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1. Nice only gets you so far in the NFL
A question: Why is Jason Garrett still the head coach of the Cowboys? In fact, why is he a head coach at all?
This isn’t meant to be cruel or snide, but it’s a fair question to ask after his eight-plus seasons on the job.
Does Garrett come up with brilliant offensive schemes like Andy Reid or Sean McVay? No.
Is he a brilliant motivator like Bill Belichick? No.
Does he inspire players? No. Does he intimidate other coaches the way Belichick does? No. Is he bold like Bears head coach Matt Nagy? Nope.
Does he generate brilliant defensive schemes? No. Do his assistants? No.
There aren’t long lines of assistants who’ve coached under him and gone on to helm other teams. He isn’t known for fixing issues or being forward-thinking.
Think about it. Really think about it: What coaching box does Garrett check?
Look no further than this past Sunday for an example of the typical Garrett-inspired Cowboys performance. It was impossible to miss how the Texans played with passion, skill and desperation, while the Cowboys looked staid and uninventive. Dak Prescott has made a distinct lack of progress since his breakout rookie season two years ago, and a Cowboys team that appeared to be building around an exciting young core seems to be moving in reverse.
The Cowboys have a terrific offensive line and one of the best running backs in football. Yet with a chance to be bold and make a statement that could have motivated the roster for weeks, Garrett, whose team faced a 4th-and-1 from the Texans’ 42-yard line on the first possession of overtime, decided to punt.
Garrett has gone for it before in such situations, but this instance just reeked of playing it too safe.
And there are too many times when Garrett shrinks from the challenge instead of rising to it.
Are there things Garrett does well? Yes. He’s a very nice guy. But nice only gets you so far.
A number of anonymous coaching sources are ripping Garrett after the Texans loss. He remains one of the few coaches who other coaches around the league routinely shred off the record. That’s only gotten worse.
We don’t need to do that, though. What Garrett represents is obvious enough. He essentially does the bidding of owner Jerry Jones. That’s long been the case, and it remains that way, perhaps more than ever.
The Cowboys are 2-3 this year. For his career, Garrett is 69-56 with two playoff appearances. That’s it.
Barring a significant turnaround, many around the league expect Garrett to be the first coach fired this year.
This isn’t said with glee, but it is what many in the game believe.
It all comes down to that original point: Why is Jason Garrett still the coach of the Cowboys?
2. Catch this…everybody else did
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Innocent enough, right? I mean, it’s just a list. Who would care about a stupid list?
These were the top five receivers I picked:
Just as Kirk karate-chopped the Gorn, the feedback came in swiftly, with lots of curses and insults. Hundreds of responses arrived within minutes, and eventually, thousands of angry Twitter users started weighing in.
There were two main beefs: I didn’t include the Vikings’ Adam Thielen or the Saints’ Michael Thomas.
A member of the Jets even came after me. But in true Starfleet manner, we made peace.
Darron Lee @DLeeMG8
Trash list. Put my bro @Cantguardmike on it then you look like you know what you’re talking about https://t.co/c6P4AZ9Hvy
Two days later, angry tweets from Saints and Thomas fans were still pouring in. Ohio State fans eventually joined in since Thomas is a former Buckeye.
What puzzles me is this: Why did this list anger so many?
Some of it is just passion, for sure. But I can’t help but wonder if some of it is because of the tone of discourse in the country now. Fueled in part by social media’s love of strong opinions and our increasingly tribal politics, sports discussions seem to boil down to: If you don’t support my guy, you aren’t just wrong, you’re a blithering idiot who needs to be destroyed.
One guy got so mad over the list that he tweeted he was going to give my science fiction short story a one-star review on Amazon. I thought he was joking. He wasn’t. Minutes after he tweeted me, the one-star review appeared. My story is at least two stars.
OK, 1 ½.
Next up for me: my top five running backs.
Should go nice and smoothly.
3. Still running
Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press
Yes, I did it again. I was wrong.
I said Adrian Peterson was done. Finished. Washed.
Peterson clearly isn’t done. Through four games, he is on pace to rush for almost 970 yards and 12 touchdowns. At age 33, Peterson is clearly special both physically and mentally as a football player.
Yup, I was wrong.
4. We won’t see the likes of Drew Brees again
Sean Gardner/Getty Images
On Monday night, Drew Brees took the all-time passing-yardage mark from Peyton Manning with 72,103 yards. Even more remarkable is the possibility that whatever mark Brees eventually ends with may never be matched.
As Frank Schwab of Yahoo Sports noted, Brees has two solid years left, at least. He could finish with more than 80,000 passing yards. Even with today’s inflated protection of quarterbacks and easy-peasy passing rules, it will be virtually impossible to top that because of Brees himself.
He has the rare trifecta: talent, accuracy and perhaps most importantly, longevity. Brees has been playing since 2001, and since 2004, do you know how many games he has missed? Three. Three in 15 seasons.
Given that, this record could last 50 years…or longer.
5. The Browns, yes, the Browns, have caught the league’s attention
Jeff Haynes/Associated Press
An AFC South scout told me just about all you need to know about the somewhat resurgent Cleveland Browns: “I have rarely seen a team turn it around so quickly after being bad for so long. They finally have playmakers like Baker [Mayfield], but that defense is full of them. They’ve changed the entire culture there overnight. It’s something we haven’t really seen in this league for a long time.”
The scout added something else, which isn’t quite so obvious: “Hue Jackson was the right man for the Browns job. It was smart to keep him. His patience and ability to keep the locker room from falling apart during all of the losing was key. If I was the Browns I’d sign him to a long-term extension right now.”
6. Watt brothers dominating
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
A fascinating note from Houston sports anchor Adam Wexler on brothers J.J. and T.J. Watt.
J.J. is tied for first in sacks with six, tied for fourth with seven tackles for loss and tied for fourth with 10 quarterback hits.
T.J., with the Steelers, has the same numbers, except he’s tied for fifth with nine quarterback hits.
That J.J. could produce at this level is no surprise; he’s a future Hall of Famer.
That T.J. could do so as well is a bit of an eye-opener, albeit something the Steelers always believed the younger Watt could do: be his own wrecking ball. Just like big brother.
7. Beware the scrum
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
I’ve done numerous stories on what happens at the bottom of a pile in an NFL game. There have long been tales of punching someone’s cajones, biting, arm-twisting and other malfeasances.
The NFL has done a good job over the years of weeding out a lot of that stuff, but, amazingly, it still happens.
Thielen told NBC Sports’ Peter King this week that after he recovered an onside kick during the Vikings’ win over the Eagles, he encountered something really, well, interesting:
“It wasn’t a normal end-over-end onside kick. It had a nasty spin on it, and when I saw it coming at me I just wanted to make sure I could just knock it down then jump on it. Just wanted to get on it and secure it because when it’s a bang-bang play like that there’s a lot of guys on you—a lot of pinching and hair-pulling. They were trying to pull my hair. Good thing I got my hair cut. It was not fun under there.”
I’m told by an NFL official the league saw these comments from Thielen and will be on the lookout for this type of stuff at bottom of piles.
8. Trench warfare
Geoff Schwartz @geoffschwartz
Oh my goodness. Watch DJ Fluker (RG) with the savage pancake of Suh on this touchdown. https://t.co/OleSTLNNrQ
Ndamukong Suh is 6’4″ and 313 pounds. He is one of the strongest, nastiest men in football, but on an NFL Sunday, even he was unable to avoid getting pancake blocked.
Seahawks guard D.J. Fluker used a combination of technique and brutality to block Suh onto his backside during a first-quarter Mike Davis touchdown run. It’s the kind of thing that happens on occasion in football but doesn’t make the highlights because it isn’t a passing score or big run.
But this was big-boy, nasty football. While the NFL continues to enact rules that make the league less violent (rules that are simultaneously beneficial and awful), the trench-fighting aspect of the sport remains intense.
And fun to watch.
9. Wrong answer
Looking for a reason the Dolphins are sliding after getting off to a 3-0 start? Let Miami writer and broadcaster Adam Beasley offer some perspective:
Adam Beasley @AdamHBeasley
If you remove Tannehill’s two shovel passes to Grant and Wilson that went for touchdowns, he’s averaging 6.9 yards per pass and his rating is 84.7. That would rank 27th and 25th, respectively. That’s basically Blake Bortles.
It’s as clear as day that for the Dolphins to be successful as a franchise, they have to dump Ryan Tannehill.
I’ve seen franchises hold on to quarterbacks who can’t really play before, and it often ends in disaster. It’s time for the Dolphins to face the truth.
10. One of the greatest NFL calls of all time
Jason E. Miczek/Associated Press
Panthers broadcasters Jaime Moreno and Luis Moreno, Jr.‘s description of Graham Gano’s game-winning 63-yard field goal against the Giants on Sunday was simply beautiful. It’s like listening to music or poetry.
Spanish broadcasts of NFL games have been, for decades, one of the league’s most successful ventures. It opened NFL broadcasts to people who might not otherwise have heard them.
And to think it almost didn’t happen. A few years ago, as the NFL was expanding en masse into Spanish language broadcasts, one league executive expressed to me how some in the NFL were worried that the initiative might alienate red-state America.
Now, that decision is one of the best the NFL ever made.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.