It was wonderful spending time with you at the Olympics. I enjoyed reading your column about Serena’s Crip Walk at Wimbledon. But it’s football season, and I really need to hear the truth about the NFL season.
Queen Elizabeth II
Your NFL Truths for Week 1:
10. The most significant QB performance of the weekend did not belong to Peyton Manning or Robert Griffin III or Tony Romo. Michael Vick had the performance we can read into, the performance that potentially foreshadows the rest of the season.
It was laughable reading stories about Andy Reid defending Vick’s performance. Andy Reid needed to be defending his own performance.
Let me explain. I don’t want to shift focus away from Vick’s awful performance. He was bad. Really bad. But Reid was every bit as bad as Vick. Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinwheg were absolutely clueless on Sunday. Philly’s pass protection was non-existent in the first quarter. Vick took some big hits and was seemingly harassed on every play. Vick and Philly’s offensive line needed to be bailed out by LeSean McCoy.
Reid refused to run the football. The Eagles kept throwing and Vick kept getting hit and more frustrated. Vick is undersized and, for the first time in his career, he can’t simply rely on his legs to fix problems created by his arm. Vick desperately needs the support of a strong running back-led running game. He’s a bootleg, play-action passer. He doesn’t move linebackers and the secondary with his eyes and clever pump fakes. He’s not that kind of QB. He can only fool linebackers with play-action passing. The threat of McCoy is the key to creating passing windows for Michael Vick. This is not some CIA secret.
Andy Reid is the only person on the planet who refuses to accept this simple fact.
In a tight game the Eagles led for much of the day, Reid waited until the fourth quarter, until after Vick’s fourth interception, to realize he needed to feature McCoy. Vick threw the ball 56 times on a day McCoy averaged 5.5 yards per carry.
Andy Reid is a moron. I mean that. I don’t care how many regular-season games he’s won. Or maybe Reid wants Vick carried off on a cart so the Eagles can switch to a quarterback who can actually play the game from the pocket with some savvy.
9. If the league is serious about player safety, one of the easiest and most effective things it could do is expand NFL rosters to 60 players and let them all dress and participate on game day.
Right now, NFL rosters are capped at 53 players and 46 players are active on game day. Each team is allowed to maintain an eight-man practice squad. I’d expand the roster to 60 and the practice squad to 10. I’ve never understood how NFL teams practiced with just 60 players. A college team will use all 100 players during a typical two-hour practice.
Another twist I’d add is I’d make a rule that all position players — except QBs, kickers and long snappers — must play an entire series each half or a minimum of five offensive or defensive plays each half. Each position would have a backup and the reserves (except QB) would be required to play. So that’s 42 position players — a starter and a backup at every position except QB — that must play. A team would carry three QBs, a punter, a kicker and two long snappers. That’s 49 players. The other 11 players would be listed as special-teams players. Unless there’s an injury, these players would solely play on special teams.
Given the frequency of in-game injuries, the rules would be tricky to administrate. But it could be done. For instance, a reserve wouldn’t get credit for participation on kneel-down plays at the end of each half. If a team failed to meet the requirements for a particular reserve, the team could be penalized with the disqualification of a starter the next week.
The point is, you could make the game safer without significantly hurting the quality of play by cutting the number of plays each starter plays. Make the whole roster participate.
8. DeMaurice Smith, head of the players union, is the biggest winner of the Saints bounty scandal thus far.
Smith got killed during the lockout and collective bargaining. Getting the players’ suspensions overturned is a huge victory for Smith and legitimizes his leadership. He is a much more formidable foe for Roger Goodell moving forward.
Goodell’s counter move in reaction to the players winning the appeal will give us an indication as to whether the commissioner realizes his position is strengthened — not diminished — by having a worthy adversary. If Smith is viewed as powerless by the players and the public, Goodell will be seen more and more as an evil dictator.
Goodell should walk away from this fight. Let Smith have a victory. It was inappropriate and foolish to suspend Jonathan Vilma for an entire season. No way a player should receive the harshest penalty for a violation created and administered by the coaching staff.
7. Remind New Yorkers that the Jets beat up one of the worst teams in football on Sunday and they weren’t as good as their 20-point margin of victory.
Those weren’t the Jim Kelly-Bruce Smith-Thurman Thomas-Marv Levy Buffalo Bills the Jets whipped 48-28. That was Ryan Fitzpatrick and Chan Gailey on the sideline opposite the slimmed-down Rex Ryan.
The Jets stomped a bunch of bums. They gave up four touchdowns. C.J. Spiller ran for 169 yards and averaged 12.1 yards per carry. The Bills have now lost nine of their last 10 regular-season games.
Let’s not crown the Jets just yet. I’ll be shocked if they come within 14 points of the Steelers this week.
6. If Peyton Manning wins the MVP award, Sports Illustrated’s Peter King deserves an award for one of the greatest predictions in sports history. I’d put it alongside Joe Namath’s Super Bowl III guarantee.
Last week, I mocked King’s bold prediction. This week, after Manning’s spectacular debut, I’m in awe of it. You don’t pull a prediction like that out of your rear end. You don’t make the prediction based solely off watching preseason games. The prediction was a byproduct of King’s reporting. The Denver coaching staff obviously convinced King that Manning was indeed capable of playing like the old Manning for 60 minutes.
I’m not ready to hand Manning the MVP trophy yet. The NFL season is a marathon. Manning might look terrible in the cold and the wet come December. I just never imagined that Peyton Manning would ever look like Peyton Manning again.
5. NFL broadcasters bend over backward trying to avoid saying anything that would offend a coach, executive or an established player. That’s why I find the over-the-top scrutiny and criticism of the replacement referees so annoying.
Al Michaels was the worst offender. Michaels was incredulous that the refs in the Steelers-Broncos game mistakenly called for the two-minute warning before Denver attempted a 2-point conversion.
I get the focus on the refs. It’s an easy storyline and an easy way for broadcasters to pretend they’re not in Roger Goodell’s hip pocket. But the replacement refs aren’t that bad. Yes, they’re making a few more mistakes than the “real” refs. But, at least in Week 1, they weren’t consistently controlling games with pass-interference calls.
In my opinion, most of the whining about the replacement refs is coming from gambling degenerates worried that a blown call is going to impact the point spread. Get over it. That happens every week with the real refs. I’m enjoying the replacement refs. I don’t know who they are, which is how I like my referees — nameless and faceless. Ed Hochuli is as recognizable as 95 percent of the players. I’d be happy if Hochuli never returned.
One last thing: Someone tell Mario Williams, the biggest postgame whiner about officiating, that the replacement refs didn’t persuade him to sign with the Buffalo Bills. Williams should be mad at his agent, not the replacement refs he believes let Jets offensive linemen push him in the face.
4. The 49ers and the Cowboys earned more impressive victories, but I was most impressed by the Ravens in Week 1.
Yes, that’s crazy. San Francisco won at Green Bay and Dallas won a road game against the Giants. Randy Moss caught a touchdown pass for the 49ers. Frank Gore ran for more than 100 yards. San Fran’s defense made the Packers offense one-dimensional, suffocating the ground game. Meanwhile, the Cowboys knocked off the defending Super Bowl champions thanks to Tony Romo’s splendid performance at QB and a devastating three-man receiving corps of Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Kevin Ogletree.
So what was so impressive about the Ravens thumping the Bengals at home?
Joe Flacco is in a contract year and during the offseason he called himself “the best” quarterback in football. Flacco has the same chip on his shoulder that Eli “Elite” Manning had on his shoulder a year ago. Flacco carved up the Cincinnati secondary Monday night. He made every throw — long, short, mid-range. He threw accurately with defenders in his face, at his feet and on the move. In a weekend filled with impressive QB play, Flacco’s 299-yard, two-TD performance took a backseat to no one.
On the defensive side of the ball, Ed Reed and Ray Lewis looked like vintage Ed “Stringer Bell” Reed and Ray “Avon Barksdale” Lewis. Avon and Stringer are likely in their last season together, and I believe they’re going out on top this time.
3. Have you noticed that every NFL broadcaster/analyst is using the catchphrase “take the top off the defense”?
That’s the new way to describe a speedy receiver who can get behind the safeties. Maybe the phrase was used before this season, but now you can’t watch an NFL game or pregame show without someone saying “So-n-So can take the top off the defense.”
Does Roger Goodell pass out buzzwords during the offseason?
2. I’m not ready to write off the Chiefs or Matt Cassel after they got waxed by the Falcons.
The Chiefs played Atlanta without the services of their two best defensive players, Tamba Hali and Brandon Flowers. No Hali equals limited pass rush. No Flowers equals limited secondary coverage. That’s a bad recipe against Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez.
1. It’s a damn shame Pro Bowl guard Brian Waters is going to miss a chunk or all of this season because the Patriots are justifiably refusing to rework his contract.
Waters has Hall of Fame talent. He’s a smaller version of Larry Allen. No one realizes how good Waters is because he entered the league as an undrafted free agent and played his most dominant years in the shadow of perennial Pro Bowler Will Shields. Waters has never been paid what he’s worth. That’s why he had trouble in his latter years in KC and now in New England.
He’s a Hall of Fame lineman who has been paid like he’s an occasional Pro Bowler throughout his career. I don’t blame the Patriots for balking at redoing his contract. Waters is 35 and you never know when his body will quit allowing him to play at an all-pro level.