1. Remember the sheer terror you felt the first time you heard Bobby Pickett’s “Monster Mash”? (Every creature of your nightmares converging on your home and before the certain annihilation of your physical being—and quite possibly your soul—begins, they throw a kitsch-filled dance party? What kind of Tarantino bullcrap* is this?)
I imagine that’s approximately how Ben Roethlisberger feels every time he steps onto the field at M&T Bank. Or, if he doesn’t, maybe he should. I can’t think of another great quarterback who has played so poorly in one stadium over such as extended period of time. Roethlisberger has made seven career starts in Baltimore. He has a 5-to-9 TD/INT ratio in those seven games, a 68.9 passer rating (and a single-game high of only 94.6). In Week 16 last year, a must-win game against a Ravens team that would finish 5-11 and starting Ryan Mallett, Roethlisberger threw two picks and for an Osweilerian 220 yards on 34 attempts in a 20-17 loss. The Steelers have won in Baltimore once in the past five years, and that was with Charlie Batch under center. (And Charlie Batch is not walking through that door.)
So that brings us to Sunday, with an injured Roethlisberger (likely) returning to the lineup (and likely playing at less than 100%) in an important game for both teams. I mean, all games are important. But it looks like both AFC Wild-Cards will come out of the West, the Ravens are on the brink after losing four straight, and the Steelers have the Bengals—bouncing back after a tough early season slate—nipping at their heels atop the division with a Week 15 trip to Paul Brown still to come.
The Steelers are 11-2 coming off a loss since 2014, the second loss being Landry Jones-Tom Brady I before last week’s bye. They haven’t dropped three straight since opening the 2013 season with four straight losses. But this one could get dicey.
* — Gotta maintain that PG-13 rating.
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2. If there were a way to send actual feces through the internet (we can put a man on the moon…), The MMQB offices would have been inundated with waste after Andy Benoit said this on last week’s 10 Things Podcast.
The “20th best” part of that quote was clearly hyperbole (Andy wrote about Carr in Wednesday’s Deep Dive, and we’ll surely discuss Carr in more depth on the upcoming podcast); surely Carr has been in the top third of QBs in 2016, and personally I would say he’s put himself in position to be in the MVP discussion. But we’re about to learn a lot about Derek Carr on Sunday night.
However you slice it, it’s been fairly easy sledding so far for the Raiders. Of their six wins, none have come against a team that currently has a winning record. (Yes, the Raiders’ wins play into that, but even taking Oakland out of the equation the only team with a winning record would be the Titans.) Carr has been erratic play-to-play. He misses throws he shouldn’t miss, and that’s with the benefit of good protection (often with a sixth protector), a lot of quick throws and wide receivers who can separate. That’s not to say he’s Blake Bortles, just that Carr hasn’t been good enough to truly enter the MVP conversation (which you could say about every quarterback in the league who isn’t Tom Brady or Matt Ryan).
Sunday night will be interesting. Carr will surely face heavy pressure against the Broncos because everybody faces heavy pressure against the Broncos, and pressure always embiggens a quarterback’s flaws. His receivers won’t create separation consistently against the Broncos because nobody creates separation consistently against the Broncos. Carr’s ball placement will have to be precise.
For Carr to show he truly belongs in the MVP discussion, he’s going to have to be on-point for 30-something throws on Sunday night. He’s shown he can take advantage of lesser defenses. Now let’s see him get it done against a great one.
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3. “He’s gotta continue to improve. Seven starts under his belt; gonna be eight more big ones coming up here. He’s gotta keep improving.”
So speaking of quarterbacks facing big tests, after last week’s dicey home win over the Chargers head coach Gary Kubiak had some mild criticism (to go along with more explicit criticism from teammates earlier this season) for quarterback (and spice-rack but not spice enthusiast) Trevor Siemian.
And that’s fine, you can demand better play out of your quarterback. But I’m not sure exactly what the Broncos expected out of Siemian, an underarmed and untested placeholder. Perhaps panic is setting in a bit since Paxton Lynch looked so unprepared while Siemian was out, and Kubiak and John Elways are realizing they don’t have another option. But this is the bed they made. If Siemian turns out to be nothing more than a fungible No. 2 dressed up like a starter, that’s on the Broncos brass.
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4. I’ve said some not-so-nice things about Melvin Gordon over the past two years. About his tendency to either hesitantly run directly into the backs of his own offensive linemen or slowly bounce outside for a loss of three yards. About his consistently forgetting that he’s holding a football and therefore turning it over at a pace that would make Ryan Fitzpatrick blush. About his inability to catch said football when it is lobbed his way. About his insistence on buying up all the railroads when he plays Monopoly (for chrissake, they’re worthless, guy!).
But I can say this now: Melvin Gordon has been on an absolute tear over the last two games. Those who base success solely on the box score might have missed it, but the sledding has been exceedingly difficult the past two weeks (at Atlanta and Denver). The Chargers still would have been better off with Danny Woodhead taking half the snaps in their backfield, and I still despise the thought of investing a first, fourth and fifth to get Gordon, but as the Charges continue to be a walking triage station it’s good to see Gordon become just what they need: a back who can create yards where there are none.
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5. I tend to believe Albert Breer’s reporting on the Turner/Zim divorce in Minnesota. It seems like it was just a matter of a team in flux, and two veteran coaches disagreeing on what to do next.
I always thought Turner was a strange fit in Minnesota. He wants to run the ball, so yes, Adrian Peterson (and Andre Smith). But he wants to push it deep in the passing game, and that’s not Teddy Bridgewater’s game. So now, with an offensive line that prohibits effectively running the ball or giving Sam Bradford any time, this offense literally isn’t capable of doing anything Turner wants to do. That’s not his fault. It also won’t be Pat Shurmur’s fault if this offense can’t get back on track. Their only hope is to get the ball out with a quick-strike passing game. Everyone in the league knows that. When your offensive line is this bad, you just can’t score points.
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6.Jenny Vrentas and Albert Breer had the Jamie Collins trade covered, but two quick notes on the compensation (which will either be the last or second-to-last pick of the third round or the first pick of the fourth round due to Cleveland’s NFL-worst record).
a(I). On the thinking that they simply “moved up” a year as far as a compensatory pick because they would have gotten a 2018 third-rounder as a compensatory pick for Collins walking next offseason anyway: Keep in mind that compensatory picks are rewarded through a formula that factors in players lost and players signed. The Patriots at least gained the flexibility to chase whomever they want on the free-agent market without seeing that Collins pick reduced.
a(II). It’s pretty easy to imagine the pick they are getting (probably in the range of pick 100 to 105) turning into multiple picks. They could flip it for a mid-fourth and a fifth. Or a 2018 third.
b(I). I drink the Belichick Kool-Aid just like everyone else, but my servings are watered down (and come with a splash of Gammel Dansk, because that’s how I drink every beverage, especially my tall early-morning glass of Gammel Dansk). Belichick is not infallible. He had Tom Brady on his roster for a year-plus and had no idea (no matter how the narrative has twisted the history, Belichick was right there when Drew Bledsoe signed his record-setting deal in 2001). But I’d say this about any NFL team and any NFL head coach: They know their players better than anyone outside of the building does. If Collins was shaky or slipping or freelancing too much, they would have a better grasp on it than anyone (so for the love of God, you can stop sending us PFF grades).
b(II). All that said, the Patriots are a better team with Collins than without him, so they are indeed trading a piece of the Super Bowl-favored present for the future. If trust is an issue, remember that last year Collins was as responsible as any individual player for their AFC championship game loss. He was toasted twice by Owen Daniels in the red zone, once in zone, once in man. (And not the good kind of toasted, like I am after my tall mid-morning glass of Gammel Dansk.)
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7. As Einstein once said, verbatim: “The definition of insanity is benching Jay Ajayi in fantasy leagues when he is coming off two consecutive 200-yard rushing performances, and also in Week 9 of the 2016 season I like Cleveland if they’re getting more than a touchdown at home against Dallas because that feels like a trap game for the Cowboys; if it comes through take the cash and burn it in the same spot where my ashes were scattered, but you can keep a couple of bucks for yourself to cover gas and maybe treat yourself to a six-piece Chicken Mac-Nuggets.”
Fascinating stuff. That’s how they spelled “McNuggets” back then.
But back to the point about Ajayi: Despite the teachings of Einstein, I think Ajayi is in for a rude awakening against the Jets, for two reasons. First, the Jets defend those outside zone runs as well as anyone in football. How well? Two games after Marc Trestman was canned in Baltimore for not doing enough to establish the run, new Ravens OC Marty Mornhinweg completely abandoned the ground game when facing the Jets (he called for 47 passes and 10 runs in a game Baltimore led until late in the third quarter). Second, I’ve mentioned in the past how run-run-run is just not in Adam Gase’s DNA. Opponents know that. That’s part of why Ajayi and the Dolphins were able to catch opponents (the Steelers and Bills) by surprise the last two games. The Jets won’t be caught off-guard.
Of course, Miami’s vastly improved play on the O-line (if Laremy Tunsil keeps playing this well at guard, they might just have to keep him there) has played a role in Ajayi Days. But I’d be surprised if he ran for 100 on Sunday. I’d be stunned if he even approached 200.
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8. Gratuitous Simpsons clip since we played down an editor this past week and I’m very tired. (I imagine this is what everyday feels like for people who have real jobs.)
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9. Your MMQB Read(s) of the Week: It was High School Week at The MMQB! We had a couple of good ones, including Emily Kaplan on a Chicago school playing amongst the violence, Tim Rohan on the life of a Brownsville, Texas player who crosses the border from Mexico daily, Kalyn Kahler on three minority high-school coaches with differing views on their players’ Kaepernick-inspired protests, and much more. Jason Whitlock even stopped by for a guest appearance!
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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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