New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones

NFL Week 7 Notebook: NFC East Rivals Share Similar Woes

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By Michael Schottey October 26, 2020 0 Comment
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It was a crazy Week 7 in the NFL.

Multiple games came down to the very last drive, and injuries continue to shake up the season outlook for quite a few squads. In our new NFL Weekly Notebook, we’ll take a look at all the biggest news, notes and storylines from each and every Sunday.

First, some headlines…

 

NFC Least: Old Ideas in an Ever-Evolving League

It’s not surprising to any NFL fan that the league’s worst division has been the NFC East this year. In Week 7, the division was mercifully saved from going 0-4 once again only because the four teams were going against one another. Yet, with four teams and only seven wins between them, positivity isn’t exactly in large supply.

No other division has the glaring spotlight of the NFC East, with “America’s Team” (debatable) in Dallas and massive media markets in New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. So, tomes will be written about each of the teams individual struggles, but it’s worth taking a look at something the teams share in common: long-term stagnancy.

The NFL is an ever evolving (if somewhat cyclical league), but across the NFC East, there are plenty of old ideas and decision makers who seem stuck in old ways of doing things.

The Philadelphia Eagles—maybe the most innovative of the bunch—has stuck with Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz and a scheme that better offensive playcallers have had figured out since his time in Tennessee. That’s a big reason they’re allowing 28 points a game. The offense too, which was once the picture of creativity, has largely stagnated over the last season and a half.

Washington is probably the team that has done the most to effect change in their organization (right down to the name change and some big front office hires), but then they handed organizational reigns to Head Coach Ron Rivera who hasn’t spent much time earning his “Riverboat” moniker in some time. Still, even if the changes in Washington were the right ones (debatable), they’re suffering from an era trying to replicate Bruce Allen’s success from decades prior.

For the New York Giants, everything their organization does is trying to reclaim the magic of the Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning heyday. General Manager Dave Gettleman was brought back after failing in Carolina, and while Head Coach Joe Judge may have had the opportunity to be an exciting young coach, his hire was literally scraping the bottom of the Belichick Coaching Barrel and then they surrounded him with stale retreads like Jason Garrett, Freddie Kitchens and Bret Bielema.

The Dallas Cowboys have looked the worst in the Division over the course of 2020, and that has everything to do with a couple of decades of meddling from Owner Jerry Jones. Jones has a lot of character flaws that will likely be a mega-sized 30-for-30 one day, but one of his most destructive is his inability to learn from mistakes. In 2020, we’re watching a team built around a running back, coached by a head coach in Mike McCarthy who had been tuned out by Green Bay Packers years ago.

McCarthy’s assistants include Mike Nolan who has been running failed defenses for years and John Fassel who largely has a job because he shares a last name with his dad, Jim. It’s no surprise that Cowboys players have publicly complained about the coaching in Dallas, most of them weren’t born the last time this staff (or front office) had much of an original idea.

READ MORE: Dallas is the Biggest Dumpster Fire of the NFL Season

Compare the NFC East with some of the better teams in the NFL—even those with long-established coaching staffs. The Baltimore Ravens are completely different on both sides of the ball than they were when John Harbaugh started there. The same can be said for the Pittsburgh Steelers who have adapted as old 3-4 concepts melded into countless subpackages and old dog Ben Roethlisberger has found himself learning new tricks and surrounded by pups. Even in Kansas City, where Andy Reid spent far too long mired in old West Coast Offense concepts, creativity reigns.

Want NFC East games actually worth putting on every national telecast? Stop bitterly clinging to the past and start embracing the NFL of today.

Ryquell Armstead Done for the Year with Multiple COVID-19 Hospitalizations

If you haven’t heard the name Ryquell Armstead before this morning, you’re forgiven. Armstead is a backup running back for the Jacksonville Jaguars who had a chance to replace Leonard Fornette before being initially placed on the league’s reserve/COVID-19 List. Now, according to a report from ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Armstead will likely miss the rest of the year, as the virus has hit him harder than anyone could have guessed.

Armstead is 23 and a professional athlete which puts him in probably the top one-half of one percent of all human beings in terms of cardiovascular and respiratory health. Conventional wisdom (or at least what passes for conventional wisdom in relation to a brand new disease) says that Armstead is not nearly as much at risk as older patients with comorbidities like obesity, but here we are.

This is big news for a couple of really big reasons.

Professional sports as a whole and especially the NFL for the past couple of decades has been a real bellwether for the United States as a whole. There are some real connection between a NFL player significantly suffering with the disease and increasing coronavirus numbers as cold weather sets in across the country.

Highlighting that connection even more: It’s not exactly surprising that the NBA took the virus far more seriously than the NFL has so far. The Association tends to be more of a cultural paragon for a younger, more liberal audience that have taken the virus more seriously as well. While sticking the entire NFL into a “bubble” may not be feasible (or even advisable) at this point, the NFL is looks foolish as players and coaches ignore guidelines, NFL games get postponed or potentially forfeited and the league is left hoping things don’t spiral any further downward.

We are at a point in time where the NFL has to have real concern that a giant asterisk will be placed over this season in the history books and their leadership (or lack thereof) could be questioned for years to come.

One real troubling note from the report, however, is that Schefter’s sources “expect” Armstead to “return next season at full strength.” How? How is that an expectation at this point? We know nothing about the long term effects of COVID-19 other than that it’s had myriad, very troubling long-term effects. Should we hope Armstead returns at full strength? Absolutely, but Schefter’s sources are putting a few dozen carts before the horse here and, by proxy, it points to an NFL that maybe hasn’t learned its COVID lesson quite yet.

Buccaneers The Highest Ceiling Team

With a 45-20 thrashing of an Oakland Raiders in what I’m all too giddy to join with others in calling the “Pirate Bowl,” the Tampa Bay Buccaneers improved to 5-2 and sit firmly as Contenders rather than Pretenders.

While that may not be a surprise to many with the talent brought in this offseason, the Tom Brady-led Bucs wouldn’t exactly have been the first “Super Team” to be more sizzle and less steak, so it’s at least notable they’re living up to lofty expectations.

What should be scary to the rest of the NFL Playoff Picture, however, is the fact that the Buccaneers aren’t just a good team, but that they may be the team “Most Likely to Improve” over the course of the season.

The defense isn’t what’s driving all the discussion for the Bucs, but they’re playing lights out and getting better each week. The offense, too, is just now starting to click. Brady is getting more comfortable with his new targets. Tight End Rob Gronkowski is getting back to football form.

The much-heralded addition of wide receiver Antonio Brown is a big gamble based on his personal history. Yet, even a modicum of what he is able to bring to the game is going to bring this team from “one of the best teams in the NFL” to “if I squint and turn my head to the side, it looks like the middle of the Patriots dynasty came back to life.

Complaint Department

Quarterbacks Aren’t Defenseless — One of the more unfortunate moments of the Week was a drive-changing (and likely game-changing) penalty against Atlanta Falcons rookie cornerback A.J. Terrell for “roughing the passer,” which is a description that absolutely defies description. At the time, Stafford had stepped up to the very front of the pocket and could’ve conceivably thrown or run for a touchdown. He wasn’t defenseless, he was a quarterback about to make a play before Terrell shut it down with a really big hit. Did he “launch?” Sure, but he lead with his shoulder and not with the crown of his helmet. You’ll find I’m the last person to decry the (supposed) “wussificaton” of football, but this was one of those moments that shows NFL referees still aren’t sure what to do when a defender has anything resembling a good hit on a quarterback.

Odell Beckham Injury — Injured while trying to make a tackle on a Baker Mayfield interception, Beckham is set to have an MRI on Monday and is suspected to have a pretty serious knee injury. The Browns are 5-2 and those losses are to the Steelers and Ravens. With a relatively easy slate a head of them (thanks to an NFC East matchup this season plus games against the New York Jets and Jacksonville Jaguars), the Browns had a true shot at the playoffs. Without Old Dirty Beckham? Those chances just got a lot slimmer.

Nick Saban’s Says the Quiet Part Out Loud— After a season-ending injury to wide receiver/kick returner (and future first round draft pick) Jaylen Waddle, Saban said: “I hate it that [he] gets hurt on a play like that. Not supposed to bring a ball out when he’s that deep in the end zone.”

Wait, what? Your player’s season is over, and you’re critiquing his play? Saban has been close to plenty of players over the years, but it’s worth noting NFL players never connected with him because of stuff like this—treating players like means to an end rather than fellow humans. Show a little empathy my dude. Oh, and every other coach in the SEC should have that tape queued up for moms across the country.

Speaking of Guys Who Should Shut Up, Jeff Garcia — As the San Francisco 49ers whooped the New England Patriots, there are a lot of things to point to as areas of improvement for the Patriots. Former 49ers QB Jeff Garcia, whom many of you just remember existed, decided to take the time to criticize the fashion choices of Patriots QB Cam Newton. What?

Ignoring the very obvious racial implications of a white dude yelling at a black man to know his place and do his job without attracting attention to himself, what does Jeff Garcia know about being a winner? You won a Grey Cup, man, Newton is an NFL MVP, Heisman Winner and two-time BCS National Champion. Newton is ten times the winner Garcia ever was and when he leaves the game, Newton will likely be a fantastic broadcaster, not relegated to clinging to relevance on a local post-game show.

READ MORE: A San Francisco 49ers Story Part 3: Let the Games Begin

They Said It

One of my favorite subplots of the 2020 NFL Season is the Cowboys fans who can’t tell the difference between Head Coach Mike McCarthy and Mike McCartney, who is one of the better agents in the NFL and son of Hall of Fame College Football Coach Bill McCartney. McCartney has been having a good time with it.

The Lions continue to be one of the worst playcalling teams in the NFL and are almost stubbornly trying to commit to a boring running game instead of using their best weapons.

I was as wrong on Herbert as anyone, but QB Guru Greg Cosell points out why so many of us had him wrong. He’s gotten almost inexplicably better than he ever was at Oregon…and he’s done it against world-class competition and in a more-complex offensive scheme.

The Schottey Six: 6 Guys Who Could Be on the Move This Week

Kevin Zeitler (OG New York Giants) — Green Bay Packers GM Brian Gutekunst should be on the phone right up until the trade deadline trying to bring this Milwaukee boy and former Wisconsin Badger home.

Carlos Dunlap (DE Cincinnati Bengals) — The Bengals should be sellers, and Dunlap might bring their biggest return. Although, he’s making his value dip a little bit by fighting with coaches and prematurely putting his house on the market.

JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR Pittsburgh Steelers) — The best team on this list, the Steelers don’t need to jettison a top-flight WR, but with young guns Chase Claypool and Dionte Johnson waiting in the wings, they don’t exactly need to keep Smith-Schuster around either. This is one potential player-for-player deal if the Steelers felt they could acquire someone to put them over the top at a position of need.

John Ross (WR Cincinnati Bengals) — This is not a player who will return a big haul. Still, plenty of NFL GMs know what kind of speed Ross has, and plenty of wide receiver coaches will believe they can be the guy to get more out of him.

Kerryon Johnson (RB Detroit Lions) — Johnson has had some moments, but injuries and the Lions’ weird overspending on the running back position has made him the odd man out in the Lions backfield. He’s a capable running, solid receiver and one of the best pass-blocking running backs in the league, so this could be a savvy pick up for a playoff team.

Parting Schots

— If any of you got this far and are wondering, “who the heck this guy is and why you should be listening to him?” I have no good answer for you. I’m Michael Schottey and I’m the new guy at The Brawl Network and I hope you enjoy my stuff. I’ve had Award-Winning writing stops at places like Bleacher Report, FanDuel, Forbes and more, and I’m excited to join Mike Brez, Bridge and the rest of the team here.

READ MORE: 2021 Mock Draft: Trevor Lawrence to the Jets, Then What?

— After Sunday Night Football, we’re officially over the “too short to play QB” talk, right? Right?!?!

— My favorite part of the “D.K. Metcalf tracking down Budda Baker” play is the exact moment you can see Baker think about stiff arming the much-larger Metcalf and realizing that wasn’t going to do anything.

— I’ll be the first to admit there should be more about the Pittsburgh Steelers in this notebook because they clearly one of the Top 3 NFL teams right now, if not Top 1. I’ll have more about them later this week when I can give their win against the Tennessee Titans a thorough viewing.

— I stepped out for a bit of Sunday afternoon to take my boys (10 and 8) to a strength, agility and conditioning clinic hosted by former NFL RB Jordan Todman. He’s been building his rep as a great young coach in the St. Augustine area of Florida.

— The kids had a chance to ask Todman some questions about his NFL career after the well-run clinic. The first question: If Todman ever had to pee himself while on the bench. Just a reminder that sometimes the hardest part of being an adult is not laughing at absolutely hilarious things kids do. For the record, Todman claims his bladder integrity stayed intact on the sidelines. We do the real reporting here, folks.

— Did I take this picture of my food just to flex on Mike Brez on his Dominos? Yes, yes I did.

— Congrats to good friend and former colleague Mike Freeman who is joining USA Today to specifically not “stick to sports.” Instead, he’ll talk about the intersection of the games we love and the culture of racial inequality we all live in. I’ve been reading Mike since I was in high school and had the pleasure of briefly sharing a masthead with him. I can’t wait to see what he brings to this space.

— Go Vote! That’s not a political statement, but a civics lesson. Two of the most important things Americans get to do that are absolutely crazy in the full view of history are vote for their leaders and judge their peers by serving on a jury…those were absolutely radical ideas back in the 1700s. Yet, it’s also two of the things Americans today simply try to avoid at all costs. Early voting ends early in many states this week. Get out there and @ me on Twitter with your sticker pics.


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Michael Schottey is a sports writing & radio industry veteran of over a decade with stops in local sports radio, podcasting and sites like Bleacher Report, Forbes, Fansided and many others. He serves as Director of Operations for The Brawl Network and is a member of the Professional Football Writers of America and the Society of Professional Journalists.

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