NFL Points of View Week 16

Parts of this article were originally published to Phinmaniacs on December 23.

Here are some thoughts on he state of the NFL entering week 16


1.  The major issue in Buffalo right now is whether Rex Ryan will keep his job.  Reports for weeks have indicated that he will be fired any time now as the team will look to get an early jump on the market for coaches in the offseason.  However, one report in particular is more puzzling than the rest.
Adam Schefter of ESPN has said that the Bills are not only “preparing to move on from Ryan” once the season comes to a close, which would end his run with the team after two years, but that 1)  Ryan is aware of this and 2) general manager Doug Whaley will remain and will hire the new coach.

Both aspects of this report defy logic.  Let’s concentrate on the first.

If ownership had, indeed, decided to fire Ryan there would be no reason to tell him or, if they did, it would only be to, you know, fire him.

No one could expect a head coach to do his job optimally under conditions where he already knew he was gone and there would be no reason to expect him to.  Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula would surely pick an interim coach.

It is possible that ownership has, indeed, decided to fire Ryan but would rather see him coach out the string than give an interim coach a chance simply because they want a fresh start and don’t want an interim coach to make a case that he’s earned the job.  That would be understandable but there would be no way you would tell Ryan if that were the case.


2.  I also find the second aspect of this report, that Whaley will remain, to be less that logical.
Sure, it’s possible that Whaley has a good relationship with ownership and that they’d be more comfortable with him staying on. But good owners won’t let that stop them from making a change where the evidence indicates that its necessary.  The suggestion that Whaley should be given the opportunity to blow a third head coaching hire is less than sane.  Whaley also hired Doug Marrone in 2013.

The question here is what has Whaley ever done to deserve the loyalty of ownership?  He’s been with the team since 2010 and general manager since 2013 and the team has seen nothing but misery ever since.

Most importantly, Whaley’s draft record has not been exactly stellar.  For instance, he was integral in convincing the organization to draft E.J. Manual in the first round, far above the value most people put on him.  All agree it was a major mistake that crippled the franchise for years.

More recently in 2016 he took Shaq Lawson despite the fact that NFL teams had flagged his shoulder injury during medical checks at the Combine in February. Lawson was eventually shut down for half the season as the shoulder required surgery.  One league source told Pro Football Talk that, “His shoulder was so bad it would have dislocated tying his shoes.”  And yet the Bills still drafted him.

It also didn’t help that second round pick Reggie Ragland landed on IR before the season started after he tore his ACL.  Third round pick Adolphus Washington has been only so-so with 12 tackles and 2.5 sacks.

Whaley, himself, said before the season that he bears responsibility for the performance of his draft classes.

“If they don’t perform, then they’re not going to play,” Whaley said. “We’re going to play the best people. We think they’re the best people, and if they come in and don’t perform that well, then we didn’t do our job right. So that’s on us. I have no problem with that.”

And yet here we are with Ryan shouldering the blame for a lost season while Whaley reportedly escapes Scott-free.  Go figure.


3.  The Dolphins have been emphasizing that the declining production from running back Jay Ajayi is “not his fault” over and over again through the last couple of weeks. And I could not agree more with this message.  It is, in fact, no one’s “fault”.
No matter who the team is and no matter what their position, one message that defensive players repeat constantly is that they have to stop the run.  Running plays are generally “safe” and assuming the running back can simply hold on to the ball, few bad things can come from doing it.  No defense can afford to allow an offense to simply run over them.  It is a sure path to defeat.

Because of this, teams must concentrate on stopping Ajayi and the Dolphin running game, usually by bring an extra man into the box (i.e. close to the line of scrimmage where he can be more effective at helping against the running game).  That leaves one fewer man to cover receivers deep.  So the harder a team has to concentrate on stopping your running game, the more it opens up the pass.

That is why Dolphins head coach Adam Gase has stuck with the run despite its apparently lack of success.  Against the Jets they ran the ball a staggering 60% of the time despite gaining only 2.5 yards per carry.  The game before that it was 55% and only 2.7 ypc in a win against Arizona.  And perhaps not coincidentally, they ran the ball only 16 times and 29% of the time in their only loss in the last three games against the Ravens.

Yes, a really great offensive line like the Cowboys could run the ball effectively against an eight man front and ideally you would like the Dolphins to have that.

“We don’t want [Ajayi] to be frustrated because we haven’t quite got the results we are looking for,” Gase said. “We’ve run into some tough defenses. We have another one ahead of us this week. They are going to try to stop the run and make us one-dimensional. That’s what most teams have tried to do with us the last nine games.”

Nevertheless, no matter how many yards it results in directly, the more Gase sticks with the run, the more good things will happen.

On Saturday, Ajayi faces a Buffalo team that he trampled for 214 yards on 28 carries (a 7.6 average) in their Oct. 23 meeting.  “We’re going to make some adjustments,” Bills head coach Rex Ryan said. “He’s a heck of a back.”

And better news the Dolphins could not have received.


4.  One more Buffalo note. I find their situation with quarterback Tyrod Taylor to be interesting.  He’s on what amounts to a contract year.
The Bills’ extension with Taylor, signed in August, already puts the quarterback under contract for $27.5 million in 2017 — a salary that is guaranteed if Taylor suffers an injury that prevents him from playing next season. The Bills have until March 11 to exercise an option on Taylor’s contract that would trigger the 2018 through 2021 years of the deal, paying him $15.5 million immediately and lowering his 2017 salary to a fully-guaranteed $12 million.

If the Bills do not exercise Taylor’s option by March 11, then the entirety of his $27.5 million salary in 2017 becomes fully guaranteed March 12, and Taylor would be slated for unrestricted free agency after the 2017 season.  But it’s highly unlikely that the Bills will do that so under the current deal it comes down to 1) trigger the 3 year option or 2) release Taylor before March 11.

There is, of course, one other consideration – they could try to renegotiate the contract.  The Bills probably will want to do this but the question is, what would it take on Taylor’s end to motivate him to agree to a change?  The answer is, the same amount of money or more that he’d get as a free agent.

There are going to be a number of teams looking for a quarterback in the offseason including the New York Jets, Cleveland Browns, Chicago Bears, San Francisco 49ers, and potentially the Jacksonville Jaguars and Denver Broncos.  In 2016 through 14 games Taylor has completed 62% of his passes at 6.8 yards per completion with a passer rating of 91.  He’s also gained over 500 yards on the ground.

Those numbers are pretty average and they belie Taylors vexing inconsistency.  The Bills have found that the quarterback that they have in quarter 1 will often not be the same as the one that they get in quarter 4.

So they are stuck with an interesting conundrum.  Paying Taylor what he’ll get as an average starting quarterback on the free agent might be more than they would like.  On the other hand, not paying him means starting over with someone else who may well not be as good.

It will be interesting to see how Taylor does against the Dolphins defense, one that isn’t exactly the ’85 Bears but on the other hand can cause you some serious headaches with a defensive line that is finally starting to perform up to its reputation. In other words, it’s a defense that a quality quarterback should be able to perform against.


5.  The Chicago Bears and injured 2014 first round pick Kyle Fuller find themselves having an interesting but common problem amongst NFL teams. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio summed things up in an unusually candid way for a modern NFL coach.
“Any time a guy’s hurt, there’s three stages to getting back to the field,” Fangio said. “One is you’ve got to get medical clearance. Two, the player’s got to say he’s ready to go and feels confident and he’s champing at the bit to go play. And then the coaches get involved and see if he’s better than what the other choices are and if he really is back to being able to play. A has happened. B hasn’t. So C is a non-issue.”

Translation: We think he can play but he doesn’t want to.  The Bears eventually gave up and put Fuller on IR this week.

The problem is that you can’t climb into the head of a player and figure out what the issue is.  Fuller is a former track star and there is some thought that perhaps he just doesn’t want to play unless he’s close to 100%.

Tracy Porter summed up the attitude amongst most NFL players, one that most teams would prefer was the predominant one.  “If doctors or trainers say it’s not going to damage you in the long run, then if you can tough it out, that’s what some guys try to do.”

“Overall, it’s a very fine line trying to be tough versus trying to be responsible and (not) further damage yourself and your team.”

But that doesn’t appear to be what’s upper most in Fuller’s mind.  Presumably, being medically cleared, he can’t damage his knee further by playing.  But he’s still not on board.  His comments on the matter are interesting.

Said Fuller: “I just listen to my body. It tells me what I can and can’t do. Right now I can’t go out there and play. That’s the line, I guess.”

I suppose.  But I really wonder how many players “listen to their body”.  And I wonder if they do, how many times it says, “don’t play football” but they do anyway.  My guess is a lot.  Once you’ve played one game in the NFL, my bet is that every player in the league has a body telling him not to play.  That’s professional football.

Availability is a talent.  Football is going to punish your body and there’s no getting around that.  If you don’t accept it, you don’t’ play.  And if they don’t play, Fuller and those like him aren’t going to be around long even after they’re healthy.


6.  I mentioned last week that players like the Seahawks Richard Sherman, who fans and media insist are intelligent despite the ridiculously stupid things that pour out of their mouths, irritate me.
Sherman has again inserted himself into my consciousness as he abused Jim Moore of ESPN 710 in Seattle, one of the members of the sycophantic media I referred to. The exchange came as a result of a sideline exchange where Sherman screamed at Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell after the Seahawks had tried a pass play at the goal line rather a run play. The play choice stirred up dark memories of Seattle’s goal-line interception in Super Bowl XLIX.

Sherman: “You don’t want to go there. You do not. I’ll ruin your career.”

Moore: “You’ll ruin my career? How are you going to do that?”

Sherman: “I’ll make sure you don’t get your media pass anymore.”

Moore: “Is that right?”

Sherman: “Yes, it is.”

Sherman later apologized but it was too late.  Setting aside whether Sherman could actually see that Moore never gts another press pass (my guess is that he could), he once again showed his stupidity in, like so many players, looking at the working press as the enemy.

Sherman fails to understand that most reporters are actually fans.  If not fans of the team, then fans of the sport.  Virtually all of them are happier when they are writing positive things.  But they need help from players and coaches in order to do that.

Moore was giving Sherman an opportunity to explain himself and put the incident in a positive light )if possible).  Responding with threats instead of quotes leaves reporters with no choice but to put the most negative spin possible on this incident and those like it.

Players and coaches would do well to treat reporters as partners rather than adversaries.  Many of the truly smart ones know that and many are treated well far past the time that they deserve to be when they act upon that knowledge.  Rams head coach Jeff Fisher lasted far longer than his record would have indicated that he should have because his relationship with the press was excellent and many refused to attack him for years because of it.

Unfortunately Sherman has once again proven to be less than the intelligent person that his fans insist that he is.  In fairness, he is unfortunately far from alone.


7.  The Cleveland Browns are becoming more and more likely to be the second team in NFL history to go 0-16 and not win a game. The experience is obviously wearing on head coach Hue Jackson.
Jackson reportedly spoke with Browns Executive Vice President Sashi Brown for an extra 30 minutes after a recent loss to the Giants before addressing the media.  When he emerged from his office, his eyes welled up with tears in his postgame press conference while explaining that being winless “is probably the hardest thing ever.”
It is evident that this season is getting to him emotionally and that he’s seeking answers from the front office for how things will be different going forward.

I hope Jackson’s not holding his breath.  Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam recently held a full staff meeting at the team facility in Berea, OH and preached continuity.  Speakers at the meeting also included Brown and Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta.  The meeting was intended to calm the waters and boost morale of a staff that’s lived through the Browns 3-30 record since the end of 2014.

For the record, continuity is a good thing.  If you’ve got the right people in place, that is.  But whether the Browns do is highly, highly questionable.  The two men in charge are Brown, a lawyer, and DePodesta, a statistician who helped oversee the “money ball” success of baseball’s Oakland As.  And that has to be leaving the well-regarded Jackson feeling like he’s been cut a drift in strange NFL waters with no land in sight.

Haslam is trying an admittedly innovative, analytics-based front office model but there’s no evidence it’s working. In fact, there’s data to the contrary — the Browns’ winless record and a lackluster 2016 draft class.

You feel for Jackson but, similarly, you have to feel even worse for the fan base.  Dolphin fans can certainly identify to some extent as they prepare to break out of their own streak of seasons without a playoff win.  This writer follows the Chicago Bears who haven’t won a Super Bowl since 1986 and have only sniffed the playoffs once in the last ten years.  Before that I grew up with the old St. Louis Cardinals. Try following a team that would typically select a player in the first round only to have draft rooms around the league break out into open laughter.

But all of that pales in the face of the brutal way that the Browns franchise has treated its fans over the course of more than 50 years.  The NFL lives by selling its fans hope for the future.  The Bears in Ryan Pace have a real general manager in charge who was previously with a reasonably successful franchise in the Saints.  The Dolphins are run by executive Mike Tannenbaum but at least general manager Chris Greer, with 17 years experience with the Dolphins, is right there with him.

Imagine what it’s like knowing that the only way your franchise of choice is going to be able to build is through a draft run by two guys who have never worked in an NFL personnel department.  This might be the most incredible thing I’ve ever witnessed in a league that produces incredible things almost for its living.  That Browns fans manage to hang on in quiet desperation year after year is a testament to either their fortitude or their stupidity.  Probably both.

In either case, both they and their head coach deserve better.  But I don’t see how they’re going to get it any time soon.


8.  The Jacksonville Jaguars joined the Los Angeles Rams by firing their head coach last week in order to get an early jump on finding a new coaching staff. The Jaguars (2-12) fired Gus Bradley after the franchise’s ninth consecutive loss Sunday. Bradley went 14-48 in four seasons in Jacksonville, the worst winning percentage (.225) of any NFL coach with at least 60 games.
General manager Dave Caldwell said Monday that former New York Giants Tom Coughlin “would be somebody we’d be interested in talking to” about the team’s coaching vacancy.

The 70-year-old Coughlin was Jacksonville’s first head coach, leading the Jaguars to a 68-60 record in eight seasons (1995-2002). Coughlin resigned last January after 12 seasons with the Giants, but has made it clear he wants to return to the NFL. He is currently serving as a senior adviser to the league’s football operations department.
Caldwell could give him a shot at getting back on the sidelines.
“Tom’s a great man and a great person, and we’ll see where it goes,” Caldwell said. “There will be a lot of guys we’re interested in talking to.”
There are plenty of hot young names that are undoubtedly high on the Jaguars list.  Current interim head coach Doug Marrone will undoubtedly get a good look.  Former San Francisco 49ers coach and current University of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley should get varying degrees of consideration.

But in some ways, Coughlin does make a great deal of sense.  His history with the franchise would make him a popular hire despite his age.  He’s also an offensive coach with some history developing quarterbacks, most recently and famously, Eli Manning with the Giants with whom he won two Super Bowls.  Fixing young Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles, who has regressed dramatically this year, will be the first and most important thing on the agenda for a new head coach in Jacksonville no matter who they hire.

There is some talent on the Jaguars that may make potential hires feel that they can win immediately in a very weak AFC South division if they can get the quarterback situation squared away quickly.  This will be a popular job amongst the candidates and it’s one to keep an eye on.


9.  With the Jaguars job and the Rams job now both open, here’s one absolute dead solid guarantee that I will make. There is no way on heaven’s green earth that Jim Harbaugh is leaving the University of Michigan to take an NFL head coaching job.  It’s possible he’ll do it someday.  But absolutely not this year.
Why?    He hasn’t beaten Ohio State and he hasn’t won a national championship.

When Harbaugh was at Stanford he flat out hated Pete Carroll at USC once actually prodding the normally easy going Carroll to exclaim, “What is your problem?!”  I sense the same passion when it comes to Urban Myer and the Ohio State Buckeyes.  Harbaugh is on a mission and he’s not going to be side tracked by the NFL now that he’s got his teeth into the rivalry.

In my opinion he’s well on his way to accomplishing both goals as Ohio State didn’t so much beat Michigan as Michigan beat itself this year.  The less talented but more disciplined team won the 2016 match up but that won’t last long and if Michigan isn’t in the national championship playoff next year, I’ll be surprised.  If Harbaugh ever gets to the point where he’s actually won that playoff a couple times, yes, I can see him taking on the challenge of an NFL job.

But he’s got plenty of time in the future for that.  Ohio State is right now and that’s all that’s driving him.

Some Random NFL Thoughts as Week 11 of the Season Comes to a Close

I haven’t had a chance to post much other than game thoughts lately.  Things have been a bit hectic at work and though they show no signs of slowing down, I thought I’d try to get a post up on some NFL thoughts this week as Well 11 wraps up tonight.

      1. Jared Goff didn’t have a great game yesterday.  But that’s understandable.  He’s a rookie in his first start and yet he arguably out played Ryan Tannehill for most of the game yesterday against the Dolphins until a dramatic comeback in the last five minutes of the game stole it away from him..

        Notably Goff has a (perhaps natural at this stage) tendency to panic under pressure.  Whenever he even sensed that a blitz was coming he rushed the pass and it was usually inaccurate.  He’s going to have to settle down and learn to keep calm in those situations.

        I might add that Goff’s accuracy and ball placement were generally a disappointment this game.  In fairness he saw a fair bit of pressure from the Dolphins defensive front and he was throwing on the move quite a bit.  Though he’s certainly mobile, based upon what I saw, that is not his strength and he’s going to have to be given some time in the pocket if the Rams expect his to succeed.

        Many were surprised when Rams head coach Jeff Fisher decided to promote first overall draft pick, quarterback Jared Goff, to the starting lineup.  Reports were that reports that Goff wouldn’t play until the Rams were mathematically eliminated. They’re still alive at 4-5, and if Goff gives the offense a spark they could end up in the mix for a playoff berth.  But head coach Jeff Fisher has claimed that Goff is ready.

        “It’s was just Jared’s progress, and the progression week, after week, after week,” Fisher said. “Preparing to be a two, preparing to be a play away from going in. When he got the reps over the last three or four weeks, they were right, they were good, they were good decisions. So it was time.”

        That’s all nonsense, of course.  Goff struggled notably in the preseason and there’s hardly much reason to believe he’s gotten significantly better with no playing time since.

        The truth is that the Rams have little to lose at this point.  The offense had, in fact, done very little under former starter Case Keenum.   Keenum was not the reason the Rams have been so bad but he hasn’t helped. This season he’s completed 61 percent of his passes for 2,169 yards, with nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He was sacked 23 times and the Rams are 24th in the NFL in sacks allowed per pass play.

        Keenum’s interception percentage is 31st in the NFL and the Rams are 31st in the NFL in touchdowns per game. In fact, the Rams have not scored more than one TD in each of the past three games.

        Given that is the case, Fisher wisely figured that he might as well let the offense be just as bad while developing their quarterback of the future.  As they have in all of their previous games, they will still rely on their defense to win.

        The real question is whether the Rams even can develop Goff.  Jeff Fisher is a defensive head coach and his Assistant Head Coach/Offense, Rob Boras is a former offensive line/tight ends coach.  That means the person who has been primarily responsible for overseeing Goff’s development is quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke.  Weinke has all of two years of NFL coaching experience – 2015 and half of 2016 with the Rams.

        Goff is a wonderful talent.  But at least as important is who is bring him along.  The Rams have been a waste land for quarterback play since Kurt Warner left St. Louis in 2003. With Sam Bradford being its most recent and notable failure at the position.  You have to wonder if Goff is about to get lost in those bad lands as well.

      2. Speaking of the Dolphins, more and more I’m coming to appreciate the play of Kiko Alonzo.  He’s all over the field and he’s largely responsible for what has been an improved (though still flawed) run Dolphin defense.
      3. One more quick Dolphins-related thought.  I was a bit disappointed when Dolphins center Anthony Steen, who played well in place of starting center Mike Pouncey (hip) today, decided to criticize Alabama head coach Nick Saban last week.

        Steen told the Palm Beach Post that he now regrets waiting until the end of his senior season to have the shoulder surgery he needed, and he thinks Saban’s approach leaves Alabama players hurt.

        “If you can work through pain, you can go. But at ‘Bama, that was the problem,” Steen said. “A lot of things you went through and you shouldn’t have. You should have stayed off of it. That’s why a lot of guys from ‘Bama are hurt.”

        If Steen was actually hurt or had done permanent damage to his shoulder by playing, I agree would with him. But as far as I can tell he hasn’t. So I question whether Saban actually pushed him too far.

        Indeed, it may well be Steen’s toughness and willingness to play hurt was one of the reasons he has made it to the NFL.  One scout from the Bleacher Report before the 2014 NFL draft called Steen “Possibly the very definition of ‘toughness’ as it relates to OL scouting purposes.”  CBS Sports said, “Steen’s technical consistency, toughness and instincts are exactly what NFL teams look for in the ideal guard prospect.”  The statements are ironic given that the Dolphins chose highlight their 2016 draft class by trying to make them into something that they weren’t, characterizing them as “alpha personalities” despite zero independent evidence that scouts ever viewed them that way.  Steen appears to the kind of guy they should have been touting all along if that’s what they wanted.

        In any case, if you ask me Saban did Steen a favor.  He pushed him to play and, while doing so, highlighted what was perhaps his greatest strength.

      4. Greg Hardy is gone but hardly forgotten.

        Hardy infamously was arrest for domestic violence after assaulting an ex-girlfriend by grabbing her, throwing her into furniture, strangling her, and threatening to kill her.  Only the Dallas Cowboys and their win at all costs owner Jerry Jones dared to sign Hardy after he hit the street (One wonders what he told his granddaughter.  “Don’t go dating an NFL player, now darlin’.  Unless he can rush the passer.  Heh, heh, heh.”  [slaps her on the behind]).  However, after a miserable season with the Cowboys in which he under-performed and was a locker room distraction, even Jones let him go.  Hardy has been waiting for another team to sign him ever since.

        Good luck with that.  If he ever had a chance – and I doubt very much that he did – its got to be gone now after he was indicted on one count of felony possession of a controlled substance after a September 25 arrest. He allegedly had 0.7 grams of cocaine in his wallet, which police detected after pulling him over for turning without signaling.

        Hardy was and is a blight on the National Football League, a product of a win at all costs mentality that results in animals like this getting rich off of fans who are forced to root for them against their better judgement.  You honestly wonder under the circumstances how the league has the nerve to wear pink in October while keeping men like Hardy  employed.  Fortunately, we’ll almost certainly never have to deal with watching this particular hard case anymore.  Let’s hope that its extended more and more to others whose behavior calls for sanction rather than adulation.

      5. I find the Green Bay Packers to be like a train wreck.  I can’t look and yet I can’t look away.  Some pundits were predicting that the Packers would be among the all-time best this year with the return of a healthy Jordy Nelson, who was supposed to be the major missing cog in the Packer wheel that caused the apparently decline of Aaron Rogers stats last season.

        That hasn’t turned out to be the case.  Among their notable deficiencies this year has been their problems at running back.  The carousel of running backs in Green Bay this season has included Eddie Lacy, Knile Davis (acquired from Kansas City and released after two games), James Starks and Don Jackson (who was placed on injured reserve). Through it all, the most effective runners have been quarterback Aaron Rodgers (who’s averaging 6.3 yards per run and has three rushing touchdowns) and converted receiver Ty Montgomery (who was the team’s leading rusher in two different games this season).

        The latest hope at running back for the team is Christine Michael, who they picked up from waivers after the Seahawks surprised the league by releasing him.

        Michael had two different stints with the Seahawks, who drafted him in the second round in 2013 (one spot after the Packers picked Lacy at No. 61 overall). As recently as this summer, he had earned praise from his teammates who said he was a different player than he was the first time around.  Indeed, NFL pundits have marveled at Michael’s talent and production and it was thought that he was on his way to a fine season.

        At least publicly the Seahawks have only praise for Michael.  “He’s been busting his tail the whole time he’s been here,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told reporters on Wednesday. “Everything we’ve said about him has been true and real, and he made a great comeback with us. He was the only guy there for a while, and we’re really grateful to the play that he gave us. He’s a good kid.”

        But privately things may be a little different.  Reports have indicated that Michael was too inconsistent for the Seahawks and that they couldn’t trust him to run within the offense.  He struggled to hit the right hole or trust the design of the play. Those are vital elements of any run game but particularly for the Seahawks. The running back is the conductor of the offensive line. His patience, the number of steps he takes, all those details help a run succeed or fail.

        Whether Michael will be better within the Green Bay offense is an open question.  But they are so desperate to find answers at the position, they may rather have a reasonably productive back who free lances than the answers that they currently have on the roster.  Such is the state of what was supposed to be a record breaking offense this year

      6. Of course, the other major problem is the play of Aaron Rogers, himself.  Rogers at his best drops back, hits the last step in that drop and fires the ball immediately to the open receiver.  But he hasn’t looked like that on a consistent basis for over a year now, preferring to hold the ball and play backyard football while trying to make a play.  Pundits have blamed the fact that his receivers can’t get open for the problem and the return of Nelson this year was supposed to solve it.

        For the first time in his career, perhaps ever, Rogers is taking significant criticism from former teammates and the press.  And he apparently hasn’t liked it much.  Even nice guy Tony Dungy has gotten into the act as both he and not so nice guy Rodney Harrison took off on Rogers on Thursday’s edition of Football Night in Carolina on NBC and NFL Network.  Dungy and Harrison particularly addressed Rodgers‘ recent habit of publicly criticizing teammates and/or coaches during post-game press conferences following losses.

        Dungy: “When you’re losing, you can’t make those kinds of comments. I remember my first year in Indianapolis when we lost a playoff game to the Jets 41-0. Mike Vanderjagt, our kicker, comes out after the game and says, ‘Tony Dungy doesn’t fire people up. He’s just an easy-going guy. We don’t need that.’ Well, that might have been true, but when you lose, it’s not the time to say that.”

        Harrison: “I’m going to say this as nice as possible — shut up and play football. Every time that you mention something in the media, it creates a sense of divide in that locker room. Everything that they think about – say it in-house, and don’t bring the media and everyone outside of that locker room into it.”

        Former Packer Jermichael Finley has also been among the latest to speak out with some particularly damaging comments.

        “Aaron Rodgers is so scared of what guys are going to say that he doesn’t say nothing at all,” Finley said. “He doesn’t get vocal. He goes into his little shell. He’s not a guy who hangs out with the fellas. He’s real self-centered.”

        Finley isn’t the first teammate (former or otherwise) to take his shots at Rogers.  Even when Rogers has apparently been playing well, other players have or are suspected to have done so and they haven’t lasted with the team.  Former Packer and Dolphin guard Daryn College was one such player who called out Rogers in a team meeting for not admitting that he was holding the ball too long when the offensive line was taking heat some years ago in 2009.  Current Bears guard Josh Sitton wasn’t known specifically for doing it but he was outspoken and he was known to have called out the coaching staff on at least one occasion last year.  It would certainly not be surprising if criticism of Rogers miserable play last year came with that

        Rogers isn’t just self-centered.  He appears to be sensitive to criticism.  If he continues to play like he is, he’d better get used to it because it won’t stop until he starts reading the defense, getting rid of the ball, playing within the offense and throwing more accurately.

      7. I know that it seems like it’s a long way away but the later we get in both the NFL and the college football season, the more it feels like NFL draft time.  Indeed, site are already starting to speculate about what teams will need what and none will be more prominent than those who will be desperate for quarterback help.  In that respect, I found this article on NFL.com to be quite interesting.  In the column, former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah looks at six teams who he thinks will be targeting the quarterback position.  Most made sense – the Browns, 49ers, Bears and Cardinals.  However, a couple were, in my opinion, questionable.

        First off, the suggestion that the Jets will be looking to draft a quarterback and/or sign a veteran is popular right now and, I think, pretty suspect.  The Jets drafted Bryce Petty in the fourth round in 2015 and, though fourth rounders aren’t always slam dunk starters, I’m not sure they given up on him.

        But Petty isn’t the reason I find this opinion questionable.  You might argue about the Jets commitment to his future but there’s not denying that they are committed to 2016 draft pick Christian Hackenberg.  Like Jeremiah, I don’t think Hackenberg is the answer for them.  But the Jets have to believe otherwise.  To draft Hackenberg in the second round and then not commit to him as your future starter would be ludicrous.  They would be, and should be, a laughing stock.

        No, I can’t imagine the Jets not giving Hackenberg the starting next year.

        The other suspect team on the list was the Jaguars, who appeared to have an answer at the position with Blake Bortles.  Bortles started well as a rookie but has regressed this season.  His mechanics are a mess and during the bye week he even resorted to visiting QB guru Tom House, indicating that perhaps he wasn’t getting the help he needed from head coach Gus Bradley and his staff.

        Bradley may be gone after this season but Bortles isn’t going anywhere.  I have to believe that the Jaguars would rather spend the offseason trying to fix Bortles, who at least has showed potential for a couple years before regressing, than starting over by drafting a new quarterback.

      8. Before we jump too far ahead it should be mentioned that one or two of those teams listed above are going to go for a veteran replacement.  Especially if you are a team who thinks that can win now, as in Arizona or Denver (not listed), the possibility of adding Tony Romo is going to be tempting.

        In addition, another quarterback that Dolphins fans are pretty familiar with might be enticing for one of these teams.  Tyrod Taylor entered the weekend needing to show that he could be the future in Buffalo badly.  Time could be running out for Taylor in his quest to convince management to activate the next phase of his five-year, $90 million contract, which would cost them $27 million for next season alone if they decide to kick in the second year.

        Buffalo beat the Bengals on Sunday but they did it with only an average effort from Taylor who went 19 for 27, 166 yards and a passer rating of 70.9.  Hardly the stuff that characterizes a $90 million quarterback.

        The bet here is that Taylors talent and mobility leads someone to sign him in the hope that he will be the future.  We shall see if it comes true.

 

 

Previewing the Jaguars and Other Points of View

• Next up for the Bears is the Jacksonville Jaguars. My first thought is that this is a very mineable game for the Bears. Even though Jacksonville beat the Colts in a sloppy, penalty filled game in London, they don’t appear to me to be any better. Quarterback Blake Bortles is the hope for this franchise and he had a pretty good game against the Colts. One thing to note is that the Colts flat out could not cover 6’0” wide receiver Allen Robinson. Stopping him will be a high priority for the Bears. Their pass protection is an issue and once gain the Bears front seven has an opportunity to make an impact in this game, hopefully in both halves of football this time. Also notable was that the Jaguars had a tough time handling the Colts no huddle offense. Look for that to be a staple for the Beas this game.
• As long time readers of this blog know, I have very little sympathy for players who fail to face adversity in the day-to-day competition of the game. Dolphins defensive end Mario Williams is such a player and I notice that he has a new excuse.

Last year Williams blamed Buffalo head coach Rex Ryan for his poor performance last season, claiming that Ryan played him out of position at outside linebacker.

Well, this year he’s back at defensive end for the Dolphins. How’s that going for you, Mario?

“… If we can get guys to hold the ball a little longer,” William said of the sacks. “The ball’s coming out pretty quick.

Ah. So it’s the defensive back’s fault now. I see.

Through five games, Williams has recorded seven tackles (including just two for loss), three quarterback hits and one little sack. He did not appear on the stat sheet at all on Sunday in a loss to the Titans in which there was virtually no pass rush from the defensive line.

Yes, the ball is coming out fast. But Williams knows as well as anyone that’s true around the NFL nowadays. Defensive linemen still manage to perform despite that, through talent and determination. There is an old saying that has been passed around the NFL for decades: “There are a thousand reasons for failure, but not a single excuse.” It’s getting late for Mario Williams to learn that lesson but he needs to do so.
• Some mild uproar was raised in Chicago last week as a fan who ran out on the field during a Bears game wearing a gorilla suit and a t-shirt with a protest logo on it was arrested. The bail of $250,000 was considered by some to be excessive. I’m all for the right to free speech and protest. But you have to be smart about your method for doing so. Running out on the field is not only can result in a dangerous situation for both participants and fans and as an interested viewer I definitely don’t want to see protesters trying it every game. As far as I’m concerned, the more strongly such behavior is discouraged, the better.
Jeff Fisher is 3-2 this season as head coach of the LA Rams and after a reasonable start it appears that his team is on the way back to the 0.500 mark.

Fisher’s MO is that he gets the team very high for divisional games. The problem is that getting the players too high for those games leads them to let down against teams outside the division. Fisher’s record against divisional opponents since 2012 is almost 0.500 but against non-divisional foes it drops to 15-24 with one tie. Hence big wins early in the season against the Seattle Seahawks and the Arizona Cardinals. But we’ve yet to see them try to sustain it against teams that they should be able to beat outside the division. Whether his team rises or falls this year will depend upon how Fisher and his players handle those games, something they’ve done a poor job of in the past.
• The Arizona Cardinals are 2-3 and after a poorly played win on Thursday night against the hapless 49ers they appear to be rapidly regressing after an excellent year last season.

The Cardinals were the toast of the NFL after going deep into the playoffs last year under head coach Bruce Arians. Arians’ bravado and forthrightness makes him well respected by members of the media and the team even had a special series produced by Amazon.com about them in the offseason.

Now it looks like the team is falling back down to earth a bit. The now injured Carson Palmer hasn’ t looked like the same quarterback he was last year and he seems to be continuing this year the way he left off in the playoffs last year, a 49-15 loss to the Panthers in which he looked like he allowed the pressure of the game to get to him.

Fans around the league love Arians and he’s ridden a wave of kudos. But now is when he and his staff really have the opportunity to show who they really are. Facing adversity, the question is whether they are good enough to pull the Cardinals out of their funk to finish a season well in which they started so poorly. The bet here is that they do it. But the proof will be in the pudding.

Catching Up with Former Bears Offensive Tackle Jordan Mills

Sal Maiorana at the Democrat and Chronicle reviews the performance of the Buffalo Bills offensive line. What he says about former bears offensive tackle Jordan Mills is of interest.

“Jordan Mills: C-

“Mills played for offensive line coach Aaron Kromer in Chicago, where he was a two-year starter, but he’s nothing more than a journeyman and is no longer starter material. He’s a free agent, and if the Bills decide to re-sign him, he’ll probably be in the mix at right tackle, but the Bills need a better option.”

The left side of the Bills offensive line was very good with left tackle Cordy Glenn, guard Richie Incognito and center Eric Wood. But the right side of the line was a mediocrity at best with rookie John Miller at guard and Seantrel Henderson at tackle. Henderson was recently diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. The fact that Mills couldn’t establish  himself in the starting lineup with these guys as competition is a bad sign.

This is an indication of how far the Bears had to go in terms of upgrading their talent. Next year if Mills can’t make a Bills team with a poor right tackle situation and almost no depth, as seems very possible, there’s a good chance that a guy that the Bears had starting at right tackle will be out of the league in 2016.

Intelligence Is a Talent, Too. And Other Points of View.

Bears

  • I’m not going to bother to post much related to the fourth preseason game Thursday night. But if you want some things to watch, Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune has a list:
    • Zac Dysert Vs. David Fales
    • Charles Leno Vs. Jordan Mills
    • the wide receivers
    • Ka’Deem Carey
  • The Bears are supposed to be accumulating draft picks, not trading them away. Particularly for undrafted free agents.
  • Rick Morrissey at the Chicago Sun-Times thinks right guard Kyle Long should b playing right tackle:

    “Will it cause chaos along the line? Not as much chaos as
    Charles Leno and Jordan Mills have caused while attempting to play right tackle. Find somebody else to play right guard and let Long get comfortable as the Right Tackle of the Future. Unless he’s actually the Left Tackle of the Future. But first things first.”

    First, I’m not happy with the idea of Leno playing right
    tackle, either. I have a nasty suspicion that, like Mills, he’s not
    going to develop. But Mills got three years to show that he could be
    better. To my eye Leno shows some athleticism and it might be a bit
    early to be giving up on him completely. Hub Arkush at
    chicagofootball.com thinks that “it’s very unlikely both Jordan Mills and Charles Leno make the team”. In that case, I’m guessing that Mills is in serious
    jeopardy.

    I might add that I don’t think I agree with the commonly
    given reason for moving Long: that tackle is a more valuable position
    than guard, especially right tackle. Like many football experts, I’m not
    too sure I wouldn’t rather stay strong up the middle and keep the pocket
    clean in front of Cutler so that he can step up.

  • The Bears apparently didn’t like quarterback Shane
    Carden
    much. He didn’t even get a chance to throw a pass in the
    preseason before they released him in favor of signing Zac Dysert on Tuesday.
    Via Wiederer.  I liked Carden before the draft because, as far as I could tell, he’s about the only reason East Carolina won a game last year. But he was reportedly
    long on release and short on accuracy.Dysert is an interesting signing because he was on the practice squad for Denver under Bears head coach John Foxand offensive coordinator Adam Gase. He was released by Denver this year in their first round of cuts. It will be interesting to see if he’s just a short term signing who knows the offense and can get the Bears through the fourth preseason game with Jimmy Clausen out with a concussion or if he might stick around long-term. It could well be the latter. Carden knew the offense and likely could have played with fellow quarterback Fales on Thursday night.
  • Weiderer reports that Kyle Long is willing to move to tackle but
    no one knows yet whether it will be necessary. My guess is that the
    Bears are looking for a starter as other teams make their cuts. Where
    Long ends up may depend upon whether they find a guard or tackle.
  • Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times on the growing list of injured
    players
    and the Bears’ secretive way of dealing with them when it
    comes to the media:

    “[Matt] Forte, who has all of 14 carries in the preseason, has been given back-to-back veteran’s days off ahead of five consecutive days without practice. Anybody buying that one?”

    Noupe.

  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

    “Any guesses for surprise cuts to get to 53? — @sylv0028

    “Not sure there can be any surprise cuts from 75 to 53 for an organization that was 5-11 last season and has undergone complete turnover in the front office and in the coaching staff. If veteran Willie Young, who looks like a defensive end out of place at outside linebacker, is released you will not be able to classify that as a surprise. Young is a better fit in a 4-3 scheme and he is coming off a serious injury. I don’t think anything the club does this weekend will catch you off guard.”

    Biggs wouldn’t be surprised but I would. Young will be a pretty good end in the nickel package, which by all accounts the Bears will play at least half of the time. It would help if he played special teams but still, I dont see it happening.

  • Former Bears linebacker Lance Briggs on his retirement:

    “‘Outside of freak injuries, I’ve been durable,’ Briggs said. ‘I want to play. At this point in my career, I understand a whole lot.’”

    What Briggs doesn’t say but is pretty likely is that he “wants to play” only for the right price. The guess here is that the 49ers made him an offer but, similar to former linebacking partner Brian Urlacher in similar circumstances, he didn’t consider the money to be worth the wear and tear on his body.

Elsewhere

  • Chip Kelly admits that he didn’t
    understand the rule
    by which quarterbacks can be hit if they are
    handing off the ball. But that doesn’t make avoidably diving for a guy’s
    knees in an effort to hurt him in a preseason game any less dirty. Terrell Suggs any less of a jerk. Via profootballtalk.com.
  • Read this open letter to Bills head coach Rex Ryan, substitute “Jay” in “EJ” and tell me that you don’t want to send it to John Fox. Immediately.

One Final Thought

Greg Gabriel at the National Football Post on why Robert Griffin III has failed in the NFL:

“He looked like he would have a great future, but that hasn’t happened. He has regressed every year since. It is entirely possible that in the near future Griffin III may be a former Washington Redskin.

“How can this happen? How can a player with that much talent not continue to improve and grow? Some may say it’s coaching, but that isn’t the answer. The answer is simple: RGIII lacks any kind of football character.”

“Football character is about the desire each player has to become great. It includes his work ethic, leadership, passion for the game and ability to be coached. Most players fail or bust because they lack a degree of football character. RGIII has great talent, but he lacks football character.

“When RGIII was growing up and in college everything came easy to him. He was a very smart kid and the best athlete on campus. When a player gets to the NFL, every player on every team is a great athlete, the best of the best. If a player wants to improve he has to work at it. Once RGIII got to the NFL he had never been in that kind of environment before. Things no longer came easy. He had to work and he didn’t know how.

I don’t doubt that this is true to an extent. But to be fair to RGIII have the talent to play the position. Something tells me that this goes beyond “want to”.

People always thing of “talent” in terms of physical properties. How far can you jump? How fast can you run? I think in this case that we might be talking about natural talent that has nothing to do with physical characteristics. Some of it is instincts and a lot of it is mental.

People have a bad habit of assuming that someone with great physical ability who fails at something like football did so because they didn’t work hard enough. And that’s really not fair. Mental gifts are talents just like the physical ones. I’m not in any way saying that RGIII is stupid. On the contrary, most reports about him coming out of college said the opposite. It’s just that the ways that he’s smart might not be the ways that are needed to play quarterback in the NFL.

“The Drill with the Bell” and Other Points of View

Bears

  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune rightfully describes the Bears situation after the third exhibition game as abysmal. The most significant highlights:

    “This team is short on talent, and you didn’t need to watch the most significant of the four exhibition games to know that. The Bears’ drafts from 2009 through 2014 — six drafts totaling 40 selections — produced four of the team’s starters in the 21-10 loss to the Bengals.”

    “Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery should return soon enough from a calf injury and make it five starters from those six drafts. That’s it. Cornerback Kyle Fuller, offensive linemen Kyle Long and Charles Leno and inside linebacker Shea McClellin are homegrown talent from those drafts. The core that general manager Ryan Pace and coach John Fox inherited is abysmal. When Fox said he wanted to underpromise and overdeliver when he was hired, you can bet he knew he couldn’t promise much. Not right away.”

    “The team is going to be flush with salary-cap room after this season when Jeffery comes out of contract, and Pace won’t have a long list of his own players to lock up long term. The Bears could be a major player in free agency, but that’s a trap. Free agency is for plugging a hole, not laying a foundation.

    “The Bears’ only way out of this predicament is to draft better. Pace and Fox need two and probably three draft classes to really build a foundation. That much was reinforced Saturday night.”

    The key phrase: “two and probably three draft classes to really build a foundation.” Up to this point most people have been saying “at least one more”. But I always thought at least two sounded more like it. And lets not forget that by the time that third additional draft is over, a lot of the talent on offense will be significantly older. So that side of the ball needs young talent almost as much as the defense does.

    Bottom line, this team is officially rebuilding from scratch. Bears fans had better be in this for the long haul if they’re going to find any enjoyment in the performance of their team over the next few years.

  • Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com also was gloomy after the game but did note some positives, including this one:

    “I do think we learned that Rashad Lawrence is either the third or fourth best receiver on the roster right now, depending on how you rank him against Josh Bellamy, and he should make the team. If you view it objectively, Lawrence has shown more in a Bears uniform than Marquess Wilson has in two-plus seasons.”

    Here’s hoping that Arkush is right in this evaluation. Having young players like Lawrence emerge is one of the few good about a dismal injury situation.

  • Arkush also has some interesting thoughts on the inside linebacker situation that I happen to agree with:

    “There has been a perception throughout camp that [Shea] McClellin and [Christian] Jones have earned those spots, but the reality is they were just given to them because they are perceived as the best options.

    “Jones is a great-looking prospect but appeared completely lost against the Bengals.  McClellin keeps getting credit for looking comfortable and learning the position, but the reality is he has shown no signs he is physical enough to play the position or can make plays less than 5 or 10 yards downfield.

    “It’s time to give [Mason] Foster and [Jon] Bostic some fraction of the chances McClellin and Jones have enjoyed.”

    Jones and McClellin were the initial choice over Foster because of their relative youth and upside. Bostic’s been injured. But its time both got the chance to show what they can do in the middle after a poor showing by McClellin and Jones against the Bengals, especially in coverage.

  • Two time Pro Bowler Tim Jennings was undoubtedly the most surprising cut Sunday. But I was also taken aback when young cornerback Al Louis-Jean was cut. Louis-Jean has the length that the current coaching staff was seeking at the position but apparently wasn’t progressing fast enough after a promising start to his career last summer.
  • It looks to me like Zach Miller has won the battle for the third tight end spot. Adam Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times notes that he’s been playing a lot of fullback with the first team offense and he’s been the Bears choice as the second player in two tight end sets. Martellus Bennett was a given and Dante Rosario is a very valuable special teams contributor. The Bears carried three tight ends last year.
  • Everybody should be holding their breath for another Kevin White-style injury revelation. Not only did Alshon Jeffery not play in the game against the Bengals, he wasn’t even healthy enough to make the trip to Cincinnati. Via Jahns. The other injured wide receivers watched from the sideline. It’s hard to trust this regime after the White affair and their initial description of Jeffery’s injury as minor, despite the fact that he was in a walking boot afterwards, looks more and more like it may have been another smoke screen.
  • If you think you’ll feel better if former Bears head of scouting Greg Gabriel blows smoke up your rear end, read this.

Elsewhere

  • Having said that, Gabriel and I do agree on Bills (in my opinion likely starting) quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Taylor is mobile and has been much more accurate than I expected during the preseason. He’s been head and shoulders above both Matt Cassel and, especially, E.J. Emanuel. If Taylor is as good as he’s looked, the Bills may be just good enough offensively to find their way to the playoffs behind an excellent defense.It’s worth noting that Manuel was promised a start in the third preseason game and got it. But he threw only two passes and got only 10 minutes of work. He’s looked very bad in the previous games and reportedly hasn’t been much better in practice. Taylor and Cassel have likely both surpassed him.
  • Michael David Smith at profootballtalk.com discusses the possibility that Robert Griffen III may not be ready to start the regular season. The Redskins, who initially said he’d be ready to play in the third pre-season game against the Dolphins, suddenly changed course, claiming that the doctors still want him to be held back for “one or two weeks”. He has the support of ownership but RGIII hasn’t looked good this preseason and the football people reportedly want him gone from the team altogether. Head coach Jay Gruden would love to see Kirk Cousins take the job away in week one. The Bears play the Redskins December 13.
  • The Animal Rescue League is pulling an October event out of Heinz Field in protest of the Steelers signing of Michael Vick.

    “‘While we understand that Mr. Vick has made an effort to atone for his past mistakes and has worked to help strengthen animal abuse laws, we do not believe that it is appropriate for him to continue a high-profile and influential public career,’ the release [from the League] states.”

    Like everyone else, I abhor what Vick did. But let’s bear in mind that this isn’t a Ben Roethlisberger situation where Vick bought his way out of a rape conviction. Vick did his time on the dog fighting conviction and now he should be able to continue living his life, “high-profile and influential public career” or not.

  • Conor Orr at nfl.com explains what he learned from the Vikings – Cowboys game Saturday:

    “Completely understand the Vikings’ reticence with Cordarrelle Patterson, but my goodness, he is the most athletic player on the field every time he leaves the bench. It is a type of Tavon Austin situation that has to be taken care of so as not to waste Patterson’s prime years.

    “Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner and head coach Mike Zimmer mentioned a certain precision lacking in his routes. But just look at this kick return! Something has to give.”

    Patterson is Percy Harvin. All potential and no production. He’ll flash and entice and if the Vikings are lucky, they’ll sucker another Seattle into a trade once they give up on him.

Next Opponent

The Cleveland Browns play the Bears Thursday at Soldier Field. A few notes:

  • Keep an eye on the Cleveland defense. Though the starters probably won’t see much action, the defensive line has been impressive in its ability to penetrate to stop the run.
  • Also keep an eye on Cleveland returner Shane Wynn. He’s looked to me like he might be special.
  • Don’t expect to see Johnny Manziel. He’s out with an elbow injury. It’s a shame because he’s been looking like a real quarterback in the preseason. There’s still some hope there for Browns fans.
  • Don’t expect to see former Bears quarterback Josh McCown, either. According to Mary Kay Cabot at the Cleveland Plain Dealer head coach Mike Pettine has already said he’s not playing. McCown had a very good tune up game against the Buccaneers on Saturday. His passer rating was 113.9.
  • One of the more interesting things to watch for will be how the Browns handle Terrelle Pryor. He didn’t play Saturday (or in any of the preseason games) with a lingering hamstring injury. The former quarterback is trying to make the roster as a wide receiver.

One Final Thought

This unique Jets drill where offensive linemen keep pass rushers from getting past them to ring a bell caught my attention. From Ben Shpigel at The New York Times:

“That tinny sound signifies superiority or regret, serenading the linebacker who bulled past, or mocking the lineman, like a sad trombone, who failed to stop him. In other pass-rush or pass-protection drills, heavyweight bags or dummies or even sacrificial equipment managers or coaches simulate the quarterback.”

“‘You do not want to hear that bell,’ guard Brian Winters said.”

This is a clever idea. It’s one thing to lose or win an encounter in a drill. Its another thing altogether for everyone within a hundred yards to know. Something tells me linemen on both sides of the line of scrimmage are concentrating extra hard leading up to the start of the season.

Digital NFL? I’m Game.

OECD-internet-economy

Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times reports one of the more under the radar moves from the league meetings in Arizona:

“It was one of two major broadcasting changes decided at the Arizona Biltmore on Monday. The league announced that the Bills-Jaguars Week 7 game, to be played in London, will be broadcast over an as-yet-unnamed digital site and not on the league’s Sunday Ticket. The two home markets — Jacksonville and Buffalo — will still get the game on their home televisions.

“The move could be the first step toward a new digital strategy for the league.”

We can only hope.

Like most American, one of the few reasons I still have cable television is for live sports. In my case, that really means the NFL. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone when I say that I would gladly pay a reasonable fee – hopefully less than the “Sunday Ticket” package – to be able to watch the games online. It would be a risky proposition and there’s considerable doubt about whether the revenues would cover what they would lose in the value of network television rights. But my gut feeling is that it would work.

No, They’re Not Kidding. And Other Points of View.

Bears

  • The Bears re-signed Dante Rosario. Rosario’s value is really on special teams and the Bears probably still need to find a tight end who can block the run. From Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune.
  • Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com points out that Bears head coach John Fox likes a runningback by committee. That leads him to speculate that the Bears might take a running back with their second round pick. That would fit in well with this ESPN report that Georgia’s Todd Gurley had an “extended conversation” with Bears southeast area scout Sam Summerville at his pro day.
  • Former Bears Director of College Scouting Greg Gabriel at the National Football Postthinks the Bears will trade back in the draft. He also thinks the Vikings will fill their need at guard and Detroit will fill their need at defensive tackle. Bud Dupree has that kind of look that would land him in Green Bay ahead of any decline from Julius Peppers.
  • Gabriel also writes for WSCR in Chicago. He does a very good job of breaking down the type players Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio used in the 3-4 defense that San Francisco played. It involved smaller, penetrating linemen rather than the big bodied 2 gappers that teams like Baltimore use. They also had smallish, speedy linebackers and tall corners. Whether these were the players Fangio preferred of this was a case of making the best of the players you are given is unknown. What scheme Fangio will use here is a matter of debate but if you think he’ll try to play the same scheme in Chicago that he did in San Francisco, these are the types of players to expect the Bears to collect.

Elsewhere

  • Matt Vensel at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune dreams that the Falcons, Giants and Rams are all going to over-draft offensive linemen to allow Amari Cooper to fall to them. I think it far more likely that they’ll have their choice of those linemen and, in fact, they could do a lot worse than Brandon Scherff. He’d do a wonderful job of solidifying their left guard spot, vacated by the release of Charlie Johnson.
  • The Vikings biggest need may be a starting cornerback opposite Xavier Rhodes so its no surprise that Vikings general manager Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer were watching Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes rather closely at his pro day. He’s probably a slam dunk pick for them in the first round. Via Ben Goessling at ESPN.
  • Mel Kiper “re-drafts” the 2009 prospects for ESPN. You don’t think the draft is a crap shoot? Out of the 32 new “first round picks” not one was drafted in the original top nine. Michael Crabtree was the highest original pick to make the list at 10 and two of the players in the new round originally went undrafted.
  • Kyle Meinke at mlive.com acknowledges that Detroit has taken a step back n free agency, largely due to losses at defensive tackle. However he believes that the team may make up for it, not by signing more talent, but by continuing to develop the talent that they have.He’s got a point. Good organizations are the ones that not only draft talent but coach it up to get the most out of it. This may be the most overlooked aspect of Green Bay’s success and its one that the Bears are going to have to emulate as well if they want to get younger and more competitive at the same time.
  • Rex Ryan plans to have the Bills practice largely on two fields in camp, a change from Doug Marrone who ran 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills on one field. The idea is to maximize reps for the quarterbacks who are competing to start, EJ Manuel, Matt Cassel and Tyrod Taylor.Both the Bills and the Jets are planning on challenging the old saying that, “If you have two quarterbacks competing to be the starter you don’t have one.”
  • How does an owner solve a problem where he signed a player who abuses women to a huge contract? He trots out his daughter and sells her for the sake of public relations. From David Moore at the Dallas Morning News.
  • Defensive lineman Kevin Vickerson has been signed by the Jets according to Rich Cimini at espn.com. In retrospect I’m kind of wondering why the Bears weren’t interested here.
  • Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com thinks the value of having a veteran combine is minimal. I’m going to mildly disagree. Having a standard medical on these veterans can be pretty valuable and some teams may be holding off on working out and talking to some of these veterans until they get a solid handle on it.
  • Regular readers know that I have a man-crush on Teddy Bridgewater. Those who don’t want to read anymore about it can stop now. Because Bridgewater gets it as he addresses his rookie season via Brian Murphy at the Pioneer Press:

    “‘I wasn’t impressed,’ he told the Pioneer Press this week.

    “‘Yes, we did some good things as a team,’ he continued, ‘but we could have been much better finishing games. That’s what separates championship teams and determining whether you’re playing games in January or watching games in January.'”

  • The Chargers and the Raiders propose a shared stadium for Carson, CA and suddenly Rams owner Stan Kroenke is presenting detailed plans at the NFL owner’s meetings for his Inglewood stadium with offices for two teams… Things are getting even more interesting in Los Angeles.
  • Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com is surprised that it took nearly a week for Chris Borland to conclude that he should voluntarily give back a portion of his signing bonus. I’m not the lest bit surprised. The NFLPA can’t be happy to see anyone give back signing bonus to teams under any circumstances and this decision might further undermine the case that any players brings to keep his bonus in the future.
  • And in the former Bear, LOL department:

One Final Thought

Kyle Samec at the Cowboys Nation Blog says that Greg Hardy makes the Cowboys “a legit threat, whether people like it or not”. Is that to the opponents or just their women?

Head-Scratcher? And Other Points of View.

Bears

  • According the Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune the Bears signed free agent guard Vlad Ducasse. Ducasse was drafted in the second round in 2010 by the Jets and played well but has struggled ever since. He shows flashes of ability but this is one of those signings where you wonder if the team wasn’t better off with Eben Britton. Perhaps the Bears believe Britton has topped out and that Ducasse has more potential if they can find a way to bring it out. In that respect, he’s a bit of a boom or bust signing. At 6-5, 326 pounds he’s at least got the look of a road grader that might come in handy in a run first offense.

    John Mullin at csnchicago.com thinks the signs point to Kyle Long moving to left tackle in part because the Bears have apparently been looking strictly for help on the interior line in free agency. I tend to agree.

  • Marc Sessler at nfl.com on Bears left guard Matt Slauson‘s comment that Jay Cutler can be “every bit of a Tom Brady, a Peyton Manning, an Aaron Rodgers“:

    “Where do we begin? Our friend Slauson has boarded a rocket ship into the bizarre, taking us to new frontiers of insane offseason hype.”

  • Michael C. Wright at ESPN.com goes over the Bears draft options at wide receiver:

    “In the debate between [Amari] Cooper and former West Virginia receiver Kevin White, coaches seem to prefer the former, while scouts tend to give the edge to the latter. That’s primarily because coaches view players with an eye toward them helping right away, while scouts take more of a long-term perspective.”

    This was a funny statement only because my experience is exactly the opposite. Coaches tend to like the physically gifted, less developed prospects (like Johnny Manziel) because they think they can coach anyone with the necessary physical skills to be a star. Scouts, on the other hand, tend to go with the Teddy Bridgewaters of the world. IMO they also have a bad habit of being right. Anyway, Wright goes on to quote Cooper:

    “You don’t want to give the defensive back any signals about what route you’re going to run. Every time I run a route, I try to make it seem like I’m running a different route than I’m actually running so I can get open.”

    If the Bears go in this direction, they certainly have an interesting choice. White is both bigger and faster but Cooper has the look of a football player. Which choice he makes (if available) may tell us something about Bears general manager Ryan Pace.

  • The Bears attended a private workout by Northwestern safety Ibraheim Campbell. Campbell had four forced fumbles in 2014, an unusually high, Charles Tillman-like number. Via Adam L. Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • How do you beat Aaron Rogers and the Packers in the NFC North? Probably the same way that Houston is trying to beat Andrew Luck and the Colts in the AFC South. From Zak Keefer at the Indianapolis Star.
  • Kevin Fishbain at chicagofootball.com points out the Bears need for a tightend:

    “The Bears were interested in Virgil Green, who re-signed with the Broncos, and [offensive coordinator Adam] Gase used two tight ends a decent amount in Denver’s offense the past two seasons. It’s a weak tight end draft, and there’s not much left on the free-agent market, yet this is a position group that should grow in the coming months.”

    The Bears are going to want the option of using two tight ends in a run-based offense. I’d be surprised if they didn’t find one that could block somewhere. The draft actually is a viable possibility here if all you want is someone who can block and catch a ball only every occasional blue moon.

  • The Bears sit at 25th in Elliot Harrison‘s NFL power rankings at nfl.com. I thought that was surprisingly high until I looked at the teams below them: Jets, Redskins, Jaguars, Browns Buccaneers, Titans, and Raiders. You could debate whether the Jets are worse than the Bears but with their quarterback situation I’m inclined to agree with Harrison. Even with a terrible defense in transition to a 3-4, the Bears belong at 25th in a miserable bottom portion of the league.

Elsewhere

  • Conor Orr at nfl.com wonders about the success of the teams in the AFC East as the spend to try to catch up with the Patriots:

    “[H]ow does [Bill] Belichick buffer his offense to face off against three brutal front-sevens twice a year? What will his counter be to all the noise being made by his counterparts in free agency? Perhaps the Patriots will be a sleeping tiger now that the market is officially open and they’ll load up for one last (reasonable) title shot in the Brady-Belichick era.”

    Doubtful. Because they don’t have to load up.

    The point about building the front-seven is well taken. The best thing to do is to mimic the Baltimore Ravens who give the Patriots the most trouble year in and year out.

    But the problem with the AFC East generally right now is that the other teams are playing fantasy football, over-paying talented players and winning in March when, in fact, what counts is winning in January. The Patriots win football games because they get players to hit the grass every week and do their jobs. The other teams in the division can spend gross national product but until they get that part down, it’s the Patriot’s devision to lose.

  • Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com reports that DeMaurice Smith has been re-elected as NFLPA executive director. This is good news for fans. Smith faced eight challengers the most vocal of which was Sean Gilbert, who wanted to sue the NFL for collusion and to force the league to re-open negotiations on the collective bargaining agreement. Gilbert’s election probably would have meant labor trouble, something no fan wants. Gilbert may have shot himself in the foot by advocating an 18 game season, which the vast majority of players clearly don’t want.
  • Gregg Rosenthal at nfl.com thinks Adrian Peterson will most likely stay in Minnesota. Why? Follow the money.
  • Chris Wesseling, also at nfl.com speculates that Phillip Rivers might be traded, perhaps to the Titans. All indications are that Rivers will play out his contract in 2015. Similar to the situation in New Orleans with Drew Brees, I doubt very much that San Diego could get what it would want for the 33 year old Rivers. He’s worth more to them than anyone else at this point.

    A lot of teams are going to be looking to develop young talent behind aging quarterbacks this offseason. The Bears arguably need one worse than anyone else and if they have their eye on anyone in particular, they may have to over draft him. Former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah, also at nfl.com, has the Bears taking Marcus Mariota with the seventh pick in the draft. It’s not out of the realm of possibility.

  • The Dolphins had the smash hit signing of the year when the added Ndamukong Suh. But you have to wonder if the price of crippling the rest of the team with the cap implications is going to prevent them from winning and defeat the purpose. From Armando Salguero at the Miami Herald.
  • Mike Rodak at ESPN.com suggests that the Bills are spending recklessly in free agency rather that looking for value. Personally I think situations like this almost always end in disappointment as performances in December rarely meet expectations generated in March.

One Final Thought

Rosenthal considers the signing of Bears wide receiver Eddie Royal to be one of free agency’s biggest “head-scratching” moves:

“In a relatively depressed receiver market, the Bears gave $10 million guaranteed to a receiver that has topped 800 yards once in his seven-year career. It was just a random move, and felt a little more painful after the Bears grudgingly swallowed paying Jay Cutler big money into 2016.”

I think the Bears offensive coaching staff sees Royal as a Wes Welker-type of player. The Bears have never gotten the most out of these types of slot receivers but if anyone knows how to do it, it should be Gase. This could be a better signing than most people think.

Why Could the Bears Be Winners as Soon as 2015 And Other Points of View

Bears

  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune quotes former Panthers defensive tackle Brentson Buckner on what new Bears head coach John Fox said in his first team meeting after taking over the 1-15 team:

    “‘He said, ‘You were 1-15 and they got rid of all the coaches,’ Buckner recalled. ‘None of those coaches played. None of those coaches dressed on Sunday. A lot of reasons you were 1-15 are sitting in this room, and it’s my job to weed you out.'”

    I’d say there are a few Bears that need to hear that. Its all roses and sunshine right now between Fox and Bears fans. But this alone makes me think the Bears probably got their man.

  • For some reason David Haugh at the Chicago Tribune is under the impression that we care what Brian Urlacher thinks.
  • Former NFL safety Matt Bowen at the Chicago Tribune tells us what we want to hear.
  • Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune tries to allay my fears that Fox won’t be able to fix the quarterback position. It didn’t work.My only comfort in this regard is that Bears general manager Ryan Pace will ultimately make the final decision on Jay Cutler. He’s’ has been watching Drew Brees for a good chunk of his career so he knows what a quarterback looks like.

    Pace is certainly going to watch a lot of tape before he comes to a decision. That means eventually he’s going to put on the tape of the game his New Orleans Saints played against the Bears on December 15. At that point he’ll know that he has to get rid of Cutler.

  • Biggs addresses what will be the next media topic, one that might drive the offseason until March:

    “No one knows yet, but the guess here is Fox is comfortable going into 2015 with [quarterback Jay] Cutler as his quarterback.”

    Yeah, that’s the way I read it, too. Fox will, at least, probably do his best to de-emphasize Cutler’s role to the extent you can with a quarterback. I’d expect a heavy dose of running back Matt Forte next year.

  • Biggs also quotes former Panthers and Bears wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad:

    “‘One of the things I appreciated from Fox that he did for every single player was you knew your role on the team. So if you’re the third receiver and you’re fighting for that No. 2 spot in training camp and you don’t win it — you’re not going to have a coach who says, ‘Keep trying, you can get there.’ No, he’s gonna go, ‘Hey my man, No. 2 is No. 2 for a reason and you’re No. 3 for a reason. When we go to three receivers, you are going to be in the game. Right now, I need you to focus on being the gunner on the punt team and I need you to be the best gunner you can be.’”

    One of the things that every successful head coach seems to get through to his players is the mantra, “Do your job.” Step one is probably being crystal clear on what that job is. Fox seems to be able to do that.

  • Denver Post columnist Benjamin Hochman on the Fox hire. Via Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times:

    “Chicago should be a good fit for him – and if he ever wins a Super Bowl, he’ll be remembered not only as the coach to win a Super Bowl, but to do so with Winnie The Pooh’s Eeyore at quarterback.”

  • Kudos to Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times for addressing the delicate issue of Fox’s health.
  • John Mullin at csnchicago.com does a nice job of describing some of the differences in the defensive scheme that we might see next year:

    “Fox has run a 4-3 defense since his time in Carolina, but it has been substantially different than what the Bears ran under Lovie Smith and radically different from the strange hybrid the Bears evolved into under Mel Tucker.

    “The Broncos under Fox were a 4-3 team. But they operated with massive tackles Terrance Knighton (331 pounds) and Sylvester Williams (313) and a defensive left end Derek Wolfe (285) in the mold of Phillip Daniels and Bryan Robinson from the days of Dick JauronGreg Blache’s two-gap jumbo front four.”

    “Fox, like the Seattle Seahawks’ 4-3 and some of the so-called 3-4 schemes, employed a smaller speed rusher as the fourth member of his front four. This season in Denver it was DeMarcus Ware (258 pounds, 10 sacks).”

    Fox also normally played a 4-3 over front in Denver (where the three technique tackle is on the strong-side) whereas the Bears played an under front last year.

    Do the Bears have the players to make this adjustment? Mullin thinks DE Jared Allen is more suited to the Denver scheme and points out that Ego Ferguson and Jeremiah Ratliff both might be successful. But they won’t have much defensive line depth. Add in the needs at linebacker and in the defensive backfield (which remain no matter what the scheme) and it seems clear that there’s considerable work to do on personnel if Fox makes this philosophical shift happen.

  • On a related note, Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com comments on Fox’s search for coordinators.

    “I am fascinated by [Vic] Fangio off the job he’s done in Frisco, and although I couldn’t care less whether the Bears play a 4-3 or a 3-4 as long as they play it well, there are a number of 3-4 fanatics out there in Bears nation who might finally get their wish.”

    Fangio ran a 3-4 when he was defensive coordinator for the 49ers.

    I’m with Arkush. I don’t care what they run. But I’m having a hard time believing they’ll try to run a 3-4 base. I’d say that it’s more likely that Fox wants to run a hybrid defense of the type that’s in vogue in the NFL now. Fox probably figures he has the experience to coach a 40 front and might want to bring in Fangio to provide the needed expertise to occasionally switch to a three man line.

  • Arthur Arkush at chicagofootball.com looks back at the Bears 2014 special teams:

    Phil Emery allowing Devin Hester to escape to Atlanta last spring without a clear contingency plan backfired. Hester showed he had plenty left in the tank for the Falcons, while the Bears cycled through returners.”

    In fairness, Emery had a clear contingency plan. It just didn’t work.

    The Bears couldn’t keep Hester. He was going to demand too much money and the Bears couldn’t pay what the Falcons paid for a guy that Cutler flat out refused to throw to. Letting Hester go was best for everybody, especially him.

    Reading this article was actually painful. You forget how bad they really were until you see so many of the errors collected in one spot. Special teams was a clown show last season.

Elsewhere

  • Scott Osler at the San Fransisco Chronicle is worried about the 49ers. Most of us are. New coach Jim Tomsula sounds like Forrest Gump at the podium which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that he’s going to be a team motivator. But Osler is worried about a deeper problem:

    “Coaches come and go. York and Baalke are as cemented in place as Levi’s Stadium, and, well, gulp.

    “This is not a coach-friendly setup. [General manager Trent] Baalke is [owner Jed] York’s football guide and mentor, so Jed will always side with and give power to Baalke, putting the head coach in a weak spot.

    “And what has either man shown to instill faith in their ability to lead a team to the Super Bowl?”

    Not much. The roster is loaded with talent but that’s obviously not enough. Tomsula looks like Baalke’s version of Jerry Jones‘s “F- you Jimmy Johnson I can even win with Barry Switzer” than a winning choice. In fact, the guess here is that Tomsula’s best qualification is that he’s a good solider who won’t ever contradict Baalke. That’s not a good sign for either man.

  • Michael David Smith at profootballtalk.com passes on the fact that Rex Ryan has hired former Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer as his offensive line coach. That’s probably a good move for both of them.

One Final Thought

There is something strange when a new guy takes over at a company the way that Pace and Fox are taking over the Bears. Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune quotes former Panthers offensive tackle Jordan Gross as he elaborates:

“You’ve got an opportunity when you come in right off the bat as a new head coach to utilize the excitement guys are going to have about you.”

There’s also a certain degree of fear. Suddenly the guy in charge doesn’t know you from Adam and your comfort level is gone. Suddenly, you wonder if your job is still going to be there in a few months. That leads to a focus that’s hard to replicate in any other way.

Most people believe that the Bears have embarked upon a multi-year rebuilding process. I think that belief is justified – if you are talking about building a consistent winner. But almost anyone can win for one year if the stars align correctly (e.g. the 2006 Bears).

The Bears actually have the talent to win if they stay healthy next year, if the ball falls their way enough and, especially, if enough guys play above their heads and have what amounts to career years. I’m not saying that they will – a lot of things have to go right. But they have a unique opportunity by starting fresh with new management. Here’s hoping they can take advantage of it.