Merry Christmas, folks! A few things to wrap up Week 16...
1. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll got a richly deserved extension on Monday—contracting him through 2021—which makes this a good time to take a good look at how he’s breathed new life into his program over the last year, with Seattle headed back to the playoffs without Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril or Earl Thomas. Part of it, of course, was knowing when to part with established stars, and that his program needed to reestablish the culture of competition and physicality it was built. Another was the reworking of the coaching staff, and in particular the hires of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and line coach Mike Solari. And then, there’s been the willingness to let talented young guys like Tre Flowers, Chris Carson, Tedric Thompson, David Moore and Poona Ford take their lumps and learn on the fly. The result has been a team that’s playing faster and with more purpose that the late era Legion of Boomers.
2. Those inside the building also credit returning core players like Russell Wilson, Tyler Lockett, Bobby Wagner, Jarran Reed, Frank Clark and Doug Baldwin for being torchbearers for the program.
3. Last week in this space, T.Y. Hilton detailed a players-only meeting the Colts had after losing to the Jets in October. Before the meeting, Indianapolis was 1–5. The team is 8–1 since. I asked Frank Reich about it last night.
“I don’t know what happened, I don't even want to know,” Reich told me. “I think it’s great. I think [players-only meetings] do make a difference. I think it's about belief and trust and buy-in, and I think sometimes, especially for a new team, it’s important. It's just important that everybody gets on the same page. I don’t know what players stepped up and said what or did what. But they definitely I think came out of there with a stronger bond and commitment and I’m certainly appreciative of that.”
4. Yesterday in the MMQB, we went through all the 2017-like elements unfolding in Philadelphia, so I asked DT Fletcher Cox after the Eagles’ win over the Texans if going through last year helps, in dealing with what they are facing this year.
“We always talk about that in the locker room,” Cox said. “We all understand that the season … it’s a long season. Guys get hurt, guys go down, but I think the special thing about this locker room is we always support the next guy. You hate to see guys get hurt. You hate to see a guy like Carson [Wentz] go down, how competitive Carson is, the passion that he plays with. He loves the game of football and you hate to see a guy like that go down and get hurt. But you got a veteran like Nick [Foles] that steps in, he keeps everything calm. We have a lot of fun when he’s out there. You can’t help but support a guy like that and just rally behind him through the ups and downs. You just rally behind him and that makes guys like that just play at another level because he got every other guy on the roster behind him.”
5. A key under-the-radar hire coming: Jaguars offensive coordinator. Assuming Jacksonville doesn’t reverse course on Doug Marrone, finding the right guy to pair with their incumbent head coach and develop whoever is at quarterback will be vital to the Jaguars’ next step. The team has averaged 11.25 points and 225.5 yards per game in the four week since firing ex-OC Nathaniel Hackett.
6. Suffice it to say, the Jets are pretty excited with how Sam Darnold played against the Packers. His timing, accuracy and decision-making was all there in a 341-yard, three-touchdown, zero-interception effort.
7. Saquon Barkley has a great future in front of him with the Giants, but the boom-or-bust nature of his production isn’t new. He actually now has had more games under 50 yards rushing (seven) than over 100 (six). Similarly, last year at Penn State, he had seven games under 80 yards rushing, and four over 100.
8. Jaylon Smith continues to be one of the best stories and football, and on Sunday it was more than just his scoop-and-score in the Cowboys’ win over the Buccaneers that stood out to his coaches. It was also his two pass breakups, how took care of checkdowns, and how he took on guards in the run game. His speed and instincts, and improvement in technique and feel for the system, have made him a pretty complete linebacker.
9. NFL teams keep a closer eye on prospects as they inch towards draft day, so the timing of Clemson DT Dexter Lawrence failing an NCAA-administered drug test ahead of the Cotton Bowl-hosted national semifinal isn’t ideal. Lawrence and two of his teammates were flagged for ostarine, a product used to promote muscle growth. Coach Dabo Swinney told reporters Wednesday that Clemson is waiting for test results on the players’ B samples.
10. Lots of good signs in how the Niners are playing down the stretch. And with Jimmy Garoppolo’s return looming, a top-five draft pick coming and the expectation that they’ll have about $60 million to spend under next year’s cap, (stop us if you’ve heard this before) there’s a lot to look forward to in San Francisco.
Merry Christmas everyone. All of us at the site appreciate all of you who’ve been loyal to us through a year of transition. Big things coming in 2019!