The Daily Briefing Tuesday, October 24, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

 

If The Season Ended Today –

 

If The Season Ended Today in the NFL:

 

                                               Overall     Division       Conference

Philadelphia Eagles    NCE    6-1               3-0                 5-0

Minnesota Vikings      NCN     5-2               2-1                4-1

Los Angeles Rams     NCW    5-2               2-1                3-2

New Orleans Saints    NCS     4-2              1-0                 3-1

Seattle Seahawks        WC      4-2              2-0                3-1

Green Bay Packers     WC      4-3              1-1                 3-3

Carolina Panthers                   4-3              0-1                 2-3

Atlanta Falcons                       3-3              0-0                3-0    

Dallas Cowboys                      3-3               1-0                3-2                     

Detroit Lions                            3-3              1-0                 3-3

Washington Redskins             3-3                0-2               2-2             

 

So who had the Eagles, Vikings, Saints and Rams as their midseason division leaders?

 

NFC NORTH

 

MINNESOTA

As a repeat offender, S ANTHONY SENDEJO gets a one-game suspension for his vicious hit on Ravens WR MIKE WALLACE.  Andrew Krammer in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

 

Ravens wide receiver Mike Wallace suffered a concussion after getting hit by Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo on Sunday.

Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo was suspended one game by the NFL for “a violation of safety-related playing rules” in Sunday’s 24-16 win against the Ravens.

 

Sendejo was flagged for unnecessary roughness when he hit Ravens receiver Mike Wallace in the head on a crossing route, as he was wrapped up by Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes. The hit cost the Vikings 15 yards and ultimately one game for Sendejo. He’s eligible to return to the Vikings on Oct. 30, a day after the Vikings’ game against the Browns in London.

 

In its press release, the NFL said Sendejo’s hit on Wallace violated the unnecessary roughness rule by “using any part of a player’s helmet or facemask to butt, spear or ram an opponent violently or unnecessarily.”

 

“The violation was flagrant and warrants a suspension because it could have been avoided,” Jon Runyan, NFL vice president of football operations, wrote in a letter to Sendejo, “was violently directed at the head and neck area and unreasonably placed both you and an opposing player at risk of serious injury.”

 

The suspension came just a couple of hours after coach Mike Zimmer staunchly defended Sendejo’s hit. Zimmer said he’ll send the play to the league to be reviewed again.

 

“I think the receiver took five steps after he caught the ball, and I think [Sendejo] hit him with a glancing blow,” Zimmer said.

 

“I know what [the officials] told me, but I’m going to turn it in and see what they say. … [Wallace] went down a little bit, but in my opinion he was a runner.”

 

Sendejo could appeal the suspension. If upheld, it would cost him $173,529, or one-seventeenth of his $2.95 million base salary this season. The 30-year-old Vikings safety was fined earlier this year, $24,309, for a hit to the helmet of Buccaneers tight end Cameron Brate in Week 3.

 

The Vikings started Anthony Harris in Sendejo’s place when he missed a 23-10 victory over the Packers because of a groin injury.

 

NFC EAST

 

PHILADELPHIA

Would the Eagles rather be 5-2 today and healthy rather than having to deal with the loss of a key player on both sides of the ball.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Eagles left tackle Jason Peters had his MRI this morning, and the news is not good.

 

Peters suffered a torn ACL and MCL, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports. That’s a season-ending injury.

 

It’s a big loss for the Eagles, who rely on Peters to protect Carson Wentz and to provide veteran leadership in the locker room. The reaction on Monday night when Peters suffered his injury shows how well respected he is on the team, as dozens of players surrounded the cart to wish Peters well before he was taken off the field.

 

Peters will turn 36 in January and is due $8 million in 2018.

 

Between Peters and linebacker Jordan Hicks, the NFC East-leading Eagles lost two key players for the season on Monday night.

 

 

WASHINGTON

John Keim of ESPN.com on why playing Monday night’s game was tough for QB KIRK COUSINS:

 

The game was going to be tough enough, facing the Philadelphia Eagles on the road. Then, right before Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins boarded the bus for the airport, he received a call that made it harder: His grandmother had died.

 

Jean Cousins was 85; her grandson called the passing unexpected.

 

“It was tough,” Cousins said. “I was very close with her.”

 

This was the grandmother he purchased the conversion van from in 2014, a vehicle he continues to drive to and from practice and games. He bought it in part because of the childhood memories it contained: going to football games as a kid with his grandparents. His grandfather died in 2014.

 

Cousins said he grew up 20 minutes from his grandmother and saw her every week. In 2013, he stayed with her as he worked out in Chicago.

 

“She lived a full, long life and was very blessed,” Cousins said. “We take comfort in knowing that because of the gospel she is in heaven and we’ll get to see her again. We take a lot of peace knowing that.”

 

He played a solid game, completing 30-of-40 passes for 303 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.

 

Cousins did throw an interception — the trajectory of his arm was changed with a hit, leading to an easy pick by Philadelphia. The receiver Cousins was targeting, Jamison Crowder, wasn’t open anyway.

 

Regardless of the situation, Cousins understood his responsibility.

 

“He responded great,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “He played great. He was focused. He was into the game. It’s hard when you’re dealing with personal issues, but I thought he dealt with it like a pro, like he does everything else.”

 

Cousins was composed talking about his grandmother after the game; family and faith are deeply important to him.

 

“There was a heavy heart going into the game,” he said. “But you also understand that we all have a job to do and we all have challenges we face. We can’t just pull away. You guys would say the same thing — tough times you’ve gone through, you have to get back to work and do your job. I’m no different.”

 

NFC SOUTH

 

TAMPA BAY

Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times on the discord amidst the 2-4 Buccaneers:

 

It was just another day of aching bellies at One Save Face.

 

In a team meeting at the Bucs’ headquarters Monday, coach Dirk Koetter warned players about airing their grievances publicly.

 

After Sunday’s 30-27 loss at Buffalo, the Bucs’ third straight defeat, three-time Pro Bowl safety T.J. Ward said he was “at wits’ end” about playing only about a third of the snaps against the Bills.

 

“I did not come here to rotate,” Ward said after the game. “I did not come here to be a part-time player. I came here to make this defense better.”

 

Defensive tackle Chris Baker, who had four tackles Sunday, chimed in on Twitter by retweeting a story about Ward’s complaints Sunday night and adding, “FACTS. I feel the same way bro.”

 

Koetter had made a point to warn players after the game that at 2-4, it is easy for the team to “shatter from the inside out.”

 

“I talked to the players (Monday) about anybody who’s frustrated and has an issue, the best way to take care of an issue on the team is to go to someone who can do something about it,” Koetter said. “Then I outlined who those people were.”

 

A look at the Bucs’ snap counts provide evidence of Ward’s frustration. The Bucs had 68 defensive snaps against the Bills and Ward played 24. Rookie Justin Evans played all 68, Chris Conte 39 and Keith Tandy five.

 

Though he signed a one-year, $4 million contract with the Bucs after being released by the Broncos a few days before the season started, Ward didn’t expect this.

 

“I did have a sit-down with T.J. in my office last Thursday, and I laid out exactly what he could do better,” Koetter said.

 

Apparently, that would have included not getting tangled on a pick play and giving up a 22-yard touchdown pass to the Bills’ Logan Thomas on Sunday.

 

Ward was not on the field after quarterback Jameis Winston gave the Bucs a 27-20 lead with 3:14 remaining in the game. That means he was wasn’t responsible for the 44-yard bomb to Deonte Thompson that set up the tying touchdown.

 

After the game, Koetter thought a linebacker had blown coverage on that play. Turns out the Bucs were playing two deep safeties, Chris Conte and Justin Evans. Koetter said they lined up wrong.

 

“So they were in a three-wide-receiver set to one side, tight end on the backside. We checked the coverage, and both of our safeties were out of position on that play,” Koetter said. “I tried to put that play in multiple times over the years, and the reason you don’t see that play very often is it’s just a very slow developing play.

 

“(Bills quarterback Tyrod) Taylor stepped up in the pocket, so he had a lot of time to throw. He found the right guy and we didn’t handle with the positioning of our safeties.”

 

Isn’t that a result of poor communication?

 

“We were in the right coverage. We just weren’t in the right position,” Koetter said.

 

Team Turmoil entered Monday 29th in scoring defense, 30th in total defense, 30th in pass defense, 31st in third-down conversion percentage and 32nd in sack percentage. The Sacksonville Jaguars have 33 sacks; defensive tackle Calais Campbell has 10. The Bucs have a total of seven.

 

The Bucs couldn’t stop the Bills on third down, allowing them to convert 10 of 16. Eight plays accounted for 200 of the 434 total yards yielded by the defense.

 

Koetter sat in on the defensive meeting with coordinator Mike Smith. But he doesn’t plan to have more involvement with defense than normal.

 

What does he make of the squawking?

 

“When you lose games, and you lose a game that you probably should’ve won like that, everybody is frustrated. And that’s just human nature,” he said. “I didn’t hear (Ward), so all this is secondhand to me. But everyone is frustrated.

 

“What I talked to the team about is all of our issues are self-inflicted right now. The majority of our issues. We’re the only ones that can fix them.”

 

That’s where the Bucs are. The glass is neither half full nor half empty. It’s shattered.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

 

 

 

SAN FRANCISCO

 

 

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

The good news for the Rams is that they are significantly better than most expected with a 5-2 record that reflects that.  The bad news is that their remaining schedule features most of the NFL’s other surprise teams.  The good news is that the Rams do have games with the Giants, Cardinals and 49ers left.  So, that sounds like 8 wins minimum.

 

But where are the other two wins that would net a playoff spot?  Big games with Saints, Texans and Eagles at home, as well as road trips to Minnesota, Tennnessee and Seattle.

 

 Nov. 5            @ New York Giants                 1:00 pm

Nov. 12           vs. Houston Texans                4:05 pm

Nov. 19           @ Minnesota Vikings              1:00 pm

Nov. 26           vs. New Orleans Saints          4:05 pm

Dec. 3             @ Arizona Cardinals               4:25 pm

Dec. 10           vs. Philadelphia Eagles           4:25 pm

Dec. 17           @ Seattle Seahawks              4:05 pm

Dec. 24           @ Tennessee Titans               1:00 pm

Dec. 31           vs. San Francisco 49ers         4:25 pm

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

Coach Vance Joseph says that he is not wavering in his support of QB TREVOR SIEMIAN.  Nicki Jhabvala in the Denver Post:

 

“Absolutely, he’s our quarterback,” said (Coach Vance) Joseph. “He can’t play well if he’s not being protected.” Siemian has absorbed at least four sacks in three straight games and 4-of-6 starts this season.

 

More thoughts on the Denver offense:

 

The Broncos left for their brief vacation with a 3-1 record. They returned with an offense that has changed at its core.

 

In their first two games this season the Broncos amassed 66 points and relied heavily on their running game with 75 carries for an average of 159 yards rushing (4.24 per carry) per game. Quarterback Trevor Siemian totaled 60 passes for an average of 225 yards per game, and the offense as a whole converted nearly 57 percent of its third downs and compiled 48 first downs.

 

In their last two losses, the running game has sputtered and the laundry list of mistakes has grown. The Broncos have run the ball only 36 times for an average of 57.5 yards per game, while Siemian has passed a whopping 89 times. They have committed six turnovers (compared with  four in Weeks 1 and 2), and Siemian has been sacked nine times.

 

“It’s the running game. In our three victories, that’s where it started,” Joseph said. “We were in firm control of how we attacked the defense. When you’re behind the sticks so much — in our three losses, it’s been that way. First down is a stuff, second down is a quick pass incomplete, now we’re third down-and-10. Who wants to operate like that?”

 

The Broncos haven’t been able to operate much of anything of late. Of their 31 total third-down attempts the past two games, 24 were for 6 or more yards, leading to a 26 percent conversion rate.

 

The inability to move the chains and run the ball has created a ripple effect that has reached the defense too. Without a lead, the Denver secondary is rarely targeted in coverage as opponents play it safe.

 

“They’re scheming us, they’re setting pick plays and they’re figuring out ways to empty us out with three tight ends. They throw it fast to the tight ends,” cornerback Chris Harris said. “When have you seen a ball — other than the Raiders and the first Chargers game — go down the field 40 yards? It doesn’t happen. We have to get used to how teams are playing us.”

 

With the list of problems long and interconnected, blame is shared on the offense. But fingers have conveniently been pointed at the quarterback. Calls for Siemian to be benched grew loud during Sunday’s shutout loss to the Chargers, but Joseph said after he never considered replacing him. And his plan hasn’t changed, he said Monday.

 

“Offensively, our formula is to run the football, play-action pass and keep us in manageable third downs,” Joseph said. “That’s where Trevor is comfortable. It doesn’t matter who the quarterback is if he’s not being protected or if the run game’s not effective. So we have to do a better job as a unit.

 

“He hasn’t played perfect. No one’s played perfect. But as a unit, as we get better, he’ll play better. We’ve seen it. We’ve seen it. It’s proven. So I’m not concerned about Trevor.”

 

The unit-wide problems are “puzzling” to Joseph in part because the Broncos have had two strong weeks of practice, he said. But the work hasn’t translated to game days.

 

“Schematically we had plays that we knew were going to work versus (the Chargers’) defense, because they’re basically a cover-3 defense. And those things showed up on Sunday and the plays are there to make,” Joseph said, citing the Broncos’ first third down of the game in which tight end A.J. Derby fumbled after catching a 23-yard pass.

 

“It’s a play we worked on all week. It’s our very first third down, we knew what we were getting, it was going to be a big play,” Joseph added. “If the protection is there, it might be a touchdown. But it’s not. That’s my point about we have good plays called, but we’re not finishing.”

 

To change the results, Joseph is changing the routine and devoting more time on the field for walkthroughs. The coaches have to coach better and differently, he said, and the players have to execute.

 

“We have to get better at the details,” he said. “Something isn’t clicking. We have to find it, and we will.”

– – –

Frank Schwab of Shutdown Corner says that poor offensive drafting is catching up with the Broncos:

 

John Elway is a good general manager. He built a Super Bowl champion and a Denver Broncos team that has been mostly fantastic with him in charge.

 

However, he’s not perfect (many people in Denver will gasp in horror at that suggestion). No general manager is. Bill Belichick has high picks like Laurence Maroney, Ras-I Dowling and Dominique Easley on his record. Former Packers GM Ron Wolf is a Hall of Famer, and he picked Jamal Reynolds (three career sacks, zero games started) 10th overall in 2001, his last draft. Every GM has some regrets.

 

But when we wonder how the Broncos’ offense has gotten so bad – Denver was shut out Sunday for the first time since 1992 and hasn’t scored more than 16 points in a game since Week 2 – it’s worth looking back at Elway’s recent history of drafting offensive players. Elway’s first draft, in 2011, was pretty good. Here are the offensive players Elway has drafted since then over the past six drafts, in chronological order. Shield your eyes:

 

QB Brock Osweiler

RB Ronnie Hillman

OT Philip Blake

RB Montee Ball

WR Tavarres King

G Vinston Painter

QB Zac Dysert

WR Cody Latimer

OT Michael Schofield

C Matt Paradis

OT Ty Sambrailo

TE Jeff Heuerman

C Max Garcia

QB Trevor Siemian

QB Paxton Lynch

RB Devontae Booker

G Connor McGovern

FB Andy Janovich

OT Garett Bolles

WR Carlos Henderson

TE Jake Butt

WR Isaiah McKenzie

RB De’Angelo Henderson

QB Chad Kelly

 

Six years, 24 picks, and a lot of misses. Elway has done OK on the offensive line. Paradis is a good starter at center, Bolles looks like a keeper at left tackle and Garcia is starting at guard. Osweiler helped the 2015 team tremendously, but he was also picked ahead of Russell Wilson and we all know Osweiler’s post-2015 story. Some players in this year’s class, like Butt coming off his knee injury or speedster McKenzie, still have time to develop.

 

But when you wonder why the Broncos’ offense isn’t better, let’s start with that list.

 

Quarterback is where everything begins. Siemian was a good seventh-round pick, but he’s still a seventh-round pick. He’s the one who draws a lot of criticism when the Broncos’ offense struggles. He can be a solid quarterback when surrounded by a great cast, which the Broncos don’t have. Denver is asking him to do too much, and he’s not that player.

 

Lynch, who Elway moved up to get in the first round in 2016, still hasn’t done enough to win the job. He’s currently injured. Maybe Lynch will put it together, but there aren’t many highly drafted quarterbacks who didn’t do anything for two seasons and emerged as stars in year three.

 

Elway hasn’t hit big on a running back, receiver or tight end in the draft since 2011 (though signing receiver Bennie Fowler as an undrafted free agent in 2014 was a nice move). His offensive line picks have been better, but the Broncos still had to overpay guard Ronald Leary in free agency and are relying on Raiders draft bust Menelik Watson at right tackle because valuable picks like Schofield and Sambrailo didn’t work out. And the offensive line as a whole is improved but not great. Siemian was sacked five times Sunday and the running game hasn’t been blowing anyone away.

 

The Broncos’ offensive issues are nothing new. Even when they won in 2015 they were well below average on offense but rode an amazing defense and some great luck in close games to a championship. Denver’s defense is still among the NFL’s best but they’re just a 3-3 team with a brutal schedule coming up. The offense could improve but by now we know its limitations. If the Broncos make the playoffs, it will be because the defense is phenomenal and the offense doesn’t screw it up.

 

We’re probably headed toward another offseason of everyone waiting on Elway to make a big splash move at quarterback, though that won’t be easy or cheap and it’s no guarantee he can pull one off.

 

Elway has gotten a ton of credit for what he has done as Broncos general manager and he deserves it all. He’s one of the best GMs in the game, and he is the first all-time great quarterback to have this level of success in NFL coaching or management. But with some better drafts, the Broncos wouldn’t be in this offensive mess. The Broncos are struggling on offense, there’s a lot of blame to spread around and some of it has to land on Elway’s lap.

 

 

THE RAIDERS

RB MARSHAWN LYNCH is indeed going to be suspended this week.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch has lost his appeal and will be suspended for Sunday’s game against the Bills.

 

The NFL suspended Lynch last week after he ran onto the field and shoved an official during the Raiders’ game against the Chiefs. Lynch argued that he was only trying to de-escalate a skirmish on the field, but the league didn’t accept his explanation.

 

Lynch is just the second player in NFL history to be suspended for contact with an official. The first was former Browns offensive tackle Orlando Brown, who shoved referee Jeff Triplette after Triplette hit Brown with a penalty flag, injuring Brown’s eye.

 

Sunday’s game would have been Lynch’s first as a visitor in Buffalo, where he played his first four years with the Bills. Now he’ll stay home.

 

AFC NORTH

 

PITTSBURGH

Coach Mike Tomlin says that WR MARTAVIS BRYANT won’t be able to talk his way into a trade.  Kevin Patra at NFL.com:

 

The Pittsburgh Steelers continue to call Martavis Bryant’s bluff.

 

The receiver told ESPN’s Josina Anderson he wanted out of Pittsburgh if the team isn’t going to use him.

 

Coach Mike Tomlin, however, reiterated the team has no plans to trade Bryant.

 

“We’ve invested a lot in Martavis since we drafted him. He’s not available via trade. We’ve invested a lot,” Tomlin said.

 

Bryant has been frustrated with his lack of production since returning from a season-long suspension last year. The 25-year-old has 18 catches for 234 yards on 36 targets this season. He has seen his playing time reduced each of the past two weeks. Bryant played just 34 snaps in Sunday’s win and tallied a combined three catches for 30 yards in Weeks 6 and 7.

 

The lack of production led Bryant to lash out on social media against rookie receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (in a post that has since been deleted) and request a trade if his usage doesn’t increase.

 

Tomlin said he would talk to the receiver about the social media posts. Bryant was not at meetings on Monday.

 

“We’ve covered a lot of ground,” Tomlin said. “It’s obvious that we still got more ground to cover with him because were having a conversation about him that’s not football related. But we have, he’s done a lot in the period of time that he’s been here in terms of improving, not only as a player but as a man. But we still got a ways to go. He was out of bounds with some of his actions, in terms of the things that he said on social media.”

 

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suggested during a radio hit on 93.7 The Fan on Tuesday that Bryant needs to talk to him instead of using outside methods to voice his frustration.

 

“Come talk to your quarterback,” Roethlisberger said. “And that’s what I am saying. I don’t want to get too much involved because of him and I haven’t (spoken). Yesterday we had a really long conversation over text messages and things like that. He was telling me about his frustrations and whatever and I told him, I said, and he told me he’s talked to the coaches or whatever, but the one thing you haven’t done is come talk to me. How can I help you? Like figure out a way, a game plan, that me as a quarterback I can talk to you and help you and maybe talk through an issue you have. Whatever it may be, let’s figure this thing out together. Because he is a really good teammate. I know it seems crazy and you guys may be rolling your eyes, but he is. He is a good teammate. We’ve just got to talk and figure this thing out.”

 

With Bryant making $615,000 this year and $705,000 next season, the Steelers are in no hurry to jettison a player with talent as they plow towards the postseason. Bryant told Anderson if he’s not traded, he would play out his contract in Pittsburgh with no plans to re-sign. The Steelers and the receiver, however, have more than a year to figure out their differences.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com speculates that T DUANE BROWN, back at work this week, might be shipped out before the trade deadline:

 

Although tackle Duane Brown has returned to the Texans (as predicted somewhere other than the PFTPM podcast), there’s a chance he won’t stay for long. The trade deadline arrives in a week, and it’s possible that he’ll still be dealt to another team.

 

How could another team trade for Brown if he has been out of sight and out of mind for months? It ended up being one of the lowest-profile holdouts in recent history, even though he ultimately skipped six games and seven weeks of the regular season. Unlike other potential trade targets (more on that in a second), no one has been able to see that Brown was still able to perform.

 

And while his return eight days before the last day to do a deal this year won’t mean he’ll be in midseason form, it’s something more than nothing. Which makes it a little easier (or at least a little less difficult) to make a trade happen.

 

The season-ending injury to Browns left tackle Joe Thomas also makes a potential Brown trade a bit more likely, since it takes away one of the primary pieces of leverage a team interested in Brown would have. Instead of trying to play the Browns against the Texans and risking getting no trade done, it’s a clear proposition — trade for Brown or don’t add a left tackle.

 

Monday night’s injury to Eagles left tackle Jason Peters also may increase the chances for a trade, since Philly could consider getting involved. The mere prospect of an eleventh-hour effort by the Eagles could also prompt other teams considering the move to make their move quickly. Likewise, with another slate of games looming before the deadline arrives, anyone thinking about trading for Brown may not want to risk another contender suddenly developing a need.

 

Of course, the Texans also have a need. But they have put together a dynamic offense without him, and the Texans continue to be missing a first- and second-round draft pick for 2018.

 

It is unclear what the Texans would want for Brown, or whether his contract would be revised, either via an extension beyond 2018 or, possibly, an elimination of the final year of the deal and a chance to become a free agent in March.

 

While a trade remains simply a possibility and not a probability or a likelihood, a trade is definitely on the radar screen. Within the next seven days, we’ll all find out whether it happens.

– – –

Steve Palazolo of ProFootballFocus.com is not as enamored with the play of QB DESHAUN WATSON as most of us are:

 

Only six weeks into Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson’s career and the rookie is instilling hope into the Houston fan base.

 

His stats look excellent, both from a counting standpoint (15 touchdowns led the NFL prior to Houston’s Week 7 bye) and when using traditional passer rating (101.1 rating ranks sixth in the NFL). There are a number of plays from Watson that certainly pass the “eye” test, from his spectacular 49-yard run in Week 2 against the Cincinnati Bengals to his fourth-quarter downfield strike to WR Will Fuller for a 48-yard touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 5. However, Watson’s 69.2 overall grade checks in at 28th in the league through seven weeks, so let’s take a look at where the grades and stats differ.

 

*This is not a projection of how Watson will play going forward and certainly not an attempt to bury what he’s done through six weeks of his career. It’s simply about adding context, as Watson’s stats are excellent, but his PFF grade is not matching the stats in the early going.

 

OVERVIEW

The first point that must be driven home is that we’re still early in the season and in small-sample-size territory, meaning grades can fluctuate during the first half of the season. That said, it’s Watson’s poor opening-week game against the Jacksonville Jaguars – one of the worst we’ve graded all season – that is doing the most damage to his grade. Taking out that game in which he relieved Tom Savage in the second half, Watson is grading at 77.6 overall as a starter, a number that would rank 16th in the NFL. That’s likely an easier pill to swallow, but one that still needs explaining when comparing to his 15 touchdowns and No. 6 passer rating.

 

There are four big numbers that tell the story to this point:

 

* Fourth-highest percentage of negatively graded throws

 

* Ninth-highest percentage of turnover-worthy plays

 

* Lowest drop rate in the league by receivers, only two drops

 

* Charged with four sacks, tied for seventh among quarterbacks

 

Watson is simply missing too many throws, as evidenced by an adjusted completion percentage of 66.1 percent that ranks 33rd out of 34 qualifiers. His completion percentage of 61.5 percent ranks 24th in the league, and that’s aided by his having only two drops all season. The four sacks charged to Watson (as opposed to blockers) were made even worse by two fumbles due to poor ball security, but those plays do not show up in his stats and they’re rarely separated out in other metrics.

 

Let’s unpack the turnover-worthy plays.

 

TURNOVER-WORTHY PLAYS

The “eye” test should be renamed the “highlight” test, as the brain often remembers the highlights and it’s easy to push aside plays that were significant from an evaluation standpoint but perhaps didn’t have a major impact on a game.

 

Every quarterback puts the ball in harm’s way, and every quarterback throws interceptions, but there are varying degrees of fault in both of these scenarios. Of Watson’s 10 turnover-worthy plays, a number of them were on the lowest end of our grading spectrum (easier turnovers for the defense), yet they didn’t have a major impact on either Watson’s stats or the particular game. These are bad plays that are easy to dismiss because of the lack of negative consequences.

 

Week 4 vs. Titans: Watson throws an errant pass nowhere near his intended receiver in the end zone for an interception at the end of the first half, but the Texans win the game 57-14 in an otherwise-brilliant outing for Watson.

 

Week 2 vs. Bengals: Early in the first quarter, Watson misreads the coverage and fires a pass that hits Bengals’ cornerback Darqueze Dennard in the hands who drops the clean pick-six opportunity.

 

Week 6 vs. Browns: Watson fires a pass directly to CB Jason McCourty along the sideline while trying to throw the ball away under pressure. Potential interception is broken up by WR Deandre Hopkins

 

Week 3 vs. Patriots: Watson doesn’t feel pressure and fumbles in the pocket with OT Chris Clark falling on the ball for the recovery.

 

Week 1 vs. Jaguars: Watson misreads the coverage in the red zone and throws an interception right to linebacker Myles Jack, but the play is negated by an illegal hands to the face penalty by the Jaguars.

 

It should be noted that Watson does have one unlucky interception, as he had a pass picked off in the end zone on a Hail Mary against the Patriots in Week 3. That certainly does not count as a turnover-worthy play.

 

FINAL WORD

Let’s wrap it up on a positive note. Watson has three years of strong college grading under his belt and we saw his playmaking ability throughout his college career. It’s been on display early in his pro career as he currently ranks ninth in the league in big-time throw percentage and 13th in percentage of positively graded throws. Watson is also ranked fourth among quarterbacks with a rushing grade of 85.3, so he’s added plenty of value to the Houston offense. He’s also had interception luck, sure-handed receivers, and questionable work in the pocket that has either padded or gone unnoticed on the stat sheet. When you add it all up, Watson has been a mid-tier quarterback since taking over as a starter back in Week 2 after a disastrous debut in Week 1 that is still dragging down his overall PFF grade.

 

 

 

INDIANAPOLIS

Robert Mathis, a great player for the Colts during their Peyton Manning heyday and now an assistant coach, has been charged with DUI.  Mike Wells of ESPN.com:

 

Former Colts pass-rusher Robert Mathis was arrested early Tuesday morning on a drunken driving charge, according to Hamilton County (Indiana) online court records.

 

He was arrested shortly after midnight in Carmel, a suburb just north of Indianapolis, on the initial charge of operating a vehicle while intoxicated. Carmel Police said the 36-year-old Mathis was driving the wrong way on a one-way street and did not signal a turn.

 

“We are aware of the incident involving Robert Mathis last night,” the Colts said in a statement. “We are in the process of gathering more information and have no further comment at this time.”

 

The Colts hired Mathis last month to be the team’s pass-rush consultant.

 

Mathis spent his entire 14-year NFL playing career with the Colts. He is the franchise leader in sacks (123) and has an NFL-record 40 career strip sacks. His best season was in 2013, when he had 19.5 sacks.

 

He was suspended for four games in 2014 for using performance-enhancing drugs. He eventually missed the entire season after tearing his Achilles.

 

AFC EAST

 

MIAMI

Not only did WR JARVIS LANDRY avoid being charged by Florida Justice, he has survived the even stricter scrutiny of NFL Justice.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The NFL’s latest investigation into a player who was not charged by authorities for alleged off-field misconduct has resulted in a much more expeditious outcome.

 

Via Josina Anderson of ESPN, the NFL has determined that there was insufficient evidence to conclude that Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry committed a violation of the league’s personal conduct policy.

 

So what’s the difference between Landry’s case and Ezekiel Elliott‘s case? The difference likely could be that, in the latter, the accuser was willing to cooperate with the league. In the former, it’s not clear that there even is an accuser.

 

It makes it very hard to conclude that credible evidence exists to show a violation if there’s no evidence at all, because the only witness to the incident (apart from a video that was inconclusive at best) is saying nothing.

– – –

With QB JAY CUTLER nursing broken ribs, the Dolphins have turned to someone familiar with the offense of Coach Adam Gase – and it’s not social justice activist Colin Kaepernick.  Will Brinson of CBSSports.com:

 

The Miami Dolphins have now actively decided for the second time this season that they are better off not having Colin Kaepernick on their roster. When Ryan Tannehill went down with a season-ending injury, Miami went with Adam Gase’s old friend Jay Cutler in a move that made football sense.

 

Now with Cutler dealing with cracked ribs and Matt Moore set to start on Thursday night against the Ravens, the Dolphins are eschewing another opportunity to sign Kaepernick.

In fact, they’re turning to another old friend of Gase’s, former Chicago Bears quarterback David Fales, who the Dolphins signed as a backup on Tuesday.

 

Fales, drafted in the sixth round by the Bears back in 2014, was a backup for the Bears when Gase was the offensive coordinator back in 2015. He played in one game in 2016, attempting five passes. He has two completed passes in his NFL career, or, if you prefer, one more completed pass than Colin Kaepernick has Super Bowl appearances.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

TRADES

Marc Sessler of NFL.com tries to create some viable trades (ELI MANNING is involved in one them):

 

This time around, Halloween will offer more than small humans dressed as ninjas and coworkers using the so-called holiday as an excuse to get mildly smashed at the nearest Chili’s.

 

Oct. 31 also doubles as this season’s trade deadline, a final chance for NFL clubs to acquire assets and/or part ways with players who simply don’t fit the system.

 

The league is light on trades — annoyingly so — but recent years have seen more teams use in-season swaps as a way to patch over weaknesses and, for the organizations hitting the ejector seat on veterans, to stockpile draft picks.

 

With this in mind, let’s take a peek at a handful of trade candidates and destinations that make some sense — at least to this writer:

 

Martavis Bryant, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

Bryant, whose frustrations over playing time have come to light thanks to unnamed sources and biting social media posts, told ESPN’s Josina Anderson on Tuesday that if the Steelers don’t “try to include me more,” then “I want out.”

 

After the Steelers receiver initially denied reports that he requested a trade out of Pittsburgh, Bryant hit Instagram on Sunday night to argue for an expanded role on offense, writing, per PennLive.com: “I just want mines, period, point-blank.”

 

This came after Bryant deleted a comment about rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster, who has consistently outsnapped him, saying: “JuJu is nowhere near better than me, fool. All they need to do is give me what I want and y’all can have JuJu and whoever else.”

 

Bryant circled back to say that “JuJu is the future and got great talent,” but the aggressive comments — hours after he caught just one pass in Pittsburgh’s win over the Bengals — are telling. The Steelers receiver has accounted for 99 yards over his past four games and continues to be outsnapped by Smith-Schuster — perhaps permanently.

 

(UPDATE: Steelers coach Mike Tomlin claimed Tuesday that Bryant is not on the market. “We’ve invested a lot in Martavis since we drafted him,” Tomlin said. “He’s not available via trade. We’ve invested a lot.”)

 

POTENTIAL LANDING SPOT: Chicago Bears

The Steelers need Bryant’s unusual potential in the red zone, but he simply hasn’t clicked in 2017. Chicago has found a fascinating young quarterback in Mitchell Trubisky and must find a way to surround him with weapons in a hurry. With guys like Tanner Gentry and Tre McBride playing major roles at wideout, the rookie quarterback wound up throwing the ball just seven times on Sunday in a win over the Panthers. While that amounts to a John Fox fever dream, it’s time for the Bears to open up the attack. Bryant would hit town as an instant-impact player for this developing offense.

 

Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants

The 1-6 Giants have to think about what’s next under center. With the team going nowhere in 2017 and zooming toward a high pick in the draft, it feels as if New York’s long-lived attachment to Eli is in its final stages.

 

Manning has laughed off the trade speculation: “Why people think I would leave or want to leave or the Giants want to trade me … I don’t get caught up in [the rumors], I don’t think about ’em. I got one job and that’s playing quarterback for the New York Giants.”

 

POTENTIAL LANDING SPOT: Jacksonville Jaguars

With Tom Coughlin manning the controls in Jacksonville, bringing Manning down south would serve as a fascinating latter-day chapter to the signal caller’s career. Suddenly, Manning would be surrounded by a dominant defense and punishing ground game — the same formula that triggered a pair of Super Bowl wins in New York.

 

Blake Bortles shined in Sunday’s win over the Colts, but that’s one week of work. This position must be upgraded in the offseason, but the Coughlin-Manning connection paves the way for a more immediate — albeit short-term — solution for a team with a Super Bowl-level defense.

 

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, New York Giants

Manning isn’t the only Giant who could use a new home. Coming off his team-mandated suspension — the fallout from a string of heated arguments with head coach Ben McAdoo — Rodgers-Cromartie’s long-term future in New York feels suspect. Both sides talked pretty after the veteran cover man played just 16 of 76 defensive snaps in Sunday’s loss to the Seahawks, but a fresh start would serve as a lift to both parties.

 

POTENTIAL LANDING SPOT: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

I’m picking Tampa, where the Bucs need all sorts of help beyond the solid play of Brent Grimes. If this team is serious about making the playoffs — an already-endangered hope, given Tampa’s 2-4 record — bolstering the secondary is an immediate concern. DRC would help right away.

 

Eric Ebron, TE, Detroit Lions

Ebron has yet to achieve liftoff during his star-crossed run with the Lions. While he looks the part at 6-foot-4 and 253 pounds, Ebron has failed to outshine fellow Lions tight end Darren Fells this autumn. Admitting recently that he’s been “in the dumps,” Ebron is averaging a career-low 7.8 yards per reception for Detroit. The potential is there, though, making him an interesting trade candidate for the right team.

 

POTENTIAL LANDING SPOT: Denver Broncos

Denver would make sense, as quarterback Trevor Siemian lacks a game-changing tight end in an offense that has struggled over the past four games. While rookie Jake Butt is expected to make his debut later this season after a December ACL tear, Ebron would have an immediate role with the Broncos and a chance to revive his career.

 

Duane Brown, LT, Houston Texans

 

Brown is back with the Texans following his lengthy holdout in search of a new contract. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport was told the 32-year-old bookend is slated to play the final 10 games of the year in Houston, where he remains under contract through next season. “Barring the unforeseen,” Brown will “not get traded,” RapSheet tweeted.

 

Let’s explore the unforeseen, shall we?

 

POTENTIAL LANDING SPOT: Seattle Seahawks

League gossip has pointed to Brown as a possible candidate for Seattle, a team eternally in need of an upgrade at tackle. The veteran bookend would arrive as a godsend for Russell Wilson, a quarterback on the receiving end of far too many violent hits over the past few campaigns. The Texans, meanwhile, could use the draft ammunition after handing the Browns their first- and second-round picks in next year’s draft. Speaking of Cleveland, Joe Thomas would have made sense in this space before Sunday’s season-ending triceps injury.

 

The Giants are another team that could use left tackle help, but we don’t see a one-win team flipping picks for a 30-something blocker.

 

Hau’oli Kikaha, OLB, New Orleans Saints

Last week, Rapoport pointed to Kikaha as potential trade bait. Not exactly a household name, the pass rusher hit New Orleans as a second-round pick in 2015. He missed all last season with a torn ACL, but he’s bounced back this autumn with a pair of QB takedowns already. A surprise inactive this past Sunday, Kikaha has the feel of a player being shopped.

 

POTENTIAL LANDING SPOT: New England Patriots

NESN’s Doug Kyed picked out New England as a potential trade partner, which makes plenty of sense for a team in need of pass-rushing help. It wouldn’t cost much to acquire Kikaha, and Bill Belichick is one of the NFL’s most active wheelers and dealers. The Patriots can’t be done fine-tuning their suddenly improving defense.

 

Vontae Davis, CB, Indianapolis Colts

 

With the Colts’ season on life support, first-year general manager Chris Ballard has enough power inside the building to make moves aimed at future team-building efforts. When healthy, Davis has been a valuable member of an up-and-down defense, but his contract is up after this season and a long-term deal in Indy feels unlikely for the 29-year-old defender.

 

POTENTIAL LANDING SPOT: Dallas Cowboys

Dallas eternally sees itself as a Super Bowl contender, something the ‘Boys might be if Ezekiel Elliott’s potential suspension doesn’t derail the team’s chances in 2017. Their defense could use help, though, making Davis a potential target for a unit that could use additional depth down the stretch.

 

A few more names to watch: Carlos Hyde, RB, San Francisco 49ers; Jeremy Hill, RB, Cincinnati Bengals; Jarvis Landry, WR, Miami Dolphins; Marcell Dareus, DT, Buffalo Bills.

 

 

AIKMAN RATINGS

Thru Week 7

 

There are times that the Aikman Ratings reveals expected teams at the top – and sometimes there are surprises.  The is one of those latter times as the 4-3 Jaguars have emerged in first place in the Aikman Combined Ratings through Week 7.

 

On the strength of a defense that also advanced from 2nd place to 1st this week, the Jaguars now sit ahead of four NFC teams, while replacing the Eagles in the lead.

 

It should be noted that with a combined ranking of 16 in the NFL yards-only method, the Jaguars are tied for the second-best mark in the NFL.  And they are highly-ranked in most other statistical-based ratings systems. 

 

The Jacksonville defense, after shutting out the Colts, leads the NFL in fewest points allowed.  The Jaguars are also 1st in fewest yards allowed per pass play and takeaways per game.  Offensively, the Jaguars are 8th in Aikman Offense (10th in the NFL rankings).

 

Aikman Combined Ratings Through Week 7, 2017

 

                                 ——— Aikman ——–       —— NFL ——–

 Rank  Record   Team             Combined     Off      Def       Off    Def Combined

   1     4-3    Jaguars            168.4     86.2     82.2        10      6     16 

   2     6-1    Eagles             166.5     92.2     74.3         5     20     25 

   3     5-2    Vikings            160.6     82.1     78.6        12      4     16 

   4     4-2    Seahawks           160.3     79.4     80.9        13      8     21 

   5     4-2    Saints             159.9     89.2     70.7         4     23     27 

   6     3-3    Texans             159.4     86.2     73.2        14     11     25 

   7     5-2    Chiefs             159.0     96.5     62.5         3     29     32 

   8     4-2    Bills              158.8     80.6     78.2        25     21     46 

   9     3-3    Cowboys            157.0     91.2     65.9         6     17     23 

  10     5-2    Rams               156.9     84.5     72.5         9     15     24 

  11     5-2    Patriots           156.4     92.6     63.8         1     32     33 

  12     5-2    Steelers           154.2     78.1     76.1        11      2     13 

  13     3-4    Chargers           153.2     78.6     74.6        17     13     30 

  14     3-3    Lions              152.7     78.0     74.7        26     19     45 

  15     4-3    Packers            151.5     87.4     64.1        23     22     45 

  16     3-4    Raiders            151.0     83.6     67.4        22     26     48 

  17     3-3    Broncos            150.3     71.6     78.7        15      1     16 

  18     3-3    Falcons            149.9     83.3     66.6         7     14     21 

  19     3-4    Ravens             149.4     71.3     78.1        31     18     49 

  20     4-3    Titans             147.4     78.4     69.0        18     16     34 

  21     3-3    Redskins           147.1     81.0     66.1         8     12     20 

  22     4-3    Panthers           145.8     75.3     70.4        19      3     22 

  23     2-4    Buccaneers         145.0     82.9     62.0         2     30     32 

  24     3-4    Bears              144.0     70.0     74.0        30      7     37 

  25     3-4    Jets               143.6     76.2     67.3        21     25     46 

  26     2-4    Bengals            141.9     66.7     75.3        29      5     34 

  27     1-6    Giants             141.6     73.9     67.7        27     27     54 

  28     4-2    Dolphins           140.8     72.0     68.7        32     10     42 

  29     0-7    49ers              137.0     75.7     61.3        20     28     48 

  30     2-5    Colts              133.1     72.3     60.8        28     31     59 

  31     3-4    Cardinals          131.9     69.5     62.4        16     24     40 

  32     0-7    Browns             127.9     62.2     65.7        24      9     33 

 

 

Aikman Offense Ratings Through Week 7, 2017

 

  Aik     NFL     Team                 AER

   1       3      Chiefs              96.5

   2       1      Patriots            92.6

   3       5      Eagles              92.2

   4       6      Cowboys             91.2

   5       4      Saints              89.2

   6      23      Packers             87.4

   7      14      Texans              86.2

   8      10      Jaguars             86.2

   9       9      Rams                84.5

  10      22      Raiders             83.6

  11       7      Falcons             83.3

  12       2      Buccaneers          82.9

  13      12      Vikings             82.1

  14       8      Redskins            81.0

  15      25      Bills               80.6

  16      13      Seahawks            79.4

  17      17      Chargers            78.6

  18      18      Titans              78.4

  19      11      Steelers            78.1

  20      26      Lions               78.0

  21      21      Jets                76.2

  22      20      49ers               75.7

  23      19      Panthers            75.3

  24      27      Giants              73.9

  25      28      Colts               72.3

  26      32      Dolphins            72.0

  27      15      Broncos             71.6

  28      31      Ravens              71.3

  29      30      Bears               70.0

  30      16      Cardinals           69.5

  31      29      Bengals             66.7

  32      24      Browns              62.2

 

NFL Average                           79.5

 

 

Aikman Defense Ratings Through Week 7, 2017

 

  Aik     NFL     Team                 AER

   1       6      Jaguars             82.2

   2       8      Seahawks            80.9

   3       1      Broncos             78.7

   4       4      Vikings             78.6

   5      21      Bills               78.2

   6      18      Ravens              78.1

   7       2      Steelers            76.1

   8       5      Bengals             75.3

   9      19      Lions               74.7

  10      13      Chargers            74.6

  11      20      Eagles              74.3

  12       7      Bears               74.0

  13      11      Texans              73.2

  14      15      Rams                72.5

  15      23      Saints              70.7

  16       3      Panthers            70.4

  17      16      Titans              69.0

  18      10      Dolphins            68.7

  19      27      Giants              67.7

  20      26      Raiders             67.4

  21      25      Jets                67.3

  22      14      Falcons             66.6

  23      12      Redskins            66.1

  24      17      Cowboys             65.9

  25       9      Browns              65.7

  26      22      Packers             64.1

  27      32      Patriots            63.8

  28      29      Chiefs              62.5

  29      24      Cardinals           62.4

  30      30      Buccaneers          62.0

  31      28      49ers               61.3

  32      31      Colts               60.8

 

NFL Average                           70.5

 

Ratings Courtesy of STATS