- Also, Denver’s punchless defense, Jacoby Brissett as the ultimate bargain, the Josh Allen matrix, and when officials don’t have the judgment to properly officiate games. Plus, musical guest: The Stink!
1. If science could figure out how to harness the power of regret, then the quantity Matt Nagy and Mike Zimmer emit every time their quarterbacks drop back could power our planet for generations.
Nagy is talking of scaling back the playbook in Chicago, which is not where you want to be with your quarterback in Year 2 when the offense is, hopefully, expanding. Last Monday, the Bears had success on a night when Washington’s defense was devoted to doing a shot-by-shot remake of every episode of The Benny Hill Show. But the throws were as unambitious as you’ll see in 2019, which was presumably to get some footing for Mitchell Trubisky. It might have come unraveled when, while chasing a meaningless second-half touchdown, Trubisky’s goal-line fade traveled about 31% of the way to its intended target, becoming the easiest interception of Josh Norman’s life. It would be interesting to see Trubisky operate if they played from behind, which hasn’t happened often the last two seasons. But when they have had to rally late, Trubisky has seemed unburdened, capable of making the kind of throws that otherwise elude him.
Cousins, for his part, was fine in Weeks 1 and 3 when the Vikings cruised to lopsided victories. But he was dreadful in the loss at Green Bay, and equally bad in two meetings with the Bears last year. Zimmer dreams of a day when the forward pass shall be outlawed, but there’s a good chance—as happened in both meetings last year—the Vikings fall behind and Cousins will have to make some plays on Sunday. Considering the Diggs-Thielen tandem that’s not an unreasonable ask. And while we haven’t seen it in Minnesota yet, Cousins did have some heroic moments in Washington. (He also had some decidedly unheroic moments; it all adds up to create the essence of Kirk Cousins.)
And that might be how things are decided in Soldier Field. Two great defenses, and two coaches praying their high-pedigree quarterback makes a play, maybe two, but mostly doesn’t screw it up.
2. Daniel Jones—better known as “Danny Dimes,” due to his robust collection of limited edition novelty coins commemorating the classic sitcom Taxi and featuring star of stage and screen Danny DeVito on the 10-cent piece of which Jones is particularly proud—was as impressive as anyone could have imagined in last week’s debut.
His best attribute is a willingness to hang in the pocket and stay ready to throw, essentially extending every play and giving receivers an extra beat or two to uncover. His accuracy was more than good enough, and his arm talent was much better than advertised—he made a number of throws with zip from a muddy pocket (we are probably getting carried away with expecting quarterbacks built like Josh Allen to have similar arm talent).
Washington will likely throw more at Jones this week, as DC Greg Manusky could afford to spend the entire week game-planning esclusively for Jones since Saquon Barkley is sidelined. Washington’s secondary has gotten singed at times this season, and there will be plays available for Jones. It’s not time to start carving his bust in Canton after one game. But if he plays well in two games, then it’s time.
3a. As taxpayers, it is our God-given right to complain about all things NFL officiating. Though, to be fair, it’s really difficult to officiate an NFL game. Everyone is enormous and super-fast, there are multiple things resembling a penalty on just about every play, and every offseason the competition committee gets together over a continental breakfast of Entenmann’s coffee cake, Müeslix, and Sanka, and conspire to make the rulebook even more abstract and impossible to interpret let alone enforce than it was before. (“Guys, Sean Payton keeps yelling, so do this thing with pass interference reviews but, you know, only when you think he’s paying attention.”)
At its heart, officiating any sport is a series of judgment calls, no matter how much a governing body might try to legislate judgment out of it. And in the NFL, it’s a series of incredibly difficult judgment calls (there was contact, but was it enough contact, and if it was enough contact was it forceful enough contact . . . ). There are going to be mistakes made, and those mistakes are going to be easily recognizable due to the advent of moving pictures and satellites and ability of the human brain to synthesize all those pixels into images we can understand. If nothing else, let’s insist that our officials use good judgment. Which brings us to the travesty that unfolded in Indianapolis last week.
You had Keanu Neal collapse in a heap, removed his helmet and threw it. An official threw an unsportsmanlike conduct flag for removing his helmet (more on that in a second). In the meantime, it quickly became abundantly clear that Neal was severely injured—clearly evident by not only the tears, but the presence of multiple trainers tending to him. We know the officials were aware of the injury, because after the crew discussed it, listen to what this goober announces as the scene unfolds:
This is the equivalent of a police officer, witnessing a guy distracted by PokemonGo stepping into heavy traffic and getting hit by a speeding city bus,* then choosing to handcuff the lifeless corpse and announce, “You, sir, are under arrest for jaywalking.”
The fact that multiple officials conferenced and still made a decision so lacking in common sense and, frankly, basic human decency is a level of judgment so poor that their competency should be questioned. There is a shortage of officials at all levels in football, and I realize it’s in part because the job means you’ll be subjected to taunts and accusations and, in certain nightmare scenarios, internet people calling you a "goober." But a crew that would arrive at a decision like this doesn’t have a place at the sport’s highest level.
3b. Also, it wasn’t the correct call even by the letter of the law. According to Section 3, Article 1(h), it is unsportsmanlike conduct for: “Removal of his helmet by a player in the field of play or the end zone during a celebration or demonstration, or during a confrontation with a game official or any other player.” Neal’s actions did not fall under this description.
3c. At an MMQB holiday celebration a few years back Peter King openly mocked me for this take, but I’ll put it out there again: There is nothing inherently “unsportsmanlike” about a player removing his helmet. If he removes his helmet and berates an official, it is the berating of an official that is unsportsmanlike. If he removes his helmet and taunts an opponent, it is the taunting of the opponent that is unsportsmanlike. (Those helmets aren’t soundproof, y’know.) The only reason removing the helmet in celebration is a penalty is because the league wants to discourage a demonstration of individuality that would remind viewers that these competitors are not soulless automatons but rather human beings who breathe and live and laugh and love. There is no reason for such a rule to exist.
*—I’ve referenced a grisly death by PokemonGo at least twice this year, and in the sake of full disclosure I should mention that I almost walked into traffic while playing PokemonGo in August. I saw a shiny Geodude on the other side of the street. Also, I should mention that I got a shiny Geodude in PokemonGo, but if you’re a LinkedIn connection you already knew that.
4. The flukiest anomaly of the first three weeks is the Broncos’ lack of a single takeaway or sack. There’s the fact that opponents have dropped back a league-low 82 times against them—by definition you can’t get a sack unless it’s a passing play and the majority of takeaways come on passing plays—and that’s because their crummy offense has had them playing from behind (the only leads Denver has held this year was vs. Chicago, 3-0 for a 10-minute span in the first half as well as a 14-13 lead for the final 31 seconds, though Chicago has taken any passing routes further than 28 inches downfield out of their playbook). And part of it is just some bad luck.
But it’s also a reminder that this unit will almost certainly never approach the level it played at in 2015. Von Miller and Bradley Chubb have been a good but less-than-great edge rushing tandem, not to mention just about every offense in the league is now prepared to deal with pressure of the edge, whether it be through getting their tackles help or getting the ball out quickly. They’ll probably get more of the latter from Gardner Minshew on Sunday, as the Jaguars do not have an offensive line terribly well-equipped to handle two edge rushers.
5. Kudos to the Colts for honoring Jacoby Brissett with a low end, Andy Dalton-esque two-year, $30 million deal before the season started. And preemptive kudos to the franchise for when, during the upcoming offseason, they tear up that deal and give him the longterm franchise QB contract he’ll prove he deserves.
6. Everyone knows the Patriots have won 14 of their past 15 trips to Buffalo (and covered the spread in 12 of those games) because it’s taught in public schools, so there’s no good reason to realistically expect an upset in Orchard Park on Sunday. However, you don’t have to fashion a pair of high-powered glasses made of your two of your child’s toy magnifying glasses scotch-taped together in order to see why the Bills can give them a run.
Sean McDermott, who could break into the homes of Sean McVay and Matt Nagy, rifle through their magazines then steal their NFL Coach of the Year trophies for himself and not a jury in the world would convict him, has this defense playing at the highest level they have in years because he’s working with more talent than he had each of the past two seasons. But Josh Allen, as he is most weeks, is the X-factor. If you line up with a game-managing quarterback and execute as well as you can against this year’s Patriots defense, you’re probably not going to do much of anything. Allen’s avant-garde brand of quarterbacking can result in some head-scratchingly poor plays, but it also gives the Bills a chance to create the kind of offense a well-prepared defense can’t be ready for. Think of Deshaun Watson's coming out party at Foxboro two seasons ago, when he made play after play out of structure. If things fall on the positive side of the Josh Allen matrix, things are going to be interesting in Orchard Park.
7. I have no problem with J.Lo and Shakira as artists and entertainers, but I remain dumfounded that the NFL has once again refused to give a Miami Super Bowl the perfect halftime show: Glenn Frey playing “The Heat Is On” four consecutive times.
8. Ladies and gentlemen . . . The Stink!
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