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.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 10 other followers

Click here for Archives

Advertisements

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.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 10 other followers

Click here for Archives

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.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 10 other followers

Click here for Archives

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.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 10 other followers

Click here for Archives

Josh Rosen is the Best QB in the NFL Draft

Josh Rosen has officially declared for the NFL draft,  and I believe that he is by far the best QB Prospect in the draft. To be fair, I have only seen about 3 or 4 games worth of tape, and I haven’t substantively studied all of the eligible QBs this year. My opinion, like anyones, is always subject to change after watching more tape. And of course, this is by no means an objective judgment. Evaluating QBs is all about what you value, and everyone is bound to see the prospects differently. That’s what makes the process so fun and interesting.

Having said all that, in my mind, I’ve already seen enough to determine that Josh Rosen is the best QB prospect in the NFL Draft, and quite frankly, it isn’t even close.

It’s tough to sum up what’s so great about Rosen because there’s so much to like about him. But I think the best place to start is with his tremendous mix of NFL acumen/IQ and physical attributes. Quite often, it’s one or the other with QBs. The guys that are good with the more nuanced parts of the game (footwork, accuracy, anticipation) don’t have as good arm strength/speed/size, and vice versa. When you have one, you don’t really have to rely on the other. If you have great physical attributes, it’s easy to hang your hat on those and not develop the nuanced parts of the game. If you don’t have a great arm, you’ve got to be really great at the little things. That’s why the Quarterbacks that have both, are or have a shot at being all time greats (Aaron Rodgers, early Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck).

Josh Rosen has the best combination of NFL attributes and physical talent out of the draft prospects at QB. He has enough arm talent to make every throw. That in and of itself would be enough to make him an intriguing prospect. But when it comes to the nuanced parts of the game that make the great Quarterbacks great (like Tom Brady), he too is a master at those, far ahead of peers, and especially considering the level he is playing at.

Before I go into more specifics about Rosen, let me just preface by saying that my evaluations come from years of watching NFL Quarterbacks as well as following the smartest people in the business. This is not to say that I’m right or that you have to agree with me. It’s just to say that many of the attributes I pick up while watching Quarterbacks such as Rosen are subtleties of the game that might not be evident to casual fans. And this is what makes projecting (and evaluating) Quarterbacks to/in the NFL so difficult. You can’t just judge based on results, wins, or stats. Because there are some things that those just won’t and can’t qualify. (This is also not to say that people don’t fall back on cliches like “I watch film” or “I know the game” to justify their lack of substantive opinion. They do. Rather, I’m just attempting to give you an insight into how I evaluate Quarterbacks and where my opinion is coming from when I talk about them. A lot of these statements I make are based on subtle things you pick up on in watching Quarterbacks that you only start to understand after years of following the NFL.)

So let’s get into it and take a look at Rosen as a prospect, and what makes him so great.

Arm Strength/Physical Attributes

As I already touched on, Rosen has an NFL quality arm. He has the arm strength to make every throw, and the ball comes out of his hand with snap and velocity. He can also make deep down the field throws with little effort. While it’s not an insane arm a la Favre/Rodgers/Stafford, it’s significantly above NFL average and will be very intriguing to scouts. I’d give his arm a 9/10, only slightly below that top tier class of Rodgers/Stafford.

What is also so great about Rosen is that he’s a natural thrower of the football. The ball comes out of his arm very easily and he throws with very little effort. Being a natural thrower is related to arm strength, but it’s not the same. The best example of someone with good arm strength that isn’t a natural thrower is Blake Bortles. For Josh, the ball never comes out wobbly or short, and he’s always in a position where he can reload and throw with ease. He doesn’t have to work hard to throw the football, so to speak. It’s mainly about mechanics, but it’s also just an innate thing. Some people just throw the ball more easily than others. And Josh is always ready to throw and can always throw and put the ball where he wants with ease. That’s important, because as a Quarterback, throwing the ball is your No 1 Job – so you should be able to throw it as well and as easily as possible. Now, he doesn’t have the quickest or shortest release. I would say Sam Darnold’s release is quicker. But I wouldn’t say this is a problem. People have slightly different throwing motions, and his arm speed is quick enough and delivery is compact enough that he will be fine. In fact, sometimes guys with a slight windup are able to get a little more pop on the ball. His motion is somewhat comparable to that of Carson Wentz, maybe a little more compact. His ball position, windup, and release all allow him to get maximal velocity on the ball with minimal wasted motion.

At the end of the day, you’re looking at a high level arm talent and natural thrower of the football in Josh Rosen, and that in and of itself is enough to make him an intriguing prospect.

Footwork

You can almost always tell how comfortable or high level a Quarterback is by looking at his feet first and foremost. There are a few things to look for: 1) Are his movements calm, relaxed, and calculated? Or are they frenetic? 2) How do his feet and steps sync up with the timing of his drop and routes? Is he moving in a way that the play demands? Or is his movement haphazard, uneven, and/or random? and 3) How functionally mobile is the Quarterback? Can he shift and make subtle movements in the pocket in response to pressure? Movement is key at the Quarterback position. If the Quarterback has a clear and calm head, the feet usually follow. Two of the best Quarterbacks in the NFL when it comes to functional mobility are Tom Brady and Drew Brees.

Now, it’s worth mentioning that the timing of plays is very different in the College game than in the NFL. Mainly, College Teams on the whole often use much more of a spread offense than NFL teams do. This means that the Quarterback is in the shotgun or pistol almost all the time. There are far fewer deeper drops. You rarely see the five step timing throws, either from under center or out of shotgun, that you see in the NFL. Instead, what you get is a much quicker game. Often the QB is catching the ball and throwing right away (1 step timing), or taking a 3 step drop, or running play action out of multiple option looks. There is less nuanced footwork required. A lot of this has to do with the scheming of offenses in College Football. In college, the hash marks are much further apart than they are in the NFL. This means that the field is much less condensed than it is in the pros. When the ball is set on either the right or left hash in college, you have a ton of field to the far side to work with. Because of that, the college game becomes a lot about utilizing that spacing. This is why you see the prevalence of spread offenses in college. Its much easier to throw quicker timing throws, like WR screens, because it’s advantageous to get the ball to your WR in space. It’s much more effective to run deception based offenses (like those that utilize the option and reverses) because the wide side of the field is a far greater threat. It’s too much field for players to defend, and that leaves the defense vulnerable. One misstep on a fake or an option run gives the offense tons of field to get to the outside. As a defender, there’s too much ground to recover. (The opposite is true as well; over committing to to an outside man on an option play leaves the middle of the field wide open.)

Another thing this does is it makes running and improvisational QBs much more effective in college than in the NFL. In the NFL, to extend a play past 3 or 4 seconds, you need to be able to both manipulate the pocket, and get deep into your progressions to find the weakness in the defense. However in college, if a 3 step timing play isn’t there, the QB often has plenty of field to run around and improvise (the inferiority of college defenders has a lot to do with this as well, both in terms of closing speed in coverage as well as pass rush). In the NFL, if you’re running a 3 step timing play (a quick throw), the ball better be out within 2 seconds, or else you’re going to get walloped.

The spread/option offenses can lead to a far more interesting, fast-paced, diverse, and exciting product for the college game when compared to the NFL. But they also lead to QBs being less prepared for the NFL. Because of the aforementioned factors, you simply don’t see the type of QB drops in college required in the NFL: 5 step from under center, play action from under center, 7 step from under center, 5 step from shotgun. This is not something you can learn over night. The timing of NFL offenses and routes, how those routes sync up with the QBs drops, take time to learn. If you’ve never dropped back from under center, that will be an adjustment. It requires balance and precision with your mechanics. People don’t think about stuff like balance in your footwork and drop when evaluating QBs, but it’s the absolute basics when it comes to the position; every QB that is successful does those things well, and if you can’t do those things well, forget about everything else.

A great example of this is Robert Griffin III. He wasn’t ready for the NFL coming out of Baylor, so Mike Shanahan taylored the Redskin offense in 2012 to look like that of a college offense. It was run primarily out of the pistol, and combined option runs with quick, 1 and 3 step passing. RG3 was rarely asked to drop back straight and read the full field, because he couldn’t. Once NFL defenses learned how to play the option, RG3’s game fell apart. He simply never was able to learn the fundamentals of the Quarterback position.

This is not to say that guys who run spread offenses are incapable of transitioning, but simply that it will be a transition, and if a guy can show that he did things at the college level that he will have to do at the NFL level, then that’s a plus in his evaluation. Two great examples of this were Andrew Luck coming out of Stanford and Carson Wentz coming out of North Dakota. They both had experience running pro style offenses with success, and reading full field NFL type route progressions. This made their transition to the NFL game far quicker than it was for other prospects.

Successful college QBs, because of how different the college game is, often look different than successful NFL QBs. They often have a quicker release, are quicker twitch athletes, maybe have a slightly smaller frame, and can run fast. Two guys that come to mind in the NFL are Marcus Mariota and Derek Carr, both of whom have had their ups and downs in the NFL. Both guys are very quick twitch, as they had to be to run those spread offenses (with all the 1 step timing and option players). But they had less experience with pro style drops and progressions, and as a result have struggled at times. A guy who fits that college QB profile perfectly playing in college right now is Baker Mayfield.

Josh Rosen, on the other hand, is what I imagine an NFL Quarterback to look like. Taller, bigger frame, slightly longer release but stronger arm to go with it, slightly less twitch but also more calm in the pocket.

Of course, there’s a balance here. There are guys that can be the opposite of the college QB, and too deliberate to play in the NFL. Zach Mettenberger is a guy that comes to mind, Tom Savage another, and Jameis Winston at times as well. There are also guys that run pro style offense but just aren’t good enough to be in the NFL, so none of this is a zero sum equation.

But the point with Rosen, even more important than his physical profile, is how effective and smooth he was with his footwork, timing, and execution when it came to running an offense that featured NFL style drops and timing. His five step drop from shotgun and his play action from under center are about as pristine as it gets. He comes off his drop, plants, transfers his weight, and hits the proper read immediately. Or, he’ll calmly step up in the pocket, go through his progressions, and find his outlet receiver at the exact time the play requires it. Everything is in sync. His footwork always matches up with the timing of his routes and his drops. And it all works so seamlessly. He also feels where the pressure is coming from and is able to manipulate the pocket and move away from it without losing his composure. There is simply an NFL style command and control to his game that you don’t see with the other prospects, and this brings us to our final point with Rosen.

IQ

Josh Rosen has all the physical tools, but he also understands the game. This is evident from his complete and total command of a UCLA offense that asked him to be the guy. This is not the case with many offenses in College. Often, once a play is over, QBs will turn to the sideline to get the play call (as will other position groups, looking at different coaches depending on their position). He will run up to the line once the formation is set, then he may turn back to the sideline to get the audible. Coaches signal all this with hand signals or cards, and do so based on what the defense is doing. The QB isn’t running or directing the offense prior to the snap. He’s just one cog in a well oiled machine. This is mainly the case for spread offenses.

The UCLA offense with Josh Rosen, stylistically, could be called a spread offense in the sense that it was run primarily out of the shotgun (although it mixed in under center formations as well). But it differed from the traditional spread in that Rosen ran the show. When they went no huddle, he got the full play call and would portray it to the rest of his team. He also would audible based on the defensive look. Post snap, the offense primarily featured NFL style routes. These are all things a QB will have to do at the next level, and the fact that Rosen not only did them, but did them with such efficacy is a testament to his NFL readiness.

And he was always in command of this offense. He understood where to go with the ball. He directed his receivers based on the play and the defense. He moved with an elegance and nuance as if it was second nature to him. And he threw the football with both velocity and accuracy, especially down the field. One thing I saw that really impressed me from Rosen was the back shoulder throw. That’s an incredibly advanced throw to make and not something you see a lot of in College. It requires a perfect sense of timing and ball placement, as well as a shrewd understanding of the defense and chemistry with your receivers. Rosen had all of that.

Not to mention, his defense was absolutely horrible. He constantly had to play from behind and throw the ball a ton to get back into the game (often over 50 times). This was no problem, as he stacked up 300 yard passing efforts as if they were nothing. Perhaps there’s no better indication of this than his comeback win vs Texas A&M. Down 44-10, Rosen’s Bruins came back and won the game 45-44 on the back of Rosen.

If you’re looking for a guy who can put an offense on his back and has a command and understanding of how to run an offense from an NFL level (and has all the physical attributes to do so), Rosen is your guy.

Conclusion

The Bruins were 6-6 under Rosen this year, but that doesn’t really bother me. When evaluating college QBs, you have to look at traits and attributes, not wins and losses and stats. There’s so much variance in college that those things are useless without context. Besides, that record can mostly be attributed to UCLA’s awful defense. Here was the final score in their losses:

@Memphis: 45-48
@Stanford: 34-58
@Arizona: 30-47
@Washington: 23-44
@Utah: 17-48
@USC: 23-28

You’re not going to see those kind of scores in the NFL. In the wins under Rosen, UCLA scored 45, 56, 27, 31, 44, and 30 points. Is it concerning that all the losses were on the road? Perhaps, but that still seems to me to be a product of poor defense, and perhaps coaching as well (Jim Mora was fired midseason after the USC loss).

Josh Rosen’s Stats in his 3 years at UCLA are as follows:

Freshman Year (2015): 13 games, 60% comp, 3669 Yards, 7.5 Y/A, 23 TD, 11 INT
Sophomore Year (2016): 6 games, 59.3% comp, 1915 Yards, 8.3 Y/A, 10 TD, 5 INT
Junior Year (2017): 11 games, 62.6% comp, 3756 Yards, 8.3 Y/A, 26 TD, 10 INT

I think the improvement in his final year is especially noteworthy. You want a guy on the upward path.

The biggest concern for me with Rosen is injuries. He suffered injuries the past two years. It’s something I haven’t looked at to be honest, and something that will have to be scouted carefully (and absolutely will be) for any team who’s interested.

There have also supposedly been questions about Rosen’s attitude, but most of this is speculative, and therefore not something I can put stock into. Unless you’re in the huddle with the guy, there’s really no way of knowing. That is, unless the guy has off the field issues, which Rosen hasn’t. NFL teams will look into all this stuff when they evaluate Rosen, but as an observer, based on some ESPN gossip, it’s not something I’m going to value.

As I said, the evaluation is limited. It’s not as if I’ve watched every snap or seen every full Bruin game since his first start. Having said that, I’m confident in my evaluation and feel as if I’ve absolutely seen enough to assertively say that Rosen is the best QB Prospect in the NFL Draft. It’s evident from watching him on film. It’s certainly a great QB class, but Rosen’s mix of physical attributes, mental acumen, command of his offense, nuanced understanding of the game, and pro readiness, make him a can’t miss guy for any team looking for their next franchise QB. If drafted, Rosen is the type of player that would come in and make an impact immediately.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 10 other followers

Click here for Archives

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.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 10 other followers

Click here for Archives

What is the Value of a Quarterback?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 10 other followers

Click here for Archives