In the NFL you can go from contender to pretender in a split second. Even while the ships aren’t completely sinking just yet, take a gander at the currently 1-3 Cardinals and Panthers. A multitude of issues at quarterback, underperforming offensive lines, and defense’s a little weak on the back-end have hamstrung two of the NFL’s titans from last year.
If you want hope and you’re willing to gamble away your soul, there’s reason to still believe in either of these teams.
Carolina still has one of the best defensive front sevens in the league, a typical factor in determining a playoff team. The weapons in receiver Kelvin Benjamin and tight end Greg Olsen offer Cam Newton new dimensions offensively. The Panthers are also in the NFC South, which boasts a 1-3 team, a winless team, and the Falcons, who can’t stop anybody. There’s plenty of cannon fodder here provided they take advantage.
And the big caveat for overall championship contention, as long as Cam Newton is “Cam Newton.” Newton has taken a tremendous amount of punishment behind his offensive line, particularly because of tackles Mike Remmers and Michael Oher. It’s the reason Denver so thoroughly beat up this offense last February. Any time Carolina will face a team with any semblance of a quality pass rush, they’re at risk of having Newton pummeled. But the reigning MVP has been able to transcend under the same circumstances. It’s just a matter of attrition.
From the Arizona perspective, this is still one of the overall most talented rosters in the league. There really isn’t a position that one would consider a typical weakness, except on some spots on the offensive line (that’s an epidemic everyone’s going through that we’ll get to). When you have a nucleus of Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu, David Johnson, Mike Iupati, John Brown, Larry Fitzgerald, and etc., things should only be bound to correct themselves.
But Carson Palmer, hasn’t been well, the Palmer they need. The 36-year-old has just a pedestrian 81.9 quarterback rating on the season and has been beat up and torn down every which way. Now, Palmer is in the concussion protocol and is expected to miss Arizona’s game against San Francisco. Age plays a factor here as we are firmly in the “Good Carson” or “Bad Carson” phase of his career.
The Cardinals are very much a team that can be standing alone in Houston come February, provided Palmer allows them to with three straight quality quarterbacked games. Let’s just say you saw the much maligned four-interception game he had last year against Carolina in the NFC title game. It’s beginning to think he won’t be able to, but stranger things have happened.
Anyway, with that, we’ve got Odell, the rise of defense, a South Beach implosion, and more in the Week 5 Roundtable:
1. Both the conference leaders in the Vikings and Broncos are led by the NFL’s two best defense’s. Have we entered an era where a contender can consistently have its defense transcend it’s “just okay” offense?
Robert Zeglinski: I’ll teeter on the edge of conspiracy here and say that quality offensive line play is an epidemic and why we’re here. The better, stronger, and faster athletes are starting to transition towards the defensive side of the ball- many of them being pass rushers. With offenses losing complementary balance and putting more stress on their big hogs up front, you leave yourself susceptible to having the scales eventually tipping towards the defense. Does this mean everyone can be a contender primarily based on how they lock teams down like the Vikings and Broncos? No, because it takes time to accumulate that talent on defense. It’s more so that the rest of the league is watered down in respects to the caliber of offenses and players we’ve seen before. I’m not sure if I’m looking forward to any more Super Bowls ending with 17-7 scores, but for the old school fan, it’s the perfect aesthetic.
Brian Hall: This shift to defensively oriented teams just makes sense, with hindsight. A few years ago we had teams that could have less-than-stellar defenses because they had a fast offense that would spread the field and put up lots of points. But now defenses are getting faster, and a player like a linebacker is much lighter and quicker in today’s game than they were ten years ago. Of course, it’s very difficult for a team to actually win a championship without at least a good offense. Yes, the Broncos last year were a marquee example, but they still had a future Hall of Famer under center, even if he wasn’t as good as he used to be. Both the Vikings and the Broncos could go deep into the playoffs, but when they’re matched up with high caliber offenses and stingy defenses, the margin for error becomes a lot smaller.
Dan Soden: Haven’t we been in a time of terrible quarterback play that’s been excused by the increase of rules created to favor said offensive centerpieces? There might be five good to great quarterbacks in the league with the rest being serviceable or terrible and yet we’ve seen records in yards broken. The Vikings, Broncos and Eagles all have three different situations at quarterback, none of which are ideal yet their defensive abilities are allowing them to control games and remain undefeated while powerhouse offenses like the Steelers aren’t. I’m not sure the term defenses win championships has ever been more meaningful.
Cody Broder: Just because these teams have stellar defenses, I don’t think it’s fair to say that their offenses are “just okay.” With both teams ranking in the top half of the league in points scored (Denver in the top five), these particular offenses can hold their own and still have an array of players who can make plays and put up points. If you argue on this question that defenses are carrying sub-par offenses to the head of a conference is a new thing, you’re a year late to the party. These same Broncos carried Nationwide-era Peyton Manning to a second Super Bowl ring just last year.
2. Is Ryan Tannehill the primary problem in Miami? Is he the answer?
Robert Zeglinski: He’s not the only problem and it’s Miami’s fault for thinking he was the solution. It’s been years now to where Tannehill hasn’t shown any consistency or improvement to prove himself to be a franchise quarterback. New head coach Adam Gase wasn’t going to stir the drink effectively. This was a player coming out of college with relative inexperience as a quarterback as receiver-convert and they’ve never had him fix his mechanics or provided him with enough proper infrastructure on offense. Tannehill is among the league leaders in being hit and sacked in recent years and shallow depth at other positions leaves him at a disadvantage. This isn’t the kind of quarterback that will drag the heavy anchor of your team around, but for whatever reason, the Dolphins have hitched themselves to this wagon. It’s been 17 years since Dan Marino once lit up South Beach. Miami is still searching for a quarterback for even half of that caliber, but they’re not making the search any simpler. It has to hurt when you’re in the same division as Tom Brady for a decade and a half as well.
Brian Hall: I don’t know if it’s so much that Ryan Tannehill is the problem so much as it’s the organization. People like to point out how many coaches and offensive coordinators Tannehill has gone through; tell me, who makes those decisions? And who keeps deciding year after year to design their game plan around him instead of exploring other options? Mike Wallace is gone. Lamar Miller is gone. They signed Ndamukong Suh to a ludicrously large contract and their defense isn’t winning them games like the Broncos or Vikings. At what point do the folks at the top decide it’s no longer Tannehill’s time? Sure, you can point to his poor play as an issue, but in the larger spectrum, it isn’t really the issue.
Dan Soden: I said before that we are in a time of the serviceable quarterback and Tannehill fits that moniker perfectly. To quote Miss Katy Perry on young Tannehill “You’re hot then you’re cold, you’re yes then you’re no, you’re in then you’re out, you’re up then you’re down, you’re wrong when it’s right.”
Tannehill needs to take charge of this team and step up, but it’s hard to do when your starting center is just making his way back, the defense is lackluster, there are tons of holes on the team overall, and you have a rookie head coach. Well I guess he isn’t the primary problem, just a fraction of the equation that needs to be solved.
Cody Broder: He’s not the only problem, and he’s not helping them reach a solution. Like many other teams in the league, Miami is failing to find a running game it can trust. This, combined with the struggling defense, forces Tannehill into pass-first situations which require superior decision making and execution than what he brings to the table. The Dolphins are in the midst of spending a lot of money on pieces that quite frankly aren’t worth the expense – most notably Ndamukong Suh and Tannehill himself. Miami needs to hit the reset button at quarterback if they’re going to get anywhere.
3. It looks like the Jets are stuck in no-man’s land with Ryan Fitzpatrick and their aging roster built to win now. How did we get here?
Robert Zeglinski: I don’t see why we were ever really supposed to believe in this team. The apex of this core’s greatest accomplishments will be losing to a mediocre Bills team in Week 17 in 2015 with the playoffs on the line. The offensive line isn’t the same wall as it was in the “San-chize” AFC Championship appearance era. You’re relying on a compliment of receivers with the same exact skill set in Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall i.e. possession guys with size that don’t create separation with speed. Your primary bell cow at tailback is a 30-year-old Matt Forte- one of the most used running backs in the past approximate decade- and you’re tied to Ryan Fitzpatrick as your quarterback. This is a man that threw six interceptions in a game just two weeks ago. I shouldn’t have to explain more. New York tried to overextend an older core that needed more of a rebuild not a small retool and now they’re paying the price in entering the glut of all of the other mediocre teams.
Brian Hall: At some point the Jets thought they had something really special, surely. They landed two great receivers in Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, the latter of which was thriving in a similar high-powered offense with the Broncos. They had a decent crop of running backs, and above all, a young quarterback whom they had a lot of faith in. And then Geno Smith got sucker-punched and lost his starting job to Ryan Fitzpatrick. Geno wasn’t exactly stellar at any point in New York, but he had two things that Fitzpatrick does not: youth and potential. Geno is 25. Fitzpatrick, 33. Despite adding Matt Forte to take some pressure off the passing game, the Jets window of opportunity with this offense is closing, and ultimately, I think the hesitancy to go with Geno Smith, or try and get a younger more competent quarterback, is to blame.
Dan Soden: The Jets are here by not focusing on the offensive line and signing older talent to a team that should have been focused on three years from now not February. Lucky for New York, they still have a great interior defense, a really good coach and plenty of talent in the skill positions to outlast the Fitz-po-ca-lypse. Once they square away their offensive line and secondary issues the team should be on pace to compete with the New England Patriots for the AFC East crown. Hopefully this offseason they don’t do anything too dramatic, which is always a possibility with owner Woody Johnson at the helm.
Cody Broder: They caved on Fitzpatrick. There’s a reason he’s been a journeyman throughout his career – he doesn’t fit any particular system. While Fitzpatrick flourished with the weapons at his disposal last year, it simply isn’t working for him this time around. Both of his go-to wide receivers have been hobbled to start the season, and the veteran quarterback looks lost. Signed as a stop-gap solution, Fitzpatrick is serving his purpose, but it’s not as victoriously as the Jets envisioned.
4. The spotlight is magnified on Odell Beckham Jr. more than ever before. Is he really any different from other superstar diva receivers and is this is a problem for the Giants?
Robert Zeglinski: On a less serious note, this is the simple trajectory of a “diva” receiver. Early dominant success. A hint of exuberance that might seem problematic to the core of a team. Then struggles once that personality boils over and the offense targets the player less while the team struggles. We saw it with Terrell Owens and we’re seeing it with Beckham Jr. I think a lot of what he’s doing when shut down is still overblown, but the guy kind of just needs to start playing better instead of letting the cameras follow him around. In year three of his career, this is one of the NFL’s biggest stars, and networks are looking for that “hit” moment that will let us gloss over “what’s wrong?” Beckham Jr. isn’t the first generational talent that might seem a little over the edge, he just needs to corral it more. The Giants can’t do anything except for hoping he recognizes his monumental platform. We’re not there yet, but I say we stay tuned as to whether this develops into the cliche potential distractions and locker room problems.
Brian Hall: The primary problem with Odell Beckham Jr. and the Giants is how the team is handling it. The media is always going to shine a spotlight on star players, especially the more…expressive ones. This is nothing new. But first-year coach Ben McAdoo’s decision to publicly address it, including saying things like that he needs to be, “less of a distraction” is not smart in the slightest. If there’s a problem, you correct it quietly. If it can’t be corrected, you get rid of the problem. But magnifying the spotlight on OBJ is bad for both parties, and unless OBJ goes berzerk every week, the focus will always be on his attitude.
Dan Soden: The passion of Odell Beckham Jr. has never worried me as a fan of the Giants. I’ve seen plenty of players come and go that exhibited the same fiery passion that can often get mistaken for diva like behavior. I’ve even joked about it and called him a sassy mix of Terrell Owens and Drake. Jokes aside, the guy only gets upset when he can’t go out there and perform at a top level, a level that he’s become accustomed to.
We don’t see Odell start fights with sideline equipment when he has a few touchdowns and 100 something yards. Rather, it’s when a cornerback is in his head or an official turns the other cheek.
Beckham is one percent of the one percenter’s and with that level of talent comes a never ending demand for perfection. Jordan had it. Kobe had it. Peyton Manning showed it to us, and countless other demanded it. So his “fits” on the sideline don’t worry me as a fan, his comments that followed however do.
When the star of my team drops a quote like this I worry. “Football is my sanctuary,” Beckham said on Tuesday, per ESPN. “It’s where I go to escape. It’s where I’m most happy. I’m not having fun anymore.”
That kind of discussion is what has me pulling on my collar as a cold sweat starts to break out. I’m sure it’s just frustration speaking from back to back losses but if the WWE has taught me anything it’s once someone loses their smile, it’s hard for them to get it back.
Yes and yes. With new additions and a healthy wide receiving core, the Giants aren’t as reliant on Beckham Jr. as they have been in the past, and I can imagine that’s another aspect that’s getting to him. Not only is he not being as effective with his touches, he is also not receiving as many. For a guy that’s getting roughed up and can’t take a hard time, this could all be reaching a point of no return. OBJ and the Giants better figure it out in a hurry.
5. Finally, what are we watching for in Week 5?
Robert Zeglinski: I swear this is simply a coincidence, but I want to see how Beckham Jr. responds on ‘Sunday Night Football’ against the Packers. The Giants are on the brink of a disastrous three-game losing streak if they fall in this game. These are the kinds of nationally televised events where your best players step up to keep you from the abyss. There’s no better scene than Lambeau Field on a Sunday night for a player to torch his opponent. If Beckham Jr. wants to turn the conversation back towards his one-hand catches, this would be the perfect first step towards a “needed” image change, or at least, a reprieve from the “diva” narrative.
Brian Hall: San Francisco! Arizona! Blaine Gabbert! Drew Stanton! Thursday Night Football! Catch the fever!
Dan Soden: I don’t want to speak for everyone but I’m pretty sure we are all watching “The Return of The Great One”. After weeks sitting at home pondering the meaning of deflation, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady comes back to the NFL and right back into all of our hearts.
Also the Texans get to face the defense they should be in Minnesota. Then the Eagles and Vikings will be the only undefeated teams left in the NFL just like we all predicted which will somehow both diminish increase Sam Bradford’s value at the same time.
Cody Broder: “NFC West gone bad”
Arizona is falling apart and things will get even worse for them on a short week. After a close game with the Cowboys last week, the 49ers will be ready to capitalize on the Palmer-less Cardinals. Upon losing in San Francisco, the Cardinals will fall to 1-4, calling into question the job security of the struggling Carson Palmer and the longevity of Arizona-lifer Larry Fitzgerald.
(Photo: The Pewter Plank)