Ten-Point Stance: Mike Freeman's NFL Notebook Heading into Week 3

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterSeptember 18, 2013

Every week, the Ten-Point Stance takes a look inside the NFL. This week, the insider news, notes and quotes cover the league's wild start, college coaches who coach like pros, pro coaches who coach like amateurs and more.

1. What's going on here?

Stephen Hawking couldn't do it. If da Vinci were alive, he couldn't do it either. Copernicus? Pfft. The president can't. Not even Oprah can. No one. Not a single brilliant mind in the world can.

No one can decode, decipher, figure out this insane NFL season. And we're only a few weeks in. 

In Week 1, the entire AFC North lost. In Week 2, the entire NFC East lost.

Washington is 0-2. Pittsburgh is 0-2. Kansas City is 2-0.

Ryan Tannehill looks better than Eli Manning. Peyton Manning looks like God. Aaron Rodgers is God.

Eli has won two Super Bowls and is 0-2. RGIII won the division last year and is 0-2. Ben Roethlisberger is a Super Bowl champion, and he's 0-2. Adrian Peterson was the league's MVP last year, and he's 0-2.

The Chiefs have already won as many games this year as they did all last season.

The Patriots look ordinary, the Bills at times extraordinary, the Buccaneers agitated and the Raiders competitive.

There have been 22 games decided by seven points or less, the most through the first two weeks at any time in NFL history, according to a league press release.

The Bengals are better and more talented than the Steelers. If you had said that two years ago, someone would've drug tested you. Cincinnati became the first team to total 400 yards of offense against Pittsburgh in a non-overtime game since the Patriots did it in 2010.

About the only thing that is normal right now is that the Jaguars suck. Their quarterbacks have been sacked 11 times, and they have scored 11 points in the first two weeks. That is a level of suckitude rarely reached this early in the year—but strangely, even that is entertaining.

All of these things make it hard to take your eyes off the NFL. It's very early, and the NFL world could still settle into a bit of normalcy, but this season is shaping up to be among the wildest in recent memory.

As the NFL shifts and morphs into something we've never seen before (what offenses are doing is unprecedented), it's almost impossible to predict what will happen in it. 

There's nothing profound here, just interesting, and it exemplifies why the NFL is so popular. Unlike baseball and the NBA and in some ways, even hockey, every team except Jacksonville and Cleveland has a legitimate shot. It's not just the salary cap, which is the great evener; it's that the coaching brain power is fairly spread out across the league. 

An example is that Andy Reid leaves Philadelphia and goes to Kansas City. The Eagles replace him with a smart coach, Chip Kelly, who brings an entertaining and effective offensive philosophy to the sport.

It's easy to bash coaches, but there really are only a handful of bad ones in the NFL. This fact, maybe more than any other, is the biggest reason the league gets so cutthroat and competitive.

Not to mention the players are overall more talented, faster and better than we've seen in some time. Top to bottom, the athleticism is insane, another part of the draw.

One team personnel executive said the influx of newer coaching blood and ideas, the strict rules against defensive hits and the athleticism has created an almost Wild West feel in a sport used to glacial changes. Now, there is no stability, and offenses rule. When offenses rule, things are out of balance, and that allows teams not as talented to hang with teams that are more so. Just look at how the Chiefs hung in there against Dallas. 

The Wall Street Journal's Kevin Clark reported that points per game were at a 47-year high last year. When teams are scoring like that, almost anybody can win. 

These are all rational explanations, but there is still an unexplainable element about what is happening this season. It's almost mystical bordering on mythical. And it's only a few weeks in.

Just wait until later.

2. Sumlin a hot coaching candidate

There are NFL general managers who would trample their grandma on Christmas morning to get Nick Saban to coach their team. He's easily the most desirable college coach among the NFL's personnel executives. The thought has been that Notre Dame's Brian Kelly was second.

The latter might be true, but interviews with some team executives show that Kevin Sumlin is quickly climbing up the NFL's head-coaching wish list. 

The adjectives used to describe Sumlin in texts to me before, during and following the Texas A&M game against Alabama were incredible. They talked about him like he was Vince Lombardi. It was incredible to hear, particularly since this is a league that's historically had a difficult time embracing young African-American coaches.

"The more I watch this guy, the more I fall in love with him," said one AFC team executive.

"He's a rising star," said another. "Or just a star, period."

I think if these guys could, they would have given him a rose.

The outcome of the Alabama game didn't seem to matter. To these executives, the Aggies were so out-manned despite having a Heisman winner, and this was the expected outcome. The fact Texas A&M mounted a comeback against Saban, college football and the NFL's golden boy, only enhanced Sumlin's stature. The Aggies' 42 points were the most allowed by a Crimson Tide team under Saban.

It's difficult to tell with these things, and the feelings of executives I trust sometimes are wrong—but from what I'm hearing among some professional teams, Sumlin has tied or even surpassed Kelly as the hottest non-Saban NFL coaching candidate. NFL teams expressed interest in Sumlin before, and he stayed, but you have to wonder when he'll be ready to leave.

These executives give five key reasons for the Sumlin love affair:

First, he's done well against better competition. "For the most part, when you look at his record as a head coach," one executive said, "his teams are always prepared. He mostly doesn't lose to teams he should beat, and a lot of times, he beats teams he should lose to."

Before he lost to Alabama, CBS showed a statistic that Sumlin was 7-3 against ranked teams.

The executives portray Sumlin as a coach at a school that doesn't have great talent, implying he's coaching the hell out of that talent. I'm not sure how accurate that is, but this is what they believe.

Second, he's paid his dues. He played linebacker at Purdue and was an assistant there. He was a position coach at Washington State and Wyoming before becoming a key assistant at Oklahoma when the Sooners won consecutive conference titles and scored a billion points.

Third, he handled the Johnny Manziel situation impressively. What Sumlin knew and didn't know no one will ever truly be able to decipher until Manziel writes his autobiography, but the way Sumlin didn't provide information and played dumb was actually a positive thing to the NFL executives I spoke to. They love it when a coach gives the media nothing.

Many NFL personnel men think Manziel is a jackass and Sumlin handled him as best as was possible.

Fourth, he has offensive smarts in a league that increasingly caters to offense. He's basically an offensive guru.

Fifth, he's telegenic. Don't think this doesn't matter in an increasingly visual world. It does. A lot.

Sumlin is also the type of adaptive personality who could fit almost anywhere in pro football. What if Mike Shanahan loses it in Washington? Or the Jets, as expected, fire Rex Ryan

It's anyone's guess how this plays out with Sumlin, but I get the feeling an NFL team will come calling (again) soon. And he'll listen.

3. Revolt coming in Tampa?

That may be a bit dramatic, but it is indeed far worse than generally known inside that Buccaneers locker room. For months now, bits and pieces have leaked from inside the organization on how some players think coach Greg Schiano is too college-y in his techniques. Then there was this report from Fox Sports last week:

I can tell you for a fact the Bucs are an unhappy group, and it's not because of the losing. What Schiano is doing is similar to the approach Tom Coughlin took when he first coached the Jaguars and Giants. Eventually, Coughlin softened (slightly) his methodology and went on to win Super Bowls.

Schiano may not get the chance. I have never seen things change so quickly for a head coach in the NFL. The fact Darrelle Revis allegedly complained says a great deal, because Revis isn't a complainer.

If Schiano doesn't win, he might be gone after this season. 

4. Weeden's thumb

If you think Brandon Weeden's thumb is a short-term issue, then read this. It will change your mind. In fact, the Browns announced Wednesday morning that Weeden would sit this week and Brian Hoyer would start in his place.

5. Concussions, Kevin Turner and ALS

One last word on the concussion settlement, which remains one of the most important things to happen in NFL history. Remember, the settlement amount was $765 million, and that amount was widely panned as too small and a win for the NFL. To me, the NFL destroyed the players.

One of the lead plaintiffs in the case was running back Kevin Turner. He played eight seasons in the NFL and is now dying. He suffers from ALS, or what is commonly called Lou Gehrig's disease. This illness attacks the muscles of the body until it's impossible to breathe. Some scientists have linked head trauma to ALS.

Turner is important because he offers a different look at the settlement. For a dying man, the settlement isn't low. It isn't about winning or losing. It's about getting money now to help you live.

When asked if the NFL got off cheap, Turner made this argument in a riveting piece on HBO's Real Sports: "If you call three-quarters of a billion cheap, certainly. And, to them, maybe it is. Maybe they're behind closed doors, laughin' their ass off. But so far the people that I've seen that are complaining, I don't think any of those people are symptomatic right now. The people that have dementia, ALS are happy with (the money). You know, 'cause they need it now."

6. The one percent

A stat that may only interest me: The NFL player with the most career earnings (off-the-field cash not included) is Peyton Manning with $207 million, according to an NFL Stats release. Manning has been in the NFL since 1998 and has started 246 total games including playoffs. Along the way, he had neck surgery.

In 45 fights, Floyd Mayweather Jr. has earned $350 million, according to Kurt Badenhausen of Forbes. He puts his life at risk each time stepping into a ring, no question. But considering what Mayweather earns, or Alex Rodriguez, who makes close to $30 million a year, football players remain drastically underpaid. Most of them don't make near as much as Manning either.  

7. Ray Lewis surprises

For those of us who thought Ray Lewis might be terrible on television, it's time to admit we were wrong. The future Hall of Famer has been insightful, a good storyteller and has displayed his lifetime of football knowledge in easily digestible nuggets for viewers.

I'm sure Lewis' asinine claim that the lights going out at the Super Bowl in New Orleans was some sort of conspiracy (via USA Today) had ESPN slightly terrified, and miffed, but overall Lewis' start has been one of the true pleasant surprises this season.

8. Pity Sanchez

There are many things about Mark Sanchez to rip or mock. His Buttfumble will go down in NFL lore (or infamy). Look up pick-six in the dictionary, and there are side-by-side pictures of Tony Romo and Sanchez. Yes, Sanchez is eminently mockable, but he is also certifiably pitiable.

Sanchez doesn't want my pity, but he deserves it. He was good at one point. He went to consecutive AFC title games. Sure, there was a great deal of talent around him then, but he was still good. Then came the multiple offensive coordinators and the talent drain from a previous management regime that was awful. And there was always a head coach that didn't give a damn about the offense.

That was evident when the Jets put him in a meaningless preseason game with backup linemen. Sanchez hurt his shoulder, and the same team that made that ridiculous decision put him on short-term injured reserve.

Sanchez mostly, and especially recently, has taken the high road. Most of us would not. We'd be pissed and lash out, but Sanchez has kept his mouth shut.

Sanchez will likely never play for the Jets again. He'll continue his career elsewhere. Good. He needs a new start.

We blast athletes that lack class, and maybe we should praise them when they do things like Sanchez has done, which is show more class to the Jets than they showed to him. 

9. Fat fines

The NFL fined players a total of $324,000 from opening week play alone, according to Rick Gosselin of The Dallas Morning News. About $309,000 of that was from defensive players, with $100,000 from Ndamukong Suh. The fact that far more defensive players were fined indicates exactly what you'd think: The NFL is trying to make the game safer (some would say softer) by sending the message to defensive players that certain hits and acts won't be tolerated.

10. Pure stupidity

Speaking of fines, agent Roosevelt Barnes is an extremely intelligent man, but this defense of Suh is just idiotic. 


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