The Daily Briefing Thursday, September 20, 2018
AROUND THE NFL
An overview of the NFL so far from Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com:
The first two Sundays of the NFL season have been wildly entertaining. After an oft-frustrating 2017 season saw breakout stars Deshaun Watson and Carson Wentz suffer torn ACLs and future Hall of Famers Aaron Rodgers and J.J. Watt miss most of the campaign with injuries of their own, 2018 has delivered all kinds of drama through two weeks.
The numbers also reflect an entertaining product. In 2017, the league was criticized for a decline in scoring, supposedly reflecting a dearth of young quarterback talent. It’s difficult to reconcile that with the creativity and pass-happy attacks you see in the college game on Saturdays, and indeed, that hasn’t been the case this season. Teams are averaging 5.6 yards per play and 23.6 points per game, up considerably from the 5.2 yards per play and 20.2 points per contest they were averaging a year ago. In 2013, the highest-scoring season in league history, offenses averaged 5.4 yards per play and 22.3 points per game through two weeks. The offenses are fine.
While some are frustrated with two ties in two weeks, we’ve also seen close, competitive games. Sixteen of the 31 games played so far have been decided by seven points or fewer, which is slightly better than the average of 14.7 we’ve seen since the league went to its current structure in 2002. In 2017, there were only 10 such games, which was the leaguewide low over that time period.
Nobody would argue that the league is perfect, but we’re seeing an entertaining NFL.
QB AARON RODGERS knows that pushing through and playing with his knee injury now could come back to haunt him down the line. Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com:
The hope, of course, is that Aaron Rodgers’ injured left knee improves as the season goes along.
The concern, however, is that the more the Green Bay Packers quarterback plays on it, the worse it gets.
“Yeah, obviously that’s a concern,” Rodgers said Wednesday. “Hopefully it goes the other way though.”
Rodgers made it through all of Sunday’s 29-29 tie against the Minnesota Vikings while playing with a large brace on his left knee, which he injured in the previous week’s season-opening win over the Chicago Bears.
He admitted that his knee “obviously it won’t be 100 percent, so I’ll just adjust accordingly to how I’m feeling and try to get through.”
“It just depends on how the week goes with the rehab and the recovery,” Rodgers said. “Obviously, I’d love to be better than I was last week as far as health-wise but there’s some factors that are out of my control.”
That likely means another week without much time on the practice field. Rodgers did not practice last week until Saturday, when he took part in the hour-long session that coach Mike McCarthy typically holds the day before games.
McCarthy altered his usual practice schedule in advance of Sunday’s game at Washington. He cancelled Wednesday’s practice, although not necessarily because of Rodgers’ injury. The Packers’ overtime game against the Vikings was played in 80-degree heat with 71 percent humidity. That followed a Sunday night season opener against the Bears.
Although they did not practice, the Packers are required to submit an injury report with estimates of participation level. Rodgers was listed as a non-participant.
“I think it’s obvious we came off of a Sunday Night game, played an overtime game in unusual heat for this part of the country, so just trusting our numbers,” McCarthy said. “That’s why we’re doing what we’re doing.”
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More talk, this also from Demovsky, on the CLAY MATTHEWS “penalty” Sunday for roughing the passer. As well as the “penalty” on the Vikings ERIC KENDRICKS. Add Jon Gruden and QB AARON RODGERS to the voices speaking out against the madness.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy still doesn’t think Clay Matthews did anything wrong.
That’s even after the NFL said not only was the game-changing roughing the passer penalty on the Green Bay Packers linebacker correct, but that it also would include the play from Sunday’s 29-29 tie against the Minnesota Vikings on a teaching video to show players what not to do.
And McCarthy is not alone.
Even Redskins coach Jay Gruden, whose team faces the Packers on Sunday, said he did not understand the call on Matthews.
“I’m just going to tell you this: We haven’t changed anything with the way we’re coaching our players,” McCarthy said Wednesday. “The way we coach the fundamentals, it’s a constant, everyday deal. The conversation I had with Clay was the same way. There needs to be some clarity on it. But just to say this is a black-and-white, right-and-wrong [issue], I don’t agree with that. It’s irrelevant. I’ve got to coach the team to play in the game. I know the way we’re going to approach the game, we know how we’re going to rush the passer, we know how we’re going to hit the quarterback, and the way we’re teaching it is the way we’re going to do it.”
McCarthy reiterated that he thought Matthews’ intention was clear when he braced himself after he hit Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins with 1 minute, 37 seconds left in the fourth quarter. But referee Tony Corrente said he threw the flag because Matthews “lifted him and drove him into the ground.”
“That was a huge one with Clay the other day, which I don’t know how that was a penalty,” Gruden said on a conference call with reporters at Lambeau Field. “He did everything right, in my opinion. I think with offensive [pass interference], illegal contact, the helmet rule, I think you’re subject to a lot of questionable calls possibly that could go against you. That’s just part of pro football — always has been, always will be — that you’re going to adjust, you’re going to have to overcome some of the plays that don’t go your way.
“I think you have to be really in tune to what they are and what they’re looking for. We have to show these videos that are called. Even though our defense may not agree with it, but we have to understand what they’re looking at. Like driving them to the ground, we have to get our weight off of the quarterback, like Clay did, but as far as picking them up, I guess that’s a problem now. I don’t know. These guys are big men and they’re going at a high level of speed. To ask them to contort their bodies in the spur of the fraction of a second, sometimes it’s hard. You’re trying to wrap up mobile guys like Aaron Rodgers or big guys like Cam Newton or Carson Wentz, you’re putting these guys in a pickle. It’s just a tough deal but it’s something that we have to continue to monitor and coach and do the best we can.”
Matthews’ penalty wiped out an interception by Jaire Alexander that would have given the Packers the ball with a 29-21 lead. Instead, the Vikings scored on the drive and converted a two-point play to force overtime.
Neither Matthews nor Packers quarterback Rodgers was surprised by the NFL’s response.
“Obviously, the NFL is going to double down and side with the refs,” Matthews said. “I don’t think we expected anything differently when we submitted the play. I think we all know it was an incorrect call. I think everybody – including Vikings fans – see it the same way. But much like the helmet rule in the preseason, it kind of feels as if they’re just feeling this thing out and waiting for a hit — or lack thereof hit — to kind of determine the future of the callings.”
“I know the rules talk about being vicious and doing extra stuff. There was nothing extra or physically intimidating about that hit. I think the lines are getting blurred between protecting quarterbacks and putting defensive players in a compromising position.”
Said Rodgers: “That’s pretty typical.”
Rodgers also did not think the roughing the passer call on Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks for a second-quarter hit on him was a penalty, either.
“There’s a goal to limit these hits, but they’re pretty obvious when you see them — you know, a guy picking somebody up and full weight on them,” Rodgers said. “What do you say to Clay? His head is out of it. His hand is on the ground. That’s not roughing the passer. Same thing with Kendricks. What do you say to him on that? I didn’t get up off the ground thinking, ‘Where’s the penalty?’ I saw a late flag and couldn’t believe there was a penalty on the play.”
Referee Tony Corrente brings his NFL-approved quick flag to San Francisco at Kansas City this week.
This from Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com:
Riveron’s two immediate predecessors as NFL officiating VPs cannot give him any cover for his stance. Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com:
The NFL’s former officiating chiefs don’t agree with the direction the league is headed with its new definition of roughing the passer.
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Dean Blandino and Mike Pereira, both of whom have walked in Riveron’s shoes and now work as FOX rules analysts, strongly disagree.
“Those are not fouls. We don’t like those as fouls,” Blandino said on their weekly show, Last Call, via Kevin Seifert of ESPN.
Pereira said he is troubled that the league is “creating penalties for contact and tackles . . . that don’t put the quarterback at risk of injury.”
“I think we’re setting a dangerous precedent,” Pereira continued. “You can’t have [Matthews’ hit] as a foul. There’s got to be a line drawn closer to a more violent hit.”
The league believes Matthews used the technique of grabbing the passer from behind the leg or legs, scooping and pulling in an upward motion, which it deems a foul. Matthews strongly disagreed with the call in postgame interviews, wondering how he was supposed to hit the quarterback.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy defended Matthews on Monday, saying the linebacker was doing what “he was coached to do.”
Blandino and Pereira made it clear they agree and wonder what is expected from pass rushers.
“You look at the rule, and it says you can’t commit intimidating or punishing acts. You can’t violently or unnecessarily drive him to the ground or land on him with all or most of your body weight,” Blandino said. “That’s not what you’re seeing in at least two calls in that game. What do you want the defender to do? To me, it looks like he’s wrapping, and he’s trying to bring the quarterback to the ground. There is going to be some force. There is going to be some impetus that takes both players to the ground. Again, what do you want the defender to do in that situation?”
Rich Madrid of ProFootballZebras.com:
The hit that Matthews used to take down Cousins however, was nowhere near in the realm of the hit that knocked out Rodgers last season. As you can tell in the gif above, Matthews executes what appears to be a perfect form tackle, the kind being taught by various teams around the league in an effort to make the game safer for their players. He gets his helmet to the side of Cousins torso and leads with his shoulder, wraps him up at the hips, and takes him to the ground. Before he lands with his weight on Cousins, he deliberately puts his arm out to lessen the blow.
It can’t get anymore textbook or safer than this.
The league still isn’t satisfied. In their continued overreaction (and quite frankly over-correction) to these hits this week, they are making Matthews (and Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks, who had a hit on Rodgers that was flagged earlier in the game) the subject of a training video on how not to hit the quarterback. The league noted that the “scoop and pull” technique employed Matthews is a foul, and will re-educate players on how to do this legally.
Asked to explain what is essentially a judgment call, referee Tony Corrente explained, “he picked the quarterback up and drove him into the ground.” Of course, what was missing from that was an actual lift of Cousins beyond a conventional tackle and a drive to the ground that is an unnecessarily rough tackle.
NEW YORK GIANTS
RB SAQUON BARKLEY makes more big plays than most backs, but, like Barry Sanders, he also can be stopped short of the line. Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:
If there was any knock on Saquon Barkley at Penn State, it was that he was too much of a boom-or-bust back. Through two games of his NFL career, that may be the knock on him as a Giant as well.
Barkley had a 68-yard touchdown run in Week One, which was the longest run in the NFL so far this season. That’s the good news.
The bad news is, on his other 28 runs this season, Barkley has a grand total of 66 yards, and zero touchdowns. That’s an average of 2.36 yards per carry on those other 28 runs.
Generally speaking, the running backs who do the most to help their teams win are the running backs who can be counted on to gain ground consistently. A running back who can churn out the first downs is a better running back than the guy who breaks one long run and then does very little the rest of the game.
But Barkley’s profile more fits the latter category. In Penn State’s two losses last year, Barkley exploded for one long run in each game but otherwise didn’t contribute much to the offense. In a loss to Ohio State, Barkley had a 36-yard run but was otherwise held to just eight yards on 20 carries. And in a loss to Michigan State, Barkley also had a 36-yard run but was otherwise held to 27 yards on 13 carries.
The Giants spent the No. 2 overall pick in the draft on Barkley, passing up on quarterbacks like Sam Darnold to pour major draft resources into the running back position was always a questionable decision. If Barkley is only good for one big play every other week, that decision is going to come back to haunt the Giants.
QB CARSON WENTZ has great expectations for the offense of the World Champion Eagles when he returns to the lineup Sunday against the Colts.
Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz is not Superman, tight end Zach Ertz noted recently. Wentz hasn’t seen live action in nine months, and he shouldn’t feel like he has to come in and do the heavy lifting.
But Wentz is setting the bar high. While his coaches and teammates will try to provide necessary support as he makes his return from a multi-ligament knee injury against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, Wentz believes he and the offense can operate like it did late last season before he went down with a torn ACL and LCL in Week 13.
“We expect to go out and start fast, play fast, be clicking, and so I truly believe that’s a realistic expectation,” Wentz said before Wednesday’s practice. “Now, [it’s] football, it’s not always like that, so those things come and you have to learn how to balance the ebbs and flows of the game and everything, but I think we all hold ourselves to high expectations around here.”
Wentz will heed the doctors’ advice and continue to wear a brace on his surgically repaired left knee as he has this offseason, and he says he is now at a point where he’s gotten used to it. A large black sleeve covered that brace during practice Wednesday. Otherwise, there were no other signs that pointed to his injury. Now nine-plus months removed from surgery, he is moving fluidly and planting with confidence.
While it may be a little while until he pulls off escapes at the level he did when at the top of his game last season, Wentz intends to play the position as he always has and use his legs to his advantage.
“I feel extremely confident moving around, on the run,” he said. “Even last year I never said I’m a running quarterback — I never want to be — but I’ll find ways to extend time in the pocket and make plays down the field, and I don’t think that’s going anywhere.”
Similarly, coach Doug Pederson said that he is not going to “coach scared.” He’ll max protect when there are opportunities, but he does not plan to be timid in his playcalling.
That’s not to say that Wentz’s health is not being prioritized. There have been conversations about Wentz better protecting himself dating back well before the injury, something the quarterback has had plenty of time to think about and continued to work on.
Terrell Davis thinks you should get to know RB PHILLIP LINDSAY:
Phillip Lindsay knew what it meant to ask for Terrell Davis’ No. 30 jersey. The undrafted rookie running back then spent the first two weeks of the season impressing the Hall of Fame running back.
Lindsay became the first undrafted free agent in NFL history with 100-plus scrimmage yards in each of his first two games, taking the lead in the Denver Broncos backfield.
In an interview with Nicki Jhabvala of The Athletic, Davis heaped high-level expectations on the rookie running back.
“The first two weeks have been as advertised. He’s been really good,” Davis said of Lindsay. “What’s cool about it is you know he’s going to get better. And he’s already showing you that he’s not afraid of the spotlight, he’s not afraid of being in that position and that’s half the battle. You have to believe that you belong. He certainly believes that he can make plays, he has very nice hands, he can catch the ball, he can line up as a wide receiver, he can play on special teams, he’s an offensive weapon, and I’m excited about the growth.
“I’m excited about watching his journey and seeing how this thing all plays out. I already envision in my mind there will be a day where it’s probably six, seven, eight years from now that I’m meeting him on the field because the torch is being passed because he’s breaking my rushing yards record.”
T.D. owns the Denver Broncos franchise rushing record with 7,607 yards in just 78 games. The workhorse of the Broncos’ back-to-back Super Bowls sits 55th all time after an injury-shortened career.
Lindsay has a long way to go to replicate Davis’ path to the Hall of Fame, but the former Broncos back see certain traits that make him believe the undrafted back can become one of the league’s best.
“And the one thing that cannot be taught as a running back is you can’t teach them instincts,” Davis said. “You can’t teach a person to be able to run the ball. You can tell them landmarks — “This is where you’re supposed to run, this is where you’re not supposed to run.” But you pretty much let them go. You say, “Hey, the play is designed to go here, but if it’s not there you have to make something happen.” So far, what I’ve seen, and it’s been consistent, is (Lindsay) has the ability. He’s very instinctual, which you love that. He’s a football player. He plays bigger than his size, which is always a great trait for a back, when you run hard and you run like you’re 6 feet, 220 pounds and you’re only 5-7.”
Through two weeks, Lindsay has been the most entertaining running back to watch in the NFL. The rookie blasts through arm tackles like they are pebbles on the road, never going down on first contact. He never seems to pick the wrong hole, and owns a third and fourth gear in space that would make a Camaro jealous.
Here are Lindsay’s numbers at Colorado, how was he not drafted?
It sounds like that during a hectic preseason game with players coming and going, the Ravens equipment staff tried to save themselves some work. Now NFL Justice is going to take $200,000 from team coffers. Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com:
The Baltimore Ravens were fined $200,000 by the NFL on Wednesday for violations of the coach-to-player communications policy during preseason games this year.
The league’s policy prohibits multiple players from being on the field simultaneously wearing helmets that allow communication with coaches.
In a team-released statement, the Ravens said: “The Ravens’ equipment staff misunderstood that this league rule applied in the preseason.
“Ravens coaches were unaware that multiple players had communication devices in their helmets while on the field at the same time.”
This is the third time in the past eight years that the Ravens have been disciplined for breaking NFL rules.
In June, Baltimore forfeited the final two days of organized team activities for contact during pass coverage drills. The Ravens were reportedly fined $100,000, and coach John Harbaugh was docked $50,000.
In 2010, which was Harbaugh’s third season, Baltimore had to cancel the final week of OTAs, which amounted to two special-teams practices, after six players complained to the players’ union about late meetings and two others reported being held too long on the field after practice. For that infraction, the Ravens were docked $343,057, while Harbaugh was hit with a $137,223 fine.
Breakout star RB JOE MIXON wants to be “comfortable” before he returns to action. Katherine Terrell of ESPN.com:
Bengals running back Joe Mixon, who had a procedure Saturday to remove loose particles in his knee, said he will return from a knee injury when he feels comfortable.
Mixon said he had a “slight tear” in his meniscus, but he feels great and has been walking around. The procedure to repair the knee took about an hour, he said.
He joked that he’d like to run already, but said the trainers have held him back.
“Just however comfortable I feel,” he said. “As soon as I feel any type of comfortability, in terms of me going out there and able to run full speed and cut a dime, that’s definitely when I’ll be out there. And even if I did have a little pain, I’ll definitely still be out there at that point when I’m comfortable.”
Mixon injured his knee during last Thursday’s game against the Ravens and was in and out the whole game. He said he started to feel something was off with the knee on a goal-line play.
He said he tried to send a message to everyone by playing through pain last week.
“It doesn’t matter how hurt you are. Physical pain, you know, Marvin [Lewis] talks about grinding everything out. I knew I was in pain,” Mixon said. “They knew I was in pain. But like I said, when I knew I was able to go, I just said, ‘It’s going to be really bad, or it can’t get much worse than this.'”
Bengals center Billy Price was in a walking boot on Wednesday with an ultrasound device attached to it. He said he was diagnosed with a foot injury Wednesday after he was initially believed to have an ankle injury.
Browns radio broadcaster Nathan Zegura stepped outside his role on the sideline Sunday and earned an 8-game suspension. Pat McManamon of ESPN.com:
The Cleveland Browns have suspended their sideline reporter on radio broadcasts for eight games after he yelled at an official during the Browns’ 21-18 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.
Nathan Zegura, employed by the team as senior media broadcaster, will not work a game until Nov. 25.
Zegura also has been suspended from co-hosting the team-produced Cleveland Browns Daily, a two-hour weekday show on ESPN 850 WKNR. He will not work pregame or postgame shows while suspended.
The team confirmed the actions, which were first reported by Cleveland.com.
Zegura yelled at the official because he did not agree with a pass interference call against Browns cornerback T.J. Carrie in the end zone. The call set up the Saints’ first field goal.
Zegura will be replaced by former Ohio State, Eagles and Bills defensive back Dustin Fox.
According to Cleveland.com, this is not the first time Zegura has misbehaved:
A source said this is not the first time the Browns have had to reprimand Zegura, who was told by officials to move his location on the sidelines Sunday at the Superdome after yelling at one of them.
QB BEN ROETHLISBERGER tries to keep the Steelers together by praising the passion of WR ANTONIO BROWN. Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com:
– Steelers coach Mike Tomlin on Wednesday disciplined All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown for missing work Monday.
“He and I met yesterday for an extended period of time,” Tomlin said after Wednesday’s practice. “I’ll leave the nature of that conversation between us. There was discipline involved for his missed meeting on Monday.”
Tomlin did not field questions. Brown is scheduled to address the media Thursday.
Tight end Jesse James said Brown practiced fully Wednesday and is in the game plan for Monday night’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Cornerback Artie Burns said the discipline is “between him and the coach,” but said the team supports Brown and expects him to play.
Brown was a no-show to Steelers headquarters the same day he tweeted “Trade me let’s find out” to a former Steelers public relations staffer who posted that Brown wouldn’t be the same player without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Defensive end Cam Heyward, one of four team captains, said he spoke to Brown this week but will keep details private. “I don’t make those decisions but, shoot, I’d be a little surprised if he’s not there [Monday night],” Heyward said.
Brown also got into a confrontation with offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner on the sideline during Sunday’s 42-37 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, which dropped the Steelers to 0-1-1 this season.
Roethlisberger said he has spoken to Brown and is not taking his actions personally.
“He’s the best in the world,” Roethlisberger said of Brown. “When you’re the best in the world, you want to help participate, you want to win football games. We’re all a little frustrated because we’re not winning right now.”
Brown was clearly upset with his role during Sunday’s loss to the Chiefs and did not address the media after the game. On Monday, he didn’t show up to work for what agent Drew Rosenhaus called a “personal matter” in a statement.
Roethlisberger said Wednesday from his locker that Brown’s tweet wasn’t directed at him, and he isn’t concerned about Brown’s behavior as of now.
“AB is a very passionate football player. I think we all know that, the fans know that,” Roethlisberger said. “That’s what makes him special, is his passion for this game and the passion to be great. We’re not going to want to take that away from him.
QB MARCUS MARIOTA has no idea when he will be able to play again. Erik Bacharach of The Tennessean:
It’s getting better, Marcus Mariota said, but it’s still frustrating.
“It is hard,” the Titans quarterback said Wednesday of working his way through an elbow injury, “because it’s one of those things, you can’t really do a whole lot. It’ll kind of calm down and feel better as it wants to. That being said, it is getting better and I’m glad I was able to get out there today.”
Mariota, who injured his elbow in the Titans’ season opener against the Dolphins on Sept. 9 and complained of numbness in his fingers during the game, was listed as a limited participant at Wednesday’s practice. But the fourth-year quarterback was seen throwing passes during the open portion, more than what he did during the open portion of Thursday and Friday’s practices last week.
“The way that they explained it to me is like when you strum a guitar string; when that string settles down, that’s similar to how my nerve is,” he said. “My nerve has kind of been strummed, so it’s going to take it’s time to settle down.”
He wore a glove on his right (throwing) hand during warm-ups before the team’s game against the Texans on Sunday. On Wednesday, he wore a glove again, this one cut partially; only his ring and pinkie fingers were covered.
Mariota, whose status for Sunday’s game at Jacksonville (noon, CBS) is still up in the air, said he has weakness in his entire hand, which has caused issues with his grip, but that the numbness and tingling is limited to just a couple of fingers.
“Honestly, I think it’s close,” Mariota said, “but again, we’re just going to kind of take it one day at a time.”
Miami rookie CB MINKAH FITZPATRICK tried to jump in front of Bucs QB RYAN FITZPATRICK and trademark the term “FitzMagic.” Online idiots reacted badly and Minkah has retreated. Cameron Wolfe of ESPN.com:
Minkah Fitzpatrick never expected trademarking a nickname to get so much vulgar backlash.
Two days after news broke that Fitzpatrick had filed a trademark application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office last week for “FitzMagic,” he expressed anger with keyboard warriors who attacked him and his family, and offered the nickname to Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Ryan Fitzpatrick if it came to that.
“If he wants the name, he can take it if he wants,” Minkah Fitzpatrick said of Ryan Fitzpatrick (no relation). “He’s a great football player. If he wants it, contact me and my people and he can have it if he wants it.”
Several people, likely believing that Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is older, was the true owner of “FitzMagic,” began attacking Minkah Fitzpatrick and his mother via social media. Minkah Fitzpatrick’s mother responded with multiple tweets. One remains up showing proof of the family making “FitzMagic” jerseys for Minkah while he was at Alabama.
“It kind of upset me a whole lot because it’s my mom,” Fitzpatrick said. “I don’t really want her to be involved in anything that is directed toward me. Anybody is going to be protective over their mothers, but she’s very protective of myself. She’s seen some of the stuff that’s come my way. I’ve dealt with it before when I played in a big stage in college. I’ve had my fair share of mistakes where I got that type of backlash. So I kind of knew how to handle it. She never been through anything like that. She was being a protective mother, doing what every mother would do and protecting her son.”
Minkah Fitzpatrick said that he was called “FitzMagic” for the first time before high school and that the nickname became public when somebody wrote an article titling him that as he was leaving high school. He wanted to take the step to trademark “FitzMagic” while at Alabama, but NCAA rules prevented him from using his name for profit.
Visibly upset Wednesday, Fitzpatrick said he will use this as motivation. He deleted his social media apps off his phone recently after the large amount of what he called “very unnecessary comments directed toward myself and my family.”
“It’s not really any adversity. Just tweets, comments,” said Fitzpatrick, the Dolphins’ pick at No. 11 in April’s draft. “Nothing compared to what me and my family been through before, so I kind of laugh at it and use it as fuel.”
“They want me to earn my nickname? That’s what I’m going to do. I’ve been playing pretty well for a rookie my first two games. I’m going to continue to progress and focus on football. I’m not worried about silly nicknames or nothing like that. I’m just worried about being the best possible version of Minkah Fitzpatrick and help my team win games.”
Ryan Fitzpatrick, who leads the NFL in passing and has led the Bucs to a 2-0 record thus far, has not been made available for comment yet. Minkah has not heard from Ryan or his team yet.
Minkah Fitzpatrick said that he plans to use the “FitzMagic” trademark for apparel and that an apparel line is “in the works.”
THIS AND THAT
Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com with an update on the AAF:
The Alliance of American Football has started signing players to fill out the inaugural rosters of their eight teams and now they’ve moved on to giving those teams names.
The league, which will launch its first season in February, announced the names and revealed the logos for four of its teams on Thursday. The Birmingham Iron, Atlanta Legends, Memphis Express and Orlando Apollos will make up the league’s eastern division.
“The selection process of naming each Alliance team began by listening to our fans and working with each city to hear their suggestions and determine a long list of great ideas,” AAF CEO Charlie Ebersol said in a statement. “After we culled that list down through local market research, testing and a dynamic group of advisers in each city, we had our short list. Then, more testing, and ultimately, Bill [Polian] and I had some decisions to make. We feel strongly that our team names identify with the great cities we call home to our Alliance teams and positively represent the region and our fans.”
The Iron references the history of iron and steel production in Birmingham while Atlanta’s name references legends in the sports world and civil rights movement. Memphis is the home of Federal Express and the league notes “things move swiftly and purposefully with the goal of achieving awesome results” in the city. Orlando’s moniker references both the sun god and the space program.
Teams in Arizona, Salt Lake City, San Diego and San Antonio will have their names revealed next week.
The Memphis Express will be red and black with a jet in their logo.
Orange-and-black for the Orlando Apollos:
A Raideresque scheme for the Birmingham Iron:
And purple with a true gold for Atlanta:
Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com wrote this back in July, but we think it holds up now as we look at the intersection of officiating and broadcasting:
The NFL will navigate the biggest collection of rule changes in recent memory this year with one of its least experienced groups of officials ever.
“To be quite honest,” former NFL officiating supervisor Jim Daopoulos said, “I have a concern about the level of officiating because of the inexperience out there and with the new rule changes. You’ve got so many things that the young officials are going to have to learn and the veteran officials are going to have to learn.
“It’s going to be a very interesting year, and I think Al Riveron has really got his hands full. It’s going to be really tough. You think about the experience he’s lost this year and trying to replace these guys, it’s going to make for some tough Sundays watching football.”
The NFL did not respond to a request for comment from Riveron, who is scheduled to speak with reporters on Friday in Dallas. Officials themselves are barred from speaking with reporters. But former referee Terry McAulay, who retired last month to join NBC Sports, said the concern is real.
“These are probably the most significant rule changes I’ve seen in my career in one season,” McAulay told ESPN.
Four referees retired this spring, the most in one offseason in league history, according to research by Football Zebras. The NFL was expecting two: Ed Hochuli and Jeff Triplette. Both spoke privately about it for months. They were replaced quickly by Shawn Hochuli and Alex Kemp; each is the son of a referee — Ed Hochuli and Stan Kemp — and have long been earmarked as future referees.
According to sources, however, NBC approached multiple NFL referees about a job in late spring that its executives felt was essential to broadcasting football games: a rules expert. Clete Blakeman turned down an offer. McAulay, 58, accepted. CBS had reached a similar conclusion. Within days, it hired Gene Steratore.
Suddenly, two of the NFL’s most respected referees were gone in McAulay and Steratore. There is no evidence to suggest either was upset or otherwise fleeing an untenable situation. If anything, McAulay said, it was a perfect storm of events.
“I had a minimum of another five years in the NFL left in me,” McAulay said. “It wasn’t something I was actively seeking out. … I had 20 years in the NFL, but I’ve also had a pretty good career. There are only 17 referees, and there are only four spots for [a rules analyst]. It was just too awesome of an opportunity to pass up. My wife and I discussed it for a while, the pros and cons, but ultimately it was the right thing to do at the right time.
“If I didn’t do it, somebody else would have. That person could have been there for 10 years and then the opportunity is absolutely gone. Everything just came together.”
CBS declined a request to interview Steratore.
The NFL can take part of the blame for the departures, having created a set of rules that can no longer be navigated by non-experts in real time. Each network that broadcasts NFL games now has at least one former referee or league executive on staff. (Fox Sports employs two former officiating chiefs, Mike Pereira and Dean Blandino. ESPN, according to a source, has hired Triplette to replace Gerry Austin on Monday Night Football.)
Fred Gaudelli, executive producer of NBC’s Sunday Night Football, said he considered approaching Blandino in recent years but didn’t think he would leave the NFL. This spring, Gaudelli was determined to get an expert’s voice on air alongside announcer Al Michaels and analyst Cris Collinsworth. McAulay will be on site for Sunday night games as well as Notre Dame football broadcasts.
“This is my 29th year doing NFL games,” Gaudelli said. “The rules seem to get more complicated and more nuanced every single year. … It was getting to the point where it was unrealistic to think that Al and Cris could really understand every nuance and every aspect of the game.”
The move was probably a net financial gain, according to Daopoulos. Experienced NFL referees earn around $200,000 annually. The terms of McAulay and Steratore’s deals are unknown, but Daopoulos said his conversations left him convinced that they are “much better off financially working in the media right now — much better off.”
A television career is not without risk to McAulay or Steratore, who would face uncertain prospects if they wanted to return as NFL referees. CBS’ failed experiment with former referee Mike Carey from 2014-15 demonstrated that rules expertise is not the only job requirement. Carey’s struggles to foretell the outcome of replay reviews became a near-weekly event.
“I think with Mike Carey, they got into the prediction mode,” Gaudelli said. “But I’m not sure that’s the route you want to take all the time. I just think that, with CBS and Steratore, I’ll be surprised if they don’t have a different plan of attack than what they had with Mike Carey.”
The NFL scrambled to promote Shawn Smith and Clay Martin, both of whom entered the NFL in 2015, as replacement referees.
There has been at least one immediate impact of the turnover, according to Daopoulos. The crews of new referees are usually stacked with highly experienced officials at other positions, but that approach was unrealistic this spring. Shawn Hochuli, in fact, has a rookie side judge (Chad Hill) on his crew.
“It’s just a numbers thing,” Daopoulos said, “but it’s a situation that scares me an awful lot. That rookie needs mentoring, and I’m just not sure they have the personnel to mentor a new referee and a new official on the same crew. That’s part of why I think Al Riveron has got a tremendous job in front of him to get through this situation and get through this year.”
That job isn’t likely to get easier in the coming years. Four current referees are in their mid-60s: Walt Coleman, Walt Anderson, Tony Corrente and Pete Morelli. Since 2014, the NFL has replaced eight referees. Assuming at least four more retire in the next two years, the NFL will have turned over 70 percent of its referees in a seven-year period.
From his vantage point, McAulay said he believes that the NFL has a strong enough pipeline to withstand the departures.
“But I have to say, ‘I think,’ because until somebody is in that position, you don’t know for sure,” he said. “You have confidence in what they’ve done, but once you step into that first Sunday night or really any game, things change and you have to wait to see how they handle the adversity and the additional scrutiny that falls on the referee.”
We would add that Jerome Boger is 63.
The 2-0 Los Angeles Rams, substantial winners over the Raiders and Cardinals, are the early leaders in the 2018 Aikman Combined Ratings as compiled by SportRadar.
It comes as no surprise that the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers sit atop the Aikman Offense Ratings, but their defenses have not been good so both sit in the middle of the Aikman Combined. The 2-0 Dolphins have beaten Tennessee and the Jets with large contributions from the top team in Aikman Defense so far.