The Burning Questions After Four Weeks

The Cover presents you with The Burning Questions After Four Weeks! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

One fourth of the NFL season is already in the books. Apart from the Green Bay Packers and Carolina Panthers, each team has played a quarter of their games. Some teams have surprised, while other teams have wholeheartedly disappointed. There have been devastating injuries and surprising players. And god forbid, a blockbuster trade!

Before we get on to the completely arbitrary questions I made up for myself to answer, obviously four games in the NFL is an incredibly small sample size. Even 16 games is somewhat small, the Detroit Lions last year looked like a franchise on the decline at 4-12. Now in 2013, they look like a team that is almost at an elite level that could steal the NFC North from the Chicago Bears and Packers. Basically, what I am saying is all the successes or failures of your favorite teams or players should be taken with a grain of salt, so what I am going to do is try to figure out how big that grain of salt really should be.

How good are the Denver Broncos?

1380585127000-USP-NFL-Philadelphia-Eagles-at-Denver-Broncos-001Really freakin’ good. But not as good as everyone thinks. Before the pitchforks come out, let me explain: For one, their first four games were played against some god awful defenses. How bad? The “best” defense they played this year was the one that kicked off this season, against the Baltimore Ravens. Playing in the shadow of Joe Flacco, Peyton Manning was literally untouchable as he fired seven touchdowns against the defense while effectively ending anyone’s fantasy matchup before they even got to the Sunday games. After four games, the Ravens are ranked as the 11th best defense. Then there is the 16th (Oakland) and the worst two defenses in the league, the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles, respectively. If you’re an advanced metrics kind of guy, it gets even worse. I’ll spare the jargon, but those four teams are even more miserable in defensive DVOA. Denver’s offense is incredible and fun to watch no doubt, but just keep that tidbit in the back of your mind as we progress through the rest of the season

hi-res-158026589_crop_650x440Secondly, the Broncos have had some devastating injuries that haven’t been exposed yet. To start off, they lost their stud left tackle Ryan Clady. Everyone tends to forget that Manning is 37 years old and only a year and a half removed from four neck surgeries. One wrong hit and he’s done for the rest of year, effectively ending the Broncos season. The offensive line thus far has only given up five sacks (sack numbers are admittedly fluky, QB pressures and knockdowns are much more telling but have not been updated as of right now). But like stated before, the defenses Denver will be playing in the future coupled with Clady’s loss is most definitely a cause for concern. On the other side of the ball Broncos fans should be a little more worrisome, as their two most dynamic defensive players still haven’t played. The ongoing Von Miller saga is not very encouraging, as well as Champ Bailey’s injury that seems either more complicated or more worse than Denver originally let on. So far, this defense hasn’t been , but with games coming up against formidable offenses, I am fairly confident this defense will be torn apart sooner rather than later.

What should I make of the Trent Richardson trade?

NFL: Preseason-Cleveland Browns at Indianapolis ColtsThis one surprised everyone, and if someone told you other wise I would be weary of a protruding wooden nose. So, why? Let’s tackle the Cleveland Browns. First, the Dawg Pound are under a new regime. Trent Richardson had Mike Holmgren blood all over his dreadlocks, and new GM Mike Lombardi wanted to start from scratch with the core he wants to keep. If you look up Richardson’s stats they are remarkably unremarkable, especially for a first round pick. So to get a first round pick for a third or fourth round talent? Everyone with a brain would take that. I personally think Richardson is overrated, but if you think he still has potential, than you probably didn’t like the trade; just keep in mind Cleveland’s o-line is above average and Richardson couldn’t do squat. Regardless, the Browns are clearly dumping every valuable asset to tank for Teddy Bridgewater or Jadaveon Clowney, except no one accounted for Brian Hoyer the Destroyer leading them to two wins which seemingly gets them out of contention for the first two picks. This franchise can’t do anything right. But seriously, expect Josh Gordon to be traded by Week 8, also.

On the Indianapolis Colts side, everyone kind of shrugged off Jim Irsay’s frantic tweets about a big deal and just assumed he was crying wolf (two fairy tale references in two paragraphs, mind you). Is it possible for me to be a fan of what both teams ended up with? The Colts are clearly all in, trying to fit as many impact players on this roster while still having an Andrew Luck contract on the books for dirt cheap. Now instead of Trent Richardson being the focus of a defense for them to shut down, he is now an afterthought compared to Luck and emerging weapons TY Hilton, Coby Fleener, and the always dependable Reggie Wayne; Richardson is finally in a place to succeed. We’ll know if he is a legit talent by the end of the season.

Let’s play the Grain of Salt game

This will be a (relatively) condensed version of the Denver Broncos section. Keep in mind, the Grain of Salt game can go both ways. For example, I think the Miami Dolphins are over achieving, so obviously I’m taking their success with a small grain of salt. But I also think the Bengals are under achieving, so I would take their poor record so far with an equally small grain of salt. Oh, you already understand how this rudimentary game works? Sorry, I didn’t mean to insult your intelligence.

new-england-patriots-nfl-training-camp-2013New England Patriots – We’re starting with them because I am an unapologetic homer. This grain of salt is relatively big. Look, I may be a homer but I am realistic. The amount of salt isn’t just because they are 4-0, it is because they are 4-0 without arguably the most dynamic tight end in the game and two rookie wide receivers who are on a crash course of learning the quirks of the NFL with an intense and screaming quarterback that would make a Marine drill sergeant blush. Their defense is stout (6th best scoring defense, 4th best DVOA) but I would be remiss to mention the absolutely devastating loss of Vince Wilfork. The Patriots are still here, but they never really left in the first place.

Cincinnati Bengals – Also mentioned above, all they need is Andy Dalton to step up. He may have gotten the benefit of the doubt by making the playoffs a lot early in his career, but under that red lettuce we’ve come to love and know might actually lay an average quarterback given a great chance to succeed. Like I mentioned in my preview, the Bengals gave him all the weapons to prove himself, and he is also backed with an above average defense to boot. This may be a ride or die season for the Red Rifle.

Jacksonville Jaguars – They would get the biggest grain of salt imaginable if this section were titled ‘The Jadaveon Clowney Grain of Salt Game’. Well, unless this comes to fruition.

Kansas-City-Chiefs-Team-Preview-2013-640x454Kansas City Chiefs – Almost everyone saw a Chiefs resurgence coming, but this team is legitimately good and will most likely snag a wild card spot with their 4-0 start. They have the second best scoring defense, but they have played a couple cupcakes. Alex Smith is doing Alex Smith things, which is not to turn the ball over and forgetting the NFL allows passes to be completed more than 20 yards down the field.

Miami Dolphins – Previously mentioned them, but I am not buying their success (or not buying their grains of salt?). Lamar Miller is a poor man’s Reggie Bush, meaning he is not a serviceable every down back but is more than capable of breaking off a big play. I like Ryan Tannehill more than I hate him, but that isn’t saying much. Their defense is right at league average, and their offense is ranked 8th in DVOA, but they are closer to the 17th best team (Oakland) than the second (Green Bay) so that is misleading at first glance.

What has gotten into Philip Rivers?

NFL: San Diego Chargers at Pittsburgh SteelersAll signs point to Philip Rivers making a trip in the offseason to the Nile River and washing away all evidence of Norv Turner off his body. But in all seriousness, it is safe to say Rivers has always been the same (more or less) he just hasn’t been able to stay upright. So far in 2013, Rivers has been sacked only three times (all against Chicago) while being taken down an egregious 13 times last year through four games. The previously mentioned Norv Turner absence may have injected some much needed faith, but the tangible results point directly to the offensive line’s big improvement.

So there you have it. I tried to keep it short in terms just because of half-season power rankings coming out after Week 8, where I will break down each team’s ascension or decension from my preseason rankings. Making fun of myself will most assuredly be included.


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Guest Sports Activist for The Cover 4

Pre-Draft Offseason Recap: Dolphins Make a Splash


Dolphins Make a Splash


When the NFL free agency period began earlier this month, waves of free agents hit the open market. One of the most surprising teams to navigate the free agent waters and make a big splash by signing big-name players was the Miami Dolphins. In case you forgot, the Miami Heat aren’t the only professional sports team in the city, and it looks like the Dolphins are trying to be better than mediocre this year. In the past four NFL seasons, the Dolphins are 27-37. It took the Dolphins four years to amass the same number of wins that the Heat had in 27 consecutive games. Finally, it looks as though Jeff Ireland is trying to turn the team into a winner and perhaps even steal the AFC East crown from Tom Brady and his perfect hair.

If Ireland can create a team that can compete with the Patriots, then the AFC East is up for grabs. The Jets made more noise last season for Tim Tebow, the butt fumble and Rex Ryan’s tattoo of his wife wearing Mark Sanchez’s jersey than they did for their actual play. The Bills just released their starting quarterback, Harvard graduate Ryan Fitzpatrick, leaving them with Tavaris Jackson, Aaron Corp and Brad Smith. Call me crazy, but none of those guys will lead the Bills to a winning season. The opportunity for Miami to move up and seize the division is as good as it’s ever going to get, and it looks as though it is trying everything within its power.

It would be an understatement to say that Dolphins blew it during free agency last year.  The Dolphins had a better chance of winning the Super Bowl in 2012 (110:1 odds) than they did in attracting big-name free agents. They entered the Peyton Manning sweepstakes only to get spurned when he headed to Denver. They pursued Matt Flynn, who denied them even though Dolphins’ head coach Joe Philbin was his former offensive coordinator in Green Bay. Why couldn’t Miami sign anyone in a state with low taxes, beautiful weather and women, as well as prominent nightlife? A player is as likely to say no to that, as Ray Lewis is to say no to PEDs. Pittsburgh safety Ryan Clark seemed to have the answer when he tweeted that no one wanted to go to Miami because “[there’s] not a good guy [in charge] making decisions.” It’s well understood that he was talking about Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland. He’s not so bad if we forget about him asking Dez Bryant if his mother was a prostitute in a pre-draft interview. And the time he interviewed Jim Harbaugh for head coach while Tony Sparano was still employed as head coach. It seems though that free agents and NFL players have gotten over their dislike for Ireland as he has been able to secure some big-name signings.

The Dolphins opened up free agency by snagging the best available free-agent wide receiver. Ryan Tannehill quietly put up a good rookie season last year and showed a lot of potential, but was eclipsed by fellow rookies Andrew Luck, RGIII and Russell Wilson. Ireland went out and bought his quarterback one of the top wide receivers by signing Mike Wallace. Wallace will immediately make a huge impact on the field and give Miami the deep-ball threat that has evaded it for years. Brian Hartline and Davone Bess don’t exactly take the top off of a defense. Wallace’s speed and big-play threat will open up the entire field and allow the offense to be much more efficient. By resigning Hartline to a five-year, $30 million dollar contract, the Dolphins secured both wideout positions with the slot open to Bess or the recently-signed Brandon Gibson. Wallace’s presence instantly improves the Dolphins passing offense and gives Tannehill the weapons that are necessary to develop his game.

A signing that isn’t making any big headlines but continues to bolster the Phins’ offense is Dustin Keller. The Dolphins got away with signing Keller to a one-year contract worth $4.25 million. Receiving tight ends are a young quarterback’s best friend and Keller fits right into the hole that Anthony Fasano left. Not only that, but whoever ends up being the Jets quarterback can look forward to throwing every ball to Santonio Holmes as the Dolphins snag a division rival’s starter.  Miami risks very little in Keller’s signing and he could prove a very valuable offensive tool provided he can stay healthy.

The Dolphins didn’t just improve on the offensive side of the ball. The Dolphins pulled one of the biggest shockers so far during free agency by signing Ravens linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. EllerBEAST was a monster during the Ravens’ Super Bowl run and seemed a lock to re-sign with Baltimore. Ellerbe chose the big payday with Miami, giving the Dolphins a young, versatile linebacker. As if Ellerbe wasn’t enough, the Dolphins signed Oakland’s Phillip Wheeler to a five-year deal. Pair these two signings with the Dolphins decision to cut Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett, and the Dolphins managed to save money while getting younger. Wheeler said “I’m aggressive like a shark; but it’s ironic, because now I’m a Dolphin,” but the Dolphins are hoping Ellerbe and Wheeler maintain their aggression and provide the foundation of their defense for years to come. Throw this in with recent signing of cornerback Brent Grimes, and the team just keeps looking better and better. The Dolphins got a steal when signing Grimes to a one year $5.5 million dollar deal. The Dolphins needed a huge upgrade in their secondary after losing Sean Smith, and took little to no risk with the one year deal. They got a team need, one of the best cornerbacks on the market, and a player who was $10 million last year for $5 million. Even if he’s coming back off injury, he’s worth the risk and further bolsters an improving Dolphins defense.

While all of these signings make the Dolphins a better team, the price tag cannot be forgotten. With the new CBA and salary cap restrictions, teams need to be careful about how they allocate their money. (See the Ravens disintegrating a Super Bowl team and giving Joe Flacco a contract so big it literally devalues the dollar.) However, in the age of mega-contracts, if you want elite talent, you have to pay top dollar. Wallace has the biggest contract at five years, $60 million, of which $27 million is fully guaranteed. As long as Wallace plays like a top NFL receiver, it can be considered money well spent. Ellerbe signed for a five-year, $34.75 million contract with $14 million guaranteed and Wheeler got a five-year $26 million contract with $13 million guaranteed. The Dolphins still have money to spend, as they are still more than $10 million under the $128 million salary cap so expect a few more signings to occur.  While Miami’s contracts for its new players are backloaded, meaning the base salaries are highest in the latter years of the contract, contracts can always be restructured and players often do not play out the entirety of their contract in the NFL. The Dolphins want to win now and winning requires talent, which requires money. They’re rolling out a new logo, new offense, new defense and a new attitude. The season doesn’t start for months, but for the first time in a while, Dolphins fans have something about which to be excited.

Thank you for reading The Cover 4! Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook & Twitter.

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Tye Masters
Sports Activist for The Cover 4

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