$.01—As is becoming customary, the biggest news in the NFL doesn’t have anything to do with the on-field product. Technically this one does as Ezekiel Elliott is now able to take the field for the Dallas Cowboys, but the bigger story is why the star running back was allowed to play.
Elliott was supposed to be suspended for the first six games for allegations of domestic violence. Even though Elliott has denied the claims of his ex-girlfriend and he was never charged by police, the NFL found what it believed was sufficient evidence to the contrary. The six-game banishment was immediately—and correctly—decried as unduly excessive. That it happened with such a prominent young star on the league’s most visible team only exacerbated this perception.
Elliott lawyered up, and the courts sided with him. A judge in suburban Dallas granted a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction throwing out the league-imposed suspension. From judge Mazzant’s public briefing comes this damning quote,
"The question before the Court is merely whether Elliott received a fundamentally fair hearing before the arbitrator. The answer is he did not.”
The arbitrator in question here is NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. It’s important to note the NFLPA (the player’s union) agreed to allow Goodell to be the arbitrator. Goodell’s ponderous and seemingly arbitrary administration of punishment wound up being his own undoing. One year after suspending Giants kicker Josh Brown just one game for being convicted in court of beating the snot out of his wife, and not for the first time either, Goodell dropping the six-game hammer on Elliott for less evidence came across as some combination of clueless, random, racist and tone deaf.
There are many lessons here for all different parties. For players, including Elliott himself, STOP HITTING WOMEN. Don’t even get into the position where you could be mistakenly construed as hitting a woman. For Goodell, recuse yourself from being the final judge and jury of your own kangaroo court. It’s fine to make the final decision, but you then can’t also be the person who decides whether your own decision stands. For the NFLPA, stop giving away everything you should care about for an extra quarter-percent of the revenue during the next CBA.
$.02— Elliott played for the Cowboys in the Sunday night primetime affair against the New York Giants. Unfortunately the game didn’t live up to the lofty billing. New York’s motley blend of terrible offensive tackle play, predictable play calls and no real rushing threat drove away any real competitiveness to the game. Without the injured Odell Beckham, New York had nothing. They didn’t cross their own 35 yard line in the first half, netting just 49 yards.
The first play of the second half saw Eli Manning getting sacked, too. The Cowboys defense got pressure reliably on most pass plays, and just for good measure brought extra at times too. The Giants did manage a field goal drive and worked up some jazzier plays, but it was not pretty. Ereck Flowers at left tackle gives them no chance to succeed with any sort of consistency. Brandon Marshall did nothing, almost quite literally; the big target looked plodding and not all that interested in running strong routes. Manning seldom looked his way, a real surprise with Beckham out.
Perhaps seeing New York’s abysmal tackle play was exacerbated by comparing them to their Dallas counterparts. Tyron Smith was powerful and technically almost perfect all night on the left side. He helped Elliott run for 104 yards on 24 carries. Dak Prescott looked sharp, spreading the ball around to several receivers with impressive accuracy and confidence. He was aided by Cole Beasley making one of the best catches you’ll see all year, trapping the ball to his nameplate on the back of his shoulders. The Cowboys were more methodical than explosive, but that was exactly what the doctor ordered in the 19-3 win.
Dallas can keep winning by doing their thing. The Giants cannot win unless they find something new to do, particularly at left tackle. Even though they lack depth, nothing can be worse than Flowers at this point. Getting Beckham back is an imperative too. It’s hard to see New York getting much better without their star wide receiver.
$.03—Aaron Donald is one of the best, most impactful defensive players in the league. Donald plays in one of the biggest media markets for the Los Angeles Rams. He’s the darling of the analytical set, perennially topping the Pro Football Focus and B/R 1000 ratings.
Donald didn’t play in the Rams’ opener, but you probably didn’t hear a lot about it unless you watched the game. That in and of itself is bizarre. Here is a fantastic All-Pro talent, one of the best young players in the game, and he’s staging a contract holdout even though he’s got two more years on his rookie deal. Yet his bitter holdout gets almost no national attention despite the fact he plays, or would play, his home games just down the road from NFL Network headquarters.
The Rams didn’t need Donald, not against the Luck-less Colts. Los Angeles annihilated their visitors from Indianapolis 46-9. With Scott Tolzein replacing Andrew Luck at quarterback, the Colts managed just 10 first downs. They did not convert a single third down. Tolzein threw 2 INTs and was sacked 4 times as the Colts ran just 46 offensive plays. Tyrunn Walker, Donald’s unofficial fill-in, bagged one of those sacks for a Rams team which faced little resistance from Indy’s defense, either.
It's difficult to gauge how to interpret the Rams offensive outpouring. These Colts might be the worst overall roster in the league with Luck and center Ryan Kelly out, but their defense did add some promising pieces in the offseason. They did nothing to slow down Jared Goff, who completed 21 of 29. He was seldom pressured. Newcomers Sammy Watkins and Cooper Kupp both posted impressive lines, too. It’s a great start for Sean McVay, LA’s 31-year-old prodigy of a rookie head coach and a shock for Rams fans who had gotten used to predictable disappointment under Jeff Fisher. The Rams will obviously need Donald back if they hope to make a surprise playoff run. What’s nice for Los Angeles is they showed they can dominate an inferior opponent without him. That’s not something Rams fans ever saw in the persistently, prolonged era of mediocrity (at best) under Jeff Fisher.
$.04—Hands down the best story in the NFL year so far is J.J. Watt and his heroic efforts to help the Houston area recover from the devastating floods caused by Hurricane Harvey. Watt’s fund, created from a Dallas hotel room when the Texans couldn’t get home from their preseason game in New Orleans, is now over $30 million and counting. The All-Pro defensive end also led 56 Texans players to distribute truckloads of aid to hard-hit storm victims. He was inspiring enough that a player the Texans cut while it was happening, RB Akeem Hunt, kept with Watt for the rest of the day. As a former Houstonian whose old neighborhood in Friendswood suffered flooding and who knows many people who lost a lot, I cannot begin to tell you how much Watt’s actions and selfless leadership in a time of crisis are appreciated.
Unfortunately for Watt and the Texans, the goodwill did not carry onto the field. Jacksonville destroyed the Texans 29-7 in a game where the score makes the game look closer than it really was. The Jaguars racked up 10 sacks, forcing Tom Savage out of the game and burying rookie Deshaun Watson for good measure too. No matter what Houston tried, the offensive line couldn’t do it.
It’s a devastating blow for Houston, which lost four regulars to concussions, including both tight ends who play. The Texans get little time to lick their wounds with a Thursday night game against the Bengals coming quickly. They enter the short week with major issues on the offensive line, quarterback, tight end and receiver. Watt himself had a bone in his finger break through the skin, something he shook off a just a pesky flesh wound.
Jacksonville sprints into sole possession of first place in the AFC South. They suffered a bad injury with Allen Robinson leaving with a knee, but beyond that this was the best possible start for Doug Marrone at the helm. The defense was aggressive but also disciplined. Newcomer Calais Campbell notched four sacks in his debut in a 4-man front. Yannick Ngakoue bagged two and forced as many fumbles, one of which Dante Fowler took to the house. The Jaguars didn’t need Blake Bortles to do anything, and even the embattled QB obliged. The divisional road win to kick off the season is a huge step in the right direction for a franchise which has so miserably failed to play to its talent level in recent seasons.
$.05—Myles Garrett was supposed to make his NFL debut for the Cleveland Browns in their opener against Pittsburgh, but as is often the case with Cleveland, things didn’t go as planned. The No. 1 overall pick in April’s draft suffered a high ankle sprain in Wednesday’s practice and will be out anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks.
Garrett looked quite impressive in preseason, and his ceiling remains sky high. Still, it’s hard to not feel as if some sort of snake keeps biting the Browns. Last year’s first-round pick, wideout Corey Coleman, missed half his rookie year with a hand injury. The 2015 first-round pick, defensive tackle Danny Shelton, also missed the Pittsburgh game with a knee injury suffered a couple of weeks ago. Cleveland really doesn’t want to talk about any of the recent first-round picks from before them, none of whom are anywhere to be seen anywhere in the league anymore.
Garrett’s fellow rookies in Cleveland played pretty well, though the Browns came up short in a 21-18 home loss to Pittsburgh. DeShone Kizer proved Browns coach Hue Jackson was smart to name him the starter but still looked very much like a rookie. Most of Pittsburgh’s 7 sacks came as a result of Kizer holding the ball too long, and he missed a couple of throws to open targets down the field. The Browns defense looked outstanding, bottling up Le’Veon Bell and did it in a way that was no fluke. It took Antonio Brown carrying the Steelers offense on his back, catching all 11 of his targets and being the one weapon the Browns speedy defense couldn’t handle. Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Todd Haley was at his best in the red zone, and it was just enough to secure the road win.
Pittsburgh did commit several dumb penalties, and one could cost them. Ryan Shazier dove head-first into Kizer after the QB began his slide. He’ll certainly get fined, and there is a chance for a suspension. It was a blatant cheap shot made all the dumber by leading with the crown of his helmet, something the NFL is trying very hard to eradicate. We’ll see if Shazier is used as an example here.
$.06—The season officially kicked off Thursday night in New England. After Mark Wahlberg whipped Bostonians into a frenzy, the Patriots came out smoking against the Kansas City Chiefs. Even though Tom Brady missed his first pass to a wide-open Dwayne Allen, the Patriots quickly scored a touchdown. Chiefs rookie RB Kareem Hunt fumbled away his very first NFL carry, and it sure looked like the rout was on.
A funny thing happened on the way to the New England coronation. The Chiefs kicked their ass, plain and simple. Hunt atoned for his initial gaffe and posted the highest yards from scrimmage total (239) for a player in his first game in NFL history. New England had no pass rush. Their safeties were consistently a step late or slow all night. When Donta Hightower left with an injury, the Patriots had absolutely no answer. The Chiefs put up 42 points. It wasn’t just the Patriots defense which was outclassed by Kansas City, however.
That first pass that Brady missed was a harbinger, not an outlier. Tom was not so terrific. His trademark accuracy and timing were off to the tune of 16-for-36 while being sacked 3 times. The Chiefs rush impacted several of those incompletions, too. It was odd to see Brady struggle so much.
Alex Smith had no such problems. He uncorked some deep throws which caught even his biggest supporters by surprise. The speed of the Kansas City offense is going to be tough for anyone to handle, and when Smith is dialed in and has time to pick apart the defense, he will pick it to the bone. With Hunt appearing to be a legit impact talent, this KC offense is no longer to be taken lightly. I picked Hunt as my offensive rookie of the year before the game and couldn’t be happier for the Toledo product, one of “my guys” in the last draft process. You’d better believe I’m going to celebrate prematurely on this one…
--Green Bay beat Seattle 17-9 in a game I’m still trying to decide whether it was a defensive battle or offensive struggle. Seattle’s offensive line certainly fits the latter. That might be the worst positional group on any team in the league. The Packers defense did look really good too, notably Mike Daniels up front. As is customary when these two teams get together, the officiating was a big part of the story. A questionable ejection on Seattle’s Jeremy Lane when he retaliated for being facemasked on an interception return was the tip of another big iceberg of ponderous officiating.
--You’ll never guess which team has the best record in openers over the last 7 years. That would be the Detroit Lions, who won for the sixth time in their last 7 Week 1 games. After a shaky start – Matthew Stafford’s first pass was run back 80-something yards for a pick-six – the Lions methodically eviscerated the visiting Cardinals 35-23. Detroit dominated the action over the final three quarters, though some of that had to do with Carson Palmer looking every second of his 37 years old. Matthew Stafford threw 4 TDs including an absolute gem to impressive rookie Kenny Golladay. Hotel Motel Golladay Inn made a leaping catch behind Patrick Peterson for his second TD of the game. The increased aggression of the Lions defense with the ball in the air is a very welcome development.
--Sebastian Janikowski is no longer the Raiders kicker. The 1999 first-round pick went on IR and his career with the team could be over. Replacing him is Giorgio Tavecchio, a former Cal kicker from Italy. It’s a sign of perseverance from Tavecchio, who lost out to Nate Freese in Detroit in 2014 despite being clearly better in practices. He’s been out of the league since but stayed in tune long enough to land with the Raiders. The new guy played well, too. Tavecchio nailed all four of his FG attempts, including a pair from 52 yards. Oakland won 26-16 over Tennessee in a game I still have yet to even see a highlight of on the highlight shows.
--Chicago gave defending NFC champ Atlanta a game, fighting hard before falling 23-17 at Soldier Field. The Bears defense did a fine job other than one blown coverage by new safety Quintin Demps which led to an Austin Hooper 88-yard TD catch and run. Unfortunately for Chicago the injury bug showed its virulence persists at wide receiver. Kevin White, the team’s first-round pick in 2015, broke his collarbone and will require season-ending surgery. That’s the third year in a row White is lost to different injuries. He has 16 career catches as the No. 7 overall pick three years ago.
--Baltimore blanked Cincinnati 20-0 despite Joe Flacco completing just 9 passes. Andy Dalton threw 4 more to Baltimore players, which isn’t good for the Cincinnati quarterback. The Bengals OL, like Houston, Seattle and the Giants, is a major problem for an otherwise good team. Letting Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler both leave in the same offseason was a wretched decision by the Bengals.
--The top two picks in your fantasy league were probably David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell. I picked Johnson No. 1 overall in my league. The two combined for 55 yards on 21 carries. Johnson’s longest carry went 6 yards. Bell had a 15-yarder but managed just 2 yards per carry on his other 9 efforts. Not a good start for those who picked at the top.
I decided to change up the order a bit here and make the eighth cent every week a collection of my favorite football tweets of the week. Most of them will be pretty self-evident why they are included. Like this first one…
There is some debate on Lamar Jackson and if he’s a viable quarterback prospect. If you watch him make plays like that, and he does that pretty regularly, and you don’t think he’s a quarterback, you’re not looking for the right things in your quarterback.
Put this tweet right after the Lamar Jackson play above for a reason. QB thirst is real, folks…
When we talk about a draft being a “bad draft”, this is what we mean as much as anything at the top. That’s a whole lot of misses on players teams desperately need to have on the roster at their inexpensive price tags.
It didn’t work out so well for Eifert and the Bengals, but anytime someone wants to honor Pat Tillman it will appear here. Tillman is a personal hero. Thank you, Tyler Eifert.
Joe Thomas might be the best Twitter follow in the NFL. Here he captured some of the pregame prep by the stadium security crew. If only the “streaker” would have been in his skivvies…
--For the second week in a row the Ohio State pass defense struggled. The Buckeyes were able to overcome against Indiana, but Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma proved way too much to handle. Mayfield eviscerated Ohio State in the second half, throwing three TDs and looking very much like a Jeff Garcia clone. He also had the chutzpah to plant a giant Oklahoma flag in the middle of the “O” in the Horseshoe after the game. On the other sideline, Urban Meyer has to consider benching ineffective J.T. Barrett, who has no sense of timing or discernible accuracy in hitting moving targets.
--Georgia knocked off Notre Dame in South Bend. It was an entertaining game but nothing close to the fun that came with Brian Kelly’s press conference. Never an easy or gracious figure with the media, the Notre Dame coach was at his blustery, vapid, hostile worst. Kelly’s seat is scorching. He went all-in on his own coaching reputation and lost at home to a Bulldogs team missing its starting QB. His act is wearing very thin, perhaps thinner than the ice beneath his feet.
--If Kelly is skating on thin ice, Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M is handcuffed to a cinder block at the bottom of a diving pool. The Aggies barely beat Nicholls State as they continue to underperform relative to talent level. The game between Sumlin’s Aggies and Bret Bielema’s disappointing Arkansas Razorbacks (lifeless in a 28-7 loss to TCU) in two weeks is quickly shaping up as a loser-gets-fired game.
--Major props to Eastern Michigan. The Eagles won at Rutgers 16-13 for the first win in school history over a Big Ten opponent. Last year was EMU’s first winning season since 1995 and just the second since Ronald Reagan was president. Quarterback Brogan Roback is a good one, and their defense has both speed and toughness at all levels. Coach Chris Creighton has been a godsend in Ypsilanti.
--One player I watched intently with scouting eyes was Sam Darnold, the highly-touted USC QB. He faced Stanford, a reliably tough defense. What stood out with Darnold is that the arm strength is not more than average, and he gets into trouble when he has to put extra mustard on the throw. He needs some mechanical work in syncing up his lower body and positioning his feet properly for weight transfer. He loses zip and some accuracy as a result. Deshaun Watson had the same problem. What also stood out for Darnold is that he sees the field at an advanced level and is fantastic at resetting from initial pressure and delivering a strike. His downfield throws have improved despite the lack of a big arm, and his pocket movement skills have also up-ticked. I still really like his game but can see why the critics are starting to control the argument, too.
$.10—Most of you will read this on Sept. 11. 9-11. It’s been 16 years.
I’ve written in the past about my personal experience. This time I’m writing about my experience as a concerned American citizen.
I remember how great it was when our country came together after 9/11. There was such a consensus feeling of unity, of shared concern, of empathy and compassion for our neighbors, our co-workers, even our own enemies. Being an American meant more than being liberal or conservative, black or white, rich or poor. Those were some incredibly divisive political times, too.
We as Americans have completely lost that spirit of being American. We fight about everything and accomplish nothing but creating more division and enmity towards those different from ourselves. Every group of every political persuasion, pigmentation and religious order is guilty. It’s hard to imagine any tragedy great enough to resurrect that spirit after 9/11.
I’m heartened when I see glimpses of it. What has gone on in Houston after Harvey moves me deeply. Folks don’t care who helps them, they care that someone did. I suspect we’ll see a lot of that in Florida after Irma clears. Yet even those selfless, kind acts fall victim to the endless need for the media on both sides to force their own partisan agendas into the mix.
The left will trumpet about the scare of global warming, or try to slide in broader tax pet projects into relief bills. The right will demand concessions which fit their political whims in equal voracity. Both sides will complain about the costs, but neither side will do anything because it might disrupt a small portion of their bases.
I’m asking you, friends and readers of all political persuasions and personal proclivities, to remember what it’s like to value the greater good. Think back to how resolutely our country came together after 9/11. Our national response of unity and resolve to help everyone recover, be it economically or physically or emotionally, is the antithesis of what the terrorists were trying to accomplish. Their goal was to create chaos and open the wedge, to rattle America’s confidence in its own institutions. It did the opposite, bringing us together greater than any other event in my 45 years in this nation.
Instead, we are doing their work for them by constantly one-upping the stupidity quotient, of increasing our volume and shutting our eyes to anyone who dare think something different. It’s alright to disagree, to have divergent viewpoints on anything from what deity to pray to or if a hot dog is a sandwich. It’s healthy to have debate and discussion. It’s not alright to turn all of those principled disagreements into personal attacks and political statements. Now that’s the new “if it bleeds it leads”, except we no longer allow the bleeding to stop before the patient dies.
The events of 9/11 and the months thereafter taught us why our nation is so great. Remember that on 9/11, and try to remember it on 9/12 and beyond too.