Tag Archives: NFL

Browns Football – Where’s That Other Shoe?

Admit it… You were scared. In the fourth quarter of the Browns game vs the Bengals, you got scared. You were waiting for the other shoe to drop… But guess what? There’s no other shoe and the Browns were victorious in a fun-filled 35-20 stomping of their interstate rivals.

If you have followed the Cleveland Browns for any length of time then you know – and have lamented the fact – that the Browns find new and unusual way to lose games week after week.  But here’s a news flash for you – this ain’t the “Same Old Browns.”

Continue reading Browns Football – Where’s That Other Shoe?

The Oversaturation Killing the NFL is Good for College Football

All this time, the NFL has seemed so bullet-proof, but we’re seeing vulnerability in the armor. People aren’t watching as much, and they don’t like the way the product is being dispersed.

What plagues the professional game actually seems to aid college football. While we understand Saturday remains the best day to see the best games, we don’t feel like the occasional Thursday or Friday games are scheduled to do us dirty.

You want to play one of these games on the moon at 4 o’clock on a Tuesday, College Football fans will adjust. Just tell them when/where the tailgate is, and they’re cool.

Tell an NFL fan that Sunday Ticket is only offering a game that his antenna won’t in the late spot on Sunday, and they’re livid with London and Thursday Night Football. The presentation of the NFL game is too clean for fans to adapt to these random game-time windows.

College Football fans see Thursday, and now also Tuesday and Wednesday, as an opportunity to showcase a game that might be buried on ESPNU or some dreaded streaming option at noon on Saturday.

Western Michigan is the “Other” Team

Last Tuesday, the nation’s “other” unbeaten team had the undivided attention of the College Football diehards in Muncie. Maybe a 32-point win over Ball State isn’t that sexy on paper, but did you see what Corey Davis did?

Do you feel anything was flukey about Western Michigan’s 9-0 start? Maybe you understand the pecking order, and where the Mid-American Conference gets pecked. Maybe there’s an obligation to qualify the two road wins over the Big Ten by reminding everyone that Illinois was one of those wins. Maybe you wonder if the MAC juggernaut deserves to be on the field with a mid-major darling like Boise State.

Friday night, by the way, a nationwide audience was given a chance to watch the other Broncos bounce back from their first loss of the season, which happened on October 29.

Remember the 80s?

Just for kicks, you could have watched games involving Oklahoma and Colorado last Thursday. Maybe something like that would have excited you more 25-30 years ago, but those games affect the outcome of the Big 12 and Pac-12, because the present is weird.

You love it, and it takes nothing away from Saturday afternoon or evening.

Election Threads and Football on the Diamond

This coming Tuesday, Eastern Michigan will continue a semi-annual MAC tradition of paying homage to democracy with Election Day uniforms, back in Muncie–for #MACtion. Speaking of everyone’s favorite non-defense-playing conference, you’ll be sure to see Cubs fans from DeKalb to Northern Ohio trolling Guaranteed Rate Field on Chicago’s south side this Wednesday.

It’s football at a baseball stadium. Yeah, Northwestern and Illinois got Wrigley on a Saturday, and GameDay went to Wrigleyville. This next chapter in the great Toledo-Northern Illinois saga might get Roy Philbott, Rocky Boiman, and an ESPN2 production crew to urban Illinois on a school night.

Does Anyone Get Pac-12 Network?

Thursday, we get Utah in the Valley of the Sun, for the FS1 weekend preview. It’s up to the Utes to prove that anyone other than Washington is worth a damn in that conference. This game isn’t being stolen from ABC at 3:30, but more likely from a channel you don’t get, even if you live in Phoenix or Salt Lake City.

NBC is Glad It’s You, Not Them

CBS gave you three games on Saturday, just as they would when they have London and the 1 PM/4 PM doubleheader on Sunday. They got Notre Dame because they have Navy rights. Notre Dame lost again; great moment for Navy. Is College Football worse off for the Irish’s 3-6 campaign?

I doubt CBS or Navy care. They’re going to care about records a lot more in December when they’re selling some lousy SEC East team’s upset potential against Alabama in Atlanta.

Hurts Donut?

Speaking of the Tide, Jalen Hurts may have provided the only offensive spark for Alabama in a 10-0 win in Death Valley at night. There’s a joke to be told including Alabama’s quarterback’s last name and a breakfast food that looks like a zero, but I’m striking out.

The networks are hitting it out of the park though and in doing so, they’ve won us over with quantity over quality. More may mean too much on Sunday, but we love it on Saturday, Thursday, and sometimes Tuesday.

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Eliminating Kickoffs from Football Would Be Beyond Stupid

Every year around this time, I get pretty excited for college football to begin. I usually search YouTube endlessly, trying to find the perfect compilation of hard hits and highlights to satiate my hunger. It doesn’t take long before I settle onto a video, or two, or three and become lost in a sea of tackling carnage.

As a former player, this gets me seriously hyped. The feeling of laying the perfect hit on someone (not injuring them, of course) is indescribable. It’s a precise mix of timing, force, and just the right amount of aggression to send a message that I’ve come to play.  I’m putting the crowd and the opposing team on notice that I’m not one to be trifled with.

I say this because these are the types of elements that make football as unique and addictive as it is. On the flip side, for every highlight reel tackle, there are unfortunate incidents where players are severely injured and on the rarest of occasions, players lose their lives.

All that said, there’s a serious hot button issue circulating around all levels of football concerning the overall safety and necessity of kickoffs. As we know, football itself is undergoing a massive overhaul in the realm of player safety. And to a larger degree, it’s the financial bottom line of these changes that can and will impact the game. The latter is a conversation for another time. For now, let’s narrow our focus on whether kickoffs are actually necessary.

I cannot imagine the game without the kickoff. It’s the moment in time where my adrenaline was at its highest. From the stare down with the opposing special teams unit to the roar of the crowd anxiously waiting to set things off. It was where you sized up your blocking or coverage assignment, determined your plan of attack, and ultimately “laid a hat” on someone.

I played football in a time that’s much different than what I witness now. The players are, by and large, the same but the mentality of the game is different. Due to the game’s massive popularity and subsequent financial viability, other interests have crept into the fold. I digress. That’s another story for another time.

I am going to look at this subject with as much of an unbiased eye as possible. I am all for player safety. The intent of the game is not to deliberately injure one another. However, it is a game of controlled aggression, intimidation, physicality, will-bending, and dominance. The key word being controlled.

With those parameters in place as a cornerstone mentality to be effective in the game of football, it seems a little incongruent to now scale back that approach in the name of “safety.” So it’s “safe” to say that I am not in favor of removing kickoffs from the game. However, I am open to understanding the argument from a different perspective, if possible.

The Impact of Removing the Kickoff from the Game

Admittedly so, from a physical perspective, the kickoff is the most intense and physically vulnerable a player can and will be of the three phases of the game. Depending on your team, (kickoff or return) you are exposed to the most amount of physical contact in any given amount of time.

On the kickoff team, your job is to sprint 60 or so yards, while maintaining proper lane coverage and tackle the returner. Now, before you get remotely close, you must bust through the return wall and seek out the ball carrier. And by bust I mean literally run smack dab into another human being at top speed, hoping to weaken the wall set up to protect the returner. Depending on your size and the speed at which you cover ground, this can be a tremendous impact. Think of it like charging soldiers in war time. Once they clash, it can be a disorienting experience.

On kickoff coverage, at top, straight-line speed, it’s extremely difficult to change direction on a dime. Few are blessed to do so. For the others that are not, those players are exposed to serious injury to their lower extremities with every kickoff.

Usually, you’re coached to establish lane coverage as quickly as possible (that’s where the sprinting comes in) and once you’ve reached the return team, breakdown (slow down, widen your stance to gain balance, center yourself and prepare to take on a blocker or tackle the returner). Now keep in mind, the blockers for the return team are charging you and high speeds as well. So if you break down too early, you’re liable to get obliterated. In the end, it just becomes a demolition derby with bodies flying everywhere.

By eliminating the kickoff, there will be less direct collisions between players at high speeds and awkward angles. Also, blindside blocks, blocks in the back, and helmet-to-helmet hits will be lessened. Not eliminated, but lessened.

According to a study by the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, 16% of injuries occur during kickoffs. Although the percentage is low, they are finding that those injuries are the most severe. In May of this year, Pop Warner football leagues have eliminated the kickoff for teams 10 years of age and under.

The NFL and NCAA rules committees have not had any formal discussion on eliminating the kickoff and will not broach the subject until after the 2017 season. Instead, they have moved up the kickoff placement to the 35-yard line to increase the number of touchbacks, therefore limiting the amount of returns and possible injuries. I can understand the intent of the rule change. Less is more in the vein that players will sustain less injury, therefore keeping quality players (product) on the field at all times. Get my drift?

Why the Kickoff is Necessary

Kickoffs have been a part of the game since its inception. Throughout all the modifications in football over the years, the kickoff has remained one of the few constants. It’s how you begin the game, simply put. It’s as iconic as the tip-off in basketball or the face-off for the puck in hockey. It wouldn’t be football without it.

Safety aside, let’s looks at the importance of the kickoff. First, it’s a positioning battle. It’s all about location in football. Where you begin determines the strategy you use to score.

If you start on your own 40-yard line, offenses don’t feel the pressure of being backed up to their own goal line. In that, offenses are more prone to exact more diverse play calls.

If you start at the 25-yard line or closer, typically, the offense will scale back the offense until they establish a better yard placement on the field, which is why you see more runs and short passes in those situations.

Another aspect to look at in regards to the importance of the kickoff is that it directly affects the type of personnel each team carries. Every team has a return specialist. Usually, they have great top end speed and elusiveness to maneuver through the carnage and gain as many yards as possible.

However, they may be lacking in other skill-sets that would not enable them to play offense or defense. Players like Devin Hester, Ted Ginn, Jr. (to a lesser degree) and the like would not have the opportunity to play football if it weren’t for special teams. This isn’t limited to just returners, I’m talking the entire special teams units altogether. Every player has a specific skill-set, and it just so happens that it fits in line with either setting up or disrupting a return.

Just as field position is vital to the game of football, momentum is just as, if not more, important. Momentum sparks, drives, and changes the complexions of the game. How many times have you seen your team down by a score with seconds to go, only to have a kickoff, or punt return for that matter, completely change the outcome. Kickoffs are as majestic as the Hail Mary. The fortunes of a team are transformed in the blink of an eye.

Happy Medium?

In the end, I may be a football purist, but I do see and understand the level of concern folks may share. It’s the purist in me that always comes back to, “this is football!” It’s meant to be violent. I’m not advocating deliberate injuries. However, I am in favor of setting a tone. Tackles, stiff arms, jukes, and kickoff returns set a tone. It’s that very tone that either helps earn the victory or invites defeat.

Is there a happy medium that can be reached? Frankly, I don’t think so. If we go by an adjusted field placement, they’ll be a shift in strategy that could possibly augment the game, making it less exciting. Not to mention, you eliminate the crowd’s involvement. There’s nothing more exciting than to see thousands of bulbs flash during teh opening kickoff.

I can’t imagine a crowd getting hype over the offense and defense simply taking the field. There’s no momentum, no emotion, no signifying moment that lets the player and you, the fan, know that there’s a battle brewing. Until the 2017 season ends and the rules committee bump heads on whether to change a rule as vital to the game as the quarterback, we’ll just savor these moments and enjoy football the way it was meant to be.

E-mail David at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @VirgosAssasin

Featured image courtesy of Erik Drost/ Flickr

Is CTE Settled Science? Symptoms Similar to Those Found with Steroid Use

An on-going topic of debate in football is the impact the sport has on brain function. This is being discussed at all levels of football starting with youth leagues and going all the way up to the NFL. Concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) are serious issues that deserve not only the public’s attention but also the undivided attention of the NFL. But what if I told you that the symptoms associated with CTE were also associated with the use of steroids?

CTE, as defined by the Boston University CTE Center, is a “progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes (and others) with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the head.” Everyone from ESPN to PBS has produced featured stories on not only how CTE has affected football players but also on how the NFL has allegedly covered up the findings in order to benefit its business model. The symptoms of CTE, based on the Boston University CTE Center, include “memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, and, eventually, progressive dementia.”

CTE has been blamed for the tragic events that led to the tragic stories of Kansas City Chief Jovan Belcher, New York Giant Tyler Sash, Atlanta Falcon Ray Easterling and San Diego Charger Junior Seau to name just a few. As a result of events such as these, many ex-NFL players have donated their brains to science and/or have retired from the NFL earlier than expected.

As is the case with any series of tragic events, society looks to cast blame on someone, or an entity, that is driven by greed. In the case of CTE, that entity is the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell. The charge against Goodell in the court of public opinion is that he, like his predecessors, chose to hide the impact of CTE from football players in order to maximize the profits of the NFL. Goodell found himself the subject of additional public outrage when he went on the record saying that he would encourage his son to play football.

Even with the substantiated proof of CTE, it should not be considered settled science that CTE is the primary factor involved in the tragedies of these current and former NFL players. Like Jason Whitlock and Danny Kanell, I too have my doubts about just how conclusive the science is that links CTE with these football tragedies.

In his J. School blog, Whitlock approached an angle that I have long thought about in regards to the symptoms of CTE and brain function. Whitlock discusses the angle the media took with the steroid issue in baseball, but what if there was more to the use of steroids in football than the media reported and we knew?

There is a long list of side effects that are associated with the use of steroids. These side effects include aggressive behaviors and psychiatric disorders. Aggressive behaviors and psychiatric disorders are also two of the more highly publicized side effects of CTE. I am not saying that CTE is not a real issue for football players and I am also not saying that it isn’t a serious issue for football players. But what if Goodell and the NFL are correct when they argue that CTE is not to blame for tragedies such as Jovan Belcher and Junior Seau?

Former NFL player Eddie George believes that steroids do play a role in the off the field issues of some of the NFL players.

Considering the fact that CTE and steroid use share some of the same side effects, why then is the impact of CTE considered settled science in the NFL and why then is the NFL, under Goodell’s leadership, being presented as being nefarious in their attitude towards CTE? My belief is that this is more outrage from the social justice warrior (SJW) crowd.

Blaming CTE for the current and post-retirement issues that afflict football players is the easy way out. The SJW crowd loves a good villain more than they love personal responsibility. CTE provides the villain and it’s a villain that Hollywood could also rally around. And considering that the topic of CTE has been snatched by the SJW crowd, it also means that it is an argument that is ultimately debated on social media rather than in the science lab. Like facts, science doesn’t care about your feelings. Social media does care about your feelings and topics become settled science based in large part to who can scream the loudest.

When discussing CTE in the NFL, many seem to remove the role of personal responsibility from the argument. Some players seize their freedom of choice and choose to retire early based on what is known about CTE. I applaud these players and believe more players should acknowledge that the choice does exist. Nobody forces these adults to play football.

Now, if steroids do play a role in the tragic events attributed to CTE then I believe that personal choice plays an even greater factor in this debate. But if the tragic events that occurred with Jovan Belcher and Junior Seau had anything at all to do with steroids, well, that doesn’t make for good SJW outrage because there is nobody like Goodell to present in an evil way. It’s all about the individual player at that point.

If you want a more concrete example of what i’m presenting, all you need to do is look at the world of professional wrestling. Paul Farhi makes an interesting statement in that Washington Post article:

Professional wrestlers of (Ultimate) Warrior’s generation (he was 54) have experienced a mortality rate that would be considered a crisis and a scandal if it happened in some other context — say, to football players, racecar drivers or boxers.

Farhi is correct in his assertion that if there were this many deaths of football players under the age of 50 that the situation would be considered a crisis and a scandal. Farhi even uses Chris Benoit as an example of a tragedy that would not be as accepted if it had involved an NFL player.

Before taking his own life, Chris Benoit killed his wife and their 7-year-old son, yet unlike the similar chain of events that involved Jovan Belcher, CTE was not blamed for Benoit’s killing spree. What was suggested as the influencing factor behind the deaths were steroids.

Investigators found anabolic steroids in the house and want to know whether the muscle man nicknamed “The Canadian Crippler” was unhinged by the bodybuilding drugs, which can cause paranoia, depression and explosive outbursts known as “roid rage.”

We as a society owe it to everyone to slow down and to take a responsible, level-headed examination of all of the facts and possible reasons behind the growing list of tragedies involving football players. Maybe CTE is the driving factor behind this growing issue and maybe the NFL and Goodell are ignoring it in the name of profit. But just maybe the science isn’t settled and just maybe the SJWs should give the scientific community time to engage in responsible science.

Remember, like facts, responsible science doesn’t care about your feelings.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

 

*Featured image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

What Effect Will Early NFL Retirements Have On the College Game?

Even though football season is but a few months away, there are some incredibly intriguing events taking place that could have lasting effects on America’s most popular sport. If you’ve been under a rock the last three months you may not have a clue as to what I’m talking about. But, for the purpose of this piece, I’ll assume you have some knowledge of the most recent current events.

The most recent current event I am speaking of is player safety and the preventative measures some players are doing to stave off permanent injury. Within the last six to eight years, there have been numerous cases in which retired NFL players are seeking just compensation for irreparable brain injuries (click here for list of players). Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease usually suffered by athletes who have experienced repeated blows to the head throughout a playing career, has garnered loads of attention because of its connection with diminished quality of life, including erratic and sometimes deadly behaviors. Players now have taken a vested interest in what developments have been discovered through research of CTE and incorporate those findings into their decision making process moving forward with their careers. As a result, there have been a recent string of players retiring at earlier stages in their careers.

Although the average career of an NFL player is three and a half years, this is somewhat unprecedented when you have high-caliber players calling it a career at the apex of their careers. And their rationale for retiring, you ask? Health concerns. Health concerns? Football is one of the most violent contact sports on the planet. A number of these players have been involved with football for at least 15 years. Imagine spending your entire childhood through adolescence to early adulthood conditioning your body for such physical damage and once you’re fortunate enough to make it to the pinnacle of your sport, you site your future health as a reason to stop.

Don’t get me wrong now. I am certainly not condemning these players for preserving their bodies for a life beyond football. I commend them for it. It takes a lot of courage to walk away from something you’ve strived for, for so long. But, I must wonder, when a player was going through all those stages of competitive play and suffered all the punishment, why did it not resonate with them at an earlier stage? Call it youthful ignorance, denial, invincibility complex, whatever- what’s most important is that they’ve chosen their life beyond a dream; something that’s not pondered until one has exhausted mind, body, and soul at an advanced age in the game.

With earlier retirements now becoming more prevalent in recent years, I wonder if this will have an impact on the college game. Imagine, a majority of these players enter the league between 21 and 24 years of age. The prime of their careers, should they be fortunate enough to make it, is between 25-28 years of age (depending on the position of course). So, for an established and impactful player, that’s only four to seven years to make top dollar and set oneself up financially. Now couple the concern of long term health into the equation; it could possibly shorten the career length. Again, it all depends on the position played and level of dependence others have upon them (sad, but true).

Where this can impact the college game is that there could be a petition to lower the eligibility age to play professional football. Because it’s a high impact sport, the earning potential is only best within a certain age range. Therefore, the earlier a player can become eligible, the likelier the player is to make the most of his possible earning potential. Although this scenario is highly unlikely, if this were to come to pass, the college game would suffer dramatically. Top tier talent would not want to risk future earnings to play at the “amateur” level, when there could be millions made at the professional level. As a result, you may have players not going all out, but instead taking it easy to preserve themselves.

Or consider this, eligibility requirements remain the same and players continue to weigh long term health against their playing future and decide to retire before any more damage can be done- where does this leave he NFL? Despite the findings of health related issues associated with football, I know there would still be a line several miles long vying for a chance to play professional football. However, if impactful talent only stayed a mere seven years or so due to health concerns, the turnover would inevitably affect the overall product of the game. Yes there will be an abundance of players to choose from, but will the level of quality be the same? Would fans be privy to a diminished product on the field?

To put a face on this issue, the last two seasons in the NFL saw the departure of tremendous talents calling it a career, in some cases far too soon. Patrick Willis, LB for the San Francisco 49ers, 30 years old, hung up his cleats. Rookie Chris Borland (2014), LB for these same 49ers, 25years old, calls it a career after one professional season. Marshawn Lynch, RB for the Seattle Seahawks, 29 years old, hangs them up. Most recently, WR Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions, 30 years old, retired due to concerns of his long term health. All these players mentioned were either in their prime, or just barely coming out of it. With the exception of Chris Borland, these players are quite difficult to replace. However, teams have and will continue to do so. But, will the replacement be anything like the predecessor?

It’s a very interesting time in the realm of collegiate and professional football. There will be lines drawn in the sand in regard to player safety and ultimately, the quality of life during or after a player’s career has ended. Question is, can we set aside our passion for compassion for these men risking life and limb, literally, for a sport that’s as taxing as it is exhilarating? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Lingering Thoughts on a Super Bowl Sunday

I have to be honest, it’s been awhile since my last confession post.  The hiatus was not without its reasons, notably fatigue.  Another championship, another year without a dog in the fight.  They tell me I had one in June, and they’d be right about my hometown, but I don’t even know how many NBA Finals have been played.  With the Super Bowl, it’s in your face.  Fifty of them, and we’re not even forced to translate an L into a number this year; thanks Super Bowl marketing folks.  Fifty without a participation for trophy for the Cleveland Browns1To be fair, there were three they weren’t eligible for, due to not not fielding a team for some odd reason in the mid-90s., but I digress…

I don’t know if I just made this up in my head, or if I actually heard it somewhere, conversation of a Buffalo/Baltimore swap between divisions in the AFC.  With apologies to Toronto and Tampa Bay, that gives you the best pieces of the American League East in a football division.2I know, I know, it’s not the same.  ESPN and CBS trying to make it so doesn’t make it so.  Jets-Patriots is often a fun game, but Yankees-Red Sox it is not.  That’s not even what excites me, beyond the idea of not getting mandatory Ravens twice a year, it’s the fire you’d get in that part of the world if the Browns, Bills, and Steelers are all good at the same time.  I don’t imagine Steelers fans would miss the purple, and I don’t much care if Bengals fans have an opinion on the subject.

Calvin Johnson is walking away from football, walking away from the Detroit Lions.  This sounds familiar.  I’m sorry Lions fan, just because I suffer, don’t think I forget what you also go through.

Nothing like something awful at the end to ruin what was nice.  49-15 is going to sting in Arizona, especially if the follow-up is more indicative of a hangover than a mission.  Locally, I’ve heard them compare the season after, between this year and the Super Bowl, and again, the quarterback’s age limits the openness of the window.  There’s also something to be said for what Kurt Warner can do on the big stage, versus what Carson Palmer has shown ails him in the moments of truth.

On to the Super Bowl…

Look, I’m white.  I was once labeled by a giant Polish teammate for being as white as they come on a pretty culturally diverse high school football team.  I deserved the tag, having grown up in the suburbs.  I didn’t exactly absorb the inner-city, but I walked some of the same streets and breathed the same air as the lifers, though my time within the city limits was short.  I’d go as far as to say that in a blind-study, I’m one big, steaming pile of privilege.  Knowing that, I am not bothered by Cameron Newton, and really think we should all be past the fear of a black planet quarterback.

I caught the 30-for-30 on the Bad Boy Pistons on ABC a few weeks ago.  First of all, I miss that NBA, the game where you knocked people down when they came at you.  Second, Isaiah Thomas said something silly about Larry Bird, and then he followed it up with sillier stuff.  Frankly, I think Isaiah is very likeable, and at the end of the day, outside the heat of the moment, he knew there was more to Bird than being some kind of Great White Hope.  That’s one of those incidents you look at retroactively, and think about the circus that would have become of a sound byte like that in 2016.

So, if Cam was white.  Same skillset, same celebratory tactics, same philanthropic efforts.  Wait, what was that last part?  We were so distracted by his devilish dancing and mock-selfie-taking obnoxiousness, not to mention the outrageous act of giving away footballs to children, of all people, that we haven’t acknowledged the good things the man does when the cameras aren’t rolling.  If Cam was white, he’d be more of a deity, but perhaps the power of what he represents wouldn’t speak the volumes that they do.

The game is the game, and the sociological issues aren’t the game, but someone once told me not to stare at the TV and tell you it’s not on.  It’s an exciting time to be alive, and let me qualify this by saying that I’m far from a bleeding-heart type; we have reporters of sport revealing their sexual preference without incident, women coaching men at the highest level of professional sports, and we may be on the brink of our most prominent black quarterback to lead his team to a Championship.

If I’m Doug Williams or Russell Wilson, I take no shame in playing a different role as the starting quarterback than Newton.  Not every championship is built the same way; I’d be proud to be a champion, no need to distinguish myself by race or football role there.  I don’t recall either player trying to be the bad guy, and that seems to be the assertion with Cam.  If that’s part of being the hero, to be rebellious, you have to let him spread his wings and say the things he wants to say when he wants to say them.  Just a word of advice, it’s difficult to play the moral clause when defending lack of championships on the barstool.

Manning.  There’s no right point of view on him.  I’ve long believed him to be the better quarterback, when it came to him and Tom Brady, but the wins are the wins.  In a team sport, measuring a player by team wins (even guys like Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson) is a fair approach, though it might seem unfair in a lot of cases.  Manning didn’t get it done when he probably should have, and as likeable as he tends to be, my sadistic entertainment value seems move more favorably when Archie’s kid falls apart.

The thing is, he’s so much better than Eli.  Everyone know that, even Giants fans, but Eli got it done…twice.  Two for two, not two for four.

Peyton Manning’s decision to go to Denver aggravated me.  The opportunities in San Francisco and Arizona just seemed too obvious.  Then again, I would have preferred to see him retire, having worn a Colts uniform his entire career.  He made a good argument for moving on the different pastures the last couple of seasons.

Gary Kubiak has quietly been part of just about every era of the Broncos’ success, going back to my childhood.  He held the clipboard while Elway drove, he held the football as Karlis kicked it somewhere near the vicinity of the goal pasts in OT, and he held a spot on Mike Shanahan’s staff when the organization took home its first two and only two Lombardi trophies.  He coached in Houston and Baltimore, proving there was more to Kubiak than just being in the right place at the right time, and it seemed like a natural add to upgrade from John Fox.

Fox won a playoff game with Tebow.  He took the Panthers to their only prior Super Bowl.  He was an integral part of a Giants team that reached the Super Bowl between the reigns of Parcells and Coughlin.  He’s got Chicago on the right track.  Don’t read too much into his former employers doing quite well without him.

This year’s Broncos arguably stumbled their way to 12-4.  They were lucky not to lose to the Browns in Cleveland.  Peyton Manning looked either broken or incapable, and Brock Osweiler looked well and appeared to have Wally Pipped his Hall of Fame mentor.  They learned balance, and they learned to let the defense win games and stay out of the way.  These curses turned out to be blessings.

Carolina playing without Kelvin Benjamin all season.  Subtract D’Angelo Williams from the running game.  Seventeen wins, one meaningless loss.  We should have taken you more seriously, Panthers.  How were we supposed to know that?  I just came around to how dumb it is to refer to him as Scam Newton last October.

Carolina has its stars, and you know their names by now.  Josh Norman, hopefully known nationwide for more than the dust-up with Odell Beckham Jr., him you know.  Luke Kuchely is the leader of that defense, and even if you weren’t fully aware of him coming out of Boston College, you should know him by now.  Thomas Davis had his arm in a sling the last we saw him; it’s okay to believe in next man up, but the injured linebacker is active and expected to start on Sunday evening.

Denver’s secondary and Carolina’s receiving corps will be an interesting matchup, but I think the way the Broncos run the ball in the second half dictates how this game winds up looking in the books.  I have no desire to see Elway or his lifelong lieutenant Kubiak raise a trophy, but that’s how I see it going.  For that entire region on the east coast, known as Carolina, I hope I’m wrong.

…and if Cam Newton wins and finds a way to take down White Supremacy in the process, the way Rocky ended the Cold War, I’d find that to be a mutually-desired result for the majority of us.

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1. To be fair, there were three they weren’t eligible for, due to not not fielding a team for some odd reason in the mid-90s.
2. I know, I know, it’s not the same.  ESPN and CBS trying to make it so doesn’t make it so.  Jets-Patriots is often a fun game, but Yankees-Red Sox it is not.

The Colts’ Top Offseason Priority: Improve the Offensive Line

In professional football, the group of players who typically get the least amount of attention are the offensive linemen. Those players protect the quarterback and create openings for the running backs, so despite their lack of fanfare, those guys are extremely important to a team’s success.

A great example of how an offensive line can make or break a team would be the 2015 Indianapolis Colts. Going into the season, their offense was thought to be virtually unstoppable. They had Andrew Luck at quarterback, Frank Gore at running back, a bevy of talented receivers in T.Y. Hilton, Andre Johnson, Donte Moncrief, Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen.

There was just one problem…everyone forgot that in order for all these dynamic playmakers to do their job, they would need quality pass and run blocking. The offensive line couldn’t provide the help that the “skill position” players needed, and as a result, the Colts offense was, well, offensive in 2015.

The point has now been hammered home that having all that offensive talent means nothing if Andrew Luck is on his back, or Frank Gore has nowhere to run with the football. The Colts understand this, but what can be done to improve the team’s offensive line play?

The Colts fired a number of their assistant coaches this offseason, including offensive line coach Hal Hunter. The Colts hired former Miami Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin to replace him, with the hope that he can get more out of the group of linemen the Colts currently have on the roster. Philbin has a very good record as an offensive line coach, so this move has the potential to make a difference.

Indianapolis also needs to upgrade the talent on the offensive line. Left tackle Anthony Castonzo is the Colts’ best lineman, but he had an off year in 2015 and will have to rebound. Left guard Jack Mewhort is young, but has shown he can do the job. Other than those two guys, the team’s group of offensive linemen is a bit shaky.

The Colts began the season with Khaled Holmes, Todd Herremans and Lance Louis filling the other three line positions. During this time, the team was also experimenting by moving Mewhort to right tackle. The line play in the first two games of the season was awful, so changes began to be made.

All sorts of combinations were tried, but the bottom line is that none of them worked nearly well enough. The Colts have a particular problem with the center and guard spots, and this has to be addressed if the team is to return to contender status.

One bright spot for the future of the Colts offensive line came late in the season with the insertion of rookie Denzell Goode into the lineup at right tackle. Goode still needs experience, but his solid play gave indications that he may eventually be the answer at right tackle.

So, if Indianapolis is in “win now” mode as they seem to be, they need to bring in at least one quality center and one quality guard to upgrade the talent in front of Andrew Luck. Continuity on the offensive line is always a big plus, but when you don’t have good enough players in place, you have to make changes. One would hope that with Joe Philbin as their coach, the offensive line will gel, even with some new faces in 2016.

An excellent offensive line can make even mediocre players around them look good, and conversely, a poor offensive line can make Pro Bowl players around them look bad. The Indianapolis Colts know all too well about the latter, and they intend to change that before the fall of 2016.

Monday Morning Breeze: The Revolution Will Be Caught One-Handed

[(MOST IMPORTANT NOTE: The Breeze will recap CFB’s Alabama-Clemson National Championship game on Tuesday, so this will be Professional Football-heavy, or College-Deflated, depending how you choose to see the glass re: -imisms) It’s near impossible to miss the unfolding humor in a reality that pits America’s Most Traditionally Revered NFL team against the steaming pile of toxic that has been Daniel Snyder’s Washington Trumps, in D.C., for a wild-card playoff game.

When you add the fact that a prominent Packer player is named “Ha Ha Clinton-Dix” while Hillary stumps for the 2016 Democratic Presidential nomination, I mean, clearly Fate’s got a warped thing for the wickedly absurd. So what could prepare us for an NFL Wild-card weekend that lived up to its name? Where Ace Ventura jokes became re-relevant (“laces out”) making my heart gently weep for Minnesota’s Blair Walsh Project, where it seems everyone wants to be like ODB Jr whether it’s receivers vying for his “Best Ever Catch ‘Til Tomorrow” crown, or Vontaze’s Burfict crime-ing for his “Grossest Cheap Shot” frown, where all he does is Russell Wilson Seattle to wins (or perhaps Faith’s wind), while the Bengals missed Double-Deuce Dalton more than the time it takes to restore sore thumbs, Pack Nation slumbers well ’cause Aaron Rodgers remembered how to kinda throw again, some.

To playoff football let’s succumb. Enter to the beating drum of your heart’s hum and maybe find fun…

NFL PLAYOFFS PORTION OF THE PROGRAM

NFL Playoffs Games of the Week (Wild-card Round) Kansas City Chiefs 30 @ Houston Texans 0 So it was, ho hum, on the very first kickoff of the very first ho hum playoff game KNILE DAVIS EXPLODES THROUGH A MASSIVE HOLE AND ho hum RETURNS IT ONE-HUNDRED AND SIX FREAKING YARDS FOR THE TD. Houston was never really close on the majority of this play or for the rest of the game as Kansas City would never relinquish that lead, with the helpful, steady hand of Alex Smith leading the way and the woefully unsteady hand of Bryan Hoyer (4 picks, yikes!) leaving the Texans exposed like a butterfly filet of poor play.

Jon Gruden quote of the day: “JJ Watt’s battling a bad groin injury.” Look, Watt’s an incredible player, but even he can’t fight a Kansas City O-line AND tangle with one of those “bad groin injury” things at the same time.

Pittsburgh Steelers 18 @ Cincinnati Bengals 16 An enchanting, angry contest. Part 1 of “Insane Catches by Incredible Wideouts,” and Vontaze’s Rage. This story told with the help of Vine’s visuality. We’ll start with the uglier portions of the game and finish with the beauty of Martavis’ gorgeous holy-roller TD catch. In all, it seems Andy Dalton will still get blamed for another 1st round exit, even though he wasn’t playing. We begin with one Vontaze Burfict losing his famously hot-tempered mind, producing a near clone of the ODB Jr. cheap-ass headshot, this time on Antonio Brown…

..but “Oh by the way” Burfict was way more egregious, disgusting, with this cheap headshot on Maxx Williams in a previous game versus the Ravens. Careful, it’s disturbing…

https://vine.co/v/iMWPBbFYELr

…and continuing the ugly parade, Pittsburgh ASSISTANT COACH Mike Munchak, yes, a coach, ripping some of Reggie Nelson’s dreads, rightfully pissing him right off…

…but thank all that’s True and Right in the world for Martavis Bryant’s incredible athleticism, focus, and brilliance all on display on this catch in the 3rd quarter, possibly trumping Beckham’s one-handed stab heard ’round the world…

Seattle Seahawks 10 @ Minnesota Vikings 9 This game will forever be remembered (by me) as “The Blair Walsh Project,” but it also included Part 2 of “Incredible Catches by Amazing Wideouts” and one of the more unlikely turning-point plays in recent history. First off, it looked cold as freezer burn in Minn-eh-sot-ah, -3 degrees for much of the game, with breath bursting from the entire stadium’s mouths like 80,000 proud vapers.

While their defense was its usual stout self, Seattle came out slightly resembling a steaming crater of ineptitude on offense. Then the play below happened, which appears to foreshadow more terror for Wilson and the ‘Hawks offense. Except he’s Macklemore uncommonly composed Russ Wilson, even in the face of certain peril, proving once again on this play why he’s so valuable to Mr. Pete Carroll and the ‘Hawks. For a little forced imagination, think of how 99.9% of the time the QB/center shotgun exchange is botched like this it results in, at best, a sack.

Instead, picture this reality where Wilson recovers smoothly, calmly baseball slides, retrieving the ball and springing back up in one swift motion, rolls away from oncoming defenders, looks downfield and fires a strike to a wide-open Tyler Lockett for the game-changing play. Seattle would go on to a TD and huge momentum swing, injecting life into their moribund offense and turning the tides of what was shaping up to be a certain Viking victory.

Yeah, I believe in momentum, F Nate Silver on this topic, and this was a huge swing in a game largely dictated by field position.

…then Adrian Peterson fumbles on the ensuing Viking possession, and SEA recovers with 10:30 left in the 4th.

…oh by the way Doug Baldwin becomes a bent Beckham-like wizard and makes this incredible one-hander…

…although Chase Coffman proves there should be some kinda permit receivers have to earn to attempt one-handed catch, like a driver’s license, ’cause he tries to be like Doug B. but instead makes an interception so easy…

Trailing Seattle 10-9 very late in the 4th quarter, Kyle Rudolph beat Kam Chancellor in man coverage for a huge first down catch (vindication for Chancellor getting away with a clear hold on Rudolph earlier), putting the Vikings in money-FG position for the certain game-winner. It was a kick that 99.6% of the time would’ve been a Blair Walsh layup 3-pointer. In a kinder, gentler reality Walsh nails the kick, the Vikings win, slay the 2-time Super Bowl Seahawks and move on to the next round.

In this harsher, cruel, coooold reality Walsh shanks the kick so badly left of the uprights, like a boomerang that didn’t go where it was supposed to and never came back, allowing America to brush the 8-inch thick dust off every Scott Norwood and Ace Ventura joke no longer forgotten to mankind. I understand Walsh is a professional, paid a ton of money to make that kick. He has to make that kick. But damn, I just feel bad for him.

Green Bay Packers 35 @ Washington Cousins/Trumps 18
This game started with a bizarre “DeSean Jackson scores but doesn’t” on a catch and run where he crossed the goal line near the pylon but crossed too far and stepped first out of bounds while holding the ball back pre-goal line. Green Bay went on to hold Washington to a field goal and early momentum. However, Green Bay’s offense was dormant for much of the first half until Aaron Rodgers started hooking up hardcore with Davante Adams and James Jones (don’t worry, Olivia Munn) and headed into halftime up 17-11 after giving up a safety.

In the second half, the Packers could not cover Washington’s Jordan Reed, who played incredibly (9 catches, 120 yards) with Kirk Cousins putting the Washingtons up 18-17 with a QB run. As the second half wore on though, Green Bay wrested control away, shutting down Washington’s attack, pounding Washington’s D with a steady diet of Lacy and Starks, and squeezing just enough juice out of A-Rod’s recovering air raid to coast comfortably into the next round. Kirk Cousins and the Washingtons were kinda like Leo here, at the Golden Globes: they won their division, had home-field against the Pack, everyone was lauding them for pulling through the RGIII fiasco.

They’re laughing, they’re having a good time, sitting nearer the top than they’ve been in a while. Meanwhile Rodgers and the Pack were like Lady Gaga: they just hadn’t looked like their typically dangerous self after blazing to a 6-0 start to the season before dropping 4 of their next 5 and finishing 2nd in the NFC North.

But oh, never forget about the beautiful power of Aaron Rodgers and the Pack, as they approach laughing Leo/Washington all the way from the forgotten back, shimmering the entire way as they (purposefully?) knock the Snyder’s over-extended elbow out of the way, smirking a triumphant return to the next round with a future full of promise, leaving Leo and the Snyders meekly grimacing in their wake.

https://vine.co/v/iMApWTgWgvL

THIS WEEK’S SIGN SOMETHING’S ASKEW IN THE WORLD

https://vine.co/v/iMm2OdgxwAK

Selfishly Sprayed Tweets Peak at Past Week

What Tampa Bay is Getting with Dirk Koetter, If He’s Named The Buccaneers Head Coach

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers aren’t the only team to the play fast and loose with their head coaching position, but the Glazers have certainly made some eyebrow-raising moves since winning the Super Bowl with Jon Gruden thirteen years ago. It began with Gruden, currently ESPN’s color analyst for Monday Night Football, being shown the door after consecutive 9-7 seasons, and there’s been a folly of errors with the Bucs top job, including the questionable dismissal of Lovie Smith earlier this week.

The team’s improvement to 6-10, from 2-14 in Smith’s first season, apparently wasn’t enough, so the core of Gerald McCoy, Jameis Winston, and Mike Evans will get their marching orders from a new leader when mini-camps and OTAs begin later this year. We’ve heard rumors from the ridiculous to the absolutely reasonable, so you can rule out Alabama head coach Nick Saban, but there are other candidates not named Dirk Koetter interviewing for a job they like won’t be offered when it’s all said and done.

Say what you will about the Rooney Rule, I personally understand the spirit behind it, but I don’t feel the mandate for a minority candidate interview fulfills its purpose, nor do I feel its necessary, given how much we’ve evolved since Art Shell was hired in 19891Shell was the second African American Head Coach in professional football history, and the first since Fritz Pollard stopped coaching the Chicago Black Hawks in 1928. It’s difficult to put a name to this, and I don’t care to insult the man, but with Koetter being the in-house favorite, we’re going to label Arizona offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin as the Rooney Rule candidate.

It isn’t fair to Goodwin, available to interview during the Cardinals’ bye week, but all parties involved can get something out of this. Best case scenario, speaking to supporters of the Rooney Rule, Goodwin blows them away, and gets the job. Under this scenario, Koetter walks, which is something of a wash, because Goodwin will certainly want to be the architect of the offense, in his first steps away from the shadow of Bruce Arians, aka “The Quarterback Whisperer”. Bottom line: This is an interview Goodwin deserves, but many will see it as a farce, and only the ones in the room will ever really have a feel for how legitimate the process is.

Until Cam Newton started to make Riverboat Ron Rivera’s offense tick, the strength of Carolina’s game is what you see when the Panthers don’t have the football. Sean McDermott has been coordinating that defensive unit since 2011. Give him credit for knowing how to utilize Luke Kuchely, and how to disrupt in the trenches, his defense is the reason they sit on the 1-line in the NFC as we enter the playoffs. He’s a candidate, but he’d have his work cut out for him with the 7th-worst scoring defense in the game, and that was in Year 2 of Lovie Smith.2This is more about personnel. Gerald McCoy is great, but he doesn’t play around a lot of great talent…not yet.

I could get hit by a bus, but I’ll probably be home for dinner.

Barring a very genuine surprise, the former Arizona State head coach will be promoted by the Tampa Bay brass from Offensive Coordinator to Head Coach very soon, but they have to complete the process. Honestly, what does it hurt to talk to viable candidates, even when you’re 99% of the direction you want to go? In Jacksonville, Atlanta, and now Tampa Bay, Dirk Koetter has received a lot of praise for the way he calls an offensive game for whoever was featured on the Jaguars offense from 2007 to 2011, for Matt Ryan, and for the very talented Jameis Winston.

One area of concern remains; there’s a big difference between being the Skipper and the First mate. The Glazer family, Jason Licht, and everyone involved with this rumored decision to put Koetter in charge of the show are willing to make a leap that no has dared to attempt since failing to elevate the Arizona State over six seasons3Koetter was 40-34, and impossibly bad in the state of California against the four conference rivals who reside there.. Koetter put a few players in the NFL, most notably Terrell Suggs and Zach Miller, but the Sun Devil football program never could conquer the Pac-10 on his watch.

He may be another Norv Turner, a guy who is brilliant until he gets the big whistle and a challenge flag, but I have to commend the Buccaneers commitment to stability for Jameis Winston, even if you might want to denigrate them for pink-slipping Smith after two seasons, and just one with the services of Winston. After all, you usually hear about the head coach/quarterback tandem more than the chemistry between the signal caller and the OC.

You might hear conversations about Brady and Weis, McDaniels, and O’Brien, but none of them roll off the tongue like Brady & Belichick or Belichick & Brady do. Things tend to change over time. Maybe under the guidance of Jack Del Rio and Mike Smith, he understands the head coaching role better now, as well as the NFL game. There’s a precedent for that with the aforementioned Belichick. He didn’t get it done with the Browns, spent more time with Bill Parcells, and quickly took the Patriots to the promised land with his first second chance. I might believe Josh McDaniels was on the verge of that, but he’s got some work to do if he ends up in Nashville.

If any of these jobs were easy or “good”, there probably wouldn’t be vacancies, so they’re all difficult undertakings. Keep in mind, there are no exclusive rights to Koetter’s service, despite the Bucs being his current employer. He’s talking to San Francisco and perhaps Philadelphia, but probably isn’t the favorite to land either of those jobs. The move makes sense, and honestly, Goodwin and McDermott are logical targets, but potentially giving Jameis Winston the same voice for the foreseeable future carries a value that can’t be matched. Sun Devil fans won’t believe they’re watching the same guy when they see the pewter, orange, and red on their screen on Sundays.

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1. Shell was the second African American Head Coach in professional football history, and the first since Fritz Pollard stopped coaching the Chicago Black Hawks in 1928.
2. This is more about personnel. Gerald McCoy is great, but he doesn’t play around a lot of great talent…not yet.
3. Koetter was 40-34, and impossibly bad in the state of California against the four conference rivals who reside there.