The Daily Briefing Thursday, October 26, 2017
AROUND THE NFL
Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com reports that QB AARON RODGERS is screwed – literally:
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers likely won’t be playing football any time soon, flowery reports of a possible return in December notwithstanding.
Rodgers tells Conan O’Brien of TBS that Rodgers had 13 screws inserted into his collarbone.
The screws go along with a plate that holds the collarbone together. The fact that the plate is big enough to require that many screws means that the break was bad enough to require a fairly large plate.
In some cases, the hardware is eventually removed. Whether Rodgers keeps the plate and screws or later has them taken out, this one seems like a more serious fracture than other collarbone injuries endured by other quarterbacks in recent years. And with Rodgers suffering the fracture in the clavicle that abuts his throwing arm, questions surely will linger regarding when he’ll return to full strength.
With a team that may not be built to stay in contention in his absence and a contract that no longer reflects anything close to his true market value, there’s little incentive for Rodgers to risk a premature return.
TE KYLE RUDOLPH on the toughness of the Vikings per Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:
The Vikings had their starting quarterback go down with a knee injury after the first game of the season, they lost their starting running back to a torn ACL and their top wide receiver has missed the last two games, but they head into Sunday’s game against the Browns with a 5-2 record and sole possession of first place in the NFC North.
While that’s been a lot to deal with, the Vikings are used to it. They lost Teddy Bridgewater for the year before the 2016 season even started, saw their offensive line decimated by injuries, played without Adrian Peterson for much of the year and changed offensive coordinators while head coach Mike Zimmer dealt with eye problems that kept him from coaching one game.
During an appearance on PFT Live last week, tight end Kyle Rudolph talked about how the team has been able to navigate the uncertainty about their quarterback situation by sticking with “a consistent routine.” In an interview with Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com, Rudolph expanded on that and said that the team learned from last year that keeping things on an even keel is the best route to success.
“We’re a better team than the team that started 5-0 last year because we went through that, and we were able to learn from that adversity, and learn from the fact that just because you start 5-0 doesn’t mean you’ve accomplished anything,” Rudolph said.
A win this weekend would send the Vikings into the bye at 6-2, which won’t change much in terms of their accomplishment but will set them up to control their own playoff destiny in the second half regardless of what other tribulations might be in their future.
QB DAK PRESCOTT is the current face of the NFL per Mike Florio:
There’s definitely no sophomore slump when it comes to the off-field performance of Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. For the period from March 1 through August 31, Prescott finished atop the NFL Players Association’s list of the top 50 players.
The list is based on all officially-licensed player merchandise during the six-month window.
The rest of the top 10 consists of Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr., Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Steelers receiver Antonio Brown, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch, and Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz.
Three rookies landed on the list, which is impressive given that they didn’t even have NFL teams until one third of the relevant period had ended. Steelers running back James Conner comes in at No. 37, Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson debuts at No. 40, and Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey arrives at No. 43.
Conner’s personal story and pre-existing popularity in Pittsburgh had plenty to do with the performance of his merchandise. For Watson, the ability to crack the top 50 at a time when he was firmly No. 2 and, initially, No. 3 on the depth chart borders on amazing — and suggests that his status will skyrocket now that he’s the starter, and now what he’s playing very well.
WR TERRELLE PRYOR is giving a lesson to MARTAVIS BRYANT on how to handle a less role. Dan Steinberg in the Washington Post:
Here’s the best way to describe Terrelle Pryor Sr.’s current status in the Washington Redskins’ offense: When Kirk Cousins was asked specifically about his outside receivers following Washington’s limp loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night, the quarterback mentioned six names, including two tight ends and a running back. Pryor’s name didn’t come up.
And here’s the best way Pryor summarized his own status, when asked whether his first-half benching against the Eagles might be repeated Sunday against Dallas.
“I’m not sure,” he said. “I mean, that’s a good question. I don’t know.”
To the many issues on Coach Jay Gruden’s agenda — a battered offensive line whose duct tape is now held together with duct tape, a defense that’s given up 87 points over three games, a team-wide tendency to close games with a whimper — add this one: The head coach just sidelined his presumed top wideout on national television. He did so, Gruden said, to provide more chances to second-year man Josh Doctson, who responded by setting a career high in receptions. With three.
“We drafted Josh to be the number one guy,” Gruden said after the game, and he explained further Tuesday. Both Pryor and Doctson specialize at the “X” receiver spot. With Doctson healthy, coaches wanted to see how he’d react to a start. As for the future? “We’ll see how it goes.”
“Outside linebackers, they’re subbing; defensive linemen, they’re subbing all the time,” Gruden said. “So it’s just important for us to try to play the best players, the guys that give us the best chance to win. It’s not like we’re losing faith in anybody. We have faith in all our receivers.”
But the fact is, Washington’s first-half rotation skipped right over Pryor, a man who caught 77 passes last season and then arrived in Washington suggesting he had greater things in store. Surely, he must have been a bit surprised to find himself on the field for just one play in the entire first quarter of this crucial divisional showdown?
“First quarter? First half,” Pryor noted. “I didn’t play at all. You know, that’s Coach’s call.”
Pryor, to be fair, said the right things about this startling rebuke. That he was rooting for his teammates. That he trusts his coaches. (“I believe in [Gruden], I believe in what he represents as a coach,” Pryor said.) That there’s a lot of season left, and that “there’s a lot of guys around the league that are starting fresh with new quarterbacks that aren’t killing the game right now, either.”
Still, this had to sting for a player who arrived on a one-year prove-it deal, bubbling over with self-confidence. (“I walk it and talk it; I breathe it,” he said in the spring.) Despite a slow start — marked by drops and miscommunications — he entered the week having played more offensive snaps than any Redskins running back or receiver, more than 86 percent of them before Monday night. The public message had remained upbeat, even if the numbers were’t there.
Now? Those words might remain, but you have to wonder whether the team’s flashiest free agent signing will turn into not just a disappointment, but a non-entity.
The former 1,000-yard receiver, signed to help replace Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson, finished Monday with 30 snaps — less than half of what he had gotten the week before. He’s totaled 37 receiving yards over the past two weeks. His 223 receiving yards rank 89th in the league. When he was on the field in the second half Monday, he dropped two more balls. And when he was asked about the momentum switch in the second quarter, Pryor answered as honestly as he could.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I was on the sideline really, just cheering my teammates on and just trying to be the best teammate I could be on the sideline. Whatever I could do on the sideline.”
Jeremy Bergman at NFL.com:
Terrelle Pryor came to the nation’s capital on a one-year deal this offseason with hopes of being a bona fide No. 1 receiver finally catching balls from a franchise quarterback. Halfway into the season, things have not gone as planned.
Pryor saw 11 targets in his first game with the Skins, but has since averaged around 4.4 targets and 2.4 catches per contest. His latest outing was his least involved of the campaign, a two-catch, 14-yard dud in Washington’s Monday night loss to the Eagles.
A more telling sign of Pryor’s growing irrelevance in the Redskins offense: Pryor was on the field for only 30 offensive snaps (47 percent), narrowly edging out Ryan Grant and falling way behind second-year wideout Josh Doctson.
Is Jay Gruden demoting the under-performing receiver, as Pryor’s snaps and targets suggest? According to him, it depends on the game script.
“We’ll see how it goes moving forward,” Gruden told reporters Wednesday, per ESPN. “Right now we wanted to get Josh in there a little bit more and see how he did. Josh did some good things, some things we need to clean up, same with Terrelle every week. Just going to continue to coach those guys up, try to play the hot hand, play the guys who are fresh and go from there.”
The “hot hand” comment means Washington has a competition on its hands at the X receiver position. Gruden elaborated that it is unlikely they would move Doctson, the shorter target at six-foot-2, over to Jamison Crowder’s Z position.
None of Washington’s wideouts are on pace to eclipse 600 yards receiving. So on an offense dictated by Chris Thompson, the do-it-all third-down back, no receiver is safe, but no one is doomed. Instead, Pryor and the Redskins’ air attack are in a holding pattern.
“It’s not like we’re losing faith in anybody,” Gruden said. “We have faith in all our receivers to win one-on-one matchups and run the right coverage, run the right routes and all that stuff and make plays when the ball is distributed to them.
“It’s just a matter of trying to get everybody happy here. It’s hard. They’re all worthy of playing, but they all have to wait their turn and be patient and when their number is called, produce.”
Was Kyle Shanahan that good, or is Steve Sarkesian this bad? Robert Klemko of TheMMQB.com:
It’s Week 8, and the Fire Steve Sarkisian movement is already gaining steam among Falcons fans.
Atlanta hired Sarkisian away from Alabama this offseason to take the reins of the NFL’s top offense after Kyle Shanahan departed to take the head-coaching position in San Francisco. Instead, he’s become the butt of jokes across the Twittersphere—and the Falcons’ 23–7 loss to the Patriots in Foxborough, dropping the 2016 NFC champions to 3–3 and third in the NFC South, only intensified that.
Heading into the 2017 season, Atlanta knew there was going to be a drop-off—it would be a near miracle if the Falcons’ offense maintained the level of production from last season—but this one is hard to stomach for fans dreaming of Super Bowl redemption. Atlanta’s slip from No. 1 in points scored and No. 2 in offensive yards to No. 16 and No. 7, respectively, through six games is one of if not the biggest NFL storyline as we near the halfway point.
The Falcons’ passing game, particularly when throwing deep down the field and in the red zone, has the faithful worried. Through six games in 2016, QB Matt Ryan was 14-of-23 on passes traveling more than 20 yards downfield through six games. This season, he’s 4-of-21. Ryan was unstoppable in the red zone a year ago, completing 62% of his passes with 23 touchdowns and one interception from inside the 20-yard line. This year, he’s completed just half of his passes with four touchdowns and a pick through six games, and all-world receiver Julio Jones entered the game against the Patriots with a single red zone target to his name.
Some of that, surely, is on Ryan—a handful of throws in Foxborough immediately come to mind. But a big portion of the blame has to be placed on Sarkisian.
This is Sarkisian’s first NFL job since he was quarterbacks coach of the Oakland Raiders over a decade ago. A year after being fired from Southern Cal (following a brief stop at Alabama), he’s put in a room with one of the best quarterbacks in the league, one of the best receivers in the league, and two running backs who could both start for just about any team. It’s safe to say that there was never going to be much patience outside of the Falcons facility.
We can all watch a game on television and see through the fog that something is wrong with this offense, but we outsiders don’t know the difference between growing pains and dysfunction. So I asked two Falcons offensive players I trust.
They both used the same word to describe Sarkisian’s approach to the offense: “disorganized.” And we’re not talking about desk clutter. Shanahan had a plan, they said. Every play and every concept employed was an exercise in deception. Set up one expectation in the first half, and then later break that expectation for a big gain in a critical moment. Sarkisian, formerly Alabama’s offensive coordinator and USC’s head coach, doesn’t have that aspect of the pro game in his tool bag, they say. But both players, and two team sources, scoffed at the idea of firing the 43-year-old former CFL quarterback at any point this season, backing up the public vote of confidence offered by coach Dan Quinn this week.
“We’ve been through this before,” said one team source.
He’s referring to Shanahan’s and Quinn’s first season in Atlanta, in 2015, following the departure of offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and the firing of head coach Mike Smith. The offense experienced a similar drop-off, falling from No. 12 in points in ’14 to No. 21 a year later. Ryan had one of his worst years statistically since his rookie season, throwing for only 21 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.
But at Flowery Branch, Quinn had a plan. He moved Raheem Morris from his role as a defensive assistant to the wide receivers room to salve a group that had soured emotionally towards the end of 2015. The team brought in Matt Schaub, who has known Shanahan since 2007 during their time in Houston, to help Ryan and Shanahan transition—essentially, Schaub was the intellectual bridge between coach and star quarterback. And the Falcons became the surprise dominant offense of 2016.
I should point out that it’s difficult to compare the 2015 and ’17 seasons side-by-side; the Falcons were transitioning to an entirely new scheme in the former season, whereas Sarkisian was brought in to as a continuation, having had experience with this type of offense.
Plus the stakes are higher now. A team that led a Super Bowl by 25 points and somehow lost, returned a year later with the core of its roster intact. Then they made the curious choice to hire an offensive coordinator from the outside rather than promote from within. Matt LaFleur, quarterbacks coach, would have seemed like a reasonable candidate for promotion. Ditto for Mike McDaniel, offensive assistant, or even better, Morris, the wide receivers coach.
However, neither McDaniel nor LaFleur were even considered for the position. Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff let McDaniel walk, and he joined Shanahan in San Francisco as his run game coordinator. LaFleur, who at the very least wanted to retain his role as quarterbacks coach, is now offensive coordinator in Los Angeles under playcalling head coach Sean McVay. Lafluer was replaced by Bush Hamdan, the former Boise State quarterback in his first NFL role. The Falcons’ braintrust felt the most important offensive coaches to retain were Morris, and Chris Morgan, the third-year offensive line coach who actually has this run game humming; Atlanta’s backs are averaging 4.9 yards per attempt in 2017.
The Falcons brass remains supportive of Sarkisian, and to speed up the adjustment period, the team is adding extra red zone and third down periods in practice this week. And Quinn reminded his team on Monday that he and his coaching staff are not beyond reproach; if players have ideas about how to right the ship, Quinn wants to hear them.
Just don’t tell coach you want a new offensive coordinator, because this one isn’t going anywhere soon.
QB CAM NEWTON gets huffy yet again, Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer:
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was involved in a media-related incident for the second week in a row on Wednesday, abruptly leaving his press conference after declining to answer a question about the Panthers’ recent lack of big plays.
Observer reporter Joseph Person asked Newton: “Big plays – big chunk plays – kind of get to that energy I think you are talking about. Does this offense – I know you had several at Detroit and New England – do you think you guys have the wherewithal to do that consistently, week in and week out?”
Newton glanced toward the ceiling, briefly shook his head and said: “Next question.”
After a slight pause, Newton walked out of the room, although another reporter had begun to ask a question.
Panthers spokesman Steven Drummond spoke to Newton after his press conference and said later about the incident: “Cam didn’t intend to be discourteous toward any specific media member. In his mind, after answering questions for nine minutes, he had fulfilled his obligations.”
Last week, Newton skipped his mid-week news conference in violation of NFL media policy – all NFL players are supposed to be available at least one day during the week of a game. When healthy, he had never skipped a mid-week news conference until then. The quarterback did speak to the media Sunday after Carolina’s 17-3 loss to Chicago.
All across America, Fantasy Football fans are now wondering if they should play WR MICHAEL THOMAS. Herbie Teope in the New Orleans Times-Picayune:
The New Orleans Saints are dealing with an injury to their No. 1 receiving threat.
Second-year wide receiver Michael Thomas did not practice Wednesday with a knee injury, and his status for Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears is unknown at this point.
Exactly when Thomas suffered the injury is also unclear, as he was on the field in the fourth quarter against the Green Bay Packers, hauling in a 5-yard catch at the 8:25 mark.
Thomas also led all Saints wide receiver with 60 offensive snaps out of 76 total plays run by the Saints offense, and finished the Week 7 game with seven catches for 82 yards.
The Saints have two more days of practice, so Thursday and Friday are important in determining Thomas’ availability for Week 8.
Thomas currently leads the Saints in receiving with 35 catches for 403 yards and two touchdowns.
Meanwhile, starting left tackle Terron Armstead and starting right guard Larry Warford (adomen) also did not practice Wednesday.
So, Kyle Shanahan, you are saying there’s a chance T JOE STALEY could be traded? Matt Barrows in the Sacramento Bee:
Kyle Shanahan said Wednesday it would “take a whole lot” for him to part with left tackle Joe Staley, whose name is being discussed as the NFL’s trade deadline nears.
“Joe is a guy that I definitely want here and definitely a guy I wouldn’t want to lose by any means,” Shanahan said. “I’m not going to sit here – if anybody called for any one of our players, it’s not like you just hang up the phone. If people want to offer the world, you’ve always got to listen. You’ve got to always try to think what’s going to help your team and make your team better.”
The trade deadline is Tuesday. Among teams in need of a veteran left tackle are San Francisco’s Sunday opponent, the Philadelphia Eagles, who are 6-1 and eyeing a playoff run, but who lost their Pro Bowl-caliber tackle, Jason Peters, for the season on Monday.
Asked whether the Eagles would consider Staley, 33, Philadelphia coach Doug Pederson said the team was just trying “to get through today and these next few days.”
Earlier in the conversation, Pederson was asked about how difficult it was to find quality tackles in the league nowadays and brought up Staley unprompted.
“Edge pass rushers are – these guys are beasts, these guys are monsters,” Pederson said. “If you don’t have those tackles that can pass set – they’re on islands quite a bit out there. You look at Joe Staley and what he’s done, his career and the dominance he’s had in his career.”
Pederson said the Eagles would move their right tackle, Lane Johnson, to the left side and elevate Halapoulivaati Vaitai to the starting unit at right tackle. Philadelphia also signed a former draft pick, tackle Taylor Hart, on Wednesday.
The special misery of being a fan of the Cleveland Browns is not confined to folks living in Northeast Ohio. Not even to folks living in the USA. Part of Ian Chatbrand of ESPN.com’s piece is below, but there is more here including proof of life photos:
Supporting the perennially hapless Cleveland Browns clearly has to be a labor of true love. To stand by their men, who have recorded just one win in their past 26 games, including none so far in their dreadful 2017 campaign, takes a special kind of devotion, so it’s not without good reason that those die-hards who bleed orange and brown are often hailed for being as indomitable as their team is inept.
Yet if you think those local fans who attend the “Factory of Sadness” have it tough, just feel for those hardy souls scattered all over the world — there are 45,000 registered members of the 331 Browns Backers clubs in 13 countries — who still heroically keep the faith from afar. Well, this is their big week. With the Browns off to Twickenham Stadium, the home of English rugby, for their NFL International Series game against the Minnesota Vikings, some of their longest-suffering overseas fans have dug deep into their pockets to jet in from all over Europe to attend.
We listened to the stories of long-suffering fans from Norway, Iceland, Italy, Switzerland and Great Britain who’ll be in London for Sunday’s game, as well as the president of the Browns’ most distant fan club, the man who’s barking “Go Browns!” as he gets ready for a night of celebration in Australia should they finally break into the win column.
Ryan Urbon, Reykjavik, Iceland (2,800 miles from Cleveland)
Seven years ago, Ryan Urbon, a lifelong Browns fan from Akron, Ohio, was at a game with a buddy when a life-changing conversation took place.
“Suddenly he turns to me and says, ‘Hey, you know, we really need to go to Iceland; I hear they have the hottest chicks. Come on, we need to check it out,'” Urbon recalled. “So after I Googled it, we decided to go on an awesome holiday there, and what do you know? I met a girl there on the first night in Reykjavik, ended up dating her and moved there a year later.”
That relationship may have ended, but his love affair with the Browns only blossomed while he built up his travel business on the Atlantic island a few degrees south of the Arctic Circle.
“I’m part fan, part missionary, trying to teach Icelanders the rules of a game that nobody understands while at the same time spreading the good word of the Browns,” explained the 28-year-old.
Four years ago, he formed the Icelandic branch of the Browns Backers. Each Sunday, he organizes a screening with a bunch of chums at Dillon Whiskey Bar in downtown Reykjavik.
“We can get about 25 people watching a game on a good day — er, even if there aren’t many good days for the Browns — including 15 Icelandic members,” Urbon said. “It can get crazy. This place has the best happy hour in Iceland — yes, happy hours and the Browns can go together — but they do kind of suck more than ever at the moment and it’s such a downer that a lot of my mates just don’t care to come out anymore.”
There is one consolation, though: “As the game is done by 8:30 p.m., 9, it gives us a couple of hours’ drowning-our-sorrows time.”
Steve Maybury, London, UK (3,740 miles from Cleveland)
This is a big week for Steve Maybury, a founding member of the British chapter of the Browns Backers. The team he loves is finally returning to his London manor again. Maybury was there at Wembley Stadium back in 1989 for the old exhibition American Bowl contest between the Browns and the Philadelphia Eagles — “Guess what? They lost,” he said with a smile. Twenty-eight years on, the 53-year-old finds himself hosting visiting fans from around the world for Sunday’s game at Twickenham as president of the 135-strong British Bulldawgs fan club.
They normally meet weekly to watch the Browns in a casino in the heart of London’s West End. It used to be largely U.S. expats, but these days it’s 80 percent British fans, including “a couple of city workers, a paramedic, someone from the BBC, highly connected U.S. businessmen … a very varied crew,” Maybury said.
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Steve figures he and wife, Jane, have forked out thousands of pounds to travel to Cleveland and other NFL cities to watch the Browns in 25 games through the years.
Christoffer Becker, Oslo, Norway, (3,880 miles from Cleveland)
It was the lure of the great American road trip that eventually led Norwegian Christoffer Becker to bring the Browns back to the Land of the Midnight Sun.
“I’d had this dream of driving through as many U.S. states as possible,” said Becker, 45, who works in international wine retailing. “So back in 1996, I saved up, bought this crappy Dodge Aspen ’78 sports edition without air conditioning for $500, then rambled through 39 states before I found a summer flame in Cleveland. So I got stuck there. It was a fling thing.”
But his love for the football team he found there was the real thing, just like his soon-to-be-acquired “hatred of the Steelers with those terrible yellow towels.” Back in Norway, and after a brief career as a professional soccer player with Valerenga, Becker eventually launched the Browns Backers of Scandinavia, a small but merry band from as far afield as Estonia, Sweden and Denmark. When the group gathers to watch games — usually in Oslo, but once 800 miles away at a bar in Bodo, Norway, north of the Arctic Circle — black humor abounds.
Stefan Willi, Winterthur, Switzerland (4,220 miles from Cleveland)
Stefan Willi still remembers how his father, who had worked for six months for a company in Cleveland that made aircraft engines, returned home to Switzerland in 1991 with a Browns cap for a wide-eyed 9-year-old boy.
“I was hooked from then,” Willi, now 35, said. “My father had friends there who’d send newspaper clippings and videos about the Browns, and I’d follow them even though it was then really hard to watch football in Europe at 2 a.m. with just one station in Germany showing maybe four games a year.”
Bruce Millinger, Perth, Australia (11,280 miles from Cleveland)
“We’re literally halfway around the world from the Browns — separated by two continents, one ocean, the equator, the international date line, the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn — so there’s a particular kind of obsession needed to follow the Browns from here; I think insanity may be the word,” chuckled Bruce Millinger, president of the Backers’ most distant outpost in Western Australia.
Formerly an 18-year Browns season-ticket holder “when we were good, with Kosar, Testaverde and the Kardiac Kids,” Bruce met his wife, an Australian doctor, in Cleveland and “she brought me home with her as a souvenir.”
While helping run her cardiology practice, he still needed his Browns fix, so he set up a group that, because of the 12-hour time difference, has to meet up at 8 a.m. on a weekday for breakfast — “Brekkie with the Browns, we call it here,” he said — at a U.S.-style sports bar, the Varsity, in Perth. The bar opens early especially for them on the rare occasions that the Browns take part in a televised night game. Most of the club are native Aussies.
“We actually had one member who was just determined to find the most losingest team out there,” Bruce said. “Er, don’t ask me why.”
The timing of Sunday’s London game (9:30 a.m. ET; 9:30 p.m. in Perth) is great news for the Australian fans, though. For once, they can go the Varsity on a weekend evening instead of a weekday morning, when they’re left thoroughly deflated before they even trudge into work.
“But it’s more than just about the winning and losing; it’s the camaraderie,” Bruce said. “We’ll meet up for a picnic, talk the Browns and toss a few footballs around on the beach with the Indian Ocean as a backdrop. The Browns fans are the most dedicated all over the world. Because those guys may not be the greatest product ever put on the field, but they’re still our Browns.”
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WR KENNY BRITT, who grew up in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, has no love for playing in London. Pat McManamon of ESPN.com:
The Cleveland Browns did not sound like a group of happy travelers as they prepared to make the trek across the pond to play the Minnesota Vikings.
The allure of traveling to jolly old England for a game was not all that to this team.
“I hated London, hated it,” receiver Kenny Britt said. “I hated it with a passion.”
Britt made the venture a year ago when he played for the Rams. To acclimate their players to the trip, the Rams traveled immediately after a game in Detroit and stayed for a week.
“I hated everything about it,” Britt said. “I hated the flight. I hated us being there so long. I hated the flight back. I hated the food.
“You can ask my wife the same thing, and she’ll give you the same answer.”
Was there anything he liked about it?
“Nothing,” he said.
The six- to seven-hour flight was among the least appealing parts of the trip to the players. The team is leaving after practice Thursday evening, arriving Friday morning, practicing late afternoon on Friday (London time) and then playing a game on Sunday.
Though they may have some free time on Saturday, there will be normal meetings and curfew so it’s not like they’ll have much time to venture out to see the changing of the guard or ride the London Eye.
“It’ll be interesting to see a place I’ve never been before,” tight end Seth DeValve said. “But I’d rather not be in a plane for 16 hours, or however long it is.”
“It’s a very long flight, a big time change with all the side effects that go with it,” said guard Kevin Zeitler, who also has played in London with the Bengals.
“I’m really not fond of planes,” safety Jabrill Peppers said. “I’m trying not to even think about it.”
The Browns did charter a plane that will allow all players to lay down and sleep if they choose, but the length of the flight has nobody excited. Teams have two options for the game: They can go early in the week and try to acclimate to the time change, or go late and minimize the time change.
“The longer you spend, the more you acclimate, the more you have to acclimate when you get back,” Zeitler said. “I’d rather deal with it the way we are.”
Quarterback DeShone Kizer, who kept the starting job for another week, said his focus would be on preparing to make sure he doesn’t lose the starting job again.
“I’ll be figuring out how to try to win a game,” he said. “I hear we’re staying 40 minutes or so from the actual city, too.”
The distance will dissuade some players from going into the historic areas of London, especially with such a short trip. Before he tore his triceps tendon, Joe Thomas said the thought of walking and standing in a city with sore knees and hips and elbows and shoulders simply did not appeal to him.
On the one hand, the Steelers say they aren’t going to trade WR MARTAVIS BRYANT. On the other, they aren’t going to play him – at least this week.
Marc Sessler of NFL.com:
Martavis Bryant’s demand for more playing time has fallen on deaf ears.
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday that the unhappy Steelers wideout was informed by team brass that he will be inactive for Sunday night’s game against the Detroit Lions.
Asked why he wouldn’t play, Bryant told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler: “Social media.”
Bryant returned to the team Wednesday, only to find himself demoted to the scout team following his recent rash of me-first behavior.
Bryant threw the Steelers for a loop this week by complaining about his playing time on Instagram before telling ESPN’s Josina Anderson on Tuesday: “If they don’t try to include me more and continue to do the same thing, then I want out, period. I just want to be happy. … I would like for it to be here, but if not then oh well. Just got to move on.”
Bryant has played fewer snaps this season than rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster, catching just 18 passes on the year for 234 yards and a touchdown. In Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown-centric passing attack, that still makes Bryant the team’s second-leading wideout, but his production is nowhere near expectations.
It remains to be seen if Pittsburgh will attempt to trade Bryant, even after coach Mike Tomlin promised that wasn’t in the cards.
The Steelers are likely waiting to see how Bryant responds to this latest setback before putting him back on the field. For his sake, keeping quiet this time around would do both sides a world of good.
Now, if you assume that QB BEN ROETHLISBERGER is doing his best to complete a pass to each of his three top WRs, you can see that more good things have happened when the other receivers (we threw in LaVeon Bell for good measure) are targeted:
COMP/ATT COMP% YDS YDS/ATT
Brown 52/84 61.9% 765 9.11
Smith-Schuster 17/26 65.4% 231 8.88
Bryant 18/36 50.0% 234 6.50
So Roethlisberger and the Steelers are more likely to get a completion to keep the ball or going to get more yards if they throw to Brown of Smith-Shuster. But instead, they should throw more to Bryant to keep him happy.
And if you are another team, why exactly would you think trading for Bryant would be a good idea?
Apparently some people think the Colts should pay a healthy QB ANDREW LUCK more than $10 in the second half of the season to do nothing. That is not the team’s plan. Mike Wells of ESPN.com:
The Indianapolis Colts still have every intention of having quarterback Andrew Luck play this season no matter what their record is once he’s cleared, coach Chuck Pagano said Wednesday.
“Nothing has changed,” Pagano said.
Colts general manager Chris Ballard said last week that the team was shutting Luck down for the time being after he received a cortisone shot in his surgically repaired right shoulder to help with the soreness. Luck, who had shoulder surgery in January, practiced for two days three weeks ago and then amped up his workload during his two days of practice two weeks ago. The Colts have already said Luck won’t practice this week.
Indianapolis (2-5) is off to its worst start since 2011. Its next two games are on the road at Cincinnati and Houston before the Colts host Pittsburgh before their Week 11 bye. An argument could be made that the struggling Colts should shut Luck down for the season if they’ve already been eliminated from playoff contention by the time he’s ready to return to avoid any other injuries. Luck hasn’t played since Week 17 of last season.
It turns out that the guy making the case for paying Luck to do nothing is ESPN’s deep thinker Bill Barnwell:
If the Indianapolis Colts could skip ahead and simulate the remainder of the 2017 season, you suspect they would happily fast-forward to February.
Chuck Pagano’s team has avoided the ignominy surrounding the 49ers and Browns by winning two of its first seven games, doing so specifically by beating those two teams by three points each. The Colts have lost their other five games by a combined 109 points. Football Outsiders believes that the Colts — not their winless brethren — are the worst team in football on a play-by-play basis.
The biggest problem for the Colts, of course, is that their franchise quarterback hasn’t thrown a pass since New Year’s Day. Andrew Luck underwent shoulder surgery in January and was supposed to return in July. Things changed. Luck’s return kept getting pushed back further and further, and it quickly became clear the organization had no idea when he would be back. The team took him off the physically unable to perform list, implying that they believed he would be back before Week 7, but Luck didn’t make his way back into practice until before Week 5. Shortly after, he stopped throwing because of soreness in his shoulder, and now there’s no timetable for Luck’s return.
The Colts reportedly intend to insert Luck into the lineup if he’s healthy enough to play this season, but it’s difficult to understand why they’re rushing to put their quarterback in the line of fire. According to the Football Power Index, their chances of making the playoffs are less than 0.1 percent. Their fill-in quarterback, Jacoby Brissett, has also been pleasantly surprising for a player who was acquired after being shopped by the Patriots in advance of a roster cutdown he likely wouldn’t have survived in New England.
All of this conspires to present an interesting opportunity for Colts general manager Chris Ballard. Indy is staring down a bunch of losses, but its long-term situation might look extremely promising after the coming offseason. The Colts aren’t tanking — it may not even be possible to tank in the modern NFL — but they have less to gain by winning than anyone else in football right now.
The Colts this season
Things are going to get worse before they get better for these Colts. They don’t get to play the 49ers or Browns again over the rest of the season. Their schedule is about to get significantly tougher. To this point, Indianapolis has enjoyed the league’s sixth-easiest schedule, per Football Outsiders. Over the remainder of the season, they play the league’s toughest slate of opponents, with seven of those nine boasting a record of .500 or better.
They’ll also be doing it without some crucial players, having lost their two most influential defenders on Sunday. First-round pick Malik Hooker, who has flashed playmaking ability to go along with his otherworldly athleticism, went down with a torn ACL and MCL against the Jaguars to end his season. Hooker and his three picks were joined on the shelf by free-agent addition John Simon, who has racked up 12 quarterback knockdowns so far, tying him for eighth in the league. The former Texans edge-rusher is week-to-week with a stinger.
The offensive line is also a concern. Ryan Kelly, the team’s first-round pick from a year ago, missed the first four games of the season with a foot injury. He came back just in time to welcome his replacement, Deyshawn Bond, and guard Jack Mewhort, the team’s best interior lineman, to injured reserve. The Colts have had trouble protecting Luck when their line has been healthy; it’s another thing altogether when they have a second-year undrafted free agent like Jeremy Vujnovich trying to protect the quarterback.
It seems foolish to risk Luck behind an offensive line that allowed Brissett to be sacked 10 times and knocked down a staggering 20 times last week. The inexperienced Brissett was likely responsible for a few of those hits, and the Jaguars have one of the league’s best pass rushes, but the season is already essentially lost.
If Luck were ready to return right now, it would be one thing. The Colts would still have nine games with which to work, and while they would still be in relatively dismal shape in a suddenly competitive AFC South, they could at least credibly sell the idea that a half-season of Luck and some favorable results from their rivals might be enough to win the South. Instead, there’s no time frame for when Luck will even be able to resume throwing, let alone consider a return to playing. It will take several weeks for Luck to ramp up from throwing before being ready to suit up.
Let’s say three weeks pass before Luck starts throwing and three more weeks pass before he’s ready to take the field. That would line up Luck to return against the Bills in Week 14, with just four games to go in Indianapolis’ season. The FPI projects the Colts’ record at that point to be 3-9. Unless the Colts go on an unexpected run over the next few weeks, what is the real benefit to bringing back Luck into the lineup behind a makeshift offensive line? Do we really need to know whether a guy who has taken more than his fair share of hits over the past few years can take a pounding? What if Luck gets hurt again, and it costs him meaningful time in 2018?
If tanking means placing Luck on injured reserve and resisting the temptation to bring him back for a few meaningless games in December, the Colts should seriously consider tanking. The risk-reward ratio for bringing back Luck is wildly skewed against that decision. The risk-reward ratio for leaving him out, on the other hand, makes it clear that the Colts would have quite a bit to gain by leaving him wrapped in cotton wool for the rest of 2017.
The Colts in 2018 and beyond
Our definition of tanking is when a team with little to no chance of contending purposefully plays a weakened roster, knowing that losing will make it more likely it comes away with a cornerstone piece for the future in the draft(s) to come. You might fairly raise moral questions about a team that doesn’t try to win with all its heart every single time out, but the economic structures leagues have built in American sports — the combination of a player draft alongside the artificially depressed salaries of young players — incentivizes teams to either be very good or very bad. It’s not going anywhere.
In the NFL, teams most often tank or trade up to the top of the draft with one goal in mind: grabbing a franchise quarterback. The success of Jared Goff and Carson Wentz this season won’t exactly disabuse teams of the notion that the place to find a franchise-altering quarterback is by drafting one as early as possible.
This year’s class seems particularly promising in that regard. ESPN NFL draft expert Mel Kiper’s most recent Big Board includes three quarterbacks in the top six. Even if USC passer Sam Darnold, a third-year sophomore, decides to stay in school, it’s reasonable to figure that the duo of UCLA’s Josh Rosen and Wyoming’s Josh Allen could be the first two picks, following the scripts of the 2015 and 2016 drafts, which also started 1-2 with quarterbacks. (While neither is having a Heisman-caliber season, quarterbacks have a way of rising up draft boards.)
The Colts, of course, don’t need a quarterback. Luck’s contract realistically commits Indy to the 2012 first overall pick through at least 2018, and it would require some sort of seismic disagreement for them to move Luck out of town. It’s safe to assume he isn’t going anywhere. Indy could consider a move for the ridiculous Saquon Barkley, Kiper’s No. 1 overall prospect, or grab the best defensive player available, but there’s a more palatable option available.
Indy is projected to finish with the third overall pick in next year’s draft, but if the Colts manage to jump into the top two, they should be in an enviable and rare position. They would have a top pick in a quarterback-laden draft without any need to take a quarterback. Ballard would be well-positioned to auction off his pick for a haul of draft picks.
The Colts badly need young talent after previous general manager Ryan Grigson repeatedly failed to land useful players in the draft. While Indy came away with Luck and T.Y. Hilton from Grigson’s debut in 2012 and used a second-round pick to acquire Vontae Davis, his other drafts failed to deliver useful pieces. No players are left on the Indy roster from the 2013 draft, while the Colts’ first-round pick in 2014 was used to trade for Trent Richardson. Their 2015 first-rounder, Phillip Dorsett, went to the Patriots for Brissett.
If the Colts hold a pick that would set up a team with a franchise quarterback, they could rebuild and add multiple desperately needed cheap pieces to their roster. The Browns probably won’t need to trade up to grab a passer. The 49ers could have Kirk Cousins, a potential free agent, by the time the 2018 draft rolls around, but if the Colts pass them or the Browns in the standings (or if Darnold leaves school), it won’t matter.
Let’s say the Colts finish with the second overall pick and have at least one franchise quarterback prospect available to them. They could extract a huge haul from one of a handful of teams that wouldn’t otherwise have access to Rosen or Allen. I count nine teams that could be looking for a quarterback depending on whether players such as Cousins, Sam Bradford and Ben Roethlisberger leave town, and they would need to send a bevy of picks Indy’s way. Here’s what those trades could look like:
TEAM PROJECTED PICK POSSIBLE TRADE
Jets 4 2 for 4 + a 2nd-round pick + 5-round pick
Cardinals 5 2 + 5-round pick for 5 + a 2nd-round pick + 2019 3rd-round pick
Giants 6 2 for 6 + second-round pick + 2019 second-round pick
Broncos 13 2 for 13 + 2019 first-round pick
Washington 15 2 for 15 + a fourth-round pick + 2019 first-round pick
Bills 18 2 for 18 + a second-round pick + 2019 first-round pick
Jaguars 25 2 for 25 + a 2nd-rnd pick + 2019 1st-rnd pick + 2019 2nd-rnd pick
Saints 26 2 for 26 + 2019 1st-rnd pick + 2019 2nd-rnd pick+ Delvin Breaux
Steelers 29 2 for 29 + 4th-round pick + 2019 1st-rnd pick+ 2020 first-rnd pick
The Colts also might have a second trade asset in Brissett, who is still under contract through the 2019 season and appears to have the upside of a high-quality backup, if not necessarily a cheap starter. They might want to keep Brissett around given Luck’s propensity for injury, but it would be better to sign Brian Hoyer for nothing in free agency and reap the benefits of sending Brissett to a quarterback-needy team for a midround pick.
Tanking with the intention of grabbing one player as opposed to the intention of acquiring a pick that you’ll trade for several players also reduces the risk that comes with trading up. Teams that make these sort of massive tradeups often come to regret the move; while the Rams and Eagles feel good about Goff and Wentz right now, similar trades for Robert Griffin III and Ryan Leaf turned out to be colossal mistakes. If you’re not going to draft a quarterback, it’s usually going to be better for you to get three cracks at drafting players than just one.
The last team to be in this situation was Tennessee, which drafted Marcus Mariota in 2015 and held the first overall pick in the 2016 draft. They dealt the pick to the Rams, who sent two first-round picks and two-second round picks to Tennessee as part of the return for Goff. The Titans used one of those selections as part of the deal to draft Jack Conklin, who was a Pro Bowler as a rookie at right tackle. The other first-rounder they picked up came in as the fifth overall selection in this year’s draft, with which Tennessee drafted injured wideout Corey Davis. Talented contributors such as Derrick Henry and Jonnu Smith also came out of that trade. Even if Goff continues to look like a superstar, the Titans will be plenty happy with Mariota and the boatload of picks to replenish their roster.
This is why it’s incumbent upon the Colts to finish with as high of a pick as possible. If Darnold stays in school, the difference between the second and third overall picks could amount to multiple high draft picks. If only one of the quarterbacks projects to be a superstar, the Colts might end up needing the first overall pick to be in position for a franchise-altering swap.
It’s true that there are no guarantees the Colts will end up spinning a high draft pick into a mountain of selections. They could hold onto whatever pick they get. The Browns have shown how frustrating it can be when you make the logically sound decision to trade down and amass extra picks without actually doing a good job of drafting.
It’s also true, though, that there’s virtually nothing the Colts will do this season to compete, with or without Luck in their lineup. They’re at least another year away from matching up with the rest of the South, let alone powerhouses like the Patriots and Chiefs. There’s no reason to rush back Luck. When he returns, the Colts will be much better for having surrounded him with a better offensive line, a deeper defense, and likely a new head coach. Don’t call it tanking. Call it patience.
An extension for LB TELVIN SMITH. Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union:
The Jaguars signed outside linebacker Telvin Smith to a four-year contract extension Wednesday night.
Financial details weren’t released, but ESPN valued the deal at $50 million.
Smith, whose rookie contract expires after the season, leads the Jaguars with 58 tackles and two interceptions and has played 475 of 480 defensive snaps.
Smith is a part of a Jaguars’ defense that ranks first in takeaways (16) and second in fewest points allowed (15.7).
In a statement released by the team, executive vice president Tom Coughlin said: “We want to identify the players who will contribute to help this team win going forward, and reward those who can do that. Telvin is certainly one of those players for us. This is a high performance business, and we look for his continued development as a team leader both on and off the field. Along with this new contract Telvin must accept the high expectations that go with it.”
Smith, in a statement, called the new contract an “amazing opportunity. … We have created a bond in that locker room and everyone is committed to our goal of winning football games. I am honored to be a part of that culture and help continue to lead this team in the right direction.”
On Oct. 11, after Smith was named NFL Defensive Player of the Week, coach Doug Marrone said: “Not that he was poor in it, but I think he’s done a very good job in the run game. I see him getting better and better each week, becoming more physical, becoming more instinctive and being able to make plays.”
Smith is the second member of the Jaguars’ 2014 draft class to re-sign. Center Brandon Linder signed a five-year, $51.7 million extension before training camp.
Signing Smith allows the Jaguars to still have their franchise tag available for a player like receiver Allen Robinson, who tore his ACL in the season opener. Cornerback Aaron Colvin and receiver Marqise Lee are also free agents after the season. Quarterback Blake Bortles, the 2014 first-round pick, has a $19.1 million contract option for 2018 that is guaranteed only for injury.
Signing Smith now also allows the Jaguars to put some of the new contract on this year’s salary cap. Per the NFLPA, the Jaguars had $33,867,543 in salary cap space as of Wednesday afternoon.
Smith, who turns 27 in April, was a fifth-round pick by the Jaguars in 2014 out of Florida State. He is making $1,849,763 this year.
Smith has 403 tackles in 53 career games (47 starts), including 10 games of at least 10 tackles. This year, he is sixth in the NFL in tackles and is also one of the defensive team captains for the first time.
Earlier this year, defensive end Calais Campbell said of Smith: “I see Telvin developing naturally into a great leader. He’s in Year 4, but he’s wise. He was born to be a leader.”
WR COREY DAVIS, a top 10 pick who hasn’t done much as a rookie, may start having an impact in Week 9. Jason Wolf of The Tennessean:
Corey Davis is expected to return to action when the Titans host the Ravens on Nov. 5, following the team’s Week 8 bye, after being sidelined for five games because of a strained hamstring.
The Titans’ rookie wide receiver, the fifth overall pick in the draft, flashed his tremendous potential in a season-opening loss to the Raiders. Marcus Mariota targeted Davis a team-high 10 times. He finished with six catches for 69 yards. But Davis, who missed the entire preseason after originally hurting his hamstring during the first week of training camp, aggravated the injury in a Week 2 victory against the Jaguars on Sept. 17 and hasn’t been close to returning to the field.
Davis nevertheless says he’s improved as a football player, despite missing virtually all of training camp, the preseason and spending the last five games on the sideline.
“I’ve improved a lot,” Davis said. “I haven’t been able to physically do everything that I want to, but mentally, I’m in the game, in the film room, just making sure I can stay on top of everything so when I get back I can hit the ground running.”
Titans coach Mike Mularkey has ruled Davis out early each week. Before the Titans defeated the Colts on “Monday Night Football” on Oct. 16, Mularkey suggested that Davis might be able to play against the Browns on Sunday. But with the bye on the horizon, the coach decided to remain patient.
“We have a lot of confidence in him,” Mularkey said Monday. “He’s a good football player. He has kept up mentally with everything we’re doing for these games although not knowing for a fact that he’s not going to play. I call on him just as I call on all the other players when I call these guys out, I call them rapid-fire question, I call him just as much as I call anybody. He gets the answers all the time. I know he’s mentally into it. It’s just going to be the physical part, a lot of that could be the conditioning part of a game. It’s really hard to, train for, so that may be the one thing that may limit him
It will be MATT MOORE tonight in Baltimore. Then, JAY CUTLER may return. This per Adam Schefter of ESPN.com
A big hit for the Patriots defense as LB DONT’A HIGHTOWER is done for the year. Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:
The already struggling Patriots defense has lost one of its top players.
Linebacker Dont’a Hightower is out for the season with a torn pectoral, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports. Hightower suffered the injury tackling Falcons running back Devonta Freeman on Sunday night.
The Patriots kept Hightower with a four-year, $35.5 million contract this offseason. Hightower didn’t receive as many big-money offers as he was hoping for, in part because teams were concerned about his injury history.
The injury is a blow to the Patriots’ defense, as Hightower is one of their top players when healthy. Although the Patriots’ defense played well against the Falcons, for most of this season it has been one of the worst defenses in the NFL.
THIS AND THAT
One way of looking at this is that the NFL’s PR campaign has won over 5% to 8%s fans. Kevin Spain of USA TODAY shapes the latest poll as an earthquake:
In general, Americans have shifted in what they think about the national anthem protests, according to an HBO Real Sports/Marist College poll.
According to the poll, 51% of the country believes professional sports leagues should not require their players to stand for the national anthem and 47% believe they should. When this same poll was taken in September 2016, the results were reversed: 52% said they should be forced to stand and 43% said they should not.
During that time, President Donald Trump has demanded the NFL force its players to stand and fire any player who refuses to do so. Following former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s lead last season, hundreds of NFL players have followed suit this season – either kneeling or raising a fist or embracing other players who choose to protest during The Star-Spangled Banner.
Meanwhile, the owners’ outreach seems to be failing with some of the player leaders who don’t see enough of what the social justice activists would regard as progress. Adam Schefter of ESPN.com:
Los Angeles Chargers left tackle Russell Okung, who attended the recent owners-players meetings in New York and is scheduled to attend the upcoming ones, is not pleased with the league’s efforts on social justice reform.
It’s even possible that Okung and other players could decide to skip next week’s meeting if their unhappiness with the league continues.
“I am disappointed that further progress has not been reached on discussions with the league,” Okung said Thursday. “NFL officials appear unmotivated and don’t share the same sense of urgency. Increasingly, the meetings appear unproductive at best and disingenuous at worst. Furthermore, the ongoing disparagement of Colin Kaepernick is a factor needing remedy for the players and public to feel heard and for real progress to be made.”
Okung was expecting more from the league.
“I thought there were concrete plans to help,” Okung said. “To my dismay, that wasn’t true at all. It’s only remained as just talking. There hasn’t been any action.
“It’s disappointing, because anytime the NFL says it cares about something, like breast cancer awareness, domestic violence, concussions, it comes out in force. So far we haven’t seen that.”
Okung acknowledged there have been attempts to promote individual players in the community, but he believes not enough has been done, and he said other players feel the same way.
They are encouraged by the talk, but so far discouraged with the results.
Representing the players at the last meeting were NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith and president Eric Winston, former player Anquan Boldin and current players Darius Butler, Kenny Stills, Julius Thomas, Michael Thomas, Mark Herzlich, Kelvin Beachum, Demario Davis, Chris Long, Josh Norman and Okung.
Players were skeptical going into the first meeting with owners; the level of trust between owners and players has been low in recent years due to a variety of issues tied to the commissioner’s behavior and the collective bargaining agreement.
Some felt there was progress, but Okung said it has not been quick enough nor substantial enough, not yet anyway. And now it could impact the state of relations between the two sides, as well as attendance at next week’s owners-players meeting in New York.
An approving Peter King has a conversation with Tony Romo of CBS:
So we’re seven weeks into the great Tony Romo Experiment at CBS. What have we learned?
1. He’s really good.
2. He predicts several plays a game, or where the ball is going, before the snap.
3. He knows when to be excitable and when to be analytical.
4. He can speak in the five- to eight-second bites that a game analyst must be able to do, because often that’s all the time you have between plays.
We spoke late Saturday night, before Romo did Cincinnati-Pittsburgh on Sunday. Romo was Romo. This is the way I’d describe him: He loves football. He loves talking about football. He loves opining about football. He loves putting himself in the shoes of the defense and trying to figure out what the defensive coordinator is going to call. He’s been like this for years—just listen to my 2016 podcast with him to find out how he thinks. When you’re done with that, you’ll believe he had the chops for TV, and the only thing you’d wonder is whether he could be economical with his language, and could he speak to those who don’t know football as well. So far, he’s done both.
“I know how to get ready for a football game,” Romo said. “I always knew how to prepare. Preparation for this has not been hard—I love doing it. What it comes down to is, I think about the game a lot. Even when I was playing, I was trying to figure the game out.”
The latest example: With 41 seconds left Thursday night in Oakland, the Chiefs led 30-24. Fourth-and-11 at the Kansas City 42. Listen to Romo from the broadcast.
“It’s the game. Fourth-and-11. I suspect Kansas City’s gonna run what they like to do, which is to rush three … at the most four, play two-man super-wide. [The two safeties deep, playing wide to try to limit the throws Derek Carr can make to either sideline.] You [the Raiders] gotta go to the middle of the field.”
Pause. Slight chuckle, looking at the Chiefs’ front. “They don’t pressure here, do they? First time all game?” Carr calling signals from the shotgun. Safeties very wide, outside each hashmark. “It’s man-to-man. Two high guys [safeties].”
Romo telestrates in yellow how wide the safeties are. Then he draws a circle around the middle of the field, with the center right around the 31-yard line—where the Raiders must reach for the first down. The area is empty. Totally devoid of Chiefs.
“The area to throw to is right here in the middle!” Romo says, voice rising to the importance of the game, the season, for Oakland.
The amount of time it takes to go from “They don’t pressure here, do they?” to “The area to throw to is right here in the middle!”: 7.34 seconds.
Jim Nantz: “Here we go, everything on the line …” Carr throws to Jared Cook, right where the center of that Romo circle was. Right there. Nantz: “Right at the spot, Tony!” Gain of 13. First down, Oakland.
Romo: “They need to attack that every time on each play with different plays right there … Then, as soon as that safety comes down, you take your shot outside the numbers.”
What I liked about the sequence is Romo made it sound so simple, so that even sportswriters can understand it. On Saturday night, asked about calling plays before they happen: “That’s a tough question to answer. I don’t think I do it that often. I know the viral sensation of the world we live in, with social media everywhere. But I only do it maybe three times a game. I’m just trying to think along with the game, to say what I see. It comes down to years of experience, knowing the defense as well as the offense. It’s been natural for me to feel what the quarterback is thinking and feeling at the moment.
“As far as what I say … I want people to feel when the game’s on the line how important the play is. It’s like, you’re at dinner or in the bar with your buddy, and you look up at the game on TV and say, ‘You gotta see this!’ That’s the way I want do the games.”
Some of what Romo was told before his TV life started has been right on the money. Other things, not so much. Like this: He hasn’t struggled with the amount of time he needs to make his points. “The thing coming in, what everybody was talking about, was you can’t educate, you can’t communicate everything you need to do. Not enough time,” he said. “I get the point, but I’m not sure about that. You gotta be symbiotic with the play-by-play guy, and Jim [Nantz] is so good at his job. Jim has the ability to exactly understand the situation and how much time he needs, and how much time that leaves. To me, it’s been far easier to understand the subtleties of timing.”
And about being too complex in his explanations? “People want to learn football,” Romo said. “People are passionate about their teams, and they want to know exactly why something just happened. So I try to tell them. I don’t think it’s that tough to tell them in a way they can fathom.”
“You miss playing?” I asked. “Ever think about playing again?”
“I don’t really think about that,” he said. “When I make a choice—and I bet it was the same with [Cris] Collinsworth and [Troy] Aikman—you know how much effort goes into it. You gotta give everything you got to this. You can’t fake things. You gotta be yourself. You always hope people enjoy it. The goal is to talk to the guy having a beer next to you, just explain the game. And if I can do that, I’ve done my job.”
TOP PASS RUSHERS
Ryan Smith of Pro Football Focus tells us who the top pass rushers have been so far:
We’re through Week 7 of the NFL season and taking a look at how the rankings in another PFF Elite stat have come to form. This time, we’re looking at the leaders in pass-rush productivity. PFF’s pass-rush productivity measures pressure on a per-snap basis with a weighting toward sacks. Overall, it’s a deeper dive into a player’s pass-rushing efficiency that goes beyond just sacks and pressure rate.
Sacks can come in many different ways and are often luck based, so it’s important to look at total pressures when evaluating pass-rushers.
Ranking the top edge defenders on pass-rushing
1. CAMERON WAKE, MIAMI DOLPHINS
PFF Grade: 86.8
PFF Pass-Rush Productivity: 17.1
Wake has been the most productive edge defender getting after the quarterabck on a per snap basis in the NFL seven weeks into 2017. Seven of his 30 pressures have been sacks and since Week 2, the former Nittany Lion has been as consistently disruptive on opposing quarterbacks as any defender in the NFL, gathering at least four pressures in every game.
2. CARL LAWSON, CINCINNATI BENGALS
PFF Grade: 83.3
PFF Pass-Rush Productivity: 15.9
Lawson has not only been a productive rookie, but he has lived up to the first-round billing that PFF gave him coming out of college as our 14th overall player in the 2017 draft. Though three of his four sacks came in one game, he’s been consistent, tallying at least two pressures in every game.
3. VON MILLER, DENVER BRONCOS
PFF Grade: 91.2
PFF Pass-Rush Productivity: 15.6
Like years past, Miller has been a force off the edge this season, tallying at least four pressures in every game except against Oakland. He leads all 3-4 outside linebackers with 35 pressures, tied with Chandler Jones through seven weeks.
4. DEMARCUS LAWRENCE, DALLAS COWBOYS
PFF Grade: 87.6
PFF Pass-Rush Productivity: 15.0
Despite cooling off after an absolute tear to start the season, Lawrence still has accumulated at least one sack in every game this season. Speaking to that incredible start to his season, 26 of his 33 total pressures came in the first three weeks this year.
5. MELVIN INGRAM, LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
PFF Grade: 90.4
PFF Pass-Rush Productivity: 14.3
Ingram may have started off the season with six sacks in three games, but his play didn’t drop off – if anything it’s been more consistent. Teammate Joey Bosa gets a lot of the publicity from that defensive front in LA, but Ingram’s 91.8 pass-rush grade that ranks first among all edge defenders.
Ranking the top interior defenders on pass-rushing
1. AARON DONALD, LOS ANGELES RAMS
PFF Grade: 95.3
PFF Pass-Rush Productivity: 15.9
Donald has yet again proven why he’s one of the best players in the NFL. In an era where getting after the quarterback quickly is as paramount as ever, Donald has accumulated 40 total pressures, three more than any other defender and nine clear of the next interior defender. His 94.8 pass-rush grade is far and away the best in the NFL with DeForest Buckner checking in at second with an 88.8.
2. MATT IOANNIDIS, WASHINGTON REDSKINS
PFF Grade: 84.2
PFF Pass-Rush Productivity: 12.5
Ioannidis is an unheralded name in his second year out of Temple as a fifth-round pick. From Weeks 2-6, he recorded 18 pressures on 104 pass-rush snaps including five against an impressive Raiders offensive line.
3. GENO ATKINS, CINCINNATI BENGALS
PFF Grade: 87.4
PFF Pass-Rush Productivity: 12.3
Atkins has flashed that dominance we’ve seen throughout his career this season with 26 total pressures. His game against Houston in Week 2 showcased how disruptive he can be as he racked up six pressures, including two sacks. Atkins has three or more pressures in all but one game this season.
T-4. CAMERON HEYWARD, PITTSBURGH STEELERS
PFF Grade: 87.3
PFF Pass-Rush Productivity: 12.0
Heyward has been fantastic both rushing the passer and stopping the run this season in what is on pace to be a career-year. What makes Heyward even more impressive is his 85.6 percent of snaps played is tops on this list, more than 5.0 percent ahead of Aaron Donald.
T-4. JONATHAN ALLEN, WASHINGTON REDSKINS
PFF Grade: 81.3
PFF Pass-Rush Productivity: 12.0
Allen was PFF’s No. 2 overall prospect on the 2017 big board because his game film separated him from the strong defensive tackle class. Though he may be lost for an extended period of time, if not the season, Allen was hitting his groove tallying 11 pressures on just 66 pass-rushes over the past three games with Washington having carved out a specific role for him to get after the passer.