The Bill Always Comes Due

Kevin Patra at nfl.com on the bad day that Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant had against Panthers cornerback Josh Norman:

“Norman was clearly in Bryant’s head early. When Panthers safety Kurt Coleman picked off [Dallas quarterback TonyRomo on the first drive of the game, Bryant and Norman stood behind the play yapping when it appeared the Cowboys receiver could have had a chance to stop a touchdown, if he made an effort.”

Wide receivers are, as a group, not known for being level headed. But, as with most things Cowboy, this goes a bit beyond the norm. Add owner and general manager Jerry Jones‘s continued defense of remorseless animal Greg Hardy‘s behaviour towards even his own coaches and Dallas is eccentric to the point where they lack both discipline and character. That lack kept them from overcoming the loss of Romo at quarterback as they lost seven games in a row without him.  And that lack played a big part in killing their slim playoff hopes on Thursday.

You can make a deal with the devil.  But the bill always comes due.

Quick Comments: Late Sunday Afternoon Games

Baltimore – Oakland

  • Oakland surprised me this game by taking Baltimore head on at the line of scrimmage and they competed very well.
  • Quarterback Derek Carr once again had a good game this week (30/46 for 351 yes). Significantly, he got good protection.
  • In contrast, Joe Flacco (32/45, 384 yds) did not have a good game. He saw a lot of pressure and missed a lot of throws he ordinarily makes.

Dallas – Philadelphia

  • The story of this game was how ugly it was for the Eagle offense. Demarco Murray had a terrible game as the Cowboys keyed on him every time he entered the game. The Eagle offensive line was awful, allowing the Cowboys defensive line to penetrate at will. Eventually the Eagles had some success attacking the edges and getting away from the interior defensive penetration.
  • I saw some pretty poor tackling from the Eagles in this game. Tough to stop the run that way.
  • Surprisingly, I also was less than impressed with some of the blocking from the vaunted Cowboys offensive line. The Eagles were getting plenty of penetration against them at times. The Cowboys did better after wearing the Eagles down late in the game, a bi-product of an Eagle offense that gets the defense back on the field quickly when things aren’t clicking.
  • Tony Romo went down hard on a sack and a fumble. Before any report was made you could tell that it had broken collar bone written all over it. Its Brandon Weeden time. For a while.
  • Tweet of the day:

Miami – Jacksonville

  • Jacksonville took advantage of some poor defensive backfield play from Miami. Brice McCain looked particularly bad. This is something that the Dolphins are going to want to take a close look at in the coming week.
  • Blake Bortles’ (18/33 273 yds) accuracy and ball placement leaves a lot to be desired. For a highly touted up and coming quarterback, I was unimpressed this game. Sometimes he flashes some of that potential but its time for him to fish or cut bait this year with some consistency.
  • Right now Ndamukong Suh looks very over paid. He’s not making the plays we saw him make in the NFC North despite often being double teamed.
  • On the other hand, Jacksonville got all kinds of pressure on Ryan Tannehill (30/44 359 yds). This was the first sign of problems for the season on a much – maligned Miami offensive line. Brandon Albert left the game in the first half and ws replaced by Jason Fox, which obviously didn’t help.
  • Olivier Vernon should be ashamed of himself for a late personal foul call that badly damaged Miami’s chances of getting the ball back with time to score.

How to Replace the Irreplaceable?

Reid Hanson at Sports Dallas-Fort Worth explains how to replace the irreplaceable. Guess what he’s going to say. You can’t:

“It’s hard to understate the loss of Dez Bryant, yet that very thing seems to be happening everywhere. Numerous columns are calling the [Randy] Gregory loss bigger than the Bryant loss. This couldn’t be further from the truth.”

“With no Dez, teams can pack the box to stop the run. Opposing defenses have been daring the other Cowboys receivers to beat them for years, and yet they’ve still struggled to get open. Terrance Williams is facing a big challenge these next few weeks as defenses shift more attention to him.

“Can we rely on Williams to be a legitimate big-play threat now that defenses are more focused on him? Jason Witten will get his plays, but when was the last time you’ve seen him pick up consistent yardage after the catch (YAC)? Nope, Witten gets open and catches the ball. He also gets tackled immediately. It’s a valuable asset, but nothing remotely close to what Dez Bryant provides.”

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) is tended to on the sideline after injuring his foot during the second half of an NFL football game against the New York Giants Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)
AP Photo/Brandon Wade

That’s a pretty bleak (and pretty realistic) assessment of the situation. Dallas has a wonderful offensive line that I thought performed very well against a lousy New York Giants defensive front last week. So I was shocked to find out that the Cowboys had a terrible game on the ground.

And that was with Bryant for much of the game.

That offensive front is going to have more pressure than ever to provide huge holes to the mediocre running backs that the Cowboys have collected on their roster. Whether they can do that or not will be a major story in week two of the NFL season against the Eagles and beyond.

Quick Comments from Selected Late Sunday NFL Games

Some quick observations on some of the games that I caught late in the day after the Bears game was over.

Broncos – Ravens:

There was a huge question about Peyton Manning‘s arm before their game against the Ravens this weak. Manning has been struggling with his arm strength all preseason and has put up some ugly game tape. Pre-game reports that he’d been putting more zip on the ball after starting to wear a glove on his throwing hand, something he didn’t do in the preseason. However, I’m inclined to attribute more of it to the huge windup he’s developed in an effort to get more behind his throws. He was also much more inaccurate than he has been in the past.

Manning actually didn’t do too badly. But that long release may haunt him all season, as it did on a Jimmy Smith pick six on Manning’s first throw of the second half.

On the other side Denver constantly harassed Joe Flacco with a ferocious pass rush. Both Denver and Baltimore struggled to protect their quarterbacks and I’m now officially concerned about both of these offensive lines.

Finally, Terrell Suggs‘s torn achilles will keep him out for the year. That’s bad news for my Ravens Super Bowl pick.

Titans – Buccaneers:

The Jameis WinstonMarcus Mariota match up looked very much like you’d expect it it.

Mariota looked far more pro-ready, being in command of the offense the entire game against that nice, standard cover-two defense. He threw four touchdowns in the first half alone.

Winston was far more up and down, mostly down, as he was in the preseason. Winston has quit a way to go before he’s going to be a competent NFL quarterback and its going to be a long season for the Bucs.

Another thing to keep an eye on is that Buccaneer running game, which looked very effective. If Winston develops at all, he’s going to get a lot of help from some wonderful running by Doug Martin.

The Bears play the Buccaneers on December 27.

Chargers – Lions:

Preseason reports had people wondering if Chargers first round running back Melvin Gordon was headed towards bust territory. I wouldn’t say that Gordon looked bad so much as he looked disappointingly nondescript. But as expected, the Lions Ameer Abdulla was the guy to watch in this game. His tendency to accelerate through his cuts and continue to gain momentum is rapidly putting him into an upper class of running backs.

There should be concern about that Lions defense without Ndamukong Suh. The Chargers dissected them in the second half both in the running game and with the pass. They made it look far too easy for any Lions fan comfort. Or for the comfort of the Bears, who are going to be visiting San Diego in November.

I’m not entirely sure what was wrong with Matthew Stafford but he looked awful in this game. You might generously say that he wasn’t on the same page with his receivers but his accuracy was very suspect. This is a situation to keep an eye on in the competitive NFC North.

Cardinals – Saints:

The Bears next opponent is the Arizona Cardinals. My initial impression watching them beat up on the New Orleans Saints is that this is a rough, tough team up front on both sides of the ball. If the Bears run on this team like they did on the Packers in the first half, more power to them. I have my doubts.

The Saints looked completely flat. I’m really surprised as offseason reports indicated that they were muscling up to become more physical. If they did, they didn’t show it. Sean Payton didn’t have this team prepared to play in this game. The Saints have to pick it up.

Cowboys – Giants

Tony Romo had ages to throw the ball in this game. That Dallas offensive line is a wall. No one got close. And they road graders blocking the run. Honestly, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a better offensive line.

The Cowboys are a tough team. Which why I was shocked that the Giants were actually ahead at half. They were badly out played and the statistics were sick – they only had the ball for about 8 minutes of the half. But the Cowboys kept shooting themselves in the foot with turnovers and but you have to give the Giants credit. They hung tough.

The Giants offensive line wasn’t nearly as impressive as the Cowboys but Erik Flowers looks like he’s going to turn out to be a pretty good pick at left tackle. And of course, they have Odell Beckham, who drew a safety rolled to his side all night. I was also impressed by their coverage teams on special teams. But they were out classed you figured that they were eventually going to lose – and they did.  But the Cowboys did everything they could to give it away.

The Wages of the One True NFL Sin

Singing chef Nick Diamos once said, “Everybody lies, but it doesn’t matter because nobody listens.” I’m going to assume that he never met anyone directly associated with the NFL.

Dan Hanzus at NFL.com quotes new Cowboys defensive end Randy Gregory:

“Gregory said he has successfully stayed away from marijuana.

“‘I haven’t touched it,’ he said. ‘I’m feeling real good, too. This is a high in itself, to be honest. I’m high on life right now, and I don’t want to lose this high.'”

And why, exactly, should we believe that?

Randy_Gregory-Spring_ball_2014_2014-03-30_17-38

In my opinion, Gregory was the best pure pass rusher in the draft. However,he failed two drug tests in college and one at the Combine that he absolutely knew was coming. Having said that, the failed tests weren’t the real problem.

NFL teams think they can handle almost any player issue at least to a large extent. Short of murder, anything can be spinned. Got a player with a drug issue? Send him to rehab and spin it.

Gregory’s major problem and the reason he fell so far in the draft wasn’t the failed drug tests. It was that he lied about it at the Combine, telling teams that he hadn’t lit up since November. Teams might be able to handle any player problem but they can’t do that if they don’t know about it. The guess here is that the one thing every team absolutely demands from a player is the truth no matter what. And the one cardinal sin you can commit is failing to do so, especially before they’ve even bound themselves to you with a contract.

If I’m the Cowboys, assuming I don’t have Gregory under body guard 24 hours a day, I’m having him tested on demand with the understanding that he can refuse, but any refusal to take one will be considered a failure. Because you can’t take his word for it – or anything else – otherwise.

Brief Impressions: 2015 NFL Draft

  1. Did someone tell the ESPN crew that there was no smiling allowed on the set? I’ve never seen a more somber first round telecast in my life.
  2. There seems to be a belief around the league that second overall pick Marcus Mariota might have been an owners pick. The Titans aren’t supposed to be for sale but the general belief appears to be that they are. There’s a theory that interim president Steve Underwood put pressure on the Titans front office to draft Mariota in order to make the franchise more valuable.
  3. I’m not surprised that the Redskins decided that they didn’t want to draft the consensus best player in the draft, Leonard Williams. But I am surprised that they couldn’t find a way to trade pack. Brandon Scherff adds to an offensive line that general manager Scot McCloughan evidently wants to make tougher as they look to become the kind of ground and pound running team that the Cowboys were last year. But I’m having a hard time believing there was no market for that pick. Scherff has short arms and isn’t considered to be a great offensive line prospect, especially if he’s going to be put at right tackle. The Redskins should have been able to pick up Scherff or another lineman later in the round.
  4. The Browns pick of Cameron Erving at 19 overall as a guard appeared to be a puzzler. Erving was generally considered to be a potential Pro Bowl center but his performance at tackle when he played the position was not considered to be good and he doesn’t necessarily project as a guard long-term. But a look at current center Alex Mack‘s contract clarifies things. His contract is player voidable in 2016 and apparently, like so many other people associated with the Browns organization, he intends to get out as soon as he can.
  5. On the other hand, I’m still having a hard time figuring out the Andrus Peat pick by the Saints. Terron Armstead seems to be a lock at left tackle. Right tackle Zach Strief is entering his 10th season with the Saints. I suppose he could be the future at that spot but I don’t see an immediate need there. The other positions along the offensive line seem to be similarly set. All I can assume is that Peat was the best available on their board and they took him.
  6. I love the Bears’ apparent free agent signing of Shane Carden. Many will remember that I put up a post on Carden questioning why he was considered only a low round prospect. Now we’ll find out first hand how full of it I am.
  7. I thought it was funny that ESPN‘s Ben Goessling‘s opinion of the Vikings draft so closely mirrored my own of the Bears’ saying, “This draft could be tough to judge for several years thanks to the number of talented, yet unrefined, players the Vikings took.”
  8. Many were surprised by the fall of so many pass rushers so far in the draft. I was not. I thought all of the pass rushers after Dante Fowler were being over-rated by the media in large part because, well, they were pass rushers. The only one I thought was worth a top ten pick other than Fowler was Randy Gregory and he blew his chance with off the field issues. It says here that Shane Ray and Vic Beasley, who went right after the Bears pick at number eight to Atlanta, both have bust written all over them. Bud Dupree might be an average starter by the time he’s developed.
  9. Speaking of pass rushers, its going to be interesting to see how things pan out for Fowler in Jacksonville. Fowler thinks he’s going to be the Leo linebacker (the primary pass rusher) but that doesn’t seem to fit his skills as he would be more suited to the Otto role (strong side linebacker who turns into a pass rusher on obvious passing downs). How he develops there may largely depend upon whether they choose the correct way to use him.
  10. One big loser in the draft appears to be former Bears prospect Matt Blanchard. The Packers drafted developmental prospect Brett Hundley. Scott Tolzien is currently entrenched as the back up. Unless Blanchard shows a great deal of potential or the Packers aren’t as committed to Tolzien as they appear to be, Blanchard would seem to be the odd man out.
  11. There’s a big part of me that likes the Rams’ first round pick of Todd Gurley. He’s the kind of runner that will fit in well in St. Louis and there’s no doubt that the Rams are planning to beat the rest of the NFC West by further overpowering it’s best teams. That means a big time running game and with the selection of Gurley followed by two offensive tackles, they may have added the personnel to do it.

    The problem is that head coach Jeff Fisher is under some pressure in St. Louis to start winning now after a string of seasons in which the team has under-performed. And with Gurley coming off of a very bad ACL injury, he might not be ready to contribute right away. Despite good reports on the condition of the knee, Gurley won’t be ready to practice until halfway through training camp, losing valuable reps to learn things like pass protection. Even worse, players with knee injuries have a bad habit of not getting all the way back to where the were before until the second year after the injury. You have to wonder if the Rams wouldn’t have been better off selecting Melvin Gordon, who is very close to Gurley in terms of how the experts had them ranked and who I actually liked better than Gurley anyway.

Niggling Doubts About Antrel Rolle

Nate Atkins at chicagofootball.com interviews new Bears safety Antrel Rolle:

“‘I don’t think I was ever involved with a player who was more sincerely interested in how his team could improve,’ Giants coach Tom Coughlin, now in his 31st year in the NFL, said at the NFL Scouting Combine.”

“‘You just have to be yourself,’ [Rolle] said. ‘If you’re a guy that’s laid-back, then be laid-back. If you’re a guy that’s motivated and very enthused about what’s going on, then be that guy because you can be that energy. You can be that fuel for other guys.”

The Bears locker room could undoubtedly use more like Rolle. I can’t stress enough the comment of one opposing assistant coach who called the Bears “the biggest bunch of frontrunners in the league.” Players like Martellus Bennett, Jeremiah Ratliff and Matt Forte, who didn’t show up for the voluntary minicamp which is currently underway, aren’t helping dispel that impression. The bears need more like Rolle.

Having said that, I have to question whether Rolle is the guy to do it. In order to lead the team you need to also perform on the field. I recently caught the Giants week 7 game against the Cowboys last season on the NFL Network and took the opportunity to focus on Rolle. It wasn’t a good look. He’s lost a lot of range and his first step was frequently in the wrong direction. I’m told he performed better late in the year. Let’s hope so.’

Covering Up the Theft

Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times reports on the “rewording” of the definition of a catch at the league meetings in Arizona:

“The NFL Competition Committee has not changed the rule of what constitutes a catch, but tweaked the wording. Rather than “making a football move,” a receiver must “establish himself as a runner” in order to register a completed pass. If he is falling to the ground, the receiver must hang onto the ball.”

Finley makes it sound clean. But most reporters on the spot were still so confused about what a catch was going to be going forward that they said that they didn’t know what to write.

In any case, here’s what’s really happening. The league is trying to fix what was actually a total disaster after the fact. In a playoff game last year, Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant made a catch in the fourth quarter against the Packers that would have effectively won the contest. The ruling on the field was a catch, as Bryant had lost the ball when it hit the ground while extending the ball towards the goal line, what virtually everyone – including the referee on the field – considered to be a “football move”. The NFL Vice-President of Officiating, Dean Blandino (below), effectively overruled the referee from New York and declared it a non-catch. When asked about it after the game by FOX analyst Howie Long, Blandino said that extending the ball towards to goal line wasn’t “the type of football move that the rule covered”. The problem? There’s nothing in the the rule that actually said that.

dean-blandino-nfl-psi-footballs-deflategate

So now, after the fact, the league is trying to “clarify” the rule and cover up the fact that Blandino imposed his own bias and overruled the referee’s interpretation on the field, effectively declaring the winner of a playoff game.

Blandino is lucky. Had I been commissioner, “rewording” of the rule or not, I would have forced his resignation. As it is, the Cowboys simply have to live with the fact that the game was shamefully stolen from them.

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?

Who Falls Off Farthest Without Their Quarterback?

Dan Hanzus at nfl.com answers your questions:

“I’ll look at it another way: Which one of last year’s playoff teams would instantly fall off a cliff if their star quarterback up and decided to join Jake Locker in the cornfields. My first thought was Andrew Luck, but that Matt Hasselbeck has some dad pluck. They’d probably go 7-9. There’s Tom Brady and the Patriots, of course, but knowing that team Jimmy Garoppolo would somehow make them better. The answer has to be the Cowboys, who are still voluntarily compensating Brandon Weeden. 12-4 to 4-12 would be in play.”

Hanzus forgot about the Packers who went 2-4-1 without Aaron Rogers in 2013. That translates to 4-5 wins over a 16 game season. For my money Rogers is the best quarterback in football and he single handedly elevates the Packers, a draft and develop team that will never have the elite talent all over the field that top teams like the Seattle Seahawks have.