Dear Giants: We Won’t Forget This.

There are moments that make and break a franchise. This is one of them.

The New York Giants, led by Ben McAdoo (HC) and Jerry Reese (GM), have decided to bench Eli Manning before next week’s game. Eli Manning is the active leader in consecutive starts at QB with 210, second all time only to Brett Favre at 297. He has started every game with the Giants since being drafted first overall in 2004. That will end next week. Eli also ranks 7th all time in passing yards with 50,625 and 7th all time in touchdown passes with 334. Oh, and he also won two Super Bowls for the Giants and was MVP of both. He’s one of eight Quarterbacks in NFL history that have won two Super Bowls. And he’s being benched for Geno Smith, a former New York Jet who once missed almost an entire season with a fractured jaw after being punched in the face during practice.

It’s true that the NFL is a business and a brutal one at that, and getting rid of star players at the end of their careers is often ugly. But there’s absolutely zero reason this had to happen the way it did.

When Peyton Manning left the Colts, he had missed a year due to injury, the team was in abysmal shape, the greatest QB since Peyton himself was going to be available to be drafted, the team was going through a massive organizational overhaul, and Peyton’s football future was in serious doubt due to his injury. When Favre left the Packers, it was because he had initially announced retirement and the team had wanted to move on with Aaron Rodgers, a guy they’d been grooming to start for 3 years. They only said no to Favre after he flip-flopped and decided he in fact wasn’t ready for retirement. When Romo left the Cowboys, he too had serious injury questions, and the Cowboys had struck gold with Dak Prescott, their fourth round pick who had ended up being a superstar and leading the Cowboys to the playoffs while Romo was injured.

All these situations were sad and harsh, but there were extenuating circumstances and reasoning behind them that made them maybe not justified, but understandable. What the hell do the Giants have to hang their hat on for this decision? No, Eli hasn’t been playing great. Yes, he’s 36 years old. But the Giants barely have a team out there as there have been so many injuries. There are very few Quarterbacks that would succeed in this situation. And who are you benching him for? Geno Smith? He’s been in this league since 2013. He has a track record. We know who he is, and it’s not good. Yes, he’s talented, but he’s been a backup QB for the majority of his career, and that’s not going to change, certainly not with this team. Then you have the third round rookie Davis Webb, who quite frankly, I don’t know much about, but I have trouble believing he’s the answer. It’s not like we need to see who this guy is. We’re 2-9, we’re going to have a top pick in the draft in what will be a very deep QB class. If we’re going to move on from Eli, odds are it will be for a guy we draft, not for Davis Webb.

And who are these coaches benching Eli? Ben McAdoo has been a head coach in the NFL for two years. That’s it!! This year he’s been nothing short of awful, both on the field and off it. We went to the playoffs last year despite an uncreative and non-productive offense (his supposed specialty) because we had a good defense and won a lot of close games. This year he sat idly by and made no adjustments as our team continued to descend further into oblivion, and he eventually lost his team as we had to suspend both our corners for conduct issues. He calls plays like a robot, his offense sucks and is easy to plan for, he can’t manage a team, and he shows all the emptiness and arrogance of Bill Belichick at a press conference–except he doesn’t have the track record or football acumen to back it up, and his players don’t respect him. And it’s not like he had a great resume before becoming a head coach either. Then there’s Jerry Reese, our shitshow General Manager who probably should have been gone years ago. He had that one good offseason when his head was on the chopping block where he got Janoris Jenkins, Olivier Vernon, and Rodgers-Cromartie. But definitely Jenkins and possibly DRC will be gone soon. Reese hit on Beckham (even though he’s a nutcase), hit on JPP, and had some good drafts wayyy back when, but outside of that he continually ignores positions of need, drafts flawed and questionable players, and refuses to make any big time moves. And like McAdoo, he too is an arrogant prick who refuses to take any responsibility.

These are the two men that benched the guy who’s been the face of our franchise for over a decade. For arguably no reason. It’s sickening, disrespectful, and classless. Eli is worth so much more to the NFL in the respect that he commands than those two combined will ever be. And what about our owner, John Mara? The Giants have long been considered one of the cornerstone franchises and ownerships in the NFL, with Mara being one of the good guys, but that may be coming to an end. I started to question Mara with his handling of the Josh Brown domestic abuse case last year, but on the field most have given him the benefit of the doubt. I’m sure there are those who will want to separate Mara from McAdoo and Reese, but I have trouble believing McAdoo and Reese would make this kind of move without Mara’s okay. Make no mistake, this move reflects in an awful way on the entire organization. And it’s not something inconsequential: It’s the end of the road for the most important player in franchise history. That’s why it’s so despicable.

Honestly it’s all sickening. There are ups and downs for every franchise, good times and bad, and star players falling from grace. But this isn’t just an “oops” that can be brushed by the wayside in due time. This will go down in history. This is the best Quarterback in franchise history, a guy who’s been nothing but a class act, that you benched for no reason for a garbage backup from a nobody coach in the middle of the god damn season. And look, I know Eli’s 36. If you had to move on at the end of the season, I wouldn’t be thrilled, but I’d get it. But benching him now?? As if it’s somehow his fault this sorry ass team can’t even pull themselves together enough to actually put in any effort on Sunday? Heck it was Eli Manning’s pre-game speech that supposedly hyped up the Giants enough to get their second win of the season vs the Chiefs just a few weeks ago. Say what you want about Eli. Has he been a perfect Quarterback? No, far from it. Is he overrated? Is he hall of fame worthy? We can have all those discussions later. But he’s been a consummate pro his whole career (and continues to be, even as he’s being slapped in the face), and he’s done as much for this franchise as anybody. He does not deserve this, and the Giants should be ashamed of themselves. He deserves to at least finish off the season as a Giant. And let me be clear: It’s not just that they’re benching him. It’s that they’re choosing to end his career, and this is how they do it. By throwing him to the curb, by kicking him on the way out the door, and for no apparent reason.

I’ve been a Giants fan since I started following Football. It hasn’t been that long, granted, but I’ve been with them for the highs and the lows. I put my heart into every game. I felt the joy when they hoisted that Lombardi over the Patriots, and I felt the anger when Desean Jackson ran that punt back and ended our season. I was born and bred in New York and I assumed I always would bleed blue.

But this? I’m not going to make any definitive statements, but I’m not sure this is forgivable. If this truly is the end for Eli in New York (which many are saying it is), and this is how the Giants chose to go about it? By benching him in the middle of a lost season for Geno Smith? I honestly might not be able to root for them anymore.

The Giants may be thinking about the future, but I know I speak for all of Big Blue Nation when I say this: Us fans won’t be forgetting this anytime soon.

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How Michigan Can Beat Ohio State Next Weekend

It’s been somewhat of a disappointing year for the Michigan Wolverines. Sure, 8-3 looks good from the outside, but most of those wins have been piled up against lackluster competition. We saw Michigan lay an egg at home against the Spartans, get absolutely demolished at Penn State, and come up short last week against Wisconsin. This is a proud program with championship aspirations, and they didn’t make Jim Harbaugh one of the highest paid coaches in College Football to be just good. Michigan was 10-3 the last two seasons under Harbaugh, and they will likely finish this year at 9-4 or 8-5. Overall, that’s a pretty good record for a coach’s first three years, but unfortunately for Harbaugh, Michigan’s inability to beat their Big 10 rivals is nothing new. Michigan finished 3rd in the Big Ten East at the end of the 2015 and 2016 seasons. They also fell out of the CFP rankings twice this year and will likely be out again this week. In fairness to Harbaugh, Michigan did lose their starting QB, Wilton Speight, during the first game of the season, and they lost just about their entire defense to the NFL last year. Still, this game is about results, and considering what Harbaugh is being paid, it’s no wonder Michigan fans are beginning to grow restless with him. Michigan fans want to see this team get over the hump and represent the Big Ten over the likes of Penn State and Ohio State, and so far, we haven’t seen that.

With their 24-10 loss to Wisconsin last week, Michigan all but gave away their chances of representing the Big Ten East in the Big Ten Championship Game. That spot will now be occupied by Ohio State, who will face Wisconsin in the Championship two weeks from now. Coming off the loss to Wisconsin, Michigan will now have to face an Ohio State team that, at their best, is one of the more potent offenses in College Football. Ohio State is currently ranked at 9 in the CFP rankings, and they’re hoping to find a way into the College Football Playoff, which is very much still a possibility.

All in all, it’s tough to have too much confidence in this Michigan team going into this game. Earlier in the year, this matchup looked like a great way to wrap up the season and determine the Big Ten East Champion. But at this point, it’s certainly looking pretty tilted in Ohio State’s favor. However, this game will be hosted by Michigan at The Big House, and anything can happen in a rivalry game, especially a rivalry as heated as this one. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how Michigan can end the season on a high note and pull of the upset at home.

1) Run The Ball

It certainly hurt Michigan to have their starting QB, Wilton Speight, injured during the first game of the year, and Michigan fans are definitely upset about backup Brandon Peters getting hurt last week. However, regardless of who’s starting at Quarterback, the Wolverines want to be a run first team. That’s who Harbaugh is. It’s who he was in the NFL, and it’s who Michigan has been with him at the helm. Michigan plays their best when they’re running the football well.

We’ve seen Michigan have some absolutely huge games on the ground this year, yet in their losses, the run seems to have mostly gone away. It is imperative that Michigan stay committed to the run in this game. If they put the game in the hands of Quarterback O’Korn, they’re going to lose. They need to stay stubborn with the run, even if they’re struggling. Karan Higdon has been their best back and I would stick with him if I were Harbaugh, but Chris Evans and Ty Isaac have been capable as well. It’s easy to go into a game against a tough opponent and think that you won’t be able to run the ball, or that you need to throw constantly to keep pace. But Michigan’s identity is tight I-Formations and a run heavy offense. That’s who they’ve been in all of their wins, and you can’t change your identity just because of who you’re playing. Furthermore, Michigan has to stay ahead in down and distance. They can’t drop back on 2nd and 3rd and long in this game and expect to win. Neither their pass protection nor their Quarterback is good enough. If Michigan wants to win, they need to run the ball and do it well. Even if they’re not scoring on every drive, if they can move the ball a bit, take up time of possession, stay ahead of down and distance, and win with field position, they’ll have a shot. But if you’re giving the Ohio State offense possession after possession, they’re going to capitalize, and you’re not going to be able to keep up.

2) Don’t Turn the Ball Over

You can’t give this Ohio State offense extra opportunities. They’re too potent. Since this is unlikely to be an explosive game for Michigan, it has to be a mistake free game. O’Korn probably won’t have a huge game, but the one thing he cannot do is turn the ball over. Michigan had some dumb and costly turnovers last week against Wisconsin, and turnovers have been a problem at times for O’Korn this season. Play safe, and play smart. Don’t give the game away. Make them earn every yard.

3) Don’t Give up Big Plays on Defense

This Ohio State offense is about as explosive as it gets. But the Michigan D has been, for the most part, pretty darn good this year, especially considering how little help they’ve gotten from the offense. Nonetheless, there have been times where they’ve given up big plays. At Penn State, they looked overwhelmed by the pace of the Nittany Lions’ spread offense and gave up some pretty big plays to RB Saquon Barkley. Last week against Wisconsin, they were mostly pretty solid. But you did see a few long runs from Jonathan Taylor. Michigan played a pretty aggressive game on defense and blitzed a lot. At times, Wisconsin was able to block it up quickly on some gap scheme plays and once Taylor got through to the secondary, there was no one left to tackle him.

I’m not saying Michigan shouldn’t blitz, but they need to understand that if they’re going to win this game, it’s going to be on defense. Perhaps they’ve known this all year, and it’s caused them to press a bit on D. Nonetheless, just one or two big plays can change a game. For this Michigan D, you have to be sound, disciplined, and patient. Keep everything in front of you, and make them earn every yard. Don’t feel the need to make the game changing play on every play, and don’t get impatient. As Bill Belichick would say, “do your job”, and the rest will come naturally.

4) Get Something out of the Passing Game

John O’Korn probably isn’t going to throw for 300 yards. In fact, I would hope that he doesn’t, because if he does, it probably means that Michigan got behind early and had to play catch-up. But what O’Korn does need to do is give Michigan at least something in the passing game to help them move the ball and keep the defense honest.

I heard a lot of people upset when Michigan QB Brandon Peters left the game with a head injury last week. Many pundits said that Michigan seemed to give up after he left. Is there some truth to this? Maybe. But let’s not overplay it. Peters certainly seemed to give the offense a spark when Harbaugh pulled O’Korn for him earlier in the year. And when people say that, what it usually means is that the team played better when he was under center, not necessarily that he was the driving force behind the team playing better. And this remains true for Michigan. Peters made some good throws here and there. He seemed more willing to throw down the field than O’Korn was, and he certainly was able to avoid the turnovers in a way that O’Korn wasn’t.

However, the truth of the matter is that for the games Peters played in, Michigan just didn’t ask him to do that much. He didn’t break 20 attempts or 160 yards passing in any of the games he played. Maybe he would have played better than O’Korn did, but can we really say for sure that the losses to the Spartans and Nittany Lions under O’Korn would have been wins if Peters had played? Of course we can’t. The Spartans game, you could maybbbeee make an argument. The Nittany Lions game I watched from start to end, and actually thought O’Korn threw the ball okay. But the offensive line was completely overwhelmed, and Penn State got up big early. With the energy they showed at that stadium (it was the whiteout night in the crowd), it was pretty clear that wasn’t Michigan’s game to win. Peters got the easier part of Michigan’s schedule, outside of the beginning of last week’s Wisconsin game.

Michigan did have a short period of time when they looked good last week with Peters under center. He hit a nice big play to end the half that led to a TD. It was a seven step drop post route on first down, a basic shot play, yet the kind of play out of the passing game that has been missing from Michigan’s offense and their bottled up air attack. For a little bit in that game, Michigan looked like they were gaining momentum.

But there were two key series early in the second half that Michigan failed to take advantage of: The first they had a short field off of a punt when Wisconsin was backed up (they didn’t get anything out of it), and the second was after they intercepted Wisconsin’s QB but only were able to kick a field goal instead of cashing in for six. Shortly after that, Wisconsin took the momentum back. Peters also had some costly mistakes early in the first half, including a bad fumble while trying to dive for a TD. The point being, while O’Korn certainly did nothing to inspire anyone once he replaced the injured Peters, Michigan was missing opportunities and struggling under Peters in that game as well, despite the promise that he did show.

None of this is to knock Peters or prop up O’Korn. We just have to remember that Peters was a freshman who wasn’t asked to do much in limited game action, and that regardless of who Michigan’s Quarterback is, they’re not going to be the driving force behind this offense. The point being, Michigan can’t fall into the trap of thinking this game is over and they have no chance just because Peters is injured, because while it’s unfortunate, it’s simply not that big a deal. Next man up. Go out there, lift your head up, and play offense.

Having said that, O’Korn can’t do nothing and expect to win this game. You’re not going to win this game with under 100 yards passing. He needs to convert some 3rd downs, complete the passes that are there, and maybe hit a shot play or two. Nothing big, but we need something from him.

5) Be in the Moment and Take Advantage of the Atmosphere

Forget Harbaugh, the money, the record, the standings, everything we talked about earlier. This is the last game of the season before your bowl. This is Ohio State vs Michigan at the Big House. The crowd, hopefully, will be packed and roaring, and there will be energy and excitement in the atmosphere. This is a one game season. Go out there and show everyone what it means to be a Michigan Wolverine. This is a heated and intense rivalry, and for the Wolverines, there’s only one thing that matters next Saturday, only one thing that should be on your mind: Kicking the shit out of Ohio State. Go in and play with that mindset, and a win won’t be far off.

Conclusion

It certainly hasn’t been the year many expected for the Mason Blue. This year we learned that while they’re a good team, they just weren’t quite ready to compete with the big boys yet.

Certainly the questions have begun and will continue to be asked. The pundits are already getting their typewriters warmed up for what will likely be a long offseason of questions about Harbaugh and if he’s up for this job. If he’s good enough to compete with the top class of the Big Ten.

But man, wouldn’t it be something to end the season with an upset win over No 9 Ohio State? To get a win over a rival despite all the odds, to show the country that you can compete in the Big Ten and that you’re not destined to keep losing to the likes of Ohio State? That certainly would end the season on a high note and quiet the whispers, if only for just a bit.

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Where do the Giants go from here?

The Giants have been an absolute trainwreck this season. Words cannot explain what a disappointment it has been. It’s almost tough to fathom. They are probably the worst team in the NFL this point. For what’s supposed to be one of the marquee franchises in the NFL, it’s both embarrassing and inexplicable.

Earlier in the year, I was planning on writing about how the Giants absolutely needed to fire Ben McAdoo and Jerry Reese at the end of the season. However, at this point, that seems like a given. An even more pressing question is, can the Giants survive the rest of the season? Because right now they look like they simply don’t belong in the NFL.

As Scott Kascmar of Football Outsiders pointed out on Twitter today, the type of regression the Giants are experiencing after a playoff season is truly unprecedented. It’s been a complete, utter, and total collapse.

But it’s not just that they’re losing. It’s the product that they’ve put on the field (as well as the things that have happened off of it). It’s been total dysfunction. The folks at BigBlueView, SB Nation’s NYG blog, touched on this after the loss. It’s not that the Giants are playing hard but losing. It’s not that their players aren’t that good. It’s that they look entirely disinterested in playing football. They have been undisciplined and unfocused both on the field and off of it.

Coming into the season and at the beginning of the season I had complaints about McAdoo specifically as a football coach: how he approached offense, where the team lacked improvement, etc. But now the problems go beyond that: It seems that the job of Head Coach is just simply too big for McAdoo, and he doesn’t know how to handle it. While no one can really say unless they’re in the locker room, it seems pretty evident that McAdoo has lost the team. I think we’ve now had both corners be suspended off the field? I can’t even keep track anymore.

Conor Orr of the MMQB wrote about what the Giants will do next after yesterday’s loss, and it’s a bit of a scary thought. Yes, the 49ers were better than their 0-8 record indicated prior to this game. Yes, (some) zero win teams tend to be hungrier than usual. Still though, the Giants made CJ Beathard look like Aaron Rodgers. Imagine what will happen when we actually play good teams. Here is the remaining Giants schedule for the rest of the year: Chiefs, @Redskins, @Raiders, Cowboys, Eagles, @Cardinals, @Redskins. For some reason, the Redskins game will be on NBC Primetime during Thanksgiving, so the whole nation will get to see what an embarrassment the New York Giants have become.

The Giants really aren’t a team right now. They’re a bunch of individuals that are dragging themselves to work and barely going through the motions. It’s alarming to see a team that has already quit with almost half the season left and a really tough schedule. If the Giants fire McAdoo midseason (unlikely knowing them), who will takeover? And for whoever does takeover, how will they find a way to right the ship and manage a team that is already so splintered? Both the BBV article and MMQB article allude to this dilemma. Yes, the Giants could promote someone like defensive coordinator Spagnolo to interim Head Coach, but he’s already got his own issues on defense. Then there’s someone like Mike Sullivan, the offensive coordinator, former QB coach. Is a fairly low level coach like that apt to handle this mess? So say we stay with McAdoo. Judging from his press conferences and the results on field, here’s a guy that is totally in over his head, and has no clue how to fix the team and regain their trust. So whatever we do, it seems we’re doomed.

At the end of the day, this is just an embarrassment. The Giants are supposed to be one of the cornerstone, more respected franchises in the NFL. Because of that, they seem to sort of be getting a free pass on things like this. But we cannot deny how poorly this reflects on the organization. On the one hand there’s the results on the field: 1-7 and one of, if not the, worst team in the league, after a playoff year. Then there’s the disfunction: The players quitting, players getting suspended, players leaking rumors to ESPN, etc etc. Those things simply aren’t supposed to happen to the Giants. They’re supposed to be a disciplined, tightly run, no nonsense, respectable organization. And yet, here we are.

Let’s for a second imagine that the Jets or the Browns were going through this type of disfunction. It’d be all over the headlines. You wouldn’t hear enough about it. I remember when the Jets were imploding late in the Rex Ryan era with Tebow and Sanchez. It wasn’t pretty. And their organization deserved every bit of what they got.

But here you have the New York Giants, arguably the worst and most dysfunctional team and organization in the NFL right now. Yes losing happens. No, you can’t win the Superbowl every year. But the Giants should not be getting a free pass for this. It reflects horribly on the organization. This is Big Blue. This is New York, some say the greatest city in the world. These are the New York Football Giants, established August 1, 1925, 92 years ago. It’s supposed to be better than this.

At this point, let’s just batten down the hatches and hope we get through the rest of the season and finish games, and then find a way to fix this horrendous and utter mess. Until then, the Giants organization has some serious explaining to do.

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NFL Check In: Trades, QBs, and More

We’re around the midpoint of the NFL season, and it hasn’t been too exciting a season. Maybe it’s because I’m a Giants fan and the Giants have been an absolute trainwreck this year. Maybe it’s because after all these years of following and watching, I’m finally getting sick of it. Maybe it’s because the NFL as a whole has just been in decline, which I think there are plenty of reasons for. But that’s another conversation. (And no, players kneeling during the anthem isn’t one of them. Seriously, if that bothers you, you need to get over yourself.) Nonetheless, there have been some things going on around the league that I think are worth going over. Let’s start with some surprising trades we’ve witnessed over the past week, starting with the Pats trading away their backup QB, Jimmy Garoppolo, to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for a 2018 second round pick.

Normally this wouldn’t be that unusual for the Pats. They’ve dealt good backups as well as good starters before without so much as a bat of an eye. It’s only surprising now because Tom Brady is near the end of his career (even if his play on the field doesn’t indicate it), and there were many indications throughout the offseason that Garoppolo would be the guy to succeed Brady. After filling in very admirably for Brady to start the season last year, it would have been a very Patriots-like thing to do to trade him. There were whispers about the Browns, and the Patriots would have likely been able to get decent value for him. The general understanding was that the Pats chose to stick with Garoppolo because they truly did believe that Brady was close to the end and that he could be the guy to succeed Brady. The Pats clearly thought very highly of him, as confirmed by how Belichick reacted to losing him this week. Judging based off that explanation that Belichick gave, which was unusually revealing for him, it seemed like the Pats wanted to keep Garoppolo, but with Brady playing at such a high level, they couldn’t afford to sign a backup to a long term contract, even if they did like him. Which makes sense on their part. It’s just puzzling at first because if that was the logic all along, then you would have figured they would have traded him during the offseason. But I think it was also a question mark as to whether Brady would play as well as he is. As Belichick said, they tried to keep Jimmy as long as they could but just couldn’t make it work, likely because of what they would have had to pay him.

As for the niners, it’s a bit puzzling on their part as well. They’re winless to start the season, but there have been signs of progress. 5 of their 8 losses have been by 3 points or less. At the end of the day, the logic behind giving Shanahan and John Lynch long term contracts seemed to be that this was going to be a long term rebuilding project that was going to take time. No one was really expecting results this year. It’s why Shanahan came into the season with Hoyer as the starter. The understanding was that he just needed someone to hold the ship down and run the offense and then next year, the niners would likely draft a QB. Hoyer hasn’t been that good, which is why he was benched for CJ Beathard, the niners 3rd round pick from this year’s draft. But with Hoyer’s release, it’s clear that Garoppolo will now be the starter.

What I’m wondering is, why now, and what does this mean for the niners long term? Certainly if Garoppolo stinks up the joint this year they have no obligation to keep him. Obviously as a coach your number 1 goal is to win games, but still, if this was going to be a rebuilding year without a QB, why bring in Garoppolo midseason? Are they just seeing if he has the potential to be a franchise guy, and if not they’ll cut and run (like the Bears did with Glennon)? Do they want him to be their starter long term? At this point you’re 0-8, so you’re already on the fast track for the number 1 pick in the draft. It just doesn’t make sense to me to change the course. If Garoppolo plays well enough, they could fall off that path. We already haven’t seen enough of Beathard to know who he is. He’s probably not the guy, but why not let him finish up the season just to see and then draft a guy next year?

And what if Garoppolo isn’t the guy long term? I guess it’s not a huge risk move, but I’m not entirely sold on Garoppolo yet. Obviously he’s played well with New England. And yes, he seems better than backups they’ve had in the past that haven’t gone on to do well. He’s more talented than Cassel and Hoyer, and he’s more disciplined than Mallett, who was never a great fit for the Pats. Still, you have to mention those guys. Cassel especially, but also Hoyer, both played well for New England, and they couldn’t keep it up elsewhere. In fact, the sample size overall for backup QBs that went on to be starters elsewhere because of good play in good systems with limited action isn’t great. Outside of Cassel and Hoyer in New England you have Kevin Kolb from Philly, Matt Flynn from Green Bay, and most recently Brock Osweiler from Denver. Now obviously the Pats thought highly of Garoppolo so that’s worth something, but it’s no given that he’s a starter in this league. The sample size is way too small. He’s had a game and a half of regular season action as a starter. So for the niners, it’s not a very high risk move, but I just don’t see the logic behind it. Why not see what Beathard has, ride out the rest of the season, and draft Darnold No 1 overall next year? Then again, as Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com suggested this morning, maybe the niners just don’t like the incoming college QB crop.

The other two big trades were even more headscratching. Let’s start in Carolina where the Panthers traded away Kelvin Benjamin. Benjamin had a great rookie season and has been inconsistent since, although Cam Newton and the passing game have also been inconsistent and erratic and it’s always hard to separate receiver performance from the guy throwing to him. Benjamin was meant to be a big receiver with a big catch radius, a guy who can give Cam Newton margin for error. It’s the same profile as Devin Funchess, their other WR, which is why some on NFL Network last night suggested that the Panthers felt they could get rid of him. Funchess certainly has come on recent, but I don’t know about that theory either. Because the Panthers knew what they were getting in both Benjamin and Funchess. They purposely picked both those receivers with that profile because they knew it fit Cam Newton’s playing style. The Panthers GM recently said that this move was about making the offense faster. It’s a bit of a headscratcher, but at the end of the day, it’s likely that they felt good about Curtis Samuel (their 2nd round pick from this year) and Christian McCaffrey, and thought that they had other holes they needed to fill that they could with the draft resources they got from this trade. Maybe they also didn’t want to pay Benjamin once his contract was up. At the end of the day, a lot of these moves are about value relative to cost.

And then there’s Jay Ajayi from the Bears to the Eagles, another headscratcher. The Dolphins offense had been one of the worst in the league and their passing game with Jay Cutler is pretty much nonexistent. Ajayi can be somewhat of a week to week proposition, but there’s no doubt that he’s talented and one of the tougher grinders in this league. Their offensive line hadn’t been playing well, but without Ajayi they have basically nothing to hang their hat on on offense. Maybe Gase wants to go full on rebuild? Doesn’t seem like him. Maybe there were just off the field issues or philosophical differences. I’ve heard some whispers about that. Ajayi is somewhat inconsistent, but for an offense that’s been that bad and has had absolutely no passing game, it doesn’t entirely make sense.

In other news, the Broncos just benched Trevor Siemian for Brock Osweiler. It’s likely not a move they wanted to make, but Siemian just hasn’t been cutting it in recent weeks. It’s unfortunate, as I’ve liked Siemian. He has a decent foundation and wasn’t the main issue last year. I always thought with a good surrounding cast he can play well. He started the year off well but the Broncos are currently in a 3 game losing skid, and the Broncos likely felt that with a defense as good as theirs, they couldn’t have their Quarterback holding them back. It’s true that Siemian simply hasn’t been playing well enough. At his best he’s an Andy Dalton type player, a ball distributor who won’t wow you and won’t carry your offense by himself but can run your offense if you give him a team. But he’s made some very poor decisions in the past few weeks. I’ve also noticed that the ball isn’t coming out of his hands with quite as much zip as I’m used to seeing from him.

It’s unfortunate, because he really is their best option. Brock Osweiler did flash at times when Kubiak was head coach, but he was one of the worst Quarterbacks in the league last year, and he’s not going to do much for you. His flaws are tough to work around. It’s alarming that Paxton Lynch hasn’t been given an opportunity. They wanted him to win the job in the preseason and drafted him high enough to tell you that they thought he could be their guy in the future. That he couldn’t even beat out Siemian, a 7th rounder, and that they aren’t turning to him now, shows that they know something we don’t, and he hasn’t progressed the way they may have hoped.

Still… I’m extremely skeptical that Osweiler will provide them with anything. Maybe we’ll see Lynch in the future. Who knows. This should have been Siemian’s job to run with and I don’t see the switch helping them, but unfortunately he hasn’t been good enough, and when that happens in this league, you’re going to lose your job.

On the other end of the spectrum, how good has Deshaun Watson been in Houston? It’s really crazy to watch. I don’t think anyone saw this coming. Of course, he’s far from a finished product. O’Brien is helping him a lot, and defenses will figure out ways to stop him. But still, the aggressiveness and playmaking prowess is refreshing in this age of checkdowns. And he’s passed so many really really hard tests. He was inches from beating New England in New England, Seattle at Seattle, and Kansas City. And he’s started the seasons with 19 touchdowns (breaking Kurt Warner’s record of most for the first 7 games of a career) and 8.3 yards per attempt. He’s escaping, throwing down the field, and making Andrew Luck type tight window throws down the field. But he doesn’t have anywhere near the arm Andrew Luck has. Physically, he’s not that different from where scouts had him. He’s just making the plays. Kudos to him. After years of QB purgatory post Schaub era, it seems like the Texans have their guy. It will be interesting to see where things go moving forward.

Lastly, let’s wrap things up by looking at who the marquee teams are around the league right now. This year has been as we’re starting to see a shift in the guard of who’s good in the NFL. The Tom Brady wave of QBs will retire soon. Rodgers is hurt. The patriots defensive losses finally seem to have caught up to them. Brees is still great but on the tail end. The Chargers have been blowing leads and comebacks for 5+ years now. And the Steelers passing game hasn’t matriculated as we would have expected. Overall, it seems like a crappy year for the league. Cardinals, Panthers, Falcons, Giants, a lot of names that have been in it recently are not this year. But we’re also seeing some new teams rise up to take their place. The Eagles are looking very good with Carson Wentz. Obviously his development has been great but its the whole team that looks very complete right now. Then you have to love what the Chiefs are doing with Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. And Alex Smith is playing differently than he ever has. It seems like the drafting of Pat Mahomes really lit a fire under him and he was sick of everyone saying he doesn’t throw down the field enough. They are the cream of the crop this year, and I would love to see them take out PIT and/or NE in the playoffs. And I don’t expect them to go too far with their QB and being in the same division in the Patriots, but the Bills have been quite the surprise under Sean McDermott this year. They are now 5-2 which is shocking, to be honest. Even the Jets, who looked about as close to committing to tank as any team could be, are 3-5 and fighting hard every week. I won’t say I’m excited for it, but this week’s Bills Jets matchup on Thursday night might even be worth watching a bit.

The league is always in flux and things have certainly been changing as of recent. But at midseason, the contenders and pretenders are starting to sort out, and it will be interesting to see where things go moving forward.

For Rams and 49ers, Coaching Changes are Evident

The (now LA) Rams just defeated the 49ers 41-39 on Thursday Night Football in San Francisco. It was a great game and an absolute treat to watch, as I can’t remember the last time before this there was a good TNF game. I genuinely came in thinking this could be a 6-3 game. But the offenses went blow for blow, and towards the end as it was looking like the Rams would pull away, the 49ers rallied and almost came back to win. There were lots of great plays during the comeback including a fumbled kick return that SF recovered, a 4th down TD conversion, and an amazing onside kick. The 49ers brought out the kicker Robbie Gould to do the kick (their punter Bradley Pinion normally handles kickoff duties), and he rushed to get setup and approach, which I think caught the 49ers a little off guard. The onside kick was a gutsy call as the 49ers had the 2 minute warning and a timeout and only needed a field goal, but it worked and was crazy to watch, as the ball bounced off a 49er’s helmet and into the hands of another 49er.

(Also side note, after talking to my cousin I realized this: Apparently the goal of an onside kick is to have it bounce off the ground quickly before it goes up in the air the needed 10 yards, because if it doesn’t bounce off the ground, then the hands team can just call a fair catch. Which means that all those wonderfully executed onside kicks that look like short lobs actually were bounced off the ground. That is REALLY hard to execute and makes me respect the successful ones even more. Even on replay I couldn’t see the ball hit the ground after Gould kicked it as it must have happened so quickly, but Collinsworth confirmed that it did. Realizing I had been looking at onside kicks wrong, I thought of another notable one, Steven Hauschka’s onside kick during the 2014 NFC Championship game vs the Packers. This was another kick that from the camera angle just looked like the kicker pooched it up, so I pulled it up on my computer to see if that one too had hit the ground. And sure enough, though I couldn’t see it, Aikman did mention it hitting the ground. So there – ya learn something new every day!)

The Rams ultimately held on to win this game. There was a key offensive pass interference penalty which pushed the 49ers back to 3rd and 20 on their final drive. It really didn’t look like a penalty from the replay angle we saw, but that penalty basically decided the game. Hoyer was off target on 3rd and 20 and was sacked on 4th and 20 as the Niners struggled to block the Rams all night.

But what is evident from watching this great game is that these two teams are worlds apart from where they were last year, in a good way. And I credit the coaching changes, specifically, the hires of Sean McVay to coach the Rams and Kyle Shanahan to coach the 49ers.

Coaching is so important in football. Especially on offense. In this day and age, creativity and scheme is so important. These two young coaches recognize and understand that and know how to scheme and coach offense as well as anyone. And the messages seem to be getting through.

What’s distinct about these coaches is how young they are. Sean McVay is 31 and Kyle Shanahan is 37. That’s very young for coaches. But in the modern NFL, which is ever more tilted towards the offense, these coaches seem to know how to create offense in ways that the older generation might not. Constrast McVay, the youngest head coach in modern NFL history, with the Rams’ previous coach, Jeff Fisher. Fisher was 59 years old. He took the Titans to the Superbowl in 1999, but has struggled in the more recent years. He’s an old school disciplinarian, a hard-nosed defensive coach. He’s well respected around the league, but his offense lacked firepower. With their No 1 overall QB Jared Goff looking lost and virtually no passing game last year, they needed a change. And McVay seems to be providing it. Goff, as well as the offense, looks a lot better.

McVay and Shanahan may be young, but they are both very qualified. McVay was the OC in Washington under Jay Gruden, and that offense was one of the best schemed offenses in football. The same can be said for Kyle Shanahan, whose Atlanta offense under Matt Ryan shattered records on the way to the Superbowl last year. Andy Benoit of the MMQB at SI once stated that last year, Kyle Shanahan flat out embarrassed some of the best defensive coordinators in the game. Both of these coaches use formations and route concepts–often with a heavy emphasis on play action–to simplify reads and scheme open receivers for the Quarterback. They both provide a sense of timing, rhythm and tempo to the offenses, as well as clarity to the Quarterbacks. Shanahan is also really good at scheming the zone running game and the play action boot game off of it. You see the quick strike play action slants with both teams, a staple. And Goff just seems so much more comfortable and in command than last year. SF did the right thing in ditching the sandlot and undisciplined Kaepernick (and for everyone saying that was a mistake, it was essentially his decision to leave). Brian Hoyer is not going to wow anyone and he’s just keeping the seat warm for their eventual franchise QB (who they will likely draft next year), but he can efficiently run a well schemed offense like we’ve seen him do in Cleveland, New England, Chicago, and Houston. Kaepernick, at this point in his career, has not shown that he can do that.

Rise of the Shotgun Football

Kyle Shanahan when he was in Atlanta, with Falcons Quarterback Matt Ryan

The NFL will continue to evolve, and its on coaches to keep up, to draw up and scheme plays in ways that will continually help and make the best of use of their players while keeping defenses off balance. Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay understand this, and their perspectives have brought a youthful energy into two teams and two offenses that simply haven’t been that good in the recent past. If the beginning of 2017 is any indication, Shanahan and McVay won’t be going away anytime soon.

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NFC East Preview Podcast

So I was walking the dog around the block, and I figured why not try out an NFL preview podcast before the season starts? I ended up only doing the NFC East because I talked for so long, but… nonetheless, give a listen!!

Timestamps:

0:00 Intro

3:34 Giants

24:20 Cowboys

27:40 Redskins

31:51 Eagles

41:05 Wrap Up

Detroit Did the Right Thing in Paying Stafford

The Detroit Lions just made Matthew Stafford the highest paid QB in the NFL and in NFL history. And as is bound to happen just about every time another QB is given a massive contract, the “should they have done it, should they not have done it” debate starts once again, with your fair of share of pundits and fans blasting the deal. I wrote about the question of whether it’s worth it to give a Quarterback–often one that isn’t an “elite” (ie Brady, Rodgers, Brees) guy–a huge contract when Brock Osweiler went to Houston and when Adam Gase signed Jay Cutler. But every situation is different, and seeing as how this debate always seems to come up, it’s always worth revisiting, as I intend to do now with Stafford. People get very passionate and intense about this stuff, but as with most things, the answer is rarely as clear cut as people make it out to be, and as I often try to do, I’ll attempt to look at the situation from as many angles as I can.

People often get shocked by the raw numbers of these deals, and understandably so. Money is an emotional issue, and a lot of people who watch the NFL probably will never see that kind of money in their lives. That in and of itself is enough to cause a negative reaction. But I think there are always a few things we have to keep in mind when looking at these giant numbers in order to help keep things in perspective and evaluate these deals objectively:

    1. NFL Contracts are rarely fully guaranteed, and players hardly ever play out their entire deal. This fact makes NFL contracts look a lot bigger than they actually are. It’s important to not look at the total number, but instead look at the guaranteed money and how it’s spread out over the years.
    2. Even the respective salaries of the richest NFL Quarterbacks probably shouldn’t be viewed just back to back, as that paints somewhat of a skewed picture. They need to be viewed with respect to what the market and salary cap were like at the time they made the deal. For example, it may seem strange that Matt Stafford is being paid more than Aaron Rodgers, but Aaron Rodgers’s deal was likely the highest when he signed it. The market doesn’t exist in isolation, and all these deals are essentially being crafted in response to the others. (I don’t really speak economics, but this piece seemed to do a good job explaining how the raw numbers can be misleading.)
    3. Athletes get paid a lot of money. It might not seem fair, but it’s just the way things work in society.
    4. The money these players are making is chump change compared to what the NFL owners are making. If the owners are getting paid so much, why shouldn’t the players? They’re the ones that are doing the heavy lifting.
    5. The NFL’s attitude toward Quarterbacks is different than its attitude toward almost every other position. With most players, teams think strictly in terms of value and don’t hesitate to let good players go if they’re asking for what they view as too much money. With Quarterbacks, teams tend to be a lot more generous. That doesn’t mean it’s justified, but with the mostly hardball philosophy the NFL employs–I can’t speak for other sports, don’t know if they do it that way too–the Quarterback position tends to stand out because of how different it’s done compared to the other positions. If other positions were paid as much as QBs were, we wouldn’t notice it as much.

Anyway, none of this is to say these big contracts are (or aren’t) justified. I just think it’s important to keep this stuff in mind when thinking about these deals and all the money that’s being tossed around. Because a lot of the negative sentiment seems to stem from people just being upset at how much money these guys get paid. But there’s more to it than that.

Anyway, back to Stafford. He’s currently the highest paid QB and player in the NFL. Is he worth the money?

Again, it’s easy in theory to say that QBss should be paid relative to the value they provide a team–that is to say, the QB pay tree should look almost identical to a QB rankings list. But as I alluded to above (see bullet (2)), the market is reactive. These seemingly huge QB deals probably started when Joe Flacco–a slightly above average QB who was coming off a spectacular postseason hot streak (which he was unable to maintain into subsequent seasons)–signed his megadeal after winning Superbowl 47. That created somewhat of a domino effect, as it set a benchmark for what other players could point to when negotiating their deals.

I’ve talked about that before, so I won’t go into it too much again here. But the bottom line is that because of how the market is set up, QBs have a lot of leverage. So Stafford, just like Flacco and all those before him, was never going to sign a middle of the pack deal. So when we evaluate this deal, we have to understand that in reality, Detroit had two options: Either pay him, or let him go.

One of my favorite NFL analysts, Scott Kascmar of Football Outsiders, has never been one afraid to go against conventional wisdom, and he is often an outspoken critic of deals like the one Stafford signed. He’s an avid tweeter whom I follow a great deal, and his arguments are certainly compelling. He spoke out against the Stafford deal, and his argument is similar to the one I presented above, namely, that top money should be reserved for top QBs, and that if a QB is unwilling to accept a deal that is more in line with his relative value, then the team should move on from said QB. Paying a non-elite QB elite money means being stuck in 8-8 purgatory, as it does not allow a team enough money to build up the rest of the team sufficiently. And there only a few QBs who can consistently overcome roster deficiencies to reach the playoffs, and these are the elite guys for whom top dollar should be reserved for.

It’s an argument that I struggle with, both because I think that these guys deserve to get paid and make as much money as they can (no one should be knocked for trying to make money, especially in a profession that leaves you more often than not injured for life), and because it’s really hard for coaches and general managers whose jobs rely on winning games to move forward without anyone at QB. But pragmatically it makes a lot of sense.

I’ve explored this philosophical debate in depth in my previous articles, and I’m sympathetic to both sides. And we’re starting to see more scenarios in which teams are willing to pass up paying Quarterbacks who they view as replaceable. Denver passed up paying Osweiler to start Siemian. The Jets, last year, played hardball with Fitzpatrick after his anomalous 2015 season. And the Redskins continue to use the franchise tag on Kirk Cousins rather than give him a long term deal (although ironically, they seem to be costing themselves more money in doing so). We’ll see what happens there, but the previous two scenarios, in retrospect, were both the right moves. Siemian was not great, but his 2016 was much better than Osweiler’s, and his flaws are easier to work around than Osweiler’s. More importantly, the Broncos want to keep their top defense together, something they would struggle doing if they had paid Osweiler. The Jets were right in thinking that Fitzpatrick’s 2015 was an anomaly, and he’s off the team now. Then there were the Eagles with Nick Foles back when Chip Kelly was the head coach. Although their plan was to roll with Bradford (who only started one so-so season with them before Kelly was fired and Wentz was drafted), they didn’t hesitate to give up Foles. He’s no longer a starter, and the Eagles seem to have their QB of the future in Carson Wentz.

The counterargument is always, if you don’t pay this guy, then who’s the QB? Kacsmar on Twitter, when asked about the last example of a team moving on from a high level QB and being successful, gave the example of the Bengals moving on from Carson Palmer to Andy Dalton in 2011, and then proceeding to make the postseason for the next 5 years. It’s not strictly analogous because the Palmers dispute with the Bengals was not about money. Rather, Palmer just didn’t want to play for the Bengals anymore. Nonetheless, it’s still a good example of a team that was able to move on from a highly respected, high level Quarterback, and maintain success. QBs certainly are not a dime a dozen, but the thinking behind the “let him go” mindset seems to be that the difference between a slightly below average to average QB and an average to slightly above average QB is not worth the difference in money and wins that it will cost you, and if you don’t have an elite QB, focusing on team building is more important. The other part of that argument is that average QBs aren’t as hard to find as people may think:

rudock
smith:tannehill.jpg

What Kacsmar wisely articulates here is that lots of people pay QBs (or defend QBs being paid) because they are afraid of the alternative (with regard to that first tweet, Jake Rudock is Stafford’s current backup). But letting your current guy go doesn’t mean going into QB purgatory. Kacsmar gave the example of the Bengals landing on Dalton in 2011. I already mentioned Siemian and Bradford filling in well for, if not playing being better than, Osweiler and Foles did in Denver and Philly, respectably. Then you have Houston who made the playoffs back to back years with Ryan Fitzpatrick one year and then Brian Hoyer the next. They didn’t have the best QB in the division, but they had the best defense, and that turned out to be more important.

These are all excellent arguments about team building and value, and I’ll come back to them later, but for now I’d like to focus specifically on Stafford and his specific value to Detroit as a player.

The Case Against Stafford

The best argument against paying Stafford this kind of money is that the Lions simply haven’t been that good since he joined. To be fair, they’ve been better than they were before he got there, but it hasn’t resulted in playoff appearances or wins. Here’s a listing of how well the Lions have done each year with Stafford <wikipedia>:

2009 (Started 10 games): 2-14 (4th in NFC North, Missed Playoffs)
2010 (Started 3 games): 6-10 (3rd in NFC North, Missed Playoffs)
2011: 10-6 (2nd in NFC North, Lost in the WC Round at New Orleans, 28-45)
2012: 4-12 (4th in NFC North, Missed Playoffs)
2013: 7-9 (3rd in NFC North, Missed Playoffs)
2014: 11-5 (2nd in NFC North, Lost in the WC Round at Dallas, 20-24)
2015: 7-9 (3rd in NFC North, Missed Playoffs)
2016: 9-7 (2nd in NFC North, Lost in the WC Round at Seattle, 6-26)

Overall that’s 8 seasons, 0 first place finishes,  3 second place finishes, 3 third place finishes, 2 fourth place finishes, 3 playoff appearances, and 0 playoff wins.

Even more concerning, however, is Stafford’s 5-46 record against teams with a winning record. Wins and losses aren’t all on the Quarterback, but that’s an abysmal number, and I think is the best argument against Matthew Stafford being paid this much. (A few examples I dug up for comparison’s sake: Andrew Luck had 4 wins of the sort in 2013 alone, Carson Palmer had 4 in 2015 alone, and Matt Ryan had 4 in 2010 alone. (Those numbers could be wrong but I double checked and am pretty sure they’re correct.))

Despite Detroit’s relative lack of success with Stafford at the helm, I still think he’s worth the money for the following reasons:

Stafford is a Unique Talent

It’s important not to get swept away by and judge a Quarterback solely on his physical attributes. You can have a good arm and still not be a good Quarterback. Jay Cutler was a guy who was always given extra chances because of his immense arm talent yet was never really able to be anything more than average. Cam Newton is another guy who, outside of his 2015 season, has not been anything special compared to his peers, yet because of his immense physical gifts, people continue to mistakenly view him as a top 10 player at the position.

Having said that, arm strength does matter, as it allows you to make throws that others simply aren’t capable of making. It’s been evident that Stafford has had a big time arm ever since his college days. It’s the reason he was the No 1 overall pick in the draft, and it’s always evident on film. The ball just comes out of his hand differently than it does with other Quarterbacks. He also has relatively quick feet and a quick release and can throw from nearly any platform. This allows him to be a unique asset at the position with the throws he is able to make.

Stafford is Very Important to the Detroit Offense

The Lions under Stafford always have thrown the ball a lot more than most teams. Sometimes the result is good, sometimes not so much, but there are few Quarterbacks that would be able to handle the type of workload he’s often given. With Stafford at QB, you’re never out of a game.

Furthermore, with the offense they currently run under Jim Bob Cooter, Stafford is asked to do a lot before the snap. Jim Bob was an Offensive Assistant to the Indianapolis Colts from 2009-2011, and the offense he runs with Stafford is somewhat similar to the one Peyton Manning used to run. It uses a lot of static formations (no pre-snap motion) from the shotgun, and Stafford is asked to identify the defense, adjust the play accordingly, and isolate the correct matchup. The Lions don’t have a ton of athletes on offense, and as a result, they rely on lots of quick, short passes to move the ball. Stafford making the right read and throw is imperative to that working successfully. It’s an offensive identity that relies on him as the centerpiece (they had to change to this after Calvin Johnson retired), and it’s not clear who would pick up the slack without him. His value to this offense was apparent last year, as evidenced by his 8 fourth quarter comebacks <pfref>.

Stafford Has been an Ascendant Player the Last 2 Years

There’s always been somewhat of a gap between Stafford’s talent level and his production. He’s always flashed, but he’s never really been able to produce on a consistent week-to-week basis. I maintain that 2011 was his best season by far (5038 yards, 41 touchdowns, and 7.6 Y/A), and I was expecting big things after that year. It didn’t really happen. 2012 was a big step back with a lot of stats padded by garbage time and volume of pass attempts, and he’s been for the most part up and down ever since.

Early on in his career, Stafford started to show some problematic tendencies, mainly related to a lack of discipline. He would often get sloppy with his fundamentals. His footwork could be erratic, but most worrisome were his throwing mechanics and his tendency to sidearm throws that didn’t need to be sidearmed. I always got the sense that then head coach of the lions Jim Schwartz, as well as possibly offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, ended up exacerbating these issues by failing to address them early on when they should have, and even excusing them (if I’m correctly recalling comments made by Schwartz at the time).

The Lions hired Jim Schwartz in 2014, in part to help instill more discipline in Stafford. The Offensive Coordinator was Joe Lombardi, who had previously been on the offensive staff with the Saints. The Lions essentially ran the Saints offense, which I never saw as a great fit for Stafford considering the amount of nuance and precision it requires (think about how Drew Brees plays the position). But the hope was that it would help Stafford. The Lions made the playoffs that year and Stafford had some nice 4th quarter moments, but overall it was a step back for the offense, and it was the defense that help propelled the Lions to the playoffs (a defense that for every other year Stafford has been in Detroit, really hasn’t been anything more than average).

The next year, the 2015 season, the Lions started the season 1-7 with Stafford playing poorly. Joe Lombardi was fired and the Lions promoted Jim Bob Cooter, the Quarterbacks coach, to Offensive Coordinator. The results were excellent. Stafford finished the season on a hot streak, as did the Lions, who went 6-2 in their last 8 games mainly thanks to the improved play of Stafford. The following season (last), Stafford showed that his improved play was no anomaly. Stafford had his lowing interception percentage since 2010 (a year in which he played only three games).

Stafford was always similar to Jay Cutler in that he was a tremendous talent but had too little discipline in his game. People, like they did with Cutler, would always make a big deal about the interceptions. But with those two I would argue that the little things were even more problematic. Footwork. Mechanics. Playing within the timing of the offense. Dropping back and getting rid of the ball on time. They both would make the headscratching throws more than they should. But they also failed to keep the offense running the way it needed to in order to have consistent execution.

Stafford and Jim Bob Cooter were on the same page from the start, something Stafford has made abundantly clear. And that’s so important for a Quarterback. But even moreso, Jim Bob Cooter deserves credit for fundamentally transforming the way Stafford plays the game. He’s still a gunslinger at heart. But Jim Bob honed in those gunslinger tendencies. He did it mostly with a lot of quick throws. His offense demands that you get the ball out quickly within the timing of the play. He reined in Stafford just enough. Now Stafford does the little things right when he needs to, but is still capable of making tremendous throws when he has to. That skill doesn’t go away and never would. He’s just added to Stafford’s game so that he can be a more consistent player.

This, more than anything else, is why Stafford is deserving of his contract. Under Jim Bob Cooter, he’s been an incredibly efficient ball distributor, rather than an inconsistent, undisciplined gunslinger.

As I mentioned earlier, Stafford and the offense arguably had to change when Calvin Johnson retired. Stafford could always rely on Megatron to bail him out. He could force it to Megatron and toss it up into coverage, even if it was outside the timing of the play, and more often than not Megatron would come down with it. With Calvin Johnson, Stafford didn’t really have to play with timing.

Now, without one guy that causes matchup issues for the defense, the offense has to win through scheme, and the Quarterback has to be the centerpoint. He has to consistently execute with precision in order to create offense. This always would have helped Stafford and the offense, but without Calvin Johnson, it’s more urgent than ever that he plays this way.

Stafford’s improvement carried on through almost of his last season until a late season injury to his throwing hand seemed to diminish his play a little bit. But make no mistake, it’s evident watching the Lions that Stafford is a different player than he used to be, and in the context of that scheme, he’s incredibly valuable to that offense.

All Quarterbacks, Even Elite Ones, Play Better with a Good Team

Kacsmar makes the point that big time money should be reserved for the few elite Quarterbacks that can overcome a flawed roster and consistently carry poor defenses to the playoffs, often playing in shootouts to do so.

There is no doubt that there is a small class of elite Quarterbacks that can do this. But I’d like to counter Kacsmar’s point with the following: If the goal is to win a Superbowl, and devoting too much money to the Quarterback makes it harder to do that, then why even pay the elite guys big money?

Because as good as those elite Quarterbacks are, even they have trouble winning Superbowls on their own. No one can, really. Aaron Rodgers won his only ring when his defense didn’t suck. The same can be said for Drew Brees. Both of those guys have struggled to elevate their team’s play after signing huge contracts. Though they are still able to do so, it’s clear that they are both essentially running one man shows. Peyton Manning is arguably the greatest Quarterback of all time, and even he was only able to win his 2 Superbowl rings when his teams stepped up in the Postseason. And then you have Tom Brady. He won 3 rings with an all time great defense in his first 5 years. He then didn’t win another one for 10 years. He’s been able to play at a transcendent level for his last 2 Superbowl wins and deserves all the credit in the world for doing so. But we still can’t neglect to mention that the Patriots are the best organizations in the NFL with arguably the best coach of all time. They are able to outscheme teams to oblivion, and are tremendous at getting cheap but talented players that fit their system. In short, they’ve essentially been able to beat the salary cap era and keep really good teams around Brady even while they are paying him. Has his play been spectacular during those two postseason runs? Of course. Was he still afforded help other elite QBs simply don’t get? Yes, he was. Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers’ defenses wouldn’t hold during a 28-3 deficit. They wouldn’t pick off a pass at the 1 yard line with the game on the line. Even someone as transcendentally great as Brady, who will be the Greatest of All Time if he maintains this level of play deep into his 40s, would not be where he is without the help he gets from his team and organization.

Russell Wilson’s going to get paid, and it’s going to be much harder for his team to have the consistent postseason success it’s had with him living off of his cheap 3rd round pick deal. And what about Andrew Luck?? For everything that’s great about the Patriots, that’s how bad the Colts organization is. He’s the best QB in that division and arguably a top 6 QB in the NFL, and even that wasn’t enough to make the playoffs last year. They’re a 2 win team without him, but with all the money they’re paying him and the fact that the roster is barely any better than it was when he was a rookie, it’s hard to see them getting back into the playoffs, let alone winning a Superbowl.

I get that it’s hard to win a Superbowl. I get that for most teams, it starts with having a winning season and making the playoffs. And I get that the great QBs can do that consistently. All I’m saying is that if we’re talking about the ultimate goal–winning the Superbowl–Kacsmar’s argument that having too much money tied up into the QB makes it harder, if not impossible, to have success, even applies to the elite guys who Kacsmar believes are deserving of big money.

The Lions Were Always Going to Pay Stafford

These are fascinating conversations to have from our armchair, but at the end of the day, I guarantee you that no one in the Detroit Lions organization for a second even considered letting Stafford go. When you find a good QB, you take care of him. That isn’t to say that everything an organization does is always right, but it is to say that moving forward without a QB is a lot bigger bullet to bite when your job depends on it.

In Conclusion

There’s no right answer and every situation is different. When it comes to paying or not paying the Quarterback, both sides make excellent points and its a discussion I’m sure will come up again and again. I’ve done my best to present both sides of the argument here, and while I am sympathetic to the strictly business side of things, I can’t get myself to endorse the notion that letting a QB as good as Stafford go is a good move.

We can’t generalize here because as I said, every QB is different. I’m not a business guy, so I don’t always see it from that cold, calculating side. However, I’m beginning to understand that there are situations where not always paying the QB is a good move. And I think teams are too. When you look at guys Tannehill, Kaepernick, Dalton, Cutler, and Newton, that all got big deals, I totally understand all of them, but I also get why those might be questionable and why you might be paying for a little more than they’re worth.

But I also think the idea that “we have to just give up if we don’t have an elite guy” is a tough pill to swallow for NFL organizations. Because there simply aren’t that many of those guys that can win in any situation no matter what. And I think when you have a guy that’s above average, you think that guy gives you the best chance to win. For most of Stafford’s career, he’s been around the line of average. He still has a lot to prove with this deal, but I do believe that his ascendance under Jim Bob Cooter has pushed him up from the Tannehill/Cutler tier and closer to where a guy like Matt Ryan is (probably just below the elite tier). He’s not there yet, but with guys that good, you trust in your chance to win with them.

Just to go back to team building quickly here. Kacsmar’s argument is also that the Lions are already at a disadvantage playing in the same division as Aaron Rodgers, and that they aren’t equipped to win shootouts with him, so it would be better to rely on defense. He points to Mark Sanchez and the Jets, who did a great job against Bill Belichik’s Patriots from 09-10.

This is an example I often think of when it comes to team building. Mark Sanchez was a bottom 15 Quarterback, but his team was so good that they were still able to win. In those two years, Rex Ryan beat Philip Rivers at home, Peyton Manning at home, Tom Brady at home, and was a 4th and Goal stop away from beating Ben Roethlisberger at home. That’s pretty incredible, and it shows that defense truly does win championships… or at least get you hella close.

However, we can’t neglect to mention that after 2010, Ryan’s Jets fell apart. The defense and run game sunk a little bit from their perch of best in the league, and Sanchez simply wasn’t good enough to carry the team by himself. So I think this comes back to the point that I was making just now. As Kacsmar articulates so well, it’s hard to win a shootout without a truly elite quarterback. But the counter to that is, it’s hard to win defensive battles without a truly elite defense. If you have just an average or below average Quarterback, your defense has to be phenomenal. Which is to say, while Kacsmar accurately articulates the dilemma of paying a non-elite QB and trying to win shootouts with him, I think he somewhat underestimates how hard it is to win without a QB, and overestimates how replaceable these guys really are.

Stafford’s not elite, but he’s been a really good Quarterback, and I think he’s worth the money. Even though it’s a tough pill to swallow, I think the Lions did the right thing in signing him.

So Matt Stafford, if you’re reading this, you better go out there and have a great season and make the playoffs. Don’t prove me wrong!!!!

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