Roger Goodell’s actions have caused an erosion of faith in the NFL leadership. (Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports)
1. Do you have any faith anymore that, when faced with a crisis, Roger Goodell will do the right thing?
As a football fan, you want to feel good about the state of the game, and you want to have some confidence that those who are running the show have the best interest of the game at heart. When presented with a challenge, they’ll figure it out. The NFL has survived for almost 100 years and gone from dirt fields and leather helmets to a billion-dollar industry because there have been smart, talented people at the helm who all find a way to make it work.
But over the last dozen years, watching Goodell and his team bungle things like domestic violence policy, player safety, or the wildly inconsistent disciplinary process — all against the backdrop of declining TV ratings and the #boycottNFL hashtag — it’s clear that, to paraphrase veteran receiver Steve Smith, “the system is broken.” The latest example? The ghastly Josh Brown case. It’s hard to imagine an investigation being mishandled worse than what the league and the Giants did when it came to their kicker and the charges against him.
Make no mistake: This is not some New Englander viewing Goodell through a local prism. There’s no Deflategate-related axe to grind, although Smith did adroitly note that when it comes to comparing Tom Brady’s four-game ban and Brown’s situation, the league has “valued the amount of air in a ball but yet devalued when a person or persons may have been harmed and fail to put forth necessary actions of energy and time in which far less important things have taken precedent!”
The bottom line? I can’t recall a time where so many fans and players — no matter their background — have had so little confidence in a sitting commissioner. Never is this more aptly shown than when, on the few occasions where Goodell comes down from his ivory tower to address the media — hat’s when social media turns into an episode of “Mystery Science Theatre” where players gleefully take their shots at the commissioner.
I wasn’t around for much of his reign, but from talking to people who were involved in the NFL during his tenure, you had faith that Pete Rozelle would always find a way to do the right thing. There were missteps, but no one did a better job growing the game than Rozelle. There was almost always some measure of faith in Paul Tagliabue and his decision-making process. There’s none of that anymore. Zero. Of course, you can argue that Goodell has never had that sort of backing from the public to begin with. But even if he did have it at some point, after his decisions over the last decade or so, it’s gone, and never coming back.
At the end of the day, the commissioner doesn’t need the approval of the fans. He doesn’t need a thumbs up from the NFLPA. The only people he needs to keep happy are the 32 NFL owners. And as long as the money keeps flowing, they probably won’t be making a change anytime soon. But like Smith said, the system is broken. Whether or not the league makes the fix could ultimately end up determining the course of the game for the next 100 years.
2. Annie Apple, the mother of New York Giants rookie corner Eli Apple, became a minor celebrity after her son was drafted, developing an affiliation with ESPN while offering a unique opinion on the state of the NFL. Good for her for speaking he mind when it came to the Brown situation this week. In a series of Tweets, she attacked New York co-owner John Mara for his stance on the Brown issue. “As a domestic violence survivor, reading these Mara comments makes me sad, angry and completely baffled. He just doesn’t get it. This is sad,” she wrote. “Don’t know why it’s difficult [for] folks to realize there’s nothing remotely acceptable bout violence against women. No excuse no justification.” Apple has apparently taken a lot of heat from Giants fans for her Tweets, and while it couldn’t have been easy for her, it was the right thing to do in this instance.
3. We’ve written about the “GTFB” mantra that’s been preached by the New England defense over the last dozen or so years, and while there are worrisome elements to the defense through the first six games (third-down, red-zone), their work on limiting explosive plays is certainly worth noting. Through six weeks, the Patriots are the only team in the league not to allow a pas splay of 40 yards or more. (For some perspective, the Raiders lead the league with nine.) New England is 11th in the league when it comes to yielding pass plays of 20 yards or more with 20. (The Raiders are also tops in this department, having given up 28.) It’s probably no shock that the Minnesota defense is one of the best in the league in both departments, having allowed just one pass play of 40 yards or more (second to New England) and 11 pass plays of 20 yards or more (best in the NFL). The other thing worth noting? From the outside it’s tough to tell what sort of job he’s doing, but you have to give some credit to new safeties coach Steve Belichick. The Patriots took some grief when the son of the head coach was named as the new safeties coach, but whether it’s been coaching, execution, good matchups or all three, the younger Belichick deserves some acknowledgement for the good numbers put up by the defensive backs.
4. As expected, quarterback Tom Brady was really deferential to the Pittsburgh defense this week, saying that while the names and faces have changed over the years, the overall hard-nosed philosophy has never been altered. “They play the game the right way,” Brady said of the Steelers. But it’s worth noting that when it comes to the Steelers, Brady has almost always posted phenomenal numbers. In eight career games against Pittsburgh, Brady is 6-2, and has completed 69 percent of his passes, to go along with 2,604 passing yards, 22 touchdowns, just three interceptions and a passer rating of 113.4. In his last five starts against Pittsburgh, Brady has 17 touchdowns and no interceptions, with a 127.9 passer rating. Two more notes when it comes to touchdown passes — with six in his first two games, Brady has more passing touchdowns this season than four of the quarterbacks who have started every game so far. And the Patriots’ quarterbacks have not thrown an interception in their first six games of the season. In New England’s last nine games (including the 2015 postseason), Patriots quarterbacks have just two picks, both of which came via Brady in the AFC title game. In his last nine starts, New York’s Ryan Fitzpatrick has thrown 15 interceptions.
5. With all the talk about Stephen Gostkowski’s recent run of inconsistency, thought it was worth noting that the Patriots did not bring in any kickers for tryouts this week. From this viewpoint, the steady veteran has earned enough currency with the team; he’ll figure it out sooner rather than later. When it comes to the level of faith his teammates have in him, this is a good look from colleague Ryan Hannable about the confidence level many have in Gostkowski, even though he’s gotten off to arguably the worst start of his professional career.
6. While the Patriots are one of seven or eight teams that aren’t simply crossing days off the calendar and waiting until draft season at this point, it’s never too early to at least start thinking about draft season. The current draft order will change from week to week, but at this point, New England holds the 31st overall selection, one spot from the bottom of the first round. A lot has to play out between now and then — including free agency — but it’s reasonable to speculate that the Patriots would be in the market for some tackle depth, as well as edge rushers and/or linebackers. (As everyone knows, much of their priority list could depend on their ability to re-sign the likes of Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Jabaal Sheard and perhaps Martellus Bennett, among others.) For what it’s worth, this site has the Patriots going after inside linebacker Raekwon McMillion out of Ohio State. CBS Sports has them chasing Derek Barnett, a defensive end/outside linebacker out of Tennessee. And Walter Football has New England landing Stanford running back/wide receiver Christian McCaffrey out of Stanford at the end of the first round.
7. With all the talk about the future of Jimmy Garoppolo and what he might be able to draw on the open market, the same question could surround the quarterback the Patriots are facing this weekend, Pittsburgh’s Landry Jones. The 27-year-old, who is in the last year of a four-year deal he signed as a rookie, will be able to use Sunday’s game against the Patriots (and however long Roethlisberger will be out) as an audition for the 2017 season. He’s done well in limited action — the third-year backup out of Oklahoma has made two starts as a professional, both in 2015. In his career, the 6-foot-4, 225-pounder is 32-for-56 (57 percent) for 513 yards, three touchdowns, four interceptions and a passer rating of 76. How he performs could also potentially impact the trade value of someone like Garoppolo, if the Patriots do decide to explore those options. Regardless, it certainly adds another layer of intrigue to Sunday’s matchup.
8. I’ve always been a big fan of the work of Chase Stuart, and have utilized his information on several occasions in the past. This week, he produced a look at the strength of schedule left for all 32 NFL teams. The teams that might be in the best situation over the second half? The Titans, Texans, Chiefs, Chargers and Bills, all of who have the easiest schedules the rest of the way. At the other end of the spectrum, there are the Eagles, Redskins, Seahawks, Cowboys and Ravens. Locally, the Patriots are in the middle of the pack with the 16th easiest schedule the rest of the way.
9. When it comes to winners, this week, I’ve picked Green Bay, New York Giants, Kansas City, Tennessee, Minnesota, Cincinnati, Detroit, Oakland, Buffalo, Baltimore, Tampa Bay, Atlanta, New England, Seattle and Denver. Make your picks with us over at the WEEI Pro Football Pick ‘Em Challenge.
10. We’ve got “NFL Sunday” coming your way from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m., getting you prepped for Patriots-Steelers. It’ll be me, Pete Sheppard, Tom E. Curran, Field Yates, Christian Fauria and the great Pete “Rotobahn” Davidson. Join us at 93.7 or at WEEI.com/listen.