By Tom Di Benedetto
I will state it as bluntly as I possibly can: all of the NFL’s current in-game rules should be properly enforced, especially when it comes to quarterbacks. This should be a given, and Cam Newton was absolutely right to complain this week. Hopefully his supposedly pleasant (imagine the awkwardness of that chat) phone call with Roger Goodell does something to rectify what is frankly an out-of-control situation. Last Sunday was not even close to the first game this season for Cam that has been dramatically impacted by severely illegal and unflagged hits. And his case is far from unique.
Alex Smith was TWICE hit and dazed (concussed?) while sliding on Sunday in the Chiefs game against Colts. Not only was he somehow permitted to return to the field despite being clearly woozy, neither play was flagged. But wait, there’s more! Andrew Luck was also hit high and late on a slide during the game. That play was not flagged either. Now the Chiefs won’t admit Smith suffered a concussion even though he won’t play Sunday against Jacksonville.
There is simply no advantage to officiating the rules in this manner for the NFL, and hopefully Cam’s gripes are a wake up call. Even old-school, hard-nosed fans who openly lament the sport’s decrease in violence have to agree that enforcing the QB protection rules properly is far preferable to watching Nick Foles or Derek Anderson start for a prolonged stretch. Please NFL, get the refs in line on this one thing, if nothing else.
Carson Palmer Panic-O-Meter
There has been plenty of chatter this week about Carson Palmer after the Cardinals dropped under .500 with a loss on the road in Charlotte in Week 8. But I still think it’s far too soon for full-fledged panic. He is clearly not repeating his career season from a year ago, but things aren’t as bad as many pundits are suggesting.
Turn on any of his games so far this season (well just not Buffalo) and you will see that while his accuracy isn’t quite where it was a year ago, his arm strength is still there and he continues to be a very dangerous downfield passing threat. Statistically, his season has been marred by one bad start (a 4 INT game against the Bills, his only multiple INT game of 2016) and even including that start, his totals in yardage, completion percentage and interceptions are pretty much dead-on his career averages. Essentially he has reverted back to the player he’s always been after an outlying performance in 2015.
The most noticeable and alarming statistics are his dramatic decline in TD passes and uptick in fumbles lost. I believe these are both tied into a change in style by the Cardinals offense this year. David Johnson has become the clear focal point, even in the passing game where he is second on the team in receptions behind Larry Fitzgerald. The rest of the passing attack has looked lackluster, with JJ Nelson only just now breaking out in Week 8 and John Brown, Michael Floyd and Jermaine Gresham all struggling to make a consistent impact. There have also been protection issues that have left the completely immobile Palmer vulnerable on too many occasions.
I’m setting the Panic-O-Meter at 2/10 (exactly where I placed Aaron Rodgers in Week 2) on this one and I still think there is a good chance of Palmer and the Cardinals turning this season around. The remaining schedule is less than grueling and Palmer remains (mostly) healthy. If the rest of the offense can show a little more life, Carson will be more than able to pull his own weight, even if he is no longer performing at a level deserving of MVP consideration.
I’m falling out of love with this Game Balls section. Brady, Ryan and Carr are great every week. We get it. I would say that the MVP race right now is down to these three and extreme long shots Matthew Stafford, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Ezekiel Elliott.
1. Matt Ryan
2. Tom Brady
3. Derek Carr
4. Matthew Stafford
5. Drew Brees
6. Andrew Luck
7. Philip Rivers
Knocking on 7’s Door: Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Dak Prescott