Hot Seat Assessment – NFL at quarter season

Mike McCoy
The Chargers finished 4-12 last year and McCoy had to fire a bunch of assistants in order to survive. An interim option exists on the staff in the form of former Titans and Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt, so if things do not improve McCoy might not even survive the bye week.

Gus Bradley
In year 4 of his head coaching tenure, the Jaguars are still mediocre, and Blake Bortles is still throwing interceptions. Unless the team improves rapidly, I can see Bradley being the first head coach to be canned after the season. Ownership cannot be accused of lacking patience.

John Fox
The Bears look mediocre again this year, and apparent mis-steps such as the replacement of Robbie Gould with Connor Barth are starting to piss off the fans. Jay Cutler looked good in Adam Gase’s offense last year, but once again he has a new offensive co-ordinator, which is never good for a quarterback.

Dirk Koetter
The Bucs have no ground game, which is forcing Jameis Winston to throw more than he should, and as a result the interceptions are piling up. Koetter does not seem to know when to keep quiet in public about his players’ performance. So far he has thrown his kicker and his quarterback under the bus in press conferences. That sort of blame game tends to get noticed in the locker room.

Mike Mularkey
The Titans were bad last season, and look like being mediocre this season also. Mularkey already fired special teams coach Bobby April, which is never a good sign. Marcus Mariota looks frustrated by the poor offense, and the history of franchise quarterbacks suggests that if they fall out with the head coach, the coach is usually the one who leaves.

Chuck Pagano
The Colts still have no durable O-line to protect Andrew Luck. Until this is fixed, the team will be mediocre, and owners generally do not like to see the cornerstone of the franchise being carted to the locker room.

Jim Caldwell
The Lions are in danger of lapsing into mediocrity. They have no deep replacement for Calvin Johnson.

Ron Rivera
The Panthers have started poorly this year, and Cam Newton is trying too hard to make things happen and suffering big hits as a result. The team needs to steady the ship and get back to winning.

Bruce Arians
The Cardinals have started poorly, and with several core team members on offense nearing the end of their careers (Larry Fitzgerald and Carson Palmer), the Cardinals may struggle to get above .500 for the rest of the season. Arians has a short fuse, and if he picks on the wrong players, he could lose the team.

Rex Ryan
A recent pasting of the Patriots has probably taken some of the pressure off, but Rex Ryan is like a wild card collection all to himself. You never know what he is going to do or say next. That makes for great media copy, but not a sound basis for a winning team in the long term.

Todd Bowles
Bowles’ seat may be in danger if the Jets cannot fix their spluttering offense. Ryan Fitzpatrick can look good one week and horrible the next.

Sean Payton
The Saints are putting up big numbers on offense, but the defense is a leaky bucket.

Bill O’Brien
The Texans look to be almost there in terms of winning games.

Chip Kelly
It would be a shock if ownership dispensed with Kelly after one season, but then they also managed to run off Jim Harbaugh 2 years ago, and they are paying Jim Tomsula $14m to not coach anywhere, so logic and consistency are not their strong suits.

Adam Gase
Dolphins ownership will probably give Gase at least 2 years, but right now the Dolphins are just not a very good team.

Jay Gruden
The Redskins are inconsistent, and part of that is due to inconsistent quarterback play. Right now, the decision to not give Kirk Cousins a long term contract looks like a good one. What happens at the end of the season probably comes down to how much the owner wants to interfere again.

Jason Garrett
The Cowboys looked dead in the water before Week 1 when Tony Romo went on IR with a back injury, but Dak Prescott is looking like the quarterback steal of the draft, and the Cowboys being at 3-1 says a lot about the coaching staff.

Doug Pederson
The Eagles are riding high thanks partly to the decision to play Carson Wentz in his first year as a replacement for Sam Bradford. The trade to Minnesota looks like one of the rare win:win trades.

Bill Belichick
Belichick is coach at New England for as long as he wants the job.

Ben McAdoo

Year 1 for McAdoo and no change can or should be expected.

Pete Carroll
With two recent Superbowl trips, Carroll is in no danger whatsoever.

Mike Zimmer
At 4-0, Zimmer is already assured of hero status in Minnesota after the Vikings solved their QB problem in style by trading for Sam Bradford. Adrian Peterson may or may not be back and the running game is still weak, but the Vikings have a sound defense and defense wins Superbowls.

John Harbaugh
Ravens ownership does not pull the cord on coaches at all readily. The Ravens are struggling in the run game, and Joe Flacco may not be at 100% yet, but I do not see a change.

Jeff Fisher
after week 1 there was speculation that Fisher would not make it to week 2, so bad were the Rams in the opening game. Now at 3-1, things have changed completely.

Dan Quinn
The Falcons are now putting up big numbers on offense in the second year of Kyle Shanahan’s tenure as offensive co-ordinator. As long as the big numbers continue everybody will be quite happy.

Andy Reid
Ownership is patient, but the team may be in rebuild mode soon, with many of its best players nearer the end of their careers than the beginning.

Hue Jackson
The Browns are in the basement at 0-4, but everything Hue Jackson says and does shows that is in the job for the long haul. The Browns have a massive pile of draft picks already for next year, and intend to rebuild via the draft while letting disenchanted free agents move on. They may be secretly hoping for the #1 pick in the draft so they can find their franchise quarterback.

Mike Tomlin
Pittburgh ownership is interested in stability.

Mike McCarthy
See Pittsburgh. The Packers have a massive and loyal fan base and McCarthy is in no danger.

Marvin Lewis
Ownership likes Lewis because he is relatively affordable, keeps a low profile and keeps getting the Bengals into the playoffs.

Jack Del Rio
With a maturing franchise quarterback and something approaching the old smashmouth Raiders identity in the team thanks to Del Rio’s coaching, and with a possible move to Las Vegas on the cards, ownership needs stability.

Gary Kubiak
Kubiak and John Elway are joined at the hip.


NFL Comments from an Armchair viewer

1. Dallas Cowboys
They changed quarterbacks, but the quarterback play level was no better overall. Matt Cassel threw 3 interceptions, which cost the Cowboys 13 points. He did show more flexibility in ball distribution, and made several nice throws, but the interceptions were the difference in the score. One might expect that he will improve, but if he does not, benching Brandon Weeden will come to be seen as pointless. The injury to Tony Romo showed that the Cowboys, like many teams who have a franchise quarterback, have no Plan B at that position. (Look around the league and tell me how many teams with a high-dollar franchise quarterback have a durable, reliable #2 who can come off the bench and lead the team. It’s a short list isn’t it?)
The bigger issue is Greg Hardy. His disruptive behavior on the sideline reminds me of Charles Haley when he was playing. Haley turned out to have undiagnosed bipolar syndrome, and I suspect Hardy has the same mental condition. The Cowboys need to get Hardy straightened out fast, before the NFL or the judicial system hijacks him for sanctions once more.

2. New York Giants
They are winning ugly, but finding ways to win. They do not look good on offense or defense, but special teams came up big against the Cowboys.

3. 49’ers
The 49ers are just not a very good football team right now in any area. They lost a lot of players in the off-season, and it is difficult to not conclude that the reason so many players retired is because they did not want to play for a coaching staff led by Jim Tomsula. Tomsula behaves on the sideline and in press conferences like he is out of his depth. His room for manouver is limited. He has a #1 quarterback who is not the finished article, a #2 quarterback that nobody wants to see on the field of play, and holes on offense and defense. While he can babble on about performances being “unacceptable”, benching players is not an option when you have no adequate replacements.
I fear that the ownership, worn down by the incessant squabbles with Jim Harbaugh, wanted a quiet life with a new head coach, and went for the safe in-house candidate who would do the bidding of the ownership. This is remarkably similar to the mode of operation of Jerry Jones after he fired Jimmy Johnson, when he cycled through a succession of non head coaches (Barry Switzer, Chan Gailey and Dave Campo) before swallowing hard and hiring Bill Parcells.
It no action is taken by ownership soon to upgrade the team or the coaching staff, the 49ers risk falling into the same trap as the Oakland Raiders, who, known for being dysfunctional, could only attract free agents by offering too much money to players mostly on the downside of their careers. As a result, they ended up in cap hell, with an ageing roster, and a mediocre coaching staff, and only now are they breaking out of that zone with Jack Del Rio, who has already shown that he is not afraid to jettison high priced free agents if they are not going to be contributors. Right now, based on current performance, a number of people in San Francisco may soon be pointing out that the 49ers are no longer in San Francisco (translation: Santa Clara, you can have them).

4. Carolina Panthers
Quietly advancing to 6-0, the Panthers are not a glamorous team, but an effective one. They have experience and youth in equal measure, and Cam Newton looks mature and polished, quite different to the reckless ball-heaver of 3 seasons ago.

5. Seattle Seahawks
I am not quite sure what to make of this team. They have all of the talent, but they are misfiring badly on both sides of the ball. In particular, Russell Wilson is being sacked way too often. I worry that if he is knocked out, the Seahawks offense will splutter badly.

6. San Diego
They cannot win a game to save their life. They seem to be unable to play consistently for 60 minutes, and have a habit of going walkabout in the second half.

7. Houston Texans
This roster needs a stick of dynamite. They just lost their best running threat Arian Foster to what looks like a season ending injury, and they have a porous offensive line. Both of their quarterbacks are backups who are inconsistent, and one of them cannot set an alarm clock. They have next to no offensive playmakers..the list goes on.

8. Miami Dolphins
Having dumped Principal Philbin, the Dolphins handed the coaching job to tight ends coach Dan Campbell, and suddenly this is a different team. Either the team had tuned out Joe Philbin, or he was just not an energizing coach, because they hung 41 points on the Hpuston Texans in less than two quarters on Sunday, after looking for weeks like they were lifeless, and incapable of getting out of their own way. If they keep on like this, they may make the playoffs, which will validate the decision to fire Philbin, in an era where mid-season coaching changes seldom work well.

9. Jacksonville
This team still looks to be struggling. They are inconsistent, and weak on both offense and defense. I am wondering if the coaching staff is overmatched.

10. New Orleans
After starting badly, they are picking up momentum. They may not be good enough to make the playoffs, and they have major decisions to make in the next off-season, most notably about Drew Brees who is 36 years of age with an astronomical cap number for 2016. Their roster needs a makeover, and with Brees on the roster at his current cap number that will be impossible.

11. Kansas City
With a dink and dunk offense with no playmakers, and a running game shorn of Jamal Charles, the Chiefs look to be going backwards from 2 seasons ago. They need a roster makeover.

12. Tampa Bay
The shine is off of the Lovie Smith era. The team is inconsistent, and incapable of holding onto leads deep into the second half of games. Jameis Winston is making mistakes as one would expect from a rookie, but he is not getting much support from the offense. If this mediocrity continues, Smith may find himself on the hot seat before the end of the season.

13. Indianapolis Colts
The main question for the last month has been when Chuck Pagano will be fired, especially following the bungled fake punt play in a recent game, which brought down ridicule on the team and the coaches. Now the main question may be when Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson will be fired.
The more practical issue is that Andrew Luck does not look to be 100% when playing, despite there being no injury report entry for him. Yet his passes are floating and lack zip and accuracy. Right now, the Colts might be better served by having Matt Hasselbeck under center.

14. Denver Broncos
A 6-0 team being carried by its defense, with a struggling quarterback (which sounds remarkably similar to the story from 2011, when Tim Tebow was under center). This will be Peyton Manning’s last NFL season. His passes are starting to look more and more like wounded ducks. Enjoy one of the great NFL quarterbacks while you can. Whether the Broncos will make it deep into the post-season may depend on the defense. Maybe they can win like the 2001 Baltimore Ravens, using an adequate offense and a suffocating defense.

15. Philadelphia Eagles
Difficult to know what to make of this team. After purging or trading many veterans, swapping quarterbacks and overhauling the schemes, the team is inconsistent, including the quarterback. The strange thing is that there is almost no sign of the offensive innovations that everybody thinks of when the name “Chip Kelly” is mentioned. The Eagles are now playing an offense at a tempo like many other NFL teams, with few wrinkles, next to no gadget plays. It is almost as though Kelly has determined that Boring is Best.

16. New England Patriots
Another 6-0 team despite inconsistency. When your leading rusher in a game is your quarterback, who is not renowned for his mobility, and you are throwing the ball almost every down, but you are still winning, that tells you how good the team preparation and coaching is. Dour and uninformative Bill Belichick may be, but his methods work.

17. St. Louis Rams
They just seem to be inconsistent, like many NFL teams. The big question is when they will move back to California.

18. Cleveland Browns
This team remains in dysfunction, with a #1 quarterback who is streaky, and a #2 quarterback who is still working out how to function as a profesional adult. The roster is full of holes. As a result, the results are not good. Coaching changes may be on the way.

19. Arizona Cardinals
They were cruising a month ago, now they are not looking so good. Teams may have worked out how to cope with their passing attack, and things may be tougher for the rest of the season. The good news is that they are still the leaders in a weak division.

20. Washington Redskins
Although Kirk Cousins still throws too many interceptions, the team just won big after coming back from a deep hole, and those kinds of wins tend to energize a team. They may yet be able to run the table in November and December.

21. Cincinnati Bengals
The best hidden 6-0 team. They may yet be this year’s surprise regular season winner. The challenge is winning in the playoffs. Andy Dalton needs to ask Tony Romo how frustrating that can be.

22. Buffalo Bills
After a bright start, the mayhem of Rex Ryan’s man management is starting to rise up once again. For some reason, Ryan cannot stop talking, and as a result his team is undisciplined and sloppy. The team needs to take a good look at itself and sharpen up quickly on both sides of the ball, or this will become another lost season.

23. New York Jets
After the start of season brou-ha-ha over Geno Smith and his broken jaw, the Jets have settled down to play solid football, They may yet be in contention in January. I am sure that Ryan Fitzpatrick is glad he is not in Houston right now…

24. Green Bay Packers
Despite injuries, the Packers continue to move along like a well-oiled machine. As long as Aaron Rodgers remains under center, their presence in the post-season is assured.

25. Chicago Bears
Although nobody is prepared to admit it, the Bears are already rebuilding. Their trading of players shows that they are working for the future. The big offseason decision will be on Jay Cutler, who continues to be infuriatingly mistake-prone, suffering from Jake Plummer Hurl-The-Ball Disease at least a couple of times a game.


What next, Tim Tebow?

For the second time in 3 seasons…
The decision by the Philadelphia Eagles to terminate the contract of Tim Tebow did not surprise me. Many NFL teams only carry two quarterbacks, partly because of roster needs elsewhere, and partly because under NFL rules, there are severe restrictions on how a third quarterback can be used in games. Basically a third QB can only be called upon if the #1 and #2 quarterbacks cannot play any more, usually due to injury, and once he enters the game the other two quarterbacks cannot return. This is why many NFL teams activate only two quarterbacks on game day, with another player on the roster designated as the emergency quarterback. Usually that player has played quarterback in the past prior to joining the NFL, and can execute a small number of plays if called upon.
The decision by the Eagles to sign a #3 quarterback (Stephen Morris) who has never seen any in-season game action to replace Tim Tebow is somewhat puzzling, but there may be financial reasons behind it. There are several established quarterbacks looking for work after roster cut-downs but if they are on the opening day rosters, their salaries are guaranteed for the season. The likes of Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel, Matt Flynn and Rex Grossman, all of who have been starting QBs in the league, may find a team signs them only after week 1, so that they can always be dropped later if roster needs change. The Eagles may have signed Stephen Morris simply to take a look at him to determine if he has any potential. After week 1, they could drop him and sign one of the established free agent quarterbacks. They could also re-sign Tebow, although given Chip Kelly’s comments that he is not good enough for a #3 role at present, that would be a surprising turnaround.
The only way I could see Tebow being signed back by the Eagles would be If both their #1 and #2 quarterbacks were knocked out due to injury. That is not impossible since Sam Bradford has suffered 2 ACL tears in 2 seasons, and Mark Sanchez suffered a serious shoulder injury while playing for the New York Jets.
Tim Tebow went through waivers without being claimed, so he is now a free agent. At this stage it is unlikely that any team is going to try and sign him for this season – except possibly the Eagles if they lose a quarterback – Tebow should know the system and the playbook by now…
The big question is whether Tim Tebow would consider the CFL as an alternative place to play. Other quarterbacks such as Warren Moon, Doug Flutie and Jeff Garcia went to the CFL for periods of time when the NFL ignored them. Many people are arguing that the CFL is a poor fit for Tebow, because of the three-downs rule, which results in the emphasis being on the passing game, and the field is slightly longer and wider than the NFL field. The thinking is that Tebow’s lack of accuracy will be magnified in a passing league.
I am not sure that I agree with the hypothesis. Tebow can throw the ball a reasonable distance. He is not able to fire the ball long distances, but Doug Flutie and Jeff Garcia did not have a cannon for an arm either, and they were very successful in the CFL as scrambling quarterbacks who could hurt teams by running as much as passing, which is where Tebow also excels. At the end of the day, arm strength can be a curse as much as a blessing (think: Jeff George).
The bigger question is whether Tim Tebow would want to enter the CFL at the present time. His CFL rights are currently held by the Montreal Alouettes, but that team is in turmoil right now in the middle of a poor season, having fired their head coach and offensive co-ordinator, with the GM (Jim Popp) now coaching the team. The Alouettes are also fresh from the distraction of managing another NFL reject named Michael Sam, who engaged in a “will he won’t he show up” routine before walking away from the team after one mediocre performance.
Realistically, if Tim Tebow wants to play football, he only has the CFL or the AFL as options. Either one of them could give him game play that he desperately needs in order to solidify his new throwing motion. Whether he can be successful enough in either league to make it back into the NFL is another question. However, once upon a time, a little-known quarterback from Northern Iowa, having been undrafted and dispensed with by NFL teams, plied his trade in the AFL and then NFL Europe before returning to the NFL as a backup and beginning one of the great Hero from Zero stories.
Tim Tebow is a victim partly of his own inadequacies, but has also been rendered less useful by the end of the read-option fad in the NFL. When he entered the NFL in 2010, the read-option (following on from the Wildcat formation) was a new idea for the modern NFL, and for a while many teams did not know how to defend it, but they soon learned how to contain read-option quarterbacks, and several other quarterbacks who entered the NFL at the same time who were reckoned to be read-option threats are either out of the NFL (Pat White), trying to change positions (Terrelle Pryor) or hanging on by a thread (Robert Griffin III). There is no sign of any significant read-option play-calling in normal game situations in the NFL at present, although there may be one or two gadget plays called in critical game situations.
A bigger question is whether the difference between college football and the NFL is becoming too great for many college quarterbacks to thrive in the NFL. I have not performed any analysis, but it seems that an increasing number of quarterbacks from top-flight college programs are, in some cases, not even being considered by NFL teams. Usually, they are hybrid quarterbacks who also run with the ball. They do not match the prototypical NFL quarterback profile of the tall stand-in-the-pocket general, which is still the preferred operating mode of a league that is, at its heart, very risk-averse. A good example is Blake Sims, who despite appearing in a college title game last season for Alabama, is now bouncing around the CFL, having been briefly considered and rejected by 2 NFL teams as an undrafted free agent, not even playing as a quarterback.
The fact that it has taken NFL teams the best part of 10 years to take Kevin Kelley’s Paluxy Academy possession football approach seriously tells you all you need to know about the innate conservatism of the NFL. There is a reason why many football fans prefer college and high school football, and it has a lot to do with more open and exciting play-calling.
I am left with the uncomfortable feeling that a lot of NFL head coaches and offensive co-ordinators are “system guys”, who try to sign players to fit their system, rather than maximizing a player’s unique skills. But…the fact that the two NFL coaches least likely to pursue a “system” approach, Bill Belichick and Chip Kelly, both spent a fair amount of time evaluating Tim Tebow and decided not to use him in an NFL season, is not exactly flattering to Tebow.


That long running NFL deflation saga

A few quick words about the Deflation saga (No, I refuse to use a word including a suffix word beginning with G. That is so…1970’s).
A judge today vacated the 4 game suspension imposed on Tom Brady and, in the process, excoriated and dismissed most of the NFL’s arguments in its pleadings.
Some quick points:
1. Roger Goodell is not going to be fired…yet. He works for the NFL’s owners, and he will leave only when they decide they want somebody else to be the Commissioner. However, it is clear that some owners are apprehensive and concerned about the clearly negative PR impact of the saga.
2. Despite his occasional attempts to portray himself as neutral in matters of discipline and punishment, Goodell is not neutral. See (1) above
3. If Tom Brady’s suspension has been vacated, then the future draft picks removed from the New England Patriots ought to be restored also. It seems fundamentally unfair that the team’s quarterback’s punishment has been vacated, but the team’s punishment has not been vacated.
4. Despite the NFL’s insistence that they will appeal, they have not asked for a stay. I suspect that this is partly because they know they are unlikely to get one (if you have just been told that your arguments are mostly steaming brown fertilizer, the reaction to an application for a stay is likely to be either laughter or a GTFOOMC), but also partly because they realize that, with the season about to begin, the focus needs to be on playing games, not arguing about player discipline. NBC, Fox, ESPN et al are paying for the product on the pitch, not the behind-scenes wrangling. I expect the NFL are appealing because they can, not because they feel they have any chance of success
5. The NFL has now been slapped around the head over three recent disciplinary matters; Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice, and now the deflation saga. (We must also not forget the earlier decision by Paul Tagliabue to vacate a number of punishments for the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal.)
6. The domino effect of this result will be felt from this point forward, with players who have been disciplined by the NFL very likely to threaten or actually take the NFL to court to get suspensions and fines overturned. The credibility of the entire NFL disciplinary process is somewhere between zero and diddly squat at present.
There are some bigger underlying dynamics that have only occasionally been discussed in the media:
1. The NFL has a labor agreement, but it does not have labor peace. The owners bailed early on the last CBA, which was negotiated by Paul Tagliabue and the late Gene Upshaw, because they decided that it was too favorable to the players. They then hoarded cash and hard-line owners made it clear that they would support a lock-out if they did not get what they wanted from a new CBA. The new CBA is more favorable to the owners, and the NFL players know that and resent it. One way in which it is more favorable is the provision for the Commissioner to dispense discipline as he sees fit. This is an easy target for the players to fire at, partly because of the recent extent to which Goodell has used his disciplinary powers to sanction players for perceived bad behavior under the current CBA, but also because the players can fight individual instances of player discipline whenever they occur. They have no recourse over the rest of the CBA, which has no opt-out clauses on either side, and runs until the end of the 2020 season.
2. By all accounts, Goodell’s actions on discipline have been consistently supported by a group of hard-line owners who believe that the NFL should be able to impose pretty much any sort of discipline it sees fit. Those owners (who are, for the most part, elderly rich guys used to getting their way in life) are the ones leading the get-tough approach. Now that the NFL has been slapped around the head in court, it will be interesting to see if the hard-line faction loses influence, or whether they dig in. Ultimately, Roger Goodell will do what the majority of owners want him to do. If he fails to do their bidding, he will be replaced, although there is no obvious successor waiting, unlike when Paul Tagliabue was Commissioner, when Goodell was the heir-apparent for several years, and his accession to Commissioner after Tagliabue’s retirement was one of the most obvious worst-kept secrets in sports.

The net result is exemplified by De Maurice Smith’s quote from Profootball Talk:

“Asked about the players’ trust in the league and Goodell, Smith answered, “It’s gone.””


RG III and the art of quarterback survival

Being a quarterback in the NFL is a matter of survival. Sooner or later your protection will start to break down, and very soon after that one or more heavyweight guys will be heading toward you in a determined attempt to weld you to the ground.
That being the case, quarterbacks have to have situational and peripheral awareness of what is going on around them, and either be able to get rid of the ball, or, if they can run, take off in some less dangerous direction.
The world of the NFL is full of history stories of quarterbacks who lacked pocket awareness and survival skills. One example that comes to mind is the contest at Buffalo between Rob Johnson and Doug Flutie. Johnson looked like the prototypical NFL quarterback – tall, athletic, with a big arm. He impressed the Bills enough for them to trade for him from Jacksonville and make him the starter over a little short guy from Canada. (The fact that he was not the starting quarterback at Jacksonville, and that there might be a reason for that, was lost in the burst of enthusiasm to trade for him).
The problem soon became apparent. While he could throw the ball, Johnson had no survival instincts. When protection broke down, he either got sacked, or he ran all over the place and heaved the ball, sometimes with bad results. The Bills eventually inserted Doug Flutie, who, while lacking the arm strength of Rob Johnson, knew when to take off and could make things happen on the run. Johnson’s career eventually fizzled out in a collection of injuries and short-term starts.
The Dallas Cowboys similarly inserted Tony Romo into games in the 2006 season, when it became apparent that Drew Bledsoe was not able to handle playing behind a deficient offensive line. In only a matter of minutes, Romo showed that he could work out when his workplace was about to be invaded by The Other Guys, and could make things happen despite that issue, although he also had to learn when not to desperately heave the ball downfield.
The Washington Redskins have the same issue today with Robert Griffin III. After setting the NFL on fire in his debut season, when his blazing open-field speed and playmaking ability led to predictions that he would revolutionize quarterback play, Griffin was seriously injured in his second season, and has not looked like the same player since. The injuries appear to have robbed him of his speed, which means that he now has to learn to be a pocket passer. The problem is that he does not seem to even know where he is in the pocket, and does not currently have the skills to determine when the pocket is collapsing, As a result he now resembles an indecisive statue, and is being sacked and hit at a rate that will ensure he never completes a full NFL season. The main question is whether he can learn enough survival skills before he gets seriously injured or replaced. While he may be more naturally talented than his backups, Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy, those backups seem to have pocket awareness and survival skills that he lacks.


Conservatism in the NFL and Kevin Kelley of Paluxy Academy

The NFL is a strange place…for the top echelon of football, many of its tactics are stiflingly conservative and risk-averse. Teams punt continually on 4th and short, even though this gives the opponent the ball, often with good field position. The statistics consistently show that going for it on fourth and short is likely to result in a first down, so the underlying rationale appears to be bound up with not wanting to risk a muffed attempt, the handing of field position to the opponents, and derisive cries or questions afterwards of “why didn’t you punt?”.
As commentators have noted, punting is a way of shifting the blame back to the team. If the coach punts, and the defense then fails to stop the opponents from scoring, the defense gets the blame. If the coach orders a conversion attempt on fourth down and the attempt fails, the coach gets the blame for ordering the conversion attempt.
In 2005 Kevin Kelley, a high school coach in Arkansas, after doing some number-crunching on high school football stats, began avoiding all punts. His team at Paluxy Academy goes for it all of the time on fourth down, and he always onside kicks instead of performing a regular kickoff. His tactics have resulted in multiple state championships, as a result of which the NFL, after 10 years, has woken up and now NFL coaches and general managers are flying to Arkansas to pick Kelley’s brains.
Kelley’s philosophy is fundamentally different to the rooted philosophy in the NFL. He regards possession as more important than field position, reasoning that as a general rule you cannot score unless you have the ball. It seems to be working for him in high school football. Whether it will work in the NFL remains to be seen. If listening to Kelley results in more teams abandoning the fraidy-cat punt on fourth and short, I’m all in favor.


Peyton Manning – What Next?

For the third time in 3 years, the Broncos came up short in the playoffs. This time, they were one and done. Today, they did not look even like they were able to stay with the Colts. By the end of the third quarter. the Broncos looked like a team with little in the way of offensive ideas.
More seriously, Peyton Manning, when he did throw deep, looked horrible. Either he and his receivers had never practiced any deep plays recently, or his accuracy was absent. Balls sailed, floated and wobbled in the air, falling incomplete or landing out of bounds. The only good thing is that none of them were intercepted.
The Broncos loaded up on savvy veteran players at a number of skill positions to complement Manning after they signed him in 2011. The veterans are not getting any younger. The team is in good salary cap shape for 2015 and beyond, but if Peyton does retire, they will probably enter a re-building phase. They may soon be looking for a new offensive co-ordinator. Adam Gase is in demand for head coaching positions at present, so he may be gone from the Broncos soon. (The latest rumour mill is that John Fox may be pre-emptively fired by the Broncos for failure to advance in the playoffs, so that the Broncos can promote Gase to the head coach position to prevent him from leaving). Not only that, but defensive co-ordinator Jack Del Rio is also rumoured to be interviewing for head coaching positions, so if they are unlucky, the Broncos may be looking at a coaching overhaul on both sides of the ball.
Manning’s contract salary in 2015 is $19m, which is top of the line franchise money. The question is whether he can play at that level next season.
People have wondered for years why Manning has such a poor playoff record compared to other top flight quarterbacks. My take on this is that he has a poor record because he commits himself 100% to off-season preparation and work, so that he performs, week in and week out, at an astonishingly high level. The downside is that when you reach the playoffs, Peyton does not suddenly become even better, he is already operating at 100%. Other team QBs raise their game, this is the playoffs, lose and you go home.
The question that only Peyton can answer is whether he can continue to play at a level that meets his own standards next year. If he decides he cannot, I am sure that he will retire. I cannot conceive of an athlete of Manning’s intelligence and integrity phoning it in, hanging around when everybody can see that his skills have diminished.
One aspect that sets most smart athletes apart from the rest is their level of self-awareness. They know when to move on. There is nothing sadder than athletes who suffer from the “one last fight” syndrome that boxers fall into, a script which never ends happily. Not all great athletes are able to let go of course. Jerry Rice played into his 40’s, until he reached the point where Mike Shanahan had to sit him down and inform him that he might not even make the Broncos roster as their #4 wide receiver. Then he finally realized he had to retire. His love for the game overrode any consideration of his level of play. Of course, he might simply have not known what to do after retiring from playing, an affliction that has derailed the lives of many professional athletes. I do not think that Peyton Manning will be short of well-paid things to do after he retires. He is a natural for TV work, and his endorsement portfolio has the revenue stream of a small country.
My $0.02? Sometime in the next 2 months, Peyton Manning will retire from playing.
UPDATE – That was fast…John Fox is leaving as the Broncos head coach, less than 24 hours after the end of the Broncos’ season.…the entire coaching team may be heading in all sorts of different directions over the next few weeks. If coaches suspect that Peyton Manning is retiring, they may not want to wait to see what rebuilding takes place, they may want to stay in control of their destiny and get out ahead of any re-organization.


Refereeing in the Cowboys – Packers game

More controversy, as a pass from Tony Romo to Dez Bryant was declared to be an incompletion after a challenge by Green Bay.
The rule in question has been in place for several years. It always causes trouble for referees and causes angst amongst teams and spectators. However, based on the TV replays and comments from experts, the referees interpreted the rule correctly in this case.
So, the Cowboys run comes to an end. This is merely the beginning of what could be an interesting Spring and Summer for the team. They do have salary cap space for 2015 but may have to get creative to re-sign the marquee players and draft class. Several of their marquee players are free agents, including DeMarco Murray and Dez Bryant. They also currently have no head coach. As I write this, Jason Garrett just became a free agent.


The refereeing in the Cowboys-Lions game

The offensive pass interference non-call in the Cowboys-Lions game is causing much online angst, as many people blame the incident for the Lions’ loss.
First off, we have to gain better perspective. The ultimate bad outcome in a game is where the wrong call (or no call) decides a game on a point-scoring play. This was not a point-scoring play. If the call had been confirmed, the Lions would only have gained a first down. A first down is not points on the board. The Lions might have scored, they might not. Hell, they might have thrown an INT. So claiming that this call decided the game is nonsense.
Secondly, as you can see from the video review, a proper call might well have been offensive pass interference. The Lions player appears to grab the Cowboy player’s facemask earlier in the play. To the people demanding replay for pass interference calls, be careful what you wish for.
Thirdly, this media firestorm would not have occurred if the Lions had scored more points in the second half of the game. They could not score points because the Cowboys defense played better than their offense. When a team resorts to complaining about a single call as being responsible for their defeat, you know you are dealing with a situation where they failed to win the game by on-field play. (I remember after the Giants beat the Patriots in Superbowl XLII, Bill Belichick waved off questions about the David Tyree helmet catch by pointing out that the Patriots were unlikely to win any Superbowl if they only scored 14 points).
Smart players and coaches often point out that single calls are a side issue. Other less smart folks play the “woe is us” card.
Fourthly, the major contributor to issues like this is the NFL rule book, which is hilariously complicated, and continually becomes more complicated. Every year some more subtle caveats and wrinkles are added to the rules, and the job of officiating becomes more and more complex. At the same time, the clamor is for more and more calls to be reviewable, usually after a contentious incident like the Cowboys-Lions incident.
The NFL and its consumers cannot have it both ways. Either the referees are in charge, in which case give them a simpler rule book and rely on them, or the referees are not in charge, in which case let’s make every call on the field of play subject to review. (I’m joking, this latter scenario will never occur, because it would result in games lasting 4+ hours, which the TV networks will not support).
Fifthly – How come the NFL, the most valuable sports league in the world in terms of team values, TV rights and other financial measures, does not have full-time on-field officials? This is crazy. The officials are all doing this work as an adjunct to their day jobs. Think about that for a moment and you will realize that they are being asked to get everything right 100% of the time off of a very complex rule book in front of hundreds of millions of people, in their spare time? How many things are fundamentally wrong with that picture?
Firing officials is often proposed as a sanction for bad calls. Left unexplained is how continual churn of officiating crews is going to improve overall quality of officiating. If you accept that the NFL is the most challenging environment in which to get officiating right (and the poor performance of the replacement officials in the 2012 lockout tends to suggest that), then forced ranking and firing of the bottom tier of officials might make some teams feel better, but it is unlikely to improve the levels of officiating. You have to look at it from the perspective of an official. Why should they volunteer for a part-time job, working in a high-pressure public environment, from which they can potentially be fired for one bad call?
Support for that is coming from within the football commentariat. A contributory factor being cited for Sunday’s issue is that the match referee did not have his normal officiating crew – he was working with a crew assembled just for this playoff game.
(By the way, the NFL has, just like the individual teams and their treatment of the cheerleaders, tried to nickel-and-dime the officials on several different levels, including compensation if the referees are full-time employees. This was one of the issues that led to the 2012 lockout and the replacement officials fiasco. )
My conclusion is that there is a lot of air being moved over this issue, but a lot of the air is carrying hyperbole and BS. The underlying issues are the over-complex NFL rule book, the desire to get every call right that continually expands the reviewable calls list, thus making games even longer, and the chiseling approach of the NFL to referees, whereby they seem to be trying to get high quality officiating on the cheap. In most areas of life, you get what you pay for (or not).

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