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. It would be difficult to argue that anyone is better at remaining calm and engineering comebacks than the Giants and Eli Manning. It was the case again last week against the Redskins, it was the case against the Bucs and… oh yeah, the Super Bowl last year. No one handles adversity better, which was a topic this week as the Cowboys prepared for them. Dallas CB Brandon Carr wasn’t lying when he said, “It’s going to be another 60 minute battle.” But what the G-Men want is to be able to perform before it gets all crazy. To not need a 10-point deficit or a string of injuries to be able to respond. They are searching for overall consistency and fight like their backs are against the walls — before their backs are actually against the walls.
“We’re letting anything bad happen get us inspired, but we need to be inspired already,” Giants CB Corey Webster told me. “We don’t want to wait for some tragedy — going out there and getting embarrassed on national TV or getting embarrassed in the game. We should go out there and play Giants football the way we know how to play it every week. That’s what we’re in the process of right now, trying to consistently put good games on film. Work out there, dictate what we do instead of worrying about the opponent do. If we can control what we can, that’s going to help us get better.”
2. Patriots coach Bill Belichick is with his team in London, and while some players (like Brandon Spikes) are having a ball, Belichick has been business-like. He’s offered little to the press there, if you don’t count jokes about the traffic. But when he gets going, Belichick can really do some schoolin’. That happened earlier in the week when he was discussing beating the Jets and that late fumble caused by DE Rob Ninkovich on QB Mark Sanchez. Belichick’s point was that most QBs don’t secure the ball like you need to, and that his team makes a point of attacking that. He seems to view all footballs held by QBs as being up for grabs. Allow him to explain.
“It’s not just sacking the quarterback, but as you go to tackle him that you have an awareness of where the ball is,” Belichick said. “As you go to make the tackle, if you can, hit the ball or put pressure on the ball. As a quarterback, when you grip the ball, you don’t really have it secured like a running back does, when he covers the nose of the ball and has three points of contact between his rib cage, his elbow and the nose of the ball. It’s much harder to dislodge the ball when it’s there than when it’s in the quarterback’s grip. It’s just an instinctive play that we coach and we talk about, but every play like that is different. It’s really the player’s awareness – in this case Rob’s awareness – that made it a game-changing play. Not only did he finish the tackle; he had that awareness of the ball being down to his left side and was able to knock it out and once he knew the ball was out then he instinctively rolled over Mark and just came up and recovered it. It’s a heads up play by Rob that we’ve worked hard on it.I think Sanchez really wasn’t able to avoid that hit and just didn’t have quite enough time to get the ball tucked way before Rob it him. It was a good play by both players.”
3. Of course, when I want some Tim Tebow analysis, I go right to Johnny Van Zant, the lead singer of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Or something. Anyway, Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi quotes Van Zant as being clueless as to why the Jaguars didn’t trade for Tebow. “They would have filled the stadium with chicks alone,” Van Zant told Bianchi, laughing. OK, that’s a good line. And leave it to Bianchi to get it. Anyway, it’s a funny thought, but the trade deadline is coming up. Tebow has been a bust with the Jets, I think that’s safe to say. Through not really much fault of his own, he’s collected just 108 yards of total offense thus far… and a few nice fake punts. Not what you’re looking for, considering you traded for him and are paying him like a first-rounder. Which raises another question: Will Tebow still be on the Jets after the trading deadline? I don’t have a definitive answer (who could?) but it’s safe to say his value couldn’t be lower. Would he be available to the Jags (as a quarterback/running back/personal protector)? Could the Jets cut their losses, recoup a draft pick and end the circus? Could the Jags use Tebow to sell some tickets, create some excitement, and buy low? I have a lot of questions that’ll be answered Tuesday at 3 p.m. Central when the deadline happens. My guess is Tebow stays, rather than heading out of town. It would take GM Mike Tannenbaum admitting his mistake in record time to happen, which I’d be surprised about. My other guess is that the Jets put out word they aren’t trading him, as I hear they are fearful this storyline takes over the next few days.
4. The Bucs pulled off a gritty road win in a wild atmosphere in Minnesota on Thursday, which I covered right here. Moving forward, with a young team and a big-play offense, there is a lot to like in Tampa Bay. The spotlight has shined on coach Greg Schiano for many reasons this year, with the Victory Formation being a big one. But internally when he arrived, Schiano raised a lot of issues. He ran a much tighter pirate ship than Raheem Morris, and that rankled some folks. There was a worry from the inside that if things didn’t go well, the tide would turn against Schiano. Yet even before the win over the Vikes, I’m told the opposite has happened. With the coaching staff, they have been impressed with Schiano’s work ethic. His assistant coaches have been impressed with how much time he spends, how dedicated he is, and how the players have listened. Players, it appears, have bought in. That’s good news. But it’s just as good news to hear how the coaching staff has bought in. It took him forever to hire one, there weren’t a ton of people rushing to work for Schiano, but apparently those who do, like it.
5. I’ve spent a lot of time in this space discussing Panthers QB Cam Newton, with this being the latest offering on his body language. I am baffled by the non-stop obsession with his post-game behavior… and apparently I’m not alone. Of course, there are varying opinions. Speaking on Showtime, ex-NFL TE Jeremy Shockey said when he first played with Eli Manning with the G-Men, Manning didn’t have the leadership qualities necessary. But “he grew into (what) he has now,” Shockey said. Shockey said you don’t want to lose your fans by being pouty, you don’t want to lose teammates. He noted that the quarterback has a “perception” to hold up. I understand all of that. But former NFL QB Phil Simms really hits his stride with his points following Shockey’s. “I watch him on the field, the Cowboy game,” Simms said on the show. “Now we’re reading his body language which bothers me. Didn’t we go through this a couple of years ago? ‘Oh, I don’t like Jay Cutler’s body language on the sideline.’ Hey, I care about the guy on the field first. And on that field when I watch Cam Newton play, even that Cowboy game, I go, ‘Wow. Oh that was a good play. Look at that run, broke that tackle.’ He had really one bad play in the game. That’s what I’m looking at. They’re not getting it done on the field because he doesn’t have enough good players around him.”
6. Players often take their cue from a coach, and the Cowboys hope that is the case with the loss of LB Sean Lee. No doubt, it’s a massive result. It’s huge. Lee was their best defensive player. But they also must go on. Besides, this won’t be the first time they’ve played without a big-time player this season. Remember, Jay Ratliff missed several games, so did Anthony Spencer, so have others. When I talked to Jason Garrett about this issue after his press conference on Friday, he brought up some valid points. “With injury comes opportunity,” Garrett told me. At least they’ve had the week to get ready for life without Lee. Everyone fights these issues during a season. It’s how you respond. “We’ve played without this guy, we’ve played without that guy,” Garrett told me. “But that’s not specific to us. Go around the league. Every team has some kind of injury they’re going to have to deal with over the course of the season. If you get caught up in ‘Woe is me, Oh, we can’t win because that guy…’ that’s not helping. It’s going to happen. Make sure your roster is structured in a way where you can absorb some of these injuries, you have to have quality backup players that can step in, or you have a path you can take. ‘He’s not in, we have to play the game more like this.’ And you keep going down the road.”
7. How can you not love Seahawks CB Richard Sherman? Dude changed his Twitter name to Optimus Prime in anticipation for his much-anticipated rumble with Megatron this week when they play the Lions. He trash-talked Tom Brady on Twitter after his team took down the Patriots. Oh, and according to ProFootballFocus.com, he’s one of the league’s highest-performing CBs. That’s how you do it. That’s how you make a name for yourself. You talk trash, play your butt off, talk more trash, then shut another guy down. Sherman puts up, then doesn’t have to shut up. Obviously big test this week, and one wonders if he woke a sleeping giant in Lions WR Calvin Johnson. But CBs have to have a certain mentality, able to exist on an island and have the confidence to not worry about getting beat. Well, Sherman has the confidence. And he’s really learned the one way to draw people’s attention to Seattle: Shout. That’s what he’s done, essentially shouting to the NFL that we should pay attention to him. And so, we will. I have no doubt that Sherman is pissing some people off with his brash ways. Who cares? Talk all the trash you want if you’re gonna bring it. Plus, he’s a West Coast guy who got up early to be on NFL AM. So, you gotta love that.
8. I know I mentioned the Jaguars earlier, and I hate to duplicate. But that was more a Tebow-related item… and there is so much going on in Jacksonville. At 1-5, one of the NFL’s worst teams, they just suffered a long-range injury to their best player, RB Maurice Jones-Drew. That stings. So does the left shoulder tear for QB Blaine Gabbert. No doubt, so many inside the Jaguars headquarters are fearful of what may come at the end of this season. The whole place has a weird feel to it, and GM Marty Hurney being fired by the Panthers has put them on high-alert. How they finish up will make that team much-watch. But still… there are other issues. Jones-Drew faces the prospect of returning from his foot injury to a team whose season is far lost. And he has contract concerns. Had he remained healthy, it’s likely the team would have spent this season re-doing his deal. It still could happen, but the time table is pushed back a bit. For Jones-Drew, though, the injury gives him one reason to say, “This is why I held out.” There is no security as a RB. On the other hand, the team can also say, “This is why we are nervous about paying a RB again.” His injury will make the negotiations a bit harder. It’s the same thing — they can lose games with or without him, how badly do they need to pay him? I bet a new deal’ll get done, but this season? I’m not sure. Of course, he could also come back with a chip on his shoulder and continue his torrid 2012. He’s a pro, so that’s my guess, that he comes back with a flurry. But will that lead to a new contract? Or, given the direction of the team, will he even want to stay? This could go in so many directions. But one wonders if the Jags wouldn’t benefit most from cleaning house completely, anyway. Let the new owner start to do things his way.
9. The Raiders have had the same stereotype in the NFL for years. Dirty, ugly, oft-penalized… and did I mention dirty? If there is one thing you can count on for them, it’s that. So, we don’t blame Chiefs pass-rusher Tamba Hali for assuming the Raiders were same ol’, same ol’ when he referred to them this way. So many do. As Raiders FB Marcel Reese said, “You’ll keep hearing that forever.” But if the Raiders are going to change their perception — which they are trying like crazy to do — they are on their way. Instead of leading the league in penalties like last year, they are behaving much better this year. The change will come slowly. Just because of the Raiders mystique, a certain number of people will still think things haven’t changed. But they have and they are. Playing clean football, as they are doing, will help. As the Raiders hope to find, being fair and clean and winning aren’t mutually exclusive. At some point, maybe guys like Hali will realize.