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Good news for Tom Brady and the Patriots

This week on the podcast, Stephen White and I covered a lot of ground, from J.J. Watt’s injury to the AWFUL Jaguars, Jalen Ramsey’s big mouth, and a good discussion about race in America and football with our guest, Tyler Tynes.

But there was still a lot of stuff we didn’t get to cover in a mere hour or so of talking. Thanks to the unlimited availability of the internet, we can cover some more pressing football topics with our weekly written conversation piece.

Enjoy!

Ryan Van Bibber: So, I’m sitting here thinking about Week 4 and the rest of the season ahead, and I honestly don’t know if the Patriots or Vikings will ever lose again. It sure doesn’t seem like it. I mean, you lose all those players and still win games … only thing that can stop you is yourself, and neither Mike Zimmer or Bill Belichick are the kind of dudes that beat themselves.

The coaching performance of last week has to go to Belichick. I mean, that was Jacoby Brissett he won the game with, a third string rookie QB. Granted, it wasn’t like they asked him to throw the ball 50 times or anything crazy, but I was impressed with how they planned for him and had a game that played off his strengths. I’m not really used to seeing the Patriots run a read option.

Of course, Twitter going crazy with the whole “Tom Brady is a system QB” thing had to be my favorite part of it all.

Buuuuuut, it does beg the question, what happens if Brady comes back next week and doesn’t play well or even if he plays fine but doesn’t live up to the expectations? Obviously, he’s a two-time MVP and three-time Super Bowl MVP, so he probably deserves the benefit of the doubt, but it’s even harder now than it was for people to separate his play over the years from just what a juggernaut the Patriots have been in every other facet of the game.

Stephen White: Well the good news for Brady is that his first game back will be against the hapless Browns, so I don’t imagine he will have much trouble torching their defense. After that, however, the Patriots play the Bengals, Steelers, and Bills before the bye and then the Seahawks are up after that. Those are are good to really good defenses and considering the fact that Brady didn’t have the same amount of preparation in the preseason as he is used to because the team had to get Garoppolo ready and also the fact that he hasn’t been able to throw in a team setting for a month, there is that chance that it takes him awhile to get the timing with his receivers down again. Because we live in an era where people tend to have very short attention spans and even shorter memories, I can see a scenario where if New England were to lose one of those games and Brady didn’t play well that someone would fire off that hot “taek” that it is time for the Patriots to move on. However, unless Brady falls completely on his face, I don’t think that would or should happen any time soon.

While I do tip my hat to the Patriots coaching staff to getting both Garoppolo and Brissett coached up well enough to go out there and play better than most of us thought they would, I would also say that neither guy was running the offense the way that Brady would. That’s not a knock per se, but we just have to be honest in that acknowledging that New England put both guys in the best position for them to do well without asking them to do much more than that. I give all credit to them for taking that approach, but sooner or later against better defenses it would likely come back to haunt them.

Both guys have also been dinged up now in limited playing time. Garoppolo still has the shoulder injury that kept him out of the win over the Texans and while he’s starting this week, there are no guarantees he’ll make it through the whole game. Brissett has the thumb injury, but he has been practicing this week as well. I’d guess that an injury to the thumb on your throwing hand could be problematic for a quarterback, however.

One of the most important abilities for players is availability, and when you think about the fact that, prior to this suspension, Brady hadn’t missed a regular season start since 2008, that is yet another reason to pump the brakes on trying to hurry him out of the door.

In all reality I expect this to all be a moot point after Brady comes back anyway, because with the talent he has around him this season I don’t think he will struggle at all. Rob Gronkowski just came back last week. He only played limited snaps, but if he can continue to ramp up his reps week by week then by the time the Patriots are playing the Bengals, he should be somewhere as close to 100% as Gronk is going to be this year. With Gronk and Martellus Bennett on the field at the same time, Brady is going to have a field day slicing and dicing opposing defenses. I just keep thinking back to the last time folks were calling for Brady to maybe get benched after that awful performance against the Chiefs and I think we all remember how that story ended.

A silver lining in Cleveland

SW: Now as for the coach of the week honors, I would give honorable mention to an unlikely guy this week as well. I know the Browns lost again and I know that they didn’t have a particularly good showing in the overtime period, but I have to say I thought Hue Jackson coached his ass off for most of that game. He was down to his third string quarterback in the rookie Cody Kessler and his offense wasn’t exactly popping with the former first- and second-string guys under center so there was no reason at all to believe that the Browns would be able to hang with the Dolphins.

 

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Miami Dolphins

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

And yet, the ever flexible Hue Jackson decided to shake things up instead of conceding defeat and ended up lining Terrelle Pryor up all over the place, including at quarterback at times, and just about got his team a win. The truth of the matter is if Cleveland hadn’t been cheap on bringing in a new kicker to replace the guy that got hurt during last week’s practice, everyone would probably have been marveling over Jackson’s bold game plan this week rather than lamenting the Browns’ overtime offensive performance.

What did you think about the Browns’ performance against Miami, and after watching that game do you agree with those who say they may end up being the second team in league history to go 0-16?

RVB: Yeah, it’s kind of amazing how a coach can do what Hue did last week and gets overlooked because they didn’t win. But that was a pretty inspired outing from the Browns all around. Even the defense played a little better than I thought they had. Maybe the offense was just carrying more than a little of its fair share too.

Pryor’s something else. I know you had him as one of your breakout players this year, so we shouldn’t be completely surprised, but that was more than I ever imagined them doing. It shouldn’t have been. As the announcers reminded us MULTIPLE times during that game, Pryor did used to play quarterback a little school somewhere in the middle of Ohio. They didn’t overdo it with him at quarterback, and that was fine. They put in there just enough to keep the Dolphins defense confused. It worked too.

I was surprised they were so much more conservative with Pryor at the end of that game, in overtime. Jackson had Cody Kessler ready to play, but it was kind of the classic “ease him in with a bunch of short, high-rate passes.” Cleveland doesn’t have much to work with on its roster and they really don’t have much to lose beyond draft position (but they do have two first-round picks!), so why not shake it up on that drive in overtime?

Is anyone going 0-16 this year?

RVB: The Bears look real bad. If I had to bet on one team to go 0-16 this year, it’d probably be them. The most surprising winless team, to me, is really New Orleans. I never had them figured for a playoff team or anything like that, but you’d think that at the very least with Drew Brees back and healthy and enough talent on offense they’d be good for at least a few wins just because they could always bust out 40 points or so.

I guess that’s what happens when the guy who signs the check is fighting with his kids over the trust fund. They’ve had a total of 14 sacks and three interceptions from their draft picks since 2013. I know that number doesn’t tell the whole story, but it does illustrate why that defense is some World League bullshit.

You think there’s any hope for either the Bears or Saints this year? Next year?

SW: Let me say this, it’s actually really hard to go 0-16. The Bucs a couple of years ago lost their OC to a heart problem right before the season which was among a myriad of crazy stuff to happen that year. They also didn’t have a lot of talent on the team and yet they still found a way to win two games. So even though the Bears, Saints and Browns all look pretty bad right now I am very skeptical than any of them will go winless for the full season.

The Browns actually look closer to winning a game to me than either the Bears or the Saints. The Bears weren’t good with Jay Cutler, and Hoyer for damn sure isn’t an upgrade over him. The Saints’ defense is still terrible and, quite frankly, I’m still waiting to be impressed by Dennis Allen. As I tweeted out on Monday night, Rob Ryan could’ve done at least as good a job as Allen has so far this season. I know they have had a lot of injuries, but that performance against the Falcons was just pathetic. And it’s a shame that they are wasting the last few years of Brees’ career like that, but he simply can’t do it all by himself.

I was sure the Saints would win on Monday because they were observing the 10th anniversary since Katrina and I figured the emotion from all that would be enough to give them the edge over a Falcons team that I really don’t think is all that good in the first place. The fact that they still couldn’t manage to pull it off with all that going on kinda makes me lean toward them being the team most likely to go 0-16 out of the three.

I know it seems counter intuitive with Brees still playing at a pretty high level, but New Orleans just isn’t playing in a way that inspires any confidence in them at this point. I’m watching the game on Monday night and as soon as I see the Saints blocker blow up his own punt returner, then get up and try to return the punt, then fumble the ball back to the Falcons I said to myself that I would not pick them to win another game this year until they have already won at least one and I mean that.

Maybe Kirk Cousins isn’t a franchise QB after all

SW: Washington almost saw themselves sitting at 0-3 this week too, but they barely squeaked out a win over the Giants on Sunday.

When I went back and watched the all-22 of that game, I was astounded at how many times Kirk Cousins missed guys running wide open down the field. When I say missed, I’m not talking about some of those off-target passes he threw on Sunday either. I’m talking about plays where he never even looked at a guy who was 5 yards past the nearest defender. The reality is that game probably should’ve been a blowout if Washington had just a little bit better quarterback.

It is a classic catch-22, however, in that Cousins is just good enough to hit some of the passes you need him to hit to give you a chance to win, but not quite good enough to really maximize the talent Washington has at the skill positions right now. It has to be driving Jay Gruden friggin’ nuts that he is scheming up all these dudes to be wide open and his quarterback only sees them about half of the time, if not less.

Like, if Cousins was hitting on more of those passes we would be talking about how great Gruden’s offense is right now, seriously. But for the average fan, they never get to see what alternatives Cousins has on any given play so when he throws an incompletion, takes a sack, etc. it’s easy to assume that nobody else was open and that he did “the best he could do” on that play.

 

NFL: Washington Redskins at New York Giants

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

And Gruden can’t exactly throw him under the bus at this point either because his job is likely tied to whether Cousins becomes this franchise quarterback that he has pumped him up to be.

Can you ever remember a situation like this where a team is basically stuck come hell or high water with a fair to middling quarterback when they have that much talent at wide receiver and tight end? I’ve been trying to come up with a similar situation, but I can’t think of one. Bigger than that, after three weeks do you think Washington will be able to right the ship and make it to the playoffs this season? Or is Cousins going to play himself right out of a big payday next spring?

RVB: I’ve never been wholly convinced of Cousins’ ability to be more than kind of an okay quarterback, like a guy whose ceiling is Andy Dalton. But right now, I bet Gruden would kill to have Dalton.

Here’s the mystery with Cousins to me: He was fine last season. He started slow — eight of his 11 interceptions last year came in the first six weeks of the season — but overcame that in the second half. They didn’t have the toughest schedule, but he played well enough that Washington taking a chance with that $20 million franchise tag didn’t seem too crazy, at least not by the Snyder-ian standards we’re used to.

If there’s any hope, maybe it’s that Cousins is just a streaky QB. Maybe it’s just a timing thing. I don’t really know, because like you said, I can’t think of a quarterback who’s struggled the way he has with those kind of weapons at his disposal. Not even Ryan Tannehill. Shit, I bet Carson Wentz would kill to have a receiving corps like that.

The scary thing for Washington is that there is no hope for turning things around other than Cousins. The defense isn’t very good, and got worse with the injury to DeAngelo Hall last week. They’ll have to run the ball more, but the running game has been meh and with the defense like that, they can’t afford mistakes on offense.

I’m not so sure he hasn’t played his way out of a big payday already. What if he does turn it around later this season? Great, but are you going to give $100 million contract to guy who may or may not play like a replacement level starter for a quarter of the season? I’d rather have a consistently average quarterback than a guy who’s so up and down you can’t count on what you’re going to get week-in and week-out.

Oh lord, if he doesn’t get things ironed out, it’s not just going to be Cousins who has to deal with the fallout. This is Washington we’re talking about. Every damn piece of dirty laundry will get aired out for all the world to see. It’ll get ugly and hilarious, but still ugly. And if that happens, I suspect you can add head coach to Washington’s shopping list for 2017.

Source: Tom Brady 2

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