The Eagles’ running back is learning to see the field out of a new formation ... plus, thoughts on the Browns’ quarterbacks, the NFL’s most surprising stat and how it all went wrong for the Dolphins
1. I think all the talk about the difference between running out of the I-formation vs. the shotgun is absolutely valid. Yes, I’m referring to DeMarco Murray. This offseason, one offensive coach told me to expect a slow start from Murray in Philadelphia, because it usually takes about half a season for running backs to adjust to the change. Every back is different, but many say running out of the I-formation is easier, because you have better field vision when you’re lined up seven yards deep. It’s harder to make the transition from running out of the I formation to the shotgun runs prevalent in Chip Kelly’s system rather than vice versa. When Murray talked about the transition this summer, he said he was still feeling out how to make his reads, explaining, “Sometimes you’ve got to know when to hit it, and sometimes you’ve got to know when to slow down.” Per Eagles beat reporters, Kelly incorporated more runs from under center in Sunday’s win over the Saints, which was Murray’s best rushing performance by far this season (83 yards on 20 carries).
2. I think Mike Pettine and his coaching staff have managed the Browns’ quarterback situation well. It may not have been the popular move to turn back to Josh McCown, after Johnny Manziel’s Week 2 win when McCown was sidelined with a concussion, but McCown has made the decision look good. Understanding the fragile situation of Manziel returning to the team after a stint in rehab, the Browns’ coaching staff has been committed to taking the pressure off him. They didn’t feel like Manziel was held accountable last year, so they’ve treated this season like a redux of his rookie season, a built-in apprenticeship year until he earns the right to play. That’s why it was so important for them to sign McCown, the perfect veteran bridge for many reasons, not the least of which is his honest-to-goodness team-first attitude. And they’ve stuck by that approach, except for when injuries have intervened. I like it.
3. I think this may be the most surprising statistic I’ve seen this season: the Broncos’ defense is No. 1 in the NFL, while the Broncos’ offense is No. 30 in the NFL.
4. I think the Eli Manning we saw on Sunday night is the product of the Giants’ quarterback being much more comfortable in his second year in Ben McAdoo’s offense. And the addition of Shane Vereen, a trusted outlet who already has 20 catches in five games.
5. I think I would be interested to hear Tom Coughlin’s reasoning for not declining the third-down holding penalty against the 49ers’ offense midway through the third quarter. Al Michaels guessed on the SNF broadcast that it may have been motivated by field position, and if that was the case, the Giants came out 14 yards ahead by accepting the penalty and replaying third down. But if you’ve forced the other team off the field, the risk would seem too great to give them another try at converting and extending the drive. I know Coughlin studies every scenario on the field, so I’d be interested what factors he considered in making that call. Guessing a big one was his belief that the 49ers would not be able to convert a third-and-20.
6. I think I hate playing this game, but … the Falcons could be 12-0 heading into their Week 14 road game at Carolina. Their next seven opponents: at Saints, at Titans, Buccaneers, at 49ers, Colts, Vikings, at Buccaneers.
7. I think Rex Ryan’s idea of giving his players “Yes Sir!” wristbands before Sunday’s game against the Titans, to remind them to keep their cool with officials if flagged, was a smart tactic. After the Bills were penalized 17 times in their Week 4 loss to the Giants, Ryan was defiant. You could read all over his face why: He didn’t feel like all the flags were fair, and he was sick of the undisciplined narrative defining his team. But to his credit, he told players there was a problem and it had to be fixed. A lot of people have said Ryan hasn’t changed from his Jets days, but I don’t think that’s true. I think this shows that he has. The Bills were penalized seven times on Sunday, two fewer than the Titans.
8. I think the pickle the Dolphins find themselves in, starting over a quarter of the way through a football season, dates back to an odd decision that owner Stephen Ross made last November. Philbin said this summer that it was before Miami’s Week 12 game against the Broncos when Ross called to tell him he’d be back in 2015, and that they’d work out a contract extension in the offseason (Ross announced his decision publicly four weeks later). The Dolphins were 6-4 then, coming off a good road win at Buffalo. “I was surprised,” Philbin told The MMQB in August, “because I wasn’t even thinking about it.” We know what happened the rest of the way—the Dolphins lost four of their last six and missed the playoffs. Why did Ross make that promise then, instead of waiting to see how the rest of the season played out? Here’s betting Mike Tannenbaum, who was hired in January as the executive vice president of football ops, wishes Ross had waited.
9. I think you should read this story by the New York Post’s Brian Costello about the Jets’ seven-day spending spree that revamped their roster. After the organization hoarded salary-cap space the past two years, the new regime cashed it in, spending nearly $200 million in March. They essentially built an entirely new secondary (four of the five starters, including the nickel corner, were signed this offseason), and secured the true No. 1 receiver that has eluded the Jets. The early returns on the roster makeover are obvious.
10. I think I’ve been touched by the kindness of all those who reached out after reading the story on Ed Werder’s family. Countless readers have passed along thoughts and prayers to his daughter, Christie, and her husband, Trey, as they fight a daunting set of medical circumstances. Ed and I have passed on many of your warm messages to them; we particularly enjoyed this reply yesterday:
The reaction to this story was a needed reminder about the good side of social media. Thank you.