The Daily Briefing - Thursday, January 26, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

 

SUPER BOWL LI

The Falcons had a chance to wear white, but gave that opportunity to New England.  Robert Hanzus at NFL.com:

 

The Atlanta Falcons have made their choice on the color of their jerseys in Super Bowl LI. If recent history is any indication, it was a poor one.

 

Falcons PR confirmed that the team will be wearing their red jerseys in the Feb. 5 championship game at NRG Stadium in Houston. The Patriots will wear their white jerseys. Fun fact: Teams wearing white jerseys have won 11 of the last 12 Super Bowls.

 

 

The "home" team in the Super Bowl alternates between the AFC and NFC each year. This year, the mostly symbolic distinction went to the Falcons, who had first choice of uniform top.

 

Because I know it's killing you, the last time a conference champion wore white and lost was 2011, when the Steelers donned their road jerseys and got popped by the Packers in Super Bowl XLV.

- - -

The Commish showed up on Colin Cowherd’s Show and says he won’t have any problem watching TOM BRADY hoist Lombardi in his presence.  Kevin Duffy of MassLive.com was listening:

 

A New England Patriots victory in Super Bowl LI could make for a fairly awkward exchange between quarterback Tom Brady and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

 

Goodell, who imposed a four-game suspension on Brady for Deflategate, could very well find himself handing the Lombardi Trophy and the Super Bowl MVP Trophy to Brady in a few weeks.

 

During an appearance on Fox Sports' The Herd, Goodell was asked if he would be even slightly uncomfortable if such a scene unfolded.

 

"Not for a second," Goodell said. "This is one of the great opportunities. We have, two dominant teams playing in the Super Bowl. The Patriots and Falcons have both earned the opportunity to be there. They deserve it. And whoever wins that championship is going to have to earn it. These are great teams. So I am going to be thrilled...Tom Brady is one of the all-time greats. He has been for several years. He's on the precipice of at least potentially winning his fifth Super Bowl. He's an extraordinary player, great performer and surefire Hall of Famer. So it would be an honor."

 

NFC NORTH

 

MINNESOTA

WR CORDARRELLE PATTERSON feels more at home with Pat Shurmur as Minnesota’s OC.  Conor Orr at NFL.com:

 

The sudden retirement of Norv Turner and promotion of Pat Shurmur to Vikings offensive coordinator last season -- a role that Shurmur gained permanently this week -- finally had former first-round pick Cordarrelle Patterson at ease.

 

While he thought Turner was doing a fine job, Patterson said that Shurmur came to him personally and assured Patterson that he would see more targets. Turner left the club on Nov. 2. On Nov. 6, Patterson had a season-high eight targets. In his final nine games he had 46 targets after just 24 over the first seven.

 

"Pat told me 'Let's get you the ball'" Patterson told me Wednesday. "And I saw a lot of that happening for me. It was good for me. I love when I get the ball in my hands and Pat likes to get the ball to me. No matter who you are, he's trying to spread the ball around. He's not going to focus on one or two guys."

 

He added: "I felt like Pat was more of a player's coach, he kind of got it. He was trying to do some different things than Norv was doing."

 

As soon as Patterson found a groove, though, his contract expired. The former first-round pick is now a free agent and wants to make sure that whichever team signs him plans to actually use him.

 

"Of course, man. Two years I spent damn near on the sideline. That's never a good feeling for any player. No player wants to go through that," he said. "I need to know if I'm going to play or not. If not, I'll take my talents elsewhere."

 

To be clear, Patterson didn't sound like a bitter person. He talked glowingly about the people of Minnesota and how he's built a small family there -- even if there is an allure to free agency.

 

"It's kind of exciting," he said. "I've never been a free agent. It's just like coming out of college again. You never know what's going to happen. You never know where you're going to go. It's a lot of excitement to me. It'll feel good to lay around for a little bit and kick my feet up."

 

When asked if he thought he was in Minnesota's plans, Patterson had this:

 

"I really don't know. It's all up to the Vikings, I'm a free agent starting in March and it's all what the Vikings want to do. If they want me back, they'll (make a deal) and get me back."

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

No surprise, but the Cowboys are going to use their fifth-year option on G ZACK MARTIN.  Drew Davison in the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram:

 

As expected, the Dallas Cowboys are going to pick up the fifth-year option on right guard Zack Martin at some point this off-season, executive vice president Stephen Jones said.

 

The Cowboys have until May 3 to exercise the option.

 

“I don’t know if he’s good enough,” Jones said, laughing. “Yes, yes. Obviously, we’ve worked hard to keep this line in tact and our goal is for Zack to be a Cowboy for his career. A big priority for us is to keep Zack around.”

 

Martin, the Cowboys’ first-round pick in 2014, has established himself as one of the best guards in the league. He has been named to the Pro Bowl in each of his three seasons, and has been first-team All-Pro in two of them (2014 and 2016) and second-team All-Pro in the other (2015).

 

Martin committed just two penalties and gave up two sacks last season. For his career, he has allowed six sacks and been flagged 13 times.

 

As Jones alluded to, the Cowboys will explore the idea of a long-term extension for Martin in training camp. They have locked up left tackle Tyron Smith and center Travis Frederick in previous training camps when each went into their respective fourth seasons.

 

 

PHILADELPHIA

QB CARSON WENTZ is going to try to clean up his mechanics this offseason.  Chris Wesseling at NFL.com:

 

Carson Wentz has hired a quarterbacks coach to improve his lapsed mechanics.

 

The Philadelphia Eagles' second-year signal-caller will work with 3DQB's Adam Dedeaux this offseason, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported on Wednesday.

 

This is a positive -- and fully expected -- sign for Wentz's future. After roaring out to a 3-0 start with a 5:0 TD-to-INT ratio and 103.8 passer rating in September, the draft's No. 2 overall pick was one of the league's least effective passers over the final three months of the season.

 

With his offensive line in flux and his running game vanishing for stretches, Wentz fell into bad habits, flashing a long-armed looping windup in which the ball often dropped to his waist level.

 

"Strictly mechanics," coach Doug Pederson said of Wentz's struggles in early December. "... Young quarterback, missed quite a bit of time in the preseason, but now we have to keep cleaning this thing up."

 

It's important that Wentz is diligent about his throwing motion, learning from Blake Bortles' precipitous 2016 decline.

 

Dedeaux, the grandson of legendary USC baseball coach Rod Dedeaux, worked with and for sports biomechanics guru Tom House for 10 years. Those two have trained many veteran quarterbacks, including Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Andy Dalton and Tim Tebow.

 

Not sure we would be citing Tebow approvingly.

 

 

WASHINGTON

Curious reaction from Redskins QB KIRK COUSINS who is acting like he is not a party to the process that may or may not bring him back to the Redskins.  Conor Orr at NFL.com:

 

The greatest gift Kirk Cousins gave himself since entering the NFL was the ability to compartmentalize, and take every season and moment for what it is. Here at the Pro Bowl, a few weeks after capping a year with 4,917 passing yards, 25 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions, he enters the most uncertain phase of his career seemingly at peace.

 

In a few months, he will be an unrestricted free agent. Even now, he has no idea if he'll be back in Washington for season No. 6.

 

"I don't know," Cousins told me following NFC practice on Wednesday. "I think you have to have an open mind but ultimately it's not in my hands in the sense that the team is going to make that decision and I'll react accordingly."

 

He added: "I'd love to have a crystal ball that tells me what I'm going to do next year and 50 years after that, but that's not life. And that's not life in this league. I'll just take it a year at a time and trust in the Lord's plan."

 

Cousins played this last season under the franchise tag. The Redskins have the opportunity to use the tag on him again this season at a heightened cost. Washington could end up spending upwards of $24 million on a one-year deal. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport said to also keep an eye on the 49ers should Washington opt not to use the franchise tag on Cousins. Kyle Shanahan, who was instrumental in Washington drafting Cousins, will almost certainly be in charge of the 49ers in a matter of weeks.

 

On Tuesday, Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said that he "fully anticipates" Cousins returning. President Bruce Allen added: "Kirk is our quarterback."

 

It was encouraging for Cousins to hear that from a distance. He spent the NFC's first practice enjoying time with his new teammates and having the chance to speak with Drew Brees -- a quarterback who knows Cousins' situation, and the parameters of any offseason negotiation, quite well. Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett crept into the backfield a few times after throws and screamed "You like that? in Cousins' direction to make him feel at home.

 

As for the comments made by Washington suggesting he'll be back, it's about compartmentalizing. One day at a time.

 

"There's always work to do," Cousins said. "It's always great to be believed in. You want to prove people right who believe in you and prove people wrong who don't."

 

NFC WEST

 

SEATTLE

Despite the injury/injuries mentioned after the fact by Pete Carroll, CB RICHARD SHERMAN has not opted out of the Pro Bowl.  And he is miffed that the NFL is considering docking the Seahawks a draft pick for his unappearance on various

injury reports.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The NFL is considering stripping the Seahawks of a draft pick for failing to list cornerback Richard Sherman on their injury report while he battled a knee injury last season. Unsurprisingly, Sherman isn’t happy about that.

 

Sherman told Sal Paolantonio of ESPN that it’s “foolishness” for the league to consider a punitive measure against the team. Sherman did not miss any games last season, but he missed many practices, and the Seahawks termed his absence “not injury related.”

 

At the same time, Sherman admits he was “banged up” and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has admitted that the injury was affecting Sherman during the season. Given that, the Seahawks should have listed him on the injury report.

 

Because the Seahawks didn’t list him, it looks like they’re going to be punished by the league — whether Sherman thinks it’s foolish or not.

 

AFC WEST

 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com likes to rank things – he says the Chargers did the best job of finding a coach.

 

Choosing a great NFL head coach is like handicapping a horse race. The Rooney family is great at it, but it's a crapshoot for everyone else.

 

This round of NFL hirings officially will be completed after Super Bowl LI, when the 49ers are expected to hire Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to fill their vacancy. Shanahan will be the fifth first-time head coach in this cycle's six hirings and the third with an offensive background. Jacksonville's Doug Marrone is the only former head coach of this crop, and the only one who didn't spend 2016 as a coordinator.

 

NFL owners struggling to identify the best coaches won't stop me from trying to do the same. Here's how I'd rank the six new hires based on their likelihood for success in their respective tenures.

 

1) Anthony Lynn, Los Angeles Chargers: This ranking is not just about Lynn, but the staff that he quickly built. Lynn chose to keep offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, reportedly at the prodding of Chargers management. Lynn also convinced former Seahawks defensive coordinator and Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley to run his defense.

 

Lynn's inexperience running a team -- he's never been a head coach at any level, though he did serve as the interim head coach in Buffalo after Rex Ryan's firing heading into Week 17 -- will be mitigated by the presence of two former head coaches (Whisenhunt and Bradley) on his staff. Those hires show a self-confidence and lack of ego that will serve him well.

 

Lynn won the job in large part because he was a "natural-born leader," according to Chargers president John Spanos. It's easy to see why players swear by him after listening to Lynn address the media. He stressed wanting to coach the entire Chargers roster rather than focusing on his specialty, the running game. While he's worked in Ryan's shadow (having served on Ryan's staff with the Jets from 2009 to 2014 and again with the Bills in 2015 and '16), Lynn sounded like a man who has prepared to run a team since he got into coaching. He carries himself like someone who will be doing this a long time.

 

Lynn's proven track record as a creative, productive run-game schemer (his Bills teams had the NFL's top-ranked rushing attack the past two seasons) puts him over the top as No. 1 for this exercise. If he can meld his ideas with Whisenhunt's offense, the Chargers could take a playoff trip after moving north up the 405.

 

2) Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams: No one knows if McVay can transform quarterback Jared Goff into a star. Everyone knows Wade Phillips is one of the greatest defensive coordinators of all time. The hiring of a known quantity like Phillips boosts McVay up these rankings, which are inherently stuffed with uncertainty. Worrying about whether defensive tackle Aaron Donald and linebacker Alec Ogletree fit Phillips' system misses the big picture. Give Phillips talented players, and he'll figure out how to make them shine.

 

McVay, 30, is a far bigger question mark. He's the rare offensive ingenue who is prized for his acumen and known for communicating well with his players. But how much credit do coach Jay Gruden and Washington's deep receiver group get for the well-constructed Redskins offense?

 

Watching McVay's introductory press conference, it's easy to see why he impressed the Rams' and 49ers' decision-makers in interviews. He rocketed up wish lists in January because he sounds like a head coach, due to his energy and confidence. Gus Bradley was another hot-shot coordinator who impressed at the podium and behind closed doors, but that doesn't necessarily translate into running a team.

 

3) Vance Joseph, Denver Broncos: John Elway didn't hire Joseph for his defensive game plans. Joseph was only a defensive coordinator for one season in Miami, and the 2016 Dolphins group didn't exactly shine. Joseph won the job through his presence and his strong recommendations. Despite mostly being a position coach, he was the right-hand man for Gary Kubiak in Houston, Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati and Adam Gase in Miami. In an interview with KUSA, Elway cited Joseph's "great vision" and his leadership skills.

 

Joseph is set up to succeed in one of the NFL's strongest organizations, with a top defensive roster and former Chargers head coach Mike McCoy as his offensive coordinator. Promoting secondary coach Joe Woods to defensive coordinator provides continuity on Denver's stronger side of the ball. This ranking partly reflects Denver's track record under Elway. His judgement on these large-scale decisions deserves the benefit of the doubt.

 

4) Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco 49ers: NFL.com's Michael Silver reported that Shanahan is "almost certain" to accept the 49ers head coaching job after the Super Bowl, when it's officially offered to the current Falcons offensive coordinator. He passes one quick test I have for any head coach: Does he bring something tangible to the table? Shanahan's offense makes that answer an unqualified yes.

 

Despite his age, the 37-year-old Shanahan has vast experience as a top play-caller. He's run offenses for nine NFL seasons, and those teams ranked in the top 10 in yardage six times. He's successfully modernized some of his father Mike's West Coast Offense principles for this pass-wacky era. That's why it was only a matter of time before Shanahan got his own team.

 

There are red flags, however. Shanahan's previous stop in Cleveland ended bumpily, with Shanahan asking to leave after one season under contentious circumstances. He has successfully leveraged his offensive wizardry into a job that is expected to give him great power within a currently broken franchise. (For one, Shanahan is expected to help pick his general manager.) That power and responsibility is a lot to handle, considering San Francisco's lack of a quarterback and sub-standard roster. Back in Denver, general manager Mike Shanahan essentially got coach Mike Shanahan fired. It doesn't help that the 49ers have proven impatient and are lacking consistent direction.

 

The delay in Shanahan's hiring will hurt him greatly in terms of putting together a staff. Chip Kelly was sunk in San Francisco partly because he was stuck with a lousy defensive roster and couldn't find a high-quality coordinator to save it. Shanahan is the captain in gym class stuck with the last pick. Getting quality coaches to San Francisco, where he will be the fourth head coach in as many years, won't be easy. Nothing about Shanahan's job will be.

 

5) Doug Marrone, Jacksonville Jaguars: Marrone's strange departure from Buffalo two years ago didn't reflect well on either side. His track record with the Bills sent similarly mixed signals. While the Bills went 9-7 in Marrone's second season, that was largely due to defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz's excellent group. Marrone's offense was below average in both of his seasons in Buffalo, although his quarterbacks were EJ Manuel and Kyle Orton. Even Marrone's tactics were inconsistent. His Bills moved away from an extreme run-heavy approach in his second season.

 

That's a long-winded way of saying Marrone's first stint as a head coach shouldn't get Jaguars fans excited or scare them away. He'll have the same offensive coordinator, Nathaniel Hackett, that he had in Buffalo. The Jaguars will have the same defensive coordinator, Todd Wash, as they did in 2016. (That's likely to the chagrin of cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who said he wanted a "complete change" of the team's scheme and staff.)

 

Promoting Marrone (who was an assistant in Jacksonville the past two seasons) and retaining Wash supports my theory that the Jaguars didn't want to shake up their current staff. They doubled down on the Blake Bortles era under general manager David Caldwell. Marrone has some talent to work with, but he might not have a long timeline to turn things around before new executive VP Tom Coughlin makes a clean sweep of the organization.

 

6) Sean McDermott, Buffalo Bills: It's unfair to rank McDermott this low, but someone has to bring up the rear. McDermott is well respected throughout the NFL, but he has the fewest tangible assets and perhaps the most difficult job of the new coaches.

 

The Bills have high expectations and a flawed roster. The organization also has an entrenched GM in Doug Whaley who hasn't shown a great aptitude for finding talent. McDermott made his name as a defensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers under a defensive-minded head coach in Ron Rivera, so it's difficult to tease out what his impact was. The Panthers' defense wasn't exactly a shutdown unit in his tenure, despite being well-coached. McDermott has been a defensive coordinator the last eight seasons between his time in Philadelphia and Carolina. Those defenses ranked in the top 10 in points allowed twice.

 

McDermott's offensive coordinator will be former Broncos OC Rick Dennison, a coach who was attached at the hip to Gary Kubiak for most of the last two decades. The Bills will likely be breaking in a new quarterback, one of many challenges for Dennison in the role. Perhaps McDermott and Dennison are NFL lifers who just needed this chance to show their value. They will have to be exceptional to excel in Buffalo, where they face an uphill task.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

We really haven’t tested the full range of Ravens PK JUSTIN TUCKER, whose longest made FG in a game is 61 yards.  Yesterday, at Pro Bowl practice, he booted a 75-yarder that you can see here.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

So is this a sign of discord, a sign of BEN ROETHLISBERGER exerting leadership or both?  Chris Adamski in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

 

Antonio Brown is heading into an offseason in which he is due a contract extension with some not-so-subtle pointed words about him from his quarterback.

 

“He's one of the best in the business, and the plays that he makes and has made over his career are so special ... .” Ben Roethlisberger said on his 93.7 FM radio show Tuesday. “I think sometimes that overshadows the extra stuff: the hands up, the arms up, the frustrations, the pouting, the things like that.”

 

Roethlisberger made the comments when asked for his reaction to an NFL Network report that Brown “hung his head” after DeAngelo Williams' second-quarter touchdown during Sunday's AFC championship loss. The televised report described Brown as “pouting,” but it erroneously described Brown as “wide open in the back of the end zone” when he was blocking on the play and appeared to raise his arms in joy and to signal for a touchdown.

 

Still, Roethlisberger seemed to acknowledge the part of the report in which he had some words with Brown in regards to his on-field demeanor.

 

“Ah, I don't remember,” Roethlisberger said, laughing, when asked if Brown was sulking and Roethlisberger approached him about it.

 

Pressed, Roethlisberger laughed again and said, “Maybe I got hit or something, I don't know,” before saying Brown's All-Pro level of play overshadows his pouting.

 

“But you know what? He's a great football player and he will continue to grow — as we all need to,” Roethlisberger said. “AB and I talk a lot. I know he wants to be great and wants to win and wants to be the best. So we'll continue to communicate so we can all be better.”

 

Coach Mike Tomlin during his season-ending news conference Tuesday said he was not aware of any inappropriate antics from Brown during the game.

 

“He is a dynamic player. There are responsibilities that come with being a dynamic player,” Tomlin said. “I am going to ask him to continue to grow in those areas, but that's not in response to anything that transpired over the course of the season or even at the end of the season.”

 

Brown, who was second in the NFL in catches this season, is entering the final season of his contract that calls for a well-below-market-value salary for 2017 because of previous advances in salary.

 

AFC EAST

 

MIAMI

Dolphins GM Mike Tannenbaum says that star DT NDAMUKONG SUH pulled out of the Pro Bowl to have a minor surgical procedure to “clean out” his knee.  He should be good to go for the offseason program according to James Walker of ESPN.com.

- - -

Medical personnel failed to notice that QB MATT MOORE was “bleeding from the mouth” when he was clocked in the Wild Card Playoff Game by Pittsburgh’s BUD DUPREE.  Further education is the remedy prescribed by the NFL and NFLPA.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The NFL and NFL Players Association finally have identified a violation of the in-game concussion protocol. The penalty is . . . a somewhat strongly worded letter.

 

The league and the union announced that the protocol “was not strictly followed” after Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore took a hit to the chin and mouth during a wild-card game against the Steelers. The team doctor and the unaffiliated neuro-trauma consultant did not recognize that Moore had a documented symptom (bleeding from the mouth) that required further evaluation in the locker room.

 

“There is no indication that competitive issues had an impact on the care that Mr. Moore received, nor did Mr. Moore demonstrate any concussion symptoms either during or at any time following the game,” the statement explained.

 

The Dolphins have been asked to engage their staff in a full review of the protocol, and to conduct additional education, if necessary. The Dolphins also were warned that “any future deviation” from the concussion protocol could result in “enhanced discipline, including monetary fines assessed against the Club.”

 

The announcement doesn’t specify the sanction, if any, applicable to the unaffiliated neuro-trauma consultant, who along with the Miami team doctor failed to notice that Moore was bleeding from the mouth and, thus, required an evaluation in the locker room.

 

Regardless, it seems like a fairly light punishment for a bright-line violation of a policy that the league views as having critical importance to player health and safety.

 

The Dolphins say the NFL has got it wrong.  And, in a later post, it sounds like Florio has been educated by someone:

 

The Dolphins disagree with the conclusion.

 

It’s unclear whether the Dolphins will make their position on the issue public. Per multiple sources with knowledge of the situation, the Dolphins privately believe there was no violation.

 

The investigation concluded that Moore should have been taken to the locker room for an evaluation because he was bleeding from the mouth. The Dolphins believe that the bleeding was minimal if not negligible.

 

The CBS broadcast backs up that claim. In none of the various images of Moore’s face following the blow to the head is there any visible blood on the mouth or face of the player.

 

The CBS broadcast also shows a Miami team doctor speaking to Moore on the sidelines. Based on fairly rudimentary lip-reading skills, Moore is asked about the presence of any concussion symptoms, along with “Where are we right now?” and “What’s the score?”

 

The blue-hatted Unaffiliated Neuro-trauma Consultant is present for the exchange, monitoring and taking notes. The league’s statement regarding the matter explains that the team doctor and the UNC “jointly cleared” Moore to return. The statement, however, says nothing about the UNC’s responsibility for the alleged error.

 

Here’s why: The protocol makes the team doctor “exclusively” responsible for the decision.

 

Think about that one for a second. When it comes to a player returning to practice or game action after suffering a concussion, the Independent Neurological Consultant has final say. When it comes to decisions made in the heat of the moment as to whether a player will be sent to the locker room for a full evaluation or returned to game action, the UNC has no responsibility.

 

Instead, it all falls on the shoulders of the team doctor — even if the UNC agrees that a player should be returned to action.

 

That’s a problem. Why have a UNC if the UNC can’t override the potentially skewed assessment of whether a player should be cleared to return to action?

 

The easy answer is that the league doesn’t want to be blamed for any mistakes made by the UNC in the heat of the moment, whether the mistake comes from clearing a player who shouldn’t return or, more significantly from a strategic standpoint, sending a key player to the locker room for a full evaluation during crunch time of a playoff game.

 

What would happen if the UNC trumps the team doctor and orders Tom Brady to the locker room for a concussion evaluation during the final drive of a Super Bowl that New England is training by four points — and if it turns out after the Patriots lose that there was no concussion? It’s the team, not the league, that finds itself caught between a potential strategic disadvantage and a possible punishment from 345 Park Avenue.

 

In this case, the punishment was minimal. However, there arguably should have been no punishment at all.

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

We should note that Phil Simms got one right when he said the Patriots have been using the flea flicker for many years.  And Steve Delvecchio of Larry Brown Sports wonders why the Steelers, of all people, acted surprised:

 

There are many reasons the Patriots dominated the Steelers in the AFC Championship Sunday night, but one of the most obvious was the coaching mismatch. Pittsburgh looked unprepared throughout much of the game, and we know of at least one play Mike Tomlin failed to warn his players about that they got burned on.

 

Not long after the Steelers scored their first touchdown of the night, Tom Brady hit wide receiver Chris Hogan on a perfectly executed flea flicker for a 34-yard score to give New England a 16-6 lead.

 

Pittsburgh safety Mike Mitchell later admitted his team had not gone over that play in practice.

 

@JFowlerESPN

Mike Mitchell said a flea-flicker wasn't on film study. "We were expecting some type of trick plays...like screen-and-gos and what not."

 

No coach can prepare his team for everything, but a great coaching staff would have at least mentioned that particular play. Why? Because the Patriots used it on Tomlin’s Steelers back in 2007. And if that was too far back to remember, footage of New England executing a flea flicker for a touchdown — to Chris Hogan, no less — just over a month ago would have been easy to find.

 

@NFL

.@Patriots pull off the flea flicker!@LG_Blount tosses it back to TB12.

And Brady's pass is BEAUTIFUL. #BALvsNE

10:34 PM - 12 Dec 2016

 

Do you think there’s any chance Bill Belichick would have missed that while preparing for an opponent in a playoff game? We can assure you he wouldn’t have, and that’s what separates really good coaches from great coaches. If you want to know how focused Belichick was on the Steelers, check out what he said about his Super Bowl opponent.

 

No one expected Hogan to post the exact same numbers as Julio Jones on conference championship weekend, but the Steelers failed to adjust. A lack of preparation and inability to make in-game adjustments ultimately sent them packing.

- - -

Les Carpenter of the UKGuardian admires (sort of) how both the Patriots and their antagonist Roger Goodell both seem to be prospering:

 

It has now been two years since the start of Deflategate, an ordeal that should have ruined the New England Patriots and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Instead, the only key figure who is worse-off than before is the man who started the fiasco.

 

On Saturday, a day before the Patriots went to yet another Super Bowl, the Indianapolis Colts fired their general manager Ryan Grigson. The move was celebrated by Patriots fans, who knew Grigson had told the NFL that New England were underinflating footballs during their rout of the Colts in the 2015 AFC championship game. Upon hearing of Grigson’s demise, New England’s team president Jonathan Kraft couldn’t resist a last dig, telling a Boston radio station that night “might have been Ryan’s pinnacle”.

 

Given the overzealous investigation and draconian punishment of the Patriots that followed for a crime of such small magnitude, the saga could have ushered the demise of New England’s dynasty. Few NFL teams or coaches or quarterbacks would have survived the months of interrogation and courthouse drama. The weight would have been too much. But most teams aren’t New England, most coaches aren’t Bill Belichick and most quarterbacks aren’t Tom Brady.

 

Goodell dropped a sledgehammer on the Patriots when he suspended Brady for four games, fined the team $1m and took away their first-round draft pick in 2016 and fourth round selection this spring. His sanctions were the football equivalent of killing a fly with a hand grenade, and they were going to cripple the Pats. And yet all they did was make New England better. On Sunday the Patriots stomped over the Pittsburgh Steelers 36-17 sending the team to their seventh Super Bowl in 15 years. Against the Steelers Brady, who finally served his suspension last September, seemed ageless at 39 by throwing for 384 yards and three touchdowns. Given this might have been his most efficient regular season, he appears to have benefited from the early rest, saving his body for the postseason.

 

Belichick has a remarkable ability to endure disaster whether that calamity is a spying scandal, the loss of a star tight end to injury or the arrest of another star tight end for murder. He grunts a few inaudible words and moves on to the task ahead. Undoubtedly, he would have loved to keep his first-round pick last April. He probably would have done something clever with it. But the Patriots survived just fine. And they probably will in years to come.

 

The New Orleans Saints weren’t so lucky when Goodell came down unusually hard on them for bounties given to players to take out opponents. In the years after coach Sean Payton was suspended for a year, general manager Mickey Loomis for eight games and the team was forced to give up a second-round pick, the Saints have had four 7-9 seasons and finished 32-32 overall. Some of their ensuing struggles are salary-cap related and yet something was lost when Peyton was out of the picture. Something they haven’t been able to recover.

 

Of course, the Super Bowl happened to be in New Orleans 10 months after Goodell hammered the Saints. He came into a city filled with hate and survived. Ever since handing the Patriots their Super Bowl trophy in 2015, the commissioner has avoided the team, staying away from games at their stadium. On Sunday he went to Atlanta for the NFC title game where the reception was predictably less hostile.

 

Now, though, Goodell will run another Super Bowl with the team he hit harder than any commissioner should. There’s an excellent chance that on 5 February, he will stand on a stage with Brady, Belichick and team owner Robert Kraft and be forced to smile as he hands another trophy to the franchise that despises him. The elder Kraft alluded to that hatred at Sunday night’s celebration when he told the crowd: “For a number of reasons all of you in the stadium know how big this win was.”

 

Much like that week in New Orleans, Goodell will get through this Super Bowl with the Patriots. His reign as commissioner has been filled with crises, many of which were his own doing and yet the league continues to prosper. NFL owners have seen their teams’ values rise to a point where 24 of the 32 clubs are said to be worth more than $2bn. Maybe another leader could have made them all equally as wealthy. But how many of those owners want to find out? Even with Spygate, Bountygate, Deflategate, Ray Rice, head trauma and all the other debacles that have been fumbled Goodell has made them rich. That tends to be the only thing they care about. Last year they cut his pay $2m a year and he still made $31.7m.

 

Debacles like Deflategate are supposed to have lots of losers. And yet the ordeal’s biggest players have all done well for themselves. The Patriots keep going to Super Bowls and Goodell keeps a job that has paid him more than $200m since he became commissioner. The only loser is the man who began the whole thing.

 

Somehow it never seemed this was the way things were going to be.  

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

FORMER PLAYERS

An NFL great QB, not named Brady, speaks out positively about the 45th President.  FoxNewsInsider.com:

 

With the Super Bowl just over a week away, Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly joined "Varney & Co." Wednesday.

 

When Stuart Varney asked if he was a Donald Trump supporter, Kelly, who spent 11 seasons with the Buffalo Bills, recalled how Trump helped his family during his battle with cancer.

 

"When I was going through my cancer fight...he provided my family and friends with a place to stay, his apartments. He took care of my whole family," Kelly said of Trump.

 

The two met when Trump was the owner of the New Jersey Generals of the United States Football League. Kelly played for the Houston Gamblers, which were purchased by the Generals following the 1985 season. The 1986 season however was never played.

 

Kelly said that everyone is entitled to their personal opinions on Trump but he will always be grateful for the president for helping him through tough times.

 

"We all make mistakes and I'm sure he's made a few, but I'm happy for him," said Kelly, who survived two bouts of cancer in his lifetime.

 

 

PRO FOOTBALL FOCUS AWARDS

Sam Monson hands out the hardware from ProFootballFocus.com for their film-study based season awards.  We skipped some of the explanations for space, and there is even longer reasoning available for all the awards here.

 

Best Player

Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots

We can talk about schedule, missed games through suspension, and anything else you want to bring up, but the bottom line is that Tom Brady posted the best PFF season grade of any QB ever (99.3 in the regular season) over the past decade of play-by-play analysis once he got on the field. The NFL’s MVP award causes many people to get tied in knots over defining and weighing “value” among NFL players, but Tom Brady was the best player in the game this season, and deserves to receive an award that PFF previously named in honor of Hall of Fame Miami Dolphins center Dwight Stephenson. Brady threw just two interceptions all season, and recorded an adjusted completion percentage of 79.5 when accounting for drops, spikes, etc. Other players had excellent seasons in 2016, but nobody was better than New England’s Tom Brady.

- - -

The fact that there was even a conversation about PFF’s 2016 Best Player Award says a lot about the season that Atlanta’s Matt Ryan put together, but even with Ryan’s four-game advantage over Brady, the difference between the two in terms of PFF grade was substantial enough to give the nod to Patriots signal caller.

 

Ryan only threw seven interceptions on the season compared to 38 touchdowns, but luck sometimes plays a role in determining whether an errant pass is actually picked of, or whether it is dropped or simply deflected away. Putting the ball in dangerous spots doesn’t always result in the interception it deserves, which is one reason raw numbers don’t always match up with PFF grading; play-by-play analysis of the tape can often draw attention to instances where the result of the play misleads. Think about Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger’s pass in the playoff game against Miami. Roethlisberger didn’t see a defensive tackle dropping into coverage and threw the ball right to him when aiming at TE Jesse James. Defensive tackles aren’t exactly used to catching footballs, however, so the defender dropped the pass, and it ended up landing in the hands of James anyway. Roethlisberger ended up with a completed pass on a play that should inarguably have been an interception.

 

Sometimes the break of the ball can belie what really happened on the play. Ryan’s turnover-worthy play percentage was low, but nine other QBs recorded a lower one in the 2016 regular season. The Falcons’ quarterback put the ball in harm’s way 2.6 percent of the time, while Brady led the NFL at just 0.8 percent. That means Ryan put the ball in danger more than three times as often as Brady did (the thing to focus on there is Brady’s number, not Ryan’s, because it’s absurd).

 

Runners-up: Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams; Landon Collins, S, New York Giants

 

Defensive Player of the Year

Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams

With “only” eight sacks this season, Aaron Donald’s year flew under the radar somewhat, and while he wasn’t quite as dominant as he was a season ago, the Los Angeles defensive tackle was still by far the most disruptive and impactful defensive lineman in the league, and the best defender in the game. He ended the season with 82 total QB pressures, five more than any other interior defender and tied for second-most in the entire NFL. Only Oakland’s Khalil Mack notched more total pressures over the season, and he plays as an edge defender, where pressure is easier to come by. Mack and New York Giants safety Landon Collins were in the running for this award in a tight race, but Donald was just so far removed from the rest of his peers that he earns the final nod. Read more…

 

Runners-up: Landon Collins, S, New York Giants; Khalil Mack, DE, Oakland Raiders

 

Offensive Player of the Year

Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots

 

Runners-up: Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons; Marshal Yanda, G, Baltimore Ravens

 

Best Passer

Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots

 

Runners-up: Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons; Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers

 

Best Runner

Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys

Ezekiel Elliott didn’t make it all the way to Eric Dickerson’s rookie rushing record of 1,808 rushing yards, but he did eclipse the rookie marks of Barry Sanders, Earl Campbell, Edgerrin James and Adrian Peterson, among others, each of whom was a pretty useful back in their day. Elliott finished the year as the league’s leading rusher, and did much of the work himself, averaging almost 3 yards per carry after contact and sustaining his excellent performance despite a huge workload. Elliott also led the league in carries, with 322 — 23 more than the next-highest figure — and averaged 5.1 yards per carry over the year. This was a good year for backs at the sharp end of the league, but none was better than Elliott. Read more…

 

Runners-up: Jay Ajayi, RB, Miami Dolphins; David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals

 

Best Receiver

David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals

The first of our awards that spans multiple positions sees Arizona Cardinals RB David Johnson earn an award most would expect to go to a wide receiver. Johnson’s work as a receiver for the Cardinals this season, however, was spectacular. Only Larry Fitzgerald had more targets, receptions and receiving yards than Johnson for Arizona this year, as he racked up 80 catches (most among RBs) for 879 yards (most among RBs), forcing 27 missed tackles after the catch to gain that yardage (again, most among RBs). Johnson actually finished the season with the highest PFF receiving grade (92.6) of any player at any position, narrowly edging Mike Evans and Julio Jones at wide receiver.

 

Runners-up: Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons

 

Best Offensive Lineman

Marshal Yanda, G, Baltimore Ravens

 

Runners-up: Trent Williams, LT, Washington Redskins; Travis Frederick, C, Dallas Cowboys

 

Best Offensive Line

Tennessee Titans

The state of offensive line play in the NFL today is less about a league-wide issue, but more about the “haves” and the “have nots.” The top few O-lines this season were all excellent, with the standard being so good that Dallas was forced into second place in our end-of-season rankings, and would have been passed by Pittsburgh if those rankings continued into the playoffs. The Tennessee Titans, though, were the surprise unit of the season, with outstanding performances coming from a group that had no weakness. Rookie Jack Conklin was good enough to earn a spot as PFF’s All-Pro right tackle, while Taylor Lewan on the other side had a career year. The interior trio of Quinton Spain, Josh Kline and Ben Jones all had good seasons in run blocking and pass protection, as well. Click for PFF’s 2016 season offensive line rankings.

 

Runners-up: Dallas Cowboys; Pittsburgh Steelers

 

Best Pass Protector

David Bakhtiari, LT, Green Bay Packers

Coming into this season, David Bakhtiari was an average offensive tackle who was pretty good in pass protection, but struggled as a run blocker. This year, he vastly improved in all areas, and was charged for fewer total pressure (23 combined sacks, hits and hurries) than his own quarterback (24 total for Aaron Rodgers) was over the season. Given that Rodgers held the ball longer on average than every QB in the league outside of Buffalo’s Tyrod Taylor, Bakhtiari’s performance as a pass protector was astounding, and earned him the highest PFF pass-blocking grade (93.4) of any offensive tackle. Over the entire season, and including the playoffs, he was responsible for Aaron Rodgers hitting the ground just four times.

 

Runners-up: Marshal Yanda, G, Baltimore Ravens; Andrew Whitworth, LT, Bengals

 

Best Run Blocker

Travis Frederick, C, Dallas Cowboys

 

Runners-up: Donald Penn, LT, Oakland Raiders; Alex Mack, C, Atlanta Falcons

 

Best Pass-Rusher

Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams

There was no more relentless and consistent pass-rusher than Los Angeles’ Aaron Donald this season. While Oakland’s Khalil Mack and Denver’s Von Miller may have recorded more game-defining plays, Donald was generating quick pressure more often than anybody, and to post more total pressure than all but two edge defenders in the league as a full-time defensive tackle is a ridiculous achievement. Donald was able to generate decisive pressure once every 8.7 pass rushes this season; the next best mark among interior defenders came from Arizona’s Calais Campbell at once every 18 rushes. 71 percent of Donald’s pressure was decisive in nature (graded at +1 or better on PFF’s cumulative scale, taking into account speed and nature of the block defeated), with no other interior defender even surpassing 50 percent on the season.

 

Runners-up: Khalil Mack, DE, Oakland Raiders; Von Miller, OLB, Denver Broncos

 

Best Run Defender

Damon Harrison, DT, New York Giants

 

Runners-up: Bobby Wagner, LB, Seattle Seahawks; Michael Bennett, DE, Seattle Seahawks

 

Best Coverage Defender

Aqib Talib, CB, Denver Broncos

 

Runners-up: Chris Harris Jr., CB, Denver Broncos; Devin McCourty, S, New England Patriots

 

Comeback Player of the Year

Cameron Wake, DE, Miami Dolphins

Tearing an Achilles tendon is one of the most severe injuries an NFL player can suffer. It’s an injury that affects the very core athleticism that players rely upon, and to come back from such a setback and be successful is an achievement. Cameron Wake didn’t just come back and perform well, but went straight back to being one of the league’s most devastating pass-rushers, winning back the starting job that had been handed to Mario Williams at the beginning of the season. Wake was eased back into playing time, but proved too dominant to keep off the field, ending the year with the fifth-highest PFF pass-rushing grade (87.2) among all edge defenders.

 

Runners-up: Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts; Jordy Nelson, WR, Green Bay Packers

 

Breakout Player

Landon Collins, S, New York Giants

The transformation of Landon Collins from his rookie season to his sophomore campaign was one of the stories of the year, and highlights the difference between the various roles that are all labelled together simply as “safety.” As a rookie, Collins looked lost deep in the middle of the field as the Giants’ free safety, but when moved closer to the line of scrimmage in 2016, he became a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, able to assert himself in all facets of the game. Collins notched four sacks, five interceptions and 46 defensive stops — eight more than any other safety — in what was truly a breakout season of epic proportions.

 

Runners-up: Vic Beasley, OLB, Atlanta Falcons; A.J. Bouye, CB, Houston Texans

 

Rookie of the Year

Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys

There were some excellent rookie seasons on display in 2016, but Ezekiel Elliott led the NFL in rushing (1,631 yards), and was more than 300 yards clear of the chasing field. Elliott had the benefit of the Dallas offensive line blocking for him, but he also averaged 2.9 yards per carry after contact — the same as Tampa Bay RB Doug Martin’s averaged total per carry. Elliott also chipped in with 32 receptions, catching 86.5 percent of the passes thrown his way and dropping only one as he proved to be an every-down back for the Cowboys right out of the gate. Even in their losing playoff effort against Green Bay, the former Ohio State Buckeye posted 125 rushing yards on 22 carries as one of the team’s best players.

 

Runners-up: Dak Prescott, QB, Cowboys; Jack Conklin, RT, Tennessee Titans; Joey Bosa, DE, San Diego Chargers

 

 

COMPARISONS

Eric Edholm of Shutdown Corner sees a tiring pattern in NFL player comparisons:

 

NFL scouts will proudly and candidly tell you they don’t see color in their evaluations. They see talent. Black, white, whatever … it’s their job to get the best players they can.

 

Which is true. But they also see players’ races, and when it comes down to finding NFL comparisons for prospects — most NFL scouts are asked to do it — it’s hard for some to avoid to avoid the obvious white-to-white and black-to-black comps. It’s just … natural, right? Even if it’s not always accurate.

 

Media scouts are guilty of it, too, and if there’s a position it seems to happen most at it would appear to be wide receiver. Are there not white receivers who have a similar style of play and attributes to black players? Of course there are. You just rarely hear those comps uttered. Why is that? This is not some scourge on football society, or anything, certainly not high on the list of public worries these days. It’s just … odd.

 

We asked two Senior Bowl receivers (yes, both white) about the phenomenon — and they were definitely aware of it. And perplexed as well.

 

“I was going to ask you guys [in the media] … what’s up with that?” said Eastern Washington’s Cooper Kupp, one of the early stars of the North Team practices. “Yeah, I hear it. Sure I do.”

 

Yes, Kupp is white. And he’s good at football. That has been clear through two excellent days of practice at the Senior Bowl. Both things apply to North Carolina’s Ryan Switzer, too, and like Kupp, Switzer is a little confused by the white-white comps that seem to come out of everyone’s brain whenever he’s mentioned as an NFL prospect. Are there true racial biases for the position?

 

“Man, that’s just America being lazy,” Switzer told Shutdown Corner after Wednesday’s practice. “But yes, to answer your question, it is like an unwritten rule or something. I don’t know why it is.”

 

Switzer said he’s not necessarily offended when he’s compared to Julian Edelman or Wes Welker, and he certainly wouldn’t be upset to play for a team such as the New England Patriots, who annually seem to turn sub-6-foot quick slot receivers into stars.

 

“When they make the comparisons to Welker or Edelman, guys who are catching 100 balls a year, if they want to compare me to that I’m OK with it,” Switzer said. “Those guys have made their millions doing just that. So I am very OK with that.”

 

So who does Switzer compare himself to — white, black or otherwise? He says he doesn’t care for the comp game in general but does watch receivers who fit a certain type of profile that he hopes to emulate in the NFL.

 

“I study a lot of NFL tape. I watch guys like Doug Baldwin, Randall Cobb … guys that are successful who are similar to my stature,” Switzer said.

 

That stature is 5-foot-8 ½ and 179 pounds, for the record, and both Baldwin and Cobb are in fact a bit bigger. But Switzer has come in and through two days of practice with the Cleveland Browns-coached South squad and consistently gotten open and shaken defenders with hiccup-quick moves at the top of his stems. He might not be blazing fast, but Switzer knows how to get open and make hay.

 

Kupp should be the higher-drafted prospect, though. He has been one of the clear standouts through two days of practices, catching almost everything in his direction — although he did criticize himself for not hauling in one pass today — and has shown superior route-running ability. Basically, he’s won almost all his one-on-one drills so far this week.

 

Hmm, smart, savvy, not blazing speed, good route runner … all just coded language, right?

 

“To me, being compared to any NFL receiver is a blessing,” Kupp said, taking the more diplomatic route. “Three guys I look up to a lot — A.J. Green, Antonio Brown, Larry Fitzgerald — they’re just so good at what they do. I take stuff from them, too.”

 

So yes, draft analysts, you too can find white-black or black-white comps that make sense. It works! We’ll go with Jamison Crowder for Switzer and Donte Moncrief (with Mohamed Sanu’s speed maybe?) for Kupp.

 

See, that wasn’t so hard …