Another week, and another week’s worth of pre-season games are in the books. And as often happens, some things remain the same while other players bob up and down in the flow of a football life.
The RAIDERS cut loose their defense and went after KYLER MURRAY with a wide assortment of blitzes and looks to confuse and harass the star Rookie. I wouldn’t say they totally confused him, but they certainly did make him use his athletic skill to keep from being sacked on multiple occasions. To be blunt, from what I saw, it seems clear to me that the CARDINALS roster still does not have enough talent around MURRAY to give him adequate weapons and protection to produce at the highest level of his athletic prowess.
Overall, the RAIDERS look like a better assortment of talent, which has some emerging play makers on both sides of the ball. At what point do they finally get totally fed up with soothing the ego of Diva ANTONIO BROWN, and move on. He seems to currently be generating all of his pub off the field, not on. As GM MIKE MAYOCK basically said, the team has supported BROWN though his foot issues and his helmet tantrums. It is realistically time for BROWN to be “either all-in, or all-out”, relative to his new team. If you are watching Hard Knocks each week you have to be getting fed up, like I am, with all the ass-kissing and apologies they make for BROWN, and his borish behavior, every episode.
PATRIOTS Rookies stood out in a come from behind win over the TITANS. The winning drives came from Rookie QB JARRETT STIDHAM, who had his second straight game of exemplary work, going 14/19- 193 yds- 1TD- 0 INT’s. His arm looks well above average, and his legs are helping him extend plays much better than he did at AUBURN. His decision making is also looking solid, overall. It just might be possible that the team has its next starting QB now on their roster. RB DAMIEN HARRIS gained over 100 yards from scrimmage, with 80 yards rushing, (5.7ypc), and 4 receptions for 23 yards. UDFA JAKOBI MEYERS had his second straight game with 6 catches, this time only 6 targets, and CHASE WINOVICH had another blockbuster defensive effort with 4 tackles, including 1 sack and 3 TFL. Most impressive for CHASE were his energy and his obvious FBI.
I have been critical from Day One of the CARDINALS willingness to start their reload all over again by drafting KYLER MURRAY at Pick One, after making JOSH ROSEN a top 10 Pick last year. This week’s second-guessing on my part, is the news that that the BUCS just gave GM JASON LICHT a nice, comfy 5-year contract extension. So my question in this case is, exactly what has LICHT done to deserve that kind of vote of confidence? After one 9-win season in 2016, the team has gone to two consecutive 5-11 campaigns, and on top of that, the team found itself hard against the Salary Cap heading into the 2019 season. I fail to see the talent lode that would dictate justification for all that money being handed out to their roster. LICHT has had some success stories in his stewardship in TAMPA, but I would bet that his best talent is being receptive to direction and subservience to his bosses, the GLAZERS.
I cannot pass by an opportunity to harp, (albeit briefly), on an old axiom of mine, that if you want to score down around the goal line, then you need a FB on the field to lead block for the RB. Watching the BILLS/PANTHERS game, a first quarter drive put the BILLS at first and goal inside the 5. After a no gain on first down, they sent the RB off RG and FB PAT DiMARCO stoned a LB, allowing a TD run. There are too many complaints from NFL coaches about their team’s ability to run around the goal line, and yet the majority of NFL teams do not even have a “legit” FB on their roster. Moving a TE, or even a DT, into a FB slot is NOT the same thing. End of sermon.
I thought the Special Teams purge in MINNESOTA last week was very interesting, if not downright fascinating. Let me start by saying it is not every year that we see a team with Play-Off expectations literally blow up their kicking group in Training Camp. HC MIKE ZIMMER had become totally fed up with mediocre, to inept, work from his K, P, and LS group. So GM RICK SPIELMAN pulled the trigger and restaffed 2 of the 3 positions, for now, and let’s say that the leash for K DAN BAILEY may be a bit short for the long term, as well. So the VIKES cut P MATT WILE and vet LS KEVIN McDERMOTT. They then traded a Day 3 Draft Pick to the RAVENS for KAARE VEDVIK, who Punts, Kicks-off, and has place-kicked in his time. As of now, these moves also handed the LS job to 7th Rounder AUSTIN CUTTING from the AIR FORCE Academy, assuming that CUTTING can manipulate his military service commitment to allow him to play in the NFL. The moves will also save some much needed Cap Space and give ZIMMER new hope, at least for now.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this entire escapade for me, centers around a quick look at the RAVENS, who had the extra chess piece in VEDVIK, that triggered the deal, and he was available because, HC JOHN HARBAUGH, who started in the NFL as a Special Teams assistant, likes to bring in a few specialists every year to look at and push his incumbents. However, do NOT think that he is mercurial in his shuffling of personnel. His current threesome of JASON TUCKER/K, SAM KOCH/P, and MORGAN COX/LS, are entering their 7th season together as the RAVENS specialists. That is tops in longevity in the NFL!
I do not think that my next observation will strike very many of you as a revelation. After watching the BRONCOS Offense kind of “mess” around for a while under JOE FLACCO against the 49’ERS, my concentration picked up when DREW LOCK entered the game. He had an adequate performance for a guy who likely won’t be asked to start until the 2021 season. However, I was taken aback at just how uncomfortable LOCK looks when he has to take the snaps under-OC. He just looks totally out of his element from the snap to the hand off, or the dropping back into the pocket. Once the BRONCOS swung into some shotgun snaps to LOCK, already in the pocket, he looked like a whole different player. This was not exactly a shock after 4 years in that MIZZOU offense, under multiple coaches, but he looked like two different guys, depending upon how he took the snap of the ball. This project of making LOCK comfortable under-center is going to be a major project for BRONCOS QB Coach T.C. McCARTNEY.
The return of JIMMY GAROPPOLO at QB for the 49’ERS had to be quite a disappointment for die hard NINERS fans. They even gave JIMMY G. an extra set of reps so he could get off the schneid, and get one completion on the stat sheet. First off, let me say, do not panic, (yet), NINERS fans. GAROPPOLO has not seen the field in action since early last season when he tore the ACL in his left knee, And to make it even tougher on JIMMY, he was working with very few familiar faces in his receiving corps. KITTLE, who led the team in receptions with 88 last season, was out of action, and cavorting for the MNF TV cameras from the NINERS box upstairs, sans helmet and pads. That left JIMMY G. with KENDRICK BOURNE as his top returning vet receiver. BOURNE had 42 catches last season and most of those were after JIMMY’s injury. Things should get better with time and more practice, but let’s just say the NINERS passing game looks to have a lot of work to do in 3 weeks time to be ready for the regular season. Push back the Niners play-off talk for another season methinks.
One more quick note regarding what I saw in the 49’ERS win over the BRONCOS. It was with great joy that I watched the return of DE KENTAVIUS STREET to the team, after he tore a knee before the Draft even took place last year. GM JOHN LYNCH took STREET in Round 4, knowing that he would be lost for the 2018 season. However, STREET’s upside as a pass rusher could not be ignored, as he played DE on the opposite side of the NC STATE DL as a complement to one BRADLEY CHUBB, now of the BRONCOS. STREET is slightly short for an NFL DE at 6’2, but his quickness, strength, (280 lbs), and ability to bend out on the edge make him a true weapon. He was a force to be reckoned with against the BRONCOS. If he and Rookie NICK BOSA both stay healthy for the bulk of the 2019 season, the NINERS may have one of the most talented, physical, and deepest DL groups in the League. By the way, his teammates have nicknamed him Baby Hulk because of his lack of height, but more importantly, his strength and explosiveness. Nice to see Street looking fit and explosive in a League that is plagued by just too many injuries to its players.