The Daily Briefing Wednesday, October 4, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

 

Here is a tip from Kevin Seifert, if you see Jerome Boger, expect Offensive Pass Interference:

 

The route was a familiar sight to anyone who has watched the New England Patriots on fall Sundays this decade. Tight end Rob Gronkowski lined up in the slot at the 42-yard line. He ran 7 yards to the 35, cut to his right against Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly and hauled in quarterback Tom Brady’s pass for a 10-yard gain.

 

This time, however, there was a flag. Referee Jerome Boger had called offensive pass interference (OPI), believing Gronkowski pushed Kuechly during his cut to create separation. The play was a reminder that OPI is one of the most vexing and seemingly random penalties in football, a foul that has been on the uptick this season as evolving offensive schemes stress officials’ abilities to monitor receivers.

 

There were nine OPI penalties in Week 4, on top of 15 in Week 3, and a total of 42 in the first four weeks of the season. That rate puts the NFL past its four-week pace in 2016 (32) and 2015 (38). If it continues, the league would exceed the highest recorded number of OPI fouls in recent history.

 

Offensive Pass Interference By Year

YEAR   PENALTIES

2012     87

2013     74

2014     143

2015     134

2016     111

2017*    42

*Through Week 4

Includes offset, accepted and declined

 

For the most part, pass-catchers still hold a substantial rule advantage over the defensive players trying to stop them. For every OPI foul this season, officials have called four for defensive pass interference, defensive holding or illegal contact. But as the chart indicates, OPI was once a relatively rare occurrence, called less than five times per week in the NFL.

 

In 2014, the NFL shifted in an effort to equalize at least parts of the interaction between receivers and defenders. Via a public point of emphasis, teams were warned that officials would focus on contact that receivers initiated at the top of their routes for signs of a push-off — precisely what Boger appeared to target Sunday. When you add an increase in teams using “pick plays,” essentially designed to be legal pass interference, you get a better idea of why OPI numbers doubled between 2013 and 2014 before falling back slightly.

 

Pick plays have accounted for what was probably an unanticipated portion of this increase. Short, quick throws have grown increasingly popular in an age of poor pass protection and undertrained quarterbacks. Routes designed for one receiver to knock the coverage off another through “inadvertent” contact have grown in popularity.

 

The NFL rulebook exempts inadvertent contact, but officials are watching closely for receivers who appear to adjust their direction to ensure contact. They are also trying to strictly enforce another rule that prohibits blocking prior to the pass being thrown 1 yard beyond the line of scrimmage; receivers also can’t block while the ball is in the air if they are in the vicinity of the intended receiver.

 

Other than those blocking edicts, the published rules for pass interference are the same for offensive and defensive players. The standard for a penalty is on plays where contact “significantly hinders an eligible player’s opportunity to catch the ball.” In the case of OPI, officials focus on Rule 8, Section 5, Article 2(g), which states that it is illegal for a player to initiate “contact with an opponent by shoving or pushing off, thus creating separation”

 

Is that what Gronkowski did Sunday?

 

When you look at the replay, you see his left arm raised and in contact with Kuechly’s chest area. But did he push off as he made the cut? To me, that is an entirely subjective question. It’s fair to ask how frequently similar contact occurs on a standard NFL passing play. On the Fox broadcast, analyst and Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman said: “If you’re going to call that, we’re going to be here all day.”

 

Speaking Monday morning on WEEI’s “Kirk and Callahan Show,” Brady said: “I think [Gronkowski] is doing what he’s got to do to get open; there was such minimal contact.”

 

Some of the answers can be found in history. Gronkowski has long been a target of this point of emphasis, dating back to 2015 when he was called for OPI six times. The Patriots were penalized for it a league-high 12 times that season.

 

Boger, meanwhile, has been particularly active on this front. He and his 2016 crew called OPI an NFL-high 14 times, and his 2017 crew ranks second with six. For perspective, consider that while Boger was calling 14 last season, fellow referee Jeff Triplette called one. Referees Bill Vinovich and John Hussey called three apiece. Further context: Boger’s 14 OPI calls in 2016 are double what referee Craig Wrolstad has called since the start of the 2015 season.

 

Indeed, as we have noted many times before, referee tendencies are real and sometimes carry over from season to season despite the NFL’s shuffling of individual crew members. Suffice it to say, the teams whose games Boger is assigned should prepare for a more tightly called game.

 

“Some weeks you get those calls,” Brady said on WEEI. “Some weeks you don’t.”

 

To be clear, defensive players have a far greater rule challenge to navigate and are much more likely to be called for a penalty while covering on a pass play. Many of us pay more attention to the plight of offensive players, for fantasy or other reasons, but generally speaking they still have a decided advantage. The NFL, however, appears intent once again on limiting those boundaries.

 

We would point out that Boger himself probably rarely, if ever, actually throws the OPI flag.  Still you would think he is aware of the propensity of others on his crew to do so.

 

This from TE ROB GRONKOWSKI via Mike Reiss of ESPN.com:

 

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski on Tuesday expressed frustration over how inconsistently offensive pass interference penalties are officiated. Gronkowski was penalized for OPI in Sunday’s loss to the Carolina Panthers in what coach Bill Belichick later said was a “tough call.”

 

“If the consistency was there 100 percent, then I’d be cool with whatever it is,” Gronkowski said. “One week, we’re told we can play, it really isn’t going to be called, they can hold and you can slap off their hands. Then the next week, if you touch the guy, it’s a PI. I just wish I knew the consistency, so I can base my game off and practice and be prepared for the game and know the rules going in from week to week.”

 

Gronkowski and offensive pass interference penalties were a hot topic in 2015, when he was called for it twice during a game against the Denver Broncos. At the time, he had led the NFL with six OPI calls.

 

Belichick has noted Gronkowski’s work in recent years in trying to avoid offensive pass interference penalties, most recently during a Monday interview on sports radio WEEI, when he said, “Rob and I have talked about that situation … I think he really tries to do what is legal and tries not to put himself in a situation where they can call him. He doesn’t push off. He doesn’t try to create space. He tries to defend himself, and that is what he’s taught to do.”

 

Meanwhile, Gronkowski said Belichick gives the players a feel for tendencies of each officiating crew, which he said is “super helpful.” At the same time, Gronkowski complimented officials for doing a “tremendous job” while noting the difficulty of their work.

 

“It’s a tough job out there, just like us players,” he said.

 

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

Appeals officer Derrick Brooks cuts the suspension for LB DANNY TREVATHAN to one game for his brutal hit on WR DEVANTE ADAMS.  Colleen Kane in the Chicago Tribune:

 

Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan had his suspension for an illegal helmet-to-helmet hit reduced to one game through an appeal Tuesday, the NFL announced on Twitter.

 

Trevathan originally was suspended two games by the NFL on Saturday for his hit on Packers wide receiver Davante Adams, which the league said violated a rule against unnecessary roughness, including “using any part of a player’s helmet or facemask to butt, spear, or ram an opponent violently or unnecessarily.”

 

Trevathan didn’t practice Tuesday at Halas Hall as he went through the appeals process.

 

Appeals officer Derrick Brooks, who was jointly appointed by the NFL and the players association, reduced the suspension to one game. Trevathan will sit out Monday night against the Vikings and also will lose $117,647 of his salary this season.

 

Trevathan said Thursday night after the Bears’ 35-14 loss to the Packers that the hit not intentional.

 

 

GREEN BAY

Perhaps the only good thing about a Thursday game is that it gives players like RB TY MONTGOMERY a few more days to get ready for the next one.  Mike Spofford of Packers.com:

 

Packers running back Ty Montgomery said he’s going to discuss with the medical staff the options for protecting his broken ribs, with an eye toward playing on Sunday in Dallas.

 

“I’m going into this week as if I’m going to play,” Montgomery said on Tuesday, the players’ first day back after a long weekend following last Thursday’s victory over the Bears.

 

“I’m not willing to risk my overall long-term health, but at the end of the day it’s going to be up to me.”

 

Montgomery said he broke his ribs on the first play of the Chicago game, a 5-yard run during which a defender’s knee was lodged in his ribs as another defender finished taking him down.

 

“The defensive tackle landed full body weight on him, so it was like a hammer-and-nail type situation,” Montgomery said. “His knee was hammered into my rib cage.”

 

Montgomery carried the ball four more times over the next five plays before taking himself out, realizing the “moving and clicking” he was feeling in his chest was “not right.”

 

The long weekend helped the ribs feel better, and the Packers will return to the practice field on Wednesday. Montgomery didn’t indicate anything had been decided regarding his availability for the week.

 

 

MINNESOTA

With RB DALVIN COOK’s promising rookie season ended by an ACL tear, the Vikings ponder what is next.  Ben Goessling of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

 

Cook had run for 66 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries Sunday. His 354 yards in the first four games of his career were the second most in Vikings history, behind only Adrian Peterson’s 383.

 

It is Peterson’s example that the rookie will now look to follow.

 

The running back’s return from a torn ACL in 2012 — just nine months after Peterson sustained the injury — changed the landscape for what was possible from players returning from major surgery. Peterson ran for 2,097 yards that season, winning MVP honors while playing through a sports hernia he suffered in the second half of the season.

 

His recovery also helped shine the spotlight on the Vikings’ athletic training staff, which directed Peterson’s return and won praise for its ability to get injured players back to full strength quickly.

 

“I talked to him last night about it, about the doctors who we have here and the medical staff, how they were able to rehab the last great runner here,” Zimmer said. “I expect him to come back and be the same as he was.”

 

In the short-term, however, the biggest thing the Vikings might miss about Cook is the number of big plays he made in such a short time. He was tied for second in the league with four runs of 20 yards or more — after the Vikings had only six all of last season — and posted another 36-yard gain on a reception.

 

“Dalvin had unbelievable big-play ability in a lot of different ways,” Zimmer said. “We are going to have to continue to look for more ways to implement some big plays in the offense, probably.”

 

With Cook out, the Vikings could turn to Latavius Murray, whom they’d signed to a three-year, $15 million deal in March. Murray missed the Vikings’ offseason program, and much of training camp, while recovering from offseason ankle surgery, and has carried only 14 times for 38 yards in the Vikings’ first four games.

 

He played 19 snaps Sunday to Jerick McKinnon’s 10; Zimmer said he also expects McKinnon’s role to increase, while adding the Vikings could look at adding another running back. Bronson Hill is the only healthy running back on the team’s practice squad.

 

“We’re looking at everything now,” Zimmer said.

 

Murray said Monday his right ankle still doesn’t feel completely normal after the surgery, which was done to clean up an injury he’d suffered in Oakland last year. But the running back said he’s healthy enough for a big workload Monday night in Chicago if needed.

 

“It’s not going to quite feel the same for a while,” he said. “I knew that dealing with my previous ankle procedure [on his left ankle in 2013]. But for me, it’s being well enough to be out there and help the team. I don’t know when that day will come [that I feel 100 percent]. I feel good enough to be out there and be confident in myself, that I can play at a high level.”

 

NFC SOUTH

 

NEW ORLEANS

A blow to the offensive line for the Saints as RT ZACH STRIEF comes back from England with a bum knee.  Herbie Teope in the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

 

The New Orleans Saints will have a new starting right tackle when the team returns from the bye week.

 

The Saints on Tuesday placed Zach Strief on injured reserve, according to a source familiar with the situation. The move was later confirmed on Tuesday’s NFL Transactions report.

 

Strief suffered a knee injury in Week Four against the Miami Dolphins after a Dolphins defensive lineman appeared to roll up on the veteran offensive lineman’s right leg early in the fourth quarter.

 

Strief, 33, appeared to writhe in pain on the ground before making his way with trainers to the sideline, where he was taken to the locker room on a cart.

 

The 6-foot-7, 320-pound Strief had just returned to the starting lineup after missing two games because of suffering a knee injury in the regular-season opener.

 

With Strief shelved, the Saints are likely to lean on rookie Ryan Ramczyk, who filled in at right tackle in Strief’s absence for two games, if Terron Armstead (shoulder) is ready to return. Ramczyk also took over at right tackle in Week Four.

 

The Saints could also elect to move Andrus Peat from left guard to left tackle and keep Ramczyk at right tackle.

 

 

TAMPA BAY

After being caught in some disruptive behavior, WR DeSEAN JACKSON insists things are okay.  Rick Stroud in the Tampa Bay Times:

 

DeSean Jackson was brought to the Bucs during the offseason to be an explosive playmaker. But blowing up on the sideline was not expected to be part of the deal.

 

It’s hard to blame the receiver for showing his frustration after a failed two-point conversion pass in the Bucs’ 25-23 win over the Giants on Sunday.

 

“It’s just part of being a playmaker in this league that wants to make plays,” Jackson said Tuesday. “Anytime I get the opportunity to get the ball, I just want to make good plays and help my team win the game and just create big plays. It was just a part of that.”

 

In three games, Jackson has been targeted 20 times, catching nine passes for 143 yards and one touchdown. When healthy, Jackson has never been targeted less or caught fewer passes in the first three games to start a season than he has this year with the Bucs.

 

The exception would be 2015 with the Redskins, when he suffered a hamstring injury in the season opener against Miami.

 

“It’s definitely hard, feeling like being a veteran in this league 10 years. … But I’m not going to abort ship,” Jackson said. “I’ll stay on course, stay on plan. Eventually it will come together. We just got to continue to go out there and keep beating, beating away and (doing) the things you need to do to get better.”

 

Quarterback Jameis Winston has missed Jackson on at least three deep balls this season, one that was underthrown and intercepted.

 

While Winston and Jackson have had trouble connecting, the quarterback put most of the responsibility on himself.

 

“I think I just got to get on track with him,” Winston said. “I have to play better in all respects. He’s doing what he does, getting open. But again, it’s the third game. I don’t want to talk about, ‘I got to do this, I have to get DJac the ball.’ It’s obvious I’ve got to get him the ball. He’s going to make this team better. But at the same time, he’s happier with winning than anything else.”

 

Jackson chalks up the slow start to his unfamiliarity with Winston during games but believes they did enough during the offseason and training camp to perfect their chemistry.

 

“When you go out there and play with a guy for so many years, he knows what to expect,” Jackson said. “It’s still fresh, still new with me.

 

“We all know how much (Winston) wanted me, how much I wanted to be here as well. Hopefully it will work out. That’s all that matters.”

– – –

Dirk Koetter catches some high praise from the great Bill Belichick.  Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times:

 

Bill Belichick has never gone up against Bucs QB Jameis Winston, or faced Dirk Koetter as a head coach, but the Patriots coach has a strong respect for both entering their game on Thursday night.

 

“With Winston, I think he’s done a great job with him in two years, probably, arguably as good as any coach has done with any quarterback in the first two years of a career,” Belichick said Monday. “Some of that’s the player, but certainly a lot of that’s the guy coaching him, the guy working with him every day. I think Coach Koetter and his staff have done a great job there.”

 

Koetter, 11-8 as a head coach, has faced Belichick three times as an assistant — he was in his first year as Jaguars offensive coordinator in 2007 when they lost in the playoffs to a 16-0 Patriots team, then lost again with Jacksonville in 2009 and with Atlanta in 2013.

 

Asked what Winston needed to do to be considered a franchise quarterback, Belichick said “He’s pretty much already done it in two years. What more do you want him to do?”

 

 

NFC WEST

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

There are those who value something called DVOA, and they are liking the Rams right now.  Aaron Schatz at ESPN.com:

 

We’re only four weeks in, but 2017 has certainly been a topsy-turvy season so far. Just a month ago, many fans were talking about the chances of New England going 16-0; now the Patriots are just 2-2 and somehow tied in the standings with the New York Jets. Other powerful teams from last year have also gotten off to 2-2 starts, including Dallas, Oakland and Seattle.

 

Meanwhile, the Kansas City Chiefs are the last undefeated team despite cutting their No. 1 receiver in the offseason and losing their best defensive player to an Achilles tendon tear in Week 1. Even more shocking are the 3-1 starts from the Los Angeles Rams, who had one of the worst offenses in history a year ago, and the Buffalo Bills, who haven’t made the playoffs this century.

 

How likely are the Chiefs to finish the job and win their first Super Bowl in almost 50 years? What are the Bills’ chances of finally ending their long playoff drought? We can figure out those odds by going beyond just looking at each team’s record after four games. It’s important to consider just how well a team has played so far, based on a play-by-play breakdown rather than just the binary stat of wins and losses. We want to consider what we knew about how good a team was going into this year. We should also consider injuries as well as the schedule each team has yet to face, which is harder for some teams than others.

 

We’ve done all that using Football Outsiders DVOA ratings and produced current playoff odds for the 16 NFC teams:

 

1. Los Angeles Rams (3-1)

Chances of making the playoffs: 68.9 percent

This is the team with by far the biggest disagreement between Football Outsiders’ DVOA ratings and the ESPN Football Power Index: DVOA has the Rams third in the league, even if we incorporate preseason projections. FPI has the Rams way down at No. 24.

 

There are a couple of reasons for this. FPI uses stronger opponent adjustments earlier in the season, penalizing the Rams’ wins over the Colts and 49ers. But the bigger issue is that Football Outsiders was already projecting the Rams to be an average team going into the year, rather than expecting them to be one of the league’s worst teams. So when Football Outsiders methods combine the Rams’ strong performance so far with the average team we thought they would be, we get the expectation that the Rams will be a good team the rest of the way.

 

With stronger opponent adjustments for the first four games, the Rams wouldn’t come out quite so high in our playoff odds simulation. It might be overstating things to list them with the strongest playoff odds in the entire NFC. But Dallas and Washington aren’t exactly cupcakes; the Rams beat one and lost to the other by just a touchdown. Even with full opponent adjustments, our simulation would give the Rams better-than-even odds to make the playoffs. Given what most people thought of them a month ago, that’s astonishing.

 

2. Detroit Lions (3-1)                         65.9 percent

3. Philadelphia Eagles (3-1)             63.3 percent

4. Green Bay Packers (3-1)              59.3 percent

5. Atlanta Falcons (3-1)                    58.8 percent

6. Carolina Panthers (3-1)                48.7 percent

7. Seattle Seahawks (2-2)                 47.8 percent

8. Washington Redskins (2-2)         47.4 percent

9. Dallas Cowboys (2-2)                   33.1 percent

10. Minnesota Vikings (2-2)             31.3 percent

11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1)    29.4 percent

12. New Orleans Saints (2-2)             29.4 percent

13. Arizona Cardinals (2-2)                12.2 percent

14. Chicago Bears (1-3)                       2.5 percent

15. New York Giants (0-4)                   1.5 percent

16. San Francisco 49ers (0-4)             0.6 percent

 

Schatz has commentary for all these teams that you can read here.  And we remind you, two weeks ago DVOA was declaring the Ravens to be the second-most likely team to go to the Super Bowl.

– – –

Frank Schwab at Shutdown Corner also likes the Rams:

 

The Los Angeles Rams were 3-1 last season.

 

Weird, right? If you didn’t remember that, you’re forgiven. By the time they finished a 4-12 season, with two losses to the 2-14 San Francisco 49ers, any memories of a few wins early were so old that it seemed like Jim Everett was the quarterback for them. But yes, that terrible, boring Rams team did start 3-1.

 

Now the Rams are 3-1 again and generating buzz. Are we being fooled again?

 

This time it seems different. The foundation is more secure. Here are five reasons the Rams aren’t going away:

 

1. The schedule: Did you watch the 49ers-Cardinals game? If you did, you know neither of those teams is good. The Rams have three games left against them. The Seahawks are at least a little suspect too. The Rams play the AFC South this season, and that’s the easiest draw they could get. The schedule isn’t the easiest in the league, but there’s still a clear path to double-digit wins.

 

2. The defense could still improve: If there was optimism for the Rams this season, it was their talent on defense and a great new coordinator in Wade Phillips. The Rams defense has been mostly bad so far. Maybe the personnel just doesn’t fit Phillips’ scheme. But I feel OK betting on Phillips, one of the greatest defensive coordinators we’ve seen. I don’t think he forgot how to coach football this season.

 

3. The Rams suddenly have playmakers: Seeing Todd Gurley in an offense that looks like it’s from this century reminded us he was an elite prospect and an offensive rookie of the year. Sammy Watkins is always an injury risk, but he’s the Rams best receiver in a long time. Robert Woods was overpaid, but a better No. 2 receiver than the Rams have had in a long time. The Rams also made an enormous upgrade at left tackle with Andrew Whitworth. We’ll get to the coaching and the quarterback, but they also have far more to work with than recent Rams teams had.

 

4. They have a quarterback: Case Keenum led last season’s 3-1 start. If you’re not totally sold on Jared Goff yet, that’s fine. But even the biggest skeptic has to admit he’s far better than Keenum, a career journeyman. And honestly, there’s no real reason to believe Goff isn’t at least capable. I wondered, like most people, if Goff was a bust in the making after last season. As it turns out, he was just stuck with a horrendous coaching staff that could mess up a cup of coffee. Speaking of …

 

5. They have a coach: Who knows, maybe Sean McVay is Josh McDaniels, The Sequel. McDaniels, a young offensive whiz, started 6-0 as Broncos head coach. Remember that? Probably not, because he went 5-17 after that. So it’s not wise to put McVay into Canton yet. But just like the Keenum-Goff comparison, everyone understands he’s an upgrade over Jeff Fisher. You can see the creativity on offense, and that’s why they’re leading the NFL at 35.5 points per game. There are none of the other warning signs like there were with McDaniels, who alienated most of the Broncos’ locker room almost immediately after taking the job. Maybe McVay falls apart, but there’s no reason to believe he will.

 

Perhaps the Rams lose to the Seahawks this week and start to fall apart, like they did last season. Losing is embedded in their DNA. But there are signs this is different. Maybe they’re not ready to compete for a Super Bowl yet, but the signs of improvement are unmistakeable. It wasn’t a surprise when the Keenum-Fisher Rams faded last season. It would be a surprise if these Rams went away so easily.

– – –

Two veteran linemen are making everyone on the Rams better according to Brett Whitefield of ProFootballFocus.com:

 

Through four weeks of the NFL season the Los Angeles Rams offense appears to be much improved and it’s no surprise that offseason additions to the offensive line in Andrew Whitworth and John Sullivan appear to be paying off.

 

Whitworth has maintained his place as one of the top tackles in the league, ranking seventh with an overall grade of 83.6. As usual he has been solid as a run blocker (83.5 run block grade) but he has been near flawless in pass protection and boasts the top pass-blocking efficiency among tackles at 99.2. He has allowed just one pressure on 123 pass-block snaps.

 

Sullivan currently ranks 15th among centers with an overall grade of 68.6. However, since a brutal Rams debut in which he earned a game grade of 40.4, he has been very good. This past week against the Cowboys Sullivan earned the fifth-highest grade among centers of the week with a game grade of 80.3.

 

AFC WEST

 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

The Chargers are the first NFL team whose tree is falling in a forest.  Will Brinson at CBSSports.com (for bonus points, see if you can spot the misused word towards the end of this piece):

 

The NFL desperately wants to make Los Angeles professional football work, but the early results are not ideal. The Rams are at least 3-1, but the star running back is still begging fans to come watch the team play on Sunday against the Seahawks. Elsewhere, the 0-4 Chargers are an absolute disaster in Los Angeles right now.

 

Philip Rivers, who is already battling a brutal commute to work every day, was less than thrilled about the crowd that was present for the Dolphins-Chargers game in Week 2.

 

Week 4 was even worse, with Eagles fans descending on the tiny StubHub Center in Los Angeles and creating a hostile home environment for Rivers and the Chargers. Prior to the game, there were concerns about tarping over sections of seats; the Chargers say it’s not that big a deal. But it is. And it’s embarrassing to the NFL. 

 

The Eagles game just continues to highlight the issues, with Chargers tackle Joe Barksdale calling it “disheartening” to see that many people in your home stands rooting for another team.

 

“I try not to get too much into it because at the end of the day, we’re playing guys. I’m not really looking into the stands,” Barksdale said. “But at the same time, it is kind of disheartening when your home stadium is cheering for the away team. You guys can understand that.”

 

Asked by reporters if having the other team’s fans cheering loudly in his stadium was “demoralizing,” Melvin Gordon admitted it is a problem. “Yeah,” Gordon told L.A. Times. “It’s sad when you’re home and it feels like you’re away, but when you’re 0-4, what can you expect?”

 

At one point, Eagles defenders were asking the crowd to get loud, with Jordan Hicks waving his arms in the air while the Chargers were on offense. The crowd responded by getting loud.

“Have we ever seen a visiting player getting the crowd loud against the home team offense?” Fox play-by-play man Dick Stockton asked. “Never have I seen that.”

 

Eagles running back Wendell Smallwood was on the field and heard a bunch of fans booing before Sunday’s game. He figured it was Carson Wentz coming out. Nope. It was the Chargers.

 

And perhaps nothing points out the problem with the Chargers in Los Angeles quite like the television ratings, where the Chargers game was FIFTH in the L.A. market.

 

@FredNBCLA

LA Week 4 TV rankings:

1. Colts-Seahawks

2. #Rams-Cowboys

3. #Raiders-Broncos

4. Dolphins-Saints

5. Steelers-Ravens

tie

5.#Chargers-Eagles

 

The Raiders-Broncos game was the national CBS game, the Colts-Seahawks was a Sunday night affair, the Dolphins-Saints was in London in the morning and the Steelers-Ravens are always popular. Rams-Cowboys is a big game on Fox and features a Los Angeles team. You can make excuses, but it doesn’t make it any better for the Chargers, a team playing in a city where no one really wants them.

 

Despite that, the NFL says it will not be considering returning the team to San Diego, which was apparently a thing at some point in time. That was according to Joe Lockhart of the NFL on a conference call Monday, saying that the Chargers are staying put and riding this thing out in Los Angeles.

 

The StubHub Center is obviously a temporary solution until Rams owner Stan Kroenke can build out his new stadium and rent space to the Chargers. But the Rams are a year ahead of the Chargers on building a fanbase, not to mention ahead of the curve in terms of having a built-in fanbase. They also have three wins, a young quarterback in Jared Goff who looks like the real deal and a star running back in Todd Gurley. They are on the rise, up to No. 11 in Pete Prisco’s Power Rankings this week. 

 

The Chargers have lots of talent and a franchise quarterback in Philip Rivers, but they can’t get out of their own way and win games right now. And if you don’t win games, good luck on making inroads with an area that largely approaches professional football with indifference.

 

The cycle is viscous too: good luck winning NFL matchups when you’re playing 16 road games a year. The Chargers look like they have about 12 more left this season. Four weeks into the Chargers move to Los Angeles, this experiment is off on the wrong foot.

 

The cycle is usually vicious, not viscous.

 

vicious cycle

1. a sequence of reciprocal cause and effect in which two or more elements intensify and aggravate each other, leading inexorably to a worsening of the situation.

synonyms:        dilemma, vicious cycle, downward spiral, vortex, no-win situation, catch-22, chicken-and-egg situation

 

But maybe “viscous” works as well –

 

having a thick, sticky consistency between solid and liquid; having a high viscosity.

 

The Chargers are indeed in the proverbial “sticky wicket.”

 

A sticky wicket, (or sticky dog, or glue pot)[1] is a metaphor[2] used to describe a difficult circumstance. It originated as a term for difficult circumstances in the sport of cricket, caused by a damp and soft pitch.[3]

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

Nate Davis of USA TODAY thinks a 1-19 record has put Hue Jackson on the hottest of seats in Cleveland.  For his commentary on the other five coaches on the list, go here.

 

The calendar has flipped to October, when the temperatures get cooler, but the backsides get warmer for NFL coaches who aren’t getting the job done.

 

Here’s the latest installment of our weekly hot seat rankings:

 

1. Hue Jackson, Cleveland Browns: He can hear the pitchforks starting to rattle … which may seem improbable given the number of empty seats sprouting up at Browns home games. But Jackson has spent recent days answering questions about whether his staff and Cleveland’s front office have a fractured relationship and if there was any concern about his players quitting. That’s what happens when you get blown out 31-7 by a Bengals team that hadn’t won before Sunday. As for the Browns? They’re now 1-19 under Jackson and have dropped 29 of 31 overall. Those kind of numbers hardly indicate a rebuild is headed in the proper direction. Last week: 6

 

2. Ben McAdoo, New York Giants

3. Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals

4. John Fox, Chicago Bears

5. Chuck Pagano, Indianapolis Colts

6. Todd Bowles, New York Jets

 

 

PITTSBURGH

Discord in Pittsburgh?  WR ANTONIO BROWN fumed on the sidelines Sunday and QB BEN ROETHLISBERGER didn’t like it, even after Brown apologized.  Jeremy Fowler at ESPN.com:

 

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger called Antonio Brown’s sideline flare-up “unfortunate” and wished the All-Pro wide receiver talked to him personally about the missed play from Sunday’s game.

 

After Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw an incomplete pass toward another player while wide receiver Antonio Brown was open, Brown flipped over a cooler on the team’s sideline.

“That goes a lot further than throwing a temper tantrum,” Roethlisberger said on his weekly radio spot with 93.7 the Fan.

 

In the second quarter of the Steelers’ 26-9 victory over the Ravens, Brown broke free on a double move, but Roethlisberger worked the other side of the field, resulting in an incompletion intended for running back Le’Veon Bell.

 

From the sideline after the play, Brown flipped a Gatorade bucket and shrugged off offensive coordinator Todd Haley as the coach tried to calm him. Brown said after the game he’s a passionate player and the chance to unwrap that particular play made him feel like a kid excited at Christmas.

 

Roethlisberger told 93.7 he was simply following his read on the play based on the Ravens’ pre-snap coverage, noting that he’s never going to find every open receiver.

 

Roethlisberger said Brown’s attitude didn’t set a good example for young players and undermines his “superhuman” talent.

 

“AB is the best receiver in the world, maybe one of the best to ever play the game,” Roethlisberger told 93.7. “I’d like to think him and I together may be one of the best quarterback-wide receiver combos to ever play the game. I don’t know he needs to react that way. He’s superhuman on the football field, and when that happens, it almost brings him back to being a mere mortal, if you will. Because it gets in his head and it just messes with all of us a little bit. … I’m not trying to call AB out. I just think this is causing a distraction that none of us really need.”

 

Coach Mike Tomlin said at his weekly news conference that he didn’t see the sequence but heard about it afterward and hopes Brown makes the proper adjustments.

 

“AB is a competitor — we all know and understand that,” Tomlin said. “But we’ve got to control it. He has to control it. If he does not, it can work against him, it can work against us. Those are the lessons you learn along the way. Sunday was a big game, obviously for a lot of reasons. Emotions are capable of getting away from you. It doesn’t need to happen. It shouldn’t happen. Hopefully it won’t moving forward. Hopefully he’s learned a lesson through that. Hopefully others have learned a lesson through that.”

 

When asked how Brown finds a balance between passion and outbursts, Tomlin said this is “not Antonio’s first rodeo.”

 

“I’m not going to waste a lot of time talking to Antonio about not throwing water coolers and so forth,” Tomlin said. “Be a professional.”

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

ESPN loves its QBR rating and right now rookie QB DeSHAUN WATSON likes it too as he sits atop the NFL with a mystery mark of 79.1.  That’s 3.5 points ahead of TOM BRADY.  You can see all the current QBR ratings here.

 

How is Watson doing in the NFL’s traditional passer rating?  Okay at 91.7, but that is still only 13th in the NFL.  Brady is second in passer rating as well, but instead of Watson, he’s behind ALEX SMITH of the Chiefs.

 

 

TENNESSEE

QB MARCUS MARIOTA may be able to play this week, but just in case the Titans are said to be signing well-traveled QB BRANDON WEEDEN.  Field Yates of ESPN.com:

 

Weeden was cut by the Texans last month before the season started.

 

Mariota was diagnosed with a minor strained hamstring following an MRI. He is considered day-to-day, and Titans coach Mike Mularkey isn’t ruling him out for Sunday at Miami just yet.

 

Weeden started and won critical games late in the 2015 season for the Texans with then-starter Brian Hoyer out injured. He was rewarded with a two-year contract after that season and served as the team’s third-string quarterback in 2016. He was active for all but three of the Texans’ 18 games last season behind Brock Osweiler and Savage but did not play.

 

Steven Ruiz of USA TODAY chronicles those who think Colin Kaepernick would have been a better idea:

 

Seriously, though, this move makes no sense and should silence the naive people out there who still say Kaepernick is unemployed for #FootballReasons. Something tells me it won’t, though.

 

Anyway, Twitter lost its collective mind when the move was first reported…

 

Schultz_Report

#Titans not only didn’t sign Collin Kaepernick… they didn’t even work him out! If you don’t think Kap is blackballed, ur lying to yourself

 

@Cianaf

lol at you dopes thinking Colin Kaepernick could run the Titans offense. They’d have to change it too much. Easier with Weeden/Cassel.

 

Ben Jacobs @Bencjacobs

You have a scheme built around a mobile quarterback and the guy you sign off the street is Brandon Weeden?

 

@FauxNFLnetwork

A system built around a mobile quarterback who can run…And the Titans sign Brandon Weeden.

 

@JoshEberley

Who would you replace Mariota with?

 

Weeden

6 wins

not mobile

34

never seen playoff action

 

Kaepernick

32 wins

mobile

30

Been to Super Bowl

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

ANTHEM AND ACTIVISM

The NFL continues to walk dialogue with players about social justice and how to work towards it. ESPN.com:

 

The NFL and NFL Players Association released a joint statement announcing that representatives from the league and the players’ union met Tuesday to discuss social activism by players.

 

The brief statement revealed that Roger Goodell, DeMaurice Smith and Robert Kraft were among those who attended the meeting. Goodell and Kraft were influential voices in last week’s meeting involving league officials, team owners and players, which was held to discuss how the NFL would move forward after the controversial widespread protesting by players during the national anthem.

 

Players attending Tuesday’s meeting included New York Giants LB Mark Herzlich, Washington Redskins QB Kirk Cousins and New York Jets LB Demario Davis, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter

 

Smith, the NFLPA’s executive director, did not learn about last week’s meeting until it was too late for him to attend. He told Outside The Lines that he viewed the late notification of the meeting as “insulting to our players’ leadership.”

 

“The league tries to use some of our guys to give them cover, to get them on their side,” Smith told OTL. “Our players’ leadership wasn’t pleased, and I wasn’t pleased.”

 

The statement did not reveal the substance of Tuesday’s meeting but called it a “productive conversation” and concluded by saying “we are all committed to an ongoing dialogue.”

 

 

RULE CHANGE

This is good news for prospective NFL players at Stanford, UCLA and a frew other schools.  Tom Pelissero of NFL.com:

 

A rule that has frustrated NFL coaches and left some rookies behind for years appears to be on the verge of changing.

 

The NFL and the American Football Coaches Association are working toward a deal to overhaul the so-called “May 16 Rule” — better known as the policy that has prevented rookies from participating in football activities if their schools were in session, regardless of whether they were still enrolled — starting in 2018, sources with knowledge of the plan told NFL.com.

 

 

The league’s competition committee was advised of the plan in a conference call Tuesday, one of the sources said. No vote is required to pass the change, but the plan is still being finalized, another source said.

 

All rookies in the past have been allowed to participate in rookie minicamps. But those from schools with classes still in session — many of them from the Pac-12 — have been barred from participating in many other spring activities, including organized team activities and minicamps, until their schools’ exams were complete. This year, that included two top-10 picks from Stanford, Solomon Thomas (49ers) and Christian McCaffrey (Panthers), who told reporters he’d like to see the rule change “or at least make some exceptions.”

 

Under the new rule, all rookies would be permitted to join their teams on a mutually agreed upon date, on or around May 16. If a rookie is still enrolled and his final exams are not complete, those still taking online classes would be allotted time to complete them; those enrolled in traditional classes would be allowed to return to campus for exams; and graduate students and those who completed coursework early could fully participate in offseason activities.

 

Rookies would still be able to stay in school through their final exams, and club employees will be forbidden by rule from telling a player offseason activities (AKA the Rookie Football Development Program) are mandatory or persuading them to leave school. Teams’ player engagement directors and each school’s academic advisors would jointly monitor players’ academic progress. Players would continue to be permitted to participate in commencement ceremonies, too.

 

The NFL implemented the rule in 1990 “to protect student-athletes who have remained in school to complete their schoolwork,” rather than pressuring players to drop out of school and join their new clubs, according to the league’s football operations website. However, none of the small number of players impacted last year was even enrolled in classes, one of the people said. The NFL and AFCA have been working together to find a sensible solution.

 

The NFL’s operations website said players from six schools with exams after June 1 were affected last year: Stanford, Washington, Northwestern, Oregon, Oregon State and UCLA.

 

 

POWER RANKINGS

Steven Ruiz of ForTheWin.com says it is hard to have anything approaching consistency in power rankings after four weeks of the NFL season:

 

The 2017 NFL season has been weird. The Bills are in first place in the AFC East. Alex Smith is an MVP candidate. The Lions are Super Bowl contenders. Nothing makes sense.

 

It’s impossible to sort it all out. The Transitive Property is utterly useless.

 

@theStevenRuiz

The Pats blew out the Saints on the road. The Saints blew out the Panthers on the road. So naturally the Panthers beat the Pats on the road.

 

But that’s what power rankings are for. The internet’s power rankers, who have been tasked (cursed?) with establishing the NFL hierarchy every week are here to make sense of everything that’s happen. They are human beings with trained eyes. They can ignore the noise of the dreaded small sample size.

 

Or so we thought.

 

Even the power rankings have been thrown for a loop. They have come to two unanimous agreements: The Chiefs are the best team in the league; the Browns are the worst. In between, it’s all mayhem.

 

Nobody knows what to do with the 3-1 Bills. USA TODAY Sports has them at No. 3. Yahoo and ESPN have them all the way down at No. 15. Seattle is just as vexing. The ‘Hawks are up at No. 6 in ESPN’s rankings and all the way down at No. 19 in Bleacher Report’s. The defending NFC champs are another team giving power rankers fits. The Falcons rank as fourth in CBS Sports’ power rankings and 11th in The Washington Post’s.

 

So what does this all mean? Absolutely nothing.

 

Power rankings at this time of the year are as useless as the standings are. We’re all just reacting to four-game samples, and most of these teams will look a lot different in a month’s time.

 

Do we really expect the Patriots to be letting receivers run wide open all season? Do we even expect that to be the case next week? No, we don’t. So then why are the Patriots left out of every top-10 (except for ESPN’s) in this week’s batch of power rankings?

 

Question: If the Patriots and Lions played on a neutral field next Sunday would ANYONE outside of Detroit actually pick the Lions to win?

 

Nope. Not a single person would take Detroit.

 

Just look back at the power rankings from this time last year. The top two teams, on average, were the Broncos and Vikings. Neither of those teams had anything to play for in Week 17. The Lions, who would finish 9-7 and in the playoffs, had a combined ranking of 26. The Titans, who would also finish 9-7, were 30th. At this time in 2016, the Eagles were sitting at 3-1 and in everyone’s top-10. The Dolphins had just one win and were outside everyone’s top-25. Sound familiar?

 

By the end of the season, the Patriots and Steelers will be the two best teams in the AFC. The Packers, Cowboys and Seahawks will look like the class of the NFC. We’ll all look back at these power rankings and laugh about how naive we all were.

 

It happens every year and we never learn.

 

The DB disagrees.  We think that right now, in October, the Lions could beat these Patriots.  We also think the Chiefs and Lions will have December staying power.  And we aren’t so sure the Cowboys and Seahawks do.

 

 

PEYTON MANNING UPDATE

Everyone keeps waiting for Peyton Manning to declare some bold ambition for the rest of his life, but right now he’s just busy doing nothing consequential.  Peter King:

 

In advance of the weekend ceremony (of the unveiling of his statue in Indianapolis), Manning and I spoke for 33 minutes this week for The MMQB Podcast With Peter King, which also will be available for download via iTunes on Wednesday. The early part of the pod is about his life as a Colt, and the meaning of this weekend, having a statue of him unveiled at the ripe old age of 41. Later, we get into his current life.

 

“I am not 100 percent comfortable with all of this, but I’m extremely grateful to [owner] Jim Irsay and his generosity,” Manning said from Denver. “I will admit I’ve gotten a couple of physicals recently, just to check my health, because I agree: Most people aren’t alive to see something like this.”

 

Regarding the headlines of Manning’s life now:

 

• He said he never had a second thought about retiring and wasn’t tempted to return, not even last year when Ryan Tannehill went down in Miami and close friend and Dolphins coach Adam Gase texted, apparently to gauge his interest in returning to play. “I’m out,” he said, definitively.

 

• He’s interested one day in exploring running a team, the way John Elway has taken the reins of the Broncos. But “it is just not the right place for me right now,” he said.

 

• His twins, Marshall and Mosley, are in first grade, and he said much of his life is centered around speaking engagements, traveling with wife Ashley, and the twins’ flag football and soccer games and practices.

 

• Owning a team doesn’t sound like it interests him. Running one does—just not right now.

 

• When I asked if he was concerned about long-term effects of head trauma or his health later in life, he said he feels “like I am competing every day against my health—that’s my new opponent … That’s important to me, to stay healthy, so I can be around for my kids and my family and see lots of things I still want to see.”

 

• Manning said he spent “several days” with Rams coach Sean McVay “talking football, talking philosophy” in the spring. But he said he spent several days with a few teams in the past year or so, even sitting out of camera view monitoring one team’s draft weekend last April, just to learn the business of it.

 

• This was not on the podcast, but Manning running for political office has become a hot topic since he retired. Some in Tennessee would like to see Manning become a politician, but he has told me he has “zero interest” in running for public office.

 

• For a while, at least, it sounds like you might see Manning mostly as a TV pitchman, and not in very many other places.

 

“I’m still on TV a lot doing commercials,” he said. “I apologize to all the people out there who are tired of seeing me on commercials.”

 

Most people in football, when Manning’s name comes up, predict he’ll end up following in John Elway’s footsteps. Listening to Manning, that sounds like it appeals to him too—but the other obligations he has now conflict with the time it would take to run a team. Reading between the lines, it sounds like if and when he does come back, he’d want it to be with a team with the right structure for him to be a difference-maker.

 

“It certainly could be a possibility,” Manning said. “I know John didn’t take his job with the Broncos until he was 50 years old. He had stopped playing for 12 years at that point … I’m 41 years old and it’s my second season out, so people like to make that comparison but it is such an individual thing.

 

“I believe in staying close to the game. I went to the combine last year and met with some GMs and some owners to pick their brains on different sides of things. I sat in with a team during the NFL draft this year. I stayed off camera, but I was able to sit in and watch. Often times if I am speaking at a certain event, I will stop by that NFL team or college team and go talk some football.

 

“But I know what that job entails, and that is an all-in job. That is a do-not-put-your-phone-down-ever job. It’s a 24-7-365 days a year job. Because I know what that commitment is and what that job entails, it is just not the right place for me right now. I really am enjoying what I’m doing. As far as what will happen in the next few years I can’t really say, but like I said, I will always be close to the game.”

 

He didn’t rule out ownership but said: “I keep looking for that $2.5 billion in my pocket. Just don’t see it. Derek [Jeter, just named one of the new Miami Marlins’ owners] will be great in that role. I have such great respect for him. I’m happy for him. … I enjoy teaching football. I love our football camp [the Manning Passing Academy]. I love going to these colleges and answering questions. I sat down at the Chicago Bears with Mitch Trubisky and he had some questions for me. I love paying it forward if anybody has any questions … just probably not in the coaching world. An executive role of some sort, who knows, it is a possibility but it’s all pretty futuristic.”

 

Since he walked away in March 2016, Manning expected he might miss it more. Friends in football told him he would. But even when Gase reached out via text when Tannehill got hurt last December, it didn’t tempt him. Manning, as you recall, struggled mightily with arm strength down the stretch of the Super Bowl-winning season in 2015.

 

Maybe he just had enough of football. Whatever, he never felt the pull to go back.

 

“Adam Gase reached out to me [when Tannehill got hurt last season],” Manning said. “He said, ‘Look Peyton, I know what I am going to get asked in my press conference tomorrow. There’s no doubt they are going to ask me. Just tell me what you’d like me to say.’ And this was via text, and I said, ‘Adam, you tell the media that yes, I probably could come back and play and there is no doubt that we would go to the Super Bowl,’ … I’m being sarcastic on that … ‘but there is no way I could be at practice every day and still fulfill my carpool duties for my two 5-year-old twins. So I’m out. I had a lot of people tell me how much I was going to miss it and be anxious and miserable, and … it is such an individual feeling, and that was just not true.”

 

Manning has buried himself in his new life. “My kids are playing flag football and soccer so I go to those practices and games,” he said. “It’s important to me to be a part of those and to be around. I am a volunteer assistant coach on our kids’ flag football team. Last year they wanted me to be a full-time coach and I said, ‘Coach, let me tell you, you don’t have any pass plays. I cannot be involved with a team that has no pass plays.’ So I got them throwing the ball a lot more this year.”

 

This part of our chat was not surprising: He said, “I feel busier than I ever have.” Manning was good at football. He’s not good at sitting around.

 

The King piece doesn’t answer a question the DB has been wondering about – in what city does Manning now live?  We thought he had moved out of Denver, but maybe not.

This from the Denver Post in July:

 

His buddy Todd Helton is back home in Tennessee, but Peyton Manning remains a Rockies fan.

 

The former Broncos quarterback showed up in the Rockies’ clubhouse Monday evening during a rain delay at Coors Field before a Cubs-Rockies game that was eventually postponed.

 

“I talked to Peyton, he popped into my office and that was great,” said manager Bud Black, who met Manning for the first time. “I took him down to the (indoor batting cages).”

 

Manning was offered a chance to take a few swings in the cage, but he declined. He did make himself at home in the clubhouse, talking with Nolan Arenado, Carlos Gonzalez, Trevor Story and others.

 

“Hey, he’s a Rockies fan!” Black said, breaking into a big grin. . “He asked about the team and we talked about the team’s mindset. He’s a really nice guy. He lives here, but he travels a lot. He says he loves Denver. Hopefully we see him out here more often.”