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NFL18: Wild West as Chiefs Roll Dice on QB and Rival Raiders Gamble On a Gruden Return

20 Mar

The upstart AFL was never too tied to tradition to forgo taking a gamble or two.

That was a pretty typical tack for any entity trying to survive in those days when monopoly was tightening its Court-aided grip on their respective business interests (NFL, MLB, communications, food, energy, banks, etc.).

One of those dice-rolls was instant-replay, introduced by red & white-striped zebra Cal Lepore (1919-02). Like it or not (me no likey), I/R continues to have a big impact on the game of football and sport generally.

And unlike the AFL’s older brother, the National Football League, which, in the 1960s, was stuck in the ‘three yards and a cloud of dust‘ offensive mentality, the American Football League (1960-70) was wide-open, turning the pro game into a pass-first profession, thanks largely to men like Oilers quarterback George Blanda and the strategies of San Diego Chargers sideline genius, Sid Gillman.

Sadly, at the insistence of deal-maker and co-founder Lamar Hunt, the AFL in 1971 merged with the more established NFL and became the AFC (NFC). In 2018 it takes absolutely NO gambles, not even on the Super Bowl halftime show where Justin Timberlake promised he wouldn’t pull another nipple-stunt like he did in 2002 with co-creator-in-crass, Janet Jackson.

But stop the presses!

Two AFC West teams, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland-Las Vegas Raiders are harkening back to the days of yore by risking plenty in making dicey decisions that could significantly shape the 2018-19 NFL season.

KC head coach Andy Reid is entering his sixth season at Arrowhead and chose to part ways with his starting QB, the capable veteran but still priming, Alex Smith. He did this in the midst of a luke-warm, NFL signal-caller pool, while the Davis Trust decided Jon Gruden, he cooling his heels and collecting lots o’ loot at Disney (ESPN) for the last ten years, was worth another look-see (1998 – 02) in hopes he can shake off the rust and hasn‘t lost the zeal.

Rivalry: For many decades it stoked the fires in the sport furnace.

When Mays, McCovey & Marichal visited Chavez Ravine to face Drysdale, Wills, Koufax and rest of Walter Alston‘s West Coast Bums, all California buzzed.

When the Halas or Ditka-coached Bears arrived at City (Lambeau) Field in Green Bay, much of the NFL media turned out in anticipation of fireworks.

When Russell and Chamberlain, Magic and Bird battled under the NBA boards, the Earth stood still, then rocked with rhythm.

And when Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito and Boston Bruins headed to Canada to face Jean Beliveau, Yvan Cournoyer and rest of the Habs at the Montreal Forum, it wasn’t the War of 1812 (all Canucks) but you could cut the tenison with a knife.

Today, regionalism and the long-running, raucous rivalries that sprung forth from those adjacent locales has largely been neutralized, some weirdly cancelled altogether, at least in the college football setting.

On campus, the rivalry has been sacrificed for a miniature playoff system, positioned by mindlessly-drawn, mega-conference alignments and then, just as in the professional game, capped-off by celebrity (Heisman race), sold most seriously by a socially-driven junior media who can’t seem to get enough of the gossip and tiresome tidbits that accompany any life that runs in the mix.

But happily, rivalry still rocks the craddle of competition where men butt heads in the National Football League, though, you might not sense it where some of the League’s oldest grudge matches have become little more than concessions to tradition with one or both clubs are, to put it politely, in re-building mode. The Bears v. Packers (or Cardinals), Giants v. Redskins (or Cowboys), Bengals and Browns remain mired in mediocrity.

Yet some rivalries remain vibrant.

The SaintsFalcons, both recent Halas hoisters, still rules the Southland.

VikesPack are the dominent donnybrook in the Old Northwest Territory.

On the Pacific rim, Dick Sherman believes his transfer south to the 49ers will rekindle a rivalry with his former squad, the Seahawks. If Dick weren’t in full-fade, maybe, but more likely Pete, Russ & Bobby will keep doing what they’ve usually done to the Miners these past ten years: Beat the metal out of ‘em, even with Mr. Garoppolo now grappling the pigskin for the Bay backers.

And the best rivalry West of the Mississippi? That’s still the RaidersChiefs.

This will remain so even after the Silver & Black pull up stakes to head east and settle in Nevada. It may grow bigger, given the closer proximity, as long as LasVegas keeps the logo and color montage ‘as is.’ Add gold into the design, get gaudy, and then they are no longer the Raiders.

Both teams are AFL originals, Chiefs relocating from Dallas (Texans) to begin the 63 season and Raiders filling a slot that opened up for inagural 1960 when the Vikings backed-out on an offer to join the senior circuit NFL in 1961.

The rivalry’s intensity reached boiling point in late 1970 as both teams, the Chiefs reigning SB4 champions, battled for the AFCW crown. With KC ahead and QB Len Dawson on the turf after having ran for what seemed a game-clinching 1st-down, Raiders’ defender Ben Davidson speared Dawson with his helmet, triggering a melee where the Chiefs Otis Taylor was later penalized for his own ferocious response in defense of his quarterback. No permanent injuries but it all nullified KC’s gain, Oakland got the ball back, tied it up late, won in OT, clinched the West, the Chiefs were prevented from defending their Super Bowl win and missed the post-season. Ouch!

You can believe, stories like that are handed down by generation.

With Gruden back on point for the Raiders (OAK-TB / 95 – 81), owner Mark Davis hopes Jon can set young Derek Carr back in the saddle of success and work the same magic he did in coaching the Buccaneers to their first ever Super Bowl (SB37) when they trounced the Oakland club he coached just the year prior.

Carr has the pocket poise, taking-off a mere 23 times in 15 starts in 2017 (6-9). The O-line helps in that regard (20sk) but the Raiders need to provide the young QB with more offensive weapons to work his own magic that raised hopes in 2016, while Jon must retrieve those personal skills that served him so well with diva players like Keyshawn who, I must say, matured into a fine studio voice.

As to KC, a stable coaching state has not inspired off-season confidence.

In trading away veteran quarterback Smith (Redskins) and only toe-testing in the free-agency pool, Andy Reid & Co. have, at this posting, saddled themselves with a near-rookie QB in Patrick Mahomes (NFLD17) who’s started one (1) NFL contest (a win on zero TD, one INT) and who, at Texas Tech, showed a tendency to rabbit (averaging 10+ per). All meaning, it’s project time on the Plains.

Not being a pro-style signal-caller like Carr makes Mahomes’ promotion all the more perplexing when you consider the scheme Reid employs: WestCoast.

Evasive quarterback mobility is a plus but the WC-scheme sets the signal-caller to facilitate OTHER player movement in getting the pigskin to his ball-handling teammates in a forward thrust to pay-dirt. It won’t function at an optimal level if said QB is in flash-mode whenever that pressure floods the pocket.

The Patrick Mahomes issue aside, Kansas City does have some formidable offensive threats in dual-duty Kareem Hunt (1327y rush / 455y catch), veteran tight-end Travis Kelce (1038y – 8td), 3d year receiver Tyreek Hill (1183y) and new addition (BUF) in Sam Watkins who, if healthy, fills nice as a secondary choice in the slot, an essential for every title team.

Powerful as those players be, they must have a field general who can matriculate with confidence and consistency to maximize their capabilities in order to make a major run. Without one, team talent is only half-realized and a Wild playoff spot may be the best scenario for the Chiefs whose Super drought (SB4) is longer than the team they vanquished (MIN-78) in KC’s lone NFL championship.

StevenKeys
MacroSport
Photo Credit: NFL-symbol, 2011, wikiproject; KCTV5-Dani-Welniak, Reid-Andy, wc.cca, 12.31.17, J.Beall; Packers-Vikings, 11.14.11, M.Morbeck, wc, Loadholt-Matthews; dice, N.Morberg, wc, 2.22.09; J.Gruden, wc, 2003, USNavy, John-Woods; J.Otto, Topps-Chewing-Gum, 1970
Posted: 3.20.18 @ 6:05pE: Copyright © 2018

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NFL18: It’s Famine State On Franchise QBs As Eagles Have a Field-General Feast

22 Feb

Some call it a quandary, a quarterback conundrum in Eagles-land.

With two 6’5” Pro-Bowl signal-callers likely to be vying for the champion E-Birds starters spot come summer camp, one of them a would-be AP-MVP if not for a late-season ACL tear (Carson Wentz), the other, the reigning SB52 Most Valuable (Nick Foles), Philadelphia’s head coach Doug Pederson looks to have a tough choice on his soon-to-be bejeweled hands.

Pederson & Co. are envy of the League, one where at least a dozen other clubs wished they’d had such a dilemma to deal with this NFL off-season.

But don’t count the Vikings, even as the team Philadelphia vanquished in last January’s NFCC, in amongst the wishers.

With three capable QBs rostered, counting most recent starter Case Keenum, a rehabbed from his most recent injury, vet Sam Bradford (just nine months older than CK) and the youngest of the group, Ted Bridgewater who’ll be entering his 3rd NFL season after having lost the starter’s spot to his own injury and Bradford signing, Minnesota has their own field general quandary to quell.

Contract maneuvers aside, I’d tab Keenum.

Bradford’s always been a skilled pro and mentally focused but is now looking egg-shell and Teddy, in 28 starts (17-11), didn’t appear to have the matriculatory skill-set to move Minnesota into the upper echelon of contenders (28t-22i).

Keenum has 40 starts under his belt (20-19 / 1-1), put up strong numbers in 2017 (11-3, 67.6C%, 22t-7i, 3550y, 7.4 ypc), inspired on an incalculable capability (NFCD18) and is in his prime, having just turned 30 in February (2.17.88).

The Chiefs, count them in with the ‘wish-we-had-more-options’ group.

The sorry state of affairs in quarterback commodity makes Kansas City’s call to part-ways with the capable Alex Smith perplexing. Smith is aging (34 in May) but then so is his former head coach Reid (60 in March).

Alex is a veritable youngster compared to some other NFL stalwarts like Brady (40) and Brees (39) and had a strong 2017, going 9-6 on a 67.5C%, over 4000 passing yards and a super 26-5 TD-ratio. Chiefs lost their lone playoff contest versus the Titans but Smith played his part pretty well (24-33, 264, 2-0, 4sks). Go figure a franchise that hasn’t been to the Big Game since Stram in 1970. And with Gruden back in Oakland-LasVegas, that Super drought may get drier.

For the Eagles part, instinct would have you think an abundance of proven signal-callers in camp is a dicey state best to be avoided, but the NFL does have its case histories showing a wealth of quarterbacks can be a good thing.

The dual QB system was in place with the original Los Angeles Rams from 1949 to 1952, the Bob Waterfield – Norm Van Brocklin dynamic duo producing four NFL championship contests with one title realized (1951).

The 49ers of the late 1980s, early 90s began their dynasty with Joe Montana at the helm and would add Steve Young to the roster for a fifth and final title in 1995. Steve didn’t sub too much during Joe’s reign but they did co-exist on active-duty for four seasons in the Bay City (87-90).

Around the same time as Joe & Steve in SanFran, the Giants had a quarterback tandem of their own going with Simms & Hostetler, Phil leading the New Yorkers offensively in their SB21 (87) win over the Broncos and then had the baton passed to Jeff who called the winning plays in SB25 against the Bills.

So it’s been done before, the duality thing. But the player contracts will control. The broad-strokes: Wentz signed a 4-year deal in spring of 2016 for $27M, Foles a 2-year term in early 2017 for $11M.

Barring the bizarre like player holdout or a contract-term permitting Philly to avoid the dilemma and part ways with one of their two starter QBs before the season begins, both men will be rostered for the entirety of 2018-19.

But whether it’s the rostered versus trade-bait or starter versus sideliner debate, Nick Foles should get the nod in either discussion.

For starters (no pun), the man is no playoff fluke.

Foles has earned his spurs, not only of the post-season variety but has proven himself to be a capable regular season quarterback as well when he went 14-4 on a 62C% as an Eagles’ starter spanning the 2013-14 campaigns.

Carson is younger (25 > 29) but Foles is healthier, has been shipped out of Philly once before (2014), has a regular season career mark of 22-17 (Wentz 18-11), 3-1 in the post-season and is now imbued with the aura of a pro-football Titlist, sans as many as the 352 dimples (Titleist® Pro V1).

It’s all been a bad break for Wentz.

Sure, Carson can wear his Super Bowl ring with pride in knowing he played a big part in getting the Philadelphia Eagles to a playoff position where they controlled their own destiny on home-field and in imbuing his teammates with a confidence, a winning spirit needed to close the deal against New England.

But the knee injury derailed an MVP-like season and it’s the QB who hoists the Lombardi who gets the love. Add to that, we don’t really know exactly how well Wentz will play once he hit’s the turf with his repaired knee. Recent history does bode well, though. showing that the medical community nowadays is doing wonderful things in the orthopedic department as Adrian Peterson can attest.

And maybe Philadelphia goes all in, strategizes like a real champion by taking a page outta’ the old LA Rams’ playbook in implementing a true, dual-QB system. Not so crazy when you consider both their current #1 and #2 quarterbacks are tested, highly capable and have the trust of their teammates.

Bottomline: These Eagles should count their blessings. They’ve already done the unthinkable and achieved the goal of every owner, GM, coach, player and fan in the League: Win the Super Bowl, and did so in besting the best club of the past twenty years. Anything from here on in should be gravy, pure gravy. That means they can roll the dice, take some reasonable risks, keep both Carson and Nick, for a time, see how it plays out and HAVE SOME FUN.

StevenKeys
Photo credit: NFL-symbol.2011.wikiproject; D.Pederson, wc.cca, 1.19.16, PressCon, T.Johhson; N.Foles, SB52-VictoryParade, 2.8.18, GovWolf, wc; C.Wentz, .9.10.17, wc, K.Allison, Hanover-MD: H.Jackson, TCG, 1970
Posted: 2.22.18 @ 3:52pE; Copyright © 2018