Bucking the NFL Trend at Quarterback

David Climer at The Tennessean looks into the validity of the rumors that the Titans will draft a quarterback of trade for Jay Cutler or Philip Rivers.

“Who, then, will be the Tennessee Titans’ starting quarterback when the regular season opens in September?

“[sixth round draft pick] Zach Mettenberger, of course.

“Look, I’m not telling you this is what should happen. I’m just telling you what will happen.

“This is how the Titans roll. They’ve got a plan and they’re sticking to it.”

“In short, [head coach Ken] Whisenhunt and [general manager Ruston] Webster think they pulled the steal of the 2014 draft. Titans brass see Mettenberger as a poor team’s Tom Brady. He’s the quarterback.”

I absolutely believe this. I’m not 100% convinced that they won’t trade a bag of balls for someone like Cutler as insurance (though I doubt it). But I genuinely believe that the Titans want to see if Mettenberger is their future and I don’t think they’ll draft a quarterback high in this draft.

If the Titans stick to their guns here, they’re gong to be bucking a serious trend. The general belief is that you find your NFL starting quarterbacks in the first and second rounds. Not much consideration is ever given to lower round picks anymore. Mike Huguenin examines the situation. Note that the Rams and Eagles both had two quarterbacks who started eight games:

“What we found among the 34 starters: Exactly half (17) were first-round picks, including five quarterbacks who were the overall No. 1 picks. In all, there were eight first-rounders who were the first quarterbacks selected in their respective draft, along with five first-rounders who were the second quarterbacks drafted and four who were the third signal-callers picked. (Two former first-rounders were injured, Arizona’s Carson Palmer and St. Louis’ Sam Bradford, and another, Buffalo’s EJ Manuel, lost his starting job early in the season — meaning the 17 easily could have been 20.)

“Six quarterbacks were second-round picks, including two who were the second quarterbacks selected in their respective drafts.”

There’s a part of me that thinks its nice that the Titans are giving a sixth round draft pick a chance to develop. There’s an underdog quality to the story and I’m rooting for him. At the same time, like many others, I’m wondering what the Titans see in Mettenberger that most of the rest of the world doesn’t.

It could be very good news for late round quarterbacks if Mettenberger works out and the rest of the copycat NFL follows their lead. I think underrated guys like East Carolina’s Shane Carden are too often dismissed and deserve more of a chance. On the other hand, if the Titans are deluding themselves into thinking Mettenberger is a gem that he’s not, they’re going to be kicking themselves for not taking a quarterback in the part of the draft where virtually everyone else currently agrees that you find one.

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Jay Cutler and Another Example of How Statistics Can Be Worthless

I’ve heard over and over again about how Jay Cutler‘s statistics from last year are better than fans give him credit for. The Bears had the 16th best overall passer rating of any team in the league. Not too bad you say? Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

jay-cutler-3

Cutler padded those stats with the third most yards of all NFL quarterbacks from screen passes. And where did “Mr. Clutch” rate in the fourth quarter only? The Bears were 26th. And that’s even after padding the stats in the second half of blowout losses to the Packers and the Patriots. From Steve Palazzolo at profootballfocus.com and from sportingcharts.com.

If you are going to use statistics to defend your argument, I’d suggest that you at least take a deep dive.  Even then, I’d say that if the number doesn’t pass the eye test, trust your eyes.  They do a lot better job of drawing conclusions from complex situations than a one dimensional number ever will.

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Confusion over the Case of Serial Rapist Darren Sharper

Most of us were surprised and a little disturbed that after drugging and raping nine women in four states, former NFL safety Darren Sharper only got 10 years in a plea deal. But as documented by Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com, the deal involves quite a bit more than that:

“Among other things, Sharper must consent to a penile plethysmograph test, in which a sensor will be attached to his genitals for the purposes of measuring arousal in response to specific stimulants.”

“He’ll be required to permanently wear a GPS device, and he’ll be prohibited from ever attempting to contact any of his victims.

“Sharper also is prohibited from possessing or consuming alcohol — for life — and from ever entering a bar. He’ll be required to provide urine or breath samples upon request from law enforcement.”

OK, so most of that makes sense. But not all of it.

A “penile plethysmograph” is a test that basically measures the blood flow to the penis by measuring its circumference. The measurement can be made in response to certain stimuli to distinguish groups of men with biastophilia (paraphilic rape in which sexual arousal is dependent on, or is responsive to, the act of assaulting an non-consenting person).

So my assumption was that Sharper has biastophilia. Apparently not. So now I ask myself, if he gets it, why? What do you do to develop this? Is it a suggestion that you’ve raped another woman? Or is it just a suggestion that all of the sudden, presumably for some other reason, you just want to? What are you going to do if he fails the test? Send him to jail for being sick in the head?

I’m not sure I understand any of this. Perhaps more explanation will be provided at another point.

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On the Value of Zone Blocking

Andrew Mason at denverbroncos.com quotes Hall of Fame offensive tackle Gary Zimmerman on the benefits of running a zone blocking scheme. The Bears will do at least some zone blocking this year:

“‘It’s going to take a lot of pressure off [Peyton Manning], for one. In the past, the [offense] was one-dimensional, it was pretty much a throwing team, and that’s what everyone prepared for, and all the pressure was on Peyton, so when you have a zone-blocking game, if the run’s not working, you go to the pass, and if the pass is not working, you go to the run,’ Zimmerman said in an interview for a story posted April 2.

“‘I think the biggest thing in the zone blocking is that the defense has a lot more to think about, because a lot of plays look alike, and there’s a lot of pass plays that look like run plays. It kind of puts a little more thinking on the defense as in the previous years, where they just lined up and played, and knew that the pass was coming. Now they’re going to have to first determine if it’s a run or a pass, and then go from there.'”

Zone blocking often involves taking a side step or a bucket step and reacting to the direction the defensive lineman takes. I’ve always been a fan of firing off of the ball at the snap, myself, because it allows the use of the only advantage offensive linemen have – they know the snap count. But I can see Zimmerman’s point.

All linebackers are told to watch the offensive lineman as a key to whether the play is a run or a pass.  But because zone blocking often involves the same kind of movement that pass blocking involves, a run can look an awful lot like a pass to a defender. They therefore are more likely to hesitate and wait for other keys to tell what’s going on. That can be a great advantage in a game where speed is everything.

Assuming the Bears do what Broncos did last year, they are going to run a combination of blocking techniques. If the lineman can master them all, it could make them very formidable. If they can master them all.

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Bears Could Use More Like Tillman

Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times quotes former Bears general manager Jerry Angelo on what he saw in cornerback Charles Tillman before drafting him in 2003:

“Not the best athlete, not the best hitter, not the smartest player. The best football player …

“Talent creates the feeling of a player, and he had good talent. But character determines if he’s going to get to it and if he’s going to have a career, and that’s what we look at.

“When we invest in draft picks, we want players that certainly have talent, but ones that are going to have careers, relative to their talent.”

This was a timely reminder as fans look at 40 times and long jump distance that you can have all the talent in the world on the field but it means nothing without character, especially a work ethic.

Johnny Manziel was literally magic on the college playing field. But the bet here is that all of that talent is wasted because he never finds the drive needed to do the right things off the field to make himself great. He was everyone’s worst nightmare – a con man who people believed because they want to believe. That probably included conning himself.

The Bears will probably be OK with their picks if they look beyond on field talent to the every day actions of these prospects. That’s how you build a team with character. And that how you end up with a team of Charles Tillmans.

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Sun-Times Proposes Potential Trade Down in Latest Mock Draft

Adam L. Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times mocks the draft. He echos my own thoughts on why the Bears might trade down if at all possible here:

“My first mock draft had the Bears selecting Washington defensive tackle Danny Shelton at No. 7. But the Bears might be able to grab him later in the first round.”

danny-shelton

If the Bears want Shelton (above) – and I personally like him – then all they need to do is stay ahead of Cleveland, who will almost certainly take him if here’s there at 12. The trick will be finding a partner to trade with.  Someone might want to move up to take Kevin White or Amari Cooper if they’re still on the board. I think that’s the Bears’ best hope.

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Who Has the Edge to Compete with the Packers in the NFC North Post Free Agency

All of the NFC North bloggers at ESPN agree that the best team in the division is still Green Bay but the reasons vary. None of them points to what I think are the most potent mix in football – the presence of quarterback Aaron Rogers combined with the best coaching staff in the league outside of New England.

Most of them agree that the Lions are the team to watch if anyone is to overtake the Packers for the division. I’m going to disagree.

This is primarily a Bears blog so let’s just get this out of the way:  The rebuilding Bears aren’t worth mentioning on this point.

The Packers 

Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune examines the importance of Rogers:

Mike McCarthy‘s anxiety mushroomed beyond normal game-week levels in January every time he entered the Packers‘ training room to check on Aaron Rodgers‘ strained left calf.”

“McCarthy also endured losing Rodgers to a broken collarbone in 2013, resulting in an 0-for-November skid that nearly sent the Packers tumbling over the playoff cliff before Rodgers returned and saved the season. It was a jarring reminder that when the quarterback falters, a trap door can open beneath even the most accomplished teams.”

“‘Aaron … gives us the ability to be very aggressive in what we do (offensively), and it’s a lot of fun from that perspective,’ McCarthy said last month.

“Fun for the quarterback-haves sure, but misery for the have-nots.”

Aaron_Rodgers_drops_back_(cropped)

Never doubt the importance of Rogers (above) to the Packers or that he’s the best quarterback in the game with the possible exception of Tom Brady in New England.  And never doubt that hes a key to elevating the performance of the team.  As 2013 showed, theyre below average without him.

The same goes for an outstanding coaching staff on both sides of the ball.  The environment is one where players know how to do their jobs and they expect to win when they do.  With the exception of occasional tacking issues and bouts of dropped passes they’re usually one of the most fundamentally sound teams in the league.

The Lions

Moving on, the Lions lost the primary reason their defense has been dominant over the past few years (Ndamukong Suh) and they haven’t gotten better anywhere else.  As Michael Rothstein at ESPN reviews the Lions roster, I see what many might consider a surprising number of places they need to get better including running back, wide receiver, offensive tackle, offensive guard, defensive end, and cornerback.

I mildly disagree with Kyle Meinke at mlive.com when he touts the Lions success in free agency by pointing to their defensive line and their defensive backfield. And yet they are still their top two needs in this year’s draft.

In fairness to Meinke, he isn’t exactly claiming that signings like Rashean Mathis are all-stars. And I’m not saying that the Lions understated approach to free agency is the wrong one to take. Indeed, I think this is the way to do it:

“‘Here’s what I do know: I do know you don’t win any games this time of the year,’ [Lions head coach Jim] Caldwell said recently. ‘At Indy, we lost every year in the offseason. We didn’t lose too many games during the season, because we didn’t believe in necessarily going (all out) in free agency. We’d pick our spots, and build our team through the draft.

“‘That’s what we do — we basically build our team through the draft. Nevertheless, there are some opportunities out there — like Golden Tate — to go out and make a difference for us.'”

Tate was a nice, big money signing. But nevertheless, they’ve hardly used free agency to plug holes effectively, especially at cornerback.

As Meinke points out, the Lions have not drafted consistently well in recent years.   The odds are good that, four years later, two failed drafts in a row (2010 and 2011) from which the Lions have no players left on their roster are going to catch up with this franchise.  No surprise that Sharon Katz at ESPN categorizes the Lions statistically as the NFL’s worst drafting team.

Marc Sessler highlights the up and down nature of the Lions history:

“We’re not calling for the Lions to tumble off a cliff — not with Matthew Stafford throwing to Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate — but in the past four seasons with Stafford under center, Detroit has won 10, four, seven and 11 games. They’ll pivot back to earth in 2015, leaving the door open for another conference heavy to nab a wild-card spot.”

With the departure of Suh, they may be about to find out how mediocre the talent on that roster really is.  With the magic focus that come with having a new head coach also wearing off, I can’t imagine that they’re not in for a fall.

The Vikings

The Vikings, on the other hand, are a team to keep an eye on this year.  Sessler details some reasons why:

“On the heels of Teddy Bridgewater‘s mostly promising rookie campaign, the team upgraded at wideout by trading for the fleet-footed Mike Wallace while saving $5 million in cap space by dumping Greg Jennings. Wallace gives the Vikings a bona fide No. 1 target to pair with the promising Charles Johnson. If Cordarelle Patterson can shake off last year’s disappointing campaign and Kyle Rudolph can stay healthy, Norv Turner’s air attack will soar. That said, the O-line needs help.

On defense, Zimmer added a pair of former Bengals in cornerback Terence Newman and safety Taylor Mays.

Cornerback is a chronic problem in Minnesota and Newman should help opposite Xavier Rhodes.  Wallace wasn’t used correctly in Miami and could be a significant upgrade over Jennings in my opinion.  Add in the potential return of running back Adrian Peterson and you’ve got a balanced offense and a serious problem when playing Minnesota.

But I like the Vikings even without Peterson.  Why?  I love Bridgewater.  More than any Bears fan has a right to do.  I think he’s still under-rated and is going to turn out to be a top five quarterback in the NFL.  I also love the coaching staff in Minnesota, most importantly offensive coordinator Norv Turner who I think knows how to use the talent that’s given to him.  And I think there’s plenty of talent there to take advantage of.  Chris Mortensen at ESPN apparently agrees in this interview as he repeatedly emphasizes the ability of head coach Mike Zimmer to develop young talent and how lucky Bridgewater was to land in the right place with Turner (below).

norv-turner-minnesota-vikings-593x356

Conclusion

Former Bears tight end Desmond Clark once said that the talent around the NFL on a team by team basis is largely the same.  That leaves quarterbacks and coaches to make the difference.  Those are the two things that can turn average players into good players and good players into great ones.  The only team in the division that has the quarterback and the coaching staff to compete with the Packers is the Vikings. They’re the team to keep an eye on this year.

Posted in Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots | Leave a comment

Pre-Draft Visits Not Always a Formality

Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune comments on the visits prospects make leading up to the draft:

“With exactly three weeks to go until the first round begins at Auditorium Theatre, we’ve reached one of the most loathsome periods on the NFL calendar, when the thirsty news cycle feeds on prospects’ pre-draft visits to teams.

“Despite no established correlation between whether teams that host prospects on pre-draft visits actually draft them, these meetings garner public interest. In reality, these visits are procedural. Every team scouts players to some extent ahead of the draft.”

I’m not too sure about the “no established correlation part. Campbell might be right about top players who attended the Combine with no injury history. But I’m pretty sure there is a correlation for a subcategory of the prospects. Former Bears Director of College Scouting Greg Gabriel at The National Football Post comments:

“Clubs don’t always bring in players that they hope to draft in the premium rounds. They may also bring in players who were not at the Combine but the team had a draftable grade on. Every year, we see 35 – 40 players who were not at the Combine get drafted, so it is important to get a medical on them. No team is going to draft a player who hasn’t had a thorough medical. It makes no sense. The club wouldn’t take the risk of drafting a player who may not be able to pass the medical.”

“Visits don’t always turn out the way either side would like. Sometimes, a player can turn off a coach to the point that he says he doesn’t want the player. While that may seem harsh, it is better to find that out before the draft than after you drafted him.”

Campbell has a point in that the teams have undoubtedly seen enough on tape to make the players draftable. But I think these pre-draft visits are still important. A player might not help his stock too much with these visits but it sure sounds like he could blow it in interviews or by failing the medical.

Yes, some of these visits are smoke screens. But I think that they are still important enough to pay attention to.

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On a Positive Note and Other Points of View

Bears

  • Adam L. Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times apparently didn’t read my article indicating that they haven’t changed as he outlines the Bears needs post-free agency. In fairness, the list looks a lot like the one from two months ago.
  • Plenty of people have claimed that the Bears overpaid for wide receiver Eddie Royal. But Eric D. Williams at ESPN points out that Royal’s reliable, high quality play had an impact on the Chargers last year. They’ll likely miss him.
  • Michael C. Wright at ESPN is asked if he’d take linebacker Vic Beasley or wide receiver Amari Cooper if both were on the board for the Bears. Wright goes with the wide receiver because he thinks its currently a greater need.

    Cooper in my opinion is far and away the better prospect. He’s as close to a sure thing as your going to get at receiver with a lot of speed and polish. Beasley, on the other hand, scares me. He’s another one of these late risers who shot up boards after the draft. I watched one of his games during the season and was mighty unimpressed. Guys like this, who don’t stand out based upon the tape but who catch your eye after showing they can run track, have a bad habit of busting. This is where teams need to anchor their board.

  • Dan Hanzus at nfl.com constructs a team out of the remaining free agents. Its not too bad and there are some guys the Bears could use here at the right price at spots like tight end (Jermaine Gresham), along the offensive line (e.g. Jake Long), and safety (Stevie Brown, Bernard Pollard). My guess is that the hey phrase for a many of these guys it “at the right price”. At some point, that almost has come down and we might see some of these guys.
  • Adam L. Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times interviews linebacker turned defensive end turned linebacker Lamarr Houston. He claims he was often played out of position last year at defensive tackle. He was listed at 300 lb but actually weighed 265.

    Houston was mostly being asked to rush the passer from that spot. It was quite an adjustment and one that he didn’t make quickly. Or perhaps some would say the old coaching staff didn’t adjust and switch him back to a position he’d be more more likely to succeed in quickly enough. I’m certain he’ll be happier and more productive this year.

  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune reports that the Bears are having offensive tackle T.J. Clemmings in for a pre-draft visit. I’m glad the Bears aren’t ignoring the offensive line, which has to get better if they’re really going to run the ball more. Clemmings is targeted for the middle to late first round. This may be an indication that the Bears are looking to trade back.
  • chicagofootball.com rounds up a whole lot of mock drafts. The most popular choices are Amari Cooper and Danny Shelton. Clearly the Bears are going to get a very good player in the first round if the stick in the seven slot.

Elsewhere

    • Judy Battista at nfl.com does a nice job of detailing the limbo that both Jadeveon Clowney and the Texans are in after his micro-fracture surgery. As bad as this is for Clowney, it’s worse for the Texans. They can only hope that Clowney’s recovery goes smoothly but it would be unwise to count on it.
    • Gregg Rosenthal at nfl.com points out that the NFL offseason calendar changed and that could affect when free agents are signed. In previous years, unrestricted free agents signed by other teams counted toward the league’s compensatory pick formula until June 1. That day has been moved to May 12. So a lot of signings could happen right after that day.
    • Victor Mather at The New York Times reports on the current state of the Aaron Hernandez trial. I’ll summarize for those who don’t want to read the details: The evidence is all circumstantial and he’s going to get off.
    • On the other hand, those who don’t want to believe that will want to read this from Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com.
    • Nate Atkins at chicagofootball.com has a little fun with his mock draft, projecting a straight up trade of Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers to the Titans for the number two overall pick. I think I would demand more if I were the Titans but I guess its not impossible. 
    • Michael Rothstein at ESPN details the likely loss of yet another defensive lineman for the Lions in George Johnson. The guess here is that its not a huge loss in that Johnson never did much in the NFL until he was paired with Ndamukong Suh. Nevertheless it would be yet another significant loss in terms of depth. The Lions are cap strapped and they’ve got holes popping up on that defense.

One Final Thought

You won’t find many positive articles about the Bears in the national media (believe me I’ve looked). So this one by Elliot Harrison at nfl.com was mildly refreshing. It’s not head-over-heels positive but overall its evident that Harrison likes what he sees here from Ryan Pace.

As a side note, Elliot highlights the fate of Stephen Paea, arguably the Bears best defensive player last year. Most of us figured that Paea was gone with the transition from a 4-3, where he was a nose tackle, to the 3-4 where he presumably didn’t have a position. The Redskins picked up Paea in free agency after the Bears apparently showed little interest. Guess where they’ll play him. Defensive end in a 3-4, an area of weakness for the Bears right now. It will be interesting to see how that transition works out.

Posted in Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, New England Patriots, Points of View, San Diego Chargers, Tennessee Titans | Leave a comment

On the Field or Off, Winston’s Is a Single Challenge

jameis-winston

Mike Mayock at nfl.com explains why he thinks Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is a better prospect than consensus number one overall pick Jameis Winston:

“‘I’ve been fighting with this thing all along. There have been two issues for me with Winston. Number one is on the field. He threw 18 interceptions this year. On a team that arguably had the best talent in the country, he continued to put his team at a disadvantage almost weekly,’ Mayock said on NFL Network’s ‘Path to the Draft’ Wednesday. ‘ … Off the field, regardless of what did or didn’t happen in that alleged rape, he continued a pattern of poor decisions throughout his career. The bottom line for me is, can you trust him off the field?”

I don’t think that’s two issues. I think its one.

People always like to separate what happens off the field with players from what happens on the field. In fact, many fans will tell you that they don’t care what an athlete does when he’s not at the stadium as long as he plays on Sunday. I think this is a mistake. These players are one person. The same person that plays on the field is the one that behaves in whatever manner he does off the field.

Winston’s problems on the field and his problems off the field are the same issue – he’s impulsive. He does stupid things on the spur of the moment without thinking about the consequences. That leads to interceptions on the field and to dumb mistakes like screaming obscenities in public and having sex with drunk college girls off the field. Whether you think it should drop him in the draft or not, he’s one guy with one serious issue. Keeping that tendency from hurting him – no matter where he is – will be the challenge of whatever team drafts him.

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