Patrick Smith/Getty Images; Wesley Hitt/Getty Images; Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images

Plus, the Eagles’ brutal receiving corps, Ezekiel Elliott and that spoon thing, and Kaepernick says dumb stuff about Fidel Castro (but this column is 78% actual football stuff)

By Gary Gramling
November 26, 2016

Editor’s note: Well, I’m my own editor, so I guess this is also a writer’s note. But listen: It was Thanksgiving Week, everyone else in my house is sick so I’m managing two kids under age 5 while I write this, and FXX is doing a Simpsons marathon. I’m only one man! Thus, I’m thinking a mere eight things this week. (Which is a real cop out because I go with MMQB Read of the Week for No. 9 and intro music for No. 10, so it’s like I’m thinking six things.) Though if you want to say this note is a thought, then it’s nine things. And, actually, think of your own thing that you think, print out this article and then write that thing at the end of it. You can do it, I believe in you. Plus, that would make an even 10. Anyway, here it is. And at the end, Peter Cetera will show you out…

1. Remember when Marty Mornhinweg was supposed to make the Ravens’ running game great again? Maybe he should have gone all the way and bought the trucker hats wholesale. Because during the five games of his Ravens offensive coordinator tenure, Baltimore ranks 28th in rushing yards per game (75.8) and, perhaps more importantly, 24th in rushing attempts per game (23.2). In five games under Marc Trestman earlier this season, they ranked 17th (99.0) and 22nd (24.2), after which Trestman was canned for not doing enough to establish the run.

Hey, sometimes, that’s life. No one goes into a game saying, “We must run it 30 times.” And then it’s fourth-and-goal from the nine and you’re down six with four seconds left and you run it because you only ran it 29 times to that point. Score and situation come into play, as does game theory (don’t do what your opponent expects you to do, and whatnot). But the Ravens led in the second half of each of the first four games with Mornhinweg calling the plays. In the fifth game, at Dallas last week, the game was tied until midway through the third quarter. None of those were, We’re down 24 at halftime, get ready to chuck it 25 times in the second half (the kids call that “Bortlesing”).

Last week’s game was a great example of a scenario when the run game seemed the obvious way to go. It would have kept the Cowboys’ offense, a unit that’s made a living wearing down opponents in the second half, off the field. The Ravens were also thriving with the run in the first half of that game. Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon had combined for 73 yards on 12 carries in the first half. They combined for nine yards on two carries in the second half. The Ravens got the second half kickoff, and were only on the field for 9:51 in the second half. Making your defense defend for more than 20 minutes in the second half against this Cowboys offensive line is a guaranteed way to lose.

The Ravens haven’t played beautiful football this season, yet there they are at 5-5 and tied for first in the AFC North. On Sunday, they’ll host a Bengals team that, let’s be honest, has been pushed around up front a couple of times of late (the Giants moribund run game went for 122 yards against them, and the Bills just rolled up 183 last week). So if Mornhinweg actually is going to get this running game going, now’s as good a time as any.

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2. I’ll be curious to see what narrative NBC goes with on SNF. The Chiefs have to be freaking out about an offense that has scored a Keenum-esque three touchdowns in three weeks. But I’ll be much more curious to see what the Broncos do offensively against this Chiefs D.

Make no mistake: The Chiefs nearly destroyed Peyton Manning a year ago. And not just the late-season game in Denver. These teams met in K.C. Week 2 last season. It was a Thursday nighter, and those games should always be taken with a grain of salt because of the absurdly quick turnaround, but the Broncos only picked up 299 yards of offense in that game. That’s when Manning was still in pretty good shape, and the Chiefs got him for three sacks and a pick six. The only reason K.C. lost that game was their five turnovers (three lost fumbles!), two of those coming in the red zone, and the last being a scoop and score on Jamaal Charles’ fumble with 27 seconds left in a tied game that won it.

When the Chiefs went into Denver last November, the game was not competitive. Manning attempted 20 passes; he completed five to his own team, four to the Chiefs (finishing with a Blutarsky rating). That was the day Manning got benched. Brock Osweiler entered a 22-0 game in the third quarter and made it a 29-13 final (and the Texans immediately commenced a bake sale in order raise the funds to sign Osweiler rather than drafting and developing quarterbacks of their own, but that’s a story for another time).

Gary Kubiak seems to be spending this regular season prepping Trevor Siemian, putting a little more on his QB’s plate each week, trying to get him going with a lot of first-down throws (like, way too many first-down throws). And with every passing week, Kubiak seems to sound more and more discouraged about Siemian’s play. This is the biggest game of the year so far for his young QB. And frankly, if this year’s matchups with the Chiefs go similarly to last year’s matchups (they’ll meet in K.C. one more time, on Christmas Day), the bar for Siemian should be set a little lower in light of what Manning did against this defense a year ago.

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3. Even if the Dolphins manage to drop six straight to end the season, this year will be a success. They’ve come up with an identity they can win with (one that can probably include, or not include, Ryan Tannehill) on offense. It’s been a run game headlined by Jay Ajayi but fueled by a hugely improved offensive line.

And the beauty of it is: The four guys who really make that line work—Mike Pouncey, Laremy Tunsil, Branden Albert and Ja’Wuan James—are all locked up on reasonable deals through 2018 (sorry Jermon Bushrod, it doesn’t matter whether they bring you back or not). Tunsil was drafted as a tackle, but he’s been a stud when he’s played inside this year. Maybe they’ll cut Albert loose to make room for Tunsil on the outside, but if they keep Albert and have two “franchise left tackles,” that’s not a bad problem to have.

Of course, the Dolphins will be limited again on Sunday when they host the Niners with Pouncey (hip) out, Albert (wrist) likely to sit and Tunsil (shoulder) likely to slide outside despite being banged up himself. But for the first time in a while, Dolphins fans can look at this line and feel good about the future.

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• MY VOICE IS SURPRISINGLY EFFEMINATE: It’s true, and I cringe every time I hear it on The MMQB 10 Things Podcast! But I still listen every week, because I learn a lot from Andy Benoit, we have some fun and people seem to enjoy it whether they’ve seen all of Sunday’s action or not. So subscribe now, because if we don’t get more listeners Peter King says he’ll break my thumbs.

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4. My podcast partner and personal stylist Andy Benoit made this metaphor about six months ago, in regards to the fact that Howie Roseman got booted from personnel decisions in Philly, then when he took the reigns again LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and almost everyone with a hint of speed or dynamic talent among the skill position players were gone: “It’s like Howie Roseman rented out his house, then when he moved back in all of his nice stuff was gone.”

I’d add to the metaphor by saying all his nice stuff was gone, and someone had taken an upper decker in the downstairs bathroom.* The Eagles wide receivers are unyieldingly awful. If you were to cherrypick talent off this roster, you’d say something along the lines of, Well, we’d take Green-Beckham as a developmental guy… and if Jordan Matthews can cover kicks we’ll take him as a No. 4. Matthews, the best of a sad bunch, can’t consistently separate despite having a two-way go every snap. And every week he seems to tally another third-down drop. I won’t join the Nelson Agholor pile on, except to point out that he couldn’t get lined up right on Sunday, even with a coach and an official yelling at him.

(That play, by the way, was a tight end screen to the other side of the formation, one that Zach Ertz took 57 yards for a touchdown. It came back because of that illegal formation penalty.)

That’s why it was so crucial for Philly to recoup a first-rounder they gave up in the Carson Wentz trade up, and they got it from Minnesota in the Sam Bradford trade. They can use it to add some talent to this receiving corps. Because while a Doug Pederson/Andy Reid offense doesn’t necessarily need top-notch receivers to make it work, the Eagles need the wide receiving corps to be above a certain baseline of competence. This group is not above that baseline.

*—If you don’t know what that is, ask your grossest friend.

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5. On behalf of the estate of Sean Weatherspoon’s originally intact Achilles tendon, I’m filing a cease an desist order with Ezekiel Elliott.

The “spoon/feed me” thing? That’s Weatherspoon’s celebration. It was his first, it’s cooler because it ties in with his name, and, let’s be honest, this is approximately 53 times more awesome than Elliott’s gesture:

Well, it’s at least twice as awesome, on account of Weatherspoon having two imaginary spoons. But the point is this, Elliott: He did it first and he did it better. You’re Cheryl Crow covering “Sweet Child o’ Mine” right now. I can’t legally stop you from doing the spoon thing, but I can encourage you to find a new celebration. And don’t worry, there will be plenty of time for rebranding a new celebration since you’re apparently going to rush for 3,000 yards and 30 TDs a year for the next decade.

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6. “Why you gotta act like you know when you don’t know?/It’s O.K. if you don’t know everything.”
—Ben Folds

Did you see that stuff Colin Kaepernick said about Fidel Castro? It was pretty dumb, right? Actually, really dumb. Now, bear with me as I blow your minds…

I think Kaepernick was hopelessly out of his league debating Armando Salguero about Castro and Castro’s Cuba. Embarrassingly so. I mean, this looked like… well, it looked like the 49ers offense trying to move the ball against NFL defenses.

I also think Kaepernick, through his anthem protests and subsequent interviews, has sparked important discussions about race relations and the carceral state. One of the wonderful things—perhaps the most wonderful thing—about the U.S. is that rather than telling people “You don’t like it, live somewhere else,”** we listen to grievances, try to better inform ourselves and then work to improve the country. And while race relations have obviously come a long way, from slavery to Jim Crow to (then legal) redlining, we can all agree that there’s still a ways to go.

But—get this—I also think that Kaepernick could have chosen a better way to air his grievances. I totally get that someone tuning in to be entertained by the highest level of football in the world does not want to get a political protest along with it. Kaepernick has plenty of opportunities to speak out. I mean, if an NFL quarterback who recently played in the Super Bowl wants to say anything the least bit interesting, there are no shortage of recording devices ready to be shoved in his face. (Though, admittedly, Kaepernick’s anthem protest garnered plenty of attention, so who am I to criticize…)

So if you back Kaepernick’s protests against racial discrimination and mass incarceration, there’s no reason to stop just because you disagree with his uninformed stance on Cuba. You can support some of the things he says and does, and not support other things he says and does. You can even be in opposition to some of those things. The world is just that complex a place, and we as humans have the brains to handle it.

And, as for Kaepernick: have an open mind, guy. I mean, the line: “One thing Fidel Castro did do is they have the highest literacy rate because they invest more in their education system than they do in their prison system, which we do not do here even though we’re fully capable of doing that.” That’s like something from the Facebook feed of whatever the Cuban version of this is. For chrissake, you’re a very bright guy, but you’re 29 years old. The things that a 29-year-old doesn’t know could fill a warehouse. The conversation with Salguero was as good a time as any to learn something, from someone who is undoubtedly more knowledgeable on the subject at hand.

Hopefully, with the value of hindsight, Kaepernick realizes that this was a moment to step back and learn, even if what he was being told challenged his worldview. That’s a lesson we can all take to heart.***

**—Yes, some people do say that, but they’re roundly ignored outside their bubble.

***—Ha! What a corny ending. But it’s true. Facts have taken a beating in this country over the past couple years. (Ira Glass did a good show about it.) But facts aren’t biased. Step out of your bubble, challenge your worldview, learn things (from credible sources... yes, that's usually "mainstream"). The world is too interesting to be willfully ignorant.

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7. The MMQB Read of the Week: The big boss with Sam Wyche, heart transplant recipient.

“I knew that I had the weekend to find a heart, and if I didn’t find one, the only alternative was that I’d go ahead and pass.”

I’d recommend the podcast version:

But if you are some kind of book-loving nerd who just has to read, here’s the story in article form.

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8. I think, at 12:58 p.m. ET, you should turn your volume all the way up and press play…

Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

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