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. Last week, we saw the brilliance of rookie QB Andrew Luck, who led a stirring comeback for the Colts against the Packers. It improved his team to 2-2, making me think the Colts are actually on their way to being pretty decent. It also gave way to an eye-popping line of thinking. Is it possible Luck is further along than Peyton Manning was as a rookie? Well… the numbers point to that being the case, and not just because Manning started 0-4. Through four games, Luck is 96 of 177 (54%) for 1,208 yards with seven TDs and five INTs. Manning was 81 of 146 (55%) for 992 yards with three TDs and 11 INTs. Clearly, they are not easing Luck in, because as interim coach Bruce Arians said, “You can ease him in if you don’t want to try to win, if you’re just going to try to protect him and grow him. We want to win. We’ve got some guys on the team that aren’t into rebuilding, and neither am I, I’m too old.” Arians was asked if Luck is further along than Manning, and he was given an opportunity to duck the question. He didn’t.
“Yeah, I can (answer that),” said Arians, who was with Manning from 1998 to 2000, when asked to compare Manning and Luck as rookies. “We never tried a no-huddle against a team like the Packers that year. We just tried to get through. … We did a lot of check with me’s, and gave him two or three options, but not at the line, rolling in a no-huddle situation until the second year (with Manning). … I remember (Manning’s) first game up in New England, it was brutal. Just keep playing. (Luck) hasn’t had one of those yet. (Will he?) I don’t think so. I really don’t. He could, this group that we’re playing could do it to him in New York. We’ve been at home. We only had the one game in Chicago on the road where we did not play as well as we’re capable, so it’s going to be interesting to get back on the road and see how we play.”
2. Texans LB Brian Cushing saw his season end prematurely when a cut-block from Jets G Matt Slauson resulted in a torn ACL. It was brutal, and the hit has been debated for some time. Now, Slauson was later fined $10,000 for it. Cushing took no satisfaction from that fact, saying essentially, it won’t make my leg heal faster. But one question that can’t be ignored for the future. Why are cut blocks even legal? What I asked Cushing was if he’s ever wondered that. “Yeah, I think I have for a while,” Cushing told me. “But I don’t know… I don’t make the rules, I don’t. I play the game of football. Until it’s illegal, I guess it’s part of the game.” I made the comment that it seems there is no more dangerous block than cutting. “Yeah, I know,” Cushing responded. “Staying away from the head area has obviously been a major concern in the NFL, but now going in the complete opposite direction, where you’re going to be out twice as long if not longer than that. So, it’s kind of a lose-lose situation. I can understand cutting from a standpoint of front-on and seeing the person do it, but I don’t know. It’s a gray area because everyone’s going to be arguing ‘Did he see him when he cut him? What exact angle did he take?’ Maybe after this situation, and review of this play, some things can change.”
3. You gotta love 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, using the opportunity given to him by Giants OC Kevin Gilbride to make some bulletin-board style points. After Gilbride said that DE Justin Smith gets away “with murder,” Harbaugh completely ignored the actual meaning of the statement, and got after Gilbride for attacking the officiating. It was classic. I kinda loved it. This is one thing, I think, about hiring a former college coach — he still believes in rallying the troops, motivational togetherness, us-against-them, etc. This is not NFL-style. This is college-style, to demonize the other guy while bringing your team closer amid attacks. Harbaugh can definitely be kind of… off-putting. Some would describe it another way. But I have no doubt his players absolutely love this. Forget political correctness, just call out the other guy’s attempt to alert the officials of some shenanigans, then pretend you are under siege. I’m sure Gilbride was plenty pissed, and I bet coach Tom Coughlin is, too. But everyone doesn’t have to be friends. And Harbaugh’s words did two things: 1. Make the official think twice while watching Smith’s play. 2. Enthusiastically identify the enemy.
4. The Jets head into tomorrow’s game with even more at stake than last week. On Monday night, they were playing the Texans with the world watching, but everyone expected them to get smacked around. When it didn’t happen, it felt like a win to me. Fans didn’t seem as disappointed as one would think, even with a home loss. To me, that felt like a last stand. It was a rallying effort by the embattled Jets to hold up and look strong while everyone was watching. Sure, the offense was awful, but there were some positive signs (Antonio Cromartie played great, for instance). But I’m more interested in this week. The emotions aren’t as strong, they aren’t as backs-against-the-wall. It’s just a game. Darrelle Revis is on IR, so is Santonio Holmes, and hope is pretty much lost for any sort of a decent season. This is when we’ll begin to find out about the character of this team. Is it really a circus? We know Rex Ryan is a great coach (he showed that again last week). But with these personalities, this performance against the Colts will be telling.
5. Bucs CB Aqib Talib was suspended yesterday for taking Adderall, another black mark on his young career. It’s also, by the way, yet another player caught using this drug for ADHD (and often taken in partying situations). Brandon Spikes two years ago, Joe Haden, Will Hill, and now Talib. There have been others. While taking a drug unprescribed is bad, it’s also functionally bad in the NFL. Tracing it back to the death of Vikings OT Korey Stringer, such substances are treated like PEDs. League spokesman Greg Aiello said, “Adderall is a stimulant, specifically an amphetamine. That is why it is banned as a performance enhancing drug.” So, it’s a four-game hit. Perhaps now players will be more aware of the ramifications of what they put in their body… or, so one can hope. On another note, I was impressed with how Talib handled this. He didn’t make excuses, he didn’t claim to have an illness, he didn’t claim anything. He owned up to his mistake, won’t appeal, and apologized. And kudos to Bucs PR for including reaction from coach Greg Schiano in their response. I don’t know if Talib will ever walk the straight line. I do know the team was impressed by him before this, by his attitude, so I would think he’ll get at least one more chance. Anyway, this is what Talib said: “Around the beginning of training camp, I made a mistake by taking an Adderall pill without a prescription. This is especially regrettable because, for the past several months, with Coach Schiano’s help, I’ve worked very hard to improve myself — professionally and personally — as a player and a man. I am truly sorry to my teammates, coaches and Buccaneers fans, and I’m disappointed in myself. I will work diligently every day of this suspension to stay in top football shape and be ready to help this team in the second half of the season.”
6. You gotta hand it to Michael Vick, the Eagles QB and imitator of one of the best football movies ever. Just like Darnell Jefferson in the movie, The Program, Vick is carrying a football with him wherever he goes. It’s humiliating, it’s like he’s in high school, and he doesn’t care. He wants to cure his fumble-itis. That’s awesome. You can say what you want about Vick, and he hears plenty. But I don’t think he cares about anything else besides winning. Not his public persona, not the fact that people will laugh at him for carrying a ball around, not that this is sort of beneath him. The team wants to win, they need him to hold onto the football, and so Vick does it. Don’t think teammates don’t notice his commitment. Don’t think Vick isn’t all-in on coach Andy Reid. There have been so many questions about Vick, specially about his inability to adapt his play — t0 be safer, to slide properly. But this is great to see. I expect a bounce-back performance.
7. The Packers offense comes into tonight’s game against the Texans reeling. Greg Jennings is injured, so is TE Jermichael Finley, and they have had blocking issues. Oh, and QB Aaron Rodgers has not been his usual accurate, efficient self. In all, the offense is ranked 21st. Yikes. To understand what was going on, I had an interesting talk with a members of the Texans defense. He brought up three interesting points to explain what’s going on with the Packers. 1. When Rodgers’ first read is covered, he gets “frantic,” I was told. He moves around, he becomes a little flustered, and he doesn’t see things well. That happened in the second half of the Colts game. 2. DC Wade Phillips showed his defenders a chart that had Rodgers getting hit more than any other QB in the league when the play breaks down. There are sacks to be had, especially when he’s off-rhtyhm and holding the ball. They hope to make that happen. 3. The Packers are a big play offense, and not a move-the-chains offense. When you eliminate their big plays and make them drive the field, they are vulnerable. On the other hand, this defender said he was impressed with them scheme-wise because they run every play out of multiple personnel groupings, which means you can’t guess while defending them.
8. For several blog posts this week, I’ve mentioned my conversation with Drew Brees on Friday. So, why not one more? Actually, Brees was great, so I can’t help it. One final thing from Brees? I wondered, given the team’s 0-4 start, how much of that was the fault of his contract negotiations. As in, had Brees not sat out all of the offseason programs, would they be further along? He admitted he’s considered it. “I’ve thought about that,” Brees told me. “I’ve thought about a lot of things over the last six weeks. But, I can’t make any excuses. There’s no excuses to be made. I feel like we have a great team, I feel like we have great character, great leadership, I feel like we have all the pieces in place. Yet there’s just some times where it doesn’t work out the way that you anticipated and like I said, when those times hit, you just have to find those that are close to you and pull them in tighter and draw on the positive and find a way to pull yourself out and understand that if we keep plugging away, doing things the right way, things will work out. And hey, let’s not even worry about wins and losses. Just worry about playing well. And execution. And let’s not even look at the scoreboard. Let’s look at each play one at a time, being the best we can right here, right now, this moment. And you do that, you just find that things are going to come together.”
9. Lions star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was involved in an alleged road rage incident last week, which has now been in the news. Another incident with a guy who was set to be one of the NFL’s big stars. I don’t really have any profound to say, except that I hope whatever is wrong gets fixed. I don’t know Suh very well, but how many incidents does it take to realize something is not right? On-field, off-the-field, in the car, if all these situations are true, something is badly wrong. If Suh has a problem with his anger, it’s tough to actually blame him. If he needs help, he needs help. It is essentially an illness. But perhaps this latest incident will be the trigger. Because at some point, it will all catch up with him. On-the-field stuff is important. His play is important. But not that important. Life is more important. Protecting society is more important. It’s time for someone in the organization to sit Suh down and ask the obvious question: What is wrong? Even Suh can’t be in denial now. I wouldn’t even say punishment is the answer. It’s about changing behavior before something goes much wronger.