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Can, should anything be done to stop the violence? Our editors debate.
Athlon's Steven Lassan, Nathan Rush and Braden Gall debate five burning questions for Week 7 in the NFL:
1. After watching nearly a dozen crushing, very dangerous hits this weekend, what, if any, solution is there to the viciousness with which the game is played?
Steven: There’s no doubt that helmet-to-helmet collisions are dangerous, but I don’t see an easy resolution to ending these hits from happening. Fining and suspending players certainly hurts, but there are times where collisions are going to happen and there’s nothing either player can do. Considering the speed and athletic ability of any player in the NFL, it’s impossible to eliminate all helmet-to-helmet contact, especially when some collisions that occur today are incidental. Big hits and violent collisions are simply a part of football and that doesn’t need to change – this is a contact sport after all. Player safety needs to be protected, but when several players come out and express their disappointment about the fines/suspensions for big hits, the NFL has a tough road to figure out any solution to it’s problem.
Braden: I may be the only person who geniunly does not care about the long term health effects of concussions amongst NFL players. Okay, that sounded harsh. Of course, I want people to be healthy and able to experience life at the highest level. However, my concern is not with someone who makes millions of dollars to play a sport. They know what they signed up for — for better or worse, deal with it. My concern is how do we police this with our children? Pop Warner leagues, middle schools and high schools do not have the technology or ability to curtail the violence like they can in the NFL. Are we going to fine 8th graders? No, so setting the example at the highest level, to me, seems like the only out here. And the officials need to be better at it. The James Harrison hit this weekend (the one on Massoquoi) wasn't even flagged! Bigger fines and suspensions might be the answer.
Nathan: Nothing needs to be done. Helmet-to-helmet hits on defenseless receivers should be flagged and fined. That’s it. No “violent hit” ejections or suspensions are necessary. But that won’t happen. Roger Goodell is mad with power and paranoia, inventing a new game with the same name and turning the NFL into the “Not Football League.”
2. Would you make pass interference a 15-yard max penalty, like in the college game?
Steven: A case could be made for each, but the current pass interference penalty is what I would prefer in both games. I think the current format encourages better play by the defensive backs. If a team throws a 40-yard pass in college and the defensive back thinks he is beat, a 15-yard penalty is almost a victory. The spot foul penalty isn’t much better, but if you prevent a receiver from catching the ball for a 30-yard gain, the offense deserves an opportunity to move the chains to that mark.
Braden: This obviously stems from the Jets gift — albeit an accurate and appropriate gift — win over the Broncos. The call was right, but should the entire game have hinged on one penalty? It was 4th and 6 and the throw was basically a prayer. I think you make the rule a spot foul up until the 20-yard mark. That still makes it the biggest penalty in the rule book without giving teams 50-yards on a penalty. The only concen is the defense's ability to abuse the rule. If DBs get beat, a 20-yard penalty is much better than a 80-yard TD. What is to stop players from blatently tackling receivers who just beat them deep? You can never make everyone happy, but that is a side effect I might be willing to deal with.
Nathan: Absolutely not. Pass interference in the NFL should remain penalized at the spot of the foul. The only issue with pass interference is the inconsistent nature in which it is called by officials. There is nothing wrong with the rule itself.
3. With losses to Kansas City, Seattle, St. Louis and Oakland already, where does the blame for the Chargers' struggles fall?
Steven: San Diego’s issues start with an arrogant general manager in A.J. Smith, but much of the blame has to fall on Norv Turner. The Chargers seem to get off to a slow start every year and this is a team that has had good opportunities to make a run at a Super Bowl, but never puts it together. Turner’s record at San Diego is a solid 34-20, but if the Chargers want to take the next step and reach a Super Bowl, he is not the coach to do it.
Braden: Archie Manning just might have been right. This team has outgained its opponents by 1,065 yards and has lost to some of the dregs of the league. The entire organization should probably be blamed for the pathetic start to the 2010 season, but if I had to narrow it down, I go to the three leaders of the franchise. It starts with the over-bearing, egomaniac A.J. Smith and his inability to play well with others. Head coach Norv Turner might be an excellent offensive mind, but has no business leading an NFL team into battle each weekend (just watch their special teams). That leaves Mr. Rivers. His talent is obvious. In fact, he is actually on pace to top Dan Marino's single-season passing yards mark (5,084), but, at times, has proven that his mental focus and toughness are lacking. Since the 2004 draft, the Chargers have underarchieved when it counts, and Eli has a Super Bowl ring. You do the math — or just ask L.T.
Nathan: The Chargers are notoriously slow starters with coach Norv Turner and quarterback Philip Rivers. They started 2–3 before cruising to a 13–3 record last season; they were 3–5 before finishing 8–8 with a division title in 2008; and they were 1–3 before an 11–5 mark with an AFC title game berth in 2007. This year’s 2–4 start is cause for concern, but it’s nothing new for the powder blue Bolts. As far as blame goes, Turner and Rivers shoulder the load, whether they’re losing early or winning late.
4. Give me your top three MVP candidates?
Steven: This may be a boring pick, but Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning would get my vote at No. 1 right now. The injuries around him continue to mount, but the Colts find ways to win, thanks to Manning. After Manning, it’s a crowded field to get in line at the No. 2 and No. 3 spots. The quarterbacks – Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers and Kyle Orton are all in the mix and at running back – Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster, Steven Jackson, LaDainian Tomlinson and Chris Johnson. I’d probably vote Brady No. 2, but I’ll throw an interesting name for No. 3 – Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu. The Steelers defense has returned to elite status with Polamalu back in the lineup and as long as he stays healthy, this is team poised to make a run at another Super Bowl.
Braden: The heart strings want to go with LaDainian Tomlinson. The ageless wonder is one of the great people of the sport and is performing on arguably the best team in the league at the highest level. His leadership and maturity have undoubtedly been priceless for this young, brash team. Yet, this might be the most talented team in the league, so he certianly isn't doing it alone (try the best O-line in football). That leaves two familiar faces, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. But if the playoffs started today, based on head-to-head, division record and conference record tie-breakers, the Colts would not make the playoffs. The Patriots would be the AFC's first Wild Card. Brady has done slightly more with slightly less. I would throw Troy Polomalu, Ray Lewis, Drew Brees, Clay Matthews (if healthy) and Nick Mangold into the mix as well.
Nathan: It’s a little early for MVP talk, but I’ll go with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Titans running back Chris Johnson and Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson as my top three.
5. Gus Johnson. Love him or hate him?
Steven: He may be over the top sometimes, but I enjoy listening to Gus Johnson call the games on CBS. What’s wrong with adding a little excitement to the broadcast? I’d much rather listen to Johnson on the play-by-play than Joe Buck, Kenny Albert or Thom Brennaman. Even Johnson can make a seven-yard pass or a 25-yard kickoff sound exciting.
Braden: "Rise and Fire!" "Climb the Mountain!" 'Here comes the pain!" "Heart break city!" "I get buckets!" "The slipper still fits!" His voice can get a little difficult to listen to when he is screaming into the mic, but otherwise, he is simply "puuure!"
Nathan: Gus Johnson is the best in the business. I’m a huge fan. Not liking Gus Johnson’s enthusiasm is like telling a fan in front of you to sit down and stop cheering. You’re missing the point.