Gratz’s Grumblings: Week 4

Predicting what’s going to happen in the NFL is a lot like eating a crave case by yourself, you think you know what you’re doing but the end result is always a disappointing mess that makes you question what the fuck you were even thinking. The first couple of weeks are interesting because there are always surprises. Each team’s offseason creates their own questions to be answered heading into the season and the results are always mixed. Some things go according to plan (the Patriots are still the fucking Patriots and the Packers are still the fucking Packers) and some things completely catch you off guard (Ndamukong Suh is a non factor on the D-line? The Ravens starting 0-3? Week 4 is an interesting time though because it’s right where you can start to gather enough evidence to make worthwhile observations and predictions for how things are going to pan out for the rest of the season. Of course there’s some shit you can never plan for but I think a teams performance after week 4 is a much stronger indicator for how their season is going to be than say after week 2. With that said, lets take a look around the league and try to make sense of just what the fuck is going on in the NFL.

Nobody expected the Dolphins to be this bad. In fact, it was almost universally agreed on that they were going to build off their 8-8 campaign from the year before and compete for a playoff spot which has eluded them since 2008. They spent a boatload of money on Ndamukong Suh and it’s already looking to be a complete disaster. He seems to be frustrated at times and indifferent at others. Reports from earlier in the year said that he was ignoring defensive calls and going rogue and doing his own thing. Not only is that not the type of play the dolphins payed for, it’s also not the leadership they expected from a veteran who has proven he can be one of the leagues most dominant forces. We’ve seen free agent fiascos before, on the defensive line too *cough Albert Haynesworth cough* but this one went downhill fast. The Dolphins have to find someone to get through to him and figure out a way to get him on the same page as the team or else this can cost this team a severe amount of not only money, but further headache and complications going forward. The big question is if head coach Joe Philbin will be losing his job soon. It’s a shame too, Philbin has been a solid coach the past few years but if he has lost the locker room it may be best for him to go so the Dolphins can scrap this year and start to plan for next season. Week 4 is still early, but once a locker room is lost it’s very, very hard to recover. Plus they play in the same division as the Patriots and while they’re only 2.5 games back, it doesn’t take an expert to realize they aren’t going to catch up to them and claim the division title and as always, grabbing a wildcard spot in the AFC is like grabbing a doorbuster from Walmart on Black Friday, a fucking dogfight.

Update: While in the process of writing this, Joe Philbin has been fired. He will be replaced by Dan Campbell, the Dolphins tight end coach of the past 5 years. Campbell will be the youngest head coach in the league at 39.

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Moving right along, the Jets rebounded nicely from their loss to the Eagles. However, it’s fair to wonder just how far they can go with Ryan Fitzpatrick (or Geno Smith, whatever) as their quarterback.

Kicking (or lack of) was a major theme in week 4. It cost the Steelers a chance to put the Ravens in a daunting 0-4 spot while gaining ground on the Bengals for the AFC North. Josh Scobee lost his job because of his performance in this game. It was still encouraging for the Steelers, Mike Vick showed that he is a capable backup for Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell is still an absolute beast and being paired with Antonio Brown on the offensive side should be enough to keep the Steelers afloat until Big Ben returns.

Caleb Sturgis had big time kicking problems as well this week. The Eagles replacement to Cody Parkey missed a 33 yard field goal as well as an extra point while the Eagles lost by 3 points to the Redskins. As frustrating as this is for Eagles fans the team has bigger problems than an inept kicker. They again showed their inability to produce substantial offense in the first half. The defense was on the field for 42 minutes and allowed a game winning touchdown drive to Kirk Cousins. Kirk fucking Cousins. While people will argue the defense was gassed, they still need to improve (they gave up a first down on 3rd and 19 off a draw play on the first drive of the game). It was nice to see them taking more shots downfield but they can’t just seem to piece everything together. DeMarco Murray has spoke out against his lack of touches in the offense. Luckily, the NFC East is one of, if not the weakest divisions in the NFL so the Eagles can still make a push for a playoff appearance, but with the way they’re playing the words eagles and playoffs shouldn’t even be in the same sentence.

Todd Gurley was finally ready for a full time workload and the rookie took advantage, accumulating 146 yards on 19 carries as the Rams pulled the upset and delivered the Arizona Cardinals their 1st loss of the season. The Cardinals, despite losing are still a good football team. However at 2-2 the Rams are a classic example of the “pretender or contender” debate. They are a pesky team and time will tell but I would expect them to be around .500 at the end of the season, maybe 9-7. Definitely an encouraging sign for a team who is way past due for success.

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One of the most impressive teams this year so far has been the Atlanta Falcons. Insiders have applauded their offseason strategy of getting hard working, mid level free agents who bought into the culture instead of throwing money at high profile names with big price tags and even bigger egos. Stellar rushing performances and a smart, efficient Matt Ryan carried the team to a 48-21 rout over the Texans. You never want to jump the gun, but the Falcons look like the real deal this year.

The Bears beat the Raiders. Whatever.

Colin Kaepernick has been disastrous since week 1 and there is starting to be some chatter about benching him. Doesn’t it seem like just yesterday he was playing in the Superbowl with Jim Harbaugh on the sideline? I’m always amazed by how fast things change in this league. Kaepernick, to me, is hard to evaluate. Is he a quality starter just on a disorganized team with a weak supporting cast or is he really just not good enough of a passer to relive his past success? I think in the right system Kaepernick can shine. You can’t expect him to run an offense like Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning but with an offense tailored to him and the right people around him Kaepernick would be a hell of an addition for another team at some point. Perhaps a split from the 49ers would be in both parties best interest in the near future.

The Giants walloped the Bills 24-10 for their second consecutive double digit win. Still have no idea what either of these two teams are about just yet. The Bills are really banged up and were without both LeSean McCoy and Sammy Watkins this past week and with Tyrod Taylor at the helm its not a surprise that they only scored 10 points. I still think the Bills are trending upward going forward but they simply have to get healthy and establish some consistency.

I heard an interesting point by Mark Schlereth this past week on ESPN, the NFL is having an offensive line crisis. He mentioned that offensive lineman simply aren’t learning the technical skills they were once taught in the past and that is a big reason why O-line play this season has been dismal. This can be directly accountable for the overwhelming amount of injured quarterbacks so far this season. It will be interesting to see if this is addressed in the future as teams need to protect the most coveted position in sports. We mentioned that the Steelers lost without Big Ben, the Colts survived a big time scare from the Jags with Matt Hasselbeck running the offense and Brandon Weeden and the Cowboys lost a wild overtime thriller to the Saints. It’s probably not too smart to evaluate these teams until we have a better idea when their true signal callers are ready to return to action.

Speaking of signal callers, Peyton Manning has been the subject of a lot of gloomy talk this year. He’s too old. He doesn’t fit Gary Kubiak’s system. Yet, the Broncos are 4-0 and two games ahead of everyone in the AFC West. This is in large part to their defense which has looked downright scary. They can really get to the quarterback and create turnovers. If the offense can get clicking to a vintage Peyton Manning level then this team will be a force to be reckoned with as the season progresses.

Finally, as a depressed Eagles fan I like to keep tabs on good ol’ Andy Reid to see how he’s doing in Kansas City. The Chiefs are 1-3 however they have had a brutal schedule so far with their past three games against Denver, Green Bay and Cincinnati. Still the Chiefs were supposed to compete for the AFC West so perhaps this really isn’t a valid excuse. Remember Eagles fans, the grass aint always greener on the other side…

Gratz’s Grumblings: Week 2, Breaking Down The Debacle In Philadelphia

For this week of Gratz’s Grumblings I will be focusing solely on the Philadelphia Eagles game against the Dallas Cowboys because well, that was the only game I watched this Sunday as I was unfortunate enough to have been there. The abysmal performance from the Eagles cannot be understated. Simply put, that was one of the worst displays of the sport I had ever seen. It’s early in the season, and there’s a lot to break down, definitely not too late to tweak things around and salvage the season, so let’s take a closer look at what the fuck is actually going on with this team after two games.

It’s no secret that the offense was atrocious. I think inept would be the correct word. Demarco Murray was held to 2 yards on 13 carries. Let me repeat that, Demarco Murray was held to 2 yards on 13 carries. However, if you talk to anyone who watched the game they would probably tell you this really didn’t fall on Murray or indicate what kind of runner he is at all. Murray had nowhere to run all game as the line played poorly. Also there was an even bigger problem than the offensive lines woes and Murray’s lack of running space…

Chip Kelly was out coached by Dallas this week and Atlanta last week. It was almost as if Dallas had the Eagles play call on each and every snap. Yes the offensive line played bad but there’s a deeper rooted problem and that is schematically the Eagles are off. This is a huge concern considering so much of Chip Kelly’s success relies on his schemes working each week. Chip Kelly has proven through two seasons that his offense isn’t a gimmick and I believe he is a smart enough coach to figure this thing out.  Whether there is enough talent to really take the offense to next level still remains to be seen. I’m really not too worried about this offense. The biggest concern for me is the line, which don’t get me wrong is a huge question mark going forward but as far as the scheme not working and getting out coached, I think Chip will figure it out.

Sam Bradford didn’t play all that bad. A lot of people are criticizing his play from yesterday but I really don’t think it’s founded. Listen, it’s hard to throw no matter who is under center when the defense knows exactly what you’re doing. The Eagles knew they couldn’t run against Dallas so were forced to pass and play catch up in the second half, what do you expect from Bradford? A Mike Vick type run of 30 yards to put them in scoring position? The red zone interception was a killer and a bad, bad play but I don’t think it’s fair to judge his performance off one mistake. With how the offense as a whole played yesterday that one interception should be at the very bottom on the list of concerns. I don’t think Bradford played particularly well but I don’t think he played poorly either. Again, it’s only his second game since 2013 so it’s going to take some time to get into a groove and get comfortable. He might not turn out to have the pro bowl season some of us thought he would under Chip Kelly but that’s not to say he won’t be effective going forward, and he’s still a whole lot better than Mark Sanchez. Also, he doesn’t exactly have the best receivers with the Eagles…

The receiving core’s ability might be limited this season. I’m sick and tired of defending Jordan Matthews. When they drafted him all I heard about was his tremendous work ethic and thirst for improvement. It was well documented that Matthews didn’t exactly have the most sound hands coming into the NFL but everybody was assured they would improve. Well guess what? He’s still dropping passes, important passes too. On one of his drops he leaped in the air for a pass he really didn’t need to jump at all for. He could have calmly put out his hands and secure the ball but he acted like a kid playing pick up football who was just trying to do too much. Don’t get me wrong I like Jordan Matthews and think he will have a fruitful career with the Eagles but his hands have to get better. It’s only his second year so it’s not really fair to hold him up to an elite standard. That’s really the problem with the receiving group as a whole, they are just young and inexperienced. As I just mentioned Matthews is in his second year and Nelson Agholar is only a rookie. You have to temper your expectations at least for this season. Josh Huff is only in his second year too but the former third rounder really isn’t showing much promise at all. Riley Cooper and Miles Austin are both on the downward sides of their careers which is OK considering they aren’t really supposed to be the focal point anyways. If the wide receivers underperform that falls mostly on Chip Kelly. These are his guys. He made the decision to let Jeremy Maclin walk. That is starting to show its ill effects as the Eagles really don’t have a respectable deep threat at the moment and its hindering them. I don’t remember Sam Bradford taking any big shots down the field because quite frankly we don’t have that type of receiver on the roster yet to throw it to, or we do and he’s not ready for that role at the moment. This hurts too, the five and six yard completions are great and all but when a defense doesn’t respect your ability to go deep it makes it much easier for them, plus it allows them to focus more on run stopping. Like the running game I think the passing game will see a lot of improvement too. If not, it’s another group of decisions you have to question about Chip Kelly. However…

It’s way, waaaay too early to start calling for Kelly’s job. Hey, even if this thing turns out to be a huge bust firing him now would only set us back another half a decade. Then, the next guy would have to bring his people in and the a new process would start and we would have an abundance of new players and recent draft picks who might be the total opposite of what they want. The bottom line is if the Eagles were unsure of Chip Kelly they should cut ties before this season. We’re pot committed at this point. Plus, at the end of the day it’s only two games, Andy Reid once took an 0-2 team to the NFC Championship so step back from the ledge. If the Eagles have a losing record this season then maybe in January we’re having a different conversation.

The defense is probably my greatest concern. I feel like a lot of people are excusing the poor defensive play due to the offense’s inability to stay on the field. That is a valid argument but I trust Chip Kelly’s ability to fix the offense more than I trust Billy Davis’ ability to fix the defense. His play calling seems off, his coverage personnel seems off and even their formations seem off.  Last week when asked why Julio Jones was able to run wild across the defense their response was because it’s hard to play him and double him because he gets lined up all over the field. So? Isn’t that the defensive coordinators job? To account for this and try to find a way to counteract it? There was a play this week where Maxwell was all alone on an island with no receiver on his side and two receivers lined up on the opposite side. It was evident that Maxwell would have no impact on that play, unless they gave it to the running back who was on Maxwells side, but still far from him and unlikely to cross paths with Maxwell. Yes the defense was on the field for a lot of the game but this wasn’t that hard of a game to plan for. Dez Bryant was out leaving the Cowboys with a weak group of playmakers. Their leading rusher from last year is now on the Eagles. Brandon Weeden is…Brandon Weeden. There is no excuse for letting Brandon Weeden go 7 for 7, none. Even when the Eagles knew the Cowboys were going to run the ball at the end of the game they still struggled to stop them. Like the offense, the scheme is off and unfortunately I’m not confident in Billy Davis’ ability to fix it. Speaking of Byron Maxwell though…

Byron Maxwell looked horrendous, again. Like really, really bad. They paid him a boatload of money not because he’s an elite cornerback, but because he was the best at his position in a weak free agency class and the Eagles needed to upgrade that position badly. If he’s unable to cover elite corners (or any corners at all) then the Eagles need to devise a plan that will put him in situations similar to where he found success in the past. That is, unless they can’t because they don’t have the Legion of Boom surrounding him. Maxwell plays better as a zone corner, not as a guy you throw on an island like Darrelle Revis. Whatever his deal is it needs to be figured out immediately.

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Yes, Sundays performance from the birds was dismal. Yes, there are huge question marks on both sides of the ball. Yes, it is early and the Eagles can still turn this thing around and salvage the season. You gotta remember our competition going forward, the Giants and Redskins don’t appear to be playoff teams and the Cowboys are going to be without both Dez Bryant and Tony Romo for an extended amount of time. Somebody has to win this division. Even the mighty Seahawks are 0-2. There’s plenty of reason to be scared silly right now but there is still a lot of football left to be played. Chip Kelly is now going to face the toughest challenge he’s ever faced in Philadelphia and the answer to whether he can handle it or not begins now.