The Rams’ Coliseum Problems, A Real Test for Wentz, and Darian Stewart’s Dangerous Hits
1. I recently got married. Yup, just about eight years and five months ago. Thank you, thank you very much. (I assume you paused somewhere while reading those first two sentences and said, aloud, “Hey, congratulations!” since it’s the polite thing to do.)
I’d like to take a moment to tell you about my wedding. We had 1,000 guests. The banquet hall could only comfortably fit 200, but we were able to cram 1,000 in there. It was just very difficult to access the bar. And the restrooms. And we ran out of food. And drinks. And it was oppressively hot. But, as you know, the more people at your wedding, the more gifts and checks you walk away with at the end of the night. So all’s well that ends well, amirite?
Well, at least I would have had the approval of the new Los Angeles Rams. By many accounts, the Rams’ regular-season home opener turned the L.A. Coliseum into an overcrowded sweat lodge that lacked the most basic amenities (like, say, water, on a 90-degree Southern California day).
It really doesn’t sound like they were caught off-guard. This is a quote, from Coliseum director of operations Brian Grant, that ran in The Washington Post the day before the game:
“I’ve never seen this place as crowded or chaotic as it was for [the preseason opener against] Dallas,” Grant said. “It taxes the building a bit. We’re really landlocked so there’s not a lot of places... for us to hide.”
It was an all-night brain-buster, but ultimately I came up with this outside-the-box idea for the Rams: If your facility can’t handle 91,000 fans, don’t sell 91,000 tickets.
According to a piece Sam Farmer did a month ago, the Rams sold out for each of their nine home dates (70,000 season tickets, plus another 10,000 in single-game tickets), then opted to add more tickets, for seats in the upper-level corners.
“Before we say, ‘We want to sell to 91,000,’ we want to make sure we can ensure a great experience for 80,000-plus,” Jake Bye, Rams vice president overseeing ticket sales, told Farmer. “That it’s safe, the fans can get in and out of the Coliseum easily, that the concession experience is good, parking, all the fan-experience dynamics work. We just go back to, just because we can sell it doesn’t mean we should.”
And yet, we ended up with last Sunday’s man-made disaster. Maybe the Rams made a miscalculation. More likely, the league’s “grow the business at all costs” approach to just about literally everything they do won out, once again at the expense of the common fan. So L.A., consider this your “Welcome to the Modern NFL” moment.
1b. By Lucifer’s beard, how do you run out of water?! Water doesn’t go bad. There’s no reason you shouldn’t be overstocked with water just in case, considering it is summer in Southern California. If you have too much water, put it away and roll it back out next week.
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2. Through two games, Carson Wentz looks really good. Not “really good for a rookie from an FCS school,” but just plain really good. Short of a meteor striking him mid-game, there’s little that can happen against the Steelers this afternoon that would put a damper on the Wentz enthusiasm. But today’s game is going to give us a much better read of just where Wentz is at the moment.
An NFL defense is an NFL defense, so I’m not going to severely discount Wentz’s first two games due to the opponents. (I mean, I didn’t see you picking apart a Vic Fangio D on Monday Night Football.) But on Monday Chicago was already shorthanded in the defensive backfield with No. 2 corner Kyle Fuller out, and then slot corner Bryce Callahan and safety Adrian Amos were concussed mid-game, then the time portal from 1985 never opened up above Soldier Field and the Bears were unable to import the personnel from Buddy Ryan’s vaunted 46 defense. And in Week 1, Wentz faced the Browns, who… are the Browns.
The Steelers aren’t where they were during the late aughts, the defenses with Polamalu and Hampton and Farrior and Aaron Smith and Haggans and Keisel and James Harrison (not sure if he’s related to the James Harrison who plays for them now). But this young Steelers D is on the right track, and they’re starting to implement more of those tricky zone-blitz concepts Keith Butler learned from Dick LeBeau. Wentz hasn’t had anything like that thrown at him yet.
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3. Last December, in light of the Odell Beckham suspension, I wrote about the NFL’s, shall we say “selective,” enforcement when it comes to player-safety violations. The gist, in case you don’t want to go down a very shallow rabbit hole of my past work: The NFL, as they do with the personal-conduct policy, only acts if there is public outrage. (I mean, they finally suspended Burfict for the kind of thing he did on practically a bi-weekly basis for three years, and they only suspended him because everybody in America saw it this time.) If they think you the viewer missed it, they’ll hand out no more than a slap-on-the-wrist fine.
Which brings us to Broncos safety Darian Stewart. In the first two weeks of the season, Stewart launched himself crown-of-the-helmet-first into the earhole of the reigning MVP…
And landed a forearm to the helmet of a sliding Andrew Luck.
Just to make one point clear: The hits I cited a year ago—Adam Jones, Cody Wallace, Vontaze Burfict, Brandon Browner—were dirty, dirty, dirty, as was Beckham’s play.
I don’t think either of those Stewart hits were dirty (though you could make the argument on the Luck hit). However, they were utterly reckless. On the Newton hit you can make the argument that bodies move fast, and if Newton wasn’t already on the way down the contact might have been at his chest. But Stewart put his head down and launched himself helmet-first; that’s dangerous for the ballcarrier and the tackler.
For all the rhetoric the league has dispensed in regard to player safety, two slap-on-the-wrist fines for Stewart is not nearly enough. These kinds of hits can be legislated out of the game; they’re completely avoidable. There just has to be a deterrent that will change player behavior, and that deterrent is a suspension. Because nobody yelled about the Stewart hits (in part because the league’s selective application of concussion protocol overshadowed the first one), the league didn’t feel compelled to act. But if player safety was as much of a concern as it should be, Stewart would be sitting out on Sunday.
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4. Speaking of Beckham, this was his last NFL touchdown:
By the end of last year’s roller coaster matchup with Josh Norman, he had 99 catches for 1,396 yards and 13 TDs through 14 games on the season. In the three games since, he has a pedestrian 17 catches for 213 yards and zero touchdowns.
Here’s what everyone loses sight of when they talk Beckham-Norman II, as my oh-so-astute colleague and podcast partner (for God’s sake, subscribe to my podcast!) Andy Benoit pointed out earlier this week: Norman couldn’t cover Beckham. If Beckham hadn’t lost his mind and reverted to a 3-year-old throwing a tantrum because he’s just been told he can’t watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on account of the fact that it’s… well, I’m sorry son, it’s just an unforgivably awful show, and if Beckham hadn’t dropped a wide-open touchdown early on, we’d be talking about how badly he torched Norman a year ago.
As you probably heard, Washington has been playing Norman exclusively on the left side through two games, and the fact that they’ll reportedly let him travel with Beckham (except when Beckham lines up in the slot) on Sunday smells a little bit like panic for an 0-2 team. Unless Norman gets under Beckham’s skin again, I’m not sure he can stop him.
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5. With the exception of the Broncos going from a traditional offense to Tebow ball (Wish-Tebow-ne? I’ll work on it) in 2011, I can’t think of an offense that’s had to undergo a more drastic transformation on the fly than the Vikings are undergoing right now.
I was the last believer in Sam Bradford, so last Sunday night’s performance felt like vindication for me (which was surely Bradford’s main motivation). I have purchased a 40 x 20-foot banner that says “I WAS RIGHT ABOUT SAM BRADFORD,” but I know I can’t drape it across my roof for air traffic to see just yet. The Panthers, this week’s opponent, had a chance to review a Bradford-led offense, a luxury the Packers didn’t have last week. And with Adrian Peterson out for the year, Carolina doesn’t have to concern itself with the threat of the run.
What figured to be one of the five or so most run-heavy teams in the NFL is now looking at having to throw it 35 to 40 times per game. They paid the price for a quarterback who could do that. Now we get to see if it’s a winning formula.
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6. Things are obviously bad in Buffalo. I mean, in a way they’re wonderful because Western New York—from Tonawanda and Lackawanna, East Seneca to West Seneca, Amherst to Williamsville to Buffalo proper—is such a great place to live. But in regards to the Rex Ryan era of the Buffalo Bills, things aren’t going so well.
So I’d like to tell you the story of another coach in the AFC East who was struggling badly two games into his second season.
This coach was a retread hire taking over an 8-8 team, but he went just 5-11 in his first season. In his second season, he was not only off to an 0-2 start, but his franchise quarterback—the one he had just signed to a record-setting extension—had blood filling his pleural cavity. (That’s bad.) But this coach kept his job.
And that little boy, who nobody liked, grew up to be… Bill Belichick. And now you know the rest of the story.
That’s not to say I think Rex Ryan will one day be Bill Belichick. He certainly will not be. But the point is this: The Bills have had a run of horrible luck, much of it out of Ryan’s control. Their top two draft picks are nowhere near getting on the field. Their best defensive player is suspended because he… can’t stop abusing substances. The game-changing wide receiver they spent two first-round picks to get can’t stay on the field. Tyrod Taylor is probably not a franchise quarterback, but they haven’t had any alternatives. (Two things you can put on Rex: He seemingly couldn’t get Mario Williams to buy in last year, and would-be shutdown corner Stephon Gilmore seems to be regressing, though it’s too early to say that definitively).
My point is this: Rex Ryan was hired about 20 months ago. Presumably, when he was hired, the thought was that he had a chance to be the long-term answer. There’s no way to know that after 20 months, or even two full seasons. Let him get his guys playing in his system, and get a quarterback in the building, and then see what the program you hired him to build looks like. Otherwise you’re just hitting the re-set button again, and then you have a new guy bringing a new system and the same combination of ill-fitting or underwhelming talent. And considering all that, you’ll probably fire the new guy within two years too.
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7. I know everyone has already punched their Coach of the Year ballot for Bill Belichick, but before we tally the hanging chads and release the white smoke or whatever, I’d just like to point out that Mike McCoy is still on the watch list. If the Chargers look as impressive as they did last week, with four of their top five weapons out of the lineup and with L.A. hanging over their heads, we should have at least a two-horse race for COTY.
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8. In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re dipping our toes into the college football world this season. So for your first The MMQB Read of the Week, I’ll hand it over to Emily Kaplan, who did a piece on 1-1 candidate DeShone Kizer (no, scouts don’t care if the Notre Dame defense can’t stop anyone) and the pressures of being the QB in South Bend, catching up with several former ND quarterbacks:
[Brady] Quinn, who played eight NFL seasons: “I mean, there were weekly press conferences at Notre Dame that had double the attendance of ones I had with the Browns.”
[Rick] Mirer, who had a 12-year NFL career but never lived up to his billing as the second overall pick of the 1993 draft: “If you can survive the scrutiny that comes with the position [at Notre Dame], everything else feels normal and routine. The drama around big bowl games, opening day or any Saturday really, it was great preparation for scrutiny going into pre draft, the draft, and the NFL. Any media obligations after, were really no bigger than what you did in college.
“It seems like you know a lot about us [Notre Dame quarterbacks] by the time our college careers end because of the media exposure. Sometimes that’s good, sometimes not.”
Really, if you haven’t been keeping up, you should go back and read all of Emily’s The College Column so far. The series has included an illuminating Q&A with Nick Saban, a day tracking everything Leonard Fournette does on the field besides run the ball (since that’s what scouts will be doing), and a search for the “Next Carson Wentz” that led to a Montana QB. Plus, every week, The Anonymous Scout, Campus Eats, [Phil] Savage’s Seniors and lots of other good stuff.
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9. Gameday Beernerdness: Just stealing a bit from the boss’s column.
So with autumn upon us, I decided to create a refreshing new brew that just might take the country by storm. I took five pints of Guinness and poured them into an empty two-liter bottle (that once contained delicious Royal Crown Cola). Then I added the entire contents of an 11-ounce bag of Brach’s brand candy corn (you know, Skittlebrau style). How was it? Well, let’s just say one of the doctors at the ER told me I was clinically dead for nearly three minutes.
Note to readers: Can you find the factual error in this week’s Gameday Beernerdness? Answer at the bottom of this column.
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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…
* — The factual error in this week’s Gameday Beernerdness: Five pints would overflow a two-liter bottle!
We would also accept “everything” as a correct answer. Literally everything in that story is factually inaccurate, with the possible exception of the candy corn because I did eat the entire contents of an 11-ounce bag of Brach’s candy corn while I watched the games last Sunday. So if you gave either of those answers, please award yourself 15 “Gameday 10 Things” points. (Not to be confused with 10 “Gameday 15 Things” points.) Thanks for playing and see you next week!
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