Kit Talks (At Length) About Football
Your Man Kit’s HOF Ballot All-Stars. Part The First: Skill Positions

I love the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I love history, and historical perspective is something that is lacking in the lives of so many people, so what is there not to love about an institution devoted to the maintaining of historical perspective? Well, ask the sclerotic, ancient, humorless gatekeepers of the baseball hall of fame, who have conspired to not vote ANYONE in for two of the previous five years.  Or the basketball hall of fame, if you can find it, so shrouded in secrecy are their annual events. The PFHOF seems shockingly alone among sport halls of fame in understanding its mission, and publicizing its mission. They don’t always get it right, but the fact that they even try is encouraging, as is the fact that every year a minimum of four players are inducted into Canton. History disappears without devoted historians.

The PFHOF is also remarkably transparent about its process.The initial list of nominees, which this year stands at 99 players and 14 coaches, is whittled down to 25, then 15, then 10, then a final group of five. It’s a process that only I pay attention to, I guess, but it’s always a fun parallel to the attrition of the regular season, which reduces 32 teams to 12 playoff teams to one champion. The first cut to 25 players won’t be made until November, but I took a shot at it, and to ensure a balanced ballot, I decided to make a team of nominees. The best available players at all positions. With a 3-4 base and accurate O-line positions, even. Your man Kit is going all out.

Quarterback- Kurt Warner. http://blacksportsonline.com/home/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Kurt.jpgThe only legitimate choice for quarterback on the ballot this go-round, Warner also receives points for his story making such good copy for sportswriters for so long. Everyone loves the grocery store to MVP story, and Warner’s late career resurgence with the Cardinals was a micro version of that same rags-to-riches rise. What are the Cardinals if not the grocery stockboy of the NFL?  Warner took them to the Super Bowl, their first NFL title game since they played in Chicago. The problem for Warner’s candidacy, one that I’ve yet to hear a voter bring up, is the middle of his career. From 2002 to 2006, Warner was bad. Bad, bad, bad. That span encompasses half his career, and features him being run out of two towns. He was replaced by Marc Bulger in St. Louis after starting 2002 0-6, with eight fumbles and eleven picks. He spent one year in New York as the regent, keeping the seat lukewarm for rookie Eli Manning. Even when he initially went to Arizona, he was splitting starts with rookie Matt Leinart and Josh McCown (yep, that Josh McCown.) From 2002 to 2006, Warner was 8-23 in games he started, with 27 touchdowns against 30 picks and a troubling 45 fumbles. The beginning and end of Kurt Warner’s career are storybook, and he will probably be enshrined on the strength of those six seasons, but the middle is pure John Cheever middle-class despair, and that despair should be fairly reckoned with before we put Kurt in Canton.

Running Back-Roger Craig.
Dual threat running back is no longer an impressive term. At this point it’d be more noteworthy if your featured back could not be counted on to catch 50-60 catches per season. But, just as at one time power windows were mentioned as the centerpiece of car commercials, Roger Craig once stood as something unique in football, chimeric and fearsome. He was a key weapon on three title teams, he was a protoype for a role that redefined his position, he was part of the league’s all 1980s team, he should be a Hall of Famer. It’s odd to me that we are still having this conversation in 2014.

Running Back- Jerome Bettis.
Running back is a very crowded category at the moment, and that’s why this exercise is so helpful. I could count five running backs I would put in the hall today and three more that I would be willing to have a long discussion about, and one that does not belong but for sentimental reasons I would entertain. Creating a team prioritizes the field in my mind, and ensures that my hypothetical ballot is not just a long parade of running backs. Jerome Bettis performed at a consistently high level, and at his peak, you knew exactly what Pittsburgh was going to do with him and you were still basically powerless in the face of things.  

Wide Reciever- Marvin Harrison.
The recent Ray Rice/Adrian Peterson punishments raise a set of questions that, thankfully, no one has pontificated on in public because of its inappropriateness. But, having already proven my social justice bonafides here and elsewhere, it’s up to me to ask: what happens to their Hall of Fame chances? And what happens to Marvin Harrison’s? People have forgotten, but Marvin Harrison is a terrifying person who was sued by a drug dealer who said that Harrison shot him. The subsequent court case determined that it was Harrison’s gun, but no one could definitively say Harrison shot him. Then that drug dealer turned up dead in his car, shot multiple times. The implication was that Harrison was some kind of character from The Wire, running his neighborhood in Philly through fear. All of this came to surface shortly after his retirement, and things on this front have been silent since. Of course, nothing’s been proven either way, and due process is NOT an excuse or a buzzword; it’s an actual thing that people have the right to. But is this a discussion that the NFL wants? That anyone wants? And what happens early next decade when Adrian Peterson makes his way to the ballot for the first time? What should happen? I don’t know. I’m not saying anything, either way, and I want you to tell Marvin that I ain’t said shit about him, understand me?

Wide Reciever-Torry Holt. http://thepigskinarch.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Holt_032812_008-nfl_mezz_1280_1024.jpeg
When the Rams drafted Holt, they passed on Champ Bailey, Chris McCalister, Jevon Kearse, and Joey Porter. Skipping over those players to reinforce a position that the Rams were already strong and deep in is usually the sort of thing that snickering smarmy talking heads get to have fun with in a draft blunder retrospective, but joining Holt with Isaac Bruce, Az-Zahir Hakim, and Ricky Proehl was the final piece in the creation of the Greatest Show On Turf. The story of offense in the NFL is the slow, LSD-tinged revelation that, like, anything is possible, man, and as one of the key members of one of the key teams in the spirit journey of the NFL, Holt jumps on this list above some great players with great numbers. Tim Brown deserves induction, but he can’t be attatched to a greater story of progress and innovation the way Holt can. And for the statheaded skeptics, Holt has the numbers too. Seven pro bowls, two 1600 yard seasons (something only done by Holt, Megatron, and Marvin, uh, nevermind I ain’t said shit), 2000s All-decade team. Holt is a great and historic figure, which is distinct from and lesser than historically great, but a step above just great.

Tight End-Mark Bavaro. http://a.espncdn.com/photo/2010/0421/bos_g_bavaro1x_400.jpg
Bavaro is this team’s tight end by acclimation; he’s the only one on the ballot. When looking at Bavaro’s career, it’s hard to sort through the tall tales of what a tough guy he was and look at his true value to his team. There’s stories of him playing a game with a broken jaw. There’s an NFL Films go-to clip of him dragging the entire 49ers defense for 20 yards in the 1986 NFC title game. Bavaro was tough, and his first four seasons speak for themselves; he averaged 53 catches in his first four seasons and was twice an All-Pro. The next six seasons, he averaged 23 catches, missing the entire 1991 season to injury, and only sporadically was a contributor, bouncing from the Giants to the Browns and Eagles. From 1989 to 1994, Bavaro caught five or more passes exactly five times; in 1986, his finest year and a title year for his Giants, he caught five or more catches in nine different games. Waiting for a broken down tough guy to return to form is a tough form of self-delusion to sit through. “Wait ‘til he’s healthy” becomes “you should’ve seen him when he was healthy” with a disarming alacrity. Ten years from now, Bavaro still won’t be in the hall of fame, and tall tales with a familiar ring will start to surface about Rob Gronkowski, and the Boston Sports Scene will have completed its apparent mission of becoming everything it hated about New York.

Assessing The Slow Starters

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/f/f5/Supertramp_-_Crisis.jpg

The first two weeks of the season sometimes allow unfair impressions to be formed. And a slow start means so much more in organized sports’ most truncated season. But an 0-2 start doesn’t necessarily mean the end of days. It may be, in real terms, one eighth of the season, but it’s a lot easier to turn around from 0-2, than, say, 0-16 in baseball, or an eight game skid in the NBA. We’re going to look at the six teams currently 0-2 and asses their prospects going forward. (And for any fans of the 0-3 Tampa Bay Bucs, here’s your half a bar: you’re fucked.)

All odds calculations come courtesy of Football Outsiders and their invaluable playoff odds page.

Indianapolis Colts- The Colts seem to me to be in the most advantageous position of any of their 0-2 brothers. They had a chance to win both their games in the fourth quarter. Both of their opponents were 2013 playoff teams, and one was the defending AFC Champion. The schedule gets much easier from here on out, and the AFC South is arguably the weakest division in the league. That’s not to say this is a team without weaknesses. Trent Richardson plays like he’s having an allergic reaction to his pads, the defense cannot generate any pass rush, and when Andrew Luck’s the only thing to take seriously, it’s going to be a lot harder for him to do work. It may have been a mistake to spot the insurgent Houston Texans two games, but as I wrote in my preview, this Colts team is a Disney movie brought to life. What would a sports movie be without a set of odds to overcome?   
Odds of making the playoffs: 17.3%
Odds of having a top 3 draft pick: 16.7%

Jacksonville Jaguars- Excluding the first half of the Eagles game, the Jaguars have been outscored 75-10. They have 35 carries for 89 rushing yards; that total ranks 31st among individual players. This voltron-esque Jaguar Runner would be ten yards behind dirt-worst Trent Richardson, and thirteen yards behind receiver Cordarelle Patterson, who has had three carries for the year. Chad Henne is not much more than a placeholder, like an IMDB page labeled “Untitled Blake Bortles Project”, but even a placeholder is expected to complete more than 54% of his passes. Jacksonville came in to this season actively trying to lower expectations, and still have not met them.
Odds of making the playoffs: 6.7%
Odds of having a top 3 draft pick: 32.9%

Kansas City Chiefs- I don’t think anyone expected the Chiefs to be the last undefeated team again, but still, these results have to give someone concern. Their loss against the Titans was unforeseen and uninspiring, and Derrick Johnson was lost for the season in the course of it. Their loss against the Broncos flatters to deceive; it was close at the end, due to a rather sloppy second half, but Kansas City had every opportunity on that final drive and failed to capitalize. Alex Smith is justifying the frontloaded nature of his three year extension, but not any of the specific figures. Jamaal Charles is beat up which leaves about 70% of last year’s offensive production in need of redistribution. Ostensible number one receiver Dwanye Bowe has three catches. This is an offense in disarray, and a defense held together by string, in a division where two playoff caliber teams hold all the cards.
Odds of making the playoffs: 2.8%
Odds of a top three draft pick: 41.0%

Oakland Raiders- What can be said about the Oakland Raiders that has not already been said about Afghanistan? Autocratic rule has ostensibly been removed, but its trappings remain everywhere. Collisions of old and new systems abound, making no sense either to a static camera eye or to those who live through it. The best you can hope for is that the young men sent there make it out with an undamaged psyche, but you’re certain that won’t be true for the vast majority of them. It’s a hopeless situation with no solution, the product of decades of outdated concepts piling on top of one another. It’s bombed out, depleted, and it’s better for your day-to-day mental health to just put it out of your mind. 
Odds of making the playoffs: 1.6%
Odds of a top three draft pick: 49.3%

New York Giants- Hard as it is to say a team should move on from the coach-quarterback combination that won two Super Bowls, that is exactly what should happen in New York. Tom Coughlin is past it, looks exhausted, and is out of motivational tricks. Eli Manning has taken to his new offense the way a duck takes to a nice hollandaise sauce. The defensive veterans that haven’t left are the defensive veterans that no one wanted. Victor Cruz made some egregious third down drops the week after complaining he wasn’t targeted enough. Coughling has earned the courtesy of being forced to quietly retire in the offseason; his aging, outmatched and mismatched roster won’t get the same courtesy. Players never do. A whirlwind of change is coming in NYC next year.
Odds of making the playoffs: 3.8%
Odds of a top three draft pick: 32.9%

New Orleans Saints- Despite their 0-2 start, there seems to be no larger sense of panic around the New Orleans Saints. Both of their games were narrow losses, though one of them was against the Browns, and therefore ought to count double in the standings. The secondary is in shambles at the moment; Patrick Robinson is getting cooked on 500 degrees like he’s in R. Kelly’s kitchen. The other game was an overtime game that turned on a fumble, and fumbles are the least predictable element in a pretty damn unpredictable game. So when statistical models like the one FO uses look at the Saints, they see a team that could have easily won either or both games but for a bad bounce, and they shrug. The human perspective is similarly optimistic; the Saints are favored by 11 points against the Vikings by Vegas. There’s a margin of error within an individual game, and until the Saints lose in a way that can’t be accounted for by pure chance, they’ll continue to get the benefit of the doubt, from the bookmakers, the stat geeks, and the public at large.
Odds of making the playoffs: 32.0%
Odds of a top three draft pick: 4.9%

Quick Hit: Cincinnatti

Hue Jackson is the new offensive coordinator in Cincy this year, and he talked a lotta talk about improving the running game and creating a balanced attack. This sounded good as talk, as nearly all coachspeak, but in practice it’s been a little odd. Hue seems under the strange misconception that he is coaching Cameron Newton instead of Andy Dalton.

Third and two around midfield, Hue calls a read option. A READ OPTION. Dalton keeps it and runs behind his running back for a gain of about seven feet and Cincy has to punt. Third and goal from the two, Dalton runs the world’s slowest quarterback draw and does not score. It’s hard to even link calls this ridiculous to any sort of underlying philosophy, but I suppose Hue wanted the Ravens to respect the run. But to do that, it might help to call a run that is worth respecting. Dalton may be young, but he is not one of the new breed of quarterbacks we hear about. He does not have anywhere near the scrambling ability of RG3, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, or even Jake Locker. He is a very straightforward quarterback with arm strength and composure.

Dalton finished the day with six carries for three yards, two more carries and sixteen fewer yards than second round pick halfback Jeremy Hill. This noodling with with running QB strategy almost cost the Bengals the game; they were forced to settle for field goals in five out of five red-zone trips. This wastefulness let the Ravens back in the game late, and indeed they led with a little more than five minutes to go. What bailed out the Bengals at the end? A long bomb from Dalton to Adriel Jeremiah Green. There’s no need to re-invent the wheel, much less to try and turn your Mazda into a Segway. (Do Mazdas still get made? I literally know nothing about cars.)

Everything’s Changed, Nothing’s Changed

I don’t feel very good about what I choose to devote my time to this Monday morning. Ray Rice’s two-game suspension was already laughably lenient, and the process by which Roger Goodell arrived at that figure was fully of very simple mistakes that anyone with experience dealing with victims of domestic abuse would have avoided. Interviewing the victim while in the same room as the defendant is something that everyone with sense knows not to do. Today, when the video of an actual confrontation leaked out, a lot of investigators, journalists, and Ravens employees looked not only clueless, but culpable.

Today, desperate to save face, there’s been a whirlwind of punishment, and that punishment changes nothing about how I feel. The Ravens cut Rice early this afternoon, and that was followed up within minutes by the commissioner suspending him indefinitely. The Ravens had previously swaddled Ray like a newborn baby, publishing articles about the standing ovation he got at training camp, publishing an embarrassing personal defense by a PR director to their website, and calling him a good guy who made a mistake. The commissioner called him forthcoming and chastened and gave him an uncharacteristically light punishment. This changed instantly with the release of this new video, but what did the video really change?

This video is being treated, by both the press and the principal actors, as though it is completely new and against what people previously thought happened, but the video we already had showed Ray Rice dragging an unconscious woman out of an elevator. If this video showed you something new, then I have to question your inductive reasoning.  How the hell did you think she got unconscious? Did you think he just found her that way? Did she charge him like a bull and run head first into the guard-rail?  Is that really what you thought?

There’s also the issue of whether the video was actually seen at all during the initial league investigation. If it was, then this is nothing but an egregious lack of judgement that the league office is now trying furiously to bury in the backyard next to O.J. Simpson’s MVP trophy and all the tapes of Monday Night Football Games announced by Dennis Miller.  And if the league didn’t see it, then that is a complete failure of due diligence. This league prides itself on its investigative office, and has a commissioner who fancies himself Wyatt Earp in a cheap suit.  How was there a piece of evidence out there that wasn’t obtained by one of the ex-G-men the NFL employs? 

And, if they didn’t see the video, why did Peter King say they did? Why did Adam Schefter report that they did? The league gave its chief water-carriers a bucket full of chum and they didn’t bother to peek and check the difference. Schefter for his part seemed furious on the early-morning Sportscenter, which genuinely surprised me. I had assumed he was a scoop-trading skinjob, having evolved past emotions. Peter King took a different take, professing that he was wrong to write that the league had seen the tape and that he was passing on a second-hand assumption with that sentence. Really. Read it yourself. King is so devoted to being the league’s water-carrier that he would rather paint himself as not the equal of a high school newspaper editor than risk his access to the commish. You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din. King’s mea culpa ends with the hope that someone else gets to the bottom of this, which, yeah, maybe you should sit this one out from now on, Pete.

Up to this point, my analysis of this has been focused on the reputation of the NFL and its various figureheads. But let’s pull back from the institutions involved and focus on the human cost. Janay Rice, whose husband has already proved himself a man capable of knocking her out, has just lost his source of income. A man who was already violent might soon turn desperate. That will get worse before it gets better. Before you wish for anything else today, wish for Janay’s safety.

The Master doesn’t try to be powerful;thus he is truly powerful.The ordinary man keeps reaching for power;thus he never has enough.The Master does nothing,yet he leaves nothing undone.The ordinary man is always doing things,yet many more are left to be done.The kind man does something,yet something remains undone.The just man does something,and leaves many things to be done.The moral man does something,and when no one respondshe rolls up his sleeves and uses force.When the Tao is lost, there is goodness.When goodness is lost, there is morality.When morality is lost, there is ritual.Ritual is the husk of true faith,the beginning of chaos.Therefore the Master concerns himselfwith the depths and not the surface,with the fruit and not the flower.He has no will of his own.He dwells in reality,and lets all illusions go.

The Master doesn’t try to be powerful;
thus he is truly powerful.
The ordinary man keeps reaching for power;
thus he never has enough.

The Master does nothing,
yet he leaves nothing undone.
The ordinary man is always doing things,
yet many more are left to be done.

The kind man does something,
yet something remains undone.
The just man does something,
and leaves many things to be done.
The moral man does something,
and when no one responds
he rolls up his sleeves and uses force.

When the Tao is lost, there is goodness.
When goodness is lost, there is morality.
When morality is lost, there is ritual.
Ritual is the husk of true faith,
the beginning of chaos.

Therefore the Master concerns himself
with the depths and not the surface,
with the fruit and not the flower.
He has no will of his own.
He dwells in reality,
and lets all illusions go.

Let Us Now Praise Injured Men

NFL Football returns tonight, which means we all have the privilege of sitting with our loved/tolerated ones in front of the television and watching young men in the prime of life pulverize ourselves for our enjoyment. You know when I put it like that, the whole enterprise seems rather crass. But never mind the ethics, here’s the Legion of Boom. Of course not every spectator is happy about it; some expected to be a participant in proceedings rather than sitting at home eating bean dip. We take some time now to think of them.

Some Caveats:

  • Priority was given for this list to players on the IR list (already ruled out for the year) or the PUP list (unable to return until week 9), though a few people that are merely listed as “out” have slipped in.
  • Injury statuses are current as of Monday, and are courtesy of CBSsports.com.
  • Somewhat surprisingly, the only offensive lineman listed on any IR/PUP list is San Diego guard Jeromey Clary, so with a heavy and hypocritical heart, we will skip over the offensive line to talk about those with better press.
  • Defensive players were picked without regard to scheme fit or position. Four down linemen, three linebackers, four defensive backs.

QB- Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams. The dominating storyline for Sam Bradford was that this year would be a “make or break” year for him. An ACL tear, you’ll note, is distinct from a break, while also precluding this being a “make” year.  Some people are just uncomfortable with dichotomies, I guess. Bradford’s failure to become the top-line quarterback his draft status belies is vexing and not easily explainable, but his career is not nessecarily over. Alex Smith had a similar career arc until he came alive under Jim Harbaugh in 2011. Even if the Rams cut bait next year, and I don’t see any other option for them, he’s still worth a flyer somewhere next year. He’s still only 26, which is, for the record, four years younger than Brandon Weeden.
RB1- Vick Ballard, Indianapolis Colts. I remember being mildly impressed with Vick Ballard in his rookie year. I’m not bourne out by the numbers, which show a decent change of pace back and little more, but the Colts would do well with a change of pace, considering Trent Richardson’s only pace is “turgid”. Ballard bowed out of the opener last year with a torn ACL, and is gone for this season with a torn Achilles tendon. With one game played in two years, Ballard might have to put something else on his tax returns besides football player next year.
RB2- David Wilson, New York Giants. Wilson was a change of pace back, and didn’t really show much to get excited about in his two years. He looked like he would spend his career being one of the many replacement level players that Tom Coughlin developed an affection for and kept cutting and bringing back over and over for five years. This was cut short by a severe neck injury in training camp. Wilson’s career is over, but he he got a nice bit of press for being remarkably well-adjusted. Best wishes to him in his next career, as long as it’s not writing a de facto sports column on Tumblr. This is my turf, jack.
WR1- Mario Manningham, New York Giants. Catching a Super Bowl winning pass from Eli Manning seems to be have the curse of the Hope Diamond attatched to it. David Tyree never caught another pass after his fabled helmet catch. Plaxico Burress, who caught the touchdown from Super Bowl XLII that you haven’t seen every day since, figuratively shot his career in the foot by literally shooting himself in the leg the next season. Victor Cruz has been effectively neutered by hamstring problems. You would think Manningham would have escaped, since his signature Super Bowl catch was merely a long third down conversion, not a clinching score. He also got the hell out of Dodge, going to San Francisco that year in free agency. But we are dealing with powerful mystic forces here, and those forces limited Manningham to six games and nine catches last year. Maybe returning home and admitting his hubris would sate these furies, but no, Manningham is already on season-ending injury reserve. There is a classic Twilight Zone episode called And When The Sky Was Opened, where three pilots who inexplicably survived a mission thought to have gone wrong are erased entirely from existence by some unexplained cosmic overcorrection. Call me crazy, but I think that’s what’s happening to…to…hm. That thought got away from me. Anyway, on to the first reciever on our team:
WR2- Trindon Holliday, New York Giants.  Holiday is a return specialist and is only nominally a wide reciever, but he is a great returner, except when he is a terrible returner. In his year and a half with the Denver Broncos, he scored four return touchdowns. He also fumbled eleven times. Those are the sorts of things you over look when you’re dealing with someone as fast as Holliday is, but a five foot five reciever was never going to be long for this world. He’ll miss this year, and it’s far too soon to speculate about whether he gets another shot at this level.
TE- Zach Miller, Chicago Bears. This is not the Zach Miller of Seattle, former Pro Bowler. This is the Zach Miller who was cut by the Jaguars in 2012 and was projected to be a blocking tight end behind Martellus Bennett for Chicago this year. It may be that the only impact Zach Miller will make on the league is the necessitating of a disambiguation page on wikipedia for Zach Miller (tight end). 

DL BJ Raji, Green Bay Packers. On the strength of an amusing touchdown during Green Bay’s super bowl run, BJ Raji cast himself as “The Freezer,” a play on William “The Refrigerator” Perry. Perry was a media star after his rookie year for the 85 Bears, but injuries derailed him, and his post-retirement life has been quite sad, marked by alcoholism, bankruptcy, and a battle with Gullian-Barre syndrome. Raji has the ring, the nickname, and now the injury problems. Hopefully he can break the cycle and either recover his all-pro form or have a sensible, quiet post-football life.
DL Darnell Dockett, Arizona Cardinals. Dockett is probably the only person in history to get excited about the idea of retiring as a lifelong Arizona Cardinal. Even Arizona’s mascot is pimping the hell out of his LinkedIn, hoping he can catch on with Louisville University. And after the 31 year old tore his ACL in preseason, maybe that should happen sooner rather than later. The biggest problem with this Arizona team is their collective age. Maybe it’s time for the 33 year old Dockett to go home and be a family man.
DL Anthony Spencer, Dallas Cowboys. Spencer had several productive years, filling an important role as the end that wasn’t DeMarcus Ware. He got the franchise tag in 2012, and performed well in anticipation of a cash-in once he finished his one-year under that tag. Instead he was franchise tagged again, because Jerry Jones manages the cap the same way some people balance twelve credit cards. It’s actually quite impressive if you actually think about it in pure logistic terms, (how is he still able to get 53 players under the cap? How has a repo man not been by to just pick up Tyron Smith and put him in a truck?) but it can’t be anything but destructive in the long-term. Spencer’s second franchise tag year was significantly less successful than the first. He played only one game before bowing out for the season with a knee problem, the same knee that has kept him inactive all of this preseason. Spencer is on another one year contract, but it is not a franchise tag. The hope of a long-term payday have vacated the grounds.
DL Bruce Irvin, Seattle Seahawks. Irvin is a defensive lineman for my purposes, but in Seattle’s Predator scheme he inherits instead a hybrid role between end and outside linebacker. Sometimes he lines up as linebacker, and sometimes at defensive end, though even at defensive end he takes a very wide position. Increasingly the old way of thinking of defensive positions and responsibilities is going the way of the flanker and the split end. But since he starts this season on the PUP list, this strategic nerdage will be irrelevant until at least week 9.
LB Kiko Alonso, Buffalo Bills. Kiko Alonso was the chief source of the unnatural optimism coming from the Bills this offseason. He was the defensive rookie of the year and kept the Bills in games where they really shouldn’t have had a sniff. Any mildly positive forecast of the Bills season was based around Kiko Alonso, and because hope has not been to Buffalo since it got lost on the way to encouraging the British to hold on to Fort Ticonderoga, Alonso went down on the first day of Bills minicamp.
LB Sean Lee, Dallas Cowboys. Lee’s breakout campaign in 2011 as an undersized do-everything linebacker seems a million years ago. It’s been seperated from the current day by layers of shale and limestone and knee surgeries. Despite playing in only six games last year, Lee still managed to lead the league in interception return yardage. These are lean times in Dallas, and fans will settle for the impressive-sounding in lieu of the actually impressive. Those fans hoped that this year would be another year of teasingly intermittent great performances between stays in the trainer’s room. And that will clearly not be the case, as Lee blew out his knee on the very first play of minicamp. It’s the sort of fate you’d expect after dealing with an overly literal genie.
LB Navorro Bowman, San Francisco 49ers. With most of these injuries, they happened in the relatively unwatched arenas of practice and minicamps, sparing those of us prone to empathetic pain a great deal of wincing. Bowman’s injurie, however, is a carryover from the Tim Krumrie Special he recieved in the NFC Championship game. While it did not merit much more than a 0.5 on the Eduardo Da Silva scale, it still did not make for pleasant viewing, and it is no surprise that Bowman will not be ready for the beginning of the season.
DB Aaron Ross, Baltimore Ravens. Ross, like Manningham before him, is part of the title-winning Giant squads of 2007 and 2011. After a remarkably sad one-year stint with the Jaguars in 2012, Ross returned to New York last year, only to be on IR by week 4. Ross signed with Baltimore, very suddenly needy in the secondary, but this time didn’t even make it out of July before health became an issue again. The universe is trying to tell you something, Aaron; please sit down and listen.
DB Chris Conte, Chicago Bears. Chicago is in a time of transition; not simply from one generation of personnel to another but to an entirely different philosophy towards the game. CFL guru Marc Trestman has brought a forceful passing attack with him from up north, and it worked marvelously. At the same time, injuries and age neutered the always fearsome Chicago defense, leaving the Bears at 8-8. The defense needs to improve, but not by much; the pressure is off. Jay Cutler is, very simply, the best Chicago Bear quarterback in the post-war era and there isn’t even a worthy debate for second place (Rex Grossman? Johnny Lujack? Bobby Douglass?). The defense need only rise to replacement level, and when safety Chris Conte gets healthy, he’ll be part of that. He is, in scoutspeak, a JAG, but Just A Guy is all Chicago really needs on defense for once.
DB Chris Harris, Denver Broncos. Harris was undrafted in 2011 and not expected to make the team, but instead became a reliable contributor in the slot corner role, another new defensive role created by the reliance on the nickel. A third corner used to basically be a backup or situational player, but now with spread concepts and four wide offensive sets becoming the standard, defenses have had to adapt. Nickel defenses were used on over half of all plays last year; perhaps starting lineup graphics should update accordingly. Harris should return before the season is out from the torn ACL he suffered in the playoffs, but it remains to be seen whether he will be promoted to the second corner role opposite Aqib Talib or whether he will be kept in the slot.
DB Jamarca Sanford, Minnesota Vikings. Among all the nonsensical garbage Mike Zimmer shouted at his team in minicamp was “It’s the easiest thing in the world to find a cover two corner. Easiest thing in the world.” I suppose his players were supposed to be motivated by how utterly replaceable they were. This is the sort of snide, unhelpful comment that takes the joy out of accomplishment. Even if you are exemplary in drills, the coach has just told you that you are the defensive equivalent of a fast food worker. Zimmer better hope he is correct, as he has lost a three year starting safety, and chose to put him on short-term injury reserve, which means Sanford will be released once he is healthy. If Zimmer is right, then this does nothing but create a spot for rookie Antone Exum, who played both safety and corner for Vriginia Tech. If he’s wrong, then another problem on a roster full of them has appeared.

A Comprehensive History Of Mediocre Quarterbacks In The Playoffs, Part The Third

Craig Morton (2), Dallas Cowboys. Poor Craig is sort of the standard bearer for these overachievers. If you were worse than Craig Morton and in the playoffs, you’re definitely making this list. Morton was absent from 1971’s role call, because after a lengthy and confusing battle for the position with Roger Staubach which at one point saw them switch after every series, Tom Landry finally gave in and went with Roger Dodger. It paid off in an immediate Super Bowl victory over the Miami Dolphins.Staubach’s attempt at a follow-up was cut down in its infancy as he suffered a separated shoulder in pres-season. Morton was pressed into duty, and while is 15:21 TD:INT ratio is not the stuff of legends, he was in the top five in completion percentage while playing in one of the most pass-happy offenses in the league, and took the Cowboys into the playoffs as the wild card, going 10-4. He wasn’t bad, but he wasn’t ever who you wanted out there. Craig Morton is like a Subway attached to a truck stop; it’s never what you would go out of your way to seek, but sometimes you’re in a rush or a pinch and he’ll hold you until you get to where you’re going. This year ends in a sickening bit of human theater for Morton. Struggling to an 8 for 21 line through the first half against a game 49ers team, Morton was subbed for a not-quite-100% Staubach, who led a stunning 4th quarter comeback, and murdered any talk of a quarterback controversy restarting. Morton never started another game for the Cowboys and was traded in mid-1974 to the New York Giants.

Mike Phipps, Cleveland Browns. For whatever reason, player trades in the NFL are not as common as they are in other sports, and when a player trade turns into a true boner, it doesn’t get the mythic dressing that a baseball equivalent would get. If there were that sort of myth making machine, Mike Phipps would be Ernie Broglio, Larry Andersen and Jim Fregosi rolled into one. Phipps was drafted by the Dolphins with the 3rd pick of the 1970 draft, and before camp started he was shipped to Cleveland for Hall of Famer Paul Warfield. Warfield would’ve had a strong Hall case with only his Browns numbers, but his time with the Dolphins is what makes the highlight reels. 1972 was Phipps’ first year starting, and he had a paper tiger of a 10-4 year, throwing for fewer picks than his predecessor Bill Nelsen, but also fewer yards and the same amount of touchdowns. Good enough to tread water and get back to the playoffs, where they fell to the Perfect Dolphins. The next year, Leroy Kelly’s production cratered and the Browns went 7-5-2. in 1974 Phipps injured his shoulder and was cast aside for Brian Sipe. The Bears took a chance on him, trading a high draft pick to the Browns for Phipps in 1978. That draft pick turned into Hall of Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome. Mike Phipps did not have a hall of fame career by any sane measure, but if you are one of the people who truly believes in the free market as a self-correcting entity, then clearly Mike Phipps should have two Hall of Fame busts.

Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh Steelers. That’s right, we outchea on these streets comin for ERRYBODY here at Your Man Kit’s Football Opinion Compendium,  Bradshaw did eventually of course become an excellent quarterback and a Hall of Famer, but that was still the future in 1972, and it seemed a future that would be hard to realize. Through his first two years, Bradshaw threw 46 interceptions in 21 games, as compared to 19 touchdowns. 11% of the passes he threw as a rookie ended in the other team’s hands. Does that sound like HOF material to you? Chuck Noll stuck by Bradshaw in 1972, and he did make his first step forward, cutting his interception total to 12, but he still only threw 12  touchdowns and completed fewer than half his passes. The Steelers had a rushing attack that ranked second in the league featuring Franco Harris and Frenchy Fuqua, and a rough draft of the Steel Curtain was forming; the Steel Venetian Blinds were 2nd in scoring defense and 8th in total yards, sending Dwight White, Jack Ham, and Joe Greene to the Pro Bowl. Immaculate Reception notwithstanding, looking at these Steelers is a bit like peeping at the high school yearbook of a movie star. Things haven’t quite come together yet, but things will get better.

Scott Hunter, Green Bay Packers. If this entry seems rushed or disjointed in any way, it’s because I literally just learned that this player even existed. Wikipedia asked me to specify between the musician, the football player, and the Australian soap opera star. 1972 represents Hunter’s only full year of starting, and he threw for a mind-boggling six touchdowns. But hey, only nine picks. He’s a game manager, right Skip? HE JUST WINS GAMES, PEOPLE. The Packers in 1972 were built around star running back John Brockington. The Pack attempted twice as many runs as passes in 1972, with the secondary running back, McArthur Lane, getting almost as many carries as Hunter threw passes. Welcome to 1972, when three yards and a cloud of dust is an acceptable mission statement and not just a dismissive joke.

Billy Kilmer (2), Washington <REDACTED> Bagging on Billy might actually be a bit unfair for this year. He actually led the NFL in touchdown passes for 1972, and played an absolutely terriffic game against the Cowboys in the NFC Championship, going 14 of 18 with two touchdowns as the Cowboys never got a sniff of the game. But Kilmer was benched for four games of the season for Sonny Jurgensen. Sonny was not happy about sitting on the bench for all of 1971, and he was demanding a recount. Jurgensen’s potbelly was notorious, either endearing of infuriating depending on how you already felt about Sonny in the first place. When Sonny reported to camp, his beer belly was gone, and where before he would sneak out every night to party, he made every bed check. Kilmer’s success so infuriated Sonny Jurgensen that it may have lengthened his career by at least another three years. Sonny would not have been so motivated if he accepted Kilmer as an equal.

A Comprehensive History of Mediocre Quarterbacks In The Playoffs, Part The Second:

Bill Nelson, Cleveland Browns. In 1971, the Cleveland Browns were running on the ectoplasm of the previous two decades. Paul Brown was gone, and his top lieutenant Blanton Collier, a great head coach in his own right, retired after 1970, worried that he was going deaf. His replacement was Nick Skorich, who had successfully overseen the complete destruction of the 1960 champion Philadelphia Eagles. Otto Graham gave way to the very good Frank Ryan, who gave way to the calamitous Bill Nelson. Two quarterbacks removed from Otto Graham, and two coaches removed from Paul Brown, the Browns found themselves with Bill Nelsen and Nick Skorich. Football is not like alcohol; twice distilled is not a selling point. Bill’s 1971 was something to behold.Thirteen touchdowns against 23 interceptions is already pretty distressing, but then consider his ten fumbles, the second-most in the league. Even accounting for the five he recovered himself, that’s still a two to one ratio of turnovers to scores. It seems ridiculous that this team even got to the playoffs, until you remember it was still a run-first league and the Browns still had Hall of Fame runner Leroy Kelly, who was only once distilled from Jim Brown.

Gary Cuozzo, Minnesota Vikings (2). The Vikings were openly auditioning replacements for Cuozzo at this point; he started only eight games and put up a dazzling 52.2 quarterback rating during those starts. After a three touchdown performance against Green Bay in week 5, he didn’t throw a single touchdown the rest of the campaign. His replacements were punter Bob Lee, who was a punter, and the fossilized Norm Snead, who was never all that good even in his salad days. Cuozzo got his job back just in time to lose to the Dallas Cowboys.in the divisional round. Bud Grant traded to retrieve Fran Tarkenton from the Giants the next offseason; Tarkenton had a signature year and led the Vikings to a 7-7 record and no playoff birth. If predicting football was easy, everyone would do it.

Billy Kilmer, Washington <REDACTED>. If George Allen was a scientist instead of a coach, he would have no credibility. His methods are not able to be duplicated, and therefore unverifiable. No one else could have had sustained success while intentionally eschewing all draft picks, and we know this because no one else has even tried. Billy Kilmer was what Allen got in exchange for some of his draft picks one year, and he very quickly made an impact on the DC area, managing to get himself arrested for a PI within weeks. Luckily it was the sort of endearing and charming public intoxication charge that Sonny Jurgensen had already made a trademark. At a late night coffeehouse, Kilmer kept trying to settle his four dollar bill with a one hundred, and somehow this got rather heated and he spent the night in jail. I don’t know, I guess for some stories you have to be there to capture the feeling.When Sonny tore his shoulder in pre-season, Billy took over and led the <REDACTED> to a 5-0 start. In those five games, Kilmer completed more than ten passes exactly once. This was no longer the gunslinging Sonny teams, this was a team content to grind out games behind Larry Brown. Poor Sonny, who had waited all his career to finally have a competent defense behind him, was forced to be happy with discussing playcalling on the sidelines while the town that loved him slowly turned away from him. The Jurgensen-Kilmer controversy remains something of a legend; for a while Washington fans sported campaign buttons in the stands. But George Allen never wavered, preferring Kilmer, who would play along with Allen’s odd superstitions and do all the backslapping clubhouse things that Sonny didn’t. Allen’s teams worked entirely on belief and faith, and that’s another reason he would’ve made an awful scientist.

First Impressions Of Johnathan Livingston Football

It’s very hard to be confident of anything you see in a preseason game. They are exercises in confirmation bias, an ink blot test that can be whatever you want it to be. If you care enough to watch preseason, you already know what you think about most of the players. You already have a narrative you’re pushing, and will cherry pick the scant facts available to support your version of things. Nothing is reliable in these glorified practices, other than a high probability of muffed punt returns in the third quarter.

This was an important thing to keep in mind while watching the Browns-Lions game. Brian Hoyer had a decent game, better than a 6-14 line indicates, though it was marred by a couple of drops. The Browns announcers seemed very impatient during his drives; they knew what their audience was waiting for. Every single thing Johnny Football did on that sideline was captured and dissected. One of them remarked with enthusiasm about how fast Johnny Manziel grabbed his helmet. I’m not sure what that really proved, but it was important enough to warrant a replay, apparently.
The homer Cleveland announcers did their best imitation of Badger and Skinny Pete talking about Star Trek all through Manziel’s game, but I can’t say that I was any better. So tired am I of the Johnny Football hype train that I began to look for any evidence of him looking disengaged or derpy, and seizing on little sideline tics in the same way our boys in the booth were doing. Hype backlash is a terrible thing to be caught up in; it makes you become your enemy.

So we will stick to the concrete in this brief breakdown: Manziel looked pretty decent during his time against the Detroit Lions, but I want to focus on two plays. One was a read option in the second quarter which netted one yard on a third and two, the other saw Manziel quickly give the ball away and sit there and watch a swarm of defenders tackle the running back where he stood. Neither play was successful, and on neither did Manziel make the right read; on the first play he had a tight end open for the dumpoff throw, and on the second his handoff was a matter of pure survival instinct. I’m going to focus on these plays, but not to castigate Manziel for failing on them; I want to ask why he was running the read option at all.

Johnny Manziel is a mobile quarterback, but not every mobile quarterback should be running the read option, because not every mobile quarterback is the same kind of mobile. Manziel is a scrambler. He is undersized, and reliant on his creativity rather than pure athleticism. He sees the field and runs to where they aren’t. Very few of his running yards came on designed runs. He is not an aspirational fullback like Tim Tebow, who needed the single wing to do anything. He isn’t a physical freak like Robert Griffin pre-injury. He’s not someone you want to plow into the line ten times a game.

It makes one wonder about his offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, and whether or not he can handle having a quarterback that isn’t Dan Marino and Larry Csonka in one superhuman body. Kyle is the same man who brought you such classics as “Robert Griffin running off-tackle ten times in a game even though he’s pretty clearly got a gimpy knee” and “Robert Griffin begins to hate life and mistrust his coaches because of the sheer pigheadedness of their schemes.” Running the read option with Manziel twice shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the asset he has.

So we’ve managed to isolate a few plays and identify why they are a problem, but still, it’s the first game of the preseason. Maybe Kyle Shanahan has seized upon the read-option like Monet did the water lillies, or Brian Schottenheimer did the bubble screen. Or maybe it was just something to try once and never speak of again. Whichever ends up being the case, I know that Cleveland’s announcers are already excited about it.

leitch:

Today has been a lousy day. Many people whose work I absolutely adore lost their gigs at Sports On Earth today. This was a surprise to me, to say the least. I am not one of those losing my job today. This makes it difficult for me to say anything; as someone who has been laid off literally dozens of times, I know there isn’t anything someone who is staying can say to someone who is going that doesn’t sound awful and patronizing. Sports On Earth is going to continue, and I, along with the others staying, will do our best to do a great site, but it won’t be the same, obviously. All I can say is that I’m sad and that I miss them already and I will read them everywhere they go forever.

Very dreadful news for anyone who likes reading thoughtful writing about sports. SoE was a welcome reprieve from the shouting factory, and I hope it can still be something of a respite in its reduced capacity.

leitch:

Today has been a lousy day. Many people whose work I absolutely adore lost their gigs at Sports On Earth today. This was a surprise to me, to say the least.

I am not one of those losing my job today. This makes it difficult for me to say anything; as someone who has been laid off literally dozens of times, I know there isn’t anything someone who is staying can say to someone who is going that doesn’t sound awful and patronizing. Sports On Earth is going to continue, and I, along with the others staying, will do our best to do a great site, but it won’t be the same, obviously. All I can say is that I’m sad and that I miss them already and I will read them everywhere they go forever.

Very dreadful news for anyone who likes reading thoughtful writing about sports. SoE was a welcome reprieve from the shouting factory, and I hope it can still be something of a respite in its reduced capacity.