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  • Also, looking at who’s gonna need a QB next winter, Nick Bosa misses out on a very useful education, whose games have the most points and therefore are the most exciting, multiple Trent Edwards references, and for the love of God don’t watch the 9:30 game. Plus, musical guest: Neil Young and Crazy Horse!
By Gary Gramling
October 21, 2018

1. Like most of you, I’ve been tossing and turning for weeks, consumed by the plight of Eli Manning. Manning and the Giants go to Atlanta for the Monday night game. It will be the seventh time in seven games this season that they’ve been an underdog, according to Vegas. In fact, the two games in which they were considered more than a field goal underdog were the team’s best performances of the year—a Week 3 win at Houston and a Week 5 loss on a 63-yard buzzer-beater at Carolina. The point is, from 20,000 feet, the Giants are pretty much what everyone has thought they’d be, week to week.

Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that, upon closer examination, Eli Manning has transformed into the reincarnation of Trent Edwards*, displaying an outright refusal to throw the ball down the field for the majority of this season. He’s lost some zip, but not to the point that he should be playing this way. The problem, of course, is rooted in horrific offensive line play, and not just because it has forced the ball out quickly. It’s to the point where Eli is hearing ghosts. As pointed out by many, he’s been quick to abandon downfield reads even when there isn’t pressure. At this point it’s human nature; if two out of every three times you opened your office door someone waiting behind it popped out and punched you in the face, you’d start to flinch every time you opened the door. I should know; that was a tough year doing customer service for Time Warner Cable.

But the Giants are about to face a Falcons team whose pass rush has been dormant, followed by winnable games against Washington and Tampa Bay at home, sandwiching a trip to San Francisco. Manning must snap out of it and show the kind of courage in the pocket he did throughout his career including a year ago, when circumstances were much more dire (as in an ineffective passing scheme, no running game and an offense that was supposed to function around Odell Beckham Jr. instead functioning around Roger Lewis Jr.). This is it though, one last chance over the next month, Eli’s last stand.

*—Trent Edwards is alive and well, as far as I know, and even makes an appearance later in this very column!

2. That transitions nicely to Teams That Need a QB Next Offseason, an official list that jotted down on the back of a Quiznos napkin, folded and tucked into a pair of jeans that I neglected to wash for too long. Guarded by lasers. As mentioned late in the summer, pretty much every team in the NFL had reason to believe they had (a) Their franchise QB, (b) A young player a few years away from becoming a franchise QB, or (c) A player they could look at with optimism and honestly believe he could become their franchise QB. There was just no one going into the year with a proven backup as their only near- and long-term option at quarterback.

A third of the way into the season, quarterbacks have crumbled and the best-laid plans have fallen apart for some teams. Kalyn Kahler and Albert Breer put out the first mock draft of 2019, and there are four first-round QBs in it (Justin Herbert, Drew Lock, Will Grier and Dwayne Haskins, in that order, though I’d take Grier and possibly Haskins ahead of Lock for my imaginary Hartford expansion team that has surprisingly robust support in the way of imaginary PSLs and local sponsorships). That works out nicely, because as of next spring there might only be four teams in desperate need of a quarterback. Here’s where we stand now:

Will probably need a new QB for 2019: Denver, Jacksonville, Miami, N.Y. Giants

Could use an alternative at QB for 2019: Cincinnati (though good on you so far, Andy Dalton), Tampa Bay, Tennessee, Washington

Should consider investing in a QB of the future: L.A. Chargers, New England, New Orleans, Pittsburgh

3. The Jaguars’ struggles the past two weeks can mostly be traced back to the disappearance of their pass rush, which didn’t show up against the Chiefs or the Cowboys. Surely, a lot of that had to do with the fact that Kansas City and Dallas have—conservatively speaking—two of the top five offensive lines in football. For Jacksonville, the best-case scenario this week would have been facing an opponent starting five burlap sacks full of lawn clippings as their offensive line. An only slightly less desirable scenario would have been facing the Houston Texans. Fortunately for the Jaguars, that scenario will happen on Sunday!

The Texans are once again a mess up front, and they’ll be without right guard Zach Fulton, relatively speaking a stable part of that unit. Take this with the most sodium-rich food you can think of, because Jacksonville got four quarters of T.J. Yates, two quarters of Tom Savage and two quarters of Deshaun Watson thrown into the fire for the second half of his first regular-season game, but the Jaguars had 14 sacks and allowed 14 points over two games against the Texans last year. In four matchups with the Jaguars since Jalen Ramsey joined the secondary, DeAndre Hopkins has 24 catches and 270 yards, but needed 59 targets to get there. With Watson banged up and Houston wary of putting him in harm’s way, this is as good as it gets for this Jaguars defense: an opponent they match up with almost perfectly. It’s time for a get-right week for the presumed best defense in football; or, to put it another way, it’s not time to worry about them unless they struggle in this one.

4. You’d think there’s no downside to projected top-five pick Nick Bosa withdrawing from school to prepare for the NFL draft fulltime. But then consider that the competition committee is probably a few years away from outlawing any physical contact with quarterbacks, instead requiring pass rushers and blockers to produce a series of geometric proofs to show, theoretically, how they would attack/protect the offensive backfield, with officials then grading those proofs and deciding whether or not to award a sack to the defensive player. Then—and only then—will Bosa appreciate the real-life value of that 100-level geometry class he just dropped out of.

5. In honor of Derek Anderson’s ascension-by-default to the starting job for the Bills, let’s take a look back at the last time he started a game in Buffalo, when he led the Cleveland Browns to a decisive victory in Orchard Park. I mashed up every completion he had that game and put them to the best pump-up song ever composed, recorded and performed: “25 or 6 to 4” by the great Chicago. So turn it up and get excited, Western New York!

Whoa, we didn’t even make it to Cetera’s entrance! Indeed, Anderson completed two passes that game. And he played the entire game. He dropped back 19 times. He completed two passes for 23 yards. He took a sack. He threw an interception. He scrambled for two yards. And the Browns won the game, 6-3.

I was there that day, one of more than 70,000 souls who would never be the same after the things we saw. Trent Edwards, lobbing passes into traffic as part of Turk Schonert’s ill-conceived passing scheme. Fred Jackson drifting gently into the waiting arms of defensive linemen. Terrell Owens in a Bills uniform. Browns punter Dave Zastudil, exhausted, carried off the field Kellen Winslow-after-the-Epic-in-Miami-style, after a heroic performance—nine punts, seven of them pinning the Bills inside the 20. Doctors said he’d be lucky to survive the night. (Other, better doctors said he’d be fine, which he was.)

It was windy that day—not overly so, just enough to dissuade aggressiveness by both offenses. But it wasn’t just the wind I remember. As the Bills lined up for their final series and my boredom transformed into desperation, I looked to the heavens, hoping for some kind of relief. What I saw was a single cumulus cloud in the Western New York sky, and I swear, it was in the shape of a face, frowning upon all of us. For years I thought it was God was looking down upon us in pity in that moment. But now I understand, what I saw was a prophecy. He was foretelling a future sorrow: that one day Derek Anderson would return.

Anyway, enjoy Bills-Colts everyone. Realistically, Anderson probably isn’t that much of a downgrade from the not-nearly-ready-to-start Josh Allen.

6. Did you know there are more points than usual being scored so far this season. It’s true! Football teams scoring points adds meaning to our lives (or so says the narrative concerning viewership), and through six weeks there are four teams featuring more points in a game per game (that’s points scored plus points allowed; I didn’t know how to better phrase it) than almost any teams in in NFL history.

So which teams offer the most intoxicating blend of explosive offense plus enfeebled defense? There have been 64.5 points per in Chiefs games (on pace for most all time), 64.0 in Saints games (on pace for second all time), 62.8 in Bucs games (on pace for fifth all time) and 59.8 in Falcons games (on pace for sixth most all time). The Bucs and their opponents, at the moment, are featuring eight combined touchdowns per game (40 through five games), which would make them the first team to post eight-plus over the course of a season. So… start flexing those Bucs games into primetime maybe.

7. I probably don’t have proper perspective on this; after all, a Sunday morning game adds three hours of work to my Sunday. And this is a hard job, what with all the typing and looking at screens and also typing. I’m sweating profusely as I write this—my doctor says it’s because of the 22-ounce bag of candy corn I eat every evening, but I think it’s because of the typing and watching TV.

No one needs the 9:30 game. With Thursday nights, you can at least argue that there’s a big gap between Monday and Sunday, and therefore it’s nice to have that mid-week hit of football. But they’ll kick off games at 1:00 on Sunday; we can all live without the morning game. I give you all this duty to fulfill, as a fan of professional football: Don’t watch the 9:30 game. If everyone stops watching it, the league will stop doing it. The Sunday game is a horrifically bad product, and this year it threatens to be even worse with the Chargers playing a 6:30 a.m. body clock game. And they are facing a team that hasn’t scored a touchdown in its last two games. This is a really bad trade off to try to force one more football-viewing window down fans’ collective throats to open up a little bit more revenue.

Do one of the following things from 9:30-12:30 ET instead: Talk to a loved one, go to a house of worship, watch something else on TV, stare at a blank TV, stare into the middle distance. Make a cross-stitch that says “God Bless This Mess,” learn the keyboard intro to Tears For Fears’ “Head Over Heels,” comparison shop then purchase a keyboard so you can later learn the keyboard intro to Tears For Fears’ “Head Over Heels,” play a best-of-seven Stratego series with a friend, play a best-of-seven Stratego series with a stranger, buy a box of Lucky Charms and fish out all the marshmallows then glue the box top back on and return it to the grocery store, carve a jack-o-lantern with your kids, paint a face on a pumpkin instead of carving a jack-o-lantern with your kids because carving is hard. Consider it a civic duty to do anything but watch that game.

8. As long as I’m telling people how to live their lives: Odell Beckham Jr. should drink a more appropriate amount of water. And Jay Cutler should vaccinate his kids. And everyone should do both those things. And also enjoy candy corn in moderation.

9. Ladies and gentlemen . . . Neil Young and Crazy Horse!

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