Super Bowl LI Thoughts

I’m really excited for this Super Bowl matchup. Its one of the best I can remember in recent years. I’ll start by saying although the Giants are my number 1 team, I’ve always liked and rooted for the Falcons, mostly because of Matt Ryan. First of all, he just seems like a really good dude. You can tell in his interviews; he’s always humble, candid, and honest. It never seems fake. His answers are neither of the meaningless, rambling sort, nor are they of the snide, arrogant sort. At the same time, he’s a fiery competitor, a leader, a hard worker, someone who has matured with the team, and someone whose teammates want to play with him. Of course, I can’t know these things for sure, but this is the sense I get from following the NFL.

I also like and respect who Matt Ryan is as a player. He’s always been a very good Quarterback, but the type of Quarterback that often gets overlooked by the casual fan and mainstream media. He’s not a top 5 Quarterback, a Brees/Manning/Brady that is going to carry his team to the playoffs every year, he’s not a guy who has had a lot of playoff success or any superbowl rings to fall back on, and he’s not flashy: he has neither a cannon arm, top notch speed, nor a controversial personality, and he’s not an up and coming young guy. As a result, the casual fan probably views him as nothing more than an average Quarterback, along with the likes of Matt Stafford (although, he’s on the rise this year), Sam Bradford, Alex Smith, Andy Dalton, Joe Flacco, Kirk Cousins, etc. Many people may even view Flacco as better than Ryan, since Flacco has a Superbowl ring.

This is not the case. Matt Ryan is and always has been a very good Quarterback, a guy who’s in the second tier of Quarterbacks just outside your top 5, “elite” guys. But because of our lack of nuance in Quarterback analysis, he isn’t looked at this way. Like I said, you’re either an elite guy, you have a ring/playoff success, you have some flashy skill, or you suck. (Or you’re “a great leader”, which usually just means you have playoff success. Or you yell at people a lot.) It’s unfortunate. Matt Ryan isn’t a guy who does one thing extremely well; he’s a guy who does a lot of things really well, things that are often overlooked. He’s very accurate, he makes good decisions (for the most part), he’s mechanically very sound, he has good, quick footwork, he gets rid of the ball quickly and on time, he’s good at reading the defense, and he’s not hesitant: he’s not afraid to pull the trigger and throw into coverage. I’d say his signature trait is his anticipation. Anticipation means that rather than waiting until you see the receiver break open and throwing to that spot, you anticipate where he is going to be once he breaks open. You throw it to that spot before he in fact does break open, but by the time it gets there the receiver is running right under it. Peyton Manning made a living doing this. It’s a big time, very important professional Quarterbacking trait, and its usually something you either have or you don’t; it isn’t really something that can be taught.. (Although you can be a great QB without having great anticipation. For example, Aaron Rodgers, for the most part, doesn’t anticipate throws to the degree that some QBs do, but he can typically get away with it because he has unbelievable arm strength and an unbelievably quick release.) Anticipation is important because the earlier the you throw the ball, the less likely it is that the pass rush gets home. In addition, receivers are rarely wide open in the NFL. Anticipating routes allows the offense to beat even very good coverage, because ultimately, the defense doesn’t know where the receiver or the ball is going. And lastly, throwing with anticipation gives the defense less of an opportunity to react. If you wait until a receiver is open before you throw the ball, it will typically be too late, because by the time the ball gets there, the defense will have had time to react and break up the pass.

Matt Ryan’s anticipation was evident ever since he came out of college and into the draft. It was evident on the first professional pass he ever threw in a regular season NFL game: a 62 yard Touchdown to Michael Jenkins. Matt Ryan wasn’t great right away, but he was always above average, even from the start, and he has improved his game steadily as the years have gone by. Early in his career, he generally took a back seat to Michael Turner and the running game–although he was always special when it came to late game comeback and go-ahead drives. As the years have gone by, he’s improved his arm and core strength, has become more functionally mobile and more quick twitch, and has become better throwing from a crowded pocket. Now in his ninth season, he’s at the peak of his game. He turned in a well deserved MVP season, and he did it without that great of a cast of wide-receivers, outside of Julio Jones. You could argue its not even the best cast of wide receivers he’s played with. (When you consider that he had Roddy White, Michael Jenkins, Tony Gonzales, and Harry Douglas, it’s definitely not. Would you take Taylor Gabriel, Mohammed Sanu, and Austin Hooper over any of those guys in their prime?)

There are also very few asterisks to go along with Matt Ryan’s season. He’s been consistent from start to end. Although he’s had some bad moments, he really hasn’t had any bad games in their entirety. He’s played the 2nd toughest slate of defenses, and although his defense has improved as the season has gone on, it’s still one of the worst statistical defenses to reach a Superbowl.

I’m just really happy for Matt Ryan and that he’s been able to make it this far. Nine seasons in, the hard work has finally paid off in spectacular fashion, both at an individual and team level. His first five years were as good as they come, with playoff berths each year except 2009 (9-7). and then things fell apart. In 2013, 2014, and 2015, the Falcons went 4-12, 6-10, and 8-8, respectively, and although Matt Ryan wasn’t playing that bad individually, he was unable to elevate the circumstances around him. After arguably his worst season in 2015, it was fair to wonder if Matt Ryan was closer to the end than the beginning. Last year was also the first year for Head Coach Dan Quinn and Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan, and I can tell you, after reading some comments on thefalcoholic.com, the Atlanta fans HATED Kyle Shanahan. They thought he broke Matt Ryan and wanted him gone. And now look at where we are. Matt Ryan’s had the best season of his career, the Falcons are in the Superbowl, and Kyle Shanahan is being looked at as one of, if not the, hottest young coaching prospect in the business.

And this all plays into the story of the Superbowl and why I think it’s such a good matchup. You have the Atlanta Falcons, the new kids on the block. They’ve generally been good guys in this league. They don’t get a lot of hype and don’t make a lot of noise. And they’ve never won a Superbowl. The closest they’ve been in recent years is 2012, when they gave up a 17 point lead to Colin Kaepernick and the Jim Harbaugh led 49ers (remember that?) and were stopped on 4th down about 10 yards out from the endzone, and  2004 when the Michael Vick miracle run was halted by the Eagles. We all know how that saga ended. And then you have the Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and the Patriots, the reigning kings of the NFL. The galactic empire everyone’s aching to see taken off their throne. They also have this ridiculous “us against the world” mindset like they did in 2007 post spygate. They think they and Brady were legitimately wronged by Roger Goodell, and the New England fans simply won’t let it go. Albert Breer recently did an article about specifically that for the MMQB: Why the NE fans won’t let go. And Brady’s dad just came out a few weeks ago and said something to the tune of he doesn’t want Roger Goodell handing his son the trophy, or something like that. Cry me a fucking river. Seriously, does anyone even feel bad for this team or this franchise? They had their starting QB banned for four games, and still went 3-1 without him. They’re going on their 14th division title, 7th Superbowl appearance, and going for their 5th win since 2001. And New England’s fans insist on playing the victim mentality, crying about the haters, and whining about something that’s over and has been over for quite some time. Maybe if the Patriots had just participated in the investigation and Tom Brady hadn’t destroyed his phone, this wouldn’t have happened. The Patriots have shown a repeated affinity for spotty gamesmanship, and this wasn’t so much about the deflated footballs than it was about Goodell sending a message to Belichick and the Pats that they’re not above the league. They get off easy in 2007; Goodell never should have destroyed the tapes, and I think this was him putting his foot down. And enough with the complaints that Goodell is a dictator and above the law. This is the NFL, people, and Goodell is the commissioner. Due process need not apply. Maybe he is an authoritarian leader, and maybe that’s wrong, maybe it’s not. But its a private institution. If Goodell wants to run it like that, he’s allowed to do so. It’s so petty for Pats fans to compare this to like, actual real world legal matters like they’re somehow analogous.

And yes, I have issues with Goodell, issues that I’ve often been vocal about. But botching and covering up concussion and injury situations and excusing rape and domestic violence is very different than crying because your star Quarterback was banned for a quarter of a fucking season. For Pats fans to attempt to draw any comparison is immature and irresponsible.

And just to be clear, I really don’t give a fuck about Spygate. I think the Patriots titles are legitimate and not tainted. I’m just sick of Pats fans whining and playing the victim card for something that was arguably justified but even if it wasn’t, is long over and really isn’t that big a deal.

So yea, that’s my spiel. A little off topic there, but point is, does anyone outside of New England really want to see Tom Brady win his fifth Superbowl??? I would love for nothing more than to see the Falcons walk away with the Lombardi in this one. Now enough of that. Onto the actual game.

The Game

This has been painted as the No 1 offense vs the No 1 defense because that’s what it is, statistically, but I think that’s a misleading title. This is nothing like 2013 Denver vs Seattle, which really was offense vs defense. I view this more like 2014 Seattle vs New England, two well rounded and balanced teams, except I would argue this is even more offense oriented. I would expect a relatively high scoring affair and I would expect it to be close. These are two very sound, well-coached teams. Overall, you have to give New England a slight edge just because of experience and the Belichick factor, and because their defense has been slightly better. When it comes to holding a lead late, unless they’re playing the Giants (or the other Manning brother in 06 and 09), New England’s defense always seems to come through, no matter who’s playing for them. But Atlanta definitely has a shot and could very well win this game as well. Not only in terms of story but in terms of the actual teams, this is a very good and even matchup and unless something crazy happens, should be a great game.

You certainly can’t discount Atlanta and their offense coming in. Yes, it’s New England, and yes, there’s a tendency for big time offenses to fall apart on the big stage. But you have to understand that Atlanta has been battle tested this season, and they’ve passed every test with flying colors. Even in 2007, New England’s offense started to cool down down the stretch, to the point where you could argue their defense bailed them out in the 07 AFC Championship game against the Chargers after a poor game from Brady. While Denver’s total shutdown of the Carolina offense was somewhat surprising last year, Carolina’s offense was not as good as Atlanta’s is now. They didn’t heat up until halfway through the season, faced a much easier schedule, Cam Newton’s year wasn’t as good as Matt Ryan’s is this year (he played fairly poorly when pressured), and they were very much aided by starting field position thanks to their defense getting turnovers. The only reason their loss was somewhat surprising was because they basically destroyed a pretty good Arizona team in the Championship game the week before.

Meanwhile Atlanta has been the bedrock of consistency, and against a pretty tough schedule. They haven’t slowed down as the season has gone on. Matt Ryan has set a new NFL record, breaking the previous by over a yard, of 7.91 yards per attempt in all 18 games this season. They scored 540 points this season, the most in the NFL, and seventh most in NFL history. They’ve scored an opening drive TD in something like eight straight games this season. Outside of a 15 point outing at Philly in week 10, they’ve scored at least 23 points all season. In fact, I only count four games where they were under 30 points all season. These were all losses. They ripped through Seattle and Green Bay like it was nothing in the Playoffs. They’ve performed well against Denver, KC, and twice against Seattle (although the KC game and one of the Seattle games were losses, they were still only by a combined 3 points).

Point being, there’s enough reason to respect Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense coming into this game and not think it’s just going to be a blowout. They’ve been consistent all season long from start to end and have done so against a challenging schedule. They also have the ability to score in different ways and aren’t reliant on any one weapon. The Pats, on the other hand, have had a very easy opposing QB schedule, and you could argue that that’s a liability for that NE defense. Overall, we have two good offenses and two okay but vulnerable defenses. Atlanta’s is bad but has improved as the season has gone on. New England’s has been good but hasn’t faced that much challenging opposition. I expect both defenses will be playing bend but don’t break, so we might see a lot of long scoring drives.

For Atlanta’s offense, I think the key will be some balance running the football. They don’t have to (and likely won’t) have too many long runs, but they just need to have some semblance of balance to stay ahead of the down and distance. They’re a primarily two tight end team and their pass game works off of that. They’ve been successful running the football all season long. Devonta Freeman is a quick but tough and gritty runner, and Shanahan’s zone running scheme with some hurry-up mixed in certainly helps the running game and helps those lineman to get into a rhythm. But I always feel like when teams need to run the football, the Pats tend to shut it down, so that will be key for Atlanta. If the run game is totally stuffed and Matt Ryan has to throw 50+ times, I think that spells win for New England.

Atlanta’s young defense has been improving as the season has gone on. That tends to happen with young players. They’re talented, but key for them will be not making mental mistakes against the very schematically complex NE offense. And you know Josh McDaniels and Bill Belichick will throw in some new wrinkles for them that they haven’t shown all season. They just have so much formation diversity and do so much shifting to get favorable matchups, they can be tough to keep up with. They also have a lot of option routes built into the offense, and we know someone like Julian Edelman is a very precise route runner and can fake you out in a jiffy. He always tends to show up for the big games. Atlanta has to be disciplined and not be constantly in reactive mode. Make them earn it. Don’t blow coverages, and don’t miss tackles. Dan Quinn’s defenses usually are pretty disciplined, but like I said, its never easy against the NE offense.

Brady torched Quinn’s defense during Superbowl 49 when Quinn was with the Seahawks. You’d like to think he’s learned from that game and will be more aggressive with his coverages and not play as much soft zone. After what happened to the Steelers in the AFC Championship and how much everyone has talked about it, you would think no one will ever play zone against the Patriots ever again for all of ever. Dan Quinn’s foundation is cover 3, but despite that and what people tend to think, he’s actually been playing much more man this season, and I expect he will do the same against New England. They just have to some way to handle all the mismatches New England will be prepared to throw at you, because they’re so good at isolating the matchup they want. During Superbowl 49, they used Gronk as a moveable chess piece, which allowed him to get over the top for a TD. No Gronk today, so we’ll see what they do. Expect to see NE trying out a lot of different things early to gather information about how Atlanta is going to play them.

It may come as somewhat of a surprise that there’s been a lot of talk not about the receivers but about the backs of these teams. That makes sense to me. A hybrid or receiving running back that can not only run out of the backfield but detach out wide and create mismatches is one of the biggest weapons in the NFL. Teams typically don’t look at them in that position or don’t expect them to be in that position, as someone you have to account for as a receiver. Especially so because they line up all over the place. Teams tend to not have guys that can cover them. Think about someone like Sproles when he was with New Orleans. Think about how the Detroit passing game kind of died this year once Theo Riddick got hurt. Go all the way back to Marshall Faulk with the greatest show on turf, and how Belichick essentially got the better of the Rams in Superbowl 36 by taking Faulk out of the game. These receiving backs are way more valuable than people realize. New England has known this and has been king of the receiving back, going way back to and starting with Kevin Faulk in the early 2000s, one of the prototype receiving backs in the NFL. They then had, among others, Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen, and now James White and Dion Lewis. Shane Vereen had 11 catches in Superbowl 49, which is ridiculous for a back. The Pats love to split James White out wide, so Atlanta has to be cognizant of that and know who they want covering him. The same can be said for Atlanta. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman have been arguably the NFL’s best two headed running back monster. The Denver defense talked about, after their week 5 loss to Atlanta, how they were surprised to see Atlanta send their backs out wide, and how they weren’t expecting that and how it reminded them of, none other than the NE Patriots, when the played them in the 2015 AFC Championship. Tevin Coleman lined up in the slot and beat a LB in the Seam for a TD in that game. Atlanta should be very proactive with both Coleman and Freeman in the receiving game. Other than that, you know Kyle Shanahan will have this offense schemed up to perfection, so NE has to hope they can be ready for the pace, don’t give up big plays, have some idea of staple route concepts Shanahan likes to run (and what defenders are supposed to do against certain route concepts meant to put defenders in a bind and break down coverages), and try to be physical and knock receivers off their rhythm. You want to say they have to make Atlanta beat them with people other than Julio Jones, and I still think that is key, but even so, Atlanta’s been fine this year when Julio has been taken out of the game. And Greg Cosell of NFL Films said that he believes Malcolm Butler won’t cover Julio Jones because he typically doesn’t take bigger more physical receivers (and I believe he said Logan Ryan wouldn’t either but I’m not sure could be wrong on that one), so you just wonder what they will do to/with Julio.

I expect both Quarterbacks to have good, efficient games. One or two key turnovers could be the key in this one. I’m trying to think if I’ve forgotten anything…

Oh yea. To blitz or not blitz Brady? A lot of people are saying don’t blitz Brady. Teams that have beaten Brady have tended to get pressure on him without blitzing, which, isn’t saying that much of anything crazy. My first thought was that you have to speed up Brady somehow. Houston had some nice blitz designs and threw Brady off a bit in their AFC Divisional Round loss. But I don’t know that Atlanta is that style of defense. Atlanta did blitz Rodgers heavily early in that game and it worked. But Rodgers, as great as he is, is not the rhythm player Brady is, and people had been so scared of and passive against Rodgers that it almost seemed like they weren’t expecting it. I don’t think you’ll see that much blitzing against NE. Again, this isn’t anything groundbreaking, but I think you should blitz Brady if you can get there!! But again, given everything I’ve said about how I expect this game to play out, I would expect a very bend don’t break, disciplined, physical approach from both teams.

Lastly, I’m sure some of you are wondering what my prediction is. Truthfully, I don’t really like predictions. The NFL is so unpredictable that I prefer analysis. But, it is the Superbowl, so I suppose I should give one just because why not. Like I said, I do give New England a slight edge (I also tend to always feel that way about teams I’m rooting against), but I don’t want to pick New England because Atlanta does have a chance and I really do want them to win. I like the 28-24 number, but that’s what Superbowl 49 was so that’s a bit of a copout, so let’s just sayyy, ahh I don’t know….

31-27 Atlanta.

Well there you go! That’s just about everything I have to say. Now let’s go ahead and sit back, relax, and enjoy one of the greatest sporting events this (sometimes) great country has to offer! Truthfully, I think the Superbowl is one of, if not the, best football games of the year. And that’s because it’s just pure football. Its the one game where you’re not thinking about anything else. There’s no other scores, no fantasy, no implications for other teams or waiting for other games. Its just it, this right now, do or die. I think there’s something cool, intense, but also kind of relaxing about that.

Hopefully this game will be as good as expected. And that will wrap up the 2016 NFL Season! If you liked this post, please consider subscribing. I know my posts are long, but I try to offer as much quality content as possible, and I only write when I really have something to say. I would very much appreciate the support.

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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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Championship Weekend Thoughts

The games start in less than 2 hours and I didn’t have much of a plan of writing any sort of preview or prediction beforehand. However, after watching a myriad of NFL.com videos led by Deion Sanders and a crew of players spewing the same old nonsense about Brady/Manning, Brady being the best ever and winning with everyone being injured, it being his best season (which they say every year), can Manning even play or throw right now, what if he loses the Superbowl, legacies, bla bla bla, I have to at least attempt to exorcise those thoughts out of my system. (I do complain a lot about how so many people have such misinformed beliefs about the NFL, but when you see what the masses are being spoonfed it becomes more understandable…)

Anyway, I’m going to attempt to keep it short here (things usually never go well when I say that) and just provide some informal musings and thoughts regarding these matchups. Earlier in the week I was trying to come up with some predictions for the games and figure out how they might go, but to be honest, I really have no idea. I tend to stay away from predictions in general because the NFL is itself so unpredictable (even though I did correctly predict Superbowl 47 a few years back at the start of the season), I’m really more of a guy that likes to go back and look at the process. Having said all that, there are times where you can have a general sense of how games are going to go, but the more I thought about these two games the more I realized I really had no idea who was going to win either. These are really two games that could go either way. As a fan that’s what you want; it bodes well for an exciting championship Sunday as it should be really interesting to see how things play out. So like I said, this isn’t going to be any pre planned crisp analysis as I really don’t have enough to say to offer any of that. Rather, I’m just going to share some thoughts regarding the matchups and what my thought process has been trying to analyze them in a sort of thinking out loud. Ultimately we’re going to have to wait until the games are played to see what really happens.

I’ll start in the AFC where we have the infamous “Brady-Manning” showdown. This may very well be the last time we get to see these two faceoff as it is highly likely that Manning retires after this season. Because of the history these two quarterbacks have and the fact that it is so late in both of their, but especially Manning’s career, the game is intriguing from a story perspective. Because of that it will be fun to see how things play out. However, when you put that historical aspect of it aside, it’s not a super exciting matchup, as both teams have some flaws and question marks they have to overcome, especially on offense. It could very well be an unexciting game.

I don’t think framing this in terms of the Brady/Manning career argument is the right way to look at this game. Manning’s going to retire very soon and we’ll be having that conversation for eons when that happens. We’ve also had it seemingly every year up to this point. It can wait. Another reason that it shouldn’t be focused on is this isn’t your typical Brady or Manning matchup or Brady/Manning year. It’s been a strange and very atypical year for Peyton, one that’s almost hard to believe even while seeing it unfold before you. This is the first time in recent (or distant) memory that Peyton could be viewed as sort of an underdog, or at least, not a massive overdog. This isn’t the Peyton machine we’ve seen in years past. This isn’t the point where weeks and weeks of greatness and high scoring are causing pressure to build up to see if the machine can make it all the way. Nope, instead Peyton is running a much more watered down version of his offense with Kubiak having neutered him a bit. He’s coming off one of his worst and toughest seasons in years, and he hasn’t even played for most of the regular season. When you see how this team plays every week, particularly on offense, you always figured it would have to break down at some point, yet here they are in the AFC Championship. This is not frontrunner big man stat compiling high scoring record rewriting isheisorishenotthegreatestofalltimeorjustthemostoverratedofalltime Peyton. This is Peyton being carried on the back of this Denver team, toughing out and fighting against the forces of injury and father time, trying to push through to make one valiant last effort at a title and at glory before father time takes over. That should be the storyline surrounding this game, and it honestly feels nothing like the matchups of the past. So ultimately, while there are always title and legacy implications and it’s hard to not have that conversation, I really think it’s the wrong one to be having and we can hold off right now. I get — well I don’t “get”, but I can see why people like to beat down on Peyton when he has the big time seasons because he sets the bar so high. But at this point, he’s just trying to not have the bar crush him. It’s a miracle of football baby jesus that they made it this far and he’s even playing right now. So please, let’s just try to lay off the legacy, “can he throw” “is he a choker” etc etc etc talk for just a bit. That’s not what this game is about.

Like I said earlier, I have no idea what’s going to happen in these games. You never thought the Broncos would get this far and that Peyton would come back and yet here they are. Then there’s New England, who always seems to defy the laws of just about everything. They’re close to impossible to predict. When you see them struggle you want to count them out. But they’re New England. They can turn it on anytime. They can take a weakness from a week earlier and turn it into a strength the next week, and vice versa. Tom Brady will struggle for a bit and you think he’s done, and then he channels his inner supply of elixir of youth and he’ll look like the same old Brady. If there’s anything I’ve learned up to this point, it’s that you can never count these guys out… even when they give you absolutely every reason to. And that’s sort of the story of this game isn’t it? Despite each team having really no reason to be here, here they are.

Now enough editorializing, let’s look at the actual matchups. New England started the season at fiery pace, but ever since the injury bug bit they just haven’t been the same offense. They went 2-4 in their last six games of the regular season and in a way which is not very New England like, it really felt like with each passing week they were actually trending in the wrong direction. A 10-20 loss to this year’s lowly Miami team with close to no passing output was the icing on the cake, but there were also games like the Philly game, which broke New England’s ridiculous streak of being undefeated at Gillette with a lead of 8+ (something like 91-0, an absolutely absurd number) in most embarrassing fashion. It was not only who they lost to (the Chip Kelly led disaster show Eagles), but how they lost, giving up a myriad of special teams return touchdowns (where Belichick teams are usually rock solid) and giving up .. I believe it was 28 unanswered after building a 14-0 lead.

It was really starting to look like the injury bug was too much to overcome for New England. Tom Brady gets a lot of credit for winning without big time receivers and for getting the ball out quickly, but without shifty Julian Edelman’s ability to get open quick on those option routes, Tom was holding the ball a lot longer. With no Vereen this year and Dion Lewis injured, they were running out of backs as well. James White and Brandon Bolden have done a good job for themselves in the receiving game, but are they of starter quality? Edelman’s play will be key today and Denver needs to make sure they have the right man on him (in addition to of course recognizing the routes based on motions and stacks and finding a way to be in the right position in those plays and not letting Edelman get the free releases they like to give him). I don’t purport to know who that man is.

There was actually a little bit of doubt coming into the wild card round hosting a red hot Kansas City. It was looking like they might be able to give New England a run for their money, especially with their pass rush. The NE offensive line was really starting to look like a weakness, which hadn’t been the case in the past. They were very injured and it was starting to look like it was going to cost New England. Tom Brady can account for offensive line weaknesses, but like any QB, only to a certain point. People always make a bigger deal about receivers than need be in New England, but oline is a much more important position.

But, would you know, it all turned out to be fine. New England went empty and went to the quick game, Gronk and Edelman got involved, Tom Brady was barely touched, KC’s offense stalled most of the day, Andy Reid was Andy Reid, and New England won a clean, easy, and somewhat boring game. That’s the thing about New England. Their coaching advantage is so good that in that division and that conference, they can get to the AFC Championship and not even play that well. Heck if they have home field advantage they can get to the Superbowl without even playing that well. They just know how to work around weaknesses and play situations. They’re so good at it that they make it so talent isn’t even that important at times. They can be an annoying team for sure, but their ability to maintain success the way they have is absolutely historic.

But now they go on the road to Denver, which is what gives Denver an advantage. It’s not so much that Denver has played great at home than it is that New England is just unbeatable at home but vulnerable to good teams on the road. The Chiefs were a good team but they were still just the Chiefs. I don’t think anyone was genuinely surprised by the loss. New England will be tested at Denver. Will the oline hold up against Von Miller and company? Will Tom Brady be able to get rid of the ball quickly enough? Will their offense look like its confused late season self? From a coaching and QB (for this season) standpoint NE has an unequivocal advantage. But Denver is a good team and a really good defense. Like I said, it could go either way. New England could cruise to a win, or they could struggle. I just never know with them. You can always envision both scenarios because they’ve shown us both over the years. They’ve shown the ability to struggle when you expect them to do well and do well when you expect them to struggle. They just defy the laws of prediction. If I knew more about these teams rosters this season specifically I might be able to give you more. But unfortunately, I don’t.

Moving on to Denver (Bill Belichick voice). Again, this is a game that you would think New England has the edge. The Denver offense has seemed broken all year regardless of who’s playing Quarterback. Peyton is not who he used to be. The oline has been a serious issue, which could be exposed against a really overlooked New England defense. The running game has been on and off, and they’ll need to sustain it if they want a chance of winning. It doesn’t need to be lights out, but they can’t be all pass and expect to win this one. And it seems like Belichick usually stops running teams when he needs to. The receiving group is average at best and has been having the dropsies all over the place. There isn’t really a game changer at tight end or a versatile receiving back. And I’ve never really trusted the Gary Kubiak offense in big moments… and this certainly isn’t the offense he typically wants to have.

When you think about all that, you want to say New England has it. Again though, Denver’s model has been a defense, grind it out win, offense struggles but just stays afloat sort of team. It’s weird to think about a Peyton team that way, but that’s their model. Again, Peyton hasn’t even played most of the season, and you really don’t get the sense it will come down to him like it does in the past, because it hasn’t yet this season. If Denver has any chance, it might be because this might be a scenario where we forget about the regular season and our expectations regarding this usual matchup, and look at Denver and say, can they put this three game stretch together. Can they defy expectations and just play solid defense, be good enough on offense, and have Peyton be healthy enough to manage the game and do what he still does best, which is the mental game and the little checks at the line. This is what Denver has to hope for to win. They’re hoping they can defy all prior logic and just put together this three game stretch with the new model they’ve built this year. It’s one none of us are used to seeing, but it’s one that just might be what they need to get to the Superbowl. It’s not pretty, but they squeak out the wins. Who would’ve thought they would’ve made it this far? Will the Cinderella story make it all the way? Or will Belichick make the glass slipper fall off and make us laugh for even thinking that this Denver team could match up with the almighty Patriots? If anyone is going to do that, it’s going to be him. Also, was that even the right metaphor? I haven’t seen that movie in eons…

Let me get back to X’s and O’s for a sec. I don’t mean to just be editorializing and act like Denver is just going to cross their fingers and pray here. This matchup has the potential to be close because the Patriots offense has holes and has struggled, and because Denver has a really big time defense. Ultimately, that is what Denver is hanging their hat on.

Also, one more thought. You can see Peyton is still in control of the offense and you can see why they brought him back over Brock. It’s all the mental experience. He’s playing quicker and he’s in command. He’s keeping the pace going, he’s making the right reads, and he’s making the checks he needs to. His arm looked a little better last week than it had for most of the season. He definitely looked a little healthier. At this point we know he doesn’t have a big time arm, so saying anything more about that is just a waste of breath. It is what it is at this point. What I was going to say is that there were a few plays last week where Peyton made the right check to a shot play, often a deep post, and he just overthrew it slightly. If the Broncos want to win, he’s going to have to make those throws. He’s going to have to make the plays that are there. The mental ability can only get you so far. He won’t have to make a ton of big time throws, managing the game will mostly be fine, but he’s going to have to make the few that are there.

At the end of the day, it’s really a miracle that this matchup is happening. Peyton was playing so poorly and so injured that after they went back to Osweiler I really did not foresee a scenario in which he came back to play for them, let alone had success. But here we are. Peyton wasn’t going quietly into the old night without one more Brady Manning matchup before one more shot at the elusive second ring. It’s almost poetic justice that we get to see this matchup again after all Peyton went through this season. Lets enjoy it while it’s here, because it’s likely the last time we’re going to see this historic rivalry.

NFC

How’s that whole “keeping this article short” thing going? Not so well? Hopefully I can pick up the pace for this section; otherwise the games are going to start before I finish this article– T-Minus 30 Minutes until kickoff!! Is this what it’s like to be a journalist????

This is really the better matchup and after a year of Phil Simms I couldn’t be happier that we’re getting the good FOX matchup in the primetime slot. The NFC has been absurdly better than the AFC this year and I’m really excited for this one. If it weren’t for the storylines in the previous game this would undoubtedly be the better game exponentially. And it still probably is the better game. These are two really big time teams. They were the two most dominant teams of the regular season and the quarterbacks were the two top MVP candidates. It’s fitting that we get to see them clash heads in the NFC Championship game.

Like the last matchup, I really have no idea how this one is going to go, although unlike the last matchup, I don’t have as much editorializing to do. Like I said, these were the two best teams in the regular season and both were dominant. Pretty sure they are the 1 and 2 seed actually. It’s rare we get to see the two most dominant regular season teams also face off in the postseason. With the fluky nature of the postseason and how tough it is to not be an underdog (what’s the opposite of underdog, overdog..?), those types of teams often get outed in earlier rounds.

Both teams are tough as nails. Arizona embodies the personality of their head coach Bruce Arians, a no nonsense hit you in the mouth kind of guy that is one of the most inspiring coaches out there and also one of the smartest football minds. They have a big time old school quarterback in Carson Palmer and a rejuvenated dog in Larry Fitzgerald. The result is one of the more aggressive, spread you out, complex full field route concepts, multifaceted offenses there is out there. Their pass game, both due to the coach and players and just tactically, is really tough to defend. They also have an aggressive blitz heavy defense that is going to pressure you.

On the other hand there’s Supercam, who’s been all the rage this year, leading the CAR attack. No one seems to be playing with more confidence and swagger than him right now–although you never know when nerves are going to take over when the stage is this big. Their offense is also very tough to defend. They, like the Cardinals, are also very multidimensional, but moreso in the run game. They use Jonathan Stewart and Cam Newton to build the run game with a ton of misdirection and option elements. Their offensive line is one of the best in the business and they are incredibly physical. Then they build the pass game off of that, with even more deception using all sorts of play action. It’s tough for a defense to keep up with. They have a deep threat in Ted Ginn and a big time receiving tight end in Greg Olsen and they use the backs in the pass game as well. Although, you wonder if Funchess is going to have to play a bigger role in this game. If Patrick Peterson is on Ginn (which I don’t know if he will be), it’s very unlikely Ginn wins that matchup. The Panthers too, are very good on defense. Kawann Short has been off the chain, and Kuechly and Thomas Davis are the best linebacking duo in the game. Those two don’t move like linebackers. Their athleticism, playmaking ability, and football instincts most importantly are phenomenal. Carolina also has home field advantage, and that crowd was roaring last week.

It’s tough to get a sense of Carolina based off of last weeks game as it was kind of a weird game with Carolina getting up so quick. Does that lead show how dominant they are, or was Seattle just sleepwalking to start the game? Does the fact that Seattle came close to tying it up again prove anything about Carolina, or was that just a case of them playing conservatively with a lead? Those big leads are tough to play with. Its very hard to find the line between being conservative/not taking too many risks with a lead and keeping your foot on the pedal. As players its just strange to think about when you’re up by that much, strange to know how to play. It’s not the normal dynamic of a game. I struggle knowing what to take away from that game.

One thing I will say about Arizona is this. If there’s anything to worry about, it’s their offensive line. It’s been a point of weakness all season but Carson has compensated. However, it was exposed a little bit against Green Bay last week, and Kawann short is going to be chomping at the bit. Offensive line is often overlooked when talking about big time teams with a lot of weapons. But it all starts with protection. Just ask Denver in SB 48 or NE in SB 42. You can’t get the ball to your playmakers if you don’t have time to get the throw off.

I’m rooting for Arizona, although I’m not super confident about them on the road against this Carolina team. But overall I have high hopes for this matchup and am really looking forward to it. It’s two of the best, most consistent, most dominant, most physical, best schematically, and well rounded teams in the league, and way better than anything the AFC has given us. It shouldn’t disappoint.

Only three more games left in the NFL season before we see who is crowned the winner of Super Bowl 50!! But enough talk, let’s get going already!!! So go ahead and plop a seat on the couch, order some wings to be delivered, grab a beer from the fridge, and answer me this one question…

ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL???????!!!!

 

The Johnny Manziel Conversation: Exploring the Idea of the Mobile Quarterback

Johnny Manziel has probably been hyped and discussed more than any prospect in the NFL draft this year. Whether it be because of his celebrity antics or his unorthodox yet highly successful college career, it seemed like no one could stop talking about Johnny Manziel in the months leading up to the draft. To the amazement of some, Manziel began being hyped as a first round pick and perhaps even a No 1 overall pick. Many even declared him the best quarterback of this year’s class. Would he or would he not succeed in the NFL? Would his “style” of play work? And who would take him? These were the questions that were tossed back and forth for months on NFL Network and ESPN.

Well after months of speculation, Manziel was indeed drafted in the first round by the Cleveland Browns. While it’s nice to have all the pointless speculation of where he will go and who should draft him out of the way, Manziel still presents an interesting conversation that I think it is worthwhile to explore, and that is the prospect of success in the NFL for so called “running quarterbacks” such as Manziel.

Manziel does not fit the typical picture of what a successful NFL Quarterback looks like. Conventional Wisdom says that an NFL Quarterback is tall, well built, has a strong arm, and sits in the pocket reading coverage, going through progressions if necessary, to find the open receiver, before delivering the ball with accuracy, timing, and rhythm.

Johnny Manziel is not tall or big. He barely measured six feet at the combine, and he weighs 210 pounds. He is a huge threat to make plays running the ball with his legs, almost moreso than he is throwing the ball. Generally, what is thought of first when someone mentions Manziel is his running ability. He will often leave the pocket, bypassing open receivers, primary reads, or checkdowns to either run around in the backfield before throwing or to run for positive yardage. He generally hasn’t been a guy to sit back in the pocket like a Tom Brady and dissect the defense with precision. He plays more of an improvisational game. It certainly worked in college with A&M’s spread offense, as Manziel’s accolades are well documented.

The bigger question is how this type of Quarterback fits into today’s NFL. There has been a growing belief cultivated by the talking heads that the NFL game is changing, that it’s becoming more like the college game, that the so called mobile quarterbacks are “revolutionizing” the position and that traditional “pocket passers” are becoming a thing of the past.

I believe that like most narratives cultivated by the mainstream media, this is an incredibly simplified and misguided notion. I don’t watch a ton of college football, but I’ve seen my fair share, and all one has to do is sit down and watch a college game featuring spread and option based offenses to see that it is still not remotely close to what happens in the NFL. Are there any NFL offenses that feature the quarterback running options or running the ball on almost every play like Ohio State does with Braxton Miller? Teams use the option, but nowhere is it a base offense, is it the offense in its entirety. Are there any NFL offenses that get in the shotgun and pass it on every single down? That work exclusively out of the spread? That run bubble screens on every other play? That run hurry up for an entire game? It may seem like this is the case with some offenses, but watch closely. Teams certainly may employ these elements in their offense. But nowhere will you see a non pro style college offense identical to an NFL offense. The NFL game certainly isn’t what it was in the 1900s. There is definitely more use of the shotgun and more quicker throws. But even so, to act as if the NFL is more than remotely similar to college is ridiculous. The complexity, speed, and athleticism of NFL defenses will ensure that this is never the case, or at least that it isn’t anytime soon. Even a west coast offense like that of the Packers, a spread offense like the Patriots used to run, or a primarily shotgun offense like that of Denver/Peyton-Led Indy (all of which employ no huddle elements) is incredibly different and more complex than the hurry up/spread offenses in college.

What do people even mean when they try to draw a distinction between “mobile quarterbacks” and “pocket quarterbacks”, when they say that mobile quarterbacks have changed the way the game is played? Obviously some quarterbacks are faster than others; no one is denying that. Speed is an attribute, as is size and arm strength. And obviously some quarterbacks run more than others; no one is denying this either. And it’s clear that quarterbacks who can run add an extra dimension to the offense that defenses must account for. But so what? What’s the point? How does this in any way suggest that that the quarterback position has changed, that pocket quarterbacks can no longer be successful, that quarterbacks need to be able to run, or even that “mobile quarterbacks” present an entirely new way to play the position and as such deserve a label? When people make this distinction between “mobile quarterbacks” and “pocket quarterbacks” are they suggesting that quarterbacks who can run don’t need pocket skills? Do they not need to be able to read coverage, move in the pocket, or throw with accuracy, timing, and rhythm just because they can run? Can they just run around for a while and hope a receiver pops open, or just take off when they’re unsure? To me, this notion is just stupid. The NFL isn’t a madden game. As Greg Cosell of NFL Films would say “Quarterbacking is a highly disciplined craft”. Regardless of how fast they run, quarterbacks need to be able to have pocket skills. Is it just a coincidence that Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning, three of the most highly skilled pocket passers in the league are considered by most to be three of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, despite being three of the slowest? Aaron Rodgers, another quarterback considered to be one of the best, if not the best quarterback in the league, can run, but he is almost always a passer first.

The idea of the “mobile quarterback” has definitely been fueled by the success of Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick, both who have been deep into the postseason for both years of their careers. Both quarterbacks have made outstanding plays with their legs and kept their relative teams in games doing so. Both quarterbacks have also had plays where they missed open receivers or created turnovers or negative plays for the offense because of their hastiness to run and/or lack of pocket skills/experience reading defenses. Often, the talent that these two quarterbacks are surrounded by has masked their struggles and lack of pocket skills. But no one wants to admit that. And most importantly, both quarterbacks have, albeit inconsistently, displayed crucial pocket skills to help their teams win games. (If you’re more interested in the specific skills required to play quarterback in the NFL, look into the work of NFL Films’ Greg Cosell, one of my favorite people to follow and a man I believe to be one of, if not the, smartest minds in football). Truthfully, I could write a whole article on Colin Kaepernick or Russell Wilson and the reasons they have been successful, but I’m not going to focus on them here.

I think the best evidence that the position is not changing is the career of Michael Vick. Michael Vick is a great madden player, but has he really even lived close to his No 1 overall draft status or even to all the hype that he gets? In an 11 year career, he has one season where he’s played all sixteen games, two seasons where he’s passed for more than 3000 yards (his highest yardage total is 3303), and one season where he’s completed more than 60 percent of his passes. He hasn’t made a lot of noise in the playoffs nor has he brought many of his teams that much success. After what some considered to be an MVP worthy 2010 season, he got a nice fat paycheck from the Eagles. The Eagles were 8-8 in 2011, 4-12 in 2012, and he lost his job to Nick Foles last year. Even though everyone was saying that Chip Kelly’s offense required a mobile quarterback, the guy with the pocket skills ended up doing a better job running it. Yet, people still remain baffled by Vick’s running ability, and for that reason he is still in the league.

Besides, it’s not like quarterbacks who have legs coming into the league is suddenly a new thing. There are plenty of old guys who ran the ball a lot, Randall Cunningham, Fran Tarkenton, Steve Young, and Donovan McNabb to name a few. The media just likes to dramatize and sensationalize things.

And yet, regardless of where it came from, the idea of the mobile quarterback had to hold some validity for the Cleveland Browns, because they chose to draft Manziel in the first round. So now comes the million dollar question: Can Manziel succeed in the NFL? No one knows–no one ever knows when it comes to prospects, especially quarterbacks–but we can speculate. As I’ve mentioned earlier, the idea that you could take an option/spread offense from college and duplicate it in the NFL and have it succeed is, in my opinion, quite dumb. Even Chip Kelly didn’t replicate his Oregon offense entirely. As Cosell has explained, Kelly uses NFL passing concepts in his offense; he is just more creative than most teams when it comes to formations and motions. Kelly also utilizes a base running game with McCoy. I could go more into why college offenses, like the one Manziel ran at A&M, wouldn’t work in the NFL, but I won’t, A, because I’ve already touched on it briefly, but B, because based on what I’ve read, the Browns aren’t planning on running a college offense.

The Browns new OC is Kyle Shanahan, and we all know that the Shanahans love to pair the zone running game with the play action boot pass. The Texans were outstanding with this: When Kyle Shanahan was their OC during the 08 and 09 seasons, Matt Schaub had two of his better career years. The Browns now have Ben Tate and Terrance West, and probably feel like they can run Shanahan’s system pretty effectively. So far the media reaction towards the pairing of Shanahan and Manziel has been pretty positive. Why not get the athletic quarterback on the edge running the boot? What a great idea! Manziel will thrive in this system! Then there’s the fact that Kyle Shanahan was the Redskins OC during RGIII’s rookie year. To help RGIII with the NFL transition, Shanahan mixed option principles, the zone running game with Alfred Morris, simple play action reads, quarterback draws, and quick hitches and screens. He ran double or triple options often out of the pistol formation, and defenses were lost. Outside of what the Broncos did the previous year with Tebow, Shanahan was using formations and principles not really seen before in the NFL. The 49ers and Seahawks eventually started using their own versions of the pistol and option (Carolina had already been doing so) with their respective mobile quarterbacks (Seattle didn’t use the pistol that much but they did run the option out of the shotgun often). Outside of the injuries–more on that later–the results were excellent for RGIII. He averaged 8.1 Y/A, completed 65.6% of his passes, threw 20 TD to just 5 INT, and finished the season with a 102.4 Passer Rating.

So if Shanahan has such a successful track record AND he crafted a system that suited RGIII’s skills so well, then why wouldn’t Manziel succeed with Shanahan at the controls? Well, a few reasons. First, I’m skeptical about saying that Manziel will succeed just because Shanahan is employing rollout principles in his offense. It’s always easy to say that mobile quarterbacks are best suited for a system that allows them to get on the move. I heard the same thing said about Jake Locker and Colt McCoy. But let’s remember that this is the NFL. And NFL defenses are smart, albeit often penalized. Rarely are there easy answers. The rollout scheme can be effective, but it has its limits as well. All it takes is one back side defender spying the quarterback and the play is dead. PA naked boots don’t usually work against good defenses. And what if the routes are covered? Once the quarterback finishes rolling out, he has nowhere to go. I don’t think the rollout scheme can make up the entirety of a passing game. What if the run game stops working? What if its 3rd and 9? This was Houston’s downfall in the last few years, among other things. Stop the boot, and they really didn’t have an effective drop back passing game.

Putting aside my concerns with Shanahan’s offensive philosophy, what makes you think that a mobile quarterback would thrive in this system? So Johnny Manziel can get to the edge quicker than most. So what? That doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be more effective running the system. All it means is that … well, that he will get to the edge quicker than most. And I guess that if no one’s coming at him that he can run for positive yardage. I guess the thinking is maybe that Manziel throws better on the run, and this system will allow him to do that. I guess that makes sense. Yet, Matt Schaub definitely doesn’t have the most limber of legs, and he ran the rollout effectively for years. If we put Manziel in a rollout scheme, does that mean he doesn’t have to master the pocket skills required to play quarterback? Once again, I find most of the rhetoric spewed by the media about mobile quarterbacks and tailored offenses to be oversimplified at best and incoherent at worst. (Note: I recognize that there is almost definitely much more to Shanahan’s offense than just running rollouts. But since that is what is being discussed by the media and that will probably be a key element to his offense, I chose to focus on it.)

Another comparison I think it would be worthwhile to focus on to help figure out whether or not Manziel can succeed in the NFL is that of Manziel and RGIII. As I mentioned earlier, Shanahan was the mastermind behind the offense that helped RGIII transition to the NFL, put up some excellent numbers, and lead his team to the playoffs. Additionally, Shanahan stated recently that “Johnny and Robert are very similar”. If Shanahan made use of option principles to get the best out of his former running quarterback, couldn’t he do the same for Manziel? I’m skeptical. (If you haven’t already noticed.) First of all, RGIII’s excellent rookie season did have an encore called 2013.  When the option isn’t working for whatever reason–maybe defenses have wised up, maybe your defense isn’t keeping you in the game to the point where you can keep running the ball, maybe your run game isn’t working, etc–you need to be able to throw the ball in a more traditional, drop back way. RGIII was by no means horrible nor was he the entire problem for the Redskins, but he was not very good when it came to pocket skills, ie footwork, reading the defense and delivering the ball on time to the right receiver, etc. Shanahan continued to run the option/pistol offense and did so with less success than 2012, and in a way he became the scapegoat. Why not let RGIII run a more traditional offense, like the one Kirk Cousins ran when he played, they said? Thank god Shanahan is gone; now Jay Gruden can put RGIII in a more traditional offense and he can finally have a chance to succeed! See the contradiction here? This used to happen with Vick all the time. People cry for a tailored offense, one that is built around the mobile quarterback’s ability to run the ball. But when it doesn’t work, as they often don’t in the NFL, the coordinators are then blamed for the quarterback’s lack of success, even though the tailored offense is being employed purely because the quarterback isn’t skilled enough to run a dropback passing game effectively. This is one reason I struggle with people who think that mobile quarterbacks can make a living in the NFL solely off of their legs. Put them in a tailored offense? It won’t work. NFL defenses are too good and too smart. Put them in a traditional offense? It won’t work, because that isn’t playing to their strength. You got the quarterback, whether it be RGIII, Vick, or Manziel, because their primary skill is running the ball. They’re not going to succeed just running the ball, yet how can you expect them to succeed throwing it consistently when that isn’t their strength? It’s what I believe to be a serious problem with the whole idea of the new “breed” of quarterback, the mobile quarterback, and it’s a reason that I was skeptical when people discussed Manziel as such a good prospect, and am skill skeptical that he will succeed. Being able to throw from the pocket is the only way to have consistent, long term success in the NFL. Find me a mobile quarterback that has truly over a reasonable period of time carried his team to success with mostly or entirely his running ability in the same way that Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have with their throwing ability, a quarterback that is not carried by other parts of his team such as the run game or defense, and you will have proved me wrong.

Let’s continue the Manziel/RGIII discussion. Shanahan was very succesful running the option with RGIII, so why might he not do so with Manziel as well? Well, when it comes to the option offense, even if you have the run game and defense to be able to execute it, it still might not work. Yes, Tebow and RGIII have had some season-long success with it, and you’ll still see a great option play on the highlight reel occasionally, but defenses were far more effective defending the read option last year than they were in 2012. No one really talked about this because it doesn’t support the idea of the mobile quarterback transcending the game. But defenses are smart. They learn.

Then there’s the injury bug. Quarterbacks who run a lot and are not well built are prone to injury. Tebow and Cam can take the punishment, although we’ll see how long that lasts with Cam. Vick and RGIII could not. We’ve already talked about Vick. RGIII missed three games in 2012 and his bum leg cost the Redskins a shot at a playoff victory. He was clearly not the same player after he was injured. RGIII is 218 pounds. Manziel is 210 pounds. Russell Wilson has stayed healthy because he gets down and out of bounds. Vick did not do this, RGIII does not do this, and Manziel is not known for doing this. And unless I’m mistaken, Manziel has had his problems with injury. And NFL defenders are bigger, faster, and hit harder.

I’m not a draft expert, but I’m pretty sure RGIII was a better prospect than Manziel. He is taller, has a better arm (Manziel has a good arm, but it’s not as strong as people make it out to be), and it’s hard to imagine anyone considering Manziel over Andrew Luck, like some did with RGIII. So RGIII was a similar prospect to Manziel and perhaps a better one, yet where is he after two NFL seasons? A spectacular talent who is injury prone and still has to master playing from the pocket if he wants to succeed in the NFL. Of course, he has plenty of time to do this and he missed the last offseason with injury rehab, so no one is saying he can’t do this or even that his prospects are grim. But if he wants to succeed that’s what he’ll have to do. Success is not going to come from running a tailored offense or from revolutionizing the position. Let’s not forget that RGIII is also probably more disciplined than Manziel, and this gives him a better shot at success. 

So what is my point? I’m not entirely sure, but I’ll try to leave you with some closing thoughts. Hype is rampant in the NFL, and sometimes we have to ignore it. Playing quarterback successfully in the NFL is one of the hardest things to do, and despite quarterbacks that get hyped like Manziel every year, that enter the NFL with tons of promise, I could probably count the quarterbacks from recent drafts that have developed into sure thing long term starters with one hand. I’m not rooting against Johnny Manziel. I would love to see him succeed. That’s not the issue. It’s just that based on what I’ve heard, I’m not convinced. If Johnny Football took the NFL by storm, that would be awesome. But I’m going to keep my expectations low, and I would advise you to do the same.