Wrapping up Week 12 with one game left on the slate …
1. There were three issues with the Jaguars offense to speak of coming out of the team’s 11th game. First, there was lack of consistency in execution—the playcalls going into the huddle simply weren’t being run as they were drawn up, which could be a result of communication or a revolving door at certain spots, and that manifested in small mistakes all over the place compounding. Second, the team has been decimated by injuries, with seven linemen, four tight ends, the team’s top receiver and its top two running backs among the afflicted. And third, the quarterback hasn’t taken steps forward. So the team pulled the plug on Monday on both OC Nathaniel Hackett and QB Blake Bortles.
I spoke to Hackett in the aftermath, and he was respectful of the call that Doug Marrone (who he’s worked with for the last nine years) made. “I’m grateful to them for giving me the opportunity just to have a chance to call plays,” Hackett said. “We had a great run last year, being in that AFC Championship, getting there and being so close. I mean, we were supposed to win four or five games, we lose [Allen Robinson] in the first game, it was awesome. … Looking back at it, there were things that hurt us with the injuries, but you have to find a way to overcome it. Unfortunately we couldn’t finish games the way we’d have liked. The truth is, my head’s still kind of spinning here.”
2. Last season Bortles survived an August benching to get Jacksonville to the AFC title game and score a big extension, so you never say never. But it sure seems this would be it for the Jaguars quarterback, with the team staring down a very tenuous cap situation in 2019. So the logistics of releasing Bortles? The team still has about $6.5 million in guarantees to account for, which can be offset by whatever another team might be willing to pay him. There’s also $10 million in dead money, on top of that guarantee, to bring the total to be accounted for, if he’s released, to $16.5 million, which is only $4.5 million less than the $21 million cap number he’s scheduled to carry next year if he is on the team. As for the new starter, going to Cody Kessler is likely as much about being able to sell the locker room on its quarterback and giving the team a spark as anything.
3. The Bengals aren’t expecting Jeff Driskel to be an upgrade over Andy Dalton, but he does have some intriguing traits that the coaches are excited to see on the field on a full-time basis. As they see it in that building, Driskel has a higher ceiling but a lower floor than ex-Bengal A.J. McCarron. “Great athlete, legit 4.4 and good size, could probably play wide receiver at this level,” said one Bengal staaffer. “Will be better in scramble drill situations than Andy ... strong arm, can make all the throws, great teammate, players love him. But he’s extremely inexperienced, he}s never had a full offense on his plate, still has a lot to learn mentally and he’s inconsistent with his accuracy.” In other words ... buckle up.
4. I asked Seahawks WR Tyler Lockett late last night, hours after his big catch set up the game-winning field goal in Charlotte, and put Seattle squarely in the playoff hunt, if he and his teammates heard the idea that 2018 was going to be a rebuilding year. And he didn’t beat around the bush.
“We heard it,” Lockett said. “To us, we couldn’t let any of that type of stuff get to us. I think the thing about having a lot of new faces on the team, it’s all about how fast those guys are able to adapt and how fast they’re able to help. A lot of guys that we had that were really valuable on our team, when they finally got the chance to play when they were young, they were able to adapt fast, and you see what the Seahawks became. And so that’s really what we tried to do, we’ve tried to do the same exact thing, and have young guys in and be able to develop faster. A lot of the rookies have been stepping up, especially Tre [Flowers]. And just being able to see that, it allows us to play better because we can trust they’ll be able to play like vets over the last half of the season, and that’s exactly what they’re doing.”
They’re 6-5 now, and very easily could be 8-3 and tied for first with the Rams in NFC West, if a couple bounce went their way in the home-and-home with Los Angeles.
5. Colts rookie linebacker Darius Leonard has gotten a lot of credit for his season—he’s a contender for Defensive Rookie of the Year—and that’s deserved. But it’s worth mentioning that fourth-year safety Clayton Geathers has been right there with him among those drawing the highest grades from the Colts defensive coaches. He was all over the field in Sunday’s win over Miami, registering a quarterback hit and tackle for a loss along the way.
6. Michigan defensive lineman Rashan Gary declared for the draft on Monday, two days after the Wolverines’ loss to Ohio State, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if he’s the first of a sizable number of NFL-bound college players to decide to skip his bowl game. Jaylon Smith’s story has, of course, made an impact, and big names like Christian McCaffrey, Leonard Fournette and Denzel Ward have normalized these sorts of decisions over the last two years.
7. In light of last week’s “Weak End At Gronkie’s” backpage, Rob Gronkowski’s touchdown against the Jets on Sunday was widely framed as a clapback moment for the four-time All-Pro. Lost in there: the Jets felt comfortable covering Gronk one-on-one, mostly with second-year safety Jamal Adams, for the majority of the afternoon, which is more evidence that the big guy isn’t affecting the math of defensive coverage the way he’s been accustomed to in the past.
8. Joey Bosa announced his return loudly yesterday with two sacks in his second game back from a serious foot injury—and he changes the dynamic for the Chargers defense. Coach Anthony Lynn conceded to me last night that the Pittsburgh game Sunday will have a different feel that you’re run-of-the-mill regular season game. And having Bosa close to full strength is a godsend going into that environment.
9. GM John Elway and personnel chief Matt Russell deserve some credit for the Broncos’ resurgence, as the rookie class they assembled has been an absolute game-changer. Yesterday, it was Philip Lindsay going off—with 110 yards on 14 carries. But he’s not alone. Bradley Chubb, Courtland Sutton, Royce Freeman, Daesean Hamilton and Josey Jewell all look like long-term building blocks as the franchise starts to turn the page on the group that won a Super Bowl three years ago.
10. And while we’re there, let’s wrap with the Giants. Coach Pat Shurmur got some deserved criticism for his in-game decisions, but give him credit for keeping the group together through some roller-coaster moments early in the year. If you compare the team today to where it was a year ago, it’s night and day. And Shurmur’s ability to have that sort of calming effect on the building in the face of chaos is one thing that attract the Giants to him in the first place. So while they didn’t expect to be this to be a rebuilding year (though you could argue they should’ve known), they at least seem to have the right guy to get them through that.
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