Aaron Rodgers’ Nightmare Matchup, Thomas Rawls Is Terrifying, Brock Osweiler Is a Playoff Winner
Plus, why teams at the top of the draft should want Trubisky, the perfect fit for Chip Kelly (that probably won't happen) and more at the mid-point of Wild-Card Weekend
1a. As well as Aaron Rodgers has played of late, there’s no denying that this offense is only as good as its receivers. The Packers run isolation routes almost exclusively, and if their receivers can’t separate, Rodgers has nowhere to go with the ball. Kinda like the first two months of the season. The Giants have stud corners in Janoris Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and one of the NFL’s best third corners in Eli Apple. They have a significant edge there, and the Packers haven’t seen a team that could neutralize their wide receivers during their season-ending hot streak. Can the Packers unearth another big game for Jared Cook? Or is chess piece Ty Montgomery the X-factor? Green Bay is going to have to win in a different way than they did in December. (And that doesn’t even factor in the Packers’ scotch-taped secondary, one of the few that might struggle to cover Giants receivers not related to Odell Beckham Sr. And does Playoff Eli show up?)
So yes, the in a vacuum the Packers are the better team and should win this game at home. Considering their late-season run, the Packers might be the NFC team no one wants to play. So that makes the Giants, like, the team that the team no one wants to play doesn’t want to play.
1b. Oh! And I’m told to tell you that I'll be live-tweeting Packers-Giants tomorrow from The MMQB account. On Twitter, which I understand is the place to be if you’re going to live-tweet something. #twitter
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2. Some of the things I thought about the Seahawks’ win over Detroit…
a. Among the Seahawks’ skill position players (QBs, RBs, WR, TEs), Paul Richardson was the only one drafted with a top-50 pick.
b. Of course, Thomas Rawls might have been a top-50 pick if not for his off-brand Oceans 11 reenactment. Rawls is frickin’ good. I fear for everyone on the field whenever he runs the ball. Including him. (Especially him, the way his head gets bounced off the turf.)
b. Strange to see Jimmy Graham on the sideline on that fourth-and-goal snap that ended with Richardson’s one-handed catch. He’s very tall, you know.
c. Folks in Detroit calling for Jim Caldwell’s head should put those thoughts on paper, stuff the paper in one of those nice as-seen-on-TV blenders, drizzle it over your meats and call it crazy sauce.
The Lions are, definitively, not ready for the next step. They caught a few breaks this year, but overall they overachieved. Bob Quinn’s roster is in mid-build. They have the offensive line pieces in place. The quarterback is there. There are a couple building blocks on defense. But they desperately need to upgrade Matthew Stafford’s weapons, get him a healthy index finger on his throwing hand, get some help up the middle of that D (middle linebacker, and even if A’Shawn Robinson takes the next step, Haloti Ngata is done soon, if he isn’t already), and get some better depth at quarterback. If they succeed in doing one or two of those things and still can’t break through in the postseason, then you can start considering Caldwell’s job security.
d. The Seahawks won that game regardless of officiating. But while Detroit is going home, so is everyone on that officiating crew. Tough night for Brad Allen and his “All-Star crew.”
e. I’m glad NBC found a game show to fill the void left by that other game show where the people picked from all the suitcases. And LeBron James helped, I guess!
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3. Some things I thought about the Texans’ win over Oakland…
a. Oakland’s protection wasn’t good, particularly Donald Penn fill-in Menelik Watson getting depantsed by Jadeveon Clowney early on. But it wasn’t that bad. Connor Cook was out of rhythm all night. Why? Because he’s a third-string rookie who had played basically half a game in the regular season and had barely practiced all year.
Yup, Connor Cook is the guy the Cowboys wanted. (Well, after they wanted Paxton Lynch and couldn’t get him.) Because I’m not a crazy person, I’m not gonna say Cook would be doing what Dak Prescott is doing, and Prescott would have done what Cook did Saturday, had their situations been reversed. Prescott is clearly the better player and, with the benefit of hindsight, was a much better prospect. However, I don’t think Prescott, or any other rookie QB, can spend an entire season in mothballs, make his first start in a road postseason game, and do much more than what Cook did on Saturday.
b. I vehemently disagree with anyone saying the Broncos loss or this loss give credence to Derek Carr’s MVP candidacy. Carr is very good for many reasons. But having bad backup QBs isn’t a skill.
c. It’s not difficult to be optimistic about the future if you’re a Raiders fan. I actually think this secondary, a significant weak spot in 2016, should be better in Year 2 together. They’ll have a chance to add a piece or two and make another run at the AFC West in 2017. This franchise is in position to be good for the next decade.
d. Good news for the Texans if they have to go to Foxboro next week: The quarterback who beat them back in Week 3 has been benched! No sleepless nights worrying about Jacoby Brissett.
e. Brock Osweiler was fine on Saturday, in a Brock Osweiler kind of way. The Texans had an enormous margin of error to work with in this one though. I actually thought the Texans let the Raiders up off the mat a couple of times early on.
But hey, they got one deep one to DeAndre Hopkins, and a pass-interference call in the end zone later. That’s two big plays to Hopkins. And two is more than zero. Which is what they got for most of the regular season.
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4a. Over the past three regular seasons, the Steelers have scored 8.2 points per game more at home than they have on the road (30.3 to 22.1). That’s the biggest split in the NFL. What are the chances Matt Moore is going to go on the road, against a rapidly improving Pittsburgh defense, and outscore this Pittsburgh offense?
4b. “Not good” is the answer, in case you were not aware that the above was a rhetorical question.
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5a. The 2017 draft quarterback class is bad. And, unlike a year ago, there are a number of QB-needy teams sitting at the top of the first round.
If I were one of them, I’d be praying that North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky comes out. Trubisky and Deshaun Watson both play in Mickey Mouse offenses but have reputations as the types of guys who will put in the work to succeed at the next level. Physically, Trubisky is better than Watson. He has a bigger arm and a bigger frame. He’s a good enough athlete that his footwork is correctable. And as for the Stanford coverage rotations that gave him trouble in the Sun Bowl… well, that’s why NFL teams have coaches and practices and training camps and whatnot.
And if I were a coach, I’d want to get my hands on Trubisky as soon as possible. Staying at UNC another year, playing in a rudimentary, one-read offense, does nothing for Trubisky’s development. I’d rather he work with NFL-caliber coaches and learn a real, honest-to-God NFL offense. And I’d plan on sitting him in 2017 so he can learn those things before he hits the field and runs the risk of hammering all those bad habits into his brain and muscle memory. You can ruin a guy by rushing him. There’s no such thing as ruining a guy by breaking him in too slowly.
5b. I’m not a QB guru—really, I’m not particularly smart in general—but if I were a QB-needy team and couldn’t get my hands on Trubisky, I’d wait until Round 2 and scoop up Pitt’s Nathan Peterman. I’m not crazy about his reliance on bootlegs on the college level, but he’s closer than any of the top prospects to being able to digest and command an NFL offense.
5c. I wasn’t sure whether or not the Jets were blowing smoke when it came to (in terms of off-the-record chatter) shouting their interest in Trubisky. After all, last spring they drafted Christian Hackenberg knowing he was a multi-year project. But after they essentially jettisoned anyone from their 2017 staff who’s ever coached an offensive player… pushing the reset button on the fragile football mind of Hackenberg might be enough to ruin his chances of development.
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6. Of course, if you’re looking for a quarterback outside of the draft, the pickings are slim as long as Sam Bradford is staying put. Tyrod Taylor is a nice bridge guy, but two seasons of missed reads and missed throws in a rudimentary (from a passing standpoint) system is enough to exclude him from “franchise QB” conversations.
Even in a post-Osweiler world, I’d be willing to roll the dice on Mike Glennon. He’ll surely draw comparisons to Osweiler due to their mutual gangliness, but Glennon has more arm talent. I’d like to see more of him.
I don’t understand the buzz surrounding AJ McCarron; a unit that had an offensive line still playing at a high level and so, so, so many weapons last winter seemed neutered when McCarron was under center. But what do I know.
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7a. I despise the Mike McCoy firing. San Diego’s problem wasn’t coaching. It was injuries. But if the problem is anywhere with this franchise, it’s on the business side of the front office. Along with the—let’s be honest—hopeless campaign to convince two-thirds of San Diegans to support a publicly funded stadium for a billion-dollar entity, there was also the bush-league public bickering during the Joey Bosa negotiations. But hey, now they’ve got their offset language in case they decide to cut their best defensive player as he enters his prime.
Back to the field... a perfect example of the team's issues in 2016: They were forced to lean on exceedingly talented but horrifyingly raw receiver Tyrell Williams. The Philip Rivers-to-Williams combination resulted in more interceptions than any combo in football this year, and most of them were due to sloppiness and/or confusion on Williams’ part. Get Keenan Allen back, and get another year under Williams’ belt, and things are looking a whole lot better. The Chargers also dropped one game because of back-to-back fumbles while protecting a lead. And another when their rookie punter flubbed a field-goal hold.
So now they’ve hit the reset button with a 35-year-old Philip Rivers. Why? Because, you know... because.
7b. I wrote briefly about Chip Kelly last week, and I understand the logic of letting him go. If you are burning the whole thing down, you don’t want to force your new czar to work with a coach he didn’t pick. I still think it’s ridiculous that anyone in Santa Clara thought this 49ers roster could win more than four or five games, at best, in 2016. So why not burn the whole thing down a year ago, before you hired Kelly?
As for Kelly’s future, Andy Benoit and I discussed this briefly in the Thursday podcast mailbag: I don’t think he makes much sense as the Patriots’ next offensive coordinator. I mean, he and Bill Belichick are pals or whatever, and Kelly used to do some consulting with the Patriots. But Kelly runs a rudimentary system. You don’t do that with Tom Brady.
One place that I think would make sense for Kelly from a football standpoint: Dallas, if the Cowboys lose Scott Linehan (which they probably will not, so this is all a moot point, but here we go anyway…). Think of Kelly’s offense like Seattle’s defense: a simple scheme that allows superior players to play fast. It can make a good unit dominant. Less than that, you get what they have on defense in Jacksonville or Atlanta. As for Kelly’s offense, he had the weapons in his first year in Philly. And it was a very good unit because of Kelly's system paired with that talent, even with Nick Foles under center. Then Kelly jettisoned all their good players and it fell apart. Then he took over a 49ers roster with a complete lack of weapons. That’s a bad formula.
Indeed, anyone could have success with the talent Dallas has on offense. But allowing this group to keep it simple and play fast, they could be otherworldly, especially with the multi-dimensional running game you can utilize with Dak Prescott.
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8a. So there’s a Bo Jackson Tecmo Bowl Kia commercial. And a Bo Jackson Tecmo Bowl Bud Light commercial. From an ethics standpoint, should Bo Jackson have told those companies he was doing the same shtick in two commercials?
8b. I enjoy the absurdity of two Bo Jackson Tecmo Bowl ads, mostly because it mirrors the episode of “Bob’s Burgers” in which they hire Sandy Frye to do a local Super Bowl commercial, and then Jimmy Pesto’s finds out and hires him too. It was great fun.
8c. You should watch “Bob’s Burgers.” It’s a very good show.
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9. Answer to a question nobody asked: The non-playoff team most likely to make a run at Super Bowl LII? The Minnesota Vikings. If they can figure out a way to get even replacement-level performance at the offensive tackle spots, they’re good enough everywhere else to play with anyone in the NFC.
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10. I think, at 12:58 p.m. ET, you should turn your volume all the way up and press play…