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Collin 'Em Out: The Worst of the Worst for NFL Preseason Week 2

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Collin 'Em Out: The Worst of the Worst for NFL Preseason Week 2
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It's back again.

The rage, that familiar arterial supernova, capillaries exploding and face flushed red with boiling, liquid hate at the sight of one of the universe's most horrific events.

NFL preseason football. Week 2, more specifically.

This week showcased the usual incompetence: wrong routes, bad reads, Graham Harrell. But there were a few developments, a few unique nuggets of noxious, soul-crushing reality, that were also committed to the history books. A few things so truly terrible, they deserve their own special place in football hell.

Or, you know, a column. So you all can hate along with me.

So who's being called out this week? Let's take a look.

1. Anyone and Everyone Who Gushed Over the New England Patriots Signing Jeff Demps

3000 B.C: Construction is completed on the Great Pyramid.

214 B.C: Work on the Great Wall of China begins.

1492 A.D: Christopher Columbus discovers America.

1789 A.D: George Washington is elected first President of U.S. under the Constitution, presumably after battling legions of the undead.

1939 A.D: World War 2 begins.

August 17, 2012: The New England Patriots sign Olympic sprinter and all-world weapon of mass destruction Jeff Demps to the greatest roster of superhuman demigods ever guaranteed to win every game, championship and Pokemon battle from now through the remainder of human existence.

This happens any time New England does anything. Clearly, because Bill Belichick is at the helm, it must be the greatest decision ever made.

Twitter would seem to reflect this:

 

ZOMG! How does any team decide between focusing on a journeyman flanker who has bounced between six different teams with one 1,000-yard season to his name and an undrafted running back who, you know, was mostly signed on the promise of his return ability alone?

[Writer note:  Originally, I implied that Demps went undrafted because he was passed over by teams.  Demps was undrafted because he did not declare for the 2012 NFL Draft.  I acknowledge this error and have thus amended the text.  Apologies for any confusion, but my point still stands.]

 

 

Not to doubt Ian Rapoport, who is consistently one of the absolute best to cover the Pats (next to our own Erik Frenz, of course!), but since when is speed everything? Since when does speed guarantee all other factors automatically translate?

You need only look at Demps' former Gators teammate Brandon James to see that being a 5'7" speedster guarantees nothing but a quicker way to get your ass kicked on Sundays (granted, Devin Hester would also be playing for the Edmonton Eskimos if he was returning kicks with the Indianapolis Colts).

There is a history littered with hundreds and thousands of NFL speedsters who amounted to nothing. Why should Demps be any different?

 

 

If by "racking up everybody" you mean they signed an undrafted free agent running back to go along with a discarded Minnesota Vikings tight end and a second-round safety who should have been selected approximately where Demps actually was, then yes, they are racking up everybody.

Pigskin nation, we need to address something. And we need to address it now.

The Patriots deal in volume. And that strategy totally works.  

It just doesn't make every action a guaranteed success. Their cumulative track record with these actions just makes you think that's the case.

Think of it this way: You're Splinter, and you decide you're just not getting enough out of Donatello, because he's a total spaz, knows more about cold fusion than kung fu and, of all the possible permutations of weapons available, chooses to arm himself with a freaking wooden stick.

So you audition four candidates for the open Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle position.

Three of these guys are even lamer than Donatello, if that's even possible. One is just a complete and total bad-ass in a half shell, a subterranean brawler so ballsy he uses his own head as a weapon.

And that's the story of the Patriots' roster approach.  

They're not mystical. They're not forged from secret ooze.

They don't have some secret MIT janitor who has designed the perfect formula to identifying every potential All-Pro on the planet.

Belichick's solution to roster concerns and shortcomings is throwing as many names as possible at the problem. BenJarvus Green-Ellis leaves? Give Joseph Addai a shot. Finding your wide receiver corps a little stagnant? Sign Anthony Gonzalez and Donte Stallworth for the second time in his career (but first time as a convicted felon).

This isn't to be interpreted as bashing the Patriots, though I know that's what the comments will lend themselves toward, because the inherent assumption in Harvard Yard is that anything short of sacrificing your firstborn in the name of Tom Brady should be viewed as an insult. Rather, it's an acknowledgement that this strategy is genius and absolutely works.

New England deals in volume. In players, in picks, in assets hustled in and out of Foxborough. Other teams are more resigned to let the cards fall as they will, either due to budgetary restrictions or a general belief that talent is developed internally, not often plucked from the ether of the NFL waiver wire.

Dealing in volume, though, doesn't mean every move works out. Just ask Addai and Gonzalez, or Chad Johnson, or Fred Taylor, or Torry Holt, or Joey Galloway, or Chris Baker, or Tank Williams or the six million other names that had fans jumping for joy at the time but turned out to be complete duds.

There is nothing wrong with playing the volume game. But don't go around praising every signing simply because the Patriots were responsible for it.  

If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had made this move, nobody would care. If the Jets had made this move, everyone would mock the team for signing a one-dimensional player with Joe McKnight already on the roster. If the Colts had pulled the trigger as one of the other teams apparently interested in Demps' services, no one would be saying, "Wow, what a great add to Andrew Luck's offensive arsenal!"

But New England makes a move, and the response everywhere is, "Genius, absolute genius!"

My response to that is slow your roll. We're not even sure he can beat out Dan Connolly for kick return duties just yet.

 

2.  Mike Smith

If ever there was a team that needed opportunities practicing fourth-down conversions, it is the Atlanta Falcons.

Remember last year when New Orleans Saints defenders Shaun Rogers and Will Smith stuffed Michael Turner on a key fourth down, setting up a John Kasay game-winning field goal from 26 yards out?

Well, if you're Falcons head coach Mike Smith, you sure as hell should.

So why in the name of Peerless Price would you pass up the opportunity to go for it on 4th-and-1 inside your opponent's territory in the first quarter of a preseason game?

There is no rationale. What, so Matt Bosher can practice his whopping 27-yard punt? I don't think so.

Much like I went off on teams that kicked sub-30 yard field goals last week, I'm calling out Smith here for completely missing the concept of situational practicality in exhibition games. And not being able to do some basic math.

Fourth downs are apparently to Smith what first, second and third downs are to Kevin Kolb. There is just no way either is going to make the correct decision.

It's pretty much guaranteed that if three bomb technicians were called in to save the world's last remaining unicorn and failed to do so, Smith would be the statistical worst choice to turn to next.

Yes, Smith is the reason we can't have unicorns.

What's to lose by practicing conversions in the preseason? I don't get this at all. Are coaches really that concerned with their kicker's ability to convert a 22-yard field goal, or a 27-yard net punt in this case? Is what needs to be evaluated the kind of stuff that ultimately helps decide—as informed by practice and film room sessions—who sticks on the roster, and who gets the Chad Johnson "it's not you, it's me" treatment?

I'm going to share a little secret, if you'll allow. Hopefully Ecuador allows me asylum for my troubles.

Preseason scores don't matter.

Shocking, I know—and right after you told Terrelle Pryor to take a dive in the fourth (hey, he listened!).

What does matter, in terms of live reps, is situational practice and preparedness.  

You want your QB to be able to adjust to his hot read when a blitzing linebacker doesn't slow up at the sight of a red jersey. You want your Mike linebacker to know his exact drop on a 3rd-and-8. You want young players to get acclimated to a real two-minute drill with real crowd noise and real NBC cameras and real deathtraps springing from Soldier Field.

(Not to mention Chicago's red-zone tiger traps and Great Pit of Carkoon.)

You learn from these things.

But you do not learn from pee-wee distance kicks that net three points or a handful of net yards in a change of possession—especially not from your starting punter or kicker, and especially not in the first quarter.

Maybe Smith is just doomed to be the poster child for second guesses, though, forever destined to do the exact wrong thing.

Time will tell. Hopefully the rest of the NFL can learn from this mistake, though, and no more mythical creatures will have to die as a result of head-coaching incompetence.

 

3.  Taylor Mays

Taylor Mays is that guy.

He's the guy who shows off his brand new Lexus by accidentally running over your puppy while waving obliviously.

He's the guy who ruins your paintball game by spraying everything in sight, tagging half of his own team in the process.

He's the guy who necessitates turning friendly fire off in Call of Duty games.

He's the guy you send down to the basement for a beer, only to come back spreading the Bubonic plague.

More than anything, though, Mays is a bona fide roster-wrecker. This was never more evident than in a first-quarter collision with Cincinnati Bengals teammate Vontaze Burfict in an August 16 exhibition match against the aforementioned fourth-down-challenged Falcons.

Now, I respect players for going all out, but damn, Taylor. Save that next can of whoop-ass for, you know, someone not on your own team.

Mays has largely been a disappointment since entering the NFL as a member of the San Francisco 49ers and the 49th overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft. And though pegged as a starter, most would acknowledge the Bengals could do better at the position.

If nothing else, to protect their own guys.

Let's break down what likely went through Mays' head during this catastrophic collision.

Atlanta lines up with trips receivers stacked left and a lone back, Jacquizz Rodgers, in the backfield.

Matt Ryan snaps the ball with 9:16 remaining on the clock in the second quarter, turning his back to the line and digging toward Rodgers as if to pitch him the ball. But this pitch is an impostor!

Because Ryan actually rolls right instead of pitching, planting his feet in an unmolested patch of turf and surveying his options downfield.

This is where all hell breaks loose...

Now, you may think I'm being harsh. Accidents happen, right? It's football. It's easy to judge from the sofa, but when bodies are flying around at game speed, it's not always easy to pick your targets. Right?

Well, just one week ago, Mays did the exact same friggin' thing!

This, when he took out Rey Maualuga in the Bengals' first exhibition against the Jets, where the football gods constantly trolled Cincy's medical staff.

New York lines up to execute a simple straightforward dive play with Shonn Greene.

Greene finds a little space to work with—as Jets fans worldwide collectively gasp at the uncharted territory of Greene earning positive yardage—and continues to carry the rock into the teeth of the Bengals defense.

Which, of course, summons Mays, god of friendly fire and wretched tackling form.

As you can see, Mays isn't even looking at his target. He's just launching himself blindly into the scrum or, more specifically in this case, into teammate Rey Maualuga's knee.

Which results in this sad sight.

Hell, Mays even managed to take himself out on an ill-advised, Whiffy McPilejumper kamikaze leap.

(Of course, as this actually occurred on a Tim Tebow pass completion, the greater concern may not have been what Mays did right or wrong here, but rather that hell was in the process of freezing over.)

To Mays' credit, he realizes this trend needs to stop:

I have to be more conscious of who I am hitting. Sometimes stuff moves at the last second. You want to be aggressive and set the tempo but at the same time I don’t want to do anything stupid. Sometimes I’m trying to run to the ball and trying to get there. Its just a defensive mindset and I’m going to work on it.

Let's just hope it does indeed stop before he ends up the Maverick to someone's Goose (WARNING: mild language, and also spoilers for anyone who has been living under a rock since 1986).

 

4.  Anyone Making Too Much of Andrew Luck vs. Robert Griffin III

In many ways, the August 25 matchup between the Colts and Redskins is equal parts dream and nightmare.

We get to see the top two quarterbacks (hell, the top two players) of the 2012 NFL draft square off for the first time, each trying to prove he is the savior for his respective franchise.

But then, we also have to hear, as we hear every time these two guys plays, a laundry list of unnecessary comparisons. Why Luck is better. Why RG3 has more potential. Why one is more accurate, athletic, intelligent, dynamic, prepared or primed for glory than the other.

Why Luck's better because he has more passing yards and touchdowns on the preseason, or why RG3's better because he has a higher passer rating and fewer interceptions.

The Colts-Redskins Week 3 matchup may as well come with its own tagline.

This is maybe the worst part of our "immediate results" culture to translate to football—the need to know who's better (or for pundits, who's correct) right away, ignoring context completely and eschewing the larger picture in the process.

Could it be—could it just perhaps be—that both of these guys are pretty special talents and that we may need a good 10 or 15 years to really ever see much separation between them, in any true evaluative sense?

And can we give them a few years—to the tune of a decade—before we start declaring winners, losers and the victor of some climactic battle?

It's just not fair, or sensible, to try to compare their overall talent levels right now. Luck is walking into ground zero of a demolished franchise, one that has completely gutted its roster and coaching staff and is in the process of installing new schemes and talent on both sides of the ball. Griffin is not entering nearly as dismal a situation, but he still must adjust to new faces, new terminology and new techniques in his assimilation into Mike Shanahan's offense.

Evaluating these players on a one-off basis is completely fair game. If you want to look at why Luck was impressive or how Griffin was able to find the perfect fifth-read option under duress, that's completely relevant stuff.

Trying to compare and contrast the two and pit them against each other in terms of the better player or better draft pick, though, is absolutely absurd.  

Both will need time to develop. Even with early, promising returns, neither has faced the gauntlet of a NFL season before. Luck has yet to be challenged by the Houston Texans' pass rush, and Griffin has yet to feel the pain of the New York Giants' defensive live.

Both will need the support of the front office. Indy will need to continue building around Luck, surrounding him with the talent necessary to let him shine—like a functional offensive line, for instance. Griffin will similarly need more talent; more draft picks invested in a team specifically built around him.

Both will need to log some seasons under their respective belts as "the franchise" before we can get a clearer picture of where they stand in fair circumstances.

Neither will face off in a duel to the death tomorrow to satiate our need for instant reaction and evaluation.

So consider this a preemptive plea: Do not make too much of who has more passing yards this season, who helps his team tally more wins, who earns which awards and how they look on the SportsCenter Top 10 in the process.

Just appreciate these rare talents for what they are: once-in-a-generation picks gifted to franchises who really, truly need them. And give them half a chance to evolve within their own circumstances, on their own timeline, before launching absurd bottom-line evaluative comparisons.

 

5.  Carson Palmer

Unlike RG3 and Luck, I fully advocate tearing into Oakland Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer.

Why? Because he just isn't good. And if the Raiders really want to move forward as a franchise, they're not going to do so with Palmer as their starting signal-caller.

We all know the story on his 2011 season. Palmer played the "screw you guys, I'm going home" card to the Bengals' front office, forcing them to calculate some transaction that would leave them with a net gain out of the situation.

That transaction came in the form of a trade to Oakland, who shelled out a first-round pick in the 2012 NFL draft and a conditional second-rounder in the 2013 NFL draft.

Think they're wishing they could get those back now?

Palmer finished the 2011 NFL season with a woeful stat line: 199-of-328 for 2,753 yards, with 13 touchdowns and 16 interceptions to his name.

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On some level, you figure a considerable amount of those numbers resulted from a combination of rust (Palmer did not play at all in the first six games of the 2011 season) and rapid assimilation into an already turbulent Raiders roster.

But with an offseason in Oakland under his belt, Palmer still looks like the same guy he was in 2011, despite having no more excuses relating to his familiarity with the team.

Through two preseason games, Palmer is just 16-of-30 (53.3 percent, a positively Tebow-esque percentage) for 170 yards, zero touchdowns and two interceptions. His yards per passing attempt look like someone's yards per carry: just a measly 4.7.

While I always caution against making too much of preseason numbers, it's not just the numbers in the case. It's the play on film that substantiates them, serving as a full, documented testament to his suckitude.

These are things that won't get better with regular-season play: bad decision-making, poor mechanics, sloppy play in general—just bad quarterbacking.

There is no snake oil tonic for that.

Let's take a look at some of Palmer's preseason lowlights.

We'll start with the first offensive play from Oakland's Week 2 preseason matchup against the Arizona Cardinals. For those keeping score at home, this is 1st-and-10, with 14:54 remaining in the first quarter.

Oakland lines up in the I-formation, already pinned back inside their own 20 courtesy of special teams ineptitude (ineptitude a recurring theme of the Raiders roster).

Palmer takes the snap and turns to fake the handoff to Darren McFadden. The play is flowing to the right in general, with fullback Marcel Reece starting in that direction as if to establish a lead block for McFadden.

As designed, Palmer bootlegs left, away from the (intentionally misdirected) flow of the play, exposing himself on a naked rollout to Cardinals linebacker Sam Acho. Acho performs his role perfectly in keeping the back side contained and not biting hard inside, which would have taken him out of the play completely and left acres of space in front of Palmer on the uncontained side of the field.

This isn't a breakdown by the Raiders. This is just great defense by the Cardinals, or specifically Acho.

What follows, though, is a complete breakdown by the Raiders. Dads, if you've got a young quarterback at home, bookmark this an example for what not to do in the face of pressure.

Palmer, confronted by pressure, stops, fails to plant or step into his throw and, as a result, has no power behind his drive whatsoever. And while Richard Gordon is clearly open on the play, Palmer's floating beach ball of a throw lacks any of the requisite zip to get there on time and hit the open man.

Let's put on our CSI goggles and ENHANCE!

Everything Palmer does here goes against the textbook on what QBs should do. He doesn't step into his throw, and he only seems to half-cock the ball and flick prematurely, not driving the throw and following through or fully snapping his wrist to achieve ideal velocity.

His footwork sticks out the worst, though. If you're just going to toss the ball out of bounds or spike it into the turf in the area of an "intended receiver," that's one thing. You can forgive some mechanics there, because the player's intention is simply to kill the play and live to fight another down.

But when the intention is completing the ball and you're throwing with your plant foot nearly glued to your drag foot, not to mention glued behind your drag foot, you're asking for trouble.

Which Palmer nearly receives in spades here.

The amount of time it takes the ball to reach its destination allows for an Arizona defender to get a clean break on the ball, meeting the receiver at the spot and just edging him out in the end.

Luckily for Oakland, the diving interception effort came up empty.

But the point here isn't the end result of the play, it's what still shows on film for a veteran quarterback who turned the ball over far too many times last year.

Palmer is sloppy and careless. He makes bad decisions, and he makes them too often. Anyone who has been in the league as long as he has knows that you just kill this play, but he attempts to make it and is nearly burned for it.

If you're Palmer and coming off an absolute train wreck of a 2011 season, you just can't make these plays. Not in the preseason, not in the regular season, not at all.

Hell, if you're a veteran quarterback in general, irrespective of the game's significance, you can't make these plays!  

Let's quickly look at an interception Palmer actually did throw, not just one he should have thrown.

Here, the Raiders line up with a heavy three-TE look, with a lone back behind Palmer.

Palmer takes a five-step drop and sets up in the pocket with plenty of room to throw and plenty of time to go through his reads and lock in to the most sensible target.

He decides to target Richard Gordon on the play, who is running a seam route between the outside corner and safety. Let's note that Gordon is a 6'4", 265-pound blocking tight end. We'll come back to that nugget later.

Gordon is flanked by Adrian Wilson on the outside, doing a wonderful job playing outside technique and sticking with his man. Arizona linebacker Stewart Bradley is in a zone drop just shallow of Gordon's route. Though a bit difficult to see here, Cardinals safety Kerry Rhodes is the single-high safety up top, rotating toward the summit point of Gordon's intended route.

This is a difficult throw. Palmer's best bet is to slot it in a very small window in front of the receiver (and corner on his outside), over the head of the linebacker and short of the safety. Even in the best case, this would require a good deal of precision by both quarterback and receiver, and it sets the receiver up for a nasty hit after securing the ball.  

Much goes wrong here, but let's rewind back to the fact that Palmer is targeting Gordon here in the first place. Unless this ball is just perfectly threaded, it will require a good deal of athleticism to grab. Gordon is primarily a blocking tight end. Is Gordon a guy you trust to sky up and come down with a tough grab?

Probably not.

At the point of release, you can see Rhodes rotating further into the picture. This will also be key as the play progresses.

Arizona's defense has this one pretty well-triangulated. This needs to be a perfect ball.

This is not a perfect ball.

The pass is high and behind Gordon. As a result, it gets tipped.

And falls into the waiting arms of Rhodes.

Again, just a bad decision and a bad throw by Palmer. His first interception of the preseason, thrown to the Dallas Cowboys, came on a similar play.

Raiders fans can claim "it's the preseason" or "everyone's working out kinks" as much as they want, but the fact is that Palmer looks no better than he did in 2011. He's still making the same bad reads, demonstrating the same bad mechanics and creating the same bad turnovers.

And I just don't see how he's going to be quarterbacking Oakland to glory anytime soon.

I really don't think it's too soon for the Raiders to start thinking about replacements. Maybe not this season, as everyone is pretty much married to their quarterback situations for now, but you've got to believe they're looking ahead to that 2013 draft class and wondering if there's any package they can create to land the likes of Matt Barkley, gifting themselves a USC do-over.

Whomever they add and whenever they add him, I'm fairly confident he can't be much worse than Palmer is now.

 

6.  Replacement Refs

They made the list last week. And guess what?

I'm calling out the replacement refs again.

There were plenty of instances to choose from, as they are under a microscope where everyone is just waiting for them to make a mistake and consequentially pounce on it.

But a particularly troublesome series of calls in Sunday night's contest between the Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers proved especially problematic, mostly in projecting similar suckitude into the regular season, when results actually matter.

With 2:12 remaining in the second quarter, the Colts lined up in a heavy goal-line set on 3rd-and-goal, with guard Joe Reitz and center A.Q. Shipley—playing fullback here, essentially—reporting as eligible receivers. Vick Ballard, who looks to be running his way toward Indy's RB2 position, is the lone back.

Luck turns to hand the ball off to Ballard.

Ballard barrels toward the goal line, where a host of Steelers are scrambling to meet him.

Attempting to evade Pittsburgh's stonewall, Ballard lunges for the goal line.

And he scores. Temporarily, at least. The refs rule the play a touchdown.

As scoring plays are now automatically reviewed, though, it goes to the replay booth.  

This is the best shot we get of Ballard's knee touching the ground.

Now, personally, I don't think the ball crossed the plane before Ballard's knee touched down. Seemed to be just inches short. But as Cris Collinsworth would go on to remind us one thousand times, there needs to be indisputable evidence to overrule the call on the field.

And the only people in the world who saw enough evidence to overturn the call were the replacement refs.

So the call was reversed. Fine, it probably should have been.

But the ball was then spotted all the way back at the 1-yard line—a ball that was inches short of the goal line. Spotted back almost a full yard.

Then, just for good measure, the officials decided to enact a third consecutive incorrect call. Because, hey, third time's a charm, right?

On fourth down, a full yard back from where they should have lined up, Indianapolis eschewed the opportunity to kick what would have been the dumbest field goal anyone had ever kicked, instead electing to go for it.

Luck lined up in shotgun, with Reggie Wayne coming in motion from right to left.

After taking the snap, Luck fakes a draw to Ballard.

And takes off himself, dashing toward the goal line.

He reconsiders this strategy a bit, though, and begins to slide short of the goal line as he sees Steelers defenders quickly congregating to meet him.

(Note to Luck: smart move in a meaningless preseason game, but in a regular-season game, you'll want to dive, not slide.)

The refs seem confident enough in ruling this a touchdown.

Except it isn't. And even I knew that prior to those arms reaching for the sky in indication of a score.

The ball is dead when and where a quarterback initiates his slide. He gives himself up and kills possession. I knew this prior to Luck crossing the goal line and thought something along the lines of "doesn't count, kid, you need to dive there, not slide."

Apparently, I know more than replacement refs, though, because they seemed comfortable in ruling it a touchdown. And not reviewing it. At all. Even though it was a scoring play (that shouldn't have been a scoring play).

One play after they overanalyzed a scoring review so heavily they managed to actually subtract yards from the equation, they just spotted the Colts six points out of sheer incompetence.

Look, I don't want to beat up on replacement refs just because it's "the cool thing" to do. I'm not much for that cynical sportswriting culture of everyone ganging up on the same guy (or guys) without having actually watched any tape or made any unique contributions to criticisms.

And I could call out any number of plays or developments from this game: Indy's pathetic attempts at tackling Antonio Brown, T.Y. Hilton's horrendous tip drill which led to a Luck interception, Larry Foote's forearm shiver to Austin Collie's helmet which looks worse and worse every time you watch it.

But I'm calling out the replacement refs here.

Because this is bad. And it can't be this bad when scoring plays actually matter.

 

Collin McCollough is Bleacher Report's Senior NFL Editor. Look for this weekly feature to run throughout the 2012-13 NFL season.

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