Establish the Fun: Bryce Young turns a corner, the Cowboys’ new defensive star, and more

Welcome back to Establish the Fun, where football is fun and we like to establish that harder than everyone who establishes that playing sports in below freezing conditions is “football weather”. It is not, the perfect football weather is anywhere between 65-75 degrees and some sun peeking out the clouds.

At this point in the season, we’re starting to see development from young players and other guys begin their rise to stardom. With more reps and time to get acclimated to the NFL game, you get to see players start to shine in their new environments. At the college level, the development and growth of players over each game are magnified with the conference races coming down to the wire.

With that being said, let’s have some fun, starting with a young QB who might be playing his best ball.

Bryce Young turns a corner

Carolina Panthers’ top overall pick Bryce Young has had a rough start to his rookie year. From Weeks 1-4 among all QBs who played 50 snaps, Young was 34th in Adjusted EPA/play, 32nd in Success Rate and threw two touchdowns and two interceptions. However, since Week 5, Young has turned a corner in his individual play, especially after Carolina’s bye week. From Week 5-8 with the same 50-play parameter, Young has jumped to 25th in adjusted EPA/play and 21st in Success Rate.

With offensive coordinator Thomas Brown taking over playcalling, Young has begun to settle down in the offense and the qualities that made him one of the best QBs in the 2023 draft class are beginning to shine. In the Panthers’ first win of the season over the Houston Texans, Young threw for 235 yards and a touchdown, posting a 48 percent Success Rate. Let’s break down what changed for the Panthers’ offense and how Young was able to put together the best game of his young career.

Through the first few games of the season, Young didn’t look comfortable in the pocket. With the circumstances surrounding the playcalling as well as a lack of top-end playmakers, Young wasn’t able to put his best traits (spatial awareness and anticipation) to good use. You could see the flashes, but it was never consistent. Against Houston, he was able to put it all together.

On this completion to DJ Chark, Young gets to the backside dig and away from the 3×1 flood route to his right. Look at the pocket movement not only to evade the pressure, but create a throwing window for himself. The height is going to continue to be a hindrance, but Young has slowly begun to find ways to make it work for him. Other QBs his size have major gifts athletically (Russ, Kyler) or have played long enough to essentially become a supercomputer (Brees), but while he’s a rookie, Young is using his pocket movement to make things shake for himself.

Of course, we also get the impressive poise and composure under pressure and when off schedule from Young. His ability to keep his eyes downfield and make plays in that area were on full display, as was the accuracy when outside of the pocket. This throw to Adam Thielen was just an insane job of keeping the play alive, then putting this only where Thielen can get it.

One area where new playcaller Thomas Brown has helped Young is giving him easier reads via play action passes. Through Young’s first five games (he missed the Seahawks game due to injury), he used play action (non-RPO) on 20 of his 205 dropbacks. On Sunday, five of his 40 dropbacks used play action, but that rate comes out a little higher than before Brown took over. Play action isn’t just some catch all, Flex Seal level of fixing for an NFL offense, but it would help a young QB out to get more of it into the offense. This is a beautifully run play and route by WR Jonathan Mingo, and Young puts it on the money.

The Panthers take on the Colts this Sunday, and it’s another shot for Young to continue to get acclimated to the NFL with a new playcaller taking the reins. If this development path keeps up, Young could end up becoming a servicable NFL QB.

DaRon Bland is anything but

When Dallas Cowboys star CB Trevon Diggs was lost for the year with a torn ACL, it was naturally expected for the Cowboys defense to take a small step back. Well, they didn’t, and a large part of that has been due to CB DaRon Bland simply becoming a ball magnet.

Bland is second in the NFL in interceptions with four, and three of those he’s returned for touchdowns. He’s also got three dropped INTs and five defended passes, so he’s also getting his hands on the ball a lot. Among all defensive backs with 20 targets, Bland leads the NFL in EPA allowed per target at -0.83. He’s a field flipper who is having a season reminiscent of Diggs’ in 2021, except without as many completions and yards allowed. Bland is blossoming into a versatile and big play corner, without as much of the volatility as a big play corner would have.

On his pick six against the Rams, he does a really good job of baiting QB Matthew Stafford into throwing this pass, then using his makeup speed to break on this ball and take it to the house. The Rams have WRs Cooper Kupp and Tutu Atwell lined up tight to each other on the left side of the field, and the Cowboys are in Cover 1. The way Dallas plays Kupp and Atwell is in “Top Hat” coverage, where the point man, in this case Atwell, is guarded by the nickel back, and Bland takes Kupp from an off-man position. As the play begins, you can see Bland begin to cheat up a little bit, because he has a feeling this is going to be an out breaking route. As soon as he sees Stafford let go of the ball, he makes his break for it. Next thing you know, he’s celebrating in the end zone.

Bland combines his length (32-inch arms) and knack for getting his hands on the ball to create big plays for the Cowboys defense. Even when you think he’s out of position, he can come back into the frame and make a play. He does it here against Atwell, who is running a shallow route across the field. The Cowboys are once again in man coverage, and Atwell has a step on Bland. However, Bland uses makeup speed and nice ball skills to force a pass break up and send the Rams back to the drawing board.

Bland will get a massive test on Sunday, as the Cowboys take on the Philadelphia Eagles. Whether or not DC Dan Quinn plays as much man coverage (6th in the NFL in man coverage snaps per SIS) against WRs AJ Brown and Devonta Smith remains to be seen, but know if Bland gets his hands on the ball, it might end up in your endzone.

Jayden Daniels goes Super Saiyan

Some stats about Jayden Daniels, per ESPN’s David Hale:

Yeah, that seems good.

LSU QB Jayden Daniels was thought of as a potential sleeper Heisman candidate coming into the season, but through the first ten weeks of the season, you could argue that he’s the leader in the clubhouse. Daniels is fourth in passing yards and tied for first in passing touchdowns. Combine that with over 500 yards and five TDs on the ground and you got yourself a spot on Establish the Fun, brother! Where Daniels has made the most improvement from last year is his confidence in throwing the ball downfield. He’s attempted and completed more passes downfield than he did at this time last year, and has 15 touchdowns on throws of over 20 air yards in 2023, compared to four at this time last year. His Positive Play Rate is also an absurd 69.7% on said throws, a major jump from 40% last year. Daniels’ growth has been really fun to see, and completely turned the LSU offense into a machine.

What stands out about his improvement throwing the ball downfield is the anticipation and confidence in these throws. Of course, it’s against Army, but the timing on these passes downfield is enough to make me get out my seat. This is an isolated route for LSU WR Brian Thomas Jr., and the timing and range to make this throw outside the hash is extremely impressive. Daniels not only puts this on the money, but gives Thomas enough space to get some YAC as well.

Against Army, Daniels was on point on out breaking routes, showcasing some nice velocity to get the ball out beyond the hashes. These are Sunday level throws by Daniels, and throws that he just wasn’t confident in taking last year.

In addition, LSU OC Mike Denbrock has aided Daniels’ newfound aggression downfield by designing plays for the Tigers to attack vertically. One of the best ways modern offenses at both the college and NFL level can manipulate second level defenders and attack down the field is through using the back in the concept. What LSU does here is motion WR Malik Nabers across the formation to the formation’s strength, and at the snap, the running back also goes on a flat route. TE Mason Taylor runs an over, and because the nickel is keeping an eye on the flat route, nobody carries Nabers until Daniels throws it to him. This is a great way of merging the scheme with the talent, and it results in a touchdown (plus a cool dance by Nabers).

LSU has a major test in front of them on Saturday, facing Alabama in Tuscaloosa. If Daniels and the Tigers can pull off the victory, expect to hear Daniels’ name when it comes Heisman time in New York City.

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