Tag Archives: Aaron Rodgers

NFL Picks: Week 9

So, I’ve always meant to do one of those “weekly picks against the line” segments each season, yet in all the hysteria of the NFL season starting, the last few days before our fantasy football league draft, and my endless rationalizations why THIS will actually be the year the Redskins will be a contender, I always end up missing the first week’s picks.

Naturally, the same thing happened this year. But given that we’re now eight weeks into the season (essentially halfway through, if you discount the partially-meaningless week 17), I thought now would be as good a time to start as any.

Away we go. These picks are for nothing more than entertainment and recreational uses only. Home teams in Capital letters.

WASHINGTON (+3.5) over San Francisco: let’s be clear: I don’t have any faith in this Redskins team. It’s just against my personal fiber to pick against them. I literally might make it rain on myself if John Beck throws a touchdown pass; that’s how much I think of his quarterbacking abilities.

Atlanta (-7) over INDIANAPOLIS: The Colts aren’t bad; they’re historically bad. If the ’72 Dolphis pop champage ever year a team doesn’t go undefeated, what would the 2008 Lions (only team to go 0-16) do if their streak is broken: pop a 40 ouncer?

NEW ORLEANS (-8) over Tampa Bay: Something aint quite right about Tampa Bay this year. On the other side, since 2008, the Saints are 11-0 the week after Drew Brees’ quarterback rating falls below 75.0. Drew Brees’ QB rating last week was a 73, and Tampa Bay is in the bottom seven in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game. Do the math.

Cleveland (+11) over HOUSTON: Cleveland is one of those teams that can inexplicably beat anybody and also lose to anybody. Houston is also one of those teams that can inexplicably lose to anybody or beat anyone. I like Houston, just not by 11.

New York Jets (+1.5) over BUFFALO: Over the last two seasons, Rex Ryan has averaged a 5-3 record over the first eight games of the season, and a 5-3 record over the last eight games of the season. Eery. The Jets are 4-3, and the Bills went 2-2 in October after starting the season 3-0. The numbers say: pick the Jets.

KANSAS CITY (-4) over Miami: if your team is poised to get the first overall pick twice in a four year span (2008 and 2012), you might want to take a long look at how you’re running things.

DALLAS (-11.5) over Seattle: Miami’s and Seattle’s QB situations are the only reasons that, as a Redskins fan having to deal with Grossman (never had it, never will) or Beck (never had it, never will), I can say: “hey, our QB situation could be worse”

DENVER (+8) over Oakland: over-saturated betting line > Tebow.

Cincinnati (+3) over Tennessee: The wagon is starting to fall apart for the Titans; they’re 2-5 for the season, and have scored a grand total of 15 points over the last two games. Chris Johnson looks slow, fat, and unmotivated; it’s like he spent the lockout hanging out with Jamarcus Russell.

ARIZONA (-3.5) over St. Louis: All i’m saying is, if your fans are excited about AJ Feeley, you have a lot bigger problems than you might realize.

NEW ENGLAND (-8.5) over New York Giants: I’ll take a pissed off Brady & Belichick over an overrated Giants squad any day (unless that day is February 3, 2008).

Green Bay (-5.5) over SAN DIEGO: Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in football right now. Conversely, I could really see Phillip Rivers following his three tunover performace last week with a 5 turnover performance this week.

PITTSBURGH (-3) over Baltimore: Oh, sure , i’m sure the Steelers have COMPLETELY forgotten their week one beat-down from the Ravens, and how everyone called this team old, slow, and washed-up.

PHILADELPHIA (-8) over Chicago: I think this one turns into a laugher, in the Eagles favor. Oh, and my currently-on-life-support fantasy football team up against an opponent who has LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Maclin this week. They’ll be going against a defense in the bottom 10 in the NFL overall and bottom five in passing yards allowed. As the kids like to say: FML.


A “Lack of Talent” Show

Anyone who knows anything about NFL football knows that it’s no secret that the Redskins and their fanbase were the butt of numerous punchlines of jokes surrounding the Redskins throwing excessive amounts of money at big name players, and consistently contending for the “offseason championship” or “championship team on paper” title. Over the last 11 years or so, the amount of money the Redskins have thrown at has-beens or or guys looking to cash in on career years like Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith, Mark Carrier, Jeff George, Jeremiah Trotter, Jessie Armstead, Laveranues Coles, Adam Archuleta, Antwaan Randle El, Albert Haynesworth, and Donovan McNabb exceeds the gross domestic product of over 50% of countries on this planet. That’s insane.

But here’s the sad irony in all of this: even with the tens of millions of dollars thrown at those guys or used to pay any of the high profile draft picks this team has made, the Redskins are easily well towards the bottom of the NFL in terms of overall, across-the-board play-makers on this football team.

As a Redskins fan, ask yourself this question: does this team have one single elite, “blue chip” player whom you could really call a cornerstone for this franchise? Is there really one guy whom you can say: “this is a guy we have to lock up for the next decade, and build this team around him”? The only truly game-changing player that this team has been able to draft over the past decade was Sean Taylor, and he was taken from this world far earlier than he deserved to be (RIP).

Just run down the list of guys currently on the roster:

Brian Orakpo: Listen, I love the guy – especially his intangibles and leadership at a relatively young age (he turned 25 this summer) – but you’re kidding yourself if you think he falls into a true “franchise player” designation. He’s a really good pass-rusher, no doubt, but he’s simply not a game-changing linebacker. He’s had one season with double-digit sacks (2009), and forced a grand total of two fumbles coming into 2011. Drafting Ryan Kerrigan was supposed to free him up from double-teams and being the focus of opposing teams’ game plans, yet he’s currently tied for 20th in the league in sacks. He always seems like he’s in the backfield, but just a step slow from making a momentum-shifting or game-altering play.

As Redskins fans, we hold Orakpo in much higher esteem than the rest of the NFL, mostly because he’s all we have to brag about. But when ESPN.com’s top football bloggers sat down to rank their top linebackers in the entire league, seven out of eight of them didn’t include Orakpo in their top 10 in the game. Redskins fans like to think of Orakpo as being in the same echelon of pass rushers like Demarcus Ware, Clay Matthews Jr, or LaMarr Woodley, but that’s simply not accurate.

LaRon Landry: Landry looked like he was on his way to being an All-Pro player last year in 2010 – he was arguably one of the top five defensive players in the NFL halfway through last season – but the injury to his Achilles tendon changed everything. With the cursed lockout taking away the ability for him to rehabilitate the injury with the Redskins medical staff, he’s just not the same guy anymore. His play has taken about four to six steps backward from what he was in 2010, and now he looks alarmingly ordinary, if not mediocre.

DeAngelo Hall: forget about it. Hall remains one of those guys who talks a far better game than he plays. God forbid he just shuts his mouth and covers the guy in front of him. Yeah, he might get you four to six interceptions per season, but he’ll get burned just as many times for big plays by opposing receivers. I’m not calling a “feast or famine” cornerback one of the better players in the game; like Orakpo, five of eight ESPN.com columnists didn’t include Hall in their top 10 cornerbacks in the NFL.

Ryan Kerrigan: Ignoring the fact that you can’t make a true judgement about a guy just seven games into his NFL career, he’s like Orakpo: damn fine player, busts his tail on every play, outstanding intangibles, great football IQ, but not a game-changing, top-five-at-his-position guy.

London Fletcher: the best player on this team, hands down, but father time will catch up with him at some point. And it’s a damn shame, too, because he may be the only player left on this roster who genuinely cares about whether this team wins or loses.

Anyone on Offense: You must be kidding. Did you even watch the last three games this team has played? To steal a phrase from Rip Torn: this offense looks like a bunch of morons trying to hump a doorknob. Our offensive execution last Sunday looked like one of those electronic vibrating football games from the 80’s where all the plastic players either end up falling over or spinning around in circles. The only guy you could even mention on the offense without completely being laughed at is Trent Williams, but right now, he has as many questions about his work ethic and passion for the game as he has physical tools and potential upside. Point being, he’s far from “there” yet.

That’s why it makes me go into a Bruce Banner-esque rage every time someone tries to compare the Redskins injury situation in 2011 to that of Green Bay in 2010, in trying to find some hope and silver lining for this team.

Calling that asinine just doesn’t describe how stupid that is. As many injuries as the Packers had last year (and it was pretty incredible; they had over 15 guys on injured reserve by the time the postseason rolled around), Green Bay had a top three quarterbacks in the NFL (Aaron Rodgers) and two of the top twenty defensive players in the league on their team (Matthews and Charles Woodson).

Again, even if all 22 of the Redskins starters were 100% healthy today, there isn’t one single player on this team whom you could say is a top 20 player in the NFL on offense or defense. Put it this way: you shouldn’t expect to win a whole lot of games if Brandon Banks and Sav Rocca are the only two players you could argue are in the top 20 on their side of the ball in the NFL (and that’s just Special Teams). My friend Tim said it best: this team is like a old dam – as soon as you plug one hole, another one opens up. Years of wasted money on free agent busts, trading away key middle round draft picks for more overpaid busts, and poor drafting in the later rounds by the Cerrato regime has absolutely crippled this roster of both blue-chip and overall talent.

Redskins fans were teased with false hopes and aspirations after the 3-1 start to this season. But, like always, we’ve been slapped with the cold, hard reality by November: this team has more problems than answers right now, and still has a ways to go before it’s anywhere near ready to contend.

This column was cross-posted on RedskinsGab.com

Still Searching For The Answer at Quarterback

How’s this for a knee-jerk reaction?

John Beck isn’t the answer at quarterback for the Washington Redskins.

Yes, last Sunday was only one game. Yes, last Sunday, he made his first NFL start in over three NFL season and close to four years overall. Yes, he finished last Sunday’s game without the services of his starting running back, best wide receiver, and 40% of his team’s starting offensive line. All of those are true.

Here’s my retort: when you watched the game last Sunday, did we really see anything from Beck that, at any point, made you think: “wow, I know it’s only his first game in four seasons, but I really think we have a chance with this guy”? Emphatically, no.

Anyone who’s being completely honest with themself would admit that Beck showed us that he’s an average quarterback, at best, with a little bit of mobility. That’s it. There’s nothing special, or even above average, about his game. Again, being honest, the only reason that myself, among many other Redskins fans, rallied behind John Beck was that he wasn’t Rex Grossman. That’s about it. It’s not like we saw something in 2007, or even this past preseason, that makes us believe that there’s something to this guy. Hell, this is the guy that Grossman beat out for the starting job. Decisively, I might add.

At this point in time, we just have to let Beck finish out the season. Because, really, what other choice do we have? There’s no point in going back to Grossman. He was a below-average quarterback, and he showed nothing different when he was the Redskins starter; there’s nothing to gain by going back to him (except maybe draft positioning). And it’s not like we’ve got some third guy at quarterback, waiting on the bench. Our third string, pratice squad quarterback is Jonathan Crompton, a guy who wasn’t even in camp with the Redskins and signed with the team just days before the regular season started.

Honestly, I’m sick and tired of the patchwork quarterbacking this team has rolled out over the past decade. 21 starting quarterbacks in 19 years, since the end of the Gibbs I era. That’s just ridiculous on so many levels. Even with the new hope found from the Bruce Allen and Mike Shanahan, we’re still busy rolling out retreads like Donovan McNabb or castoffs like Grossman and Beck, and being told to have patience and faith.

Damn it, we’ve had nothing but patience, faith, and hope for the better part of two decades now. Enough is enough.

Quarterbacks aren’t like kickers, where there’s five capable guys waiting by the phone for tryouts, ready to take the incumbent’s spot if and when necessary. In today’s NFL, more than at any point ever in the history of the league, a team’s success lies with the performance of its quarterback.

Just take a look around the NFL, as of late October, 2011. The resurrection and current success of some of the league’s top franchises, both currently and over the past decade, began with finding their franchise quarterback – usually capitalizing on an early pick in the draft – and then putting together the rest of the team around that.

Green Bay won the Super Bowl last year, and went to the playoffs two of the three years Aaron Rodgers has been the starting quarterback (yes, I know Rodgers was drafted 24th overall; if you remember that draft, Rodgers was legitimately in the running to be the top overall pick, and only fell to #24 after Smith was drafted because so many teams were afraid of the risk and cost associated with drafting a QB, given the high bust rate between 1997 and 2004). I’ll make the argument, right now, that Rodgers could very well be the best quarterback in the entire game – especially with Peyton Manning gone – even over Tom Brady.

In addition to having him as their starting quarterback in two Super Bowl wins, Pittsburgh has never had a losing season since drafting Ben Roethlisberger. The Giants have never had a losing season since drafting Eli Manning (outside of Manning’s rookie year in 2004), and they also have a Super Bowl ring to show for it. The Chargers have never had a losing season with Phillip Rivers (the third member of that 2004 draft class) as their quarterback , and have won 11 or more games in three of the five season’s he’s been the starter.

Indianapolis drafting Peyton Manning, and their subsequent success, should go without saying (at least until this season). Philadelphia ruled the NFC East for the better part of a decade, after drafting McNabb. The Bengals won two division titles with Carson Palmer as their starting quarterback. Atlanta won their division twice this decade, behind two different highly-drafted franchise quarterbacks (Michael Vick and Matt Ryan). Joe Flacco has taken the Ravens to the playoffs every season he’s been the starter. Detroit has been slowing down over the last few weeks, but looked like one of the best teams in the league through the first five weeks of this season, largely in part due to Matt Stafford’s play.

Even Mark Sanchez, who has looked erratic and inconsistent at times (and that’s being polite), has led the Jets on 7 fourth quarter comebacks, 9 game-winning drives, in less than two and a half seasons as the Jets starting quarterback. And, of course, that’s not mentioning the fact that he’s helped take the Jets to two straight AFC Championship games. Heck, even Vince Young took the Titans and Tim Couch took the Browns to the playoffs once.

Along with intense pre-draft background searches and character interviews, the sophistication of many college offenses, along with draft preparation camps and private coaching from ex-NFL coaches and coordinators, have made some of the recent top draft picks more NFL-ready than we’ve ever seen. If you count every quarterback drafted in the first round between 2008 and 2010 – Ryan, Flacco, Stafford, Sanchez, Josh Freeman, Sam Bradford, and Tim Tebow – all but Tebow (a known project and considered a reach overall) started very early in their NFL career and are firmly entrenched as their team’s starting quarterback for at least the next decade. And while the jury is still out for most of the guys from the 2011 draft class – namely Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, and Christian Ponder – Cam Newton is well on his way to joining the formerly mentioned entrenched starters as well.

In contrast, take a look at teams like Miami, Buffalo, Oakland, Houston, Kansas City, and yes, Washington, who’ve foregone the draft route and tried raiding other teams’ rosters or plugging in retreats at quarterback. These are among the teams with the longest playoff droughts in the NFL (you could argue that Kansas City’s playoff run was a huge fluke last year given how bad that team has been this year, and even despite all the offensive statistics they’ve put up under Matt Schaub, the Texans have never made the playoffs in the history of their franchise).

Yes, I know: drafting a quarterback is far from a perfect science, and there’s often as much of a chance of missing as there is of getting the right guy. For all the guys mentioned above, one could easily throw out names like Ryan Leaf (gigantic douche), David Carr (still in the NFL, but just never quite seemed to get it), Joey Harrington (more interested in being Elton John than John Elway), Akili Smith (overrated because of physical attributes while ignoring only one year of college football experience), Byron Leftwich (lazy work ethic and lousy teammate by numerous accounts), Alex Smith (no arm strength and gimmick college offense), Vince Young (overall IQ equivalent to a bag of hamburgers), Matt Leinart (more interested in partying and chasing tail), and Jamarcus Russell (couldn’t stay away from questionable characters, purple drank, or buffet lines), among others, as retorts. All of them, except Alex Smith (who seems to have finally caught on to some extent), have been colossal misses, setting back the fortunes of their franchises for years.

Even the Redskins had to deal with this after they tried to take this route – although not necessarily with a high draft pick – by drafting Jason Campbell, which obviously failed. Campbell was a better physical prospect – and human being – than he was a quarterback. The revolving door of coaching staffs and offensive supporting cast did hurt his development, but he was just one of those guys whose mind and football acumen weren’t nearly as good as his physical skills and talents.

But as we’ve seen, the “acquisition” route at quarterback hasn’t exactly worked either, and we’re once again in a position where we have to hit the reset button. Beck, Grossman, or whoever else we can dig up (Kellen Clemens) will suffice for the 2011 season, but not a day past that.With as many as six guys (maybe more) who could carry a first or high second round grade in the 2012 NFL draft
(assuming they all declare for the draft) – Andrew Luck of Stanford, Landry Jones of Oklahoma, Matt Barkley of USC, Robert Griffin III of Baylor, Nick Foles of Arizona, and Ryan Tannehill of Texas A&M – if there was ever a year that Shanahan was to find “his” guy that he could groom into the next franchise quarterback of this team, it would be this year.

But for now, even while John Beck remains the starting quarterback, the search for the Redskins franchise quarterback continues.

This column was cross-posted on RedskinsGab.com

Super Bowl XLV: Creating their legacy

You want to talk about NFL lore?

Try this on for size: the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers have a combined nine NFL championships and nine Super Bowl wins. There are four Hall of Fame head coaches (including some guys named Vince Lombardi and Chuck Noll), two Hall of Fame owners  from the same family (the Rooneys), and thirty seven other players in the Hall of Fame amongst the two teams. That’s almost enough people to start an entire expansion franchise. To say these two teams are intertwined directly with the  historical development of the NFL in general would be doing each respective team’s histories a sure injustice.

Coming into this game, you’d have to think, though, that the Steelers are the favorite to win this game (Vegas be damned). Hell, this is their third trip to the Super Bowl in five years. Watching them walk around and interact with
everyone in Dallas during the days leading up to the game, you can just see that there’s a strong sense of a “been there, done that” mentality. They’ve approached this week with a  workmanlike, taking-care-of-business attitude, like it’s  just another Tuesday afternoon at the office. And why not? To get here, they knocked off their unquestionably toughest division rival in Baltimore (with an assist from Joe Flacco imploding on himself in the second half), and then
withstood a second-half rally from the Jets – the same team to beat the Colts and Patriots on their own home fields – to hold on to the victory in the AFC Title game. So it’s not like they haven’t been tested, either.

In a way, the Steelers are like a guy who is entering his senior year of college, looking to tie up any remaining loose ends and permanently cement his legacy. He’s climbed to the proverbial mountain top, and knows all the ins and outs
of staying on top. It’s just a matter of making sure that he’ll be remembered as the greatest of all time (or at least that era).

And in comparsion, the Packers would be that kid’s extremely talented but wide-eyed younger brother who is just starting his freshman year, looking for new things to conquer so that he can make a name for himself. Here’s what know about  the Packers: they were the sixth seed in the NFC playoffs, after finishing the season with a record of 10-6. They won three playoff games, on the road, to get where they are today.  But here’s what nobody seems to be talking about:
Counting the regular season and the playoffs, the Packers are 13-2 in games where Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews Jr. start and finish the game.

Just take a look for yourself. As we know, the Packers lost six games this season, with four of those losses coming in back-to-back occurences. In the first pair of losses – right around mid-October, at Washington and then at Miami –  Clay Matthews Jr hurt his hamstring by halftime of the first  game and was inactive for the second game. For anyone who happened to be watching that Redskins-Packers matchup, they’d know that Matthews Jr. was literally terrorizing the  Redskins offense, and virtually the sole reason that they mustered a a grand total of zero points for the first 14 minutes and 45 seconds of the first half. There’s no just coincidence that the Redskins came back and won that game in the second half with Matthews on the bench. That same hamstring injury kept him out of the Packers game in Miami the next week, and look how the Packers fared.  In the second pair of losses – at Detroit and at New England – Aaron Rodgers suffered a concussion midway through the first quarter of the Lions game, and couldn’t play in the game versus the Patriots.

So that basically leaves the games at Chicago (week 3) and at Atlanta (week 12) as the only instances where the Packers lost a game despite being “fully manned.” Even discounting the fact that the Packers had a league-high 15 guys on  injured reserve (including their Pro Bowl caliber running back and tight end, two starting linebackers, and their right tackle) you’re looking at a team that could’ve been a lot closer to 14-2 than they were to 10-6 if their best two
players played in all 16 games. And when the football gods provided the Packers with the opportunities to go into Atlanta and Chicago for rematches during the postseason, they absolutely took it and ran with it (no pun intended… I
think). They went into Atlanta, a place that was supposed to be one of the toughest venues for road teams to play in, and embarassed the Falcons on national television. The following week, with the added pressures of a Super Bowl plus another chapter being added to one of the most storied rivalries in the entire league, they beat the Bears, in Chicago, for the second time in four weeks.

On the same level, watching the Packers post-season run has given us the chance to see Aaron Rodgers begin cementing his own legacy, and showing how really damn good he actually is. Right now, the Mount Rushmore of elite NFL quarterbacks is already in place: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and Ben Roethlisberger. Each of them have a Super Bowl ring. They’re household names, transcending the game of football. Brady and Manning will top this list as long as they’re playing, and will some day be near the very top of the “greatest NFL quarterbacks” list as well. Brees has been the most statistically dominanant quarterback over the last five years, and now has a Super Bowl ring (and MVP) to add to that resume. Roethlisberger has two rings of his own (granted, with a big assist to his defense), but he can still boast a season with over 4000 yards passing (’09) and two seasons with over 25 TD passes thrown (’07 and ’09).

With a win, Rodgers may begin to make an argument that a fifth head should belong on that mountain. The stats are there: in his three season as the starting quarterback, he’s thrown for over 3900 yards passing, 28 or more touchdown passes, and four or more rushing touchdowns. He’s as well-liked and well-respected amongst his teammates as Brady is. He’s as hard working, intelligent, and prepared for every game as Manning is. He’s got that ability to put the entire offense on his shoulders and orchestrate it like a world class symphony conductor, similar to the way Brees does. And perhaps most interestingly, he’s got that “gunslinging swagger” and “riverboat gambler mentality” that was always forever associated with the way his legendary predecessor, Brett Favre, played the game.

It’s really hard not to root for Rogers. Remember, this is a guy that who was passed over by 25 NFL teams before he was taken in the draft. Then he was groomed to be the guy replacing the living legend. Then he was the guy who was never  able to get his chance to lead the Packers because Favre kept sticking around. And even when he finally got his chance, he was the guy whom the Packers fans initially never really gave a fair chance to, even when Favre did leave town, just because he wasn’t Brett Favre. But three years later, Rodgers is on the verge of etching his name amongst the super elite NFL quarterbacks in this league, while Favre is at home, battered, bruised, and fending off lawsuits from “hostesses” and massueses whom he couldn’t handle himself around.

Look, I firmly believe that you can only truly love one NFL team. You have one team that you truly love, that you live for and die with. I don’t believe in any of this “they’re my second favorite team” bullshit. You know what happens
when you have a wife and a girlfriend? You end up having neither. But, it’s really hard for me not to like the Packers a whole lot. If there ever was a team that was built the right way, it’s them: whit a cor of phenomenally talented home-grown players (Rodgers, Matthews, BJ Raji, Greg Jennings, Tramon Williams, AJ Hawk, Brian Bulaga, and James Stars, among many others), a splash of grizzled veterans (Chad Clifton, Cullen Jenkins), and topped with the occasional sprinkling of free agent acquisitions (Charles Woodson, Ryan Pickett) to round out the squad. And you know they’re coming into this game with all the motivation in the world, considering there isn’t a single player on the Packers roster with a Super Bowl ring.

But then again, my newfound love for the Packers could also very well be my bias against Pittsburgh – or more specifically, their insufferable fans – in disguise. Those fans who just wont shut up when their team is playing well, but will empty those packed Steelers bars at the first sign of misfortune, never knowing what it means to stick with a team through the tougher times (just ask Redskins fans about that: we’re on 18 years, and counting). Those fans who grew up in eastern Ohio, and/ora stone’s throw from Cleveland,  but couldn’t waste their time rooting for their hometown team. Those Steelers fans who love Sidney Crosby and the Penguins, but will quickly change the subject when you bring up the Pirates. Those fans who grew up in eastern Ohio, a stone’s throw from Cleveland, but couldn’t waste their time rooting for their hometown team. Yes, the smugness from these fans is only matched by their raging homerism and belief that the entire NFL revolves around “Stiller football.”

No sir. You’ve had your time on the mountain top, and there’s a new sheriff in town. Someone who knows what it means to come in and take the place of a legend.

I’m a Redskins fan through and through, but come Sunday evening, you’ll be hearing me say: “Go Pack, Go!”

I’m taking Green Bay.