Bernie Bytes for Thursday:
As a game and a competition, the NFL Pro Bowl is a useless endeavor. I realize it attracts surprisingly healthy TV ratings, so I guess that’s the point. The exhibition also gives chosen players the reward of an all-expenses paid vacation to Hawaii in the middle of winter, and that’s a sweet deal. At least for the players that don’t opt out of the game. The game itself is junk.
Every year I get a kick out of all the howling over Pro Bowl snubs. Read or listen to the coverage in every NFL market today, and you’ll be subjected faux outrage. If all of these protests are to be taken seriously, and if all of these worthy players are to be properly respected, then apparently the only solution is to expand the AFC and NFC rosters to 250 players per squad.
On an annual basis, this is the only professional all-star game that features debate as the only real highlight. The fussing and mewling over perceived injustices is much more spirited and intense than the game itself.
I have a few thoughts, naturally… so let’s get to it:
• If the improved Rams (7-7-1) have no players deemed adequate for the vacation booking to Hawaii, so be it. This Pro Bowl shutout now becomes, in an indirect way, a tribute to the terrific coaching job done by Jeff Fisher and his staff.
• This is all you need to know about the credibility of the Pro Bowl pick 'em process: five Kansas City Chiefs were voted to the Pro Bowl. FIVE. The 2-13 Chiefs are arguably the worst team in the league. They’ve scored the fewest points and only seven teams have given up more points. And keep in mind that NFL players are doing the voting here. Try to remember this the next time you want to trash awards voting done by sports media.
• I’m not going to go down each roster and have a fit over snubs and stupid picks, but Green Bay center Jeff Saturday won the NFC vote, even though he’s been benched by the Packers. New England guard Logan Mankins was voted in as an AFC starter even though he’s played in only 9 of 15 games.
• The league’s best center, Minnesota’s John Sullivan, has been a remarkably effective run blocker for RB Adrian Peterson. He’s just flattening defenders to clear an inside path for AP. Sullivan isn’t on the NFC team. Do NFC players actually pay attention to the game? Are they aware of Adrian Peterson’s phenomenal year? Or is their baffling ignorance just another sad symptom of concussion-related problems?
• The NFL’s best cornerback for 2012 is Seattle’s Richard Sherman. Quarterbacks have targeted him 84 times and completed only 40 passes for a completion rate of 47.6 percent. Their passer rating when aiming at Sherman is 45.6. Sherman isn’t on the NFC squad. Sherman is facing a suspension for violating the league’s PED policy; he’s aggressively contesting the charges. And if you read about the case, you’d see that Sherman has a right to be ticked. But did other NFC players really exclude Sherman because of this controversy? Doesn’t he at least deserve the benefit of the doubt until the appeals process is exhausted? Are we really supposed to believe that NFL players have suddenly found religion on PEDs? Please. Sherman is a great player.
• There wasn’t one right offensive tackle voted to either squad. All the OTs were left tackles. That’s absurd. Have the players noticed some of the demonic pass rushers that are lined up over the right-side tackles? The left-tackle spot is important, but to act as if the right-tackle position lacks value … it’s just silly.
OK, you’re probably wondering about a few Rams that didn’t make it. I’ll briefly run down the list, in no particular order:
• Greg Zuerlein: the rookie kicker has had an outstanding season, but he isn’t even the best rookie kicker in the NFC. Take a look at Blair Walsh’s numbers. The Minnesota rookie K has made 91.4 percent of his FG attempts. (The Z is at 75 pct.) And Walsh’s percentage of kickoffs that go for touchbacks is five percent higher than Zuerlein’s. Zuerlein is one of the league’s top six or seven kickers but he isn’t as good as Walsh in 2012.
• Janoris Jenkins: The Rams rookie corner has a chance to be a great one. He’s made some eye-opening big plays to score four defensive touchdowns. But he was also suspended by Fisher for a game for violating team rules. Quarterbacks have targeted him 105 times and completed 65 passes (62 pct.) He’s given up 5 TD passes. The passer rating against Jenkins is 81.7; according to Pro Football Focus there are 41 NFL cornerbacks that have a lower passer rating against them. Jenkins’ big-play talent is obvious. His consistency will come later.
• Cortland Finnegan: maybe it’s the thigh injury or general wear and tear. Although Finnegan has been a positive addition to the Rams, and an admirable leader on the defense, here are a couple of things to consider… Finnegan had an INT in each of the first three games but none since … in the last 12 games quarterbacks have completed 68 of 88 passes thrown at him. He’s still among the best slot corners in the league but doesn’t rise to the Pro Bowl level.
• Defensive end Chris Long: he’s the NFL’s 6th best pass-rushing defensive end (4-3 alignment) according to Pro Football Focus. But he ranks 39th against the run among 4-3 defensive ends. Overall, he’s rated 19th among 4-3 DEs that have played at least 50 percent of the team’s snaps.
• Robert Quinn: the second-year defensive end is an exciting talent, and his best football is ahead of him. He should be a difference-maker for many years. His overall pass-rush stats are good: 10 sacks, eight hits, 26 hurries. That puts him high on the list among 4-3 right defensive ends. But Quinn’s impact has slowed over the second half of the schedule. In his last eight games he has three sacks and 11 hurries.
• James Laurinaitis: the Rams’ MLB has done very well in his new role; the coaches want him downfield covering receivers. He's really effective at the job. But the overall play has him rated No. 21 overall among inside LBs by Pro Football Focus.
• Steven Jackson: A reduced role has cut down on his rushing-yard totals. He’s still worthy of being grouped in with the NFC’s top backs. Pro Football Focus rates him 10th overall among lead NFL halfbacks. But the productivity of NFC backs is strong in 2012. Jackson is 7th in the NFC in rushing, 15th in yards per rushing attempt. This year he’s been overshadowed by Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson, Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch, San Francisco’s Frank Gore, Washington rookie Alfred Morris and Tampa Bay rookie Doug Martin. They’ve all accumulated at least 1,100 yards rushing.
• Quintin Mikell: after a slow start – probably while adjusting to the new defense – the Rams’ strong safety has played exceptional football. If any Ram had a case for Pro Bowl inclusion, it’s Mikell. It’s not a good year for safeties in the NFC. According to Pro Football Focus, Mikell is the NFL’s most effective blitzer among safeties, and he ranks No. 2 among all safeties in playing the run. Critics will carp about Mikell’s pass-coverage skills, but that ignores his primary role. Mikell is being deployed as a run enforcer and a blitzer, and he’s doing that job as well as any strong safety in the league.
• Rams OLB Jo-Lonn Dunbar has had an underrated, overlooked season. Pro Football Focus ranks him 9th in the NFL and 4th in the NFC among OLB ... he is steady and solid and an asset. But the big-play element isn't there, and that's why Dunbar doesn't get the proper attention.
Thanks for reading …