Here at NFL Spin Zone, we look to bring you a wide range of opinions on the latest news stories and rumors. As a result, we have added a new, exciting feature to the site to tackle the biggest issues in the sport. We have put our heads together and come up with a NFL Spin Zone panel for weekly discussion around the league.
Here is our first installment of the NFL Roundtable:
Thoughts on the replacement referees?
Josh Sanchez:The replacement refs have done an overall solid job but they still have made some huge mistakes that could have altered the outcome of games. There was the error in the Pittsburgh Steelers/Denver Broncos game where the referees missed Pittsburgh having 12 men on the field and the biggest mistake of opening weekend came in the Cardinals/Seahawks game. The refs gave Seattle a fourth timeout with the Seahawks in position to take the lead. Thankfully for the league, disaster was averted and the Cardinals hung on for the win. While the replacements have done decent, nothing compares to the real thing. The full-time refs are the best of the business and that’s what the NFL and it’s fans need calling the games. Pay the refs.
Mike Dyce:Fortunately the replacement refs haven’t interfered with the actual result of any game. You could argue that they’ve hurt momentum being built in either direction. But it’s only week 1. I think that is a happy coincidence so far and it is only inevitable that eventually it will happen and NFL fans are all bracing around the league in hopes that their team isn’t on the wrong end. If anything, it should buy the real NFL fans sometime upon their return. Time you mean? Yes, time, from NFL fans booing and scrutinizing every call. Let’s face facts they’re about as close to right as they can be and these replacement refs have shown us just how good they are. So when they do return let’s show some appreciation and spare them from the boos. Seeing in the news that you’re favorite NBA player played in a pick up game and dropped 65 at Ruckers is cool. Seeing that the ref from your game last night is refereeing 7th grade games in Oklahoma in between NFL games… not cool
Jason Peters: The replacement officials have done an adequate job in many cases, while making a number of missteps along the way. However, I would go so far as to say they are mediocre at best, and mediocre just isn’t good enough for a brand that carries the weight that the NFL does. We are already starting to hear from players and analysts who watch the game closely that referees are not only making incorrect calls, but more importantly are missing many of the subtle things that players can do to bend the rules, especially on the offensive line and in secondary play. Moreover, the referees are on the field to keep the players in check, however, it often feels as though the referees are searching for the validation and approval of the players on the field. This has manifested in referees who are much more prone to suggestion by players, especially those of a higher celebrity. We need Hochules and company back on the field to maintain the standards the NFL wishes to set forth in delivering the highest quality product to the public.
Will Matt Ryan and Julio Jones account for more touchdowns than Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson?
Sanchez: I’d have to say yes. Stafford and Megatron may be the bigger league wide stars but Julio Jones and Matt Ryan are better than anyone realizes. We got a taste of the Falcons passing offense in week one and the duo will only connect more as they become more familiar with each other as the season progresses. The Lions have to face difficult in division opponents that have top defenses and pass rushes so Stafford and Megatron face a much tougher task. Ryan and Jones benefit from playing weaker competition and their numbers should reflect that.
Dyce: I think Julio Jones is poised to have an improved, breakout even, season. But what really is the factor here is health and durability. Stafford plays in a significantly better division and has been plagued with injuries through out his career. Green Bay, who they play twice, had 4 interceptions the other night. Meanwhile Matt Ryan faces less imposing defenses. The division favorite New Orleans Saints lost to rookie Robert Griffin III and allowed him to put up over 40 points in the process. That was a defense that improved with adding pieces like former Falcon Curtis Lofton. So with an easier division and defenses that aren’t as tough, plus Stafford’s health record, Matt Ryan and Julio Jones would be the safe bet.
Peters: It’s easy to overreact to week 1 performances; look no further than Brandon Marshall and Jay Cutler to see how players can go from statistically incredible one week to marginal-at-best the next. Julio Jones accounted for over 100 yards and 2 touchdowns in week 1, while Calvin Johnson also accounted for over 100, but had no touchdowns. I still think at this moment that Calvin Johnson is the best receiver in the game (a case could be made for Larry Fitzgerald, but he is in a much more unfortunate situation), but Julio Jones could be pushing him for that title in another year or two’s time. If 10 TD’s is the benchmark for a good season by a receiver, then Jones definitely has the advantage as he is already 20% of the way there after one week. However, the touchdowns will come for Johnson, and the Lions as a whole, but the Falcons showed that they are looking to prove to the world that the Jones draft-day trade was a huge gamble that paid off.
Are we seeing a new Dallas Cowboys team?
Sanchez: Absolutely. The secondary is much improved and that allows Rob Ryan to let his pass rush loose. It was also the first full offsesaon for the Cowboys defense under Ryan so they had a better chance to learn the system. While the defense is improved, so is the offense. Kevin Ogletree is an upgrade over Laurent Robinson in the slot and Dez Bryant is more mature. Like the defensive players, Bryant is finally getting his first full offseason of work. That will help him in the offense and should allow him to have the kind of year that his talent suggests he should have. The Cowboys look like a much tougher team mentally and they could very well take the top spot in the NFC East.
Dyce: The Cowboys are a new team. There seems to be more of a cohesion among the secondary. They not only are a more talented bunch but they genuinely care more about each other. But aside from that the defense is benefitting from this upgraded secondary which is only going to keep getting better. I am of the mindset that pass rush is the biggest priority and clearly the Cowboys have gone the opposite direction focusing on their corners but it’s benefitted them. I think that extra 0.5 second they’re buying DeMarcus Ware may be all that he needs. They’ve found a center in Cook whom they all seem to be rallying around, they have an emotional and vocal leader in fullback Lawrence Vickers. The coaches are showing ingenuity by pumping in audio into practice to simulate crowd noise. And most importantly Tony Romo is reportedly delaying signing a new deal because he thinks they’ll have a successful playoff run.
Peters: I wouldn’t say that we are seeing a new Dallas Cowboys team. Rather, I think we are seeing the team achieve the potential they have been capable of for at least the past season or two. Tony Romo has always been an underrated regular season quarterback (emphasis on regular season), and the guy can flat out make plays. I think one of the biggest differences is that there is a slight changing of the guard. Miles Austin is no longer necessarily considered the future at receiver (that torch has been passed to Dez Bryant), and Ogletree surprised everyone when he took advantage of a defense that didn’t see him coming. DeMarco is now the clear-cut future at running back barring injury, and the defense is finally achieving an identity as well.
Is the Browns defense better than people recognize?
Sanchez: Two words — D’Qwell Jackson. Jackson is a top five linebacker in the league and he never gets the credit that he deserves. He is always around the ball and is a sure tackler. Jackson has racked up over 100 tackles in three of his last five seasons — one of the seasons he missed due to injury. The fact that Cleveland has a player as talented as Jackson that not many people are aware of tells you all that you need to know. On top of Jackson, the Browns have Joe Haden who is one of the most talented young cornerbacks in the league. The talent is there for Cleveland, they just need to put it all together and people will start to notice them.
Dyce: Is the Browns defense better than most people think or recognize. No. That’s why most people recognize it. I think they’re close loss to the Eagles was more about Philadelphia then Cleveland. The most recognizable name on the Cleveland depth chart is Scott Fujita… and he’s 1) not a starter and 2) only recognizable because we were practically bludgeoned to death with his name via all the bounty gate news all summer long.
Peters: In a word: Yes. Mike Vick has recently turned into a close to top-tier quarterback, and regardless of the Browns history, anytime you can pick Vick off four times in one game, you have to come away impressed. Especially when that team is the Browns. Now, it must be admitted that the run defense is a liability at this point. LeSean McCoy had an impressive 5.5 yard rushing average against them in week 1, and the defense did give up a fair amount of yards in the air (317), but they were able to take advantage of opportunities through the air and prevent the Eagles from getting into the end zone. Also, Vick threw the ball for a ridiculous 56 times (about standard for an Andy Reid team), and the Browns defense was able to hang in there for the entire game, giving up only two touchdowns, even if they couldn’t quite hold them off when they it mattered most in the end. Still, the Browns aren’t a team that gets a lot of credit these days, and I think there defense is, in fact, better than most people realize.
Which player is most likely to be traded mid-season?
Sanchez: If there is going to be a big name traded, it’s Greg Jennings. Where there is smoke, there is fire and his name has come up a lot in recent trade rumors. The Packers are loaded at wide receiver so they would be able to ship him to another team without losing any production from the receiving corp. If the Packers do move Jennings, they could end up getting as high as a second-round pick for his services.
Dyce: I don’t know that he’s likely to be moved but I think it’d be a great move if he was, and that’s Green Bay’s Greg Jennings. Green Bay doesn’t need him. He’s undersized, oft injured and in high demand. What they could get for him now as opposed to letting him walk very free agency makes this a no brainer. More importantly there is a history and track record in the NFL of star, or just past their prime, receivers being moved in the NFL. Randy Moss two season ago for instance. Roy Williams to the Cowboys. But also Randall Cobb is emerging as a real threat, Jordy Nelson and Donald Driver are reliable. And add in tight end Jermichael Finley and there isn’t a need to hold on to him, especially if teams are willing to trade for him,
Peters: A lot of reports recently would suggest that Greg Jennings is the player that is most primed to don a new jersey over the coming weeks, but I would argue that the player most likely to be moved is Wes Welker. Now firstly, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest this in terms of leaks, but Belichik is clearly the type to play his cards ever so close to the chest. The indicator is in the franchises treatment of him on the field. Opportunities for Welker to see the field were all but non-existent last week, and the Patriots have clearly decided that they are moving on from Welker. Now, Belichik isn’t the type to let a player walk away in free agency for nothing, and he has shown that he is more than willing to deal away talent that is just past their prime for the right offer, as evidenced by the Richard Seymour trade to Oakland some seasons ago. The treatment of a player that has done so much for the franchise since going via trade might seem cold, but the Patriots will always act in the best interests of the franchise above all.
Did the Patriots finally develop a running game, and how much can we expect to see that this season?
Sanchez: I wouldn’t say they have developed a running game but they have found themselves a very solid running back. Stevan Ridley is able to carry the load and is a tough runner that fits perfectly into the offense. The impressive output from the running game last week was not so much as big of an indication that they have developed a running game as much as it showed the Patriots continue to be masters with game-planning. New England is going to do whatever it takes to beat you and last week that just happened to be the run.
Dyce: The Patriots have been notorious for finding creative ways to patch together a running game whether it be Corey Dillon, some kid from Nebraska cut from the New York Jets, who didn’t play division one football mind you. But now 1 week into the season 2nd year player Stevan Ridley out of LSU puts up a 125 yards in this game. While that’s easy to get excited about let’s focus on a couple things. First, it was Tennessee. Second, running backs who don’t consistently rush for 100 yards but consistently put 150 yards total offense down is kind of where the league is at now. Ridley did both when you add in his 27 yards receiving on 2 catches. Ridley also comes from the SEC where he faces some big and fast defensive units and he might better suited to succeed than former running backs. Either way, he benefits from a lot of other weapons, Gronk and Hernandez and Brady, and that will give him the opportunity to succeed.
Peters: It seems as though the Patriots may have finally found a running back they deem worthy of committing playtime to. Of course, with Belichik, he could just be setting up the run game early on in the season to fool teams into thinking they’re going to lessen the passing game. In answer to the question, yes, I think the Patriots have indeed found a successful recipe for success from the running game, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that that means the Patriots are going to develop into a running team. Tom Brady is every bit the celebrity he is quarterback, and the Patriots, just as much from a business standpoint as a football decision, have to keep him on the field and fresh in the public’s eyes. Brady also would probably be none to pleased about such an abandonment of the passing game, so expect a healthy balance at most this season.
That is all for this week’s installment of the NFL Roundtable. If you have a question or issue you would like us to address, send an email to [email protected] with the subject line “NFL Roundtable” or you can send us a reply on Twitter.