Week 1 NFL Wrap-up: Cowboys, Giants, and Media
Editor’s note: This fall, Sam Ennis and Nathan Schiller will cover the 2012 NFL season with a blog called “Vinatieri, Back to Kick It Off.” (If you don’t know why we’re calling it this, you obviously didn’t play excessive amounts of Madden ’98.) Each week, they’ll exchange thoughts on the previous week’s games, examine developing and ongoing league trends, bring in guest writers to irrationally breakdown their favorite teams, and unravel many more features. Imagine the format to be like a radio show, except written. (In other words, not like a radio show at all.) The blog will run every Tuesday at Construction.
NATHAN: Check out this quote:
“Remember when New York ruled and Dallas destructed? That’s so 2011.”
Who said it? I’ll give you two options, neither of which is correct: A) a giddy fifth-grader running down Flatbush Avenue on his cell phone, or B) a 23-year-old girl sitting at a Hoboken bar in a pink Victor Cruz jersey high-fiving her friend (in a matching pink Eli Manning jersey)?
SAM: My guess is C) the New York Times’s gleeful headline after the Blue States trounce the Red States in the Battle of Secession, ca. 2028. But no, that’s definitely ESPN’s or Fox Sports’ home page the day after the season opener. Ladies and gentlemen, sports media! Way to anoint Dallas as the Super Bowl champion when it took their incredible offensive performance to beat the self-destructing, injury-riddled Giants by a touchdown.
NATHAN: This is how mainstream media covers sports: by assuming that you’re not really paying attention to what they’re really saying. The thrust of this quote is that last season never happened, and now the Giants suck, and now the Cowboys are awesome. Forget details, nuance, or subtlety: we speak only in idioms, because who has time to really think? After all, this headline has confirmed what was probably your gut reaction to the Cowboys-Giants opener: that the Giants got lucky last year, and that the Cowboys are going to be different this year.
SAM: But this goes beyond easily digestible and wholly illogical headlines. The NFL has become such an absurdly quarterback-driven league that one can’t even watch a broadcast without hearing three hours of platitudes about the most interesting storyline involving the QBs. During Brett Favre’s miracle year with Minnesota in 2010, I once watched a game where the CBS broadcast crew praised Favre as being the only player in the NFL who would stop to help up a tackled opponent (and then continued to talk about him while the opposing team drove 80 yards for a touchdown). I’m an agnostic Jewish guy, and last year, Ron Jaworski had me convinced that Tim Tebow spent his rookie year curing lepers through the power of prayer. And on Sunday (bitter Steelers fan alert), I spent an entire game listening to a discussion about how Peyton Manning is going to win thirteen Super Bowls this year alone (while he picked apart an aging defense ravaged by injury and missing half its starters). The context is different but the premise is the same: an assumption that we as the viewer are looking for a talking point, something that will allow us to turn off our brains and think, “Hey, I think that too, I know stuff!”
[pullquote_right]Mainstream media covers sports by assuming you’re not paying attention to what they’re saying.[/pullquote_right]
NATHAN: Funny you should mention Steelers-Broncos. It seemed like every time a player did something well, Cris Collinsworth would rave about how hard Player X worked in practice and how much adversity he overcame in early childhood, and then Collinsworth would talk about how he (Collinsworth) was just talking to Player X about how Player X was going to drift up to the line to plug the C-gap on off-tackle runs right, and see how Player X just did that there because that’s how committed Player X is to film study, isn’t he a real student of the game? Meanwhile, we learn absolutely nothing about what happened on the play. And what happens if on the next play Player X creeps up to the line and blows his coverage and gets beat for a touchdown? How does Collinsworth explain that?
SAM: He doesn’t: he changes the subject and talks about Tim Tebow.
NATHAN: It seems to me that the undercurrent throughout all of this is trying to get us to relate to the players, a.k.a. the group of insanely freakish physical specimens who would’ve demolished all of us in battle had they been born Vikings or Saracens. As we crack that fourth (seventh?) beer, we think about the time that we went to physical therapy, just like Adrian Peterson! We should root for him! Which would work, if it weren’t so obvious how different these guys are than us. Sunday night, when NBC showed Ben Roethlisberger’s introduction, he was wearing a trucker hat. But it wasn’t an ironic $220 Ashton Kutcher trucker hat, it was some type of camouflage hunting trucker hat that can only be purchased 85 miles outside a major metropolitan area, or in the bright orange hunting gear section of your local Dick’s Sporting Goods.
I’m guessing that most male football fans in their 20s have had the realization that NFL players are about their age, and are somehow so much better at sports than the best athlete from their city. I have, and it’s a weird and fleeting sensation, and not a particularly interesting one to dwell on. But, as a Steelers fan roughly the same age as Roethlisberger, meaning one who watched him get drafted, win two Super Bowls, and become, to no unserious degree, a mess of a person, the truck hat thing seemed different. It seemed like his way of saying, “Screw the media, screw the partying, screw being famous. I’m just gonna play football, take my millions, and disappear where I can be whoever the fuck I want to be.” Who knows what he’s really like; the fact that he even has the option of (presumably) reinventing himself like that shows how different he is than you or me. And when I try to fuse that disconnect with the connection that Collinsworth et al assume they’re giving me . . . well, that is the interesting thing.
Anyway, now that we’ve bitched about the media for providing excellent discussion material, do you have any actual football comments? And don’t give me any of that Week 1 reactionary crap.
[pullquote_left]RGIII and Adrian Peterson made their college careers seem like wastes of time.[/pullquote_left]
SAM: Here are massive amounts of Week 1 reactionary crap, except without any of the actual insight you can get on ESPN or CBS. Point 1:
- The Steelers are in trouble unless they can muster some sort of a pass rush. For years, they’ve masked subpar cornerback play (Chad Scott? Dewayne Washington? William Gay?) by forcing opposing quarterbacks to hear the footsteps and hurry into ill-advised throws. And yet, QBs who either had a strong enough offensive line to avoid the initial burst (think Tom Brady) or who were accurate enough to burn the Steelers’ zone blitzes through pinpoint quick-outs (think Drew Brees) would tear the Steelers to pieces. Well, a geriatric Peyton Manning with a terrible offensive line and a spine glued together with QUIKRETE® just made the Steelers defense look like a D-III college because he had approximately six minutes each play to stand in the pocket and find an open guy.
NATHAN: The Steelers once had Troy Polamalu at an All-Pro level to mask their corners’ man-to-man weaknesses. His trademark over-the-top dives and “creep to scrimmage and then sprint away at the snap without looking at the play” used to result in sacks, tackles for losses, and batted passes. Now he just gets injured and does shampoo commercials. He’s also kind of developed that protruding gut thing that offensive linemen have.
SAM: Point 2:
- Don’t sleep on the Redskins. They’re getting obvious hype due to their win over the Saints, but a lot of it seems to be passed off to the Saints’ inability to cope with their offseason turmoil or the fact that they’re being coached by the local night manager at Arby’s while Sean Peyton is suspended. False. The Skins have an improving offensive line, a nasty corps of wide receivers (Pierre Garcon is a phenomenal blocker, which is huge for the Skins’ zone block scheme, and Aldrick Robinson will be a household name by Week 6), and the last time I saw a rookie with pocket presence and a cannon like RGIII, it was a scrub named Ben Roethlisberger. The Saints didn’t lose that game; the Skins won it handily. If the Skins can muster any defensive presence (you would assume that with Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan, London Fletcher, etc., they should only improve), they’re going to be players in the NFC East.
NATHAN: You know when pundits (okay, Jon Gruden) say things like, “That guy’s a football player?” Judging by the “football player” criterion, RGIII most reminds me of Adrian Peterson. Two superathletes who, once they got to the NFL, made their college football careers seem like formal wastes of time.
SAM: Point 3:
- The two best defensive rookies in the AFC are Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower. They’re both on the Patriots. I hate my life.
[pullquote_right]Russell Wilson has tons of moxie. He’s also 5-10 and got swatted Dikembe Mutumbo-style.[/pullquote_right]
NATHAN: Readers should be aware that Sam’s a Steelers fan, meaning he has a thinly-veiled Patriots inferiority complex. He can construct a valid argument as to why the Roethlisberger-era Steelers won everything they did fair and square, and yet deep down he knows that those Steelers never had to beat the Patriots in the playoffs to make any of their three Super Bowls. Readers should further know that I, too, am a Steelers fan, and that I, too, have the same inferiority complex. Readers should lastly note that I’ve never heard of either of these two players Sam labels as “the two best defensive rookies in the AFC.”
SAM: Point 4:
- Russell Wilson has tons of moxie and is a leader of men. He’s also 5-10 (in high heels) and got swatted Dikembe Mutumbo-style by 6-8 Cardinals defensive lineman Calais Campbell. Wilson will not last as a starter in the NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE: swagger can’t overcome the fact that you can’t see over your o-line.
NATHAN: I didn’t see the game, but Wilson had a 62.5 QB rating. “Leader of men”? I thought you were kidding when you said you and your girlfriend had a Gruden “QB Camp” marathon. Also, Drew Brees is only 6 feet tall. How much of a difference do those two inches really make? Do they have anything to do with Brees’s success and Wilson’s (projected) failure? Is Brees a once-in-a-lifetime anomaly? Let’s make it our goal to get a definitive answer from someone who played quarterback. I’ll call Doug Flutie later.
SAM: Point 5:
- The Ravens look like they could end up with the best offense in the league. Joe Flacco easily throws the best deep ball in the NFL, and his bombs down the sideline to a streaking Torrey Smith are going to haunt my nightmares for the next decade. Flacco was threading passes all day on Monday Night Football to a cadre of rapidly-improving pass catchers (see Pitta, Dennis), and anytime the Bengals dropped into nickel, Ray Rice went for ten.
NATHAN: How do you know Flacco didn’t make Pitta look good? And now that you’ve spat out your weekly dosage of Fox Sports reactionary opinions, care to check yourself? In other words, what do you really believe about Week 1? Because I believe that in terms of making future bets, Week 1 offers complete and utter nonsense. Case in point (not to be idiomatic about it): September 7, 2003: Bills 31, Patriots 0. February 2, 2004: Patriots 32, Panthers 29.
SAM: And there you have it: the yearly lesson of Week 1: NOTHING. Players are out of shape, offenses have yet to gel, rookies don’t know what the hell they’re doing, and every assumption we make is based on last year’s teams and meaningless preseason games (except for the Dolphins; I watched Hard Knocks, and I will guarantee that not only will the Dolphins be the worst team in the NFL this year, but Joe Philbin will be fired after the season). Looking forward to next week, when maybe we’ll get a better sense of who the real players are. Yours in Tebow, amen.