Gratz’s Grumblings: Week 1

The NFL offseason can be excruciating. Between the waiting, the lack of other sports besides baseball, and the overwhelming amount of petty sports talk radio, when the first Sunday finally hits it really is like Christmas morning. Well forget all that waiting, all that time you wasted debating what your teams record will be (everyone will probably be wrong), football season is finally here. Now, the speculation ends, it’s time to watch all the glorious action unfold right before our eyes. Here’s what happened on the first real football Sunday of 2016…

The Broncos beat the Panthers in an exciting Superbowl rematch from last year. The Broncos were lead by quarterback Trevor Siemian who had never thrown an NFL pass prior to Thursday night. Impressed is an understatement of how I felt watching Siemian in his first ever start. He was confident, poised, and even made some nifty plays that would have made Brett Favre proud as he led his team to complete a fourth quarter comeback. His two interceptions are really not too concerning considering it was against a Superbowl defense and it was his first ever start (and they won). While you shouldn’t jump to a conclusion about someone’s long term future after watching one game, it’s hard not to be optimistic about Siemian being a starter in this league after Thursdays win. Perhaps the biggest story about this game was the abuse Cam Newton received from the Broncos D. He suffered multiple shots to the head and at times seemed like a guarantee to at least miss a few plays (which never happened). The Panthers and NFL have maintained that proper concussion protocol was followed although it doesn’t take a neurosurgeon to realize that Cam Newton didn’t seem to be feeling so hot at times and might have needed a break. Despite the Panthers loss, they still figure to be a team playing late into the postseason.

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Keeping with the theme of young quarterbacks making their first starts, Carson Wentz looked stellar in the Eagles 29-10 beatdown of the Browns. A lot of times it’s easy to tell a rookie is playing quarterback…they look jittery, nervous, make mistakes, etc. Wentz did none of these things as he had the composure of a longtime veteran making just another opening day start. Yes, it was against the Browns who are plain awful, but it’s still impressive considering it was his first ever NFL game for a guy who played in Division 1AA and barely played in the preseason. The Eagles D looked great too, ferocious and aggressive as they seemed to play with a passion that was clearly lacking in the Chip Kelly era. I don’t know how else to explain it but the game just had a vintage Eagles feel to it…an energetic crowd, tough D, and a fine display of the west coast offense. The Eagles are certain to face far more challenging contests this season and both sides of the ball will inevitably have their struggles. But, one week into the season you have to be pleased with what you saw if you’re an Eagles fan. On the flip side, I thought the Browns would be improved with Hue Jackson and could do better this season than people expected. Nope. Highly unlikely. The Browns were atrocious as usual and RG3 suffered yet another injury and will be out until November. The Browns will add another weapon on offense when Josh Gordon returns but with Josh McCown under center and a clear lack of talent overall it figures to be another long year for Cleveland Browns fans.

Love them or hate them, you have to acknowledge the greatness that the New England Patriots display year in and year out. They had plenty of reasons to drop their first game against the Arizona Cardinals. No Tom Brady or Gronk (among other missing players), a quarterback making his first start (are you noticing a pattern here?), and an extremely tough opponent on the road…no problem. The Patriots found a way to win and notched the W behind strong quarterback play from Jimmy Garoppolo, who like Siemian and Wentz, looked like a season veteran playing just another opening game. In my opinion, this game is less about the Cardinals being able to take advantage of a weakened opponent and more about the Pats innate ability to find ways to win NFL games, no matter what cards they’re dealt (no pun intended). It was truly impressive. While many people expected more from Arizona, they should still be able to put together another great season that results in a deep playoff run.

If the Patriots are experts at finding ways to win games, the San Diego Chargers are in a league of their own when it comes to losing. The Chiefs completed their biggest comeback in 56 years as they downed the Chargers after being down 24-3 in the second half. Andy Reid is notoriously bad in the first couple games of the season but his early season ineptitude was trumped by the Chargers and theirs. The Bolts lost wide receiver Keenan Allen for the year which is certainly a blow, but that really doesn’t have much to do with the outcome of this single game. Going forward, it’s reasonable to expect another solid season for the Chiefs and while the Chargers certainly have talent on the roster, including Melvin Gordon who seems poised for a much improved second season, until the Chargers show they can manufacture some wins it’s hard to get too excited about any real chance of success in a tough AFC West.

The Packers survived a scare from up and coming Jacksonville. The Jaguars were threatening deep into Packer territory late in the fourth quarter but ultimately came up short (literally a yard away from a first down). Even with the loss, I think the Jaguars are a legitimate team this year and could very well win a weak AFC South. It makes sense for the Packers to have some rust as some of their players are getting reacclimatized to NFL game speed. The Packers have been a trendy Superbowl pick but they will have to show improvement if they want to compete with the other NFC heavyweights.

Perhaps the quarterback flying the most under the radar is Jameis Winston. The first overall pick from last year put together an impressive rookie campaign and continued to build off it in week one as the Bucs beat the division rival Falcons. The Bucs played conservative last year due to Winston’s inexperience but they could really let him loose this year and compete and it’s entirely possible the Bucs are the second best team in that division behind only Carolina.

The Jets lost a close one to Cincinnati. It seems like while they are a decent team, they just can’t break through to the next level. It is obviously early however and if Brandon Marshall can be as productive as newly acquired Matt Forte was, they can still be a dangerous team this season. Oddly enough, a big concern for the Jets was actually on defense. Darrelle Revis was absolutely torched by AJ Green, a possibly troubling sign for the 31 year old defender.

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The Redskins failed to live up to their hype as the favorites in their Monday night game against the Steelers who were missing some key offensive players. The story to me in this game was that Josh Norman was barely allowed to cover Antonio Brown while the arguably best wideout in the game went berserk in Washington’s secondary as they continued to send Bashaud Breeland on him. It was puzzling to not see Norman on the left side of the field with The Steelers really lacking any other real threats besides Brown.

Chip Kelly and the 49ers shut out the Rams 28-0. The performance by St. Louis, er, Los Angeles was an embarrassment and inexcusable. The Rams wanted to be competitive in their first season back in California yet trotted out Case Keenum and were thoroughly dominated by a 49ers team that is far from stacked with talent themselves. Chip Kelly could however do better than expected as he’s never had less than 7 wins in an NFL season.

The Seahawks survived a scare from the Miami Dolphins. It seems like the Hawks always have a few frustrating clunkers each season against inferior talent. They survived this one, and still expect to be contender when it’s all said and done. I do have a gut feeling however that Miami will surpass a lot of peoples expectations with Adam Gase running the show there.

Last year the Giants ultimate downfall was their inability to win close games. They buried that crutch in week 1 with a 20-19 win over Dallas. Eli Manning threw for 3 scores and even hooked up with Victor Cruz who finally returned to action. The Cowboys have an uphill climb with Dak Prescott as their starting quarterback although a one point loss in his first game could perhaps be a sign of optimism rather than pessimism for the long haul.

Other results: The Ravens beat the Bills in an expected defensive oriented showdown. Jim Caldwell and the Lions narrowly beat the Colts as Indianapolis continues to give Andrew Luck none of his last name on the defensive side of the ball. Oakland beat New Orleans in a shootout, Minnesota beat Tennessee, and Houston was too much for the Bears.

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.