Andy Reid Vs. The Clock (Again), A Truer Test for Mariota, Why Stevie Johnson Rules, and Cartman Does Deflategate Right
1. I think it’s fun to criticize Andy Reid’s clock management (easy too), but it’s a bit disingenuous to get on him for handing it to Jamaal Charles at his own 20, in a tie game with one timeout in the final minute on Thursday night. Before the TNF disaster, Charles had lost 16 fumbles on 1,532 career touches. He had already lost one earlier that night. Honestly, what were the chances of lightning striking twice? And while Alex Smith is certainly an efficient caretaker, the Chiefs were utterly overmatched by the Broncos pass rush for most of the night (no shame in that, of course). Two possessions earlier Smith’s arm was hit on a red zone throw, leading to an interception. So Reid gave it to his all-world back. If Charles rips off a 12-yard run, you go ahead and throw a couple passes to try to get Cairo Santos a 60-yarder. If Charles is stuffed, you take a knee and head to overtime. But to expect your best player to make a rare, crippling mistake for the second time in one night… that was on Charles, not Big Red.
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2. Speaking of clock management, has anyone, anywhere weighed in on the Giants in Dallas last Sunday night?
(Thanks Comic Book Guy.) I’m just gonna take a shot in the dark at what happened, because... whatever, everyone else already has. I think, while I was watching that third down play, the one thing that went through my head was that Eli probably thought the play-action call was so unexpected that Dallas would have no chance. A 100% chance he would be flipping the ball to a wide-open Daniel Fells and all would be right with the world. Instead, Barry Church locked up Fells, ostensibly the only receiver on the play (Odell Beckham and Rueben Randle were running a half-hearted routes on the other side), Eli had nowhere to throw and his brain locked up.
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3. Look, I think it’s okay to be excited about Marcus Mariota. But lighting up that Tampa defense… the past two seasons they’ve been essentially the NFL’s very own Washington Generals. (In fact, the Bucs would be infinitely more watchable if opponents were allowed to use a ladder and someone threw a bucket of water that turned out to be confetti at Lovie Smith every week #GrowTheBusinessRoger.) Mariota heads to Cleveland today, and while the Browns aren’t world-beaters they’re a more talented defense from top to bottom and, more importantly, they’re much more creative on the defensive side of the ball. This will be a much better read of where the rookie is as an NFL quarterback.
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4. I think Stevie Johnson is probably my favorite NFL player to watch (and, as I mentioned a week ago, I think he’ll go down as one of the true free-agent steals of 2015). His route running is absolutely fascinating, creating separation through an innate, Coltrane-like ability to improvise. A few years back, I talked to him about the art of route running.
Johnson: From talking with DBs, they all say they check to see when you sink your hips or when you drop your arms or turn your head. That’s when they know something’s going to happen, you’re going to break in, break out, or you’re going to stop. I try to work that information into routes. If I have a go route, I’ll get to a certain point then I’ll drop my arms to make it look like I’m going to stop. Then I keep going. I call it parking, when you…
Me: Sorry, wait a minute? Did you say “parking”?
Johnson: Yeah, it’s parking the DB. Like when you park your car, you park it in the stall then you walk off and go somewhere else. So if I give him a move off the line and I’m going to the right but I fake to the left, and the DB has jumps all the way to the left, I just “parked” him, and now I’m leaving.
Me: That's an awesome term. Where did you hear it?
Johnson: I didn’t hear it. My friends and I came up with it in junior college.
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5. I think, although there was a bit too much of an anti-Tom Brady sentiment for my taste, I thoroughly enjoyed the now famous (or, depending on your fandom, infamous) Eric Cartman as Brady/Belichick/Goodell dream sequence in the South Park season premiere. (I’m not going to embed it here because Eric Cartman works a little blue and this is a family show, but you can watch the clip here.)
I wrote a far less entertaining parody piece for SI a few months back, mostly as an excuse to dip into my deep reserve of Bill Belichick be wearin’ hoodies! jokes. I got a lot of pats on the back from Pats fans, but my stance has always been that everyone in this situation looked and acted goddam ridiculous, Patriots included (with the exception of Jeffrey Kessler, who did his job and did it darn well). It was a turd parade that lasted seven months.
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6. I think, since I was sick and laid up on the couch for most of Saturday, I have some college football thoughts…
a. Right now, if I were picking first in the 2016 draft and needed a quarterback, Cal’s Jared Goff would be my guy. Some folks will be scared off by the Air Raid system, and he’ll surely need a year to learn to run an offense without looking to the sideline every four seconds. But it looks to me like he’s got those light feet, quick flick-of-the-wrist release, balance, requisite arm strength and the ability to work through progressions after the snap. (And if you want more on Goff from folks who know him better, he was the lede on Thayer Evans’ and Pete Thamel’s “The Inside Read” column on Campus Rush this week.)
b. Last spring there was a lot of talk about how Todd Gurley was a once-in-a-decade talent at running back. Leonard Fournette will be eligible for the 2017 draft. Then we’ll be talking about him and Gurley as twice-in-a-decade talents.
c. Ah, Rutgers. How’s that “New York market” working out, Big Ten? If there are four things every New Yorker loves to be associated with, it’s New Jersey, corruption, incompetence and losing at an almost comedic rate. Those greater NYC ratings for BTN just ready to blast off, eh?
d. A few weeks old, but an awesome highlight from Arkansas Tech (long one of my favorite college football programs entirely because of their nickname: The Wonderboys). They played the first snap of the season with only 10 players to honor Zemaric Holt, a defensive lineman who drowned in July. Here’s what happened…
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7. I think, while you’re counting down the hours to kickoff, you should spend some time with The MMQB Read of the Week: Watching film with Jason Witten.
I love this series. Andy Benoit did one with then-USC and now-New York Jets D-lineman Leonard Williams during the lead up to the draft. Read the Witten piece and watch the video: You’re going to learn a whole lot about football from a future Hall of Fame tight end. And we’ve got a whole lot more of these coming up in 2015.
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8. I think these are three guys I like in FanDuel one-week leagues:
RB Chris Johnson ($5,700) at Chicago: Yeah, he’s a risk after looking like he was done a year ago. But Johnson, as many have reported, is the clear-cut No. 1 back for the Cards this week with Andre Ellington out. And at that price tag (and with a likely low ownership rate) against these Chicago Bears… he’s a potential difference maker in Week 2.
RB Tevin Coleman ($6,500) at N.Y. Giants: Jon Beason is out again (as is JPP), making the G-Men ripe to be run on. Coleman had 20 carries in his NFL debut last week, and while he didn’t make anyone’s brain explode he was solid.
TE Greg Olsen ($6,000) vs. Houston: Olsen ruined many a DFS lineup last week (fools, I told you, Tyler Eifert was right there for the taking!), and everyone is shying away from him this week. But he’s still Cam Newton’s No. 1 target by default, and this Texans pass defense looked awfully shaky against the Chiefs in the opener.
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9. Fourteen-plus things I think about Sunday’s 14 games:
a. Every time I think about the Texans’ quarterback situation I end up smdh. It’s been their greatest weakness for years, yet they haven’t spent a first-round pick on a passer since the franchise’s inaugural selection, David Carr back in 2002. So in Carolina, it sounds like it will be Ryan Mallett under center. That’s a really good way to squander Act I of J.J. Watt’s legendary career.
b. The only thing more stunning than the Rams knocking off Seattle (again) last week was the fact that they won while allowing 31 points at home. There were some issues with Russell Wilson’s mobility. Washington’s O-line is miles better than Seattle’s (though that’s not saying much), but this St. Louis front four should appreciate the chance to tee off on Kirk Cousins, a much more stationary target than Wilson.
c. The Falcons are 1-9 on the road outside the division the last two years. That was a quality win over the Eagles on Monday night (an ugly, mistake-filled mess of a quality win is still a quality win), but let’s not get all giddy over the Dan Quinn era until they prove they can beat someone good outside of Atlanta. That starts with today’s game against the Giants in East Rutherford.
d. Marcus Mariota won the Heisman, and so did Johnny Manziel. Sounds like they’re pretty much the same guy.
e. Welcome home, Jimmy T.! Colin Kaepernick was arguably the most pleasant surprise of Week 1. The Steelers’ secondary, on the other hand… well, on every snap they needed a full 40 seconds to locate Rob Gronkowski in a formation.
f. I’m not sure folks realize just how bad Jameis Winston was in his NFL debut. On Tampa’s only meaningful scoring drive, Winston threw a second and long pass right into the hands of dropping linebacker Deiontrez Mount (remember what I told you about Jameis and linebackers last week?), bouncing into the hands of Austin Seferian-Jenkins for a 21-yard gain. Mount was more responsible for that completion than Winston was. I’m going to go way out on a limb and say it’s too early to sour on Winston, but man was that a bad outing. Now, no one is going to confuse this Saints defensive unit for the ’86 Bears, but Rob Ryan can get creative, and Winston will be playing in a particularly hostile environment for his first road game. You might not want your kids watching this one.
g. The Vikings were an enormous disappointment in San Francisco in the late Monday Nighter. Maybe it was a body clock thing, but the defense got gashed by Carlos Hyde all night, Adrian Peterson was invisible and Teddy Bridgewater was not nearly good enough to overcome it all. They return home for a normal body clock game against a very beatable division rival, the Suh-less Lions. You’ll learn a lot about the Vikings Sunday afternoon.
h. Speaking of body clocks, Arizona gets an early kickoff in Chicago against a Bears team that looked much better defensively in the opener, but got burned when Jay Cutler did his best Jay Cutler.
i. Patriots-Bills will be fun, but God, the hype around this game is getting embarrassing. It will probably be close, and it will probably be a New England win. But I’m curious to see two things: (1) Can Buffalo sustain drives? They had five plays of 20-plus yards in the win over Indy last week, which is good, but LeSean McCoy going 41 yards on 17 carries against a Colts defense that can’t stop the run is not. And (2) Is the Patriots defense really this bad? In the opener they were gashed by Pittsburgh’s makeshift offensive line and DeAngelo Williams, who is 86 in running back years. It’s awfully easy to play defense when Darrelle Revis is on the roster. Nothing came easy for this unit last week.
j. Philip Rivers was a bad man last week, basically taking over the second half of the comeback win over the Lions after an at-the-time-disastrous pick to end the first half. He’s the most underappreciated quarterback in the game. Is he on the verge of putting the Chargers on his back and challenging in a wide-open AFC? Heading east to play Cincinnati, another forgotten group in the AFC race, should be a sneaky good one.
k. Miami was something of a disappointment last week, failing to pull away in Washington despite a trainwreck opponent and their billion (or so)-dollar defensive line. Of course, their first six games (at Washington, at Jacksonville, vs. Buffalo, vs. N.Y. Jets, at Tennessee, vs. Houston) seem like a tune-up for the Thursday nighter in New England on Oct. 29.
l. The Terrell Suggs injury hurts, but no one seems to panicked due to Baltimore’s always-quality depth (particularly one Courtney Upshaw). They’ll ease into life after Suggs in Oakland.
m. No DeMarco. Now no Dez (and Dez torched Philly last year). National game on the road against the team everyone is picking to dethrone you in the NFC East. Tony Romo: This is your life.
n. The Seahawks are on the ropes. Just like they were last January when the Packers, led by a hobbled Aaron Rodgers, let them off the mat in the NFC title game. No Kam Chancellor. But also no Jordy Nelson. Rodgers has never carved up the Seahawks (196.7 yards per game, 2 TD, 3 INT, 73.2 rating in three matchups since Pete Carroll arrived in Seattle), and Russell Wilson is 3-0 career against the reigning MVP. But they’ve never met in Lambeau. So I guess what I’m saying is: I would suggest watching this game.
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10. I think, at 12:58 p.m. ET, you should turn your volume all the way up and press play…