Plus, Leonard Fournette sits, a lesson about late-season QB changes and more heading into Week 15
1. We at The MMQB like to view ourselves as football coverage for the sophisticated fan. And, as an avid reader before I joined the team a year into the venture, I think we do a pretty frickin’ good job. (I mean, maybe not this column, but most of the other stuff.)
But the fact remains: We’re a small drop in an ocean of NFL coverage. And most of the NFL coverage has become an echo chamber of asininity (which, coincidentally, is the name of my prog rock band’s second EP).
Let’s take a look at the latest round of Rex Ryan clickbait. Last Sunday, Orioles fan (and therefore fine young man) Jason La Canfora dispensed a vague report that Ryan could lose his job this week. Fair enough. If someone with knowledge of the situation said it, it’s fair game. What followed was a flash flood of… digital… vomit (that’s the metaphor I’ll go with), along the lines of this, from one of the leading sports sites:
“Run out of excuses?” That’s a completely empty platitude. What does that mean? (And why do I get Saved By the Bell targeted ads? I hated that show! Turn your chair around the right way, Slater, you turd.)
I was going to do a line-by-line breakdown of the absurdity of that column, but whatever. It’s not worth it. I’ll sum it up like this: There’s literally one excuse for Ryan, and it’s a very good one: This Bills roster is what folks in Western New York would call “crappy.”
It was crappy at the beginning of the year. Not to point fingers at other folks in the industry, but I didn’t think there was enough peyote in the southwest to cause this many “the Bills are a 10-win team” hallucinations. Back in August, Breer and I did the season preview podcast and agreed that this might be a 4-12 team considering the roster limitations.
They don’t have a quarterback. I think Tyrod Taylor is a swell guy and I think he’s a fine fantasy football player. He brings value to the run game. He can extend plays and occasionally make things happen late in the down. But schematically in the passing game, opposing defenses play chess while the Bills are also playing chess but have never played before and stall in hopes that their opponent has a medical emergency and is unable to finish the game. This is not an offense that can move the ball in 2016, especially not without Sammy Watkins (who has missed eight games).
The defense has an alarming lack of depth, exposed when their first two picks of the 2016 draft, DE Shaq Lawson and LB Reggie Ragland, went down. If they hadn’t found Lorenzo Alexander living in his car behind the Cheektowaga Tim Horton’s (not literally, but metaphorically that’s where they found him), this front seven would have been doomed. They gave Marcell Dareus a lucrative extension and he repaid it by drawing a four-game suspension to start 2016. They spent two first rounders to get Watkins in 2014. The only reason they could even take a chance on Richie Incognito, a free-agent hit, was because Rex is confident he can work with troubled guys. Their first-round picks over the last four years—EJ Manuel, Watkins, the pick they traded to get Watkins, and Lawson—have combined to start six games in 2016.
The most common criticism of Ryan is the Bills’ defense has taken a step back. It’s also a drastically different defense—far more complex (perhaps too complex)—than the line-up-and-go scheme Buffalo ran under Jim Schwartz in 2014, when they had one of football's best units. Of course, in 2014 Schwartz had Mario Williams playing like the best defender in football not named Justin James. Had Schwartz gotten the job in Buffalo, and had he still been leaning on Williams, who’s now playing his way out of the league in Miami, do you honestly think this would have been football’s best defense?
Despite what those who watch football by turning on the red zone channel and following their fantasy team on their phone might say: The Bills haven’t stopped playing. A week ago they got steam-rolled by the Steelers not due to a lack of effort, but due to the fact that a very good team with very good players came in and beat up on their not-nearly-as-good players. These things happen when you lack talent.
I’ve written about a young (well, 49-year-old) Bill Belichick before. In 2000 he took over a Patriots program that had averaged 10 wins over the previous four seasons and hadn’t had a losing season in any of those years. Belichick then proceeded to drop 13 of his first 18 games (with a whole lot more talent than these Bills teams have). The point isn’t that “Rex is the next Belichick.” The point is that if you’re going to hire a head coach, one who runs a drastically different system than the one your team had run previously, and on a team with no answer at quarterback, you have to give him more than two years to get his players and build his program.
The Pegulas own the team, and if they want to make a change that’s their prerogative. It would be an admission that they made an enormous mistake in their first big decision as owners. But if you’re going to slap unrealistic expectations on your head coach and then fire them every other year, well, you only have to go about 200 miles down the coast of Lake Erie to see how that approach works out.
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2. And, not that they asked, but the Bills should absolutely take one of the high-end developmental QBs (Watson, Kizer, Kaaya) in the first round this year. They could have the choice of exercising the second-year of Tyrod Taylor’s deal and keeping him on as a placeholder, meaning (if they keep Cardale Jones as a No. 3 QB) they’d be spending about $20 million in cap space on their entire QB depth chart next year ($15.9 million on Taylor and $635,000 on Jones according to overthecap.com, and let’s guess they pick in the back half of the top 10 and spend around $3.5 million on a rookie).
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3. I’m excited to reintroduce a segment never requested: “The Thursday Night Football: Saturday Night Edition Sunday Review.”
It was a matchup that put the “turd” in “Thursday Night Football: Saturday Night Edition.” Let’s take a look at the good and the bad from the Dolphins’ victory over the Jets.
a. Ryan Tannehill’s decision to go cane instead of crutches. I would’ve gone top hat and monocle as well.
b. A temporary end to fans calling for quarterbacks to play because “you gotta see what they can do.” A team knows 90% of what a quarterback can do, and if that QB isn’t on the field, then that’s your answer as to “what he can do.” Bryce Petty can’t play in the NFL right now. The Jets knew that. This all seems like an exercise in “fine, you wanna see for yourselves… here, O.K.?” (If I’m the Jets, this offseason I’d try to trade conditional late-round picks for Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson. But if that doesn’t work out I think I’d bring back Geno Smith on a one-year deal that I could extend to two, hold onto Christian Hackenberg since he was a multi-year project anyway, then let Petty battle it out for a roster spot with another developmental guy. And just accept you’re gonna be bad at quarterback for a year or two.)
c. Dolphins special teams are good.
d. Halftime Target run: Buy three get one free on soup! I’m gonna be eating like a king. A king who enjoys reasonably priced soup.
e. One team played competent football, the other did not.
f. Bilal Powell. I’m still confused as to why he was playing behind Matt Forte all year.
g. Hey, winning season for the Dolphins! Nice job, Adam Gase. Nice job, Vance Joseph. Nice job, Matt Moore. Nice job, Ndamukong Suh. And nice job, Andy Benoit, who took a lot of heat for writing this after Week 2.
a. My television while this game was on. Or anytime the 2016 Jets have been on.
b. Brandon Marshall, who got punked by Byron Maxwell. Marshall came into this game with the singular purpose of embarrassing Maxwell. Maxwell countered with, “Oh yeah, then I’m not even gonna show up.” So, like the middle-school bully who says “I’ll meet you in the quarry after school” (I went to a weird middle school), and then no one shows up, Marshall played with an emptiness in his soul. And also, like, really slippery mittens on his hands, apparently. You shouldn’t have worn those really slippery mittens, Brandon Marshall!
c. Bryce Petty. Maybe one day. But that day would come in the year 2023.
d. The Jets play like it’s recess touch football rules, only one blitz per set of downs. They were shocked any time the Dolphins brought extra pressure.
e. God’s nightgown, I know Revis has fallen off because of age, but how did the rest of this Jets secondary get so bad?
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4. It’s gonna be a cold one out there today: Six degrees in Chicago, eight in K.C., 23 in Denver, 28 in Cincinnati. It will be 61 in San Diego, but consider that’s only 16 degrees centigrade. Doesn’t sound so warm now, right?
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5. A bunch of you wrote in with MVP ideas after I wrote about all the “give it to the whole Dallas O-line” absurdity that gripped the nation. I don’t get a vote on the actual MVP because the system is rigged, but I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be announcing my own MVP, right here in this column, at the end of the 2017 regular season. And the winner will be awarded a congratulatory tweet as well as a coupon entitling him to a free two-liter bottle of RC Cola with the purchase of a three-liter bottle of RC Cola at any participating Blimpie’s. The current MVP race standings in a very particular order:
1. Tom Brady
2. Matthew Stafford
3. Aaron Rodgers
4. Matt Ryan
5. Odell Beckham Jr.
6. David Johnson
7. Andrew Luck
8. Le’Veon Bell
9. Derek Carr
10. Travis Frederick
And here’s the same list, in alphabetical order by last name:
1. Odell Beckham Jr.
2. Le’Veon Bell
3. Tom Brady
4. Derek Carr
5. Travis Frederick
6. David Johnson
7. Andrew Luck
8. Aaron Rodgers
9. Matt Ryan
10. Matthew Stafford
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6. What if I told you… that the “30 for 30” promos were creatively feeble even before they became obnoxious and clichéd, and that since the beginning of the series many of the documentaries have been faux-prestige filmmaking that fall flat.
And then what if I told you… a one-time back-up quarterback led his team to double-digit wins and a playoff berth before sitting out a meaningless Week 17 game. The would-be franchise QB, playing under an enormous contract, started and won that meaningless regular-season finale, after which the head coach (rumored to have been pressured by the owner) named that highly paid QB the starter for the postseason. The QB went 10-for-22, took six sacks and lost a fumble in a Wild-Card game, the team lost and the franchise then went on a 16-year playoff drought.
Did you make it through that whole, tortured paragraph? Good. That was the 1999 Buffalo Bills, by the way. And as the Cowboys wind down their regular season, fretting about the struggles of their rookie QB who was supposed to spend the year on the bench anyway… and with their would-be franchise QB waiting in the wings… I wonder what will happen if Dallas chooses to start Tony Romo instead of Dak Prescott in a meaningless Week 17 game, and Romo plays well in that game…
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7. Good on Leonard Fournette for deciding to sit out LSU’s bowl game with the NFL draft looming. Just ask Jaylon Smith how fun meaningless bowl games are. (To play in, that is, they’re perfectly fun if you’re going to sit on your couch, drink heavily and bet on them).
Of course, Fournette will miss out on a chance to one day have this conversation with his grandkids:
Fournette: Did I ever tell you kids about the time I rushed for 187 yards in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl?
Grandkid #1: That’s a dumb name for a bowl, Grandpa Leonard.
Grandkid #2: We’re gonna to play video games. Video games that will seem futuristic to you because, as you know, the current year is 2053.
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8. It’s funny, people criticize Cam Newton for completing only 53.5% of his passes this year. Yet if he got a hit 53.5% of the time in baseball, they’d honor him with an awkward ceremony before a postseason game. Think about it.
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9. Your MMQB Read of the Week is Emily Kaplan getting the low-down on Lamar Jackson and the other Heisman candidates from NFL scouts.
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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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