The Week 14 Mailbag

J.J. Watt is the NFL's best defensive player, but would the Texans be better if he played tight end? Plus questions on pre-snap movement, Le'Veon Bell's historic run and readers share their movie recommendations
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In light of my Monday column about J.J. Watt’s long-shot prospect of winning the MVP award, I received a question via Twitter that I thought deserved a longer response:

I want to take you back to the 2006 draft. I was in the Houston Texans’ offices at their stadium a couple of days before the draft and I ran into their owner Bob McNair and the general manager at the time, Charley Casserly. They both made one overriding point to me when I asked about the two marquee players in the draft, quarterback Vince Young, the local favorite from Texas, and running back Reggie Bush of USC. (The less notable, but equally highly regarded player in the draft that year was pass-rusher Mario Williams of North Carolina State.) At the time, the Texans were still in their infancy as a franchise, and never had a good pass-rusher. McNair told me that day: “We’ve gotta try to beat Peyton Manning for the next six or eight years, and it’s impossible to do that if we can’t put pressure on him."

Fast-forward to today. Houston still is in a division with Indianapolis, and the Colts still have a franchise quarterback who could end up being every bit as impactful as Peyton Manning for the next decade. Though Houston drafted several front-seven pressure players, none has had the impact of J.J. Watt. I understand your question, and Watt certainly would be a good-to-very-good tight end if he worked at it. But he is the best defensive player in football. In my opinion, it really wouldn’t matter if Watt turned into a cross between Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates. I would still rather have him invading the backfield 55 times a game than playing tight end in my offense.

Now onto your emails.

Is Marcus Mariota the answer to what ails the Jets? They might not have a pick high enough in the 2015 draft to find out. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Is Marcus Mariota the answer to what ails the Jets? They might not have a pick high enough in the 2015 draft to find out. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

TANKING IN THE NFL. I was shocked by your comment, "Take your medicine, lose, and get the highest pick you can so you can be in the best position possible to take the best quarterback or best player—or trade the pick for a few good ones." Last I checked the coaches and players were paid by fans to try and win games. What's next? The bad teams should just stay home and forfeit their remaining games?

—Zev, Israel

Let’s say you’re a fan of the Jets. Would you rather have the third pick in the draft next April, knowing you have a desperate need for a quarterback and there may be only two very bright prospects available? Or would you rather pull out all the stops to beat the Titans this weekend in a game that means absolutely nothing, and then end up picking eighth or ninth if you steal one more win in the last two weeks? If I’m a fan of the Jets, I would much prefer to have the highest possible draft choice when I have a desperate need for a quarterback of the future.

PRE-SNAP MOVEMENT. When an offensive player even twitches before the snap, you get a false start penalty. Yet now, with the hurry-up offenses, the players get into position and then twist and turn to either look to the sideline for the play call or toward the QB who is making the call. And, due to crowd noise, some teams will have one of the guards reach out and tap the center on the leg or hip to signify the QB is ready for the snap.  So, at what point does any movement constitute a false start when offensive players are twisting and turning and tapping right up until the snap of the football?

—Mark, Vancouver

A really good question. Officials have to know the difference between a player who before the snap is in his athletic stance ready to block and one who is simply in communication mode—that is, either getting the play from the quarterback or a lineman, or communicating what the play will be to one of the other linemen. But as the play clock gets down into single digits, that sometimes can be a difficult distinction to draw. And as more and more quarterbacks have the power at the line of scrimmage to change plays late in the play clock, I think we’re going to see this issue rear its head more and more.

NFL's Talented Losers

The roster is good and the coaches are some of the best. But, as Greg Bedard writes, there are underlying problems plaguing the 5-8 Saints, and they showed up in Sunday’s embarrassing home loss to Carolina.


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How is Le'Veon Bell not Offensive Player of the Week? 

Sure, Russell Wilson and Cam Newton both played very good-to-great games, and helped their teams win with playoff implications. But Bell's play has been historic. Three consecutive weeks with 200-plus yards from scrimmage, joining only Walter Payton in that accomplishment.  Was that even mentioned in the article?

—Chris W., Ashburn, Va.

I heard from quite a few Bell fans Monday. You are right in telling me that he would have been an excellent Offensive Player of the Week and I should have written more about him than a couple of sentences down low in the column. I’m going to do my best in the coming weeks to do something Bell-related. And, by the way, you are all right: Bell is playing at a historic level and deserves significantly more credit than I have given him.

RAIDER FANS ARE MAD. I read you every week and enjoy your observations, but your anti-Raider bias is unprofessional. If you bothered to watch the game you'd see that Oakland beat San Francisco. They made the QB uncomfortable and sacked him several times. Derek Carr had a great day for a rookie, something which escaped your attention. And as for your opinion that a first-round pick is more valuable than a morale-building win ... what are you saying? That the team should have thrown the game? No thanks, not when Jadeveon Clowney gets paid millions for being a walking injury. So I'll take the win and see how things play out in the draft. 

—Mark A., Oakland

First, it was a great win by the Raiders. But when I’m writing a column trying to cover the biggest and most significant things that happen in the league, the Raiders winning their second game of the year pales in comparison to the crumbling of the Jim Harbaugh era in San Francisco, and the continued poor play of a guy who two months ago all 49ers fans were sure was the long-term franchise quarterback. 

As far as your point about caring more about the victory than the draft pick: I get it. I totally understand. Year after year, Raiders fans are told that the draft is so important, and it never seems to pan out that the draft raises your performance level the next season. So I suppose if I were you, I would have a similar feeling about being much more interested in beating the 49ers than losing to them so I could have the first pick in the draft next spring. Thanks for writing.


Thanks very much to everyone for their movie suggestions. I always find time over the holidays to see two or three, and I’ll be showing family members all of these recommendations. They will play a part in the movies that we see. I do know that I will not get to New Years Day without seeing “Unbroken.” 

From Doug of 
Kingston, Ontario...Three great movies from the fall if you haven’t seen them:

"The Nightcrawler" – Jake Gyllenhaal is the creepiest character on screen in years. If he's not nominated for acting honors this year there is something wrong with the system.

"The Drop" – Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini (his last role) in a wonderful little crime movie.

The 2015 Draft Big Board

Marcus Mariota leads the way on Andy Staples' first draft board, featuring the 2015 draft's top 50 prospects.

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"A Most Wanted Man" – A brilliant last performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman, he will be missed and I don’t want to remember his last movie being the Hunger Games series.

Just coming out: "Inherent Vice" — If it is half as good as the book by Thomas Pynchon it will be a hilarious dark trip back to early 70s. Cast looks stunning with Josh Brolin, Joaquin Phoenix leading the way.

From Gary of Montreal...  "Whiplash." A story about how talent can be driven beyond expectations to achieve genius—and how that may or may not be a good thing. Outstanding performances by JK Simmons as the teacher striving for perfection and Miles Teller as the music student driven to be the next great drummer. Also has great jazz music. I really enjoyed it, but left the theatre unsure if I should feel joy and elation, or anger and sadness—and that is likely just what director Damian Chazelle intended.  

From Alan of New York City ..."St. Vincent" starring Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy. Another Bill Murray movie that catches you totally off guard and even allows him to throw in a few antics reminiscent of his zaniness from Caddyshack. Melissa McCarthy does very well in a serious role that touches your heart just a bit.

From Piers of Philadelphia ...I'm a film critic based out of Philly. The two best films I've seen this year, pretty much hands down: "Whiplash" and "Two Days, One Night." Do your best to give them a shot when you get the chance.

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