Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Automatic Fail: New England Patriots

When I was in college, the professors would always hand out the syllabus on the first day of classes. We would sift through each of the professors individual preferences and standards, but there was always one point on every syllabus that was exactly the same: the automatic fail.

The automatic fail is just a simple rule that states, "if you are caught cheating in any way, shape or form; on any assignment or exam, you will automatically fail the course."

Throughout my years at the institution, we went through a syllabus in every class on the first day of every semester. Some professors would even take two or three days just to ensure that the students understood the full measure of the rules and regulations. The funny thing is that, in all my time there, not one student ever protested the automatic fail rule.

A couple of days ago, Roger Goodell handed a hefty punishment to Tom Brady and the Patriots organization for the "Deflategate" scandal. The punishment is as follows: Brady will be suspended for the first four games of the 2015 NFL Season (though he is already appealing that ruling), the Patriots have been fined to the tune of one-million dollars, they will lose a first round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft and a fourth round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. So far, the reaction to this punishment has been mainly negative. Most of what I am hearing and reading is that the ruling is far too severe for "just letting a little air out of the footballs". The New England Patriots owner and close personal friend of Roger Goodell said:

"Despite our conviction that there was no tampering with footballs, it was our intention to accept any discipline levied by the league. Today's punishment, however, far exceeded any reasonable expectation. It was based completely on circumstantial rather than hard or conclusive evidence."

The battered billionaire also thanked the fans for their support and assured them that the whole

organization shared in their disappointment.

Why is the punishment too harsh? well... it isn't too harsh, but why does everyone think it is?
During my morning commutes to work, I listen to the top Minnesota sports radio station, KFAN. In today's segment of the Power Trip Morning Show, they had the popular WCCO-TV Sport's director, anchor and reporter Mark Rosen in studio. Rosen often sits in during the morning show to offer his thoughts and joke around with Chris Hawkey, Corey Cove and Paul "Meatsauce" Lambert. This morning Rosen hit the nail on the head when it comes to deflategate. He said that "Goodell is just so inconsistent." He continued to say, "This is a guy who originally handed out a two game suspension

when Ray Rice (Former Baltimore Ravens Running Back) clobbered his fiancee."
The issue here is not the punishment at hand. The issue is the fact that Goodell's inconsistency in delivering justice stems from a fanbase reaction, rather than a code of ethics and rules... or a syllabus.
Ray Rice, eventually, was banned from the league (and then reinstated... but still a free agent), but nobody was up-in-arms over the two game suspension ruling until the video of him "clobbering" his fiancee surfaced.

Adrian Peterson was not suspended at all in the 2015 season after he whipped his child with a switch (tree branch), until NFL sponsors threatened to pull out if he continued to play. Then he was, immediately, placed on the NFL Commissioner's Exempt List. Goodell's reasoning for not suspending Peterson immediately was that he was waiting for the legal system to come up with a verdict.

Similar issues have arised with Greg Hardy, Aldon Smith, etc...

The only shred of consistency that I can find in Goodell's justice system is that he initially punishes more severely for the on-field issues.

He suspended Jonathan Vilma for a whole 2012 NFL season for the "Bounty Scandal". Scott Fujita, Anthony Hargrove and Will Smith also served suspensions. The Saints front office and Head Coach were also severely punished. Sadly... None of the players suspensions played out to their full effect.

In 2007, the New England Patriots were in the news for the "Spygate Scandal". In this instance, Bill Belichick had some of his cronies filming the signal calling of the New York Jets at their practices. Bill Belichick was fined $500,000, the New England Patriots were find $250,000 and they missed out of a first round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft because they made the playoffs. Had the Patriots not made the playoffs, they would have been docked a second and third round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.

As you can see, when it comes to on-field issues... Goodell's first move is fairly concise. When it comes to off-field issues, he seems to stumble around. Goodell either needs to let the legal process do its thing and then dole out punishment, or he needs to have a set list of punishments for legal infractions. There needs to be a standard to which everyone is informed. That way we don't get in these murky waters of "fair" and "unfair" punishments.

When it comes to the Patriots, I honestly believe that they should have an asterisk by their 2014 NFL Title in addition to the punishment that was handed out (the punishment that will likely never be served to the full measure). The Patriots cheated. It doesn't matter if they would have won anyway, it doesn't matter if the inflation of the ball actually doesn't make that much of a difference. I believe they should be punished and have their winnings flagged, because they knew what they were doing was cheating.

I believe in the automatic fail.

I believe in firm rules and regulations.

I believe there should be an NFL syllabus.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

NFC North: Draft Grades

Welp... just like that NFL coverage drops to a minimum. There will be a few posts about the rookies and a few veterans' extra-curricular activities, but NFL fans are looking at a fairly dry three months. What are we to do? Talk about baseball? Not Likely! Instead we will write, argue and theorize about what the future holds for out beloved teams in the upcoming season.

Allow me to do just that in this brief overview...

Unlike many fans, I have always been a big believer in draft grades. I don't believe that a draft grade tells you what you will have, but rather what you should have. The draft is like a chess game, and I would like to take a look at who, theoretically, won in the NFC North.

This year was fairly devoid of big pick trades, so I will be looking at each of the four teams picks based on potential talent and need.

First Up: Detroit Lions!

After a rather productive year with the second best defensive front in the league, they let three of the starters on that front go to free agency. Zyggi Ansah is the one left standing with Suh (Miami), Fairly (St. Louis) and Johnson (Tampa Bay) all heading for places with better weather (but just about the same amount of gang activity). They also lost star running back Reggie Bush (after being shown up by Joique Bell) and a couple of no-name, roster-filler types.

You would think, given the depth of the offensive line prospects in this years draft class, that the Lions would go for a top DT to replace the whole that Suh and Fairly are leaving... Right? Wrong.

At 28th overall, the Lions draft Duke's offensive guard Laken Tomlinson.

Tomlinson is a solid player, but come on! You just lost the best defensive tackle in the game! I know they picked up Haloti Ngata, but he is 31 years old and a run stopper. He has never been a big quarterback sacking type of defensive tackle. They obviously are not going to match the type of production they had last year, but wouldn't you think the Lions would want to get a talented rookie to pair up with Ngata rather than Tyrunn Jones? Who is that you ask? Exactly.

This isn't the worst choice considering that the offensive line is a need for them, but I think the defensive was a much bigger need.

The best pick was selecting Alex Carter in the third round. He is a tall athletic corner with good speed and quickness. He will need to learn to play press coverage better if he is going to be in the NFC North, but he should be able to replace the aging Rasean Mathis (34) soon enough.

Outside of these two picks, the Lions likely drafted Ameer Abdullah in the second round to replace Joique Bell after letting Reggie Bush go. Not a bad idea, and a good value pick. They filled some depth at other positions and called it a day.

Overall Draft Grade: C-

Next: Chicago Bears!

The Bears Defensive picture still has a long way to go. They lost Charles "Peanut" Tillman and added Antrel Rolle, which is a step down in my opinion. The biggest issue is the gaping hole in the middle of the field. They have a very unproven and weak set of inside Linebackers. Unless Shea McClellin and Jon Bostic show they are worth the picks the Bears spent on them, the Bears will be gashed over the middle. They signed Pernell McPhee to play opposite of Jared Allen. He will provide a good boost to their defense. They also lost Brandon Marshall, De La Puenta and Roberto Garza; however they did well in answering these needs in the draft.

With the seventh overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft the Chicago Bears selected Kevin White. With the loss of Brandon Marshall, this pick just makes sense. White is a freak athlete at 6'3" and 2l5 lbs. This blazing fast West Virginia talent may need to do a little work on his route running and his left side of the field skills, but with a 4.35 official 40-yard dash time... he will make Jay Cutler look a little better than he is.

My favorite pick of the Bears is adding Eddie Goldman in the second round to their new 3-4 Defense. Goldman's powerful ability to stop the run will make him a perfect fit for the new defensive scheme. He isn't much of a pass rusher, but he won't have to be in the Bears defense.

The Bears also nabbed Center Hroniss Grasu from Oregon (who will develop into a good center) and Running Back Jeremy Langford. Drafting another running back doesn't make much sense to me considering they already have an Pro-Bowl starter and two promising backups, but planning for the future can't hurt. I would have liked to see them draft an Inside Linebacker, because that is a gaping need at the moment, but a fine draft nonetheless!

Overall Draft Grade: B+

Third: Green Bay Packers!

The Packers just seem to have a secret sauce that their players can't leave alone. Randall Cobb and Bryan Bulaga both agreed to less money to stay with the Packers when they renewed their contracts this off-season. They also renewed B.J. Raji and Letroy Guion to one year contracts.

However, it seems the Packers may have not done their due diligence regarding depth. They entered the draft with five servicable linebackers after releasing A.J. Hawk, Jamari Lattimore and Brad Jones. Ted Thompson only drafted one Linebacker in this years draft, so I would hope he has something up his sleeve, The Packers run a 3-4 defense, so I would think they will need at least two more before the season begins.
Not only are the Packers short on Linebackers, but they are also leaving the draft with only seven proven offensive lineman. With Bryan Bulaga's injury history, I would think that the Packers will be active in the undrafted rookie market.

That being said, the Packers had a very productive draft. In the first round, they picked up a Safety/Cornerback tweener Damarious Randall. ESPN Insider scouting report states that Randall is the best pure coverage Cornerback in the draft this year. The popular conception is that Dom Capers is going to turn him into a nickel back and short route coverage player. He is a smaller, but vastly athletic player with an aggressive demeanor. I would say that the Packers are looking to turn him into a Antoine Winfield style of player.

The best pick for the Packers was their fourth round pick of Inside Linebacker Jake Ryan. Ryan is the prototypical ILB who has good straight away speed and can be a force against the run right away. He has middle-of-the-pack quickness, and can struggle in coverage at times. That being said, if he picks up on the Packers schemes quickly, he will provide Dom Capers with an opportunity to leave Clay Matthews on the outside to secure a solid pass rush.

The Packers also drafted Quentin Rollins in the second round. Rollins is a raw but athletic Cornerback with a basketball background. He had excellent production in his one year of college football at the University of Miami (FL) where he totaled 7 interceptions and 9 passes defended. He will take a little time, but he has all of the physical skill in the wold. Along with Rollins, the Packers picked up Ty Montgomery to take some of the Special Teams responsibility from Randall Cobb and Brett Hundley to be a much needed quality backup Quarterback.

The Packers shored up a couple of their needs, but I would have liked to have seen them take an offensive lineman at some point to add depth. After the Seattle playoff game, however, I can understand stacking up on secondary talent.

Overall Draft Grade: B

Finally: Minnesota Vikings!

The Vikings entered the draft desperately needing a Cornerback after Captain Munnerlyn didn't pan out the way they thought he would and another year of realizing that Josh Robinson is better suited in the Nickel Back slot. They signed the very aged veteran Terrance Newman, who played with Mike Zimmer in Cincinnati to get some maturity and leadership in their defensive secondary. At 36 years old, I don't think the Vikings should expect too much from him this year. The Vikings also needed an offensive lineman and to add some depth at receiver as well.

Now that Charlie Johnson is no longer a Viking, there is no excuse for Matt Kalil to not return to being a serviceable Left Tackle. The Vikings also added Babatunde Ayegbusi out of the Polish league. He is a monster of a man, but we will have to see how his skills translate to the NFL.

The Vikings, to not much surprise, attacked their Cornerback need right out of the gate at the 11th overall pick by selecting Trae Waynes out of Michigan. Waynes was touted as the best overall Cornerback in this years draft class. He is very fast and a good size for an NFL Cornerback, but there are concerns about his speed and agility when covering the quick, short routes. He is a cover CB, so he should have success against the NFC North's receivers. He may need to be eased into covering slot receivers.

The Vikings have two picks that I would classify as their best pick. The first is their second round selection, Eric Kendricks. Kendricks is the best coverage Middle Linebacker in this year's draft. He came out of UCLA, and played with Anthony Barr in college (they were roommates!). Kendricks lacks the ideal size, but his game doesn't have many holes. I would compare him to Chris Boreland... let's hope he doesn't retire as early. I am an Audie Cole fan, and he is much more of the size that the Vikings would be looking for in the middle, but I think that Kendricks will win out this battle. Either way, with Mauti, Cole and Kendricks the Vikings have plenty of young talent and depth at the Middle Linebacker position.

The next pick that I would say that could be the Vikings best pick is Offensive Tackle T.J. Clemmings. This was an absolute steal of a pick in the fourth round. Though Clemmings is raw and has only played on the offensive side of the ball for two years, he was the 7th ranked Tackle in the draft. Remember... Anthony Barr was a former Running Back with only two years of defensive experience.

The Vikings also added Stefon Diggs who will help out on Special Teams and provide an option as a true slot receiver. They also added the freakishly athletic Defensive End Danielle Hunter, a receiver type Tight End and a couple more depth players on the offensive and defensive line as well as another OLB.

I would have liked to see the Vikings draft a true number one receiver. The Vikings have a host of talent at the Wide Receiver position, but they don't have a true, big-bodied number one receiver. With Norv Turner, the Vikings want to stretch the field. Mike Wallace and Charles Johnson will help that effort, but a Devante Parker would have been a good addition.

Draft Grade: A-

There you have it. I think the Vikings had the best draft, followed by the Bears, Packers and Lions. Remember that the best draft, does not mean the best team. You would have to be a fool to think that the Packers will not enter this season on top of the division. I do think that the Vikings will be second, the Lions will be third and that the Bears will be last, but that is not just due to the draft.

Here are my takeaways for each team:

Packers: They need to add depth
If the Packers don't add Linebacker and Offensive Tackle depth, they will have trouble staying strong if their starters at these positions are taking 90% of the snaps. You have to believe that Ted Thompson will do something to patch it together, but this is an issue that needs to be addressed again in next year's draft.

Vikings: They need a true receiver
The Vikings struggle scoring in the Red Zone. If AP is back this year, the Vikings will be much more successful, but they need a big bodied receiver who can go up and fight for balls. Norv Turner is not a West Coast style coordinator, so the Vikings won't truly find their rhythm until they can successfully stretch the field on a consistent basis.

Lions: They need to figure out their running situation
Earlier in this post, I ranted that the Lions have lost their identity in their front four. They have a talented enough LB crew to have a good defense despite the loss, but they need to figure out their run game. They can't depend solely on the pass all of the time. Matthew Stafford is not talented enough to consistently throw 50 times a game and deliver consistent success.

Bears: They need help with their Inside Linebackers
The Bears have a veteran defense virtually all-around. They have added some youth, but they have not had a strong over-the-middle pass defense since Bryan Urlacher left. It doesn't appear that they have the answer yet. This needs to be addressed or teams will have their way with them in the short and medium portions of the field.

This is a very early analysis, but it looks very hopeful for the Vikings this year!

Christian Ponder: Can You Really Blame Spielman?

Wow... it has been a while since I have written, but now that we are entering the most boring part of the NFL season (that time where we cling to baseball to get us through til August) I have decided it is time to start talking again. Since we have just finished the draft, I would like to speak to one of the draft's most controversial and interesting topics: Quarterback drafting.

This year we had two Quarterbacks taken back-to-back with the first and second picks overall. Many people thought Winston was the better QB, others thought Mariota was the better QB and some thought the two quarterbacks shouldn't have gone so high. Every year, I attempt to sift through all of the intangibles, measurables, immeasurables, and numbers to ascertain the best Quarterback prospect (along with every other position) in the draft. This year, like most from my vantage point, I had a hard time making heads or tails of the top QB's. I decided to look back at past drafts to see what history tells us about these types of situations. Here is what I found for first round QB's over the last ten years:

Eli Manning - San Diego Chargers (Immediately Traded to the Giants)
Phillip Rivers - New York Giants (Immediately Traded to the Chargers)
Ben Roethlisberger - Pittsburgh Steelers
J.P. Losman - Buffalo Bills

Alex Smith - San Francisco 49ers
Aaron Rodgers - Green Bay Packers
Jason Campbell - Washington Redskins

Vince Young - Tennessee Titans
Matt Leinart - Arizona Cardinals
Jay Cutler - Denver Broncos

JaMarcus Russell - Oakland Raiders
Brady Quinn - Cleveland Browns

Matt Ryan - Atlanta Falcons
Joe Flacco - Baltimore Ravens

Matt Stafford - Detroit Lions
Mark Sanchez - New York Jets
Josh Freeman - Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Sam Bradford - St. Louis Rams
Tim Tebow - Denver Broncos

Cam Newton - Carolina Panthers
Jake Locker - Tennessee Titans
Blaine Gabbert - Jacksonville Jaguars
Christian Ponder - Minnesota Vikings

Andrew Luck - Indianapolis Colts
Robert Griffin III - Washington Redskins
Ryan Tannehill - Miami Dolphins
Brandon Weeden - Cleveland Browns

EJ Manuel - Buffalo Bills

Out of the 28 above Quarterbacks, I would take five of them in the first round knowing what we know now (Rivers, Roethlisberger, Rodgers, Ryan, Luck). I would say that 12 out of the list are bonafide busts (Losman, Campbell, Young, Leinert, Russell, Quinn, Tebow, Locker, Gabbert, Ponder, Weeden, Manuel) and 11 are of a later-round value (Manning, Smith, Cutler, Flacco, Stafford, Sanchez, Freeman, Bradford, Newton, RGIII, Tannehill).

I know that some would argue that Manning, Flacco, Stafford and maybe even Cutler deserve the first round grade. I would disagree, and let me show you why. First, I will show the resume of the middle-talent first round QB: Phillip Rivers. Then I will hold these four Quarterbacks' resumes up against Rivers.

Phillip Rivers:
36,477 Passing Yards over 9 years as a starter (4,053/year)
251 Touchdowns over 9 years as a starter (27.89/year)
64.7 Career Completion Percentage
95.7 Career QB Rating
121 Interceptions over 9 years as a starter (13.44/year - 2.07/1; TD/INT ratio)

Eli Manning:
38,712 Passing Yards over 10 years as a starter (3,871.2/year)
253 Touchdowns over 10 years as a starter (25.3/year)
59.0 Career Completion Percentage
82.4 Career QB Rating
176 Interceptions over 10 years as a starter (17.6/year - 1.44/1: TD/INT ratio)

Jay Cutler:
26,748 Passing Yards over 8 years as a starter (3,343.3/year)
174 Touchdowns over 8 years as a starter (21.75/year)
61.7 Career Completion Percentage
85.2 Career QB Rating
125 Interceptions over 8 years as a starter (15.625/year - 1.39/1: TD/INT ratio)

Joe Flacco:
25,531 Passing Yards over 7 years as a starter (3,647.29/year)
148 Touchdowns over 7 years as a starter (21.14/year)
60.5 Career Completion Percentage
84.8 Career QB Rating
90 Interceptions over 7 years as a starter (12.86/year - 1.64/1: TD/INT ratio)

Matthew Stafford: *2009, 2010 seasons cut short - Injury
21,714 Passing Yards over 6 years as a starter (3,619/year)
131 Touchdowns over 6 years as a starter (21.83/year)
59.6 Career Completion Percentage
83.6 Career QB Rating
85 Interceptions over 6 years as a starter (14.17/year - 1.54/1: TD/INT ratio)

As you can see... statistically there is quite a discrepancy. If you don't think that these numbers represent that big of a margin... here are Andy Dalton's numbers (a true second rounder).

Andy Dalton:
14,758 Passing Yards over 4 years as a starter (3,689.5/year)
99 Touchdowns over 4 years as a starter (24.75/year)
61.6 Career Completion Percentage
85.2 Career QB Rating
66 Interceptions over 4 years as a starter (16.5/year - 1.5/1: TD/INT ratio)

Eerily similar, if not better, to Manning, Cutler, Flacco and Stafford's numbers...

Now that I have bored you with a bunch of statistical analysis, I am sure that some of you would say that because of Manning's and Flacco's rings... they deserve to be in the first round. I would say you are wrong. Russell Wilson, Brad Johnson and Trent Dilfer are also among a list of Superbowl winning QB's. I wouldn't say that any of them are worthy of a first round selection. They are serviceable Quarterbacks, but they are not of a first round grade.

What is my point after all of this mumbo jumbo?

There is absolutely no way to tell if a college Quarterback is going to translate to the pro level. In 2007, there were 11 QB's drafted. JaMarcus Russell and Brady Quinn came off of the board in the first-round, and Matt Moore went undrafted (really bad year for QB's). Moore might have had the best career in his QB class. Why was Jason Campbell a first-rounder, but Ryan Fitzpatrick was a 7th round supplemental pick?

We all know the Tom Brady story...

Why do Quarterbacks bust?

I don't know... could be scheme, surrounding talent, offensive line, the yips, physically unable(?) or any other number of reasons; but from what I see... drafting a QB is a crap shoot. Most first-round Quarterbacks go higher than they deserve to, and some should have never been drafted in the first place.

That being said, I don't think you can demand Rick Spielman's head for drafting Christian Ponder when most of the other GM's in his position have made the same or worse mistake. At the end of the day... there is just no way to be certain.

Good ole' hindsight.


Friday, August 15, 2014

Vikings Preseason Week 1: The Take Aways

Last Friday, the Vikings played their first preseason game under a new coaching staff at a different stadium. Usually, I would say that the preseason is just a teaser. It has always seemed to me that the preseason is only good for getting a brief look at the rookies, and an excitement building venture for the regular season. For Vikings fans, this season is quite different. Whether it is a new staff, new stadium or an unusually deep draft class... I am pumped.

In their first preseason game, the Vikings beat the Raiders 10-6. It was a fun game; admittedly there was not a ton of big excitement, but there are some takeaways for Vikings fans. I would like to point out five things that the Vikings showed in their first game.

Takeaway #1: Matt Cassel Looked Sharp

This is the most obvious observation of the game. Cassel was only in for one drive, but he completed five of six passes that got the Vikings to the one-yard line. Matt Asiata pounded through the line for a Touchdown, and Cassel came out. It seems as though Cassel is looking to be the guy in Minnesota for this season. His passes looked crisp. He had pocket presence. He looked like a seasoned veteran, and a good option for the Vikings this year.

Takeaway #2: Cordarrelle Patterson Making Strides

When we drafted Patterson, we were thinking about his big play and Special Teams capabilities. During Friday's game, Patterson showed a vast improvement in his route running and catching mechanics. These strides did not go unnoticed to new Head Coach Mike Zimmer, and he even stepped on to the field to give Patterson a congratulatory slap on the butt. Now that I have seen this, I am starting to think that maybe the Vikings aren't getting just a vastly athletic player. I think the Vikings may be getting an every down, polished receiver with big play potential. I know everybody is expecting a breakout season, and Patterson isn't giving us any reason to doubt.

Takeaway #3: The Defense Appears to be Improving

The Raiders used three QB's and threw for 180 yards and no Touchdowns, and recently signed Safety Kurt Coleman managed to pick off rookie Quarterback Derek Carr. The Vikings defense managed to get two sacks, two tackles for loss, an interception and an impressive five passes defended. Rookie Anthony Barr managed to get half of a sack, but he didn't do much else. Second year Outside Linebacker Gerald Hodges led the way with five tackles and one tackle for loss. It is hard to get a good read on the defense, due to the lack of time against starters, but it appears that there is a new energy out there. Last year was a horrible year for the Vikings defense, and they appeared defeated most of the time. It doesn't appear that will be the case this year.

Takeaway #4: Teddy Bridgewater Looked Like a Rookie

Bridgewater went 6-13 for 48 yards. He displayed some raw ability such as arm strength, and a good spiral, but he also fumbled the ball and couldn't manage to have a higher completion percentage. He didn't throw any interceptions or TD's, so I assess his game as a standard rookie Quarterback performance. I know I am testing the patience of Vikings fans when I say this, but... Teddy Bridgewater may not be ready to start at all this year. I am not saying he is a bust. I am saying that he, like many other QB's, needs time to get acclimated to the game. We all need to remember that Peyton Manning threw 28 interceptions as a rookie, so it is far more important to see how Bridgewater responds to his mistakes, rather than dwell on the fact that he makes them.

Takeaway #5: Adam Theilen is Going to Make the Team

Theilen not only had had a nice little fifteen yard reception, but he also showcased his speed as a punt returner. He returned three punts and one for over 20 yards. He got to showcase his versatility and speed. On a side note, I listened to his "Mic'd Up" recording on Vikings Network and he is a passionate player who is looking to make the players around him better. Though he would never say, I think that Theilen is a shoe-in to make the 53 man roster.

Those are the things that caught my attention about Friday's game. The Vikings play the Arizona Cardinals this Saturday. I am looking to see how Jerrick McKinnon responds to an even tougher defense. He was not overly impressive in his first game and needs to gain experience running between the tackles. I am looking for more use of Adam Theilen (in Special Teams and receiving). Lastly, I am looking for Bridgewater to make some more throws and get more game time experience.

Those are my thoughts. Until next time.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Tony Dungy vs. Michael Sam... Not At All

In the nation we live in, the media thrives on drama. Whether good or bad, we build up stories to make them as sad, inspirational, happy or controversial as possible. Why? The answer is simple... most humans have some modicum of empathy. I used to love watching the stories of American Idol contestants, so I could see what horrible situation they came from. It was inspirational to see that someone who has had so many lumps in their road could put them aside and succeed.
Every four years, I am also enthralled with the presidential debates. Everyone loves the opposing viewpoints, the ribbing and the promise of change. As each election roles around, we have to ask ourselves... Do I want change or for more of the same? We have to rationalize the risk and assess how we are handling the current situation. Do I morally agree with what is happening? Does the candidates social/economic values encourage the kind of situation I believe to be right? The change could be good or bad, but no matter what happens...

We can't stop watching.

In my opinion, these are the two situation are similar to the views of the Michael Sam story. For some, it is incredibly inspirational that Sam was brave enough to fight the media and preconceived notions to stand up for what he believes in. Yet for others, Sam is going against God and tradition and his influence will be negative for the NFL and those watching.

The latest log on the fire of this controversy is a recently recognized interview with the Tampa Tribune, a local newspaper. In this interview, Tony Dungy made a statement that revealed that he would not have drafted Michael Sam. It is well known that Tony Dungy is not a proponent of gay marriage, and has even won an award for how he purported his stance in 2007. His comments, however, did not have anything to do with his religious beliefs. Dungy further clarified that he wouldn't want to deal with the whole "thing". When he said "thing", he was referring to the Tebowesque media circus. Tony Dungy, as a former coach, knows the effect that a distraction of this size could have on the team, the fans and Sam himself.

Tony Dungy also insisted that he believes that Sam should have a chance in the NFL, and that a position in the NFL should not be based on anything aside from merit. He knows that if Sam succeeds he will be embraced, but if he fails he will not be... that is how it has always been.

In essence, Dungy is saying that he believes that Sam should have every chance to play in the NFL, but, because of the media circus that follows him, he personally would not want to deal with that as a coach. That's it...

Now the media is going crazy because Tony Dungy supported Michael Vick's return after he spent time in prison for dog fighting. Dungy took a personal interest in the rehabilitation of Michael Vick, and wanted to see him succeed. He would spend time with Vick, and personally attest to his rehabilitation. Dungy was an accountability partner and a great influence, and as a side note: Vick has stayed out of trouble.
Some ESPN(analysts) and news stations across the country are saying that Dungy is a hypocrite because he supported Vick and not Sam. Now some Dungy supporters would say that Vick is a different scenario(he is), because the positive effects of his talent outweighs the negative effects of the media circus. I don't think that is what Dungy meant. Tony Dungy was not Michael Vick's coach. He was not ever in a position to be responsible for the media circus surrounding Vick. The man was just interested in Vick's personal and professional development, and he helped.

In relation to Sam, Dungy, I believe, made it clear that Sam should have a chance in the NFL. Dungy did not say that no one should draft Sam. He, once again, said that he would not personally want to deal with the distraction. It is not the same situation as Vick, and should not be compared.

I realize that we all love drama and that the situation will be what it will be, but I encourage you to not take Tony Dungy's statement out of context to purport either side of this controversy. In doing so, you could potentially sully the image of a great man and great NFL mind. He simply offered his opinion. That's it.

Going forward, either enjoy or despise the fact that a gay man is now an NFL player, but don't jump on the media bandwagons that have destroyed so many images and careers. After all, Tebow has a winning record... but not a job. This kind of stuff destroys. Don't be a part of it.

Monday, July 21, 2014

NFC North Landscape

The NFL season, for the Minnesota Vikings, begins in 52 days. The players report to training camp in Mankato on Thursday, and all the fans wait in agony to see how their team will fare. Since I am one of those agonized fans with way too much time on his hands... here goes my attempt to, as logically as possible, figure the Vikings chances within their division.

First we need to address the reality of the situation. Coming into this season, the Vikings are ranked last in their division. I would even venture to say that the general impression of the NFC North ranking hasn't changed. Most followers would have the Packers or the Bears winning the division, with the Lions or the Vikings coming in last place. Though the outcome may not be that cut-and-dried, the odds are in favor of a result in that neighborhood. Before I go into my thoughts on the subject, Let's take an individual look at the teams of the NFC North.

Green Bay Packers: Probable Division Winners

History: Last year, the Packers won the division with a record of 8-7-1. The Packers have won the division 6 times in the last 10 years(13 total since 1967). In the last 4 years, they have had one of the most productive offenses in the NFL. The Packers have also had an NFL MVP(Aaron Rodgers-2011), and a NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year(Eddie Lacy-2013) in the last 5 years. These award winners still play for the team.

Strengths: The Packers offense appears as though it is primed for a huge season. Aaron Rodgers will be healthy, and thus far appears as though he has made a full recovery. Rodgers is returning to a healthy and stacked receiving core. Jordy Nelson put up a career high in yards last year(1,314). Nelson is a big, strong receiver who somehow manages to catch everything. I imagine he will own the sidelines and red zone. I imagine that there will be a receiver competition between Jarrett Boykin and rookie Davonte Adams for the other sideline position. Returning staple slot and special teams star Randall Cobb will fill the slot role. At Tight End, Jermichael Finley is no longer with the Packers after sustaining a potentially career ending neck injury. However, the Packers drafted Richard Rogers, resigned Andrew Quarless and picked up undrafted rookie bad boy Colt Lyerla. There is nothing guaranteed with the TE position, but there is too much potential for me to project it as a weakness. With Aaron Rodgers back to his old self with a strong receiving core, it will open things up for new RB sensation Eddie Lacy. Lacy has proven that he is a strong running back who can be a real bear to tackle. I expect that he will be a staple with the packers for some time. Though fellow would-be second-year RB Jonathan Franklin sustained a career ending injury, the Packers still have options in the backfield. Dujuan Harris and James Starks have held the starting position previously with varying degrees of success. Last season, Starks showed that he a very useful change of pace back.

Weaknesses: The Offensive Line of the Green Bay Packers is looking a little thin. Bryan Bulaga will be back from his ACL injury, but Marshall Newhouse(Bengals) and Evan Deitrick-Smtih(Buccaneers) were lost to Free Agency. Bulaga will fill Newhouse's spot at RT, but the starting center will either be second year JC Tretter, or rookie Corey Linsley. If all the OL stays healthy, the Packers should have a decent OL. Losing a center and starting tackle leaves a little too much unknown for the OL to be considered a strength.
The Packers have not had a strong defense in some time. They have had aggressive and talented players who are pretty good at creating turnovers, but the defense allows a lot of yards. I have heard Dom Capers defense described as "High risk, high reward", but lately there has been less reward. The Packers, admittedly, do not need a strong defense. They can have success by simply overpowering teams with yards and points. They still drafted Haha Clinton-Dix to help improve the backfield, and signed free agent Julius Peppers to go opposite Clay Matthews. I believe there will be improvement, but unless defensive coordinator Dom Capers finds a way to cut opponents yards down... They won't go to the next level.

Chicago Bears: If the Packer's don't win it, the Bears are next in line.

History: The Bears have not won the division since 2006. When the Bears signed Brandon Marshall and Jay Cutler to accompany Matt Forte, they expected big things. They later drafted Alshon Jeffery to compliment Brandon Marshall in the receiving core. Jeffery was injured for most of his first year in the NFL, but his sophomore season yielded huge results. Together, Alshon and Marshall have comprised one of the best air attacks in the league today. Last year, the Bears finished at 8-8 and once again the division title slipped away from them.

Strengths: As stated previously, the Bears have, arguably, the best receiving core in the league. Marshall and Jeffery accounted for 2,716 yards and 19 TD's. To put these numbers in perspective, Denver Broncos duo Demariyus Thomas and Eric Decker combined for 2,718 yards and 25 TD's. That is with Peyton Manning having a record setting year. Last year, the Broncos set scoring and yardage records on offense. Safe to say, the Bears would have led the league in receiving if Peyton Manning had not gone nuts. Both Bears receivers are tall, fast, good hands and excellent jumping abilities. The Bears receiving core is primed for another year, and another crucial part of that piece of the offense is TE Martellus Bennett. Last year, Bennett caught 65 passes for 759 yards and 5 TD's. A very good year for a TE. Standing 6'6", Bennett is a big athletic target for Cutler to find on the field. Next on the list of strengths, is Running Back Matt Forte. Last season, Forte managed to pick up 1,339 yards and 9 TD's on the ground. Also, Forte was active in the passing game. He gained 594 yards and 3 TD's in the air. Forte is obviously a strength. He gained almost 2,000 yards of total offense last season. I am also going to add to the Bears strengths; the offensive line. The Bears added Kyle Long, and their QB's were only sacked 30 times last year. With a big running game and passing game, the O-line speaks for itself.

Weaknesses: The first and most obvious weakness of the Bears is the defense. Last year, the running defense allowed 161.4 running yards per game; finishing last in the NFL. Their pass defense is not in as bad of a spot. The Bears defense finished 15th last year, allowing 233 yards per game in their pass defense. Though the Bears drafted Safety Kyle Fuller, and DT's Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton; they still have a lot to prove. I believe their defense could be better this year, but its a long way from where it was.
The second and last weakness I would like to point out is the Quarterback. Jay Cutler has a strong arm and good accuracy, but has failed to yield consistent winning results. I do believe that Jay Cutler does not make the best decisions, which leads him to throw plenty of interceptions. I also believe his attitude is not that of a leader. Conjecture aside, in Cutler's career, he has thrown 155 TD's and 112 INT's. His career passer rating is 84.6... He is simply not elite. He is not a horrible QB, but he is not par to his main competition Aaron Rodgers.
The Bears have a new head coach in Marc Trestman. This is not a weakness. Trestman is known for being an offensive mind, and specifically a solid QB coach. I think he will do well for the Bears and Jay Cutler, but the defensive portion remains to be seen.

Minnesota Vikings: At best, a Wild Card contender

History: Have won the most NFC North Division Titles(18). Last time the Vikings won the NFC North was in 2009. The Vikings last made the playoffs in 2012, when Adrian Peterson went berserk on opposing defenses and had a 2,000 yard rushing season. Last year, the Vikings finished with a record of 5-10-1.

Strengths: The obvious strength of the Minnesota Vikings is future Hall-Of-Fame running back, Adrian Peterson. Adrian Peterson is the youngest player to ever reach 10,000 yards, and he currently stands at 10,115 yards. Peterson has scored double-digit TD's every season in his career. This being said, AP does turn 30 this season. The clock is not in his favor, but he there has not been much, if any, slow in his production. He is still the best back in the league, regardless of what Lesean McCoy thinks.
Aside from a few bright spots in the individual talent of the team, the Vikings main potential strength is in their potential. The Vikings hired Mike Zimmer and Norv Turner to help both offense and defense. They drafted Teddy Bridgewater, and resigned Matt Cassel to secure the QB situation. The Vikings have a new team, and an unfamiliar stadium(TCF Bank Stadium). Nobody really knows what is in store for the Vikings. I hate to list this as a strength, but the Vikings are just hopeful that the new coaching staff can find a way to utilize the vast amounts of talent they already have.

Weaknesses: The Vikings Offensive Line had a mediocre year last year, especially Matt Kalil. Our leading receiver was Greg Jennings with 804 yards and 4 TD's. Their defense was close to last in the league, and their offense was horribly unproductive. Before Mike Zimmer and Norv Turner showed up, the Vikings were in shambles with quite a few bright spots. The hope is that the new coaching staff and Teddy Bridgewater will be able to turn all of this around.
The Vikings section is very succinct, but I believe that no one really has a good idea on what the Vikings will do. In short... The Vikings were bad last year. This year, people think they will be much better, but no one knows.

Detroit Lions: Also at best a Wild Card contender

History: The Lions are the least successful team in the NFC North. They have not won a division title in about 20 years. Last year, the Lions finished at 7-9. The Lions have been up-and-down for the past 5 years, but never finished better than 10-6. They have won one Wild Card, and lost in the first round.

Strengths: The Lions have a high powered offense, with the best receiver in the league(Calvin Johnson). They showed a lot of depth in the RB position, and in the off-season they signed Golden Tate(Seahawks) and drafted tight end Eric Ebron(North Carolina). The Lions recognized their need to compete with the high powered offenses of the Packers and Bears. On the other side of the ball, the Lions had a top-notch run defense. They allowed less than 100 yards per game on the ground, and DT Ndamukong Suh plans to keep it that way. The Lions brought in head coach Jim Caldwell to replace Jim Schwartz. This will bring on an heir of professionalism, and hopefully reduce their penalties, but I am uncertain of how good of a coach Caldwell is. Either way, it appears that the Lions intend for their strengths to get even stronger by adding another weapon on offense, and strengthening the middle of the field on defense.

Weaknesses: The Lions have a mediocre running game. Reggie Bush and Joique Bell helped the running game, but it is still not to a point where it could damage strong defenses. That being said, the Lions pass defense was not in good shape last season and not much has been done to fix the situation. They lost Louis Delmas to free agency(Dolphins), and did not draft a promising safety or CB to assist their pass defense. It appears that the weaknesses of the Lions will continue to plague them.
Matthew Stafford is a strong armed QB who throws for a lot of yards and a lot of TD's, but also a lot of interceptions. Former Rams, Giants and Cardinals QB Kurt Warner believes that Stafford has some of the worst judgment of any QB in the league. I believe that Stafford has a strong arm and Calvin Johnson. If I had that, I would have some level of success as a professional QB.
The Lions have a lot of potential, but have done little to address their weaknesses from last season. They have made some good changes with the coaching staff, but I believe they will struggle again this year.

That is my brief overview of the landscape in the NFC North. As you can see, there is a lot of unknown in this division. Three out of the four teams that make up the division have a new coaching staff. The Packers have made some small, but good moves in the offseason that I think will secure their spot at the top of the division yet again.

I think the Vikings and Bears will fight it out for number two in their division. The Bears are obviously the favorite, but I think if the Vikings can create turnovers(as they seem primed to do) the Bears could fall to the Vikings. I think these matchups will be strong offense versus strong defense... and forgive me for saying this... but I think the strong defense will be the Vikings. This is, admittedly, an optimistic view for the Vikings, but I believe that the Vikings have had too much talent to have been as bad as they were. In short, I believe in the coaching staff. I think they will tap into the teams potential.

I think that the Lions will probably finish around 7-9 again. I think that Jim Caldwell is going to try to create a high powered offense like he had in Indianapolis, but he is missing one thing... Peyton Manning. I don't think this kind of game will succeed in the NFC North, and the Lions don't have the personnel.

I don't think that three teams will come out of the NFC North this year, but I do think they will jump to being the second strongest division in the NFC, behind the NFC West. There you have it. I put the Vikings, the worst team in the division last year, as second or third this year. I don't have much factual evidence to back this up... just conjecture based on the young talent the Vikings have, and the resumes of the new coaching staff. I am an optimist, but I don't think it is that crazy.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Female Officials: Havoc or Harmony?

Sarah Thomas aims to be the first permanent female official in the NFL. Though she may not have beaten out Shannon Eastin to be the first woman referee to officiate an NFL game, Thomas would be the first legitimate female official in the NFL.

Thomas may be involved in a sport in which she did not play, but this does not mean that she is new to a competitive and athletic environment. After being a two-sport athlete in high school, Thomas attended University of Mobile(Alabama) on a basketball scholarship. Upon graduating, and still wanting to be involved in athletics, Thomas joined her church's men's league. It wasn't until 1996 that she finally got her first taste of officiating. For such an illustrious career, her beginnings were really quite random. Thomas just happened to have accompanied her brother to a Gulf Coast Football Officials meeting in 1996. The meeting sparked her interest, and she soon began refereeing. By 1999, Sarah Thomas began officiating for high school games. At one point, Thomas almost gave up officiating to focus on family/career, but was noticed by scouts and contacted by Gerald Austin. Austin, a coordinator for Conference USA(college athletic conference), has always been impressed by Thomas. Since Austin invited her to an officiating camp, Thomas has continued to work her way up the ladder. She is the first female official to officiate in a college bowl game, has refereed in the United Football League(including a championship game) and is part of the NFL Officials Development Program.

Becoming part of the NFL's development program, automatically put's Thomas's name on the shortlist of NFL ready referees to be called up to the National Football League's officiating crew. She has already worked with the Saints' and Browns' training camps, and Browns' coach Mike Pettine was very impressed with her and said:

"If she's efficient and good at what she does, I have no issues with it," Pettine said. "I think the best compliment somebody paid to her was when someone said, 'What did you think of the female official?' And they said, 'There's a female official out here?' I thought she was on point."

So now that you have the facts on Sarah Thomas... will she create havoc or harmony?

The answer is, of course, unkown, but I think there are a few things to consider when talking about a female officiating in the NFL.

Physical Durability:
This subject is posed more as a question. Can a woman take the physical punishment that a man can? Women may not be as naturally muscular as men, but does that mean that women can't take what the NFL can dish out? Former NFL referee Jerry Markbreit officiated until he was 63 years old. If an old man can officiate, why wouldn't a 41 year old, physically fit woman be able too? Though this subject is shrouded in mystery to me, I believe that a fit woman could officiate a NFL game.

The second question in this subject line: does it even matter? I would suggest that physical durability is not as big of an issue as some may suggest. It is not extremely common for referees to be touched in an NFL play, let alone take an injury due to a hit. Last season, including playoffs, there was not a single listed injury to a NFL official. Though it may seem like being around a bunch of 180-330 pound men hitting each other is dangerous, for a professional referee, it is not that dangerous. NFL officials are trained to move around on the field, so they can stay out of harms way. The potential for danger is always there, but I would think that Sarah Thomas knows how to position herself on the field, especially by this point in her career. I don't consider physical durability to be an issue for Thomas.

Gender differences:
Women have a greater ability to multitask than men do, and also have a greater tendency to be more observant than men. I have noticed this to be true. Whenever I give my fiance directions, I have to use landmarks. I tell her there is a shopping mall to the right, or a fire hydrant next to a rope swing. This makes so much more sense in her brain than highway 43. Women have a stronger ability to notice the little things while still focusing on the main objective. Corner back Joe Haden definitely took notice of this powerful observance in the Brown's mini-camp, he said, "She was calling everything!" How do the players react to this?

This brings me to the final point to consider.

Acceptance in the NFL:
Will professional players respect a female referee? I think they will. In an article in the Star Tribune, Tom Withers comments on how well Thomas manages to keep her gender under the radar. It seems that the comments of most players on the field, are more-so directed to figuring out if Thomas is a woman, rather than questioning her officiating skills. Players do notice that she is a woman, but you could never tell by how she carries herself. Bottom line... Sarah Thomas is a professional referee. She is trained in her profession, and has had a great amount of success. Let's not forget that this is a league that allowed the "replacement referees" to officiate almost half of an NFL season. I think any football fan would attest, that this was a tough time for the National Football League. If the players and fans of the NFL can put up with the replacements, than we should be welcoming of professional. Regardless if she is a woman or a man.

So, the big question is, will Thomas create harmony or havoc?

My opinion: havoc. With a heightened ability to observe, we might actually have a fair game called! The Desean Jackson's and James Harrison's of the league will finally have their dirty play called consistently. The NFL as we know it will collapse under a referee who has the power to call a fair game!

Granted, there is a "let them play" aspect to being a ref, as well as calling a fair game aspect. We all know that it is a fine line to walk, and that our current refs do a very good job. I would wager that Thomas won't shake up the situation too much. The players just need to get used to respecting a female official in a male dominated profession. I would say there is too much fuss over a woman official. That's just my opinion.