Tag:NFL
Posted on: August 9, 2012 6:31 pm
 

RG3 and Decoding Shanahan

Go back to the year 1988. The Raiders are in Los Angeles, Tom Flores has been demoted upstairs by owner Al Davis and Denver assistant coach Mike Shanahan is hired by the silver & black for his first NFL head coaching job.

Now fast-forward…not too fast, just one and one-quarter seasons later. After finishing 7-9 amidst an on-going, internal clash of loyalties, a 1-3 start in ‘89 gives Davis cause to pull-the-plug on the Shanahan experiment and hand the reigns over to Raiders man Art Shell.

Not a very auspicious start to Mike’s head coaching career. But then, getting fired by Al Davis wasn’t all bad. Oddly enough, it could enhance your resume.

Well known for his hands-on style, Al’s rows with staff often put on public display traits in a coach highly-prized by GM on-lookers. Qualities like decisiveness, tenacity and just being one tough son-of-a-gun. And that’s what Mike looked like after getting the boot: a guy who could give as well as he got, and from the biggest got-guy in the NFL, Al Davis.

That’s no knock on the feisty owner. Though Al could be a thorn in your side if under his watch, for fans, excepting the City of Oakland from1982-‘94, he was a quasi-advocate, a counter-weight to the NFL’s old boy network who conduct business in golf-carts and brass-handled board rooms. And then, only Glenn Ford (Gilda), Sid Poitier (In the Heat of the Night) and Paul Newman (Cool Hand Luke) were cooler than Al Davis in his early days, surveying the action from the Raiders’ sideline in those steel-rimmed sunglasses.

To Golden Gate via Colorado

Mike landed back in Denver (‘90-91) but wore out his welcome fast when he got in the middle of a Reeves - Elway rift. On the outs, he took a job with George Seifert (’92-94). Like Foxborough today, San Francisco was the place to be for coaches on the rise. As architect of 49ers’ 49-23 blowout win in SB29 (SD), Mike’s reputation grew such that he was seen around the League as a football-genius-in-the-making and then a hot commodity.

Third Time Charm

Broncos just can’t kick the Shanahan habit and this time give Mike the head coach’s office. He sticks around for awhile (‘95-08), quickly makes good on his new rep, has Denver back in the big show and this time brings home Mr. Lombardi (’98-‘99). Adding to the euphoria was the fact that Denver’s SB32 win comes against fellow West Coast disciple Mike Holmgren and his history-heavy Green Bay squad (4-1).

Happy Trails Mr. Elway

The mood on Mike starts to change after Elway rides into the sunset (SB33 / Atlanta). As he never got Denver back on top, some have argued Elway was the difference-maker in their back-to-backs. Not a crazy notion given that coaches coach and players play. But keep in mind: 1) Dan Reeves was in the NFL for nearly 40 years, played or coached in five Super Bowls but was stymied in his three Denver visits with John under center; and 2) Shanahan guided post-Elway Denver to the post-season four times, including an AFC title game and averaged 9+ wins a season. Not too shabby.

Whether or not Mike Shanahan is a football genius in league with Paul Brown, Bill Walsh or Bill Belichick is debatable. At the very least he did have something special working at Mile High in the late 90s, special enough to someday get a bust in Canton.

Resurrecting Legacies

Question now is, does Shanahan still have the Midas touch, that special something that garnered two Super Bowl wins? And if he does, can he impart it to his Redskins’ team?

So far, his brief DC tenure suggests no and no. Though he gets props for parting ways with the bill-of-goods that was Al Haynesworth and the plucky but past-prime Donovan McNabb, his inability to make real progress in his two seasons in Washington might be sign he no longer translates to today’s NFL player.

No big revelation then, that his ability to facilitate draft-dandy Rob Griffin’s development is key, not just to the team’s but his own future as well. The early word in summer camp is that RG3 is a talented and willing student of the NFL game. Welcome news to Skins’ fans who are parched for victory champagne since the days of Joe Gibbs & Company.

A concern is that in his eagerness to make good and satisfy antsy fans, Mike succumbs to the trendy but flawed belief that the athletic, muscled, running QB is the quick cure-all for what ails an offense and provides the surest vehicle for getting to the promised land. The tremendous impacts of mercury men Cam Newton (6-10) and Tim Tebow (8-8) on their respective teams in 2011 have only given amplification to the theory.

Mike Shanahan has coached two of the finest QBs of the past 30 years in Steve Young and John Elway. Though both had a flair for scamper (and could cite footwork as their most famous feats (SY: 50+ dash vs Vikes (‘88) / JE: copter-run in SB32)), making it a key element in their modi operandi, both were first & foremost pocket-passers who could air it out and thread the needle whenever necessary, taking to flight as only a last resort.

As impactful as Cam and Tim were, upon closer inspection it’s easy to see why many observers believe there’s a cap on just how relevant a run-QB will be over the long term.

Tebow’s 2011 flies in the face of that tiresome phrase, ‘numbers never lie.’ In science, that may be true (excepting false-positives), but in sport, numbers can tell tall tales and in TT’s case they’re less than sincere. While his pass-stats were paltry, his fire and dedication to game-plan were triggers in Denver‘s mid-season turnaround.

But eventually those flames of emotion must be fed with stout statistics. That can mean numbers that are huge (Rodgers), first-rate (Eli) or simply smart stats (A. Smith / 17-5 ratio) that show you have the skill & savvy to manage the offense and then matriculate with regularity in all conditions (Tom, Eli & Peyton).

As for Cam, he showed a terrific capability for passing but a tendency to take-off in trouble (14TDs). That’s a tell and it’s just what defenders will eventually feast upon.

Then there’s Vick, the man who started the trend. His ‘athleticism,’ as run-QBs are cast, has made him a star but destined him to title-oblivion. Besides two big PS wins (’02 GB / ‘04 STL), Mike’s tenure is defined in two words: boredom (duel careers in GA) and frustration (injury). Only now are he and his handlers starting to see the fallacy of flash-QB: “He wants to and works really hard to overcome his instinct, when a little something goes wrong, to take off (Mudd / PI / CBS / 7-27).” Old dog, new tricks: habits do die hard.  No pun intended.

So there you have it, Mr. Shanahan. You can put Rob on the pocket-passer pathway, the only road leading to the Super Bowl, help box-up his college habits and train him to work in the business of football (NFL / CFL), or, ride his athleticism to 9 or 10 victories (someday) and watch the big game every February at home on the big-screen TV.

Steven Keys
Posted on: June 29, 2012 4:05 pm
 

Calm Before Storm Tebow

Take a deep breath. Hold it in. Breath out. Again.

Now close your eyes. Drink in the calm, the serenity. Imagine birds singing, squirrels frolicking, puffy white clouds drifting by on blue sky…wait a second. Wake up!

There’s the neighbor’s dog, doing-his-thing on your lawn. Landlord phoned, says he can’t fix the A/C ‘til next week. And today your boss put up the new schedule: you’re on graveyard now with that guy who doesn‘t believe in hygiene or teamwork. Just terrific.

Okay, so your life’s no bed of roses. But wherever you live, whatever smidgen of sanity you enjoy today, savor it, bottle it up and hide it under your bed because before you know it, Tebowmania II is gonna’ hit the fan. And when it does, it’s gonna’ be everywhere.

It’s building offshore but when Hurricane Tim makes landfall later this summer, his image will be splattered all over the consumer landscape like a Jackson Pollock painting.

The ionosphere will be so saturated with Tim-ness it wouldn’t be crazy for ESPN to craft a separate channel to accommodate the mass of minutia generated by Mr. Sunshine’s NYC experience. Call-letters: ESPNTT; permanent host: Skip Bayless; occasional antagonist: Stephen ‘Don’t forget the A.’ Smith. Best ratings on the tube after American Pickers. I used to be an Antiques Roadshow man until some chucklehead added sound effects.

Tebow’s narrative is just one puzzler that looms large over NFL America this summer.

There are, of course, some givens for NFL 2012:

Patriots & Packers will again toy with the rest the League. Brady & Rodgers, Belichick & McCarthy: money in the bank. I’d include Big Ben in that bunch but with the beating he takes every year in Pittsburgh it’s a minor miracle if he makes it to the PS in one piece.

When fans realize draft dandies Luck & Griffin can’t walk on water, both will be given sanctuary by the fact Colts, and to a lesser degree Redskins, are major reclamation-projects.

Half-measures get you the Chicago Bears. After landing prize catch Cutler they got stingy (WR). Talent at key some positions (Cutler / Forte / Urlacher / Briggs), Chicago’s still no match for hot rivals (Vikes (’09) / GB (‘10-11)), making ‘07 SB visit / loss look like an aberration. Collapse vs Denver in 2011 was low point. Soldier Field fans deserve better, but settle for 9-7.

Then there are the perfect teams, as in, all-must-go-perfectly-or-bust: Cowboys (Romo), Eagles (Vick), Ravens (Flacco), Falcons (Ryan), Chargers (Rivers). See 2013 NFL Draft.

And if the Giants could ever defend a title like they take one, fans & media might start taking Tom & Eli into their hearts. Then again, it is the greater NYC press. Maybe no.

Here then are the biggest brain-teasers to ponder on the porch-swing before NFL 2012 lifts-off this September (9/5):

1) What flavor of quarterbacking will Cam Newton and Carolina select;
2) How will the Saints tumultuous off-season play on their 2012 performance;
3) How much life is left in Peyton Manning’s multi-million-dollar arm;
4) Was the NFC in 2011 that bad or were Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers that good; and
5) What does Rex Ryan have up his sleeve on the Tim Tebow experiment?

Flash Cam

No first-year QB has ever made as big a splash as did Carolina Panthers’ Cam Newton in 2011. His unexpectedly advanced passing skills were matched only by his record-setting mobility (14 rush TD). Whether he chooses to develop into the first great, black pocket-passer since Doug Williams or follow the run-rabbit-run routine of Vick and Tebow may be the most intriguing storyline of 2012. It should be a no-brainer. Doug was superb.

The Saints

“(T)he truth will set you free.” It’s a Bible verse. It’s about as popular today as ‘Love thy neighbor.’ Not very. Like Roger, Lance, Barry, Ryan and James Harrison, Jon Vilma, Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints have hunkered down into a mental-bunker of denial, opting for the ‘us-against-the-world’ tact in dealing with exposure of their well-documented bounty program. The general player population has stayed out of the fray but I suspect feelings are mixed. Saints are still players in this League and likely will make the PS but the cathartic-effect of coming-clean might’ve made them great again. I’ll cry tomorrow.

Wing and a Prayer

Not a gambler per se, John Elway must have a soft-spot for QBs headed to Canton. The rumor mill aside, Manning and his handlers in Denver (and Indy) have kept the wraps on his suspect wing & neck down tight. Regardless of Broncos pedestrian pool-of-talent in receiver-corps, Peyton elevates everyone around him and, if healthy, takes them back to PS. The contract terms owner Bowlen and PM put in place per chance worst is realized (tired arm) could be curious.

Real Deal 49ers?

The team Belichick didn’t want to face in SB46. Careful what you wish. Jim Harbaugh is the off-kilter coach who’s fast becoming the next Jerry Glanville: wins games and enemies. JH brought defense back to the NFL and it’s a good thing, given how he didn’t know a lick about offense (Michigan / Bears). Rex Ryan was suppose to be this guy.

Tabernacle Tim

Answering the Tebow question isn’t paramount in NFL 2012 but it may feel that way, given the hullabaloo it generates. In rare circumstance, duel-QBs can work wonders (Waterfield / Van Brocklin).  This ain't that.  Ryan's been around the game a long time, winning a ring in 2000 (Ravens), and shouldn't be so silly as to turn his QB position into a game of musical chairs. Jets’ brass know they already have a talented, successful (4-2 PS), albeit, sometimes erratic, still maturing signal-caller in Mark Sanchez.

TT’s not in NYC to upset the apple cart. He was brought in to do what he does best: motivate. It’s his calling and he’s good at it. Tim’s mission is to light a fire under Sanchez and, as such, will get some snaps and the # 1 slot if Mark unexpectedly folds. But if Rex & Tony don’t jump-start the Jets run-game and shore-up the defense, Tim’s role is moot.

While this all weighs on Mark’s mind, Jets are wise to return Tim to his original HS spot: tight-end. God knows he likes the contact, has the speed, the hands and a nose for the end-zone. If HOF, Heisman-holding Notre Dame quarterback Paul Hornung can embrace the theory of evolution (QB to HB), so too can Misters Ryan and Tebow.

Steven Keys
Posted on: April 26, 2012 2:22 pm
Edited on: April 30, 2012 3:15 pm
 

Goodell Looking Presidential

It’s a job that should come with a warning: “Careful what you wish for, you just might get it.”

The hours are long, there’s nearly no off-season, travel-time is taxing, fan-mail is sparse and the endless speeches, interviews & negotiations vacillate between dreary routine and stress-city.

But there is an upside.

The pay is sweet, prestige is high, there’s job security (if you keep owners happy), great seats anytime you want ’em and someone’s always around to carry your bags (pre-10PM).

The post is NFL Commissioner.

And nobody in the history of professional American football has been more skilled, more effective at doing the Commissioner thing than its current title-holder, Roger Goodell.

Pete Rozelle was a giant (1960-89). In facilitating the NFL / AFL merger (‘67), conceiving the Super Bowl and brokering the first big network, merchandising & labor contracts, Pete will always remain the League’s most significant Commissioner in its long history.

While Goodell faces many of the same challenges of his predecessors, he’s also faced with a slew of issues Rozelle couldn’t have even fathomed 30 years ago.

Bounties have been around for years, so the players claim. Believable enough. But the organizational guidance New Orleans gave its elaborate and sinister program had never before been uncovered nor contemplated by League admonishers.

Whenever money’s riding on the outcome or score of a sporting contest the risk of game-fixing exists. Though wagering on competitions goes back centuries, the explosion of fantasy prognosticating on individual player performance has created a whole new beast.

Alcohol has always been an issue in the pros, but it was in Rozelle’s day that illicit drug use burst onto the scene. Marijuana, speed & cocaine were the preferred poisons, ruining more than a few careers. Today it’s PEDs that taint the field. It’s the one test RG’s failed by letting DeMaurice Smith and the NFLPA call the dance tune and avoid blood-testing.

There’s one vexing issue Roger’s been spared that gave his predecessors fits: competition. No more troublesome, rival football fraternities fighting to feed at the money trough (AAFC / AFL / WFL / USFL). The Courts & Congress have played ball in validating the NFL monopoly and the good times just keep rollin’ along!

Every issue that crosses Goodell’s desk seems to get the full treatment: public & press are kept informed, player input is sought and when a League decision is reached, it’s clear, appears decisive and is announced in a timely, prudent fashion.

Roger’s got a skill-set, a style you’d hope to find in every corporate Suit and elected official, from school board member to President of the United States. He’s an intrepid decision-maker reminiscent of Presidents past, Teddy, FDR and Harry Truman.

Our current leader gets high marks for decisiveness on matters of national security (bin Laden) and foreign policy (Libya). That should get Mr. Obama a 2nd term, despite a tendency towards wind-gauging on the home-front.  But his challenger Mr. Romney has proven an even bigger tweaker than he, excepting on high-end tax cuts, of course.

It’s no secret Presidents today work chiefly for America’s elite, regardless of party. Not much choice, given the Court’s broad interpretation of speech (donations) and the big war-chest required for a White House win ($1B+). Even so, the savvy leader knows when to throw voters (fans) a bone, something to chew on to make us feel we’re being heard.

Whether it was last year’s CBA, the on-going Saints saga or his recent Papal-like mission to Minnesota to bring the flock back into the fold with words of hope AND warning, Roger takes bold action and throws fans something to chew on. And in the end, after the griping is done and all the dust has settled, most parties are satisfied.

In contrast, his peers (Stern / Bettman / Selig) will often take half-measures, playing it safe by trying to please / appease all factions, accomplish little and please no one.

if Metta (Artest) had behaved as badly in the NFL as he did recently on the NBA court, League response would’ve been swifter & stronger (given the video) than Mr. Stern’s measured, 3-day think-a-thon before issuing the modest 7-game suspension.

Roger wouldn’t get my hypothetical vote for President just yet.

First rule of business: NFL’s gotta’ stop tinkering with the Rule book. Though it’s well-intentioned, too frequent changes (Nike college) weaken fan trust, creates confusion and threatens traditional, foundational aspects of the game that even younger fans appreciate.

Second, institute pricing relief. The NFL & affiliates have been on the gravy-train for decades. It’s time to give something back to fandom by rolling-back stadium prices and cutting-back excessive, momentum-killing TV commercials and late-hour games.

Thirdly, do some LBJ arm-twisting, get on your bully-pulpit and persuade players to finally submit to HGH blood tests. It’s about integrity, safety and sending a message to America’s youth. Besides, player refusal is weak and without merit.

Accomplish these, Roger, and voters just might draft you for the White House in 2016.

Steven Keys
Posted on: April 20, 2012 10:42 pm
 

Vanity, Thy Name is Tebow

You wouldn’t think it from his demeanor: calm, unassuming, upbeat, always the perfect gentleman and always quick to spread credit for team success.

By media standards he’s a pleasant encounter.

To most gridiron gurus he’s a coach’s dream, provided the team’s starting QB is on terra firma and the club’s in need of a tight-end with a good pair of hands.

This is the Tim Tebow we all know. The home-schooled, prep football vagabond whose on-field exploits at the University of Florida made him a Southern fold hero.

That’s the good book on Tim.

But there’s another book on Mr. Sunshine. Not an exposé mind you, the kind Mr. Woods keeps suffering through as others cash-in on their association with the former golf great.

Rather, it’s a figurative book on his darker side and those vexing character traits you won’t normally perceive in someone as Tim but which we all possess to one degree or another: personas like vanity, banality, credulity, selfishness, insecurity and insincerity.

Recent reports lead me to believe this son of a preacher man craves attention on par with the likes of Mark Cuban, Terrell Owens, Danica Patrick and “Neon” Deion Sanders. One difference: those four knew where to land their egos. Tim, well, he picked a real doozy of a destination touching down in Jetsland, The Young & the Restless of the NFL.

Opting for the bright lights of Broadway and passing on an invite from hometown Jacksonville (Jaguars) was clear indication of Tim’s alter ego. Jags’ owner Shahid Khan and fans must still be perplexed, dumbfounded by the rebuff.

With the Broncos contented (Peyton) and the Jags ready to deal (“Khan“ / SI-FN / 3-27), I see no good reason why Denver brass would deny the man who brought Tebowmania to Mile High a chance to “weigh-in” on like-trade options (ESPN ticker / 3-21). As such, I give no weight whatsoever to Tebow’s implication that he had no involvement in the decision (“Tebow” / Strauss / Fox / 3-23), thus making him appear like so many other self-promoters.

Not that there aren’t plenty of reasons to reside in the Big Apple. New York City is a grand metropolis in many respects. Whether Tim has the inclination to partake in its myriad of enlightening and intoxicating diversions remains to be seen. Suffice to say, there’s no better place to sell yourself and your line than the media mecca of the world.

And there in lay Tim’s two-pronged mission in New York: selling the faith from the second biggest pulpit in America and selling thyself for the biggest payday possible.

It’s true that Tebow would get full exposure if he commuted to work from Nome, Alaska. ESPN interns dig the dude more than Tiger and LeBron combined. But there’s something about living, working in NYC that energizes the coverage. He’s their guy, you might say.

“Hoy-day! What a sweep of vanity comes this way (Shakes-speare / Edward de Vere)!”

I don’t begrudge anyone the freedom to pitch himself or his religion. Both endeavors are as American as apple pie and late Friday rallies on Wall Street. Old-time ball-player turned evangelist Billy Sunday comes to mind (Cubs / 1880s).

But if I’m a follower of New York Jets’ football, I’m not a happy camper.

Tebow isn’t in NYC to play football. Sport is just a vehicle for his agenda: “My goal is to create a brighter day for as many people as I possibly can by being on this earth” (ABC / 4-13).” If he were focused on the game he wouldn’t be getting detail-work in Hollywood (curing / 4-6 / ESPN) and pass up a chance to help put Jacksonville on the NFL map.

As for Jets’ agenda: “It’s a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma” (Churchill).

Ryan’s lost cachet with players, new OC Sparano brings a failed gimmick (wildcat) and owner Woody Johnson appears detached: “I’m very confident Mark can develop into a winning quarterback” (“Johnson” / N. Gay / Fox / 3-25). Where’s he been the past three years? Sanchez is 4-2 in the PS. That’s more playoff wins than Romo, Ryan & Rivers combined.

I’ll say this for Jetsland, the circus atmosphere looks downright harmonious compared to the cry-babies in Beantown (Red Sox Nation v Bobby). Oh my god! Just roll with it, Youk. “Whatever happened to Gary Cooper, that’s what I’d like to know (T. Soprano)!?”

And even if Timbo is a divo in disguise, he still might give the Jets a spark they need, wherever he’s positioned. Key is whether Rex & staff can get the roster to embrace, or at least shake hands with, Tim’s biggest asset: his sometimes infectious exuberance.

In spring, football musings are all high speculation. As that NYC philosopher Herm Edwards would say, “That’s why…you play…the game.”

Steven Keys
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com