Skip to content

Week 17 Monday 10-pack

Green Bay Packers quarterback Flynn hands off the ball against the Detroit Lions during the second half of their NFL football game in Green Bay Reuters

It’s the first Monday of the year, and it’s the last Monday 10-pack of the year.

I miss the days when football season ended before December 31.

As a setup goes, that’s all I got.  Let’s get on to the 10 takes from a 32-team season-ending Sunday.

1.  Packers should strongly consider franchising Flynn.

In 2008, after the first annual Brett Favre retirement, the Packers drafted two quarterbacks.  The gesture was interpreted by some (i.e., by us) as a bolting of the door behind Favre and the blocking of it with large pieces of furniture.

Brian Brohm, who entered the 2007 college football season as one of the top prospects, slid to the Packers in round two, pick 56.  LSU’s Matt Flynn was an afterthought, with pick number 209 in round seven.  Four seasons later, Brohm is long gone — and Flynn showed on Sunday that he’ll be the hottest commodity in the 2012 free-agent market.

If he gets there.

Like Matt Cassel of the Patriots in 2009, the Packers should think about slapping the franchise tag on Flynn, in order to trade him to a quarterback-needy team.  With Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III the best options in the draft, teams like the Redskins and Dolphins and Browns and maybe the Seahawks will be clamoring for a proven commodity like Flynn.

The risk, of course, is that Flynn would sign the franchise tag but no serious offers would come for his services, given that the starting point for a long-term deal would be the one-year guaranteed salary of $14.5 million or so in 2012.  If that would happen, the Packers would be stuck with a backup earning roughly $6.5 million more next year than starter Aaron Rodgers, who is due to earn a base salary of $8 million next season.

The other side of the coin is that Flynn will walk away with plenty of coins in his pockets — and zero compensation to the team that transformed him from a seventh-round pick into a guy who’ll be the most coveted quarterback not named Luck or Griffin.

2.  Rex should be on the hot seat.

Though it’s too early to fire Jets coach Rex Ryan, who has two appearances in the AFC title game in three seasons as a head coach, he deserves the pressure that goes along with the accountability for guaranteeing a Super Bowl win (and, even more importantly in New York, a win over the Giants) and failing to deliver.  Only so many times can a head coach protect his players and assistants by saying “put the blame on me” until someone decides to put the blame on him.

Yes, his players seem to still believe.  More importantly, the owner seems to still believe.  But the players and the owner may believe a little less in 2012 — especially if Rex emerges from a disappointing 2011 season (in light of the expectations fueled by Ryan) as brash and bold as ever.

Beyond the boundaries of his team, Rex has become a caricature.  (Some would say he already was one.)  If that sense ever makes its way into the locker room, and eventually it should, it’ll be time to move on.

Apart from all the words, it’s one specific action that could, as a practical matter, put Rex in a position to be coaching for his job in 2012.  The misguided decision to make receiver Santonio Holmes a captain, given that Holmes spent much of the year not acting like a captain, could come back to haunt Ryan.

Arguably, it already is.  And now Rex has a mess on his hands, especially since a guy who spent much of Sunday acting like he didn’t want to be with the Jets signed a long-term, big-money deal before the season.

3.  Steelers fleeced Jets on Holmes.

Speaking of Santonio, Steelers fans didn’t care much for the abrupt decision to trade Holmes to New York for a fifth-round pick in 2010.  With a four-game suspension for violation of the substance-abuse policy coming on the heels of Ben Roethlisberger’s misadventures in Milledgeville, it was perceived that the Steelers’ decision was driven less by football strategy and more by public relations sensitivities.

But the Steelers were looking ahead.  With Holmes due to miss the first four games of the 2010 season and one wake-n-bake away from a one-year suspension, the Steelers opted to unload a potential headache — especially since the Steelers knew they’d never tie their hands by giving Holmes a huge contract.

And so the Steelers didn’t simply get a fifth-round pick.  The Steelers also received the peace of mind that comes from dumping a wideout who would have been a major pain in the butt for the balance of 2010, and who simply no longer factored into their plans.

Meanwhile, the Steelers traded that fifth-round pick to the Cardinals for cornerback Bryant McFadden and a sixth-round pick.  And with that sixth-round pick the Steelers found their 2011 MVP in round six of the same draft.  Receiver Antonio Brown has become almost everything Holmes was as a player, without creating any of the headaches or other issues that go hand in hand with having Holmes on the team.

Advantage Steelers.

4.  Texans-Bengals game could be the key to the AFC playoffs.

I’ve been concerned throughout much of the 2011 season that, once the Texans get to the postseason, a lack of playoff experience would keep them from being successful.  But their first opponent is the Bengals, a team with young players having no playoff experience and, by all appearances, no players having any positive playoff experiences.

So the Texans, who beat the Bengals last month after trailing 16-3 at the half and 19-10 after three quarters, will have a very good shot at holding off the No. 6 seed.  Taking a broader look at the AFC field, the outcome of that game could have a huge bearing on the determination of the eventual conference champion.

If Houston holds serve at home, it will be time for a return to Baltimore, where the Ravens’ eight regular-season wins included a trouncing of the Texans.  The Steelers, after most likely beating Denver, will head to New England.

Though Baltimore would have to face one of those two potent teams (either Pittsburgh at home, where the Ravens won 35-7 in Week One or the Patriots in New England, where the Ravens won in the playoffs two years ago, 33-14), the Ravens wouldn’t have to play both of them.  Which, for the Ravens, is nice.

If, in contrast, the Bengals upset the Texans, Cincinnati would head to Foxboro — and Pittsburgh would return to Baltimore with a burst of momentum and a shot at becoming the latest wild-card winner to catch a division rival flat-footed after a bye week and knock them out of the playoffs.  If Baltimore manages to beat the Steelers for a third time this year, the reward would be a trip to New England.

The converse is true for the Pats.  A win by the Bengals keeps New England from having to play both Pittsburgh and Baltimore.  If Houston wins, the Patriots would have to face a Steelers team that gave New England one of its three 2011 losses before inviting the Ravens back to town.

One way or the other, the outcome of Saturday’s game will make the path to Indy considerably easier for New England or Baltimore, by sending the Steelers to one place or the other.

5.  Crossroads for Daniel Snyder.

The Redskins became the property of Daniel Snyder in 1999.  In the 13 seasons since then, Snyder has employed (excluding interim hires) six head coaches.  Other than Snyder’s boyhood hero, Joe Gibbs, no coach has made it more than two seasons on the job.

Mike Shanahan has just completed his second season on the job.  Recently, Shanahan has been subtly justifying his two losing seasons by explaining that much work needed to be done to improve the bad team he inherited.  And while there’s no indication that Shanahan will be fired, there likewise was no indication that the end was coming three years ago for Shanahan in Denver.

The bigger question for Snyder is whether he’s willing to stay the course not only now but after the 2012 season.  If Shanahan and G.M. Bruce Allen position themselves to land Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III in the draft, it would be foolish to give Shanahan only one year to work with the new quarterback.

And so Snyder needs to realize that, by deciding to keep Shanahan now, Snyder essentially is deciding to keep Shanahan for 2013 — and possibly for 2014.

6.  Another Manning/Leaf dilemma coming?

Speaking (twice now) of Luck and Griffin, what once was a one-man show at the top of the draft quickly has become another Peyton Manning vs. Ryan Leaf conundrum.  On Sunday’s Football Night In America, former Colts coach Tony Dungy explained that Colts vice chairman Bill Polian has shown a willingness to go against conventional wisdom in the draft, taking Edgerrin James in 1999 over Ricky Williams and Dwight Freeney over Albert Haynesworth in 2002.

Dungy even said he’d personally lean toward Griffin, the Heisman winner and architect of a 67-point explosion in Baylor’s bowl win.

Luck still has one more chance to create some separation, when Stanford takes on Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl.  Despite the obsession over measurables and the things a guy can do when not wearing pads, scouts seem to be influenced heavily by performances on the big stage.

What Luck does with it could ultimately determine whether Luck and Griffin will become another Manning and Leaf dilemma, which despite being a no-brainer in hindsight was a much closer call in 1998.

7.  Pay the Cruz.

Giants receiver Victor Cruz has made, in two seasons, the unlikely climb from undrafted free agent to superstar.  Nearly as shrewd as the Giants’ decision to give him a chance was their decision to sign him to a three-year contract.

And so Cruz remains contractually obligated to show up for mandatory offseason workouts and training camp in 2012, despite being slated to earn a paltry $490,000.

But the Giants need to send a message to the locker room that stellar play will be rewarded.  While they could force Cruz to continue to prove himself — and to bear the injury risk — for the final year of his rookie deal and a season as a restricted free agent, the best move would be to find a way to pay him a fair salary that reflects not only his skills and abilities but also the contributions he made during a season that seemed destined for failure again.

In each of the last two games, a long-yardage catch-and-run from Cruz gave the Giants the upper hand.  It’s only right to put a lot more money in the guy’s pockets.

8.  Broncos should get Quinn ready to play Sunday.

Tebowmania landed with a thud 15 days ago, with the Patriots providing the rest of the league with the blueprint for turning the page on the NFL’s flavor of the month.

As a result, Tim Tebow has played worse than poorly the last two weeks, with as many turnovers against the Bills and Chiefs (six) as Tebow had in his 10 prior games combined.

Enter the Steelers, who have made crafted their legacy over the past two decades by methodically building a lead and then gradually choking off the opposing offense.

As a result, if the Broncos want to have a realistic shot at advancing, it may be prudent to be ready to pull off a Rocky-style switch to southpaw, by switching from the southpaw to Brady Quinn.

This isn’t a long-term indictment of Tebow.  It’s a recognition of the fact that, at least for now, he has bumped up against his ceiling.  The goal on Sunday is to win one game, and it could be that the only way to do that will be to know when to flip the switch from the unconventional quarterback to the guy whose abilities would defy the Steelers’ preparation.

9.  MJD deserves high praise.

Every year, there’s a sense that Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew has reached the limit of his abilities, and that a regression is coming.  Every year, he simply continues to play at a high level.

This year, on a team with no passing offense to draw safeties away from the box, Jones-Drew piled up 1,606 rushing yards, more than 240 yards better than Ray Rice, who finished at No. 2.  Jones-Drew added 374 receiving yards, which gives him 1,980 yards from scrimmage.

At a time when former USC tailback Reggie Bush is still trying to become the best running back in the game, the former UCLA running back who entered the league in the same draft as an afterthought to Bush is what Bush has always wanted to be.  Unfortunately for Jones-Drew, the Jaguars may not be able to develop a decent passing game before the window closes on his prime.

10.  Packers defense is even worse than the Patriots.

All year, the media has harped on the Patriots’ porous defense, barely noticing the Swiss cheese sieve in Green Bay.

At the end of the season, the numbers don’t lie.  The Patriots gave up 411.1 yards per game, and the Packers gave up 411.6.

The Packers also finished with a worse pass defense, giving up 299.8 yards per game.  The Pats surrendered, on average, 293.9.  That’s 34.1 yards per game more than the third-worst pass defense, the Saints.

Fittingly, the three worst pass defenses are complemented by the three best pass offenses.

And so, if the top two seeds make it to Indianapolis for the Super Bowl (or if the Saints get there instead of the Packers), it could be time to reduce the field from 100 yards to 50, put up nets at either end, and just call the game what it will be — arena football.

Permalink 74 Comments Feed for comments Latest Stories in: 10-pack, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos, Features, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, New York Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers, Rumor Mill, Top Stories, Washington Redskins
yo

Conference championship ratings almost certainly will drop

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 23:  A woman walks in blizzard-like conditions on January 23, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Northeast and parts of the South are experiencing heavy snow and ice from a slow moving winter storm. Numerous deaths from traffic accidents have already been reported as the storm makes its way up the coast.  (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images) Getty Images

The apples-to-apples comparison of last year’s conference championship games to this year’s conference championship games will be hampered by one major difference between the broader circumstances from this same weekend from 12 months ago.

Last year at this time, much of the northeast was buried in snow after a blizzard hit on Friday and Saturday, the two days before the AFC and NFC title games. So with millions snowed in, millions tuned in.

On average, 53.3 million watched the Patriots-Broncos game, which went down to the wire. The Cardinals-Panthers game, which was a blowout, averaged 45.7 million.

This year, with no snow and seasonably warm temperatures throughout much of the country, it will be very difficult for Packers-Falcons and Steelers-Patriots to match those numbers, no matter how compelling the games are.

Permalink 43 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Jim Irsay: Peyton Manning won’t be joining the Colts

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 07:  Peyton Manning (L) and Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay hug during a press conference announcing that the Colts will release Manning at Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center on March 7, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Joey Foley/Getty Images) Getty Images

Colts owner Jim Irsay finally has done that which seemed quite possible if not likely three weeks ago: He has fired G.M. Ryan Grigson.

At a press conference to announce the move, Irsay said that Peyton Manning will not be joining the team as the G.M. But Irsay may have taken his position on Peyton Manning a bit too far by claiming that Manning and Jon Gruden joining the team was “never in the cards.”

Multiple reports indicated that Irsay tried to woo Gruden and Manning as a package deal. The two men are close friends (it’s not quite The Odd Couple, but it’s close), and the goal was to get both of them. If those reports were all #fakenews, Irsay should have shot them down days ago.

Irsay said he has a list of G.M. candidates, that it could expand, and that he’ll interview current Colts executive Jimmy Raye III for the job. (I think Irsay knows who he’ll hire, but he’s trying to ensure the perception of a full and fair search.)

As to coach Chuck Pagano, Irsay explained that Pagano will be back for 2017, but it’s obvious he’ll be on the hot seat — especially if the new G.M. comes from outside the organization. Every coach wants his own quarterback and every G.M. wants his own coach, and half-measures of this kind rarely work.

Permalink 47 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Blandino explains accuracy of Chiefs holding call

CHICAGO - SEPTEMBER 12:  Side Judge Carl Cheffers #51 listens in as the officials discuss a play during the game between the Detroit Lions and the Chicago Bears on September 12, 2004 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Lions defeated the Bears 20-16. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) Getty Images

The outrage over the holding call that wiped out what would have been a game-tying two-point conversion last Sunday night in Kansas City was entertaining but, ultimately, not accurate. Chiefs left tackle Eric Fisher held Steelers linebacker James Harrison.

In his weekly officiating video, NFL senior V.P. of officiating Dean Blandino confirmed the accuracy of the call made by referee Carl Cheffers, whose assignment on such plays when positioned on the right side of the quarterback includes watching the interaction between the left tackle and the man he’s blocking.

“We talk about position, body position,” Blandino said. “We talk about feet. If the blocker can maintain good feet and he can maintain position in front of the defender and if he can stay square to the defender and he can continue to move his feet, we’re not gonna have a foul for holding. If the defender gets outside his feet and the blocker has to reach, now he reaches with his left arm across the body of the defender and he’s gonna grab . .  on the jersey. When we see that, now we have to look for restriction. Does he materially affect the defender’s ability to get to the ball carrier?”

The foul occurred when Harrison tried to break free from Fisher, and when Fisher knocked Harrison down.

“The other factor, we have a rip . . . technique,” Blandino said. “Where the defender’s gonna bring his arm under the arm of the blocker, try to gain leverage, and get through to the quarterback. When there’s a rip, there’s no foul for holding unless the defender’s feet are taken away. And you can see clearly the defender’s feet are gonna be taken away as he’s taken to the ground.”

The explanation is useful, but the simpler point is that it looks like holding, clearly and unmistakably. So while it was surely disappointing for the Chiefs to have two critical points taken from the board in the closing minutes of an elimination game, the foul occurred — and kudos to Cheffers for having the will to throw the flag at a time when plenty of officials take a “let them play” approach, which essentially means when obvious fouls aren’t called, “Let them cheat.”

Permalink 37 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

With three receivers hurt, Packers call one up from practice squad

WINSTON-SALEM, NC - NOVEMBER 28: Max McCaffrey #87 of the Duke Blue Devils stiff-arms Zach Dancel #9 of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at BB&T Field on November 28, 2015 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Packer have called in reinforcements for their ailing receiving corps.

Max McCaffrey, a rookie receiver who has yet to play in an NFL game, has been promoted from the Packers’ practice squad to their active roster. That means he could play tomorrow in the NFC Championship Game against the Falcons.

Three Packers receivers — Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison — are questionable for the game Nelson is dealing with an illness and broken ribs, Adams has an ankle injury and Allison has a hamstring injury.

McCaffrey signed with the Raiders as an undrafted free agent after the 2016 NFL draft but did was cut at the end of the preseason. The Packers signed him to their practice squad in December. A three-year starter at Duke, McCaffrey is the son of former Broncos receiver Ed McCaffrey and the older brother of potential 2017 first-round draft pick Christian McCaffrey.

To make room for McCaffrey on the 53-player roster, the Packers placed offensive lineman JC Tretter on injured reserve.

Permalink 31 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Pat McAfee celebrates the firing of Ryan Grigson, apparently

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - NOVEMBER 24:  Pat McAfee #1 of the Indianapolis Colts reacts after throwing a first down pass on a trick play during the second quarter of the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 24, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) Getty Images

If you’re wondering what Colts players think about the decision to fire G.M. Ryan Grigson, look no farther than the Twitter page of Colts punter Pat McAfee.

Thank God,” he tweeted not long after the news broke. He then followed it with an observation that “‘Unwarranted Arrogance’ just ran into a brick wall called karma.”

After Indianapolis radio personality and former college basketball coach Dan Dakich sneered at these observations from “the punter,” McAfee removed any doubt that he was talking about Grigson: “‘All Pro punter’ please and thank you.. also someone who has seen your best friend treat humans absolutely horrendously for 5 years.”

It’s stunning stuff from McAfee, but I’ll take honesty over robotic Foxboro cliches any day. Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see whether any teammates join in the chorus or publicly dispute McAfee’s views about Grigson.

Permalink 68 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

What’s Jim Irsay’s next move? Presumably, he already knows

INDIANAPOLIS - JANUARY 24:  Jim Irsay Owner of the Indianapolis Colts celebrates their 30-17 victory of the New York Jets during the Lamar Hunt Trophy presentation after the AFC Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 24, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) Getty Images

Nearly three weeks after the Colts’ season ended and a full week after it became obvious that owner Jim Irsay was courting Peyton Manning to run the team and Jon Gruden to coach it, Irsay finally has made a move.

With Irsay expected to announce that G.M. Ryan Grigson has been fired, the question becomes what will be Irsay’s next move?

Presumably, he already knows. And that’s both a good thing and a bad thing.

It’s good because it means Irsay has achieved his obvious goal of landing an upgrade before dumping Grigson. It’s bad because it means that Irsay could have a hard time complying with the Rooney Rule, if it’s widely believed that Irsay already knows who he is going to hire.

For that reason alone, don’t expect Irsay to name a successor — unless he has pre-complied with the Rooney Rule. Which would mean that he has been interviewing candidates while Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano have been hanging out to dry.

Grigson has three years left on his contract, which means he’ll be paid by Irsay minus whatever he makes elsewhere. And “elsewhere” could potentially be a return to the Eagles front office, where Grigson worked before being hired by the Colts.

Permalink 22 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Colts fire Ryan Grigson

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 16: General manager Ryan Grigson of the Indianapolis Colts looks on during a rookie minicamp at the team complex on May 16, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

After five seasons and little progress, Ryan Grigson is out as the General Manager of the Colts.

Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay fired Grigson today, Adam Schefter of ESPN reports. The Colts have announced that Irsay will speak to the media later this afternoon, but they have not confirmed that Grigson is out.

It has been widely reported that Irsay would love to change the structure of his front office and work out a deal to put Peyton Manning in charge. It is unclear if firing Grigson is a step toward hiring Manning, or whether Irsay just decided to can Grigson and start searching for a new G.M. now.

It is also unclear whether head coach Chuck Pagano’s job is safe.

The Colts will now get a very late start on the offseason, as most teams have their front office personnel in place and are already making preparations for free agency and the draft. But Grigson had ample opportunity to build a team around Andrew Luck in Indianapolis, and he failed to do so. As a result, he’s out.

Permalink 111 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Brady, Eli, Peyton have identical postseason passer ratings

Peyton Manning, Tom Brady AP

Tom Brady, Eli Manning and Peyton Manning have decidedly different reputations for playoff performance, and yet their postseason statistics are strikingly similar.

In fact, heading into Sunday’s AFC Championship Game, Brady has a career postseason passer rating of 87.4. That happens to be exactly the same career postseason passer rating as both Manning brothers.

The three players are tied for 15th in NFL history in career postseason passer rating.

Brady is often described as the most “clutch” passer in NFL history, Peyton is often described as the greatest regular-season passer but largely a postseason disappointment, and Eli is often described as a player who has delivered his best performances in the biggest games. There may be less to that than meets the eye, however: We remember Brady as having a great playoff game when he passed his team into field goal range and Adam Vinatieri makes it, while we remember Peyton as having a bad playoff game when he passed his team into field goal range and Mike Vanderjagt missed it.

As far as the NFL’s official passer rating stat is concerned, the three are equals in the postseason.

Permalink 75 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Packers add Christine Michael to injury report

GREEN BAY, WI - JANUARY 8:  Christine Michael #32 of the Green Bay Packers fends off a tackle attempt by Romeo Okwara #78 of the New York Giants in the third quarter during the NFC Wild Card game at Lambeau Field on January 8, 2017 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Packers have added running back Christine Michael to their injury report.

The team lists Michael as questionable for Sunday’s NFC Championship Game due to a back injury.

On Friday the Packers listed three wide receivers — Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison — as questionable. There were no changes announced Saturday, so all three presumably made the trip to Atlanta and will be given a chance to play, as coach Mike McCarthy said they would.

Nelson had been away from the team on Friday due to illness. He didn’t play last week because he’s dealing with broken ribs.

Permalink 15 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Bill Belichick going for postseason win No. 25

belichick

Patriots coach Bill Belichick is already the all-time leader in career postseason victories, and so each time he wins it sets a new record, and it hardly even seems worth mentioning.

But Belichick is going for a milestone win on Sunday in the AFC Championship Game: No. 25.

Belichick is 24-10 in the postseason as a head coach, putting him four wins ahead of Hall of Fame Cowboys coach Tom Landry for the most ever. Belichick got his first postseason win with the Browns in 1994, and has added 23 more with the Patriots.

If the Patriots beat the Steelers tomorrow to advance to Super Bowl LI, the Super Bowl will be Belichick’s 36th postseason game coached, which will move him into a three-way tie with Landry and Don Shula for the most postseason games ever. Those three coaches are far ahead of the rest of the pack; Chuck Noll is a distant fourth with 24 postseason games coached.

A win tomorrow would also improve Belichick’s career postseason winning percentage to .714, which would allow him to leapfrog Joe Gibbs and tie Bill Walsh for the highest postseason winning percentage among coaches who coached at least 10 postseason games. Only Vince Lombardi (9-1) and Tom Flores (8-3) have better postseason winning percentages.

Belichick’s place in Canton is already assured, but with each postseason game he’s making a stronger case that he’s the greatest coach in NFL history.

Permalink 106 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Family connection helped Rams lure Wade Phillips from Denver

HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 16:  Wade Phillips, defensive coordinator of the Houston Texans waits on the sideline during the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Reliant Stadium on December 16, 2012 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images) Getty Images

New Broncos coach Vance Joseph hoped to retain defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. New Rams coach Sean McVay lured Phillips to Los Angeles.

So how did McVay pull it off? He explained the coordinator coup during a visit to Friday’s PFT Live.

“The one unfortunate part of this business is you don’t get a chance to see your family as much as you’d like, and he has a daughter that lives out in the L.A. area,” McVay said regarding Phillips. “Then being fortunate enough to work with Wes, his son, the last couple years in Washington. We’ve developed a really close relationship; I consider him one of my closest friends in this profession and really just in life in general. [I’ve] gotten to know Wade a little bit better through that, and I’ve always admired his career from afar. I think his resume speaks for itself, so just those different connections . . . and it doesn’t hurt when you’ve got some pretty good players that you’ll get a chance to come in and coach right away.”

The Rams definitely have some good defensive players. It may not yet be as potent as the Broncos defense, but it’s good enough to help the team turn things around — especially if McVay can fix an offense that currently has a lot more in common with the Greatest Show on Earth than the Greatest Show on Turf.

Permalink 12 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Enforcement of illegal substitution rule doesn’t match its language

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 20:   Brice Butler #19 of the Dallas Cowboys celebrates after catching a pass during the second quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at AT&T Stadium on November 20, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

Cowboys receiver Brice Butler’s NFL career may not last very long, but at least his name will be attached to an obscure rule, at least until the next time the rule is applied. It’s quite possible that the rule wasn’t applied correctly as to Butler.

NFL senior V.P. of officiating Dean Blandino explained in his weekly officiating video the quirk that saw the Cowboys penalized 15 yards after Butler entered and exited the huddle area without participating in a snap last Sunday against the Packers. Blandino said that the so-called (at least by me) Brice Butler Rule is aimed at preventing teams from deliberately fooling opponents by sending players on and off the field. Blandino admitted that the officials have discretion in this regard, when for example a team facing fourth and short initially decides to punt and then sends the offense back onto the field.

Blandino added that the rule has been on the books since the 1950s, and that it was last called in 2014 during a game between Washington and Dallas. (The NFL’s excellent Game Pass feature includes the Week Eight Washington at Dallas game, but neither the broadcast footage nor the coaches film show what Washington tight end Logan Paulsen did before the snap to draw a 15-yard penalty.)

Blandino’s explanation was reasonable, and it all makes sense. But it seems to conflict with the plain language of the rule book.

“The rule is pretty straightforward in terms of the way it reads,” Blandino said. “It says an offensive substitute who moves onto the field inside the numbers and leaves without participating in one play, that’s a foul for unsportsmanlike conduct. There’s a second part of the rule that talks about coming into the huddle and communicating with a teammate and then leaving, but really once a player’s inside the numbers and then leaves but doesn’t participate that’s going to be the foul for unsportsmanlike conduct.”

Here’s the full language of Rule 5, Section 2, Article 2:

“The following are applicable to any offensive substitute who is entering the game:

“(a) He must move onto the field of play or the end zone as far as the inside of the field numerals prior to the snap to be a legal substitution. If he does not, and is on the field of play or end zone at the time of a legal snap, he is an illegal substitute.

“(b) If he approaches the huddle and communicates with a teammate, he is required to participate in at least one play before being withdrawn. Violations of this rule may be penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct.”

The first part of the rule seems to apply only where the substitute tries to sneak onto the fringe of the field. Moreover, the foul under the first part of the rule arises only if the player “is on the field of play or end zone at the time of a legal snap.” Thus, because Butler’s foul had nothing to do with being on the field at the time of the snap, the first part of the rule simply doesn’t apply.

The second part of the rule becomes the focal point of the analysis. By its plain terms, a violation occurs only if the player “approaches the huddle and communicates with a teammate” but doesn’t participate in at least one play.

The video included with Blandino’s explanation doesn’t show Butler communicating with a teammate — unless slapping the hand of the player who was exiting as Butler was entering counts as communication. Instead, Butler enters the huddle area, immediately turns to the sideline, realizes he shouldn’t be in the game, and then leaves. (That fact that Blandino glossed over the second part of the rule seems to confirm that he doesn’t believe that there is evidence of “communication” with a teammate.)

The discretion to which Blandino referred is codified in a note to the rule that explains the overall intention “to prevent teams from using simulated substitutions to confuse an opponent.” The question of whether discretion should be exercised if relevant, however, only if the two key elements of the violation have occurred: (1) the player has approached the huddle; AND (2) the player has communicated with a teammate.” If the player approaches the huddle and doesn’t communicate with a teammate, there’s no reason to exercise discretion because a potential violation has not occurred.

So, based on the language of the rule, there was no foul absent proof that Butler communicated with a teammate once he arrived at the huddle. If there is no such evidence, it’s entirely possible that this is yet another example of a discrepancy between the rules as written and the rules as enforced.

If that’s the case, the rule needs to be rewritten to match the enforcement, or the enforcement needs to be changed to respect the language of the rule.

Permalink 61 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Spring League invites Johnny Manziel, Ray Rice, Vince Young

SEATTLE, WA - DECEMBER 20: Defensive lineman Brandon Mebane #92 of the Seattle Seahawks sacks quarterback Johnny Manziel #2 of the Cleveland Browns during the first half of play at CenturyLink Field on December 20, 2015 in Seattle, Washington. The Seahawks won the game 30-13. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images) Getty Images

There’s never a shortage of eventually-failed football leagues, and with two of them angling to join the list of ventures that will later pull the plug, they’re both trying to stand out for at least a little while, before the inevitable demise.

The new Spring League, which received some advance notoriety when the #fakenews of NFL involvement emerged last month, has found another way to make a headline. Via Rob Maadi of the Associated Press, Spring League CEO Brian Woods explained that the door is open for big-name players who want to get back to the NFL.

“If Johnny Manziel is serious about a future in the NFL, the Spring League is willing to provide him with a platform to prove he’s still relevant,” Woods said. (The kids and/or the adults who want to seem cool would call that throwing shade.)

Woods also mentioned Ray Rice and Vince Young as potential additional to the upstart league. Even though the goal is to employ players in their mid-20s, the Spring League realizes that any publicity is good publicity, when it comes to staving off what surely will happen within the first three or four years of the league’s launch.

Former NFL players who already have signed up for the Spring League, which will be based at the Greenbrier in my home state of West Virginia so maybe I should be a little less unrealistic about its chances of success as a gesture of hospitality, include receiver Jalen Saunders, cornerback Ellis Lankster, and safety Pierre Warren.

So, yes, the interest in Manziel, Rice, and Young is obvious. It’s surprising the Spring League also hasn’t made a pitch for a certain football player turned baseball player who definitely needs a platform to prove he’s still relevant.

Permalink 40 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Stephen Jones: Jerry and Romo will work something out

Tony Romo, Jerry Jones AP

Stephen Jones has a big role in the operations of the Cowboys, but when it comes to the biggest decision the team will make this offseason — what to do with Tony Romo — Stephen knows that his father is still the owner and G.M.

Asked on KRLD-FM about Romo’s future, Stephen Jones answered, “You got the wrong guy on the phone right now.”

In other words, it’s going to be Jerry Jones who makes that call.

So how will it be worked out? Stephen Jones said he thinks his dad and Romo can come up with something that suits everyone’s interests.

“I’m sure as we move forward, obviously, there’s two really important people in this mix,” Stephen Jones said, via the Dallas Morning News. “First and foremost will be Jerry and then, of course, Tony. I read where Jason said his wish is that Tony, whatever happens here, is happy. I’m sure most people feel that way. At the same time, we all know we’re in a business. It’s something here that will be, obviously, handled with, if you will, kid gloves. And something that we’ll work through and when we’re ready to have any comments about it, I know Jerry and Tony will be the ones to do that.”

Romo has lost his starting job to Dak Prescott, and there’s no getting it back. And there’s no way the Cowboys are going to keep a backup with a cap hit of more than $24 million in 2017. So the only question is whether Jones can find a team willing to trade for an old, injured, expensive quarterback, or whether Jones will release Romo. That’s something the two of them may work out between now and the start of the new league year, which is less than two months away.

Permalink 78 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Tom Brady has 19 touchdowns, 0 interceptions vs. Mike Tomlin

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 23:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots drops back to pass in the second half during the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on October 23, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Rooneys own the Steelers, but Tom Brady owns Mike Tomlin.

In the 10 years since Tomlin became head coach of the Steelers, Brady and the Patriots have faced Pittsburgh six times. And in those six games, Brady has absolutely embarrassed Tomlin’s defense.

According to NFL Research, Brady has 19 touchdown passes and zero interceptions in six games against Tomlin’s teams. Brady’s passer rating in those games is 127.5, his highest against any head coach he’s faced at least three times. His completion percentage against Tomlin’s defense is 71.2 percent and he has averaged 314.8 yards a game.

Brady has never failed to throw for at least two touchdown passes against Tomlin’s Steelers. Tomlin may need to find a way to reverse that on Sunday if he wants to get to the Super Bowl.

Permalink 103 Comments Feed for comments Back to top