Thursday, September 18, 2014

To Run Or Gun? The QB Quandry

The modern era of football has seen two opposing ideas worked into playbooks as if it were imperative they co-exist. I’m talking about attacking the defense with either a running quarterback or a passing one, which to outsiders might seem as trivial as casting a blonde or brunette Bond girl. Let’s just agree that both work.

Of course, there’s no reason why a quarterback can’t be both, that is, an excellent runner who's also able to fire a 30-yard bullet between defenders arms, bobbing helmets and spittle. Seattle’s Russell Wilson might just be the best example of such a player, though Washington’s Robert Griffin III seemed destined for greatness before his various injuries. 

Griffin is really the ideal case study for offensive football aficionados because while his running has at times been electrifying, not since Shane Falco fell for Brooke Langton's character in The Replacements has a QB also looked so vulnerable. In short, the more mobile RG3 has been, the more likely it seemed he’d be immobilized.

So what’s the end game then?

Sliders and surfers

Many NFL coaches appear enamored with the read option, in which, the QB observes defensive movements and reacts with a run or pass accordingly. It can be tougher for some defenses to follow this than a Belichick press conference, which is why the approach finally and vehemently took hold in the pro game. But still, the question remains: is it necessary to over expose a team's most important player in the open field in this way?

Some QBs have a knack for avoiding trouble and that’s the trick, isn’t it? As a head coach, you’re less likely to feel your heart leap into your throat on a third down scramble if your play-caller gets down, slides, scoots out of bounds, or somehow manages to transport himself through time like the Silver Surfer. If only he were eligible to play.

Wilson is not only good at avoiding sacks in the Frank Tarkenton mould, but he’s clever enough to know when to step up in the pocket, when to roll out, or when to toss the ball up to the fans. This ability to read the strength of the rush seems imperative to the strategy, and yet too many young QBs are determined to counter-attack before the defense actually reaches them. I’d put RG3 in this category, along with rookie Johnny Manziel, one-year wonder Tim Tebow, and Colin Kaepernick might just be the captain of the group.

Kaepernick’s match-up against the more traditional pocket passer Jay Cutler on Sunday was truly gripping for those gripped by such differing styles, because both men are quite cool under pressure. And yet, each handle respective defensive surges in unique ways. On Sunday, at least, Kaepernick was hasty, eager to escape the pocket whenever he could to gallivant into space as he’s prone to do. Sometimes it’s devastating, other times he takes a hit, or worse, carelessly loses the ball. This, at least from the coach’s perch is devastating, and avoidable.

Cut and dry

By contrast, Cutler tends to unleash wild rockets into mosh pits of players, where you’d be more likely to see Eddie Vedder climbing out than a triumphant wide receiver with the ball in hand. But he persists with this mode because his arm strength gives him the confidence to do so. I’m sure his very cool hair gave him the pluck to ask out Kristin Cavallari too. Such is the orbit of Planet Cutler. 

All kidding aside, Cutler mostly sticks to the pocket and finds open men – often incredibly large Madison Avenue size men, in the case of the current Chicago unit. He runs, only as needed, and he did so splendidly against the 49ers. It was his patience on offense, you could argue, that helped the Bears make their comeback. Conversely, it was Kaepernick’s lack of it, that contributed to his team’s undoing.

The Elway

Of course, running quarterbacks are not new, nor are those who can both run and throw. I think of John Elway during these types of discussions because, while there may never have been a better ball thrown than the one delivered by Denver’s great No.7, there may also have never been a signal-caller at his size, who proved more exciting when rumbling into the secondary (maybe Ben Roethlisberger, though he's slightly bigger). Elway wasn’t fast and at times looked rather cumbersome, but he ran opportunistically and cleverly, and used his bulk to get down field. It was also never for show, but rather was about results and this is an important distinction.

Not that the likes of Kaepernick, or even the Jets’ Geno Smith is seeking more than positive yardage, though there is an air of showmanship about some of the modern day QBs which perhaps fuels their ambition to leave the the pocket. At least a player like Aaron Rodgers has perfected his passing from back in the turret, which helps to make his rushes more of a threat.

After all, the threat of the run can be just as lethal because it makes the defense uneasy. RG3 basically patented this threat two years ago, and such was his prowess on the read, that even his former coach seemed uneasy. But that’s pure conjecture of course: Mike Shanahan always looks like a guy who’s conducted some business in the men's room only to find there’s no toilet paper left.

Forever Young

In or out of the pocket, the aim should be finding an advantage. From the warmth of the couch, some running plays look grossly premeditated, or even forced in some instances, and with a few players working the option, that’s surely not beneficial to an offense. 

I’m sure that even the Candlestick rambler, Steve Young, weighed up his options on each play. He talks about reading through progressions all the time as an ESPN analyst, which makes me think that even when it looked like Young was eager to burn rubber, he always kicked the tires on the possibility of stretching the defense with a well place throw. On his most famous run he shaped to throw, it wasn't there, so he ducked, glanced up and took off.

Young ran for more than 500 yards and threw for 3,500 more in 1992, according to numbers. By no means does every QB have this capability, as it requires a combo of athleticism and awareness. However, the best quick steppers are usually also the calmest thinkers too, and that's not always a quality marked in draft board margins. But maybe it needs to be.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Mega Man vs Donkey Kong

Fictional characters from opposing worlds are often pitted against one another. Predator and Alien come immediately to mind, the two creatures mercilessly tossed into a Hollywood studio to duke it out more than once. Batman meets Superman under hostile conditions some time in 2016, and if we're not mistaken, Super Mario has already faced-off with Sonic the Hedgehog to see who has the biggest two-dimensional leap.

This week football fans contemplate the aftershocks of a mighty collision between the Lions' defender Ndamukong Suh and the Panthers' quarterback Cam Newton, after Newton repeatedly called his opponent "Donkey Kong Suh" in a press conference prior to the game. 

Not known for his bashfulness, Mega Cam seemed convinced that was the player's actual name, and given that it was delivered with the deadpan style of a Weekend Update bit on Saturday Night Live, the media took the bait. They oddly wrestled with it in fact, so unsure of its meaning or usage, they quickly determined to use it to incite Suh into some sort of barrel hurling rage. 

But when confronted by a media pack, Detroit's defensive tackle was apparently disinterested, and those appalled weren't afforded the chance to remedy the horrible mockery made of their press room. Will the social outrage ever let up? We think former Steelers QB looks like Mario, but please don't call the D.A.'s Office.

Well, Mega-Cam needed to be quick with his step and accurate with his aim on Sunday, in order to avoid the wrath of Donkey Kong, who, with a heavy thump of the earth, or a thunderous charge, could have evaporated the quarterback just like the original blue Nintendo sprite. 

As it turned out, Newton tapped his initials in for the 'game high' as his squad belted Detroit 24-7. He zinged balls over the middle, zapped them down the sideline, and then, when the throw wasn't there, zoomed past the opposition, seemingly without any power-ups. He threw 22 of 34 passes for 281 yards, but more importantly, his energy was all too much for Detroit to contain. That went for Suh too, who couldn't even stop the Panthers Player 1 by falling on him. 

Game Over.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Cooler: What's On Ice In Week 2 Of The NFL?

Week one of the NFL typically turned perceived realities upside down, and jiggled out the contents of our pockets to reveal actual truths. Dirty tissues, half a pack of Big Red and some loose change tumbled to the floor, but so too did an unpunched Super Bowl ticket. For all 32 teams, confidence remains high, until losses become consecutive. There's still a chance, albeit slim in some instances, of being on that ticket.

It's a beautiful time of year to say the least.

Wake up call for Pats

It's quite possible that Tom Brady exerted all of his energy celebrating that first touchdown pass to Gronk. Hey Tom, maybe drive on past Starbucks next Sunday. He must have had Cameron Wake on his mind all night and needed some extra pep, but it'll take more to stop the quickest man off the edge and with the league's fastest haircut. In week two, Brady faces the fastest truck out of a back lot, Adrian Peterson. It doesn't get any easier.

Scary good defense? 

Is Derek Carr the Raiders next franchise quarterback? He threw for 151 yards and two touchdowns in week one but more than that, Carr just looked the part. His miscues notwithstanding, Carr was confident, smart and got rid of the ball in a hurry. If Oakland can generate some runs from the backfield, Raider Nation might have something to celebrate even before Halloween. But not this week, not with the Texans defense riding into town.

Speaking of defense, how about that Jets line? Rex Ryan is about as tactful as Del Griffith in a motel room, but maybe when it comes to defense that's a good thing. The Jets unsettle signal-callers into a new pair of shorts, and while it's tough to take them on the road at Lambeau, we're not betting against the upset.

Wax on, wax off

The Steelers were sublime in the first half against the Browns. Roethlisberger looked like Plastic Man, extending plays with his stretchy limbs, while Antonio Brown mastered Ralph Macchio's crane kick, and Le'Veon Bell's charges had the Brownies begging for mercy. The defense let down later on, but it's hard to look past that steely attacking display. PS. Hoyer was good for Cleveland, while Manziel held the clipboard admirably.

Real whoppers

It's funny how some QBs get a free pass while others are worked through a grinder. Tony Romo is a hamburger pattie this week. Sure, he missed some very costly throws, but it's not like he was protected all that well early on, nor was he greatly assisted by his backs. But of course, the talking heads have been laying it on thick. Meanwhile, the likes of Joe Flacco, Geno Smith and the forever untouchable Aaron Rodgers waltz into week two like cheerleaders - never out of favor.

And on that note, isn't it about time the St Louis Rams get on the horn to Tim Tebow? In other quarterback news, Derek Anderson is back! But after his strong showing in Tampa, he surely needs to walk away on a high like George Costanza from a Kruger meeting.

"That's it, I'm out!"

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Football's Trendiest Picks For 2014

Just before the NFL season starts, a few people lose their minds. It's as if the pent up energy sends them into a Pacino-like rage and before you know it they're snarling at friends and colleagues about the Chargers chances of going to the Super Bowl, and how YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT THEY KNOW!

Many of these people work in the field of NFL speculation and report this to us online, where they routinely share such fun facts as Alex Smith will never be more than a game manager and that the Jags are on an almighty ascension. Oh, and the 49ers will be lucky to make the playoffs.

Huh? I suppose E should've stopped pursuing Sloan too?

As always there are other tasty morsels being tossed our way as the pro football table is set, and among those are the following:

Keys to Carr

Derek Carr is the starting QB in Oakland and this was the right move for a floundering organisation, we're told. Schaub is done, apparently, his arm now as heavy as the same slab of meat used in his infamous sandwich. We can debate the pros and cons of this decision all night but one thing's clear, and that is the Raiders may have had their eye patches on the wrong side all this time.

Then there's the Giants, who despite winning everything in the preseason will supposedly be abysmal offensively. Eli, it's no surprise, is the Mr Hyde to Peyton's Doctor Jekyll. It'll always be this way because Eli is an easy targetand he plays in a media market which excels at target practice. At least Dunkin' Donuts believes in him.

Monsters and BBQ

How about the Bears? Do enough people have them pencilled in for the Super Bowl yet? Listen, Cutler's arm is its own monster of the Midway, but the defense couldn't rouse a sleep-deprived Godzilla. 

More than a few experts who were bullish on the Bills last season and not so on the Jets, now see New York trending up and Buffalo sinking. What's changed? Well, I guess Smith was slightly better than Manuel last year, and neither of them came close to matching Tannehill in Miami. So logically, most pundits have the Fish finishing behind them both. 

Perhaps the most stunning withdrawal of faith is in Kansas City, a squad that did everything right last season until their points party with the Colts in the playoffs. That gutting loss will apparently be too much for the Chiefs to overcome this year, many say, despite them boasting the league's third best rusher, one of the game's most efficient passers, a potential terrifying pass rush, and the country's top bbq joints. Andy Reid is no slouch either, but maybe his tropical shirts suggest otherwise.

Throw a Dog a Bone

Hey I almost forgot, Philly will get to the big one, we're told. Yes, that's the Nick Foles led Eagles. Well, it's possible, I guess. Everyone thought Ivan Drago was impossible to overcome, didn't they? But why has the mob suddenly soured on RGIII and Washington?One minute you're the poster child for scintillation, the next your knee is less trusted than a slick new candidate on the hill. Where's Jaws when you need him?

Lastly, no hype reel would be complete without the Cleveland Manziels. You can understand why fans want Johnny Football on the field because behind the team's athletic o-line, he may just weave some magic not seen since the Kosar era. Then again, he might get crushed under a pile of slobbery dog bones.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Florida Football And Its Leading Offenses

Life by the beach inspires an array of styles, not least of which is the irrepressible Hawaiian shirt. It’s an item that not only conjures the islands, but also California surfing, Miami boardwalks, and Andy Reid at the post-game podium.

For every elaborate floral print—and apologetic head coach—however, there’s a slick suit, and in a subtropical climate like Florida, there’s something both wildly insane and wonderfully cool about that. Of course, the man that made the suit-loose-tie combo iconic in the Sunshine State was Frank Sinatra, and to this day, the Chairman is the benchmark for making impossibly stylish sartorial moves.

Speaking of which, pro football’s three Floridian teams have also been daring to dream of greatness, if not on the sporting field then en route to it. For these clubs, 2014 might be highlighted by colorful runs from the locker room more so than actual footballing prowess. Still, in some circles, like club marketing meetings and around pro shop water-coolers, this might be a thrilling season. Indeed fashion, like football, is all about your perspective.

Which brings me to the latest ensembles of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars, teams known for sun splashed decals. In the case of the Bucs, it’s not that their new unis are lacking pizazz, but more so that the team's brand and heritage has been put to the sword. Since the NFL banned the club from wearing its vintage creamsicle collection (due to nonsensical concerns over ill-fitted helmet switches), we don’t see it anymore. Instead, we’re faced with the bold red and beautiful pewter combination—now accompanied by an enlarged helmet logo—which is in its own way striking, and certainly useful to people short of sight.

Then there's the Dolphins, who have gone from their famed aqua to a distinctly brighter blue, and more notably, from a cartoon dolphin wearing a helmet to a sleeker elongated version completely void of protective head wear. What would Ol' Blue Eyes say? This proved a difficult adjustment for many among the Miami faithful, because the club's most iconic images are those awash with its venerable branding, that of Strock, Griese, Csonka, the Killer Bs, Duper, Mercury and Marino. You simply can't erase a winning formula. Well, you can, you just need a 40 year buffer since the last major success.

Finally, Jacksonville's new two-tone helmet is really quite astonishing. Did they run out of gold sharpies or something? I'm just not sure what to make of the whole amalgam, which seems more confused than Senator Keely in South Beach. When they called it the bold new city of the south, they weren't messing around, huh?

Now none of these designs are offensive as such, it's just that they defy tradition. And if we start neglecting NFL traditions, then what do we have? That's right, an even grizzlier version of Coach Ditka. And nobody wants that. So the only way to subdue the poked bear is to get Errol Flynn back on the side of Tampa's hat, demand that Flipper straps up, and have the Jags revert to their all black dome. Anything less than these moves would be akin to Colin Farrell trying to be Don Johnson, the ultimate of Floridian vices.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Hoyer Is The Starter, Not Manziel ... Okay?

Here's a thought — if you added Tim Tebow to the current Cleveland Browns quarterbacking mix who would you pick as the starter: Brian Hoyer, Johnny Manziel, or Tebow?

Because the three have impressed few, you might defer to the most famous player. This would at least be in keeping with the adopted process of several NFL general managers in such a scenario. The potential to be an icon often outweighs the promise of accurate passing, after all.

Browns coach Mike Pettine recently said that he wants his players running scared a little bit, presumably to instil the idea that nobody’s job is safe. He called pro football a performance based business, which it obviously is and hardly needs spelling out. I’m certain the players don't need to hear it phrased like this either. It’s hardly motivating or inspiring to have your coach say you need to perform or you’re out on your keister. I mean come on, nobody's lifting their game with the skipper breathing stale coffee vapors down their neck. Consider the plunging fortunes of Matt Schaub.

Given Pettine’s approach, it’s easy to see why maybe his quarterbacks are struggling, Manziel included. Tentatively announced starter Hoyer isn’t exactly being touted as the team’s leader, which is clearly what’s needed here. But Pettine won't be that emphatic because the Browns want to sell Manziel t-shirts, which is why he's also hedging about a two-quarterback system.

Then there's the issue that Hoyer hasn't exactly lit the preseason up, and by contrast has actually kept the offense in a shadowy lull. But hey, it’s the preseason, folks. Even Eugene Tackleberry wasn’t the cop he later became until he completed basic training. It took a leader like Commandant Lassard to know he'd have many, many opportunities to thrive.

The point is the whole situation reminds me of when former Browns QB Bernie Kosar was undermined by Bill Belichick. At least Kosar had the benefit of being a Browns legend, throwing for 3,000 yards four times with the club. Hoyer’s doing it uphill. He's thrown more worrying glances than he has yards to this point. And still, he deserves a genuine shot, not a half-hearted vote of confidence.

Well despite all this, everybody’s mostly worried about Johnny Football. Is he ready for the big time? they ask. Is he mature enough? Can he flip it down field as well as he flips the bird? As you've likely guessed, I’m more interested in Brian Football right now. Sure, he doesn’t come with as much hype, nor does he stir TV’s talking heads into verbal diarrhea the way Manziel does. But he could be a very good quarterback in time. While Manziel was off betting on himself in Vegas this summer, or twerking with Bieber, or whatever he does in his spare time, Hoyer went about his business, studying the playbook, taking reps and signing footballs, ‘Browns starter.’

Okay, I made the last bit up. But he may as well have because anyone who cares about Cleveland football knew in their heart of hearts that Manziel wouldn’t be ready for week one. Except him. Presumably he felt his talents would win him the starting gig, not realizing that athleticism doesn’t help you read a defense, or learn a playbook, or act like a pro. College educations just aren’t what they used to be.

So you see, this is mostly about Hoyer, who gets buried in Browns media coverage like Bruce at a Kardashian pool party. It’s no fun being the smartresponsible, flat-reared one is it? Hoyer could throw six of seven balls in his next game and there’d still be those clamouring for Manziel to go in. Yes, this is the nature of pro football, especially in our age of short attention spans. Nothing helps a raw talent like Johnny Manziel to be perceived as more important than he is than passing glances, and that’s exactly how many people follow the NFL nowadays. Those who really watch the game, however, know it takes more than bravado to play behind center.

Let’s not dismiss the focus and poise it’ll take Hoyer to keep his starting job and applaud his injury comeback. This Cleveland gig isn't exactly his to lose but Manziel’s to win really, and that’s possibly the worst case scenario for any quarterback. If the Browns succeed, Hoyer will be spared. If they fail, he’ll be the obvious scapegoat, hung out to dry by media hounds and an increasingly impatient fan base. 

You know Manziel will step in at some point because like Tebow before him, the public inertia is too great. Not even Ricky Vaughn rose to stardom this quickly folks.

Burn on big river, burn on.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Redskins Name Change That Just Makes Sense

Before quarterback Rex Grossman left the Washington Redskins, the most apt new name for the club was obviousthe Washington Rex-slings.

Not only would that moniker have eased over the tongue like chili from Ben's, but would've born culture relevance, and dare I say, gravitas. The old silhouetted logo might have been adapted to Rex’s face too, his crew cut neatly replacing the current feathers atop it. Equally as important, the old school ‘R’ would have stayed put as a result. It was just a win-win for Washington's marketing department and Hog fans alike.

But unfortunately Rexy is in Cleveland now, where his slingshots will soon send third-string vapor trails across the Ohio sky. You want to talk about LeBron James’ contribution to the state’s economy: how about the extra air traffic personnel needed at Hopkins International to track Rex-fueled spirals? You can’t rely on one guy downing venti-sized Americanos for that. No, you need a team. This is the sort of job creation the Rex brand delivers folks.

Well, as wonderful as it all would have been, this can’t happen until Mr Grossman goes back to Washington. And cursory visits, like his most recent preseason pine warming, just aren't enough. We need him in the burgundy and gold to make this all a reality.

So until then, there are several other name suggestions that might satisfy picketers. Firstly, I’m not against RedHawks, but it’s not quite right is it? It would require a drastic logo change, and while many people want a clean break from Washington’s footballing past, there’s no need to transform the entire image is there? For this reason, I’m higher on RedFeathers. There’s something dignified about it. And it rollsnot quite like Rexslingsbut it still drops from your lips in a tight end-over-end fashion. It’d also work with all existing logos.

The other name suggestion worth consideration is Braves, mostly because it was the team's original name back in 1932, but also has better brand implications than the current nickname. Club insiders could appease owner Dan Snyder with this one as well, by noting the courage needed to make the switch, especially after he has long resisted. They could draw up pie charts and powerpoint graphs that show how the move could reshape his reputation, raising it from Richard Nixon territory to Theismann and Duke Ellington company.

Still, I know what you’re thinking. You can’t get Rexslings out of your head, right? Me neither. There’s still time America. There's still time.