Without Teddy Bridgewater, the Minnesota Vikings won't be making noise in January.
There is an old saying: turn out the lights, the party's over. In Minnesota, somebody can hit the switch and go to sleep, taking in a long winter's nap. The Vikings had so much promise only a few days ago, and now nothing.
On Tuesday, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater sustained a non-contact injury that ravaged his left knee. After medical testing had concluded, Bridgewater was found to have a completely torn ACL along with other structural damage, per an official team release. Bridgewater suffered a dislocated knee as well. If there was any good news, his nerves were spared.
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Long-term, the Vikings and Bridgewater may well be able to bounce back from this. In the short term, Minnesota is toast. The defense remains solid, the head coach bright and Adrian Peterson a workhorse, but this isn't 1995. In today's NFL, you need a quarterback who can at least threaten defenses with his legs, mind or arm. Barring something of a miracle, nobody suiting up in purple will be doing that from under center this season.
With Shaun Hill slated to be the starter, the Vikings have the look of a middling team. This is truly a shame, considering many believed they could have made a legitimate push for the Super Bowl. Peterson has to be taking this the hardest of any player on the roster, knowing his 31-year-old body only has so many more games left in it.
To Zimmer's credit, he saidd all the right things at his moribund press conference after the injury. He talked about staying together and not giving up. Factoring in his general demeanor on the sideline and in practice, it is safe to say Minnesota won't be quitting.
Still, this is a game that demands talent. Especially at the quarterback position, where Minnesota is now woefully lacking. This is a team that didn't throw for 3,000 yards last season. Without the potential maturation of Bridgewater, there is no real hope of the passing game improving.
The NFC North looks to be a one-team race for the Green Bay Packers, who can coast into the playoffs. Minnesota was going to be a tough challenger hoping to repeat its division title of 2015, but those hopes were vanquished with the collapsing of Bridgewater.
The Vikings may well be one their way to becoming a champion. It just won't be happening in 2016.
Last year, the New York Jets surprised most pundits with a 10-6 record. Much of the performance was due to an offense that features quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, a journeyman who found his niche in offensive coordinator Chan Gailey's offense.
With Gailey calling the shots, Fitzpatrick reached career highs with 3,905 passing yards and 31 touchdowns. However, there are reasons to wonder if Fitzpatrick can continue his improved play.
For starters, Fitzpatrick had at least a half-dozen interceptions dropped in 2015. These weren't passes almost within the defenders grasp, these were easy pickings only to be lost. Second, New York is facing a harder schedule.
Here are some of the problems the Jets face with Fitzpartick, bared out in the film:
Week 3: Philadelphia at New York
The Jets are trailing 24-7 in the third quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles. It's 1st and 10 from the New York 30-yard line, and the Jets are lined up with two receivers on the left and a single receiver to the right. Philadelphia is countering with Cover 3, under the guise of Cover 2 with man coverage.
On the play, New York is looking for chunk yardage, sending all three receivers downfield. Against this defense, the Jets want one of the Eagles safety to overplay an angle, leaving a hole. Devin Smith is lined up wide left with Quincy Enunwa in the slot. Brandon Marshall is wide right.
This is the top of Fitzpatrick's drop, or when the ball should be coming out. It's obvious that Smith is bracketed by the corner and safety, while Marshall struggled to get off the line of scrimmage and is a non-factor (he's also bracketed by the far corner and safety).
However, Enunwa is going to break wide open. He is about to clear the linebackers and, with the other receivers taking the safeties deep, will have ample room below them. If Fitzpatrick makes a simple read and a decent throw, it's a 20-yard completion.
Here's another look as Fitzpatrick is about to throw deep to Smith. Enunwa couldn't be more open, but Fitzpatrick never looks his way. He never takes his gaze off Smith, who is double-covered.
Here's the result:
Fitzpatrick is lucky the ball falls incomplete.
Week 16: New England at New York
The Jets are winning 20-13 midway through the fourth quarter, but are backed up deep. It's 1st and 10 from the New York 8-yard line. The Jets are lined up with an empty set, going five-wide. New England is in man coverage across the board with a single-high safety. The Patriots are blitzing five.
New York is hoping to get a clearout underneath for slot receiver Quincy Enunwa, who is lined up closest to the right tackle. Kenbrell Thompkins is far right, running a fly pattern. Eric Decker is running a pattern into the flat. On the snap, Fitzpatrick is taught to read the right side first, never checking the back side.
Fitzpatrick should have his mind made up. Enunwa has sold a route toward the inside and has his defender shaded that way. Once Thompkins clears, there will be a huge window around the 25-yard line with some room to roam.
Instead, Fitzpatrick tries to fit a throw to Thompkins. There is room to make the play, but the pass is high and behind Thompkins. Meanwhile, Enunwa (circled) is wide open. It's a much easier and higher-percentage throw.
The end result is predictable…
Week 17: New York at Buffalo
New York is playing for a spot in the postseason. The Jets are trialing 19-17 with 11 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. The Jets have three wide receivers going into the pattern, with Eric Decker wide left running a skinny post. Kenbrell Thompkins is running a fly pattern down the seam, while Marshall is running a corner route.
Buffalo is rushing three, dropping eight. The Bills are in Cover 3 all the way, doing nothing to disguise it.
Fitzpatrick is at the top of his drop. He should see that leodis McKelvin is in good position on Decker, knowing he has help from the deep safety. The Bills are in perfect position to take away all of the downfield routes. However, look into the backfield. Chris Ivory is releasing and has ample room. Fitzpatrick is determined to throw into the end zone.
If Fitzpatrick sees Ivory, it's a first down and maybe six points. Instead, he forces the ball into coverage despite McKelvin now in position to intercept the pass.
Here's the result…
McKelvin intercepts, having gained inside leverage. Decker never had a chance.
Top 12 players with most pressure in 2016
1. Brock Osweiler, QB, Houston Texans
2. Olivier Vernon, DE, New York Giants
3. Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys
4. Josh Norman, CB, Washington Redskins
5. Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts
6. Kawaan Short, DT, Carolina Panthers
7. Markus Wheaton, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
8. Trevor Siemian, QB, Denver Broncos
9. Jimmy Graham, TE, Seattle Seahawks
10. LeSean McCoy, RB, Buffalo Bills
11. Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals
12. Eric Berry, SS, Kansas City Chiefs
"I listened to him and he makes all the sense in the world. He's within his rights and he's telling the truth as he sees it," Brown explained. "I am with him 100 percent. … Now if you ask me 'Would I do that?' No I won't, because I see it a little differently. I'm an American citizen, I pay my taxes, I want my equal rights but this is my country, and consequently I don't want to open up for ISIS or anybody that will take away what we've already gained."
Colin Kaepernick sat out the national anthem last week before the San Francisco 49ers' third preseason game, and caused a considerable controversy. Brown, perhaps the greatest player in NFL history and a longtime activist, expressed his support for the embattled quarterback.
My take: Kaepernick is an American. He's allowed to convey his thoughts. On the flip side, people are allowed to be offended. However, if you are someone who believes America could use some change in these turbulent times, then standing with Kaepernick makes more sense.
Ultimately, as with most things in life, it is a matter of perspective.
The NFC North is the only division to have three teams in the top 10 NFL all-time records. The Chicago Bears are tops with a .570 winning percentage. The Green Bay Packers come in third at .566 and the Minnesota Viking are eighth with a .542 clip.
The Detroit Lions? Checking in 25th with a .459 winning percentage. Detroit has the worst record of any team founded before 1966 sans the Arizona Cardinals.
Info learned this week
1. Cuts starting to hit notable veterans
With teams having to get down to 75 players this week, we saw some notable names hit the chopping block. The New England Patriots released Terrance Knighton while the Cleveland Browns moved on from Paul Kruger.
Kruger should be able to find work. Only 30 years old, Kruger had just 2.5 sacks in 2015 but still was consistently getting pressure. The 3-4 outside linebacker will find work and likely for a contender. Knighton might have a tougher time, considering he was largely ineffective for the Washington Redskins last season. Washington had the cap space to keep him, but decided to go in another direction.
The Seattle Seahawks also released corner Brandon Browner, who came back to the team after stops with the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots.
2. Siemian getting chance to shine
The Denver Broncos surprised nobody on Monday when they announced that Trevor Siemian would be starting Week 1 against the Carolina Panthers. Siemian has thrown exactly zero passes in a regular season game, but he was able to beat out both Paxton Lynch and Mark Sanchez.
Siemian is getting some very mixed reviews to this point, with some anonymous scouts saying they didn't both to review his college tape when he came out of Northwestern. If he can help the defending champions win a sixth straight AFC West title, it would be nothing short of incredible.
3. Chargers, Bosa finally agree to deal
After what was the most contentious rookie negotiation we have seen since the wage scale was instituted in 2011, the San Diego Chargers and Joey Bosa finally agreed on a four-year, $27 million deal on Monday. Bosa will get $17 million in guarantees.
The failures on both sides are multiple, so let's look forward and forget this mess. San Diego gets its man and now moves forward with the hope Bosa becomes a great player on a weak defense. Bosa gets his money and now gets to prove he's worth every penny. After all of this, he better be.
4. Cardinals thin at corner
The Arizona Cardinals are one of the favorites to win the Super Bow, but they took a serious blow on Sunday. Cornerback Mike Jenkins went down with a non-contact injury against the Houston Texans and is out for the season with a torn ACL.
Jenkins had a real chance to start opposite Patrick Peterson. Without him in the fold, head coach Bruce Arians might be looking at Brandon Williams and Justin Bethel to play more snaps. Arizona needs Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu to be healthy for 16 games this season, because the secondary is dangerously close to disaster.
5. Buccaneers-Redskins to play on Wednesday
The NFL has decided to move up the Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Washington Redskins affair from Thursday to Wednesday, citing weather concerns. Tropical Depression Nine should be moving through the area at the originally scheduled time, forcing the league to make this decision in the interest of the players.
Ultimately, this will give both teams one more day to rest and prepare for Week 1 of the regular season. The rest of the Week 4 preseason games will go on Thursday.
Looking at the ages of guys like Big Ben, Brady, Fitzpatrick and Rivers….and then looking at the incredible youth the AFC South has at QB (Luck 26, Osweiller, 25, Bortles 24, Mariota 22)…is the balance of power about to change in the AFC…for a long time?
MV: Great question. Certainly, the days of Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger lording over the AFC are in their dying days. While Brady wants to play another seven years, reality is going to dictate something far different. Let's not forget, Father Time is still awaiting its first loss.
As for the next wave, the AFC South is stocked. Andrew Luck is the best of that bunch and barring injury or Ryan Grigson continuing to hold his job, Luck should be great. I'm also intrigued by Derek Carr, who entering his third year could be a star. The Raiders really knocked it out of the park with Carr in the second round.
I still believe in Ryan Tannehill. He has had no support from the Miami Dolphins and still improves every year. I think he's a winner if Miami can figure it out around him.
Also, don't forget about Joe Flacco. The Baltimore Ravens are an old team and Flacco is entering his 30s, but with the way quarterbacks are protected he could have seven or eight years ahead of him. Few players have more arm talent than Flacco.
Is there a legitimate reason that teams keep on of the very limited 53 roster spots they have for a long snapper? Wouldn't it be more beneficial for a back up lineman to learn this than to use up a roster spot for 4-8 snaps a game.
-- Thomas Rodgers
MV: Thomas, great question. Teams have become increasingly specialized over the years, and long snapped is certainly an example of this trend. Years ago, centers would play on offense and special teams, with the same player having multiple snaps in their arsenal. Now? Well, teams have moved in a different direction.
Personally, I agree with you. There is no reason a center, who snaps the football for a living, can't learn to snap to both quarterback and holder/punter. That said, don't expect that to happen anytime soon.
Based on film study, how do you evaluate Derek Carr's ability to read the defense and follow his progressions?
-- Doug Moyer
MV: Carr is one of the best young quarterbacks in the game. He should continue that upward trajectory in 2016, with a host of weapons around him including Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. That being said, there is some work to be done.
Carr relies heavily on terrific protection, even more so than most quarterbacks. He also has a tendency to stare down his first option, and if he's taken away, the ball doesn't come out on time. Entering his second year in this offense, I expect some of that to change. In a division stocked with great corners, it has to or the interception totals will rise.
History lesson of the week
The head coach with the longest span between Super Bowl appearances is Dick Vermeil. Vermeil reached the Super Bowl in 1980 with the Philadelphia Eagles, losing to the Oakland Raiders. In 1999, Vermeil made it back with the St. Louis Rams in his third year at the helm, beating the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV.
Everyone is focused on the Browns as the likely favorite for the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, but the San Francisco 49ers are my bet. After years of almost winning the Super Bowl under Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers are on their third coach in as many years.
In the current age of quarterbacks ruling all, San Francisco has a deplorably bad group in Blaine Gabbert, Colin Kaepernick and Christian Ponder. Factor in the complete lack of weapons around them, and it gets ugly.
The other team that deserves mention in this space? The Atlanta Falcons. Some like Atlanta, but after a 5-0 start last season, the Falcons fell apart in a major way. The defense has only one impact player in Desmond Trufant and the offense is completely reliant on Julio Jones. With the rest of the NFC South looking improved, Atlanta could be in for a rough campaign.
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