Regular readers of this blog know that I occasionally write Dolphins articles for phinmaniacs.com. So I was a natural to comment on the Dolphins signing of Jay Cutler. You can find my post on the Topic here.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
• 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.
Now that the NFL draft is behind us I thought it might be time to wrap it up with some odds and ends left over in the wake of the annual selection process.
- I for the most part agreed with the assessment of the Dolphins post draft roster roster for the Sun-Sentinel on Tuesday. But I have to take exception of his assertion that the defensive backfield is weaker than it was in 2015. The additions of Byron Maxwell and Xavien Howard have transformed an under-sized unit into one with considerable more length that should be able to better deal with the rigors of divisional play with some huge tight ends and wide receivers on the docket. Rashad Jones remains with the team and the addition of Isa Abdul-Quddus is being under-rated.
I’m more in line with Armando Salguero at the Herald when he says that the the success of the Dolphins draft class rides on how well Howard develops. The Dolphins paid a steep price to get him, the 42nd overall pick along with a fourth-round pick (107th overall) to move up four slots in the second round. If he works out it will be well worth it as the Dolphins should be very solid across the board on the back end. If it doesn’t, it will go down as just one of a series of draft failures for the team at the position.
- Quarterback Cody Kessler may be the luckiest player in the NFL right now. Most believed going into the selection process that he was a late-round pick, if not an undrafted free agent. But all it takes is one and Kessler found an NFL coach that apparently believes in him.
Drafted in round 3 by the Cleveland Browns, presumably at the recommendation of head coach Hue Jackson, Kessler has none of the dominant physical tools that most coaches believe they need to mold a less instinctive quarterback into the next star (see Christian Hackenberg below). Instead, Jackson is betting on savvy and decision making. It will be interesting to see how Kessler develops and, if Jackson is right, if it won’t affect the way that other teams approach drafting the position in the future.
- This draft was widely believed to be among the deepest ever in terms of defensive tackles and players that would have gone in the first round in other drafts were available as late as the third round. The Dolphins decidedly under-performed opposite Ndamukong Suh at this position and you have to wonder if they won’t regret simply sticking with Deandre Coleman and Jordan Phillips.
The Dolphins have staked a lot on the effect of another year’s experience and better coaching when it comes to these players. There’s little hope that the run defense will be better unless there is improvement in the play at defensive tackle.
- If you’re already tired of seeing new Minnesota Viking Moritz Boehringer on your TV screen, I’ve got some bad news for you. You’re going to see a lot more of him this summer and, heaven help us, into the fall.
Boehringer is a German born wide receiver who saw a video of Adrian Peterson when he was 17 and decided that he wanted to be a NFL football player. He comes to the league as a former member of the Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns of the German Football League.
Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer was apparently thrilled as he said, “That’s kind of what the draft is all about — making dreams come true.”
Zimmer has been around long enough to know that is most certainly not what the draft, or anything else associated with the NFL, is about.
Dollar signs appeared in owners eyes all over the league as an opportunity to further promote football in Europe presented itself on a silver platter and the NFL Network has run with it, making it one of the stories of the draft.
If Boehringer had been Chinese, commissioner Roger Goodell would have probably had to change his pants.
- The release of Demontre Moore by the Dolphins immediately after the draft was a bit of a surprise. Moore was expected to compete for a backup defensive end spot on a team without a great deal of depth there.
We can only speculate about what precipitated this release but it wasn’t the draft as the Dolphins failed to select a defensive end. Perhaps the reason had something to do with this explanation from Salguero .
Because thing he did best was stand behind reporters and joke w/ teammates while they were being interviewed. https://t.co/mpapTLmPnk
— Armando Salguero (@ArmandoSalguero) May 2, 2016
It’s also worth noting that Moore was released from the Giants after violating team rules, reportedly after an altercation with Cullen Jenkins over headphones. Jay Glazer at Fox Sports reported that it was only one of many such altercations.
Similar incidents would be a pretty good reason to release such a player in Miami. The release may also be a sign that the Dolphins are counting on the return of troubled player Dion Jordan more than they ought.
- The Cowboys have received a lot of good publicity for taking linebacker Jaylon Smith in the second round. Smith was widely believed to be amongst the best players in the draft until he suffered a brutal knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl. The images of Smith’s relief at being drafted so high were heart warming but ultimately the Cowboys may pay a high price for the good feelings this evoked.
Smith’s injury included a damaged nerve similar to what running back Marcus Lattimore suffered in 2012. Lattimore was drafted in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL draft and never played a down for the 49ers.
This is the trouble with nerve injuries. There’s nothing you can do to fix them. Either the body heals on its own or it never heals at all. Before the draft I figured that there were 32 team doctors all telling 32 general managers the same thing: “We don’t know. It could come completely back or it might not.” I was wrong. It was 31 team doctors.
That’s because the surgeon who fixed Smith’s knee is the Cowboys team doctor. The assumption here is that owner Jerry Jones thought he was getting inside information on this injury but he really should know better.
Surgeons as a group are a different breed. They carry a confidence about them such that I’ve never met one yet that would look you in the eye and say, “Naw. He may never recover.” That confidence is part of what makes them good surgeons. But it makes the advice that Jones got in this case highly questionable.
Feel good or not, Smith should have never come off the board before the fourth round. The guess here is the his recovery is a coin flip at best.
- Texans quarterback Brock Oswieler is widely believed to be one of the veteran players who benefited most from his team’s picks in the draft. The Texans added a great deal of speed at wide receiver opposite DeAndre Hopkins in the form of Will Fuller in the first round and Braxton Miller in the third.
Here’s the problem with that theory. Fuller is an under-sized body catcher who had 21 drops the last two seasons. Miller made the conversion from quarterback to wide receiver last year at Ohio State and was very athletic. Unfortunately he too has trouble not only with running routes but with just holding on to the ball as demonstrated graphically by his less than stellar performance in the Senior Bowl.
Sure these players are athletic. But how much help are they going to be if they lack the hand-eye coordination to perform the most basic function of any wide receiver: catching the ball.
- One Final Thought: Message to the New York Jet, who pulled off one of the surprises of the draft when they took Hackenberg in the second round. It’s not a good thing when the NFL Network flashes up a graphic about your pick and under “Weaknesses” it simply says, “Game Tape”.
Good luck with that.
Steve Rosenbloom at the Chicago Tribune talks about what he thinks is a less than ideal situation that former Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase finds himself in. He is now the head coach in Miami:
“[Owner Stephen Ross] went on to explain that instead of a retread head coach, he wanted ‘somebody that could really be the next, if you will, Bill Belichick, Bill Parcells, you know, really great head coach, and I think we got one.’’
“No pressure, Adam, and oh, by the way, Belichick missed the playoffs the first three years of his first head-coaching job. Perfect Dolphins coach comparison, right?”
“By [the time Gase’s contract ends], [Bears head coach John] Fox will be close to the end of his contract. He likely will have coached the Bears to the top of the division and into a conference championship game. He might’ve guided them to a Super Bowl and probably lost it.
“By then we’ll all be sick of Fox’s non-answers and failure to win the ‘Big One,’’ and it’ll be let’s try this Gase thing now because if Dolphins past is prologue, then Gase will be on the market and he can become the next Belichick here. Clip & save.”
Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com comments upon the decision of former Bears offensive coordinator and new Dolphins head coach Adam Gase to keep much of the previous Dolphins staff hired by Joe Philbin:
“On one hand, the move can be viewed as more evidence that Gase won’t have the same juice that other coaches enjoy, since he wasn’t able to come in and clean house and hire his own guys. On the other hand, the development can be viewed as further evidence that Gase is different from the typical megalomaniac coach, willing to work with anyone and everyone and not determined to do it his way simply in order to say, ‘I’m doing it my way.'”
This is an awful decision. Other organizations fire coaches of under-performing units. For a just few examples we offensive line coaches as here and here and most of the defensive staff, the offensive coordinator, the quarterbacks coach and, yes, the offensive line coach here). Meanwhile the Dolphins, who under-performed all over the field this year, keep nine of their coaches.
The question has to be asked: How do you hold the players accountable when the coaches aren’t held accountable as well?
Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com interviews former Bears offensive coordinator and new Dolphins head coach Adam Gase on how to get the best out of his quarterbacks:
“‘I think it starts with the group of guys that you’re working with,’ Gase said when asked about his ability to work so well with quarterbacks. ‘I feel like lucky enough to be around some great staffs. The head coaches that I’ve worked for in the past were guys that were very personable and quarterbacks gravitated to as far as creating an environment where they feel like the head coach had their back. And I really think that helps when you’re going through adversity, [with] John Fox being a great example. You always felt like he was always right behind the quarterback. He always made sure that the quarterback knew that no matter what happened he was side by side with them and then when you’re the coordinator or the quarterbacks coach, when you’re head coach has that aspect you know that really helps the confidence. It helps you sustain that fight that you have to have because it’s not always going be good. And as the season progresses you just see guys get more confident.'”
I find it hard to believe that former Bears head coach Marc Trestman didn’t have quarterback Jay Cutler‘s back. He certainly talked about it enough.
Good coaching really comes down to one thing – your ability to help the player succeed. You can be his friend and you can have his back. But there’s really only one kind of trust that you need to get from him – trust that you know what you are doing and can put him in the best position to perform. Looking back on it, its evident that Trestman (and virtually every other offensive coordinator and head coach dating back to Ron Turner) didn’t do that. It’s evident that Fox does. It will be interesting to see if Gase can engender the same kind of trust.
Armando Salguero at the Miami Herald sees what I see when I watch the Dolphins:
“Why are the Dolphins asking [5-10 cornerback Brent Grimes] to do these things?
“Last Sunday, after it was clear to everyone in the stadium [Jets wide receiver Brandon] Marshall was winning [one-on-one against Grimes], why didn’t the Dolphins change things a bit. I mean, that 3-yard TD in which Marshall basically boxed out Grimes in the end zone in one-on-one coverage was predictable to everyone in the stadium the second the offense and defense lined up.
“It is a coach’s job to put a player in a position to succeed. Grimes was not put in a position to succeed there.”
“Compare Grimes to Jamar Taylor who has given up touchdown after touchdown, completion after completion, to the point he’s been benched. That should be and is a bigger concern because while Grimes wins much of the time, Taylor wins very infrequently.
“Compare that to safety Walt Aikens who has blown more coverages and given up more plays than anyone else in the Dolphins secondary this season. He’s benched now, too.”
“That is the bigger concern than a 5-10 guy predictably losing to a 6-4 guy. One-half of the secondary is simply not good enough to even be on the field. And that half is supposed to be the future.”
“Maybe instead of worrying about replacing [Grimes], everyone might want to think about putting him in better positions to succeed.”
Couldn’t agree more. I watch the Dolphins play and my first thought is, “That coaching staff has to go.”
Could it be that the talent wasn’t as good as we thought it was at the beginning of the year? Probably. But I don’t think we were that far off and the guess here is that its the coaching staff isn’t getting it done. They aren’t developing the talent. And they aren’t putting that talent in the best position to succeed. And after ownership tears the house down they aren’t going to have jobs next season.
- Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune puts the Bears at the bottom of his power poll. Once again, I can’t argue but I have some hope that they’ll be better than the Saints by the end of the year. The Bears are rebuilding but the Saints look like dead men walking to me.
- I was surprised the Bears ended up tied for second in the waiver wire order. The tie breaker is strength of schedule and the first three games have been pretty rough in that respect. I would have thought they’d have been behind all of the other 0-3 teams. Apprently there are nuances that aren’t evident.
- Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune quotes head coach John Fox on the depleted Bears passing attack:
“‘We’re missing some integral parts that hopefully at some point we get back,’ coach John Fox said Monday. ‘But the good news is that we’ve gotten to look at some other people and see how they react in those situations. And hopefully we’re learning some stuff that will help us moving forward.'”
He’s talking about you, Jimmy Clausen and Marquess Wilson. And so far it’s not a good look.
Adam Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times suggests an interesting Raiders to keep an eye on Sunday:
“RG J’Marcus Webb
“The former Bears tackle has moved inside and become a starter for the Raiders, who have Mike Tice as their line coach. The Bears will attack Webb.”
- Buckle up, boys. Things are about to get real for the Miami Dolphins.
- Just exactly who isn’t on Steve Smith‘s hit list?
- You think the Bears are in bad shape without left tackle Jermon Bushrod on Sunday? Be glad you aren’t the Chargers. Via profootballtalk.com
One Final Thought
I know that the game seems like it was ages ago but for those of you who are still stuck on it, Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com rips the NFL for not reversing the ruling on the field that a Chicago punt didn’t hit the Seattle punt returner’s leg last Sunday:
“‘Does this ball really jump that far to the right where we think the ball clearly hit his leg?’ [NFL V.P. of officiating Dean] Blandino asks. ‘It’s reasonable to assume that it hit his leg. But, again, we cannot make a decision based on the ball changing direction. We have to see clear evidence that the ball absolutely touched his leg.'”
“If that’s the standard the league intends to apply to replay review, that’s fine. But we should all remember this standard moving forward, because there inevitably will be occasions when a decision is made not based on what is absolutely clear and patently obvious to the eye, but which is absolutely clear and patently obvious based on the application of common sense.
I’m not going to sit here and blame poor officiating for a 26-0 loss to the Seahawks. But Florio’s point is well taken. If this is the standard that the league is going to set for replay review, we’re going to see some pretty bad calls stand under his watch.