Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Benching RG3 and Josh McCown
Five Quick Hits
* I wrote about home-field advantage last week, but it's a huge story as we approach the postseason. The Bengals, Patriots, and Saints are all undefeated at home, a combined 20-0. They all have losing records on the road, a collective 9-13. The Seahawks are also undefeated at home (6-2 away).
* Minnesota is the only team without a road victory in 2013. The Vikings are 0-6-1. They play at Cincinnati in Week 16, putting their winless mark against the Bengals' perfect home record.
* Tony Romo threw a pair of critical interceptions in the fourth quarter, so I get blaming him for the loss, but let's also throw some serious blame to a Dallas defense that allowed five straight TD drives in the second half. You can't give up 34 points in two quarters and expect to win.
* With only two weeks remaining, the NFC playoffs are wide open. Seattle has clinched, but the other five spots are undecided.
* The Chargers are 7-7, but they've beaten all three AFC teams that have clinched playoff berths: Denver, Indianapolis, and Kansas City. They've also beaten both Dallas and Philadelphia, so that takes care of the NFC East champion, too. How this team lost to Washington and Oakland is something of a mystery.
Benching Robert Griffin III and Josh McCown
This is the second week in a row I've written about the unholy mess in Washington, but it just keeps getting worse. When I devoted several paragraphs to the drama last week, that was before head coach Mike Shanahan benched his starting quarterback. This week, Jim Rome made a cameo on the CBS pregame show and said, "Mike Shanahan is the only coach I know who plays his franchise quarterback when he's hurt and benches him when he's healthy."
As best I can tell, no one believes Shanahan's proclaimed reason for benching Robert Griffin III — to make sure he's healthy for the offseason — and no one thinks that would make sense even if it were true. There are reports, however, that Griffin was benched for performance reasons, and an argument could be made that Kirk Cousins gives the team a better chance to win right now. Griffin is not an impact runner this season; he doesn't scare defenses with his legs. That allows tighter coverage on his receivers, because defenders aren't cheating away to contain RG3. His read progression and decision-making in the passing game are sub-par, and that knee brace is upsetting the best part of his game. Cousins has played well whenever he's been on the field.
Cousins played okay in his first start. In the first quarter, he completed Washington's longest pass of the season, 62 yards to Aldrick Robinson. He finished with 373 net yards, 3 TDs, and a 94.8 passer rating, but also 2 interceptions and a lost fumble. The assumption around the league is that these last three games are an audition. Washington wants to trade Cousins in the offseason, ideally for the first-round pick they won't have (traded to the Rams as part of the package for RG3). Griffin and Cousins are the same age, the same point in their careers, and you can only play one at a time. Cousins looks like a nice enough player, but Griffin's ceiling is a lot higher, and the team has so much invested in him, it's obvious who they're going to keep.
Jay Cutler and Josh McCown
Just as puzzling in its own way was Marc Trestman's decision to bench Josh McCown and return to Jay Cutler. McCown just went from NFC Offensive Player of the Week to a healthy scratch, with no off-field troubles to explain the move. From the FOX pregame show...
Michael Strahan: "The unwritten rule is you can't lose your job to injury."
Jimmy Johnson: "Yeah, some injured player said that."
The Bears went 3-2 with McCown as starter, averaging 26.2 points per game. McCown averaged 318 net yards and 2.4 TDs per game, with a 109.8 passer rating. In the last three games before he was sent back to the bench, McCown passed for over 300 yards, multiple TDs, and a rating over 100 in all three.
The Bears are 5-3 with Cutler as starter, averaging 28.6 points per game. Cutler averages 271 net yards and 2.0 TDs per game, with an 89.8 passer rating. He's actually 5-4 as starter, but it doesn't feel fair to charge him with the loss to Washington, when Cutler only threw 8 passes and left in the second quarter. But it also isn't fair to blame McCown. Cutler put the team in an early hole with 3-of-8 passing, plus a sack and a pick-six. The Bears scored 35 points after McCown entered the game, and only punted once on his eight offensive drives, with no turnovers. We'll just blame that loss on the defense and leave both QBs out of it.
Chicago has a good offense, and that's true with either QB, but Cutler is inconsistent; he's always been a risk-reward player who makes a lot of mistakes. Cutler has 10 interceptions in 296 attempts (3.4%), while McCown has 1 in 220 passes (0.5%), about one-seventh as many. If you stick with McCown, and he struggles, you go back to Cutler and there's minimal controversy. But now if Cutler struggles, by going back to McCown you're publicly benching Jay for a career backup.
There's another factor, of course: Cutler will be a free agent at the end of the season. He'll be looking for a nine-digit contract. Throughout his career, Cutler has been a pretty average QB, and I don't think he's nearly worth it, but the club has to consider its position and maybe see what it thinks Cutler can do now that Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett have emerged as legit threats alongside Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte. But Trestman can't play politics on an 8-6 team in the thick of a division title race, and I've never believed in benching the hot hand. Cutler can do things McCown can't, but McCown has protected the ball in a way Cutler probably never will.
I don't like benching McCown, and who knows what Mike Shanahan is thinking in DC.
This weekend, Washington and Oakland committed 7 turnovers apiece, and Eli Manning threw 5 interceptions. A breakdown of the horror:
Atlanta 27, Washington 26
* In the second quarter, three consecutive plays resulted in lost fumbles. Ladies and gentleman, a matchup of 3-10 teams.
* Washington outgained the Falcons by over 200 yards (476-243), but lost. Seven turnovers will do that.
* Shanahan's interactions with the media have grown increasingly tense and uncomfortable. He makes Bill Belichick look like Dick Vermeil. In fairness to Shanny, if my team committed 7 turnovers against a team that only had 12 the rest of the season, I'd be pissed, too.
* Despite the 7 takeaways, Atlanta came a two-point conversion away from defeat. That really shouldn't happen. If you get 7 takeaways, you should win a blowout. Just ask Seattle.
Seattle 23, Giants 0
* This was Eli Manning's fifth game of the season with 3 or more interceptions. That's the most since Rex Grossman in 2006. No one in the last 30 years has six 3-INT games in a season.
* The Giants didn't reach Seattle territory until the fourth quarter, and in the first 52 minutes gained only 6 first downs. They had 4 three-and-outs to go with the 5 picks.
* The loss to Seattle was New York's second shutout loss of the season. The Panthers beat them 38-0 in Week 3. The Giants have lost by more than 20 four times.
* Seattle has held five of its 14 opponents to under 10 points. The Seahawks have passed Denver for best point differential in the league, outscoring their opponents by 175.
Kansas City 56, Oakland 31
* The Chiefs scored 8 TDs and no field goals. This seems like an appropriate time to reiterate that Jamaal Charles is awesome.
* Alex Smith finished the game with a perfect passer rating (158.3). He completed 17 of 20 passes, for 287 yards, 5 TDs, and no INTs. Most of the yardage came on short passes to Charles, who gained 172 of his 195 yards after the catch.
* Charles gained the most receiving yards by a running back since Marshall Faulk in 1999 (204) and the most YAC since the stat has been kept. (h/t ESPN)
* The Raiders were okay in the middle of the game. Both teams scored 28 points in the second and third quarters. But Oakland took a real beating in the first (21-3) and fourth (3 INTs). Matt McGloin (4 INT, lost fumble) committed 5 of the team's 7 turnovers.
NFL Week 15 Power Rankings
1. Seattle Seahawks
2. San Francisco 49ers
3. Carolina Panthers
4. Denver Broncos
5. New Orleans Saints
6. New England Patriots
7. Miami Dolphins
8. San Diego Chargers
9. Arizona Cardinals
10. Cincinnati Bengals
The Baltimore Ravens have won four in a row, three of them nail-biters and none of them against teams with winning records. The Kansas City Chiefs are 11-3, guaranteed a playoff spot, and they've won by over 30 points for two weeks in a row. But they dropped three straight before that, and their defense has lost its mojo. KC opened 9-0, allowing only 111 points (12.3/gm). Since then, they're 2-3, allowing 134 points (26.8/gm). The Raiders, who hadn't scored 30 all season, turned the ball over seven times and still posted 31 against the Chiefs. Jamaal Charles is amazing, but against better teams than Oakland, he can't carry a team with no passing game and vulnerable defense.
Here's a surprising stat: the 2-12 Texans have the same third-down conversion percentage (35.6%) as their opponents (35.9%). They have more first downs, more yards, more yards per play, more yards per rush, and more time of possession. They're -15 in turnovers, they're awful in the red zone, they lead the AFC in penalties, and they've missed the most field goals of any team in the league. They've also lost the most close games of any team.
Click here for the NFL Week 14 Report, including wild finishes, wind chills, Gary Kubiak, and more Shanahan drama.