1a. I think it’s past time to accept that Russell Wilson is not like other humans. There was one play from the Seahawks’ win in Minnesota that shows exactly why.
Trailing 9-7 with 9:10 to go, the Seahawks had a first-and-10 at the Vikings’ 29. They went play-action, with Wilson looking to roll left. However, Everson Griffen was there waiting for him. Wilson looked to escape to the right, but there was nowhere to go there. So he tried to spin back left, but Griffen didn’t bite and was instead closing in. Ultimately, Wilson ended up at the 45 yard line, in Griffen’s clutches.
If not a sack, this was sure to be intentional grounding, a play that would have left Seattle with some 12 to 15 yards to gain over the next two downs just to get back into field goal range. In desperation, Wilson (who was just outside the tackle box) tried to heave the ball out of bounds back at the line of scrimmage. Instead, he heaved it out of bounds three yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Using the awesome power of the Pythagorean Theorem (I did it! I used it in real life!), I’m estimating that this throw, with a 270-pound pass rusher on his back, traveled 39 yards in the air, with good arc on it.
In the short-term, that play saved 16 yards on what would prove to be the game-winning drive. More than that, it underlines how wrong it is that every time an undersized, athletic, productive college quarterback comes into the draft, wild-eyed optimists label him another Russell Wilson.
Wilson is a true freak of nature, a spring-loaded human being with hands that (to steal a line from former DePaul basketball coach Jerry Wainwright) can palm a manhole cover. You always hear about the importance of arm strength, and because he so freakishly strong and athletic Wilson retains that arm strength on the run, while drifting back, or with a 270-pound pass rusher hanging on his back. Most 6-foot-4 quarterbacks can’t do that. And certainly no one in the under-six-foot crowd can.
I’d never say We’ll never see another Russell Wilson, because surely we will. But they won’t come around often.
1b. By the way, a great matchup between Wilson and Cam Newton on Sunday, but the chess matches (Darrell Bevell vs. Sean McDermott, and Mike Shula vs. Kris Richard) are going to be just as good.
* * *
2a. I think if you had told me one month ago that Peyton Manning would be the healthier of the two quarterbacks facing off in Denver’s first postseason game, I would have said Oh, then I assume the opposing quarterback must have suffered an injury in his previous game… I see what you're getting at, and it seems fairly improbable on it's face, but I don't doubt you are telling the truth.
I do find it incredibly improbable that the Steelers will move the ball in any significant way on Sunday. Really, they had no right moving the ball on last Saturday’s final drive. I hesitate to criticize strategic decisions since I am in no way capable of coaching an NFL team or coordinating a defense (really, I’m barely qualified to be one of those dudes who squirts the water bottles in guys’ faces during timeouts; I’d forget to open the top, spray water into dudes’ eyes, basically I couldn’t handle the pressure, it would be a mess). But Marvin Lewis and Paul Guenther, man… It was pretty safe to assume Roethlisberger wouldn’t be able to drive the ball deep when he returned to the game, and it was abundantly clear after his first two throws. All the Bengals had to do was play press coverage.
The Broncos won’t be making the same mistake on Sunday. The Steelers are coming in minus their best receiver, their top two running backs and a quarterback who, even with whatever horse tranquilizers they’ll give him, will be throwing offspeed stuff all day. And this is on the road, against arguably the league’s best defense. Is there any possible scenario where this offense, in this condition, in this stadium, against this defense, can mount multiple scoring drives over four quarters? Not bloody likely.
2b. I wonder what the conversation with Landry Jones was before the Steelers’ final drive on Saturday night. OK Landry, Ben can’t lift his arm over his head without severe pain, and at best he can get it four yards downfield. The season is on the line, so on this drive we’re gonna need you more than ever… to put on this baseball cap and hold this clipboard.
* * *
3. I think I have thoroughly enjoyed the amateur sleuthing going on in regards to the unraveling mystery of last Saturday night’s meltdown in Cincinnati.
There have been a lot of people doing the Adam Jones was right! hot take in regards to Joey-Porter-on-the-field pearl clutching. (Though many have backed off in light of Jones’s insane comments about Antonio Brown deserving a Grammy, I guess in the category of “Best Spoken Word or Brain Collision With Wall of Skull.”)
But in regards to whether or not Jones was provoked into that last flag...
How often have you been watching a game when they show a replay of a personal foul, and one of the announcers (usually the color guy) says something along the lines of “Welp, they always catch the second guy!” But that’s not true. They catch what they catch, whether it’s the first guy or the second guy or the fifth guy or the eighth guy.
Which brings us to Saturday night. Steelers assistant coach Joey Porter was the second guy. Porter said something to Vontaze Burfict after Burfict, presumably trying to apologize to Antonio Brown, interfered with the Pittsburgh training staff trying to get Brown off the field. Then Wallace Gilberry came in and bumped Porter from behind, for which Gilberry should have been flagged. Porter started jawing, at which point he should have been flagged. And, of course, it all ended with Adam Jones exclaiming (in the voice of an elderly female socialite, I like to think) “The b-word! Well, I never…” and then, in an attempt to defend the honor of his teammates (or whatever), shoved an official, which finally drew that much-awaited second flag.
The golden rule of NFL fights: Every turdality is its own action, independent of what came before it. This is how it is and always has been. You could trace Jones’s bumping an official back to Joey Porter jawing, which you could trace back to Wallace Gilberry shoving him, which you could trace back to David DeCastro grabbing Gilberry’s facemask back in Week 14, which you could trace back to Gilberry going after DeCastro after the whistle, which you could trace back to DeCastro going after Burfict after the whistle, which you could trace back to Burfict cheap-shooting Roosevelt Nix… (Eventually you reach a point where you say if Roosevelt Nix was never born, Adam Jones never would have bumped an official, so this is on Roosevelt Nix’s mom.)
It’s all pointless to try to justify it, and if Jones hasn’t figured that out nine seasons into his career it’s no wonder he’s out there costing his team playoff games.
Anyway, if you want to full account you’ll have to go to your local library:
* * *
4a. Like the wildly inconsistent personal-conduct punishments, the NFL’s football operations folks seem completely incapable of handing down fair and consistent discipline.
A month ago I took exception to the Odell Beckham suspension. While OBJ deserved a suspension, a number of players did much worse things over the course of 2015, and none were suspended. The sole reason was because their Q-ratings are lower than Beckham’s, and therefore there was no public outcry, and therefore the NFL didn’t feel the need to act. That is what happens when, as a league, you’re less interested in player safety and more interested in public relations.
Coincidentally, one of the players I highlighted for especially dangerous play was a young gent named Vontaze Burfict. Burfict was suspended three games in light of the Saturday night embarrassment, and that’s all well and good. Because, of all the dangerous and dirty things Burfict has done on a football field, Saturday night ranked… somewhere in the middle. But this time, Burfict’s filthy play was done in front of a primetime audience. There was an outcry, and the NFL finally acted.
Amazingly, this is Burfict’s first suspension. This is a player who has picked up a dozen unnecessary roughness penalties over his 50-game career, plus two other personal fouls, and none of that includes cheap shots called out by Greg Olsen, Cam Newton, Torrey Smith, Ben Roethlisberger and others over the years. And then there’s this, which happened in Week 17. And yet, he was allowed on the field a week later…
Burfict had been fined six times prior to last Saturday night, and clearly those were not a deterrent. If you want to protect player safety and change behavior like this, get him off the field with a suspension. And do it because it’s the right thing to do, not because you heard it from fans and media.
4b. I still get a kick out of the fact that Brandon Browner got nothing for this. No flag, no fine, no suspension.
* * *
5. I think a couple of things about the coaching carousel…
a. I don’t wish unemployment on anyone, and I don’t think responsibility for the Bengals’ circus falls at Marvin Lewis’s feet (they sign these guys because they’re talented players with defects, which means they’re talented players who come cheap). But one thing that would bother me all offseason if I were a Bengals fan: The giveaway two-point conversion try after their final touchdown of the season. Every Bengal player and coach on the field or on the sideline should have been aware that the Bengals, trailing 15-10 at the time, would be going for two if they scored a touchdown. That the offense seemed 100% unprepared to run any play, and therefore ran one that had literally no chance of succeeding, is absolutely on Lewis and the coaching staff. There’s a lack of attention to detail, and then there’s not understanding basic game situations. That fell under the latter category. And, obviously, it was the difference between Chris Boswell’s field goal being game-tying and game-winning.
b. I wrote this a few weeks back, and I still believe it: I think the NFL is better for having Chip Kelly in it. It’s a cookie-cutter league. And whether or not he makes it work in San Francisco (and having no control over personnel is a good start), Kelly is at least bringing a different way of doing things.
c. If I’m the Titans (or the handful of teams that still might make a move at head coach), I’m not at all worried about other teams scooping up coaches. Josh McDaniels, Sean McDermott, Mike Shula, Todd Haley (yes, Todd Haley)… There are still more than enough candidates to go around.
* * *
6. I think a lot of folks are wondering who will be the Cowboys’ No. 2 quarterback next season: Johnny Manziel or Robert Griffin III. I think the right choice for Jerry and Co. is obvious: A bouquet of flowers and a sincerely written apology note to Brandon Weeden.
I suppose if you’re stacking Griffin and Manziel against each other head-to-head you’d take RG3, simply because he’s proven he can keep himself out of sight/out of mind if needed. You’d also like to think Griffin learned some valuable lessons over the past three seasons, and work ethic was reportedly not an issue in 2015. In Manziel, you would be getting a guy who has made little progress as far as operating out of the pocket, not to mention off the field he’s basically reject from an off-brand MTV reality show (Johnny, I loved you in Season 16 of Real House Rules On The Road Challenge For Real!).
* * *
7. I think the Texans had to be disappointed when their No. 1 overall pick delivered just 4.5 sacks in his first 16 career games. But enough about Mario Williams’ rookie year.
Despite all the drama surrounding the drama that didn’t surround his Wild-Card round deactivation, it is awfully early for Jadeveon Clowney. Sure, durability is a real concern. But watching from 2,000 miles away, it seems like kind of a no-brainer to try him on the defensive line, attacking gaps rather than trying to get around the edge. He doesn’t seem to have that necessary bend to rush from the outside.
* * *
8a. I think my 3-year-old daughter turned in a 3-1 performance on last week’s picks (Texans 9, Chiefs 1 didn’t quite come in.) She hasn’t stopped talking about wanting to pick more games ever since, so who am I to say no.
Once again, since we don’t put pictures of our kids on the internet, Kelly has provided an illustration for you (a football theme this week)…
8b. As for my picks: Tom Brady does Tom Brady things late (Patriots 24, Chiefs 21). I wrote a week ago that Washington was not capable of exploiting the Packers’ achilles heal at wide receiver, but the Green Bay win would prove to be fool’s gold in the Divisional Round. I’ll stick with that (Cardinals 31, Packers 14). Returning from the Arctic, the Seahawks get back on track offensively and continue to dominate defensively (Seahawks 27, Panthers 21). And, in a battle of attrition, the Steelers can’t muster anything in Denver (Broncos 13, Steelers 3).
* * *
9. I think, while you’re counting down the hours to kickoff, you should spend some time with The MMQB Read of the Week. I’m dipping into the archives this week: The Day the NFL Died in L.A.
It’s a fascinating blow-by-blow account of Christmas Eve 1994, the final games before the Raiders left for Oakland and the Rams left for St. Louis. Jackie Slater! Joe Montana’s Chiefs! Kelsey Grammer!
(This one has some sentimental value for me, not only as a child of the nineties but as it’s one of the first stories I worked on after joining The MMQB, with a then-14-year-old Emily Kaplan).
* * *
10. I think, at 4:32 p.m. ET on Saturday, and again at 12:58 p.m. ET on Sunday, you should turn your volume all the way up and press play…