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NFL Establish the Fun: Ravens’ new breakout star, Alabama’s emerging QB, and more

Let’s talk about Keaton Mitchell. Also, how Jalen Milroe has become the offense for the Alabama Crimson Tide

You hear that?

The autumn wind is blowing, and that means it’s time for another Establish the Fun, where football is fun and I would love to establish that if y’all would allow me. We’re officially at the midpoint of the NFL season and the college football season is pretty close to wrapping up as well. However, the fun production will still be at record highs, because that’s what heroes do. The players that often make the schemes and teams fun are the stars of this here outfit, and with the season finally reaching its’ climactic point, more fun players are popping up like Pokemon in tall grass.

So, let’s open up this three pack with a Keaton breakout that would even make the 1989 iteration of Batman jealous.

Keaton Mitchell brings the juice

The Baltimore Ravens have one of the strongest cases to hold the title of best team in the NFL through nine games. They statistically have one of the best defenses by any metric you wanna look at, but offensively they’re dynamic, versatile and above all else, explosive. Through nine games the Ravens are second in the NFL in explosive plays, and first in the NFL in explosive runs, per Marcus Mosher.

Of course, when you have the one man explosive play in Lamar Jackson, those numbers are bound to happen, but the Ravens backs have all helped out in carrying that explosive run load. However, one back stood out in Sunday’s 37-3 throttling of the Seattle Seahawks, because of just how different his style of running is: RB Keaton Mitchell. Mitchell carried the ball nine times, but on those nine carries gained 138 yards, scored a touchdown and generated five first downs. Yes, it’s a one game sample size, but his explosion and burst add such a new element to a Ravens RB room that features a more physical, downhill style in Gus Edwards and a versatile third down guy in Justice Hill. Let’s get into what made Keaton Mitchell stand out on Sunday.

Mitchell isn’t a big back; at the NFL Combine he only stood about 5’8 and 179 pounds. However, his vision and burst make him a big play threat every time he touches the ball, and when you combine that with a run game like Baltimore’s where you have to account for every action, any misstep could end in a positive play. The Seahawks are in a light box on defense because the Ravens are spread out offensively. This is a simple inside zone play, but look at the explosiveness Mitchell brings to the plate as a runner in this offense. He erases the angle of safety Jamal Adams (who isn’t slow!) and outruns Tariq Woolen (who is really really fast!) on his way to the endzone. The Ravens have had plenty of explosive runs this year, but nothing like Mitchell’s speed in this offense.

Not only that, but his elusiveness between the tackles also stood out. While backs like Edwards and Hill are more downhill, one cut and go style of backs, Mitchell is more creative, using his smaller stature and quick feet to beat defenders in the hole.

The Ravens are running GH Counter with RG Kevin Zeitler and FB Pat Ricard pulling for Mitchell. However, because of QB Lamar Jackson’s run threat, it holds the edge defender so he can’t come down the LOS. Look at Mitchell create space and force Seahawks’ LBs into the blocking so he can get forward. When he puts his foot in the ground and changes direction, it’s a super cool sight to see. This play should’ve been dead at the LOS; instead it gains five yards.

For most smaller backs, tackle breaking is a must in order to get on the field, and Mitchell did a lot of that on Sunday. It’s a one game sample, of course, but SIS recorded Mitchell with an out of this world 77.8% Broken Tackle and Missed Tackle Rate. He broke four tackles and forced three missed tackles in nine carries.

So yeah, I’d say that’s pretty good. His contact balance really stood out on Sunday, because he didn’t really do that at East Carolina, but now he’s turned into a tackle breaking, big play machine. This toss play is perfect for a guy like Mitchell’s strengths. TE Isaiah Likely motions in and cracks the EDGE, allowing the tackle and C Tyler Linderbaum to pull around. Look at the big boys get out in space, Linderbaum crushing the LB en route to a big Mitchell play. Mitchell breaks a tackle, forces another missed tackle and ends in the red zone. Forget being a jitterbug, Mitchell is a lightning bug.

The Ravens have another big game on the schedule Sunday, this one at home against the Cleveland Browns and their vaunted defense (first in EPA/play allowed per Sumer Sports). If the Ravens want to keep their offense at the super explosive rate they’re at now, maybe Mitchell will find some more touches in a backfield that’s playing really well.

Milroe, row, row this boat

Let’s go back in time, shall we?

Let’s travel back to Sep. 16, when the Alabama Crimson Tide benched QB Jalen Milroe ahead of a matchup with USF. The Tide just lost to Texas at home, and the Alabama offense with Milroe at the helm played poorly.

Since then, Milroe and the Alabama offense has been on a TEAR, averaging almost 32 points per game and beating teams such as Ole Miss and LSU along the way. Milroe has also seen a slight uptick in his productivity as both a runner and a passer since the bye, but that slight uptick has come with the offense shaping around his talents.

Jalen Mil-WHOA

Time Period Positive Play Rate (as a passer) Explosive passes (20+ yards) On Target Rate Average Throw Depth Positive Play Rate (as a runner) Total TDs
Time Period Positive Play Rate (as a passer) Explosive passes (20+ yards) On Target Rate Average Throw Depth Positive Play Rate (as a runner) Total TDs
Pre-Benching 45.50% 66.70% 13.2 37.80% 7
Post-Benching 46.90% 52.00% 13.3 42.40% 15

The Alabama offense has truly become a big play hunter in the passing game, taking Milroe’s strengths as a passer and runner and becoming a reflection of their most talented signal caller. Since Milroe took back the starting job, Alabama has been a top 30 team in college football in completions of 20+ yards, and they are 20th among teams with 25 or more attempts of 20+ yards in On-Target Rate. On top of that, Milroe has continued his positive play as a runner, and Alabama has capitalized on that ability. They’ve become Milroe, like Eddie Brock became Venom, and the Tide offense has become better for it.

In Alabama’s 42-28 win over LSU, Milroe set a school QB record for rushing TDs in a game, but also made the throws when necessary to keep defenses honest. Let’s start with the run game first. Milroe somehow combines the power of a Jalen Hurts-style of runner with blinding speed for a guy that size, and when he decides to take off he’s flying past people like the Yellow Flash of the Leaf. On one of his TD runs against the Tigers, Milroe takes off to run and then puts his foot in the ground and you can see the change in speed. He blasts right past defenders and into the endzone. That’s a special play by a special athlete.

Since Week 5, Milroe’s ability as a runner has not only been highlighted by designed plays, but scrambles. Since Week 5, among all QBs with 10 or more carries, Milroe is second in First Down Rate on scrambles and fifth in Positive Play Rate. He’s flipping the field as a runner and forcing teams to account for that. You see Milroe do things like this and you buy back in immediately.

To add onto the threat of Milroe’s legs, he’s such a threat throwing the ball downfield that it makes Alabama explosive in that way. Instead of trying to be efficient with the quicker passes that Milroe hasn’t been as good at, they’ve gone full power run game and deep shots, and for the most part, it’s worked. This is a very nice pass to WR Isaiah Bond, where Milroe has enough time in the pocket to stand in and deliver a ball downfield, and a great route by Bond to create separation vs off coverage. LSU spins a safety down to add on in the run game, and then the Tide have advantages on the outside.

Milroe is still 20 years old and in his first year as a starter, so there’s still a long runway for growth. The most important thing here is that the Crimson Tide put the ball in his hands and made him the engine of the offense, and both Milroe and Alabama have benefitted. The Tide take on an always ornery Kentucky team on Saturday, so be on the lookout for Milroe being the straw that stirs the drink for the Alabama offense.

Tuli Tuli Tuli Tuli rocking everywhere

Through this point last year, the Los Angeles Chargers’ defensive pressure rate was a measly 30%. Even when star EDGES Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack were healthy last year, the lack of a consistent third guy made it easy for both guys to see attention and limit their effectiveness.

Well, in steps rookie EDGE Tuli Tuipulotu from USC. When scouting him before the draft, he was more of a tweener, lacking the bend and burst to stay as a consistent edge presence, but had the power and technique to be a havoc creator alongside a star pass rusher. That’s exactly what Tuipulotu is doing for the Chargers, and it’s helped boost their pressure rate almost five points higher and rounded out their defense. Tuipulotu is third among all Chargers’ pass rushers in pressure rate, but when he’s at his best, he’s lined up with Bosa or Mack on the inside, and coach Brandon Staley can get creative up front. Against the Jets, there were many moments of Tuipulotu causing havoc as an interior rusher, not only getting to the QB himself, but freeing up others as well.

Here, Tuli is lined up as a “loose” 3-technique (over the outside shoulder of the guard, but loose meaning he’s not as tightly aligned on that spot). Bosa is lined up next to him and Morgan Fox is lined up on the inside shoulder of the guard. On the other side of the center, Mack is isolated on the right tackle, and LB Kenneth Murray is walked up. Because the Jets are in empty, what this looks like to the line is a simple slide to the center’s left. The center, left guard and left tackle will sort out what happens to the left side, and the right guard and right tackle will handle everything to the right. Simple enough, no?

Well, on the snap the Chargers play two games up front, both very important. Mack drops into coverage, and Murray and Fox execute a stunt. What this does is keeps eyes on those two players, occupying the center and right guard. Tuipulotu and Bosa also run a TEX stunt (tackle-end), where the DT (Tuli in this case) runs like a battering ram into the left tackle, and Bosa gets a mismatch on a left guard. Bosa destroys his mismatch opportunity, and it ends in a sack. These are the type of things you can get into with Tuli on the field, it opens up a world of imagination not seen since Willy Wonka opened his chocolate factory.

This time, Tuli gets the stunt run for him to get free, and it ends in a sack. Tuipulotu is lined up as a stand up rusher, feigning like he’s rushing before the snap. He’s lined up next to Murray and Mack this time, with Fox and Bosa on the offense’s left side. The center points out Tuipulotu before the play, which I believe is telling the line which way they’re sliding the protection, with RB Breece Hall on cleanup duty to the left side. What the Chargers end up doing is dropping Murray into coverage and rushing Mack off the right edge. Tuli engages the center and keeps his attention long enough for the center to not see the wrecking ball known as Morgan Fox crashing into him. This wastes the center, left guard and Hall, who was trying to release into the route concept. Bosa’s inside move forces QB Zach Wilson out the pocket, but this leaves Tuipulotu basically working as a late looper and negating anything outside the pocket. Wilson runs right into him, and it ends in a sack.

On this sack by Tuipulotu, he’s lined up on the inside, but he just straight up beats his man for the sack. What I love about this rep by Tuli is the constant stringing together of moves. He doesn’t just let one move go through and stop there, he finishes with another one to make sure he got past the right guard and to the QB. He’s given a two way go, meaning he can stutter-step and use his burst to beat opposing guards (where he’s most effective), goes with an arm over move. He then finishes by reducing his strike zone and ripping through to create his own lane to the QB. Really really nice rep overall.

Tuipulotu and the Chargers have a massive game against the Detroit Lions on Sunday, facing a QB in Jared Goff that can be affected by pressure if you get through the OL. For the Chargers to have the same effectiveness as they did against New York, Tuli will have to be everywhere on passing downs, causing chaos.