The all-knowing “Wet Blanket of Reason” tackles that question and three others: on Aaron Rodgers, the Bengals, and what all pro sports teams strive for ... plus, five burning thoughts going into Week 11
In our second installment of #SettleThis, we discuss whether the Rams are just a quarterback away from being a good team, whether Mike McCarthy should have pulled Aaron Rodgers so early against the Bears, what constitutes a successful season in pro sports, and why Brandon Tate takes some of Adam Jones’s returns for the Bengals.
If you have any suggestions for future topics, email email@example.com with the subject line #SettleThis, or tweet at @GregABedard.
#SettleThis: Are Rams really a quarterback away from being a quality team? Heard it several times, but what does the film say?
— Lucas Bruton, @LukeBrute
We first need to define “quality team.” I’ll say that means a winning team, which they haven’t been since 2003, although they’ve been close several times. The short answer, Lucas, is yes, because I like their defense and some of their offensive pieces. But I don’t think getting consistent quarterback play means they’ll suddenly rise to the top of the NFC West.
Consistent quality play from the quarterback position is the Rams’ biggest missing puzzle piece. How do they get that? They can’t just keep the status quo. Like I said in March about the Bengals, “If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results, then the Bengals are certifiable when it comes to quarterback Andy Dalton.” If the Rams put all their eggs in the Sam Bradford basket again, then they’re crazy and everyone should be fired. I still think Bradford can be a good pro, but the Rams have to throw multiple options at the quarterback position and sort it out later. The new rookie contracts mandate that, and it’s borderline criminal that the Rams haven’t invested in a quarterback—at least someone to develop—since taking Bradford in 2010 (2014 sixth-rounder Garrett Gilbert was cut from the practice squad a few weeks ago). The starter since Bradford went on IR, Austin Davis has certainly made some plays, but he is not an NFL starting quarterback unless he develops significantly; he does not see the field well enough. Shaun Hill is a solid backup.
After two ACL surgeries, Bradford can be brought back but not at his $16.6 million salary cap number. He should return under a reduced, incentive-laden deal. If he balks at that, the Rams should just move on. Even if Bradford returns the team still needs a franchise quarterback for the future, and they need to draft one high. If both Bradford and the draft prospect develop, one can be traded down the line. That’s a problem the Rams need to get themselves into.
But there’s still other work to be done. The interior of the offensive line needs to be revamped, specifically left guard Davin Joseph and center Scott Wells. The Rams will have to make a decision on tackle Jake Long; moving on from him would save $8 million against the cap. The Rams also need to find a legit No. 1 receiver and a consistent weapon at tight end (Jared Cook has played better this year but hasn’t maximized his physical talent). I like Tre Mason at running back; Tavon Austin has been used better this season, and the Rams have solid receivers.
Defensively, coordinator Gregg Williams could really use a more dynamic middle linebacker than James Laurinaitis. I don’t care about tackle numbers; he’s average against the run and poor against the pass. I’m sure Laurinaitis will stick around since his cap number drops from $9.65 million to $4.275 million and you can certainly win with him, but the Rams can do better. Linedbacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar needs to be replaced. Other than that, I like the pieces the Rams have on defense and Williams knows how to make them work.
So, Lucas, I believe the Rams have most of the important pieces needed and are just lacking a competent quarterback who can make them a quality, winning team. But taking that next step is easier said than done. They just can’t wait for Bradford to get healthy again.
#SettleThis: Was Mike McCarthy right to take Aaron Rodgers out of the Packers-Bears game in the second half? Rodgers, whose six touchdowns secured the win, got to rest his hamstrings while Matt Flynn got some reps. Should McCarthy have let Rodgers play for more touchdowns? One more and he would have tied the NFL single-game record. Two more, and the record would have been his.
— Lawrence Jones, Rochester, N.Y.
Even though I know Rodgers likes his numbers, McCarthy made the correct call for a number of reasons, including the two you pointed out. Rodgers was just coming back from a hamstring injury. He’s the franchise; there’s no reason to put him at further risk. And Flynn needs all the game action he can get, because you never know when the Rodgers might take a bad shot and miss a game. The Packers (6-3) will be in a fight for NFC North division crown and a playoff spot until the final week, so every game will be crucial. They can’t afford to slip up like last season. And, finally, it was a division game against the Bears. I’m very much against kicking a rival when it’s down. The Bears have hit the skids, but they’ll be back. There’s no point in giving them extra ammunition for future showdowns. Like Rodgers said after the game, “That’s respect for the opponent and respect for the game.” Plus, as the best offensive player in the game, Rodgers will have more opportunities to tie or break that record. Hopefully he gets a chance in a shootout, not a blowout.
#SettleThis: My friends and I have been arguing over the definition of a “successful season” in any sport. The perfect example for this argument occurred after the Royals lost Game 7 of the World Series. One of my friends is from K.C. and a diehard Royals fan who was born six months after their last playoff appearance. So, naturally, you’d think waiting 28 years for a playoff game you would mean that 2014 was a successful season, right? Nope! He agrees with me: the only way for a successful season (in any sport) is to win the championship, regardless of preseason expectations. Every team at the beginning of the year should have the goal of winning it all, and thus every year there is only one successful team. Settles this, what defines a successful season in professional sports?
This a great question, but I don’t think there’s a universal answer. I can only put on my fan hat (Red Sox, Bruins and Rutgers) and give you my take.
I think it’s a successful season when a team realizes or exceeds realistic expectations. With the Royals example, I don’t know how you and your buddy could view that as anything other than a rousing success. It’s reasonable to be disappointed that they didn’t win the World Series, but to be a small-market team and not only make the playoffs for the first time since 1985, but to also go to Game 7 of the World Series? That’s a smashing success, and what a ride it was. You’d of course love one more win, but how can you ask for more as a fan? If the Browns go the Super Bowl this year but lose, that’s a huge success. Sure, Brownies will be disappointed because you only get so many shots at a ring, but that would still be a heck of a season.
For teams that have been previously near the top and should be there again, I think success is defined differently. Take the Broncos and Patriots. With the body clocks ticking for Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, and with both rosters molded to win it all, it’s hard to define success as being anything other than advancing to the Super Bowl. If the Broncos go and fail to win it for a second straight season, I would not call that a success. Last season’s loss was disappointing, but I think it was still a success due to the length of time between appearances (same would go for a Patriots’ Super Bowl loss this season). But for the Broncos, a second straight Super Bowl loss would mean there’s something fundamentally wrong. Their roster is too talented to come up short again.
It’s similar to how I feel about my alma mater. Some Rutgers fans feel we should be happy, after so many down years, just to have winning seasons and go to lower-tier bowl games. But after so many years of having the opportunity to win conference titles and losing, I’m sorry, I don’t find a 20-17 home loss to Louisville in 2012 with a BCS berth on the line successful (especially after having a 14-3 halftime lead). At some point you either take the next step, or you’ll always be someone else’s stepstool.
#SettleThis: Why do the Bengals continue to use Brandon Tate for returns instead of Adam Jones?
— Kelly McDonald, @mcdonaldkelly
Kelly, my guess is that you like the fact that Jones leads the NFL punt return average (14.8 yards) and is second (31.9) to Miami’s Jarvis Landry (32.0) in kickoffs. Tate, meanwhile, is at 6.0 and 21.4.
The good news, Kelly, is that Tate has returned more than one kickoff in only one game this season (against his former team, the Patriots, when he took seven). In the past four games, Jones has returned 11 to Tate’s two. Jones has returned eight punts to Tate’s six in the same stretch.
To me, and probably to the Bengals, preservation has to be a factor. Jones is much more valuable as the Bengals’ nickel back than Tate is as the team’s third wide receiver. They should be picking and choosing their spots to use Jones on punt returns, considering he’s absolutely fearless (he hasn’t fair-caught a punt since Nov. 16, 2006). That has to be a factor.
Five Thoughts Going Into Week 11
1) Yeah, I’m the guy who doesn’t believe Andrew Luck is a great quarterback—yet—but he has all the traits you want in a QB, and that greatness should arrive in short order. I want to see him cut down on his big mistakes in big games, and I’d like to see the rampant excuse making that people do for him cut down as well. (The Peyton Manning face has been replaced in Indianapolis so far by Luck’s two-handed “I’m an idiot!” helmet slap). Against the Patriots on Sunday night, Luck has a prime chance to show me what an idiot I am. Both teams will have had a week off, and Luck’s favored at home in a game that has huge playoff implications. Take the next step, Andrew.
2) Replacing an injured Carson Palmer, quarterback Drew Stanton should be able to keep the Cardinals’ ship afloat because the team and the coaching is that good. But make no mistake, the Cardinals will miss Palmer. He had developed into one of the best anticipation passers in the league, and that’s a huge factor in Bruce Arians’ offense. Stanton can’t duplicate that.
3) My scouting report on new Texans quarterback Ryan Mallett from having covered him on the Patriots: big arm; struggles to read the field when pressured; will miss some easy throws and, unlike Browns QB Brian Hoyer, his counterpart on Sunday, Mallett doesn’t readily instill confidence in teammates. I expect Cleveland to harass Mallett into a long afternoon in the Tom Brady Backup Bowl.
4) You can almost put Sunday’s game against the Eagles in the must-win column for the Packers. They already have one head-to-head loss to a team (Seattle) they could be battling for an NFC wild-card spot, and falling to Philadelphia would make it two. If Green Bay loses, it would have to root for the Eagles to win the NFC East so Dallas would be in the wild-card hunt. A loss would drop the Packers to 6-4 (4-4 in NFC); Dallas is 7-3 (4-3) and on a bye. This game will be won or lost based on the matchup between the Eagles’ offensive line and the interior of the Packers’ defensive front.
5) Detroit’s Calvin Johnson vs. Arizona’s Patrick Peterson on Sunday afternoon. Set the DVR.
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