Bernie’s Monday NFL Smashmouth: Jeff Fisher Owns Pete Carroll

Smash-mouthing my way through 25 opinions, observations and random cheap shots after the NFL’s second Sunday of the season… 

Good morning/afternoon:

1. During his team’s embarrassing 9-3 loss to the Rams in Los Angeles, Seattle coach Pete Carroll wasted a lot of energy and oxygen screaming at the game officials. Maybe Carroll should be looking in the mirror and shrieking at his reflection, because he continues to get his ass kicked by Rams coach Jeff Fisher. It’s got to be humiliating for Carroll.

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Carroll has lost five of nine games against the Rams since Fisher became the team’s coach.

Since Fisher was hired as Rams coach in 2012, he’s gone 5-4 against Carroll and the Seahawks.

That includes three consecutive losses to Fisher — and four of the last five.

During Fisher’s time as Rams coach, Carroll has a .741 winning percentage against the rest of the NFL … and a .444 winning percentage vs. Fisher.

As for Fisher, he’s 5-4 vs. Carroll (.555) and 23-33-1 against other NFL coaches (.412)

Yes, the Rams have a stout defense. But there’s something terribly wrong with this world when Seattle QB Russell Wilson has lost five games in his career to Rams quarterbacks Sam Bradford (2012), Austin Davis (2013), Nick Foles (2015), Case Keenum (2015) and now Keenum again (2016.)

And isn’t Seattle supposed to have an intimidating defense? In the Seahawks’ five losses to Fisher, Wilson has an 85.1 passer rating with five touchdown passes and five interceptions. In those games Bradford, Davis, Foles and Keenum have combined for five TD passes, one INT and a passer rating of 97.9.

In Sunday’s loss, Keenum was able to look downfield and make throws without fear of the pass rush on most of his many drop-backs; according to Pro Football Focus Keenum completed 17 of 27 passes (63%) for 228 yards and an 89.7 passer rating when Seattle’s defense failed to pressure him. The Seahawks’ defensive line couldn’t crack the Rams’ massive wall of protection (sarcasm alert) on the offensive line?

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Wilson was 22 of 35 for 254 yards in the Seahawks’ loss to the Rams.

It makes no sense.

Actually, it makes a lot of sense.

On my 101ESPN radio show Friday, I warned that Sunday’s Seattle at LA game loomed as a “Jeff Fisher Special.” The coach doesn’t do a very good job of getting the Rams prepared for games against mediocre or lousy teams — but the Rams are usually fired up to the max and ready to go against NFC West rivals.

Sunday’s win was the latest Fisher Special.

As Rams coach he’s 12-13-1 in division games (.480) against Seattle, Arizona and San Francisco — but only 16-24 in contests played outside the division.

2. The Seahawks have scored 15 points, total, in their first two games. In a related note, can someone please explain why the Seahawks felt so much urgency to give up too much to land receiving tight end Jimmy Graham in a pre-2015 trade with New Orleans?

Now in his second season with Seattle, Graham has caught two TD passes in 12 starts. He had 51 TD receptions in five seasons with New Orleans.

3. Todd Gurley update: After averaging 141.5 yards rushing and 6.4 yards per carry in his first four NFL starts, Rams RB Todd Gurley has averaged 63 yards rushing and 3.7 yards per run in his last 10 starts. In the Rams’ first two games Gurley has 36 rushes for 98 yards (2.7 avg.) with a long run of 11 yards.

4. After spending piles of free-agent loot — an estimated $200 million — to fix the defense last offseason, the New York Giants (2-0) are poised to reclaim the NFC East after going 28-36 and missing the playoffs in their previous four seasons. The Giants held each of their first two opponents, Dallas and New Orleans, to one TD on offense. Last season, in getting humiliated by the Saints 52-49, the Giants were smoked by QB Drew Brees for seven touchdown passes in the game. This time around the Giants limited the Saints to 288 yards total offense and Brees threw for one TD. The Giants defensive coordinator is Steve Spagnuolo. You may remember him. Former Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins , who signed a huge free-agent deal last offseason, scored a TD after scooping up a blocked field goal to make the play of the game in the Giants’ 16-13 win over the Saints.

5. Instead of agreeing to a long-term contract offer submitted by the Washington Redskins after last season, QB Kirk Cousins gambled that he’d have a big 2016 season and make a lot more money after building on his break-out 2015. It isn’t happening, at least not through two games. The Redskins opened this season by losing consecutive home games to Pittsburgh and Dallas. Cousins isn’t the only reason for the 0-2 start, but he’s a primary factor. Cousins’ glaring lack of accuracy and poise has D.C. in a tizzy. Through two games his completion percentage is down 10 points from last year. He’s thrown for one touchdown with three INTs and an ugly passer rating of 78.5. Cousins has been at his worst in the red zone this season: 5 of 17  (29.4%), one TD, two INTs and a hideous 19.6 rating.

6. I don’t know how good Houston is, but the Texans (2-0) will have a good season. Why? The rest of the AFC South is 1-5.

7. After the New England Patriots lost backup Jimmy Garoppolo to a shoulder injury that will likely keep him out for several weeks (at least), rookie Jacoby Brissett (from N.C. State) came in to complete 6 of 9 passes for 92 yards to finish off the Patriots’ win over Miami. Subbing for the suspended Tom Brady, the Patriots have gotten four TDs, no interceptions and a 100.2 passer rating out of Jimmy G. and Brissett. You get the idea that Pats coach Bill Belichick could bring, say, Joe Germaine out of retirement and still get 28 points a game on offense. Brady will be back after two more games.

8. No, Boomer Esiasion … the Patriots don’t have to lure Peyton Manning out of retirement … but yes, it would be fun.

9. The Indianapolis Colts are 0-2 after losing at Denver, and QB Andrew Luck has turned into a slot machine for opposing defenses. In his last 25 starts, going back to 2014, Luck has been intercepted 29 times, has fumbled 17 times and has lost eight of those fumbles. The Broncos prevailed 34-20 with the help of two defensive touchdowns; one on a Luck pick-six INT and the other on a Luck fumble returned for a touchdown. Luck has elite talent, but the Colts’ personnel is thin in too many spot, and Luck seems desperate to make something happen to overcome the flaws. In Luck’s last 11 starts he’s lost 17 turnovers and the Colts are 3-8. Opponents have averaged just under 30 points against the Colts in those 11 games.

10. It’s starting already in Dallas:  Tony Romo = Drew Beldsoe … and Dak Prescott = Tom Brady. While I love watching Prescott play — and he was good in Sunday’s win at Washington — we might want to calm down just a bit.

11. The worst weekend by an NFL head coach? Easy: That would be Oakland HC Jack Del Rio. Saturday his son, Luke Del Rio, the starting quarterback at Florida, suffered a knee injury that will keep him from playing in this week’s important SEC East showdown between the Gators and Tennessee in Knoxville. Then, on Sunday, Del Rio’s Raiders gave up 528 yards in a 35-28 home loss to mediocre Atlanta — becoming the first NFL defense since the 1967 Falcons to be plundered for at least 500 yards in each of the first two games of the season. Oakland has been smacked around for 1,035 yards and 69 points in two games… the most yards/points allowed by an Oakland defense in the first two games of the season.

12. OK, after Week One I was all revved up about Tampa Bay QB Jameis Winston  … after his four-INT shredding by Arizona’s defense, I’ll go ahead and downshift and slow down.

Sam Bradford
Sam Bradford completed 22 of 31 passes for 286 yards in the Vikings’ 17-14 win over Green Bay.

13. Sam Bradford played great in his debut for the Minnesota Vikings, completing 22 of 31 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns and no turnovers in his team’s 17-14 win over division-rival Green Bay.

Given the late-preseason trade and short preparation time after going from Philadelphia to the Twin Cities, this was an exceptional performance by Bradford. But if RB Adrian Peterson (knee) misses significant time it will be more difficult for Bradford going forward. Defenses won’t be filling the box with extra defenders to stop Peterson, a tactic that gave Bradford a chance to hook up with rising-star wideout to Stefon Diggs for nine completions worth 182 yards and a TD.

But at least for one night Bradford was the best quarterback on the field in a matchup against future Pro Football Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers.

14. Another question: can Bradford stay out of harm’s way? Check out this breakdown of Green Bay’s pass-rush effort from Pro Football Focus: “As a unit they combined for 17 total pressures.

Each lineman only had 36 pass-blocking plays to contend with, and yet every member surrendered pressure … through two weeks of action the Vikings now have three of their linemen rank in the bottom five of their position in PFF grade … Matt Kalil (36.9), Andre Smith (40.0) and Brandon Fusco (38.1) are all struggling badly, and expensive free-agent acquisition Alex Boone (54.2) isn’t much better than hat level. Center Joe Berger has been the team’s best lineman…”

15. It was a painful day for NFL running backs, with seven going down with injuries: Peterson, Jonathan Stewart (Carolina), Thomas Rawls (Seattle), Danny Woodhead (San Diego), Doug Martin (Tampa Bay), Ameer Abdullah (Detroit) and Arian Foster (Miami.)

16. Baltimore Ravens (2-0) quarterback Joe Flacco and his new wide receiver, the veteran Mike Wallace, are connecting for the deep ball.  Through two games: seven completions, 132 yards, three touchdowns, and an average of 19 yards per reception. This is a promising development for Flacco and the Ravens; they haven’t had a consistent long-ball threat since Torrey Smith averaged 17 yards per catch — with 30 TDs and 44 receptions of 25+ yards — between 2011 and 2014. The Ravens’ passing game turned dull to an extent after Smith left for San Francisco via free agency in 2015.

17. How cute. The Cincinnati Bengals thought they could go into Pittsburgh and win with Andy Dalton attempting 54 passes — the most thrown by a visiting team at Heinz Field since 2002 — and on a rainy day, no less. The Steelers moved to 2-0 with their 24-16 win.

18. Just watching Denver’s Von Miller hunt quarterbacks scares the hell out of me … so just imagine how the QB feels with Miller closing in … in the victory over the Colts, Miller had four sacks and three hurries and put an end to the competition with a strip-sack of Luck.

19. Our town’s Ezekiel Elliott is off to a relatively quiet start in Dallas; the prohibitive preseason favorite for the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year award is averaging 3.3 yards on 41 carries. And while Zeke has rushed for two touchdowns, he fumbled twice during Sunday’s win at Washington and was given a seat on the bench.

20. Not that Cam Newton needs much help, but the Carolina QB has an imposing target in the form of the returning WR Kelvin Benjamin, who missed all of 2015 with a torn ACL. In Sunday’s 46-27 wipeout of the San Francisco 49ers, Benjamin caught seven of the eight passes slinged his way and finished with 108 yards and two touchdowns … this, despite getting lots of extra attention (and wallops) by the Niners’ defense.

21. San Diego throttled visiting Jacksonville, 38-14. Makes sense. In 15 road starts young Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles has a 1-14 record; in those 15 games he’s turned the ball over 29 times (including 26 INTs) and has been sacked 60 times. Ouch.

22. Chargers QB Philip Rivers took down the Jaguars while missing his best WR (Keenan Allen) and his all-purpose nickel-back weapon (Danny Woodhead.) After blowing a 24-3 lead in a season-opening loss at Kansas City, the Chargers really needed a win and Rivers stepped up against the Jags to complete 71 percent of his passes — averaging 9.17 yards per attempt and gunning four touchdowns. Rivers, who entered the league in 2004, has been eclipsed by NFL quarterbacks that have ascended through postseason success and championships. Guys like Brady, Rodgers, Peyton and Eli Manning, Brees, Wilson and Ben Roethlisberger. (Rivers is 4-5 as a postseason starter during his career, with only one win in three tries since the 20008 season.) But since ’04 Rivers ranks fifth in the NFL in TD passes (268), and seventh in passer rating (95.8). And his durability and toughness are beyond question; Rivers has started 162 consecutive games since taking over as the Bolts’ starter at the beginning of the 2006 season. Just a great competitor.

23. Back to Aaron Rodgers for a moment … dating back to last season, he’s gone 12 consecutive games with a passer rating under 100. Over the 12-game stretch Rodgers has an uncharacteristic passer rating of 82.0 and the Packers are 5-7.

23a. In a related note: Tight end Jared Cook left the Rams as a free agent to sign with Green Bay this season … and through his first two games, he’s still Jared Cook. Pro Football Focus rates him as “below average” at his position so far, ranking him 27th among NFL tight ends.

23b. In a second related note: the return of WR Jordy Nelson after missing all of 2015 (knee injury) hasn’t sparked the Green Bay offense, at least not so far. Rodgers’ favorite receiver was targeted 11 times in Sunday’s loss at Minnesota, catching five for 73 yards and a TD.

24. Keep an eye on rookie Cleveland Browns rookie WR Corey Coleman, the 15th overall selection in the 2016 NFL draft. Coleman, who starred at Baylor, helped stake the Browns to a 20-2 lead over visiting Baltimore … and even though the Browns couldn’t hang on and failed 25-20, Coleman made five catches for 104 yards and two TDs.

25. Good to see the Arizona Cardinals respond to a bad opening loss to the injury-ravaged Patriots by flattening visiting Tampa Bay 40-7. When Carson Palmer and his receivers have the vertical passing game cooking this offense is as dangerous as any in the league.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie 

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