NFL Points of View Week 16

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And better news the Dolphins could not have received.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Moore: “Is that right?”

Sherman: “Yes, it is.”

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      4. Greg Hardy is gone but hardly forgotten.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Previewing the Jaguars and Other Points of View

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Fox Goes All-In with Dowell Loggains as He Lets Mike Groh Go

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers yet another question. He points out that the Bears gave permission for wide receivers coach Mike Groh to interview for a job with the Rams which he eventually took:

“Why did the Bears let wide receivers coach Mike Groh walk away to join the Rams? Was he out of contract or doesn’t he need permission to join another staff? Please explain when coaches can leave and when their wish can be denied. — Benedikt G., Bonn, Germany, from email “

“With the title of passing game coordinator, Groh gets a slight elevation with the Rams (passing game coordinator) where he’s almost a co-offensive coordinator with Rob Boras, the former Bears tight ends coach under Lovie Smith.”

“In Groh’s case, he had hoped to switch from receivers to quarterbacks after Dowell Loggains was promoted to offensive coordinator. Groh was a former college quarterback and moving from receivers to quarterbacks would be a natural progression in a goal to becoming a coordinator. The Bears hired Dave Ragone, who has a working history with Loggains, to coach quarterbacks and then this opportunity materialized for Groh.

“It’s a loss for the Bears’ staff because Groh did fine work with Alshon Jeffery in his time at Halas Hall and also helped bring along Marquess Wilson. The new wide receivers coach will have to refine the game of Kevin White this coming year.”

Bears head coach John Fox is really rolling the dice and going all in with Loggains. As I’ve pointed out before, Loggains is a guy who apparently talks a good game but who has no practical record of achievement in the league before coming to the Bears. Like Loggains before last year where he was paired up with Adam Gase, Ragone has never coached a quarterback to a state where he performed noticeably above his talent level.

For a guy who himself claims that the NFL is a production-based league, Fox is taking an awful risk by exchanging two coaches with nothing on their resume for a coach that got good performance from his players with two coaching staffs (Marc Trestman and Fox) for the Bears.

Revising Expectations for the Bears

Jon Greenberg at ESPN is revising his expectations for the Bears:

“In the beginning … we predicted 6-10 for the Chicago Bears and it seemed just about right.”

“But then Jay Cutler returned [from injury] ahead of schedule and things settled down, and now, weeks after fans stopped watching games between their outstretched fingers, this looks like, knock on Mike Ditka’s pompadour, it could be a wholly respectable team with a longshot chance of making the postseason.”

The Bears are on a hot streak and Cutler is certainly a big part of that. But Cutler or not, I’m sticking with 6-10.

The Bears are 4-5 and at this point in the season, I think that’s great. But let’s not forget that they are the same team that lost to the Lions a month ago. They’ve won two games since then but they’ve gotten a lot of help from two teams that, frankly, played well below their talent level. Such things have a bd habit of evening out and more often than not, given decent coaching and a good environment, teams end up right where their talent level says they should.

I’m not disparaging the Bears here. I think they’re a well-coached team that is making progress every week. But Denver is a much better team that is unlikely to give the game away with poor discipline in the same manner that the Rams did. And I don’t care how badly the Packers are slipping at the moment, I can’t believe that they won’t pull it together and beat the Bears on Thanksgiving. I also see the Vikings as a loss in Minnesota. After that, the Bears are still a team that’s going to be no more than a coin flip against Washington, San Fransisco, Tampa Bay, and Detroit. If they win half of those, that’s two more wins. And that’s where I’m still sitting.

Quick Comments: Bears at Rams 11/15/15

Bears-vs-RamsDefense

  1. The Rams came out with the expected game plan. Lots of short passes to the tight end and the running back out of the backfield to take advantage of the Bears lack of speed at linebacker. They also tried to run the ball with star rookie Todd Gurley. As with Adrian Peterson last week, the Bears didn’t really stack the box in an effort to stop him unless the formation indicated a power run.
  2. You have to like how the Rams try to use misdirection with Tavon Austin. Teams like the Bears have to be aggressive to stop Gurley. That makes them susceptible to that.
  3. Willie Young did a good job of showing up in place of the injured Pernell McPhee. He was around the quarterback a lot and made some good plays in the running game. Generally speaking the Bears got pressure on Nick Foles and that helped the Bears coverage a lot.
  4. Another thing that helped the Bears coverage, Foles did not impress me today. His accuracy was very poor and he often failed to hit the men that got open. The Bears jumped the short routes with little apparent regard for Foles ability to throw the ball deep. That Foles trade for Sam Bradford isn’t looking good right now.
  5. The Rams used Wes Welker sparingly and almost entirely on third down. They usually tried to throw it to him short of the sticks and let him run for the first down with only limited success.
  6. Kudos to Bryce Callahan who had a pretty good day today.  Tracy Porter had a good day in coverage, too.
  7. Kudos also to Lamarr Houston with another sack, too, but I’d like to see it at some point when the whole stadium doesn’t know the Rams have to pass.

Offense

  1. The Bears came out with their usual ball control game plan. Lots of short passes and runs with Jeremy Langford. The Rams are pretty tough up front and they generally did a decent job of stopping the run.
  2. The Bears offensive line had their hands full against the Rams front. I thought they lost the line of scrimmage in the run game. They did better in pass protection but Jay Cutler still got knocked around pretty good. Aaron Donald dominated the Bears guards at times. Donald is a star but this highlights the need for interior offensive linemen in the offseason.
  3. Part of the reason why Cutler got knocked around was the Rams tendency to blitz. The Bears took full advantage of the tendency, catching the Rams in a blitz for big plays and two of their touchdowns in the first half, one by Jeremy Langford and one by Zack Miller. the Bears used the screen game to good effect.
  4. Zack Miller with another impressive run for a touchdown early this week. He was helped a great deal by some poor tackling on the part of the Rams. Miller had a heck of a day with another touchdown in the second quarter. The sky’s the limit as long as he stays healthy.
  5. It’s a good thing that Miller showed up because Martellus Bennett looked a little sluggish to me today.
  6. Whatever you say about Ka’Deem Carey, he runs hard. Gotta love that.
  7. Jay Cutler took off on a read option for 26 yards in the third quarter that had everyone in the building fooled. Adam Gase was on the ball with the play calling today.
  8. Another thing the Bears have been doing with some success if stacking receivers. It’s been confusing the coverage allowing guys to pop open behind little crosses at the line of scrimmage.

Miscellaneous

  1. I didn’t have a tough time with Andrew Catalon, Steve Tasker and Steve Beuerlein. They didn’t teach me much but they weren’t afraid to be critical of anyone with the exception of Jay Cutler. They spent a lot of time kissing Cutler’s rear, making me wonder if someone was related to him.
  2. Robbie Gould was coming off of three straight field goal misses. He hit his field goals today, though. Gould’s kickoffs were pretty deep for once as well. The Bears return teams were poor, leaving the offense with bad field position for much of the game. Bears coverage teams did a good job containing Tavon Austin. Their extra discipline in holding to their lanes and doing their jobs was evident. The Rams weren’t bad on special teams but they tried a fake punt from their 20 yard line in the fourth quarter that failed. To their credit, the Bears looked ready for it. The resulting field goal put the game out of reach.
  3. The Rams spent most of this game just killing themselves with terrible penalties. The Bears, on the other hand, didn’t have any until Alan Ball got called for a stupid unsportsman-like conduct penalty. The Bears had more than their share but nothing like St. Louis. That was a large part of the difference in the game.
  4. Foles’s receivers didn’t help him much with a lot of drops in the game. Foles wasn’t accurate but some of those balls should have been caught.
  5. The teams traded turnovers early with a muffed punt by Marc Mariani followed by a fumble by Tre Mason, both in the first quarter. Each turned in to only a field goal. Willie Young got a nice late interception. Ka’Deem Carey fumbled the ball away in garbage time, as well.
  6. They say that the vast majority of the time, you don’t have teams win a game. Its the other team that loses it. I’m starting to get a good idea why the Rams aren’t doing better despite their talent. That team has the worst discipline of any team I’ve seen all year. The penalties were awful. The drops were inexcusable. Nick Foles looks totally incapable of completing a long pass. Not that the Bears didn’t play a good, game. They did and all credit to them. They made plays and the played a good clean game. But bottom line the Rams handed this game to the Bears on a platter. The Bears only had to accepted it. To their credit, they did.

The Situation in St. Louis Is Smelling Very Bad

Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com informs us of a potential disaster in St. Louis near Rams Park as there is an underground fire smoldering in one landfill very close to another landfill which contains radioactive waste:

“Via the Chicago Tribune, a disaster plan discovered this week by KMOX radio in St. Louis, the possibility exists for the release of a smoke plume containing radioactive fallout — and it would ‘most likely occur with little or no advance warning.'”

“The fire is happening at the Bridgeton Landfill. Which sits next to theWest Lake Landfill. Which contains radioactive waste from uranium processing.

“Bridgeton Landfill has become notorious for its pungent odor. As someone who has been to Rams Park in recent years tells PFT, when the wind is blowing toward the team’s facility, the odor is ‘unbearable.’ It’s believed that the Rams check to see whether it’s a downwind-from-the-stink day before bringing free agents to Rams Park. (If they don’t already do that, they probably should.)”

For heaven’s sake, no wonder Rams owner Stan Kroenke can’t wait to get out of the St. Louis. They’re at the intersection of a landfill with a terrible odor and a radioactive waste dump!

St. Louis really blew this. They could have renovated their stadium as called for by their contract with the Rams years ago. Instead they chose to fight it and then, after they were ordered by a court to do it, still refused. Now they’ve taken an awful situation and made it unbearable. I can’t imagine that the Rams aren’t one of the teams that ends up in Los Angeles as soon as next year.

Redskins Potential Once Again Limited with No Answers at the Quarterback Position

Conor Orr has the unenviable task of writing up a blog post on the Redskins – Giants game for nfl.com:

“Where do we begin with Kirk Cousins? Perhaps it was the two times he missed Jordan Reed wide open in the back of the end zone. Maybe it was him getting blanked on play-action passes (and clearly missing two fake handoffs altogether), leading to two picks. Cousins has now turned the ball over 29 times over his last 17 games, this despite a fine, working offensive line and a budding 6-foot-2, 230-pound star at running back. In eight of his 17 career games, he has two or more picks. Would we be stunned to see Colt McCoy next week?”

This was a bad game all around but by far the biggest take away for me was that Kirk Cousins (below) doesn’t have it as a quarterback. Not only did he turn the ball over, but he was incredibly inaccurate with his passes, making receivers reach behind to grab the ball constantly. He was lucky that there were not more drops then there were.

 (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Cousins’ shaky play after the first interception told me all I needed to know about him. Like Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, he’s mentally weak. Unlike Cutler he also has physical limitations in that he has a weak arm and limited mobility.

No, I would not be at all surprised to see Colt McCoy start next week (Redskins head coach Jay Gruden says that he wont). But McCoy’s not the answer either or he’d have been starting before now.

I was one of those who thought that the Redskins were pulling out of the decade long slump with some good play against the Dolphins and the Rams prior to this game. But in the end, given that Robert Griffin III has apparently forgotten how to play quarterback, I think the Redskins are once again looking for someone who can sling the ball. As long as that’s the case, it’s going to put a ceiling on how far they can go.

Redskins Cut Blocking Inside Gregg Williams’ Head

cbssports.com
cbssports.com

Joe Lyons at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Washington Redskins appear to have gotten into Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams‘ head:

“‘Cut me, cut me, cut me, cut me, cut me…’’

“An original song from Gregg Williams.

“It’s a catchy little tune from the Rams’ defensive coordinator and has been featured this week as the team’s defensive linemen prepare to face the Washington Redskins on Sunday at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.

“The Redskins are a team that likes to cut-block. In fact, right guard Brandon Scherff, a highly touted rookie from Iowa, used the cut-block against four-time All-Pro Ndamukong Suh and limited Miami’s standout defensive tackle to just two tackles in the Dolphins’ 17-10 road win last week.

“‘That’s the little song that goes off in my head when I see them on the ground,’’ Williams joked after practice Friday at Rams Park.”

You can understand why.

A couple things ran through my head as I watched the Redskins offensive line block the Miami defensive linemen last week.

  1. How effective the cut blocking was. Miami defensive players were all over the ground. Its very hard to tackle anyone from there.
  2. How much defensive linemen must hate it as an offensive lineman dives at them low like that. It really should be illegal. But its not.

In any case, this is an issue that the Bears are going to have to deal with when the Redskins visit the Bears in December. Here’s hoping they’ll be prepared for it with a spring in their step and a song in their hearts.

Seattle Offensive Line a Serious Liability as Seahawks May Be in Decline

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, right, is sacked for a 4-yard loss by St. Louis Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald during the third quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam)
AP Photo/Tom Gannam

Sam Monson at Pro Football Focus reviews the performance of the Seattle Seahawks offensive line against the Rams. This observations match what I see:

“The Seattle offensive line combined to surrender three sacks, one hit and 12 additional hurries, and run blocking was almost as bad. It’s a testament to Marshawn Lynch’s ability that he was able to top 4 yards per carry over his 18 carries, generating 73 rushing yards, 39 of which came after contact. Of Fred Jackson’s 13 rushing yards, 11 came after contact, and the team’s other backs combined for seven rushing yards, five of which came after contact.”

“The Seahawks still scored 31 points in this game, and can rightfully point to the defense as an unusual source of blame, but Russell Wilson was under pressure 19 times in the game and the running backs often found themselves with nowhere to go. Over the course of a game these things can be overcome, but over the course of a season they will start to erode the team’s production.”

The Seahawks traded away their best offensive lineman in Max Unger in order to get tight end Jimmy Graham. The statement was clear – skill position players are more important and harder to find then lineman. The Seahawks are paying for that decision and likely will throughout the year.

Admittedly offensive lines have a tendency to gel and become more cohesive as the year goes on. If they stay healthy. And admittedly this particular offensive line didn’t get much time together during the preseason because the coaching staff spent a good part of it juggling their lineup in an effort to find their best five guys.

But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Football games are won and lost at the line of scrimmage. The Rams have an outstanding front seven. But so will the teams that the Seahawks will face in January (if they make the playoffs at all). They’re going to face a serious uphill battle if things don’t get a lot better soon.