Mike Freeman’s 10-Point Stance: Ryan Tannehill May Have Finally Found His Groove
Much of the NFL needs to offer a big, fat apology to Ryan Tannehill, why so many players hate Josh Norman and why Dennis Green was special.
1. The Dolphins Are for Real? Yes, the Dolphins Are for Real
First, an apology …
I was w-r-o-n-g about Ryan Tannehill. Wrong as the day is long. Wronger than a 600-pound Santa trying to slide down a chimney. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
After I spent several years backing Tannehill, followed by another several saying he’d never be a star, before finally giving up on him, I have to admit Tannehill is a good quarterback. Maybe even better than good.
So what happened? A lot, not the least of which is the support from what has been a surprisingly fast, stingy defense that punishes teams physically and beats them mentally.
But two players who have studied Tannehill on film explained to me the Dolphins are playoff contenders mostly because of him. And for that, they also credit head coach Adam Gase.
According to these NFC veterans, Gase has opened up the offense and simultaneously put an increasing amount of trust in Tannehill. They don’t believe it’s much more complicated than that.
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images
In the first five games this season, Tannehill’s passer rating hovered in the mid-80s. In his last six contests, it’s 104.7. That’s a big reason Miami has won all six of those games, giving the Patriots some reason to check behind them in the AFC East standings.
Tannehill’s success is not all due to Gase. He’s worked on making his dropbacks faster and his decision-making sharper for much of this season. Plus, the emergence of running back Jay Ajayi has also forced defenses to pay more attention to the run.
Make no mistake, however: Tannehill’s improved play is the key.
Does any of this mean the Dolphins can overtake the Patriots in the division? No. Could they beat the Patriots in the playoffs? Hell to the no.
But could they beat a team from the AFC South? Absolutely. Have you seen Brock Osweiler play quarterback?
If the Dolphins get into the postseason and find the right matchup, they’ll be dangerous.
And when is the last time you read a sentence like that?
2. Is Josh Norman the Most Hated Player in the NFL?Todd Olszewski/Getty Images
I wanted to know why it seems so many players hate Norman. So I asked. Lots of players. And I listened, and the answers were, well, wow.
“No one in football talks more, does less,” texted one AFC wide receiver.
“The biggest mouth in football,” said another AFC wide receiver.
“He’s obnoxious,” said former NFL fullback Heath Evans recently on the NFL Network.
After the Cowboys’ win over Washington on Thanksgiving, I asked Dallas receiver Dez Bryant, who sparred verbally and physically with Norman during the game and after, what his biggest problem was with Norman.
“He talks so tough,” Bryant told me, “but he’s soft.”
Bryant’s words echoed what I had been hearing about Norman from other playershis mouth doesn’t match his abilities.
“It’s just bad what we saw,” NFL Network analyst and Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk said after the Thanksgiving game. “It’s starting to be a regular thing with Josh and other receivers, not just Dez.”
“Play the game of football,” added Michael Irvin, another Hall of Famer, on the same NFL Network show. “You have talent, you want to be a shutdown corner, shut it down on the football field between the whistles.”
To be clear, Norman is superbly talented. You can see it on film and you can hear it when coaches around the league talk about him. He adds athleticism to a Washington secondary that needed it.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
It’s also not a coincidence the Carolina secondary he left has spent this season getting torched. The Panthers miss both his physical talent and his high football IQ.
Players, though, at least the ones with whom B/R communicated, don’t necessarily agree. They feel there’s a difference between a talker like Norman and one like receiver Steve Smith, who also talks lots of smack,telling opponents to “ice up, son.”Smith is seen as superbly talented, which gives him a lot of leeway.
Norman, on the other hand, was repeatedly characterized as a “media creation,” one that made him into a bigger talent than he really is.
Norman also leaves many feeling he can be a bit of a punk. That’s as clear as Bryant’s dislike for him.Or Odell Beckham’s. Norman hasn’t just annoyed receivers; I heard from a wide swath of players from different offensive positions who believe Norman is vastly overrated.
I haven’t seen this level of dislike for a player since former linebacker Bill Romanowski roamed the field.And Romanowski used to spit at dudes.
While Bryant’s verbal assault opened a window into all of the ill will Norman generates around the league, it’s unclear as to why this about has erupted now. Why wasn’t there an outpouring of criticism after the Beckham brawl last season?
I’m not sure. What I do know is players were extremely eager to take shots at Norman. And they did so with what seemed like a sense of glee. It was almost…odd.
This likely isn’t the last of the Norman drama.
3. Speaking of Dez BryantRonald Martinez/Getty Images
The Cowboys star receiver continues to heal from various injuries suffered earlier in the season, but there are signs he is rounding back into form as one of the league’s top pass catchers.
On Thanksgiving, Bryant’s route running was sharper than it had been earlier this season. The numbers didn’t show Bryant’s improvement, but they also didn’t show how Dak Prescott missed him on a handful of routes. Once, Bryant was wide open and Prescott didn’t see him.
A fully healthy Bryant would be one heck of a weapon to add to an already loaded Cowboys offense down the final stretch of the regular season.
That’s kind of scary.
4. NFL Not So Welcome to Brian KellyRonald Cortes/Getty Images
The odds the embattled Notre Dame head coach makes a move to the NFL are dwindling. Badly. That’s what one front office executive tells me.
At one time, Kelly would have been a near shoo-in for a move to the league. I’ve written more than once about how teams liked him (and some still do). But the executive with whom I spoke most recently believes Kelly’s star has fallen dramatically over the past two years.
The biggest issue, according to this exec, is he feels Kelly’s ability to motivate, or lack thereof, has been exposed. He believes Notre Dame’s players no longer respond to Kelly and sees little accountability from him for both the losing and the academic scandal in which the program was recently entangled.
All of this, of course, means the Rams will hire him next season.
5. Raiders’ Amazing Turnaround ContinuesEthan Miller/Getty Images
The Raiders’ victory Sunday over Carolina assured the team of its first winning season in 14 years.
No one outside of the Oakland locker room saw this coming. No one. I thought the Raiders wouldn’t start winning like this for another two years.
In short, the Raiders have become one of the biggest stories in the gameand not just on the field.
While owner Mark Davis has made it clear he wants to head to Las Vegas, some of his fellow owners are not 100 percent convinced. Some believe if a deal to stay in Oakland comes through, Davis won’t move the team. And some owners believe this is a magnificent bluff from Davis.
I don’t. I think Davis wants out, and that is the likely outcome. It would also be a massive mistake for Davis.
Las Vegas won’t have a large, loyal fan base. The fans there will largely be transientpeople coming to Vegas to play craps, see David Copperfield (he’s still alive, right?) and thinking, “Hey, let’s go to a Raiders game while we’re there!”
This would be in stark contrast to what I saw when speaking at a Raiders booster club event in Alameda, California, while on a recent book tour. The room was full of hardcore Raiders fans. All knowledgeable. All with decades-long ties to the team. The only reason some of the members of the club weren’t at the meeting was because they were traveling back from attending the Raiders-Texans game in Mexico.
That’s true, earnest dedication.
The problem with an Oakland move to Las Vegas is that it would be the latest symbol of what’s become wrong with the NFL. The issue isn’t merely about an increasing lack of loyalty to fans (see: Rams, St. Louis and now Los Angeles); it’s also about making poor choices when it comes to fans. A ratings decline in Los Angeleswas inevitable. It was as easy to see as Jeff Fisher’s coaching mediocrity.
The same would be the case in Vegas. There’s a Raiders contingent there but nowhere near big enough to support the team.
No matter where their future is, the Raiders are likely to be making news for the foreseeable future.
6. The MVP RaceTom Pennington/Getty Images
This is how I see it (for this week):
1. Dak Prescott, QB, Cowboys: It’s impossible to not put him at No. 1. Ezekiel Elliott is a big part of the team, obviously, but Prescott is the key. To me, he’s passed Tom Brady. Barely. But he’s passed him.
2. Tom Brady, QB, Patriots: He could be first, but the crowd constantly yelling at me that Brady missed the first four games due to Deflategate (which hurts him) is starting to impact my thinking. It’s not about whether Brady did or didn’t deflate footballs. It’s about the fact Prescott has simply played more games.
3. Matthew Stafford, QB, Lions: The Lions would be highly Lions-y without him.
4. Derek Carr, QB, Raiders: Moving up quickly in the race and could end up fighting for the top spot. He’s electrified his entire team and is making up for some of the Raiders’ defensive deficiencies.
5. Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons: Putting up big numbers, but the question with Ryan is always the chance he chokes toward the end of the season.
Just missing the top five: Odell Beckham, David Johnson, Ezekiel Elliott and Marcus Mariota.
7. Chris Simms Is Right About Brock OsweilerMike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Leave it to my B/R colleague Chris Simms to articulate what I’ve been struggling to say about Osweiler for some time.
He’s not a natural thrower.
“I don’t think theHouston Texanscan win withBrock Osweileras their starting quarterback,” Simms said on CBS’ NFL Monday QB show. “Brock Osweiler is just not a natural thrower of the football. There are 32 rated quarterbacks in football; you know who he is tied with at the bottom?Ryan Fitzpatrickwho everyone is trying to kick out in New York.”
Osweiler’s height is the main issue. He’s so tall, standing at 6’8″, it doesn’t allow for a smooth throwing motion. This was something another former quarterback, SteveBeuerlein, also said on the same show.
“How many 6-foot, 8-inch quarterbacks have you seen be successful in the NFL?” Beuerlein said. “I can’t think of any. It is very hard for a man that big to have the mobility and the agility and the delivery in the pocket to be consistently successful in this league.”
8. A Tragic TaleJed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Showtime will soon release what looks to be ariveting documentaryon one of the greatest NFL cautionary tales of all time: former running back Lawrence Phillips.
I covered Phillips from the time he entered the NFL until the time he left. I interviewed him several times. In the end, he turned out to be adespicable human being. For a variety of reasons.
That’s one aspect of this story, and it’s an important one. But there is another aspect, that of his health. And it will be interesting to see, after experts examine Phillips’ brain for CTE, whether he had the disease.
We may never know the answer to this question, but if he did have the disease, how much did it contribute to his behavior? None? A little? A lot?
That is the next chapter of this story.
9. More on MariotaDavid Banks/Getty Images
Earlier, I mentioned the Tennessee quarterback as an MVP candidate. To non-Titans fans, such a notion seems silly. The team is 6-6 and in second place in an awful division.
The Titans also have a resurgent DeMarco Murray.
But check this out: Though only in his second season, Mariota has thrown multiple touchdown passes in eight straight games. That doesn’t seem like much in this age where Tom Brady throws two touchdown passes during R.E.M. sleep.
But what Mariota is doing is rare for a player so young. The only other player to accomplish such a feat at this point in his career was Dan Freaking Marino, according to the NFL. Marino’s streak went 10 consecutive games in 1984, his second season.
That Mariota is playing on a high level is all the more impressive considering he doesn’t have a fraction of the talent around him that other MVP candidates do.
10. On Dennis GreenVincent Laforet/Getty Images
If you missedthis CBS specialon the late Vikings/Cardinals coach Dennis Green, it’s worth watching. The program not only touchingly and accurately portrays Green, but also correctly touches on Green’s place in NFL history.
For every time Green could be acerbic with the media”if you wanna crown them, then crown their asses”he was also kind. No coach was more decent, informative and inviting to me than Green. He knew that I covered a lot of Thanksgiving games and always said there was a place at his Thanksgiving table for me. Even if I was covering a game in Detroit or Dallas, and nowhere near Minnesota or Arizona, I always got the call with a Thanksgiving invitation.
For many of us, that CBS story brought back a flood of good memories about Green. And for those of you who never knew him, it’s a story worth entertainment news in ghana your time.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter:@mikefreemanNFL.