1a. As the Rams stare down a desperate stretch run, a reminder that the previous 10 Super Bowls featured nine different NFC representatives—only the Seahawks have been there twice. And of none of the previous four (Philadelphia, Atlanta, Carolina and Seattle) have been even as far as a conference title game since.
1b. Also a reminder that the Rams are so bad on the offensive line that it doesn’t matter what they scheme up right now—they can’t block well enough to function. They were quite clearly wrong to bank on youngsters Joseph Noteboom (now injured but quite bad before that) and Brian Allen stepping in this season. And looking beyond this season, they traded a lot of premium picks, and now it’s up to Sean McVay’s staff to develop what they have (the early returns are not good). But as far as the 2019 edition of the Rams goes, they look like a B-plus team at best regardless of any Super Bowl hangover.
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2a. A lot of folks had a chance to dust off the “just another case of head trauma lol” takes on Thursday night and Friday morning, each one surely followed by a Fozzy Bear-style, Wacka, wacka, wacka! by the author.*
Over the years at The MMQB, we’ve done a lot of enlightening pieces on head trauma and player safety, mostly because we hired Jenny Vrentas while other outlets made the mistake of not doing so. One thing that came up a few times in our coverage was teams that practice without helmets with the goal of taking the head out of the game (because putting a helmet on a player often leads to that player instinctively wanting to use the head as a weapon).
Invariably, it would lead to people suggesting that football be played without helmets to make it safer. But the problem with that is, it doesn’t make it safer. Concussions are awful, but do you know what’s much worse? Skull fractures. (I spoke to a few neuropathologists about the link between head trauma and increased sexual aggression for our Kellen Winslow Jr. piece last spring, and I assure you, the kind of trauma caused by a helmetless player getting his skull literally cracked is far more dire than what we normally fear in football.)
Thursday and Friday brought enough bad takes to fill a warehouse, but one of the most disappointing—largely because it was echoed by a few very respected journalists and thinkers—went along the lines of, You see worse violence than that every week. But you don’t. The risk of a Jack Tatum-on-Darryl Stingley hit is always there, but it’s also a longshot that such a hit would result in that level of catastrophic injury. It’s also still unlikely that a player swinging a helmet at the unprotected head of an opponent would cause massive head trauma, but the chances of a catastrophic injury are significantly higher in that case. There’s no way around it: What Myles Garrett did on Thursday night was incredibly dangerous and crossed a bright red line.
2b. Garrett will primarily be known for this, probably forever—just like Albert Haynesworth or Kermit Washington or Todd Bertuzzi. (Which is a shame, because before this he was known for being really good at football, knowing a lot about dinosaurs, and being a Hall & Oates fan.) So is he an unhinged lunatic? My guess is probably not. I don’t know him very well**, and his actions crossed a line, but: He was in the midst of a fight, ended up with the helmet in his hand (which he took off, but lots of players try that—Rudolph himself, for instance—and few succeed), and reacted, surely without considering the consequences, in the heat of the moment. It’s an awful thing he did, but it’s probably still as acceptable to like him as it is to like any complete stranger who wears the laundry you prefer.
2c. I very much wish someone in the Browns organization would have gotten to him before he opened his mouth in the locker room post-game and made a series of regrettable comments that only added fodder to anyone arguing that he is an unhinged lunatic.
2d. Mason Rudolph certainly tried to remove Garrett’s helmet and then kicked him in what can scientifically be referred to as "the weiner." That was in response to Garrett wrestling him down with a late hit in the final seconds of a 14-point game. And that might have been due to Garrett not realizing the ball had already gotten out.
What Rudolph didn’t do was try to grab the aforementioned weiner of Garrett after the play. Or, at least we believe he didn’t based on live video and also the 10,000 replays available. But . . . what about evidence in the form of a still photo providing an obstructed view?:
WHOA! Look at that! This changes everything. He’s definitely grabbing Garrett in the private-ish area (you know, right above the kneecap).
I haven’t been this outraged since Aaron Rodgers went around punching the crotches of very tall members of the Miami Dolphins during a game:
Or the time the University of Illinois basketball program surgically replaced a scholarship player’s head with a basketball for reasons unknown. Look at this poor guy—that’s . . . that’s no way to live:
In conclusion, great work by the thousands of Matlock cosplayers who brought attention to that still photo of Rudolph.
2e. The only guy who did anything both dangerous and with some degree of premeditation was Larry Ogunjobi, who blindsided a helmetless Rudolph away from the fight. Ogunjobi later said he was trying to protect his teammate even though his teammate was five yards away grappling with a couple of 300-pound linemen—one of them trying to kick him in the head—meaning Ogunjobi’s excuse only makes sense if he is extremely nearsighted—like, nearsighted to the point that he shouldn’t have a driver’s license.
Anyway, he would have gotten away with it if not for the tens of thousands of people in attendance and multiple cameras broadcasting his actions to millions more.
2f. It’s always enjoyable watching the arbitrary nature of the NFL’s punishments—you never know what you’re going to get! I still insist the league should erect its own statue of Lady Justice outside 345 Park Avenue. But instead of a blindfolded Lady Justice holding a scale in one hand with a sword by her side in the other, it should be a blindfolded Roger Goodell holding a large claw hammer in one hand and feeling around aimlessly with the other as a surrounding crowd cowers in fear.
*—I’m not sure it’s necessary to call that "Fozzy Bear-style" since I don’t think anyone else says, “Wacka, wacka, wacka!” Or even a single “wacka.”
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3. “Let him get and develop a trust mechanism for the organization. Let him begin ingrained in what it means to be a Cleveland Brown. Once you get him involved in that type of culture, good things can happen.”
That was John Dorsey after drafting red-flag prospect Antonio Callaway in 2018.
This is the culture of the same organization that had the above Thursday night meltdown, that had to cut a player for dispensing a series of death threats to fans via social media, that rolled the dice on a talented-but-troubled left tackle who started the 2018 opener but was waived then arrested less than a year later, that leads the league in penalties and penalty yards, and that is owned by this guy. The idea of “culture” is nebulous at best, BS at worst, but maybe it’s something the Browns should back off of mentioning. At least for awhile. (But maybe forever.)
Also, Shyamalanian twist? Callaway was waived last week in light of a second drug suspension.
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4. Did you know that, in Chinese, the word for “crisis” is the same as the word for “opportunity”? That isn’t true, but a lot of people think it is, and in the end, isn’t that the real truth?
Two weeks ago it looked like the Saints were on the short list of Super Bowl contenders, especially in light of Drew Brees’s return from a broken thumb. Losing Brees is much more problematic than anything else that has happened to this team since. But it’s almost like the latest hits to New Orleans’ roster will require just as much creativity from Sean Payton and his staff than losing Brees did.
The big issue on offense is the interior offensive line, where former-All-Pro-turned-liability Andrus Peat will miss a month or two with a broken arm. Peat, who was struggling badly this season, will be replaced at left guard by Will Clapp, who struggled even worse when pressed into action against the Falcons last week. When you have a 6-foot quarterback who isn’t terribly mobile, interior line play is crucial. Considering how easily the Saints were short-circuited by the toothless Falcons pass rush, this is a major pressure point to keep an eye on when they go to Tampa on Sunday.
Defensively, losing Marshon Lattimore could be devastating. Lattimore had been as good as any cornerback in football this season, always taking opposing No. 1 receivers and often handling them with little safety help. That adds an enormous amount of flexibility for the rest of the defense. The Saints will be tested immediately this week, as Lattimore has typically shut down Mike Evans in their matchups. Now, Evans gets a better matchup, likely requiring a double-team, which opens up more opportunities for Chris Godwin.
Against a Bucs team that usually plays them tough in Tampa anyway, for the Saints this game has a flavor of . . .
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5. The 49ers had to be violently ill about that mistake-filled loss on Monday night. The drops (particularly by Kendrick Bourne) were among the worst of their miscues, one turning into an interception and another costing them a third-down conversion in the red zone.
Kyle Shanahan cited the team’s analytics department in saying the offense lost 108 yards due to drops in the Seahawks loss (which is bad). But Shanahan also seems to be taking it like a reasonable human being, which is a good sign:
“Don’t picture everything is going to go perfect this week. Picture yourself having another drop again, know how bad that feels and then think of how you’re going to react to that because if you go out there being, ‘Man I’ve got to be perfect this week and I have another drop,’ you’re going to go into a shell the rest of the game and we’re going to need you. . . . We have good receivers who don’t drop it a ton. In terms of drops, they had a bad game last week and you’ve got to go out there and not think about that.”
The bigger issue for the 49ers is having to play again on a short week after 70 minutes of football on Monday night. But they’ll be going up against a Cardinals team that, even with the injuries, has far less talent than they do, that they already prepared for once this season, and that hasn’t really expanded their offense in any significant way since. This is a very good chance to bounce back and reassert themselves in the NFC homefield race.
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6a. Re: The Kaepernick workout controversy. The league’s ability to—without fail—shoot itself in the butt when it comes to all things, uh . . . everything, is unrivaled. How you announce you’re holding a special, unprecedented pro day for a player without first ironing out the details with that player is either part of some PR long con (and if the league office truly wants no part of Kaepernick, why set this up at a time when he's out of the news cycle?) or a stunning lack of competence.
6b. There’s little point in deep-diving the actual workout; Kaepernick looked like the same guy he was three years ago. He’s not going to put a team on his back and carry them to the Super Bowl, but in the right system—especially one that encourages him to be more of a risk-taker than what we saw in 2016—he’d still stress a lot of defenses with his arm talent and his legs. He’s not for everyone, and he’s much more bridge guy than franchise QB, but there are a lot of teams that—if they could suck up a couple weeks of uncomfortable non-football attention—would be much better off with him on the roster.
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7. Ladies and gentlemen . . . Guided By Voices! (Well, first weirdly young Jon Stewart, but then Guided By Voices!)
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