THE RIGHT MANNION FOR THE JOB
"There's light there, there's hope there," Rams head coach Jeff Fisher said in the wake of his 31-7 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, per ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner.
He obviously wasn't talking about the Rams' playoff chances, given that they're sitting at 4-7 with five games left to play. He was talking about his rarely-seen quarterback of the future, Sean Mannion.
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The 2015 draft featured about a dozen teams in need of a quarterback and only two proven quality prospects available. The stock of the lesser prospects was bound to rise. Sure enough, on the draft's second day, the New Orleans Saints surprised many by making Garrett Grayson the third signal-caller off the board. The run had officially started, and the St. Louis Rams didn't want to miss out. With their next pick, No. 89 overall, they took Mannion, a big-framed kid out of Oregon State.
On most teams, a third-round rookie quarterback would be expected to step in as the backup, or at least have a clear shot at the role. Instead, Mannion came in at the bottom of a depth chart that had Nick Foles at the top, and Case Keenum and Austin Davis in between.
Mannion didn't get much work in camp. When the preseason came around, though, he flashed real promise. After a ho-hum debut against Oregon, Mannion posted a perfect 158.3 passer rating against Tennessee: 6-of-7 for 93 yards, a touchdown, no interceptions and no sacks. He understandably got more work in the all-important third preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts, and even more against the Chiefs in the preseason finale. These outings were less successful.
Mannion finished the preseason with a 54.4 percent completion rate, 5.3 yards-per-attempt average, one touchdown and one interception. It was good enough to make the roster at Davis' expense, but not good enough to earn any kind of regular-season role.
That was the last we saw of Mannion, despite a miserable season from Foles and a concussion suffered by Keenum in his Week 10 starting debut. With Keenum unable to go in Week 12, Foles temporarily got his gig back against the excellent Bengals defense—and, predictably, was terrible.
Mannion get a chance to play regular-season NFL football on the last drive of the game, with both the game and the season already decided. He went 6-of-7 for 31 yards.
Obvious caveats: It was garbage time, the Bengals were playing soft, Mannion was only hitting dump-offs, etc., etc., etc. Fisher refused to consider the promising beginning as anything but that, and reiterated that Keenum is the starter going forward.
Yet, Foles' complete and total failure likely sealed his fate, and Keenum isn't a long-term option, either. Despite being neatly tucked away until now, we've finally gotten a glimpse of Mannion—and it's a positive one.
If Fisher is smart, he'll start thinking less about who gives him the best option to win this season, and more about who will give him the best hope to save his job.
Stats, stats, stats—it's all old-school sports fans (and media) want to talk about: Stats have ruined the game. We're drowning in numbers. Kids these days don't know the value of the crack of the bat, or something.
Yet for our supposed obsession with numbers, we forgot Peyton Manning was going to break the all-time passing record until he fell three yards short of doing it in Week 9 against the Indianapolis Colts. It's fortunate he didn't break it that day so we had time to put together a celebration—like showing up at a birthday party and wrapping the gift in the driveway.
It's our theoretically numbers-obsessed world that snoozed right through Doug Martin cracking 1,000 yards rushing in a Week 12 loss to the Colts.
You'd think a running back who made the Pro Bowl in his rookie season, then struggled through injuries for a couple of seasons, would make a few more headlines while challenging Adrian Peterson for the NFL rushing title.
Yet, here's Martin, rushing for a career-best 5.1 yards per carry, topping Pro Football Focus' charts as the best-graded running back in the NFL. Running behind a young, patchwork offensive line (and on an offense often playing catch-up rather than defending a lead), Martin's been consistently effective and frequently fantastic.
Yes, his 235-yard game in Week 11 puffed up the bottom line, but even without it Martin's gained 803 yards at 4.6 yards per carry. Sure, he only has three touchdowns to his name, and he hasn't been as consistent a workhorse as Peterson—but in a supposedly numbers-obsessed sports culture, Doug Martin being on pace to top 1,500 rushing yards should be a fixation, not an afterthought.
ALEX THE GREAT
Complaining about the officials has been a pastime of NFL fans, players and media for as long as the league's existed, but this year we've collectively elevated it from a hobby to an art form.
In that vein, the world's greatest living artist is San Francisco 49ers guard Alex Boone, who crafted the most epic anti-ref rant we've heard in years after his 49ers lost to the Cardinals, 19-13.
"I thought those refs sucked," Boone told Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury-News. "That's what I'm sick about this league," he went on. "This is supposed to be a man's game. Be a man. That's what pisses me off, that guys like that work in this league and work on this field, and we have to deal with it."
He wasn't done.
"Whatever. It was a terrible call. They had terrible calls all game. I don't care what the league says. I don't care what Roger [Goodell] says. It's the truth. You don't like it, get the hell out of here."
The explosive quotes made enough headlines that few VICE Sports readers missed it. No, the part that got overlooked was the 19-13 bit.
You see, the Cardinals are one of the NFL's best teams, on an extended hot streak and only getting hotter. The 49ers' spectacular offseason explosion has continued apace, going 3-8 and looking totally unprofessional in the process. Days after Boone's comments, 49ers President Paraag Marathe reassigned, per CSNBayArea's Matt Maiocco—representing a massive power-structure shakeup less than a year after said power structure united against departed head coach Jim Harbaugh.
Yet, for all the carnage, Boone was mad because the 49ers had the Cardinals dead to rights, on account of a truly stunning development:
Blaine Gabbert completed 69.4 percent of his 36 passes for an impressive 8.8 average yards per attempt against the Cardinals.