The Giants Offense is Broken

I was at the game this past Sunday. The Giants fell to the Saints 18-33, bringing them to just 1-3 on the season. It’s early, but at this point our playoff chances are likely out the window. This certainly will be the case if the Giants can’t find a way to fix their offense.

The Giants fired their head coach from last year. Fired their general manager. Brought in a new offensive system. Drafted a big time running back. Brought in Nate Solder and drafted Will Hernandez. Reshuffled the offensive line. Paid Odell. Got healthy at receiver. But the result is still the same as it was last year. This offense simply can’t block, can’t move the ball, can’t get the ball down the field, and can’t score. It’s frustrating.

This was a pretty competitive game that wasn’t really ever out of reach for the Giants. There were multiple factors that went into the loss–penalties, lots of bad officiating, questionable coaching, etc. But still, the Giants defense generally held firm especially in the red zone, holding this Saints O entirely to field goals in the first half. The Giants had a nice TD drive early, but the offense went to sleep after that. The Giants wouldn’t score another point in the half, and the Saints kicked four field goals, bringing the score to 12-7 at halftime. The Giants were unable to get the offense moving in a meaningful way until it was too late. The Saints eventually scored their first TD of the day, bringing it to 19-7, and the Giants drove down the field, but ultimately stalled and had to settle for a field goal, cutting the deficit to just 19-10. That was crucial, as it kept it a two score game with just two minutes left in the third quarter. Furthermore, a Saints TD would essentially put the game out of reach. Sure enough, that’s what happened, and the Saints scored another TD to bring it to 26-10. That left the Giants needing two touchdowns and two 2 point conversions with under 7 minutes left in the game, as the Saints chewed up plenty of clock on that scoring drive.

At this point, it was looking like it was more or less over. Even with a score, you’re unlikely to convert the two point conversion, which would likely mean an onside kick attempt. But the Giants did make it interesting for a bit, as they were able to score and then convert the two point conversion. Rosas then did a great job on the kickoff, sailing the ball high and jusssttt short of the endzone. It caught the Saints napping as they were unable to field the ball cleanly, and the Giants were able to pin them deep in their own endzone. All of a sudden, the Giants had a chance. Get a stop here, force a punt, and be sure to have good field position. Maybe even force a safety with pressure or a penalty in the endzone.

But the hope was short lived. Brees, poised as ever, dropped back to pass from under center, bought time, and was able to connect down the field. Shortly after it was 3rd and 5 and the Giants fans were on their feet once again, but an incomplete pass was negated by a pass interference call on the Giants. That was more or less the game, as the Giants were out of time and timeouts, and Kamara would eventually take it to the house to put the Saints up 33-18.

But the fact of the matter is, this game still comes down to the Giants offense. They had plenty of opportunities to move the ball and were just unable to do so. You can’t expect to stop Brees (and Kamara) in the four minute drill. It’s just too unrealistic. Ultimately the Giants were in this game for most of the day, and they simply couldn’t make the plays necessary to put any points on the board. It’s a story that’s becoming all too familiar for Giants fans.

The Giants offense has been broken for quite some time now. The last time we scored 30 points in a game was week 17 of the 2015 season (it’s now 2018). (Strangely enough, this was also the last game of Tom Coughlin’s career as head coach for the Giants, so make of that what you will.) It’s actually pretty amazing that we made the playoffs in 2016 without ever scoring 30 points in a game… or that we had a coach that lasted almost two seasons and wasn’t able to put up 30 points in a game, but alas, here we are.

In an era where pretty much everyone around the NFL is literally breaking records for offense across the league, the Giants still can’t seem to put up more than 10 points in meaningful play. This Saints defense, and specifically their secondary, came in giving up big plays left and right–losing 40-48 to Ryan Fitzpatrick in Week 1 and just edging the Falcons 34-47 in Week 3. In those games, Fitz was 21/28, 417 Yards, and 4 TD (14.9 yards per attempt) and Ryan was 26/35, 347 Yards, 5 TD (9.9 yards per attempt). Eli in the loss was 31/41 for 255 yards and 1 TD, for just 6.2 yards per attempt. Pat Shurmur was already beginning to get testy with reporters after the game, and Odell Beckham is already starting to show signs of frustration (which never bodes well for the Giants).

This is a winning franchise in a big time market that really hasn’t been doing a lot of winning recently, and fans are getting sick of it. When you have a problem that’s been going on this long and there are no indications of it being corrected, pressure is going to start mounting awfully quick.

Gettleman’s Choice

The Giants were in perfect position this past offseason to turn the page and start a new chapter on their franchise. They suffered through a 3-13 season, maybe the worst in Giants history, with a coach that proved himself to be about as incompetent as they come. A franchise that is largely aversive to change chose to clean shop of their general manager, coaches, and coordinators. And they also held the No 2 overall draft pick. That’s not something that’s easy to come by. With an aging Quarterback and a Quarterback heavy draft class, it would be the perfect opportunity to get their next franchise guy. After all, how often do you get the opportunity to go straight from one franchise guy to another? The Colts were in such a position when they had the No 1 overall pick in 2012 and chose to move on from Peyton Manning (one of the all time greats) to draft Andrew Luck. The Packers struck gold with the seamless transition to Aaron Rodgers, who may actually be better than his HOF predecessor, Brett Favre. And of course, we all know about Montana and Steve Young. But all in all, these are really hard situations to come by. The Giants haven’t had to worry about a Quarterback in over 10 years. To have the opportunity to be set for another decade? It seemed like a no brainer.

For Dave Gettleman, it was a no brainer. He refused to listen to any trade offers. He turned in his card as soon as he was allowed, saying that he would have turned it in in two seconds if they let him. This was a pivotal time for the Giants franchise. This move would shape their direction for years to come. The decision? …. Saquon Barkley, the running back out of Penn State.

When I heard Roger Goodell announce the pick live, I felt a wave of disappointment run over me that only seemed to get stronger as time went on. And I had rarely taken interest in the draft in the past. But with the stakes so high, this time was different. And I couldn’t help but feel that this was a tremendous missed opportunity for the Giants.

There were a few possible explanations for the choice, some offered by Gettleman after the pick, others by fans and analysts, that I simply don’t believe are correct. Those include, but are not limited to:

-Barkley was the best player in the draft.
-Barkley makes everyone on the roster better.
-There were no good Quarterbacks in this draft.
-Eli Manning has plenty of years left.
-The RB position is just as important now as it was decades ago.
-We shouldn’t draft a player who isn’t going to play right away.

I’m not going to get into all of these right now, but the point is that, ultimately, there’s really only one justifiable reason for drafting Barkley at No 2, and that’s that you believe the team is good enough to compete. You don’t take a weapon like that if you have no other pieces to build around him. You do it because you think you need that extra weapon that can push you over the top, and to bring a new dimension to an already talented roster. Because at the end of the day, Barkley’s not going to be around forever. The shelf life of running backs is pretty short. Barkley’s not a guy that needs to sit or learn the system. He’s a guy that was expected to come in and contribute right away.

My problem with this is that the Giants are clearly nowhere near ready to compete for a Super Bowl right now. Yea, they have some weapons on offense and an okay defense. But it’s still overall an average roster. The offensive line is still clearly weak, and that’s where it all starts. And while I don’t think Eli Manning is horrible or anything, he’s clearly nowhere near his anomalous 2011 level of play–a level that is probably needed to bring this roster to Super Bowl contention.

This is why you’re starting to see the frustration build up among Giants fandom and organization. I’ve seen a lot of comments from fans arguing that Eli is done and should be benched. Some people are saying that if the Giants don’t make the playoffs this year, then Gettleman will definitely draft a Quarterback next year.

You see the problem with that, right? If we’re replacing Eli Manning next year, what was the point of taking Barkley this year, and not using that rare no 2 overall pick on such a talented QB class? Pushing that decision to next year would just make this year a waste, and undermine Gettleman’s entire philosophy for his draft approach–and his franchise approach as well.

Barkley’s a good player, and I don’t think he’s necessarily hurting the offense. While it will continue to pain me for years that the Giants didn’t draft Josh Rosen, I’ve accepted, at least to some degree, that the offense consists of Barkley and Eli at this point. I don’t dislike either player, and I want both of them to succeed. I also don’t think either of them are necessarily hurting our offense in a drastic way.

The bigger issue is that we just don’t have time to be just okay, or to figure things out. With that pick, time is ticking, and it has to happen now. Because Eli does not have much time left.

This would have been entirely different if the Giants drafted a QB, because it would have been much more of a long game. The Jets took Sam Darnold, and I don’t know if he’s going to be the “QB of the future”–obviously its far to early to tell. But I think most people can agree that he’s a pretty promising prospect, and, barring something going spectacularly wrong, they’re committed to him for at least the near future. That’s why when the Jets hit offensive roadbumps, like they certainly have this season, there’s not a sense of urgency around it. I’m sure it’s frustrating, don’t get me wrong, but it’s to be expected for a rookie quarterback and a rebuilding roster.

The Colts were in a similar situation when they took Andrew Luck. Yes, there were a lot of questions about Peyton Manning’s health, and I think it was very reasonable to think at the time that he would in no way make it near the level that he eventually did with Denver. But even putting those aside, the roster just wasn’t good enough to really compete with an aging Peyton. The previous year he played, 2010, showed that. Peyton gave it all he could, but the roster was so weak that it resulted in just a 10-6 wild card loss. That same roster would go 2-14 the next year. Andrew Luck was the right decision to go for the future, with a roster rebuild that would take some time. It only would have kept sense to keep Peyton if he could have competed for the Super Bowl, which was not really feasible with that roster.

In Peyton’s defense, he did go on to assault the record book with an average Denver roster and get them within a few game(s) of the Super Bowl for multiple years. But no one could have guessed he would play at that level after his injury, and it’s really amazing that he did. And even with that, he’s now retired, and Luck is in his prime.

Also, back to Eli for a second. I’m not even saying the Giants should have replaced him this year. I would have been fine sitting a rookie for a year or even two if necessary (although that rarely happens nowadays) and playing Eli regardless of how the year went. Having the rookie there for the long run would have at least given us some insurance for the future.

But the bottom line is that the Giants, for some reason, looked at a team that went 3-13, and decided that that team was good enough to compete for a Super Bowl right now. So when it starts too like that isn’t the case, there’s going to be cause for alarm rather quickly. The Giants have to be good now, because they clearly have no plan for the future. They bet it all on the now.

What I’m Seeing from Eli Manning and The Giants Offense

I’m a little late getting this article up, and the Giants-Panthers game is currently in play as I write it, so hopefully they prove me wrong. But through the first four weeks, and especially from watching that Saints game in full, I do have some things to say about Eli Manning and what I’m seeing from him currently. I’m not going to go into whether we should bench him or whether he’s finished or any of that (as many Giants fans are doing already)–he is who he is and he’s our Quarterback at least for the current season, so he’s what we’ve got.

I think Manning winning two Super Bowls so close together to each other, along with just having the last name “Manning”, being on a generally pretty good team, and being around for so long, made people think he was better than he really is. Eli’s best season was 2011, and that year was a bit of an anomaly. When you look at his overall body of work, Eli was never the most consistent or accurate Quarterback. What he was, was an aggressive intermediate and downfield passer that didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger and throw into tight coverage. When you had a play action deep comeback or post, or a five step intermediate dig on 3rd and long, Eli would always throw those routes. And it was generally what he did best.

I’m not seeing that now. What I’m seeing now from Eli is a (perhaps overly) cautious checkdown Quarterback. The line certainly has played a role, as it’s been pretty poor for years now. But you can’t put it all on the line. No quarterback is under pressure on every play. Rather, I think that right now, for whatever reason, Eli seems a little gun shy, and hesitant to connect with his guys down the field. It’s likely that his offensive line being so poor for so long may have made him this way, and it’s now developed into a trait of its own. We saw something similar from Matt Ryan in 2013-2015, before Shanahan reinvigorated his aggressiveness. To be fair though, Eli has also not been super accurate or showed the same kind of arm strength when he has thrown the ball deep, so maybe that’s a part of his game that just isn’t what it used to be.

Regardless of the reason, it’s an issue that’s been going on for years, so it’s clear why the frustration is at a boiling point for Giants fans. It seems that no matter what changes are made, the story is the same: We just can’t move the ball on offense. Pat Shurmur was supposed to fix this as well, and it becomes even more curious that when you look at the fact that in Minnesota last year, with an average Quarterback in Case Keenum, that offense ran like a well oiled machine, and Keenum just simply had to execute and distribute.

How can it be fixed? I think that Eli Manning is a passer who needs to get into a rhythm, and I’m not seeing that as of recent. I think it may behoove the Giants to go to more pace early in games. Not even no huddle, just start a little more up tempo, with some quick throws on early downs to get Eli in a groove. Right now, the Giants are playing slow and trying to establish the ground game early with Barkley, but our offensive line might just not be good enough to do that in its current state.

Whatever the reason, one thing is clear: The Giants Offense is broken. For everyone’s sake, lets hope they find a way to fix it soon.

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Congratulations Giants, You Managed to Screw This Up.

Whelp, there goes the first round of the NFL Draft. The Giants opted not to build for the future and draft a Quarterback–despite having every reason to–and instead drafted the flashy running back, Saquon Barkley, out of Penn State.

Is Saquon Barkley a talented player and an absolute athletic physical freak of nature? Yes, of course. Will he have some plays that are absolutely spectacular? Yes. Will he make the offense better? Probably. That’s not what this is about.

This is about building the franchise for the future. And the Giants simply did not look at the big picture here.

I don’t buy the whole, “best player in the draft” thing. Quarterback is the most important position in the league, and no matter what, Quarterbacks will always be more important than running backs. You can win without a good running back. You can’t win without at least a competent Quarterback. Running backs alone simply do not carry rosters. Look at Adrian Peterson and the Vikings for the last decade. In addition, Quarterbacks are tough to find. And you have a much better chance of finding a good running back in the late rounds than you do a Quarterback. And this is all without going into the fact that Saquon Barkley, no matter how impressive his highlight reel, is simply not a guarantee to be successful in the NFL due to his running style.

If this pick was five years ago, I’d be fine with it. But let’s look at where the Giants are right now. Eli Manning, who was never consistently great to begin with, is 37 and has already shown signs of decline. QBs that old not named Tom Brady do not really win Super Bowls. Best case scenario, you get 3 more years out of Manning. But he also could be done after this year. Considering that his level of play was never at the Brady/Brees level, I expect his age related decline to be like that of Matt Schaub/Jake Delhomme: sharp and ugly. What will happen when that happens? We’ll be stuck in QB purgatory, the worst place to be in the NFL. Unless you want to keep convincing yourself that Davis Webb, our third round Texas Tech QB from last year’s draft is the answer, in which case, be my guest.

No, what the Giants had a chance to do here was do what smart teams do, and be proactive. If there were really no good QBs, then I’d understand. But this was an unusually good QB crop. Josh Rosen is already an NFL QB, in my opinion. But even putting him aside and assuming the Giants didn’t like him because he’s a rich outspoken liberal, or whatever, we can’t ignore the fact that the Browns unconventionally took the explosive but undersized Baker Mayfield with their No 1 pick, leaving Sam Darnold available on the board!!! And what did the Giants do? They let our crosstown rivals have him.

I’ve seen, and am sure I will continue to see, people saying that our offense is loaded with weapons now. Okay, maybe. But people said the exact same thing last year, and how’d that turn out for us? Yeah, there were a lot of injuries, but at the end of the day, I really think Dave Gettleman chose flash over substance here. He talked a lot about being “in love” with Barkley. Again it’s easy to fall in love with a player who is an absolute physical freak. But that doesn’t mean it’s the best thing for the franchise. I would expect fans to follow this line of reasoning, but not the General Manager.

Again, I really just see this as complete and utter shortsightedness and can’t underestimate what a mistake it has the potential of being. This move could define our franchise for years. Who cares if our offense gets a little better in the short term? It’s not what you do with the No 2 pick. This was an absolutely perfect time and perfect opportunity to turn the page to the next chapter in our franchise. Coming off a 3 win season. New coach and GM–something this organization does not do a lot. No 2 overall pick. Old QB. When are we going to be in this situation again? What more reason do you need to plan for the future? Why are you convincing yourself that getting better right now is so damn important? You could argue that a big reason the Giants have been so awful since their last Super Bowl win was an inability to plan ahead after our last Super Bowl run. The Giants ceiling, in my opinion, really isn’t that high. They have an average at best roster in total, and their Quarterback hasn’t been anything more than average as of recent. The only way this pays off is if Saquon Barkley propels this team to a Super Bowl. Call me a skeptic.

I think we’re underestimating just how hard it is to find a Quarterback in this league, how valuable they are, and how shitty it is to be stuck in QB purgatory. Maybe we’re spoiled because we’ve had Eli Manning for so long. Maybe this organization, because of how poorly the Eli Manning benching was last year, is overcompensating and is in denial. Maybe our new general manager isn’t that good. Whatever the reason is, I think this is a blatantly terrible move, and the more I think about it the worse it gets. A lot of people may disagree with me, but so be it. I can’t see how this makes sense for our franchise in the long term, and can’t help but feel we just wasted a huge opportunity. And I’m pretty bummed about it.

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Way Too Quick NFL Draft Thoughts – The Giants, Eli, Rosen, and Barkley

I’ve had a lot I’ve wanted to say about this draft and very little time to write in the past month or so, and all of a sudden it’s tonight. This post isn’t going to do it justice, but I’d like to just get a few main points out there, mainly as it concerns my New York Giants, who happen to be picking No 2 overall. Hopefully I’ll get to expand on these thoughts after the draft.

The Giants need to take a Quarterback, and it should be Josh Rosen. He’s the best of the bunch. He has fewest flaws, and his game translates the best to the NFL. QB is the most valuable position in the NFL, and this draft is a pretty talented QB class. The Giants are lucky to be picking this high. Furthermore, Eli Manning is 37 years old. He’s already shown some signs of decline, and he’s not going to be playing at a high level into his 40s like Brady and Brees are doing, because he was never that guy to begin with. I love what he’s done for the franchise, but this is the perfect time to move to the next era. We are blessed to have this incredibly high pick. There is a really great pro ready QB in Rosen, and that doesn’t always happen with the draft. And we’re coming off a 2 win season with a regime change–new head coach and general manager. What better time to turn the page to our next QB? He doesn’t have to start right away, but it’s time. We need to plan ahead, and it would be foolish to wait until Eli literally can’t play anymore at all. At that point it will be too late, and that point may be sooner than people think.

Drafting Saquon Barkley would be a mistake. First of all, running backs aren’t franchise changers. Not in today’s NFL. A running back cannot carry a franchise to wins simply by himself. Not without a Quarterback. Secondly, as freakish of an athlete that Barkley is, there are questions about his NFL fit. Greg Cosell of NFL Films has done a fantastic job breaking it down, but the gist is this: Barkley, despite his body type, is not a between the tackles NFL style runner, a grinder, a finisher, a la Frank Gore, Leonard Fournette, Ezekiel Elliott. As Cosell has put it, he’s a “bouncer”, a “run to space” guy. He won’t always get the necessary yards that are there. He’ll look for the big play. In college, this worked. In the NFL, Barkley could be deadly with the right scheme fit. But I simply disagree with the idea that he’s a can’t miss guy who would carry any franchise to relevance. Running backs aren’t those guys generally, and with Barkley and his style of running, I think it would be a waste of the No 2 pick, and would be going flash over substance.

The same can be said for whatever else the Giants might do. Trading down seems like a waste. Going Bradley Chubb, also, seems like a mistake to me. I’d be okay with Quentin Nelson, considering the importance of having anchors at offensive line in this league (look at the Dallas Cowboys), and the weakness of ours. But right now, the pick is very clear to me.

I have a bad feeling about tonight. Maybe it’s because of the things I’ve been seeing on the internet and reading here and there, but there seems to be zero indication the Giants want to take Josh Rosen. If they don’t, I would be okay with QB Sam Darnold, although he needs to be coached up. But there are also indications the Giants might not even take a Quarterback. How can this be? With the No 2 pick, a great QB draft class, and an aging QB on his last legs, are we really going to miss an opportunity to secure the long term success and prosperity of this franchise? This is a perfect opportunity, and maybe I’m just being a pessimistic fan, but it’s mind boggling to me that the Giants would throw this away. I can’t even begin to think about how I might feel if, right after the Giants pick, our crosstown rivals, the Jets, would then take Josh Rosen…

Anyway, that’s all for now. Apologies for the brevity and sloppiness of this post to my fans–as I’ve said, writing takes a while for me, and I haven’t been able to do the type of draft preparation I’ve wanted to on this blog. I’ll do my best to get some more content out after the draft tonight, but for now, I just wanted to get these thoughts out, and the message is clear: The Giants need to take a Quarterback at 2. Passing on Josh Rosen would be a mistake. Going for Saquon Barkley would be a very large mistake. Right now, my ideal picks for the Giants, in order of preference, are 1) Josh Rosen 2) Sam Darnold 3) Quentin Nelson. Anything else will be a disappointment. We will be getting a great player regardless, but at this point in time at this position, it’s not about getting great players. It’s about getting the franchise set for the future. Giants, you know what you need to do.

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We’re Having the Wrong Conversation about Josh Rosen

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

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

Josh Rosen and the Elusive “Personality Issues”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is Very Little Substance to the Critique of Rosen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.