The “Wet Blanket of Reason” assesses one of his favorite quarterbacks and breaks down an X's and O's question with some help from former NFL QB Sage Rosenfels. Plus, five thoughts going into Week 12
We’re going a little bit outside the box in this week’s #SettleThis, answering questions (with some expert help) about Mike protection schemes, coaching backgrounds, and just how good Brian Hoyer really is. As always your input is valued, so send over any queries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
#SettleThis: How good is Brian Hoyer really and what kind of contract should he get, if any?
—Everett Williams (@EvSynWilliams)
Oh boy, now you’re going near and dear to my heart. It’s no secret that I have been an unabashed fan of Hoyer’s (as a player and as a person) for some time. In my opinion he would have competed for and won a starting job much sooner if the Patriots didn’t wait until the final cut in 2012 to release him; it was way too late for him to have a chance elsewhere. But that’s the way things go in the NFL. The Patriots needed to make sure Ryan Mallett didn’t get hurt before the start of the season, so that was that.
That being said, I’ve been realistic about Hoyer. And even after watching him this season, to me he is the same guy he has always been: a slightly above average starter with good arm strength, streaky accuracy and off-the-charts intangibles. You can win with him if you have a strong running game and defense. Yes, he’s 9-4 as the Browns’ starter the past two seasons, but you can’t be blinded by a quarterback’s win-loss record. If you do, you end up giving big money to Matt Cassel or Derek Anderson.
As for what kind of contract Hoyer is going to get, and who is going to give it to him after this season (he’s making $1.2 million in 2014), we all know it’s going to come down to how he finishes. If Hoyer and the Browns falter down the stretch and don’t make the playoffs, his value goes way down. If Hoyer can get the Browns to the postseason for the first time since 2002 and, perhaps, win a game, his value skyrockets. So this is really a question for after this season, in my opinion.
If Hoyer keeps the Browns afloat the rest of the way, the team is obviously in a very tough spot. They traded up to select Johnny Manziel in the first round, so he’s looming. But Manziel is also, from what I know, far from a sure thing. What the Browns would want is a situation similar to what the 49ers had a few years ago with a veteran (Alex Smith) to play until the promising prospect (Colin Kaepernick) was ready. This is a bit different because no one else wanted Smith at the time he was given a new contract. If Hoyer plays well down the stretch and reaches the postseason, he’ll have plenty of suitors. In that scenario, if I’m the Browns I’m placing the transition tag (about $16 million) on Hoyer to delay the decision. Cleveland will have upwards of $50 million in cap space. Any contract extension by the Browns or another team is probably going to be similar to the one the Bengals’ Andy Dalton got (six years and $96 million, but could be just two years and $27 million with $18 million up front). Unless Hoyer wins a playoff game, I wouldn’t be ready to go there just yet. If I’m the Browns, I keep my options open as long as possible.
#SettleThis: My friend and I (both football novices) have been arguing over the “Mike” linebacker for years now. My contention is that it doesn’t really matter who the QB calls out as the Mike as long as he is roughly near the middle, all the O lineman understand, and they all get on the same page for whom to block based on that call. My buddy believes calling the Mike linebacker is an integral part of reading the defense and if he calls the wrong player the blocking schemes will break down. Can you settle this for us?
I could try, but instead of doing that I decided to call upon one of the smartest players I have covered in my career: former NFL quarterback Sage Rosenfels.
First a quick explainer on what the question is referencing. In some offenses, the quarterback (or a lineman) sets protection or the run-blocking scheme by identifying the middle, or “Mike,” linebacker on the defense. Doing that tells the five offensive linemen that they are responsible for the four down linemen (in a 4-3) and the Mike linebacker. If there’s a back in the backfield, he’ll be responsible for an additional rusher. Anybody else is the quarterback’s business.
Second, and this somewhat answers your question, there is no right or wrong player when it comes to identification in this sense. Everyone is accounted for in some manner. Either they’re being blocked, or they’re not. And if they’re not being picked up by a blocker, the quarterback knows this and knows he has to get rid of the ball (throw to his hot route). So it’s not a hit-or-miss thing. There are always answers. I’d say you won the argument, but it’s complicated.
And now we welcome in Sage Rosenfels to explain the importance a little more.
“To answer this question in a quick manner, I'd say the Mike declaration gives everyone involved a place to start from as it relates to pass protections and run game calls. It's the basis of everything involved in an offense to get everyone on the same page.
“If it’s a base protection, the line is going to work the four down to the Mike linebacker. If the Mike blitzes, the line needs to pick him up. The running back, based on the protection, would block the Sam (strong side) or Will (weak side) linebacker. Some teams will have the back do a “coast-to-coast” where he goes from the Sam to the Will, depending on which one blitzes, and the line has the four down plus the Mike. Some teams will tell the back to take the Will, and the quarterback will throw hot if the Sam blitzes.
“Then things can get really interesting. Let’s say the defense walks the free safety down to one side near the line of scrimmage. The quarterback or the center is worried about a Will (and) free safety blitz because they’re not picked up. The quarterback can then change who the Mike is. He’ll say, ‘Easy, easy,’ (which means relax for a second) and then he’ll make the Will linebacker the Mike linebacker and the running back knows he’s picking up the safety. If the Mike or the Sam blitzes, the quarterback has to find a way to get rid of the ball. It’s sort of a chess game back and forth.”
Hope that helps you guys out.
#SettleThis: In the NFL today, who is more successful: Coaches with an offensive background, or coaches with a defensive background?
Well, let’s go charting. I don’t think there’s any precise way to look at this, so let’s take a couple of different routes. Right now, the number of head coaches with offensive (16) and defensive (15) backgrounds is just about split. (We tossed out the Raiders. Dennis Allen, a defensive coach, was fired and replaced by an interim coach, Tony Sparano, who has an offensive background. Plus, their 0-10 record would really skew things.) Offensive coaches are 88-72, a .550 winning percentage. Defensive coaches are 72-78-2 (.480). However, five of the eight division leaders have defensive coaches.
As far as the postseason goes, over the past five seasons defensive coaches have 29 victories, compared to 26 for offensive coaches. However, offensive coaches have won three of the past five Super Bowls. Going back further, over the last 15 Super Bowls defensive coaches have eight and offensive coaches seven.
So, Ralph, as you can see, it’s basically a tie. Neither style of coach has a clear advantage in today’s NFL.
Five Thoughts Going Into Week 12
1. Patriots running back Jonas Gray was a big story after rushing for 201 yards and four touchdowns against the Colts, but expect him to be a bit player against the Lions. Detroit is so good on the defensive line and against the run, the type of team the Patriots usually try to spread out. Expect them to use a quick passing game with Shane Vereen getting most of the touches at running back.
2. He’s been a bit quiet since coming back from ACL surgery, but Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu is starting to really play some ball for the Cardinals, against both the pass and the run. He’s back to being a major pest for offenses. Expect him to give Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson some problems this week.
3. For those of you scoring at home, after Sunday’s 42-20 home loss to the Patriots, the Colts and Andrew Luck are now 7-9 over the past two seasons against teams .500 or better, including losses in six of their last eight. Luck has thrown 31 touchdowns against 18 interceptions in those games (2.83 interception rate, 86.6 rating). Luck is 11-1 against teams worse than .500, with 26 touchdowns and eight interceptions (1.76 INT rate, 97.4 rating). The Jaguars (1-9) and Washington (3-7) are up next for Indianapolis.
4. Peyton Manning and his injured weapons get a lot of air time, but a big problem with the Broncos has been that their offensive line, which was terrific last year until the Super Bowl and has gone downhill in a hurry. You thought Denver would be better getting injured Ryan Clady back at left tackle and moving Chris Clark to the right side, but that hasn’t been the case. Clady hasn’t played up to his usual level, and Clark was benched after five games. Paul Cornick wasn’t the answer at RT, so the Broncos have been playing musical chairs. RG Louis Vazquez was moved to RT in the loss to the Rams, with C Manny Ramirez moving to RG and Will Montgomery inserted at center. The Broncos better find a viable unit by the time the regular season ends or they’ll be making a quick exit in the playoffs.
5. Favorite possible matchup of the week: Lions WR Calvin Johnson vs. Patriots CB Darrelle Revis. Revis, after a bit of a rough start to the season, has been playing excellent ball since the Jets game. Come on, Hoodie, give us at least some looks at this matchup.
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