NFL Nation: Have at It

Enough. No more talking in platitudes. No more general complaints based on reputation. And let's stop with the complaints about reputation. I'm tired of hearing people, whether they are in the media or otherwise, claim Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is a dirty player as a matter of course.

I want specifics.

I want rule citations.

I want context.

[+] EnlargeNdamukong Suh
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesNdamukong Suh was fined $7,500 for this hit on Jake Delhomme.
Several Atlanta Falcons players are the latest to make this charge, claiming Suh spoke disrespectfully toward injured quarterback Matt Ryan last Sunday at Ford Field. Suh has denied saying anything. Nevertheless, the episode has spawned another round of media/fan debates on whether, or the extent to which, Suh plays dirty.

In Tuesday's SportsNation chat, Dave of Phoenix suggested Suh "has brought all of this on himself" and "has made his reputation with his actions."

I'm not sure I agree. During the chat, my top-of-the-head response was recalling only one instance in Suh's career that I thought was dirty. And I define "dirty" as a blatant attempt outside the rules to injure an opponent.

That instance came in the 2010 preseason, a play that to me is largely responsible for this ongoing discussion. As you can see in this NFL.com video, Suh grabbed the face mask/helmet of Cleveland Browns quarterback Jake Delhomme and spun him violently and awkwardly to the ground. The NFL fined Suh $7,500 for the play. How Delhomme escaped injury on that play, I'll never know.

Beyond that, however, I'm not sure I could come up with enough examples to support a debate. Some of you might cite the 2010 regular-season game when Suh tackled Dallas Cowboys running back Marion Barber by his hair. Officials called him for a horse-collar tackle, a bad call based on NFL rules that consider the hair an extension of the body. (NFL.com video here.)

Others might note his unnecessary roughness penalty on Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton in the 2011 preseason. (NFL.com video here.) The NFL fined him $20,000 for that play. I thought it was a violent hit and probably in violation of NFL rules. But dirty? Was he blatantly attempting to injure? Not to me.

There are two sides to every issue, of course. And that's where "Have at It" comes in. If you believe Suh is in fact a dirty player, I want examples in the comments section below. Links to video would help. Build your case instead of just making a general observation. As always, I'll publish a representative sample of your thoughts, along with my own take, by the end of the week. Have at It.
Matt Forte and Adrian PetersonGetty Images, US PresswireLooking at the numbers, Matt Forte and Adrian Peterson aren't as far apart as you might think.
I was legitimately thrilled with your discussion this week of what could have been your basic "he's-better-than-him" slugfest. I asked you to consider the nuances of KC Joyner's column Insider on Chicago Bears tailback Matt Forte, and by and large you did that.

To review: Joyner's believes Forte's skill set is underrated and that he is "as good as" Minnesota Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson when you analyze the full picture of their production. Joyner cited the Bill James maxim that players who do several things well tend to be underrated.

I asked you if you think all-purpose backs like Forte should be more valued than they are. Case in point: Peterson ranked No. 2 on ESPN.com's offseason power rankings for running backs, while Forte didn't receive a vote. They finished the 2010 season with about the same total of all-purpose yards (1,639 for Peterson and 1,616 for Forte) last season.

Many of you fell in line with escortzx21984, who noted that "this is not a black and white argument." Escortzx21984 continued:
"The fact that teams can't immediately know an all-purpose back's role in a given play is also an advantage. No defense is on the field trembling because they don't know where Peterson is going with the ball. They plan for his run game. A good all-purpose back brings another veil for the offense to hide its intentions behind. That unpredictability is what helps teams beat good defenses.

"Peterson's raw power and reckless abandon are what help him. He would average three yards a carry if he cared about having a long NFL career because defenses always get to him. Instead, his highlights make him look like a tackle-breaking machine (because those defenses always know where to find him) and he breaks a few runs off for huge gains."

Mikem.finke asked: "Why have a great rusher with stone hands when you can have a really good rusher with really good hands?" I'm not sure that Peterson has stone hands, but as Pro Football Focus has documented, he has been near the bottom of the NFL in percentage of passes dropped for a running back. And from watching both players' careers, I think we can agree that Forte excels in relatively difficult receiving situations, including fade routes down the sideline, while most of Peterson's chances are screen and swing passes.

Forte has demonstrated those skills in two different offensive schemes, those run by Mike Martz and Ron Turner. As dmill2069 points out: "[Forte] is worked into the passing game because he is a route-running RB who can create mismatches for teams out wide but his hands are good enough where coaches can depend on him as a receiver."

All of this is to say that Forte has some skills Peterson does not. Returning to Mikem.finke: "[W]ho would take Forte over AP? No one. But it is definitely something that should be talked about."

A few of you couldn't get past the use of both players in the same sentence. Jimbob50cent: "I have never heard of a team game planning around Forte, just as I have never heard of a team game plan around Reggie Bush. Teams definitely plan for [Peterson] because if they do not they get burned."

Why? Because Peterson's running skills are elite. Wrote Joker22310: "Clearly, a back who's a bruiser who can take it up the middle, around the end, or off tackle and break some out for big gains is more important to a team than a multi-purpose back. You simply cannot compensate for not having a back like Peterson. You can, however, compensate for the receiving yards that Forte gets with a solid slot receiver, tight-end, catching fullback (oxymoron I know) or any number of other packages. This is pretty easy."

Ultimately, some of you agreed, each team has done a good job in maximizing its players' skills. Steward2778 noted: "Peterson is stronger and built to run between tackles and break tackles. Forte is not, so he is put in space more to take advantage of his speed, hands and elusiveness. Does it matter how they move the ball? No."

In the end, wrote cds2477: "[P]layers who do several things well are underrated. What Joyner is suggesting is that Forte has the same value to the Bears as Peterson has to the Vikings. Would the Vikings trade Peterson for Forte, NO. Would the Bears trade Forte for Peterson, NO."

My take? I think we should separate the ideas of how each team uses its running back and whether one would want to trade for the other. If you made a list of each player's skills, Peterson's between-the-tackles running would rank in another stratosphere. The biggest advantage he has is the ability to execute running plays better than all but maybe one player in the NFL. I think the Bears would welcome that elite skill set even though they have done an excellent job maximizing Forte.

With that said, this wasn't a question of whether we would take Peterson or Forte if given a choice. It was whether, in the big picture, we should attach more value than we currently do to a player who finds different ways to rack up an elite level of yards.

I'm already on record saying I made a personal mistake by not including Forte among my top 10 running backs for the Power Rankings project. Seeing him play more often than other colleagues should have heightened my awareness and appreciation and lifted me from conventional wisdom.

So here's where I land: We should spend more time considering the "what" -- in this case, total yardage -- than the "how." But that doesn't mean we ignore the "how" or "why," either.

In the end, what I value most is the rarity of skills. A really good all-purpose back can produce nearly as many yards as Peterson. He can be almost as good. But a player with the elite skills to gain yardage when no yardage is schematically available? You can't overrate that.
As it often does, Tuesday's SportsNation chat generated what should be a lively Have at It topic this week. Here is the exchange:
Scott (Northglenn, CO)

Who will have better rookie numbers -- Titus Young or Randall Cobb?

Kevin Seifert (3:00 PM)

Really like that one. ... I might throw that out as a Have at It later this week. First thought would be Young when comparing the depth on both sides, but a lot will depend on how quickly each guy can assimilate the offense given a shorter-than-expected offseason.

Both players were diminutive but dynamic college playmakers who pushed themselves into the second round of last month's draft. After that, however, the comparisons tend to fade. Some factors to consider in this debate:
  • As the chart shows, both the Packers and Lions already boast a hefty stable of pass-catchers. But the Packers have more depth at the receiver position, even if James Jones departs via free agency and Donald Driver moves into a more limited role. Cobb has the opportunity for plenty of snaps, but in Detroit, Young could step into a quasi-starter role as the No. 3 receiver behind Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson.
  • Both players have return capabilities, but Cobb is more likely to get that opportunity than Young. The Packers had no set kickoff returner in 2010, and I'm sure they would prefer to get cornerback Tramon Williams out of the punt return job. The Lions, on the other hand, had one of the league's best returners in 2010, Stefan Logan. Special-teams production should play a factor in this debate.
  • Cobb played both receiver and running back at Kentucky, and it wouldn't be stunning if he saw some action in the backfield for the Packers. Will it be enough to impact a statistical competition? I'm not sure about that.
  • As with any comparison of receivers, the identity and efficiency of the quarterback is critical. It's fair to say that Cobb has an advantage with Aaron Rodgers. The Lions have high hopes for quarterback Matthew Stafford, but a young receiver's development is contingent on consistency from the quarterback. Stafford has yet to prove he can make it through a 16-game NFL season.

I'm sure there are other points to be made as well. Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below. I would also like to try something new and have you participate in a SportsNation poll on the topic as well. I'll publish both a representative sample of your comments and the polls results -- along with my own take, of course -- later this week. Have at It.
This week's Have at It was intended for mature audiences. DomDoyle was disappointed at the participation level, but I would rather have an intelligent conversation among friends (at least on this week's issue) than the chaotic free-for-alls these posts occasionally devolve into.

[+] EnlargeDave Duerson
AP Photo/NFL PhotosDoes the suicide of former Bears safety Dave Duerson affect how you'd feel about your kids playing football?
The issue was whether recent revelations about head injuries and the psychological health of former NFL players has changed your thinking on the safety of the game. Would you allow your child to play football? The suicide of former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson, since revealed to have a form of brain damage present in at least two dozen other deceased players, has added a horrific local angle to this debate.

Some of you didn't view the issue as a dispute. "Football is dangerous?" wrote DLions1026. "Who knew?"

DLions1026 added: "Fact of the matter is, life in general is dangerous. There are more people killed or seriously injured driving to the store to get a gallon of milk. We, as human beings, take risks. We do what we love. If my son wants to continue to play a game that he loves, I can't stand in his way and say no because it is dangerous. Jumping out of an airplane is dangerous, but we still do it. Mountain climbing is dangerous. Surfing or just swimming in the ocean in general. Each and every sport has its dangers, everything has a risk.

"The alternative is staying at home, sitting on the couch, being afraid to go out and enjoy life, being scared of everything, to me that is the bigger danger. Live and let live. This news doesn't surprise me. Does it concern me? Sure. But it won't change anything. People will do what they love, as well as they should."

I don't disagree, although the analogies of driving cars or jumping out of airplanes don't entirely work for me. Driving is safe until something goes wrong. The same goes for jumping out of airplanes. The fear with the future mental health of football players is that it's based on the fundamental nature of playing the game -- violent and unavoidable head contact -- rather than being an outlier.

No matter the circumstances, many of you see the issue as a matter of free-willed risk. "Either play or don't," wrote Dr. Doom6. "Playing football is a choice," wrote Tearloch, who offered some suggested for making it less dangerous that included stricter safety requirements for helmets.

Players must accept the risk involved, wrote pjm901: "There is no way you are going to eliminate head trauma from football. Intentional or not guys are going to get hit in the head. You can make some improvements in technique, both on offensive and defensive players, and in helmets. Ultimately football is a violent sport and unfortunately some players are going to have long term problems once their playing days are over."

That's a sobering thought for all us. Is any game worth that sort of risk? A person could lead an invigorating and fulfilling life without playing football. The same couldn't be said of someone who, for example, refuses to ride in a car for fear of the inherent risk of a crash. Some risks are more necessary than others.

KonnerKWHSLine, for one, has seen too much. Here's a snippet: "For our family which is 60 years invested into the game the answer is 'No More'. That is the hardest thing I thought I would ever say.

"But after seeing my father crippled from six years of collegiate ball, two sons with multiple concussions and one who lost his memory and can't work, and the horrors I have witnessed as a youth coach for 20 years I changed my mind. What most football people like me never get to understand or see is the great number or affected players and former players. We are trained to hide this particular injury."

My take? This was a difficult issue for me. I always tell you what I think on this blog, but I try to avoid telling you about me. That's not what this blog is about, and it's (presumably) not why you come here. So when I posted the original question, I wasn't sure how I would address whether I want my children to play football.

That's why I was so glad to read Mjoldnir's response. He eerily nailed every thought I had, pro and con, and I'm sure you would rather read it in the words of your fellow reader than my own. In short, I'm hoping I never have to make a ruling on this issue in my own life.

Here's what Mjoldnir wrote:

"I played football for as long as I could, beginning with pee-wee, and through high school. I wasn't good enough for the college game by a longshot! But I loved everything about being on a football team: practices in the dirt and mud, the camaraderie, even the coach grabbing my facemask and screaming at me when I botched a play. Football pushed me past the point where I might have otherwise given up, and instilled the values of determination, work ethic and teamwork. Especially teamwork.

"I love how everything I did was part of a bigger picture, how a missed block on the backside of a play could wind up blowing the play up. It taught me to sweat the little stuff, to see the big picture, and to always have the backs of the people on my team. That's carried over to my career and even my personal life. These are huge life lessons that I'm not sure I could have learned as effectively from any other sport or endeavor.

"And yet I pray my son never asks me to sign a permission slip to play football, because I don't know if I could tell him no. I want my son to learn those life lessons. Maybe even a shredded knee would be worth it. But I don't want my boy -- the most precious thing in my life -- to risk damaging his brain."

Amen. Amen. Amen.

Have at It: Postseason imbalance

December, 1, 2010
12/01/10
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Michael started it off during Tuesday's SportsNation chat. The relevant exchange:
Michael (Norfolk)

If the Packers go 11-5 and still miss the playoffs, but we get an NFC West team that makes the playoffs at 7-9, is it time for things to change?

Kevin Seifert (2:26 PM)

I don't think so. There has to be incentive to win a division. What would your idea be?

We kicked around a few thoughts during the chat, but I think we should open the debate to our full community.

The chart shows the NFC's top eight teams by order of potential playoff seeding if the season ended this week. The Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, both 7-4, wouldn't qualify. But at 5-6, the St. Louis Rams would be the No. 4 seed because of their NFC West lead.

This is an old(er) issue with a 2010, NFC North-related twist. Our top-heavy conference leaves open the possibility that the Packers or even Chicago Bears (8-3) could miss the playoffs in a year that a .500 (or worse) team could be guaranteed a spot as NFC West champions.

So let me know what you think and what suggestions you might have. A few points to guide the initial conversation:
  • Since the 1978 expansion to a 16-game schedule, two 11-5 teams have missed the playoffs: The 1985 Denver Broncos and the 2008 New England Patriots. Would two occasions be enough to make dramatic changes to the playoff system?
  • This year promises an especially tight playoff race. According to the NFL, we are entering the first Week 13 since 2000 with no chance for any team to clinch a playoff spot.
  • In Tuesday's chat, Nick and Mike suggested a re-alignment that left each conference with two divisions. That change would all but eliminate the possibility of a .500 team getting an automatic playoff bid. But would it also reduce the drama of division races?

As always, I'll publish a representative sample of your responses, as well as my own take, by the end of the week. Have at It.

Have at It: Two tremendous comebacks

October, 20, 2010
10/20/10
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E.J. Henderson/Brian UrlacherIcon SMI/Getty ImagesE.J. Henderson, left, and Brian Urlacher have returned from injury to perform at a high level.
Tuesday's SportsNation chat was winding down when Madhu volunteered a savvy "Have at It" topic:
Madhu (South Windsor)

Urlacher or Henderson for Comeback Player of the Year?

Kevin Seifert (2:52 PM)

Ohhhh. I like that. Check back on the blog tomorrow.

So let's do this. Two of the NFC North's middle linebackers have returned from season-ending injuries to play at a high level and propel their teams to top-10 defensive rankings. A dislocated wrist cost the Chicago Bears' Brian Urlacher 15 games last season, while the Minnesota Vikings' E.J. Henderson suffered a fractured femur last December.

Both have returned at a high level in 2010. Urlacher leads the Bears' eighth-ranked defense with 51 tackles. Henderson, meanwhile, has 51 tackles for the Vikings' fifth-ranked defense. He also set up 10 points in Sunday's 24-21 victory over the Dallas Cowboys with a pair of interceptions.

As you consider this question, it's fair to take into account any number of factors. Among them:

  • The most obvious is each player's performance this season, which I've sketched in the chart accompanying this post.
  • That performance relative to each player's career curve. You could make an argument that Urlacher is playing his best football in several years.
  • The severity of the injury. It should be pointed out that Henderson is playing with a titanium rod in his leg and was originally projected to need up to a year of recovery time.
  • Each player's value relative to his team's depth chart. Where would the Bears be without Urlacher? Do the Vikings have anyone who could fill in for Henderson?

Hopefully we can make it through this debate without diminishing either player's accomplishments. As always, give me your thoughts in the comments section below. I'll publish a representative sample, along with my own take, by the end of the week. Have at It.

The majority of questions I'm getting these days focus on three topics:
  1. "Did he do it?"
  2. "Why are NFL players allowed to head-butt Aaron Rodgers?"
  3. "Are the Chicago Bears for real?"

On the first question: I don't know. On the second: We'll get to that later this week. That leaves the third for "Have at It."

The facts are clear. The Bears are one of a pair of 4-1 teams in the NFC. Their defense has been dominant and their special teams good enough to rank No. 7 overall in Football Outsiders' weekly evaluations. The Green Bay Packers' injury problems, and the combined 2-7 start by the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions, have given the Bears early control of the NFC North.

They've had some ugly wins and a brutal defeat, however. It's fair to at least debate whether those circumstances suggest a looming collapse, or whether it means this team has demonstrated an ability to win in imperfect environments.

I've provided a snapshot of the context of their offensive and defensive performances relative to the entire NFL. The numbers in the chart speak for themselves, I think.

I know we debated a similar topic last month, but added evidence suggests a revision and update. As always, give me your thoughts in the comment section below. I'll publish a representative sample of your thoughts, along with my own, by the end of the week. Have at It.

We're going to try something a bit different for this week's "Have at It." I'm going to throw some blood into the water and wait for you sharks to smell it and post hundreds of comments and drive thousands of page views and ...

Wait. I would never do that.

In truth, we are going to take a different approach this week as we ramp up for the "Monday Night Football" showdown between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears. We hit quarterback play in an expanded Tuesday post, and on Wednesday I would like you to consider this question: Who will be the best pass-rusher at Soldier Field?

Is it the Bears' Julius Peppers, who signed a $91.5 million free-agent contract this spring to provide elite pressure in exactly this type of situation? Or is it the Packers' Clay Matthews, who already has amassed six sacks this season and has 16 in 18 career games? (Check out the chart accompanying this post for a statistical breakdown.)


I'm going to use your responses as part of a longer post that should publish this weekend. A few points to keep in mind:
  • Both teams could potentially start backup left tackles in this game. The Packers might turn to rookie Bryan Bulaga because of Chad Clifton's sore knee, and the Bears might not have Chris Williams (hamstring). Peppers and Matthews have lined up all over the field this season, but you would imagine their defensive coordinators would seek out a matchup against a second-string left tackle.
  • Matthews is a linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. Peppers is a defensive end in a 4-3. There isn't as much difference in their roles as you might think.
  • Both players were responsible for knocking out a quarterback in Week 1. Matthews' tackle of the Philadelphia Eagles' Kevin Kolb led to a concussion, while Peppers' sack of the Detroit Lions' Matthew Stafford caused a separated right shoulder.
  • For what it's worth, the Bears' Jay Cutler has been sacked five times this season. The Packers' Aaron Rodgers has taken three.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below. I'll compile a representative sample and publish them with some additional context this weekend. Have at It.

Have at It: Assessing Bears' prospects

September, 15, 2010
9/15/10
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In recent days, one or two (thousand) of you have suggested I might have been a bit harsh in my assessment of the Chicago Bears' performance in Sunday's 19-14 victory over the Detroit Lions. In short, I didn't think it was worth beating your chest over and I didn't think it was good enough to get it done against most of the teams on their schedule this season.

But we're all about free speech on this blog, and I've listened to everyone. In our SportsNation chat Tuesday, I thought Yhammi expressed your thoughts in a particularly reasonable way. Here was our exchange:
Yhammi (La Crosse)

I understand people focusing on the controversial call at the end of the Bears game and perhaps going for it on fourth and goal but why isn't anyone mentioning the outstanding defense the Bears displayed or [Matt] Forte's awesome day or that [Jay] Cutler threw for 375 yards. The Bears had a 4 to 1 total offensive yards advantage. Why isn't anyone talking about those things and this much improved team?

Kevin Seifert (1:40 PM)

I think it's been mentioned, but it's only fair to mention it in context. They gained a lot of yards, but also had four turnovers and couldn't convert in the red zone. They stopped the Lions for most of the day, but when it counted they almost gave up the game-winning score. It's all part of the big picture.

So I'll throw the floor open to you. Here's how I'd like to start our Week 2 Have at It: When the game was over, did you feel better, worse or no different about the Bears' prospects this season?

As you can see from the chart to your right, most of the Bears' offensive and defensive production ranked at or near the top of the NFL. They also committed more penalties than all but seven NFL teams, turned the ball over four times and won only when a Lions touchdown was overturned with 24 seconds remaining.

But don't let me influence your thoughts. As always, let me know what you think in the comments section below. I'll publish a representative sample, along with my own take, by the end of the week. Have at It.

Have at It: Clash of ineptitude?

September, 8, 2010
9/08/10
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Perhaps you’ve spent some time wondering exactly what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object. Because as everyone knows, two separate masses can’t occupy the same place at the same time. Something’s got to give.

This weekend, however, I’ll be wondering the opposite. What happens when a completely resistible force confronts a highly movable object? Which one wins out? Do they repel? Or do they just start doggie-slapping each other’s hands?

That’s the best analogy I can conjure for Sunday’s matchup between the Chicago Bears' offense and the Detroit Lions' defense. The Bears were anemic this preseason, and I’m not buying late-August claims that they were merely hiding the good stuff. The Lions were not much better, and two players they hoped to anchor their respective position groups -- middle linebacker DeAndre Levy and safety Louis Delmas -- missed substantial portions of the preseason with injuries.

But enough of what I think. Let’s open the floor to you as we launch our first Have at It of the 2010 season. How do you think this matchup will play out in what is going to be a really intriguing NFC North game? Some micro-questions to consider:
  • Preseason statistics and rankings are listed in the chart accompanying this post. How much stock do you put in them?
  • Do you think the Bears really were holding back the best parts of their offense? If so, can they be sharp if they didn’t practice those plays and schemes in the preseason?
  • Do you think the Lions’ improvement at defensive line can cover at other positions? If so, will the Lions win the proverbial battle in the trenches?

As always, give me your thoughts in the comments section below. I’ll publish a representative sample, as well as my own thoughts, by the end of the week. Have at it.
I figured we might hit a nerve with this week's debate to determine our preseason NFC North Player of the Year, but nearly 800 comments' worth of nerve? Jeez. Y'all are ready for training camp.

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireAaron Rodgers threw for 4,434 yards and 30 touchdowns last season.
Most of you considered the question a matter of trend, making it hard to choose anyone but Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers -- especially relative to Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. Rodgers improved in every statistical category last season to become the NFL's fourth-rated passer, while Peterson's fumbles increased and his yards per carry decreased for the third consecutive year.

Sgunderson17 considered it a matter of "TDs vs. turnovers." Meanwhile, JustTray made a valiant attempt to combine Rodgers' fumbles and sacks totals. But as many of you noted, Rodgers will handle the ball roughly three times more than Peterson in a given season and will have far more "opportunities" to make a mistake.

Packfanforlife85 noted that Peterson managed only three 100-yard games last season, and provided what I thought was a representative cool-headed argument for Rodgers:
Although [Peterson] is contributing significantly, he was a long way from taking over and dominating any game last year. I think it has a lot to do with the o-line and just the style of offense the Vikes play now. AP definitely has the potential to rush for 2000+ yards, but the Vikes haven't done much to change the situation for him. With Brett Favre they are a pass-first team.

Also, I think AP may have plateaued as far as his individual ability goes. RBs don't get stronger or faster as the years pass. He is in his prime right now. Unless the Vikes do something drastically different with their offense, I look for AP to put up similar numbers this season as he did last year.

I can see Rodgers taking his game to yet another level this year. This offense has consistently improved each season [Mike McCarthy] has been head coach, and [general manager Ted Thompson] finally has a decent o-line in place to protect Rodgers for a full season. Rodgers becomes more experienced and a bigger leader of this team with each passing day. I think he will continue to improve over the next few years.

Frankly, it was difficult to find anyone with an emotionless argument for Peterson. TKroll_28, however, suggested Peterson is capable of MVP numbers but won't put them up assuming Favre returns. By the end of last season, as we've discussed, the Vikings were a passing offense:
The first two years [of his career], AP had the best individual impact and performance. This past year and moving forward as long as Uncle Brett is at the helm there will be the split of those two. Unless Ryan Grant or James Starks step up to another level, Aaron Rodgers will be hands down the best individual performer.

My take?
I think Peterson has outperformed Rodgers over the course of their careers, and that's where I was coming from in the original post that started this whole thing. That shouldn't be a knock on Rodgers. We're simply talking about three All-Pro seasons for Peterson compared to one Pro Bowl year for Rodgers.

But this conversation wasn't about who has been the best player. It's about who will be the best in 2010. A few of you mentioned Favre as a possibility, but I guess I'm not counting on him equaling his stunning performance of 2009.

So here's the fence I'll sit on: There is every reason to believe Peterson will have an elite season, but I agree with many of you on Rodgers. If you look at his first two seasons, factor in continuing maturity, experience and a deeper offensive line, the sky is the limit for him. I would imagine he'll be on a short list of MVP candidates when the season opens in September.

So there we have it: Aaron Rodgers is our NFC North preseason Player of the Year. Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is our preseason Rookie of the Year, and the Packers are our preseason pick to win the division. Now that it's all settled, I'll see you in January.

Have at it: Okung vs. Suh

March, 19, 2010
3/19/10
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Russell Okung/Ndamukong SuhIcon SMIThe Lions have the No. 2 overall pick and could consider selecting OT Russell Okung or DT Ndamukong Suh in April's draft.
Great discussion this week about the complicating financial factors Detroit will face with its No. 2 overall draft pick. As we noted in the original post, some teams would be reluctant to pay a defensive tackle -- Ndamukong Suh or any other -- the kind of premium contract usually reserved for quarterbacks, defensive ends and left tackles.

The question: Should the Lions consider Oklahoma State left tackle Russell Okung over Suh (or Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy) because of the financial considerations? Remember, those factors arise from the longstanding NFL sense that left tackles are more important and impact the outcome of games more directly than defensive tackles.

From what I saw, you largely refused to consider the financial aspect and confined the debate simply to whether the Lions would be better off adding a left tackle or a defensive tackle. I didn't tabulate each answer, but in the abstract, a significant percentage of you favored Okung.

In terms of building for the future, wrote rfrelin23, protecting quarterback Matthew Stafford should be the Lions' highest priority:
"Everyone seems to be on the same 'wavelength' here. If the [Lions] feel Okung is an all-pro LT then they must take him. The future of the franchise rests on the shoulders of Stafford (and he can't throw the ball off his backside). Right now the Lions don't need star players, rather they need solid NFL starters. A DT does not make or break a franchise, but QB does!"

While Suh is the consensus top player in the draft, TDbuddah warned against believing any surefire projections:
"If the Lion personnel guys project Okung as a can't-miss, NFL-caliber LT, they should take him. Obviously, there is no proof that any of these ... guys will be a superstar in the NFL. When that's the case, I would lean towards protecting the franchise."

But that's just the point, some of you argued. Passing on Suh for these reasons "would be foolish," wrote seanje. Suh is a "once in a decade, position redefining player," wrote funlovin 24. Vikes4ever70 asked: "Who's worth $10+ million per year? Okung or Suh? Regardless of value of position, I say Suh."

Taking Okung would allow the Lions to move Jeff Backus to left guard, addressing two needs. But solidifying those positions wouldn't be enough to satisfy SuperSloth003:
"We need studs. (best players available at a positional need). Suh is the best prospect and we must take him. Deal with another year of the typical Lions o-line, then address it more effectively next year with another high draft pick. Patience my friends."
My take? I think you can make a quite reasonable argument for the Lions to follow this scenario: Sign defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove, a 26-year-old restricted free agent whose pure athletic ability matches or exceeds Suh and McCoy. Then draft Okung.

Hargrove, who visited Detroit earlier this week, has overcome multiple obstacles in his NFL career, including a one-year suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy. But in that scenario, the Lions would align themselves with a long-term playmaker who had a substantial impact on a Super Bowl-winning team.

I think it's something the Lions are giving thought to. Over the next 3-5 years, what would give them a better chance to win: Having a mainstay at left tackle, a veteran at left guard and an ascending playmaker at defensive tackle? Or the potential of a stud defensive tackle with the other positions unaddressed?

In the original post, I suggested the Lions should only take Okung if their personnel department considered him a better prospect. But what if it's close? If, say, the Lions consider Suh a 10 and Okung an 8.9, it might make more sense to sacrifice that extra "1.1" to solidify a larger percentage of their team. This assumes the Lions sign Hargrove, which we'll know by the April 15 RFA deadline. If Hargrove remains with the Saints, I draft Suh regardless. With Hargrove in the mix, however, I would give strong consideration to Okung if scouts consider him a worthy top-5 pick.

Have at It: LeBeau as a player

February, 10, 2010
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I appreciated the thoughtful debate you produced Monday on Dick LeBeau's pending enshrinement to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I asked if you considered LeBeau a Hall of Famer independent of his stellar coaching career, and from the top I should tell you how the voters themselves considered his candidacy.

[+] EnlargeDick LeBeau
David Boss/US PresswireDick LeBeau went to three Pro Bowls as a member of the Detroit Lions.
As NFL vice president Greg Aiello points out, coaches aren't eligible for enshrinement until five years after they retire. LeBeau remains Pittsburgh's defensive coordinator, so by definition that means the Hall's 44 voters were required to evaluate him solely on the merits of his playing career.

I've independently confirmed that with voters. They elected LeBeau based on his performance as a Detroit cornerback from 1959-72. That said, I thought some of you made a reasonable leap by suggesting LeBeau's tenure as an elite defensive coordinator at least kept his name fresh for this generation of the seniors committee and voters.

Wrote whelk: He should have been elected a HOF'er as a player in the first place. However, it was his coaching that kept reminding people he was out there. Without the coaching, this deserving player likely would have been forgotten.

And who was that deserving player? You engaged in some of the most interesting debate we've had in Have at It.

Elkman812002 pointed to this analysis from Pro Football Reference. The piece notes LeBeau totaled 62 interceptions during an era when teams passed much less frequently than they do now. But it also points out interceptions were much more frequent relative to passing attempts during those times. "Even though only 14 games were played per season in LeBeau's era it was in fact easier to get interceptions," concluded Elkman812002.

Jerious6 countered with what we noted in the original post: LeBeau had more interceptions than any other NFL player during the meat of his career from 1960-71.

Wrote Jerious6: "No matter how easy or hard interceptions were to come by during that time, having more total picks than anyone over that period accounts for something, mostly his consistency."

I think it accounts for more than that. My take? I realize there was some gray area in LeBeau's candidacy. There is a reason it took 38 years after his retirement for him to be elected. He was surrounded by some better-known Hall of Fame players, including cornerback Lem Barney, cornerback Dick "Night Train" Lane and safety Yale Lary. The presence of high-caliber teammates tends to lead to the argument that LeBeau got more opportunities for interceptions because opponents chose to "pick" on him rather than challenge ostensibly more talented players.

To me, however, the point is LeBeau made teams pay if they in fact took that approach. He didn't just intercept some passes. When he retired, he had more interceptions than all but one player in the history of the game. Even today, his total ranks among the top 10 of all time. It's overthinking to suggest there is a mitigating circumstances that should overshadow 62 interceptions in 14 seasons.

Interceptions should be a weighted statistic, in my book. In general terms, turnovers are as closely associated to wins and losses than any other figure. Even if LeBeau was a less-skilled cover man than some other Hall of Fame players on his own team and elsewhere, he made up for it at the end of the day.

I understand why it took LeBeau so long to reach the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I also understand why he has finally been included.

Have at It: Will Cutler make it?

December, 16, 2009
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Hopefully you got a chance to listen to Brian Billick’s interview Tuesday morning on ESPN Radio, especially the segment where he discussed Jay Cutler’s first season in Chicago.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
G. Newman Lowrance/Getty ImagesJay Cutler has thrown 19 touchdown passes and 22 interceptions in his first season with the Bears.
Most notably, Billick said Cutler is “beginning to feel Jeff Georgish.” Yikes. The reference, of course, is to former NFL quarterback Jeff George -- the No. 1 overall pick in 1990 who was known more for his strong arm than he was for winning games. His career record as a starter was 46-78.

Billick isn’t the first person to make that comparison, but his stature as a Super Bowl-winning coach brings a level of credibility to the observation. Here’s the full quote, spoken after Billick worked Sunday’s Green Bay-Chicago game as a FOX analyst:

“I was a huge Jay Cutler fan, and I’m not ready to bail on him yet. But I’m going to make an analogy here that’s going to scare a lot of people. He’s beginning to feel Jeff Georgish. Tremendous talent. The two interceptions, two touchdowns in the game [Sunday]. The interceptions, you just scratch your head and say, ‘Where exactly were you going with this ball?’ And then the two touchdown throws … there is probably not four guys in this league that could make the kind of throws that he made to get those two touchdowns. So it’s a head-scratcher. Obviously huge, huge potential. But right now, it’s only potential I think.”

More importantly, what do you think? Cutler has started 50 NFL games and has a record of 22-28. Based on what you’ve seen this season, do you think he’s going to make it? Will Cutler be a winning quarterback in Chicago? The bounty the Bears gave up for him, along with an October contract extension, suggests he’ll get every opportunity to do it.

I’ve provided Cutler’s rankings in key quarterback measurements below. Let me know what you think in the comments area below. As always, I’ll publish a representative sample, along with my own take, Friday morning. Have at It.

Have at It: Woodson or Allen?

December, 2, 2009
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We started an interesting debate during Tuesday’s SportsNation chat, one that should spill over into the larger NFC North community.

Woodson
Allen
I think we can all agree that this division boasts two of the NFL’s top four candidates for defensive player of the year. I’ve suggested Green Bay cornerback Charles Woodson should be first in line to win the award, but Matt of St. Paul was among those who countered that Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen is having a better season. I would love to know what everyone thinks and am open to being talked out of my position.

We know what the voters usually look at: Interceptions for cornerbacks and sacks for defensive ends/outside linebackers. Through 11 games, Woodson ranks third in the NFL with seven interceptions. Allen ranks second with 12.5 sacks. But when you look at the expanded statistics below, you see that both players have had success across the board: Woodson as an all-field playmaker and Allen as a consistent disrupter on the line of scrimmage.


You could argue that New Orleans safety Darren Sharper (eight interceptions, three returned for touchdowns) and Denver linebacker Elvis Dumervil (14 sacks) are the top two candidates for DPOY -- especially when you consider the criteria most voters usually abide by. But this is the NFC North blog, so feel free to limit your conversation to Woodson and Allen if that makes it easier.

As always, I’ll survey your responses and publish a representative sample -- along with my own take -- Friday morning. Have at It.

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