Each week during the 2019 NFL season, four familiar faces from the British media and broadcasting landscape will debate the big talking points from the United States.
Introducing The Panel
Nat Coombs -Host of ESPN'SThe Nat Coombs show offering four episodes per week on the NFL and host of the NFL show on talkSPORT 2
Neil Reynolds -Host of Host of the Sky Sports' NFL coverage, editor of the London gameday magazines and host of the Inside the Huddle podcast.
JB:Let's lead with Dalvin Cook but they have to win, right? If the Vikings can somehow become this team with the identity Mike Zimmer wants and they go on to win their division; this guy could be the MVP. He is the engine who makes them go and he is having a phenomenal year. You also have to include Tom Brady. They are so elite on defense right now and every year he sees something the team gets better at and he just morphs around that. If you're playing this good on defense, you just need long drives and he can rack up the yards however you want him to. He is just that good in changing and adjusting his game on a year to year basis.
NC:Dalvin Cook is on pace for a 2,000-yard season right now, and averaging 6.6 yards per carry so has to be in the conversation, even if that conversation is essentially "Mahomes, Mahomes, Mahomes, Mahomes, Cook, Mahomes." He could also win my personal favourite award, the comeback player of the year --say hello Sammy Watkins! Mark Ingram is having a dominant start - leading rushing TD's, averaging 6.0 yards a carry, though of course the last running back to win was AP back in 2012.
WG:The MVP has only been a non-QB once in the past 12 years so the obvious answers are - Tom Brady, Dak Prescott, Carson Wentz, Lamar Jackson etc... But what if it's a defensive player for only the second time in the history of the award? Shaquil Barrett has found a scheme into which he slots perfectly under Todd Bowles. He's now at eight sacks after recording four in Week 3. The only other player in NFL history to have that many sacks three games into the season was Mark Gastineau in 1984, and he finished that season with a then-record 22.
NR:It will be a quarterback... it's always a quarterback! Mahomes is the clear front runner and is playing at a spectacular level. But here are a few other names to consider, including one non-QB... I think Dalvin Cook is establishing himself as one of the very best running backs in the NFL with three straight 100-yard days and I love his ability to run around, over or away from defenders. He can do it all. We should also keep an eye on Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson who I think is now a genuine star. And, like J-Bell, I think that Tom Brady fella is off to a red hot start in New England and playing better than he did in 2018.
What did you think of Bruce Arians' decision to take a deliberate delay of game penalty ahead of Matt Gay's last-second field goal miss?
JB:I've never been a head coach or claim to be but I felt like, regardless of what his tactics were, he kind inadvertently iced his own kicker and that's the part I don't get. You know you've had kicking woes yet you just iced your own kicker in the flow of the game. That's what the defense would do to you and you kind of just did it to yourself. When I was watching it live, I was like, 'Did he just ice his own kicker?' The rest of it I kind of understand, but the icing your own kicker part? I have questions about that.
NC: At first glance Coach Arians' excuse, looked so outlandish that if this was NFL High and Bruce was being asked where his missing homework was, Principal Goodell would have laughed out loud, and then wheeled out Saturday morning detentions for the rest of the season. (He'd be sitting next to Vontaze Burfict most weeks). For starters, Gay had already hit a 27-yarder earlier that very game! On closer inspection though, I think it's a classy move from a stand-up guy. Arians is known as one of the good guys in the league, and Gay, a rookie kicker, had had a nightmare, also missing two extra point attempts. Coach was taking the bullet, swallowing the responsibility. Go check out the name Jake Arians (Bruce's son). Have a guess what position he played in football? Case closed?
WG:Bruce Arians will know his rookie kicker better than anyone, but let's be honest - further away means a tougher kick. In 2018, 98.5 percent of kicks were made from inside 30. Go up to the next range and that drops to 94.5 percent. In a game of inches, it's a significant difference. BA is normally straight talking and honest, but on this occasion it sounded like he was making excuses for a mistake.
NR:First off, if Arians really was tinkering with yardages like some kind of caddy setting up his golfer for a nine-iron into the green at Augusta, this is not the kicker you want on your team. You want a guy who can line up and kick it from anywhere (they are rare these days). You don't want to be saying, 'Okay, we'll move him back five yards here, three yards off that hash and away we go.' I think Will is onto something here though. Arians is such an honest and no-nonsense guy who is an extremely confident and secure individual. If one of his assistants or players had messed up on the timings, I have no doubt the head coach would create a story to take the blame. I'm hoping that was the case because moving any kicker back at any time in a game makes no sense at all to me.
Are any coaches on an early-season hot seat?
JB:I really didn't have a clear answer until I watched Monday Night Football but Jay Gruden's the one. This is what Washington does as far as ownership - they haven't bought into a philosophy where they bring in a coach and truly implement that coach's structure. We should also remember that Dwayne Haskins was an ownership pick from Daniel Snyder and Bruce Allen. They didn't pick a quarterback who is married to Gruden's system and that's the caveat.
NC:I wonder if Adam Gase could be one and done in NY? Sure, he's scrabbling around with a third-string QB which buys him time, but so much will depend on how they look when Sam Darnold comes back. If he finds himself in a 2-8 type situation, the pressure will mount. His stock has fallen dramatically in the last 18 months - particularly as things got fractious in Miami. I think Ron Rivera still could be on a warm seat if the Kyle Allen Show fades. I was chatting to a Charlotte beat reporter on my radio show last week who feels it could be a case of cleaning house in Carolina this off season - Ron, Cam & GM Marty Hurney could all be off. Mike Tomlin may be gone in an alternate reality, but this is the Steelers, and they sagely don't engender change if they can help it, so I reckon he gets at least another year.
WG:Mike Tomlin should be on the hot seat. Moving on from AB was positive in hindsight but he has mishandled the locker room over recent years and they have consistently disappointed considering the level of talent. Even with the excuse of Big Ben's injury - losing a game where you've forced five turnovers just isn't acceptable and at 0-3 he should feel the heat. But the Steelers have only changed head coaches twice in 50 years... so he's probably still feeling safe despite the dreadful start.
NR:The obvious ones are those in charge of the 0-3 teams and I think Adam Gase (New York Jets) and Vic Fangio (Denver Broncos) should be monitored closely over the course of the next six to eight weeks. It's hard on Gase given his team's quarterback woes but there can be no excuses for Fangio. He is a supposed defensive guru yet his defense featuring Von Miller and Bradley Chubb has zero sacks and zero takeaways through three games. That is shocking. I think Mike Tomlin is safe in Pittsburgh but I would say Doug Marrone is not out of the woods in Jacksonville just yet. That team is on very shaky disciplinary ground.
JB:I've got to go with Danny Dimes, all day. I like what Gardner Minshew is doing but Daniel Jones was unreal in his first NFL start. I truly didn't think he was going to have that much success because of Todd Bowles and the way he brings a lot of pressure with Tampa's defense. I thought things would get very blurry for Daniel Jones and he would have issues as a young guy. But that didn't happen - he was so decisive and accurate with pressure in his face. That shows signs of someone who is very well prepared.
NC:It's early days on Danny Dimes, but it does surprise me that these semi-hysterical hot takes get fired out almost instantly - coughs Amari Cooper to Dallas trade - without any of the talking (writing) heads who piled into the Giants reaching up for Jones stopping to think..."Hmmmmm, maybe, just maybe there's more to this than meets the eye" and without anything to judge. People had written him off before a single (NFL) pass had been thrown. I'm all for teams grabbing the player they want in a draft, irrespective of the mock board rankings, if they are sure as they can be, to guarantee having them. If there's one thing we learn time and again in sport, and certainly in the NFL, situation is so important. Jones may not have been the "best" QB on the board, but he could well be the best fit for this incarnation of the Giants. On a similar vein, not many were hollering the name Gardner Minshew before the start of the season, but he can take the opportunity and develop into a bona fide starter, because it's a case of right time, right place.
WG:Both! As a fan they are making two previously unwatchable offenses enjoyable again! But if we have to pick one on the small sample size then Danny Dimes shades it. Todd Bowles has gotten a song out of a talent-poor Bucs defense - but for Jones to take control of the offense AND come back from an 18-point deficit was supremely impressive. (Eli Manning was 0-44 in such situations). He's also the first rookie QB to put up 300+ yards, 2 passing TDs and 2 rushing TDs in a game since 1970. Yes, Minshew has personality, and of course it's fun, but for Jones to put the blinkers on in that tough New York market and perform as he did in his first start was very impressive.
NR:Danny Dimes was mightily impressive in his first NFL start on Sunday but I'm just into the whole Gardner Minshew 'thing' the dodgy moustache, the headbands, cut-off denim shorts. The whole package! And the kid can play. We talk all the time about quarterbacks needing to have the "it" factor and Minshew has that in spades. He has fun but he gets the job done on the field. Minshew and Daniel Jones could not be more polar opposites in terms of personality but both have shown they can play and both are good for the NFL. This league is in very good shape when it comes to its young quarterbacks.