Kirk Cousins

Kirk Cousins to the Broncos makes perfect sense

As the NFL season wears on, it is becoming more and more apparent that this offseason could feature unprecedented levels of player movement at the quarterback position. Although his contract is up at the end of the season, Drew Brees and the Saints organization have given every indication that the future Hall of Famer will not get to free agency.

Assuming that is the case, the best quarterback that could hit the open market is Washington’s Kirk Cousins. His situation is a fascinating one.

Where Washington stands

Earlier this week, reports came out that Redskins management is still not sold on Cousins long term. The 29-year-old is playing under the franchise tag for a second straight year.

Cousins’ two top targets from last year left in free agency. Washington’s top two running backs are on injured reserve. Injuries up front have also forced the Redskins to use numerous offensive line combinations this year.

However, Cousins is third the NFC in passing yards and has thrown 21 touchdowns and just eight interceptions this year. The fact that he does not have this team in the playoff race means he cannot carry a franchise like Tom Brady can, but he is certainly good enough to be a long-term starter somewhere in this league.

Reading between the lines, the former Michigan State standout playing under the franchise tag for a third consecutive year would be unheard of. At the same time, Washington certainly does not seem eager to lock up Cousins.

The Redskins would be foolish to let Cousins walk, but with losses piling up and his supporting cast continuing to disintegrate, it sure looks like that is where things are headed. Then again, coming from an organization that gave $100 million to Albert Haynesworth and hired Jim Zorn and Steve Spurrier as head coaches, should we really be surprised?

Where Denver stands

Enter the Denver Broncos. This is a roster that is still loaded with talent and less than two years removed from winning a Super Bowl on the strength of a dominant defense and a quarterback whose mind was just smart enough to carry his deteriorating body to the ultimate fairytale ending.

Kirk Cousins

Photo from 9news.com

Ever since Peyton Manning retired, the Broncos have found themselves in both a familiar situation and an unfamiliar one. John Elway is still the best quarterback in the organization. Unfortunately for Broncos fans, Elway is now the 57-year-old general manager of the team and not the legendary gunslinger.

 

Prior to this season, Denver had as many Super Bowl appearances as losing seasons since 1991. With the Broncos loss to the Dolphins on Sunday, they now have clinched their fifth losing season since 1991. Quarterback is not the only need for this team right now, but it is by far the biggest.

Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch and Brock Osweiler have each occupied all three spots on the quarterback depth chart this year. This, along with the fact that Denver has played hot potato with the winless Browns for the worst turnover margin in the NFL all season long, tells you all you need to know about why the Broncos sit at 3-9 right now.

Why Cousins fits in Denver

For a few reasons, Denver is not going to draft a quarterback high in the upcoming draft. The most glaring of which is their remaining schedule. They already have three wins and neither of their last four opponents are above .500.

At the very least, they should stumble into another win or two when playing other bad teams. Barring a trade, the highly-touted incoming rookies will be long gone by the time the Broncos are on the clock. Moreover, if Cousins were to enter the fold in Denver, he would inherit two elite receivers and a top-10 defense.

If Cousins can post numbers anywhere close to what he has this year, the Broncos suddenly look like a very dangerous football team again. This is a team that can be right back in the mix as soon as next year with average to above average quarterback play.

Kirk Cousins

Photo from si.com

Also, Denver has a fair amount of resources in Lynch and Chad Kelly. Early indications are not good on Lynch, but he has only played in two full NFL games. That is hardly enough to bury his career. Kelly has missed his whole rookie season due to injury. In short, drafting another unproven commodity would only further muddy the water.

 

Lastly, it is worth keeping in mind that Cousins was drafted to Washington by former Broncos Super Bowl winning head coach Mike Shanahan. Shanahan is still very close with fellow Broncos Super Bowl winning head coach Gary Kubiak.

Kubiak was Shanahan’s play-caller in Denver for over a decade and now works with Elway in the front office. These links are tenuous, but could be very relevant.

The bottom line is ever since Elway entered the Broncos front office, he has always had the guts and found the money to make the Broncos as competitive as possible a timely fashion. Cousins is the path that best fits that bill.

 

Featured image from si.com

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first-year NFL head coaches

Checking in on the first-year NFL head coaches

We are far enough into the NFL season that it is now fair to evaluate how all the head coaches are doing. While there are 32, the coaches who took new jobs prior to this season are always of particular interest. So, let’s see who is making the grade.

Sean McVay

What the former Redskins offensive coordinator has done defies logic and description. At the time of his hiring, he was the youngest head coach in league history. Also, he took over a mess.

The Rams were the worst scoring offense in the league in 2016 and limped to a 4-12 mark in their first year back in Los Angeles. Much of the offensive personnel has remained the same under McVay, including second-year quarterback Jared Goff, who was totally overwhelmed as a rookie.

The Rams are now the top scoring offense in the NFL and sit atop the NFC West. It is impossible to be sure whether McVay is brilliant or his predecessor Jeff Fisher was grossly incompetent. The answer is likely a little bit of both. The Rams defense was pretty good all along.

There is a lot of football left to be played, and it is hard to imagine any team averaging 32.9 points per game for an entire season. That puts you in the conversation with some of the greatest offenses ever.

For now though, McVay is the runaway winner for coach of the year. Turnarounds like this simply do not happen this quickly in pro football.

Grade: A+

Vance Joseph

When Gary Kubiak stepped down due to health concerns after the 2016 season, the former Dolphins defensive coordinator took over an organization that won a Super Bowl less than two years ago.

first-year NFL head coaches

(Photo from Denver Post)

However, the Broncos have regressed under Joseph. Trevor Siemian was at least serviceable last year. That cannot be said of Siemian or any other Broncos quarterback this year. Despite the team being very good for most of his tenure, John Elway has had to hire three head coaches during his relatively short time in the Denver front office.

With a workable schedule down the stretch, Joseph could still salvage the season if he can lead an upset over the Patriots Sunday night, but that is unlikely at best.

No individual is responsible for anything in the NFL. Even so, with the Broncos among the league leaders in penalties and turnovers and on a four-game losing streak, it is starting to look like Elway will be finding another head coach sooner than he would like.

Grade: D+

Anthony Lynn

The former Bills offensive coordinator took over a franchise that was relocating to a city where it has virtually no fan base. That is an unenviable position for any coach to be in.

However, Lynn did inherit Philip Rivers as his quarterback. This is something even some established coaches in this league would kill for. Early in the season, the seemingly never-ending trend of the Chargers finding ways to lose close games continued.

Lynn’s team showed some impressive toughness by winning three in a row after an 0-4 start. The defense is also much improved thanks mostly to the hiring of former Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley as defensive coordinator.

3-5 is not where any coach wants to be through eight games. All things considered though, Lynn has done an okay job. Remember, this is also a team that is essentially playing 16 road games this year and potentially beyond.

Grade: C+

Sean McDermott

This is the toughest one for me. The former Panthers defensive coordinator has the Bills in the mix to end a 17-year playoff drought. The best thing this team has going for it is a defense that is allowing less than 19 points per game.

Getting blown out by the Jets on Thursday night in Week 9 was a big blow. They still have to play division rival New England twice, as well as New Orleans and Kansas City. They will be underdogs in every one of those games.

McDermott would not be the first Bills coach as of late to lead Buffalo to a hot start only to fade late in the season. He has done well to this point, but his job is about to get a lot tougher.

Grade: B-

Kyle Shanahan

The mastermind behind last year’s electric Falcons offense is still searching for his first win as a head coach in San Francisco. Shanahan is well aware that he is bringing the less talented roster into almost every game this season.

Despite that, the 49ers are playing hard and have been in almost every game. The best thing the young head coach has done is oversee or possibly facilitate the acquisition of Jimmy Garoppolo from New England before the trade deadline.

Shanahan is certainly taking his lumps as a first-time head coach this year, but if Garoppolo turns out to be the star that many people believe he will be, the wins are not far behind.

Grade: C+

 

Featured image from espn.com

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Arizona Cardinals

Despite New Hall of Fame Status, Warner Still Criminally Underrated

When people debate the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history the same names always come up. Brady, Montana, Elway and Peyton Manning. The next series of names is usually led by Favre and Marino. Aaron Rodgers is starting to get thrown in there as well.

There is one name that does not come up nearly as much as it should, newly minted Hall of Famer Kurt Warner.

The mere fact that Hall of Famer now precedes his name means there are plenty of folks out there who think Warner was great. Even so, few people realize how great he was.

Context:

            The beginnings of Warner’s journey are well documented. Undrafted out of Northern Iowa, he went from grocery store stock boy to NFL and Super Bowl MVP in 1999 following a preseason injury to starter Trent Green.

Warner spearheaded a then St. Louis Rams offense that scored 30 points on a dozen separate occasions in 1999. The nickname “Greatest Show on Turf” was shockingly accurate. It is almost impossible to put in to words how good Warner and that offense as a whole were that year. Warner, Marshall Faulk and the rest of the offense took their rightful place as one of the best in NFL history by notching the narrowest of victories in Super Bowl XXXIV.

Kurt Warner

Photo: kurtwarner.org

After a close playoff loss to the Saints in 2000, Warner and the Rams returned to top form in 2001. Warner bagged another league MVP and the Rams returned to the Super Bowl. However, they fell victim to Tom Brady, Adam Vinatieri and the rest of the Cinderella Patriots as time expired.

From 1999-2001, Warner threw for over 11,000 yards, 98 touchdowns and 53 interceptions while reaching two Super Bowls. Despite missing five games in 2000 due to injury, Warner tallied a regular season win loss record of 35-8 as a starter over this three year span. That is as good a three year stretch as any quarterback has ever had.

Injuries caused Warner’s career to bottom out from 2002-2004. He threw more interceptions than touchdowns, won just five games as a starter and only appeared in 19. Following a 2004 campaign that saw the Giants bench him for Eli Manning, Warner’s career looked to be done.

The Cardinals took a flyer on Warner signing him to a one year deal in 2005. Warner always seemed to be in competition for the starting job in the land of the sun, but the Cardinals kept bringing him back. By 2008, Warner was healthy and firmly entrenched as the starter.

That season, Warner guided Arizona to a 9-7 record and a playoff spot. To say Warner and the Cards got hot would be a gross understatement. Behind Warner’s 112 passer rating, the Cardinals franchise won its first playoff game since 1947. In Super Bowl XLIII, Arizona lost by the length of Santonio Holmes’ toenail.

Santonio Holmes

Photo: ftiznews.com

Playoff Success and Place Among All Time Greats:

            Warner led two different franchises to the Super Bowl. He is one of just three quarterbacks to do that. Moreover, unless you count the Rams Los Angeles glory days, both franchises have struggled to spell Super Bowl before and after Warner, much less get there.

Warner ranks second all-time in postseason passer rating. At one point, Warner owned the top three performances in Super Bowl history in terms of passing yards.

Warner retired after leading the Cardinals back to the playoffs in 2009. It is reasonable to speculate that being a part of two narrow Super Bowl defeats keeps him from being mentioned with the usual suspects of all-time great quarterbacks. His mid-career nosedive does not help matters either.

Even with those two negatives on his résumé, Warner has far more postseason success than guys like Favre amd Marino. When one considers the franchises he led to the promised land, his career becomes all the more impressive. For all these reasons, Warner belongs in the single digits when it comes to the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

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Cleveland Can't Pass on Watson

Cleveland Can’t Pass on Watson

Cleveland can’t pass on Deshaun Watson. It is that simple. We all know the sad story that is the current Cleveland Browns. Their history is littered with unfortunate events and bad decisions. Their biggest success came in 1964 when they won the NFL Championship. Since then, there has been little to cheer about in Cleveland.

Cleveland Can't Pass on Watson

(Photo Credit: http://www.ramweb.org)

Cleveland came close to glory twice in the 1980s. The first unfortunate event was later called “The Drive” that took place in the 1986 AFC Championship game. With just a little over five minutes left in the game, the Browns led the Denver Broncos 20-13.

The Broncos had the ball at their own two-yard line. John Elway proceeded to lead the Broncos on a 15-play 98-yard drive to tie the game at 20 with only 37 seconds remaining. The wind had been sucked out of Cleveland and the Broncos won in overtime 23-20.

The second unfortunate event is labeled “The Fumble” and took place the following year in a rematch with the Broncos in the AFC Championship game again. The Broncos jumped out on the Browns early with a 21-3 halftime lead.

Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar threw four second-half touchdowns, but the game was tied 31-31 in the third quarter. With six minutes remaining in the game, John Elway threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to give the Broncos a 38-31 lead.

Cleveland Can't Pass on Watson

(Photo Credit: http://www.elacommoncorelessonplans.com)

With only 1:12 remaining in the game, the Browns had driven down to the eight-yard line. Earnest Byner took a handoff and looked like he was about to tie the game when he was stripped at the 1-yard line and the Broncos took an intentional safety and won the game 38-33. For the second season in a row, the Browns were devastated in the game prior to the Super Bowl.

One of the last major unfortunate events for the Browns franchise was “The Move.” Browns owner Art Modell announced in 1995 that he was moving the franchise to Baltimore and thus, the Baltimore Ravens were born.

The history of the franchise would remain in Cleveland, but what hurt the most for the city is that the Ravens would go on to win the Super Bowl just five seasons later. Cleveland fans have always felt that that championship should have been theirs.

The Browns returned to Cleveland in 1999 and have had 28 different starting quarterbacks. 28 is a ridiculous amount of quarterbacks in just an 18-year span. There has been zero stability at the position and they need a franchise quarterback badly.

The Franchise Savior

It is laughable that Deshaun Watson is getting such little respect in the draft. So-called experts say he lacks accuracy and good decision making for a quarterback. What tape or games are they watching of Watson?

Cleveland Can't Pass on Watson

(Photo Credit: http://www.bleedinggreennation.com)

Watson had a legendary college career. He was the first player in college football history to throw for 4,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in the same season. He went 32-3 as a starter and led Clemson to two straight national championship games. Both were against Alabama and the legendary Nick Saban.

In his entire career at Clemson, Watson threw for 10,168 yards, 90 touchdowns and only 32 interceptions. Where people go wrong in analyzing Watson is saying he runs too much, or that he is a run-first quarterback. That is absolutely false. Yes, he did rush for 1,934 yards and 26 touchdowns in his career, but Watson only runs when he needs to. He keeps his eyes down field while extending plays.

One thing Watson must work on is his down field accuracy. At his young age, he has time to develop that aspect of his game. Where Watson excels most is when the game is on the line. If there are less than four minutes in the game and you need a touchdown, Deshaun Watson delivers.

Cleveland Can't Pass on Watson

(Photo Credit: https://me.me/t/deshaun-watson)

He is the most clutch quarterback in college football history. He has proven it time and time again and his latest example was against one of the greatest defenses in college football history on the biggest stage. This is one of the greatest traits a quarterback can have, and it can’t be taught.

For so long, the Browns have been stuck at the bottom of the barrel. Their franchise has made so many head-scratching moves. They have overthought decisions and jumped at quarterbacks that had no business leading a franchise. Cleveland has had a lot of bad luck in the process as well. They can end all that by getting a franchise quarterback.

This one is right in front of their face. Do not make the mistake that the Houston Rockets and Portland Trailblazers made. Dabo Sweeny is absolutely correct, any team that passes on Deshaun Watson is passing on Michael Jordan.

 

 

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Terrell Davis

The Right Terrell is Going to Canton This Year

There is not much more that can be said about Super Bowl LI. For every epic comeback, there is an equally epic meltdown on the other side. Prior to the game itself, the 2017 Pro Football Hall of Fame class was a big source of debate. Lots of controversy has surrounded Terrell Owens being “snubbed” again, but there is a Terrell being enshrined this year, and it is the right one.

While there is certainly a case to be made that Owens is more worthy than Terrell Davis, if you look beyond raw numbers, the reverse of that argument is not the least bit crazy and here is why.

First, this was a crowded year for the Hall of Fame. With the maximum of five “modern era players” going in this year, three were stone cold lead pipe locks. Pass rusher Jason Taylor, quarterback Kurt Warner and running back LaDainian Tomlinson.

That leaves two spots. As much as we all like to make fun of kickers, the most important thing in the NFL is scoring points, and Morten Andersen has done that more than anybody else. Thus, he is worthy of a spot after having to wait a few years. It is reasonable to speculate that many voters came down to Davis and Owens for the final spot.

Before making the majority of my argument, it was necessary to point out the strength of the class as a whole. You would be hard-pressed to take one of the other four inductees out to make room for both Owens and Davis in the same class.

 It is virtually impossible to overstate the impact of Terrell Davis on the Broncos organization. Prior to his arrival in the mid-90s, the Broncos were a slightly better version of what the Colts are now. They had a truly great quarterback who was not surrounded by much additional talent.

John Elway led Denver to three Super Bowl appearances in the 80s. The closest the Broncos got to winning one of those games was a 19 point defeat against the Giants. As Elway entered the twilight of his career, a Super Bowl ring looked like a pipe dream.

Denver Broncos

Photo Courtesy of Denver Post

Broncos coach Mike Shanahan plucked Davis from obscurity and made him the starting running back as a rookie in 1995. By 1997, Davis had posted consecutive seasons of well over 1000 yards rushing to start his career. However, the Broncos and their aging quarterback had not found postseason success.

Davis had another stellar year as Denver won the AFC West. In four playoff games that year, Davis rushed for over 100 yards in each and tallied eight touchdowns. The Broncos upset the Packers to win Super Bowl XXXII. Davis scored three touchdowns and was named Super Bowl MVP.

In 1998, Davis was again the centerpiece of the Broncos offense. He rushed for over 2000 yards. There have been only seven such seasons in NFL history. Davis was named league MVP as the Broncos coasted to a second straight Super Bowl victory. He rushed for a total 1049 yards in the 97 and 98 postseasons combined.

Starting in 1999, Davis was haunted by knee trouble that started when he attempted to make a tackle on an interception return against the Jets. He would appear in just 17 more games after 1998. He retired during the 2002 preseason.

His lack of longevity certainly hurt his Hall of Fame chances, he had to wait a decade. However, when he was at his best Davis was as good as the game has ever seen. The injuries prevented him from being near the top of numerous rushing record lists. Even so, fellow Hall of Famer and teammate Shannon Sharpe summed it up best in Davis’ A Football Life documentary on the NFL Network. He was quoted as saying “Without T.D. we don’t win Super Bowls”

Terrell Owens

Photo Courtesy of foxsports.com

Similarly, think about how differently John Elway’s career would be viewed if not for the two Super Bowl wins Davis spearheaded in the last two years of Elway’s career.

As for Terrell Owens, he ranks second all-time in receiving yards and third in touchdowns. On that alone, he is certainly Hall of Fame worthy. Unfortunately for Owens, players do not exist in a vacuum nor should they.

As productive as he was, Owens never made a team he was on better. The 49ers were perennial contenders before Owens arrived. Philadelphia was already on a string of runs to the NFC championship game.

In 2004, the Eagles finally reached the Super Bowl, but Owens was injured for the playoffs and did not return until the Super Bowl, which Philadelphia lost. He turned in an admirable performance despite not having fully recovered from a broken ankle.

The only thing having Owens on your team guaranteed was not winning many big games and him throwing whoever his quarterback was under the bus for not getting him the ball enough, despite those Hall of Fame numbers. This always led to more ridiculousness like him being sent home then holding press conferences and doing sit-ups in his driveway.

San Francisco 49ers

Photo Courtesy of si.com

Owens played for five franchises in his career. With his numbers, it is very telling that T.O. bounced around so much. In his first three stops, Owens eventually became a cancer to the team he was on. Jeff Garcia and Donovan McNabb have said as much, Tony Romo has always been more tight-lipped about the controversial wideout.

In his final two years in Buffalo and Cincinnati, Owens was simply irrelevant. Your reputation follows you everywhere. In the case of Owens, that includes the Hall of Fame ballot. He has no one to blame but himself. He will forever be more known for his dancing and politicking than his on field work. Any other player with those numbers have already taken their rightful place in Canton.

The good news for T.O. is that he will absolutely be inducted in the not too distant future. For now, there is no issue with a guy whose teams won Super Bowls because of him going in before a guy whose teams often imploded around him.

 

 

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Spectacular Super Bowl Blunders

The Super Bowl has many great plays throughout its history. James Harrison’s 100-yard interception return, John Elway’s helicopter run, and David Tyree’s helmet catch all spring to mind. There are several others, but this piece is not about those plays. Here are some of the most spectacular single play blunders in America’s biggest sporting event.

First, there is one blunder you will not see here. Even though it makes every other list like this, Scott Norwood’s missed field goal in the closing seconds of Super Bowl XXV is not really a blunder by him. Shady clock management and play calling by the Bills down the stretch left Norwood facing a career long outdoor field goal attempt. How one could have expected Norwood to suddenly do something he had never done before on the biggest stage the sport has to offer has always baffled me. Anyway, let’s get down to business.

Rocket Screen- Super Bowl XVIII:

Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs and quarterback Joe Theismann did not expect to find themselves trailing the Los Angeles Raiders by 11 in the final seconds of the first half. The Redskins put up 541 points in the 1983 season, an NFL record at the time. Even so, the smart money was on the Redskins taking a knee deep in their own territory and heading to the half.

Instead, Gibbs called “rocket screen,” a play Washington had ran with great success when the two teams met in the regular season. This time, the result was disastrous. LA linebacker Jack Squirek picked off the pass and walked in to the end zone with 12 seconds left in the half. The play kicked a Raiders blowout into overdrive. You can watch the play below on the NFL’s YouTube channel.

Garo Yepremian- Super Bowl VII:

When kickers have to throw, bad things tend to happen. Here is the earliest evidence of that. Trying to finish off an undefeated season, the Dolphins sent out Garo Yepremian to attempt a field goal that would have made it a three possession game with just over two minutes to go. The kick was blocked.

After a subsequent comedy of errors, the Redskins ended up scoring a touchdown on the play to make it a 14-7 game. Fortunately for Yepremian, Miami held on to complete their perfect season. Fear not, the NFL’s YouTube channel has us covered on Yepremian’s misery.

Lewis Billups- Super Bowl XXIII:

This is a nod to the pain of my family and Bengals fans everywhere. It may not have directly decided the outcome of the game, but it sure was big. Leading Joe Montana’s 49ers early in the fourth quarter, Bengals defensive back Lewis Billups dropped an easy an interception a player could ever come across. The 49ers got the game-tying score on the next play and mounted another fourth quarter scoring drive to win the game and championship in come-from-behind fashion. This play is the ultimate sports “what if” in Cincinnati. See it below from Michael Schiefer on YouTube.

Leon Lett- Super Bowl XXVII:

Leon Lett was actually a borderline Hall of Fame player. Unfortunately for him, that is rarely remembered. What is remembered is Lett costing Dallas a Thanksgiving game in 1993 by gifting Miami another shot at a game winning field goal. However, this mishap from about a year earlier happened on the grandest stage of all.

Lett recovered a fumble in the fourth quarter of a Cowboys blowout and there was nothing but green grass between Lett and the dream of every defensive linemen. Bills wideout Don Beebe had other ideas while Lett rumbled and showboated down the sideline. The result is one of the most recognizable pieces of video in NFL history. See it below on the NFL YouTube channel. For the sake of the players involved, let’s hope nothing is added to this list in Super Bowl LI.

 

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LA Blues: The Sad State of the Rams and How to Fix It

The Rams put everyone involved out of their misery by firing Jeff Fisher earlier this week. A blowout loss to Atlanta at home sealed his fate. Believe it or not, Fisher was a really good coach in this league at one time. However, a 31-45-1 record in almost 5 full seasons in St. Louis/Los Angeles speaks for itself. That time is no longer now. His dismissal creates one of the most unique head-coaching openings in NFL history.

 

The Rams return to the crowded LA sports market has gotten off to a disastrous start. This is a city that has lost its fair share of NFL franchises in the past, but has never lacked big-time sports. Right now LA has the exciting and fun Clippers, the young and rebuilding Lakers, a resurgent USC football program and the star filled Dodgers and Angels. At best, the Rams are the sixth most relevant sports story in their own city, and the second most relevant in their own stadium. USC is infinitely more competitive in college football than the Rams are in the NFL at the moment. Forget the NFL as a whole, the Rams are irrelevant in their own city. That is a battle no other franchise has to fight.

 

There are a few other issues working against the Rams right now. All of which are their own doing. Rams ownership seems more concerned about building a new stadium and finding a second team to join them in LA than they do about the current state of the franchise. Also, the Rams sit at 4-9 with the worst offense in the league, averaging just 12 points a game. Rookie quarterback Jared Goff is quickly headed down the path of David Carr (not Derek) if they do not surround him with better talent quickly. Their drafts on offense have turned out to be comically bad in recent years. Following Sunday’s loss running back Todd Gurley said the Rams “look like a middle school offense.” Honestly, that is insulting to middle school offenses everywhere. Gurley is the one offensive draft pick the Rams have gotten right in recent years, even he has faded into obscurity in 2016. On Sunday, Atlanta’s defense scored as many points as the Los Angeles offense. That is not even taking into account the Rams botching the opening kickoff and setting up Atlanta at the LA 3 yard line. It was the kind of performance that leaves an organization no choice but to make changes immediately, even though Fisher had inexplicably just been given a contract extension. After the season, the rest of the current staff is probably gone as well.

 

Despite the many challenges facing whoever takes over the head-coaching gig in Los Angeles on a full-time basis, it is not all bad. It is LA after all. The fact that the Rams have somehow accumulated four wins speaks to how good the defense is and can be. Even so, the Rams cannot give this job to whoever the hot coordinator candidate winds up being. That is doomed to fail. There is too much going on with this franchise for it to be anyone’s first NFL head coaching job. One name already being floated around is Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. While McDaniels seems to have grown up a lot since failing miserably as a head coach in Denver, the Rams need someone with both star power and substance. McDaniels does not check either box.

 

This narrows the list considerably. Names like Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll would certainly fit the bill, but both have said they are not interested. Additionally, I will eat my own left arm if either one of them leaves their current gig for such a massive undertaking like rebuilding the Rams in Los Angeles. There are two names that have been rumored that would be slam dunk hires. In fact, they may be the only realistic candidates that could be successful in such a chaotic environment. They are Mike Shanahan and Jon Gruden.

 

It is not known if either one of them are on the Rams list. Everything that is out there right now is speculation. I know there are going to be some eye rolls at Shanahan’s name, but there should not be. Yes, his time with the Redskins was largely a failure , but dig deeper. He has been the only coach to get a good year out of Robert Griffin III. Griffin was rookie of the year and led the Redskins to the playoffs in 2012. No other coaching staff has figured out how to even keep him on the field, much less get any sort of production out of him. Shanahan also has two Super Bowl rings as the head coach Denver in the late-1990s. Often times, he gets no credit for that because those Denver teams were loaded. While true, realize that John Elway did not win a Super Bowl until Shanahan came along, then he won two.

 

Somehow, Shanahan has gotten the “washed up old hack” label by fans and media. Unlike Fisher, he does not deserve it. He did the best he could under the dysfunctional conditions of the Redskins at that time. Shanahan would likely bring his son Kyle on as his offensive coordinator. He is the coordinator behind the 2016 resurrection of Matt Ryan. Both Shanahans have proven they know how to build an offense and make it productive. This is exactly what the Rams need. Hiring the elder Shanahan would bring instant relevance and credibility to Los Angeles and may set the Rams up coaching wise in both the short and long-term.

photo from zambio.com

photo from zambio.com

 

If there ever was a situation for Jon Gruden to return to coaching, the Rams are it. Those close to Gruden have always said that he has not gone back to coaching because he likes the celebrity that comes with his role on Monday night football. In LA, he can coach and be a celebrity. The two franchises Gruden left (Tampa Bay and Oakland) are really just now starting to recover. His legendary reputation as a disciplinarian that loves to work with young quarterbacks would be perfect for the Rams. Come on, just look at the guy.

photo from deadhitsports.com

photo from deadhitsports.com

 

Both Shanahan and Gruden would require a lot of money, but they have jewelry on their fingers for a reason. Judging by artist renderings of the Rams future home in Inglewood, California, they must have some deep pockets. It would be great for the NFL to have a good franchise in LA again, but it is going to take a very special coach to turn the Rams into winners in a timely manner.

Sudden Change is a Huge Part of the NFL’s Charm

As I was looking at the NFL playoff picture earlier this week, the stories of two teams jumped out at me. Both are examples of another characteristic that differentiates the NFL from any other sport in America. We are barely a month into the NBA season and teams like the Mavericks and Nets are already pretty much done. Similarly, the Braves and Twins were toast before the calendar in the long baseball season even flipped to May. In college football, losing a single game is the end of national title hopes for many teams.

The NFL is a whole different ballgame though. There are two teams this year that are almost unrecognizable from the start of the season. Here is a look at each sudden turnaround.

Miami Dolphins

I was in attendance to watch this team struggle to break 200 yards of total offense in a Thursday night loss in Cincinnati. The loss dropped them to 1-3. At that point, I was not sure they would win another game. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill looked lost and rookie head coach Adam Gase seemed to be in over his head.

A spark on the ground from little known running back Jay Ajayi completely changed this team’s fortunes. Ajayi was not even on the active roster when the season began. He rattled off a string of 100+ yard games and led them on a hot streak.

NFL

photo from washingtontimes.com

Even with last Sunday’s blowout loss at Baltimore, Miami still sits at 7-5, and just a game out of the final AFC wild-card spot. Tannehill is a more than adequate starting quarterback when he does not have to make plays all on his own. The ground game of Ajayi has helped control the clock and keep the defense fresh as well.

Whether they make the playoffs or not, Dolphins fans have gone from hopeless to hopeful in about two months. All it took was some very small changes in personnel and philosophy. Again, to see such a dramatic turnaround so quickly in any other sport is extremely rare, but in the NFL, the Dolphins are not the only great turnaround story this year.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Quite a few folks thought Tampa Bay may be a pleasant surprise heading into the season. Despite the optimism, a 1-3 start that included a home loss to the hapless Rams seemed to be a death nail for their season.

NFL

photo from news965.com

Unlike the Dolphins, it is difficult to pinpoint the roots of this turnaround, but somewhere along the line everything started to click. The play of young quarterback Jameis Winston stabilized under the guidance of rookie head coach Dirk Koetter. He committed just a few less turnovers and started to carry this team to a few wins, all while dealing with a revolving door of starters at running back.

However, the big story in Tampa Bay is the defense. Over the last three games, the Chiefs, Chargers, and Seahawks have all been held under 25 points. That is as impressive a three-game stretch as you will ever see from a defense, particularly when you consider that the Kansas City game was on the road.

The line backing and secondary groups have some of the most low-profile good football players in the entire NFL. I am talking about guys like Lavonte David and Bradley McDougald.

The Bucs are holding down the last NFC playoff spot. They are also very much alive in the NFC South division race. Much like in Miami, even if Tampa Bay does not make the playoffs, this season has to be considered a massive step in the right direction.

Falling Franchises

Turnarounds in the NFL can be just as quick and dramatic in the other direction. The Eagles and Vikings were surprise hot starters this year and are now sinking faster than the Titanic, but that sudden nature is part of what makes the NFL so fascinating. There are a few of these stories every year.

Reversals in NFL fortune can take place over the long haul too. Two years ago, the Raiders flirted with going winless. They are now legitimate Super Bowl contenders behind Derek Carr. The Broncos were 4-12 in 2010 before John Elway came back into the picture as an executive. They have not missed the playoffs since.

So, if you like where your team is at, enjoy the view while it lasts. If you are an unhappy fan, all it takes is a few good moves to get things going in a good direction. Even the Browns will be good someday… I promise.

 

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The NFL Ratings Drop Is Not a Big Deal…Yet

In case you have been living under a rock, NFL television ratings are down considerably. All primetime broadcast windows have seen a double-digit percentage decrease from last year. CBS’s Sunday afternoon ratings are down in similar fashion. The numbers at Fox have stayed the same or are only down slightly depending on the data source. Everyone within the NFL and those who cover it seem to be panicking. They should not be and here is why.

Prior to this year, record ratings were the norm- This is just simple logic. Everything peaks at some point. 19 of the 20 most watched television programs in American history are Super Bowls. Also, the top seven are all Super Bowls from this decade. The NFL may never be as popular as it was prior to this year again. That does not mean there is not still a massive market for it. However, whenever something is put up against record highs, the numbers are going to look bad. In a world where my friends and I struggle to agree on where to eat, it is difficult to get millions and millions of people to watch the same product every year.

 

We are living in a bizarre time- Some of this was already covered by my fellow writer Michael Sullivan in a well done recent article. Right now, we are all witnesses to the most unique (for lack of a better word) election anyone has ever seen. It is no secret that it is stealing viewers from football. The first presidential debate absolutely slaughtered the Monday night football game that was on at the same time.

 

There is also the Cubs. Those of us younger than 71 have never seen the wildly popular “lovable losers” have a legitimate chance at the World Series. Game one pulled in almost 20,000,000 viewers Tuesday night. Granted no NFL game was on at the same time. Even so, it has been a long time since baseball put up numbers comparable to those of the NFL. It will be interesting to see how the numbers stack up Sunday with both sports on at the same time. The good news for the NFL is that both the election and the Cubs are temporary. If there is not a significant ratings uptick for the NFL by the end of next month, I will be shocked.

photo from si.com

photo from si.com

 

The NFL is in a transition period- Like any other television show, the NFL is star driven. The stars are the quarterbacks. It has been a rough year for the established stars at that position. Peyton Manning retired and guys like Tom Brady, Tony Romo, and Ben Roethlisberger have missed or are missing extended periods of time for various reasons. Also, the signal callers that most thought would be the next generation of stars like Andrew Luck and Cam Newton are underperforming. Thus, we have had some underwhelming quarterback matchups this year. I love football and will always watch whenever it is on. However, I can certainly see some casual fans not being eager to tune in to a Brock Osweiler vs. Jacoby Brissett duel. The league went through a similar ratings dip when John Elway, Steve Young, Troy Aikman, and Dan Marino all retired in 1999-2000. New stars emerged then, and they will again, but it takes time.

photo from nydailynews.com

photo from                                              nydailynews.com

 

It is not like nobody is watching- So, the Seahawks/Cardinals game last Sunday ended tied at six and was mocked by media and fans the next day. As ugly and “boring” as it was 28.6 million people watched it. The NFL is doing just fine.

Declining ratings are never good, but if any other television show pulled in 28 million people with everything going on, we would be talking about how amazing it is. If the ratings are still sagging when the season ends, this can be revisited. Until then, stop finding solutions to problems that don’t exist and enjoy the football.

 

The 1998 Minnesota Vikings: Forgotten Greatness

The football world lost another great one last week with the passing of longtime former Vikings and Cardinals coach Dennis Green. Green passed of a heart attack at 67 years of age. While his infamous “they are who we thought they were” postgame rant is what he will be remembered for most, the world of football lost so much more than the creator of a humorous soundbite on Friday. Green’s greatest team, the 1998 Minnesota Vikings, deserve to be talked about.

Green was 113-94 in 13 seasons in NFL head coach. Also, his place as just the second African-American head coach in league history should not be overlooked. He also had to head-coaching stints in the college ranks at Northwestern and Stanford. However, as far as on-field accolades go though, he will best be remembered as a key part of one of the greatest near misses in football history.

randy moss

photo from espn.go.com

Green’s 1998 Vikings were absolutely spectacular. They featured a high-powered offense led by veteran castoffs in quarterback Randall Cunningham and wide receiver Cris Carter. Two guys nobody else wanted. Throw in a freakishly talented rookie problem child wide receiver named Randy Moss and you really had something special. Moss shattered every rookie receiving record imaginable and Carter, an eventual Hall of Famer, caught everything thrown near him. The ’98 Vikings were not all flash.

They had a few solid, smart, and effective players as well, former Ohio State standout running back Robert Smith and defensive lineman John Randle immediately jump to mind.

The Vikings absolutely dominated the rest of the league. They had a 15-1 regular-season record. The team scored a then NFL record 556 points. They would never score below 24 points in any game that season. Quite frankly, words do not do this team justice, particularly on offense. The video below from the NFL’s YouTube channel will give you a better flavor. At times, it was simply unfair. It looked like they were playing street football.

The storylines wrote themselves. Broncos vs. Vikings in the Super Bowl. The Broncos were in the midst of their own all-time great season. They started 14-0. Denver did their part in racing through the AFC playoffs, but a funny thing happened in Minnesota.

With under three minutes left in the NFC championship game, the Vikings led an upstart Falcons team by seven. They were lining up to kick a 38 yard field goal that would give them a 10 point lead. They were in a dome. Their placekicker, Gary Anderson had not missed a field goal or extra point in two years. At the time, he was the NFL’s all-time leading scorer. You may have figured out where I am going with this.

As captured in the video below on the Dan Zinski YouTube channel, the unthinkable happened. Anderson missed the field goal. The Falcons promptly drove down and sent the game into overtime with a touchdown. Falcons’ kicker Morten Andersen did not miss his chance to put the game away in overtime. This NFC championship game is the first game I remember watching from start to finish as a kid. I was rooting for the Falcons because I knew Minnesota had a good shot at spoiling John Elway’s grand farewell in the Super Bowl.

Looking back on it now though, I am not sure there has ever been game that has so drastically effected the legacies of all involved. It was as close as Dennis Green ever got to a title as a head coach. Randall Cunningham and Cris Carter would never get to a Super Bowl. Randy Moss got to the Super Bowl with New England following the 2007 season, but lost in another spectacular upset.

Honestly, I have no clue whether or not the Vikings would have gone on to be that loaded ’98 Broncos squad, but boy it sure would have been fun to find out. If not for the 2007 Patriots, we would call the ’98 Vikings the best team ever not to win a Super Bowl. Green’s legacy goes so much deeper than one season, but he will always be remembered as the man who roamed the sidelines for one the NFL’s underappreciated great teams. Sports can be so cruel at times.