Let's take a spin around the NFL's latest news, including thoughts on Johnny Manziel's starting appointment, Aldon Smith's suspension and an ugly trade. Plus mailbag questions on the Giants, Packers and Seahawks
Five midweek NFL thoughts:
1. Johnny Manziel went free and clear—and into the starting lineup. He’s a lucky man. Good day for Johnny Football, being named the Browns’ starter for the rest of the season and being told by the NFL that he wouldn’t be disciplined for the incident with his girlfriend on a Cleveland highway last month. The NFL released a statement saying, “We have concluded that there is an insufficient basis on which to take disciplinary action.” Not exactly, We have concluded Johnny Manziel did nothing wrong. Manziel spent 10 weeks in rehab for an undisclosed substance abuse problem last off-season, and admitted to police that he had been drinking when cops pulled him over after he was seen arguing with his girlfriend in the car. The NFL didn’t find enough evidence to suspend Manziel. There’s no question Manziel is taking the game more seriously this year. I hope he’s taking it seriously enough to know a couple of things. One: Clearly, this was a close call, with Manziel admittedly having a physical dispute with his girlfriend. Not what you want any player to be doing, never mind the guy who’s supposed to be a leader of your team. Two: He’s got six games to prove the Browns shouldn’t use their top pick on a quarterback in the 2016 draft. Clock’s running.
2. Aldon Smith suspended for a year. Forget the case against him for a moment. My only question: Smith now is out of the game until at least the middle of November next year. If he had done what the 49ers—who cut Smith in August—clearly wanted him to do and gone into concentrated counseling and perhaps rehab for the foreseeable future, Smith could have sat out this season, and theoretically gotten a clean bill of mental and physical health by the spring and sought his fortune with a team. As it was, Smith got to play half a season with the Raiders. He’ll now sit for 12 months. Had he gone into counseling for the season and been suspended by the league for the year, he’d have been ready—theoretically—to play a full season for some team beginning next September instead of having two fragmented seasons.
3. The Carson Palmer divorce with Cincinnati was best for everyone. It's Bengals vs. Cardinals on Sunday night in the desert in the (inaptly named) Revenge of Carson Palmer Game. The Bengals have a 28-year-old quarterback of the future, Andy Dalton, and before you Bengalis complain about the same old Dalton after the Monday night stunner to Houston, remember this: Palmer played seven years in Cincinnati, and had the same number of playoff wins as Dalton has: zero. Palmer, 35, gets to have his last-gasp run at the Super Bowl with a coach who he is in perfect harmony with, deep-thrower-lover Bruce Arians. Enjoy the game. For Palmer, who I just spent significant time with for my series on a quarterback absorbing a game plan, don’t buy the hype about him being bitter. He’s not.
4. On Cam Newton celebrating … I. Don’t. Care.
5. Remember the trade of the year? Sam Bradford to the Eagles. Nick Foles and a Philly second-round pick to the Rams. I recall an old baseball general manager once calling a bum deal “a trade that hurt both teams.” Bradford has had a C-minus year in Philadelphia (that’s being generous) and now may miss a game or two with a concussion and a shoulder injury. His contract’s up at the end of the year and the Eagles could just let him walk and look for another quarterback. Meanwhile, Foles got benched by St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher for the renowned Case Keenum on Monday. The Rams owe Foles $6 million guaranteed for 2016, Pro Football Talk reports, so obviously that’s the gift that keeps on giving. We could see both teams mining for a new passer come February.
And now for your email:
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A STREAK OF SORTS
Last night during the broadcast, NBC mentioned the Seahawks were in the midst of a 56-game streak for having a lead at some point during the game. With their comeback, though ultimately it failed with the Cards' win, they extended it to 57. In my mind, that is one of the great streaks in NFL (maybe sports?) history. To be able to lead at some point during every game over three-plus seasons is pretty amazing.Your thoughts?
—Dave F., Dayton, Ohio
I didn’t even know that until it was mentioned on TV. I agree with you. In today’s football, to have held a lead in every game for three-and-a-half years is phenomenal. I think it speaks to the fact that the defense has been so good for almost all of that time; the Seahawks never get too far behind. Kudos to my friends at NBC for finding that stat, and much bigger kudos to the Seahawks for being so good since the beginning of 2012.
ON OVERTIME POSSESSIONS
All your numbers about overtime left me asking one question: How many of those games, before the rule change, ended in one possession and how many since have ended in one possession? That, I believe, was the biggest problem with the old rule. I think the new rule is definitely an improvement and the game is indeed more entertaining as a result.
—Cliff P., Chesterfield, Va.
That is an interesting question. I can tell you that between 1974 and 2011 that the team that won the coin toss drove for the winning score 140 times out of 477 overtime games. That is a percentage of 29.4 percent. So that means that on 70.6 percent of the overtime games in the sudden death era of overtime, both teams had at least one possession. Since 2012, 10 of the 63 overtime games have been won on the first possession of overtime. That means that on 15.9 percent of the overtime games since the new rules were put into place in 2012, only one team possessed the ball in overtime. So I think the new rule is making it a little bit more fair and eliminating the overriding importance of the coin toss from the first four decades of the overtime system.
WHAT’S GOING ON IN GREEN BAY?
What's your take on the sudden and rapid demise of the Packers this season? Just a few weeks ago they were almost the consensus pick to be the NFC rep in the Super Bowl. Does Mike McCarthy need to take back play calling? Or have defenses simply figured out how to stop this offense with press coverage and 2-deep safeties?
I'm not sure about McCarthy taking over the play-calling. You have to be around the team everyday and really understand the inner workings and chemistry between McCarthy, Tom Clements, the new play-caller, and Rodgers to make an intelligent comment about that. I watched a lot of the Green Bay game against Detroit on Sunday. One thing really surprised me. I’m not sure if Randall Cobb is having a crisis of confidence right now, or if he is still troubled by the preseason shoulder injury that he suffered in late August, but whatever it is, he is not helping Rodgers right now. In the past two games, Rodgers, who obviously is one of the most accurate passers of this era, has targeted Cobb 22 times and only nine have been complete. In those same two games, he has targeted Davante Adams 32 times. For a while Sunday, I thought Adams was the only receiver on the field. At one point, he targeted Adams eight times while throwing to Cobb zero times. Cobb had a big drop in the game and didn’t make a single big play downfield in four quarters. It could be that Cobb is struggling with the burden of expectation with Jordy Nelson being out for the year: I do believe that it’s not very easy to go from a No. 2 receiver to a No. 1. Eric Decker found that out last year with the Jets. I think the Cobb issue plus missing a key tight end like Andrew Quarless have been factors. But I appreciate what Greg Cosell of NFL Films—he watches a lot more tape than I do—said the other day when talking about Rodgers. Cosell’s critique was that Rodgers was turning down quite a few open receivers to try to make other plays.
One final thing: Last year, when Rodgers was struggling, which wasn’t often, he could turn around in the backfield and look for Eddie Lacy to make a play. In nine of Green Bay’s final 12 games last year, Lacy ran the ball for better than 4.5 yards per carry. This year, Lacy has been sluggish and he was inactive Sunday. In terms of personnel, I don’t know how things could be going any worse for Rodgers right now.
ON GIANTS TIME MANAGEMENT
How can you write an entire Monday morning column and not once reference the incredibly bad time management by the Giants on their last drive? How can you leave the Pats with 1:47 and two timeouts when all you have to do is run the ball once or twice more during that drive, especially when you get inside the 20?
I disagree with your premise. I disagree with almost everyone who has been critical of Giants coach Tom Coughlin and offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. This is why: Let’s go back to the part of the game that has you and most Giants fans very upset. There is 2:14 remaining in the game. The Giants have a first down at the New England 28. And the Patriots have two timeouts left. The Giants trail 24-23. The Giants run the ball for five yards on first down, as you would likely recommend. New England takes its second timeout with 2:10 left. Eli Manning completes a deep ball to Dwayne Harris to the New England 5-yard line. Now there is 2:06 left and New England has one timeout remaining. Manning then throws the disputed pass to Odell Beckham Jr. that appeared to be a touchdown but was reversed on replay. And this to me is something that really hurt the Giants. On that play, the clock did not go down to two minutes. It stopped with 2:01 remaining. That meant the Giants still had to run one play before the two-minute warning and the accompanying free timeout with it. With a second down from the New England 5, you probably would have wanted the Giants to run. But that wouldn't have made any difference, because the clock was going to stop no matter what. So the clock was stopped at 1:56 on the Manning incompletion and it was third down. Now with 1:56 left to play and third down at the 5 and the Patriots with one timeout left, tell me if you seriously would want to run the ball against a New England front set up to stop the run. I wouldn’t have. Manning was sacked on this next play, stayed in bounds and forced New England to take its final timeout with 1:50 left to play.
I kept hearing everybody on Sunday night and Monday saying the Giants left too much time for Brady. I don’t understand where the Giants would have run the ball that would have made much of a difference, except maybe earlier in the drive before they were in Josh Brown field-goal position. The Giants rightfully tried to score a touchdown here, because no matter how they played it, they were going to leave Tom Brady more than a minute on the clock when he got his hands on the ball again. Coughlin would have gotten killed if he played it safe, kept running the ball and left Brown with a long field goal. Whether he made it or missed, Brady would still have had enough time if he needed to make a field-goal drive to win. That’s just my opinion.
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