Quick thoughts on Colin Kaepernick’s 49ers return, Cam Newton and the Panthers’ problems and more NFL notes, plus your questions on Darius Slay, Dak Prescott, Deflategate’s costs and more
After five NFL weeks, 10 quick points and 10 pieces of your email …
1. Colin Kaepernick starting Sunday in Buffalo was the only call for Chip Kelly at this point, because Blaine Gabbert just isn’t good enough—but that doesn’t mean the curiously skinny Kaepernick is going to be good enough to re-stake his long-term claim on the 49ers’ starting quarterback job.
2. I don’t know which one of the two embattled San Franciscans—Kaepernick or GM Trent Baalke—will be gone in 2017, but at least one of them surely will.
3. The firing of offensive coordinator Marc Trestman says that Baltimore coach John Harbaugh will not stand for mediocrity, nor will he stand for the league’s worst yards-per-pass-attempt (5.51) average when the Ravens are paying one of the game’s best deep-ball throwers, Joe Flacco, $20 million a year.
4. I thought I was seeing this right, how imbalanced the anti-rush Ravens were this year, and I was: Baltimore threw it 57.3 percent of the time in its 2012 Super Bowl season, and that’s risen to 65.3 percent this year—way, way too much for a team with a good mashing offensive line.
5. Cam Newton being held out of a must-win game for the Panthers (that they lost) is a win for the NFL’s concussion protocol.
6. Wear a helmet, Cam Newton, when riding strange vehicles in city traffic—or in any traffic.
Cam Newton was riding around downtown Charlotte today on this. pic.twitter.com/sxp0CoxkUu— lisa salters (@saltersl) October 11, 2016
7. Rent, don’t buy, Roberto Aguayo.
8. A 24 percent drop in TV ratings from 2015’s week five Monday night game to 2016’s Monday-nighter (I dub Bucs 17, Panthers 14 the Worst Game of All Time At Least Since Last Thursday) just fits this season’s pattern, but boy, was that some awful football.
9. Anyone else find it odd that the Denver interim-coach-for-a-week isn’t Wade Phillips?
10. It’s easy to point to the Panthers’ cornerback crisis, which is real, but don’t overlook the major significance of the hamstring injury to the team’s biggest defensive leader, linebacker Thomas Davis; if he’s out for some time, and left Monday’s game with it, it will be debilitating.
Now for your emails ...
BIG PLAY SLAY
Respectfully, I must point out that you overlooked “Big Play” Darius Slay of the Lions, who was pivotal in their fourth-quarter comeback victory over the Eagles. In a 77-second span late in the game, Slay forced a fumble from running back Ryan Mathews inside Philly territory, which allowed Detroit to bleed clock and kick the go-ahead field goal. Then on the ensuing series Slay made a highlight-film pick of a deep Carson Wentz pass (first pick of Wentz's NFL career) to allow Matthew Stafford to go into victory formation. A win the Lions needed badly, and Darius Slay made it happen. What’s a guy gotta do to be Defensive Player of the Week?
— Brian Pollins, Sylva, N.C.
Slay would have been a good choice, but I liked Atlanta’s Vic Beasley (3.5 sacks, including two strip-sacks of the quarterback, and eight tackles in an upset of the Broncos) and Arizona’s Calais Campbell (two sacks, including one for a safety, and an interception that resulted in the Cardinals’ first touchdown of the game) a little more.
Tony who? Let's demote the injury-prone Romo to part-time backup and go with Prescott.
If the Dallas rookie QB wins his fifth in a row, at Lambeau Field Sunday, I’d be very surprised if the Cowboys don’t keep playing Dak Prescott.
NO LOVE FOR THE DONUT CLUB BOYS?
I’m stunned. The Vikings are the only undefeated team, and yet you spend more time talking about their stadium than their dismantling of the Texans? This is a team everyone had dead and buried before the season even started. I get that Minnesota is not a big market like New York, and the team doesn't have the following of the Cowboys, but give me a break. I suppose Vikings fans should be happy they get a three-line poem at the end.
— L.J., Natick, Mass.
I led my Week 2 column with 1,040 words on the Vikings, and in last week’s Mailbag I wrote about Bradford’s MVP candidacy. I’m pretty sure I’ll have plenty of chances to write about Minnesota the rest of the reason as well. In addition, Jenny Vrentas was at the game for The MMQB and will have several pieces of content for you in the coming days, including a long feature on the perfect Mike Zimmer player who’s making a huge difference on defense.
ON DEFLATEGATE’S LEGAL FEES
You might want to give some more thought about your suggestion that owners should send a strongly worded letter to the commissioner about costing them $300,000-plus each in legal fees for the Tom Brady situation. In reality that is just the cost of doing business in the NFL. That payment:
1) Solidifies the situation where the commissioner takes flack for what the majority of owners want in a given situation and so the owners themselves don’t have to take public flack. That alone is probably worth its weight in gold.
2) Solidifies the perception that management can turn to the court in iffy situations and get its way on behalf of the owners.
3) Says broadcast ratings will rise, as you believe they will after the election, and the next contract makes up that cost in spades.
4) Most importantly, franchise ownership in the NFL is a venture capital operation. Increasing values of the individual franchises, and the power and fame that goes along with it for each owner, are the most important goals for NFL ownership. The commissioner has convinced the owners, rightly or wrongly, that he is an independent and key variable in valuation increase. An owner may say something in the elevator to the commissioner about the $300K payment, but it would be negligible and something the commissioner would easily gloss over.
It’s a lot of money to you and me and probably to some of the owners. But they get a return on it, and the commissioner would point out that the return is worth every bit of the investment.
— Don B, Waltham, Mass.
You forgot the part about whacking a player without irrefutable evidence that he actually did anything wrong. Is that worth $11.5 million to the owners?
ON THE EVOLUTION OF TYROD TAYLOR
As a tortured Bills fan, I have made my online rounds for a Monday morning, a joyful habit following a win. I read an article that revealed an accurate depiction of a mild sinking feeling that has accommodated each of our last three wins. Tyrod Taylor, on paper, has not shown the production that is associated with a franchise quarterback. He has produced under 200 passing yards in our last three wins. However, I feel it is a bit early to be making such declarations. He is working with a new coordinator, and top receiver Sammy Watkins is on IR. But he has three wins in a row. Why try to make him into something he clearly is not (a pure pocket passer)? After reading your MMQB and reading the quotes from Anthony Lynn, I began to wonder if the pass-heavy model for winning that is currently the go-to strategy in today’s NFL, isn’t the only viable model. So my question to you is, can the Bills impose their will on the game and use a ground-and-pound model, with a "safe" passing game, and a dynamic defense, to create their own path to the playoffs? Or, does Tyrod Taylor need to continue to evolve and develop into a more of a pocket passer in order for this team to find success?
— Leah P., Buffalo, N.Y.
Leah, I have the same questions as you do, and the fact is, we can’t know the answers yet. Give Taylor and Lynn a chance to build their own chemistry, and give the Bills’ offense a chance to play the way it wants and try to dictate to the defense the best way they can with the talent they have. But I believe this will be more of a running team, consistently, than it had been. Rex Ryan prefers that, and he’s the boss.
TAUNTING FLAGS ARE OUT OF CONTROL
What is your comment about the ridiculous amount of flags thrown for taunting this year? Fifteen yards for something stupid is going to be a major game winner/loser.
— Bob, Appleton, WI
For this I side with the vocal masses—which you, Bob, represent well here. I hate the flags. This is an emotional game, and the officials should allow some emotion on the field, including the right of a player to spin the ball on the field wherever he pleases. To think that an offensive player has to find an empty spot to spin the football—and make sure it is not anywhere near a defensive player he has just whipped on the play—is Nanny Football at its worse.
FROM ONE DAD TO ANOTHER
You’re a busy guy with a long column to write, yet you took the time to type in the names of all six of Bridget McCown’s friends. Very cool.
— John Morris, Aspen, Colorado
Thanks a lot, John. Good of you to say. When I saw that photo, my heart melted. I texted Josh McCown and told him it’s one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a while, and he called me Sunday to thank me, and Bridget just happened to be there. He asked if I wanted to hear the story from her. Of course I did. I asked her if she would mind if I used her friends’ names. She texted them, they were cool with it, and so they appeared. What I loved about the photo was what it said about the love Bridget had for her dad. So, so cool. What a great family.
WHAT IF LARRY FITZGERALD…
Loved your point about Fitzgerald’s lacking a quality quarterback for half his career. If every coach played him like Belichick did, they would look to take away Arizona’s strength and (most likely) double-team Fitz. So it made me wonder—what if, rather than a competent QB, it’s Arizona’s running game that needed to be competent? I did a little research (data at our fingertips—amazing) to see if Arizona’s run game has been any good during Fitzgerald’s time there. Here are the Cardinals’ rankings in rushing offense over his 12 full seasons:
|Season||Cardinals’ NFL Rushing Rank|
During Fitzgerald’s career:
8: number of times Arizona has ranked in the bottom 5 teams in YPG
0: number of times Arizona has ranked in the top 5 teams in YPG
1: number of times Arizona has ranked above average in YPG (last year)
27: Average rank of Arizona’s rushing offense during Fitzgerald’s tenure
It might be a chicken-and-egg scenario, but I do think it’s interesting that Arizona’s running game has been so poor during Fitzgerald’s career.
— Mike, L.A.
I’ve got readers who do charts! What great readers I have!
ZIMMER FOR PREZ
— Ken Cordbidge
Do you think the declining football TV ratings may simply reflect demographics? Younger generations (should I say millennials?) have a different way to use their time. I cannot imagine a 25-year-old today sitting in front of the TV for more than three hours just to watch one single game. Could it be necessary to shorten the game, in order not to lose younger generations (i.e. the market of the future)? I have often thought that if games lasted two hours instead of three, I would watch more football. How about not stopping the clock for incomplete passes, for example? Or keeping it running when the ball goes out of bounds?
— Francesco, Milan, Italy (currently in Yemen).
Thanks for writing, Francesco. Interesting theory. I ask myself after all of the theories presented: Has this changed since last year? Because the ratings were up each of the last three years, and this year they’re down drastically. The 25-year-old fan didn’t just wake up this year and think the games were too long; thousands of those fans wouldn’t have stopped watching the games on TV just this year, right? All the theories have something to them. But the biggest factor, I’m convinced, is the magnetism of this presidential election.
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