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. The Jets play on Monday night, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to talk about what’s going on with them. Banged up, beat up and struggling, the Jets face a critical home game against the powerful Texans. And all eyes are on their quarterback situation. Rex Ryan said he’s sticking with starter Mark Sanchez, but for how long? When does Tim Tebow Time happen? At what point will Ryan said, “Screw it, let’s put Tim in?” Because, as people inside the building say, that’s what it’ll be. I mean, can’t you hear Rex saying that… except with an F-bomb in there? When will they succumb to the outside pressure and see what they have in Tebow? As best as I can tell from those inside the organization, this is what’s going on:
There is no definitive plan to insert Tebow into the game. Or, if there is, it’s all in Ryan’s head. He hasn’t shared his complete intentions with those around him. It’s not like the idea is, “If we go down 14-0, Tim is in.” But there is definitely a sense that the Jets are nearing that point where they will say, “What the heck, put him in.” I’m told the outside pressure is hitting home with Ryan, and he hears it with Tebow. If they start losing, don’t be surprised to see Tebow run out there for an extended period of time. It won’t mean he’s the “starter” for the rest of the season or anything. But there is a strong chance if it all goes wrong, Ryan will believe he has no choice. Why Tebow and why now? Because the Jets are at the point where it will hurt them more to keep him on the sidelines than to play him. As Broncos players will kindly remind Jets players, this is where Broncos were last year when it was Tebow Time. Nothing to lose, in need of a spark, why the heck not? For the Jets, while it will crush Sanchez, there are some benefits. On national TV, if Tebow is God awful, it will end the question then and there. If he saves the day (certainly a possibility), then it’s a win and things improve. Even Jets players, at this point, are wondering when Tebow Time will be. They know it’s coming, I’m told. And while coaches seem split about whether it’ll be good or bad, they know it’s coming, too. They just don’t know when, since Ryan could decide any time. On Monday night, if the Jets go down early, don’t be shocked if Ryan sets his watch to Tebow Time. It’s inevitable.
2. I’ve been in Indianapolis most of this week covering the Colts before they play the Packers today, and it has been an emotional experience. Hearing the strong feelings the players have about coach Chuck Pagano as he battles cancer has been so cool. Like LB Pat Angerer saying, “If anyone can do it, it’s him.” But it also should be noted how this very young team has handled such trying circumstances. That’s one thing that GM Ryan Grigson pointed out when I spoke with him this week. He came out really impressed with their focus. As an organization, though, they are trying to keep the football stuff away from Pagano. He has bigger battles to fight. It’s just, well, it’s not easy. “We want him to be able to get through his treatments and have the energy he needs to get through them,” Grigson told me. “So, it’s a delicate balance. But so far so good. Bruce (Arians) has done a great job of keeping this team focused because they got punched pretty hard in the gut the other day when we announced it to them. But Bruce and I stated when this happened. I feel pretty darn comfortable with the foundation that Chuck’s laid. And it’s a strong one and it’s one that’s on rock. … And with technology we have now, (Pagano) can watch practice within minutes of it being over on his iPad. He can still be engaged in that way and also not go stir-crazy when he does have the energy to get back to football. So, his wife’s there, Tina is a strong woman, she’ll help monitor that situation, she knows what’s best for him to get him back to this team as soon as possible.”
3. The Rams made an under-the-radar move this week. They agreed to tinker with RB Stephen Jackson’s contract and grant him free agency after this year. He didn’t reach the incentives, but they are making it happen anyway, which should also help them avoid paying him $7 million. Why would they do this for their 29-year-old who has been with them since 2004? Why let their star runner possibly leave and test the market where you might lose him? A few things… One, Jackson has slightly underwhelmed thus far, averaging 3.5 yards per carry. That can always change, though, and no one is debating he can be a dynamic runner. But he fell just short of his incentives, and has never been a free agent before. The team, I’m told, felt it was fair to give him the option of staying or leaving, a call that may be based somewhat on where the team is heading. There isn’t a ton of trade value (given his age and contract), so this seems like the right thing to do to let a guy they respect choose his path. If he leaves, they will move on with a cheaper option. On the other hand, if there is no market for Jackson, he can always come back at a cheaper price. Bottomline? In my mind, this is treating a guy right… in a way that also may benefit both sides. Rare you see that.
4. It might seem counterintuitive, but I got the sense after being in Green Bay on Thursday that the Packers really want to pound it. They have Cedric Benson now, a pure between-the-tackles kinda runner, and he has already run it 64 times with an average of 3.6 yards per carry. Not completely efficient, and considering they have Aaron Rodgers, it would make more sense to wing it. Right? Well… Offensive coordinator Tom Clements told me it’s all by design, adding that there is more than yards that matter. “We kinda talked about it in the offseason, really, we looked at some statistics,” Clements told me. “I don’t recall the exact statistics off-hand, but there was a correlation between the number of attempts and the win/loss record. It wasn’t necessarily the yardage because running the ball does a number of things. It can wear-down the defense, it can slow down the pass-rush, and if you’re running the ball well, it can gain you yards. In the long-run, it’s helpful. We wanted to do that, we wanted to run the ball a little more even before we got Cedric, and it makes it easier to do that because he gets positive yardage most of the time.” I mentioned to Colts OLB Robert Mathis that the Packers seem to be more run-oriented. “I don’t think they’re trying to be power running team,” Mathis told me. “They come and go as Aaron Rodgers goes. We’re not going to believe the hype. He’s going to throw it.”
5. Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray put his foot in his mouth this week, saying that he wants plays to hit in a way where opponents know “if you throw the football you better bring the Gator truck.” In other words, he wants his players to tackle with such force that it causes players to be carted off. The NFL said it was looking into it, and Gray later walked his comments back. On first glance, this seems like an over-sensitivity to anything knock-out related, likely because of the Saints bounty situation. But I like the intense scrutiny of such comments. The game has changed, and you can’t communicate like this anymore. You can’t openly discuss wanting to knock a player out of the game, and maybe this means coordinators won’t address it like this with their team. Good. There’s hard-nosed football, and I love that. And then there is intent to injury, and I don’t love that. It’s a positive step that such talk is frowned upon. It should be. The Titans can play sound defense, anyway, without the rhetoric. Maybe, in some way, it’ll lead to a cleaner and safer game. Maybe if people openly express opinions only in ways that make the game safer, it’ll filter down to players actions.
6. The Jets aren’t the only team with an intriguing QB situation. Keep an eye on the Chiefs deal if Matt Cassel struggles early against the Ravens. Coach Romeo Crennel has already said a change could be made, and that’s the right move. Not that Cassel is the only problem the Chiefs have. Just a big one. One thing about Brady Quinn, the No. 2? He may not necessarily be terrible. Actually, he’s fairly talented. Remember, this is a guy who was a first-round pick in 2007, a guy who did start in Cleveland for a time. Now, he hasn’t had much success, but the raw materials are there. And we haven’t really seen him in any real capacity in two years. Maybe it’s nothing, they use him, he’s bad, and it’s back to Cassel. But maybe not. The Chiefs shouldn’t be beholden to Cassel, and it doesn’t sound like they are. For a variety of reasons, that organization needs to start winning. The trade of Cassel has already been made. He’s already been paid. All of that is water under the bridge. Kansas City needs to find some victories, even if it has to change QBs to do it. Personally, I’m simply curious about how Quinn will do.
7. Speaking of Cleveland… smart move by future Browns owner Jimmy Haslam to put off any personnel decisions until after the season. That’s what the Cleveland Plain-Dealer reported. The Browns clearly are a serious mess, as if you needed me to say that. Bad personnel all over, lack of direction by the franchise, no skill players… a lot is wrong. And, it’s quite possible that coach Pat Shurmur won’t be the guy leading them forward. But what is the advantage of making a move and firing people now? There’s no coach they could get in January that they must have right now. There is no reason to remove Shurmur and cause a big ruckus just to feel like you are doing something. There is plenty of time to look at everything. Plus, snap decisions when you don’t know the franchise well aren’t great, either. The other thing is, and I hate to say this, but under this current regime, there is no doubt the Browns will be awful. That’ll give them a really high draft pick. Why bring in someone who may change that, even by improving by a few picks? No point.
8. It’s always a little comical when two great players are battling one week, and they’ll say things like… it’s not really Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning, it’s the Patriots vs. the Broncos. Technically, that’s true. Realistically? Not true at all. Anyone who knows Brady knows he wants to be the best. And if there is any other quarterback who could also stake such a claim, you know he’s watching. You know he feels that urgency with Manning on the other side, knowing he needs to score. Brady even said this week, “I think when you play a team that has as good an offense as they have, there’s a lot of – you can’t go out there and kick field goals all night.” Right. And that’s what he’ll be telling teammates on the sidelines if they go three-and-out. The two are pals, and Brady and Manning spoke to each other during their various rehabs. They will go down as the two best QBs of their era. This rivalry will link them forever. So, of course Brady will be watching Manning tomorrow, and vice versa. So will a lot of us, by the way. Can’t wait for that game.
9. I had to do an old-fashioned LOL last Monday night after seeing the reaction that Bears QB Jay Cutler had when offensive coordinator Mike Tice tried to sit down and talked. Cutler got up and left. TV cameras caught it nicely. Now, Tice later said his relationship with Cutler is fine, and I’m sure it’s not the end of the world. But there is definitely something comical in all of this. Most QBs, who are watched unlike any athlete in any other sport, just realize that the public is watching and behave a certain way. They smile at questions that drive them crazy, they do everything politely, they act as if they are under the microscope. Not Cutler. He’s going to be the way he is, which you gotta respect in a strange kinda way. He seems to shrug at those judging him, deciding he is who he is. Shoot, at least he’s authentic. For the Bears, though, it creates an issue. He can’t be the face of their franchise. That defense is, Brian Urlacher is, but for how long? The way he’s moving, it doesn’t look like Urlacher has much more. So, if the Bears want to do anything in the community, with commercials, for fans, anything, it likely won’t be with Cutler. How can it be? It’s fine, it’s not a big deal, he’s still a great talent. I legit enjoyed watching him throw during warmups the other night. That’s how good his arm is. But Cutler will continue to be the way he is. And it’s tough to have a franchise leader like that.