The Daily Briefing Wednesday, November 8, 2017
AROUND THE NFL
With Jerry Jones out, the NFL Compensation Committee seems poised to finalize another huge money deal with Roger Goodell. Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:
He’s out. Even if he was never in.
Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones no longer has a role, official or unofficial, in the NFL’s Compensation Committee. The six-owner group has been authorized to negotiate and finalize a new contract for Commissioner Roger Goodell, subject to parameters approved unanimously by the full ownership in May.
It’s ultimately a distinction without much of a difference. Jones never was a voting member of the Compensation Committee. According to the source, Compensation Committee Chairman Arthur Blank, the owner of the Falcons, offered Jones (who had been serving as an ad hoc member) a vote at last month’s ownership meeting, during a session before the full group of league owners. Despite the urging of Washington owner Daniel Snyder to accept a vote, Jones declined.
The departure of Jones from the process presumably clears the way for the extension to be finalized, given that Jones had emerged as the primary opponent to the terms of the deal.
Multiple reports have indicated the Goodell eventually will sign a five-year extension to his current contract, which expires in 2019. Jones had been trying to muster opposition to the terms of the deal, causing some to conclude that Jones is trying to replace Goodell.
QB SAM BRADFORD is still on the active roster, but maybe not for long as word gets out about a surgical procedure on his knee. Chris Mortensen of ESPN.com:
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford underwent an arthroscopic procedure Tuesday in which Dr. James Andrews “cleaned up” his left knee but found no major damage, according to team sources.
Bradford was returning to Minnesota on Tuesday night and will await the team’s decision on whether the club will place him on injured reserve when it activates Teddy Bridgewater to the 53-man roster on Wednesday.
Andrews removed several loose particles from Bradford’s knee, cleaned up some ragged cartilage and smoothed out a bone spur, sources said. Andrews has communicated to the club that he is hopeful the procedure will ease the pain that Bradford has been experiencing but offered no assurances on the ultimate outcome, per one source.
Bradford’s knee joint and structure has been previously deemed stable by team orthopedic doctors, as well as Andrews, who repaired the quarterback’s two prior ACL tears in 2013 and 2014.
Is RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT suspended or not for Sunday’s game in Atlanta?
The next step in the seemingly nonstop Ezekiel Elliott legal drama is a 1 p.m. CDT hearing Thursday in front of a three-judge panel from the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.
The court will weigh whether to grant the Cowboys running back an emergency injunction that allows him to play while his case careens through the court system. If it’s denied, the NFL can again start enforcing its six-game suspension of Elliott for alleged domestic violence. If it’s granted, Elliott continues to play, as he has in all eight of Dallas’ games so far.
Elliott is allowed to play and practice until a decision is reached because of an administrative stay the 2nd Circuit issued Friday morning, a place-holder of sorts until the court can look into the case further. It’s up to the 2nd Circuit judges how fast a ruling is issued, but it’s possible it could come before Sunday’s game at Atlanta.
The Cowboys and Elliott are in a situation that’s the reverse of last week. Elliott lost in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York early in the week, allowing the NFL to enforce the suspension. Elliott couldn’t take part in practice and was banned from the team’s practice facility. When the stay was issued, he raced to The Star and began catching up on preparation for last Sunday’s game, a win over Kansas City.
This week, Elliott can prepare for Sunday’s game against the Falcons, but Dallas doesn’t know if he’ll be able to play until the ruling comes down.
“We anticipate him being here [Tuesday] and practicing through the week until there is some decision made,” coach Jason Garrett said Monday. “But again, we’re going to focus on what we can control in that situation. Zeke has done a really good job of that. Until someone tells us otherwise, we’ll proceed accordingly.”
This week’s developments — really and truly — could be the end of the line, legal experts say. That’s because there are few options left for either side as far as Elliott’s 2017 status goes. The loser of Thursday’s hearing could request a rehearing from the full 2nd Circuit, though those are rarely granted.
Elliott and the NFL Players Association have requested an expedited appeal of the ruling in the Southern District Court of New York that thoroughly rejected his move for a preliminary injunction. Even sped up, the appeal might not be resolved by the end of this NFL season.
But it’s proven risky to declare any absolutes in this case, which will have gone in front of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York and, now, the 2nd Circuit.
The judges who will hear Elliott’s motion are Debra Ann Livingston, Dennis Jacobs and Christopher F. Droney. Livingston and Jacobs were appointed by Presidents George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush, respectively. Droney was appointed by President Barack Obama.
The 2nd Circuit is the same court where the NFL won “Deflategate” against New England quarterback Tom Brady. The ruling emphasized the court’s limited authority to intervene in arbitration matters like Elliott’s when his suspension was upheld through the NFL appeals system.
Elliott is arguing he didn’t receive a fair appeal; the NFL says it did everything required in the collective bargaining agreement.
NEW YORK GIANTS
Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com with the not-surprising news that the Giants are looking at the top quarterback prospects – at the behest of ownership.
As their season has spiraled out of control, the New York Giants have begun to prepare for their future by focusing on potential franchise quarterbacks who could be available in this year’s NFL draft.
There was a directive given several weeks back by co-owner John Mara to start looking closely at the top college quarterbacks, multiple sources told ESPN. This occurred around the time it became apparent that the Giants’ season was headed nowhere, in part, because wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. would be out with a broken ankle.
Vice president of player evaluation Marc Ross, who runs the Giants’ draft, personally went to scout UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen in recent weeks, sources said. Rosen is among the nation’s top prospects at the position.
Rosen (5), USC’s Sam Darnold (1) and Wyoming’s Josh Allen (6) are the quarterbacks in Todd McShay’s most recent Top 32 draft prospects. Louisville’s Lamar Jackson and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, with a surge in recent weeks, are also highly regarded by scouts.
Darnold may be the most intriguing option, but whispers in league circles are that he may remain at USC for another year. Rosen (personality) and Allen (level of competition) also come with questions. Jackson and Mayfield are nontraditional quarterbacks.
Still, the Giants (1-7) are doing their due diligence. This close inspection of the draft’s top quarterbacks is necessary because they have a soon-to-be 37-year-old quarterback and are in the midst of their worst season in decades. They would have the third overall pick if the season ended today and are coming off a 34-point home loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
The Rams sit atop the DVOA Ratings of Football Outsiders (see below for the full rankings) to the amazement of Aaron Schatz:
Football Outsiders has been driving the Los Angeles Rams bandwagon since I first put together early projections for ESPN Insider in April. Readers were surprised to open up Football Outsiders Almanac 2017 and find the Rams with a mean projection of 8.0 wins. Our preseason simulation put the Rams in the playoffs 38 percent of the time.
But I never, ever, thought we would be talking about the 2017 Los Angeles Rams as the best team in the NFL.
And yet, according to DVOA, that’s what the Rams have been. After flaying the rotting carcass of what used to be the New York Giants, by the score of 51-17, the Rams move past the Pittsburgh Steelers and take over the No. 1 spot in DVOA this week.
Perhaps what’s most remarkable is how well-rounded the Rams are in 2017. Our preseason projection was based on the idea that the Rams would be near the top of the league on defense and special teams. That prediction came true, as the Rams are third in defense and first in special teams. But the Rams are also now ninth in offensive DVOA, and that’s not because of the Todd Gurley show. The Rams are 15th in rushing DVOA, but second in passing DVOA. Only the New England Patriots have a better passing game than the Rams this season.
It has been a long, long time since the Rams were this good. The Rams had not been in the DVOA top ten any later than Week 1 since they ranked No. 6 in Week 8 of 2003. They were last No. 1 in Week 4 of 2001. (Despite going 14-2, that Rams team was behind the Philadelphia Eagles in DVOA for most of the season.) The offense also hasn’t been any higher than tenth since Week 7 of 2004.
It’s certainly possible that we’re overrating the Rams a bit because of a couple of runaway wins, but most of the good fortune the Rams have had this season is already filtered out of the DVOA ratings. The Rams’ schedule ranks 29th so far, but opponent adjustments are almost full strength by this point, and even if they were full strength it wouldn’t bump the Rams out of the top spot.
The Rams have also had serendipity with opposing special teams, but we don’t give them credit for that in our special teams ratings. Not only do the Rams lead the league in actual special teams value, they also lead the league in “hidden” special teams value. Opposing kickers are just 11-of-17 on field goals, with two of those misses coming from less than 40 yards. They’ve also missed two extra points. Only half of opposing kickoffs have gone for touchbacks, compared to 65 percent league-wide, and opposing punts have also been shorter than average.
So the Rams aren’t quite as good as their league-leading point differential of 108 points would otherwise indicate, but even if we adjust for that, they’re still No. 1. This team was 30th in DVOA a year ago. That’s a phenomenal turnaround. There’s no guarantee the Rams will stay this good for the entire season, but right now, this would be the greatest year-to-year turnaround in DVOA history.
Amazingly, the Raiders are still looking for their first INT. Mike Guerrelli of Pro Football Focus:
According to Josh Dubow of the Associated Press, the 2017 Oakland Raiders are the first team in NFL history to not intercept a pass in their first seven games of a season. Now, through Week 9, the Raiders are still without an interception this year.
With the team on bye in Week 10, the watch for the Raiders first interception of 2017 continues. Their next opportunity will be a Week 11 game in Mexico City against the New England Patriots, but Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has only had eight turnover-worthy plays this season, 1.35 percent of his snaps, so the wait might continue. Their best chance could be a Week 12 meeting with the Denver Broncos as Denver quarterbacks have combined for 12 interceptions this season, second-most in the NFL through Week 9.
In 2016, Oakland tied for the best turnover differential in the NFL at +16, including 16 interceptions. So the question for this season is why? What has changed from the 2016 Raiders to this year’s team?
While the opportunities may be slimmer (Oakland ranks in the bottom 10 in opponent’s passing attempts per game at 32.0), Raiders defenders have been credited with three dropped interceptions so far this season, and have been unable to make plays on the ball.
A big factor in the Raiders interception drought is that their defenders are just not making enough plays. PFF playmaker index is a metric used to determine the percentage of targets into a defender’s coverage that result in a pass breakup or interception. Through Week 9 of the 2016 season, Oakland had eight interceptions and 30 passes defensed on 321 pass targets. This equates to a PFF team playmaker index of 11.8 percent. In 2017, through nine weeks, the Raiders have not one interception and only 17 passes defensed in 281 pass targets, a 6.0 percent playmaker index that is second-lowest for any team defense in the NFL.
Oakland cornerbacks have also seemingly regressed this season. In 2016, Raider CBs combined for 9.9 cover snaps per reception allowed. This year they are at 8.6 cover snaps per reception allowed, and do not have a cornerback ranked in the top-40 in cover snaps per reception.
Perhaps the most alarming data concerning the Raiders secondary is their passer rating allowed when targeted. Among all NFL cornerbacks with 100 or more snaps in coverage this season, Oakland cornerbacks have the three highest passer ratings allowed through Week 9. David Amerson tops the list at 156.3. Amerson is also last among corners with 2.22 yards per cover snap this year. Sean Smith has mostly been relegated to a backup role this season, but in 163 coverage snaps this year his 133.6 pass rating allowed is the second-highest. Dexter McDonald has been pressed into more playing time due to injuries, and his 128.0 passer rating allowed is currently the third-highest.
In 2016, safety Reggie Nelson was the team’s leader in interceptions with five. He was PFF’s 34th-ranked safety in 2016 with an overall grade of 79.3. This season Nelson, now 34 years old, ranks 67th at safety with a 49.0 overall grade. Coinciding, Nelson’s coverage grade of 77.3 ranked 41st at safety a year ago, but this season his coverage grade has dropped to 38.5, which is currently 81st of 83 qualifying safeties.
LOOKING TO THE POSITIVES
There have been some positives in the Oakland secondary this season, most recently from Smith’s performance against Miami in Week 9, in which he was targeted two times, and allowed just one reception for six yards. Cornerback T.J. Carrie has improved his overall PFF grade from 73.4 in 2016 to 82.7 this year, and he ranks 21st at cornerback through Week 9. Carrie leads the team with four passes defensed in 2017. Safety Karl Joseph has also been solid, ranking 19th at safety with an 83.0 grade this season, up from 75.5 in 2016.
The other good news for the Raiders is that help could be on the way. Oakland used their first two picks in the 2017 NFL Draft to improve their secondary, but due to injury those selections haven’t paid off yet. First-round pick Gareon Conley has only played 92 snaps at cornerback this year while dealing with a shin injury, and has missed the last six games. Second-round pick, safety Obi Melifonwu made his NFL debut in Week 9 with seven defensive snaps against Miami, and should see extended playing time in the future.
The record for fewest INTs in a full 16-game season (or a 14-game season for that matter) is 4 by the winless 2008 Lions.
NFLPA president ERIC WINSTON can put the “P” back in his current status. Marc Sessler of NFL.com:
Eric Winston is back in Cincinnati.
NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported that the veteran offensive tackle re-signed with the Bengals on a one-year deal after the team released him in September. The club later confirmed the signing.
Winston was added to make up for the loss of right tackle Jake Fisher, who was placed on the reserve/non-football illness list Wednesday after leaving Sunday’s loss to the Jaguars with an illness that landed him in the hospital.
While doubling as president of the NFL Players Association, Winston started six games for the Bengals over the past three seasons, part of a 12-year pro career that has also included stops in Houston, Kansas City and Arizona.
RB LEONARD FOURNETTE talks the talk after being suspended for last week’s game. The AP:
Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette apologized Tuesday for violating a team rule that prompted coach Doug Marrone to make him inactive against Cincinnati.
Fournette also offered some insight into what may have been a reason for his benching. The rookie vowed to be on time for Jacksonville’s next game Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers.
“Want to apologize to everyone for last week and make sure our stadium is pack this weekend,” Fournette wrote on his Twitter page. “And yes I will be there on time.” He included six tears of joy emojis at the end of the tweet.
Marrone declined to say exactly what Fournette did to be deactivated for the game.
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DE CALAIS CAMPBELL could challenge the NFL sack record. Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:
Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell has a career-high 11 sacks just halfway through the season, putting him on pace for 22 in 16 games. That means he has a chance at Michael Strahan’s NFL record of 22.5.
But Campbell says he’s not thinking about the league record, or anything beyond beating the Chargers on Sunday.
“I just try to figure out how to win this next game,” Campbell said. “If we get close to [the record] we’ll see, but right now I’m just trying to make a difference in the game.”
Campbell said the Jacksonville defense is putting him in a better position to get to the quarterback than he has been in previously in his NFL career. He already has more sacks this year than ever before in his career, and he might just end up with more sacks than any player since sacks became an official statistic in 1982. But he is not thinking about that.
THIS AND THAT
KAEP AND THE COMMISH
The NFL put out word that The Commish wanted a one-on-one with Colin Kaepernick, and claimed that a week had gone by without any response from the unsigned quarterback. Kaepernick’s lawyer calls the NFL liars. Charles Robinson of YahooSports.com:
“We responded immediately [to the Oct. 31 invite] that Colin would be happy to attend,” Geragos said of a personal meeting with Goodell. “Because of the grievance we asked that a mediator be present. A mediator would ensure that the discussions were productive and confidential and not used as a public relations stunt or prop by the league. Colin’s proposal was rejected.”
Lockhart said Geragos’ claim was “disingenuous” and that Kaepernick’s camp never responded to the one-on-one invitation.
“Troy reached out to Colin directly – not to his lawyer – and said, ‘If you want to come in, come in,’ ” Lockhart said. “This isn’t about his lawyer. This isn’t about a mediator. The question of, ‘Has [Colin] been invited in?’, the answer is yes. This isn’t part of any grievance process. This is part of the overall discussion we’ve been having on some of these social issues.”
Members of Kaepernick’s camp told Yahoo Sports on Tuesday that he’s still open to meeting with Goodell privately. But any talks would be about the social justice issues that the NFL and players have been discussing – not about the grievance he has filed accusing the league of blackballing him from a roster spot. Lockhart said the NFL would be open to that social activism dialogue in a one-on-one setting that allowed Goodell to speak directly to Kaepernick. But any request for a mediator would shut down the plan.
“If he wants to come in and have a discussion with the commissioner, he’s welcome to come in,” Lockhart said. “We don’t need a third party. The commissioner has met with and talked to a bunch of players and they don’t have mediators.”
The wrinkle in that statement by Lockhart – that other players don’t have mediators in their one-on-one meetings – is that Kaepernick is the only one who currently has a grievance against the league. The collusion charges have put Kaepernick into an entirely separate category from the others who have met with Goodell, merely for the fact that he’s pursuing two different things – his social activism and also his allegations against the league.
Perhaps unintended, the back and forth between Kaepernick’s camp and the NFL has provided a window into the frustration that is developing between the league and players in recent weeks. A source close to the talks between NFL owners and the Players Coalition told Yahoo Sports that a Nov. 13 meeting in New York was proposed by the athletes but appears to now be cratering. Why? The players are requesting that – like Kaepernick’s alleged Nov. 1 request for his own private meeting with Goodell – a mediator be involved in the talks with owners.
Dan Graziano of ESPN.com hosts a gaggle of ESPN experts who proclaim their MVP favorites:
It’s back! It’s back! The NFL MVP poll is back!
So, without further ado, here’s the debut in-season edition of the 2017 ESPN NFL MVP poll.
Methodology: Our panel of 10 experts nominated their top five candidates. First-place votes are worth five points, second-place votes worth four, third-place votes worth three, fourth-place votes worth two and fifth-place votes worth one. The top five finishers are highlighted in the following graphic. Full results can be found at the bottom.
Note: Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt received the 10th first-place vote, but did not finish in the top five.
1. Carson Wentz, QB | Philadelphia Eagles
The case for Wentz: The quarterback of the team with the best record is almost always a top candidate, and at the moment, that’s Wentz of the 8-1 Eagles. He leads the NFL with 23 touchdown passes against just five interceptions, and he ranks in the top five in passing yards, passer rating and Total QBR. Heading into the bye, Wentz dropped four touchdown passes on the Broncos’ secondary in last week’s win to stamp his and Philadelphia’s case as legit.
The case against Wentz: There’s not a strong case against Wentz at this point, but if you’re looking for reasons he might not stay atop this list, four of the Eagles’ next five games are on the road at Dallas, Seattle, the Rams and the Giants. So things might toughen up around him, and it’s possible at some point that the absence of left tackle Jason Peters will affect the brilliance with which Wentz is operating this offense. Let’s see … what else? He’s only 28th in the league in completion percentage — that’s not great. But really, this was an easy call. Wentz got eight of the 10 first-place votes.
2. Tom Brady, QB | New England Patriots
The case for Brady: Oh, yeah. This guy. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Patriots are 6-2 and Brady is having a monster season. Apparently, 40 is a state of mind, and Brady’s mind is stuck on 27. Fifth in completion percentage, first in yards per game (by 30!), second in passer rating, fourth in Total QBR, fourth in yards per attempt, with 16 touchdowns and two interceptions — you name it. If it’s about quarterback play, Brady is doing it as well as he ever has, and he’s doing it without Julian Edelman. It wouldn’t be an MVP poll without Brady, who got one of the other two first-place votes that didn’t go to Wentz.
The case against Brady: You have to really nitpick here, but he’s on pace for 32 touchdown passes, which is great, but well short of Wentz, who is on pace for 41. There’s not a great case against Brady right now. The reason he’s No. 2 and Wentz is No. 1 is basically just that Wentz and the Eagles have been a little bit better so far than the Patriots have been. Long way to go here.
3. Alex Smith, QB | Kansas City Chiefs
The case for Smith: The Chiefs’ red-hot start has fizzled as they’ve lost three out of four after opening the season 5-0, but Smith is still humming along. He’s third in completion percentage behind Drew Brees and Josh McCown. (Let that sentence sink in for a second.) He’s second in passing yards, first in passer rating and first in yards per attempt while still throwing only one interception to go with his 18 touchdown passes. Smith has brilliantly transitioned along with Kansas City’s speedy new weapons to a new style of offense, and the Chiefs are leading the AFC West because of it.
The case against Smith: Had we done this three or four weeks ago, it’s possible Smith would’ve held the No. 1 spot. Instead, he received no first-place votes and no second-place votes (Wentz got two second-place votes and Brady got eight). Smith’s numbers in the Week 8 victory over the Broncos weren’t impressive, and his QBR performances in losses to Pittsburgh and Dallas were among his worst of the season. The Chiefs started the season with wins against Brady and Wentz, but they’ve lost some tough ones lately to contenders.
4. Todd Gurley, RB | Los Angeles Rams
The case for Gurley: Now, this is what I’m talking about! Enough with the quarterbacks, am I right? Gurley scored a third-place vote, two fourths and a fifth to barely edge out the two quarterbacks tied for fifth. Why? Well, he ranks fourth in the league in rushing yards with 686 and has added 29 catches for 338 yards. With seven rushing touchdowns and three receiving touchdowns for a league-leading 10 total, he’s been the centerpiece of the league’s highest-scoring offense and a huge part of the reason for quarterback Jared Goff’s big second-year leap.
The case against Gurley: Quarterbacks do tend to win this award, and the three in front of Gurley on this list all have strong cases. And Gurley does rank second in the league in total yards from scrimmage behind Kansas City’s Kareem Hunt (who, by the way, got the other first-place vote in our poll).
T5. Drew Brees, QB | New Orleans Saints
The case for Brees: This is a bit of a tough one. Brees is fifth in the league in yards, and the Saints are a surprising first-place team of which he’s the quarterback. He seems to be steering the ship with expected competence.
The case against Brees: Is he the MVP of his own team? I mean, obviously, the QB almost always is. But this year’s Saints are leaning hard on the run game and a surprisingly strong defense. Brees’ numbers are fine, but they’re hardly the spectacular ones we’ve come to expect, and the team is already one win short of its total from each of the past three seasons.
T5. Russell Wilson, QB | Seattle Seahawks
The case for Wilson: This one’s easier to make, because no one has done more to carry his team so far than Wilson has. Until last week, when the Seahawks finally acquired Duane Brown to play left tackle, Wilson had been playing behind Seattle’s usual makeshift offensive line and making magic anyway. He’s second in the league in passing yards per game, has 33 percent of his team’s rushing yards and has saved the team with fourth-quarter comebacks against San Francisco and Houston.
The case against Wilson: Other than the yards (rushing and passing), his numbers don’t rate with the quarterbacks higher on this list. And Seattle’s 5-3 record isn’t Philly’s 8-1 or even New England’s 6-2. That does matter in MVP voting, historically.
ESPN’s NFL MVP Poll: Midseason Edition
NAME FIRST TOTAL
Carson Wentz Eagles 8 48
Tom Brady Patriots 1 39
Alex Smith Chiefs 22
Todd Gurley Rams 8
Drew Brees Saints 7
Russell WilsonSeahawks 7
Dak Prescott Cowboys 6
Kareem Hunt Chiefs 1 5
Deshaun WatsonTexans 3
Le’Veon Bell Steelers 3
Calais Campbell Jaguars 2
Had the DB been polled, we would have gone – Brees, Brady, Wentz, Gurley, Campbell.
THE GOLDEN AGE OF QUARTERBACK STATS
Sean Cunningham of RealClearLife.com with a look at QBs who are playing better AND longer than ever before:
Let’s start with a statement few football fans would debate: New England Patriot Tom Brady and New Orleans Saint Drew Brees are really good at playing quarterback. (They’ve combined for five Super Bowl MVPs and 22 Pro Bowls).
You may not appreciate, however, just how historically superb they are, both ranking among the top four QBs all-time in career completions, passing yards, and touchdown passes.
The other two members of the top four are Peyton Manning (retired in 2015) and Brett Favre (retired in 2010).
The top 10 in those categories features three additional active QBs: New York Giant Eli Manning, Pittsburgh Steeler Ben Roethlisberger, and Los Angeles Charger Philip Rivers.
Steadily approaching the top 10 are Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers (already #9 in touchdown passes) and Arizona’s Carson Palmer…
Wait, Carson Palmer? The Carson Palmer best known for threatening to retire if the Bengals didn’t trade him, which resulted in him being sent to the Raiders, where he went 8-16 as a starter?
Yep, that Carson Palmer. Seems he’s #11 in completions, #13 in passing yards, and #12 in touchdown passes. Even if Palmer never plays another down after his recent injury, he’s still ahead of four-time Super Bowl champ and two-time NFL MVP Joe Montana in all three categories.
No disrespect to Palmer or anyone else on the list, but the NFL was founded in 1920. How is it possible that a majority of the game’s most prolific quarterbacks are either playing now or were in their prime in the last decade? (Hell, three of them came from the same 2004 draft class: Eli and Rivers were traded for each other!)
“By and large, the NFL has really tried to enhance scoring and benefited the offense,” said ESPN NFL analyst Tim Hasselbeck, who’s here to help explain just how the league does this. (Tim is inclined to sympathize with offense: he not only played quarterback in the NFL, but his brother Matt did too.)
Some recent rule changes make it easier for quarterbacks to complete passes. Others just make it possible for them to stay physically intact long after earlier generations had been battered into retirement. Here’s a quick timeline of why today’s defensive coordinators don’t get much sleep.
1993: It is not intentional grounding when a passer, while out of the pocket and facing an imminent loss of yardage, throws a pass that lands beyond the line of scrimmage, even if no offensive player has a realistic chance to catch the ball (including if the ball lands out of bounds over the sideline or end line).
“Take something like the ability to throw the football away. You’re outside the tackle box and all you need to do is get the ball to the line of scrimmage. Obviously that creates a protection for the quarterback.” (Beyond the safety standpoint, this also spares QBs a lot of interceptions, since they can lob the ball where no defender could possibly make a play.)
1995: When tackling a passer during or just after throwing a pass, a defensive player is prohibited from unnecessarily and violently throwing him down and landing on top of him with all or most of the defender’s weight.
“Quarterbacks, when they’re in the pocket… they’ve never been taught to look around at who’s coming to hit them. They’ve been taught to look downfield: you’re looking at the coverage and you’re trying to find who’s open. So when you get hit, you usually don’t know where it’s coming from. I think the league has realized that’s a very defenseless position.”
In particular, this rule limiting the force tacklers can use to take down a QB seeks to reduce head injuries: “Oftentimes they drive you into the ground and your head kind of does a double tap on the ground. That’s a reason why quarterbacks for the longest time have been the most concussed position on the field.”
2002: It is illegal to hit a quarterback helmet-to-helmet any time after a change of possession.
This eliminated a particularly ruthless bit of defensive strategy: “It used to be that the quarterback throws an interception, the defenders they were taught, ‘Hey, go find number 14 and hit him as hard as you can. Free shot on the quarterback. Do it as violently as you can.’ That’s changed.”
Hasselbeck also noted that, in the event of a turnover, coaches today will often urge the QB to focus on self-preservation as opposed to try to turn into Lawrence Taylor: “If Tom Brady throws an interception, the idea of taking on a defensive lineman who’s trying to put a block on him on the return, I think most reasonable minds would say that’s probably not a battle we want him fighting.”
2006: Low hits on the quarterback are prohibited when a rushing defender has an opportunity to avoid such contact.
“Preventing guys from being around your feet is a big one for longevity.”
2007: A block below the waist against an eligible receiver while the quarterback is in the pocket is a 15-yard penalty instead of a 5-yard penalty (an illegal cut block).
How many times have you seen a quarterback looking for an open receiver… but they’re all covered… and he keeps looking… and suddenly he’s obliterated for a sack. The NFL strives to reduce these moments. Hasselbeck noted the NFL has put limits on defenders “in terms of how you can make contact with receivers as they’re trying to get open… With the size and athleticism of receivers and your inability to defend them, that’s been a big part of quarterbacks being able to get out of their hand quickly.”
2009: It is an illegal hit on a defenseless receiver if the initial force of the contact by the defender’s helmet, forearm, or shoulder is to the head or neck area of the receiver. Penalty: 15 yards.
“I do believe that as the NFL has looked at making the game safer, one of the things that they’ve tried to do is acknowledge that there are plays where people in general, whether quarterbacks or receivers, are deemed defenseless.”
2009: Clarified rule regarding low hits on passers: A defender cannot initiate a roll or lunge and forcibly hit the passer in the knee area or below, even if he is being contacted by another player.
This is known as the “Brady rule,” because it was implemented after Brady was knocked out for the entire 2008 season by the play below:
Quite simply, rules like this have been a mitzvah for the longevity of QBs across the league: “The effort to keep people off of guys’ knees and the head and neck area is probably the number one thing that has helped guys be healthy each and every week.”
Indeed, Hasselbeck said that rule changes have made it so that defensive legends from earlier decades would have to take an entirely new approach to the game: “[Hall of Fame cornerback and safety] Ronnie Lott was one of the most feared guys because of the way he hit people. He probably wouldn’t be allowed to hit people… not probably, he wouldn’t be allowed to hit people the way he did back when he played. Would he be a guy who was suspended every other week?” (Based on the clips of “The Hitman” in the second half of this video, the answer is, “Oh, most definitely.”)
Even less violent defenders from previous NFL eras would have been impacted: “There are guys who played corner by being physical all the way down the field. They got up and they mauled guys. You’re not allowed to do that any more either.”
If you’re comparing quarterbacks from earlier eras to today’s, it’s worth remembering that far too many older stars had their careers shortened by plays the NFL would severely penalize today: “Steve Young’s career ended because of a brutal hit from Aeneas Williams that knocks him out.”
Today? “You can’t hit guys like that any more. That extends careers.”
There is also a focus today on quarterbacks keeping themselves on the field: “Sliding feet-first is way more acceptable now than it ever was—in many cases it’s taught.” Indeed, often a quarterback will just “give himself up” for a sack: “That used to be a thing that people would have never thought of doing at the position.”
Taken all together, you have a league where quarterbacks (and their receivers) are safer and there is every incentive to throw the ball: “Quarterbacks have definitely benefited from an interceptions standpoint, a volume of attempts standpoint.”
It becomes reasonable to ask: When we fixate on passing stats, are we selling short the star quarterbacks of yesterday?
Hasselbeck said we may be unfairly dismissive of players from different eras (focusing, for instance, on how Joe Namath threw more career interceptions than touchdowns): “Roger Staubach, I don’t think anybody disputes how incredible he was for the Dallas Cowboys. Then Troy Aikman’s number are better than his and Tony Romo’s numbers are better than his. So you say, ‘Well, Is that a fair indicator?’ Business was being done much differently back then.”
Here’s a crude but effective way to adjust for the fact that modern quarterbacks have both longer careers and typically throw the ball more times each game than their predecessors. Look at the career leaders in yards per pass attempt. There are modern players—those tied for fifth most all-time include Romo, Rodgers, Roethlisberger, and Russell Wilson—but #1 is Otto Graham (who retired in 1955), #2 is Sid Luckman (1950), and #3 is Norm Van Brocklin (1960). All three are championship-winning Hall of Famers. Indeed, “The Dutchman” Van Brocklin passed for a still-record 554 yards in a single game.
Yet none of them crack the top 50 in career pass completions, touchdowns, or yards.
So does this mean today’s quarterbacks, even those with video game numbers, are overrated and would struggle in earlier eras?
Hasselbeck fully acknowledges the way the game aims to accommodate QBs today but still thinks that, regardless of rules, the cream will always rise to the top: “There’s certain guys you watched and thought, ‘He’s got the arm, he’s got the physical skill set, the mindset.’ They’re passing the eye test. I think that those guys would be successful in any era. They were successful in their era because they were doing the things they needed to do. Peyton, Jim Kelly, Brett Favre, these guys are just physically really talented and loved the competition. I think they would have been able to adjust.”
PRO FOOTBALL FOCUS RATINGS
For the first time, we are taking a look at the ELO rankings from Pro Football Focus which identifies the Patriots as the top team. We think the ELO systems still has some holdover love from last year – hence the Patriots still on top and the Cowboys and Falcons in the top 10. And the Vikings (#12) and Jaguars (#14) are among those offscreen at the next level.
The Patriots come off a bye into an AFC picture far clearer than recent weeks. It’s the Patriots, Steelers, Chiefs … and everybody else. Like they’ve had to do in the past, New England has to hide some personnel deficiencies on defense. They are 30th in total defensive grades so far, and 28th in our opponent-adjusted defensive rating system. Luckily, the Patriots play a relatively-easy schedule of opposing offenses moving forward, meaning some of their deficiencies can be ironed out by one of the league’s best coaching staff. Tom Brady (92.7) and the league’s highest-graded offense plays the league’s fifth-toughest schedule of defenses the rest of the season, though, promising an interesting second half for the defending champs.
The Eagles continue to fly high, with a defense that rushes the passer better than any other team in the league. With Fletcher Cox (88.3) and Timmy Jernigan (86.2) up the middle and Brandon Graham (92.1) and Vinny Curry (84.2) on the edge, opposing offenses (which comprise the 22nd-toughest remaining schedule in the league) are going to have a tough time keeping up with the second-highest scoring offense in the league. With Ronald Darby returning to the lineup soon to team with PFF mid-season All Pro Patrick Robinson (91.2), the sky’s the limit for this Eagles team moving forward.
Like the Pats, the Steelers’ bye week was a helpful one. AFC contenders Kansas City and Buffalo lost in less-than-impressive fashion, while the only two AFC North teams that played were also defeated. While the offense has not met expectations to this point, their offensive line is fifth in pass blocking efficiency (82.2) so far, while their run blocking grades register as the seventh-highest. With a weak slate of opposing defenses in the season’s second half, look for the Steelers to challenge for the conference’s top seed moving forward.
We’ve had difficulty handicapping the Cowboys all season, but it appears that as long as they have Ezekiel Elliott (86.1) on offense and DeMarcus Lawrence (89.9) on defense they’ll be a force to be reckoned with in a tough division. While Elliott’s status week-to-week is up in the air, Lawrence has been among the most-efficient pass-rushers at his position since Week 1, generating 11 sacks, seven quarterback hits and 24 hurries (good for a 14.5 pass-rushing productivity). This has allowed the Cowboys to rank in the top half of the league in points allowed despite a defense that, as a whole, has only graded as the 21st-best unit through nine weeks.
Three losses in four weeks have the Chiefs limping a bit into their bye week. While the defense (rated as the second-worst by our metrics) is the main reason for concern, the Chiefs offense has not been nearly as explosive during their skid. In the last four weeks, rookie sensation Kareem Hunt has averaged only 3.3 yards on 58 carries. His 14 missed tackles forced on runs are tied for the highest number during that time, so it appears that the issues are more systemic. Throw in the fact that the Chiefs have been a pedestrian 14th in pass blocking efficiency during that time, and there’s some cause for skepticism with respect to their offense’s ability to make up for their defense’s limitations moving forward.
After blistering the Giants in New Jersey Sunday, the Rams finally make their debut in the PFFELO top 10. They’ve already scored more points this season than all of last season, and have tons to be excited about with the combination of Sean McVay and Jared Goff. Goff has improved in every aspect of quarterback play this fall, placing in the top ten in yards per attempt (8.32), while generating a 107.6 passer rating (10 TD, 3 INT) when kept clean. Todd Gurley has rebounded nicely in his third season, leading running backs in rushing touchdowns while having the fourth-most yards on the ground. They play a tougher slate of defenses moving forward, so a real test is in store for the upstart Rams.
The Panthers have matched their 2016 win total (six), despite quarterback play by Cam Newton (70.5) that has been among the bottom of the league’s quarterbacks. Their defense has allowed only 23 points the last three weeks, with Luke Kuechly (89.9), Kawann Short (88.7) and Thomas Davis (83.6) making up for the fact that four of their five starting defensive backs have PFF player grades below 50.0 through nine games. Kuechly’s been especially brilliant in coverage, allowing fewer than a yard per coverage snap and a 70.0 passer rating overall. By our metrics they have the league’s toughest remaining schedule, so it will be interesting to see if they can continue their winning ways starting Monday against the Dolphins and for the final six games after that.
Another week, another impressive win for the Saints against a less-than-impressive opponent. While their schedule gets more difficult in the second half, it’s easier than the rest of their opponents in the NFC South. Additionally, they have the best thing going at the quarterback position in their division, with Drew Brees (85.8) generating accurate passes at a rate of 80.9 percent, which is tops in the league. The addition of Alvin Kamara (first among running backs in yards per carry and fourth in yards per route run) has been a big boost to their offense, and the defense has emerged as a top-five group in the league. In a solid NFC, don’t be surprised if the Saints emerge as a contender for the conference’s second bye.
The metrics don’t seem to coincide with Atlanta’s 4-4 start. The Falcons are second in the league in our total offensive grades and eighth in our total defense grades, with a quarterback grading out as the league’s seventh-best signal caller. It doesn’t get easier from here, with Atlanta hosting a surging Dallas Cowboys team this Sunday in an attempt to avoid dipping below 0.500 for the first time since the Week 1 of 2016. To stop Zeke and Co., they’ll need a bit more productivity from second-year linebackers Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell, as they are currently near the bottom of their position group in run stop percentage (6.3 and 5.3, respectively).
In a game very characteristic of about two or three Seahawks contests a year, Seattle laid a complete egg at home against Washington on Sunday. Newcomers Duane Brown and Dwight Freeney were excellent, however, giving Seattle some hope moving forward. Brown allowed only two pressures in 62 pass blocking snaps against a stout Washington front, while Freeney needed only 23 pass-rushing snaps to generate two sacks, a quarterback hit and three hurries in his second game in Seattle. If they can get healthy over the next couple of weeks, their favorable schedule is one to watch moving forward as they compete for their fourth division title in five years.
FOOTBALL OUTSIDERS DVOA RATINGS
TEAM DVOA W-L
1 LARM 33.0% 6-2
2 PIT 29.3% 6-2
3 PHI 29.2% 8-1
4 JAC 24.9% 5-3
5 NO 23.8% 6-2
6 MIN 19.2% 6-2
7 KC 15.2% 6-3
8 DAL 14.7% 5-3
9 SEA 13.5% 5-3
10 BAL 10.5% 4-5
11 DET 10.2% 4-4
12 HOU 9.4% 3-5
13 NE 8.2% 6-2
14 CAR 8.0% 6-3
15 GB 7.4% 4-4
16 WAS 6.2% 4-4
17 BUF 1.5% 5-3
18 TEN -0.2% 5-3
19 ATL -2.2% 4-4
20 OAK -3.9% 4-5
21 LACH -7.6% 3-5
22 DEN -8.7% 3-5
23 CIN -8.8% 3-5
24 NYJ -15.8% 4-5
25 TB -21.8% 2-6
26 CHI -23.2% 3-5
27 ARI -25.2% 4-4
28 NYG -26.2% 1-7
29 SF -28.4% 0-9
30 IND -28.7% 3-6
31 MIA -28.9% 4-4
32 CLE -33.4% 0-8