The Daily Briefing Tuesday, September 25, 2018

AROUND THE NFL 

The helmet rule was supposed to change/ruin the game, but it has been relatively benign through the first three weeks. But the addenda to roughing the passer that seems to defy the laws of physics is confounding everyone.

Jerry Jones is part of the pushback against the unusual calls being done in the name of player safety. Todd Archer of ESPN.com:

– Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said the new emphasis on roughing the passer that bars a defender from landing with his full body weight on the quarterback has altered the game “as much as any one [rule] I have seen make a change from our past.”

Speaking on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Tuesday, Jones said the game played at the pro level needs to be different from the one played in high school and college.

“The way I see our future is, I see a real serious emphasis on youth football, amateur football,” Jones said. “I see it reflected at the high school level. … I see a collegiate game that certainly has a lot of finesse in it, but is a great game and makes these kinds of adjustments we’re talking about.

“But when it comes to pro football, to use a boxing term, that’s when you put the 6-ounce gloves on. That’s when you don’t want to fight with those 10-ounce gloves or you don’t fight with those headgears. … You’re paid a lot of money to go out and incur those type situations that have more risks in them.”

In Sunday’s loss to the Seattle Seahawks, Cowboys defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford was called for roughing the passer after hitting Russell Wilson. After the game, Jones said, “That was not roughing the passer under the existing rules” and added that Crawford “was attempting to finesse the tackle.”

Crawford said the league “is trying to get us on petty stuff,” and he expects to be fined, but he’s glad to hear the league’s competition committee will discuss the roughing the passer penalties.

“You grow up hitting and hitting, like, going full speed and you know one way to do it,” Crawford said on a conference call. “I mean when you’ve been doing something your whole life, it’s hard to change, especially now at this point in your career. And then at that [particular] time when you see a sack, you go even harder. Or you see a quarterback, you go harder trying to get there before the ball is thrown. And to pull off at literally the last millisecond is kind of hard.

“I do understand some of the rules they have going for the protection of the players, but I can’t lie to myself and say I agree with that one because it’s just really hard to do what we’ve been learning something our whole life. It’s definitely against our instincts to pull off.”

Jones said that it’s important for the NFL to distinguish itself from other levels of football in terms of physicality.

“That’s very important,” Jones said. “Now, where to find that balance, that’s one thing. But when we get to a point in the future in time, you’ll see pro football where they’ve put the 6-ounce gloves on and where the men are playing.”

Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews has been at the center of the new rule for the past three games, with hits that have been called penalties. Miami’s William Hayes suffered a torn ACL when he was attempting to avoid putting his body weight on Oakland quarterback Derek Carr.

Quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers have also been critical of the new rule.

Here’s Roethlisberger, normally thought to be a drama queen anxious to draw flags:

“I don’t want to criticize the officiating, especially when you’re talking about a penalty that helps the quarterback out. I was surprised at the first one. The second one I thought was legit. He hit me in the helmet. It was kind of like hearing that loud ring when your helmet gets hit.

“There are sure a lot of them. I can’t imagine the fans at home are enjoying it too much.”

Charean Williams notes that Mike Pereira is part of the pushback:

During FOX’s broadcast of the Cowboys-Seahawks game Sunday, Troy Aikman was critical of the NFL’s roughing the passer point of emphasis this year. The Hall of Fame quarterback further explained during a FOX conference call Tuesday why he doesn’t like the way officials are being told to enforce the rule.

“I think that everyone understands player safety,” Aikman said. “I think the league overreacted. I think they’ll continue to look at it with the controversy that it’s created. I don’t know. I just think sometimes some rules, even the helmet rule — it was called during the preseason and hasn’t been called as much [during the regular season]. But based on the way that rule is written, I watch games every week in preparation, with a lot of film, and there are several plays in every game I watch where by the [helmet] rule and the way in which it’s written, there should be penalties, but they stopped calling it. I thought that was what was going to happen [with the roughing rule] after the penalty two weeks ago on Clay Matthews, and yet it happened again in this last game. . . . I don’t like it. It changes the outcomes of games, which is severe, and as I’ve said before, ultimately for some of these coaches, it’ll cost them their jobs. I think the league will look at it, and the right decisions will be made going forward.”

Four roughing the passer penalties were called Monday night, making 13 in Week Three and 34 for the season, Kevin Seifert of ESPN reports.

FOX’s rules analyst Mike Pereira said last week he disagrees with the league on how it’s interpreting and enforcing the rule. The competition committee has the rule on its agenda for a regularly scheduled conference call next week, and the league’s former head of officials expects a change in how roughing the passer is officiated.

“I think common sense really factors in,” Pereira said on the FOX call. “Troy made mention of the fact that in the helmet rule that he sees three or four every game that should be called or that were called in the first two weeks of the preseason and are not being called now. I think common sense will factor into it. . . . Adjustments can be made in how you interpret the rule during the season. I think we all agree that it’s gone a little too far now. I think that adjustment will be made, and we’ll probably start seeing it shortly.”

– – –

“I think we all have felt like it’s gone a little bit too far,” Pereira said. “I think it’ll seek a level. It’ll seek a level that will get it back in synch with what the players think and what we pretty much all think. Any time you put a new point of emphasis in, there’s an adjustment that goes really to the players and to the officials. This one has taken a little bit longer than the helmet rule. . . . I think we’ll see the same thing here. I really do think it’ll find a middle ground to where it doesn’t become as much of an issue as it is now.

“I’m all for player safety. I think everybody is, but you can move it a little bit too far. We all think that’s happened a little, but I think it’ll work back to something that’s acceptable.”

Pereira said Matthews’ hit on Kirk Cousins should not result in a penalty and thinks the competition committee “feels that way also.” Pereira expects the league to emphasize to officials that in order to call a foul, the defensive player has to commit a “second act” of “lifting and driving” the quarterback into the ground.

Dan Graziano of ESPN.com:

The NFL’s competition committee is scheduled to speak on a conference call next week about the proliferation of roughing the passer penalties, two sources told ESPN on Tuesday.

The sources said the committee is concerned about the frequency of these penalties and has voiced those concerns to the league office.

“There’s some concern that the officials are going a little bit too far with some of these calls,” one of the sources said.

Through three weeks, there have been 34 roughing the passer calls. Through three games last year, there had been 16, and through three games in 2016, there were 20.

– – –

The sources both said they don’t expect any major changes this season, though discussions are ongoing and could eventually include officials.

Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who is on the competition committee, addressed the penalties in Monday’s game against the Buccaneers. There were 21 penalties called total, including four roughing the passer penalties.

“I’m an appreciator of the game, somebody that’s in this ecosystem that understands the entertainment of the fan makes it all go,” he said. “I just say it from that perspective — not as a member of the committee or anybody in a title position in any form or fashion, just somebody who loves football. That probably wasn’t a fun game to watch.”

NFC NORTH

MINNESOTA

We have been late to the situation in Minnesota where DL EVERSON GRIFFIN seems to be having mental health issues. Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

More details about the events that led Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen to get a mental health evaluation over the weekend came to light on Tuesday, including the fact that the team’s concerns about his well being began before a series of incidents led to police involvement on Saturday.

According to a police report filed on Saturday, via Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press, Vikings executive director of player development Les Pico described Griffen as “explosive, screaming and yelling at the workplace” for some time. As a result, a letter sent to Griffen and his agent last Thursday asked him to stay away from the team until he underwent an evaluation.

Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer addressed Griffen’s situation in a Tuesday press conference.

“The only thing really we’re concerned about for Everson isn’t anything to do with football. It’s about him getting better,” Zimmer said. “In the five years I’ve been here, I’ve always loved Everson, the effort that he puts out, the work that he does. The chance to count on him in game time. Even in practice. So, he’s always been a really, really good model for us and obviously he’s going through some tough times now.”

Zimmer said the team will do “everything possible that we can” to help Griffen as he navigates those tough times.

More from Darin Gantt:

Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen is being treated at a mental health facility, after a series of erratic incidents that had his wife so concerned she called police.

According to Paul Walsh of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Griffin was taken in after his wife called police from their home as well as the home of a teammate nearby.

The 30-year-old Griffen was involved in an incident at the Hotel Ivy, where he threatened to shoot hotel employees, according to the police report, though no gun was found. His wife told police that he had sped off from their home with another person, and later in the afternoon, she called again saying he was trying to get into the home of Vikings cornerback Trae Waynes.

When police reached him, he was put into an ambulance, but medical personnel had to stop so police could restrain him.

Obviously he didn’t play last week, and the team issued a statement from General Manager Rick Spielman saying they were “certainly concerned by what we have heard.”

It’s a strange story, and the primary hope is for Griffen’s well-being.

We had always thought that Griffen was one of the good guys, so this behavior would seem to be very concerning to his teammates and the Vikings staff. Might be an explanation for why they weren’t into Sunday’s contest with Buffalo.

NFC EAST

DALLAS

At times like this, a coach can either make changes or not. Jason Garrett has opted for staying the course (which will morph into “failed to make adjustments” or “was stubborn” when it doesn’t work. Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

The 2018 NFL is an offensive firehose, with team’s lighting up the scoreboard, quarterbacks like Ryan Fitzpatrick and Patrick Mahomes dive bombing defenses, and receivers like Michael Thomas and Brandin Cooks morphing into uncoverable transformers.

It’s been a joy to behold. Unless you’re watching a Dallas Cowboys game.

We expected the Cowboys to struggle with the passing game entering the season with a no-name receiving corps and a banged-up offensive line. It was easy to predict an Ezekiel Elliott-or-bust offense.

It’s been worse than that.

Through three games, the Cowboys rank 30th in yards per game (277.7), 31st in points per game (13.7) and 31st in passing yards per game (145.0). The only offense worse than Dallas has been Arizona, and the Cardinals just turned to rookie quarterback Josh Rosen.

Jason Garrett’s Cowboys, on the other hand, will remain on the course to nowhere.

“We’re not going to go down that road right now,” Garrett said when asked about a possible change in coordinators, via ESPN’s Todd Archer. “I have a lot of confidence in Scott Linehan. He’s been an outstanding coordinator in this league for a long time. He’s been an outstanding coordinator for us. And he’s been an outstanding play-caller for us.

“What we need to do is get better on offense and we have to constantly look at ourselves as coaches first at the positions we’re putting our players in with our game plans.”

Owner Jerry Jones added Tuesday morning on 105.3 FM The Fan that there hasn’t been any discussion about making Garrett the play-caller, via Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News.

On Monday, Garrett dismissed the idea that the issue was play-calling at all.

“I think it would be false for me to say this is about play-calling,” Garrett said. “This is about everything we’re doing offensively, we have to do better. We have to coach better. We have to play better. We have to run it better. We have to throw it better. We have to protect better. We have to do all the things good offenses do and we have to do all of those things better.”

The only thing the Cowboys do well is hand the ball off to Elliott. When the running back makes errors and Dallas gets down like they did Sunday against Seattle, there is little saving Garrett’s team. Dak Prescott has yet to throw for more than 170 yards in a game. His 166 passing yards per contest ranks dead last in the NFL among quarterback who’ve started and played all three games.

The Cowboys showed a flash of creativity in the first half of the Week 2 game versus the New York Giants. Outside of that brief spurt, it’s been a flavorless brand of saltine-cracker football from Dallas.

NFC SOUTH

TAMPA BAY

Network telecasters have oft been prone to just accept punts as something you do on fourth down. We noticed it Monday night and so did Mike Florio:

The moment of truth came last night for the Bucs and coach Dirk Koetter. With 2:49 to play and facing fourth and 10 from their own 20, would they punt while trailing 30-27, or would they go for it?

The critical decision received scant attention during the broadcast, with ESPN’s Jason Witten simply saying, “You’ve gotta punt it here,” and with ESPN’s Joe Tessitore not disagreeing. But did the Bucs have to punt it?

They could have gone for it. If they’d converted on fourth and 10, the drive toward a potential game-tying field goal or game-winning touchdown would have continued. If they’d failed, the Steelers would have had the ball in Tampa Bay territory, with the Bucs having a pair of time outs and the two-minute warning to preserve time while also hoping to hold the Steelers to a field goal, giving the Buccaneers one last chance to win the game, trailing 33-27. Obviously, the Buccaneers would have needed to keep the Steelers from getting a first down.

Instead, the Bucs opted to give possession back to the Steelers under similar circumstances — needing to keep them from getting a first down. And the effort failed, in part because the Steelers made the gutsy decision to throw on second and long, risking an clock-stopping incompletion or drive-killing interception but delivering the setup for the knockout blow, with a first down that, one play later, became another first down (thanks to a James Conner run), clinching the game by allowing the clock to be drained.

If the Buccaneers had gone for it and failed, there’s no guarantee the Steelers would have made an eventual field-goal try. Chris Boswell already had clanged a pair of kicks off the upright; maybe he would have missed another attempt.

Of course, the conventional move was to punt, to try to stop the Steelers, and to try to launch another drive with no time outs and less than two minutes to play. The unconventional move was to go for it. But even though coach Dirk Koetter understands the wisdom of taking chances on fourth down, he knows that making the unconventional move and failing could result in the head coach looking for a new job.

So, like many other coaches, he’d prefer to go with the conventional approach and fail than the unconventional approach and simply risk failure. Until Koetter quashes that fear, the Buccaneers will never fully live up to their swashbuckling reputation — and perhaps will never migrate as deep into the postseason as they could.

We think it is a somewhat close call, but we agree it needed to be discussed.

In either case you lose if you give up a first down. With the punt, if you hold, you get the ball with a long field and 2 minutes left, needing a field goal. With the failure on 4th down, you get the ball after a Steelers field goal with a long field and 2 minutes left needing a TD.

Part of the problem was the play the Bucs ran on third down. If they check down instead or have a scramble run and get say 7 yards, going for it on 4th and 3 is more palatable than 4th and 10.

But in any case, there wasn’t a lot of defense being played in the game, so Tampa Bay’s chance of getting a stop was probably about the same as converting a 4th down.

And Fortune Favors The Bold…

NFC WEST

ARIZONA

Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com on the promotion of QB JOSH ROSEN:

The number of starting rookie QBs bulged from two to four on Monday…I’m told that Josh Rosen’s been outstanding of late in practice, and seeing him command the huddle on Sunday, even in a losing situation against Chicago, was the final piece of the puzzle in deciding to the pull the trigger on the quarterback switch. As the staff sees it, Rosen’s carrying himself with more confidence than Sam Bradford at this point, and the mobility he brings over Bradford should help an offensive line that’s had some bumps.

SAN FRANCISCO

The 49ers weren’t looking all that hot before QB JIMMY GARAPPOLO went down, and now they turn to C.J. BEATHARD.

That makes the NFL’s gambit of handing them 5 primetime games in a 6-game, 7-week span starting in Week 6 look somewhat unwise.

Two of the games are locked in place, the Week 6 ESPN Monday night game at Green Bay and the Week 9 Thursday night Bay Area game with the 0-3 Raiders.

But two are on NBC Sunday night football and we would think Flex options are being explored. Week 7 is currently Rams at 49ers – and LA is certainly primetime worthy.

Week 13 is scheduled as San Francisco at Seattle.

Are there options?

In Week 7 we see Bengals at Chiefs from the CBS pot. Or would NBC like some Cleveland Mayfield magic at Tampa Bay FitzMagic? New Orleans at Baltimore? Carolina at Philadelphia? All now on FOX

Week 13 is a long way down the road – but possibilities might include Denver at Cincinnati on CBS or Carolina at Tampa Bay on FOX.

LOS ANGELES RAMS

Albert Breer:

The Rams’ corner situation is tenuous, with both Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib on the shelf for the time being. I’m told the plan is to roll with Sam Shields, Troy Hill and Nickell Robey-Coleman. Part of the trouble is that Los Angeles has generally dressed just five corners, so depth will certainly be tested here, particularly with Minnesota’s Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen looming just three days away.

AFC WEST

KANSAS CITY

Albert Breer with a name to watch in the coaching ranks:

Name to keep an eye on: Chiefs QBs coach Mike Kafka. Andy Reid assigned Kafka, then a quality control coach, to work one-on-one with Patrick Mahomes last year, as the 10th pick in the 2017 draft went through his de facto redshirt season. Kafka was promoted after the season, and word about the work of guys like this get around, so it’s not hard to envision the former Northwestern and Eagles quarterback becoming a coordinator soon. He’s still just 31 years old.

If he were to prove to be designated Andy Reid’s successor, there would be no exit from KC for Kafka though.

AFC NORTH

CLEVELAND

Pat McManaman of ESPN.com on how BAKER MAYFIELD’s start is off the charts:

This wasn’t the plan.

Baker Mayfield was not supposed to be starting by the fourth week of the Cleveland Browns’ season. He was supposed to be incubating, learning behind Tyrod Taylor.

But the way things played out, the move from Taylor to Mayfield happened naturally, organically. Which made the Browns’ decision to start Mayfield the least consequential quarterback change the team has made in years.

Basically, Mayfield made the move easy, which took away any and all controversy — or doubt — about the move.

“He did make it easier by the performance, by the win and by the way he conducted himself,” Cleveland coach Hue Jackson said. “There is no question about that.”

In Jackson’s tenure alone, there have been several quarterback switches, prompted by injury and performance. From Robert Griffin III to Josh McCown to Cody Kessler to Griffin in 2016. From DeShone Kizer to Kevin Hogan to Kizer in 2017. In the offseason, the Browns switched to Taylor — and now it’s Mayfield’s turn.

Jackson has been upbeat about all his past quarterbacks. Griffin made the “earth move” in his workout. On Kessler, Jackson said “trust me.” Kizer was going to be a dynamic guy who opened up the downfield passing game. Jackson meant what he said, and everything he said came from a glass half-full viewpoint.

This one feels different.

“It does,” Jackson said. “This was a guy that we picked together that [general manager] John [Dorsey], myself, the personnel department and the coaching staff — that we went all-in on unanimously and said, ‘This is the guy for the future.’”

Taylor’s struggles Thursday in the first half against the New York Jets were shocking, especially coming off a game when he played well at the New Orleans Saints and talked growth the following week. The Jets were able to free up pass-rushers, and Taylor was hesitant throwing. The difference between Mayfield getting rid of the ball and Taylor holding it in that game was stark.

Jackson wouldn’t address the “what if,” but Taylor’s struggles were so painfully blatant, Jackson might have had to make the switch to Mayfield at halftime. Taylor’s concussion made any discussion about that possibility moot.

In the aggregate, Taylor had 33 possessions that were not simply running out the clock at the end of halves. He was at the helm for five touchdowns, two field goals, three missed field goals (two that could have tied or won games), two interceptions and 21 punts (10 three-and-outs). Which changed the best-laid plans.

“This is sooner than what I thought it would happen, because I thought that we would have played much better earlier on offense,” Jackson said. “We did not. There was a stark difference in how we performed when [Mayfield] got in there. That is the nature of this business. That is the way that it works. It is an earned business.

“The young man went in there and he earned the right to be the starter.”

PITTSBURGH

Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com doesn’t think there is much of a market for RB Le’VEON BELL:

I’d be stunned to see more than a few teams in on Le’Veon Bell right now. You’d be dealing for a 26-year-old tailback with plenty of mileage, injury and suspension history, and you wouldn’t be able to extend him. Unless you’re a team that sincerely believes you’re a tailback away (I don’t know who that’d be), it’s hard to see the concept of it making sense for many GMs.

The DB could see some teams that might want him on a one or two-year deal (even at plus $15 mil per year), such as Tampa Bay or Oakland (Gruden loves vets). But that’s not what Bell wants

AFC EAST

NEW ENGLAND

A tweet from ESPN says that October is the month when the Patriots make their move:

Since 2012, the Patriots are 18-9 in the first four games of a season, which is tied for the 2nd-best record in the NFL.

In the next four games, they are a whopping 21-3, three games better than any other team in that span.

NEW YORK JETS

More scoop from Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News:

he Jets’ primetime loss in Cleveland last Thursday has prompted Gang Green to make one significant change that it hopes will reverse their funk.

The Daily News has learned that Todd Bowles will take back some of the play-calling duties from defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers. Specifically, Bowles will call the defensive plays in two-minute/hurry-up situations, according to sources.

The Jets had a terrific defensive game-plan against Browns starter Tyrod Taylor before rookie Baker Mayfield gave them fits when he entered in the final minute and a half of the first half. Gang Green had a creative plan to flummox Taylor, who went 4 for 14 for 19 yards and a 39.6 passer rating before leaving with a concussion late in the second quarter. The Jets put consistent pressure on Taylor with three sacks and myriad hits.

Then, Mayfield changed everything in Cleveland’s two-minute drill.

Jets players were not lined up several times before the snap. On Mayfield’s first drive alone, there was a sequence where cornerback Parry Nickerson and safety Doug Middleton didn’t know where to line up presumably because the call had not been relayed in time. Defensive lineman Henry Anderson wasn’t set on one play too. There was another sequence when Middleton was looking to safety Jamal Adams for the call as the ball was snapped. Mayfield went 3 for 4, for 47 yards on his first drive that resulted in a field goal.

The No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft finished 17 for 23 for 201 yards and 100.1 passer rating.

Bowles has decided to take over in those critical moments, in part, to improve the communication flow before the snap. There’s a feeling inside the building that Bowles’ expertise will help rectify some of the defensive issues that have plagued the Jets. His calm, decisive decision-making in situational pressure situations should help matters.

The Jets are statistically sound on defense through three games. Gang Green ranks 10th in scoring defense, 12th in total defense, seventh against the pass and 12th against the run.

THIS AND THAT

2019 DRAFT

Todd McShay and Mel Kiper of ESPN.com look at the changes in the evaluation of the college QB crop after 4 weeks of play.

ESPN NFL draft experts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay pick out quarterbacks rising up their boards this season, plus the sleepers to watch for next year’s draft.

They also look at sleeper QBs putting up good numbers to start the season, identify two under-the-radar prospects to keep an eye on and give their current picks for the College Football Playoff and Heisman Trophy CFB MVP.

Biggest QB risers

Justin Herbert, Oregon

What impressed me about Herbert in Saturday night’s overtime loss to Stanford was the 6-foot-6, 233-pound signal-caller’s mobility. He is dangerous in the read option, and he can extend plays with his legs. Showing off that athletic ability is a big part of why Herbert is my new No. 1 quarterback for next year’s draft. He completed 78.8 percent of his 33 passes for 346 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Herbert made mistakes, but he battled.

There is a lot to like about Herbert, who has a chance to be a top-five pick in April. He has ideal size, of course, but he can make every throw and fit the ball into tight windows, and he shows good anticipation. I’d like to see a little more consistency as the season progresses — he has five picks in four games so far — but it’s clear he has matured and taken the leap in 2018. There are some similarities in the 2019 class to the Class of 2017, in which Mitchell Trubisky ended up being the first quarterback off the board (No. 2 overall). Herbert is ahead of Trubisky at this stage for their careers. Again, Herbert isn’t perfect, but he has all the tools to be QB1. — Kiper

Drew Lock, Missouri

Even after seeing it on film, Lock’s arm looks really legit when you see it in person. He has the accuracy and pop to fit the ball into small windows that some NFL QBs can’t thread. Through four games, Lock has completed 62.7 percent of his passes after completing just 54.5 percent through his first three seasons at Mizzou. Nearly across the board, his numbers have jumped thus far with his new offensive coordinator, Derek Dooley, who spent the past five years with the Dallas Cowboys. His last OC, Josh Heupel, ran a spread-tempo offense, and the arrival of Dooley is allowing Lock to learn to set protections and identify defensive setups before the snap for the first time in his football career, although he needs to speed up his progression reads post-snap.

The 6-foot-4, 225-pound senior is severely underrated as an athlete — he was offered a basketball scholarship by Oklahoma out of high school — but he needs to morph into more of a leader. He won’t throw four touchdowns every game like he did in the first two games of the season, and there will be times when he’ll struggle as he did against Georgia when his 13-game touchdown pass streak came to an end. In those scenarios, he needs to really work on his body language. –

McShay

QB sleepers to watch

Tyree Jackson, Buffalo

You need to watch Jackson and the Bulls, who are 4-0 and just walloped Rutgers. Jackson, a fourth-year junior, is huge — 6-foot-7, 245 pounds. He has a big arm and can move, though he’s not a runner. He takes care of the football, too. Jackson has 27 touchdown passes and only six interceptions over his last two seasons. I have him ranked as my No. 4 underclassman signal-caller for this class, and he could rise even further. — Kiper

Brett Rypien, Boise State

The 6-foot-2, 202-pound senior has 10 touchdowns and no picks for the Broncos this season. Despite the loss in Stillwater, he still rang up 380 passing yards and three scores while hitting 70 percent of his throws. Nephew of Mark Rypien, he has some physical limitations as an undersized QB, but he gets it mentally and has a good work ethic. I could see him working his way into a Day 3 draft spot. — McShay

Kiper’s top three:

1. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama: How good is the Alabama team? Tagovailoa was sensational again in the win over Texas A&M, his fourth straight game with a Total QBR of at least 95.

2. Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma: Don’t blame Murray for the Sooners almost blowing their College Football Playoff chances at home against Army. Murray was efficient again, with four total touchdowns, though he threw a poor interception. Still, OU might have lost without him on Saturday.

3. Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State: Haskins is up to 16 touchdown passes and just one interception this season, and he was nearly flawless in limited time against Tulane, completing 21 of 24 passes.

McShay’s top three:

1. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama: Career-high passing numbers for Tua this week against the Aggies, as he threw for 387 yards. He has been exceptional going deep this season. According to ESPN Stats & Information tracking, he has hit 59 percent of his passes at least 10 yards downfield and has scored nine touchdowns on such throws (0 INT).

2. Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State: Haskins had 304 passing yards and five touchdowns against Tulane on Saturday. The last Big Ten player with 300-plus yards and five TDs through the air? Purdue’s Kyle Orton against Indiana, way, way back in 2004, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

3. Will Grier, QB, West Virginia: Grier’s first-half stat line against Kansas State would have been impressive on its own, as he threw for 258 yards and three scores. He’d finish the day with five touchdowns.

BROADCAST NEWS

While discussing the topic of the epidemic of confounding roughing the passer calls, novice broadcaster Jason Witten indicated he is not in lock-step with the dominant political philosophy at ESPN. Mike Florio:

At a time when many believe that people who cover sports should stick to sports, a prominent sports commentator made an unusual and gratuitous political reference during Monday night’s NFL broadcast.

“It’s just gone too far with that rule,” ESPN’s Jason Witten said regarding the NFL’s enhanced emphasis on roughing the passer. “I knew they wanted to make it about the health and safety and protect these quarterbacks. It just seems like we just went a little bit to the left wing on that, you know, with our approach of trying to protect it because as we said not only are the players frustrated but the coaches, they don’t know how to coach this. That’s when you have a challenge with this rule.”

First, it’s unclear why he regards aggressive and zealous enforcement of rules to be a “left wing” tendency. Some would say that this falls within the scope of the staunch law-and-order emphasis the characterizes conservative politics.

Second, if Witten believes that emphasis on player health and safety is a “left wing” priority, what is he saying about the right wing mindset? That persons with those views don’t care about player health and safety?

Third, and perhaps most importantly, it was unwise for Witten to utter left wing, right wing, or any wing other than single wing while broadcasting a football game. Fifteen years after the failed Rush Limbaugh experiment at ESPN, it’s more clear now than ever that folks don’t want their football served with a side of politics. It’s one thing to cover the efforts of those in the sport to inject politics into the sport; it’s quite another to take something apolitical and force a political narrative onto it, even though ESPN is now taking the position that Witten’s comment had nothing to do with politics. (Maybe he thought he was covering a hockey game.)

And maybe it’s good for Witten that he simply blurted out “left wing” and didn’t elaborate on his reasoning. If he had, there’s a chance his stint at ESPN would have ended up being as short as Limbaugh’s.

We think Witten was grasping for the term “politically correct” and used “left wing” as an awkward synonym. That said, would PC have avoided Florio’s criticism?

AIKMAN RATINGS

Thru Week 3

Three weeks into the NFL season, the Aikman Ratings are beginning to settle in – and it is not surprise that the undefeated Rams sit atop the Aikman Combined. The Rams are 3rd in Aikman Offense and 7th in Aikman Defense for a Combined Rating of 177.7.

Somewhat surprisingly, the team that sits right behind them in 2nd in the Aikman Combined is Baltimore, whose Aikman Offense is 2nd behind the Chiefs. Kansas City’s Aikman Offense domination is no surprise (although they are only 7th in the NFL’s yards only method of ranking), but the Chiefs have a defense that ranks last in the NFL both in Aikman Defense and yards allowed. Thus the undefeated Chiefs are only 9th in the Aikman Combined.

The Dolphins, the NFL’s only other undefeated team stand 6th in the Aikman Combined, and that is substantially better than traditional AFC East kingpin the Patriots who are 26th.

We would also note that the Aikman Ratings like the 1-1-1 Browns, who dominate the NFL’s turnover ratio at +9, are doing quite well in the Aikman Combined at #4. Their league-high 11 takeaways boost them to 4th in Aikman Defense while they stand 13th in the NFL’s yards-only defensive ranks.

Aikman Defense Ratings Through Week 3, 2018

Aikman

NFL

Team

AER

1

21

Miami Dolphins

86.4

2

12

Tennessee Titans

83.1

3

9

Philadelphia Eagles

82.4

4

13

Cleveland Browns

81.4

5

4

Jacksonville Jaguars

81.0

6

8

New York Jets

80.6

7

6

Los Angeles Rams

79.8

8

5

Chicago Bears

79.6

9

1

Baltimore Ravens

77.6

10

17

Seattle Seahawks

74.5

11

10

Minnesota Vikings

74.4

12

2

Washington Redskins

73.0

13

3

Dallas Cowboys

72.8

14

15

New York Giants

71.5

15

16

Indianapolis Colts

69.7

16

7

Detroit Lions

69.3

17

14

Denver Broncos

65.0

18

28

New England Patriots

63.3

19

23

Green Bay Packers

62.7

20

29

Pittsburgh Steelers

62.4

21

25

Arizona Cardinals

61.4

22

18

Houston Texans

61.4

23

20

Oakland Raiders

59.4

24

19

Carolina Panthers

58.9

25

26

Cincinnati Bengals

57.9

26

11

Buffalo Bills

57.3

27

31

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

56.5

28

22

San Francisco 49ers

56.2

29

24

Los Angeles Chargers

55.9

30

27

Atlanta Falcons

49.4

31

30

New Orleans Saints

48.7

32

32

Kansas City Chiefs

45.5