Some readers may be old enough to remember the Clint Eastwood classic 1966 western, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” The movie featured some interesting cinematic techniques that used super close-ups to portray the grittiness of three gunfighters as they fought and dueled their way across the New Mexico territory during the Civil War. The news this week in the NFL could also be described as the good, the bad and the ugly. Let’s get our own close-up look.
Baltimore second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson and the Ravens offense are lighting up the scoreboard as they crush some very good teams. Recent victories over the New England Patriots, the league’s top defense, and the AFC South Division-leading Houston Texans have shown that the Ravens may be poised for a deep run in the playoffs. And everybody is raving (no play on words) about Jackson and how he is electrifying pro football fans.
The Old Coach admits that he didn’t have high expectations for Jackson when he was thrust into the void left by starting veteran Joe Flacco in 2018. Sure, he could scramble out of the pocket and make some big plays with his legs, but his passing was sporadic. He had a strong arm but frequently overthrew open receivers. His mechanics were inconsistent. I doubted his ability to adjust to the speed and quickness of NFL defenders. Then came 2019. Boy, was I wrong!
The growth of Lamar from a scrambler to a pocket passer has progressed at warp speed. It is obvious that his coaches worked long and hard in the offseason to develop his skill set. It’s also obvious that the young signal-caller has put in the time working on his deficiencies and has put in many hours of film study and mastering of the playbook. His passing mechanics have improved greatly. His decision-making has been noticeably better.
Jackson is as dynamic a player as you will see in the NFL right now. His ability to avoid pass rushers, then either buy time to let his receivers break open, or take off and become a dangerous rushing threat, has been the difference-maker in the Ravens’ offensive success. Can he perform at that level without getting injured? That was one of my early concerns. However, he seems to have a knack for knowing when to get down and an awareness of where tacklers are coming from and avoid serious hits.
The Old Coach saw an incident in the Houston game that impressed me as much as Jackson’s exciting physical performance. On one play, he dropped back to pass, hung in the pocket, couldn’t find a receiver open, and took the sack. A smart decision, under the circumstances. A veteran move. He took a pretty good shot and got up and patted the sacker on the shoulder as if to say, “Good hit!” A show of sportsmanship that you rarely see in the NFL nowadays. And that’s a good thing.
The Washington Redskins are taking a lot of heat from many fans and media for playing safety Montae Nicholson in last Sunday’s game, because there is a cloud hanging over him from the overdose death of a woman he had taken to the hospital. The Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the circumstances that led to her death. Drugs were found in his home, but it is not yet determined whose they were.
Things are bad enough with the Skins performing so dismally. They are right in the thick of the competition with Cincinnati for earning the first draft choice. Dwayne Haskins, the rookie quarterback first-round draft pick from Ohio State, has become the starter on an offense that hasn’t scored a touchdown in weeks. There are rumblings that Haskins has not been the leader that they thought they were getting.
It appears that the change in head coaches, the change at quarterback, and the general underachieving performances by many veteran players has doomed them to mediocrity. Add to the drama, the coaching decision to start a player who had previously been a reserve in a week when he was involved in what may possibly be a crime. It looks bad.
What happened in the Cleveland-Pittsburgh game last week was just plain ugly. Browns defensive end Myles Garrett ripping off the helmet of Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph and beating him over the head with it will go down in NFL history as one of its darkest moments. It was likely sparked by some utterance by Rudolph, but the resulting outburst that well could have resulted in serious injury to him was the kind of violent behavior that has become too commonplace in professional sports. And the Old Coach believes that the responding kicking at Garrett while on the ground by Steeler scenter Maurkice Pouncey was equally as dangerous.
Garrett was suspended for the remainder of the season and will not be allowed to return next year until he meets with the commissioner’s office for reinstatement. He will also forfeit about $1.14 million in salary for the rest of the 2019 season. Pouncey received a three-game suspension that was appealed and reduced to two plus fines.
We have seen the good, the bad and the ugly this past week. Will the players in the league start to embrace the fun-loving, good-natured, sportsmanlike actions of a Lamar Jackson? Or will they continue to behave in an angry, violent and unsportsmanlike manner? It’s time for football fans’ voices to be heard. Football is a sport. Don’t make it life or death.