The Schein Nine  

 

Matthew Stafford's MVP candidacy, Dan Quinn's insanity, more

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Deep thoughts after a long day of watching football. Like ...

How did the San Francisco 49ers fire Jim Harbaugh for not playing nice in the sandbox? What's Jim Tomsula doing on a day like this? And does anyone really think a hot dog is a sandwich?

OK, here are nine legit questions that came to mind during Week 7 of this NFL campaign:

1) Matthew Stafford for MVP?

Seven weeks into the season, he is absolutely a top-five candidate. And if you want to really stress the word valuable, you can make a case he's at the top of the list.

Calvin Johnson, one of the greatest players in Lions history, retired seven months ago. This roster hardly oozes talent. The defense ranks 25th in the league. Detroit has been hit pretty hard by the injury bug. And Jim Caldwell is not exactly a game-changing head coach.

Yet, here the Lions are at 4-3, having won their last three games over three teams (Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Washington) that came to Ford Field with winning records. The biggest reason for this Detroit renaissance is obvious: Matthew Stafford is playing flawless, dominant, winning football -- protecting the pigskin while demonstrating a flair for the dramatic with clutch fourth-quarter play. I've been a Stafford skeptic in the past, based upon his questionable decision making and wild inconsistency. But there's no denying his brilliant play of late.

When Redskins QB Kirk Cousins scampered 19 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with just over a minute remaining Sunday, I thought the game was over. Not on Stafford's watch.

The Lions QB calmly marched Detroit down the field, completing three of his five pass attempts for 61 yards and even scrambling for a 14-yard gain. Stafford capped the pulsating drive with a perfectly placed laser to Anquan Boldin.

Stafford has thrown 15 touchdown passes against just four picks this year, boasting a lofty 105.7 passer rating. Oh, and he now has four game-winning drives on the young season.

Stafford is currently carrying the Lions. And I'd be remiss if I didn't point out the obvious impact of offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. CBS Sports football scribe Will Brinson pointed out that Stafford has now played a full 16 games under Cooter, dating back to midway through last season when the Lions fired Joe Lombardi. The production is a sight to be seen:

This OC change has brought out the best in one of the most naturally gifted quarterbacks in the league. But Stafford and the Lions face a challenging fortnight before their Week 10 bye: at Houston and at Minnesota. Any rational Lions fan would have to be thrilled if Detroit were to hit the break over .500.

2) What was Dan Quinn thinking?

I have absolutely, positively no idea. This was the single worst coaching move of the week -- and, I'd argue, the single worst in-game coaching move of the season.

In the opening drive of overtime against San Diego, with the ball at his own 45-yard line, Quinn opted to go for it on fourth-and-1 (and it was indeed a full yard, not one foot). It was inexplicable. You play field position early in overtime. Quinn's decision was offensive to football, math, time and logic. And Atlanta didn't even come close, as Denzel Perryman shot the gap and stuffed Devonta Freeman 2 yards deep in the backfield.

Well, actually, I do know what Quinn was thinking, as he explained the ill-fated move in the postgame.

"Just a gut feeling that I went with. It didn't work," Quinn said. "We can second-guess. That's easy to do, but it was more a mindset."

The wrong mindset -- one that is first-guessed. Success or failure, that just wasn't the right call.

I thought this year was shaping up to be different for the Falcons. While I still expect them to win the underwhelming NFC South, losing at home to the Chargers (while blowing a 17-point lead) is not exactly inspiring. There were other issues beyond the overtime head-scratcher, including my guy Matt Ryan throwing an unforgivable pick late in the fourth quarter. But Dan Quinn wears the goat horns for this debacle.

3) How should you feel about a tie on national TV?

I'm glad you asked.

I thought "Sunday Night Football" was incredibly compelling for four quarters. I wasn't offended by the lack of scoring or bad O-line play. I thought the defense was intense for both the Cardinals and Seahawks. I was on the edge of my seat. That's a great sporting event.

But overtime? That was disgusting.

Make a kick!!!!!!!!

After both making field goals earlier in overtime, Arizona's Chandler Catanzaro and Seattle's Stephen Hauschka both missed chip shots -- would-be game-winners from less than 30 yards out -- in the final few minutes. Now, I'm angry -- and tired. That's bad football.

I disagreed with the change to the overtime system a few years back. I would've kept it as is: First score wins no matter what. You can win games on offense, defense or special teams. Make a stop. The first points on the board in overtime should be the last points in the game.

4) Is Ryan Fitzpatrick serious?

The Jets are 2-5, having just played their best overall game of the season. And Ryan Fitzpatrick opted to make it all about himself.

The Jets rightly benched Fitzpatrick last week because, well, he'd been awful at football for the first six weeks of the season, with a gruesome knack for throwing the ball to the other team. But in a twist of fate, Fitzpatrick ended up playing after Geno Smith got hurt. And Fitz played pretty well, guiding Gang Green to a much-needed win over Baltimore.

After the game, though, Fitzpatrick -- a career backup and journeyman who wrongly held the Jets hostage this past offseason after his fluky "career year" in which he still failed in Week 17 with a playoff spot on the line -- chose to whine about the franchise giving up on him.

"The biggest thing in this game -- to last -- is to have belief in yourself," Fitzpatrick told the assembled media. "Because when the owner stops believing in you and the GM stops believing in you and the coaches stop believing in you, sometimes all you have is yourself. That's kind of something I've dealt with before and something I'm dealing with now."

Cue the violins.

But yeah, isn't that kind of what happens when you lead the league in interceptions? What do you expect, Fitz?

Smith left the game with a twisted knee. Fitzpatrick leaves with twisted feelings. The Jets shouldn't get it twisted: Ryan Fitzpatrick is Ryan Fitzpatrick. We know who he is and we know his limitations. Don't go back to him as the starter.

It now appears that Smith tore his ACL. Well, play a healthy Bryce Petty. How about Christian Hackenberg, the second-round pick New York made after (foolishly) passing on Paxton Lynch in Round 1? Let's see what those guys can offer.

Ryan Fitzpatrick is not a legit starter.

5) Should the Los Angeles Rams change quarterbacks?

Does the sun set in the west? (Well, this answer is obviously yes, as long as you don't ask No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff, who somehow was unaware of that fact this summer.)

Jeff Fisher, a.k.a. Mr. 7-9, says he isn't removing Case Keenum as his quarterback, despite the fact that the journeyman threw four picks in a wretched loss to the Giants across the pond. Fisher says he will make changes at other positions, including receiver, before quarterback.

This is insane.

I've been saying all along that L.A. should've picked Carson Wentz in the first place. I'm not a believer that Goff is a future star. But it was Fisher who gave up a bushel of picks for the top overall selection. It's time to see what you have there. Get him experience. You picked him -- now play him.

One of the most memorable parts of this year's "Hard Knocks" was Fisher's rant about "some 7-9 bulls---." Fisher has yet to post a winning record with the Rams -- and here he is, back under .500 at 3-4. Thus, the veteran head coach might want to rethink everything -- starting with the quarterback position.

6) Can anyone or anything stop the New England Patriots?

No -- and no.

The Patriots are your 2016 AFC champs. Print the T-shirts. They are the clear Super Bowl favorites.

I can't wait to see who the Pats beat by 14 in Foxborough on Championship Sunday. Oh, and it will be a compelling and wide-open race to see who gets to experience this (dis)honor. But the end result is now clear: a seventh Super Bowl appearance for the Patriots since 2001.

The Tom Brady revenge tour is real and spectacular. Nobody can deal with the Rob Gronkowski/Martellus Bennett TE tandem. Oh, and Bill Belichick is the best coach in NFL history.

7) Can the Pittsburgh Steelers weather the storm without Big Ben?

Ben Roethlisberger is everything to 4-3 Pittsburgh, though I must confess that Landry Jones was more competitive than I thought he'd be against the mighty Pats. And whenever Roethlisberger returns to action after knee surgery, Pittsburgh will still be in first place.

After this week's bye, these are the Steelers' next four contests: at Baltimore, vs. Dallas, at Cleveland, at Indianapolis. I don't think it is out of the realm of possibility to believe Pittsburgh will split these four games even if Big Ben has to sit them all out.

And the rest of the AFC North is a mess. Baltimore and John Harbaugh continue to frustrate and fizzle, standing at 3-4. The Bengals (also 3-4) beat Cleveland, with Andy Dalton and A.J. Green connecting on a play of the year. (How did Green catch that prayer in the end zone?!) But I don't think this team has the talent or coaching that it boasted over the last few years. And of course, the 0-7 Brownies are the only winless team in football.

Even with the future Hall of Famer hurt, even with the Steelers on a two-game losing streak, even with the annual Mike Tomlin loss to a wholly inferior team (a couple weeks ago in Miami), the Steelers remain the class of a relatively weak division.

8) Should the Cleveland Browns trade Joe Thomas?

If you trade the best left tackle in the NFL, you have to replace him -- and that's impossible. I wouldn't pull the trigger if I'm Cleveland, especially if the potential payoff is just a second-round pick, as the great Mike Florio of NBC reported on Sunday night.

But I hope, for Joe's sake, that he escapes NFL hell and has a chance to make the playoffs.

Minnesota? New England? Philadelphia? Oakland? All could use the stud LT's services.

The Browns should trade Thomas on a night when the Indians are playing in the World Series and LeBron is active on the hardwood. Maybe nobody will notice ...

UPDATE: On Monday, Hue Jackson completely refuted reports of a potential Thomas trade, deadpanning to the media: "We. Are. Not. Going. To. Trade. Joe. Thomas."

9) Can the San Diego Chargers make a run?

No. No they can't. But, wow what a win that was for the much-maligned Mike McCoy.

Yes, San Diego has won two straight to improve to 3-4. Yes, San Diego easily could be 6-1. Yes, San Diego would've been much better off if Joey Bosa, who has been great, didn't selfishly hold out and miss the first quarter of the season. And yes, Philip Rivers is a Hall of Famer. And yes, Melvin Gordon has become a touchdown machine after failing to reach the end zone a single time as a rookie. And yes, it's great for long-suffering Chargers fans to have a ray of sunshine.

But no. Sorry. I just don't see it.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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