The Daily Briefing Thursday, November 16, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

 

NFC NORTH

 

MINNESOTA

The Vikings are going to stay with QB CASE KEENUM, although former starter TEDDY BRIDGEWATER is finally healthy.  Courtney Cronin of ESPN.com:

 

Everson Griffen succinctly summed up what many thought about the Minnesota Vikings’ decision to start Case Keenum against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday.

 

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” the Minnesota defensive end said.

 

The choice to stick with Keenum, who is 5-2 as the Vikings’ starter and coming off a huge NFC road win over Washington, was not a difficult one for coach Mike Zimmer.

 

Keenum is a key reason why the Vikings are in first place in the NFC North with a 7-2 record. He deserves the opportunity to face off against his former team in a game with arguably the biggest playoff implications of the entire Week 11 slate.

 

This decision was a no-brianer. After six years as a journeyman backup, Keenum has seized every bit of the rare opportunity before him as the Vikings’ interim starter, and it’s paying dividends. He has the NFL’s third-best Total QBR at 72.6, behind injured Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson and the Cowboys’ Dak Prescott. The Vikings are ninth in total offense, have the No. 12 passing attack and a run game that has gone from dead last to top-11 with Keenum at the helm.

 

Most importantly, he has earned the right to stay the starting quarterback until something actually warrants a switch.

 

This is the right choice for Week 11. From here, we’ll see if Keenum as the starter is the right choice for Weeks 12-17. The Vikings aren’t just worried about now — they’re trying to figure out which quarterback on their roster can get them a playoff win on the road.

 

If the Vikings want to sign Teddy Bridgewater as their quarterback of the future in the offseason, they need tangible proof that he’s their guy. That obviously comes from seeing how he plays in a game.

 

Bridgewater being active doesn’t guarantee he’ll start this season. It’s expected that eventually he’ll regain his job, and for good reason. But while Bridgewater undoubtedly has the higher ceiling, that doesn’t relate whatsoever to what’s happening in the present.

 

Keenum has performed better, statistically, this season than Bridgewater did in his first two years in the NFL. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has been able to install an aggressive game plan and rely on Keenum’s mobility to expand this team’s look on offense. Instead of playing it safe with his backup, Shurmur has the confidence to let Keenum create explosive pass plays. He has thrown 31 passes of at least 20 yards downfield since Week 2.

 

What’s the rush? There’s legitimately zero harm in riding Keenum as far as he can take you. Bridgewater is still going to prepare for his return and will be ready to take over when needed.

 

So, what happens next? Since there’s no real quarterback controversy, can we end the weekly “is he or isn’t he going to start” debate until Keenum does something to have his job taken away? If Keenum exhibits the erratic throws against Los Angeles that he did against Washington, he might find himself on the outside looking in, not in control of his destiny.

 

“I just have to know the situation,” Keenum said. “I have to be smart. I can’t put our team in tough spots like that.”

 

Keenum’s window may still be limited as a starter. Regardless of whether the Vikings let him run with the job until he’s no longer able to, there’s no denying they made the right choice in the short term.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

The Commissioner, and his army of NFL Justice attorneys, have beaten RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT into submission.  The running back folds his tent and drops any remaining appeals.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

It’s finally over.

 

Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott has decided to drop any remaining appeals and to serve his full six-game suspension.

 

“In consultation with the NFLPA and his lawyers, and after careful deliberation and review of the recent Second Circuit decisions, Mr. Elliott has decided to forego any further appeals and will serve the remaining suspension,” agent Rocky Arceneaux and lawyer Frank Salzano said in a statement released to PFT. “This decision arises from a practical assessment of the current legal landscape. Mr. Elliott’s desire for closure in this matter is in his best interests, as well as the best interests of his teammates, family and friends.

 

“This decision is in no way an admission of any wrongdoing, and Mr. Elliott is pleased that the legal fight mounted by him and his team resulted in the disclosure of many hidden truths regarding this matter, as well public exposure of the NFL’s mismanagement of its disciplinary process.  Mr. Elliott will maximize this time away from the game and come back even stronger both on and off the field. He intends to release a final personal statement in the upcoming weeks and until then we have no further comment.”

 

Elliott, who missed Sunday’s loss at Atlanta, will miss five more games — three straight home games (vs. Eagles, Chargers, and Washington) and games at the Giants and at Oakland. He’ll be eligible for the final two games of the regular season (Seahawks, at Eagles) and the postseason, if the Cowboys make it.

 

A hearing had been set for December 1 on the appeal of Judge Katherine Polk Failla’s denial of an injunction that would have blocked the suspension pending completion of the litigation regarding the validity of the suspension.

 

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

Coach Ben McAdoo had an emotional meeting with his team.  James Kratch at NJ.com:

 

Ben McAdoo hopes he got through to the Giants on Wednesday after a “long, hard, honest meeting” in which he played the film from their loss to the 49ers and forced his team to be “brutally honest with each other.”

 

But the head coach concedes he won’t know if this latest motivational maneuver will work, or fall flat, until his Giants take the field again.

 

“We had some open conversations, some hard talks, some plain talks, some simple talks,” McAdoo said after the Giants began preparations for Sunday’s home game against the Chiefs. “We played some film, and we were brutally honest with each other. We’ll see how the players respond. … Until we get to Sunday, we won’t know. Our desire to finish has to improve, and we need to see that.”

 

McAdoo has declined to come out and say it directly, but effort was clearly an issue on the defensive side of the ball during the Giants’ 31-21 loss to the Niners, and the week prior in a 51-17 loss to the Rams. McAdoo said “every game tape gets corrected,” but this instance was clearly designed to have added impact.

 

“At the end of the day, you’ve got to be accountable,” cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said. “And to be called out on film in front of everybody, I think it does something to that player. you don’t want to be that player that’s on there. it could either go a good way or a bad way, but I think there will definitely be some changes. … Change will come from that.”

 

Rodgers-Cromartie indicated McAdoo did not have to call out players by name or point out specific plays where there was a lack of effort. It’s obvious enough.

 

“You see it on film, and you can’t explain some of it. You’ve just got to own up to it,” the corner said. “Nobody wants to have that play up there where you got to come back in the locker room and everybody’s looking at you like you’re that guy.”

 

McAdoo said “there’s a possibility there will be some changes” when asked if some players who did not meet his standards against the Niners could see their playing time diminished against Kansas City. Rodgers-Cromartie said he expects lineup changes to come. He did not get into specifics, but declined to say if some players could become upset if changes don’t come, or there aren’t enough of them.

 

“I ain’t the coach. I ain’t got the game plan. All I do is wait, and see how we’re going to line it up, and go do what we do. … You never know what’s going on with another player. The only thing I can say is disappointing is the lack of want-to after all that we’ve been through. I’ll take a loss playing hard, flying around, but (not) how we’re losing.”

 

Does the veteran think the message will get across?

 

“I think it will do good,” Rodgers-Cromartie said. “Because when we look at film this week, and it’s the same guys, then it’s going to be hard to walk in this locker room and still have trust from all your teammates.”

– – –

RB ORLEANS DARKWA might be the running back solution the Giants have sought for a long time.  Dan Duggan at NJ.com:

 

The Giants declined to offer Orleans Darkwa a tender when the running back was a restricted free agent last offseason.

 

The Giants instead re-signed Darkwa to a one-year contract worth up to $1.1 million when free agency opened. That signaled a discount for the Giants from the minimum restricted free agent tender of $1.797 million.

 

Darkwa had little leverage after finishing last season on injured reserve due to the fractured tibia that plagued him for two years. But Darkwa is earning some negotiating power with a breakout season before becoming an unrestricted free agent this offseason.

 

“At the end of the day, I don’t look towards the future right now,” Darkwa said. “I’m focused on the team right now. I let the future play itself out. Right now I’m focused on the team and getting wins.”

 

Darkwa said he “definitely” wants to return to the Giants next season. That feeling should be mutual, as Darkwa has blossomed since taking over after No. 1 running back Paul Perkins was sidelined by a ribs injury in Week 5.

 

Darkwa is averaging 5.3 yards per carry over the past five games. His season average of 5.1 yards per carry is sixth among running backs.

 

Can you believe this is the 11th season since Tiki Barber retired? Retired after a season where he rushed for 1,662 yards.

 

The Giants have had 5 1,000-yard seasons since then, only one over 1,200 (1,235 by Ahmad Bradshaw in 2010).  2 by Bradshaw, 2 by Brandon Jacobs, 1 by Derrick Ward in ’08 when Jacobs also ran for 1,000+.  The last Giants back to rush for 1,000 yards in a season was Bradshaw with 1,015 in 2012.

 

 

WASHINGTON

John Keim of ESPN.com makes the point that only the greatest of quarterbacks could hope to win consistently with the current version of the Redskins:

 

The debate over Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins — his every throw results in questions of his worth — obscures one reality. And a problem. It’s not whether Cousins is great or not; it’s that the Redskins too often need him to be great in order win.

 

There have been exceptions since Cousins became the full-time starter in 2015. But too often, it holds true. If Cousins doesn’t play well, the Redskins struggle.

 

If he throws an interception — just one — they usually lose. He’s thrown a pick in five games this season; the Redskins have lost four of those. Carson Wentz has thrown a pick in five games; the Eagles have won four.

 

Quarterback is the most important position. Cousins’ contract is always a focal point, so a lot of the debate centers around whether he’s worth a certain amount. That’s not going to change.

 

More often than not — thanks to a poor run game and inconsistent defense — they need him to be something he isn’t. He’s not going to the Hall of Fame. Most aren’t. If you think that means he’s not worth a certain amount per year, that’s fine. Pretty soon there will be a number of quarterbacks in the $25 million range who won’t be in Canton, either.

 

The bottom line, though, is Washington has a defense that’s ranked 20th in yards per game and 26th in points allowed. The Redskins have a good, young talent base, but losing Jonathan Allen and Matt Ioannidis hasn’t helped. The coaching staff is also solid. There’s reason for optimism, but when will that turn into consistent results?

 

It hasn’t helped that they’ve played seven of the NFL’s top 11 scoring offenses — and eight of the top 10 when it comes to yards per play. That’s a brutal schedule. Look for second-half improvement as the schedule eases.

 

Still, if the Redskins want to be anything other than ordinary, those numbers must improve. That’s true of these numbers too: The Redskins are 23rd in rushing yards per game and 25th in yards per carry.

 

Look at Sunday’s opponent, the New Orleans Saints, for proof that just about any quarterback needs help to win. The Saints have a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Drew Brees, yet they finished 7-9 in four straight seasons before 2017. This year? They have a running game and a defense — and Brees — and they’re 7-2. The difference, of course, is Brees has won a Super Bowl; no one wonders how far he can lead a team.

 

From 2013-15, Matt Ryan’s Atlanta Falcons went a combined 18-30. He’s clearly shown what he can do when he has more talent around him, but he wasn’t enough in other years. Since 2010, the Chargers, led by Philip Rivers, own a 54-67 record.

 

You can use those stats to bolster your argument for and against Cousins. That’s not the point. His value is what it is, and you can pay it or not. The point is: No matter who’s at quarterback, the Redskins need to create a situation where they can win more if the quarterback doesn’t play great. Yes, Cousins threw a costly pick against Minnesota — so did Vikings quarterback Case Keenum.

 

Cousins has posted total QBRs of 77 or higher in three of the five losses (QBR measures the impact on a game much more than passer rating). The average QBR in a win by quarterbacks this season is 65.4. In two of Washington’s wins, the Redskins showed what can happen when other facets work: A strong run game led the win in Los Angeles, and the defense spurred the win in Seattle. Cousins made plays when needed.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

NEW ORLEANS

The Saints are doing everything they can to cash in on their 2017 opportunity, including making a midseason coaching hire.  Josh Katzenstein in the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

 

If there’s been a weakness for the New Orleans Saints this season, it’s been on special teams, primarily with returns and missed kicks.

 

And the Saints (7-2) hope they have found a way to correct those issues as the team is hiring longtime special teams coach Mike Westhoff, according to a CBS Sports report.

 

 @JasonLaCanfora

Saints anything but complacent and fortifying for playoff run. Source says New Orleans adding Mike Westhoff to their coaching staff today…

 

@JasonLaCanfora

Westhoff, the esteemed special teams coach most recently w/Jets, will join Saints today and assist ST staff for duration of the season…

 

Westhoff, 69, retired in 2012 after spending 12 seasons coaches special teams for the Jets, but the Saints apparently have convinced him to come back to the NFL. Westhoff also worked for the Miami Dolphins from 1986-2000.

 

Saints special teams coordinator Bradford Banta and assistant special teams coach Kevin O’Dea were both at practice Wednesday, so it appears Westhoff is simply an addition to the staff already in place.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

Bruce Arians defends QB BLAINE GABBERT.  Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Cardinals third-string quarterback Blaine Gabbert may have to start this week because of injuries to Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians is saying the Cardinals will be fine with Gabbert — and using colorful language to do so.

 

Arians said Gabbert’s struggles throughout his NFL career haven’t been Gabbert’s fault but the fault of the teams he was on.

 

“He was on really shi–y teams,” Arians said, via Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.

 

Arians is right about that: Gabbert was drafted by the Jaguars in 2011 and spent three years in Jacksonville, then was traded to San Francisco and played three years for the 49ers. He was never on a team with a winning record, and that was far from only his fault: Last year the 49ers went 1-4 while Gabbert was starting and 1-10 with Colin Kaepernick starting, and the year before the 49ers went 3-5 while Gabbert was starting and 2-6 while Colin Kaepernick was starting. His three years in Jacksonville his teams went a combined 5-22 in games he started and a combined 4-17 in games he didn’t start.

 

So Arians is right about the quality of the teams Gabbert played on. Whether Gabbert can win in Arizona we may soon find out.

 

We would note that on last year’s 49ers, Colin Kaepernick was slightly, slightly, better than Gabbert.

 

AFC WEST

 

THE RAIDERS

QB DEREK CARR feels at home in Mexico City.  Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Considering their home is a temporary one, and they’re going 2,000 miles from home this week, the Raiders expect to enjoy home-field advantage Sunday.

 

Via Chris Booker of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr thinks his team will have a vocal following in Mexico City against the Patriots.

 

The Raiders beat the Texans there last year, and Carr was impressed with the support they got.

 

“It felt like a big-time home game,” Carr said. “The atmosphere is a playoff atmosphere. It’s loud . . . They want us to win. You can tell by looking in the stands how many Raider fans were there that it’s definitely a home game for us.”

 

Carr joked that he’s not worried about laser pointers, after fans pointed them at then-Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler in last year’s game. But they wouldn’t do that to their home team, would they?

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

S TASHAUN GIPSON, a former Brown now winning in Jacksonville, has some comments that don’t go over well with his former team.  The AP:

 

Jacksonville safety Tashaun Gipson chuckled when reminded that he said the Browns will probably go 0-16.

 

His former teammates aren’t amused.

 

Gipson has provided bulletin-board material for Sunday’s game against Jacksonville in a radio interview by ripping Cleveland’s front office, predicting the Jaguars would score 40 points and record a shutout, and forecasting a winless season for the Browns.

 

A one-time Pro Bowler in Cleveland, Gipson didn’t back off from his harsh comments — with one exception.

 

“I probably got a bit out of hand with 0-16 team,” he said Wednesday on a conference call with the Cleveland media. “But I definitely do stand by my comments when I say I feel like Sunday we plan on going 1-0.”

 

While Gipson attempted to soften his stance, Browns coach Hue Jackson said he addressed the verbal attack with his team.

 

“Oh, I did,” Jackson said. “You can bet your bottom dollar I did.”

 

So did Jaguars coach Doug Marrone, who has his team on a roll — the Jags (6-3) have won three straight — and isn’t pleased that one of his players would doing anything unnecessary to motivate or provoke a desperate team.

 

“That is not something that we like to do as a team,” he said. “It has been addressed, and we understand that it is going to be very difficult for us to go on the road and win a football game.”

 

On Monday, Gipson, who spent four years with the Browns before signing as a free agent with the Jags after the 2015 season, lambasted Cleveland’s front office during a radio interview.

 

The 27-year-old was among a group of established veterans that the team chose not to re-sign, and Gipson said his first chance to play against the Browns was “definitely going to be personal, man, for sure.”

 

Gipson went on to say he didn’t understand why Cleveland’s executive team led by Sashi Brown would allow him, starting center Alex Mack, right tackle Mitchell Schwartz and receiver Travis Benjamin to leave as free agents. Gipson added that Browns rookie safety Jabrill Peppers is playing out of position and he sympathizes with former teammates such as linebacker Christian Kirskey and running back Isaiah Crowell because in Cleveland they’ll “probably never get the due they deserve.”

 

Gipson’s chatter became headlines in Cleveland and prompted him to call Kirksey and others to explain that he wasn’t disrespecting them.

 

“They get paid just like we do, and I show respect for the guys they have,” he said. “It was not a shot.”

 

Gipson, however, doubled down on his claim that the Jaguars, who have the NFL’s top-ranked scoring defense, can blank the Browns.

 

“Unless you have Tom Brady at the helm, I think we can pitch a shutout against any team,” he said. “I don’t take those comments back. I stand by those comments.”

 

 

PITTSBURGH

The Steelers are getting their franchise money’s worth from RB Le’VEON BELL.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Le’Veon Bell has been the Steelers’ starting running back since they drafted him in 2013, but he’s never been the kind of workhorse he is this year.

 

Bell has 220 carries through nine games, which puts him on pace for 391 carries on the season. Bell’s previous career high was 290 carries, which he totaled in 2014. Throw in Bell’s 40 catches and he’s on pace to finish the season with 462 total touches, far exceeding his previous high of 373, also set in 2014.

 

Bell has 50 more touches than Ezekiel Elliott, who has the second-most touches in the NFL this season, and his lead over Elliott will obviously grow during Elliott’s six-game suspension. No team in the league is featuring any player anywhere close to as much as the Steelers are featuring Elliott.

 

On his current pace, Bell would finish the season with the second-most touches in NFL history, second only to James Wilder, who had 492 touches with the 1984 Buccaneers. That’s a huge workload, and one that might leave Bell banged up heading into the offseason — when he becomes a free agent.

 

AFC EAST

 

BUFFALO

QB TYROD TAYLOR did not see his benching coming.  Marc Sessler of NFL.com:

 

Wednesday’s quarterback switch in Buffalo came as a surprise to most Bills fans — and to Tyrod Taylor.

 

Benched for rookie Nathan Peterman, the veteran passer was forced to answer questions about the switch just minutes after coach Sean McDermott made the stunning announcement.

 

“Yes,” Taylor said, point blank, when asked if he was shocked by the move.

 

“Disappointed with the decision. Obviously, I don’t agree with the decision,” Taylor said. “I have to do what’s best for the team in my new role and move forward.”

 

Clearly nonplussed with the demotion, Taylor flatly told reporters over and over to “ask coach McDermott” why the switch was made.

 

Earlier Wednesday, McDermott said the move was “about winning now,” while acknowledging “Tyrod is part of the reason we are where we are at five wins and in the playoff hunt.”

 

Taylor graciously offered to work with Peterman, the team’s fifth-round pick, to prepare for Sunday’s critical clash with the Chargers.

 

“Moving forward I have to help him in any shape or form. I want to help this team succeed,” Taylor said, noting that “guys are going to look to me even more to see how I respond in this situation.”

 

 

Said Taylor: “All I can do is control the opportunities I get over the rest of the season and deal with that as it comes. … Whenever you take someone off the field and stop them from competing, it’s a tough thing to go through.”

 

The flailing Bills (5-4) have lost two straight and find themselves on the outskirts of the AFC playoff picture. With two tilts against the Patriots and a showdown with the Chiefs still to come, the schedule is a doozy.

 

Taylor isn’t Aaron Rodgers, but he’s done plenty to help Buffalo this season, protecting the ball well and adequately managing the offense. It’s fair to ask how Peterman will respond behind an offensive line that has allowed the seventh most sacks in the NFL.

 

These moves are common as teams stumble down the stretch, but benching Taylor is packed with future implications. This Bills regime — unafraid to make sweeping changes — has made it clear he isn’t the long-term answer in Buffalo.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

JERRY vs. ROGER

There is a report that Jerry Jones is getting traction with his plea to his fellow owners to not rush into a contract extension with the unpopular current commissioner.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The battle continues, at least in the media.

 

Someone (presumably from within the group of owners who support Cowboys owner Jerry Jones in his fight against the Compensation Committee) has told Scott Wapner of CNBC that more than half of all owners want to wait to extend Commissioner Roger Goodell’s contract, “if for no other reason than they think the timing doing it now would be a P.R. disaster.”

 

This doesn’t mean that they don’t want to execute a new contract with Goodell. It means only that they don’t want to do it right now, since doing it right now would make them seem “tone deaf.”

 

If accurate, it means that Jones has scored at least a minor victory via his multi-front campaign against moving forward with the contract. From stirring up owners to oppose the contract to speaking against it publicly to instigating Papa John’s to disparage the league to threatening suit to leaking the supposed $50 million-per-year demand from Goodell to ESPN (which supposedly was in writing, but the writing was never produced), Jones has managed to slam the brakes on the overall process.

 

If, that is, the Compensation Committee bends to the unofficial will of more than half of all owners. Short of 24, their mandate and authority to do the deal within predetermined parameters remains in place.

 

The best and smartest outcome continues to be to amend the resolution that authorized the execution of the contract to require 24 owners or more to approve the final deal negotiated with Goodell. That should have been the approach in the first place, and it seems that the vague marching orders to the six owners who are handling the job of negotiating with the man who runs the sport have caused Jones and an undetermined number of others to wonder whether the chickens are frying some of their own eggs for the fox.

 

In response, someone – either the pro-Goodell Compensation Committee and/or Goodell’s politically-trained spinmeisters, decide that Jones’ dissent in the hiring of a Commissioner must be portrayed as treason and the only punishment for such treason is removal from The League. Ari Gilberg in the New York Daily News:

 

The ongoing feud between Jerry Jones and the NFL has reached new heights.

 

The NFL sent a letter to Jerry Jones’ attorney Wednesday laying the foundation to potentially remove Jones as owner of the Dallas Cowboys due to his ongoing sabotage of commissioner Roger Goodell’s contract extension, according to the Wall Street Journal.

 

The letter accuses Jones of meddling with Goodell’s contract negotiations and describes the Cowboys owner’s actions as “detrimental to the league’s best interests,” according to the WSJ.

 

Jones has repeatedly clashed with the NFL’s compensation committee over his attempts to block Goodell’s extension, even threatening to file a lawsuit.

 

The letter claims that Jones’ “antics, whatever their motivation, are damaging the League,” according to the WSJ.

 

The NFL’s strong language implies they may consider punishing Jones for his actions under Section 8.13 of Article VIII of the NFL’s Constitution & Bylaws, a possibility multiple owners have already discussed, Pro Football Talk previously reported.

 

Section 8.13, titled “Disciplinary Power of Commissioner”, gives Goodell the authorization to discipline an owner if he or she “has either violated the Constitution and Bylaws of the League or has been or is guilty of conduct detrimental to the welfare of the League or professional football.”

 

If the commissioner doesn’t believe the $500,000 fine is “adequate or sufficient” he can choose to “refer the matter to the Executive Committee” to invoke additional punishments, such as:

 

“Cancellation or forfeiture of the franchise in the League of any member club involved or implicated. If such occurs, the affected franchise shall be sold and disposed of under the provisions of Section 3.8(B) hereof.”

 

Jones previously said it’s “laughable” to suggest he would be removed as the Cowboys’ owner.

 

“I’ve had not one inkling of communication with the league office or any owner that would suggest something that laughable and ridiculous,” Jones said on 105.3 The Fan.

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

Greg Olsen remains puzzled by what secrets the Vikings think he might learn if he was allowed to fully prepare for Sunday’s Rams-Vikings telecast.  David Newton of ESPN.com:

 

Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen insists he won’t gain an unfair advantage assisting in the broadcast of the Minnesota Vikings-Los Angeles Rams game for Fox Sports on Sunday as some in the Minnesota organization have suggested.

 

“The notion that I’m going to gain an unfair advantage is crazy,” the three-time Pro Bowl selection said on Wednesday. “We have scouts at every game across the league. I’m going to have enough trouble on my hands broadcasting a game, let alone looking for little nuances on the sideline.

 

“I don’t know how much time I’ll have for stealing of secrets. I never was intending or thought I was in a production meeting. I never thought I would watch a practice.”

 

NFL.com reported that Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman spoke with the NFL and Fox Sports to say it is inappropriate that Olsen be allowed to participate in the broadcast during the bye week for the Panthers.

 

Olsen has been on injured reserve with a broken foot suffered in a Week 2 win against Buffalo, but he is set to come off next week in time to play in the Nov. 26 game against the New York Jets.

 

The Panthers (7-3), who trail the New Orleans Saints (7-2) by a half-game in the NFC South, host the NFC North-leading Vikings (7-2) on Dec. 10. They could face the NFC West-leading Rams (7-2) in the playoffs.

 

Minnesota’s concern is that Fox Sports announcers Kevin Burkhardt and Charles Davis will have access to practice and production meetings, and they could share team secrets with Olsen.

 

“For anyone who has ever been in those broadcast production meetings, if you’re spilling your deepest, darkest game-plan secrets to the broadcast crew, that’s kind of on you,” said Olsen, who has been in production meetings before. “We’re not getting anything that’s really going to give you much insight on how to beat them.

 

“The whole thing is so crazy to me. I don’t know. Whatever.”

 

Olsen said he would have no issue if a Minnesota player was in the booth for a Carolina game.

 

“What you see on the tape is what you see, and then whatever your secrets are for that week, you sure are not telling anybody,” he said. “So I don’t know what’s left.

 

“I don’t even know what to say. I never imagined in a million years when Fox asked me to do this five months ago that this was ever going to become an issue.”

 

Olsen is disappointed that this has taken away from what he considers a special moment for him because broadcasting is something he might be interested in after he finishes playing football.

 

“It kind of sucks that it’s controversy as opposed to people being a little excited for a little different take on the game,” he said. “But that’s the world we live in. Everyone has a problem with something. I get it. I understand this is a highly competitive world. I get it.

 

“But I’m still going to do it.”

 

The DB finds it interesting that Spielman’s brother, Chris, is a FOX analyst who has worked two Vikings games this year and numerous other games involving upcoming Vikings foes. 

 

ESPN’s Jon Gruden covers games involving his brother’s Redskins team.  Almost all analysts have significant relationships with coaches, GM’s and players of NFL teams.

 

We wonder how the Vikings would draw a distinction between those possible conflicts and Olsen doing a Minnesota game several weeks prior to the Panthers playing the Vikings.

 

 

FUMBLE INTO END ZONE, TOUCHBACK

Rodger Sherman of The Ringer looks at the touchback after a fumble into the end zone aka The Dumbest Rule in Football.  First there is a discussion of the play where John Fox of the Bears challenged his way into a turnover.

 

Fox’s error was only the second-most prominent fumble turned touchback of the year. In a Week 6 matchup between the Jets and Patriots, New York tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins caught a pass and dove into the end zone for what initially appeared to be a 4-yard score. Upon review, however, referees saw that he briefly lost control of the ball midair and ruled that Seferian-Jenkins never regained control before landing out of bounds. (The catch rule. The dreaded catch rule.) In the field of play, he wouldn’t have needed to regain control of the ball. In the end zone he had to, though, because if the ball goes out of bounds through the end zone without anyone controlling it, it becomes a touchback. Almost everyone agreed that this play looked like a touchdown, but officials said it wasn’t. The Patriots got the ball and won by seven, leaving Jets fans to think about the points that Seferian-Jenkins could have scored.

 

If you can, try to separate the stupidity of Fox’s decision and the NFL’s catch rule from the problems with the rules pertaining to the Bermuda Triangle–esque corner of the field where the sideline meets the goal line, where the normal laws of football no longer seem to apply. An offensive player can’t fumble in the end zone—that’s impossible, if he possesses the ball in the end zone for even a millisecond, he has scored a touchdown. If a player fumbles while in the field of play and the ball goes out of bounds in between the goal lines, the ball is returned to the spot of the fumble (or the spot where it went out of bounds, if it traveled backward) and the fumbling team maintains possession. But if a player fumbles in the field of play and the ball crosses the goal line before going out of bounds, this constitutes a turnover, and the opposing team gets the ball at its own 20-yard line.

 

This is absurdly punitive. Ravens coach John Harbaugh called it “a crazy rule” in 2016; Yahoo has labeled it the worst rule in football; Pro Football Talk has called it the “most unfair rule in the game”; Fox Sports has called it “the dumbest rule in the NFL”; and NFL.com has called it “the league’s worst, most nonsensical rule.” This scenario happens fairly frequently: The Titans had a fumble turned touchback Sunday, while the Cardinals and Rams each had one in Week 5. An unclaimed ball tumbling out of the end zone has been ruled a touchback for as long as the sport has existed.

 

Former NFL officiating chief Dean Blandino said the league has previously looked into altering the rule, but never felt compelled to change it. Maybe that was because it lacked any good ideas on how to treat fumbles that go out of bounds through the end zone. So here’s a breakdown of the current rule, along with five possible solutions that could work much better.

 

The Current Method

How it works: We just talked about this! Jeez.

 

The pros: The goal line’s importance is central to football as we know it. The notion that a team is maximally rewarded for maintaining possession while getting the ball across the plane and that a team is given nothing for failing to do so is part of what makes this sport great.

 

The cons: Turning an unrecovered goal-line fumble into a touchback represents a massive shift—in terms of expected point value, it’s more valuable than scoring a touchdown. Think about it: If a team scores a touchdown, it gets six points and a PAT, but then lines up to kick off and give possession to its opponent. On a fumble turned touchback, the same team benefits from the point swing—its opponent’s drive could have ended in seven points, but instead ended in zero—and from the possession swing.

 

And to reap such a colossal reward, the defending team on these plays does not even have to gain possession of the ball. Everywhere else in the field, a defense has to recover a fumble to take full advantage of it. Yet in the end zone—the most valuable part of the field—it only has to make half a play?

 

The Rule We Use Everywhere Else on the Field

How it would work: If a player fumbles the ball out of the end zone, his team would get the ball back at the spot where it was fumbled. Remember, a player cannot fumble after he’s in the end zone; at that point, he would’ve already scored a touchdown.

 

The pros: It’s a lot easier for everyone to keep track of the rules when we don’t have separate sets of them to be applied to different parts of the field.

 

The cons: Everything should be more critical near the goal line—including ball security. We see players hurl their bodies toward the end zone in hopes of getting the ball across the plane. By adopting this rule change, the league would eliminate a major punishment for losing the ball on one of these leaps. The fumbling team would get the ball right back, a few feet away from scoring a touchdown.

 

The Plain Turnover

How it would work: The fumbling team would not regain possession at the spot of the fumble; instead, the opposing team would get the ball at that spot. (Side note: A plain turnover with no filling would be disgusting.)

 

The pros: The fumbling team would still be punished for its mistake, but the team that gets the football would be put in a precarious position. Most of these fumbles happen near the 1-yard line or so, and the expected point value of a drive starting on a team’s own 1-yard line is negative. Any play could result in a safety; any turnover could turn into six points for the opponent; and a punt from the shadow of a team’s own goalposts is likely to give an opponent prime field position.

 

The cons: No teams wants to start a possession on its own 6-inch line. This might be too harsh to the team that didn’t fumble.

 

The Reverse Touchback

How it would work: After a player fumbles out of the end zone, the ball would be moved back to the 20-yard line as it is now. In this case, though, the fumbling team would keep possession.

 

The pros: The team that fumbles would lose field position as a result of its error. This solution feels more sensible than the current rule: It’d punish the fumbling team, but it wouldn’t award possession to an opposing team that didn’t recover that fumble.

 

The cons: The 20-yard line might be too close to discourage players from being reckless with the ball near the goal line. Why not move the starting field position back to the 30, 35, or 50?

 

The Rouge

How it would work: In Canadian football, there’s something called a single, which is a point awarded to a team in any of these three scenarios: (1) a team misses a field goal and the ball goes out of bounds through the end zone; (2) a team punts the ball and it goes out of bounds through the end zone; (3) a team kicks the ball off and tackles a player on the receiving team in his own end zone. This can also be called a rouge, depending on whether you feel like being all French about it. The single led to the greatest play in the history of Canadian football—or, to be honest, football of any kind—when two teams got into a punt battle in an attempt to score (or prevent) a game-winning rouge in a 30-30 contest:

 

But that video doesn’t apply here. Fumbles that go out of bounds through the end zone do not count for points in Canadian football, so we’re taking an excellent idea and adapting it. In this solution, the NFL rule would stay basically the same—the fumbling team would lose possession, the opposing team would get the ball at its own 20-yard line—except the fumbling team would get one point for the ball going out of bounds through the end zone.

 

The pros: The rouge would both reward the fumbling team for getting the ball to the opposing goal line and punish it for its failure—after all, it would still be better for a team to hold onto the ball and kick a field goal (worth three points) than score a rouge (one point). This would also allow for the long-sought-after 1-0 score, currently impossible under American football rules. The introduction of occasional rouges would lead to funkier scores in general, which would lead to more two-point conversion attempts and more complicated late-game decision-making. And why do we watch football if not to watch coaches struggle with late-game decision-making?

 

The cons: The problem with the current rule isn’t that the fumbling team ends up with zero points; it’s that the fumbling team is robbed of the opportunity to score points whatsoever. It would feel weird for teams to be rewarded specifically for plays on which they failed—can you imagine a team registering a go-ahead point in a tie game by losing a fumble?

 

The Make-It, Take-It Solution

How it would work: The fumbling team would be given one untimed down from the spot at which the ball was lost. If that team could get the ball into the end zone on the untimed play, it would win the right to continue its drive from the spot at which the ball was fumbled. If the fumbling team was unable to score, though, the other team would get possession at the 20-yard line. This would be like a two-point conversion attempt, except what’s at stake would be possession instead of points.

 

The pros: You know what’s good? Football. Turning an out-of-bounds fumble into a touchback is not football—it’s an automatic rules reflex. This solution would add a pivotal football play to these situations, and pivotal football plays are good. My favorite part about this option is that it’d give a team agency over how strictly it’d be punished for its failure. If a team can score twice—once to win possession, once for real—it deserves those points.

 

This is how things are settled in playground basketball. Anybody can criticize a rule or officiating decision. Then the matter is put in the player’s hands, because no one can accuse the ball of dishonesty. The ball and Shakira’s hips: the two things on this planet that don’t lie.

 

The cons: Personally, this is my favorite option. (I invented it, so I’m biased.) But really, any of the above suggestions seem like a fairer solution to the fumble-turned-touchback issue than the rule that’s currently in place. Football can be great with innovation—in fact, it’s been improved by many innovations over the years. The NFL shouldn’t stop evolving now.