All Roads Lead to Nashville (The NFL on REO)

I’m too hyped about tomorrow’s game between the Tennessee Titans and the Pittsburgh Steelers to get any real work done this week. It is easily one of the best matchups of the season with two division leaders squaring off in prime-time. If you have read this column before you know that I am a die-hard Titans fan. Have been since 1999. More on that in a bit. For today’s edition of The NFL on REO, my brain naturally turned to all things Titans – even in ways that probably won’t make much sense to anyone else. But, as I have said before, it’s my article and I will do whatever I want.


The worst game of the week, even though it went to overtime and on the surface seemed exciting, was between the Los Angeles Chargers and the Jacksonville Jaguars. I am still struggling to understand how the Jaguars won that game. Down by three points, they turned the ball over twice in the final two minutes of the 4th quarter…and they still won. The Chargers had one simple job to do: run out the clock, and they could not do it. (Blake Bortles continues to prove that he is terrible and will be the downfall of an otherwise talented team.) How does this relate to the Titans you ask? Easy, the Jags are fighting for the AFC South crown and are Tennessee’s only real competition at this point. A loss against the Chargers would have been huge for the Titans. Also, Ken Wisenhunt is the offensive coordinator for the Chargers and I blame him completely for being unable to run out the clock at the end of the game. If you have already removed all memories of Wisenhunt from your mind I don’t blame you. Even so, he was the head coach for the Titans for one and a half horrible, awful, terrible season. Somehow, his ability to pull defeat from the jaws of victory for the Titans has stayed with him even though he is now coaching on the West coast. Thanks a lot, Ken!


Peter King is Sports Illustrated’s lead NFL writer. He writes a column every week called Monday Morning Quarterback. These are massive, thousands of words articles. Unless I missed it, his most recent column had ZERO mentions of the Titans beating the Bengals. (He did mention Bengals player Vontaze Burfict getting ejected, though that had everything to do with Bufict being a moron and nothing to do with the Titans.) I realize the Titans are not a glamorous team. I realize they are not a great team at this point. But, they have won four games in a row and are leading their division over half-way through the season. Not to mention, Marcus Mariota has led the team on last-minute, game-winning drives in three of the last four games. But yeah, don’t write one word about them in your NFL column. That seems logical.


This is the story of how the Tennessee Titans won my heart

I am confident that my story is not that unique. The 1999-2000 season was a magical one for those of us living in Nashville. The Houston/Tennessee Oilers finally had a home and a name. The Tennessee Titans captured the imagination of an entire city that first season. They moved into their new home, Adelphia Coliseum, and proceeded to shock the NFL and the world with their improbable run to the Super Bowl.

I do have a confession to make though: I was not a fully formed fanatic until the end of that season. I grew up a Cleveland Browns fan. (I know…) I lost that team to an awful, greedy move by an awful, greedy owner. When Cleveland was awarded a new franchise and created the Browns once again, it was too late for me. I no longer cared. I had moved on. So, the 1999-2000 season found me as more of a football fan and less of a fan of any particular team.

The first call to my heart occurred on January 8, 2000 – the fittingly named “Music City Miracle” game. At that time, I was working as a security guard to help pay for college. I had the sleep-depriving graveyard shift – 11 PM to 7 AM. I worked that Saturday, got home, and opted to try to sleep for a few hours before the game started. I overslept. I remember waking up, turning on the television and watching the Buffalo Bills’ kicker, Steve Christie drive a 41-yard field goal through the uprights to give his team a 16-15 lead. There were only seconds left in the game, enough time for either a crazy kickoff return attempt or some sort of Hail Mary after the kickoff. Neither of those options seemed especially hopeful. I’ll admit, I was depressed and frustrated. I hated to see the 13-3 season end like this. I hated that I had missed the entire game, only to watch them lose. I hated that they were losing to an inferior Buffalo team.

Then it happened. The short kick. Lorenzo Neal catching it and handing it to Frank Wycheck. Wycheck throwing a perfect lateral to Kevin Dyson. Dyson running down the sideline with an escort of blockers. I sat there in my bed with my arms above my head in celebration. To this day, I am so thankful that I woke up in time to see it.

But even that didn’t completely win me over. I know, how could that play not win me over? I can’t explain it, but I guess my only excuse is that I was being overly selective and careful with my next choice. I wanted to be sure that the team I picked to be MY team was worthy of my fandom.

The Titans became worthy, and then some, at Super Bowl XXXIV. The first half was an ugly one for the Titans and did little to bring me around to their cause. But once the second half started, and Steve McNair and Eddie George willed their team to tie the game, I found myself buying in. The final drive by the Titans, with impossible play after impossible play by McNair broke down all my other defenses. I was hooked. I was sold. I was a Tennessee Titans’ fan. I realize they lost that game, but that didn’t matter to me. I wanted to root for a team that had to work hard for success. I wanted to root for a team that played tough, physical football. I wanted to root for a team that left it all out on the field.

The Titans were that team.


So that’s it for today. What stood out to you in Week 10? What is the story for how you came to love your favorite team? Comment below. We love to hear from our readers.




Midseason NFL Superlatives (The NFL on REO)

It has been a long week and I don’t have the time or the desire to churn out another 1,500 words on the NFL. Instead, I have opted for the lazy man’s way out of this problem and have decided to do a list of superlatives at the half-way point of the 2017 season. I realize that we just watched Week 9 and it sounds weird to say this is the half-way point, but if you actually look at the records and how many games teams have played, this is a much more natural mid-way point than the end of Week 8. Plus, it’s my article and I can do whatever I want.


Most improved team

The Los Angeles Rams. There is no other answer here. If you said anything else, go to the end of the line and take a long, hard look at your life. Bonus points to the Rams for being coached by a former Boy Band Member!

 

 

Most disappointing team

The New York Giants. They were 11-5 last season. They might actually be the worst team in the league this season. They are bad from top to bottom. I think they are in for a clean-sweep this offseason.

 

Most annoying storyline that just won’t go away

Colin Kaepernick. Every time I read another Kaepernick story, positive or negative, this is my response:

 

Player that needs to stop doing interviews or press conferences

Cam Newton. First, he makes derogatory remarks towards female reporters and then most recently, he makes some strange Titanic allusion that leaves everyone pretty sure that he doesn’t really know that the Titanic sank.

 

Worst Pre-Game Speech

There will be no topping the infamous Jameis Winston “W” speech that happened this past Sunday. I’ll let it speak for itself.

Worst Roger

Roger Goodell. Fire him.

 

Worst Uniforms

Still the Jacksonville Jaguars.

 

Best Career Move

Tony Romo retiring to work in the booth for CBS. I’ve said it before, but Romo has been a complete revelation. He even makes Jim Nance better and I thought that was impossible.

 

Worst Career Move

A.J. Green repeatedly punching Jalen Ramsey’s helmet. He didn’t get hurt but it’s about the dumbest thing anyone can do on the football field. Helmet is harder than hand. Every time.

 

Most likely to have the worst record

I think this will be a toss up between Cleveland and San Francisco with Cleveland “winning” out in the end. The Browns are the textbook example of incompetence and dysfunction – you only need to look at how they botched the trade deadline.

 

Most likely to win it all

I am not a gambler. If I were, I would probably put my money on the Patriots. No, they have not looked like the best team in the NFL this season, but they have still been a top 5 team for most of it and we all know what their tract record is in the post-season. How can you bet against them at this point? Doesn’t mean I have to like it though. If I can’t experience the Patriots failing, then at least I have this:

 


What about you? What superlatives would you hand out for this season? Use the comment section below to chime in.




Who Watches the Watchmen? (The NFL on REO)

In Watchmen, the genre-defining masterpiece by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, there is a slogan that can be seen throughout the graphic novel, spray-painted on walls, “Who watches the Watchmen?” It’s a message about keeping those in power accountable and if that is even possible. While the things I examine this week are much less important in the grand scheme, I believe they belong in the conversation. It’s too often that we find incompetence or worse coming from those that are in a place of power in the sports’ world – whether it be the leagues, the teams, or the media that covers it all. So here is my attempt to watch the watchmen.


Media Incompetence

Reading and listening to sports media is a frustrating and sometimes exasperating use of my time. I don’t think I am alone in that reaction. I get it. There will be honest, and even logical, differences of opinion. I have no problem with those. I may not like it when my favorite teams get unfairly criticized or ignored, but on some level, I understand the reasoning behind those decisions. But sometimes, or a lot of the time, sports’ writers and talkers go too far. They make absurd declarations that no intelligent person can defend. (See: EVERY WORD FROM THE LIPS OF SKIP BAYLESS.) Or sometimes, they seem to lack the simple skill of real analysis or evaluation. I’ll give you an example.

Sports Illustrated does a weekly NFL Power Rankings Poll. There are typically 17 to 18 voters and most of them have voted throughout the season. Each submits their own Power Rankings and then the totals are compiled and the Official Power Poll is created.

In this week’s Power Rankings (and last week’s for that matter) my Tennessee Titans received a 30th place vote from one of the voters.

30th.

There are 32 teams in the NFL. And this person that purports to know the NFL voted the Titans as the 3rd worst team in the NFL. Look, I have no problem with the voters keeping the Titans out of the top half of the Power Rankings. They have not been a good team this year. They have been uneven and inconsistent. But even with all that, they are still 4-3, first in their division, and have wins over the Seahawks and the Jaguars – two teams that are numbers 5 and 13 respectively. The Titans’ worst loss – the debacle in Houston – was to the number 11 ranked team according to the Power Ranking. They don’t “show their work” on the Power Rankings so I don’t know who to call out publicly but if I could I would. It’s dumb and completely unsupportable.


It depends on what your definition of the word “catch” is…

Another week in the NFL, another controversial catch/no catch situation. This week’s biggest offender – the Zach Miller no-catch call in the Chicago vs. New Orleans game. At this point, no one officiating an NFL game knows for sure what a catch is. For an exhaustive breakdown of some of the most controversial calls in the past few years, go visit this link. It has videos and gifs and everything.

I reached out to some of my fellow REO writers Mike, Gowdy, and Mark to get their opinions on this topic. Have it fellas!

Gowdy:
For the last seven years, the NFL has massacred logic and the English language over what the meaning of a “catch” is in football. It started with Calvin Johnson vs. my Bears in 2010, reached its controversial peak in a Dallas vs. Green Bay playoff game with Dez Bryant in January of 2015 and has continued until last Sunday when Zach Miller made (what is logically and semantically) a catch vs. New Orleans in the end zone for a TD.  But no, the referees ruled that it’s not a catch with the NFL’s Pharisee-like definition of a very simple concept.

Look, I get it to some degree. When a player bobbles the ball as he’s falling to the ground, it can mean he didn’t catch it in that he didn’t procure it to a reasonable level, meaning he “dropped” it. I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water and leave it all to subjectivity. But give the referees some latitude to use some common sense. Any time you over-define words and concepts, you run a huge risk of leaving out a human’s ability to reason and interpret. That is exactly what has been happening in the NFL for years now.Their catch rule reads like a chapter in Leviticus. It needs to change. Because otherwise, it hurts people’s brains, creates injustice (in a sports sense) and takes some fun out of the game.

Mike:
I am usually not a “things were so much better in the good old days” type person, but when it comes to catching a football in the NFL this was so much better in the good old days. I remember a time when players, coaches, refs, and fans all had the same basic understanding of what constituted a catch. Now we have to go through a checklist of questions like “Did he clearly possess the ball?” “Did he make a football move?” “Did he maintain possession all the way to the ground?” “At any point in the process of catching the football did the ball make any unnatural motion that could potentially leave an ounce of doubt in the minds of all those looking on as to the veracity of the aforementioned completion?”

I may have made one of those questions up, but you get my point. It should not be this difficult. I am not a Dallas Cowboys fan, but if what Dez Bryant did against the Packers in the 2015 playoffs can’t be ruled a catch then we need to rethink the whole thing. It hasn’t really improved since then despite the tinkering. The solution, as always, fire Roger Goddell.

Mark:
What exactly is a catch according to the NFL?  Ah, one the great mysteries of the cosmos.  Philosophers, scientists, and theologians have debated this topic for a millennium.  Verily, this is an inescapable question that every man and woman struggles with at some point in their existence.  Unfortunately, those who wrestle with this question are often NFL referees.  In recent years the definition of catch according to the rule book has become so convoluted that refs might need a legal degree to fully comprehend the nature of a catch.  As a result we’ve seen legal “loopholes” exploited (occasionally at the most inopportune of times in the post season!) to deny a team/player of what should have been a catch.

 

I think they all make very valid points, especially the part about firing Goodell. Mike is wise. Listen to Mike. Gowdy is no slouch either using words like massacre and semantically. This is an NFL column for crying out loud! That kinda talk is too fancy for us common folk! And Mark, well Mark decided to take a more philosophical approach. Nothing wrong with that.


Titans Talk

Is there such a thing as a bad win? Or a good loss? According to Logan Ryan, Titans’ cornerback, there are not good losses or bad wins. Ryan has a radio show on 104.5 The Zone in Nashville where he sits in with the guys from The Midday 180. Yesterday, Paul Kuharsky vehemently pushed back against Ryan’s assertion. In Kuharsky’s view, the Tennessee Titans’ overtime win against the Cleveland Browns was a bad win. Ryan made a lot of good points in his response about how hard it is to win in the NFL, how some games just don’t go the way you want them to and you have to do everything you can to pull out the win. That’s what the Titans did against the Browns. It was an ugly win. It was a disappointing game for Titans’ fans because we had hoped to see the Titans dominate from the opening whistle. But, a win is a win. I tend to side more with Logan Ryan, an actual NFL player who has won a Super Bowl, than with a sports personality/writer.

Let me frame it this way (echoing what Ryan said on the show): Would the Houston Texans’ 41-38 loss to the Seattle Seahawks be considered a good loss for the Texans? Or would it be considered a bad win for the Seahawks? My guess is, most people (and Paul Kuharsky) would say that yes, it was a good loss because the Texans offense was so good in that game and it was very close. I also think that most people (including Paul) would say that it was a good win for the Seahawks. It was an exciting game, that’s for sure, but does that make it a good loss and a good win? Both teams struggled to do anything on defense. Both teams allowed their opponents to move the ball almost effortlessly down the field. (Both QB’s threw 4 TDs and over 400 yards. That’s a sign of very poor defense.) So why would that be a good win for the Seahawks? One side of the ball played horribly – just like the Titans offense did against the Browns. One side played really well – just like the Titans defense did against the Browns.[1. Before you lose your mind yelling at me about the quality of the opponent, know that I understand that perspective. The Browns are an awful team. The Titans should have won that game by 10+ points. I was frustrated that they didn’t. But at the end of the day, they won. To me, that is all that matters. I guarantee you that while Ryan and his teammates are happy with the win, they are well aware that they have to play much better in the future. Both of those things can be true. It’s not an either-or scenario like some in the media or in the fan-base want it to be.] A win is a win in the NFL. You take them any way you can get them. Assigning style points is for fans and writers and has no bearing what happens on the field and in the locker room.

 

 




Stream of Consciousness (The NFL on REO)

I’m all hopped-up on pain meds so you will have to excuse this week’s installment. At least you are getting one, as I came this close to not writing anything.

I had my gallbladder removed on Friday and I am still in the recovery phase. I have to eat bland food for a bit. I have to rest and take it easy. And I have to take the aforementioned pain meds. They are nice pain meds. They make me feel warm and fuzzy. Mostly fuzzy. But with less pain. So it’s a good fuzzy. The surgery went well and my recovery seems to be going well also. I thought about ending that sentence with another “as well” but quickly realized that was a bad idea. But I can’t really trust my judgment since I am currently on drugs so maybe it wouldn’t have been a bad idea.

Frankly, I don’t care. Moving on.


This Sunday, I sat on my couch and watched a lot of football. I had nothing better to do as I had recently parted ways with my gallbladder. Here are the things that stood out to me in my drug-addled, football watching day:

Green Bay is terrible without Aaron Rogers. Perhaps Hundley will grow into a serviceable QB but so far the results have been well-below average. They won’t go after a free agent QB **cough Colin Kaepernick cough** but unless they do make a move, I don’t see them finishing better than 6-10 this season.

The San Diego Chargers are starting to look like the team I thought they could be before the season started. It’s too bad that they have no fan-base anymore. Is there a dumber move by the NFL than to move the Chargers to Los Angeles? I feel bad for those players.

Joe Flacco is not good and he hasn’t been good in a long time. He is having an atrocious season and will lose this job in the next few years if he doesn’t figure things out. Spoiler alert: he won’t figure things out.

I wrote about it last week, but there is something wrong with Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense. If I were Julio Jones, I would be demanding the ball in every meeting with the team. He is being completely underutilized this season and it is killing the team. He is on pace for only 133 targets this season when he should be getting at least 150 to 175 targets a season.

Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers are the most inconsistent, up-and-down team/player in the league. For a guy that won an MVP a few seasons ago, Newton still plays like a 1st or 2nd year QB most of the time. And he doesn’t help things by being a juvenile jerk off the field.

The Los Angeles Rams are the most unexpectedly good team I think I have ever witnessed. I can’t even with the Rams.

Don’t look now but the Miami Dolphins have won 3 games in a row. Well, they have won 2 games in a row and the Dolphins and the refs won the third…


Titans Talk

The less said about the game in Cleveland the better. A win is a win and we will just go with that.

I’m not joking. I’m not wasting my time or your time discussion that horrid performance by the offense.


I promise that next week will be better, mainly because I will probably be getting some help by another REO writer.

What stood out to you in Week 7? What teams are you most interested in this season? Tell us about it in the comment section below.




Quarterback: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (The NFL on REO)

The Good

I will readily admit that I did not expect Carson Wentz and the Philadelphia Eagles to be this good this quickly. Wentz burst on the scene last year and had all the East Coast media hyperventilating. He came crashing back to earth in the second half of the season but the buzz had been built and the media declared him one of the up-and-coming Quarterbacks to watch in 2017. For once, the media was actually correct. At least, the signs appear to be pointing in that direction. Through six games, Wentz has thrown nearly 1,600 yards, 13 touchdowns, and only 3 interceptions. He has a passer rating of 99.6. If you look a little more closely at his numbers, his improvement seems to be pretty easy to pinpoint: He protects the ball better than last year and he is making his completions count more. His completion percentage is actually almost 2% points lower than his rookie season, but he is throwing for a much higher TD% and a much lower INT%. Also, his Yards Per Attempt is substantially better in 2017. Eagles’ fans have to be excited about the future with the growth they have seen in year two for Wentz.

 

On Monday Night Football, Marcus Mariota played on one leg and had one of the best games of his young career. It was the type of performance that if he played for a team like Dallas, New York, or some other perennial media darling, it would be the talk of every NFL writer in the country. Instead, it mostly got ignored because of the Titans. That’s fine. The fans in Nashville, the smart ones that is, know what they have in Mariota. His teammates know what they have. His running ability was completely non-existent on Monday night due to a hamstring injury. He had to be a pocket passer in the most strict sense of the term. He had less mobility than Tom Brady. In a must-win game, against a division opponent that the Titans have not beaten since 2011, Marcus Mariota threw for over 300 yards with a 72% completion percentage. He led the team on three touchdown scoring drives in the second half. He carried the offense on his back and his one good leg. It’s was a defining game for a young QB and in a perfect world, it would have received much more attention than it has.


The Bad

What is going on in Atlanta? Matt Ryan looks like he has a bad case of the Super Bowl hangover. He has not played up to his usual standards at any point this season. And now, the Ryan lead Falcons blew a 17 point first half lead to the lowly Miami Dolphins led by the most hated QB in America, Jay Cutler. Evidently, Atlanta is not that great and Miami is not nearly as bad as people think. Ryan has to get things on track or this season will be a perpetual series of one lackluster game after another. The Falcons might still end the season with a winning record, but for a team that was as good as they were in 2016, that is not nearly good enough.

 

Deshaun Watson is a freak. I had a strong suspicion he would be good in the NFL but I never expected this. He has taken over the starting Quarterback position for the Houston Texans and in just a handful of games, has thrown for a league-best 15 touchdowns. It’s not all sunshine and roses with his game yet – he still throws a good number of head-scratchers every game – but what he has done so far is nothing short of amazing. My guess is, he will take a step or two back down the stretch of the season, as most rookie QB’s do once defenses get some tape on them, but that won’t take away what he has accomplished so far. And for what its worth, REO saw the rise and stardom of Watson quite some time back. Read about it here. (This is in the bad category because he plays for the Texans and they are division rivals with the Titans – my team. I am rooting for Watson but his success hurts my team.)


The Ugly

The NFL is a lesser thing without Aaron Rogers. Every game he plays is must-see TV. He is the most impressive Quarterback I have ever seen play the game. He does things no other QB can do. And now, he is probably going to miss the rest of the season. That sucks. It sucks for Green Bay fans. It sucks for NFL fans. Hopefully, he can heal and come back this season. If Brett Hundley can keep the Packers in the mix, maybe Rogers can return and add another chapter to his legend with an improbable playoff run.

 

 




The Blame Game (The NFL on REO)

Titans Talk

Sunday’s game in Miami was brutal to watch. The Titans were never able to find any offensive rhythm under backup QB, Matt Cassel. It is no surprise, that after a 16-10 loss to a painfully bad Miami Dolphins’ team, many people in the Titans’ organization are getting blamed. And there is plenty of well-deserved blame to go around. Unfortunately, most of the local writers, radio talkers, and fans are pointing their fingers in the wrong direction. That is where I come in. Consider this the official Blame Index for the debacle in South Florida.

Officials: 50% of the blame.

I am not a “blame the refs” kind of guy. I will complain about the refs. I will criticize the refs. I will yell at the refs. But in almost every game, the refs do not ultimately decide the outcome. There are always plays that can be made to overcome bad officiating. But what we witnessed in Miami was so awful and so game-changing, that it has to be number one on this list. There were multiple examples of incompetence throughout the game, but the sequence late in the 1st quarter proved to be the most damaging so we will focus on that.

With less than a minute left in the 1st quarter, down 0-3, Matt Cassel did something no one watching that game thought he could do: He completed a pass more than 10 yards down the field. In fact, he threw a decent ball down the field to Delanie Walker for a 59-yard touchdown. Titans’ fans celebrated. Then we saw the flag. As all fans of the Tennessee Titans know, you don’t cheer for the team until you are completely sure there is no flag on the field. (On a personal note, my oldest son will wait a minute or two before he celebrates because he is convinced that the refs will never allow anything good to happen to the Titans. Thanks for killing my son’s spirit NFL.) We waited for the call from the officials…and were rewarded with one of the most spectacularly wrong-headed penalties in the history of the game. Pass interference on Jonnu Smith, rookie Tight End of the Titans. “That doesn’t seem like that bad of a call,” you say. “If he interfered with the defender, perhaps that is how Walker got open.” If only it were that simple. No, Smith and his defender (the defender who initiated contact by the way) were TWENTY yards away from the catch.  (Watch the play here.) There was less contact, less hand-checking than in virtually every pass play in every game in the NFL this season. That’s only a slight exaggeration. It was minor contact, by both players, that literally had nothing to do with anything that happened on that touchdown pass and catch. But the officials think that everyone watches NFL games to see them throw flags and awkwardly talk to the crowd so…

It was a bad call. But it was a back-breaking call for the Titans in this game because that one play could have been the very play that allowed them to get the offense on track. I’ll explain.

Up until that point in the game, and throughout the rest of the game, the Titans struggled to do much on offense. With Cassel as your QB, your options are limited at best. The Miami defense did not respect the Titans’ passing game and with good reason. So, they were stacking the box, daring the Titans to throw. If that TD to Walker stands, the entire defensive strategy changes for the Dolphins. Suddenly, they now know the Titans can throw the ball over the top. Putting eight or nine guys in the box is no longer an option on every play. That opens up the running game, which is exactly what the Titans wanted. If the TD stands, the Titans take a 7-3 lead and start to control the game on the ground. This serves two goals: Wear down Miami and keep your defense fresh. But the refs decided that an obvious no-call should take away the biggest play of the day for either team.

Two plays later, Cassel drops back and gets hit while he is throwing the ball. The ball travels a good 10-15 feet forwards in the air. Of the 22 players on the field, all but one stop playing. The pass is clearly incomplete. A lone Dolphin runs and picks up the ball and runs it to the end zone. Most of the refs have stopped officiating. One ref half-heartedly follows the Dolphin player but stops before he gets to the end zone. Dolphins’ players from the sideline make their way onto the field while the ball is still being carried to the end zone. The refs huddle for two minutes and when it is all said and done, they announce that they ruled the ball a fumble and then a touchdown for Miami. (You can watch the play here.)

There were probably 20 things wrong in how the officials handled that call. I don’t really want to waste anyone’s time going through all of them. I’ll keep it simple by saying the refs were just as confused as the players and the fans and they really had no idea what happened in the play and they used the replay system to bail them out. It’s the most cowardly and incompetent form of officiating out there and more and more NFL referees are doing it. They are relying more on the cameras than their own abilities and it is hurting the game.

Regardless of the details, this two-play sequence took 7 points off the board for the Titans and put 7 points on the board for the Dolphins. Without Marcus Mariota, the Titans just don’t have enough offense to overcome that kind of scoring swing.

 

Coaches: 25% of the blame.

They ran the ball 18 times on Sunday. They threw the ball 32 times with a back-up QB. That’s all you need to know about how the coaches did on Sunday. Unacceptable.

 

Matt Cassel: 10% of the blame.

I have heard way too many people put all the blame on Cassel. That’s insane. He played poorly. But he did enough (before the refs pratfalled their way into the game) to win. IF the Walker TD stands, he ends up with 200 yards passing, 69% completion percentage, and 2 touchdowns. Not a bad day for a second string QB. But, he does deserve a little blame because he showed no pocket awareness, taking way too many sacks, and just didn’t have the ability to make the big pass when his team needed him to in the 2nd half.

 

Offensive Line: 10% of the blame.

I realize they lost Taylor Lewan for the majority of the game and they were trying to protect a statue for QB, but this unit has to play better. If they don’t get it figured out, this season will be a major disappointment and will set the Titans back a year in the development.

 

Roger Goodell: 10% of the blame.

Because in any conversation, Goodell deserves criticism.


Cracks in the Hull: Leadership

A few weeks ago I wrote about some things the NFL needs to do to improve its image. I highlighted a few areas, one of which was leadership. You can read that article here. I’ve covered a few of the issues in the intervening weeks and would like to spend a little time on the leadership problem today.

Roger Goodell has finally issued a statement sort of saying that the players should stand for the National Anthem. Too little and too late. If Goodell was even average at his job, this is an issue he would have handled a long time ago. Instead, he tried to play politician for too long and it has cost the league dearly.

He needs to go. Now. I’ve been saying it for years. The decisions he has made as Commissioner will eventually ruin the league. We are starting to see the first signs of that. If the NFL wants to survive and thrive 20 years from now, they have to get rid of Goodell as soon as possible.




Quarter Season Power Rankings (The NFL on REO)

Phill’s Quarter-Season Power Rankings!

We should probably call this edition: “Not Available.” That will make more sense in a bit. This season has been unpredictable, which is one of the reasons the NFL is so much fun. Contrary to some opinions, there have been some really good games this year and we are once again shaping up to have a good number of new playoff teams in the mix. As you will see below, the Top Ten has been invaded by many new faces this time around. And that’s a good thing. I don’t know if these teams will be able to keep it up for the next 12 games, but so far, they have earned their spots on my list. Feel free to tell me I’m an idiot in the comment section below. I can take it. (You can view the first Power Rankings right here.)


10. Rams (Last Time: N/A)

I don’t believe in them yet but you can’t knock them too low with a 3-1 record. New coach Sean McVay has done wonders with the offense.

9. Patriots (Last Time: 1)

The Pats have too much talent across the board to be playing at their current level. They will get this figured out. Unfortunately…

8. Broncos (Last Time: N/A)

They did get their third win against an Oakland team that lost their starting QB, so things could look very different right now at 2-2. Still, they have played solid football through 4 weeks.

7. Eagles (Last Time: N/A)

Once again, it’s still too early to know a whole lot about any team, but the Eagles look competitive. I fully expected them to make a move to the Top Ten during this season and they are not letting me down.

6. Bills (Last Time: N/A)

The Bills have very little offense. The Bills have an insanely smothering defense. They have only given up 54 points this season. That is not sustainable but it earns them a spot in the Top Ten this week.

5. Panthers (Last Time: N/A)

They have the pedigree to be a very good team. I don’t love them because their offense has been mostly MIA and losing Olsen won’t help at all. Still, I think they have enough pieces on both sides of the ball to make this a good season.

4. Packers (Last Time: 5)

About what I expected from them. Good offense. Average defense.

3. Steelers (Last Time: 3)

They looked bad one game this season – against a bad Bears’ team. Their offense will win them a lot of game this year but their defense has been more impressive so far.

2. Falcons (Last Time: 2)

I can’t put them lower yet even though they have not looked great. They are 3-1. They are doing what they need to do to make a playoff push. But Matt Ryan has been inconsistent and if he doesn’t improve, they will be one-and-done come postseason time. (Ryan is on my son’s fantasy team and he is ruining everything.)

1. Chiefs (Last Time: 10)

I didn’t see this one coming. I never expected Kareem Hunt to be such a game-changer. His addition to this offense has completely opened things up for everyone else. And the defense, which was good last year, hasn’t lost a step. Can they keep this up, particularly when Hunt hits the rookie wall? We’ll have to wait and see.


Titans Talk

Nope.

No.

Aaaahhh!!!11

That was the worst defensive performance I have seen from the Titans since the 59-0 loss to the Patriots back in 2009. They were out of position the entire game. It was as if Houston could read their minds before every snap. I will say this, if Mariota plays in the second half, the score is not that lopsided. Houston still wins, and wins by quite a bit, but the Titans probably score another 14-21 points in the game. It would have made it look a little respectable in the end but it still would have been a massive misstep in an otherwise promising season. Coach LeBeau has to get this figured out ASAP or this team is in real trouble.

And that’s all I have to say about that game.




The NFL Needs To Change (The NFL on REO)

The NFL is in trouble. That’s the bad news. The good news is that most of the problems with the league can be corrected, as long as the NFL acts decisively and quickly.

The NFL is best seen as a giant battleship. It’s enormous and built to last, yet its size makes it unwieldy and difficult to change course quickly. Right now, it is the biggest and baddest ship on the water, but it is headed in the wrong direction. To make matters worse, it has dozens of small cracks along its hull that are slowly taking in water. Not one of those cracks is enough to sink it, but collectively, those cracks will eventually bring it down.


The Cracks

The NFL has multiple image problems, some real and some imagined but no less damaging. This includes player safety, a problem that is a little bit of both. On one hand, the NFL sustained a massive self-inflected wound with the way they handled concussions in the past. That crack is big and the league has done very little to patch it. On the flip side, many paint the NFL as too dangerous and too violent and are doing everything they can to bring it down. Everyone associated with the NFL – owners, players, fans – knows that the sport is dangerous and violent. It is part of the deal, and most of us are good with it. The day the players are no longer good with the risks is the day the league goes under for good.

Another image issue, and one that dominates headlines, is the National Anthem protests. We live in a society where the media thrive on controversy and division. The more hyperbolic the report, the better for business. Colin Kaepernick is the poster boy for this issue, though it has grown to be much larger than just one man. The problem with it is you have people from both sides of the political divide that are now tuning out because of it. Those on the far left are demanding that the NFL force someone to hire Kaepernick. (Stupidest idea possible.) Those on the far right feel that the league is full of a bunch of rich, entitled, unpatriotic jerks that hate the country and the flag. (Ignorant at best.) You know it is a huge issue when commentators as good as Al Michaels are going out of their way to update you on who did or did not stand for the anthem. The media in general is terrible and sports media is not that much better. They have decided that this controversy deserves ALL THE COVERAGE because of ratings, not realizing that their constant coverage is going to hurt the ratings for the NFL, which will then hurt their own ratings.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: THE MEDIA

 

The League has a leadership problem.

I don’t care for Jerry Jones. He comes across as boorish and arrogant. If Jerry takes a position on something, I am usually going to be on the other side. But, reports indicate that he is standing in the way of Roger Goodell’s contract extension. I believe I have made my thoughts about Goodell very clear in my time writing for REO. This then becomes similar to the recent presidential election. Do we have to side with one of these two?

With that said, many of the NFL’s problems can be directly traced back to Goodell or the overall leadership of the league. And even if the problems are not entirely Goodell’s fault, sometimes it is just better to make a change in leadership for appearances. Most people don’t care who the commissioner of the NFL is, but if they were to replace Goodell with someone with greater vision and self-awareness, it would do wonders for the overall image of the league.

 

The League has a product problem.

I saw a Twitter poll posted by Clay Travis recently that asked the question, “You can only watch college football or the NFL on TV this year — which do you pick?” And College Football won. Overwhelmingly.

Now, I realize this poll was posted by Clay Travis, someone who has made his career covering college football (and making fun of ESPN), but I think the results still have validity. There is a perception among many, right or wrong, that the college game is better than the pro game. I could post stats about blowouts in the college game, or how close games are in the NFL on average, but those stats usually fall on deaf ears. People see what they see and feel what they feel and stats and facts are rendered meaningless. The college game can be incredibly exciting. I enjoy it. But I enjoy watching the best of the best playing the same sport on Sundays more. But there are issues built into the professional game that can be fixed or tweaked that will make the game more entertaining for fans, and the NFL needs to start working towards those soon or they will continue to lose fans.

 

Over the next few weeks, I will be doing my best to tackle a few of these issues and present some ideas for change. These cracks need to be fixed or the NFL will cease to be the powerhouse that it is. Let us know in the comment section what you would do to fix these issues. Or, if there are issues you have noticed that I have not addressed, let us hear about them.


Crack: The Diminishing Product

Thursday Night football is unwatchable.

I love the NFL. I can watch any real NFL game and be perfectly satisfied. I will watch a game between the New York Jets and the San Francisco 49ers and find plenty to enjoy.

But Thursday Night football is a completely different animal.

Thursday Night football is sloppy. TNF is ugly, poorly played, and worst of all, boring. TNF is a match-up between two teams that are tired and not recovered from the previous week. The product on the field completely supports my assertion – you only have to look at the most recent Thursday night game for proof.

Thursday Night football needs to be taken out back and put out of its misery. Effective immediately. It is a prime-time game that is as poor of a representation of actual professional football as one can find. It will not create new fans. It will not engender good-will towards the league or the game itself. In fact, I contend it is doing the exact opposite. It is too much football. And it is football that is a poor representation of what the game is supposed to look like. It makes the NFL look greedy, ugly, and uninteresting.

NFL, if you want to keep your league at the top, get rid of Thursday Night football as soon as humanely possible. It is a blight on your league and your product. Focus your immense power and money on Sunday and Monday football. Make those games as good as they can be and stop diluting your sport with inferior product.


 

Titans Talk

That was fun. What we saw in the second half of the game against the Jaguars is what fans of this team are expecting this season. A physically dominant performance in all three phases of the game. And there is no Titans’ player that better epitomized that physicality than Derrick Henry. Let me be clear about something – DeMarco Murray is the number one running back for the Titans. But until he is 100% healthy from the hamstring pull, Henry is the better option. The Titans have the luxury of having two number one backs on their team and they need to take advantage of that starting Sunday against the Seahawks. Sit Murray and start Henry. Do that until Murray is completely healed. If they want to make a run late in the season and into the post season, they will need Murray. If you want to see what I mean by Henry being the best representation of Titans’ football, go check out this article at Music City Miracles. Those guys do great work covering the Titans.

There is a youth movement at work for the Titans and it should be very exciting for fans of the team. This year’s draft is showing up all over the field, with players like Adoree’ Jackson, Taywan Taylor, Jonnu Smith, Corey Davis, and Jayon Brown already playing big minutes and contributing in a number of ways. The future is very bright for the this team. Enjoy the ride Titans’ fans.

This week poses a significant challenge for the Titans. The Seattle Seahawks are a good/great defense and they have a mobile QB that can extend plays with his legs. The Titans have struggled against mobile QB’s in the past and Russell Wilson is better than most, so it will be imperative for the defense to stay on course and not deviate from their assignments. The good news is the Seahawks have a terrible offensive line and the Titans’ pass rush should have plenty of opportunities to get to Wilson. For whatever reason, I have a similar feel about this game as I did for the Green Bay game last year. I am hopeful that the Titans’ offense will pick up where they left off in the second half of the Jaguars’ game. It should be a fun one.




The NFL on REO: Old Faces, New Places

Week 1

Week one is in the books.

Contrary to popular opinion, we don’t really learn much after one week of play in the NFL. It is going to take a lot more to convince me that the New England Patriots are as bad as they looked on Thursday night against the Kansas City Chiefs. Similarly, it will take a lot to convince me that the Los Angeles Rams are as good as they looked against the hapless Indianapolis Colts.

Game one is never the strongest indicator of future performance. You just have to look at the two years Ken Whisenhunt coached the Tennessee Titans. If you only saw game one in those two years, you would have thought the Titans were a juggernaut of a team. Unfortunately for fans of the team, those two games were far and away the highlights of each season.

The point is, game one is not the be-all, end-all. Yes, it is important to start the season with a win. Yes, that one loss can come back to haunt a team at the end of the season as they fight for a playoff spot. But, many times game one will be viewed as an aberration by the end of the season. So, if your team won this weekend, congrats. If your team lost this weekend, there are still fifteen more games to get things on track. Of course, all of this is completely out the window for a team like the New York Jets. They are just the worst.


Old faces in new places

For this week, I want to spotlight three faces that found themselves in new environments. Three players that have excelled at their various positions that are now in different homes, with very different supporting casts. We will look at them in ascending order, from the most underwhelming debut in a new place to the most impressive. Let’s start with Adrian Peterson.

Adrian Peterson is a bad fit for the New Orleans Saints. They are a pass first team, with very little desire to establish a consistent run game. Unless they have a big lead, Peterson is never going to be a 20 to 25 carry-a-game back in that offense. Peterson has been an above-average receiver in his career, but it is not his biggest strength. So, his chances will be limited in New Orleans and with that, his career is going to come to an ignominious end. He looks old and slow.

There is another veteran running back who has found a new home. Marshawn Lynch had been out of football for over 600 days. He returned this Sunday against the Tennessee Titans and looked very close to his old self. He ran hard. He ran aggressive. He made good defensive players look bad on more than one occasion. As a Titans’ fan, it pains me to even mention this, but you can see below that Beastmode is still going strong.

Lynch is not going to lead the league in rushing. He is never going to be a top 5 running back again. But, in that Oakland Raiders’ offense, he is a perfect fit for what they need: a big, bruising back that can pick up tough yards when needed. He gives Derek Carr a much needed cushion to bolster the passing game, by taking some of the pressure off of it.

And finally, we have Tony Romo. I was the first to question the decision of CBS Sports to hire him and place him with their number one NFL commentary team. He has no experience in the booth. This is all new to him. Now, I was fine with Phil Simms being replaced as Jim Nance’s partner. I like Simms and think he works much better in the studio – as he has proven with his work for Showtime’s Inside the NFL. In the booth, Simms was just too dry and uninteresting for me. And teaming him up with Nance, one of the least exciting play-by-play guys in the business meant that their games were always more boring than they needed to be. But replacing a known commodity like Simms with someone that had never even worked in the business was risky and felt a little desperate.

Evidently, CBS knew what it was doing. Or they just got really lucky. Romo was fantastic. He brought so much energy, intelligence, and passion to the broadcast. He added plenty of technical knowledge while still maintaining a sense of fun and excitement for the game. He sounded like a fan that happened to have played for over a decade in the league and knew the game better than any fan you have ever met. He was a little hyper at times, but as he said from the start, with a huge grin on his face, he was nervous and had butterflies. I won’t fault him for his exuberance. It was a much-needed improvement to the CBS A-Team.


 

Titans’ fans, calm down. You never want to start 0-1 but the Titans lost to a better team on Sunday. It hurts to have that loss at home, but in the grand scheme, if this team plays to its potential, it won’t affect them too much down the stretch. Just a few thoughts about the game – positives and negatives:

  • Positive: Corey Davis’ first catch was something the Titans haven’t had in years. He went up and snatched that ball out of the air, came down hard and held on. He was not perfect in the game – running the wrong route a few times down the stretch, and he ran out of gas at the end, but overall, it was a very solid first game for the rookie. It is even more impressive when you consider he didn’t even play a single snap during the preseason. This kid is going to be special.
  • Negative: Running game/Offensive Line. This has to be fixed. Period. If it is not, this will be a very disappointing season. The O-Line was fine in pass protection, but they struggled to consistently open up lanes for the running backs. If the Titans are going to go where they want to go, they will get there behind this offensive line. We need to see some nastiness from this unit on Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
  • Positive: Adoree’ Jackson’s hurdle. He struggled early in the pass game but quickly made adjustments. He is a physical phenom the likes we haven’t seen in Tennessee in a long time. His late kick-off return where he hurdled a fewRaiders and somehow ended up 25 feet down the field in one jump is staggering in its athleticism. This kid is going to be special as well. (Do yourself a favor and click that link to watch the video. It’s impressive.)
  • Negative: Missed opportunities. The Titans had chances to win this game. The Raiders are a very good team who I fully expect to be in the conversation for the Super Bowl all season. But the Titans could have beaten them if they had made a handful of plays. The onside kick is a perfect example. I don’t love the call, but if Tye Smith gets his head turned around and moves a little, he makes that recovery. It was little things like that all game long. Eric Decker slipped on his cut late in the game for a 3rd down conversion, which meant the pass sailed a little outside. The poor tackling at times on defense cost valuable yards and time. Fix those little things and this team is right there with a chance to win at the end.

That’s it for today. What did you guys think about Week One? Which teams stood out? Who do you think is fool’s gold? Who is the real deal? Let us know in the comments section below.




The NFL on REO: Game Time!

It’s game time baby!

The NFL season kicks off tomorrow with the defending Super Bowl champions, the New England Patriots, facing off against the Kansas City Chiefs. I am so excited, even if this first game includes my most hated team in the history of all sports – the Patriots. It’s real NFL football for the first time in over half a year! What is better than that?

To commemorate this momentous occasion, here is my interest level for each game this week. We’ll start at the bottom.

The “Zzzzzzz….” group:

Jets vs Bills
Jaguars vs Texans
Colts vs Rams

The less said about these three games the better.

The “I’ll watch if there isn’t a better game on” group:

Panthers vs 49ers – I want to see Christian McCaffrey. That’s it. I don’t care about anything else in this game.
Ravens vs Bengals – This one just made it out of the first group. There is very little interesting about this game.
Cardinals vs Lions – Matt Stafford is on my fantasy team. So there’s that.
Falcons vs Bears – Matt Ryan and Julio Jones usually bring something interesting to the table.
Saints vs Vikins – AP against his old team deserves a little attention.

The “I’m intrigued” group:

Buccaneers vs Dolphins – I want to see what Winston looks like in his third year with a full compliment of weapons on offense.[1. If this game actually takes place. The hurricane might not let that happen.]
Eagles vs Redskins – Does Wentz take the next step? Does Cousins improve or has he hit his ceiling?
Chargers vs Broncos – I think the Chargers are going to be a lot of fun this year if they stay healthy. Rivers is always worth a look.
Steelers vs Browns – ‘Burger, Bell, and Brown are an awesome trio to watch. I am also curious about DeShone Kizer.

The “Must See TV” group:

Giants vs Cowboys – Two heavy-hitters from the NFC East (Otherwise known as the only division in football to most of the sports media.) This one could have huge ramifications at the end of the season.
Chiefs vs Patriots – Defending champs. Solid Chiefs team. First game of the season. Of course I am watching.
Seahawks vs Packers – Rogers is always must-see TV and these two teams have played in some great ones in the recent past. I’m sold.
Raiders vs Titans – This is not just my Titans’ bias coming out. Two up-and-coming teams. Two young QB’s on the rise. This one should be a lot of fun for the early Sunday schedule.


Staff Predictions for the Tennessee Titans

Gowdy Cannon
Anything less than a better record than last year’s 9-7 would be at least a little disappointing to me as a Titans fan-in-law (being a Bears fan first but well connected to Nashville through REO and my college friends). And I think the team is ready for a leap.

I voted for 12-4 last week. NFL Nation has them as one of several teams with 11 wins predicted[2. Projected records] and I think they are team that is easy to overlook and underrate since Nashville is not a major market. On that note, I think Mariota will be approaching a Top 5 quarterback by season’s end, barring injury, and that will be worth a win or two by itself. Going on what Paul Kuharsky wrote last week, I think he is primed to pass Stafford and Rivers at least on his list.

If Indianapolis were in the shape we assumed they’d be in during Luck’s early career arc, I would be less optimistic. But they are not. Tennesee looks to be in prime position to win the division and get a high seed. I’m excited for them.

Mike Lytle
The Tennessee Titans had a solid season last year winning nine games and barely missing out on the playoffs. They lost a couple games they probably should have won and ended up stealing a couple games they should have lost so all in all they were what their record says they were – a slightly above average team with many strengths, but a few glaring weaknesses.

In the off season they added some solid pieces in free agency and had a definite plan in the draft. They drafted for positions of need and did not simply pick the best players available even if when some projected high picks fell to them. I have no problem with that strategy. As long as the scouts did their job in projecting future performance then this year’s draft should help the team right away.

For these reasons I am predicting an 11-5 record. My head tells me 10-6, but I am going with my heart on this one.

David Lytle
This is my pessimistic take.

8-8

While the Titans have been going in the right direction under Coach Mike Mularkey and GM John Robinson, they may see a slump this year. As a whole, the team lacks depth and will struggle to compensate for injuries that come their way. Even though they added personnel to their defensive backfield and wide receiver core, they will continue to struggle to cover the pass or pass the ball very effectively.

Phill Lytle
I’ve been high on the Titans since last year. I believe they have made numerous improvements on both sides of the ball this offseason and I think that will translate to a few more wins. I am predicting the team will go 11-5 in 2017. This preseason has dampened expectations in Nashville, but we’ll look back on our worries with a laugh by season’s end.


Enjoy the opening week, football fans. It only happens once a year. We’ll be back next week with a recap of Week 1 and a few other items of interest.