- Also, officials resort to pinning random penalties on Ereck Flowers, the weird road to stardom for Akiem Hicks, an amazing offer to shovel my driveway that Le’Veon Bell critics can’t pass up, and Will Grier’s missed opportunity to make money for other people. Plus, musical guest: Arcade Fire!
1a. If you watched into the second half of Thursday Night Football, may God have mercy on your soul. But also, you likely heard the Buck-Aikman-Pereira triumvirate discuss that the NFL had handed down a mandate to crack down on offensive holding.
The kneejerk reaction is that this is the first anti-offense emphasis to come from Park Avenue in years. And it is. But while it’s a move designed to help the defense, it’s not necessarily going to curtail scoring in the long run. As I’ve discussed with podcast partner/K-pop idol Andy Benoit on our shows, and wrote about in the wake of the Rams-Chiefs Monday night classic, the league has re-shaped its rules to favor the aggressors—that’s mostly offense, but that’s also the pass rush.
If the NFL is trying to litigate the "holding on every play" mentality out of the game, it will have a similar effect to what they've done to defensive backs over the past decade. You have more big plays coming from offenses, and then you’ll have more splash plays coming from defenses. Then you'll get more games like Rams-Chiefs; there where 105 points that night, but 28 of them came courtesy of the defenses. Points are fun, but turnovers are typically the most exciting plays in football, and it's the chaos of the pass rush that creates turnovers.
1b. One thing you can appreciate about Thursday night’s unwatchable (save for one play) crapfest: In order to hit whatever kind of quota the league might have for holding calls, John Parry’s crew apparently just got together and said, “Well, Ereck Flowers is in this game, just throw a flag on him every fifth play or so.” There were at least two plays when Flowers was announced as holding on the play when he definitively did not (though it looks like the penalties were corrected in the official box score—in fact, Flowers has yet to be penalized since joining Jacksonville).
While we’re being overwhelmingly negative about that Jaguars-Titans game (and about the Jaguars in general for playing Cody Kessler), let’s touch on something of a positive note: Ereck Flowers has been serviceable over his past three starts with the Jaguars. Not former-first rounder good, or even solid starter good, but doesn’t-prevent-your-offense-from-basic-functionality good, which is a form he rarely captured with the Giants. It’s not the most amazing comeback we’ve ever seen and it’s probably not going to inspire a big-studio feature film, but I’ve been working on a script, the bones are there and I’d love to get Kenan Thompson involved if anyone knows him.
2. A good rule of thumb is that coverage creates sacks and pressure creates turnovers. You won’t find a team that creates less pressure than the 49ers, who basically have DeForest Buckner and a bunch of dudes who rush the passer as if they’re auditioning for roles as extras in the original Power Rangers. (When my kids watch it I always feel like the characters are unnaturally stationary during the fight sequences. Is that a thing?)
While the lack of a pass rush has created plenty of issues for this unit, it has also put them in position to make history. Bad history, but bad stuff is part of history; it’s all a rich tapestry. Stats Inc. tracks turnover data back to 1960, and never has a team had single-digit takeaways in a season. That includes the strike-shortened 1982 season, which was a nine-game regular season—the Baltimore Colts had 11 takeaways that year, which is tied with the 2013 Texans, 2015 Cowboys and 2016 Bears as the fewest ever in a season.
The 49ers, through 12 games this season, have five takeaways. As in, former MLB closer Antonio Alfonseca has more than enough fingers on one hand to count the number of turnovers the Niners have forced this season. According to second-grade arithmetic, they could double that takeaway total over the final four games of the season and still set the record for fewest in a single season. Nick Bosa can’t get there soon enough.
3. It seems like only yesterday we were all laughing at Seattle’s hiring of Brian Schottenheimer.
This season, Schottenheimer has re-established Seattle’s glory days on offense by re-establishing the run game. The Seahawks are on pace to call more run plays than pass plays for the first time in a season since 2014, the year of their last NFC title. (They’d also be the first team in the NFL to call more runs than passes in a year since the 2015 Buffalo Bills.) A lot of those calls are inside-zone runs, unlike the outside zone plays that defined the Marshawn Lynch years.
It’s working. The Seahawks are also one of 10 teams to score on 40% or more of their offensive possessions this season (40.6%, seventh in the NFL). That's a result of a lot of great work from Chris Carson, the offensive line, first-year O-line coach Mike Solari, and, yes, Schottenheimer.
4. Aaron Donald is going to run away with the Defensive Player of the Year award. Chances are that will happen quite frequently over the next five years or so, and therefore the NFL should consider an annual award for the league’s best defensive player who isn’t Aaron Donald.
Akiem Hicks would be among the front-runners for that imaginary honor; he is a wrecking ball in the middle of Chicago’s defensive line. It’s not often you find a dominant, All Pro-caliber player emerge after being tossed away by two teams, and even more unusual when it's two very well-run teams (New Orleans and New England). And I’d wager dollars to donuts that, when we look back in a few decades, Hicks will be the only superstar player ever swapped in a one-on-one deal for Michael Hoomanawanui.
5a. I know I should no longer be surprised by how quickly people turn on the players who comprise their favorite teams, but man did Steelers fans unleash some vitriol last week after I pointed out just what Pittsburgh cost themselves with their unwillingness to commit to their superstar back.
The misguided rallying cry of “five for $70 million!” sums up the anti-Bell sentiment. Misguided because we have decades worth of data on the empty numbers folded into NFL contracts. Fans need to get a better grasp on these deals, and we in the media really need to get better. A national outlet actually ran this headline, which is how you end up being part of a misinformation campaign against a player:
Depending on the report—everything was leaked to the media by the team—the guaranteed money in Bell’s “five” “year” “$70” “million” offer was anywhere between $10 million and $33 million. It seems largely agreed upon that the deal was worth up to $45 million over the first three years. That’s a lot of money to me and—if I may be so presumptuous—you. It’s not a particularly impressive offer for one of the best, most versatile and most valuable skill-position players in football while he’s still in his prime.
If you consider Bell strictly a running back, you are being obtuse. Or you base all your beliefs on box-score stats and you don’t realize how difficult it is for opposing defenses to deal with Bell, who presents the threat of an extra wide receiver when he’s on the field. On its face, the Steelers' offer is arguably not an upgrade over what Sammy Watkins ($30 million guaranteed, up to $48 million for three years) got this past offseason, and barely an upgrade on what Allen Robinson ($25.2 million guaranteed, up to $42 million for three years) got coming off a torn ACL preceded by a bad 2016 season. There’s not enough peyote in the world to convince someone Watkins or Robinson were comparable three-year investments to Bell. Pittsburgh needed to recognize that.
5b. Unrelated: I’m offering a two-year, $90 million contact for anyone willing to shovel my driveway the next two winters. (It’s a $1 signing bonus and $1 base salary for the first year, no other guaranteed money, but if things go well you can collect that $89,999,998 the second year.) Who of you will be so greedy as to turn down a monstrous $90 million contract? Interested parties can contact me at MakeSureNotToScrapeMyAsphalt@aol.org
6. Big mistake by West Virginia QB Will Grier, skipping bowl season. Everyone knows that legends are made playing for the love of the game in the
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7. Ladies and gentlemen . . . Arcade Fire!
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