Jets Should Begin McElroy Era, Now
Welcome back to the Pregame Flyover, the only NFL weekly preview that’s not vetted by the commissioner’s office.
Before we get to this week’s slate of games – and tell you which games are Probably worth watching, which games are of Questionable worth, which games are of Doubtful worth, and which game involves Aaron Rodgers and the unwatchable Green Bay Packers – let’s discuss the issue of gadget plays.
Gadget plays are awesome when executed by sinister players
A few years ago, back when Ken Whisenhunt was the offensive coordinator of the Steelers, Pittsburgh was always good for some trickery. End-arounds, pass options, Statue of Liberty plays: You name it, the Steelers had it in their arsenal. I was reminded of this during Sunday night’s game against the Bengals when Antonio Brown took a handoff on an end-around. Now, normally an end-around is only moderately exciting, since almost every team runs one occasionally. But Brown, who was lined up to the right of Ben Roethlisberger, was coming down the line of scrimmage when … Oh, my Suzyn Waldman, he has the ball in his left hand – Antonio Brown is left-handed and he’s going to throw the ball!
Now, I don’t know about you, but I have little knowledge about the handedness of most NFL players. Drew Brees? Yeah, I know he’s right-handed. Matt Leinart? Yeah, I know he tries to throw left-handed. But running backs and wide receivers? No effing clue. When Antonio Brown wound up and prepared to throw the ball, I was immediately reminded of Ronnie Brown, the former Dolphins running back (now of the Chargers) who used to throw the occasional left-handed pass out of the backfield. That, too, seemed diabolically genius: No one is expecting a non-quarterback that is running to his left to set his feet and throw a pass.
Obviously this play can’t work all the time, because defenses not run by Norv Turner will adjust. But it’s great when it happens because it’s so unexpected and – let’s face it, freakish. I basically assume that everyone I meet is right-handed (the odds!), so when shown otherwise, it’s unsettling and awesome. Obviously that holds true for NFL players, too; because not only did Antonio Brown’s left-handed throw leave the Bengals flat-footed and ready for abuse, it left Steelers running back Baron Batch grasping for air as he lamely attempted to catch Brown’s perfectly placed pass, which would have been an easy touchdown for Pittsburgh.
Gadget plays are awesome, particularly when they’re executed by players we didn’t know were left-handed.
This season’s NFL Comeback Player of the Year
Normally the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award is given to someone who was injured the year before, or who was healthy the year before but brought shame to their family. The list of past winners is a who’s-who of all-time greats (Joe Montana, Marcus Allen, Dan Marino) and it also includes a smattering of feel-good stories involving lesser lights such as Jon Kitna, Tommy Maddox and Chad Pennington, who won the award twice.
To the best of my knowledge, the award has never been given to a player who’d been cut from a team and then returned to play for that same team the same season. Maybe Chris Cooley, the past and present tight end for the Redskins, can become the first.
Cooley, who became a fan favorite because of his candid ways, was jettisoned by the Redskins at the end of training camp, when it became apparent that the Redskins simply had too many awesome receivers (or something). Cooley thanked the fans, city and organization in a heartfelt, teary news conference, and hasn’t played meaningful football since. But last week Cooley’s replacement, Fred Davis, went down with a season-ending knee injury, so the team re-signed their former tight end.
Considering that Davis was the favorite target of first-year quarterback Robert Griffin III, it stands to reason that Cooley will see plenty of looks in the Redskins’ offense - particularly with Pierre Garcon out for several games and Santana Moss now long in the tooth. Will Cooley win this year’s NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award? Of course not; Adrian Peterson has already locked it up. Still, I’m wagering Cooley gets more votes for the award than Randy Moss.
Trade these fellas before Tuesday’s deadline
The NFL trading deadline is Tuesday, and a lot of players could benefit from a change of scenery.
1. Mark Sanchez. It’s obviously not working out for Mark in New York. Watching him organize a drive is like watching a drunk guy play Jenga: It takes forever and the crap is bound to go sideways. The Jets need to cut bait and let the Greg McElroy era begin.
2. Dwayne Bowe. Bowe is in the final year of his contract, and his value is only going to go down the longer he’s exposed to Brady Quinn. If I were his agent, I’d be demanding a trade from the lowly Chiefs to a team that could really use a wideout. Say, the Jets? Using my helpful fantasy football trade calculator, I see there’s a fair trade to be made: Bowe for the Jets defense. Make it happen, Pioli.
3. Mike Wallace. It’s not often that Steelers fans turn so quickly on one of their own standout players, but Wallace has gone from the penthouse to the outhouse with no stops in between. Granted, holding out for a new contract didn’t endear him to the fans or the organization, but all would have been forgiven if Wallace were playing to the same level as recent years. Instead he’s developed a serious case of butter fingers. Might as well trade him to the Chargers, where coaches have an uncanny knack for curing players of the dropsies.
What’s with the NFL.com stats lab?
Do statistics scare me? Sometimes. Am I able to overcome my fears? Usually. That said, statistics should always be presented in the most straight-forward way possible, so that I can memorize them easily and then drop them haughtily in dinner conversations. Given that, I’m having a hard time understanding the statistics landing page at NFL.com, which seems unduly intimidating.
The NFL refers to it as the NFL stats lab, which is ostensibly supposed to conjure up thoughts of beakers, periodic tables and hydrochloric acid. “Come into the stats lab, where you can whip up anything to suit your idiotic, preconceived notions about Tim Tebow.”
Unfortunately the landing page looks like a screen grab from “Armageddon,” which only makes me want to go elsewhere to get my statistics.
The Weekly Best
Welcome to the Weekly Best, where we throw pink flags at the best in the NFL.
Best offense: The Patriots.
Best defense: The Bears.
Best defense against Calvin Johnson: Put a Peanut on him.
Best team in the AFC: Is apparently not the Ravens.
Best sack streak for an NFL team: 31 straight games for the Bengals.
Best indication that a sack streak means little: The previous line.
Best joke out of New Orleans: Roman Harper says that without the bounty scandal the Saints would be undefeated.
Probable, Questionable, Doubtful and Out
Just as the NFL puts out an injury report on the likelihood that certain players will suit up each week (Probable, Questionable, Doubtful or Out), we rate the NFL schedule on the likelihood that games will be worth watching. Because let's face it, you can't watch them all.
Probable Game of the Week: Giants at Cowboys.
Plenty of games to consider for Probable Game of the Week, but respective mitigating factors precluded us for selecting any of the other games. They were:
Falcons at Eagles: The undefeated Falcons travel to Philadelphia to take on former Falcons turnover machine Michael Vick. Andy Reid is 13-0 following bye weeks, meaning the outcome of this game is going to bring glee to the hearts of Mercury Morris and the rest of the insufferable 1972 Dolphins.
Redskins at Steelers: I love it when history is horrible and despicable, yet observed and honored nonetheless. After all, if we don’t remember the past, we might repeat it. That said, I no longer own a black and white television, and watching the Steelers play in these throwback uniforms might scald my eyeballs.
Saints at Broncos: Joe Vitt, who was named interim head coach when Sean Payton was suspended for the season for Bountygate, is himself returning from a seven-week suspension for his role in the scandal. In unrelated news, I wonder what’s going on with the leadership of the Teamsters these days.
Niners at Cardinals: A game that relies heavily on the contributions of LaRod Stephens-Howling is a game that will be hate-watched by the fantasy owners of William Powell.
Questionable Game of the Week: Patriots at Rams.
The NFL had the opportunity to turn its overseas game into something truly unique – to play it at 1 p.m. in London (like an NFL fan would see it here), and thus at 8 a.m. in New England. But it blows it by playing the game at 1 p.m. ET or 6 p.m. in London.
Yeah, I know they’re doing it because they want to maximize television ratings in the United States, but one of the best things about overseas competitions – Premier League soccer, World Cup matches, the occasional Olympics – is that they take place at times outside the normal patterns we associate with sports in the United States. The Pats and Rams are playing in London? Great, I’ll be able to wake up on Sunday and watch live football from 8 a.m. all the way till midnight! Sixteen straight hours of football, followed by divorce!
Nope, the NFL blew it. The Pats and Rams are playing in London? And the folks in London get treated to a 6 p.m. game? Oh, lucky them. At least the dark NFL overlords in New York City will be able to watch it at 1 p.m. Wouldn’t want them to be shaken loose of their routines – even if playing a freaking NFL game in London should be all about breaking routine.
And yes, I realize an 8 a.m. game would be a 7 a.m. game in St. Louis. If you wanted to get up and watch it, you could. If you wanted to tape it and watch it later, you could do that, too. It’s one week out of the season, and a little change won’t kill you. Besides, you St. Louis fans probably haven’t been sleeping much since Game 7 of the NLCS, so a little “cartoon football” would probably take your mind off things.
(Other game receiving votes: Seattle at Detroit.)
Doubtful Game of the Week: Miami at New York Jets.
Whoa, boy, it’s Dolphins week for the New York Jets, which means fans and players on both sides are whipped into a frenzy about things no one outside the rivalry understands or cares about.
It’s sometimes easy to forget just how consistently inept the Jets have been over the years, but then you’re reminded that the team has won two division titles since the AFL-NFL merger – and that’s fewer than the expansion team of Carolina (three) and the same as the expansion team of Jacksonville. It’s just one more than the expansion team of Houston, and one fewer than Detroit, which you’d be surprised to learn is not an expansion team. But Rex Ryan says this is the best team he’s ever had, so there’s that.
If the playoffs started today, only one rookie quarterback would be leading his team into the playoffs. And it’s not RGIII, Andrew Luck or Russell Wilson; it’s Ryan Tannehill. Congratulations, Ryan. If the playoffs started today, we’d look forward to seeing your wife on television.
(Other games receiving votes: Chargers at Browns, Colts at Titans, Panthers at Bears.)
Out Game of the Week: Jaguars at Packers.
Hey, look, the Packers are back! Their offense is clicking, and they’re right on track to have their defense blow it for them in the playoffs again. This defense was mediocre when Charles Woodson was on the field. Now he’s going to be out with a broken collarbone for six weeks. Expect the Jaguars’ offense behind (*checking injury report*) Chad Henne and Rashad Jennings to go into Lambeau Field and give the Packers all that Jacksonville has.
(Other game receiving vote: Raiders at Chiefs.)