The Week 2 Mailbag
Ten opinions, straddling Weeks 1 and 2 of the new season:
Dan Quinn’s fingerprints are all over the Atlanta revival. Not saying the Falcons will be playing deep into January, but the Monday night win over Philadelphia showed the kind of frenetic defensive effort—from Justin Durant, O’Brien Schofield, Grady Jarrett, Vic Beasley, William Moore and others—that just wasn’t there the past couple of years in Atlanta. I recall a light-contact, unpadded practice in training camp, when Ricardo Allen, fighting to make the roster at safety, plowed through running back Devonta Freeman and sent him sprawling, in clear violation of the spirit of the practice. Players were supposed to stay up and wrap up, not blow them up. But the coaches, after yelling about protecting your teammates, just smiled. Those messages got sent throughout training camp, and that day, Allen said: “We’ve got a new attitude here.” It showed Monday night.
Trent Baalke has done a good job making sure the 49ers’ cupboard isn’t bare. The sky is very much intact above Santa Clara, as Monday night’s 20-3 win over Minnesota showed. Four of the five sacks of Teddy Bridgewater came from players drafted since Baalke came to San Francisco. His second-round pick in 2014, Frank Gore heir Carlos Hyde, rushed for a Week 1-best 168 yards. Fifth-round punter Bradley Pinion netted a neat 43.7-yard average. It’s just one week, but the Niners look like they’ll be more competitive than most people thought.
Thursday is not going to be a good night for Peyton Manning to shut up people about, you know, his game falling off a cliff. What is more difficult for a quarterback than, collectively, this perfect storm: Traveling to Kansas City, on a short-week Thursday, for the Chiefs’ home opener, K.C. coming off a five-sack plundering of the Texans in Houston, Justin Houston healthy, Marcus Peters fortifying the secondary … I mean, Peyton Manning could get embarrassed plenty on Thursday night. I seem to remember another quarterback getting embarrassed at Arrowhead early last season. Name of Brady. So I’m not sure I’d draw many conclusions from a bad night for Peyton Manning in Arrowhead if it happens.
The Seahawks could go to 0-2, and I don’t think I’d be that alarmed about it—yet. Seattle put up 31 at St. Louis, where the Hawks have a history of doing nothing offensively. And now they go to Green Bay for the Packers’ home opener. The time to worry is coming, and soon. But even if they had Kam Chancellor, winning at Green Bay would be a very tough assignment. I’d be more concerned about getting Chancellor in for the final 14 games than in making this week some big priority. Which, my sense is, it isn’t in Seattle.
Beware, Kirk Cousins. Rough go for Cousins against the interior of the Miami line on Sunday in the Dolphins’ win at Washington. This week could be tougher. Watching defensive tackle Aaron Donald chase down Russell Wilson the other day, I thought, “This guy runs like a less-speedy wide receiver.” Donald is going to be a big star.
Here’s why Adam Jones didn’t get suspended for whacking Amari Cooper in the head. Jones has been on his best behavior in recent years. Had this been his third or fourth incident in the last couple of years, I think he would have gotten a ban.
Here’s why Ndamukong Suh didn’t get suspended for his foot making contact with the helmet of Washington’s Alfred Morris and knocking the helmet off: In normal parlance that's kicking someone’s helmet off, but in NFL terms it's not clear enough to merit a ban. Get that?
Skill player sure to have a meteoric rise, and soon: Detroit running back Ameer Abdullah. Watching parts of that Detroit-San Diego game, I wanted to see more, and more, of Abdullah, the second-round pick out of Nebraska. Nine touches, 94 yards produced, one touchdown. He’s got some power for a back as fast as he is, and I bet offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi doubles his work load, minimum, over the next few weeks.
Very impressed with Tyrod Taylor. Taylor and LeSean McCoy had this in common from Sunday’s convincing win over Indianapolis: They each had 41 yards rushing. Difference was, Taylor, the former backup to Joe Flacco, did this while compiling a 123.6 passer rating and not turning the ball over. After completing 74 percent of his throws in his first NFL start, Taylor said: “I’m confident in my ability. I always have been. I’m only concerned with winning, though. How I do, I measure in winning, not numbers.” Spoken like a true Rex Ryan quarterback. Except without the bravado. You won’t find much of that in Taylor, from what I’m told.
We’re about to find out quite a bit about the Bengals. Next five Cincinnati games, starting Sunday in the Queen City: San Diego, at Baltimore, Kansas City, Seattle, at Buffalo. Youch. If the Bengals are 4-2 entering their bye (which follows the Buffalo game), I’ll be a believer. You know when I’ll be a real believer? When they win a game in January.
Now onto your email:
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I'm stunned you have Denver at number one on the list when Peyton Manning played with the same level of confidence and physical ability he had in the playoff loss to the Colts last season, even struggling to accurately hit a receiver within 10 yards of him. I agree with your analysis of their defense, which did look smothering and had Joe Flacco in trouble all game, but they can't rely on rarefied air for long field goals and on interception returns to win each game. I realize it may take a bit of time for Manning and Gary Kubiak to develop something that works for both men, but that was not a promising start—especially when you compare it to (the nearly as old) Tom Brady and how the Patriots' young offensive line coped with the Steelers' defensive front.
—David B., Darlington, England
A few points to make here. One: There’s not a slam-dunk top team in the NFL after one week. There just isn’t. I think you could make an argument for several of them, including New England. I thought the Denver defense was so suffocating in Week 1, clearly the best defense on the first weekend of play. I could argue that the Broncos are more equipped now to win a game on defense and special teams than any team in football. But again, it’s only one week.
Two: The Broncos have a very difficult opening two games that even looking at it in the offseason, you figured the offense very well might struggle. Baltimore is a top-10 defense with a revived secondary. Kansas City on a short week in Arrowhead is always exceedingly tough for any quarterback. So, as I noted above, I wouldn’t expect Denver to play very well on offense Thursday night either. But that doesn’t mean Manning is finished. He might be. But I think one of the things that gets a bit lost is that Manning, at 39, is still adjusting to what his arm is allowing him to do. Even if he doesn't have the fastball anymore, and he almost certainly does not, I think he is going to be smart enough to figure a way to move the chains and be productive and not turn it over excessively.
Three: Ranking teams is the biggest example of guesswork in our business. I just try to watch the games the same as you do and figure out which teams are the best week to week. Inevitably I am wrong. The earth keeps spinning.
TAKING A KNEE
Great observation about the potential of a coach with a lead taking a knee instead of attempting an extra point or two-point conversion late in a game. Mark Richt at Georgia actually had the presence of mind (in an extremely hectic situation) to do this exact thing in one of the most famous games in recent SEC history, the 2001 “Hobnail Boot Game” between Georgia and Tennessee in Knoxville. With four seconds left, the Dawgs went on top 26-24. To the initial confusion of the CBS announcing crew, Richt had quarterback David Greene take a knee instead of attempting a conversion so as to not give the Vols the chance to block the extra point and return it for a tying two points. After a successful squib on the ensuing kickoff, the game was over. Smart move under pressure by a first-year coach at the time.
—Arthur Steedman, Atlanta
Thanks for pointing it out. The interesting thing is, Chip Kelly told me at Eagles camp this summer that he was very familiar with that thinking and thought that he had done that at some point during his four years at Oregon. We contacted the sports information department at Oregon, and it turns out he never did. But the fact that coaches have thought about this and are planning for it in the NFL tells me that somebody remembers this Mark Richt play.
GRAND SLAM EDUCATION
The reason they call it a Calendar Grand Slam is because there are a few different types of Grand Slams in Tennis, so they are just differentiating that from the other types—Career Grand Slams, Non-Calendar Year Grand Slams, Golden Grand Slams.
You have your definition about what a Grand Slam is. I have the definition from USOpen.org and also from Wikipedia. As USOpen.org defines the term:
“In tennis, the term Grand Slam refers to the accomplishment of winning all four major championships—the championships of Australia, France, Britain (Wimbledon), and the United States—in the same calendar season. The feat has been achieved six times (by five different players). Grand Slam is commonly misused to describe any one of the four major tournaments.”
In my opinion anyone who describes the Grand Slam as a Calendar Year Grand Slam is being redundant. You aren't going to convince me otherwise.
Was shocked that the clock did not run after the Giants declined the defensive offside penalty and took the results of the play (the completed catch to Odell Beckham Jr.) instead. Can you explain the reasoning behind the rule that the game clock stops on a DECLINED penalty? I just cannot wrap my head around this issue. Declining the penalty should mean the play happened in game clock time, meaning the clock should run once the ball is set. What am I missing?
—Richard Z., Lansing, Mich.
Lots of people on Twitter and email have wondered why the clock wasn’t restarted after the declined Dallas penalty. As the referee in the game, Bill Vinovich, explained to each team down the stretch, in the final five minutes of games, the game clock is stopped after both accepted and declined penalties. This is a rule that most people are not familiar with, but it is a rule. The NFL instituted the rule apparently to ensure that there be as many plays as possible in the last five minutes of games and that stopping the clock after both accepted and declined penalties promotes an extra play or two being able to be run in the last five minutes of most games.
CREDIT FOR JAMES JONES
Just a little surprised you made no mention of Aaron Rodgers’ “new” target, James Jones. With Jordy Nelson out for the year, and Jones being cut from both the Raiders and the Giants, Ted Thompson signs Jones to the minimum, and he catches two touchdowns, has another called back by a penalty and earns a pass interference penalty inside the 10-yard line. Great game by a receiver nobody wanted.
—Brian C., Mesa, Ariz.
I should have noted it; thanks for pointing it out. This falls under the category of not being able to tackle every topic in Monday's column.
I am going to assume that you follow the NFL pretty closely. If this is true, you obviously saw that the NFL took responsibility for the headset issues in the Thursday night game by Friday morning, so then what was the point of your extensive bullet on the subject Monday morning?
One question for you: Do you think the Steelers, after the league’s explanation, are absolutely convinced that the Pats had nothing to do with it? I doubt it. I wrote about it because, as Mike Tomlin says, these things always seem to happen in New England. My only point is, for all the people who believe that, this is a league-administered program and it is the league’s responsibility to ensure that coaches and players can hear clearly in the headsets.
LONGEST EXTRA POINT?
I was at the Jets-Browns game Sunday. After the Browns’ touchdown, there was a five-yard penalty on the first extra point. After moving back five yards, there was a 10-yard holding penalty on the next attempt. Finally, from 48 yards out, the kick was made without a penalty. Is this the longest extra point in the NFL's history?
—Carmen V., N.J.
I checked with the NFL and because there are no recorded distances for lengths of extra points, this is not a record that is kept. I would be surprised if this wasn't the longest extra point ever, but I have no way of proving whether it is.
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