Silicon Valley Victory

In two preseason appearances, Jaguars rookie Blake Bortles has attempted 28 passes, completing 18, with no interceptions. (Andrew Nelles/AP)
In two preseason appearances, Jaguars rookie Blake Bortles has attempted 28 passes, completing 18, with no interceptions. (Andrew Nelles/AP)

All the young dudes.

Very good young-quarterback weekend—albeit against lesser defenses after the starters were out—for Minnesota rookie Teddy Bridgewater (16-20, 177 yards, two touchdowns, no picks, 136.9 rating) against Arizona, and for Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles (11-17, 160 yards, no touchdowns or interceptions, 95.2 rating) against the Bears. Bridgewater was a little shaky in his first preseason game, and the Vikings seem likely to start the efficient Matt Cassel to begin the season. Likely, but not certain. And Monday night’s preseason game in Washington will determine if Johnny Manziel unseats Brian Hoyer as the starter for the Browns.

The most fascinating situation is in Jacksonville. With two promising performances in a row for Bortles, the draft-day plan to sit this year’s third overall draft pick for most if not all of his freshman autumn now has to be up in the air. I’m told the Jags are still likely to play Chad Henne early in the season, but the plan always was to wait until Bortles was fully ready to take over, having nothing to do with how good or bad Henne played. And judging by Bortles’ ease Thursday at Chicago—he doesn’t have happy feet, he sees his progression clearly, and he throws with an easy and unforced arm motion—he’s not far from being ready. 

It’s totally different than what happened with Blaine Gabbert three years ago, when Jacksonville played him before he was ready. Bortles has used the off-season and camp so far to improve his mechanics; he’s not an arm-thrower the way he was at Central Florida.

“This fan base saw a quarterback get thrown to the wolves,” offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch told me, referring to Gabbert. “We don’t need to force it. We never thought when we drafted [Bortles] we were taking him to play now. But nothing is set in stone. We’re giving Blake every chance to make the decision super-hard for us.”

Why do I want to apply anxiety?” says Jags coach Gus Bradley. “I am trying to slow Blake’s world down, so he can learn everything.

Much of this is about the mental aspect of the game. My recent 45-minute talk with Jacksonville coach Gus Bradley revealed much of what’s going into Bortles’ head—and into the heads of every Jaguar. “As a coach,” Bradley said, “why do I want to apply anxiety? Why do I want to apply stress? I am trying to slow Blake’s world down, so he can learn everything he needs to learn to be a successful player. The plan is all about getting Blake ready to play. We’ll apply pressure, because you have to deal with pressure to succeed. But we’ll stay away from stress. We’ll stay away from anxiety.”

Guess what the third and fourth sentences of my conversation with Bortles were, when I asked him how he feels about the Jaguars’ slow-motion plan to make him a franchise quarterback? They were as follows:

“This is such a good plan, I feel. There’s no anxiety, there’s no stress.”

You know the message is getting through to players when they’re repeating what the coach is saying and seeming to buy it.

“I just go out there every day and try to get better,” said Bortles, who will work with the first team at Monday’s practice. “You know, Chad’s the starter, you’re the backup. But the thing is, you’ve got to have a level of balance there. I understand the situation. But there’s no complacency, like I’m the steady backup. I go out there every day and prepare my butt off and compete like I’m the starter. That’s what I’m doing. And this has been an unbelievable environment to do it in.”

It’s hard to be around the Jaguars and not think they’re going to be a good team in 2015.

MORE JAGS: All things Jacksonville, including Peter King’s Camp Report

* * *

Eight quick thoughts from Week 2.

Mark Sanchez's preseason rating (115.1) is more than 43 points higher than his four-year averge with the Jets (71.7). (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Mark Sanchez’s preseason rating (115.1) is 43.4 points higher than his four-year average with the Jets (71.7). (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

1. Comeback player of the preseason: Mark Sanchez. I saw Sanchez light up the Bears’ second unit 10 days ago at Chicago, and it was more of the same against the Patriots on Friday night. Sanchez is comfortable in two ways—being out of the New York pressure-cooker, and running Chip Kelly’s fast-paced offense. I think he was made to play fast. He looks more at ease in a frenetic state, more in command, and certainly comfortable with the offense. This is impressive because he’s coming off shoulder surgery and learning an entirely new scheme. 

It says much about him as a player that he’s come into a radically new world and mastered it as quickly as he has. Playing almost all no-huddle, Sanchez is 18 of 22 (81.8 percent) for 196 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Ever think Sanchez would have a 115.1 rating, Jets fans—against any level of competition? Against the Patriots he came off the bench inside the two-minute warning of the first half, went five for five for 61 yards and finished the drive with a touchdown pass. His best throw was a soft 20-yard ball placed perfectly up the left seam for Zach Ertz, the emerging tight end. The Eagles don’t have a quarterback competition, but they do appear to have a competent backup making the most of his second chance. 

“Mark’s a real quick thinker, and he makes decisive decisions and is very athletic,’’ Kelly said. “When you watch him drop, he’s got some pop in his feet when he gets on top of his drop and goes through his progressions and he gets the ball out quickly because he’s got a real quick release. We were excited when we had a chance to get him. I just think the one thing you’re starting to see is he’s healthy. If anybody has any questions about his arm rehabbing, the throw he made at the end of the first half [in Chicago should answer them]. I think it was 68 yards in the air. We’re really glad we got him.”

2. The Steelers may have found a perfect Dick LeBeau linebacker. To be a complete linebacker in the Steelers’ defense, it’s vital to be able to drop and cover. Pittsburgh’s first-round pick, Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier, showed that skill Saturday night against Buffalo. He dropped with tight end Scott Chandler, ran with him, and turned to catch an interception from quarterback E.J. Manuel in the first half. Instinctive play. Shazier was the best Steelers defender on the field Saturday night overall, recording nine tackles and two more special-teams stops. 

The Steelers have four highly drafted linebackers 28 or younger slated to start—from left to right, Jason Worilds, Shazier, Lawrence Timmons and Jarvis Jones—and Shazier gives them hope it can be the kind of complete group the Steelers have been lacking.

3. Paging Mr. Fairley. Nick Fairley. Nick Fairley is behind C.J. Mosley on the Detroit Lions depth chart at defensive tackle. Deservedly so, from what I heard on my trip to Detroit nine days ago and what Fairley and Mosley showed Friday night in Oakland. Dogging it is no way to earn your spot back, Nick.

4. Quarterback Leadership 101. The quarterback is not allowed tardiness, Johnny Manziel.

5. On Blaine Gabbert. Very hard to imagine Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke not having sincere doubts about their backup quarterback this morning. The second straight shaky performance by Blaine Gabbert—he threw a bad interception, short up the right seam and having it easily picked off by Tony Carter of the Broncos, and put zero points on the board in over two quarters of play—has to have the Niners thinking about elevating current No. 3 Josh Johnson over Gabbert. With Colin Kaepernick exposing himself to getting hit in the open field the way he does, the backup quarterback slot for San Francisco is one of the more important backup passer jobs among any contender.

In Saturday's game, Jadeveon Clowney de-cleated Falcons RB Antone Smith, who later called the Texans rookie 'just a guy.' (Bob Levey/Getty Images)
In Saturday’s game, Jadeveon Clowney de-cleated Falcons RB Antone Smith, who later called the Texans rookie ‘just a guy.’ (Bob Levey/Getty Images)

6. Jadeveon Clowney looks terrific. Not quite unblockable, but with two more big plays behind the line of scrimmage against the Falcons on Saturday—an impressive hit on Atlanta running back Antoine Smith, and a sack of Matt Ryan on successive plays—he’s going to enter Week 1 for the Texans as an impact player, the kind offensive coordinators are going to have to game-plan for, in addition to J.J. Watt.

7. Storm clouds over East Rutherford. The Giants really looked out of sync on offense, for the second straight week under new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. Not sure how you have faith that the Giants will be a serious contender to overtake Philadelphia in the NFC East at this point. One bright spot: fourth-round running back Andre Williams, a keeper for New York. On a mid-second-quarter, first-down-conversion run, he hit the hole fast and steamrolled Colts safety Colt Anderson.

8. A tale of two Mannings. Peyton was in midseason form over the weekend, 12 of 14 in a classic take-what-they-give-you bludgeoning of the Niners on Sunday. But Eli continued a troubling August in the new Giants offense. Eli in his last two games: seven series, 1-for-9, six yards, no touchdowns or interceptions. Victor Cruz in three games: zero catches (one was wiped off by a penalty Saturday). That’s not good.

* * *

Penalty flags have been flying in the preseason at nearly two times the rate of the 2013 regular season. (Katherine Frey/Getty Images)
Penalty flags have been flying in the preseason at nearly two times the rate of the 2013 regular season. (Katherine Frey/Getty Images)

The NFL says it won’t compromise on officiating.

“Points of emphasis” are the three dirty words for defensive players around the league after two weeks of preseason games. But don’t expect the crackdown on defensive clutching and grabbing by the league’s 17 crews to soften once the real games begin in 17 days, league vice president of officiating Dean Blandino said Sunday afternoon.

“We’re not going to change how we’re calling the games once the regular season starts,’’ Blandino told The MMQB.

That despite the epidemic of flags over the weekend, the second straight preseason weekend with heavy-handedness by the officials. Comparing accepted penalties in last season’s average game with the first two weeks of 2014 preseason football (not including Monday night’s Cleveland-Washington game):

Penalties Per Game Penalty Yardage Per Game
Average game, 2013 season 12.2 105.6
2014 Preseason Week 1 17.7 145.3
2014 Preseason Week 2 20.8 174.4
 

“The way the game’s being officiated now is the way it’s going to be officiated when the season begins,” Blandino said from his office in New York. “We have to remain consistent. I knew we’d see a spike in calls when we put out these points of emphasis. But coaches adjust, and players adjust. They have to, and they know it. And we’ll correct our officials when we feel they’re being over-zealous with certain calls.

“Plus, I would say that between 70 and 75 percent of the calls I’ve gotten from teams after their games this preseason are asking the question, Why weren’t there more calls? I had a call today from a team with seven questions, and six were, Why wasn’t a foul called on this play?”

Some background: The NFL’s Competition Committee felt after last season there was too much grabbing and hand-fighting between defenders and receivers beyond the five-yard bump zone past the line of scrimmage. So the committee told the officiating department to emphasize two defensive penalties—defensive holding (grabbing jerseys and arms to throw receivers off course) and illegal contact more than five yards beyond the line—the kind of purposeful bumping beyond incidental contact that’s become a regular part of pass defense. (In addition, the committee ordered more attention paid to illegal hands to the face, which most often occurs between offensive and defensive linemen. In the past, if a tackle was sparring with a defensive end and his hand scraped the helmet of the defender, the officials would let it go; officials would flag only prolonged contact to the face. Now officials have been told to call any contact of a hand to the face.)

The league is determined to cut down the amount of sparring beyond the five-yard bump zone. “The jersey-grabbing and holding downfield, especially,” cornerback Joe Haden of the Browns told me the other day. “That’s what they’ve emphasized to us.”

“He’s dead on,” said Blandino. “You can’t grab the jersey of a receiver anymore.”

Once you see players adjust, you won’t see this exorbitant number of calls,” says Blandino. “Downfield contact was underofficiated last year.

Interesting upshot of this: One assistant coach said recently that if he were advising the receivers on his team, he’d tell them to wear loose, Triple-XL jerseys, to make it easier for defenders to grab. His theory was, why not try to attract penalties if the officials are going to be looking so hard to find the jersey-grabs?

The one team that’s hammered the point home effectively through two weeks of games is St. Louis. The Rams have their defensive backs practicing in pass coverage while holding two tennis balls, to limit the temptation to hold receivers’ jerseys and to grab their arms beyond the five-yard bump zone. In two games the Rams have zero defensive pass interference penalties, zero illegal-contact penalties, and two defensive holding penalties on defensive backs—both by rookie nickel back LaMarcus Joyner.

I asked Blandino if the league could take games with nine more flags, on the average, over last season—if this weekend’s pace held. Of course, there’s no guarantee it will. Blandino said last year’s numbers are a bit misleading, because they were relatively low compared to previous years. Thus, the theory goes, defenders were getting away with too many infractions that should have been called but weren’t, because officials were letting too much contact go. “I believe that once you see the players adjust, you won’t see this exorbitant number of calls,” he said. “Downfield contact was underofficiated last year.”

Coaches know they have to bang it into their players’ heads in the next two weeks. “It’s been a point of emphasis coming into the season,” said Colts coach Chuck Pagano. “We’ve been harping on it in the whole offseason program, OTAs, minicamp, and all through training camp. You can kind of see where the weekend’s going, including our game, as far as the emphasis on illegal contact, offensive pass interference, defensive pass interference, holding, all those things in the back end. You’re allowed five yards, and then after five yards you’ve got to get off guys and you can’t have contact. We’ve got to do a better job coaching it.”

Agreed, but however it’s coached, the game’s not going to be as good if, as we just saw this weekend, there are nine more flags, and nine more stoppages of play, in the average NFL game once the real games start.

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282 comments
jefftoons
jefftoons

Onion Award winning Architecture, for the Ugliest Sports facility ever built.

Can we get some kind of telethon going, so we can raise another 100K so they can finish it?

JRoy_20
JRoy_20

With these practice squad increases across the league, this could be big for bubble players. I'm hoping to see rookie QB Brock Jensen of NDSU picked up somewhere and put on PS. His potential is something many people want to see in this league. The kid is a winner and has proved that. Also very talented and developed. He played in the FCS like Romo, but proved to win big against teams in the Big 12 (youtube NDSU/Kansas St final drive) Would really like to see him get a shot. 

JimVan
JimVan

Yep, new stadium and bigtime change to a losing team!

number18
number18

And Peyton taught a graduate level football course to the Kap led pansies.

yobogo
yobogo

How far away does a team have to move from their home city, before they are considered having officially moved? Shouldn't the 49ers be the Santa Clara 49ers now? Or if they had gone further, like if they made a stadium deal with Sacramento, would that be far enough to become the Sacramento 49ers?

porsche356
porsche356

Wonder if Blandino's boys will be calling the Cowgirls games like everyones elses

NicolasMartin
NicolasMartin

Pity the poor taxpayers who have to pay for bills for millionaires who play for billionaires.

rskins09
rskins09

 Watched about  three quarters of the Cleveland  - Redskins game @ Fed Ex last night  ....The number of penalties were overwhelming :  five, six plays in a row ...Knew the NFL official was going to rationalize it in this article ..The NFL  is going a little  bit overboard with these penalties  so far ..Hope they lighten up in Sept..  By the way,  Kirk Cousins  was the best QB on the field last night  .. He's better  than at least  ten starting QB's in the NFL and has been playing better than RGIII  this summer ...Everyone lambasted the Skins when they drafted Cousins in the fourth round ..  He was a steal  and hope the Skins don't trade him ..You gotta have a good back up QB in the NFL  nowadays ...Alfred Morris had a full load on last night and looks stronger than he did last year ... 

Hola
Hola

Why not change the name to Santa Clara or San Jose?  They are farther from San Francisco than the New York Jets and New York Giants. 

Michael206
Michael206

The Niners turned their back on a venerable stadium that produced five championships.  They left their home and family, moved to a new town, and are now cavorting with an empty-headed barely-legal bimbo in Santa Clara.  There will be consequences.

#CandlestickCurse

gbgentleman
gbgentleman

Levi stadium is very nice...good job SF, now just make your announcers go away and never return.  AT least tell them that Lambeau field is still the EXACT same stadium it was (answer to the oldest stadium trivia question they dismissed with arrogance).  It has a nice new facade and a new atrium, but it still has the same cold bleachers inside of the same structure.

gbgentleman
gbgentleman

Eli was in mid-season form as well.  He looked just as bad in mid-season last year as he does right now.

MarcSchenker
MarcSchenker

Gee, Peter, you didn't say anything about the parking and concession prices. Oh, I forgot, you work for a corporation.

MarcSchenker
MarcSchenker

Yeh, Manzil and if you're late again, you can be sure Peter King will scold you. Again.

mike202
mike202

I think Roger Goodell would be happiest if he could remove the defensive team from the field entirely.  This Peyton Manning rule to allow receivers to run into DBs and get a penalty on the DB is ridiculous.

ben.kizer
ben.kizer

I haven't watched much of the preseason, because I just don't care all that much about it, but the parts I have watched haven't impressed me much. I don't know about you, but the excessive flag throwing is ridiculous. It's going to grind games to a halt. Add that to instant replay reviews and you have football starting to tread baseball territory for length of games. I'm also not impressed with 40-39 or 28-27 scores. The "last one who has the football wins" type of ball with lackluster defense is just as boring, if not more boring, than a 10-3 defensive dog fight. The NFL's gradually elimination of defense and their trigger happy refs are going to cause the downfall of this giant. If things don't change, I agree with Mark Cuban that the NFL is going to be heading downhill.

terence1329
terence1329

Hey Peter, 

 Next time you're in NYC take the ferry over to Staten Island, and try our new brewery called Flagship. You wont 


be disappointed. If you can't make it... there are plenty of bars in the city carrying it now. Thanks!

MargoLane77
MargoLane77

Peyton Manning is usually the best man on the field in August, September, October, November, December .... but rarely in January or February. The Cult of Peyton is ageless.

ragnarsworld
ragnarsworld

Geez, Peter is a whiny wuss.  You're on a bus road trip and you stop for a motel?  Really?  Grow a pair.

DillonAustin
DillonAustin

I wont be shocked if by week 4 of the season the headline for MMQB is about how bad and unwatchable the NFL has become because of the defensive holding/ pass interference calls.


Mark my words a game is going to be lost within the last 2 minutes because of a call from the refs.


This will start to effect the NFL in 2 major ways. Fans will start to look at NFL referees as fixers of NFL games calling fouls in crucial moments.


Fans will stop gambling as much on the product that is NFL because it will start to feel less like gambling and more like a fix.


What I saw in the opening series between San Diego and Seattle tells me the NFL has a serious problem on their hands and games are no longer going to be decided by players and coaches but by last minute fouls called by the Refs.



Wisconsin Death Trip
Wisconsin Death Trip

Man that's an ugly looking stadium....the only thing missing was an earthquake...YIKES!

peachcreekmedia
peachcreekmedia

The stadium isn't beautiful at all. Its just new. It has some of the features from other new venues like Target field without any of the character. The key point here is 10 games. The facility is USED 10 games but SEEN 365/25/7! At 1.2 bln can we not get a stadium that both beautiful used year round by many people AND has a great game day experience? I just don't see the difference between this stadium and any other new multi purpose stadium. 

vspoke
vspoke

@yobogo You mean like the New York Giants playing in New Jersey?


Mike26
Mike26

@rskins09 So Cousin's pile of you-know-what stunk less than everyone else's you-know-what?  

blynder
blynder

@mike202

They are still calling pick plays, so the offense doesn't quite have the free reign that some are talking about. ;)

MoeLarryAndJesus
MoeLarryAndJesus

@MargoLane77  Very true.  Peyton is the worst big game QB in the Best QB Ever discussion.  And it isn't even close.  Something about big games seems to make his Papa Johns clench up tight.

Go_Niners!
Go_Niners!

@DillonAustin Ease up there, chicken little.  Either the refs will back off after a few weeks or players will adjust and stop grabbing quite so much.  


And by the way, a ref can decide the game just as much with a non-call as with a call.  If a defender blatantly mauls a receiver, but the ref decides not to enforce the rule of the game and blow the whistle, that's just as much "deciding the game" as any penalty call.

Michael206
Michael206

@vspoke 

No intruding on my beautifully crafted narrative.

#CandlestickCurse

mike202
mike202

@Go_Niners!If you would have watched the series mentioned you would agree that none of the illegal contact penalties called were fouls under any definition.  they were good coverage with no hands past 5 yards.  


San Diego got jobbed by the officials and this from a Seahawk fan.

DillonAustin
DillonAustin

@Go_Niners! @DillonAustin

Yes that's correct, and since we're being fair, I absolutely hate the 49'ers. But in the Superbowl between the Ravens and 49'ers on the last play of the game was a clear pass interference on the Ravens which was not called.


You lost that game, a game in which the much overrated 49'ers never belonged. And then you had a chance to win it only to have it taken away because of a noncall.


The difference between a call and a noncall is what I'm talking about. A noncall is much easier to forget.


Chicken little? Ok buddy 

MarcSchenker
MarcSchenker

Uh, you're an astute observer of the cornerback/end relationship and how sometimes it can get tricky. Also, I imagine you're still upset about Obama beating Romney. Unfortunately, with the art of holding grudges comes the art of the inability to see things as they are so I'll help you here. Jimmy Smith. Michael Crabtree. Clean play. End of DillonAustin.

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