Looking over the NFC East, I wonder if anybody has the goods that we do at the most important position in football.
DALLAS AND PHILADELPHIA
Of course after I write a piece about how the Eagles and Cowboys are both terrible teams both franchises would find a way not to lose the very next week. Okay, technically the Eagles were on bye - but the Cowboys had barely shown up either for their road game against the woeful Panthers and yet somehow still they find themselves 3-3.
The Boys' defense - particularly their pass defense - has been consistently good and borderline elite through their first six games. But as an entire team I'm not just buying them as a playoff contender - even if they are going to end up beating a few contenders on their way to an 8 and 8 season.
The team they beat to me was the storyline worthy of discussion.
Much like my dislike for John Wall's prospects, I've been calling #1 overall draft pick Cam Newton overrated since well before he was drafted. Last year, while Newton was stuffing up box scores in unprecedented rookie ways, I was one of the few people in America pointing to the scoreboard and the standings. Think about this: some guy named, Steve Beuerlein threw for 4,400 yards in Carolina - with more touchdowns and fewer picks than Newton. But he never finished a season over .500. Despite the gitty fantasy owners: I remained unimpressed.
This year my stance is lot easier to maintain, but I haven't changed my opinion one inch either way when it comes to my appraisal of Carolina's #2.
Cam Newton is simply not that good at football.
No, I do not think Newton is having a psychic crisis that is draining his abilities or tarnishing his performance. I do not think - as nearly every pundit has suggested in some way - that it is, in his head. I just think you're looking a quarterback who is on a bad team and who himself has no more than average caliber talent.
Let me rephrase: because you could I guess say that his bad play is in his head, but don't confuse that with it being the result of his emotional state. Sure, he might be "pressing" as his money grubbing dad has suggested. He very well might be unable to respond to losing as was suggested on the PTI program. Maybe he is having a crisis of confidence, as you are likely to hear from any pundit on any network whenever any much-hyped professional athlete in any sport is having an underwhelming year - e.g. A-rod. It's the only way they can explain what's happening without admitting that they were wrong in generating the hype.
All of these possibilities might be true, but none of them are the primary reason that Newton is 7 and 15 in the NFL as a starter.
The reason is - wait for it - he is really not that good.
To attribute Newton's struggles to speculations about his character is to take for granted just how the difficult the job of a pro quarterback truly is.
You could talk to me all day about his "natural talent", but I'm not buying it. Yes, he can run and he can throw. I've seen that. But unlike all the other positions in the sport, pure athleticism - including throwing mechanics - is less than half of what makes one a successful quarterback.
Think about it this way...
You're playing Madden Football with a team that has a QB with an overall rating of 70. And you're playing against your seven year-old sister whose team has a QB with an overall rating of 99. What's going to happen?
You're going to win easily every single time. Not because you're sister is pressing, or because she needs to see a shrink. But because your team - with you controlling it - is just better. Your sister will need to improve, dramatically to even make the game close.
You're 70-rated QB will look like an all-pro because you know what buttons to press and when. You're guy will have superior anticipation, vision, and touch because of the abilities you bring to the game. Those qualities are what great quarterbacks possess, and in real life, each quarterback mans his own controller.
I hate it when pundits talk about the intangibles that separate good athletes from great - and then go on to list things like ‘poise', ‘leadership' and ‘perseverance'.
Joe Montana could have been a nervous, lazy, stubborn prick and he still would have been a hell of a quarterback - although probably not the best - because he read and reacted to the coordinated movements of the other 21 guys on the field better than any of his peers. Great quarterbacking is not simply an admirable trait - it's a skill.
For all we know, Lincoln might have been garbage at football.
Superior athleticism will allow you to maximize above-the-neck talents, but no bench press number or 40-yard dash time is going to help you to surpass your competition unless you are blessed with - and develop - the natural mental faculties of a great quarterback.
From what I've seen - in college as well as in his first 22 games in the pros - Cam Newton has mediocre vision and timing. Thus, in my opinion, he has not shown that he will be an above average quarterback. Like every player in the league, he could improve in an unexpected fashion, but I don't see more potential in him than in say, a Joe Flacco or Carson Palmer.
To be fair, I have been wrong about much-hyped players before. For example, I said for years that NBA MVP LeBron James was a top 4 player in the NBA and no better. And then he went and had the best single season in 10 years. Unlike people like Skip Bayless, I didn't think LeBron was no good because he lacked certain superstar intangibles. I didn't like his game. While everyone was calling him the NBA's best based on statistics, I saw a game that relied on his teammates to take bad shots and lacked any consistent method of scoring against good half-court defenses - which is the one ability you need as a playmaker if you want turn close playoff games in your favor.
Now I sing a different tune. While I still think it's ludicrous the extent of praise the man receivers, I do recognize that, right now, today, James is the NBA's best player today. (Call me tomorrow when Durant and a resurgent Derrick Rose overtake him). But he was only to achieve that because he dramatically reinvented his game.
Even though James had great vision and good defensive NBA IQ throughout his NBA career, he never - until last year - had the necessary know how about how to score inside without a free run to the basket. Unfortunately for the rest of the Eastern Conference, he learned. He learned to play and score inside with his back to the basket- and because of that he became a completely different player.
Bet you haven't heard this stat: LeBron James increased his paint touches and offensive rebounds by nearly 100% from 2011 to 2012, while playing fewer minutes. It wasn't a crisis of confidence that held him back. It was a hole in his game. The improvement in his traditional statistics (points, rebounds, assists) was negligible. But the difference his new game made on his ability to influence - and win - close games against good teams - nothing short of colossal.
Extrapolating James's rise to a championship, perhaps there is hope for Newton to become the player that everyone was declaring him last season. But if there was stock in that possibility, I'd be shorting it just about as fast as I could.
Yes, you can't teach height, bulk and speed - so Newton does have a leg up on almost all of his QB competition in the league in that respect - but unlike James, Newton hasn't shown any indication that he has superior above-the-neck skills you need to be an above average pro quarterback. He likely will get better at reading defenses - but there is no reason in my mind to think that he will suddenly develop the type of timing and precision that every other great QB needed at a young age to get to where they are today.
All of this talk about athleticism and mental skills gets me thinking though...ain't it nice when a player on your team possesses both of those aspects in spades?
WASHINGTON AND NEW YORK
Coming into the office Monday morning at espn980 - I'm interning - I braced myself for the heartbreaking recounting of our last-minute loss to our bitter division rival, Giants.
Imagine my surprise then when everyone was smiling. Someone had brought three cheesecakes in for everybody, but that wasn't the thing that had made the mood so bright and cheerful. There was a far sweeter truth around. Even before ‘good morning,' everybody in the office greeted each other with the exact same refrain:
"Boy, that guy is good."
No context needed. Everyone agreed, "He ain't bad."
After about an hour I began to see that - thinking about the season and the franchise in context - Griffin's spectacular performance was the number one take away from Week 7 in Washington. And because of that the game overall was a positive note for people who have been talking about this team forever and will continue forever to come. Yes, he does bring hope but that doesn't even capture it.
He instills in your heart an unbridled optimism.
On the train home at the end of the day - picking up a Washington Examiner with the headline, The One That Got Away - I had to admit: the loss still hurt. Some at the station felt the same way. We were so close to a statement that would have resonated throughout the country and league: The Redskins are for real. If we win the next two games, I'll be thrilled; but it won't have the same punctuated impression that we would have made if we would have beaten the Super Bowl Champions Giants for the third straight time.
So I'm not going to sit here and say good game to the Redskins, we almost had'em. Even with 8 starters out - we are still way too good a team to endorse that kind of doggerel.
Being in this town for a minute and half, I've been told more than once to keep my Burgundy expectations low and my Golden hopes only a little higher. I'm sorry: just not built that way. After all, I'm a transplant.
In my eyes, we played better than the Giants Sunday. They beat us, anyway, but still outside of a sudden case of fumbleitis, we were better. Think about that a second longer: we played better than the league's best on the road.
Let's prove that that is who we are every week. Starting now.
Most people would agree that the Giants are better than this year's Steelers squad. So, why don't just we go up to Pittsburgh and demolish the black and yellow like a squad of bosses.
The Redskins have the defensive play-making ability and the offensive prowess to play to beat anybody. Let's beat them then. I don't want to win a handful more squeakers. I want to rip some hearts out.
I want a meme of Ben Roethlisberger with a patch of muddy grass stuck in his facemask. I want one to see a clip of Mike Tomlin burying his face in his clipboard; of Troy Polamalu shaking his head in dismay.
I want a blow out.
Like some spoiled rich kid that I'm not, I know it's within our means and I want it and want it now.
We were good enough on both sides of the ball to blowout the Buccaneers on their home field. With a 15 point-lead, we were driving in the Buccaneers redzone when an unbelievable series of offensive penalties and missed field goals somehow turned a route into a game.
Same thing with the Rams game, except worse obviously. A blocked punt, some uncharacteristically conservative play-calling, and some unfortunately very characteristic poor defense let that game slip entirely away.
The Vikings game was more like it, but I'm angrier now than I was two-weeks ago. I want blood.
The Steelers have had a good if not great defense this year. Let's make them look inept. I think we can do that; we have the personnel. Let's spread them out and gut'em like we're the lead-option version of the '98 Vikings.
The Steelers offense has been one dimensional and average this year. They can't run - don't have any running backs - and their receivers are no better than average. Let's make them try and keep up with us in a track meet, and then let's punch them in the mouth.
Let's turn Three Rivers Stadium into Three-Touchdown-Victory Field. Then, let's really get going.