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This Week in Football – Roethlisberger and Brees, Fitzpatrick and Ramsey, Manning and Jones

OUR TOP STORY

The NFL news cycle is ludicrous. Two weeks before the season kicked off one of the best players in the league up and retired out of nowhere. That was just about three weeks ago, and now it’s a footnote at best in the league’s conscious.

Indianapolis had to confront a new, scary reality when Andrew Luck called it quits. Without much time to cope with his decision, the Colts made Jacoby Brissett their full-time starter. They were fortunate because Brissett is a starting-quality quarterback who’s been around for a while, so things could have been far worse.

That scary reality is setting in for some of the best teams in the NFL now. At least, they were expected to be among the best. Now, an uncertain future comes to the forefront as uncertainty builds for a couple hall of famers.

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is the chief example. He’s done for the season with an elbow injury, which means it’s Mason Rudolph’s team for the rest of 2019. There’s an element of irony at play here after Roethlisberger was far from welcoming when Rudolph was drafted. Regardless, the Steelers and their playoff hopes are now largely in the hands of a former third-round pick who put up big numbers in college at Oklahoma State but never had a signature moment (interpret that however you like).

While this season is the most important element in this whole situation for now, the future for one of the NFL’s most highly regarded franchises now comes into question. Is this the end of the road for Roethlisberger? Coach Mike Tomlin has had Roethlisberger for the entirety of his tenure, will be be able to lead the team when there’s someone else under center? Does Pittsburgh try to draft a quarterback of the future as soon as possible, or does the franchise believe Rudolph is that guy?

Roethlisberger is planning to return in 2020, which isn’t surprising given the person but it’s hard to imagine he’ll be at his best following elbow surgery considering his age. 

Regarding his age in particular, even if he comes back for 2020, how much longer will be around period? The clock is ticking on a big body who has taken countless shots in his career and isn’t nearly as mobile as he once was. It’s risky to put that much stock in an old player returning at the most valuable position in sports.

That’s why it’s vital that these teams plan for the future before it’s too late.

The Steelers haven’t done a particularly good job of doing that. They’re 0-2 with an injured quarterback in a competitive division, and on Monday night they traded their first-round pick next year to the Miami Dolphins for defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick.

They got a good player for that pick, but you have to assess the real cost long term. Pittsburgh is banking on Roethlisberger still being around and playing at a high level for the long haul, which is undeniable now after giving up its best capital that could have been used to pick a quarterback of the future. This move doesn’t make sense. It’s poor planning for a very real future that doesn’t include a hall-of-fame quarterback.

New Orleans is in a different but similar situation. Drew Brees is out for six weeks due to surgery on an injured thumb. The Saints’ backup quarterback is Teddy Bridgewater, and he hasn’t exactly done a great job of selling himself for the future starting job in his recent appearances. The situation isn’t as dire for the Saints, given that Brees will be back and they still have Super Bowl hopes this season, but he’s also 40 years old and has even less gas in the tank than Roethlisberger.

An injury to a quarterback is the worst fear for any NFL team and it’s why they need to be diligent about preparing for life after greatness. The Colts lucked out in a way (no pun intended) by already having another quality quarterback on the roster. The Green Bay Packers will have to figure out a post-Aaron Rodgers plan eventually. Tom Brady won’t play forever, as much as it seems like he will. Philip Rivers and the Los Angeles Chargers are another example. Amazingly, this is something the New York Giants have gotten right recently after they drafted Daniel Jones.

When your team’s back is against the wall when it comes to assessing your quarterbacks room and an injured, old starter, what do you do? The Steelers responded by giving up a first-round pick for a slot corner. Teams like the Saints and anyone else with an old passer may want to consider anything other than that when assessing the future.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

*Speaking of Minkah Fitzpatrick, the rush to acquire elite cornerbacks is on. That first-round pick is the main piece of the return, although a few other picks are included, too. He’s probably the first of several big-name corners who will be moved in the next few weeks, if not days. Jalen Ramsey from the Jacksonville Jaguars, arguably the best cornerback in the game, has reportedly asked for a trade as tensions between him and the Jags continue to get worse. Miami’s Xavien Howard has had his name pop up in rumors recently. Patrick Peterson is still out there, too, as his team remains winless after two games and he remains suspended for several more weeks. Cornerback is one of the most valuable positions in football and having one who can shut down a whole half of the field can change the entire complexion of a team (seriously, look at what one of those would do for the Kansas City Chiefs, for example). Every contender in the league should be making a push to get one of the elite corners. Your first-round pick is valuable, yes, but if your goal is to win a Super Bowl and you have a realistic chance of accomplishing that (this is where the Steelers drop off), getting guaranteed talent is paramount. Frankly, it’s surprising a team with championship aspirations didn’t outbid Pittsburgh for Fitzpatrick. Expect big returns for the other names mentioned here.

*It’s been a tough start for new coaches throughout the league. There is one undefeated new coach through two weeks. That’s Matt LaFelur in Green Bay, who has the benefit of continuity on defense (defensive coordinator Mike Pettine returned from the Mike McCarthy regime) and an all-time great quarterback (who, to be fair, has been pedestrian for seven quarters so far this season). The rest of the league’s new coaches have two wins combined after Freddie Kitchens’ Cleveland Browns won on Monday night. Most of those new coaches are in tough situations, or, more specifically, they have bad quarterbacks. It’s not newsworthy in and of itself that new coaches for bad teams are struggling early in the season, but it does make LaFleur stand out. His Packers have a noticeable renewed energy and are in the driver’s seat for one of the best divisions in football early this year. The best part for Packers fans? The offensive isn’t even close to fully functional yet.

*Criticizing NFL officiating is passé by now. It’s time to focus our energy on other things that we have no control over that we allow to affect our happiness on a regular basis. Sure, it’s hard to stay engaged in a game when neither you nor the coaches nor the referees themselves seem to understand the rules, but it is what it is by now. If you think about it, it’s like a brand-new, fun game inside the game to try guessing how a difficult judgement call will pan out. For example:

Did Bradley Chubb actually commit roughing the passer here, or did he make a proper form hit in time without doing anything egregious when he took down Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky? Does it matter? Of course it doesn’t, this is NFL officiating, after all. Don’t worry, Bears, you got a turn this weekend, too.

Seriously, what are you supposed to do here? Eddie Goldman just hit him. It wasn’t late, it wasn’t particularly rough, it wasn’t a shot to the head. It was just a hit, yet he gets flagged for 15 yards. These calls aren’t even the worst part of it, though. What’s actually the worst part is the inconsistency, which is why we can play fun games like “how will the officials mess up this call?” Check out this hit from Clay Matthews of the Los Angeles Rams on Teddy Bridgewater from Sunday.

Bridgewater gets popped, but it’s a clean hit that, appropriately, didn’t draw a flag. But it was no less vicious than the other two hits just mentioned. The NFL’s officials are in a tough spot, with a complicated rulebook they need to diagnose and assess at an instant, but the lack of consistency is not a good thing for the league. Infuriating calls are one thing, but not knowing if they’re coming or not is something else, much worse, entirely.

*NFL Primetime is back and it’s exactly what you could possibly hope for. When it was announced last week that Chris Berman and Tom Jackson are returning to ESPN+ to reignite the greatest highlight show in sports television history, it sent social media into a frenzy and rightfully so. It’s not quite what it was in its heyday, which is understandable considering it’s been well over a decade since it originally went off the air (technically a watered-down version hosted by Trey Wingo has been on for several years but it’s not the same), and both Boomer and T.J. are much older. Still, it’s back in its rightful place as the go-to spot for NFL highlights right after the daytime slate is done. Part of the appeal is nostalgia, but there also isn’t anywhere else where you can find reasonably long highlights of NFL games, let alone the day of. If you’re not a fan of the constant “WHOOP” and “He could, go, all, the, way” calls, it’s easy enough to avoid because it’s on an over-the-top streaming service. But if you’re dying for an NFL highlight show, one that’s fun and may remind you of good times, ESPN did you a solid by bringing back Primetime in its true form.

SECOND HALF KYLER

Last week we said that there’s a chance the Arizona Cardinals are one of the most exciting bad teams ever in 2019. Until trends change, we’re going to follow along with one particular element of that theory: Kyler Murray’s performance in second halves. Week 1 saw an unbelievable comeback effort for the first pick in the draft, while we saw a strong second half in Week 2 to stay competitive against Baltimore.

The Cardinals scored 11 of their 17 points against the Ravens in the second half, while Murray completed 8-of-14 passes for 157 yards and a two-point conversion. Plus, he was dropping dimes like this all afternoon:

For the season, Murray is 31-of-52 for 442 yards and two touchdowns in the second half and overtime. Those numbers are ridiculous. The key is finding a way to get the offense firing earlier in the game so that the Cardinals aren’t playing catch-up week after week. It’s too early to know much, but the Kliff Kingsbury NFL experience is fun so far, if nothing else.

ODELL BECKHAM DID WHAT THIS WEEK?

The Cleveland Browns’ newest weapon was in the news for his timepiece instead of his play last week. Over the past few weeks most of the best receivers in the league have been overlooked because of the ongoing Antonio Brown sideshow. Beckham got the attention back for all the right reasons on Monday Night Football.

Adding on to another one of his highlight-reel one-handed catches was a play that plenty of folks in East Rutherford, New Jersey have seen before: a slant that went for a huge gain and a score.

Cleveland’s offense hasn’t been the well-oiled machine it was expected to be so far, but once the Mayfield-Beckham connection gets on the same page full time it should take off like a rocket.

STAT OF THE WEEK

Courtesy of several tweets, including this one from Brandon Lee Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation, Giants quarterback Eli Manning is 116-116 in his career as a starter. Wins are not a quarterback stat, however it does reflect on the quarterback when they’ve played as long as Manning has. There’s a connection between winning percentage and 232 career starts. New York will face Tampa Bay and Washington in the next two weeks, so there’s a chance he can avoid a losing record for a little while longer. 

The end is near for Eli, as coach Pat Shurmur left the door open for Daniel Jones taking over at some point soon. The Giants aren’t going anywhere this season, and by now it’s a fair assumption that Jones will be starting games at some point by year’s end. If the Giants wanted to give Manning something of a polite thank you, they wouldn’t allow his starting record to fall below .500. There generally isn’t room for that in professional sports, especially in the cutthroat world of the NFL, but in a season without real aspirations you can get away with that. Maybe you bank on a win against the Buccaneers and make the switch after that. Manning is going to the hall of fame, and it wouldn’t be a shock if the franchise he’s dedicated his career to preserved something for him as his career ends, as meaningless as it may seem to some.

WEEKLY RANKING: TOP 5 QUARTERBACKS WHO NEED A TURNAROUND GAME IN WEEK 3

  1. Cam Newton – Carolina is off to an 0-2 start this season, and with two teams clearly above them in the NFC South they need a win to stay in the race. Newton has looked injured, inaccurate and sluggish through two weeks; if that continues there will be a lot of discussions about his future soon.
  2. Kirk Cousins – Cousins was downright awful in a Week 2 loss to Green Bay. The Vikings played well enough to win, but Cousins played one of the worst games of his career and it dropped his team to 1-1. Their rushing attack with Dalvin Cook is lethal, but if the quarterback is constantly giving the ball away you can’t truly contend.
  3. Mitchell Trubisky – The same principle used above for Cousins applies for Trubisky, although his team is aided by a better defense and he’s on a better contract. That said, a 65.0 passer rating and 22.1 QBR isn’t going to cut it for a team that was a dark horse Super Bowl pick for a lot of people.
  4. Jameis Winston – Winston is in a different boat than his peers because his team was expected to be awful, but he’s fighting for his career. His rate stats outpace Trubisky by a hair and he’s currently holding a 2:3 touchdown to interception ratio through two weeks. He needs to string together a few good games to prove he’s worth a future investment from Tampa Bay.
  5. Joe Flacco – The Broncos are 0-2 and appear to be clearly behind the other three teams in the AFC West through the small sample size of this season. The Denver defense is still above average and there are quality pieces on offense, but he needs to perform at a higher level so the Broncos don’t fall completely out of playoff contention through Week 3.

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