of a gap to slice through and now he’s one on one with a safety. This ends in one way and one way only, but one thing that I found cool was how Henry ends up in the end zone. When people think of Derrick Henry they assume power, speed and the stiff arm. However, his agility is very underrated. He puts this safety on skates then glides into the end zone. The Rumbling has begun.

This was on the first play of the game. The Titans battered the Texans with a heavy diet of split zone runs, lead zone with a fullback and duo. They opened with split zone and the linebacker triggers down hard on the offensive line’s zone blocking away from the motion. Henry cuts back and is once again one on one with a safety. Just like Eren Yeager, he can freeze you with a juke move, or simply toss you to the side with a stiff arm, but he will not be tackled.

Finally, the Titans hit the Texans with duo here for a big play. One of the reasons teams opt to run this blocking scheme so much is that it forces DBs, especially corners, to tackle. The point of the blocking is essentially “power without a pulling guard” so everything is getting mashed in and a DB has to pick up the slack. It’s why when you see teams run duo a receiver is motioned closer to the ball, so he can block a safety or linebacker.

As much as I love Derek Stingley, I don’t think he has the facilities to tackle Derrick Henry one on one just yet. This is a matchup the Titans want every time they run the ball. Henry bounces the run towards Stingley and gets another big play. This was the entire second half for the Titans.

The Titans have the biggest game of their season so far on Sunday night, traveling to Arrowhead to play the Kansas City Chiefs. Ryan Tannehill could possibly not play again, but even if he did, the Titans offense wouldn’t be completely out of sorts. The Chiefs are 14th in the NFL in Expected Points Added (EPA) per run, but have been tested on the ground so far this season. For the Titans to win, Derrick Henry will have to keep moving forward, until all his enemies are destroyed.

Tony Pollard goes into Second Gear

In One Piece, one of main character Monkey D. Luffy’s six gears is Gear 2, which allows him to have increased speed and mobility, but only for a limited time.

Sounds a lot like how Cowboys owner Jerry Jones views the Cowboys with and without Tony Pollard. The Cowboys offense truly hit a second gear on Sunday, hanging 49 points on an unspectacular, yet solid Chicago Bears defense. A large part of that was the play of Tony Pollard, who absolutely shined in a lead role. Pollard ran for 131 yards and three touchdowns, and showed an explosiveness and juice that incumbent starter Ezekiel Elliot just doesn’t have at this point.

On his first touchdown run, Pollard showed the juice and explosiveness to get downfield and north-south in a hurry. Remember how I said earlier that teams like to run duo by motioning a receiver closer to the ball? The Cowboys run a counter to that duo run by running zone away from the motioning receiver. Guard Zack Martin makes a fantastic block on a blitzing LB (what else is new), and Pollard just hits a different gear that Zeke doesn’t have. The move he puts on Eddie Jackson here is vile.

The Cowboys ran a lot of mid zone and outside zone against the Bears, and Pollard showed good vision and manipulation to set up blocks, while also being able to stick his foot in the ground and get vertical. This big run was set up by Pollard’s manipulation, then cutting back and hitting the second gear to make a four-yard run into a big play.

Let’s get this out the way: Tony Pollard should be the lead back for the Dallas Cowboys. I don’t understand why Jerry Jones has this undying devotion to Ezekiel Elliott (who is fine), but shouldn’t be the lead back anymore for Dallas. Through Week 9, Elliot has about 48 percent of the carries in the Cowboys backfield, while Pollard has 36 percet.

In the same amount of time, Pollard is has a higher yards after contact per attempt, he almost doubles Elliott’s broken tackle and missed tackle rate and a higher EPA/attempt. If the main point behind Zeke is that he’s a tackle breaker between the tackles, then Pollard still almost doubles Elliott in yards after contact per attempt between the tackles, and averages almost two yards more in general.

This isn’t even saying that Pollard should get 20-25 touches a game, or tote the ball as much as a Derrick Henry. But this offense hits the nitro boost when Pollard is in the game, and just flipping that ratio for Pollard and Elliott could turn the Cowboys offense up even more.

Mike McDaniel unlocks Tyreek Hill’s Bankai

A Bankai is the final form of the Zanpakuto spirit that a Soul Reaper has in their sword. A sword itself is dangerous, but adding a Bankai onto it makes you pretty much unstoppable.

Tyreek Hill has sprinted into the leaderboard of the Offensive Player of the Year race. Hill is on pace for an absurd 2,042 receiving yards, leads the NFL in Yards Per Route Run and is second among the top target getters in average Depth of Target (aDOT).

What stands out the most about this year for Hill, in this specific offense, is how head coach Mike McDaniel is leveraging and using his speed not only to threaten defenses, but to create favorable situations for Hill and the offense. Through eight games, Hill has set a career high in total Yards After the Catch and has run more RPO routes during that same time period. It’s not even just about running the RPO’s however. It’s about running the RPO’s downfield and threatening the defense. At this point in the season, his aDOT is the second highest in his career. They’re attacking defenses downfield and using the threat of Hill’s electrifying speed to crack open the intermediate levels of the field.

These are all of Tyreek Hill’s targets in 2022 with Miami and 2021 in Kansas City, with 2022 at the top. Through 8 games, Hill has over 20 more targets in the middle of the field in 0-15 yards than he has in 2021 with Kansas City.

The Detroit game was a good example of what McDaniel and Hill are doing to beat NFL defenses. This is the first play of the game, and look at how far the Detroit DBs are lined up off the line of scrimmage. This is what the threat of speed can do to a defense.

McDaniel uses Hill in a lot of different positions and alignments, from out wide, to being motioned into stacks and even as an H back. The Dolphins don’t just attack teams vertically with Hill though. Hill is running into gaps in the intermediate level of the field off play action, and Tua is hitting those throws.

This is one of my favorite RPOs, and for the people that know me, know that I think RPOs are fake, so saying this RPO is one of my favorite plays is a lot. The Dolphins run this out of any formation, with any type of motion, and with different personnel. However, the bones of the play are similar: an H-back runs across the formation in a slide route, the slot receiver runs a wheel and the outside receiver runs a slant, rhythm post or curl. Tua always hits the slide or the glance, but this was the first time he’s hit the wheel route. However, look at how much space is created with Hill going in motion. It creates a window that Tua can throw into and generate an explosive play.

Of course, when he can still do the Tyreek Hill deep ball stuff that’s an added bonus. Just runs right past both guys and makes a play.

The Dolphins play the aforementioned Bears and a defense that’ll be missing Roquan Smith. It could get ugly for the Bears, but watching how Mike McDaniel uses the threat of speed to create open throwing lanes is going to be fun.

Which is what Establish the Fun is for!

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