We’re Having the Wrong Conversation about Josh Rosen

What if I told you that there was a Quarterback in this year’s draft class that had just about every attribute that you look for in a QB, from size, to arm strength, to footwork, to intelligence and ability to read defenses? This Quarterback was asked to run an NFL style offense on a team with a poor defense and drop-prone receivers, and in doing so was one of the more prolific passers in College Football. What if I told you this Quarterback was arguably the best QB prospect since Carson Wentz, and maybe even since Andrew Luck?

You would think that this is someone who would be talked about and looked upon with incredibly high regard during the pre-draft process. Alas, for reasons I cannot understand, this has not been the case.

Josh Rosen and the Elusive “Personality Issues”

The consensus on this year’s draft QBs is all over the place right now–which is far from unusual considering the complexity of evaluating college QBs–but what people generally seem to be able to agree on is that there’s no sure thing, with each prospect having his own set of questions.

Don’t get me wrong, if you want to argue with my assertion that Rosen is the best QB Prospect on film, I would be happy to listen. But this isn’t the argument that people are making. Instead, what happens is something like this: Pundits make a list of their QB Rankings, put a few players ahead of Rosen, and when they get to Rosen, acknowledge that he’s the most pro-ready on film with the fewest weaknesses, but then cite some vague concern about “attitude” or “personality” as the apparent sole evidence that he’s not the best QB prospect. For example…

Todd McShay of ESPN put Rosen 3rd on his Draft QB Rankings, citing that, “There isn’t much [negative] you can point to on the field, other than some poor decision-making and his lack of mobility outside the pocket. Teams are doing their research to find out just how driven Rosen is and how he would fit in with their team culture.”

Kay Adams of NFL Network’s Good Morning Football said that she would be more comfortable taking Sam Darnold over Josh Rosen, because, “When there’s smoke, there’s fire”, referring to the perception that Rosen simply isn’t invested enough in Football to be the leader of a franchise.

The usually spectacular Andy Benoit of the MMQB posited questions about Rosen’s personality in his first look at this draft’s QBs–unusual for an analyst that almost always sticks to film study.

These are just a few examples of the overall trend (and they’re of the more reasonable variety), and it’s what the narrative about Rosen has come to: Vague, cliched, and generally unsubstantiated questions about his “personality” and “love of the game” seem to entirely offset the fact that he is by far the least flawed Quarterback prospect in the draft.

And people generally seem to acknowledge this fact. If the only criticism about Rosen you can come up with has to do with personality, then that implies that there’s nothing about his actual game to criticize. And if that’s the case, he should already be at the top of everyone’s draft rankings. Personality critiques, in this case, as opposed to the red flag people paint them to be, are actually a tacit acknowledgement of how flawless the player is in every other sense that matters. And at the end of the day, you’re not drafting a player to win a personality contest; you’re drafting them to win football games.

There is Very Little Substance to the Critique of Rosen

Don’t get me wrong: Personality does matter. I’ve criticized Cam Newton for his attitude in the past. As a Giants fan, I often can’t stand the way Odell Beckham behaves. I do want my guy to be a leader both on the field and off it. So in the case of Rosen, the issue isn’t that there are concerns about his personality per se; it’s that there is very little of merit within those actual “concerns” that people cite. What they are is gossip, stereotypes, and the snowballing of a narrative that had nothing to stand on in the first place.

With Cam Newton there were identifiable occurrences you could point to in College that would be reason for concern about his personality. While at the University of Florida, Newton, according to wikipedia, “was arrested on felony charges of burglary, larceny, and obstruction of justice on an accusation that he stole a laptop computer from another University of Florida student” and was “subsequently suspended from the team”. He transferred before allegedly facing “potential expulsion […] for three instances of academic dishonesty”. He was also embroiled in a scandal where his father allegedly orchestrated a “pay for play” situation to get Cam enrolled at Auburn. Despite all this, Newton was selected No 1 overall in the 2011 draft by the Carolina Panthers.

Similar things could be said about Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M. Although not enough was made about his actual on field flaws during the draft process, he too had a litany of identifiable personality red flags, including but not limited to being arrested. He also left the Manning Passing academy after oversleeping, an example of something that could actually justifiably be used to say that someone might not have the dedication level you would want in a Quarterback.

And what about Baker Mayfield? Like Rosen, he is also a QB prospect in this upcoming draft. But unlike Rosen, he was actually once arrested and “charged with public intoxication, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and fleeing”. (He also caught fire for facing the opposing sideline and grabbing his crotch to taunt them during one of Oklahoma’s wins this year). And yet Rosen is the QB prospect with personality issues?

I’m not trying to pick on any of these players. I’m merely saying that when players actually have personality issues, there are usually things that happen to justify those concerns.

But what’s the problem with Rosen? He apparently doesn’t love the game, or he doesn’t have the personality of a leader.

I’ll tell you exactly what Rosen is that people don’t like: He’s a rich, smart, liberal California kid. And that doesn’t fit the image a lot of people have of the country kid southerners who tend to overwhelmingly play in the NFL. Many have said that because Rosen grew up wealthy, he might not love the game as much as someone who needs it to make a living. Frankly, this is total bullshit. You can both have money and still love football, and the fact that he’s great at football is proof of this. As for the personality thing, I’ve watched some interviews of Rosen, and he is a bit of a different type of personality. He’s definitely more aloof; he’s not an in your face, cliche, “put me in there coach, I’ll do it all for the team!” guy like Russell Wilson. But you know what, who cares? People have different leadership styles and personalities. If they get the job done without being a jerk, then who cares what they say or how they motivate their teammates. You know who else is a QB that’s kind of aloof? Eli Manning, and he currently has 2 Superbowl Rings. Aaron Rodgers is another guy that often rubbed people the wrong way and is often looked at as cocky. He’s also one of the greatest Quarterbacks to every throw a Football. At the end of the day, whether a guy fits an image of how someone wants a Quarterback to act shouldn’t affect their draft evaluation.

Compounding this whole, pointless conversation about Rosen’s personality is his former UCLA Coach Jim Mora, who had this to say publicly about Rosen earlier this week:

“He needs to be challenged intellectually so he doesn’t get bored. He’s a millennial. He wants to know why. Millennials, once they know why, they’re good. Josh has a lot of interests in life. If you can hold his concentration level and focus only on football for a few years, he will set the world on fire. He has so much ability, and he’s a really good kid.”

First of all, let’s remember that Mora was justifiably fired midseason from UCLA, and no one really had an issue with it. That alone should question whether we should take his opinion seriously. But putting that aside, since when is a Quarterback wanting to be challenged intellectually a bad thing? Shouldn’t you want that out of your players? Quarterback is by far the most intellectual position in the sport. It’s all about compiling and processing information. Peyton Manning was the best in the game for a long time because his mind was literally a computer. He knew everything he was seeing, and no one could read a defense like him. He literally turned football into a chess game. If you showed him the same coverage twice, you were getting burnt. At the end of the day, if a guy’s not asking why, why this coverage looks like this, why the ball should go here, what this player is doing in this coverage, how to best attack this coverage, etc etc etc, then there’s a problem. And then there’s the fact that Josh McDaniels, the Patriots current Offensive Coordinator, basically said the same thing about Tom Brady that Mora said about Rosen:

“[Brady’s] a challenging guy to coach because his aptitude is so significant. He’s a tremendous player as far as coming every day ready to work and ready and willing to learn. That pulls the best out of you as a coach because you can’t go into the meeting room and not challenge this guy to try and get better.

Here’s a guy, he’ll go down as what he’ll go down as, which is one of the greatest players ever to play in this game, but he still comes into every meeting looking for something that’s going to make him a better player that day. And as a coach, you have to respond accordingly, whether it’s making sure you provide him with that information or you find something to help him improve some aspect of his game.”

Focus on What Matters, and You’ll See a Can’t Miss Prospect

I might be able to give some credence to the “he doesn’t love the game” concept if there was literally any evidence from his game on the field to back it up. But if a guy is as great as Rosen is with all the fundamentals and subtle nuances of playing Quarterback, then that alone should be proof against the claim. You don’t get to where Rosen is playing QB if you don’t truly love the game. Shame on people for not realizing that.

What this is really about is the media taking narratives and running with them, regardless of if they’re true or not. We saw it when nearly every draft expert said that Johnny Manziel was the best QB Prospect of the 2014 Draft–even after they would acknowledge that Teddy Bridgewater was the most pro-ready on film. But Manziel had the “it” factor or a different “compete level” or something like that. We saw it when, during the 2015 season, the media nearly unanimously decided that Cam Newton was the MVP, even though Carson Palmer was superior in every meaningful statistical category. For Rosen, the narrative has become that he has personality issues that will affect his play, even though there’s nothing to suggest that this is the case.

None of this is to say Rosen will be a guaranteed superstar or that there are zero concerns with him at all. But these aren’t things you can say about any prospect at any position. They’re called prospects for a reason. And insofar as QB prospects go in this year’s draft, Rosen is the best there is and stands alone from the rest. Hopefully, people will be able to start cutting through the noise to realize that. But if not, I’m sure Rosen will use all this as even more fuel to motivate him once he is in fact drafted.

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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.

Monday Football Primer: Your Guide to Week 2 NFL Action

The NFL is back and in full swing! Here are some of my thoughts and observations after two weeks of action.

Packers-Vikings: Bradford Shines, Rodgers Struggles

Sam Bradford has always been a bit of an enigma. He’s always had the skillset, and he looks like a prototypical strong-armed, rhythm, dropback, pocket passer. He’s just never really lived up to expectations. He’s played in a ton of different offenses, has struggled with injuries, and has often been surrounded by subpar supporting casts. Nonetheless, he just always leaves you wanting a little more. He’s never proven that he can really elevate his supporting cast, or that he can produce wins consistently (or that he can stay healthy).

History would tell you to be skeptical that Sam Bradford can be anything more than average. Nonetheless, I find myself wanting to be optimistic about Sam Bradford. That’s because, when you watch him, you see why he was a No 1 overall pick. He’s a really natural and easy thrower of the ball. His arm strength is significantly above average, and he has a quick, effortless release.

On the one hand, a Bradford skeptic could argue that last night’s win over the Packers really wasn’t anything too significant. It was only one game, and it was a 17-14 win that was mostly defensive driven. Still, two throws in particular stand out to me: The play action deep shot to Diggs, and the TD pass to Diggs running up the seam while Bradford was being hit. Those are two throws that Teddy Bridgewater doesn’t make.

I think Sam Bradford has the potential to be an upgrade over Teddy Bridgewater, at least as Bridgewater is at this point in this career. (That’s not to say that he will be, or that the Vikings should abandon Bridgewater.) I know a lot of people like Bridgewater. The folks at Football Outsiders are really high on him. But one reason why I thought the Bradford trade sort of made sense, and why I didn’t think the Vikings were necessarily doomed when Bridgewater went down, is because I don’t think Bridgewater played particularly well last year. That Vikings team went to the playoffs because of Peterson and the defense, for the most part. Bridgewater threw for 3231 yards, 14 TD, and 9 INT for a passer rating of 88.7. His 65.3% completion and 7.2 y/a are okay, but for the most part, those numbers aren’t very good.

One thing that concerns me about Bridgewater, which Greg Cosell of NFL Films brought up during the pre-draft process and which hasn’t really changed, is his arm strength and throwing process. Bridgewater throws a very slow ball, and he’s not a natural thrower of the football. He pushes it way more than he flicks it. It looks like he’s trying really hard to throw it, like I often do when I play in the backyard. One reason for this, I believe, is his small hands, which prevent him from spinning the football and really getting torque on it. People talk about his struggles with the deep ball and lack of aggressiveness, but this is all tied into arm strength. You’re not going to make throws into tight windows if you don’t think that you are physically capable of getting the ball there.

This isn’t to say that Bridgewater can’t become a serviceable quarterback. But it’s just one more thing he has to compensate for, and it limits how high his ceiling can be. Bradford, as I mentioned, has no such issue. Not only is he a better natural thrower of the ball, but he’s taller and he plays taller, with a more over the top delivery and less bend in his knees.

The Vikings are a good team built on a strong defensive foundation by head coach Mike Zimmer. Bradford in many ways has become an easy target for criticism because of some of his history– the multiple huge contracts he’s signed and inability to produce that kind of return, the demanding of a trade in Philadelphia, the fact that he’s incredibly injury prone… but as a player, there’s no doubt that he’s talented. And there’s no doubt that Minnesota can make the playoffs with him at the helm. Whether or not they will? That, only time will tell.

Now onto the Pack. Over the past few days, Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders has tweeted some interesting stats about Rodgers. He is now going on a 14 game streak without a 100+ passer rating. His yards per attempt was 6.7 in 2015 (career is 8.0) and through two games in 2016 is 5.9. He is 6-8 as a starter in his last 14 games, including the Playoffs. As Greg Rosenthal of NFL.com pointed out within the last few weeks, Brady and Manning never had streaks of futility like this in their primes.

Now, Rodgers is certainly not all to blame, and he certainly has not been horrible. But the TD/INT ratio (31/8 in 2015) does not tell the story of what a poor offense this has been recently and how poorly Rodgers has been playing.

Again, Rodgers hasn’t been awful, and he still has had a spectacular career, but you wonder how long this can go before he starts being criticized. There have been a lot of times where I’ve felt that Rodgers has been overrated and that he often gets a pass for poor play. Yes, I had him at No 1 for my QB Rankings coming into the 2015 season. Yes, he’s still probably the most talented Quarterback in the league in terms of arm strength, although that’s always a tough call to make. But people for years have taken it for granted that he’s been the best QB in the league, and many have gone on to claim that he’s on his way to being the greatest that’s ever played this game. That’s ridiculous. He’s only been playing since 2008, and he has one Superbowl ring and has been average in the playoffs since. In terms of the all time argument, he’s still in the shadows of Brady, Peyton, and arguably even Ben Roethlisberger, as well as several guys that are now retired.

But that’s beside the point. On a more micro level, what’s always bothered me most about Rodgers is the degree to which he just isn’t a rhythm player. He holds onto the ball way longer than he should at times, and he takes a lot of sacks, WAY more than the Brady/Mannings. That should play into the picture when talking about his phenomenal TD/INT ratio.

We’ve seen this lack of rhythm come to haunt Rodgers at times during losses and against high level defenses, but for the most part he’s had an effective career and done a fantastic jab of walking a fine line between structure and improvisation.

But that’s not how he’s been playing recently. Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders was talking about how the Green Bay Offense just looks broken. How it used to run so smoothly and efficiently, like a tightly oiled machine, like we used to see with those perfectly timed back shoulder fades. But recently, it’s just been so out of sync. It essentially relies entirely on broken plays. Last year, I bet if you took out of Rodgers’ numbers screens and plays where he got the defense to jump offsides to get a free play, they would be a lot worse.

This is how Rodgers is playing recently. There is no timing or play-to-play execution involved in the GB offense. He’s arguably the best in the league at making improvisational plays, but that can’t be your whole game. Every play can’t be backyard football. That’s not high level quarterbacking and that doesn’t lead to consistent execution. That’s why the GB offense has been inconsistent and struggling. It seems like almost every time Rodgers drops back, he’s running around or moving around in the pocket to try to buy time and “make a play”, or wait for something to happen.

Rodgers is consistently looked at as having great pocket movement, but it’s different than that of guys like Brady and Brees. When they move in the pocket, it is measured and methodical. And it’s fairly consistent. It’s drop back, step up, deliver. Slide left or slide right occasionally if needed. Rodgers is by no means frenetic in the pocket, and he certainly has a great feel for finding the empty space… but his movement seems more random than that of those guys. It’s a little more all over the place. It seems like he’s buying time/extending the play just for the sake of extending the play. When he moves in the pocket, it looks like he’s trying to complete a madden challenge where you’re asked to stay in the pocket without getting sacked as long as you can. It’s not very calculated movement.

In Week 1 against the Jaguars, Rodgers made an absolutely ridiculous touchdown pass. He threw it with precision down the field with a defender practically tackling him. But the talking heads were so caught up with talking about that play, that they ignored the bigger picture of how out of sync the GB offense has been. And that’s been the story for the past year it seems like with Rodgers. People just talk about the crazy broken plays, and ignore how inconsistent Rodgers has been when he’s not making those plays. Sometimes, you just have to drop back and get rid of it for a short gain. Those plays aren’t exciting and they don’t make the highlight reels. But the great ones are going to make those every time. Rodgers tries to improvise so much, that he leaves a lot of plays on the field.

And then there are the comeback woes, which reared their ugly head again on Sunday. As Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders (who keeps track of QB 4th Quarter Comeback records) has written about time and time again, Aaron Rodgers is essentially a frontrunner. This means if it’s the 4th Quarter and the Packers are behind, they aren’t likely to comeback with Rodgers at the helm. No one in the media talks about this, but if you look at his track record, it’s surprisingly accurate. Rodgers’ last pick in the Minnesota game was bad (although the receiver might share the blame), and so was the fumble before that, another example of Rodgers holding onto the ball too long (also poor RT play). 4th Quarter Comebacks have been a problem for Rodgers every year since his rookie year, so this aspect of his game is unlikely to change even if he does get back to MVP form. Some QBs just aren’t comeback QBs. This doesn’t mean you can’t be a great QB–Kurt Warner, one of my favorite QBs, is an all time great, and he too was a notorious frontrunner–but when guys like Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and even guys like Eli Manning, are spectacular in this department, it’s worth at least mentioning

Now, the poor GB offense certainly isn’t all on Rodgers. The O-line has struggled at times. The run game has been hit and miss. And most importantly, the receivers have been below average and have often been unable to separate. The GB receiving core has lost pieces throughout the years (Jones got old, Driver retired, Jennings left/got old, Finley got hurt), and it just isn’t what it used to be. Cobb really struggled without Jordy Nelson in the lineup. And Davante Adams is not a good No. 3. Everyone thought he’d be so good in 2015, but people were fixated on what were essentially only two good games for him (DAL and NE) out of the whole 2014 season. Greg Cosell of NFL Films was talking about, a while back, how it seems Rodgers doesn’t trust Davante Adams when he’s running the slant (the slant-flat is a staple route combination in the GB offense), because often he didn’t pull the trigger on those throws. And I’ve seen a few times where a slant to Adams almost ended up getting picked from the defender cutting in front of him. That kind of stuff messes with a QB’s head. The QB needs to trust that the receiver is going to be where he needs him to be. Otherwise, he either doesn’t throw it at all, or throws it a clutch too late, which is the difference between a completion and an incompletion/INT in this league.

I think 2015 was a perfect storm of factors for Rodgers. Somewhat similar to 2013 for Eli Manning. That year on the Giants there was no run game, the o-line was awful, the receivers were inconsistent, and the pass game concepts weren’t helping the issue. When Rodgers is uncomfortable, he plays fast at times (goes through his reads too fast/moves around too soon), holds onto the ball too long, and leaves plays on the field. When Eli gets uncomfortable, he chucks up absurdly dumb interceptions. Yes, it’s good that Rodgers has managed to avoid throwing picks throughout this slump, but that doesn’t mean he’s been playing well. There’s more to good quarterbacking than not throwing picks. Now, Eli did not at all have a good supporting cast in 2013, but he was part of the problem. A big part. By no means has Rodgers been as bad as Eli was then, but the GB offense has been bad, and that includes him. He too has been part of the problem. The bottom line is, it can’t all be about Jordy.

And it may seem like I’m overstating the issue (and perhaps I am), but this is the part of it that gets me. If I had a penny every time I heard someone talk about Jordy Nelson coming back and him being gone last year and the impact of that on the offense, I’d be rich. I know it matters. I know he’s a great WR, and I know the comfort level with Rodgers is huge. But there has to be more to it than that. Rodgers is supposed to be one of the best in the game. Does the production of the best QB in the game entirely depend on the presence of one WR? Does that also mean that when Rodgers has been so good in the past, it’s just been because of his receivers? Of course not. When Rodgers has been great, it’s been because of him. Why can’t we acknowledge that when he’s been not so great, it’s also because of him? Again, that’s not saying there aren’t other factors. It’s simply saying that he is one of the factors.

A guy like Peyton Manning, no matter who he was throwing to, would always get rid of the football quickly. That’s simply the type of player he is. Rodgers doesn’t have to run around for ten minutes every time he drops back. He needs to be more disciplined in the pocket, and he needs to be mentally sharper. That’s on him, and not anyone else.

Rodgers is one of the best in the game and one of the best to ever do it. And there’s a very good chance he bounces back. I was thinking similar things about him at the beginning of the 2014 season, and he responded by deservedly winning his second MVP award after telling everybody to R-E-L-A-X. But right now, he’s in a slump, and he’s struggling a bit. Let’s not be afraid to admit that, instead of just talking about Jordy Nelson and fawning over every time a broken play just happens to work out positively for him.

The Giants are 2-0 Thanks to Improved Defense and the Return of Victor Cruz

As a passionate Giants fan, it’s hard not to get over-excited about this. Yes, it’s just two games. Both were close games that included some mistakes and that really could have gone either way. But the thing is, we won. And that’s what the Giants haven’t been doing recently. If my memory is correct, this is our first 2-0 start since the 2010 season. That’s six years! That’s big, especially for a young, rookie head coach. Even more exciting is why we’re winning. The defense is looking better than it did a year ago, and Victor Cruz is back and contributing big time. He caught the go-ahead TD in week 1 on a great play to get open after the initial look was covered, and he caught a huge 3rd down in the fourth quarter this past week. He was running straight down the sideline, and the cornerback was right with him as he fought for position. Eli threw it up softly, and Cruz aggressively went after the ball and wrestled it away from the defender, who was in perfect position. That first down allowed the Giants to run the clock down before kicking the go ahead FG, so that they didn’t have to give Drew Brees the ball back.

It cannot be understated how big Cruz was in helping us win the SB in the 2011 season. Not to mention, he was undrafted and wasn’t even starting at the beginning of the 2011 season. And if you’ve ever seen or heard him talk, he’s a really great kid. I’m really happy that he’s come back from injury to be productive. He was out for a long time. And I bet he’s playing with a chip on his shoulder. There were a lot of people saying he wouldn’t be the same guy coming back. But I didn’t have much doubt. Every time he’s been healthy since 2011, he’s contributed. Really cool to see him back and on the field. Not to mention, Sterling Shepard is looking good as well. What’s interesting is that Shepard was a slot guy coming out of college, with questions about whether he could play on the outside. But Cruz was looked at as being primarily a slot guy as well, and most assumed he would take the slot while Shepard would go to the outside opposite Beckham. But from what I can tell, it looks as if Cruz has been playing outside with Shepard in the slot. I’m sure Ben McAdoo will mix it up–he even put Odell in the slot at times the past few years, from which he’s been very productive, just like he is everywhere else on the field–but this is an interesting move. For all the talk of Cruz being a slot guy, he did play on the outside a fair bit in 2011 with all the WR injuries we had. And he was pretty good from there as well. If Shepard can be a productive slot WR (which it looks like he can), we have a pretty good 3 deep WR core. We thought this was the case back in 2013. But Nicks wasn’t the same after injury, Cruz started getting injured, and Randle just was always a bit of a mess. But this is exciting going forward if you’re a Giants fan, no doubt.

Texans Putting Osweiler in Position to Succeed

I’m rooting for Osweiler, if not just because like Bradford has been in the past, he’s another guy that’s going to be under the microscope after signing a big contract. The Texans are 2-0 so far. He played pretty well in week 1 and was eh in week 2. There’s certainly no guarantee he’ll succeed this season. It’s early in the year. QBs really make their money in December. Hoyer in 2014, Fitzpatrick in 2011, and Orton in 2009 were all QBs who started the season well only to implode in the second half. Having said that, I’m cautiously optimistic, and I like what the Texans are doing with Osweiler.

Osweiler, like most QBs, is a system QB. He likely needs to be in a good situation to succeed. When you look at other free agent QB deals that have gone poorly in the past, it’s because these QBs were system QBs that were in over their head and asked to do too much. Kevin Kolb succeeded as a backup in Andy Reid’s system (which has been proven to be QB friendly) throwing to Maclin and Jackson. He wasn’t going to dig the post Kurt Warner Cardinals out of nothingness. Matt Flynn excelled in the GB West Coast with talented pass catchers, but the Raiders were no good when he went there. The same can be said for Matt Cassel in New England. Outside of one very game manager-ish year in KC, he was mostly a bust there.

Yes, these QBs didn’t play well on their respective new teams. But they were brought in to make losing franchises winners again. Usually, those types of Quarterbacks need to come from the draft.

But with Osweiler it’s different. The Texans made the playoffs last year with Brian Hoyer at QB and came close the year before with Ryan Fitzpatrick. So they’re already a good team. If Osweiler can prove to be even a marginal upgrade over those guys, then the trade is justified. Furthermore, lots of people were worried about how Houston might remain a contender with Brock getting so much money. But he has lots of team around him. We all know about JJ Watt. There’s also Clowney on that line, who definitely has talent. Bill O Brien wants to rely on defense, and has proven that he’s capable of doing so in the past. (He’s also a good coach, which wasn’t always the case with the other free agent situations I mentioned.) But offensively, they drafted Braxton Miller, a pretty good prospect at the slot position, as well as the speedster Will Fuller, to go along with Deandre Hopkins, one of the best X-ISO receivers in football. They also traded for Lamar Miller, who definitely showed flashes in Miami. They can mix him along with Alfred Blue, who’s proven to be a capable backup. Lastly, Bill O Brien comes from New England, and his pass game is very well schemed. It’s multiple, and aims to get the ball out quickly. All of this puts Osweiler in a very good position to succeed. Yes, he got the big contract. Yes, he likely will have the spotlight on him. But the investments look to be paying off two weeks in. He doesn’t have to be Tom Brady at this point. He just has to be Andy Dalton: efficient and smart.

~

Quick Hits

-It’s unfortunate that Garoppolo got hurt. Because I thought he looked really, really good against Miami.

-I was glad to see Matt Ryan bounce back against the Raiders. They came away with a W, but more importantly, he was aggressive throwing the ball downfield and confident, two things that have been missing from his game recently.

-It certainly doesn’t look like Cam Newton and the Panthers are taking a step back this season. Cam looks just as good as he did last year, and the addition of Kelvin Benjamin makes this offense scary. He’s quickly becoming one of the best young wide receivers in the league. What’s so impressive is his big body and catch radius, which gives Cam Newton margin for error. Then you have Devin Funchess as well, who people didn’t mention last year. WR often take a few years to develop, but he was a big time draft prospect. If he can become something too, then watch out. You also have Greg Olsen, one of the top receiving tight ends in the league, Corey Brown and Ted Ginn for deep shots, and then you ALSO have J. Stewart and that dominant O-Line… AND Mike Shula’s multiple option scheme which is so hard to defend. I don’t like Carolina, but it looks like they could be here to stay. If they play at their peak, they’re tough to defend.

-The Bills firing of OC Greg Roman struck me as a little strange, especially only two games into the season. He fits what they want to do in terms of being run first and then using Tyrod’s athleticism. Also, their problems over the last year seem to be more about defense than offense.

-Josh McCown gave us the usual Josh McCown treatment. Some nice gunslinger throws while under pressure (see the TD pass), and some bad gunslinger INT’s while under pressure (see the game ender). He did okay for himself last year, and should have been the starter this year (which isn’t saying much when RG3 is your other QB). But now he’s hurt, and the Browns might have to draft another QB next year. What number is that, now? Not to mention, they could have taken Wentz this year (who looks like he has the makings to be a star, at least based on week 1), but they traded the pick to Philly. They even spoke negatively about Wentz in the process (because the Browns are sooo good at evaluating Quarterbacks). What an embarrassment of a franchise.

-Can Chip Kelly and his offense succeed in the NFL? The jury is still out. On Sunday, we saw both sides of the equation. On the one hand, SF allowed 46 points. Yes, CAR is a very good offense, but as we’ve seen time and time again with Chip, when your offense plays so fast, you a) get into holes quickly if your offense isn’t producing, and b) your defense tends to suck. On the other hand, the 49ers were within one score of tying it in the 4th quarter. Before the Blaine Gabbert pick that basically sealed it, there was a dropped past by the niners that could have gone for a TD and tied it. Blaine Gabbert hasn’t played well by any means, but the offense has produced, albeit inconsistently. It’s hard to see anywhere else where Blaine Gabbert could go and even come close to this kind of offensive production. But that’s the Chip offense. They play fast, they get the ball out, and they get completions. Gabbert plays fast (wayyyy too fast), but the Chip Kelly offense is a good fit for him, because Chip wants the ball out. And when you have Blaine Gabbert as your QB (and Torrey Smith as your No. 1), you have to scheme offense. There’s nowhere Gabbert could go where they could huddle up, line-up, and simply out execute the defense. But Chip’s offense is at least giving these guys a chance, with a guy that is essentially a backup QB and a below average WR corps. And we’ve seen that with Chip in the past, where guys like Foles and Sanchez have looked serviceable. It hasn’t translated to wins consistently, but it does have the potential to morph offensive production.

-Speaking of Gabbert, he’s another guy that, like Bradford, can be frustrating. Like I said, at this point, he’s ideally a backup. He plays way too fast, and is way too overreactive to pressure. Because of that, his lower body mechanics become compromised, which leads to inaccuracy and missing throws he needs to make. It’s always been a problem with him, and pocket presence isn’t really something you can teach. But he also is capable of making really impressive throws. His TD throw this past week to Torrey Smith was an example. You do see the arm talent and the type of throws that explain why he was a first round pick. It’s just the other stuff that keeps him from being good.

-It looks like Mike Tirico is replacing Bob Costas as the host of pre and post-game Sunday Night Football. It’s unfortunate; I think Costas is better. I was never a big Tirico fan. He’s definitely a professional; I just don’t really like his voice or his style. But after the NFL told NBC they couldn’t put Tirico on Thursday Night broadcasts, they probably wanted to find something for him to do.

-We’re in the golden age of passing in the NFL, and we might be in the golden age of Quarterbacking as well. From vets to young guns, there’s a lot of talent in the NFL. I saw it all over the highlights this past sunday. Like I said earlier, Matt Ryan made some really impressive throws. Derek Carr as well. Marcus Mariota’s game winning TD pass was phenomenal, and Flacco’s TD to Mike Wallace was nice as well. Then as I mentioned there was Jimmy Garoppolo who looked really good, but Tanehill, although he’s dabbled in mediocrity, has a big time arm and is capable of big time throws as well, which can be seen with his TD pass to Jordan Cameron in the endzone. And Carson Palmer is back to MVP form; he continues to be a tremendous asset for Arizona.

-If it’s the golden age for passing, it might be the golden age for receivers as well. The NFL is full of physical specimens that we didn’t use to see, and these guys attack the ball. Late in the game, Amari Cooper went up for a first down catch on a short hitch that was spectacular. The ball was high and his arm extension was crazy. I was wrong when I said Larry Fitzgerald was done a few years ago, he’s rejuvenated with Palmer and is an absolute dog, attacking the football and running after the catch. Then there’s Julio Jones. A lot of people have been mentioning Antonio Brown’s name as best WR in the NFL, but don’t forget about this guy. Hardly anyone draws as much defensive attention as he does on the Falcons, yet he continues to make plays. He has a lethal combination of size and explosiveness. On a lot of those in-breaking routes, he reminds me of Andre Johnson, because he’s practically impossible to stop. He’s such a big target and so strong to the ball. Then there was the deep ball he caught from Ryan on the second and one deep shot. The ball placement was perfect, but his closing speed to the ball was ridiculous. He was double covered and behind the ball when the camera closed in on him, but by the time the ball got there, he ran through the double coverage and right into the ball. Phenomenal stuff.

Hopefully there’s plenty more great football on its way! Continue to stay tuned in to the blog to keep getting updates and analysis.

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What is the Value of a Quarterback?

It seems like everytime a Quarterback not named Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers is handed a new contract, criticism is rampant. For years on end now, it seems like Quarterbacks have been given massive contracts that tend to eat up most of the salary cap. Many people often think that these players are not worth this type of money, as it used to be reserved for top-notch starters like Peyton Manning, Quarterbacks who were good enough that they could compensate for other areas of the team that were weak. This supposed jump in Quarterback salary likely started with Joe Flacco’s Superbowl XLVII run in 2012. At the start of that season, the Ravens chose not to offer Joe Flacco a new deal but instead let him play out the season. This was an understandable move in some respects as Joe Flacco had been a decent, but inconsistent starter up to that point, and the Ravens were a team built on running the football and playing strong defense.

That season, Joe Flacco essentially  bet on himself and won. He got hot at the right time and led the Ravens to a Superbowl victory, earning Superbowl MVP in the process. He had a tremendous postseason, throwing for 1140 yards, 9 yards per attempt, 11 touchdowns and no interceptions, and a passer rating of 117.2. At the end of the season, he knew he had the Ravens in a bind. He asked for big time money, and of course, they paid up. It was likely either that or let Joe Flacco hit the market. Letting Joe Flacco go after a Superbowl win would be a PR nightmare. Plus, they wouldn’t have a Quarterback.

It could be argued that that point changed the market for Quarterbacks as Flacco’s salary essentially became the asking price/market price for your average starter. It gave Quarterbacks and agents leverage. So since that point, we’ve seen a lot of non-elite Quarterbacks been given big time contracts. (Assuming “elite guys” are the top 3-5 guys, ie Brady, Rodgers, and Brees, that can win no matter who you put around them.) Some of these “non-elite” starters that have been given big money–and often criticized in the process–include Jay Cutler, Andy Dalton, Ryan Tannehill, Colin Kaepernick, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, Matthew Stafford, and I believe since then the Ravens even gave Joe Flacco a second big contract.

Now, it is worth saying that a lot of these contract numbers are misleading. NFL contracts are almost never guaranteed and players almost never play out the entire deal. A lot of people just look at the raw number and assume that’s what the player is getting paid, and this is rarely the case. And there are a lot of people that have a problem with athletes getting paid so much money, or asking for so much money. (There are even some people who think that even when only looking at the guaranteed money, that Quarterbacks are still getting paid too much.) I would disagree with this stance, A) because NFL players are at risk of suffering severe, debilitating lifelong injuries, and B) because what players get paid is negligible compared to the money the owners make.

But that’s a conversation for another day. Putting aside the question of whether Quarterbacks, or even players in general, deserve to be paid this kind of money from an ethical standpoint, the issue I’m focusing on for this article is whether it makes sense from an NFL/business standpoint for Quarterbacks to be making the kind of big money that they often do.

As I’ve said, it seems that everytime a big new QB deal comes out, there is criticism all over the place. “They overpaid!”, “he’s not worth it!”, etc etc etc. Now, it’s easy to offer this kind of critique from at home sitting on your couch. But at the end of the day, teams need a Quarterback. It’s the most important position on the team, outside of kicker. (Kidding, kidding. But seriously, I do love Kickers.) The search for a QB drives coaches and franchises crazy. Too often, letting a serviceable guy go is just too big a risk to take, because QBs aren’t a dime a dozen. No one wants to be the Browns, Redskins, Bills, Dolphins, etc.

At the end of the day, if the market demands a certain price for a QB, the team has two choices: either pay that guy, or let him walk and not have a Quarterback. It’s easy for us to sit on our couches and say it’s not worth it, but we’re not the ones who have to put a product on the field to start the season. Someone’s gotta play. If it’s not the guy you currently have, who is it gonna be?

In the same sense, a lot of people will make the argument that paying for an average QB is paying to go 7-9, 8-8, or 9-7 and miss the playoffs, and that if you’re going to pay that much money to do that, then you might as well go 5-11 and get a high draft pick and draft a Quarterback. Again, this makes sense in theory, but no coach thinks like that. Coaches are being paid to win games. As are players. Most coaches’ jobs are on the line every single year. We know how quickly coaches get fired in this league. Their job is to create a winning product. No coach is going to tank/purposely lose games for any reason.

Most Quarterbacks that are getting paid big-time money aren’t guys that are going to single-handedly be carrying their teams to the playoffs. There aren’t that many Tom Bradys in the world. In fact, there’s only one. Yet a lot of these Quarterbacks are held to Brady-esque standards when pundits are criticizing these contracts. Ideally, should a Quarterback be paid his value proportionally to where he stands among the QB hierarchy of the rest of the league? Sure, but the league, and the market, don’t work like that.

Coaches would love to have Tom Brady, but they have to work with what they have. And outside of that group of about 3-5 elite QBs who can be successful in almost every situation, most QBs are situation dependent. I was once listening to a podcast where someone said–I don’t remember who, might have been Chris Burke or Doug Farrar, but not sure–that when it comes to QBs, there are a group of guys at the top who are going to have success no matter what situation they’re in, there are a group of guys at the bottom who are going to be bad and bring the team down no matter what situation they’re in, and the rest of the guys are dependent on situation. That rings true to me. I think when teams pay a non-elite QB big time money, they think (or are hoping) that if they can get enough team around him, he can win them a Superbowl or at least get to the playoffs, a la Eli Manning, Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton.

This brings us back to the initial problem though: If a QB is dependent on team to be successful, why would you pay him so much money that you don’t have enough to build up the rest of the team? This is a tough question and you could argue it even applies to the elite guys–Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers have been good enough to keep their teams in the playoff mix, but they all had more success winning rings on their earlier contracts. It’s just the case that early QB contracts are more conducive to team success, which is why it’s crucial to win a ring (or multiple ones, if you can) when you have a big time QB on his first contract. It’s going to be hard for the Seahawks to keep this defensive core together now that Russell Wilson has been extended. If I remember correctly, his first contract was incredibly team friendly, seeing how he wasn’t even expected to be the starter when he was drafted.

None of this is meant to defend any particular QB contract, nor is it meant to defend the signing of supposed “non-elite” QBs to big time contracts either. It is simply meant to point out that the criticism we hear regarding such contracts is often naive and fails to recognize the reality of the situations many of these teams are in and the options that they actually face. It’s always easy to criticize “after-the-fact”. But how many of these teams would have been criticized just as much had they cutoff ties with their QB and went into the season without a QB?

For years, teams have paid the QB, because they see it as the only viable option. For years, teams have been criticized for paying the QB because people see it as the wrong option. Could we now be starting to see a change in things? There are some situations that seem to suggest that, yes, teams may not be as willing to pay the QB going forward.

The Washington Redskins with Kirk Cousins and the New York Jets with Ryan Fitzpatrick both opted to give their QBs one year, “prove-it” deals rather than long term contracts. Both QBs had good years, statistically at least, and their teams were successful–the Redskins made it to the playoffs and the Jets were one game away–but these are guys you might hold your breath signing to long term deals. At least, that’s what the Jets and Redskins thought. Neither has a long track record of success, and neither is exceptionally physically gifted. Both played in well designed offensive schemes with talent at the skill positions. The Jets, especially, took a surprisingly long amount of time to sign Ryan Fitzpatrick, much longer than people expected. They did eventually get him signed, but they played hardball, and for a while it looked like they were ready to go into the season with Geno Smith as their starter.

Then you have Sam Bradford, who, not wanting to be a placeholder for a younger QB, decided to test the market after the Eagles drafted Carson Wentz. It turns out no one wanted him, and he eventually reported to training camp with the Eagles. Teams may have been turned off by the fact that he likely wanted to be guaranteed a starting position, and wanted big time money to do so. And I know he doesn’t have a track record of success in this league, and is injury prone, but it’s still a little surprising that a former No 1 overall pick who is likely more talented throwing the football than maybe half the QBs in this league wouldn’t garner any attention, especially this day in age when so many teams are looking for Quarterbacks.

Lastly, you have the most glaring example: The Denver Broncos. Last year, Brock Osweiler stepped in midseason for an injured Peyton Manning and played pretty well, going 4-2 in his absence. I was actually surprised that they gave the job back to Peyton, to be honest. But they did, and Brock had to sit back on the bench and watch while Peyton went on to be part of the Superbowl winning team.

Osweiler was drafted by the Broncos in 2012, and everyone assumed he’d be Peyton Manning’s replacement once Manning retired. Outside of that brief period last year, Osweiler didn’t get to see the field as a starter in those four years. Yes, Osweiler was drafted under a different coaching staff than the one currently in place (although Elway had still been there, and he seems to be making the decisions with this club), but it was still surprising, to say the least, when the Broncos decided so casually to not pay Osweiler and let him seek out a trade. (Not sure if he was traded or just released and then signed, but basically Denver made a conscious decision to move on.)

What happened was Osweiler wanted a certain amount of money and Denver didn’t want to give it to him. Osweiler likely felt disrespect from a team that had him sit on the bench for four years, and then bench him again and make him watch the Superbowl from the sidelines after he thought the job was his. Elway likely watched his team win a Superbowl off the heels of a dominant defense–after a regular season during which his Quarterback, Peyton Manning, was borderline atrocious–and thought that he had a formula for success (play good defense) that he didn’t want to mess with by paying a Quarterback money that, in his eyes, he didn’t deserve based on the caliber of player he was. In theory, it makes sense for both sides, but at the end of the day, Elway is going into the season with either Mark Sanchez, Trevor Siemian, or Paxton Lynch as the starter (still to be determined). He essentially doesn’t have a Quarterback right now. That’s a bold move to make, but Elway’s never been afraid of doing things his way.

Then on the other end of the spectrum, you have the Houston Texans. They represent the opposite philosophy, the “pay the QB” philosophy. They gave Osweiler the money he wanted, despite going 9-7 the previous two years with Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Hoyer at QB, respectively. Those QBs played okay, and Houston even got into the playoffs last year, although Hoyer imploded in the playoff game. But they saw Osweiler as an upgrade at the most important position on the field, so they gave him the money he wanted.

Both moves make sense in some respects and are questionable in others. Ultimately, only time will tell who made the best move.

The point is, it’s always easy to say from an outside perspective, not to pay the QB. But the alternative means going into the season with an unknown at QB, which could be just as dangerous, if not more. It seems that now some teams are finally beginning to take this option. It will be interesting to see what this means moving forward, as pundits who have always criticized teams for paying the QB will now get to see what the alternative looks like, and will have the opportunity to put their money where their mouth is.

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Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, and Russell Wilson: Offseason Thoughts

I’ve been meaning to update the blog for a while now, but I’ve been somewhat unsure of what to write about. Not only do posts tend to take a while, but in the dry offseason sometimes it can be hard to find things to talk about– short of another QB Rankings, which I have considered, but doing that for all 32 teams can be rough.

Having said that, the offseason generally is a time for QB analysis, if only because there’s nothing else going on or nothing better to do or talk about. And given some of the recent news that’s come out, I thought I’d focus on two things in this post that should end up tying in nicely to each other:

  1. Cam Newton’s Number One ranking on NFL Network’s Top 100 Players of 2015 List, where his accomplishments lie as of now, and what we can expect from him going forward.
  2. Andrew Luck’s massive new contract, and whether it’s justified.

If other topics find their way into this post or I end up straying off topic, then so be it.

Let’s start with Cam. Cam Newton was ranked the No 1 player in the NFL on NFL Network’s Top 100 Players of 2015 list–a list that historically has been advertised as being selected by the players, but in reality this claim is dubious at best, as rarely have we ever seen or heard players talking about having voted for the list. Nonetheless, Cam came in at No 1, a spot that is frustrating but not entirely surprising, considering the type of season Cam had, the hype he was getting all season long, and the fact that Cam Newton won 48 of 50 MVP votes, which is absurd given the season that Carson Palmer had.

Cam’s personality irked me big time during the 2015 season, but after watching some more tape of him over the past few months, there’s no doubt that he was really good, perhaps even better than I was giving him credit for. Yes, the raw numbers were pretty great, but he showed noticeable improvement in almost all facets of his game. I specifically noticed a greater ability to read and decipher coverage–football IQ, which is what separates the best quarterbacks from the scrubs. I specifically saw this with his eye manipulation: he was really good, especially in the redzone, at impacting coverage by using pump fakes and looking people off, then coming back to the other side where he knew he had favorable matchups. This resulted in a much better improvement in Carolina’s intermediate to deep passing game, something that hadn’t really been that good during Cam’s previous years. And while he still wasn’t and may never be a precision passer, per se, he was definitely more accurate than he’d been in the past. He also was better in 4th quarter comeback/game winning drive situations than he had been in the past. By all accounts, Cam had a good year. And while his Super Bowl gaffe can’t be ignored, he was playing a really tough defense. You can’t knock him too much for losing that game–even if you can knock him for other things about that game

I still don’t think Cam should have been the No 1 player on the list, however. But I think what this placement speaks to is his personality, and his popularity as an image. Right now, the NFL is embracing and selling the image of Cam Newton. It seems like in some ways, they’re trying to make him the face of the NFL. Or at least one of the faces. We sort of saw this with Brady around 04 and 05, where the image of him as the clutch, sexy, super bowl winning, and flawless superstar was larger than his actual performance as a quarterback–even though his performance was very good. This is all understandable, and if you’re the NFL, why not hop on board the Cam train? He’s a marvel to watch, as he’s big, he’s fast, he’s powerful, and he has a huge arm. But on top of all that, he’s young, he has personality, he’s passionate, he shows his emotions, and he has fun while he’s playing the game. And look, I’m not a fan of the dancing, the dabbing, the showboating, and all that. But I get why people would be. Even if you’re not that into football or don’t know that much about it, you can have fun watching Cam and dabbing with your friends. People know who Cam Newton is. You can also turn on the TV, see Cam trucking over defenders or firing absolute frozen ropes, and even if you don’t know football that well, you’ll still likely be impressed.

Then there’s the fact of how he plays the position. Cam Newton is a dual threat QB, and the Panthers take full advantage of this. They built the offense around his strengths and incorporated him fully into their run game. For some reason, the NFL has always loved QBs that can run. The pocket passer has always been associated with “old”, “boring” while the mobile QB is “new” and “exciting”, “the next big thing” and “transforming the quarterback position” / “changing the way the game has played”. For some reason, when you talk about the prototypical attributes of a pocket passer, people make it an emotional thing and act like you are somehow being closed-minded and stubborn. What this totally ignores is the reasons why these attributes are important. But, that’s a conversation for another day. The point is that people like and always have liked dual threat QBs. Whenever there’s a new one they always jump on the train about how this will be the one that “changes the Quarterback position”. So when there is one that’s actually had the level of success that Cam has had, of course it’s going to be emphasized.

There have always been players that have drawn fascination by the NFL more for who they are than the product they offer on the field. Tim Tebow and Johnny Manziel are two examples that come to mind. Now, don’t get me wrong here. With Cam, I do think it’s both. He had a great year and he more than deserves to be praised for that. And people totally recognize that and respect that. People don’t like him just because of his personality. I want to make that very clear, because that’s not what I’m saying. His play matters. However, people also are attracted to him as a spectacle. And I think that’s what this No 1 ranking is indicative, more than anything: his ascending status as arguably the NFL’s hottest superstar–whether that’s indeed what he is right now, or whether that’s what the media wants to make him out as.

But now I would like to discuss Cam’s actual play and just where his career lies as of now. Because recency bias and hype is strong in the NFL, and it seems like because of the Super Bowl run he had last year (and I’ve been seeing the same sort of sentiments recently with the Top 100 ranking), people are getting the hall of fame busts ready for this guy. We’re seeing very strong rhetoric, such as “could be the type of player we’ve never seen before”, “will change the way the game is played”, “will be the best for the next generation”, etc. This offseason puffery is often meaningless and pointless. The narrative has been brewing for a while now–the hype was there since day one of his rookie season, and people were declaring him MVP through the midway point last season–and since Cam finally played up to his potential last year, people were more than ready to tee off on this narrative. Is the hype warranted, and can Cam maintain this level of play going forward?

Let’s be very clear about what Cam is and isn’t right now:

  • Cam did have a really strong 2015 season, aided of course by a strong supporting cast and an excellent offensive scheme. (Don’t tell me he didn’t have receivers: He had a top 5 tight end, great runningbacks, a great offensive line, a great defense, and a scheme that helps give receivers favorable matchups.)
  • Cam is also the Quarterback that came into 2015 with a losing record as a starter, 2 playoff appearances, 1 playoff win, and that win came in a season where the Panthers got in as a 7-8-1 wildcard.
  • Cam is the Quarterback who owns a career 59.6 completion percentage and a career passer rating of 88.3

“But you’re just being a hater!” No. I’m just stating facts actually.

Can Cam maintain the level of success he showed us last year? No season is going to be as easy as a 15-1 season. Those are the types of seasons where everything is going right. Cam will have to overcome adversity more than he did last year. As I said, he did show notable improvement and if I had to guess, I don’t think he’ll go back to his 2011-2014 self, even if he isn’t quite as good as he was in 2015. But as of right now, how he will play is still a question. To say he’s going to be the NFL’s best quarterback for years to come or that he’s going to be even better just because he had one good year is silly and unjustified.

This brings me into the next quarterback I want to discuss for this piece.

Andrew Luck: The Real Cam Newton

When the media talks about what makes Cam so great, when trying to justify their claims that Cam is going to be “unlike anything ever seen before”, “the best quarterback for generations”, or any similar exaggerated rhetoric, a common theme you see come up (if you can indeed find an argument in these pieces) is that Cam’s unique and grand set of skills makes his ceiling ridiculously high. Such skills include, as I’ve previously mentioned, the big arm, the big body, and his dual ability as a passer and a runner. Now, none of this is necessarily wrong. Cam is a freakish athlete and does have a really unique skillset. That’s why he was the No 1 pick in the draft back in 2011. However, as I’ve mentioned, to take any of this and turn it into some claim that Cam is going to be some demigod at the position is just meaningless editorialism and speculation.

However, in reading some of this meaningless editorialism recently, something interesting struck me that’s kind of ironic. When people talk about the ridiculous skillset and ceiling that Cam has, who they’re really talking about, even though they may not realize it, is Andrew Luck.

Again, here’s a not-so-smooth transition into the Luck situation. It seems public opinion is pretty low on luck after his poor 2015. It also seems to me that Luck is a guy that has set expectations so high that people are always going to be waiting to knock him down. But anyway, after his poor 2015 season, one might wonder about the Colts giving him the biggest contract in NFL history. Is Luck deserving of this contract? Or have the Colts made a huge mistake?

First of all, it’s worth mentioning the following: Andrew Luck will inextricably be forever linked with Peyton Manning because of obvious reasons (draft status, team, quality of supporting cast, skillset and demeanor, etc), and I did some research and found that, surprisingly, Peyton too suffered a drop in his 4th season in the league, albeit not as bad as Luck’s.

Peyton Manning 2000: 4413 yards passing, 33 TDs, 15 INTs, Passer Rating 94.7
Peyton Manning 2001: 4131 yards passing, 26 TDs, 23 INTs, Passer Rating 84.1

He threw 27 TDs/19 INTs in 2002, then threw 10 or less until 2007, and never again would throw more than 17.

Now, that’s not to say Luck is going to follow the exact same career path. He may always toss a few more interceptions because he is a bit of a gunslinger and that’s his style of play. But the point is, down years happen. It’s not the end of the world. Drew Brees is an example of a guy who tends to have a down year here and there, but always seems to bounce back the next year. Luck may have been especially bad this year, but it was also a perfect storm of lots of factors–injuries but also especially supporting cast. I don’t mean to make excuses, but that stuff matters. Just because you’ve overcome a weakness in the past doesn’t mean you’ll be able to forever. And offensive line is arguably the most important/underrated position for the quarterback, and the Colts have been bad there for just about Luck’s entire career, as he’s been hit as much as just about any quarterback in the past four years. (I don’t have the official numbers on that, but I’m fairly certain he actually has led the league in hits taken in that time span. But again, not positive.)

While it might be fair to argue that Luck was somewhat overly praised in the sense that many (including myself at times) basically took it as a given that he would be a hall of famer and expected him to consistently play at a high level–in other words, the nature of some of the praise might have been a tad premature–the bottom line is what Luck showed us he’s capable of in 2012-2014 (and even in flashes last year) can’t be ignored, and more than justified him receiving the contract he did.

I want to return to and expand on the point I was beginning to make earlier about Luck being the guy that people see Cam Newton as being or capable of becoming. I believe that Luck is the guy with the truly transcendent and incredibly wide-ranging skillset. Although people might not look at him like this–perhaps because the Colts don’t use Luck as a featured part of the running game like the Panthers do–Luck can do everything that Cam can (big body, strong, speed, elusiveness, huge arm), and then some. In addition to what Cam can do, Luck,

  • Has the ability to throw with pace and tempo, and can essentially throw the ball at any speed which the play demands
  • Throws with tremendous anticipation
  • Has superb pocket movement and functional mobility
  • Is an excellent progression reader and has shown the ability to command incredibly sophisticated passing offenses

Luck’s given us big time results in his first four years as a starter. We all know how bad that Colts team was before he came (see 2011). He’s already shown us the ability to carry incredibly flawed teams. None of the teams around him have been that good since he came into the league. Yet, the Colts had 3 straight playoff appearances with him at the helm, and got one step further in the playoffs each year. Not to mention some of the incredible numbers he’s put up, and his ability to deliver in the clutch. With Luck, we don’t have to speculate about what he could do, because he’s already shown us what he can. That, more than anything, is why Luck is being paid the number that he is.

When people criticize Luck, they like to pick on the interceptions. And while interceptions aren’t necessarily good, they need context. Just looking solely at interceptions is a very narrow way of looking at things. First of all, Luck’s never had a great defense, so he’s never been afforded the luxury of being able to go out there and be a caretaker. Instead, he knows he has to be aggressive and go out there and score on every drive. As I mentioned earlier, as cliche as it is, Luck is a gunslinger. He’s going to thread the needle and he’s going to push the ball down the field. This is not an excuse, per se. It’s just a fact that that playing style will result in more turnovers. But it’s a risk reward thing. Luck will also make plays and throws that no one else will make. Just like Brett Favre used to. The point is, some people have this perception that interceptions are just inherently bad and you should avoid them at all costs. And while you shouldn’t necessarily try to throw interceptions, the NFL game is about being aggressive, threading the needle, and turning it loose. It’s what the great ones do. As Greg Cosell of NFL Films always says, the willingness to “pull the trigger” and “turn it loose” to “make stick throws into tight windows” is a positive when evaluating quarterbacks in the NFL, not a negative.

Playing style does matter, and context matters. Brady is not going to turn it over as much as Favre, because Brady plays in a dink and dunk offense. That’s not a knock on him, that’s just the reality. If you take more chances, some of those are going to go the other way. And to say that isn’t to make excuses; it’s providing context rather than just stating a number. Now of course this doesn’t mean that every pick isn’t Luck’s fault and that he should be throwing tons of interceptions every year, or even that his interception numbers have been acceptable. But it is one reason why his interception count may always be a little higher than average.

The other thing is that a majority of Luck’s picks over his career have come when he’s been down by multiple scores in the fourth quarter. The Grigson/Pagano Colts have a terrible habit of digging themselves huge holes multiple times each year. When you’re down multiple scores with not a lot of time left, you can be overly aggressive to try to make plays, or you can dink and dunk to have a good but meaningless stat sheet. People really don’t realize how many of Luck’s picks over his career have come in these desperate situations, and those picks should essentially be tossed out.

Now, none of this is to say Luck is perfect. Of course he has things to work on. Last year proved that much. I think most important is knowing when to give up on a play. Knowing when the play isn’t there, when you have to throw the ball away or take your checkdown. There were a lot of times where it was evident the play wasn’t there and Luck tried to keep it alive or force it anyway. But Luck’s still young and he’s still learning. There’s little reason to think he won’t keep improving as he has in the past.

Also, if you don’t buy what I’m selling and you really think Luck isn’t that good, ask yourself, why have the Colts been winning so much? As I said, they had three straight playoff years and got a step further each year. What part of their team is responsible for winning if it isn’t Luck? It’d be hard to identify a team strength that has explained the Colts success over the past few years if you really think Luck isn’t at least partially responsible.

Now, I don’t know the specifics of Luck’s contract, but it is somewhat concerning that he’s been given this megadeal that is sure to eat up cap space and that the Colts have so many holes in their roster. If they weren’t able to patch them in the past, how are they going to do it now that Luck’s entering his second contract, which is that much bigger? How are they going to fix the defense and the offensive line? It definitely is a tad worrisome. However, this is all irrelevant when looking at Luck’s value as a player. Because ultimately, that’s what the contract should be judged upon when asking if Luck is worth it. And there’s no doubt in my mind that Luck is deserving of this contract when it comes to player value. Now you might argue that Luck had a bad 2015, so why not at least wait until he rebounds before paying him. However, given what Luck has done for the Colts, his skillset, his draft status, etc, he was bound to get paid at some point. He’s a franchise player, and you pay your franchise players. If it was going to happen eventually, why not do it now?

Last but not least: Don’t forget about Russell Wilson.

It’s only fitting to talk about Wilson (hopefully briefly, because I’m getting tired) because he too was drafted in 2012 (Cam was 2011, but same general time period), and he too is immensely talented, has had great success in his early career years, and should be mentioned along with this newer generation of talented young QBs.

Make no mistake: Russell Wilson has been really good since 2012. Yes, he’s benefitted from the defense and running game at times. But he’s also shown more than enough to prove that he is a special player at the Quarterback position. He’s had pretty good numbers throughout his career, he’s shown steady improvement, and he’s had tons of postseason success. At the end of last year he really started to take it to the next level. Now that Lynch has retired, we’re seeing the passing of the torch to Russell Wilson and the passing game in Seattle. And with all the Cam hype last year, I think what Russell Wilson did down the stretch was truly lost in the fray.

I’m going to give you two sets of Quarterback statistics from 2015. See if you can tell me which one is Cam and which one is Russell Wilson.

Quarterback A:

4024 Yards Passing
68.1 Completion Percentage
8.3 Yards per attempt
34 Touchdowns to 8 Interceptions
110.1 Passer Rating
25 Touchdowns to 2 Interceptions in the last 7 games
553 Yards Rushing (5.4 y/a)

Quarterback B:

3837 Yards Passing
59.8 Completion Percentage
7.8 Yards per attempt
35 Touchdowns to 10 Interceptions
99.4 Passer Rating
20 Touchdowns to 1 Interception in the last 7 games
636 Yards Rushing (4.8 y/a)

Figured it out yet? I’ll tell you. Quarterback A is Russell Wilson and Quarterback B is Cam Newton. Surprised? I didn’t include rushing touchdowns because that would have given it away. Cam had 10 to Wilson’s 1. But outside of that, the numbers are somewhat similar, yet Wilson’s actually pretty much superior in every category–despite getting close to no attention while Cam was basically unanimously considered the MVP. Yes, Wilson had a slow start to the season, but so did Cam. It just showed more for the Seahawks in the win/loss column. Also, Wilson’s production late in the season was more evenly distributed. In those last seven games, he had two 5 touchdown games and threw at least 2 touchdowns in every other game. Cam on the other hand, in his last 7, had three 5 touchdown games, but two where he threw for none.

In the playoffs, Wilson was rusty against the Vikings, and the Seahawks had one of their patented, “shouldn’t have really won that playoff game but won it anyway” games. The karma seemed to come back to them the following week as they looked nothing like Seattle and fell into a 17-0 hole early. Russell Wilson had a tough start, with pressure rushing him and causing two bad interceptions. He bounced back and rallied late, but it wasn’t enough and the Seahawks lost 31-24 to the Panthers. But make no mistake about it: Russell Wilson was playing as well as any Quarterback in the league late in the season, arguably better than Cam Newton, and not against a bad stretch of defenses either. The Seahawks were spreading it out and Wilson was in serious rhythm. All the spectacular traits he’s showed over the years, such as anticipation, accuracy, and really good arm strength were coming together, but more often than not now he was doing it from the pocket, hitting his back foot and getting rid of the ball, often at the intermediate and deeper levels. When he plays like that, like he’s capable of, from the pocket, there’s no telling what he can do. I expect him to continue to improve and really blossom as we move forward. His late season surge should not be overlooked. He’s also a guy who, since being drafted, has led the Seahawks to the following results:

2012: Lost in the divisional round by 2 points (not Wilson’s fault)
2013: Won the Superbowl by 35 points
2014: Lost the Superbowl by 4 points (arguably not Wilson’s fault)
2015: Lost in the divisional round by 7 points (somewhat Wilson’s fault, but still kept it close at the end like he always does)

Wilson’s had a lot of big time play in big time moments. The Seahawks in the Wilson era are arguably the best example of how random the playoffs are, and how playoff wins and losses are often not indicative of quarterback play. There have been multiple games where he’s played poorly and they’ve won, and multiple games where he’s played well and they’ve lost. It all really balances out in Wilson’s case. The bottom line is he’s had them in contention consistently and there have been results to show for it.

Because the Seattle offense is often inconsistent and because Wilson hasn’t always shown that advanced a level of pocket play, I’d rank his career slightly below Luck’s. If I were to rank the careers of these 3 talented young quarterbacks from 2012-2015 (and 2011-2015 in Cam’s case), I would do so in the following order:

  1. Andrew Luck
  2. Russell Wilson
  3. Cam Newton

But regardless of how you rank them, these guys are the future, and it will be exciting to see what they can produce going forward.

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Cam Newton Still Doesn’t Get It

“I’ve got a bone to pick.”
-Kendrick Lamar

~

This has been the year of the nonexistent Cam Newton critics. All year members of the media, fans, and players have been coming to Cam’s support to fight back against the “critics” and the “haters” and defend Cam’s on and off field actions. They’ve been telling them how they’re overreacting, how Cam is just having fun and doing nothing wrong, and how people need to get off his back. People refer to these critics like they’re a large bunch, as I’m always reading about how “polarizing” cam is or how he, “has his fair share of critics and detractors”. They act like they’re a minority that is only responding fairly to what they perceive as a massively unjust attack, both in its magnitude and its frequency.

The problem is that despite the massively defensive rhetoric that has been utilized by the Cam supporters, I can’t help but feel like these “critics” are few and far between, and that despite their attempt to have you believe otherwise, the supporters are those that make up the vast majority. In fact, from what I’ve witnessed, Cam has been one of the least criticized players in the league this year. This is not to say that such critics don’t exist as I’m sure they do (if you couldn’t yet tell based on the tone of this article, I could certainly be considered one of them), but there seems to be a large discrepancy between perception and reality when it comes to prevailing attitudes about Cam Newton. And what bugs me even more is not just the fact that so many people are responding to this perceived criticism, but rather the nature of such response. The prevailing sentiment is that the criticism directed towards Cam is massively unjust and unreasonable. I intend to show that the type of criticism being leveled towards Cam is more than fair and justifiable, and that if anything, there really should be more of it, not less, and at a much greater intensity than there has been thus far.

If you think Cam is treated differently than other players, you would be correct, but probably not in the way that you think. Cam is not held to a higher standard than other players; he’s actually held to a much lower standard. At this point you may be rolling your eyes, but please, let me explain.

For years, there’s been a general consensus on how professional athletes should conduct themselves on and off the field, especially when it comes to Quarterbacks. The Quarterback is said to be the leader of the team and the face of the franchise. Because of this, he’s expected to be mature and able to handle responsibility and pressure. He’s expected to be carry himself in a certain way, namely, with class, dignity, confidence, and selflessness. The Quarterback is the driving force for the entire team. He’s praised when the team wins and criticized when they lose. A true franchise Quarterback is expected to be a leader and a guy that everyone looks up to. He’s the guy in the very center of the huddle that everyone is listening to, that everyone is turned towards. When the team is down, it’s his job to pick them back up. His energy, positive or negative, permeates throughout the rest of the team. And the best Quarterbacks are supposed to be unflappable; they can’t be rattled. To put it in short, the Quarterback is supposed to be a role model.

We’ve been drilled about the importance of leadership and intangibles when it comes to playing the position by both the talking heads and by former players. Think about guys like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees. They are all absolute class acts. They never make excuses and almost always remain humble and composed. They absolutely hate losing and are frustrated by losses, but they almost always point the finger at themselves and say the absolute right things. They are their own biggest critics. Yesterday, Tom Brady said in an interview that he doesn’t consider himself one of the all time greats at the position. Could you ever imagine any of those three guys saying something like this? And yes, I’m sure we could all find instances where any of these guys said the wrong thing at some point. But I’m talking about a general pattern, and for the most part, I don’t think anyone would deny that these three are pretty exemplary when it comes to class and leadership at the QB position. (Brady I know can be a bit of a dog on the field, but he almost always comes across humble when speaking with the media.)

As I was saying, this standard of playing Quarterback is enforced by those in the media all the time. Character is often even attacked unfairly and for insignificant things that are perceived as poor leadership or poor character. Jay Cutler was always criticized for his “body language” and what was perceived as poor attitude, particularly during press conferences. Colin Kaepernick, during his Superbowl run, was frequently criticized for being too cocky and for the manner in which he celebrated. (Remember “Kaepernicking”?) Even Aaron Rodgers has at times been the brunt of character related critique, which makes it so curious that a guy like Cam Newton has basically gotten a free pass, despite the fact that he has shown off far more frequently and in a far more overt and intentional manner than any of these guys. And again, I realize that there have been critics here and there–such is the case with any player–but certainly not to the level you’d expect based on past standards. And when it comes to mainstream sports media outlets such as NFL.com (as opposed to commenters, bloggers, team specific websites, non sports journalists), I’ve seen nothing in the way of criticism. And I keep up with the NFL pretty frequently. And saying that theoretically you could be the target for criticism is not the same as actually criticizing someone.

Now, I know this is a results oriented league, and a lot of this has to do with wins. The Panthers had one loss coming into the Superbowl, and winning all but alleviates most criticism. Even having said that, I’m still surprised there hasn’t been more criticism. And not just that there hasn’t been criticism, but that it’s somehow wrong to criticize Cam. Like I said, Kaepernick was incredibly hot during his postseason run years ago, and he certainly was criticized more than Cam, despite celebrating less and doing so in a less showoffy manner. What really gets at me is that in a league where pointing a finger at someone is often seen as taunting (see Patrick Peterson in the playoff game vs the Packers this year), or getting on your knees after a score is considered excessive celebration (see Greg Jennings’s first TD in Superbowl 45), Cam, whose dances go on until seemingly the end of time, who dances not just after touchdowns but after first downs, and who once ran a victory lap around the stadium to hype up the crowd, does not get flagged for taunting or excessive celebration. This year, during the fourth quarter of a comfortable win vs the lowly Titans in Tennessee, Cam danced for nearly 10 seconds after a TD, and when the ref attempted to separate him from the Titans, he continued taunting them right at their face, despite knowing that they couldn’t touch him because the refs were in the way. If that’s not taunting, I don’t know what is. And don’t even get me started on the banner. Seriously, who does that? Again, he’s a Quarterback. These are the types of things we’ve been told Quarterbacks don’t do. Quarterbacks aren’t the immature ones. So why is it okay when Cam does it?

Now, let’s get something clear. I am not saying it’s not okay to celebrate or to trash talk. Almost everyone does both those things to a certain degree. Tom Brady trash talks all the time; he gives raging fist bumps and spikes the ball after he scores. All this is a normal part of the game. It’s okay to get hyped, even if you’re a Quarterback. It’s also pretty clear that when Cam celebrates, it’s ridiculously excessive, showoffy, self-centered, childish, and goes way beyond the extent to which the rest of this league, especially the Quarterbacks, celebrate. Yes, a certain amount of celebration is fine, but please, let’s stop acting like Cam hasn’t crossed that line. He’s bulldozed over that line and made sure to never return.

Having said all that, I’ve gotten a little off topic. The dancing, however much it bugs me, is rather inconsequential and has been talked about enough already. I don’t want to get too caught up on that. The main reason I’m writing this is to talk about how Cam acted after the Superbowl.

After the game was over, I wrote about on Facebook how fitting it was that Denver, with the unexciting and soft-spoken Peyton Manning, Von Miller, Gary Kubiak, and Wade Philips, was the team that claimed victory, and how on the biggest stage of all we got to see Carolina’s true colors–just like we did with the loud and brash Seattle team last year. I don’t believe in Karma, but I found it fitting that Carolina lost after all the trash talk and all the disrespect and arrogance. I found it fitting that Cam, who was constantly worshipped due to his supposedly unstoppable physical attributes, made a clear decision to not go after his lost fumble that ultimately led to the Broncos going up two scores. And I found it fitting that after months of being praised for “having fun”, “being himself” and being a great leader and teammate, we got to see the other side of Cam at the podium, the losing side. I hoped that this would help some people see Cam’s childishness and selfishness, and I hoped that perhaps he would be humbled from this experience. I talked about how, unlike some fans, I really don’t enjoy ripping on other teams and I don’t get joy out of watching players lose. I also made it clear that losing happens, that many players and teams have lost with far more on the line than Cam and the 2015 Panthers, and that this in no way devalues their accomplishments in getting this far. I explained that losing isn’t what bothers me, but bad sportsmanship is. I knew the Carolina fanbase and media would be quiet after the victory and that the focus would be on Denver, which it should be. But after, how Carolina and its supporters acted leading up to the game, I felt like I had to say something, that I had to address and reflect on what I perceived as bad sportsmanship with Cam at the center, and how it ended up going for them in the end. I thought once I posted this that would be the end of it and I’d be done with Cam. It turns out I was wrong. I need to address it further.

Cam’s behavior at the podium postgame was childish, selfish, and immature. He gave monotonous, one-word answers, ignored the media, did not answer the questions, gave no credit to Denver, and eventually got up and left in the middle of questioning. Even the normally loudmouthed Deion Sanders admitted that his behavior was immature and unacceptable.

“But how would you feel if you just lost the Superbowl??”

I would feel like shit, but I’m not a professional athlete. I’m not paid millions of dollars to be the face of my team. Again, with any professional athlete, but especially when you’re the Quarterback of an NFL team, there comes with it a certain responsibility and a certain way you’re supposed to act, one that Cam has all but ignored entirely this season, as it doesn’t apply to him for some reason.

I’m not saying I expect Cam to embrace defeat with open arms. Being upset and not wanting to talk to the media right after you lost the Superbowl is more than justified. But again, Cam moved past what is reasonable. There have been a lot of Superbowl losing Quarterbacks in the past. Has anyone been as despondent as Cam, literally pouted to the degree to which he did? Has anyone left the podium in the middle of the press conference?? If so, I’d say they’re few and far between.

And even so, talking about that press conference was also was not my intent in writing this. Furthermore, it appears that the press conferences were poorly situated so that Cam was within earshot of Denver players boasting, which would justifiably upset him. So let’s just say that that’s why he left, and for all intents and purposes let’s give him a pass for that–which I don’t, by the way–and say he was upset after losing the Superbowl and that it was in the heat of the moment.

It’s what Cam said today that prompted me to write this. Not only did Cam not apologize for his behaviors, he went in the entire opposite direction. He didn’t just give neutral answers, he defended himself. He defended his behaviors, argued that there was nothing wrong with them, and didn’t even show an inkling of understanding as to why what he did might have been wrong, might have upset people, or even deserves a coherent response. Here are some of his quotes, courtesy of NFL.com:

“I’m on record as being a sore loser. I hate losing. You show me a good loser, and I’ll show you a loser.”

This is the headline most people are seeing, and I wouldn’t necessarily have a problem with it just as an isolated quote (maybe outside of the “I’ll show you a loser” part). Once contextualized with regards to Cam’s actions, however, it becomes a little more arrogant. Still though, nothing too bad yet. It’s the rest of his quotes that I have a problem with:

“I don’t have to conform to what anybody wants. I am my own person.”

“Before you are quick to assume anything, what makes your way right?”

“If I offended somebody, that’s cool, but I know who I am and I’m not about to conform nor bend for anybody’s expectations because, yours or anybody’s expectations, will never exceed mine.”

As for the fumble he chose not to dive on:

“I didn’t get the fumble, but we can play tit for tat. I’ve seen numerous quarterbacks throw interceptions and the effort afterwards they don’t go. I don’t dive on one fumble because the way my leg was, it could have been contorted in a way.”

“OK, you say my effort? I didn’t dive down. I fumbled — that’s fine. But at the end of the day, we didn’t lose that game because of that fumble. I can tell you that. So, you can condemn and say, ‘Well, he gave up. He did this, that and the third’, but hey as long as my teammates know, as long as my coaches know, as long as anybody that’s following this team knows.”

Um, Earth to Cam…

YOU JUST LOST THE SUPERBOWL!!!!!!!!

 

I think these quotes really speak to just how out of touch with reality Cam really is. He’s coming off the absolute biggest loss of his career. The winning streak is over. There are actually things you need to answer to. And he’s still acting the same way he has all season: like he’s above everybody, like he’s untouchable, like there’s nothing to answer to. How dare anybody question the mighty Cam Newton?

I honestly and genuinely cannot fathom how someone could give the answers that Cam did after losing a Superbowl. How can you be that out of touch? He just doesn’t get it. He refuses to come down from his high horse and acknowledge any aspect of the situation. If he’s not on top, then he’s not having it.

Again, this is not even a question of what’s right or proper at this point. This is a question of what’s normal. What does it say about Cam that he literally can’t acknowledge the situation he’s in and his role in it? Most people, after losing and losing big, tend to drop the act at least temporarily. They tend to shut their mouth for a little bit. Even if they’re not showing remorse, they tend to at least ease off the aggressive and outgoing stance. But not Cam.

Pride is only a virtue to a certain point. If you’re acting prideful without anything to be proud of, that’s just being pathetic.

And let me emphasize that this is all a day after the Superbowl. You’re no longer fresh off defeat. Yea it’s still going to hurt for a while, but what Cam has done is is discredit any reason to excuse his immature behavior at the press conference by instead going out of his way to further confirm the intention behind it. Again, you don’t even need to apologize. A neutral response would be better than this. Just show some awareness that you just lost a Superbowl and that maybe now isn’t the best time to be boasting about how great you are. His answers are borderline nonsensical. You want me to empathize with Cam? I’m honestly trying, and I don’t understand how you can still be this arrogant coming off a Superbowl loss.

“But he’s just being himself. How can you fault him for being himself?”

Um, what? Just because someone is being themselves doesn’t justify their behavior or make them worthy of respect. Donald Trump is being himself in this election. His self just happens to be a total jackass.

Childish, selfish, spoiled, stuckup, immature, arrogant, full of himself, out of touch, head in the clouds. These are the words I would use to describe Cam at this point in time.

Quit acting like you’re above it all, Cam. You’re not.

As for the fumble, it’s really hard to not talk about this. It may seem petty, and I’m usually against this type of character criticism, against saying that people were “scared” or “choked” or something like that. And if it were any other game, then fine. But this is the Superbowl. This is the biggest game of your life and this was without a doubt the most pivotal moment of the game, as after the Broncos recovered they went up two scores with little time left in the fourth, basically eliminating any chance the Panthers had of tying up the game. If Cam recovers, the Panthers punt and have a very good shot at using their timeouts to get the ball back in a one score game, only needing to stop a Broncos offense that basically did nothing all day.

If you watch the shot in slow motion, it’s about as clear as can be that Cam had a direct path to the ball and could have dove, and there was a clear moment where instead of diving, he backed away from the ball.

Again, let me remind you that this is a 6’5” 245 lb Quarterback, a guy who people have been constantly praising for his supposedly unique and unstoppable ability to truck defenders and break loose of tacklers. This is a guy who has jumped over the pile numerous times to score at the goal line and stretch the ball over. This is a guy who, as I mentioned earlier, has literally bragged about his physical gifts and how unstoppable he is. And this is a guy who literally just admitted that he didn’t dive for the ball because he was afraid of getting injured. I’ve seen Tom Brady dive into piles to recover fumbles. I remember one time very distinctly, backed up at the goal line in a regular season game at the 2011 Jets. I’m sorry, but if Tom Brady can do it, then so can Cam Newton. You be the judge here, and I won’t dwell on it anymore, but I don’t see how you can spin this to not be an indictment of Cam. Biggest game of your life. Biggest moment of your life. Self admittedly shied away to avoid injury.

Less than half a week after the Superbowl and I’ve already seen people come out to defend Cam. And with little to no justification as well.

At this point it may seem excessive, but the Cam excusing–and not just excusing, praising for what should be looked on negatively–has to stop. There are no reasons he shouldn’t be held to the same standard than every other player who comes into this league. And it’s not just off the field that this is the case; it’s on the field as well.

I’ve made it clear where I stood on the MVP race. I believe an objective analysis brings out Carson Palmer as the top dog, and despite what the mainstream media may have you believe, I’m not the only one. However, I have come to understand why people may have voted for Cam. He ended the season on a very high note, he improved as the year went on, he gives you the ground element, and his raw TD total when you include rushing is very high. This may just be more a case of people not recognizing Carson Palmer than overrating Cam, which would be understandable seeing as the narrative has already been written on Carson Palmer.

Having said all that, Cam got 48 MVP Votes. To put this into context, there are 50 voters, and there has only been one unanimous MVP in the history of the league. That was Tom Brady in 2010, when he had the 36/4 TD/INT ratio. Peyton Manning, after setting league-round records in yards and TD passes, got 49 votes. And Cam was this close to being unanimous. I’m sorry, but there’s no justification for that.

I don’t like trash talking and arrogance by anyone at any point in the game, but if you are going to be that guy, at least be able to back it up with your career. Then it’s still obnoxious, but at least it’s somewhat justifiable. Joe Namath was a loud-mouthed Diva, but when he guaranteed a Superbowl win, at least he came through. Now I understand Cam had a very good season, but people are getting the hall of fame bust ready at this point, assuming he’ll be dominant for the next 10 years, even drawing comparisons to Steve Young. Seriously? Give me a break. He had one good season. I know everyone’s been waiting for him to break out, but it’s still just one season, and it’s still no guarantee you can repeat. Consistency is what matters in this league. Anyone can be good for one year. Let’s not forget that coming into this season Cam had a losing record as a starter, four years into career. Yes, he beat what many considered to be the two best teams in the postseason, but he was also up 17-0 in both those games without contributing that much. Those are fluky games. He also had the easiest schedule in the league, and we’re playing in an age where passing is easier than ever. Kirk Cousins and Tyrod Taylor had pro bowl level seasons. Now, none of this invalidates what Cam did this year. But it also should make you at least skeptical that he can keep it up. I wouldn’t be surprised if he does, but let’s not treat him like he’s a hall of famer or the next big thing at QB just quite yet. I’m just trying to keep everything in perspective. Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Ben Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson, and Andrew Luck all came into this league, had success right away, and did it for longer than Cam. You can say they were all on better teams–in some cases true, others not so much–but they also just played better than Cam. And are we really going to ignore the fact that three years ago, Colin Kaepernick had one of the best postseasons ever both in terms of rushing and passing? To act like Cam is doing things no Quarterback has ever done before is disrespectful to all the QBs that actually have had success in this league, moreso than Cam. So as you can see, Cam is held to a ridiculously low standard not just off the field, but on the field as well. And there’s very little in terms of career accomplishment to begin to justify how insanely self absorbed he is.

“But he’s so talented!” people say. “There’s no one like him!!”

You know who else was talented? Jamarcus Russell and Ryan Leaf. At the end of the day, that stuff means nothing if you don’t have the character to back it up. Being talented isn’t intrinsically valuable. It doesn’t automatically make you a good QB, and it doesn’t automatically make you deserving of respect. There’s a lot more to being an athlete.

Ultimately, nothing I say or do will affect how Cam Newton acts. He’s free to do whatever he wants and do it however he wants. But if he’s going to act the way he has, he certainly isn’t entitled to a lack of criticism along with it. There are certain standards of action and behavior for all realms of everyday life. These seem to be getting lower and lower when it comes to football, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there. Call me a hater, call me racist, call me whatever you want. But character? Responsibility? Humility? Respect? I believe this stuff matters. And to be honest, I’m a little surprised more people don’t feel the same way.

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Does Cam Newton really deserve to be MVP? (Hint: The Answer is No, Carson Palmer does.)

Cam Newton has been hyped up ridiculously all season for the MVP award and at this point it almost seems like a given that he’s going to get it. For a while now, most of the talking heads have assumed it to be fact that Cam is the number 1 MVP candidate out there. And this isn’t just coming from the blabbermouths; a lot of smart writers have jumped on the Cam train as well.

I’ve had this article in the (mental) works for about half of the season now but haven’t gotten the chance to sit down and write it. Sure, it may have been early to be thinking about MVP back then, but that doesn’t change the fact that the majority of the media starts throwing names out from week 1, and this is really just a response to a lot of what’s out there. However, now that the regular season is over and all the games are in the books, all that won’t be an issue, and we can truly evaluate who has been the most valuable player for 16 games. It will also be good to get this article out of the way before the playoffs start and we’re all focused on, well… the playoffs. Plus, if any of the MVP candidates play well or poorly in the playoffs, that might cloud peoples’ minds.

If I had indeed written this article back at the mid point of the season it would have been a lot easier. Earlier in the season there were several quarterbacks playing better than Cam. It just seemed like another case of Cam being overhyped just like he had been in previous years. This isn’t the first time analysts had mentioned his name in the MVP convo, but they had been forced to drop it seeing as his teams were in the constant  8-8 zone. But seeing as the Panthers were undefeated for the majority of the season, the hype train could justifiably be continued.

What complicates the matter, however, is that Cam has indeed been playing very very well for the second half of the season. This has blurred the lines much more between Cam and the other high level quarterbacks and has given Cam fans just the results they needed to see to seal in their minds the MVP argument.

Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders was talking about on Twitter a few weeks back about how Cam’s preseason overhype combined with his late season level of play, which finally actually matched the level people had been elevating him to, was a perfect storm to make Cam an MVP lock in most peoples minds. To me, I see many similarities to the public view of Tom Brady’s career. During the early New England dynasty when Brady was winning Super Bowls (01-06), people were elevating Tom to godlike status. Don’t get me wrong, he was very very good at the time. But in many peoples minds, he was already in contention for GOAT and was already arguably better than Peyton Manning. Tom was a complementary player–albeit a very good one–on some great teams, but he wasn’t quite at the level people were raising him to in their conversations. However, in the later years (2007+), he actually reached this level, consistently throwing for 4000+ years, 30+ TDs, 100+ passer rating, etc. Once Tom got to this point, seeing as most already viewed him as in contention for GOAT status, his escalation from that already ascended point in their minds all but sealed him as the unarguable GOAT, for these people.

That’s a bit of a tangent, but the point is Cam’s always been overhyped, and now his level of play is actually matching the hype. That’s great for Cam and I don’t mean to belittle his improvement. I would not have foreseen it at the beginning of the season. But my point is it doesn’t automatically make him the MVP. As much as there has been some pretty disappointing QB play this year (Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, Matt Ryan, Ryan Tannehill), there’s also been some very good QB play (Andy Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Carson Palmer). Most of those guys I just mentioned you could make a reasonable case for Cam being the MVP over them. (By the way, I’m just focusing on Quarterbacks because in this day in age, and rightfully so, it’s generally a given that quarterbacks win the MVP award. They’re just too influential when compared to the other positions.) Tom Brady had a great start to the season but fell off once the Pats injuries settled in. Drew Brees has been very good, but the Saints finished the season 7-9 and their offense has been eh. Andy Dalton has been having a career year, but most view him as a very good game manager but not quite the guy that carries the team on his back. Ben Roethlisberger is playing better than most people probably recognize, but he’s always been overlooked. Also, he missed a quarter of the season due to injury.

However, there’s one guy out of all of these that has had a rightful claim to the MVP award since week 1, and that guy is Carson Palmer. Most acknowledge Carson as an MVP candidate but put him second to Newton–often with little to no explanation. Well here’s my challenge to those people: Seeing as what Carson Palmer has accomplished this season, why wouldn’t he be your number 1 choice for the MVP?

carson cam

If you want explanations for the meaning any of these stats, click here: Passer RatingESPN QBRDVOADVOA In Depth ExplanationEPAPro Football Focus Grades

As you can see, Carson Palmer has the statistical advantage in almost every significant category and measure. Stats of course, do not always tell the whole story. But more often than not, they tell most of the story. And this should set an alarm off in your head that maybe Cam hasn’t been the best quarterback in the league this year. You might not buy into some of these statistics, but when the majority of different statistics agree on something, it tends to be more likely the case.

I didn’t include rushing touchdowns and yards because obviously Cam has more of those. But it is important to remember that metrics like QBR, DVOA, EPA, and PFF grading all account for rushing. So according to those, even after you account for Cam’s rushing, Carson was still the better player.

Which makes sense, because most people tend to overestimate the influence of a quarterback’s legs, often forgetting that the best quarterbacks in the history of the game were pocket passers. Over all these years, that hasn’t really changed. People have been trying to hype up the mobile QB as the next big thing ever since Michael Vick first came into the league. And while there is no doubt that defenses need to account for the ability of these guys to run with the football, the quarterback position never seems to be “revolutionized” in the way many say it’s going to be. And the reason for that is because passing is still the most efficient way to move the football. That’s just a basic fact of physics that’s never going to change. From an energy lost and success perspective, it’s easier and quicker to throw a ball ten yards in the air than it is to tuck and stride for ten yards on the ground.

Again, that’s a bit of a tangent, but the point is you can’t simply point out Cam’s rushing numbers and have that be your case for MVP, especially when his passing numbers are inferior AND when metrics that account for running and passing still rate him as inferior. It’s also important to mention that Cam gets a lot of touchdowns on the ground because he simply gets more opportunities to run the ball at the goal line than other QBs do. Am I saying that Carson Palmer could score that many touchdowns if the Cardinals chose to give him goal line carries? Of course not. But he has no reason to have to do this, because most carries that close to the goal line are reserved for the running back, and most of those carries are guaranteed scores anyway. This is not to discredit all of Cam’s rushing success, but it certainly has to be taken into account.

Then you have to think about what kind of team these Quarterbacks are on and, perhaps more importantly, what their role is on that team. This is where most people get their arguments for Cam from. “He’s throwing to Ted Ginn as his No 1 receiver!” they say. There are lots of elements to this statement that need to be analyzed. It’s a classic case of “if x quarterback had y players, he’d be unstoppable!” It’s always tough to argue against because it’s built on hypotheticals so it’s technically impossible to prove wrong. But such arguments are classic cases of failing to isolate the play and attributes of the quarterback themselves and also failing to recognize that WR is the most QB dependent position in the NFL. More often than not, the QB makes the receiver. Also, just because a QB is playing with lesser players doesn’t excuse him for having inferior stats, just like a QB can’t simultaneously have good receivers and also be playing well. Also, for some reason, most people who acknowledge wide receivers fail to look at the rest of the team. It doesn’t matter if your wide receivers are average if your defense holds the opposing team to ten points a game, but again I’m digressing here. I’m not saying wide receivers don’t matter at all, but it has to be looked at in conjunction with and on a case by case basis.

So let’s look at how this relates to Carson and Cam. First of all, it’s not like Carson Palmer’s receivers are that good either. Larry Fitzgerald is Larry Fitzgerald, obviously, but funny how every other QB he’s had outside of Kurt Warner was terrible, despite having him to throw to. Then on the outside you have Michael Floyd and John Brown, not top 5 guys but very good players. However, Carson’s been at the top of his game in every sense: pinpoint accuracy, decision making and reading defenses, pocket footwork, etc. He’s dropping balls in the bucket on tough throws. It’s not like his receivers are bailing him out. It’s also worth mentioning that when Floyd and John Brown have been injured, JJ Nelson and Jaron Brown have stepped in and the passing game doesn’t skip a beat. Brown and Floyd are definitely better than Ginn, but it’s worth mentioning that Ginn seems to be running past cornerbacks in just about every game. He may do one thing (get deep), but he does that one thing extremely well.

Then you have to look at the rest of the team. Cam has a top 5 tight end in Greg Olsen, and that matters in today’s NFL, where the rules make it so QBs thrive in the middle of the field. Arizona has Jermaine Gresham playing tight end, and they’ve built the offense around tough throws to the outside receivers. In Cincinnati, Gresham has been replaced by Tyler Eifert, who currently leads the league in TD catches. Tight ends shouldn’t be ignored when talking about “weapons”.

Outside of those aspects I would say the teams are fairly similar. Arizona has run the ball surprisingly well, but I still give the edge to Carolina (2nd to 8th for Arizona). That includes Cam and he certainly is a factor, but there’s a difference between acknowledging how he affects the defense and saying that he’s the entire reason the run game is so good. You still have to have a back, and Jonathan Stewart has been balling. Carolina is also a run first team. Arizona has the 2nd best passing offense in the league compared to 24th best for Carolina. Yikes.

Then you have defense. I once again give the edge to Carolina, but this one is about as tight as it gets. Its 5th (ARI) And 6th (CAR) for yards, but 6th (CAR) and 7th (ARI) for points.

Furthermore, an aspect of QB play most often ignored by analysts, is offensive scheme. Cam Newton has rightfully shedded the game manager label over the second half of the season. But his offense is built around the running game (which includes him). He runs what is basically a college option offense based on deception in the backfield. It’s not as simplistic as the 2012 redskins with RG3, but there’s no doubt that the backfield play action and option threats simplify the reads for the quarterback. Palmer, on the other hand, plays in an aggressive pass-first Bruce Arians offense that spreads the field and asks the Quarterback to take deep drops and push the ball down the field consistently. Arians consistently utilizes empty backfields and full field reads, which make it difficult on the Quarterback. You need a smart quarterback that can read defenses, move in the pocket, and get the ball out of his hands. We know Arians is a good coach and has good route concepts, but the level of difficulty of his offense is incredibly high. And Palmer is thriving. The fact that he’s close to 64% completion and 9 yards per attempt in such a tough throw/low percentage throw offense is not getting nearly enough credit. Those are excellent numbers, and Palmer is thriving. On the other hand, the fact that Newton is below 60% completion speaks to the fact that he is still having accuracy issues and missing throws, although not as much as in the past.

Lastly, and I think this is really the tipping point, is protection and pressure. Offensive line play is crucial yet it is often ignored when evaluating quarterbacks. Cam Newton has a significantly better offensive line. Carson Palmer is as good as anyone in the league at getting rid of the ball quickly to protect his offensive line. He’s also going to hang in the pocket and take the hit and still deliver the throw where it needs to go. He’s also improved his footwork this year and is moving really well within the pocket, arguably better than Newton who, despite his excellent ability to run outside the pocket, can still be statuesque at times. And worst of all, although Cam Newton isn’t pressured much, he’s significantly worse when he is pressured, while Carson has thrived under pressure.

None of this is meant to criticize Newton, although the process invariably does lead to some of that. What it is meant to do is show that despite the fact that nearly every analyst has declared it gospel that Cam Newton is the MVP, any analysis shows that it is Carson Palmer who rightfully deserves the award. Both players have had career seasons, but the better player is pretty clear. So if Carson Palmer is playing so well, why isn’t he talked about like that?

I think Cam Newton is getting the hype for a variety of reasons. Like I already mentioned, there’s the lazy analysis of overemphasizing the impact of receivers and of a quarterback’s ability to run. These are definitely factors. But even moreso influencing the hype, in my opinion, is that Cam Newton is a more popular player than Palmer. Carson Palmer is a boring old pocket passer who was written off long ago in his Cincinnati days. He doesn’t dance after every play (although he did do this), and he gives boring, even-tempered interviews. (His throws are pretty impressive, but apparently that’s not good enough for people.) To talk about Palmer as being good now would be to go against the narrative. Meanwhile, Cam Newton–similarly to Johnny Manziel, who was also overhyped for no apparent reason–is a spectacle. He’s got a gun for an arm and can bulldoze people on the ground. And right now he’s the league’s baby, the next big thing at Quarterback they’re waiting to sell. And we all know this is a league of superstars. Coverage is rarely even.

If you like watching Cam do obnoxious and childish 20 minute celebrations after every score and every first down, then fine. Whatever. But that has nothing to do with who is deserving of an MVP award. Even if Cam has played well–and he has, without a doubt–he hasn’t been the best, most consistent, and most valuable Quarterback in the league. When you take the names off the jersey and look at the players themselves and what they have done on the field, there’s only one right answer, and it’s Carson Palmer. What other quarterback would be first or close to first in every major passing category, lead the league’s highest scoring offense and second best passing, and not be widely considered the MVP? Also, not that any of this matters, but Carson Palmer is 36 years old, has been in the league since 2003, is on his third team, hasn’t made the playoffs since 2009 (and 2005 before that), and is coming off his second ACL tear. If the league is about stories, that sounds like a pretty good story to me. Bottom line, Carson Palmer is the MVP of the 2015 NFL Season, and to give it to anyone else while relegating him to Comeback Player of the Year would be an absolute slap in the face.

As always, thanks to those who read the whole article. I now have an archives page! Be sure to check it out at https://footballck.wordpress.com/archives/. Until next time!

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