As we do every week, let’s take a swing around the NFL, looking at a bunch of random things…
1. I spent some time in Chicago earlier in the week at the NFL’s annual Fall Meeting, and many of the topics addressed here are from the meeting. There were a bunch of issues discussed, but nothing more important happened than the introduction of Browns owner Jimmy Haslam III. I know it won’t exactly affect the team’s performance on the field today — or, likely won’t — but it is noteworthy. After years of having an owner in Randy Lerner who was never around, Haslam will be the opposite. He’s moving to Cleveland. He’ll be present, his family will be present… which is why he doesn’t need a guy like Mike Holmgren to be what he called “de facto owner” anymore. The biggest thing I took from Haslam was his enthusiasm. The guy loves football, which is what the owners and executives who have met him all say. He was a big Tennessee football booster, so is the rest of his family, and that had been where he spent his energy. I think all of that experience helped show Haslam what winning (not that UT does it now, but it used to) brings to a community. That gives him perspective for Cleveland. Actually, he’s the second recent owner from a college background, joining Shahid Khan (an Illinois booster) in Jacksonville. They get it. Things haven’t been easy for the Browns, but so much starts from the top in football. This is like a ray of sunshine. Anyway, Haslam explained how he’ll lead his new franchise, his style.
“We’re going to be involved, but I think involved in the proper way,” Haslam said Tuesday. “I’ve said this publicly, I had five people that reported to me at Pilot Flying J. They’re all smarter than I am and they’re all better at their role than I am. We let them do their jobs, but on the other hand, we question them, we push them, we challenge them, we hold them accountable. I think we’ll use that same managerial style at Pilot Flying J. Several people, including one very prominent owner this morning said, just use the basic instincts you’ve had that have been successful in helping build your business and do the same when you’re running an NFL franchise. That feels right to us. Let me say this, we will make mistakes. We’re going to make some mistakes, we’re going to make some bad decisions, hopefully they’re not fatal and hopefully we can correct them quickly.”
2. The Texans have one of football’s characters in RB Arian Foster, who had been one of the NFL’s leaders in rushing. Then last week against the Packers, while the entire team struggled; he did, too. Foster averaged 1.7 yards per rush, never hitting his stride. Houston fell behind, couldn’t control the clock, and never overcame a mounting deficit. For Foster, that meant the questions came. Did the Texans have issues running the ball? What must improve against the Ravens? Not that he was worried about it. In explaining to me why he wasn’t freaking out over a tough day sledding, Foster offered his view on the NFL and on its coverage. I’d say it was not the most flattering thing ever… but his thought process is always worth noting. “In this league, man, you only get to play once a week,” Foster told me. “So, however you play that week, that gets talked about for a week. It just builds a whole bunch of drama that’s not even there. So, one week, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, they could’t get it together. Then, they come in here and he’s back! He never went anywhere. It’s just part of the game. Sometimes you play well, sometimes you don’t. It’s just a big soap opera, this league is.” I wondered, is that good? “Drama sells, so it’s very good,” he said. “I laugh. It’s funny. I just understand it.”
3. The Ravens will have to play today without Ray Lewis, a big blow to their emotional state as well as on the field. Actually, on-field you could argue it won’t be an awful loss, but in the locker room it will be. The focus will be on their run defense, which has been awful recently. Who would’ve thunk a Ravens team would be 26th in rushing defense? Like, ever? But they are. That’s been a focus in practice. As LB Dannell Ellerbe told me, “I feel like we’re going to get back (to being dominant against the run). It’s just a matter of time before everybody quickens and everybody gets to the ball and take the ballcarrier down when it’s time to make plays. It’ll be great to get back to that this week. Any given Sunday we can just click and play great. I mean, we played great run defense a couple games this year, but we want to have it an every game thing.” What stunned me this week was the brutally honest words of defensive coordinator Dean Pees. Either he’s fed up with the performance or he’s feeling the heat. Check out his words: “I’m happy as I can be to be 5-1, but I also feel fortunate to be 5-1 the way we are playing on defense – let’s be honest with it. We aren’t playing well enough, and to say it any other way would sound like political debate. We have to do it. Cut the crap. Let’s get this thing done.“
4. I talked earlier in the week about the Raiders’ stadium situation, with owner Mark Davis telling me there are no plans to share the 49ers new Santa Clara site with them. There is some good info in this story. Davis said his goal is to have a stadium in Oakland on the current site. What I wondered was, was remodeling the O.co Stadium a consideration? Couldn’t they spruce it up and be done with it? Davis explained why that could never happen. “The Oakland Coliseum, back in the 60s, all around the country, they built the multi-purpose stadiums — baseball, football,” Davis told me. “But they are round. So, the sitelines for football are absolutely terrible. And our first deck that’s on about the 50-yard line is about where home plate would be in baseball. It goes all the way down. The fans in about the first 10 rows can’t see over the players. So they have to stand up to see the games. Well, once they stand up, everybody behind them has to stand up. So, the site lines aren’t particularly good. In the 60s when they were building those stadiums, it was fantastic. Because these cities were able to attract baseball, football, and all of that and have all those things, concerts and everything else. … Then they started building the smaller baseball stadiums, the throwback stadiums. That started taking the baseball teams out of those. Like Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, so they started to get their football stadium. San Francisco is close, St. Louis. So, they all started moving away from that thing, but it all started in the 60s. Cities were proud to have them…. at the time. The time moves on.” In other words, they need a new stadium.
5. The Saints head into Sunday’s game against the Bucs needing a win. They are 1-4, with slim playoff hopes slipping away. They will have LB Jonathan Vilma back, though he’ll only be on the field for a small portion of plays. I’m told his knee still isn’t right, but trying to tell him he can’t go has proven impossible. It’s like the Ravens and Terrell Suggs. Just try keeping him off the field. Vilma has been hell-bent on playing, and so play, he will. There is also the emotional aspect, which can’t be overlooked. It may only be for a game, as the appeals process looms, but it’s something. Now, the other thing is original interim coach Joe Vitt comes back to run the team after this game. How did interim to the interim Aaron Kromer do? I’m told they were pleased. No, not with the results. But with how he ran things. The problem isn’t that Kromer did anything wrong through five games. It’s that the team had to function short-handed on their coaching staff. They lost Sean Payton, and that’s their offensive guru. They lost Vitt, so that’s their LBs coach. While Kromer was fine running the day-to-day things, the team believes the biggest issues were when things went wrong. At halftime, for instance. Putting together a game plan isn’t the hard part about coaching. It’s about executing it when things you’re looking at change. That, as you’d imagine, has not been seamless. As I’ve been saying, I think we may all respect coaching a little more after this mess concludes.
6. The Jets are 3-3 heading into today’s showdown with the Patriots, with a chance to take the lead in the AFC East. Wait, what? Yes. Amazing, but true. In my view, the Jets are not a good team. A tough team, yes. A team with some character, yes. Given how they’ve fought against the Texans and against the Colts, even with their injuries to Darrelle Revis and Santonio Holmes, they have toughed it out. That’s commendable. But as far as talent, especially with the injuries, I think they are far behind the elite teams in the league. That’s where these lines from Jets QB Mark Sanchez come in. He was talking to New England reporters on a conference call, and the question was, does Sanchez feels like the Jets “put you in a position to succeed or is there more that could be done personnel-wise?” And instead of sticking up for GM Mike Tannenbaum or the team’s scouts, Sanchez dodged. An artful dodge. That, to me, is telling about what he thinks of the talent. Listen for yourself: “I mean, personnel stuff, that’s not my position to say,” Sanchez said. “I think that’s their opinion to put the best team they possibly can together and then it’s my job to get the best out of those guys. That’s where I come in and try and do that, but that’s all for speculators and people on the outside to debate about.“
7. Ever wondered what it takes to be an NFL owner? OK, there’s money — that’s essential. But you actually have to be approved and welcomed in, which is what happened to Haslam on Tuesday. What else are they looking for? What traits do you need to possess to be able to walk into that room and have them erupt in cheers? Falcons owner Arthur Blank told to me. “I think you have to have the financial capacity, obviously, and that’s an important ingredient because you want to have an owner that wants to make the long-term decisions, not just as an industry sometimes the quarter-to-quarter decisions, but the long-term decisions,” Blank said. “I think Jimmy and his family clearly have that ability. And then you want to have an owner that will not only think about their franchise, but think about the brand, the shield, the National Football League. I think you have those two criteria in this gentlemen, so we’re fortunate to have him in as an owner and a partner.”
8. The strangest situation this week belonged to Lions DT Ndamukong Suh. Or, rather, his family. And actually, this is Suh’s second straight appearance in this space, which probably isn’t a good sign. He got into a traffic accident last week and was accused of fleeing the scene. Then came a 911 call release that claimed the opposite. No charges were filed. None of that was particularly alarming, assuming Suh did the right thing in the end. What was disturbing was a tweet by his sister that said “Thank u Jesus! Only 2.5 more years! #Freedom.” Now, everyone came out and said that had nothing to do with her brother. Riiiiiiiiight. What else could be happening in 2.5 years besides his contract running out? Is there some really good concert she’s going to? Justin Bieber, perhaps? No. This is all really troubling for the Lions. A high-draft pick, a guy who you thought would be the face of your franchise, a troublesome off-the-field character, and a (honestly) average player… it looks like Suh may get his wish in 2.5 years to exit. He doesn’t seem to be thrilled being there. There is time to turn it around, and his play could certainly pick up. But he’s struggled against the run, has been pretty good rushing the passer, and is not a complete player yet. Amazing we’ve even gotten to this point. In two years or earlier, the Lions will have to face a decision. Sign Suh to a long-term deal or decide his extra stuff (all these things they constantly deal with) are worth it. My guess? The Suh family will gets its wish.
9. Strange story that no one is really talking about it… Steelers former team doctor, Richard Rydze, has been indicted for all sorts of steroid-related charges. The charges are intense, including getting people 6-feet tall diagnosed with dwarfism to get illicit prescriptions to combat the effects of ‘roids. Read the AP story right here. It should be noted, no Steelers have been charged with anything, no players have been mentioned, and the Steelers put out a statement saying the doctor has assured them they are not involved. I hope that is true. My only comment is that this should not be shrugged off. If a player or players were involved, my guess is that it will come out. With the Feds bearing down, it’s entirely within the realm of possibility that this doctor decides to get chatty. I hope there is nothing more to this, and that I’ve wasted words and time typing this. But with a case of this seriousness, it bears watching.