Tag Archives: Pittsburgh Steelers

Is the NFL Season Bubble-ing Over?

Are you ready for some fooooootbaaaaaallll? Different football that is!  This 2020 movie keeps on rolling and the upcoming NFL season doesn’t lack suspense.  When will players report to camp? What will camp look like? Where will Cam Newton land? Will Colin Kaepernick sign with a team?  This will be one of, if not the most anticipated football seasons ever because of the unknowns.  Not to mention HBO has recently announced their acclaimed show Hard Knocks will feature both LA teams, Rams and Chargers.

We can’t talk about the upcoming football season without mentioning sports’ nemesis: COVID-19.  That’s why we’re at this point. March 12th, 2020 the day sports stopped.  The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci has indicated the NFL should take the bubble approach or not have a season at all, according to an MSNBC article.

Bubble-ing Over: NFL Season at Risk?

Is the Bubble Viable

The NBA and NHL have already set COVID-19 parameters for the bubble when those respective leagues return to action. With the number of personnel and players for each of the teams, it’s doable. Look at an NBA team, for example. There are only 15 players on a roster for which only 13 are active. Along with coaches and trainers, you’re dealing with about 25 or so people per team. Not to mention the facility staff. Other than the players on the court, social distancing in this environment is challenging but can be done. Even with the measures that the NBA has taken, nobody can say that it will prevent the players from contracting coronavirus.

Looking at the juggernaut that is the NFL, there would need to be one big bubble!  Just one team consists of more than two NBA teams combined.  There are 90 players alone that report to training camp, which is cut down to 53 by the start of the season.  Social distancing?  There’s no way this is possible in the sport of football. Sure, the NFL has already suspended combined team practices. You still have over 100 people on the field together.

What about when the season starts? When the NBA restarts on July 31st all the games will be played in the Walt Disney dome in Orlando, FL. It’s hard to envision one central location for the NFL season. I’m sure most people are asking how is this viable? Even the Hall of Fame Game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys has been canceled. Though it was the Hall of Fame’s decision to do so, it could be foreshadowing of what’s to come. Being the billion-dollar industry the shield is, commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL will find a way to pull it off.

How Will the Players React

Even though these are superior athletes, concerns still high for their health and well being. Not only for them but their families as well. Three coaches for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have contracted COVID-19.  Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott tested positive for the virus last week and has recently voiced his concerns.  New Orleans Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins also made a statement indicating football is non-essential and shouldn’t go on if it’s not safe. The league will surely develop a protocol to ensure to keep players, staff, and fans alike as safe as possible but will it be enough.

There’s always the unknown and human nature.  There will be parameters and set rules in place but players will push boundaries. Like the old saying goes, “rules are meant to be broken.” Per Kevin Seifert of ESPN, the NFL has already announced plans to start on time next month. It’s like being in the Forex market trading but instead of trading currencies, it’s people. The reward is greater than the risk, we’ll training camp is around the corner, we’ll see if the NFL will “take profit” or “stop loss.”

 

 

Free Agency Best and Worst: AFC North

Free agency opened in the NFL with the legal tampering period and the deals came in furiously. Most teams had a pretty clear idea of who they wanted and at what price. Of course, not all activity is created equal. Some of the teams did very well on paper. Others, however, were not so fortunate.

So who’s who? Well, that is the fun part. Adding talent isn’t a shoo-in way to a passing mark. Some teams would have been better off embracing the chance to rebuild and others passed on the chance at that one difference-maker. Others still seemed to be operating in a different world.

First up, the AFC North…

Best and Worst from the AFC North Free Agency

Baltimore Ravens

Best Move: Trading for Calais Campbell (and Signing Michael Brockers)

Yes, we are beginning by breaking the rules slightly. This is, obviously, a pair of additions to the perennial fearsome Baltimore Ravens front. But they’ll need both to make up for the loss of Michael Pierce, the mammoth defensive tackle who left for the Minnesota Vikings this offseason. Michael Brockers (6-5, 305 lbs) and Calais Campbell (6-8, 300 lbs) are bringing the beef.

One might have been enough, but after giving up 195 rushing yards to Derrick Henry in the playoffs, bringing in both is probably a good idea. What gives the addition of Campbell the edge? The fact that Baltimore was able to take advantage of the Jacksonville Jaguars and steal the massive run stuffer for a 5th-round pick; the same cost the Washington Redskins paid to the Carolina Panthers for Kyle Allen.

Worst Move: Marshal Yanda Retiring

This one is obviously not in the Ravens control. Marshal Yanda has been one of the most consistent guards in all of football over the last decade-plus. Initially drafted by Baltimore in the third round (86th overall) of the 2007 NFL draft, Yanda started no fewer than 12 games in 10 out of his 13 seasons.

An eight-time Pro Bowler, two-time All-Pro, and a Super Bowl champion. Careers don’t get much more decorated than Yanda’s. It cannot be understated what he meant to the top-ranked rushing attack of the Ravens. And keeping pressure out of 2019 MVP Lamar Jackson’s lap. They placed a second-round tender on center Matt Skura, maintaining some continuity inside. But he’s no Yanda.

Next Move: Signing Matt Judon Long-Term

This move is really pending on where Matt Judon is playing next season. Baltimore slapped him with the franchise tag and the thought was “duh”. He led the Ravens with 9.5 sacks without much of a compliment and is just entering his prime. But rumors are swirling that he could be moved with the Ravens cap situation getting tight after landing Campbell, Brockers, et al.

16.5 sacks over two years aren’t eye-popping numbers. But he also has 67 pressures and 27 quarterback knockdowns over that same span. After Baltimore lost Za’Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs last offseason, the next best pass-rushing “threat” of the last two years was Patrick Onwuasor. He has a whopping eight sacks over that time and was outplayed by Tyus Bowser last year.

Cincinnati Bengals

Best Move: Signing D.J. Reader to replace Andrew Billings

Usually, when teams lose a rotation player (as Andrew Billings was for the Cincinnati Bengals), they replace them with a cheap option later in free agency or via the draft. The Bengals went above and beyond by replacing Billings with a far superior version of himself in Houston Texans defensive lineman, D.J. Reader.

You might not know much about Reader because he plays defensive end in an odd (3-4) defensive front. He is mostly there to take up blockers and allow the pass-rush to get home. But he, conversely to Billings has seen his sack totals rise each of the last three seasons (to a lustrous 2.5) and increase his pressures from seven to 12.

Worst Move: Tagging A.J. Green

It doesn’t matter who the quarterback is for the Bengals next season. Andy Dalton or a rookie (sup, Joe Burrow?) will need weapons to throw to. And for much of the last nine years, A.J. Green has been the best to wear the stripes. Still, tagging him at $18 million seems a bit misguided. Nobody is trading for him at that number.

Green now narrowly edges Dalton for the highest cap hit on the team. That’s doubly bad because Dalton should be on his way out. Keeping a veteran receiver around to ease the burden on a rookie quarterback isn’t necessarily a bad idea. But when that receiver has only played nine games in the last two years, including zero last year, it’s fair to question the move.

Next Move: Draft a Cornerback

You won’t hear many suggesting this as a must for Cincinnati. After all, they just signed a pair of former Vikings corners in Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander. Waynes especially will be viewed as addressing the secondary simply by virtue of his three-year, $42 million ($15 million in guarantees) contract. That would be a mistake.

Waynes (75 percent) and Alexander (65 percent) gave up too many catches with the Vikings. They also both allowed passer ratings over 84 with Waynes allowing a healthy 107.9 rating. Luckily for the Bengals, neither has to be a shutdown corner. That responsibility falls on William Jackson… Draft a corner, Cincy.

Cleveland Browns

Best Move: Signing Jack Conklin

Cleveland Browns starting quarterback Baker Mayfield has been on the wrong side of a few statistical categories the past two seasons. Thanks to Jameis Winston’s record-setting 2019, not much attention was paid to Mayfield being second in interceptions with 21. He’s second (to Winston) over the last two seasons with 35 picks thrown.

So why is adding Jack Conklin (three-years, $42 million) a great move? At least part of what ailed Mayfield was having to be on the run much of the time. Greg Robinson is worried about the wrong kind of blocks at the moment, but Conklin is leaps and bounds above both he and Chris Hubbard. They still need to add at least one more lineman in the draft. But Conklin is a nice place to start.

Worst Move: Making Austin Hooper the Highest-Paid TE

This is less about the talent level of Austin Hooper than it is a reality check to the Browns that throwing money at the problem won’t fix it. They were already loaded with high-end weapons in Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry at wide receiver as well as a talented backfield duo in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Regardless of Hooper’s ability, there’s still just one football.

David Njoku, Cleveland’s first-round pick just two seasons ago, hasn’t developed as they wanted. But, in his defense, young tight ends tend to take a while to get acclimated to the NFL. Head coach Kevin Stefanski orchestrated a Vikings offense that was among the heaviest in two tight end usage. Still, if your quarterback needs all this, you might need a quarterback.

Next Move: Draft a Bookend for Myles Garrett

Myles Garrett fell short of his sack total from the previous year but arguably had a better year. His 10 sacks indeed fell short of the 13.5 he put up in 2018. But he did that with a full, 16-game schedule. Due to his own recklessness, he missed six games last season. That means he was averaging a sack a game before getting suspended. But he was almost literally a one-man show.

The next best pass-rusher in Cleveland was Larry Ogunjobi. His 5.5 sacks are respectable for an interior lineman. But they absolutely stink as the complement to such a dominant force like Garrett. Cleveland should address this early in the draft. With needs along the offensive line and at linebacker, though, they may have to rely on a rotation of players.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Best Move: Tagging Bud Dupree

It’s simple really. If you aren’t spending money on a quarterback or someone to protect him, targeting someone to make opposing passers uneasy. The Pittsburgh Steelers have that in Bud Dupree. Actually, they have two when you include T.J. Watt. But Dupree was far from a hit to begin his career as his running mate was.

Dupree had 11.5 sacks total the previous two seasons so it isn’t a surprise that Pittsburgh isn’t exactly beating down his door with a long-term extension. Detractors will rightfully point out that Watt’s presence cannot be overstated. That may be the case, but Dupree still had to get home and he did. Now he just has to do it again

Worst Move: Losing Javon Hargrave

Folks don’t usually stump for nose tackles but here we are. When the Steelers lost Javon Hargrave to the Philadelphia Eagles, they lost more than just a space-eater. After all, nose tackles aren’t supposed to sack quarterbacks. Hargrave has 10.5 sacks over the last two years; that’s notable with him playing alongside Watt, Dupree, Cameron Heyward, and Stephon Tuitt.

Granted, there was no way Pittsburgh could afford him at the price Philly paid. As much of an impact as he had, it’s not worth handing him the sixth-richest contract for a defensive tackle in terms of the average value. The saddest part of all of this is that Hargrave won’t be a Steeler for life like his predecessor in the Steel City, Casey Hampton.

Next Move: Draft Big Ben’s Heir Apparent

Pittsburgh found ways to win after Ben Roethlisberger went down. They did it with defense, though, because their trio of backup quarterbacks fell short of making up for the loss of Roethlisberger. They got eight starts out of Mason Rudolph, who went 5-3. They also got six starts out of Devlin Hodges; an undrafted rookie free agent who went 3-3. Neither is an option.

Unfortunately, the Steelers are without their first-round (Minkah Fitzpatrick) this year but they likely weren’t in the market for a top-tier passer anyway. But would they spend their second-round? Roethlisberger is 38 and has openly considered retirement in the past. He’s reportedly all in now, but Pittsburgh should be proactive here or risk repeating last year.

New Year, Who Diss?

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New Year, (Bad) Old Takes

No picks this week. Not to avoid being wrong, just because there are way too many variables to make decisions confidently in many of this week’s contests. Instead, this will be a different exercise. One where I own up to things I was wrong about prior to the start of the season. A ‘mea culpa’ of sorts to go into the new year with a fresh slate.

Playoff Bound

My expectations for this week are:

Now to own it…

Patrick Mahomes is good…like really good: Before the season I was not of the mindset that the second-year pro would be an MVP candidate leading the Chiefs’ explosive attack. Taking over for Alex Smith, Mahomes has seemingly taken Kansas City to another level; though postseason victories are needed for certainty.

The Bears would be 7-9, 8-8 at best: This one hurts to admit as a Bears’ fan. I sold the team short, underestimating the impact of Head Coach Matt Nagy would have. Now the team is 11-4, NFC North champs, and still vying for a first-round bye. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is far from a guarantee to be a star, but he and the team are in great hands.

Jacksonville Jaguars will repeat as AFC South champs: This had nothing to do with the disaster that is a Blake Bortles-led offense. It had everything to do with the Jaguars supposedly having the best defense in the division and the other teams’ quarterbacks all having their own issues. Instead cornerback Jalen Ramsey‘s off-season jawing was aimed in the wrong direction.

Le’Veon Bell will lead the league in scrimmage yards: Talk about failure to launch. With Bell not reporting due to a contract dispute, the Steelers had to move on. His replacement, James Conner is currently in the top-12 in scrimmage yards even after missing the past three contests.

2018 will be Pete Carroll’s last with Seattle Seahawks: Fueled by the departures of many key pieces from the franchises most successful era, the thought was that the Seahawks would be closer to rebuilding than contending. Credit Carroll for keeping things together; rededicating the team to the run and getting the defense to be respectable.

Carolina Panthers will win the NFC South: Cam Newton began the season playing his most complete ball under new offensive coordinator Norv Turner. Unfortunately, Newton’s surgically repaired shoulder became an issue once again. The team lost six straight, resulting in the Panthers shutting the QB down once eliminated from contention.

The Cleveland Browns blew both first-round picks: When Baker Mayfield and Denzel Ward were selected first and fourth, respectively, the thought was, “typical”. Shaped largely by the previous doings of the organization, the opinion was based on past performance; usually a good indicator of future success. The Browns nailed both picks, especially Mayfield.

Andrew Luck would not be the same: Another quarterback with shoulder worries, Luck missed a season and a half trying to make it back. In fairness – to me – it took a few games for the Colts QB to look all the way like himself, and he may never have the same arm strength, but Luck’s return along with a ground game and improved protection have Indy thinking playoffs.

The New York Giants will win the NFC East: While I thought the G-Men should have taken a quarterback second-overall, they appeared poised to make noise with running back Saquon Barkley. That was before Eli Manning was more inconsistent than ever to start the year. Typically a slow-starter and postseason maven, Manning took too long to find his groove in 2018.

Josh Rosen will be the most successful rookie QB: Supporting cast and coaching had a ton to do with this, but wrong is wrong. Rosen’s lack of mobility was on full display as the Arizona Cardinals failed to protect him. A lack of weapons – aside from the oft-forgotten David Johnson and aging Larry Fitzgerald – and competent coaching kept optimism in check this season.

Those are my confessions if poor prognosticating in 2018. I would love to hear your worst preseason takes, sound off here or tweet it @JoshLWOS.