NFC North: George Orwell

Last weekend, I suggested locking up leaders from the NFL and NFL Players Association in the Phantom Zone until they reached a new collective bargaining agreement. C.J. of Milwaukee took me up on a request for better ideas. Check it out, and then follow me to Google to find out what "Room 101" is.
How about putting them both in Room 101 (the torture room) from George Orwell's 1984? If you recall, in that room everyone is forced to face their worst fear -- for Winston Smith in the novel, it was having a cage affixed to his face with hungry rats who'd eat his face if he didn't confess.

"For [NFL commissioner] Roger Goodell, it would be having a judge rule the NFL has lost its anti-trust exemption, the players being given unlimited free agency, TV contract money being split 80/20, with the 80 going to the players, and owners being forced to pay back their communities for the stadiums bought and built for them.

"For [NFLPA executive director] DeMaurice Smith, it would be a judge ruling that the players are indentured servants, with no free agency until 8 years have passed, the TV money going 80/20 to the owners, an end to signing bonuses, and players have to clean up the stadiums after games.

"These tortures would go on simultaneously, with the judge sitting in a cage affixed to Goodell's and Smith's face. The judges would be Gilbert Gotfried (for Smith) and Larry the Cable Guy (for Goodell)."

Sounds good to me.

What would your Room 101 be?

And don't say you know mine.

It is NOT an NFL season without Brett Favre.

Really, it's not.

No chance.

I'm always lurking in the mailbag, on Twitter and Facebook.

Onward...

Jordan of Madison noted ESPN.com's ranking of the NFL's top 10 defensive players and writes: I think the people who didn't rank Ndamukong Suh from the Detroit Lions in the top ten defenders couldn't have seen him play. When the season's over, where do you think he'll end up ranked? I'm a hardcore Packers fan and even I think he'll be in contention for DPOY.

Kevin Seifert: Thanks for the question, Jordan. It was my turn this week to write the global Power Rankings post, so I didn't get a chance to address the NFC North angle as much as I would have liked.

Suh appeared on five of the eight ballots, including mine, and finished No. 11 overall and only two points out of the top 10. I thought Suh deserved to be on the list after seeing him play this season. But even if you didn't see him play, you should remember he was one of two first-team All-Pros at his position in the entire league.

I was able to get Suh comfortably on my list because I made a point of valuing pass rushers over pass defenders. For that reason, cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Charles Woodson didn't make my cut, nor did safety Ed Reed. Based on this value system, at least, I can't think of a better alternative than an interior disruptor like Suh who has the skills to finish off plays and end a season with 10-plus sacks.

I imagine the only hesitation among my fellow voters was that Suh has only one year's experience. There is no reason to think his performance will fall off, but some people like to see elite-level production for more than one year. Regardless, I doubt we're having this conversation next year. Suh's skills, and the continuing growth of the Lions' defensive line, makes that a pretty safe bet.


Dave of Minneapolis writes: What is your take on Mayor Coleman's stadium plan? I understand it is not liked by anybody really except St. Paul, but I think it addresses the needs of all of the current stadium issues in the Twin Cities. It seems like the most sensible approach (he sure did put St. Paul in front of everybody else though). The St. Paul Saints need a new facility the most.

Kevin Seifert: It might make sense in theory, but the reality is it's merely political cover and not something that would ever be accepted in the territorial political system of Minnesota. That's why I didn't write much on it this week.

It's true. St. Paul residents would be on the hook for a disproportionate amount of the tax increase that would help pay for the Minnesota Vikings' new stadium. But they would get no direct benefit, considering the stadium would be located 10 miles away in suburban Arden Hills. Coleman figures to face some backlash on that issue, so he had to come up with some kind of response that would demonstrate he was looking out for his constituents.

And to me, that's the main thrust of Coleman's proposal. It shifts the tax burden off St. Paul for the Vikings stadium, instead calling for a state-wide two-cent booze tax. Connecting alcohol and football is funny and perhaps darkly appropriate, but it's totally random from a political sense. Why should someone having a glass of wine be singled out to pay for a football stadium?

More good news if you live in St. Paul: It would create an entertainment monopoly for St. Paul's Xcel Center by shuttering Minneapolis' Target Center. It would also squeeze $27 million money to build a new baseball stadium for the independent St. Paul Saints.

So yes, ending the competition between the Target Center and Xcel Center makes some sense. And there's nothing wrong with building a small baseball stadium for the Saints. But Coleman has to know there is no reality inherent in this proposal.

The biggest problem of the Minneapolis-St. Paul sports market is that it has been developed with total disregard for the big picture and global vision. Coleman's plan is no less territorial, even if it is disguised as a global vision. Similar proposals help explain why the Twin Cities market, which includes the University of Minnesota, has two football stadiums, five basketball/hockey arenas and two outdoor ballparks for baseball. Enough already.


Eric of Minneapolis writes: Has the NFLPA (or leaders of the former NFLPA) told the players to shut up yet? Between Adrian Peterson's "slavery" comments and Ray Lewis' crime spree suggestions, the players are looking like idiots. Granted, they do this a lot, but when they speak to the lockout like this, they rarely help their cause.

Kevin Seifert: I'm pretty sure owners weaved the anticipation of such statements into their lockout strategy. Whenever you have people speaking out of their expertise, which is what football players talking about social issues qualifies as, you're bound to see some outlandish rhetoric revealed.

But I will say I haven't noticed much lasting impact from these incidents. The public isn't turning on players because a few of them have spoken out. Players don't appear to be splintering because a few of them have said embarrassing things. The real focus is on whether the players can stay unified in the face of lost game checks. If players start speaking out on that issue, then they've got trouble.


Via Twitter, @tonymission notes our recent Have at It discussion and wonders why I didn't account for Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in a debate about which receiver, the Packers' Randall Cobb or the Detroit Lions' Titus Young, would have a more productive rookie season: The Lions aren't exactly an offensive juggernaut. playing W/#12 cant hurt

Kevin Seifert: Limited by 140 characters, my initial response was that there is still only one ball. Whether the Packers are quarterbacked by Rodgers or backup Matt Flynn, Cobb will still be competing with Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, Jermichael Finley and perhaps James Jones for opportunities.

And you might not realize it, but the Lions actually threw 92 more passes than the Packers last season. Typically you throw more when you're losing, but the Lions definitely have a pass-first offense.

There's no doubt the quality of a quarterback impacts the production of a receiver, but the Lions are more proficient and ambitious than you're suggesting.


Earlier this week, we discussed the Chicago Bears as a possible landing spot for soon-to-be-freed receiver Plaxico Burress. In a comment, stan994 wrote: "Though the Bears could use someone of such size to help out their receiving corps, it will never happen. The Bears ownership does not like off-field incidents and Burress has too much of that. They got rid of Tank Johnson due to off-field reasons. They got rid of Cedric Benson for off-field reasons. It is very clear that ownership will not tolerate certain behavior and Burress certainly has crossed those lines."

Kevin Seifert: There are perhaps a half-dozen reasons why Burress to the Bears seems unlikely, and this is one of them. Another is the Bears' seemingly cemented philosophy of avoiding big-name receivers after the failure of free agent acquisition Muhsin Muhammad and the departure of Bernard Berrian.

I'm quite sure the Bears will be tossed into in the public discussion next week when Burress is released. But I agree with stan994. It's hard to envision a scenario where it happens.

Black and Blue all over: Speed kills

September, 22, 2008
9/22/08
10:20
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Is it a bad thing when you roll into your hotel and the next day's newspapers are already stacked in the lobby? Last night was a late one here in the Fox River valley, especially after dropping Mosley off at his hotel somewhere near the shore ... of the Pacific.

During my drive back, I kept returning to one thing: How noticeably faster the Dallas Cowboys were during a 27-16 victory over Green Bay. The Packers have some speed on their roster, but it seemed no one could keep up with the likes of Felix Jones, Miles Austin and the entire Cowboys defensive line.

Part of speed is positioning and alignment, and I'm sure that when the Packers look at the film they'll see more than a few occasions where they lined up wrong and exacerbated the Cowboys' advantage. But you can't coach players to run faster, and if there is a postseason rematch between these teams, the Packers will need to focus more on offensive ball control to help out both their own defense and their offensive line.

The Packers used eight running plays and 14 passing plays in the first half Sunday night. Swapping that ratio, while out of character for coach Mike McCarthy, would have left the Cowboys' speedy offense on the sideline longer and given the Packers' offensive line an opportunity to wear down Dallas' pass rushers.

Instead, the Cowboys had possession of the ball for 18 minutes, five seconds in the first half and 32:12 overall.

We'll have our takes on all four NFC North games later today. For now, here are some snippets to chew on for a while from around the division:

  • Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel outlines the plan Green Bay employed to stop Cowboy receiving stars Terrell Owens and Jason Witten. In short, cornerback Charles Woodson took Owens and fourth linebacker Brandon Chillar played extensively against Witten.
  • Tom Oates of the Wisconsin State Journal saw the Packers get dominated on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
  • "Fire someone." That was the unsolicited advice from the Chicago Tribune's RosenBlog following the Bears' 27-24 loss to Tampa Bay.
  • Bears cornerback Nate Vasher opened the game on the bench, with rookie Corey Graham starting. According to the Tribune's Vaughn McClure, the Bears preferred to match up Graham against one of the Bucs' tight ends when they ran a one-receiver personnel set.
  • Bears cornerback Charles Tillman claimed he was defending teammate Adewale Ogunleye when he drew a critical personal foul in overtime. But the Bucs player Ogunleye was tussling with said he didn't start anything. "[They] grabbed me in places they shouldn't have grabbed me after the play and that's what started the whole thing," Bucs right tackle Jeremy Trueblood said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • It's time for Bears coach Lovie Smith to make a statement, writes Mike Mulligan of the Sun-Times: "Fear is a wonderful deterrent. And the time has come for Bears coach Lovie Smith to put some fear into his team..."
  • Minnesota had never used the blitz package that ultimately resulted in Antoine Winfield's game-changing touchdown in the second quarter of Sunday's 20-10 victory over Carolina. Winfield normally blitzes from the slot, according to the Star Tribune's Chip Scoggins, but this time he blitzed from the cornerback position and the Panthers never saw him.
  • Vikings coach Brad Childress said he quoted George Orwell during a Saturday night speech to his players, giving Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan plenty of material. I can't claim to be an expert in such matters, but Souhan researched the origin of Childress' quote and called the reference "bogus." Orwell scholars, we'd love to hear from you.
  • Minnesotans must be well-read. Or something. Bob Sansevere of the St. Paul Pioneer Press compares Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe to George Bailey of "A Wonderful Life." Something about how none of Sunday's events would have happened were it not for Shiancoe's past mistakes.
  • Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press calls the Lions "the worst they've been in the Matt Millen era." That's saying something.
  • Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com offers Lions coach Rod Marinelli a script for saving his job: Emulate former coach Wayne Fontes. "[Marinelli] has to find a very delicate way of separating himself from the failures of the past and attaching himself to the hope of the future." Of course, that's probably not in Marinelli's makeup.
  • Lions quarterback Jon Kitna on his sprained knee: "It feels pretty bad right now."

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