Bruce Arians Insights on QBs

downloadBruce Arians deserved a better writer than Lars Anderson to discuss what it takes to be an NFL quarterback.  The book is a mess in a lot of ways with side trips in the middle of chapters that don’t necessarily related to the topic at hand.  There is a good book in here somewhere.

With that said, Arians has a lot of important points to make about what it takes to be an NFL quarterback.  Here he profiles those he has worked with most closely: Peyton Manning, Kelly Holcomb, Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck, and Carson Palmer.  All are very different quarterbacks but with a lot of the traits Arians looks for in an NFL signal caller.  Unfortunately, a lot of the chapters start meandering into other topics, but nonetheless they are great vignettes about some of the best quarterbacks in the league and one primarily a backup quarterback (Holcomb) who Arians got the most out of.

What is the most important attribute for an NFL quarterback?  First, it’s brains.  To be successful in the NFL a quarterback doesn’t have to be the best athlete on the field, but he probably has to be one of the smartest.  The ability to watch film, read defenses in fast paced live action, and get the ball where it needs to be with accuracy and velocity ultimately is the key.  But football smarts is essential to success regardless of other factors.

You also must have heart.  The willingness to take a big hit to get the ball off, the willingness to play through pain, and the willingness to prepare hard and do what it takes to maximize potential.

You have grit, which Arians defines as “handling success and failure equally”.  You can’t get too up and down over wins and losses but have to compartmentalize and move on to the next game.  If a QB throws an interception or a pick six (an interception returned for a touchdown), the QB can’t get rattled but has to move on to the next play.

And you have to be leader.  An NFL quarterback must be somebody others on the team look up to as an example and want to play with.  And all the traits above set that example.

From athletic point of view obviously an NFL quarterback has to have decent arm strength but it doesn’t have to be a rocket.  Accurate throws to all parts of the field are what set quarterbacks apart.  And the quarterback has to be athletic enough to avoid rush and move around in the pocket, what many call “pocket presence”.  You don’t have to be the best athlete just athletic enough.

As Arians notes, a lot of big armed, athletic quarterbacks have failed in the NFL because they did not posses these traits.

The other interesting part of this book is how some potentially great quarterbacks lack the maturity to play quarterback in the NFL.  Arians was with Baltimore when they scouted Ryan Leaf and Peyton Manning as their first NFL draft pick.  Arians walked around both players’ campuses incognito and just asked around about what people thought of them.  Everybody had good things to say about Manning and nothing bad, while nobody had anything but bad things to say about Leaf.  So that ingrained in Arians a clear lack of leadership and we see what happened to Ryan Leaf.

Overall this was an interesting book about NFL quarterbacks, just annoying disjointed and unorganized at times.

The Quarterback Whisperer: How to Build an Elite NFL Quarterback

The 1970’s Pittsburgh Steelers: Then and Now

17383116Their Life’s Work: The Brotherhood of the 1970’s Pittsburgh Steelers Then and Now by Gary Pomerantz
Simon and Schuster (October 29, 2013)
ISBN-10: 1451691629
ISBN-13:  978-1451691627
480 pages

The 1970’s Pittsburgh Steelers are an iconic dynasty in the modern era of professional football.  Typically defense wins championships and Pittsburgh had some of the best defensive players ever to don pads and cleats.  But they also had some playmakers on the offensive side of the ball like Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, and John Stallworth.  And let’s give Terry Bradshaw his due for slowly becoming a team leader and competent enough quarterback to lead the Steelers to four Super Bowls in six years.

Gary Pomerantz has gone back and takes a look at this dynastic team from the point of view of the players who made it all happen all those many years ago.  You can truly see the deep bond many of the players developed for a lifetime, particularly on the defensive side the ball, and the importance of that team’s legacy to the not just the players, but the city of Pittsburgh itself.

Central to the book is how Franco Harris became so deeply ingrained in the community becoming a local hero, philanthropist, and businessman.  He also talks about some of the more tragic stories such as the unfortunate decline in health, both physical and mental, of Mike Webster, one of the best centers ever to play the game.  And the great affection and brotherhood that marked the best defensive line in NFL history – Mean Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, Dwight White, and Crazy Ernie Holmes comes to life as they remember the glory of the past.

Pomerantz was a journalist who covered the Steeler’s in the seventies.  One of the oddest comments in the books introduction is this disillusion with professional football because of brain trauma and the recent studies about the plight of many former players.  Fair enough.  Thankfully the book is well balanced and doesn’t drone on about this topic other than when discussion Mike Webster.

For any football fan this is a book well worth reading and it is a must read for Pittsburgh Steeler’s fans.

Their Life’s Work: The Brotherhood of the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers, Then and Now

Review of The Last Headbangers by Kevin Cook

Headbangers

The Last Headbangers: NFL Football in the Rowdy, Reckless ’70s: The Era that Created Modern Sports by Kevin Cook
W. W. Norton & Company (2012)
ISBN-10: 0393345874

288 pages

The Last Headbangers is a history of the NFL in the 1970’s through the prism of the rivalry between the Oakland Raiders and the Pittsburgh Steelers.  The Raiders, the fun loving, renegade group of misfits versus the blue collar, lunch pail Steelers with a ferocious defense.  Cook describes their battles as a biker gang versus a construction crew, a pithy and apt description.

The theme of the book is quite clear, that 1970’s football, still a throwback to the old days of banging heads and taking no prisoners on the field, morphed into a sanitized, scripted, corporate product in the 1980’s.  He brackets this metamorphosis between Franco Harris’s Immaculate Reception in a 1972 playoff game against the Raiders to Dwight Clark’s “The Catch” in 1982 when the San Francisco 49’ers defeated the Dallas Cowboys to usher in a new football dynasty.  Here I’ll just quote the author.

The Last Headbangers represents two years of research on the NFL in the 1970s. While working on the book I came to believe that the league entered a pivotal era with Franco Harris’s Immaculate Reception in 1972, an era in which new rules, television, aggressive marketing, a special generation of players and coaches, and a changing America combined to help pro football dominate the sports landscape. In my view the game took on its modern form in the ’70s, and what I consider “’ 70s football” ended with Dwight Clark’s 1982 touchdown grab, now known as The Catch, ushering in a more corporate, scripted, and regulated version of the sport, exemplified by the great 49ers teams of the ’80s.  (Cook, Kevin (2012-08-27). The Last Headbangers: NFL Football in the Rowdy, Reckless ’70s–The Era that Created Modern Sports (Kindle Locations 3666-3671). Norton. Kindle Edition.)

Cook also details the rule changes that have essentially made the passing supreme and created a game where defensive players can barely look at an offensive player meanly without getting a flag thrown.  Most of these changes hamper defensive backs from touching a receiver after five yards and limit the amount of contact they can make against “defenseless” receivers – all to create a sanitized game and open up offense and scoring.

The majority of the book, however, is the inside story behind the Raiders and Steelers organization, with particular emphasis on the Immaculate Reception (or Immaculate Deception as Raiders fans call it).  It is mostly a history of these two franchises in the 1970’s.

Overall Cook does an excellent job of describing the games and these two teams throughout the 1970’s.  For many fans I am sure it will be highly entertaining as the writing is excellent and the story well told.

I thought the best aspect of the book was describing the friendship between the Raiders’ linebacker Phil Villapiano and the Steelers’ running back Franco Harris who continue to argue over the Immaculate Reception.

But for me this book ultimately disappointing for a couple of reasons.

First, I have read a copious amount of NFL history, so most of the details in the book I have read elsewhere.  Granted it is well written and likely entertaining for others, but for me it’s simply rehashing what I’ve already read.

Second, I’m not sure I buy the core premise of the Immaculate Reception and The Catch necessarily being the bookends of eras.  The rise of the passing game and rules that have sanitized professional football into a more sterile corporate image have been ongoing through decade of the 1980’s and into the 2010’s.  It’s not easy to put bookends around the trend as Cook does.  Although 1978 probably was a seminal year as that is when many of the rule changes started to move the NFL into the passing frenzy we see today.

And I won’t quibble too much about the title, although it seems a bit inaccurate.  How can the 1970’s be the era that created modern sports when the theme is that that era is over and a bygone past?  It wasn’t the era that created modern football; it was corporatization of the sport, really more so in the 1990s through today that lead to the NFL of today.

As summation, for those who have read a lot of football history and are interested in it, this is a good place to start with the caveats noted above.  For hardcore football fans, there’s not really a lot new here.

The Last Headbangers: NFL Football in the Rowdy, Reckless ’70s–The Era that Created Modern Sports

2012 NFL Season: Week One Observations

Before launching into the games I watched a few comments on some major themes at the start of the season.

Replacement Referees: Granted watching on television you can’t see everything that goes on on the field but so far I think the replacement refs are doing okay. Granted there are some glitches but that is to be expected with officials with no NFL experience and probably have not worked together before. The blown reversed holding call on Green Bay’s punt return for touchdown is a good example of where one official was probably looking at one set of players where there was no holding/block in the back but the call was actually on another set of players. Thankfully it didn’t affect the outcome of the game. And I’ve seen regular officials make the same mistakes. It’s just magnified in this situation.

RG III and Andrew Luck: Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck will be tied at the hip for the rest of their lives. Not just their NFL careers, but their lives. I continue to see stories about the bust Ryan Leaf and Peyton Manning, much to Leaf’s deteriment. These two will share the same experience. So far so good but if one game is any indiacation RG III came out of the gate with a small grasp on Rookie of the Year after his performance against the New Orleans Saints. He was phenomenal. He reminds me of a MATURE version of Michael Vick as a rookie, which should be very scary for NFC East foes. I was stunningly impressed. Okay, it’s one game I am not putting him in the Hall of Fame yet but everything points to him being the real deal, including, shall I say it again? His maturity. I did not see Andrew Luck but the Redskins putting it to a discombobulated Saints team was kind of fun to watch.

Super Bowl XLVII: No comment.


GAMES I WATCHED

New England Patriots over Tennessee Titans, 34-13

Are we going to have some kind of defense this year? Please? After this game, despite some shakiness, the defense looked rather improved from the debacle of last year. We STUFFED the run but at times struggled in pass coverage. But that has been a league wide trend this week so I am not overly worried about that.

I was really pleased to see a running game develop with Stevan Ridley but I am a bit worried about our depth at that position. I am MORE WORRIED about Nate Solder’s ability at left tackle. He missed or was late on too many blocks and he let Cameron Wimbley get a shot on Brady from behind that bloodied him up. We will miss the reliable Matt Light at left tackle this year. I pray that Solder steps it up.

The offense seemed decent but a bit shakey. Brandon Lloyd really had extremely poor technique in missing an easy touchdown bomb from Brady and there were a few other uncharacteristic drops as well. But overall we moved the ball well and finally got a little running game going.

While this was a team win with now true standouts, my MVP has to go to Ridley for making believe we might be able to run sometimes this year.

MVP: Stevan Ridley, RB


Dallas Cowboys over New York Giants, 24-17

Dallas put on a surprise showing for most in this game although I really was not that surprised by the outcome. Dallas defense was much improved over its inconsistent performance from last year and wide receiver Kevin Ogletree kind of came out of nowhere to be a force on offense. Overall it was a very efficient game for the Cowboys with mostly decent offensive line play, although the Giants Jason Pierre-Paul still looks to be the best defensive lineman in the league, and a solid running game. But really the key to the game was Tony Romo’s mobility. He was harassed often but used his feet to extend plays.

The second major factor in the game was the Giants defense was clearly sucking wind late in the third quarter and really didn’t do much to stop Dallas’s offense.

It will be interesting to see how these teams progress as the season wears on. The Giants always seem to start slow then finish strong, and Dallas has a habit of collapsing.

MVP: Kevin Ogletree, WR

San Francisco 49’ers over Green Bay Packers, 30-22

Solid defense, a decent running game, and a few big plays still equals a win in today’s NFL. And that is what the 49’ers brought to the table I this game. I keep wondering when Frank Gore will suddenly get old but he looked solid today. And the much maligned Alex Smith was hitting on his passes and even the mecruial Randy Moss got himself a touchdown pass.

The defense for the 49’ers was very solid and impressive.

Green Bay suddenly doesn’t look like the hot team everyone favors for a Super Bowl run. And frankly their defense looked pretty ragged and their running game non-existent. If they hope to the big game again, they probably are going through San Francisco (or maybe Atlanta)?

MVP: Frank Gore, RB

Denver Bronco over Pittsburgh Steelers, 31-19

Denver already had a solid defense. Now they have Payton Manning, who makes any offensive automatically better. They schooled the Steelers whose defense is growing ancient before our eyes and their offense was anemic at best. The Broncos defensive backs really shut down the Steelers recievers and I thought Tracy Porter was the best player on the field other than Manning.

The other thing that stood out to me in this game is Willis McGahee. I mean this guy is old and washed up right? I’ve never seen him play better.

After this performance the Broncos, so far, look like a force to be reckoned with. And despite the offense clicking, I thought the defense was even better!

MVP: Tracy Porter, CB

Baltimore Ravens over Cincinnati Bengals, 44-13

If you asked me right now who the best team in the NFL is it would have to be the Baltimore Ravens. Flacco played as good a game at quarterback as I have ever seen him play. He was poised, made great decisions and seemed much more calm in the pocket that is his norm. Ray Rice was running well, Torrey Smith had a few big plays, and Michael Oher at left tackle seemed to be getting off the ball faster and be more comfortable on that side of the line that he as been in the past.

And the never aging Ray Lewis? Are you kidding me? And Ed Reed (who keeps getting hurt but so what?). It’s week one but this team was clicking on all cylinders.

MVP: Joe Flacco, QB

San Diego Chargers over Oakland Raiders, 22-14

This was a very painful game to watch at times. The Raiders early on in the game constantly kept shooting themselves in the foot with stupid penalties. And then by now everyone probably knows of the fiascos in the punting game that occurred after the regular long snapper went down with an injury. I don’t think I have ever seen three botched punt attempts in one game. Two, yes. Three? Never that I can recall. And those were as good as turnovers. But the Raiders defense hung as tough as they could throughout the game. A big shout out to former Patriots defensive lineman Richard Seymour who had a great game in a losing cause.

I do have to say, without any vulgar references, what does Trent Dilfer have for Philip Rivers? For the past few years, hearing Dilfer talk, you’d think Rivers walks on water. Trent Dilfer is the most idiotic, worthless, know nothing announcer in the game today. I got sick of hearing him blather on senselessly throughout the game.

But back to the game! If San Diego barely escapes winning a game with a mistake prone Raiders, and Kansas City can’t do much more than they did against Atlanta, then those three teams are probably just conceding the division the Payton Manning lead Denver Broncos in the AFC West.

MVP: Antonie Cason, CB


Washington Redskins over New Orleans Saints, 40-32

Robert Griffin III had the best rookie quarterback debut I can ever remember. He really reminds me of a much, much, much more mature version of Michael Vick. He was poised in the pocket, has a rocket arm, and for the most part made good decisions. Across the board the Redskins looked better in this game than I have seen in a long, long time. The offensive line, a big question mark coming into the season, played mostly very well with a few glitches. Left tackle Trent Williams played well, of course against a rust Will Smith, and out of nowhere for most Alfred Morris, the sixth round draft pick from Florida Atlantic showed why he is the starting running back.

The Saints, meanwhile, looked as discombobulated, mistake prone, and had scads of penalties which fueled the should have been blowhout. While one can see how explosive this offense can be, this game would not have been nearly as close had it not been for a blocked punt and poor calls by the referees.

After bounty gate I am glad to see the Saints get there cumuppance. And while I am not, by far, any kind of fan of the Redskins, they suddenly look intriguting.

MVP: Robert Griffin III, QB

 

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Offensive Player: Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins
Defensive Player: Tracy Porter, CB, Denver Broncos
Offensive Lineman: Manny Ramirez, G, Denver Broncos
Special Teams: David Akers, K, San Francisco 49’ers (Tie NFL record with 63 yard field goal)
Rookie of the Week: Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins

2010 NFL Football Season: Week 11 Observations

GENERAL OBSERVATIONS

Top Ten Teams

Philadelphia Eagles. While not as dominating a performance as last week against the Redskins, the Eagles won a division game against a tough opponent and shut down Giants’ running back Ahmad Bradshaw.

Atlanta Falcons. I don’t know what the Falcons strength of schedule looks like but it can’t be great. But they keep rolling along with a solid offense and defense.

New York Jets. The Jets’ come from behind wins week after week are pretty amazing. If the Patriots and Jets both win on Thanksgiving the Monday Night match up the following week will be the biggest game of the year so far.

New England Patriots. The Patriots constantly giving up big leads week after week is a real concern for Patriots fan. While the offense seems to have found a rhythm, the defense hasn’t matched up. This could ultimately be their downfall.

Baltimore Ravens. Not much to say about the Ravens game this week against a depleted and woeful Carolina Panthers unit.

Pittsburgh Steelers. After getting convincingly beaten by the Patriots last week the Steelers made a real statement in blowing out the Oakland Raiders.

Green Bay Packers. The shellacking of Minnesota this week must have been sweet for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.

New Orleans Saints. It will be interesting to see if the Saints can regain their dominant form they showed last year. They seem to be on a bit of a roll now.

San Diego Chargers. San Diego is starting to look like the Super Bowl contender they were supposed to be. This is a very dangerous team in a weak division.

Indianapolis Colts. The Colts dropped a little this week after losing to the Patriots but only because the Chargers played so well.

The New York Giants dropped off the top ten list this week after losing a home game to the Eagles.

Trent Dilfer

Along with Tom Jackson, Trent Dilfer joins my all time least favorite announcers/analysts list. This guy is complete idiot and does not belong on television. The first week of the season he was the announcer for the San Diego Chargers versus Kansas City Chiefs game. I taped the game and watched it the next day and started right at the kickoff so I wasn’t even sure who the announcer was, I just thought he was an idiot. He kept going on and on and on and on ad nauseum about how great San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers is. I thought, gee is this guy married to Rivers?

Every time I see him on television he makes me sick with his stupidity. I turn the channel when I see him now. He was an awful quarterback too.

Brad Childress is Gone, Brett Favre Should Be Next

As soon as I saw that Brad Childress was finally fired from the Minnesota Vikings and Leslie Frazier named the interim head coach, I thought if Frazier really wants to take control of this team he has to release Brett Favre and see what Tarvaris Jackson can do as quarterback. Favre is as much of the problem with that team as Childress was and it will not be resolved until they show him the door. Favre has played horribly this year and clearly is the person who really that runs the team.

GAMES I WATCHED

New England Patriots over Indianapolis Colts, 31-28

After building up a nice 31-14 lead the New England Patriots defense gave up two really quick scores to the Colts in the fourth quarter, and nearly gave up a tying field goal or winning touchdown near the end of the game. This was heart attack city for Patriots fans and a cause for great concern. The defense is clearly still a work in progress but that progress better be a bit quicker as we reach the end of the regular season. The offense is not going to be able to put up 31 points on every team. And if we get behind it seems like the game could be over.

I am a glass half empty kind of fan after years and years of woeful Patriots teams in the late 1980’s and 1990’s, and I complained about the offense not doing more in the second half after a few bad series. But I was reminded that Peyton Manning threw three interceptions and the game loser, so I will just have to take that.

Danny Woodhead’s 36 yard touchdown run in the third quarter with little Wes Welker blocking downfield was a thing of beauty.

MVP: Danny Woodhead, RB

Chicago Bears over Miami Dolphins, 16-0

With third string quarterback Tyler Thigpen starting for the Dolphins off a short week I thought they were in big trouble, and they were. Add to that some injuries on the Dolphins’ offensive line and they were in even bigger trouble. The Dolphins offense just never could get it going and they were giving up a lot of yards on kick returns to Devin Hester that set up Chicago for an early lead that they never relinquished.

I think Thigpen is a decent quarterback and with a regular practice schedule and some protection can win some games for the Dolphins.

MVP: Devin Hester, KR/WR

Baltimore Ravens over Carolina Panthers, 37-13

This game went pretty much as expected with the Ravens dominating the undermanned Carolina Panthers on both sides of the ball. Nothing against Brain St. Pierre but when you sign a perennial backup and third stringer off the street to be your starter you are in big trouble. That goes doubly true if you are facing a ball hawking Ravens defense.

MVP: Ray Rice, RB

Philadelphia Eagles over New York Giants, 27-17

Despite being only a game up on the New York Giants in the NFC East, the Eagles staked their claim to the division title with a win over the New York Giants. While it wasn’t the otherworldly performance of a week ago against the Washington Redskins, the Eagles played good enough, especially on defense, to pull out a tough win. More impressive is the defense is playing better than it has all year long.

While the Giants are a bit banged up they are a strange team to watch week in and week out. Some weeks they look great and other weeks they look awful, even in some of their wins. You never know what Giants’ team is going to show up.

MVP: Jeremy Maclin, WR

San Diego Chargers over Denver Broncos, 35-14

Has a sleeping giant awoken from its slumber? After three straight wins and basically handing a game to the New England Patriots, the Chargers, even at 5-5, are poised to take the AFC West title if they keep winning. They have some tough matchups ahead but I am not a big believer in the Kansas City Chiefs or Oakland Raiders and the Denver Broncos are almost out of it.

This was a very dominating performance in all phases of the game by the Chargers. And while Philip Rivers was brilliant and really is having an MVP type season, backup running back Mike Tolbert set the tone early in the game with tough runs.

MVP: Mike Tolbert, RB

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Offensive Player: Steve Johnson, WR, Buffalo Bills
Defensive Player: Julius Peppers, DE, Chicago Bears
Offensive Lineman: Sebastian Vollmer, T, New England Patriots
Special Teams: Devin Hester, KR/WR, Chicago Bears
Rookie of the Week: Gerald McCoy, DT, Tampa Bay