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.

 

 

Random Post-Draft Thoughts

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.

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 .

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.

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.

For Heaven’s Sake, Jalen Saunders

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune relays that Bears practice squad wide receiver Jalen Saunders has been suspended for 10 games violating the league’s substance abuse policy:

“Ten-game suspensions come when a player has violated the policy for a fourth time.

“The Bears signed Saunders to the practice squad on Sept. 7 and transferred him to the practice squad/injured list on Oct. 6. The New York Jets drafted him in the fourth round out of Oklahoma last year and he was released just one month into the season. He then spent time with the Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints before the season ended. “

He’s violated the policy four times in just two years? He’s either got a huge drug problem or he’s extremely stupid.  I can’t imagine the Bears keep this guy around.

Martellus Marshall?

Former Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall (top) and Bears tight end (for now) Martellus Bennett (bottom)
Former Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall (top) and Bears tight end (for now) Martellus Bennett (bottom)

Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times on the Bears rebuilding project:

“Nobody is more bullish than Pro Bowl tight end Martellus Bennett. The same guy who boycotted the Bears’ offseason program — strength-and-conditioning and the voluntary organized-team-activity workouts — to try to get his contract renegotiated is ‘all-in.’ “

“‘That’s kind of like what it is right now. There’s a lot of construction going on — a lot of guys trying to get where they need to be. I’m all-in. I really love what [head coach John] Fox and [general manager Ryan] Pace [are] doing. Everything Goose [offensive coordinator Adam Gase] is doing. And I’m excited about the future of the Chicago Bears.”

Bennett might be all in on the Bears but are they all in on him?

When I read Bennett’s statement above, the first thought that came to mind was, “That’s exactly the kind of thing that former Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall would have said.” And, like Bennett, I’m convinced that Marshall would have meant it. But almost everyone agrees that Marshall was a bad locker room presence and he was moved to the New York Jets in the offseason.

I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that the Bears also were rumored to be trying to trade Bennett in the offseason. I’m guessing that they’re not done trying. When Bennett threw cornerback and first round pick Kyle Fuller to the ground in training camp in 2014, the stories about who he is and how he acts started to come out. Bennett is extremely immature and has a serious problem with authority. That doesn’t make him the same kind of disruptive force that Marshall was. But it’s almost certainly not the kind of veteran influence the Bears want hanging around a young team.

Like Marshall was, Bennett is very productive and if the Bears eventually do trade him, they’re going to miss him badly. But make no mistake about it. The Bears aren’t just rebuilding on the field. They’re building a culture around the team and the organization. Despite the fact that Bennett appears to be “all in”, you have to wonder if he has a place in it.

Photos of Jason Pierre-Paul’s Hand Hit the Web. And Other Points of View.

Bears

  • Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times points out that Adrian Amos had a generally solid NFL debut against the NFL’s best quarterback. I was surprised that the Packers didn’t challenge him more. But maybe they had so many other spots to exploit that they couldn’t get to them all.
  • Kevin Fishbain and Arthur Arkush do an exceptionally nice job of breaking down the Bears in this video (which, unfortunately, they won’t let me embed). They quickly hit all of the major problems to be corrected in the coming weeks – red zone offense, downfield passing, getting off the field on third down and getting pressure on the quarterback. Plenty of things to watch for and plenty of room for improvement to look forward to with this team.
  • Sunday’s most significant accomplishment? Probably the play of tight end Zack Miller, who went 1,429 days between appearing in regular-season games.
  • Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune does a nice job of breaking down the Bears problems in the red zone. Look at it here, it appears that the problems were varied and its hard to put it down to one particular thing. Tough there’s no doubt in my mind that they needed to be able to run the ball more down there. Perhaps trying to get the ball to tight end Martellus Bennett, a large red zone target, would have helped as well.
  • Quarterback David Fales was added back on to the practice squad as predicted here.

Elsewhere

  • Those who find their way into MetLife Stadium during a New York Jets game this season can now enjoy a breakfast bagel for the low, low price of $50.img253004201
  • Giants players are sticking up for quarterback Eli Manning after running back Rashad Jennings let it out that Manning had told him not to score in the final drive of their game against the Dallas Cowboys. Manning did not know that the clock wouldn’t start again after a declined penalty within 5 minutes of the end of the game. He therefore assumed that the Giants would be able to run down the clock as long as they kept possession.What really made this maneuver dumb was that had the Giants scored a touchdown, they would have made it a two score game with about a minute left. They should have taken the touchdown under any circumstances where that is the case.
  • If you’ve got a strong stomach you can see photos of Jason Pierre-Paul‘s hand here.

One Final Thought

Peyton Manning‘s teammates are calling the media reports questioning his arm strength “blasphemy”. What can I say?

Geno Smith: A Case of Misdirected Anger, Misdirected Hope

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 9.31.55 AM

Jets quarterback Geno Smith (above, left) on getting his jaw broken in a fight over a $600 debt with another player.

“‘I’m extremely [angry],’ Smith told Newsday in the Jets locker room Wednesday. ‘But I have to keep my temper down. I can’t exhibit that in the locker room, I can’t exhibit that on a daily basis. I just feel for my family more because they enjoy seeing me out there.'”

Smith should be angry. At himself.

I had a long conversation not long after this incident with a Jets fan who was beside himself at losing Smith for the start of the season. He knows that, though far from perfect, current starter Ryan Fitzpatrick is better than Smith. But he still sees Smith as a young player with a higher ceiling who might have been better in a new offensive system this year with the Jets.

Here’s the problem with that reasoning.  Yes, Smith is younger. But his ceiling isn’t that high. The reason is simple. He’s the kind of guy who is stupid enough to get his jaw jacked because he refused to pay a $600 debt – and then not recognize that he’s entirely to blame for the problem. Case closed.

I get that its a quarterback driven league and fans have to  pray for a better quarterback situation to get their team over the hump. The problem is that they wish for it so much that they see things that aren’t there. To a certain extent, that’s what’s going on with quarterback Jay Cutler (above, right) in Chicago. But you have to move on. And its time to move on in New York.

“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.

NFC North Starters and Other Points of View

Bears

  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers my question about whether Bears draft pick Adrian Amos is more of a threat to Ryan Mundy or Antrel Rolle. My assumption when I asked this question was that Rolle would play free safety, as he did last year with the Giants, and that Mundy would play strong safety where the Bears would take advantage of his good tackling efficiency. Amos would fit better at free. But to my surprise, Biggs indicates that there is some question about whether Rolle will be at strong safety. Rolle might fit better as a strong safety as to my eye his range is decreasing. But this wouldn’t play to Mundy’s strengths. Who plays what will be an interesting question to keep an eye on when training camp starts.
  • Biggs also answers a question about whether the Bears will keep four nose tackles with the signing of undrafted free agent Terry Williams. The question assumes that Jeremiah Ratliff will play nose tackle, something I’m not too sure he’ll be doing. He could also play end. Another thing to keep an eye on in camp.
  • Conor Orr at nfl.com predicts the Bears starters for 2015. I thought it was interesting that he has Hroniss Grasu moving immediately in as the starter at center. Many think Grasu will need a year of seasoning at guard and/or on the bench before being asked to handle the duties at center. Orr also says that the Bears have “sneaky depth” along the defensive line. I fail to see that.

Elsewhere

  • Orr predicts the 2015 starters for the Lions. I’ve been predicting a fall for the Lions this year for a while. The long standing problem of a poor defensive backfield and the new problem along the defensive line with the departure of Ndamukong Suh could be a very problematic combination for them.
  • Orr thinks that there’s a lot to like about the Vikings starters. Unlike the Lions, they seem to have finally solved their chronic problem at cornerback with Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes. Combined with a strong front seven they’re going to be tough on defense. They finally have a quarterback to go with Adrian Peterson on offense. ’nuff said.
  • Orr points out that the Packers didn’t entirely solve their two greatest problems this offseason – weaknesses at cornerback and inside linebacker. He doesn’t think first round draft pick, cornerback Damarious Randall, will be ready to start as a rookie. The Packers coaching staff will once again have to earn their money this year.
  • Orr also pens an article in which analysts Brian Baldinger and former cornerback Solomon Wilcots discuss what the New York Jets are going to do with what is suddenly an excess of good defensive linemen. Leonard Williams unexpectedly fell to them in the draft and he was too good to pass up. The conclusion? Go to the 4-6 defense. This is a fascinating read as both analysts speculate that the combination of the right personnel, the right coach and the right defense to stop the suddenly resurgent power running game in the NFL all combine to make this an interesting possibility. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with this Jets defense. It has the potential to be the best in the NFL.
  • Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com says that the owners meetings are mostly hot air insisting that there aren’t many real stories to be had there. One thing I’ll take issue with is his statement on the race that the Rams, Chargers and Raiders are in to get to LA. He insists that “the reality is none of those teams is any closer to L.A. today than is has been at any time in the past”. On the contrary. The reality is that Stan Kroenke is well on his way to building a real stadium which is going to have to be filled by a real team. Someone’s going to do that. We’re a lot closer to seeing at least one team leave than in times past.

One Final Thought

One other thing in Hub’s article that I’m going to choose to take issue with is his continued, emotional defense of the Patriots in the “deflate-gate” scandal. Particularly his statement that Tom Brady and the NFLPA will “take their case to court as they did with Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, and a truly unbiased judge will throw out the suspension completely after exposing it and the Wells report for the farces they are”.

I’ve stayed away from this as far as the blog is concerned because, after an initial gut reaction on the topic, I’ve decided that I’m not too worried about it. It’s not about football. It’s about the business that surrounds football and I’m not too interested in promoting that.

Nevertheless, I must say that I’d be very surprised if this went to court because in that case Brady would be forced to turn over his electronic communications under subpoena. That’s something I doubt very much he’d be willing to do given that he wouldn’t do it when he and his agent had control over what got turned over during the Wells investigation and wouldn’t do it. The Rice and Peterson cases were different – no one was withholding evidence. And let’s be honest, that’s what this case is all about now. When you are the NFL and you are charged with the investigation of a rules violations (or anything else) and you don’t have subpoena power, you are entirely dependent on the cooperation of everyone involved. That means you have to throw the book at teams that lawyer up in an effort to affect the outcome of the investigation and/or withhold evidence. It’s the only card the league can play in order to allow them to keep order in the league. As was the case with the Saints’ “bounty-gate” scandal, that’s what’s behind the severity of the punishment here.

In any case, I think we may be looking at a situation where Brady would prefer that the doubt about his guilt persists, even if the fact that he didn’t completely cooperate with the investigation does, as well.

Drafting Pass Rush Is a Priority. But at What Price?

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune puts up his mock draft. Here are his top 10 picks:

1. Buccaneers: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

2. Titans: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

3. Jaguars: Dante Fowler, DE, Florida

4. Raiders: Leonard Williams, DT, USC

5. Redskins: Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson

6. Jets: Randy Gregory, OLB, Nebraska

7. Bears: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

8. Falcons: Bud Dupree, DE, Kentucky

9. Giants: Brandon Scherff, OL, Iowa

10. Rams: Kevin White, WR, West Virginia

It’s an interesting grouping if only because it breaks down into tiers which reflect Biggs’s priorities by position: quarterback is the first at one and two because that’s the most important, then pass rushers at three, five and six, and finally the other positions at three of the last four spots.

This is fine in that it almost certainly reflects the thoughts of virtually all fans, and I would dare say all NFL general managers as well. But the problem is that Biggs takes it too far.

Though he’s certainly not worthy of the two spot, I get the Marcus Mariota pick and it may well happen, though I’m guessing that if it does, its not likely to be the Titans picking there. However, prioritizing Dante Fowler over Leonard Williams, the best prospect in the draft, isn’t what I would call good thinking. In fairness to Biggs, he’s not the only media expert who believes Fowler will go first. But though Fowler’s a great prospect, Williams is the consensus best player in the draft and as close to a sure thing as you can get – he’s almost certainly going to be a dominant defensive lineman. He’s the smart pick.

But those two decisions aren’t nearly as surprising as taking Vic Beasley and Randy Gregory, both very risky prospects (for the top ten) over Amari Cooper, the most solid wide receiver prospect in the draft. Mel Kiper and Todd McShay recently did a live mock draft on ESPN and Beasley didn’t even make the first round.

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I, personally, like Gregory a lot but three failed drug tests, including one at the Combine, makes you wonder if he’s not an addictive personality headed for trouble.

Bud Dupree, Brandon Scherff and Kevin White all have their risks as well but of the three, Dupree is the riskiest. Brandon Scherff is at worst an outstanding NFL guard. White is a one year wonder but he (arguably) has more dominant physical skills. Based upon the mock drafts I’ve seen almost no one would take Dupree over White.

This mock highlights the conflicts that must run through every general manager’s head as they prepare for the draft. We’re all familiar with the idea of drafting the best available and how that often conflicts with drafting for need. Biggs has written many times that drafting the best available player regardless of need is a fallacy in the NFL – and I absolutely believe him. But this mock draft might take it too far. As important as pass rush is in the NFL, teams can’t afford to miss in the top ten picks. You can still draft for need but focusing on one position, admittedly a very important one, regardless of the grade on talent for the individual prospects sounds to me like it’s asking for trouble. Here’s hoping that the Bears don’t force a pick in order to fill a position in such a manner.

Bears May Look to Miami as a NFL Draft Trading Partner and Other Points of View.

Bears

  • Will Brinson at CBS Sports rates wide receiver David Terrell as the worst Bears first round draft pick in the last 25 years. I don’t see how he beat out Michael Haynes and Cade McNown but it must have been close.
  • Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com continues to claim that the Bears have a “screaming need” for a number one receiver. I’m not too sure that they don’t have one in Alshon Jeffery. In fact, I’m going to be mildly disappointed if he’s not. I look around the rest of the league at what other teams have and I’m not too sure the need at receiver is as great as some Bears commentators seem to think it is. Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune agrees here.  Don’t get me wrong – another playmaker would be welcome and you won’t hear any complaints from me if they draft one. But with Marquis Wilson and Eddie Royal, with Martellus Bennett at tight end and Matt Forte at runningback, I think that the Bears have plenty of receiving talent. The “need” might be for depth.
  • Arkush has the Bears selecting runningback Todd Gurley in his latest mock draft. I would hope the Bears would desperately try to trade back if Gurley is their guy.

    Arkush has been pushing runningback as an underrated need for the Bears for quite a while now. He’s got a point but this might be over doing it. The draft has plenty of depth at runningback and Stanford OT Andrus Peat, Iowa OG Brandon Scherff, Michigan State CB Trae Waynes and West Virginia WR Kevin White – picks 9-12 in Arkush’s mock – all look like better picks to me in that spot.

    The guess here is that Arkush is just having a little fun with it and that he doens’t seriously believe that the Bears will take Gurley at seven.

  • The Bears best free agent signing? For my money its linebacker Mason Foster, signed from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (profiled here by Adam L. Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times). Foster wasn’t a great fit for the cover two but I think he’s perfect for an inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Football outsiders points to the Bears struggles at linebacker in coverage as a major problem in 2014, one that they think Foster could help solve. Jon Bostic in particular looked lost in space last year.

Elsewhere

One Final Thought

For those of you wondering what Brit McHenry did to get herself suspended from ESPN, the video of this media darling is below. McHenry’s car was towed by a company that is, by most accounts, pretty shady. Note that she is warned immediately that she is on camera.

I get that she’s upset and I would be, too. But taking it out on the employee at the front desk, especially in this manner, is not a good look.