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A Cardinals’ Fan’s NFL Notes: 10/18/2020

Green Bay Packers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

I had just finished eating my toasted Italian sub when the 1 PM EDT games were kicking off on the Red Zone Channel. It was surprising to learn that the Red Zone’s Andrew Siciliano was sitting this one out due to testing positive, but then negative for COVID, but for aptly taking the maximum precautions—-thus breaking Siciliano’s 160 consecutive Red Zone episode streak as host.

DirecTV’s Dan Hellie filled in for Siciliano and I thought he did a very respectable job.

For all of the 1 PM games, I kept it on the Red Zone channel, because there were no NFC West teams playing in that slot and none of the other games were of special interest to me.

Therefore, here are some of the observations I made during that 3+ hour stretch of games:

  • (ENVY #1 of the Day: Swarming Defense): The Steelers’ defense was again outstanding—-and that defense has been especially brilliant ever since they made the gutsy move to trade for former Dolphins’ S Minkah Fitzpatrick. It is difficult to imagine why Brian Flores would trade the Dolphins’ 1st Round pick in 2018. As it turned out the trade was for T Austin Jackson (USC, #18 pick) who after 4 games (not including yesterday’s) has a 49.8 PFF grade—-but could be the LTOF. Meanwhile, last year Fitzpatrick earned a stellar 79.8 PFF grade and a Pro Bowl nod while splitting time with the Dolphins and Steelers.
  • Baker Mayfield was struggling so badly (2 ints. 4 sacks) that he was replaced by Case Keenum late in the 3rd quarter—-to guard against further aggravating his rib injury.
  • (ENVY #2 of the Day: WR Draft Picks): All 4 WRs the Steelers have drafted over the past 3-4 years are home runs: Juju Smith-Schuster (R2/17), James Washington (R2/18), Diontae Johnson (R3/19) and Chase Claypool (R2/20). Notice too how they compliment each other—-and Diontae Johnson was 2nd Team All Pro punt returner as a rookie last year—-and this year Chase Claypool would have to be in the early conversation for 2020 NFL ROY, as he has been an absolute stud in his first 5 games (82.7 PFF) 17/335/19.7/4 TDs.
  • It was very difficult to understand why the Texans’ head coach Romeo Crennell elected to go for the 2 point conversion having gone up by 7 over the Titans, when kicking the PAT would have put him and his defense up by 8 with one possession left for the Titans. The odds of winning the game are so much higher if he kicks the extra point. But, hey, Crennell said he wanted to out the game out of reach right then and there.
  • (ENVY #3: WR Draft Picks): The Titans’ WR A.J. Brown (R2/19)—-a faster version of Anquan Boldin and a legit #1 WR.
  • It’s amazing to see Titans’ QB Ryan Tannehill thrusted into stardom and a legit MVP candidate—-the dude is putting on passing clinics on a weekly basis. The way he marched what should have been an exhausted offense (short week) down the length of the field at the end of regulation and OT was extremely impressive.
  • A case can be made that Mike Vrabel is challenging Andy Reid as the bell cow HC of the AFC, especially now that Bill Belichick finds his team under .500 after 5 games for the first time since 2002.
  • Joe Burrow is making a huge difference for the Bengals, who appear to be on the cusp of getting over the hump, especially if their defense can start closing out games.
  • For some reason I am having a hard time feeling like Phillip Rivers is the right fit with the Colts.
  • I really like the aesthetics of the Falcons’ new helmets—-the logo looks very sharp on matte black with a bright silver trim and bright silver face masks. if I were them, I wouldn’t trade Matt Ryan or Julio Jones—-they need an offensive-minded head coach in 2021.
  • I am taking special delight in watching the Vikings’ demise. There is so much talent on that football team and yet each week they find ways to lose. They are like the NFC’s version of the Texans in that they traded away what arguably was their biggest playmaking WR, Stefon Diggs, and the offense has struggled in the clutch. Man, they also really miss their 2019 OC Kevin Stefanski.
  • Watching the Broncos beat the Patriots on a 6 pack of FGs was fun. All my Patriot fans friends have been lauding Cam Newton to date, but it remains (at least for me) hard to imagine that Cam is a good personality fit with Belichick and McDaniels.
  • I was scratching my head when Ron Rivera went for the 2 point conversion at the end of their game with the Giants—-basically because the Redskins had momentum going for them and with a win over the 0-4 Giants they had a fair chance actually to be tied with the Cowboys for 1st place in the NFC (if the Cowboys lose on MNF) at 2-4 with the Cowboys (2-3) coming to DC next week—-why take such a gamble? Rivera said after the game that “playing to win the game is the best way to teach the players how to win.” But—-the successful 2 point conversion percentages work against the odds of winning and after the team has worked so hard to get back in a position to win the game, it can also start to feel like Sisyphus, if after all that work pushing the boulder up the mountain goes for naught when the boulder slips and falls inches from being pushed to the summit.
  • Of course, because of the expanded playoffs, I am rooting for all AFC teams to win matchups with NFC teams, thus I was happy to see the Ravens prevail over the Eagles, when OLB Matthew Judon stuffed QB Carson Wentz on his clumsy read option. Have to give Wentz and the Eagles props for their Sisyphusian effort—-but this was an afternoon around the league that took the romance out of the 2 point conversion.
  • After the 1 PM games, I had no interest in watching the Jets/Dolphins game and switched from the Red Zone channel to FOX to watch the Bucs/Packers. I was loving it when the Packers and Aaron Rodgers came out swinging and built a 10-0 lead—-but—-the way the Bucs were getting QB hits on Rodgers, only 1 of which was flagged for a PF-RTP—-and the way in which Rodgers kept pleading with the refs to throw flags—-I had a feeling that he was going to start to get a little antsy as QBs getting hit are apt to do, even Rodgers.
  • The whole game turned obviously on Rodgers’ ill-advised out pass to Davonte Adams that 2nd year CB Jamel Dean turned into a pick six. Two things about that play that stood out—-(1) how an All-Star QB like Rodgers could telegraph that throw as obviously as he did; (2) how Jamel Dean was able to read Rodgers’ eyes the whole time and then react to the football and easily undercut the route.
  • (ENVY #4: drafting young stud CBs): Jamel Dean (R3/19) stood out to me last year when the Cardinals played the Bucs when I took note of his aggressive style of play—-and this year not even including yesterday’s game his PFF grade is an impressive 82.4. Plus, did you see the job that 3rd year CB Carlton Davis (R2/18) did on Adams when Adams lined up in the slot? Davis’s speed and quickness were superb. His PFF grade coming into yesterday’s game was 66.7.
  • (ENVY #5: Defensive Coordinator Schemes): It has always mystified me as to why, from the very minute that BA hired Todd Bowles as his DC in Arizona, BA was touting and promoting Bowles as a sure-fire future NFL head coach. Before BA hired him, Bowles came to AZ with limited experience and success as an interim DC before BA. But, Bowles was a pleasant success in AZ and quickly got the Jets’ HC job. Yet, after Bowles’ two years with the Cardinals, the team defense has been on a sharp decline ever since. Had the Cardinals been able to hold on to Bowles at least in 2015, perhaps they would have made their “All or Nothing” dreams come true—-as, it would have been difficult to imagine that the defensive meltdown on the field and on the sidelines of the 2015 NFCCG versus the Panthers would have transpired, because Bowles was experienced enough to know that you don’t change your defense for an opponent in one week’s time, especially not when the stakes are that high.
  • Bowles is back with BA and again is peaking in his second year with his long-time buddy. But, let’s also give a ton of credit to another former Cardinal, GM Jason Licht, because that Bucs’ defense, personnel-wise, is a veritable All-Star team. On the interior DL, they have three studs in Gholston, Suh and Vea (and they just traded for stalwart NT Steve McLendon, as good contenders do when they lose a important starter to injury). On the edge, they have Shaq Barrett (2019 leader in sacks) and Jason Pierre-Paul, In the middle, they have Lavonte David and Devin White (R1/19—-ENVY #6)—-and in addition to Dean and Davis at CBs, they have an up and coming S tandem in Jordan Whitehead (R4/18) and impressive rookie Antoine Winfield (D2/20). This is the most talent across the board that Todd Bowles has ever had the chance to work with, especially at the linebacker positions.
  • When have you seen the Cardinals’ twin ILBs react as quickly and aggressively to their reads the way that Lavonte Davis and Devin White did? The obvious answer is not since the Cardinals drafted (back then with the help of Jason Licht) Daryl Washington. Ugh. And please tell me this—-have you ever seen Isaiah Simmons play with such quickness and downhill aggressiveness on the occasions where he played ILB at Clemson? Jordan Hicks and De’Vondre Campbell are bigger, thicker physical specimens than David and White, but they have struggled thus far this year to command their gaps in run defense the way that David and White have been doing. Hopefully, that will change tonight when they match up against Ezekiel Elliott.
  • BA has to feel right now like the Tyrann Mathieu of NFL coaches having defected from the Cardinals at the precise time to find himself a couple of years later in the lap of luxury with G.O.A.T. Tom Brady at QB, the star studded duo of WRs Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate at TE (with super talent TE O.J. Howard on the IR), hard charging RB Ronald Jones, and a big, physical OL led by LT Donovan Smith, C Ryan Jensen, RG Ali Market and RT Tristan Wirfs (R1/20). And all of sudden, just as Tom Brady found himself in Title Town in Boston among the Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics, Tampa Bay has a chance to pull off a unique trifecta if the Rays and Bucs follow the Lightning’s 2020 Stanley Cup success—-and the 2020 Super Bowl just so happens to be in Tampa this year.
  • After the 4 PM games, it was a sobering, back-to-planet-earth hiatus watching features on CBS’s 60 Minutes about the poisoning of Putin rival Alexy Navalny, the death threats and family harassments of Dr. Anthony Fauci and the “plane ride from hell” with regard to the COVID afflicted cruise passengers who were flown in the same plane from Europe to Atlanta only to find upon their arrival (while sitting for hours on the plane) that there was no coordinated plan by the CDC as to how to test, treat and quarantine the passengers, as many of the afflicted were then allowed to fly home on other planes, thus endangering the health and lives of hundreds of other passengers.
  • After polishing off two soft-shell tacos and chasing them down with an ice cold Amstel, the first thing I noticed in the SNF nightcap was the 49ers electing to switch at home to their away whites. I have always wondered if it’s advantageous to your QB to wear white under the lights. And, I may be in the minority, but I think the Rams’ new all blue with yellow/fade-to-white numbers (a la the Pro Bowl jerseys) uniforms with the revised helmet design are an attractive look—-much more so than their old ones.
  • Plus, I hadn’t noticed this before, but NBC is now including the starters’ PFF grades and position rankings in their lineup intros. I agree that PFF grades are not necessarily an 100% accurate reflection of the players’ performances, but I like the fact that all players and teams are graded on the same metrics. And while many players are bitching about it—-hey—-if you are a player, wouldn’t you be hung-ho about eating the best grade you could?
  • Kudos to Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers for orchestrating a near perfect game plan versus the Rams, by basically doing what the Rams have been doing very well for 5 games—-getting the ball quickly into the hands of RAC RBs/WRs/TEs and applying good, consistent pressure on the QB and slapping sticky coverage with creative bracketing with the safeties in man and zone.
  • I was very curious to see how the 49ers’ DB Robert Saleh was going to defend Sean McVay’s and Jared Goff’s patented play action game of bootlegs, waggles, crossing and counter routes—-thus, it was amazing to me that McVay seemed to concede that Saleh had a good plan in place to defend the bootlegs because McVay (from the start of the game to well into the 3rd quarter, before I fell asleep) didn’t run hardly any of his bootleg plays, in favor of play actioning numerous times (without having established a running game first) with Goff instead sticking pretty much to the parameters of the pocket, where Goff was not especially effective this week.
  • It was also impressive to see how Kyle Shanahan managed to get away with having Jimmy Garoppolo throw the vast majority of his passes in the dink and dunk mode—-but then—-on a key 4th and 1, letting Garoppolo rip a perfect TD strike to TE George Kittle on a Cover 0 (no middle FS) on an intermediate post pass. It was the perfect “cat and mouse” call and execution at the perfect time. It was impressive too to see how well the 49ers blocked DT Aaron Donald.
  • I woke up this morning thinking about Steve Keim’s statement prior to last week’s win over the Jets that “our stars need to start playing like stars” knowing what an auspicious opportunity tonight’s game is to climb into a second place tie with the Rams in the NFC West.
  • This prompted me to take a look at the Cardinals’ top salaried players this season to see what their current PFF grades and statuses are—-and here they are (with their 2020 cap figures):
  • Chandler Jones $21,333,333. (IR—-62.6)
  • Patrick Peterson $13,184,589. (LCB—-46.3)
  • DeAndre Hopkins $12,500,000. (WR—-89.8)*
  • Larry Fitzgerald $11,750,000. (WR—-56.1)
  • Justin Pugh $10,500,000. (LG—-58.9)
  • Jordan Hicks $10,500,000. (ILB—-50.9)
  • Jordan Phillips $10,000,000. (DT—-45.1)
  • Kenyan Drake $8,483,000. (RB—-61.5)
  • Kyler Murray $8,080,600. (QB—-78.3)*
  • Robert Alford $7,500,000. (IR)
  • J.R. Sweezy $6,500,000. (IR—-54.4)
  • D.J. Humphries $5,740,000, (LT—-73.9)*
  • Corey Peters $4,437,500 (NT—-62.2)*
  • Haason Reddick $4,288,509 (OLB—57.2)
  • Jordan Phillips $4,000,000 (DT—-45.1)
  • Budda Baker $3,776,813 (S—-63.5)*
  • Isaiah Simmons $3,757,101 (ILB—-38.2)

When you look at these cap figures—-which if these players do you feel is having a good season thus far?

I affixed asterisks (*) next to the grades of the 5 players whom I believe are playing well: Hopkins, Murray, Humphries, Peters and Baker. But, to quote the opposite of Meatloaf, 5 out of 17 “aint good.”

The Cardinals need the stars to emerge tonight—-plus the team needs more good, hungry efforts from the up-and-comers in order to pick up the slack for Chandler Jones and J.R. Sweezy.

Hey—-it’s a MNF game in October—-after no MNF games for the Cardinals last year.

I will never forget the Cardinals’/Bears MNF game from Busch Stadium on Halloween of 1966. I was 11 years old and was able to watch the game on our new color TV (yes, TVs had been black and white) with a large pillowcase full of trick or treat candy by my side. The Cardinals won 24-17!

If you have the time—-give yourselves a treat and watch this NFL Game of the Week highlight reel. It fires me up every time!