Who Fed It And Who Ate It: 2019 Week 6

By Curtis Clayton
Oct. 14, 2019

The regular season continues on as those opened fast try to keep pace and those who have stumbled endeavor to regain their footing. There were upsets, one among the top tier of the AFC (Houston defeating Kansas City 31-24 at Arrowhead Stadium) and another where a winless team outlasted a division leader (The New York Jets survive the Dallas Cowboys, 24-22). But today's focus will be on an NFC pretender and two franchises have reached a crucial crossroads, and their best option seems evident. But first...

The Ass Kicking of the Week was given out by the New England Patriots, who predictably dispatched the turnover prone New York Giants, 35-14 Kudos to the Giants for making this game far more interesting than it had any business doing so. However, multiple giveaways against a Patriots defense on a historic pace make the result academic. Moving on...

The Minnesota Vikings pick up a second consecutive victory, this one over an injury riddled Philadelphia Eagles. Have the Vikings recovered from earlier dissention? Two weeks ago, after being throttled by the Chicago Bears, the Vikings ship looked as though it was adrift. Offensive players making public statements about matters in house, wide receiver Stefon Diggs missing practice, getting hit with fines in excess of $200,000, and becoming the target of trade rumors. Now, all of a sudden, wins over an overmatched New York Giants squad and an Eagles crew dealing with injuries have appeared to right the ship back on course. But is this really the case? Minnesota has become a team very hard to trust when they face opposition that is their equal. QB Kirk Cousins, the eye of the controversy storm, may post very good numbers, but has a 3-8 record against teams with winning records in his 21 game tenure in Minnesota. While some may blanch at the idea of putting a team result on the shoulders of the starting quarterback, allow your humble scribe to remind those who make that argument that this incarnation of the Purple People Eaters was a signal caller away from Super Bowl contention, so by that extension, who bears the greater fault? Just to be clear, the Gridiron Eye has not seen the Minnesota Vikings a Super Bowl contender since the late 1990's, save 2009. The NFC Championship game appearance in 2017 was an aberration, the result of many players enjoying career years, QB Case Keenum chief among them (Ironically enough, Keenum is now playing for the Washington Redskins, Cousins' old outfit). It is nigh impossible to consider a team a legitimate Super Bowl contender whose offensive line is an Achilles heel. The defensive line is a strength, to be sure. But resources spent on a middling signal caller giving him a lucrative fully guaranteed three year contract would have been better used to shore up the O line, then retain a complementary QB like Keenum or, better yet, spend draft capital on a collegiate passer that could grow within the Vikings system. But instead of all that, here is a team that looks great on paper but leaves much to be desired on the field. Minnesota beat two compromised rosters. Let's see if these warm and fuzzy feelings stick around when quality opponents come back around.

The top two picks in the 2015 draft, Jameis Winston by Tampa Bay & Marcus Mariota by Tennessee, look to be lame ducks in their respective final seasons as the Buccaneers and Titans appear ready to move on The pressure that a high draft pick endures makes such an honor a double edged sword. While those selected gain prominence based on their collegiate successes and are often compensated better than others who are picked below them, the expectations are momumental if not ridiculous. Teams who make this pick are the worst teams of that particular previous season, and that losing habit is often ingrained into the fabric of the organization as reaching this nadir is a process of devolution than a sudden and utter collapse. The highest draft picks are more often than not centerpieces in a franchise's rebuilding project, which is another way of saying that the roster this highly touted player is joining is short on comparable talent. What's more, that player's success, and it is often a quarterback, is measured in Lombardi Trophies. For some fan bases, anything short of a title will label that top pick a bust. For #1 selection Winston and #2 pick Mariota, they both appear to be at or near the conclusion of their time with their respective franchises. Each one has a unique story as to why careers with such promise have hit such road blocks, some of their own shortcomings, some due to external forces. For Mariota, the coaching turnover alone stifled his professional development. He is on his third head coach and his fourth offensive coordinator. Even if the systems were mirror images of one another, each coach would run it differently, employing new nomenclature along the way. The apprenticeship of being an NFL quarterback is difficult. The best way to survive it and learn the craft is to have a stable coaching staff that can mentor the young talent and mold him into a pro pocket passer. The hodgepodge of offensive talent, thanks to the constant coaching turnover, and injuries that ensured Mariota never played a full season with Tennessee only added to his ultimate demise that has the potential of former Miami Dolphins QB & current backup Ryan Tannehill supplant Mariota as early as this coming week. If there is any silver lining to this, Mariota's adaptability to various offenses could land him a gig as a journeyman signal caller, a nomadic existence in which a starting position is often not in the cards and only receive an opportunity if said starter goes down due to injury. Not glamorous, but it'll pay the bills while remaining on an NFL roster. The future seems less clear for Winston. The former top pick has thrown 68 interceptions, the most by any NFL quarterback since Winston's entrance into the league in 2015. His completion percentage, based on seasonal comparison, improves upon lesser attempts, which suggests that he is complementary player, not a bellcow performer that a franchise can lean on to lead the way. While the Titans have been haphazard in surrounding Mariota with coaches with great offensive minds, the Bucs have hired head coaches explicitly for the development of Winston into a franchise cornerstone. Previous head coach Dirk Koetter and current one Bruce Arians are respected offensive teachers with respective track records of success at this level, and Winston has yet to grasp the material. Add to this the character concerns that have plagued him since his collegiate days at Florida State, which flared up again as a pro when the league suspended Winston for groping an Uber driver for 3 games in 2018, and that all adds up to a short list of suitors in 2020 if and when Tampa does not re-sign Winston. Before his most vocal detractors begin to dance on his pro career grave, some executive or offensive minded coach will see tape on Jaboo and convince themselves that they are the ones who can turn Winston into a bonafide pro passer. In the opinion of your humble scribe, Mariota succumbed to a litany of disadvantages that hurt his early career while not reaching his potential, while Winston thought that he could do as he pleased and all would work out. And now, these two young men will carry the bust label as they will endeavor to continue their NFL careers away from those teams that once viewed them as their organizational salvation.