NFL Run & Shootaround: All Part of the Plan

On any given Sunday (or Monday, or Thursday), your NFL Run & Shootaround crew will be gathered around multiple televisions, making inappropriate jokes and generally regressing to the mean. Catch up on all the NFL action right here.

Come As You Are

Robert Mays: When the Colts traded for Trent Richardson, part of the collective shock came from how unprecedented the move seemed. Without considerable extenuating circumstances, teams don’t give up on 23-year-old first-round picks. From the Browns’ side, it really was a deal that was almost unheard of, but not for the Colts. They’d done this before.

Anyone who watches Hard Knocks will remember the scene from last summer when Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland called Vontae Davis into his office and informed his fourth-year cornerback that he had been traded to the Colts for a second-round pick. Davis’s reaction wasn’t surprising, given what we knew about him at that point. Taken 25th overall by Miami in 2009, Davis was one of the more physically impressive cornerbacks you’ll ever see. Brother of famed pre-draft workout star Vernon Davis, Vontae was a 5-foot-11, 205-pound, 4.5 corner who looked like he could handle 20 carries a game if a team were so inclined. His issues in Miami had more to do with the other side of things. He struggled with maturity, with the day-in, day-out call for consistency of the pro game. When Ireland told Davis he’d be headed to Indianapolis, Davis’s first response was that he wanted to call his grandma. He was polite, he was gracious, but at 24, he was still a kid.

The Richardson trade was considered a sign of two things for the Colts: (a) They wanted to win now, and (b) they had an identity in mind for their offense. With wins over the 49ers, Seahawks, and Broncos, it’s hard to argue with the first point. It’s not hard to argue with the second. It’s not a coincidence that the Colts’ best showing of the season came when they opened up the offense and put the game in Andrew Luck’s hands. When your team employs a 24-year-old generational talent, running for three yards and falling down 25 times a game isn’t an identity. It’s just stupid.

We didn’t know it at the time — the Colts were coming off a two-win season — but the Davis trade was made with similar motives in mind. A second-round pick is a significant price, but what Davis gave the Colts was a player with actual experience and someone with the skill set to fit exactly what Chuck Pagano wanted to do. Indianapolis’s win last night will end up being more about Luck’s emergence and Peyton Manning’s faltering than anything else, but it was also the latest example of Pagano’s ability to field a more-than-capable defense without any top-level talent. Before yesterday, the Colts were 10th in pass defense DVOA, and last night was easily their most impressive showing to date.

Before Pagano came to Indianapolis, he was the coordinator of a Ravens team that finished first in defensive DVOA, up from sixth the year before Pagano took over. He knows what he’s doing over there, and for those who doubted the Colts before the season began (this guy), overlooking how Pagano could work with the players at his disposal was part of it. The Colts have a defined plan on defense. They’re going to play physical, man coverage on the outside, and they’re going to hope Robert Mathis and the pass rush can get to your quarterback as you try to take advantage of that single coverage by throwing deep. It’s exactly what we saw last night, as Manning took shot after shot to Demaryius Thomas, with Davis draped all over him. For much of the game, the Colts prevented Denver from doing what it wanted to as an offense, and they did it by knowing exactly who they were as a defense. Davis still may not know what quarterback he’s playing against, but he’s a perfect fit for the style and the identity Pagano has established with his team. If the Colts keep this up, it’s likely we’ll point to a surprise trade for someone else’s young cast-off when we talk about how they’ve done it. It just won’t be the one everyone thought it would be.

Sin City Loves Kansas City

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Cousin Sal: Upward of 73 percent of degenerates (including yours truly) wagering on the K.C.-Houston spread backed the Chiefs (-7) yesterday. I’m guessing the support would’ve been even higher if gambling gluttons were told ahead of time that Texans superstar running back Arian Foster and stud linebacker Brian Cushing would leave the game early because of injury. But still — it should’ve been enough that the Chiefs’ defense (coming off a 10-sack performance against the Raiders) was about to feast on first-time starter Case Keenum in a venue louder than my Aunt Chippy during a losing night of bingo. A pick-six or three were in the cards yesterday — until they weren’t.

Keenum did a nice job of minimizing mistakes — even throwing for a touchdown. The Chiefs’ offense didn’t help, and before you knew it, K.C. was up only 17-16 at the two-minute warning. And then … it happened.

Keenum gets sacked inside the Texans’ 5-yard line by Tamba Hali — who jars the ball loose. Linebacker Derrick Johnson scoops it up and Vegas sportsbooks shake from a brief moment of false hope (I’m just guessing; I know my living room did). But it was not meant to be, as Johnson was accidentally upended by a Texans lineman who gets credited with the tackle at the 1-yard line.

Houston had no timeouts remaining, which meant it was a no-brainer for Andy Reid to send out the offense to take three kneel-downs and end the game. This meant a big Chiefs’ win, and an even bigger win for Vegas. With the money he saved the sportsbooks, Reid can now eat free buffet crab legs for life at the various casinos that benefited from his benevolence … OK, not for life — that would send Vegas belly-up — but certainly for a good 20 minutes.

In Case You Forgot

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Greatness on Your Own Terms

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Hua Hsu: A few years back, a couple of friends and I found our way into a section of the Candlestick parking lot open only to players and staff. I don’t remember whether the Niners had won or lost — most likely the latter. All I remember is seeing this burly, shy-seeming dude in an all-over-print hoodie and Vans sauntering around with this broad, satisfied grin on his face. “That’s Delanie Walker,” my friend whispered. The sixth-round pick hadn’t played that day. But if the team ever figured out how to use him, he explained, this kid could be great.

We had no reason to believe the 49ers would figure anything out, let alone the tantalizing skill set of Walker. He seemed like an unneeded luxury, an all-world utility man on a team too aimless to capitalize on whatever it was he could do. Over the next few seasons, his gradual evolution from a small-school receiver to jack-of-all-trades was one of the team’s few constants. He was invisible on the stat sheet but relentlessly versatile on the field. He had no lane; he laid claimed to all of them. He didn’t have the best hands, but he could play anywhere. He blocked, played in the slot, ran the ball out of the backfield, covered kicks, and even returned a few himself. In the golden age of positional flexibility, Walker steadily became a cult hero. Deployed about 20 different ways by Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman, maybe it was Walker who brought coherence to a Niners offense that was constantly morphing into something else.

Nowadays, Walker’s role in Tennessee is much simpler. He’s one of the first reads for Jake Locker or whoever is playing quarterback. Having seen the good and the truly bad, he has become one of those sage, mature guys who helps transform a locker room into a community. “On a personal level, I miss Delanie,” the generally sociopathic Harbaugh remarked in advance of yesterday’s Niners-Titans game.

Walker’s former team is doing fine without him, though they’re still looking for someone to replace his versatility. (The most recent candidate, Chris Harper, was cut a couple of weeks back.) It was strange to see him in his new environs, a focal point rather than free-floating epoxy. “I know that Delanie is a heck of an athlete and he’s a playmaker,” his former teammate Patrick Willis remarked after the game. “He caught one pass on me. It’s football and that’s going to happen, and I hate that it did.” Walker ended the day with three catches and a late, meaningless touchdown. Across the field, Harbaugh barely reacted. It was that mouth-slightly-agape, kernel panic look he sometimes wears. Walker punched his chest and calmly trotted back to the sideline with the ball. Everyone deserves the chance to be great on their own terms.

Paying Tribute

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The Marcus Vick Experience

Ian Cohen: In most families, if you go to college, spend even a split second in the NFL, and have enough national name recognition to be the subject of not one, but two Onion articles, you’re immediately disqualified from being considered the ne’er do-well brother. And yet, regardless of whether you think Michael Vick has adequately repented for his misdeeds, Marcus Vick somehow trends 100 percent negative in comparison. A propensity for vulgarity, extremely dumb criminal acts, and subpar quarterbacking make him some kind of black sheep triangulation of Billy Ripken, C-Murder, and the McCown brother who didn’t fill in for Jay Cutler yesterday.

I’m told Marcus was causing quite a ruckus on social media yesterday, meaning he did not heed his brother’s prior advice to “shut off the Twitter.” So what exactly was the big deal? We went to straight to @MVFive to find out …

Um, nothing to see here? I haven’t paid close attention to DJ Khaled’s new LP, Suffering From Success, so maybe that’s an Ace Hood quote I missed out on. Perhaps he’d explain further?

#Grindmode > #GrammaticalDiscipline? I dunno, maybe he’s on his rap grind and trying to rhyme like ’04 Common on some “control, rap is out of …” tip.

Game recognize game. And dude knows about college QBs who are in #GrindMode trying to lock down a roster spot.

#TrenchantAnalysis. Plenty more where that came from…

I mean, how’s your Twitter game on Sundays? Can it compare to #GrindMode? Oh, and somewhere in between, he called the Eagles fans silly peasants and #DumbMotherF***** for thinking a win against the Buccaneers somehow proved beyond all doubt that Nick Foles’s Teutonic-prototype, statuesque QB play was the best thing for Chip Kelly’s spread offense going forward. Call it an example of the wrong guy saying the right thing. In light of how an undoubtedly large number of Eagles fans still dropped at least $20 of waiver money on Joseph Randle or started Miles Austin and Riley Cooper knowing that the NFC East is the NFL’s version of MACtion, I mean, is there any other way to describe the Eagles’ 17-3 loss besides “boring as shit”?

Steve Smith vs. the World, Part 2


Chris Ryan: Starring Janoris Jenkins as “the world.” As you already know, Steve Smith is kind of a hero around these parts. Yesterday, while playing against the Rams, the Panthers receiver’s legend only grew, when he went after the second-year defensive back. What was all the fightin’ and fussin’ about? Well, a lesser player would leave us guessing. But not Steve Smith. Behold …

That’s not even the best part! When asked whether he had any problems with Jenkins in the past, Smith responded, “No. What I don’t like is a young guy, comes in, obviously his first time ever using the Internet and Google, and he Googles information about me, talks about my wife and stuff like that. That’s kind of some of the (B.S) I just don’t play with.”

Don’t Google Steve Smith before you play him. Good to know!

Making a Case

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Shea Serrano: The Texans lost again. I don’t know that too many people expected them to beat the undefeated Chiefs, particularly since they were starting a rookie quarterback (Case Keenum). It still definitely sucked.

With 1:40 left and down by only one, Keenum was chased down from the backside, getting strip-sacked at his own 3-yard line, fumbling the ball into some stupid Kansas City player’s big stupid hands. The Chiefs ran out the clock, and that was it. Sucked, sucked, sucked. I cussed a whole lot. And I screamed a whole lot. And I definitely cussed and screamed a whole lot at the same time.

The Texans have not won a game in five weeks. Brian Cushing is out (broken leg). Arian Foster is out too (broken tear ducts). Everything is miserable. Everything is awful.

But three good things, all of which are about Keenum, whom I plan on asking to prom this year:

1. In his first career start, Case Keenum, local hero in Houston, formerly the quarterback for the then-overachieving University of Houston Cougars, threw for more yards and more touchdowns than Peyton Manning and Joe Montana and Tom Brady combined (I definitely did not do any sort of research on that stat, but rest assured I am confident it is correct). But for a tiny misstep or two, he sparkled yesterday. He actually threw the ball downfield, if you can even believe that. Matt Schaub had thrown the ball further than 20 yards six times (he completed two); Keenum did so five times yesterday (he completed three). He was quick and confident and looked excited to be playing. By the end of the game, it felt like if the Texans were going to lose the game (which will always be a very real possibility with Gary Kubiak on the sideline), it wasn’t going to be the quarterback’s fault. I forgot what that felt like.

2. In the fourth quarter, on a third-and-long and with the Texans down one, Keenum was sacked. The stupid Chiefs blitzed and some big stupid Chiefs player got to him and blam-o. It was a miserable play that every Texans fan was expecting. But then Keenum did something. Before he’d even been able to process that he’d been pulled down behind the line of scrimmage, his body reacted. His face scrunched in anger, his torso hunched upward, out of instinct, and his left hand pounded at the field, twice. Schaub has been sacked 70,000 times this season, but he has never outwardly responded like that. He just gets up, makes the saddest eyes of all, then jogs off the field. He resigns. Keenum wasn’t resigned. He was PISSED. He appeared to want nothing more than a chance to throw the ball to win the game. I’d forgotten what that felt like too.

3. Case is adorable in his helmet. Just plain ol’ adorable.

The Texans lost, and that definitely sucks. But it seems very likely Keenum is going to snatch Schaub’s starting job from his cold hands, and that definitely does not.

Good Night Sour Prince

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Sean Fennessey: I have been living under the tyranny of Tom Brady for 13 years. Living with the cruise-missile accuracy, with the exasperating escapability, with the hair-trigger release, with the huffy countenance, with all of the haircuts. Living under the roof of a brooding oppressor, locked in from the outside and without a key. Starved for a division title, for a win, for a sack, for a moment’s breath at the line of scrimmage. Playing in the same division as the New England Patriots for the entirety of my adult life has been a specific kind of torture, like drowning in a dunk tank while my family and friends watch and eat hors d’oeuvres. May we Jets and Bills and Dolphins fans — united just this once — be free from the grimacing Ken doll and all of his precise hatred.

And lo, I think the despot is weakening. Yesterday’s fluky, confusing win for the Jets was not a point of pride. Aqib Talib, Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, and Jerrod Mayo did not play in this overtime game. Rob Gronkowski — targeted 17 times — was back on the field for the first time after four surgeries in 10 months. The Patriots were not at their best. But more importantly, Brady was dreadful, completing fewer than 50 percent of his passes for less than five yards a completion. He missed open receivers. He failed to record a touchdown pass for the second time this season. He sulked extra hard. I saw a shimmering knight’s armor pierced by a green arrow. It is entirely possible that this 36-year-old man sits in a cold tub this week and thinks on his failures. That he reenergizes and recommits. That his accuracy returns to its old form. That Julian Edelman becomes Welker 2.0, that Kenbrell Thompkins calls Tim Brown for advice, that Aaron Dobson steals another man’s hands. That Gronk Gronks once more. But I’m thinking no, and that Brady will not be as he was for 13 years. May we be emancipated from this tyranny.

Filed Under: Chris Ryan, Gambling, Kansas City Chiefs, NFL, Robert Mays, Sean Fennessey, Tom Brady