As we do every week, let’s take a swing around the NFL, looking at a bunch of random things …
So, what’s been up?
1. Philadelphia is the City of Brotherly Love, right? That’s what they tell me. And to be fair, I did feel the love spending four days here (though that had a lot to do with cheesesteaks). But it really should be called the City of Brotherly Love/Hate. That’s the relationship between the fans and their teams, it seems. Such intense emotion, such deep feelings, I’m blown away every time I come here. It’s one reason I love returning to Philly. But I never really had context until I talked to Eagles coach Andy Reid about it. On Friday, Reid — a Philly resident since 1999 — offered his best view of the city’s passion. And it reminded me why he really has come to embody where he lives. The conversation started when I asked Reid whether the Eagles looked into how QB Michael Vick would handle criticism before they signed him.
“You gotta make sure the guy is wired right for the city of Philadelphia,” Reid told me. “Because this is a very passionate place. This is as close to a college atmosphere as you’re going to find in the National Football League. Passionate, passionate people about the Eagles. If you’re doing well, they’re going to let you know you’re doing well. If you’re not doing well, they’re going to let you know that. They’re very honest that way, he understands that. But the players have to understand that. The players that come here have to understand that. And, if somebody from another team says something bad about you, they’re going to get upset at them. ‘That’s our guy.’ But at the same time, they’re going to get after you if you’re not doing your job. So, the quarterback, that’s a position that’s got a lot of eyes on him. He’s wired right to handle that.”
2. Lions QB Matthew Stafford had a horrific start to last week’s game. In helping the Rams stay with Detroit, Stafford threw three picks and never looked comfortable. The way St. Louis was playing, it looked like an upset was about to happen. Except… Stafford kept throwing. He kept firing. Even as inaccurate as he was, even with the gaffes he made, he ended up throwing 48 passes, including the game-winner to RB Kevin Smith. I wondered if he ever had any doubts. When I caught up with him when he was promoting Van Heusen, I asked him exactly that. Didn’t you, ya know, wonder what the heck was going on? How do you stay with it? Stafford provided an interesting perspective. “It’s the only thing you can do,” Stafford told me. “I was talking to Shaun Hill after the game. He came up to me, was like, ‘That was one of those instances where you’re either going to throw your first touchdown or your fourth pick.’ And that’s the attitude you have to have. You gotta go out there and sling it and keep going. And everybody thinks about those basketball guys, big shooters, and they gotta shoot themselves out of slumps. Same thing for quarterbacks. You gotta keep playing, understanding your luck’s going to change, and our guys started making plays. We were able to move the ball down the field and score a couple of late TDs.”
3. I can already hear the reaction from Chicago. A former captain spoke out against QB Jay Cutler in a fiery radio interview via the Chicago Tribune, and there is a rush to discredit it. As in, ‘He’s not even in the locker room.’ But in my rarely humble opinion, the words of Adewale Ogunleye should be heeded, not brushed off. He was talking about Cutler bumping the shoulder of tackle J’Marcus Webb, and Ogunleye said of Cutler, “You start losing the respect of that offensive line when publicly you’re bumping people and yelling at them in their face.” Every one of these situations should be taken separately. I’ve seen Patriots QB Tom Brady berate linemen several times, and he gets lauded for it. Now, Cutler does it, and he gets ripped? Well, yeah. First of all, Brady has the resume behind him. Second of all, Cutler was playing poorly. And after the incident, he played worse. He held the ball, threw it wildly, and made a bunch of bad decisions. Yet he’s grandstanding in front of the nation, embarrassing his clearly overmatched tackle. Not cool. Maybe Cutler doesn’t care about being cool. Maybe he only cares about getting the team better. Fine. But I don’t see how that’s helping. I don’t see how pointing the finger at a guy struggling to keep up makes anyone want to play with him. Leadership is an intangible thing. Once you lose the respect of the guys, it’s tough to get back. So, in my view, Cutler has two choices. One, play better. Two, have a level of understanding for a beaten teammate who probably doesn’t love being shoved in the back by his quarterback.
4. I mentioned this yesterday afternoon, but the Cowboys have some interesting plans for CB Mike Jenkins in today’s game against the Seahawks. Their plan is to use him as dime defensive back, playing inside on obvious passing downs and covering. It’s a safety/cornerback hybrid. On one hand, that’s pretty clever. It’s mutually beneficial, actually. Jenkins has never played inside, and if he can do it, it’ll add another tool in his toolbox. And for the team, it would be really easy to simply make Jenkins inactive. He’s been injured, he’s out of position, and there are already two starters on the outside. Instead, they are forcing him onto the field to get him back acclimated to the game. If there is an injury, Jenkins will be ready much quicker to fill in. If there’s not, he can prove he’s healthy for a possible team that might want to trade for him in October. The world can’t get enough corners, and if the Cowboys feel they can eventually part with him and his expiring contract, someone will need to see that he can still do it. This is a good situation all around. Nice job by DC Rob Ryan making it work… assuming it works.
5. It’s always interesting to me when a team changes what it’s done for years and remakes its image with some outside-the-box thinking. That’s what the Ravens have done. A downhill, pound-it-out team that everyone knew was run-first … are no longer that way. OC Cam Cameron believes in QB Joe Flacco, and he’s re-tailored the offense around his skills. They are fast, furious, and firing a lot. With this Baltimore defense aging, it’s absolutely necessary for the offense to take some of the burden. With the way they played against the Bengals, looks like it’s happening. So, what does Flacco like about the no-huddle? That’s what I asked him. His answer went on for a long time, and his appreciation for how the coaches have worked with him is clear. What surprised me is how much Flacco said it makes his life easier. “I could argue, big-time it’s easier,” he told me. “It allows me to get out there, take advantage of some of the things on early downs that are out there for the taking and in the past, we’ve been a more, I would say, more heavy run team on first- and second-down and I think that’s made things very tough. That makes things (hard), because third down are when defenses are really pinning their ears back and coming after you and giving you all they have. So, I think when you put yourselves in those kinds if situations, that’s the more difficult thing. I think the way we’re doing it, is allowing us to take advantage of the best things. It might be a little more thinking pre-snap, here and there, but at the end of the day, I think it is a little bit easier once that ball is snapped.”
6. Reached this week by the Times-Picayune, suspended Saints coach Sean Payton told the paper that his former(ish) team would “handle this the right way.” As in, rebounding from a loss. Perhaps. I’m not saying the Saints won’t win, but I’ll be surprised if it’s an easy win. I don’t doubt the players’ resolve. I don’t doubt they are more determined than last week. But I do know they are missing their coach. They are missing the guy who ran their offense. It’s no coincidence that QB Drew Brees completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes in the first game without Payton. We should have seen it coming. I don’t know if the Saints can right themselves, and it is just one game. But maybe, at the end of this, we’ll have a healthier respect for the really, really good coaches out there. I wondered what would happen without Payton. Now, I wonder if we are finding out. No wonder he can’t stay hidden in the shadows… this must be killing him. But by the end of the year, he may know how important he was.
7. I laughed a little when I saw this story from the NY Daily News about RB Joe McKnight attending defensive meetings and possibly playing cornerback today. And the jokes came on Twitter about how the Jets just want to be the Patriots. But really, it’s not that funny. It’s kind of awesome, actually. The Jets are hurting at CB with Darrelle Revis out with a concussion, and McKnight can help. More importantly, he’s willing to help, to put himself in an unfamiliar position for the team. He may end up looking bad, but McKnight wants to play, and even on defense, he may. It’s like last year, when Patriots WR Julian Edelman and WR Matthew Slater played in the secondary. It’s not just that it helps the team in a pinch, but it sends an overriding message to the other guys. As in, are you doing enough? Because this dude is willing to play defense. That stuff matters. And don’t think this versatility goes unnoticed during player evaluation times like on cut-down day. Coaches always say it’s the more you can do. Things like this show that’s right.
8. I have no idea if the Panthers will fulfill their considerable promise in Year 2 in the Cam Newton era. It’s certainly possible, though they’ll need to run it a little better. But anyway, it’s becoming increasingly difficult not to like this team and coach Ron Rivera. I mean, not that I wanted to dislike them, but if I did, I couldn’t. OK, it was a little crazy that C Ryan Kalil made a Super Bowl guarantee by buying an ad in the paper. It’s something that could have easily been shrugged off and downplayed by the team. Instead, what happened? Rivera had shirts made for all the players that said on the back, “I have Ryan Kalil’s back.” How great is that? That’s how you support your teammate. Sure, he’s a little wacky. Sure, some maybe wish he hadn’t said it. But shoot, he’s your guy, so go all in with him.
9. I was intrigued by the premise presented by Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel based on the WR Greg Jennings. In a well-crafted argument, McGinn makes the case for trading Jennings, who is one of the Packers most gifted offensive players. Read the piece, I won’t do it justice by explaining it quickly, but the overall point is this: The Packers aren’t going to pay him, so trade him now when you can get some value. Yes, it sounds slightly crazy. But I think I am in favor of it. If you’re a good team, a really good team, you can withstand the loss of one player. You can deal with losing, say, Lawyer Milloy like the Patriots did a decade ago, and still keep going. Jenning is an excellent player. But QB Aaron Rodgers is a more excellent player. And in that system, with him as a QB, it provides a cushion for whoever they put in there. No one can take Jennings’ place, but they will get production whoever they put out there. Planning for the future is hard. Sacrifice early for future gain. That’s how you maintain. In my mind, the Packers can stand losing Jennings now to benefit later with a draft pick and more money available for other guys.