As nearly every other NFL team makes young, offensive-minded hires at head coach, Denver goes the opposite, hiring a longtime defensive coordinator (most recently for Chicago) in Vic Fangio.
DOVE VALLEY, Colo. — Vic Fangio strolls out of the Broncos’ offices and out onto the practice field in a long-sleeve, crew-neck sweatshirt, khaki shorts and those elemental black-and-white low-top Nike sneakers that seemingly every football coach of the last century has owned a pair of. It’s 76 degrees going on 90, and the Broncos will practice for the better part of three hours, chugging through one high-tempo drill after another under the bright sun.
Those who know the 60-year-old first-time head coach say he is less a man obsessed with reenacting the past as he is someone informed by it, which means that a practice is a study in both contrasts and compromises. Over the loudspeakers, an AC/DC song was followed by trap music. A drill where players slam full speed into blue padded tackling dummies being held up like extra-point footballs was taking place just a few feet from the three-dimensional cameras that track Denver’s four quarterbacks.
A little more than an hour into practice, a fight starts for the second time in as many days; it’s Fangio who breaks it up, pawing DE DeShawn Williams by the front of his shoulder pads and directing him back to a pack of defensive linemen. When told that he “took matters into his own hands,” Fangio smiled and said the reporter probably just saw the scuffle from a “favorable angle.”
This is Fangio’s Dunmore side, the part of the head coach’s personality that was molded and hardened in the Scranton, Penn. suburb where he grew up. If you’re trying to explain the Tao of the new-look Denver Broncos, consider the fact that both finalists for the job (Fangio and former Titans head coach Mike Munchak) were born about three miles apart from one another in neighboring towns in Northeastern Pennsylvania. They played against each other in high school—Fangio for the Dunmore Bucks, and Munchak for the Scranton Central Golden Eagles—and they met formally, as most people from the area do, somewhere halfway across the country years later. When both men were in the NFL—Munchak as a player and Fangio as a coach—Munchak’s father had heard Fangio was from Dunmore and, before a game, made Mike go say hello.
When Munchak agreed to become Fangio’s offensive line coach in Denver, it formed the bedrock of a staff that feels more famiglia than expected. Typically, when a coach has to wait this long to get a turn leading a team—the 60-year-old Fangio is the fourth-oldest first-time head coach in NFL history—a staff of tenured “bumper” assistants are forced on him, often creating an awkward transition. That isn’t the case here in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, where you’re more likely to hear a staff already speaking a common language, whether it be about this season’s plays, the time Dunmore beat a much larger Scranton Central during Fangio’s senior year or about the Old Forge-style pizza Munchak and Fangio keep touting around the Broncos’ facility. (That pizza is a delicacy regional to the Scranton area where the pizza is served in square trays, with a blend of cheeses on top, including American. For some, it can be an acquired taste. As a native of another Scranton suburb, I can attest that it’s delicious. Feel free to message me on Twitter if you want a recommendation.)
“It was ironic that the job came down to both of us,” Fangio says, while pivoting to maintain a full glance at the emptying practice field. “But deservedly so. Mike was a head coach in the NFL, was considered for other jobs and, last year when he interviewed for the job in Arizona, he called me and asked if I would be interested in joining his staff if he took it. Then, it kind of flipped here all of a sudden.
“We didn’t know each other that well, even though we grew up so close [in distance]. But one of the greatest things about this job is that we’ve gotten to know each other well. And we’ve really enjoyed it.”
In this week’s edition of MMQB, which Albert Breer has graciously handed over to me after his big life event starring his wife Emily this week, we have a plethora of football matters to get to: The stunningly enduring relevance of Bill Belichick, a front-row seat to the Daniel Jones show, a heartfelt message from a long-time friend of coach Darryl Drake, a word from officials on Kyler Murray’s clap and a status update on reviewable pass interference... and a thought from every preseason game. Also, we’ll try Adam Gase’s pre-game ritual for ourselves and huff some smelling salts.
But we’ll start with one of the most unique hires of the offseason, and why simultaneously eschewing and embracing the youth movement in coaching might pay dividends.
Late in the Broncos’ first preseason game—the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game against the Falcons in Canton, Ohio—president and general manager John Elway sat in on the NBC broadcast and fielded a question about Fangio and Munchak. He, unfortunately, made one regrettable gaffe while telling their intertwined backstory.
“They had a relationship both being from Pittsburgh, or that area right outside there, or east of, wherever that is in Pittsburgh. Pennsylvania,” he said. “I’m not sure where it is, but they lived four miles from each other.” (Dunmore and Scranton are about 300 miles east of the Steel City.)
“That’s about the respect we get,” Munchak says, smiling, after practice last week.
Scranton is often the butt of jokes thanks to the award-winning television series The Office. Around election time every four years, residents can expect national publications to make a pitstop in the area to execute a portrait-of-the-American-swing-voter-city drive-by, packed with all the common refrains about the area: Formerly coal-dependent, aging population, economic frustration. But rarely do any of those generalizations reach the heart of the region; those from Scranton maintain that it shouldn’t be overlooked.
The same can be said for the area’s contribution to professional football’s coaching ranks. Scranton isn’t known as being a football hot spot, but the area has now produced two NFL head coaches, along with a handful of coordinators and NFL position coaches (Bill Lazor, John McNulty, Tony Marciano, Joe Marciano and John Glenn). Fangio and Munchak say the small groundswell of coaching talent from the area is due in part to the great coaches that stayed around. So many towns claim to possess that Friday Night Lights aesthetic, and Scranton and Dunmore are right up there with them, as both could get closed down for high school football on a game night, too.
“It’s not the most talented area in the country in terms of pure football talent, but it’s good football,” Fangio says. “The kids grow up loving football. Its ingrained in them and it stays that way. And it’s always well-coached.”
The words of Fangio’s and Munchak’s old mentors tend to bleed into professional football in strange ways. For example, if you’re having a slow day at Broncos practice, you might hear Fangio suggest you get a “pepper stuck up your ass.” Or, you might be told you look like a “pay car passing a bum.” Fangio will preface that with the necessary prerequisite: That’s what my old high school coach would say.
Fangio still talks with that coach, Jack Henzes, regularly. Just this past spring, Henzes stepped down as head coach after nearly 50 years at Dunmore High School. News of his retirement broke on the first night of the 2019 NFL draft, and Fangio still made time to phone the local newspaper, The Times-Tribune, to talk about his mentor (even though, clearly, the Broncos were in for a busy night that resulted in a first-round trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers).
“One of the reasons I am a coach is because of him,” Fangio says. “I caught his passion and love for the game. It rubbed off on me. He was an excellent teacher and X’s and O’s guy. I fell in love with football because of him.”
While this was not explicitly said, it feels like Fangio’s past with Henzes helped formulate the way he’d eventually make some of his key hires. Both of the Broncos’ current coordinators had the kind of trendy past gigs that would appease an owner—offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello came from Kyle Shanahan’s staff in San Francisco, and defensive coordinator Ed Donatell spent time with Wink Martindale before following Fangio to stops in San Francisco and Chicago. But both were considered first technicians and teachers—the kinds of people from whom Fangio grew up learning.
Scangarello, for example, had to prep four quarterbacks and two rookies—Brian Hoyer, C.J. Beathard, Jimmy Garoppolo and Nick Mullens—to start in a matter of two seasons. Mullens, an undrafted free agent, won three starts, including a 262-yard, three-touchdown performance against Oakland in November of last year. Donatell has been coaching the secondary for years, pumping out the kinds of versatile chess pieces that allowed Fangio to create some of the disguised looks that have vaulted his defenses amid an offensive revolution.
When Fangio goes back home to Dunmore, he likes to veer into Mike’s side of town—both coaches maintain there is most certainly a geographical divide and difference between Dunmore and Scranton—and walk down Lackawanna Avenue to see the buildings that have sprouted up in the plot of land where his father’s old tailor shop used to be. It’s a way to keep his roots anchored, even if the task at hand is now 1,700 miles away. All the locations over the years—Chicago, San Francisco, Carolina, Indianapolis, Houston—have added to Fangio’s perspective, so that if a head-coaching opportunity ever materialized, he could create something that was both eclectic and aware of where it came from.
THE ALLURE OF BILL BELICHICK’S INFORMATION
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — On my way up to Patriots’ training camp two weeks ago (driving up I-95 and through Connecticut, hitting the most mysterious and constant traffic slowdown in America right before the Stamford exit), I was thinking a lot about the great story written by senior writer Jenny Vrentas back in 2017 about the ways in which Bill Belichick continues to needle and motivate Tom Brady deep into his career.
It was a brilliant portrait of a head coach and an already self-motivated player evolving together, noticing the kinds of things in each other that lifelong partners normally do. It also made me wonder why herds of veteran free agents are drawn to Foxborough every year, even though they might not have that same type of relationship with Belichick. Of course the team is going to win, but what’s to stop Belichick’s whole milieu from going stale after you get a ring?
One thing? Information—specific, vital, crucial information that ultimately can help every aspect of an NFL player’s career.
Stephon Gilmore, who is entering his third season with the Patriots, remembered a game last year where Belichick came up to him before kickoff and pulled him aside.
“He said, ‘When the ball is traveling in this certain direction, the wind is blowing hard enough where you should probably trail the receiver just a little bit because the ball isn’t going that deep.’
“I mean, nobody looks at those kinds of things,” Gilmore told me. “It’s the little things like that. You listen to him.”
(Both of Gilmore’s interceptions were in outdoor stadiums last year, for what it’s worth).
Kyle Van Noy, a former Lions second-round pick who came to New England via trade in 2017, told me that the information Belichick shares is just part of being on the team. There is a truth to the whole tired Patriot Way platitude, even if it means different things to different people. Van Noy brought up their Team of Teams periods, where Belichick grouped together players from different sides of the ball for bonding activities. Even if the collective Patriot vibe from the outside is that of a pack of mercenaries, there is a pointed attempt at creating a singular heartbeat.
But… yes, the direct, individually personalized, in-the-moment scouting reports you get from the greatest head coach in NFL history help with the charm.
“I’ve had multiple times where, just because I wear the [on-field microphone]… I mean, I can’t say too much because I still use most of [the pieces of information] against the teams we regularly play,” Van Noy said by phone during the Patriots’ joint practices in Nashville. “But yeah, he has a couple, man. It’s impressive. I’ll keep those forever. It’s important to really listen, what he says, it holds true.”
It speaks to something I thought Jenny unearthed in that piece—this idea of a stone façade actually operating with a targeted sensitivity (or purposeful lack thereof) goes against the idea that everyone enters the building, is given a uniform and marches behind the grumpy old man.
Another example: After the Patriots lost receivers coach Chad O’Shea to the Dolphins, Belichick replaced him with Joe Judge, also the team’s long-time special teams coordinator. Judge’s approach has been highly technical, with a lot of practice time spent on teaching receivers to alter slightly the same routes against zone and man coverage so they can arrive at the target location at the same time for Brady.
Phillip Dorsett said that even Judge’s style, which trends toward the firehose approach of a lot of information at once, fits the room.
“You have to be smart to play the position, especially in this team and in this offense.”
I asked him what his initial expectations were after being traded to the Patriots in 2017. What did he think of Belichick’s approach then, and did his wildest imagination include this kind of personalized treatment?
“Strict, strict… and more strict,” he said. “That’s what people think, but they don’t really know.”
REMEMBERING DARRYL DRAKE
The funeral for Steelers wide receivers coach Darryl Drake, who passed away on Aug. 11 at just 62 years old, was held on Saturday. I called up current Illinois head coach Lovie Smith and asked him for a few words on Drake, as the two spent eight together on Smith’s Chicago Bears staff.
Drake and Smith came up through the ranks together at rival schools, Georgia and Tennessee, in the 1990s. When Smith got his first head coaching job with the Bears in 2004, Drake was one of his first calls.
“He was a great man who affected so many lives, so many people,” Smith says from his office on Wednesday.
“Through recruiting the same people, you’d hear what players said about him. You’d hear what other people said about him. I wanted him on my staff because I wanted real men who I knew what they stood for, and I wanted stern teachers. Daryl was a stern teacher, and guys respected what he said. People knew there was substance to it. He was a Christian brother who would let everyone know it. They knew what he stood for.
“He could do so many things. Darryl was just a spiritual song. He actually was a great singer, he’d break out into these spiritual hymns at any time. Great voice. And those southern spiritual hymns take you back to time in church. He had this strong belief and he didn’t have to tell people about it. They knew because he was a great man.”
Drake, a long-time fixture on collegiate and NFL sidelines, had his fingerprints on some of the best offensive developments of that Bears era, whether it was developing Devin Hester as a wide receiver, or elevating third-round pick Bernard Berrian into a solid No. 2 by the time Chicago reached the Super Bowl. Smith said it was unbelievable how well Drake could seamlessly work with different player personalities, different races and people from opposite ends of the country.
“Just down the line, Brandon Marshall, Earl Bennett, it didn’t matter who it was,” Smith says. “He was comfortable in any environment.”
Smith planned to join a small contingent of people from the Illini staff at the services for Drake this weekend. Among them, his own receivers coach, Andrew Hayes-Stoker, who got his start under Drake in Chicago—something for which Smith is obviously grateful.
THE PROBLEMS WITH KYLER MURRAY’S CLAPS
We’ll have more on the preseason weekend behind us down below, but I was particularly interested in the fact that two false-start penalties got called on Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray on Thursday night relating to the clap Murray uses before the snap.
This is nothing new for officials, who have had to delineate between the legal, rhythmic clapping of a quarterback and the illegal, abrupt clapping that could be weaponized into an offsides-generating machine. But it is unique in that this clap seems to be a staple of the Cardinals’ play-calling mechanism full-time. Kliff Kingsbury talked to the officiating crew pre-game, where they brought up the movement, possibly letting him know it would be a point of emphasis. And in the moment when the penalties were called, it caused some visible frustration for both Murray and his coach.
The whole deal interested me because part of the narrative surrounding Murray is how engrained this Cardinals’ offense is in him. So, I called recently retired official John Parry, who spent 18 years in the league and refereed two Super Bowls and asked if he could explain what we should be looking for when Murray lines up.
“Normally we deal with it on a silent count when the play clock is winding down and there’s that bapbapbapbapbap ‘hey give me the ball’ clap. Seen that 500 times,” he says. “But [Thursday] night, from where the referee is positioned, which is 14 yards behind the line of scrimmage and to the right of the quarterback, that right elbow, I’ve seen it. It just looks different than the angle cameras generally show from the front.
“So as a referee, I can tell you, we study those quarterbacks. We study their cadence. We study their physical moves. What do they do differently from first-and-10 to third-and-four to potentially get an offside. They’re very skilled.”
Parry guessed that it came up after Murray’s preseason debut last week and was a point of emphasis Thursday so that it could be cleared up by the regular season.
“The first [false start], I thought it was a little bit too technical,” Parry says. “The second one, I think, was definitely supportable based on the movement of the right arm prior to the clap. I’m sure [NFL head of officiating Al Riveron] will address that in this week’s training tape with officials as a reminder. Those will be two good comparisons.”
DO AS ADAM GASE SAYS, NOT NECESSARILY AS HE DOES
“Why are we doing this again?”
“Because the coach of the Jets does it before games.”
I’m standing in my kitchen with my wife holding a capsule of AS Ammonia Sport Ampules—also known as smelling salts. It’s about the size of one of those salt packets you get at McDonalds, but it’s covered in writing in ALL CAPS, which simultaneously gives it the feel of one of those screeds on World War III someone in your town self publishes and leaves at the deli. It’s Saturday afternoon, and we’ve just come back from a yard sale. The baby is napping. It’s time to fly.
This particular brand, which contains 35% alcohol and 15% ammonia, has simple instructions: Crush it with your index finger and thumb in the center, and then a reddish liquid pools up through the crack. Put it within striking distance of your nose and give it a smell. The bottle contains a clear image of a man with what looks like stars and planets shining through his body. The capsules promise the following benefits:
ATHLETIC -> STRENGTH
SMELLING SALTS -> ENERGY
BOOST -> FOCUS
Seems legit. No questions here.
If you haven’t seen the pre-game video of Adam Gase taking one of these bad boys down, it’s one of my favorite moments of the preseason so far.
The legend of Gase’s insanity is growing with every week. He has a complete disdain for sleep. His bloodstream seems like a few interconnected tributaries full of red bull and coffee. And, apparently, before games, he likes to take a whiff of this chemical cocktail, which is normally used to do things like, revive patients who have fainted while giving blood, or wake up football players who have been knocked out on the field.
After I saw the red, I inched my nose toward the capsule and sensed nothing but a faint, oily stench. I moved in just a centimeter closer and immediately felt like I had been pulled into an ocean riptide, but instead of salt water, it was rubbing alcohol and ammonia coursing through my sinuses. There was about a half-second window when I was standing there, feeling my brain do a full 360-degree spin, that I thought I might pass out, but then I was immediately dropped back to earth with a slight, buzzy feeling in my head.
My first instinct was to go throw out the remaining capsules, terrified of my 12-pound Cairn terrier digging these out of a low-sitting medicine cabinet one day and inflaming his fears of the world.
Sounds horrible, right? But here’s the thing. Ten minutes later, I do feel a little more locked in. Not necessarily stronger like the bottle promises, but certainly more focused. The buzzy feeling lingers just slightly. If I were the kind of person who was deranged enough to climb an NFL coaching ladder and actually make it to the top, it feels like this might become a normal part of my routine.
7.5/10 would try again.
TEN PRESEASON TAKEAWAYS
(For my thoughts on Thursday’s slate, be sure to check out my wrap-up.)
1. GIANTS 32, BEARS 14: EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The allure of Daniel Jones was powerful enough to sucker me into driving to MetLife Stadium during peak drive-time traffic in New Jersey (read: gridlock) on one of the last summer weekends of 2019. For those reading this who are from a different part of the country, driving in New Jersey on a summer Friday afternoon amid throngs of people going to the Jersey Shore is like dragging your sedan through a hellscape of angry, child-stuffed sport utility vehicles and raised pickup trucks tattooed with wild bumper sticker ideology on everything from pets to churches to automatic weapons. Even the slightest in-car movement elicits a horn blasting from three cars behind.
It was worth it, if only to see how predictably Jones is now deified by a fan base that nearly swallowed itself whole on draft night at the idea of picking him. Jones was solid on Friday, going 11-of-14 for 161 yards and a touchdown (138.4 rating). He threw two picture-perfect passes (Danny Dimes is now a thing on Twitter), including the touchdown to T.J. Jones. He also fumbled one snap and got another ball swatted out of his arm by James Vaughters. It was a departure from a flawless debut, and we’ll get to that in a moment. But first, a quick note on Eli Manning.
I clocked Manning’s three non-play action throws of the night at 1.53, 2.06 and 1.4 seconds. While there was nothing resembling a Bears first-string defense on the field, we saw the more practical version of a Beckham-less offense at work: play action and bunch heavy, with some role players willing to battle and create legal traffic underneath.
Minus Golden Tate for four weeks, though, I’m struggling to see how this is going to prolong Manning’s time as the starter, even if he looked sharp. The one thing Manning may have going for him is that the Giants could theoretically win three of their first four games—Cowboys, Bills, Buccaneers, Washington—with Saquon Barkley alone.
As for Jones, it’s nearly impossible to get a read on him against the current level of competition, but it’s easy to see there’s still some work to be done. His trigger isn’t as fast as Manning’s and he’s not playing as talented a defense. At least from my vantage point, Manning (naturally) is processing the game faster and that’s still more advantageous in this kind of offense than a nice deep ball. To his credit, Jones dove for the first ball he fumbled, and on the touchdown pass to Jones, he did a nice job of freezing the safety with his eyes before going up top and taking advantage of the single coverage.
At this point, any controversy seems manufactured; the product of the first real whiff of a quarterback controversy this part of New Jersey has seen in more than a decade.
2. BILLS 27, CAROLINA 14: It’s only the preseason, but Josh Allen seems to have turned the corner this offseason. The 22-yard pass on the corner route to tight end Tommy Sweeny was a throw he wasn’t making that effortlessly last season—and the Panthers were bringing some heat on the play. That was rookie Brian Burns dipping under Bills tackle Dion Dawkins to create some pressure there. On Allen’s second series, the Bills battled back from a second-and-18, and Allen had the confidence to go medium-deep to Sweeny in the seam on a third-and-four. Of course, he’s getting a clean(ish) pocket right now, which means one of two things—it’s either the difference from last year, or we’re being lured in by vanilla defensive looks in the preseason.
3. BUCCANEERS 16, DOLPHINS 14: A tough first drive for the Dolphins defense, but Brian Flores’s ability to generate some free runners against a starting Bucs offensive line was worth noting. As for the quarterback situation, a weird night for Josh Rosen who had some dropped balls that stalled drives, but then some fortuitous penalties that extended others. He threw short of the sticks with some regularity. Good for Flores to challenge him by keeping the offense on the field for the second-drive fourth-and-goal. Rosen got an entire half, going 10-of-18 for 102 yards.
4. BROWNS 21, COLTS 18: Obviously no Andrew Luck and no Baker Mayfield in Cleveland, but a nice night for Steve Wilks and the defense to shine. The football fan in all of us should root for this defensive line to stay healthy, because it could be special. While a lot of things probably don’t translate to the regular season, the way Cleveland’s front can collectively force a back to the outside (where there is no more room) should be worrisome for some of the RBs they’ll face regularly.
5. PATRIOTS 22, TITANS 19: An interesting thought from the Patriots sidelines: Keep an eye on who is signaling in the NE defense now that half of the defensive staff is gone. Stephen Belichick and Jerod Mayo both appeared to be calling plays, which is an interesting development in Foxborough, per Tom Curran.
6. STEELERS 17, CHIEFS 7: Jacob Klinger, the Steelers’ beat reporter from Penn Live texts me this from Heinz field during the Chiefs game: The Steelers are still a 9-7 team (+/–) 1.5 games, but they can silence one of the most compelling offenses in the NFL for at least two series with their A-minus defense. They seem to have found their backup quarterback, Mason Rudolph, but Pittsburgh has yet to find a surefire No. 2 receiver opposite JuJu Smith-Schuster. Maybe Ben Roethlisberger won’t need one, but James Conner still needs a backup. Benny Snell Jr. isn’t him.
If there’s truth in the Steelers’ defensive performance, it's that Ulysees Gilbert III should make this team and Mike Tomlin felt like showing a 3-safety personnel wrinkle. That's about as much as one can hope to feel one’s self in the middle of August.
Jacob is a great follow. Find him here.
7. TEXANS 30, LIONS 23: Deshaun Watson had a cool 3.33 seconds in the pocket before his lone touchdown pass of the afternoon, illustrating the growing possibility that stopping Watson and DeAndre Hopkins without a pass rush is going to be next to impossible. Detroit rushed three, who were easily bottled up by Houston’s front five and the Lions had Rashaan Melvin in coverage and a sitting safety, Quandre Diggs, mirroring Watson as he shifted in the pocket. Hopkins faded with Melvin into the front corner of the end zone before ripping quickly into the vacant space and Watson put the ball in the only place it could be. This is a defense specifically deployed to keep that play from happening.
8. COWBOYS 14, RAMS 10: Two reasons why I think the Rams are going to be fine, regardless of Todd Gurley’s health: 1. Darrell Henderson is excellent. We’ve been saying it all fall last year, all winter, all combine, all spring. He’s going to be a wonderful addition to this offense, and we saw him buzz the Cowboys early on with that wheel route out of the backfield. 2. On that play, pictured below, Sean McVay schemes up a collision between Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, two of the best linebackers in football. There are two wide open receivers on that play. Blake Bortles had his pick.
As for Dallas, their running back protection left some seasoning to be desired. Dak Prescott was buried for a loss of 12 after Tony Pollard got hit with a swim move. While it looked like he may have been setting up a quick out or screen, Pollard put the Cowboys in an early hole there … which Prescott still dug the team out of with some pristine passing to Michael Gallup and Tavon Austin. If the franchise is still undersold on his worthiness to reset the quarterback market, go ahead and make him available and see what happens.
9. SAINTS 19, CHARGERS 17: With Drew Brees smartly on the sidelines, Taysom Hill stole the show on Sunday afternoon. Coming in to relieve a reportedly sick Teddy Bridgewater with just a few minutes left in the first half and New Orleans down 17-3, Hill threw for 136 and two touchdowns, and added 53 yards rushing on the ground.
As Melvin Gordon continues to hold out this preseason, Los Angeles is continuously working out how the team plans to replace his production, which is proving to be no easy task. Right now, it seems like the team will go with a running back by committee situation, with contributions from both Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson—and the two combined for 42 yards on the ground against the Saints.
10. VIKINGS 25, SEAHAWKS 19: Kirk Cousins got the start against Seattle, but his time on the field was unbalanced. The Minnesota QB, who finished six of eight for 68 yards, struggled some under pressure and with his accuracy in the first drive, but he connected with Adam Thielen on a well-thrown 24-yard catch to set up the Vikings’ first field goal. Speaking of kickers, Minnesota acquired kicker extraordinaire Kaare Vedvik in a trade with Baltimore last week, and he showed off his range by punting, kicking an extra point and kicking off.
And on Monday night, the 49ers will visit the Broncos to wrap up the second full week of NFL preseason.
OF THE WEEK…
I think that there’s a chance Bill Walton lives forever, and we don’t notice, but every now and then he just reemerges in our consciousness to remind us not to take life too seriously.
(Welcome back, Josh.)
VIDEO OF THE WEEK
RECIPE VIDEO OF THE WEEK
The quintessential breakfast burrito from Sam The Cooking Guy.
SIX FROM THE SIDELINE
1. By sundown Sunday night, video of a frustrated Mike Mayock explaining the latest turn in the Antonio Brown melodrama had been seen more than a million times via the team’s official Twitter page. The verbal statement—he did not take questions—posited the Raiders as a team that has crusaded for their best player throughout this unorthodox standoff, but ended with a challenge.
“So from our perspective, it’s time for him to be all in or all out,” Mayock said.
It’s so strange because, if you bend and contort and squint your eyes in a certain way, you can put yourself in a position to see all three sides of this story. That’s what we’re dealing with here.
• There is the populous at large. NFL Network anchor Andrew Siciliano summed it up well on Sunday night:
This, I imagine, is how a majority of the football loving country feels. Here is this overwhelmingly compensated athlete living a dream millions of people could only imagine throwing what amounts to a temper tantrum because he doesn’t get to wear what he wants to school. This is why players often struggle to win the public battle over contract disputes and other administrative matters.
• There is the Oakland Raider organization, which should be absolutely terrified right now—or, at the very least, laying out some kind of battle plan to come out of this with a victory. This stockpile of combustible, mercurial veterans (all of whom have been stuck with that descriptor despite very different paths taken to get there), is already popping off and they haven’t reached a third preseason game yet. Jon Gruden and Mayock need to wrangle perception. Despite the direction in which my cynicism often points me, this is a roster with a lot of good players under 30 years old, and a quarterback who can win big games. So much of this could get lost at sea with a chaotic, 2011 Jets-type season, where a good thing melts from flying too close to the sun.
• And then there is Brown, who has already made it clear that he doesn’t need football. Former NFL receiver, Nate Jackson, made a fair point earlier this week that whatever creature comforts keep you sane and aware amid one of the most violent and dangerous environments in professional sports may end up being safer than equipment that is actually made to keep you safer. If Brown is focused on the lingering blind spots on his helmet, he may be a sitting duck for a defensive back barreling down on him over the middle. It’s something I had not thought of, and many of us wouldn’t think of if we’d never played professional sports. It represents the oddity that is the NFL’s push for a safer game. While there are agreed upon fixes proposed by coaches and experts and doctors and scientists, there is a parallel universe where players feel they’ve already figured out how to survive this lightspeed world, and forcing them to slow down, or think about the way they hit, or changing their perception out of the helmet just slightly is more trouble than it’s worth.
Something tells me we are headed toward some type of Tom Brady-emergency-cut-healing-Under-Armor-Glove situation. Someone, somewhere in some industrial engineering room at one of the major helmet corporations, will figure this out and save the day.
But if not, be prepared for things to get horrendously ugly.
2. It’s difficult not to be cynical when a corporate behemoth like the NFL teams up with an industry icon like Jay-Z at this particular point in time in American history. While you try and remove the specks of tin foil from your hair and see things through the lens that tells you everyone is acting out of the goodness of their heart, it is another gesture that could end up feeling ultimately hollow. I’ve struggled mightily with this idea that you can say “we’re not bad, we do this!” in situations that, at least from the outside looking in, seem so advantageous—financially, in terms of repairing general public perception, whatever—to all parties involved. the headline of Billy Haisley’s Deadspin story was particularly gutting: There Is No Ethical Dissent Under Capitalism, and man, did it hit home.
Maybe, with swirling rumors of Jay-Z’s partial team ownership and his plans to transform the league’s entertainment arm and a directive to “amplify the league's social justice efforts,” there will come something that feels unique and true. But there is also a chance that this ends up plasticizing a movement that was raw and powerful and eye-opening (not to mention disdained by owners who wanted to keep a certain brand of politics away from their business).
3. Rest in peace, Cedric Benson. Horrible news out of Austin, where reports indicate that the college football star and another passenger were killed in a motorcycle accident. Benson starred at high school football powerhouse Midland Lee in Midland, Texas before excelling on the University of Texas football team, where he won the Doak Walker award in 2004. He was the No. 4 overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft, and while it took some time for his NFL career to get rolling—he found success with the Bengals in 2009, ’10 and ’11 with three straight 1,000-yard seasons—he’ll go down as one of the great college players of all time. He still ranks No. 10 on the all-time NCAA rushing leaders list.
4. One of my favorite training camp stops was at TRVE Brewing Co. in Denver. It’s a heavy metal brewery, and I had two of their AGELESS FIRE East Coast India Pale Ales. It was as spirited an attempt at capturing the New England IPA craze that I’ve tried from a non-East Coast brewery. Perfectly off the beaten path with knowledgeable bartenders and a great selection of t-shirts with pentagrams on them. I got two.
My first brewery trip back home post mini-tour in New Jersey was one of my three local standbys, Czig Meister, for the Deep Sea Series Tropics New England-style IPA. This one had a little more heft to it, the weightiness I’ve come to enjoy as a stubborn IPA convert. Czig Meister, for those passing through western New Jersey, has the closest thing to an open-doors West Coast brewery vibe I’ve felt out east. When it’s nice out, the building transforms into an open-air brewery full of good beer and good dogs.
5. An ambitious, essential project from the New York Times that deserves your attention this week: Reframing our nation’s history, and contextualizing our society’s current state of play.
6. One leftover tidbit from my conversation with referee John Parry (this was before some of the more divisive reviewed pass interference calls of the weekend) on how he thinks the process is going so far, and where he sees it landing in the average fan’s consciousness by the end of the season:
“I think after Week 1 the referees ended up 15-2 in terms of calls standing and calls reversed, I would have liked to see them at 14-3,” he said. “They demonstrated it can work, we’ve still got some issues with it that will be discovered as the season progresses, but at the end of the day it’s a tool in the toolbelt to help officials officiate a game correctly, and they’ll embrace that.”
I asked if it could eventually become what we saw last year in roughing the passer, where calls were astronomically high over the first month of the season and deteriorated as both coaches and officials settled into a groove.
He added: “Similar to roughing the passer, because I lived it, we were calling what we were told to call, and we did that well. Now it was excessive, but after week three or four we regrouped with the competition committee and got behind what they wanted moving forward – because we had kind of overstepped that. We readjusted and readapted and it wasn’t talked about again.
“Officials call those clinic specials, there are always one or two rules we always focus on going into the season and once it gets dialed in, it settles.”
As I type this, though, an interesting note from Mike Florio at Pro Football Talk on double-whammy from Saturday night’s Cowboys-Rams game: A botched call that also took nearly four minutes to get called.
Thanks for making it to the end of this. I can’t say how much of an honor it was to write this column. My feelings about what Peter King created in this space, and the graciousness I feel getting to work with the team he helped put together on a weekly basis, is well known. That said—Jenny, Jonathan, Albert, Robert, Andy, Kalyn, Bette, Mark, Gary—you guys are the best. I can’t wait to see what all of you put together this year. Thanks for letting me be a part of it.
And to everyone that made it to the bottom, thanks for giving what I write a chance.
Time for a beer.
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