Tagged: Andrew Luck

What’s Washington Doing?

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One of my biggest regrets as a writer is the two years or so I took off from writing about sports on the Internet from the spring of 2011 to the spring of 2013. On the one hand, I absolutely needed to reset and refocus as a writer, and I had other things going on and some perspective would have done me a lot of good. If I continued writing the way I had been, in the style I had been, on the blog I had been, I would have burnt out sooner or later, and I would not be writing here for you today in 2017. On the other hand, there is no written evidence, no previous article I wrote that I can link to, that can prove how right I was about Kirk Cousins.

We sports writers, amateur and professional alike, we sports enthusiasts who call and email talk radio shows and fill Reddit threads with opinions and analysis, we love making predictions, and we love being able to go back and prove we were right when our opinion in the moment was not the consensus or the prevailing opinion. Now that Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins has been franchised for the second straight year, and now that he is set to be one of the most interesting and in-demand assets in the NFL, I wish I had been maintaining a blog in the spring of 2012, when the Redskins took two quarterbacks, so I could have written that Cousins was a real NFL QB, that having a guy like Cousins drafted alongside Robert Griffin III would not end well for Washington, and the overlooked Cousins would be itching to prove himself. Five years later, the Washington football team that had two rookie quarterbacks may very well lose them both, with nothing but a couple of one-and-done playoff appearances to show for it.

Last offseason, the Redskins placed the franchise tag on Kirk Cousins, rather than signing him to a contract extension, after a 2015 season in which he won the starting job away from Griffin for good and led Washington to an NFC East division title. The Skins cut RGIII (who signed with the Cleveland Browns and subsequently got injured in the first game of the regular season), but were not ready to commit to Cousins long-term. That line of thinking is entirely defensible on its own. Cousins had one good season as a starter under his belt, and it would be reasonable for a team to want to see more before committing top dollar and many years to a relatively unproven player, but then Cousins had another good season in 2016. Sure, the Redskins struggled down the stretch and missed the playoffs, but they had also not put in place a backup plan.

The only quarterback to play on the franchise tag twice was Drew Brees with the San Diego Chargers, who eventually walked in free agency and signed with the New Orleans Saints, where he has been such a great face of the franchise that I often forget he was in San Diego and get caught off guard when scrolling through Google Images for pictures for articles I am writing. The difference between what the Chargers were doing a decade ago with Brees and what the Redskins are doing now with Cousins is that San Diego drafted Philip Rivers during that time (well, actually they drafted Eli Manning, but traded him for Rivers when the Mannings made it clear Eli did not want to be in San Diego), and gave Rivers a couple years in the system to develop before Brees left to go get paid by the Saints. I thought back in 2012 that Cousins, like Brees, would leave Washington to go get paid by another franchise, and eventually be synonymous with that second franchise the way Brees is with New Orleans, but I thought that would be because of the flashes he showed backing up RGIII, not because he proved himself as the starter in Washington like he ended up doing.

Rather than sign him to an extension, the Redskins placed a second franchise tag on Cousins. If they do not sign him to an extension, Cousins will most certainly leave Washington. Why would he stay with an organization that has been so hesitant to believe in him? That has forced him to bet on himself season after season? Cousins has been well compensated by the Redskins, thanks to the franchise tag, yet they are still finding ways to alienate their franchise QB. Why would he stay in Washington when there are two NFL franchises now coached by former offensive coordinators of his (Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco, and Sean McVay in Los Angeles), who would take him over their current quarterback situations, even if it means waiting another year.

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The Rams and 49ers should not be the only teams interested in Cousins’ services. He has a lot going for him, even compared to the other highly regarded NFL quarterbacks being talked about as trade chips right now. Cousins is eight years younger, and far less injury-prone, than Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, and has a far greater sample size for teams to look at than New England Patriots backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo (who started five quarters during Tom Brady’s suspension before getting hurt), but no matter what happens, I cannot shake the feeling that the Redskins will mess this up. That’s what they are known for in the Dan Snyder Era.

Since Snyder bought the team in 1999, the Redskins have had a high amount of turnover at the head coach and quarterback positions, not as high as the Cleveland Browns, but certainly not a model for consistency and continuity in professional sports, either. Head coach Jay Gruden is going into his fourth year of a five year contract the same year that Kirk Cousins is poised to play on a second straight franchise season. Why would Cousins want to sign an extension with a team that might be on the verge of turning over its coaching staff yet again? By Snyder’s own reputation, they are due.

When they quarterback draft class of 2012 was in college, Cousins was the one I saw the most on TV. I knew about Andrew Luck at Stanford and Robert Griffin III at Baylor, as they were the Heisman favorites all season, but for whatever reason, Cousins’ Michigan State team was on TV all the time in Massachusetts, it seemed, and I was in the habit of watching a lot more college football than I have in the years since (spoiler alert: I was in college, living in the dorms), so I was impressed with Cousins’ play at the time, and was particularly baffled when Washington decided to trade up in the draft to #2 overall to take Griffin, and then also take Cousins in the 4th round. How could that possibly end well?

While I prided myself on picking up on Cousins getting overlooked, and that driving him to improve the way he did, I was, of course, also guilty of overlooking Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson, who was taken by the Seattle Seahawks the round before Cousins, and who has played in two Super Bowls and has had the best career of the four quarterbacks to this point. As disappointed as I am in not having proof that I was bullish on Cousins in 2012, I am also thankful I don’t have written proof like that about how wrong I was about Russell Wilson. I guess it was all for the best I took those two years off and I am here now to write about it.

Keeping the Band Together

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Good football teams lose their coaching talent as the seasons go on. It’s a part of life. But the New England Patriots are able to hold things together remarkably well despite winning two of the last three Super Bowls. And even when they do lose their assistants to greener pastures of head coaching jobs elsewhere, the infrastructure with Bill Belichick at the top of the football operation must be trusted until further notice.

Before the Super Bowl was even played and regardless of the big game’s outcome Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was going to be the next head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, and even though the hire was not officially announced, everybody knew it. Kyle is Mike Shanahan’s son, he is 39 years old, and he has been one of the rising coaching stars on the offensive side of the ball. In his various stops, he has gotten quarterbacks of varying talent levels to realize their potential. Working under his dad in Washington, Robert Griffin III was the rookie of the year ahead of Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson, in Cleveland, former Tom Brady backup Brian Hoyer looked like a competent NFL starter before getting hurt, and in Atlanta, Pro Bowl QB Matt Ryan won the MVP and did not trail in the Super Bowl until the moment the game ended. Given his reputation, it is fair to assume that San Francisco’s next starting QB whether they stick with Colin Kaepernick, or they trade for Jimmy Garoppolo, Kirk Cousins, or they make a less exciting stopgap signing like Matt Schaub or Brian Hoyer, or start from scratch with a kid from the draft, that QB will enjoy an uptick in production from this past year.

Regardless of the second guessing of Shanahan’s overly aggressive play calling in the second half that gave the Patriots enough clock to work with to make their historic comeback, there is a lot of hope surrounding the downtrodden 49ers and also a lot of uncertainty for the Falcons because of Shanahan. Before Kyle Shanahan, the Falcons were a good offense and Matt Ryan was a good quarterback, but with him they were a great offense with an MVP quarterback. When the Patriots experienced a period of significant turnover after their Super Bowl XXXIX win over the Philadelphia Eagles, when offensive coordinator Charlie Weis took the head coaching job at Notre Dame and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel left New England to be the head coach of the Cleveland Browns, Belichick promoted from within, making Eric Mangini the defensive coordinator and assuming the offensive coordinator duties himself, even though he is best known as a defensive mastermind, before eventually handing over the keys to Brady’s offense to Josh McDaniels when McDaniels was ready for the responsibility. Years later, when Dean Pees left the Patriots, Belichick assumed defensive coordinator duties until he felt Matt Patricia was ready for it.

Most coaches are not Bill Belichick, however, and Falcons head coach Dan Quinn, a defensive coach, did not go this way. Instead the Falcons hired former Washington and USC head coach Steve Sarkisian to run their offense in 2017. Sarkisian was most recently the offensive coordinator at the University of Alabama for one game, replacing Lane Kiffin for the National Championship Game against Clemson, which Alabama lost. Sark may not be the best college head coach ever, but he does have a good reputation as an offensive play caller. The problem for Atlanta is that they are bringing in a new voice with a new philosophy when they thing they were doing was working perfectly fine. It is hard to come back from losing the Super Bowl. Most teams struggle in the following year, and the 2016 Carolina Panthers are a perfect example, and changing more than you have to certainly cannot help.

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The Patriots could have just as easily been the team that lost the Super Bowl instead of the Falcons, and the last two years both offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia have gotten head coaching interviews. McDaniels, in fact, was in direct competition with Shanahan for the Niners job. McDaniels, who first joined the Patriots as a personnel assistant in 2001, left to become head coach of the Denver Broncos in 2009, got fired, worked for the St. Louis Rams for a season before getting his old job back in New England when offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien left to take the head coaching job at Penn State in 2012, has been careful in his pursuit for his second head coaching job to say the least. Many coaches get a second chance if they fail as a head coach once, but if you fail twice, the odds of a third head coaching job are very slim.

Two years ago, Chip Kelly was still believed to be a football genius, but a bad third season in Philadelphia followed by the awful football situation he inherited in San Francisco leaves his future as an NFL head coach very much in doubt. McDaniels wants both a good quarterback situation and a good ownership situation, as those are the two factors the best determine head coaching success. If the Colts job opened up, Andrew Luck is a very good quarterback, but Jim Irsay is not a great owner to work for. Bill Belichick even failed on the first try in Cleveland, and when he was given a second chance with the New York Jets, he famously resigned as “HC of the NYJ” after a day when the more appealing offer came from the New England Patriots. McDaniels has the luxury of waiting, as he is still only 40, and being Tom Brady’s offensive coordinator and working for Bill Belichick is by no means a bad gig.

The Patriots did lose a key member of the coaching staff, as tight ends coach Brian Daboll was hired by Nick Saban to replace Sarkisian as offensive coordinator at Alabama, of all things. Daboll, like McDaniels, left New England before, but they were the only two prominent assistants to come back for a second stint, unlike Weis, Crennel, Pees, O’Brien, or Rob Ryan. With McDaniels staying put in New England, Bama was Daboll’s best opportunity to be an offensive coordinator again, and it’s a winning program. The more head coaching jobs McDaniels turns down, the more likely it seems that he sees himself as Belichick’s eventual successor as HC of NE.

When McDaniels first came back to the Patriots, I wanted nothing to do with him as a candidate to be the Pats’ next head coach. His terrible two seasons in Denver that included the (even then) head-scratching decision to draft Tim Tebow in the 1st round was still fresh in my memory, and I thought he was just another Belichick assistant who was doomed to be a bad head coach. But as the years go by, and it becomes more and more apparent that the operation Bill Belichick has built is superior to every other in the game of football (I mean, seriously, the Pittsburgh Steelers are a model of consistency and continuity and have had the same number of head coaches since Watergate as the 49ers had in Barack Obama’s second term, and even they are nothing more than the Generals to New England’s Globetrotters, going 0-3 in AFC Championship Games against Belichick and Brady with none of those games being particularly competitive.), and the list of coaches I would rather have than Josh McDaniels to come in and try to tinker with it dwindles every year. At this point, I would have to think about Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, and that’s about it. I would rather have McDaniels than just about anyone else.

For now, the Patriots are going about their business, doing their jobs, but Brady will be 40 next season, and Belichick is probably closer to his last game as a head coach than his first, so as effective Belichick and Brady still are, a little continuity on the coaching staff certainly goes a long way.

Rocky Mountain High atop the AFC

What if?

What if Wes Welker and the New England Patriots had reached an agreement last February? Danny Woodhead? What if Aaron Hernandez wasn’t an alleged murderer? What if Vince Wilfork was healthy? Jerod Mayo? Sebastian Vollmer? Tommy Kelly? Rob Gronkowski? What if Aqib Talib hadn’t been injured by Wes Welker in the AFC Championship Game? These are the questions that will haunt Patriots fans until the start of training camp. If a year where so many “what ifs” broke the wrong way for them, there was still a lot to love about what they accomplished.

Peyton Manning is going to play in his third Super Bowl instead of Tom Brady getting to play in his sixth. The Denver Broncos are going for their third franchise Super Bowl title instead of the Patriots going for their fourth. Peyton will get to play for the the top of the football mountain in his little brother’s city and home stadium in two weeks. At 37 years of age, he’s put together one of the best seasons a quarterback could ever have. He proved today that sometimes the best defense is offense by maintaining possession of the ball for so long that Tom Brady could never get in any kind of rhythm. The Pats started the second half playing from behind, but the 3rd quarter was halfway finished before Brady even got to touch the ball. It was one of those days. The Pats had made improbable comebacks on a few occasions this season, including the biggest one against the Broncos in New England, but it wasn’t going to happen today.

The window is closing on the Manning/Brady Era, but we’ve been saying that for a solid five years now, so I’m not going to speculate about when it will slam shut. Both teams should be contenders again next year, but the new wave of superstar quarterbacks are already here. First there was Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Eli Manning. Now it’s Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III who are knocking on the door. Before we know it, Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Football will be in the mix as well. They’ll meet again in the regular season for sure, since they both won their divisions this season, but this was their first meeting in the playoffs since January of 2007, when the Pats played their last road playoff game before today and lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts. A game like this might never come again.

The Patriots need to address some issues on defense. The secondary shouldn’t rely so heavily on Talib that Pats fans spend eight months what iffing for eight months about back to back AFC Championship Games. The offense should be better with a healthy Gronk, but that’s something that seems to get said every year, too. At some point, Bill Belichick will need to draft Tom Brady’s successor, and maybe that year is this year. Aaron Rodgers was Brett Favre’s understudy for a few years, and Steve Young did the same for Joe Montana. If the Pats want to contend in life after Brady, they should look into doing the same. You can’t rely on getting lucky (pun intended) in the draft like the Colts did.

Another Patriots season is over, and the result is not the desired one, but at least they were in it, despite all the reasons they had not to be.

The Lion, The Motor City, and the Sock Puppet

The Detroit Lions have hired Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator and former Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Caldwell to replace Jim Schwartz as their new head coach. Caldwell inherits a team loaded with talent, but lacking in discipline. The Lions should have been a playoff team this year and last year thanks to the play of wide receiver Calvin Johnson and defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh, but bad penalties and an inability to close out games has them on the outside looking in on another playoff tournament, and this time it cost Schwartz his job. They’ve come a long way since going 0-16 in 2008, but the Lions are still losers, and I’m not sure Caldwell is the right guy to change that.

Jim Caldwell’s tenure as a head coach in Indy was defined by it’s highs and lows. He was the coach-in-waiting for years when Tony Dungy was in charge, and when the Hall of Fame finalist retired, Caldwell inherited a team that was already a Super Bowl contender. Caldwell won his first 14 games as an NFL head coach before he and Bill Polian made an organizational decision to rest their starters for the last two games before they playoffs. They could have gone 16-0 like the Patriots did, but thought the pressure would be too great to win the Super Bowl. They thought they were smarter than everyone by trying to go 14-2 and win the Super Bowl rather than go undefeated and lose in the playoffs. They flirted with history and got rejected when Tracy Porter of the New Orleans Saints intercepted Peyton Manning and ran it back for a touchdown late in the 4th quarter. So close, yet so far.

Caldwell’s Colts made the playoffs again the following year, but were bounced in the Wild Card Round by the New York Jets. That offseason, Peyton Manning had neck surgery and missed the entire season. The Colts won two games that year despite having most of a roster that was in the Super Bowl two years before that. Caldwell was fired along with Polian, and Manning was traded to Denver to make room for Andrew Luck, who the Colts acquired with the 1st overall pick.

Caldwell took over as the Ravens’ offensive coordinator near the end of last season, and the won the Super Bowl over the San Francisco 49ers. This year, they had one of the worst offenses in the league, but Caldwell still managed to land another head coaching gig. Caldwell might be the right guy, but he might not. He never seems to have any facial expressions, and his ability to make adjustments in-game are often called into question. Based on his track record with the Colts and Ravens, the 2014 Lions might be really good, but they could just as easily be terrible. I thought Ken Whisenhunt, who guided the lowly Arizona Cardinals to the Super Bowl in 2009, would be the best guy for the job in Detroit, but he ended up signing with the Tennessee Titans instead. The Lions want to take the next step forward, but I’m not convinced they have the right coach to get them there.

Andrew’s Luck Runs Out, Patriots Just Run

Andrew Luck has a great career ahead of him. He and Cam Newton became two of my favorite young players in football this season, and Luck showed us a lot with that big time comeback against Kansas City last week. He and his head coach, Chuck Pagano, will do great things together in the NFL before it’s all said and done, but not today. Not this year. On a day where two dome teams went on the road to play in the January rain, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick were the ones to come out on top. I remember in the baseball playoffs in 1999, when Pedro Martinez of the Red Sox was set to start against Roger Clemens of the Yankees, that the match up was dubbed “Cy Young vs. Cy Old” and this game between Luck and Brady could have been promoted much the same way, except this time the old man prevailed over the young man.

It’s rare to see the Patriots run more often than they pass. It’s even rarer to see them score 43 points without Brady throwing a touchdown pass, but the 2013-14 Pats are nothing if not versatile. They had to be. Brady’s favorite targets of the last few years are out of the picture for one reason or another, and they had to get creative. Julian Edelman shouldered the load once carried by Wes Welker. The backfield of Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley, and LeGarrette Blount replaced the production the Patriots were used to getting from the tight end position. Blount was the hero of the night, rushing for 166 yards and scoring four touchdowns for the home team. The undrafted former Oregon Duck, who was close to getting cut in training camp, has proven his value to the team this year more than Tim Tebow ever could.

The Patriots defense was impressive in this game as well. Alfonzo Dennard intercepted Luck twice: once at the beginning of the game, and once at the end. Linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower also had interceptions in the game. They didn’t make things easy for Luck. There always seemed to be a lot of pressure on the pocket, and while Luck did make some incredible throws, by the 4th quarter, the Colts really started to come apart. It was a good old fashioned kind of win. This is what Patriots football was when they Patriots were winning Super Bowls: tough and physical on both sides of the ball.

I realized this week that the rivalry with the Colts does not have the same venom it used to have. Peyton Manning is gone. Bill Polian is gone. Tony Dungy is gone. Jim Caldwell is gone. Dwight Freeney is gone. The old Colts were two finesse and too whiny for my liking. They were all flash and no substance. Jim Irsay is still the owner, and I’m still not a huge fan of his, but I could say that about the Red Sox’ and Bruins’ owners, as well and I love those teams. It’s really hard to hate this Colts team. They were everything the Patriots were not back then. Chuck Pagano is a great coach and a great human interest story. Andrew Luck is hard to hate, as are Reggie Wayne and Robert Mathis. If they were playing the Broncos or any of the NFC teams this weekend, I would probably have rooted for them. This team is only going to get better. Andrew Luck had flashes of brilliance today, but there’s a learning curve for becoming a star quarterback. A Stanford education is only a starting point. Most QBs don’t shock the world by winning the Super Bowl in their second year the way Tom Brady did.

43-22 may seem like a lopsided game, but it was closer than that for most of the game. It seemed like whenever the Pats scored, Luck and the Colts would come right back with a few quick strikes down the field. If he stops turning the ball over, he will be tough to stop. When Reggie Wayne comes back healthy next year, he’ll have another good proven option to rely on. If he ever gets a better running game to work with than Donald Brown and Trent Richardson, then he’ll really be in business.

The season ends for the Indianapolis Colts and an illustrious broadcasting career ends for Dan Dierdorf. This was Dierdorf’s last game as a color commentator for CBS. He was always one of my favorite ex-athlete broadcasters, and before that, he put together a Hall of Fame career as an offensive lineman for the St. Louis Cardinals. Thanks for all the memories, Dan!

Tom Brady and the Patriots are back in the AFC Championship Game for the eight time since Brady took over for the injured Drew Bledsoe. As fans, we shouldn’t take for granted the consistent level of success this team has accomplished, because it might never happen again. The game will either be in Foxboro against the San Diego Chargers or in Denver against the Broncos, depending on the result of tomorrow’s game.

Wild Card Weekend Part 1 – Get Lucky

Another year, another disappointment for Andy Reid, and another disappointment for the Kansas City Chiefs. It’s been twenty years since the Chiefs won a playoff game, and Andy is still without an illusive Super Bowl ring as a head coach. It looked like Kansas City had this one in the bag, but Andrew Luck, Chuck Pagano, and the Indianapolis Colts did not think today was a good day to die. It was a big boy win for Andrew the Giant, and his biggest since being drafted 1st overall out of Stanford less than two years ago.

Kansas City fell victim to the injury bug. Jamaal Charles, the Chiefs’ best player, went down in the first possession of the game with a concussion and never came back. In the second half, they lost Charles’ replacement, backup running back Knile Davis to a knee injury. On defense they lost a lot of skill and toughness in the form of Brandon Flowers (possible concussion) and Justin Houston (knee/leg). The first play after Houston’s injury late in the 4th quarter, Andrew luck tied it up with a long touchdown pass to T.Y. Hilton. Alex Smith tried to get the Chiefs down the field, but the drive fell short when Dwayne Bowe could not stay in bounds on 4th and 11.

In the first half, before the injuries really started to pile up for Kansas City, the Chiefs were dominating the game. Their offense was moving the ball, the defense was forcing Andrew Luck and blockbuster trade acquisition Trent Richardson to make mistakes. I was thinking about writing an article comparing Andrew Luck to his predecessor, Peyton Manning, and not for the good reasons. Sure, they were both drafted first overall by the Colts, neither were subject to the Heisman Curse, as they were both snubbed for college football’s highest honor, and Luck was considered the best quarterback prospect the NFL had seen since Peyton Manning, but there was also the ineptitude they both shared. Manning has been a one-and-done in the playoffs more often than not in his career, and Andrew Luck suffered the same fate in his first NFL January last year. The Colts were the first stop in the Ray Lewis Farewell Tour, before the Baltimore Ravens knocked off Manning’s Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, and San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl. If Luck lost his second career playoff game, this time at home, professional football pundits and amateur bloggers alike would start asking those kinds of questions they way I do about Andy Reid.

The most ridiculous moment of the game came in the 3rd quarter when Luck had driven the Colts inside the 10 yard line. Luck handed the ball to former UConn running back Donald Brown, who coughed up the ball after being drilled by Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry. Berry was unable to recover the football and it bounced right back to Andrew Luck. Luck could have just played it safe and fallen on the ball, but instead used his incredible football instincts, transformed himself into a fearless, bulldozing fullback, and pummeled his way into the end zone. It all happened so fast. It was one of those plays that you need to watch the replay two or three more times just to make sure you saw what you saw. If I had been a fan of one of the teams in the game, my heart would have been racing after that ten second emotional roller coaster.

The season is over, but Chiefs fans should be happy about how this season went. Andy Reid is a good coach, and they have a lot of young talent. This season was a tremendous turnaround after going 2-14 last season, and I expect them to get better in the coming years. They have a core they can build around with Smith, Charles, Dwayne Bowe, and Eric Berry. The future of the Kansas City Chiefs looks a lot better than it did when they hired Reid one year ago today.

The Colts will play next week in either New England or Denver, depending on the outcome of tomorrow’s game between the San Diego Chargers and Cincinnati Bengals, but either way it will be a showdown between two great QBs–one old, one young. Whether it’s Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, it will be a great story. This is the best time of year for football, and we haven’t even gotten to the outdoor playoff games yet!