Each week during the 2019 NFL season, four familiar faces from the British media and broadcasting landscape will debate the big talking points from the United States.
Introducing The Panel
Nat Coombs -Host of ESPN'SThe Nat Coombs show offering four episodes per week on the NFL and host of the NFL show on talkSPORT 2
Neil Reynolds -Host of Host of the Sky Sports' NFL coverage, editor of the London gameday magazines and host of the Inside the Huddle podcast.
JB:They go Teddy Bridgewater and I think that because I have faith in Sean Payton as a play caller and designer. I think he will design the offense to help Bridgewater but I believe they will have a larger package for Taysom Hill and do a lot of change-ups. Playing both quarterbacks will really cross up opposing defenses, but the Saints have a tough stretch coming up.
NC: I think Teddy's one the best backups out there and I'm always minded when a player of his calibre comes in, why other contending teams don't invest more in a roster spot that is so fundamentally important. I get the pressure of the cap, that teams in transition don't require it and I understand the developmental approach. All valid points. But a team like the Packers maybe having to rely on, er... Tim Boyle if 12 goes down? Yikes.
WG:The Saints have an incredibly tough six games while Brees is likely to be out, starting in Seattle. If I was a Saints fan I'd be leaning towards Bridgewater, 'the game manager', knowing that the likes of Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas can make game breaking plays from close to the line of scrimmage. But we know what Bridgewater is, he might "do enough", but I don't think he's winning you games. Whereas Taysom Hill has great scheme flexibility, and the lack of film on him makes him unpredictable for opposition defenses. Be bold, play the wildcard!
NR:I'm sure the safe play is to go with Teddy, but I'm with Will and think there is more to be gained from unveiling Taysom Hill as the every-down, every-week starter. He is more of a fit for today's NFL as a dual-threat weapon and I wonder what kind of plays Sean Payton could dial up for him? I certainly think it would make the Saints a lot more fun to watch in the coming weeks with a more talented Tim Tebow at the helm. But I expect Teddy to be the direction in which Payton goes, at least up in Seattle.
JB:Kirk Cousins has an overall problem. I think the way the Minnesota Vikings want to play, which is establishing the run first, doesn't help Kirk Cousins. You need to establish Kirk with quick-rhythm passes to get him going and that's not happening. He's not going to win you games in the latter stages when he hasn't been throwing all game. They have to script the plays to get him more comfortable.
NC: Mike McCartney, take a bow. He's the genius who negotiated Kirk Cousins' deal with Minnesota. Cousins is getting $28 million in salary this year while Case Keenum, the QB he replaced is getting $3.5 million. Is Cousins an upgrade? A little - note Keenum's 98.3 passer rating in his only season as a Viking to Cousins' 99.7 last year, but at that price? He's had two playoff games in his career - well, one as a starter, one as a cameo, both losses either way, he didn't get it done in the Vikings final game of last season and threw the game away yesterday against the Pack. He's had some big performances in certain high-profile games - at Wembley a few years back and Thanksgiving vs the Cowboys in the same season - but deep down you have to wonder if he's really going to be 'that' guy.
WG:The numbers don't lie. Since paying Kirk Cousins ��30m odd a year guaranteed a very talented team have gone 9-8-1, with a record of 1-6 against teams with winning records last season. He can't take sole blame - the play calling did not come close to playing to his strengths last season until John DeFilippo was gone - and the Vikings offense was excellent in the first half of Week 1. I like the combination of Gary Kubiak and Cousins, it's shown flashes early on, so I think the script on Cousins may have flipped by the time January comes around.
NR:This is a tough one for me because I am a massive fan of Kirk Cousins the person. But Kirk Cousins the quarterback is under .500 for his career and comes up short in big games time and again. I can give you a bunch of reasons why that has not always been Kirk';s fault, but the bottom line is that the quarterback is expected to deliver with games on the line. There was no conceivable reason for Kirk to throw that pick into double coverage on first and goal at Lambeau Field. Kirk has often told me that quarterbacks have to "live to fight another day." Clearly, that thought didn't enter his mind during that play on Sunday.
Should coaches be going for two to win games this early in the season?
JB:I don't have a problem with that, especially on the road. The one thing coaches know is the attitude and momentum of their team. They can say, "Hey, we have momentum on our side so let's try to close this out." Coaches know that and I have no problem with that. In Jacksonville's case, I have a problem with them running the ball against a loaded box.
NC:I see the logic in going for broke in a situation like this - you win and the team is surfing a testosterone wave of remarkable self-belief - but I think that there's too much blood rushing to the head at times in the NFL. In 2018, teams went for it on fourth down more than ever before and it';s only going to trend in this direction and I don't think it's always thought through. I just don't get a call like Jacksonville made when you're 0-1 with the game on the line. Way too gung-ho and it's cost them, and they now face a tricky short week and a do or die game against the Titans.
WG:It's not breaking news to anyone to say the best coach in football is Bill Belichik - and why is he so good? Amongst the myriad of reasons is that he is the king of situational football. I have zero issue with teams going for two to win games this earlier in the year, IF it puts their team in the best position to win - and with the way the Broncos offense have looked over the first two weeks under Flacco's stewardship it was absolutely the right decision to try and win the game in the moment, rather than putting the back back in his hands in OT. Similarly with the Jags - while Gardner Minshew's overall numbers don't look bad, a majority of their offense came late in the game - so put it in the hands of your hotting up QB and try win the game there and then. Also, the Jags play another key divisional game on Thursday night, and no one wants Overtime on a short week!
NR:It has become much more of a "thing" in recent years and I can see the logic when your offense has struggled for much of a game. How do you know if you are going to get down there again? So I didn't have a massive problem with either the Broncos or the Jags going for it. But I did have a problem with the Jags putting it in the hands of their 1980s throwback running back Leonard Fournette. Roll Gardner out, let him read three or four passing options and if no one is there, he can try to run it in himself. This will always be the case when teams go for the win and fail, though - there will be second-guessing!
For good or bad reasons, which team has been the most surprising through two weeks?
JB:That's the Dallas Cowboys, without a doubt. I thought they were going to be okay and I thought they were going to be good, but not this good. They have just been phenomenal and it's the offensive play calling. What Kellen Moore is calling fits his quarterback in Dak Prescott. The best play callers adjust to their players and Moore has an advantage there because he knows Dak extremely well. That is also allowing them to play well on defense because that group is so well rested.
NC:I had the Buffalo Bills as my sleeper pick - hey, there's written proof published online before you cry foul! But I guess they qualify as a team that has emerged as a contender despite not much preseason buzz. Lamar Jackson - and so by extension the Ravens - has caught a lot of people by surprise, though I am keen to see them up against a more testing opponent.
WG:MASSIVE homer pick, but I'm kicking myself for not picking the San Francisco 49ers last week as a pleasant surprise - a team that went 0-8 on the road last year have now won their opening two away from the bay, and they already have five turnovers on defense- just two less than the entirety of 2018! I was concerned about the offense in Week 1, but they shook off the rust against the Bengals with 572 total yards and 41 points - but, most importantly, the young receivers look like they're starting to understand the Kyle Shanahan scheme and the offense as a whole ran efficiently. Penalties are still a worry, and tougher tests willl come, but it's been a cracking start!
NR:I agree with the Bills and Niners, so let me go in another direction and pick one side of the ball of one team. I did not expect the Green Bay Packers to be playing this kind of dominant defense. They get after the quarterback, fly to the football and cover well on the back end. I've been very impressed with pass rush additions Preston and Za'Darius Smith and cornerback Jaire Alexander is a rising star. This is a group worth getting excited about in Green Bay.
JB:I know James Conner is banged up but they just have to be a physical running team. Without Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger, they don't have that three-headed horse they used to depend on. They have a great offensive line and behind that, they need to play great defense. It's not looking good - their offensive line must be the driver of their success.
NC:Optimistically? This is the first of 12 consecutive seasons that sees Mason Rudolph as an NFL starter
Pessimistically? JeffFisherVille (7-9 baby).
WG:Move on... it might sound drastic but he's 37, almost constantly carrying some kind of knock (and letting us know about it) and, while I'm sure the Steelers will claim they've got rid of the bad apples in Bell & Brown, I really wasn't impressed with how Roethlisberger handled the whole situation as a leader. Miami, who they face at home, might be the stumbling block. But otherwise why not follow the Colts model and go get your QB of the future in next year's draft.
NR:Common sense says lean on the ground attack and rely on a good defense. But this team is also going to need to get consistent production from Mason Rudolph. I'm intrigued by the rookie after his off-the-bench showing against Seattle. The reality is that Big Ben did not play very well in the opening game and a bit of 2019 and he is coming to the end of his career. This is not ideal, but at least the Steelers will see what Rudolph is all about.