Undrafted and Still Dancing in Detroit
Receiving touchdowns this season:
Joseph Fauria, tight end, Detroit: 5.
Andre Johnson, Hakeem Nicks, Julio Jones, Vincent Jackson (combined): 4.
There were 16 tight ends taken in the 2013 NFL Draft, but Fauria, the nephew of veteran NFL tight end Christian Fauria, was not one of them. At 6-7 and 255, the former Notre Dame and UCLA receiver, was either too stiff or too much of a loose cannon—the two faults found with Fauria by scouts—to merit being one of the 254 players picked last April.
Bet those scouts would like to rewrite their reports now. After six weeks of the season, Fauria, the Lions’ third tight end, has taken advantage of an injury to veteran Tony Scheffler. On Sunday, the rookie played 23 snaps against the Browns and made them count. Backing up Brandon Pettigrew, Fauria caught three touchdown passes from Matthew Stafford, giving him five for the season. Only Julius Thomas (seven), Vernon Davis (six) and Jimmy Graham (six) have more touchdown receptions by a tight end than Fauria. He has those five touchdowns on only seven catches, and with what the Lions coaches have seen in Fauria, there’s no question he’ll be getting the ball more in the coming weeks.
“What separates Joe,’’ said coach Jim Schwartz, “and has allowed him to make those plays is he’s really strong and has really strong hands.” And he’s ridiculously tall. On Sunday in Cleveland, he had five inches on two of the linebackers covering him in space, and with the accuracy of Stafford, Fauria was able to pluck balls down and not get them stripped—because, as Schwartz said, he has such a strong grip on the ball.
Watching him play, it seems amazing he wasn’t drafted. He is a little stiff, but isn’t every big tight end not named Vernon Davis or Jimmy Graham “a little stiff?” Sixteen tight ends picked and not Fauria … that’s a pretty good reason to question the people doing your West Coast scouting.
“Hey, Arian Foster wasn’t drafted either,’’ Fauria told me this week. “I’m going to embrace that part of my profile. I’m going to use it to drive me the rest of my career. I’m not a scout, obviously, and when all the picks kept going by that weekend and I didn’t get picked, I just kept my eyes forward, didn’t blink and said, ‘Those people don’t know me. I know what I’m capable of, and someone’s going to get lucky giving me a chance.’”
Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan saw early he could trust Fauria in the receiving game, and that he was a willing but not great blocker. And such a target. So Fauria kept getting chances, and Sunday in Cleveland, those chances turned into those three touchdown passes. He was single-covered on all three: by a 6-foot safety, Johnson Bademosi, 6-1 linebacker Craig Robertson and 5-10 safety T.J. Ward. On the last one, at the line of scrimmage, Ward came up close to Fauria, as if to bump him at the snap of the ball—and the height difference was stunning. Fauria was a head taller.
On the three touchdown catches, Fauria had seven, six and nine inches, respectively, on the men who covered him. When Stafford throws high and accurate, it’s virtually unstoppable.
Fauria is a bright kid, peppy and showy and an end-zone dancer when he scores, and he finds it almost overwhelmingly cool to be making an impact on the NFL when no one thought he’d make an NFL roster. After Sunday’s game, Calvin Johnson walked by him and said, “Good game.’’
Fauria said: “Hi Calvin.’’ And when he passed, Fauria added: “Wow. That was cool.”
“That’s one of the best I’m getting a chance to play with, and I don’t take it for granted,’’ Fauria said. “CJ getting doubled out there makes it pretty easy for me, because I think my size can help create mismatches. And the way Matthew Stafford throws the ball—I’m in awe catching it. Such a good ball.’’
He’ll be seeing quite a few of those from Stafford.
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The Tuesday Mailbag
FOLES VS. VICK. Surprised there wasn't more talk in MMQB about the phenomenal day Nick Foles had on Sunday. One thing is apparent—the Philly offense is a lot more efficient with Foles at the helm. Vick is big play or bust and has really struggled in the red zone where windows are obviously smaller. Mike has always had a problem with anticipation and throwing guys open; Foles excels in this area. I believe if Philly wants to win the brutal NFC East, Foles is the guy to do that. Curious your thoughts?
One of the biggest misconceptions about Chip Kelly as a coach is that he has to have a mobile or running quarterback in order to win. He doesn’t. He needs a quarterback who can run an offense at a fast pace, even if that quarterback isn’t a runner. What it will come down to for Kelly, I believe, is which quarterback he feels gives him the best chance to win, while turning the ball over the least. If Foles plays well against Dallas on Sunday and doesn’t turn it over, I think it could be tough for Kelly to give back the starting job to Vick.
DUE RESPECT FOR DWAYNE. Always enjoy reading your thoughts after another great weekend of football. I will have to say that I was a little disappointed that you did not list Dwayne Harris in your Special Teams section. Scoring one touchdown, putting the offense in prime position that led to another touchdown, making a crucial tackle on a return were all plays leading to the Cowboys victory. Harris had 222 yards on four returns, nine more yards than the offense managed to gain in the entire game. Without the plays Harris made last night, I doubt the Cowboys win.
—Chris Z., Allen, Texas
Obviously, Dwayne Harris should have been one of my Special Teams Players of the Week. What happened in this week, and in many weeks, is that I watch games on Sunday and mostly through observing games I pick the guys who I like the best. In addition, at about 2 or 3 a.m. I take 15 or 20 minutes to look over every summary of the games to see if I’m missing anybody—maybe a player who had three or four sacks or who had a great day like Harris did. I don’t know why, but I skipped the Washington vs. Dallas stat book and woke up to about 65 tweets saying, “You idiot. What about the great game that Harris played?” So, please excuse my ignorance.
IT STARTS UNDER CENTER. Thoroughly enjoy your column, as many folks do. As a Vikings fan I think it’s hard to understand what happens to a team from year to year. For instance, the Vikings—a playoff team last year, yet in the tank six weeks into this season. Is it possible for you to enlighten us, and this can be any team, to what can transpire from one year to another in how the dynamics of a team changes for the worse when it seems like things should have improved based on the team’s offseason actions? Since your profession gets you closer to team members (staff and players), I was hoping you could shed some light on how the elements and relationships within a team can create these situations that we can’t see as fans. Thanks again for your efforts.
—Randy, Nunn, Colo.
The story of the Minnesota Vikings is the story of the importance of quarterbacks above all other positions in this sport. At the top of my Monday column, I wrote 1,200 words about Tom Brady and how he beat a 5-0 team on Sunday by driving the Patriots 70 yards to the winning touchdown. He did this by using four receivers on the winning drive. Three of these four receivers he didn’t know six months ago. In today’s football, if you have a quarterback who can solve problems and integrate free-agent receivers like Kenbrell Thompkins into your offense, so that with 10 seconds to go, you have enough faith to throw the ball to an undrafted rookie with the game on the line—you have everything you need. That’s what I’m talking about when I mention the importance of quarterbacks.
In Minnesota, the Vikings haven’t solved their quarterback problem. So, maybe Josh Freeman will do that. Maybe Christian Ponder can recover and do that. But until the Vikings fix that spot under center for good, I don’t care how good Adrian Peterson is and I don’t care how many sacks their good defensive front produces, the Vikings always will struggle to win big games without a quarterback. Every team does.
CHALLENGING PROBLEM. I think the NFL should make unnecessary roughness calls on quarterbacks and defenseless players challengeable. Four reasons: 1) The hits happen so fast and so violently, the referees often err on the side of caution. 2) The onus is still on the challenging coach to throw the flag only if he thinks enough evidence exists to show the hit was clean. 3) 15-yard penalties can easily be game changers; just look at the correctly called late hit out of bounds penalty called against the Bucs that resulted in a victory for the Jets. 4) After removing touchdowns and turnovers from the coaches' need to challenge, there are far fewer plays coaches throw the flag. Thoughts?
—Shane, Warner Robins, Ga.
I have long been in favor of expanding replay to include judgment calls. I’m not in favor of increasing the number of calls in games that coaches can challenge. But, if they see a play that they feel is definitely wrong, they should be able to challenge it. I don’t think this would lead to an epidemic of challenges. Most coaches will want to save a challenge and not use it on what could be a marginal helmet-to-helmet call. But helmet hits or pass interference, those to me are fair game to be challenged.
RANKINGS REMINDER. Kansas City is doing great, but you’re ranking like they do in college. Sorry, they’re not the second-best team in the NFL. If you feel they would have a chance to beat the Seahawks in Seattle, then sure they could be No. 2. But I doubt you do.
—Mike, Reno, Nev.
Here’s how I try to rank teams: would No. 1 beat No. 2 on a neutral field in Wichita? Would No. 8 beat No. 9 on the same neutral field? I rank teams not based on who I think would win the game at somebody’s home field, but who I think is a better team if you take home field away. Right now, if Kansas City played Seattle on a neutral field, I think that the game would be very close, but I would give Kansas City a slight edge. The Chiefs pressure the QB better than Seattle does right now. And regarding anybody playing the Seahawks in Seattle? I’d pick the Seahawks to win against any team at home—even Denver.
CREDIT THE PATRIOTS DEFENSE. I love your column and look forward to it every Monday, but the Brady love this week was a bit much. The real heroics came from the Patriots defense. A little over three minutes left, Brady has the ball for what is supposed to be a winning drive. He does nothing and gives the ball over on downs deep in Patriots territory. If the Saints drive for a TD, it’s over. The defense holds and gives Brady yet another chance for a winning driving with over two minutes left. He immediately throws a very ill-advised pass into double coverage that’s picked off. If the Saints make a first down, it’s over. But the Pats hold—and Brady is given his third chance to score. He does. Thrilling, yes. Special, maybe not. Please name a QB in today’s NFL who you wouldn't expect to score late if given three chances. Even Thad Lewis could do it. Stuffing the Saints offense twice when they could have put the game out of reach? That was something special.
—Jim, Montpelier, Vt.
Excellent points. All of them right on. However, look back at that first drive, which began with 3:29 left in the fourth. Look at the clear drop by Brandon Bolden on second down, which prevented a first down. Look at the clear drop on fourth down by Aaron Dobson; that too prevented a first down and what would have been the ensuing four fresh downs to continue the drive.
But you’re absolutely right about the New England defense. In the first five games of the season, the Saints had five three-and-outs. On this day, the Patriots forced seven. I should have written more about the defense. But I thought a bigger accomplishment on this day was a Hall of Fame quarterback throwing to receivers who are, at best, very marginal NFL players—at least now. They might turn into more than that. So while I respect your idea that the defense deserves more credit, and it certainly does, I think what Brady accomplished deserved the acknowledgment I gave it.