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Jim Harbaugh whines about read-option ruling

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised, as Jim Harbaugh wants to keep any advantage he has with Colin Kaepernick playing quarterback. But, Harbaugh is also a baby who loves to whine when he doesn’t get his way. He’s a great coach, but he cries with the best of them.

His latest antics involve the NFL’s interpretation of what is a legal hit on a quarterback in the read-option offense. Basically, as long as a quarterback is faking the run, he can be treated like a runner by the defense, and he doesn’t get the modern, over-the-top protections that the league has put in place for passers. Basically, the rules of traditional football apply. Naturally, Harbaugh responded by saying the ruling was “flawed and a bit biased.”

This sets up what was already the most interesting storyline of 2013 in the NFL – will the read-option continue to proliferate or will it be a fad?

I’ve always been in the fad camp, because coaches are taking huge risks when they run their quarterback and let them take hits usually reserved for running backs. You want your quarterback to have a long career (if he’s a good one), but running backs have very short careers for a reason. Having your quarterback act like a running back is a huge mistake in the long run.

That’s why I was saying all last year that Mike Shanahan was committing coaching malpractice by letting a stud like RG3 run so much. He was hailed as a genius as Griffin and the Redskins offense racked up huge stats against defenses who were not prepared to handle the read option and Griffin’s amazing athleticism, but then he was rightfully ripped to shreds when he kept playing and running RG3 after he was clearly hurt and limited. He never should have let him run like that to begin with. Now, with the clarification of the rule, it’s an even bigger risk.

We know why he did it. In the short run it’s almost impossible to resist turning Griffin or Kaepernick loose. Look what happened to the pathetic Packers defense in the playoffs against Kaepernick and the 49ers. But in the long run you risk a quarterback’s career by playing with fire too many times.

Now, it’s important to differentiate between the read-option and planned quarterback runs with scrambling. Having a mobile quarterback like Griffin and Kaepernick is a huge advantage, and having them take off when the opportunity presents itself is an important weapon. Look how many games quarterbacks like John Elway, Steve Young and Donovan McNabb won with scrambles that broke the back of the defense. Mobility is a real weapon, but you don’t have to go to that well too often with planned runs that put your quarterback in danger.

That’s particularly true with Robert Griffin III, who is one of the best quarterback prospects in a generation. He can be the next John Elway with his golden arm and accuracy, but you put all of that at risk when you run him too much, particularly with with his history of knee injuries.

It’s less true with a guy like Russell Wilson. I know Seattle fans and many in the media want to anoint this kid as a “great” quarterback, but he really didn’t start playing well until the Seahawks started running the read-option to mix up the offense. Russell Wilson was a third-round pick for a reason. He doesn’t have the size or arm of RG3. If he just played from the pocket, I don’t think he’d be nearly as effective, and he might be the quarterback who suffers the most from defenses adjusting to the read-option and this rule clarification that makes it clear that defenses can light him up if he’s faking the run.

Now, throw in Chip kelly and whatever the hell he has planned with Micheal Vick and the Eagles and you have even more intrigue around the read-option for this season. And with Vivk at this stage in his career, I’d probably run him even with his injury history, as he’s shown that he really can’t cut it playing strictly as a pocket quarterback. And that’s where the read-option in the NFL makes most sense. If you don’t have a real franchise quarterback that you want to keep around for years, then read-option quarterbacks can be treated more like disposable commodities like running backs. Grab a group like Vick, Tim Tebow, Vince Young and Terrelle Pryor and just rotate the next one in when one goes down.

But don’t do that with a franchise quarterback like RG3. Let’s see what the Shanahans do with RG3 this year, and let’s see if he has some growing pains taking the read-option out of his arsenal. In the long run it will make him better, and he’ll have a better chance of being around ten years from now.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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Jets, Bills and Raiders stumbling into NFL season

Rex Ryan is frustrated, and you can hardly blame him. He watched rookie Geno Smith toss three interceptions in the last preseason game, and then he watched Mark Sanchez hurt his shoulder in preseason garbage time.

The Buffalo Bills have their own issues, with Kevin Kolb suffering another concussion that could keep him out for the season or possibly threaten his career. Meanwhile top draft pick EJ Manuel may not be ready for the opener against the Patriots as he heels from a knee injury. If he can’t play, then the Bills will have to start Washington State undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel.

The Raiders look like a complete mess, and they’re so desperate that they’re considering having Terrelle Pryor start week one. Pryor hasn’t looked terrible but he still a very raw passer. Matt Flynn has a sore elbow, which doesn’t help a guy who has had another mediocre preseason.

The NFL is very hard to predict, and often you’ll see teams suddenly turn things on in week one. But you have to be skeptical with these three teams, and when we look at the odds for week one, you have to consider picking their opponents, even considering the larger spreads.

Buffalo is currently a ten-point underdog at home against the Patriots. Considering the problems at the quarterback position and that cornerback Stephon Gilmore has been lost with a broken left wrist, things look pretty bad for the Bills. The question is whether you want to lay ten points with the Bills playing at home.

The Raiders are on the road against Andrew Luck and the Colts as a 9-point underdog, and this one seems like a gift. I suspect the line might move even more in Indy’s favor, as Andrew Luck looks like he’s getting even better as he enters his second year. I love the Colts here.

The Jets are a home underdog as Tampa Bay is giving them three points. I would wait to see what happens at quarterback here. If Sanchez is healthy I would avoid it, but if Geno Smith has to start, then Tampa might be an interesting bet.

Ten Observations from Week 17 in the NFL

1. Adrian Peterson is this year’s MVP.
It wouldn’t be a travesty if Peyton Manning were to claim this year’s MVP award. It wouldn’t be a crime, an injustice, or a mockery for the NFL. Having said that, Adrian Peterson is so clearly this year’s most valuable player that it’s almost not even worth discussing. The Vikings went 3-13 last year and owned the third overall pick in the draft (later traded to Cleveland for the fourth overall selection, which was used on outstanding left tackle Matt Kalil). Nobody expected them to finish third in a competitive NFC North, nevertheless winning 10 games and clinching a playoff spot. And with all due respect to Minnesota’s offensive line and underrated defense, without Peterson accomplishing what he did this season, the Vikings may not have won half of the games they did. Opponents put together game plans solely to stop Peterson and often dared second-year quarterback Christian Ponder to beat them, which he rarely did. Yet Peterson did the extraordinary by amassing 1,598 yards over the final 10 games, a number still good enough to lead the league in rushing this season. He finished with a 6.03 yards per carry average, totaled over 100 yards rushing in nine of his final 10 games, and rushed for over 200 yards on two separate occasions. Had there been one more minute left in Sunday’s contest versus the Packers, there is a good chance Peterson would have broke Eric Dickerson’s single-game rushing record as well. All this despite suffering an injury at the end of last season that usually takes players two full seasons to recover from. Consider this as well: Peterson rushed a career-high 34 times in the Vikings’ 37-34 win over the Packers, who oh-by-the-way needed a win to clinch a first-round bye next week. Most running backs wear down throughout an entire season – “All Day” seemingly got stronger. He’s a remarkable player who just put the finishing touches on one of the most remarkable seasons in NFL history. If that doesn’t net him the most prestigious individual award in football, what will?

2. Peyton Manning is deserving of Comeback Player of the Year.
Without Adrian Peterson having a season for the ages, the Vikings would have likely missed the playoffs. Without Peyton Manning, the Broncos may have still been good enough to beat the toilet water in the AFC West thanks to their stout defense. Granted, Denver wouldn’t have clinched the No. 1 seed without Manning but you get the point. Those are just a few reasons why Peterson should be considered the most valuable player in the NFL this season. (The other reasons are detailed above.) But at this time last year, people wondered whether or not Manning would, or better yet, should retire after not taking a single snap in 2011. And all he’s done this year is put together one of the finest seasons of his illustrious career. He finished the regular season with 4,659 yards passing, 37 touchdowns, a 68.6 completion percentage and a 105.8 QB rating, which were all Denver Broncos records. His three-touchdown performance against Kansas City on Sunday was also the 73rd of Manning’s career and gave him yet another NFL record. As mentioned in “Observation No. 1,” it wouldn’t be a farce if Manning were named MVP. But considering his road back to the gridiron was paved with multiple neck/back surgeries, an entire season spent on the sidelines, and a change of cities, Manning’s “comeback” was more impressive than Peterson’s. Either way, both players should be properly recognized for their impressive feats this season.

3. The Texans’ collapse is nearly complete.
On December 2 the Texans were 11-1 having just beaten the Titans to earn their sixth-straight victory. At that moment it seamed unimaginable that Houston wouldn’t have home field advantage throughout the postseason. But the Texans, losers of three of their last four games following their 28-16 defeat in Indianapolis on Sunday, have completely collapsed. Injuries on defense have turned a once top-5 unit into one susceptible of big plays. (See Andrew Luck’s 70-yard touchdown pass to T.Y. Hilton as proof.) But there are no excuses as to why Houston’s offense has become punchless over the past month. At the root of the issue is quarterback Matt Schaub, who threw two ugly interceptions to Indy cornerback Vontae Davis on Sunday. Despite completing a high-percentage of throws, Schaub was ineffective for the second straight week and for the third time in his last four games. Remember, Schaub doesn’t have a postseason start under his belt. It would have been nice for the Texans if their playoff-inexperienced quarterback could have built a little momentum heading into next week. Instead, the Texans enter the postseason as one of the coldest teams in the field of 12. And while the Bengals are the least imposing team in this year’s playoffs, their underrated defense is certainly good enough to hold Houston’s struggling offense in check. The Texans now have less than a week to figure out how they’ve gone from Super Bowl favorites to title pretenders.

4. RGIII, AP and the Hawks – the bottom of the NFC is dangerous.
Try as they did, the Cowboys didn’t have much of an answer for Robert Griffin III on Sunday night. As he’s done to opponents all season, RGIII forced Dallas’ defense to play back on its heels, which in turn made Alfred Morris more effective. The Packers also had a hell of a time trying to corral Adrian Peterson, whom they’ll see again in less than a week. The Seahawks, meanwhile, have won five straight games and are arguably the hottest team in the NFC…as the fifth seed. Granted, the media always tries to over hype the lower seeds in the playoffs. That’s probably because we spend an entire season pointing out flaws in the higher-ranked seeds (it’s human nature). But in the case of the Skins, Vikes and Hawks, there’s no downplaying how dangerous they are on any given Sunday. Granted, either the Redskins or Seahawks will be finished next weekend because they play each other in the first round, but would anyone be surprised if any one of these teams wind up in the NFC title game? Thanks to all six teams winning at least 10 games this season, the NFC playoff field is highly intriguing this year.

5. Romo once again saves his worst performance for last.
Heading into Sunday night’s NFC East title tilt between the Redskins and Cowboys, no quarterback in the league was hotter than Tony Romo. In his previous eight games he had thrown 17 touchdown passes to just three interceptions and thanks to plenty of help from Dez Bryant, was practically willing Dallas to a division crown and a playoff berth. But in typical Romo fashion, he saved his worst performance for the biggest moment of the season. He did toss two touchdown passes, which included a crucial 10-yard completion to Kevin Ogletree midway through the fourth quarter to cut the Redskins’ lead down to three with a 2-point conversion. But he also threw three brutal interceptions, the final one coming late in the fourth quarter after the Dallas defense gave its offense a chance to at least tie the game following a punt. Romo wanted to dump the ball off to his running back in the flats and was instead intercepted by linebacker Rob Jackson, who read the play perfectly. It was one of those all-too-familiar moments for Romo, who never saw Jackson retreat to the flats as he lobbed the pass to the sidelines. And thanks to a brutal roughing the passer penalty on Washington’s next drive, the Skins were able to put the game away with a touchdown under two minutes to play. The 32-year-old Romo has once again left Jerry Jones in an unenviable situation. He once again posted great numbers while throwing for over 4,600 yards but the Cowboys will once again be at home for the playoffs. The question is, does Jones still believe he can win a Super Bowl with Romo under center? When his team absolutely had to have a win, Romo didn’t deliver. Again.

6. The Bears have nobody to blame but themselves.
Chicago fans will undoubtedly blame Green Bay’s inability to beat Minnesota as the reason why their beloved Bears missed the playoffs despite finishing with a 10-6 record this season. And technically, they’re right. With Chicago’s season hanging in the balance, the Packers never led in Minnesota and turned in their worst defensive performance in over a month. But from Weeks 11 through 16, Chicago only won one game over a six-game stretch. They also lost three in a row to start the month of December and couldn’t produce against playoff qualifiers Houston, San Francisco, Seattle, Minnesota and Green Bay. It’s a shame that a 10-win team missed the postseason but the Bears did themselves in by leaving their fate in another team’s hands (specifically their most hated rivals.)

7. Falcons’ Smith still can’t gauge risk vs. reward.
Falcons head coach Mike Smith is conservative by nature. He’s been criticized for playing not-to-lose, especially in the postseason where he’s 0-3 over the past four seasons. And yet, when he does decide to gamble, it comes at the most inopportune times. Take Week 13 of last year for example. His decision to go for it on 4th-and-1 in overtime cost his team a potential victory versus the Saints. He also went for it on fourth down on multiple occasions during the Falcons’ embarrassing 24-2 loss to the Giants in the wild card round, none of which were successful. Fast forward to Sunday when, in a meaningless game, he played his starters in a lackluster loss to the Bucs. The decision could prove to be costly too, as Dunta Robinson (concussion) and John Abraham (ankle) left the game with injuries. Abraham is the bigger concern, as he had to be helped off the field by trainers. Why, with nothing to gain, would Smith risk injury to one of his starters? What was he and the Falcons hoping to prove by going through the motions versus a Tampa Bay team looking to end the season on a high note? If anything, it planted the seed of doubt in a team that had built up some momentum the past two weeks. If Abraham’s injury proves to be serious, then Smith should be questioned for why he can’t manage simple risk versus reward.

8. Vick’s football career reaches a new low.
Michael Vick has been adamant that he’s still a starter but he’ll be fortunate that some team even views him as a capable backup heading into 2013. All you need to know about Vick’s performance on Sunday versus the Giants was that he was pulled in favor of Trent Edwards for the final drive of the game. Over the past two seasons he’s gone 10-13 as a starter while throwing 33 interceptions to go with his 32 touchdowns. He also hasn’t played a full season since 2006 and his threat to run has been neutralized by his inability to take a hit. He may still fancy himself as a starter but even quarterback-hungry teams like the Cardinals, Chiefs and Jaguars will be weary of handing the reigns to a 33-year-old quarterback who is turnover prone, has never been an accurate passer and who can’t stay healthy. Considering many believed he would revolutionize the quarterback position when he came into the league in 2001, Vick may go down as one of the most overrated players in NFL history.

9. Fisher’s first season in St. Louis can only be described as a success.
Success can be defined in different ways. Some people probably read the title of this observation and scoffed. Some believe that because the Colts and Vikings surprised by making the postseason, the Rams should have pulled off the same feat. If only life were that black and white. What could posses someone to have such lofty expectations following a 2-14 season and a complete turnover of the roster is beyond me. It wasn’t logical that they would make the postseason this year. Hell, it wasn’t logical that they could win 8 games, at least not to those outside of St. Louis that weren’t mentally and/or monetarily invested in the team. But thanks in large part to Jeff Fisher, 2012 was a success. Free agency was a success. The draft was a success. Winning 80-percent of their games against a tough division was a mark of success, as was learning how to win on the road. Having said that, does Sam Bradford need to make longer strides in his development? That’s not even an argument – of course he does. But he also deserves an opportunity to compete in a stable environment. Quarterbacks that are forced to learn three different offenses under shoddy tutelage is a recipe for failure. There are some people that have already convinced themselves that he’s nothing more than a marginal quarterback capable of only being a Brad Johnson-type game manager. And that’s fine – we all don’t need to agree. But here are the facts: He threw for a career-high 3,702 yards and 21 touchdowns while managing to start every game of the season (a feat he couldn’t accomplish in 2011). Those are signs of improvement. It might not be the improvement that many had hoped, but the bottom line is that he’s a better quarterback now than he was in 2010. More importantly, the Rams are a better team than they were two years ago when they walked out of CenturyLink Field. Only this time nobody should have false hope about the direction the franchise is headed in.

10. Quick-Hits…
The pass that Andrew Luck made when he looked off the safety and hit T.Y. Hilton perfectly in stride for a 70-yard touchdown was one of the prettiest throws by any quarterback this season. He’s a special player and NFL fans are more enriched by the fact that he and the Colts are in the playoffs…Speaking of which, would anyone be surprised if Indianapolis beat Baltimore next week? The Ravens aren’t exactly sprinting into the postseason…Peyton Manning continued to make his case for NFL MVP by throwing another three touchdown passes on Sunday, but did you see the catches that Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker made? The catch by Thomas was one of the best of the year…Don’t be surprised if the Panthers make the postseason next year. They finished 2012 as one of the hottest teams in the leageu and scored at least 30 points in three of their final four games…2012 turned out to be a lost season for the Saints but it doesn’t take away what Drew Brees accomplished. He became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for over 5,000 yards in back-to-back seasons and with Sean Payton back in the fold next year, the Saints will remain explosive…It’s funny, the NFC South was viewed as one of the best divisions in football at the start of the year. By midseason it was viewed as a joke but all four of the division’s inhabitants could be playoff contenders next year…If I’m Jets owner Woody Johnson I’m keeping Rex Ryan in place for his defense and finding both a new quarterback and a new GM for 2013…Credit the Lions for playing with pride. That’s more than anyone can say about the Eagles…The Steelers’ season turned out to be a major disappointment but for the 12th time in 13 years they avoided having a losing season. That’s sustained success right there…Congratulations to the Chiefs for notching the No. 1 overall pick in next April’s draft. It was well earned…Terrelle Pryor is hardly the answer at quarterback for the Oakland Raiders but if nothing else, he gave them something to think about with his two-touchdown performance on Sunday…One of the broadcasters made a good point following the Seahawks’ hard-fought 20-13 win over the Rams on Sunday. After steamrolling opponents the past couple of months, it’ll serve Seattle well to have fought through a little adversity…If Michael Crabtree plays as well as in the playoffs as he did on Sunday then the Niners aren’t going to miss Mario Manningham…RGIII vs. Russell Wilson? Can’t wait.

Urban Meyer and Ohio State

Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller (5) is tackled by Wisconsin lineman Kevin Claxton (9) during the second quarter of their NCAA football game in Columbus, Ohio, October 29, 2011. REUTERS/Matt Sullivan (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Ohio State has scheduled a press conference for 5:15 to announce Urban Meyer as the new head coach of the Buckeyes. This is naturally a coup for Ohio State, even though the hire comes with some risk. We’ve seen that Urban Meyer can be a little flaky, and all indications are that he’ll be trying to achieve a work/life balance with this new job that he never achieved in Florida. Can he be as successful without be obsessive with his devotion and time? We’ll see. Will he stick it out if things get tough? Who knows.

That said, it’s a great fit as Meyer is from Ohio and this is his dream job.

Todd McShay has an excellent analysis of Meyer’s approach to coaching and his offense and how that fits with the current Buckeye roster. You need a membership on ESPN to read the whole thing but it’s definitely worth it. McShay is an excellent analyst and I always learn something reading his stuff. Bottom line – Meyer will probably work right away to recruit more versatile and speedy playmakers to fit into an already talented roster. But, it looks like he has his quarterback:

So what does all that mean for the Buckeyes’ talented true freshman QB, Braxton Miller? It means it’s time to go to work.

I think Miller is loaded with talent and he has the ideal physical skill set to excel in Meyer’s system. He has a big, sturdy frame and still has room to add muscle. Miller has very good arm strength (check out his 54-yard TD strike against Michigan) and he’s a more sudden athlete than former Buckeyes QB Terrelle Pryor.

From what I’m told, Miller also has a strong work ethic, leadership potential and toughness (both mental and physical). If that proves to be the case, winning a national championship and a Heisman Trophy are attainable goals for Miller. But he needs to be willing to pay the toll — and it won’t be cheap.

Miller showed a lot this season, and he also showed where he needs to put in serious work. He is a great runner. He’s very elusive with devastating cutting ability. Terrelle Pryor was a beast once he got going, but Miller is better in tight spaces. He can also throw the ball, but he missed three open throws against Michigan that would have changed the game. He has to work on his accuracy, and since he was a true freshman we can all expect him to improve in that area.

The Buckeyes will be replacing their starting center and two starting tackles next year, so there will likely be some growing pains. But the overall roster is stacked with talent. If Meyer can bring in a couple of playmakers, the Buckeyes will be dangerous right away.

Bengals strike gold while Raiders assume massive risk in Palmer trade

Cincinnati Bengals’ quarterback Carson Palmer fumbles the ball as he scrambles against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on January 2, 2011. UPI/Kevin Dietsch

A first-round pick in 2012 and a conditional pick in 2013 that could become a first-rounder based on playing time and incentives? For Carson Palmer?

Put it on the board: Mike Brown just hit a grand slam, then came up in the same inning and hit another grand slam. If the conditional pick winds up being a first-rounder and Brown actually nets two starters with the selections he received for Palmer, then he would have hit for the cycle while doing a handstand and eating a hot dog all at the same time.

Palmer could go on to lead the Raiders to the Super Bowl and Mike Brown would still wind up being a winner in all of this. Palmer was never going to play for the Bengals again. He said as much while digging his heels into the ground and standing firm on his retirement threat this offseason. The Bengals would have been fortunate to have received a third-rounder for Palmer and gotten his salary off the books. Instead, they net a first-round pick and another selection that could turn into a first-rounder.

Granted, we don’t know all the details yet. That conditional first-rounder may only be if Palmer wins two Super Bowls in Oakland and winds up with a bust in the Hall of Fame. But to receive one first-round pick for him was a massive victory for Brown and the Bengals. Let’s not forget that this is the same Palmer whose arm strength and mobility appeared to be declining badly last season and who hasn’t played in a live game (preseason or otherwise) since January 2.

Before I get too swept up in the sticker price for Palmer, let me state that I understand why the Raiders made this move. Due to Jason Campbell’s season-ending injury, they’ve mortgaged their future for the chance to win now. They know that if Darren McFadden stays healthy they’ll remain competitive and it’s not as if Palmer doesn’t know the offense. He and coach Hue Jackson spent time together in Cincinnati, so it theoretically shouldn’t take long for him to get up to speed. Plus, with Campbell and Kyle Boller set to become free agents at the end of the year, Terrelle Pryor was the only quarterback on the roster signed past 2011. Eventually they needed to address the position and had a chance to trade for a franchise quarterback, so they took the risk with Palmer.

That said, I still wouldn’t have made this deal. Not in today’s NFL where building through the draft is still the answer to winning over the long haul. Ask the Packers and Steelers, who have made minimal free agent signings over the years while combining to win three Super Bowls in the last six seasons.

Plus, it’s not like Palmer is in his prime or has won anything of substance as a professional. I would use the term “franchise quarterback” loosely when it comes to describing his talents. When the Bears traded a first, a third, and Kyle Orton to the Broncos for Jay Cutler, the latter was just about to turn 26. The Bears mortgaged their future for a young signal caller who played a position they had trouble filling for over two decades. Palmer is 31 and has already showed signs of decline.

The best case scenario for Oakland is that Palmer just needs a change of scenery and will be motivated to prove he still has a couple of years left in the tank. Maybe he gets to Oakland and has a resurgence just like Rich Gannon did early last decade.

But that’s the best-case scenario. The worst-case is that Palmer’s game continues to deteriorate, the Raiders lose two high draft picks and wind up paying an aging quarterback nearly $30 million to be Pryor’s tutor. (Assuming Oakland still views Pryor as the future, that is.)

For Brown and the Bengals, there is no worst-case scenario. Palmer was done in Cincinnati and if Andy Dalton pans out, the Bengals have already filled their need at quarterback. For once, Brown’s stubbornness finally paid off.

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