There's not much of a question as to who should win NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year – anybody who has watched Robert Griffin III the past two weeks knows that he's the front-runner barring a disaster. The real issue is whether the NFL has ever seen anything like the band of greatness that has been assembled this season.
Of the five rookie quarterbacks who opened the season as starters, all of them have kept their jobs and are thriving to varying degrees. So much so that they are posting numbers equal or better to the five quarterbacks who have won the award over the previous eight years.
If you can stack up Griffin, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden next to the combined group of Cam Newton, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, Sam Bradford and Vince Young, a good argument could be made that this year's class is better.
"What you're seeing around the league is pretty extraordinary," said Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert, whose team started the whole trend when Roethlisberger played so well in 2004.
Roethlisberger, just the second quarterback to win AP's Rookie of the Year honors, might not have been the starter that season if not for an elbow injury to veteran Tommy Maddox. Now, it's almost impossible to stop the onslaught of young throwers.
"There are a lot more college teams running offenses from the shotgun and using 3 wide [-receiver sets]," Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "That's almost become the base offense in the NFL, so these young quarterbacks are coming in with a lot of experience at running the same type of offenses they've run in college."
"These guys are advanced and experienced," Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator and interim head coach Bruce Arians said before the season. "The stuff that you used to have to work on in training camp isn't even in the lesson plan. Or, if it is, you check it off after one day just to make sure. It doesn't take a lot of repetition."
That's a major reason why Luck has been able to handle such an overwhelming part of the workload. The Colts do not have a consistent running game (ranked 17th at 108 yards per game). As a result, they have had Luck drop to pass at least 60.6 percent of the time (that percentage doesn't include plays where Luck ran after a called pass play broke down).
Griffin, who is armed with talented rookie running back Alfred Morris by his side, has dropped to pass 49.4 percent. However, one of the reasons Griffin doesn't throw as much is that he's such a staggering weapon as a runner himself. Griffin has carried the ball 100 times (for 642 yards and six TDs) this season, more than twice as much as Luck (41 carries for 183 yards and five TDs).
That's a reason why Griffin gets the nod, as of now, for the award, though not the biggest factor. It still comes down to throwing, where Griffin has posted what would be a rookie record 104.6 rating (Roethlisberger had a 98.1 rating in 2004). That includes an impressive 16 touchdown passes to four interceptions.
Yes, Luck has a better shot of getting his team to the playoffs. But by that measure, Wilson could get the nod over Luck because his team is also in the playoff hunt and he has a far better passer rating (93.9 for Wilson compared to 76.7 for Luck). Then again, Wilson has thrown just 280 passes compared to Luck's 449 and has better support from his running game and defense.
Bottom line, here's a look at this year's class compared to the past five winners:
Class of 2012
Robert Griffin III
104.6 rating, 16 TDs, 4 INTs, 642 yards rushing
Matchup nightmare for opponents
7-4 record, 13 TDs, 13 INTs, 5 rushing TD
More advanced version of Roethlisberger
93.9 rating, 17 TDs, 8 INTs, 6-5 record
No player fixes problems faster than Wilson
72.9 rating, 7 TDs, 12 INTs, 7.1 YPA
Imagine if he had started more than two years in college
70.9 rating, 12 TDs, 13 INTs
Because of age, has least upside; still good though
Previous five ROY quarterbacks
Cam Newton (2011)
84.5 rating, 21 TDs, 17 INTs, 14 rushing TDs
Has regressed a bit after great ROY season
Sam Bradford (2010)
76.5 rating, 18 TDs, 15 INTs, 3,512 yards
Has been stagnant for two years
Matt Ryan (2008)
87.7 rating, 16 TDs, 11 INTs, 7.9 YPA
Got Falcons to playoffs that year
Vince Young (2006)
66.7 rating, 12 TDs, 13 INTs, 7 rush TD
Inability to become passer doomed him
Ben Roethlisberger (2004)
98.1 rating, 17 TDs, 11 INTs, 8.9 YPA
Greatness fulfilled with two titles since
FEEDBACK ON ELIMINATING PATs
While there was a predictable amount of boisterous opposition to my idea of getting rid of PAT kicks, some people in and around the game took a more thoughtful approach to whether the idea had validity. In particular, former Buffalo Bills special team ace and current CBS analyst Steve Tasker generally agreed that the danger of the PAT kick wasn't really worth continuing and saw one distinct benefit.
"I haven't seen the tape of the injury to [New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski], but that sounds like a chance thing," Tasker said. "But I will say that the guards and tackles will tell you how much they hate that play because of how close they're lined up and how easy it is to get their legs rolled up on. Those guys really worry about getting a serious knee injury on that."
As an alternative, Tasker suggested that the PAT kick get moved back to a point on the field where the chances of making it are closer to two-thirds of the time (instead of 99 percent), which would encourage teams to go for two-point conversions more of the time.
"But that doesn't really get rid of the injury risk," Tasker said.
An idea suggested by a couple of readers was using a kick similar to the rugby rule. In rugby, the ball is essentially placed at a spot equal to where the "try" (or touchdown in football) was scored with the kicker lining up for a free kick (no defenders or blockers) as close or as far away as he prefers.
In other words, if the offense scores a touchdown in the middle of the field, the kicker gets to line up in the middle of the field. If the offense scores on a fade pass to the corner of the end zone, the kicker lines up close to the sideline.
"That would be really interesting because it would have a impact on how you handled the conversion. If it's a pass play where the receiver is running, does the receiver try to score over the middle," Tasker said. "If it's to the corner of the end zone, is that affected by whether you have a right- or left-footed kicker. It's all sorts of things you'd consider."
1. Houston Texans (10-1): Survived two OT games in five days … and came up with a way to expose a flaw in the rules.
2. Atlanta Falcons (10-1): This is increasingly feeling like the 2010 season, which is not that pleasant for Falcons fans.
3. San Francisco 49ers (8-2-1): If you're not on the Colin Kaepernick train already, climb aboard. The kid is the real deal.
4. Baltimore Ravens (9-2): There's a fine line between finding ways to win and being outrageously lucky.
5. New York Giants (7-4): No NFL team is better at turning it on when it has to, which is odd in football.
28. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-9): Could the recent success of QB Chad Henne signal the end of Blaine Gabbert's chances?
29. Philadelphia Eagles (3-8): Despite the play of his team, the demise of Andy Reid as an NFL head coach is a Greek tragedy.
30. Arizona Cardinals (4-7): Music reference: Ryan Lindley has about as much chance to be a great QB as David Lindley.
31. Oakland Raiders (3-8): When did "Commitment to Excellence" morph into "We Need to be Committed"?
32. Kansas City Chiefs (1-10): Just the Chiefs' luck – this is a really bad year to be looking for a QB in the draft.
Robert Griffin III at Dallas
As NFL fans plopped into their easy chairs and digested their Thanksgiving feasts, the game between the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys appeared to be the perfect backdrop for a tryptophan-induced nap.
The game slogged into the second quarter with the hometown Cowboys leading the Redskins, 3-0. Eyelids were getting heavy as both teams' punters got workouts in the first frame.
And then Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III exploded with a stellar road performance.
BAM! The second quarter started with a bang as Griffin connected with Aldrick Robinson for a 68-yard scoring strike. BAM! Griffin found Pierre Garcon for a 59-yard touchdown pass. BAM! Griffin closed out the second quarter with a 6-yard missile to Santana Moss in the end zone. Add a short touchdown run by Alfred Morris somewhere in the middle of that mayhem, and the Cowboys suddenly found themselves staring down the barrel of a 28-3 halftime deficit.
Griffin wasn't done, though. He spread the wealth to Niles Paul early in the fourth quarter on a 29-yard touchdown pass, giving RG3 a total of four scores through the air to go with his 311 passing yards, 71.4 completion percentage and 132.6 passer rating.
Griffin also ripping Dallas on the ground, picking up 29 yards on six carries. His rushing prowess was so tremendous that option plays ripped the Cowboys left and right, even when Griffin pitched the ball away.
By the end of the day, the Redskins returned home with a 38-31 victory over their bitter rival and a second-place spot in the NFC East.
– Eric Ivie
• Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick will miss his third consecutive game with a concussion he suffered on Nov. 11. Curiously, Vick didn't have to go to a hospital for an overnight stay after the concussion, but the team said this week that he continues to fall short of certain "baseline" standards to allow his return. "Do you think he'd be sitting if [the Eagles] were 8-3?" a source with knowledge of the situation rhetorically asked. Bottom line, the opinion is that the Eagles will continue to play rookie Nick Foles as long as possible.
• By the way, for anyone wondering what might happen if Vick is let go by the Eagles, don't expect him to be out of work very long. Both Buffalo and Arizona (depending on who is coaching those teams next season), would be at the top of any list of teams willing to sign Vick, according to the aforementioned source.
• The theme of this week is obviously rematches, with Steelers-Ravens, Redskins- Giants and 49ers-Rams leading the way. But an interesting one is Jacksonville at Buffalo, where Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey returns to the scene of his aborted first head coaching job. Mularkey quit after two seasons when the stress of the job and run-ins with the front office became too much to bear. While Mularkey had some feelers from other teams and colleges after the Bills job and spent six years as an assistant before joining the Jags, he said several times he wanted to be patient before taking over another team.
• While Saints players such as quarterback Drew Brees continue to criticize the NFL for its bounty investigation, the problem is that the players continue to miss the bigger picture. The fight over the investigation has been a distraction to the overall goal. At 5-6 (after an 0-4 start), the Saints do not control their playoff chances despite having a team that should be in contention (Sean Payton or not). Rather than try to work with the league all along, the players have chosen to fight a prolonged battle that is about to enter its eighth month. League sources said recently that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell would have been willing to wipe out almost all of the monetary end of the punishment in exchange for some type of suspension that would have made it clear that bounties of any type were unacceptable. In the end, this whole issue should have been wrapped in a month and the Saints should be focused on the field, not a court proceeding.
• Just in time for the holidays, NFL Films and Vivendi Entertainment have put together a 23-disc, 45-hour collection of highlights and history of the first 46 Super Bowl games. The box set, which includes a 26-page book, will be $249.95. While I'm not much for advertising books and disc collections, this was pretty cool stuff, particularly for anyone who loves the history of the game and wants to understand the growth of the country's biggest sporting event.
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