Plus, a solution to the London games and Thursday Night Football debacles and more heading into Week 8
An apology to loyal reader(s): I was on vacation Friday and Saturday this week, so this Gameday 10 Things is slightly abbreviated (it was mostly written in the car while two kids shrieked with joy about a trip to Sesame Place, and two adults shrieked in pain about driving on the Jersey Turnpike during Friday rush hour).
1. I understand why Rams fans want Jared Goff under center when they return from their bye week to host the Panthers next week. You’re not only tired of watching Case Keenum, but you’re tired of watching Case Keenum and then hearing from analysts how two interceptions weren’t Keenum’s fault but also ignore the four other throws that absolutely should have been intercepted but instead fell incomplete.
We’ll see if there’s fire with the smoke of Steve Wyche's report that the Rams are getting Goff ready. But it’s not a surprise if Goff isn’t ready yet. While the NFL has borrowed elements of the Air Raid offense, it isn’t an NFL offense. Goff’s time at Cal, unlike Carson Wentz’s time at North Dakota State, didn’t prepare him to run an NFL offense. He needed to be programmed, and that’s fine. I’ve run this list out about 14 times (and I’ve only written about 30 of these columns), but these are quarterbacks who also sat for a lengthy amount of time to begin their NFL careers: Tony Romo (three-plus years), Aaron Rodgers (three years), Philip Rivers (two years), Tom Brady (one-plus year), Drew Brees (one year), Carson Palmer (one year), Eli Manning (half a year).
So all the Goff questions we get around here: Is Jared Goff a bust?, Is it fair to say the Rams should have taken Carson Wentz since Jared Goff can’t even beat out Case Keenum? On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being the worst bust of all time and 10 being merely the worst bust of the last decade, how would you rate Jared Goff? Jared Goff is clearly not good at football. Sorry, I forgot to ask a question. Just because he’s not playing doesn’t mean he won’t be good. There’s no such thing as “too late” for a developing quarterback to ascend to the starting role (maybe for the head coach’s tenure, but not for the QB’s development). And you can do real damage by sending a guy out there too early. For instance…
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2. Bad habits of rookie quarterbacks can be corrected on the practice field. It becomes much more difficult in the games. Sometimes it’s that the QB doesn’t want to be embarrassed in front of millions of fans, so he falls back on the things he’s comfortable doing rather than the things he should be doing. A lot of times it’s simply a matter of, once the proverbial bullets start flying, adrenaline flows and instinct and muscle memory take over. So if that young quarterback hasn’t been fully reprogrammed before he gets on the field, he regresses.
Which brings us to Blake Bortles. You might have noticed something about Bortles. He wasn’t a very good passer as a rookie. He was better last year, his second season. And now in Year 3, he has regressed to an almost unbelievable degree. If you made a line chart of his game-by-game performance through two-and-a-half seasons, it would somehow spell the words “GETTING CRAPPIER.” His mechanics look like a piece of found footage in a horror movie about a small town that is haunted by the murderous ghost of a deceased quarterbacks coach. He saw the flawed mechanics on film so many times that he went mad and… ate his own brain, or something. (Whatever, the bones are there. Look for it next Halloween.)
Now I’m just piling on. But honestly, Bortles’ throwing motion looks like Pete Townshend playing “Pinball Wizard.” And it would be one thing if Bortles were simply a limited athlete. He’s not. His mechanics should have been correctable. The only thing I could think of is that he can’t get comfortable with the mental aspects of the game.
A couple years ago I asked a veteran who had played with Tim Tebow something along the lines of “Hey, y’know how Tebow can’t throw it right? Like, what’s up with that?” The answer was basically: Tebow can absolutely throw accurately and with proper mechanics during drills. When he gets in the game, he has no idea what he’s looking at with all the moving parts. His mechanics fall apart because it’s not muscle memory, and he has no confidence in whether or not the area he’s throwing to will be open. (It’s not a “smart or dumb” question, it’s just whether or not the quarterback has the brain type to be able to process defenses.)
Anyway, back to Bortles. The Jags were talking up a redshirt year the moment they drafted him in 2014. Then they changed course and threw him into the fire. Maybe Bortles would have struggled regardless. Maybe the fact that he had to be rebuilt as far as throwing mechanics while simultaneously learning to read NFL defenses were too much to handle, not unlike Tebow. Maybe Bortles can still be salvaged. But looking back, and looking at what he is now, I can’t help but think that a redshirt year (or even two) might have done him a world of good.
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3. Many trees have died to provide the paper on which online articles attempting to pinpoint the Packers’ offensive woes have been printed by people who don’t like to bring their phones into the bathroom. But for the past 10 days, the pendulum has seemingly swung back the other way in light of last Thursday night’s victory over the Bears (406 yards of offense!). I’m not optimistic that Packers fans should be, uh, optimistic.
Green Bay’s problems have been almost entirely due to the fact that their receivers don’t create separation (whether it’s the receivers, the play designs, or both). The Bears are running out guys like Cre’von LeBlanc and De’Vante Bausby—undrafted rookies from Florida Atlantic and Pittsburg State, respectively—at cornerback. The Packers possessed the ball for nearly 40 minutes in that game, largely because the Bears’ crappy offense couldn’t stay on the field. If the Packers couldn’t get the passing game going on a night like that, it’d be time to re-install the ol’ single wing and run the Lombardi Sweep 40 times every week.
So while, say, Davante Adams taking advantage of an undrafted rookie who probably doesn’t belong on the field at this point in his career is better than Davante Adams not taking advantage of an undrafted rookie who probably doesn’t belong on the field at this point in his career, we’re going to get a much better read on the Packers on Sunday when they face a Falcons. Dan Quinn’s defense is young and still experiencing some growing pains, but they have a much better group of athletes than Aaron Rodgers picked on 10 days ago. My guess is we’ll look back at that Bears win and recognize it as yet another case of a bad opponent making someone look better than they actually are.
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4. With the final London game upon us, let us look back on the unrelenting crappiness of those games that have come before. And let us ask: Shouldn’t the NFL try to make all these money-grab games (international series, Thursday Night Football) also good games?
And I have an answer that allows the league to keep their money while putting teams in better position to compete: More bye weeks. I don’t know exactly how many bye weeks, maybe two or three going forward. But teams playing on the other side of an ocean (whether it be London, Berlin or Paris, Beijing, Tokyo or the Yaren District of Nauru—I would absolutely watch an NFL game played in Nauru) get a bye the previous week in order to get acclimated to the different time zone, and a bye the following week to re-acclimate to the U.S. As for Thursday Night Football, no team has to play Sunday and then turn around and play again on Thursday. You can’t prepare to play an NFL game, physically or mentally, with a 100-hour turnaround.
If someone at the NFL will give me a pirated Microsoft Excel license key, I’ll figure it out. (Kidding, I have Excel, I’m just lazy.)
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5. Jarvis Landry is (a) not a dirty player, and (b) should be suspended this week. Despite recent conversations to the contrary, those two are not mutually exclusive.
This is also independent of the fact that Landry’s hit on Aaron Williams might have ended Williams’ career. Regardless of the outcome, Landry launched himself (both feet off the ground) into Williams’ chinstrap. We’re past the “head on a swivel” or “that used to be a good football play” portion of this discussion. That hit is exceptionally dangerous and, quite honestly, unnecessary. The NFL needs to legislate it out of the game. Incremental fines have not and will not work. The league needs to take away games and game checks. That doesn’t brand Landry a dirty player. It brands the play as no longer acceptable. And until the NFL is willing to take that stance (and it’s not even a difficult stance to take!), they can’t be taken seriously on player safety.
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6a. So Emily Kaplan featured Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly—nephew of Jim, top senior QB draft prospect, doer of a few really dumb things over his formative years—atop her College Column this week (full disclosure: I’m her editor on that column). And a certain line Kelly delivered garnered a lot of attention (emphasis mine):
“I have it all. I might not have the same mojo as your basic quarterback, but I feel like I bring a different type of swag to the team and the players around me [...]. I play with a swag they’ve never seen before.”
Did you catch it? Look again. Specifically at the two words in bold. That’s right, Chad Kelly really likes the word “swag.”
I know very little about how male millennials communicate (my impression was always that it’s through emojis, gifs and pictures of genitals). Perhaps “swag” is to the current generation what “radical” was, and still is, to me.
But I’ll say two things, not necessarily in defense of Kelly but at least to counter the glee that folks took in ripping this comment: (1) Sometimes it’s nice to hear from these guys before they’ve been sanitized for the pre-draft process. I’m sure the first thing Kelly’s agent will tell him is that he is forbidden from using the word “swag.” Or “swaggy.” Or “swagacious.” Kelly is a college kid and hasn’t been transformed into a politician yet. And (2) Emily’s story touches on this point a little bit, but what do you think Brett Favre or, yes, Jim Kelly would have sounded like coming into the draft if they were born 30 years later?
6b. One last thing: A lot of folks are promoting the Chad Kelly = Johnny Manziel narrative based on Kelly’s lexicon of choice. At this point that’s pretty unfair. The failure of Manziel (another subject Emily and I worked on) was due mostly to the fact that he didn’t want to put in the work (playbook, film room, etc.). Manziel was savvy, he knew how to take a shortcut. As for Kelly, I get the sense (mostly based on that unpleasantness at Clemson) that he might bristle at being a back-up for two or three seasons at the start of his career. But I don’t get the sense that he’s unwilling to work.
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7. I spent literally a couple of hours working up a piece on Cowboys vs. Eagles slash Dak vs. Wentz, and it was so bad that I just scrapped the whole thing. (Particularly alarming since, as you know, my standards are startlingly low.)
But my point was going to be this: There will be many scorching takes coming out of Sunday night’s game, depending on the outcome. Wentz is too hyped or Dak is just a winner or even Dak is just a product of the All-Pro team surrounding him. But whatever. There will be no grand conclusions to be drawn after Sunday Night Football. Dak is a good prospect. Wentz is a better prospect. They’re both on very good trajectories as far as the long-term outlook goes.
Would Wentz be better off playing in Dallas considering that they have football’s best offensive line and that Dez Bryant could run on his hands and catch the ball with his feet and still be a more potent weapon than any of the Eagles’ receivers and that starting RT Halapoulivaati Vaitai, through two games, has given up more pressures than letters in his first name (which would be problematic even if he was Ed Vaitai)? Probably. Would Prescott be struggling desperately if he were Philly’s quarterback? Possibly, but not definitely. Just because he hasn’t had a chance to carry a bad unit doesn’t mean he couldn’t do it.
So sit back, relax, and enjoy watching two very good young quarterbacks (at least during the commercials of World Series Game 5).
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8. I actually tweeted this the other day, but (1) I want the world to recognize my progeny’s genius, and (2) it’s 11:48 p.m. ET on Saturday and I usually try to have this published no later than 11, so it’s time to start self-plagiarizing.
Coming into this week, my 2-year-old son was 77th picking against the spread out of the approximately 170,000 entries on ESPN.com.
He speaks about 19 words of English (two of which are “no” and “Bears,” often spoken in succession). I show him photos of each team’s mascot side-by-side and he points to the team he wants. He’s hitting at 62.6% 107 games into the season. Along with myself, our family pick ’em pool includes a professional handicapper, a sports statistician, a full-time fantasy writer and an ESPN.com editor. My son is six games up on the pack. (My 4-year-old daughter, meanwhile, is shaming our household. I’m not ready to talk about it.)
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9. Your MMQB Read of the Week is Robert Klemko on the Broncos devotion to learning opposing players’ tells. I’m a sucker for the “game inside the game” pieces, and this is absolutely one of the best I’ve ever read. And as one astute Bills fan lamented to me earlier this week: “How does Rex let Thad Bogardus get away!” (Read the piece, you’ll get it.)
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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…
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