TFQ’s PROPS for October in the NFL

TFQ’s PROPS for October in the NFL – 2012

Every week in “What I Saw”, Blair Miller gives PROPS for, well, props-worthy acts.  At the end of each month we repost a list of them.

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Week 5

I SAW PROPS for three star running backs – Steeler Rashard Mendenhall, Chief Jamaal Charles and Viking Adrian Peterson – on their virtually seamless returns to top form after sustaining brutal knee injuries within the last 13 months.  It’s long been the custom that such reconstructive surgery takes over a year of regular play before the knee is back to the strength and lateral mobility that it had prior to ACL tears.  It could be that medical rehabilitation has taken strides that help make this possible.  Maybe there’s some new voodoo working its magic in training rooms. (I’m thinking waving a flaming bunch of Billy Sims’ hair over it.)  Maybe it just so happens that all three men are freaks of nature.  Perhaps it’s all of the above.  But after initially worrying that each aforementioned player was being allowed back into the fray of a real game too soon, it’s nice to see them making jump cuts and churning their legs through contact in ways not often seen – at least not in the past.

I SAW PROPS to Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera for winning baseball’s first Triple Crown since 1967.  (It’s won by leading the league in batting average, home runs and runs batted in).  Cut it up all you want, nerdy sabermetricians, but doing something that is both one of the more publicly revered achievements in baseball and something that hasn’t been done in 47 years is pretty cool.  I’ve read a lot about super rookie Mike Trout and his historic Wins Against Replacement value.  WAR, what is it good for?  Absolutely next to nothin’ (in this case).  WAR merely evaluates a player against the others at his position that season, which is about as relative as you can get with a sports stat.  All it could say, for instance, is that Trout was really good this season and his fellow outfielders, not so much in comparison.  That hardly places him in the pantheon of baseball figures like the Triple Crown will do for Miggy.

Trout is a phenom the likes of which the league hasn’t seen for a long time – if ever.  He deserves recognition for it.  But the media has very much spun the American League MVP race into the traditionalist camp versus the new generation of stats geeks who are changing the evaluative landscape of pro baseball.  When win-loss record took a back seat to other stats in the Cy Young race it was fairly understandable.  In this case, though: Advantage traditionalists.

Which Begs the question: was anybody other than scouts and sabermetricians sitting around dissatisfied with the wealth of baseball stats prior to this recent numeric revolution?  The stats have their value, but it’s still the fans’ game, not statisticians’.

I SAW PROPS to Saints QB Drew Brees for passing for a TD in 48 straight games – breaking a record that was held for 52 years by the legendary Johnny Unitas.

No one will ever compare to Unitas.  He, his favorite receiver, Raymond Berry and their head coach Weeb Ewbank did much to elevate game preparation and the passing game to what it has become today when they, as Colts, pioneered things such as watching game film and developing unspoken route improvisations based upon how a defender was covering Barry that was nurtured by endless practice.  (Another famous Colt duo would repeat history when Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison came together.)  All the hard work proved worthwile: Johnny U put up the amazing numbers he put up while the passing game was at a point in history that had yet to appreciate and integrate the things he was doing with the football.  In other words, he set a standard for scoring consistency at the quarterback position with a smidgeon of the passing attempts afforded contemporary pivots.

Maybe that’s why all the talk about the similarities between Brees and Unitas feels subtly forced – even though even Unitas’ son, Joe, claims that the two QBs remind the younger Unitas of one another.  Mind you, Joe has also mentioned that his father seldom spoke of football at home…there’s that.  More specifically, it’s been played up that both Brees and Unitas were a cut above because neither men cared as much about individual accomplishment and accolades as they did winning.  Why must the things we expect out of famous athletes be celebrated as special?  There are certainly some players that do care about individual records – more of them than just the ones who know that about themselves.  But is it far-fetched to think that the majority of team athletes prioritize winning over other personal gain?  Really?

I SAW PROPS to Falcons TE, the ageless wonder Tony Gonzalez.  Until Sunday the 36-year old surefire Hall Of Famer hadn’t had 10 receptions or more in a game since arriving in Atlanta in ’09.  Against the Redskins, Gonzo pulled in 13 catches.  He now has 39 receptions this year, which leads the league.  It’s performances like that which makes the rest of us feel greedy and want to somehow convince Gonzalez not to retire after the season as he has planned.  His wasn’t the only standout game put up by an aging receiver on Sunday….

I SAW PROPS to Colts WR Reggie Wayne.  Notice to the doubters who had written Wayne off as too old: the Indy wideout caught 13 passes for a career-high 212 yards.  (It’s also the highest single game total by an Indy receiver since Raymond Berry in 1957.)  One of those passes came via a gorgeous one-handed diving job with his left hand while his right hand was being held by a defender.  Wayne knows [cancer-stricken coach Chuck] Pagano from when the two men were at the University of Miami years ago.  That might have served for extra motivation for Wayne, but, as mentioned, notice is served to defenses around the league – Wayne can still light it up.

 

Week 6

I SAW PROPS to Hall Of Fame DT Cortez Kennedy, who had his number 96 retired during halftime Sunday.  He’s in rare company – only two other Seahawk players have enjoyed that distinction: WR Steve Largent (#80 and the main reason most people even know Dave Krieg’s name) and OT Walter Jones (#71 the man who pushed Lincoln Navigators around to work out).

Seattle’s “12th Man” (#12) is also retired to honor the fans, but as much as sports fans like to refer to their team as “us” and “we” (and congratulate each other for their teams’ wins…what’s up with that?), they are not on the team. 

I SAW PROPS for Packers WR James Jones for an eye-popping, stand-up-out-of-your-couch-and-spill-your-chips-all-over-the-floor-without-caring one-handed catch in the end zone to make it 42-17 for Green Bay in the fourth quarter.  Jones was guarded well, but QB Aaron Rodgers put the ball up for grabs and Jones dove past the defender who had seemingly boxed him out from making the catch, and pulled it in with one arm.  Great catch.

I SAW PROPS for Buccaneers CB Ronde Barber, whose bouncy-ball interception that he returned for a touchdown tied him with the much-more-celebrated Packers S Charles Woodson for the most defensive TDs amongst active players, with 12.

I SAW PROPS to Redskins QB Robert Griffin III for his stellar play so far this season.

On the micro scale, there is the 76-yard TD run to put the game against the Vikings out of reach.  The run showed his world-class speed, as the one-time track star got to the outside edge and ran right past what seemed like numerous pursuit angles had by Minny defenders.

On the macro scale, there are RG3’s stats for the season.  He ranks first in the NFL with a 70.2 completion percentage, second with 8.34 yards per pass attempt and third with a QB rating of 100.5.  Wow.  Eat your heart out, Cam Newton. 

I SAW PROPS to both Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan and his QB Robert Griffin III for not changing their approach to Griffin’s run-heavy style of play.  I agree wholeheartedly with not handcuffing such an athletic and fast QB only to protect him from hits.  Why effectively remove one of the most significant parts of RG3’s game?  It’s already obvious that the rookie’s running ability is a big reason for why Washington’s offense is clicking so well at this point.  So much of the scheme is oriented around the option ride fake, and without the threat of the run, that fake is useless.  In other words, not only does limiting RG3’s rushing opportunities diminish his skill set – it would also necessitate overhauling the way the offense is being run.

Michael Vick being injury-prone isn’t nearly enough of a reason to overreact and clips the wings off of Griffin.  When I think of the other three most run-oriented QBs in my lifetime, I think of Randall Cunningham, Steve Young and Steve McNair.  Those quarterbacks almost never got hurt while running the ball, but they all got beat up pretty bad at times when they were in the pocket.  (In fact, Young’s career was cut short due to concussion concerns after a few big hits he took when dropping back to pass.)

Think about this – running free with the ball when you have more speed than most of the players on the field versus standing still in the pocket and having huge men come at you from all angles – including one they call “the blind side.”  Which situation sounds more dangerous?  I’m not saying it’s unconditionally safer to run/scramble.  These days nothing in football is safe.  But it’s a misconception to think that running is as dangerous for a quarterback as people make it seem.

 

Week 7 

I SAW PROPS for a truly impressive streak that is on the verge of being snapped.  Redskins LB London Fletcher (arguably the most underrated player of his generation) has played in 231 straight games.  That is amazing for an undersized and hard-hitting middle linebacker.  Unfortunately Fletcher left Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury and his status for next week is doubtful.

UPDATE: Fletcher predictably gutted it out and made the start next week against the Steelers.

I SAW PROPS for Redskins rookie QB Robert Griffin III for, well, winning over the Giants’ hearts.  Is that the right thing to say?  The New York D-linemen are usually pretty acerbic towards opponents, but even before Sunday’s NFC East tilt N.Y. defensive end Osi Umenyiora wasn’t shy in praising Washington’s quarterback:

“They have a very good football player on their hands.  We have a problem on ours.” 

After the ’Skins had lost the game – but RG3 dazzled fans and players alike – even the yappy DL Justin Tuck couldn’t resist complimenting his rival during the postgame press conference:

 “I’m pretty mad at the football gods for putting him in the NFC East.  To face that guy twice a year is going to be a headache. He takes away from your enthusiasm for the game a little bit, when you play a play perfectly and he still has 4.3 speed to run by guys and make plays.  I  don’t think there is anybody in the league just like him.  If I was going to run that offense and they asked me to pick between Vick, Cam Newton, RG3, I’m probably taking that guy.”

Griffin wasn’t perfect by any means.  He turned the ball over twice.  But the things he did had little to no sense of flukiness about them, and sent a wave of respect earlier in a career than we usually see.  Ironically, Carolina sophomore QB Cam Newton represents the physical equivalent of the NBA’s LeBron James – think combination of size and athleticism – but it’s RG3 who’s getting the baffling amounts of near-unabashed praise from teammates and opponents reminiscent of LBJ.

I SAW PROPS to Packers QB Aaron Rodgers for breaking Dan Marino’s NFL record for fewest career interceptions at the time of his 150th TD pass.  Rodgers has just 42 picks compared to the now-second-place Marino’s 69.  That’s a difference of 27 interceptions.  Impressive.  Most impressive.

I SAW PROPS to Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin in an interview with Bob Costas that aired before the game.  When asked about his feelings about the local media acting as though the sky is falling because Pittsburgh had a losing record coming into Sunday night, Tomlin said that he embraces it, that he wants Pittsburgh fans to “feel spoiled” and hold the team to a high standard.

 

Week 8 

I SAW PROPS to Vikings DE Jared Allen for an entertaining and impressive sequence in the 3rd quarter with his team trailing 30-17.

Allen beats  LT Donald Penn on second-down incompletion and Penn gives Allen some cheap shots after the play.  Allen takes exception, and the two start swinging at each other.  Penn is seriously larger than the All-Pro defensive end, but after several blows by each, Penn ends up flailing his arms while Allen holds him at bay with one arm by the facemask like a cartoon.  The ensuing double penalty makes the crowd upset while Penn and Allen continue to talk trash to each other.  It goes on so long that even Penn’s fellow linemen start to chastise their tackle for not being able to shut up.  When the Bucs line up for third down on the next play, Allen whips the crowd up into such a frenzy that Tampa has to call a timeout to regroup. For some reason, Penn starts talking to Allen again during the timeout – again against the obvious objection of his teammates.  By the time the timeout is over the domed stadium was even louder than prior to the timeout.  What happens next is priceless.  The ball is snapped, Allen pops Penn underneath his shoulder pads and flashes past him for a sack on Josh Freeman.  Bedlam ensues.

The Rhinestone Cowboy owned that prolonged moment in a visceral way.  It didn’t end up creating a change of momentum in the game, but at the time it sure felt like it could.

I SAW PROPS for Cowboys TE Jason Witten for reminding the doubters sthat he’s still very much a force to be reckoned with by having 18 receptions.  According to Elias Sports Bureau it’s the most catches by a tight end in league history, and fifth-most among any player in one game.  One grab came courtesy of a sick one-handed stab Witten made of a ball thrown behind him in the fourth quarter.

I SAW PROPS for the New England offense. Recall from last week’s column that the Patriots had tied the 1999-2000 St. Louis Rams for most consecutive regular season games with at least 350 yards on offense, with 16.  That streak didn’t come anywhere close to being threatened Sunday, and fittingly enough the Pats set the record by beating the franchise that had previously held it.

I SAW PROPS to Rams WR Chris Givens for some history-making big play capability over the last month and beyond.  According to Elias Sports Bureau Givens has now gone five straight games with at least one 50+yard reception.  That’s not only the longest active streak in the NFL – it’s first time it’s happened since Pat Studstill did it for the Lions in 1966.  Studstill.  PROPS to a guy named Studstill while I’m at it.

I SAW PROPS for Packers WR Donald Driver for catching what turned out to be the game-winning TD in the fourth quarter against the Jaguars – in his 200th regular season game.  Driver is now the 22nd wideout to play in 200 games, and just the second Packer player to do so after Brett Favre. 

I SAW PROPS to Browns RB Trent Richardson for winning the respect of the great Jim Brown for playing at a dominant level while dealing with an always-painful painful rib injury.

Recall that Brown cause a stir on draft day this year by calling the Alabama product “ordinary.”  But inflicting pain while playing through obvious amounts of it is likely a surefire way into Brown’s granite heart.  After the game – and greeting Richardson at his locker after he came off the field – Brown addressed the issue to the Associated Press:

“That’s my partner.  I’m so happy he didn’t take anything I said the wrong way. He’s a player. He’s making sacrifices for his team. He’s hurting now more than you think and he’s out there making plays.”

Richardson scored the only TD against the Chargers in this game.  According to ESPN Stats & Information, Richardson is the first Cleveland rookie with 5 TDs on the ground in the first 8 games of the season since Ron A. Johnson in 1969.  And he’s doing it by playing a physical style, to Brown’s liking:

“Great running backs break tackles.  You do that, you are in control. You keep the ball. The other team is disheartened. That’s football.”

I SAW PROPS to Broncos QB Peyton Manning for a truly unique milestone.  He completed 70 percent of his passes, threw for 300 yards and tossed 3 TDs for the fourth straight game.  That’s a record – and a good one.

What about that arm strength issue?  That underwent a serious test after Manning’s thumb was jammed hard against a Saint defender’s helmet while following through on a throw.  Don’t underestimate how difficult it can be to throw the ball with good rotation after jamming a thumb on one’s throwing hand.   But Manning’s velocity looked great after hurting the thumb.  The balls were awfully wobbly at times upon leaving Manning’s hand once the thumb prevented good grip, but he would push the ball with his delivery and it would arrive right on time – with accuracy.  You can’t do that with a weak arm.

I SAW PROPS to Saints QB Drew Brees for his TD pass to RB Darren Sproles that tied the game in the second quarter.  That touchdown extended Brees’ record streak of 50 straight games with a TD pass, AND it was the 300th of his career – tying him with John Elway for 6th all-time.  (Brees would later pass the Bronco Hall Of Famer with another TD, and trails Tom Brady in fifth, at 316.) 

I SAW PROPS to Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald for still fighting and clawing for a TD try in the last minute of a game long lost.

 

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