Merriman: If Lamar Jackson Stays Accurate, He’ll Be Unstoppable
Last week, former NFL Pro Bowler Shawne Merriman went 14-1 on his Week 5 picks.
Merriman is back this week to give his thoughts on each game to help you out with your NFL betting, in addition to discuss the key storylines from last week.
We cover the hot start from his Los Angeles Chargers, Lamar Jackson displaying greatness and another coaching controversy, this time with Las Vegas coach Jon Gruden.
Bolts On A Roll
Gambling.com: Your former team, the Los Angeles Chargers, had another dramatic victory, beating the Cleveland Browns 47-42. You’ve been high on them all year, and they’re now finding ways to win these close games. What’s stood out during this four-game winning streak?
Shawne Merriman: That’s the difference in this team. Last year or a couple of years ago, they would have lost that game. You know, it's a different feeling. I've been saying the same thing since before the season started when I met Coach Brandon Staley in person. He called me on the phone the day they brought him in, and we talked on the phone for a while. I heard it in his voice. I said, this is this different feeling than they've had in the past, and it's showing. I'm not surprised at all.
GDC: What’re things you look for as a former player when you get a chance to speak with the new coach who is taking over for your old team?
SM: Great coaches don’t come in and try to change everything that’s going on. If you’ve got Justin Herbert there, you use Justin Herbert. Don't make him do anything other than being Justin Herbert. You got a Kenneth Murray at linebacker, who is explosive, you let him make explosive plays. Great coaches don’t try to come in and have something ran a certain way because that’s how they want to do things.
What’s Up With KC?
GDC: The Kansas City Chiefs struggled against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday night. We talked earlier about Kansas City not needing to panic yet, but do you think there should be a concern with them there now?
SM: First and foremost, Buffalo is a contender this year. It's not like Kansas City got beat by a C-plus team or something like that. But let's not take away the loss with how good Buffalo really is.
Second of all, Kansas City needs to get their identity back. I think they’ve become a pass-happy football team, and when you become a pass-happy football team, that team takes on your identity, on both sides of the ball, and that's what's happened.
GDC: What kind of adjustments does a team have to make midseason to change their identity? How feasible is it to do?
SM: If this keeps happening for another game or two, I think you started making some changes — either player personnel or coaching personnel. You have to, because this is no way that you have a team like that explosive and losing games the way they are.
Just Make a Kick Already
GDC: We’ve seen a lot of crazy special teams plays this week, with kickers missing extra points and the five missed field goals down the stretch in the Cincinnati Bengals and Green Bay Packers game. What’s it like being a player grinding it out for 60 minutes and then seeing the game come down to a special teams guy with the kicker?
SM: You try to be supportive teammate, right? Because guys are gonna miss kicks. I mean, it’s just gonna happen. But when you start to see something repetitive, that's when you got to be concerned. If guys are missing over and over again and layup kicks, situations inside the 40 or the 30 or whatever the yardage is. That's when you have to be concerned.
GDC: Does that wear on you as a player? You’re out there getting hit, hitting people and then not seeing it come to fruition because a guy can’t make a kick.
SM: Oh, it does. You’re going to have to win some games like that, right? Our coaches always tell us players get paid too, so sometimes you’re going to have to win by a field goal. And if you can’t win by a field goal, that’s a problem.
Jackson Shows Out Again
GDC: Just last week, you mentioned Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson could be one of the best players ever. He lived up to your analysis last week, throwing for 442 yards and four touchdowns in the 31-25 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Monday. What was it like to see him play up to that potential?
SM: As I'm watching the game, I'm sitting there kind of smiling from ear to ear because I realize that we're watching greatness. Now, don't expect Lamar Jackson to throw for over 400 yards every game or anything like that. Some games he’s going have 200-230 yards passing, and it will still be a great game by him because they're in that kind of a match, or a dogfight. So, you know, just because he doesn't have a 400-yard game doesn’t mean he’s not great.
Some of those throws, I mean, he was throwing sidearm. In the two-point conversion, just dropping it right in as a dime. I said that if Lamar Jackson becomes remotely accurate, what are you going to do? The reason why that he's having success passing it now is because you got to start paying attention to him being able to run the football. So, you know you have linebackers or people dropping down in the box and having to just spy him and making sure he doesn't leave the pocket. Guess what that does? It puts your tight end one-on-one with a linebacker. It puts your wide receiver one-on-one with a cornerback with no safety to help over the top because they have people to spy him and make sure he doesn’t leave the pocket.
When I talk about greatness, like I said I don't want to compare his greatness to a Tom Brady or a Peyton Manning, but I'm talking about his individual talent. If he stays accurate, he’s gonna be unstoppable and be as good as he wants to be good and healthy.
GDC: Jackson will face your Chargers this week. How would you like to see Los Angeles game plan for him?
SM: The defensive linemen and the linebackers have to keep containment on Lamar Jackson. Keep him in a box and do not let him rush up the field and let him take off down the middle. Stay in your lane, let him run right to you. He’s going to run into you if you stay in your lane. That’s the key. Outside the pocket, not only can he run, but he can throw on the run and that’s when he creates a lot of havoc. The front lines need to stay in their responsibility and not get cute, don’t get fancy. If you’re supposed to be in a certain gap, stay there. Don’t peek inside, don’t peek outside and Lamar Jackson will run right into you.
Seahawks Without Wilson
GDC: We saw Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson leave the Los Angeles Rams game with a finger injury and will miss some time. How does going with a new quarterback midway through the season change a team’s game plan?
SM: As bad as it is, it’s next man up. If Russell Wilson is out six games, if they go 3-3 while Russell is out or win a majority of those, that’s a win for the organization. Anytime you lose Russell Wilson for part of your season, if you can just survive until you have an opportunity to get into the playoffs, that’s all you can hope for.
Geno Smith looked good, but it’s different being a backup quarterback and providing a spark as opposed to being in the game plan and playing for four quarters.
GDC: The Cardinals continue to win, beating the San Francisco 49ers to move to 5-0. They were overshadowed a bit before the season but what has stuck out about the way they’ve started the season?
SM: Quarterback Kyler Murray is playing outstanding and that offense is putting up points. But the real key to that team is their defense and no one is talking about them. The Cardinals' defense is why they are what they are. They’re incredible, and they’re not getting talked about nationally because you got a Kyler Murray, a DeAndre Hopkins on the offensive side of the ball. But that defense is where it’s at.
Swift End to Gruden
GDC: Last week the controversy was with Jacksonville coach Urban Meyer’s conduct at a bar. This week, Las Vegas Raiders head coach Jon Gruden resigns because of sending emails with misogynistic and homophobic comments. What was your reaction to him resigning?
SM: I was shocked at how fast it came out all at once. Normally there’s a long process with that. I think Jon Gruden knew more was going to come out, so he decided to resign before it got really bad and was supposed to come in and answer questions about a lot of things. I think everything is still not out. I think every few days, every week, more and more is going to pour out, and not just with him, but more executives in the NFL and stuff like that. It’s unfortunate. There’s a lot of good going on in the NFL right now, a lot of good quarterback play, lot of good teams and organizations have a lot of good success stories, and it’s just going to get overshadowed with something like this.
GDC: How difficult is it for a team to deal with a coaching change in the middle of the season?
SM: It can go both ways. If a coach is out, you might have the offensive coach or defensive coordinator that comes in and brings a spark. Sometimes you need that. Maybe it gets you over the hump.
This Week’s Picks
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-275) at Philadelphia Eagles (+220)
SM: The only thing is Tom Brady’s thumb. It’s a Thursday night game, so he doesn’t have a couple of extra days to rest it. But I’m going with Tampa in a nail-biter.
Green Bay Packers (-195) at Chicago Bears (+165)
SM: I’m going with the Packers. The Bears are not putting up enough points on offense in order to compete with them.
Miami Dolphins (-170) at Jacksonville Jaguars (+150)
SM: Going with the Dolphins.
I don’t believe Urban Meyer will finish this season out. I believe an offensive or defensive coordinator will step up and remove that dark cloud that’s over that organization right now. I don’t see them turning it around. I’m not talking about the pictures or off the field stuff, just him talking about the USC job and running back to college. If you’re a player in the locker room, that doesn’t necessarily feel good coming to the locker room every day. He’s the only coach in the entire NFL talking about leaving for a college team during the season. As a player, it’s hard to lay it out on the line for a coach who might be gone in a few weeks.
Cincinnati Bengals (-180) at Detroit Lions (+155)
SM: I’m taking the Bengals.
I really like Detroit head coach Dan Campbell. People talk so much about the money being tossed around in this game, the spotlight and the glitz and glamour of it, but with him you have a coach that really cares about his team. If I’m in that locker room and I see my coach talking like that, I’m bringing everybody together, so we better get our s--- together. The coach can’t care more about this game than the guys playing it, so just to see that, you say I can play for this guy, and I’m calling a team meeting immediately.
Los Angeles Rams (-575) at the New York Giants (+410). Also, is it difficult for west coast teams to adjust to the time zone and playing on Sunday mornings?
Not really, because you actually fly out two days before the game. So by the time the game comes, you’re pretty much adjusted.
Kansas City Chiefs (-305) at Washington Football Team (+240)
SM: I’m taking the Chiefs.
Minnesota Vikings (-120) at Carolina Panthers (+100)
Los Angeles Chargers (+135) at Baltimore Ravens (-155)
SM: I’m going with my Chargers. Going to roll with them right on through. Once you see a team put up 47 points, and if this happens to be a shootout, everyone knows they are capable of doing it.
Arizona Cardinals (+130) at Cleveland Browns (-154)
SM: I’m taking the Browns. I think the Cardinals will get their first loss.
Las Vegas Raiders (+155) at Denver Broncos (-180)
SM: I’m taking the Broncos. Right now, this cultural change and stuff like that with the Raiders, the players will be asked more about the Jon Gruden thing in the locker room. There will be a lot of unfocus so I’m going with the Broncos this week.
Dallas Cowboys (-180) at New England Patriots (+155)
SM: I’m going with the Cowboys. They’re finding ways to make big plays down the field. Wide receiver CeeDee Lamb is dangerous. Outside of Cleveland’s backfield, the Cowboys are probably No. 2 or No. 3 when it comes to the one-two punch with running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard.
Seattle Seahawks (+180) at Pittsburgh Steelers (-220). Also, how would you evaluate people saying Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is slowing down?
SM: I’m taking the Steelers.
People say Father Time is undefeated, but Father Time will knock you on your ass, too. That’s what’s happening with Ben. He’s hitting a wall, and it’s not going to get better as the season goes on. When you’re up there in age, the longer the season goes, the more you decline. At some point, I think they’re going to have to make that switch. That’s a part of it. He had a hell of a career, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. It happened to the best of us, and he’s not exempt from that.
Buffalo Bills (-265) at Tennessee Titans (+215)
SM: I’m going with the Bills. It will be a hard-fought, physical game, but Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen, what he’s doing with his wide receivers and finding the tight end, they’re becoming a super threat in a lot of different dimensions.
It will be a hard game because Tennessee is not going to throw it up and throw bombs, they’ll line up in power set formations and run the ball and make the Bills stop them. They’re going to want to keep the ball out of Josh Allen’s hands, so that’s why I think the game will be pretty close.
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