MMQB Mail: MJD leads surprising Jags; Frazier right call for Vikings
Maurice Jones-Drew's Jags are currently leading AFC South
Steve Johnson is making a name for himself with the Bills
Mailbag questions on Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck and more
The Vikings did what they had to do. The Jags are ahead of the Colts at Thanksgiving. And this just in: Steve Johnson is good.
Those are your Turkey Week Tuesday highlights, so let's dig in, and don't forget the stuffing.
Maurice Jones-Drew is a beast.
The two people running in the open field who I would fear the most if I were a defensive coordinator are Michael Vick and Maurice Jones-Drew. (I understand all you Chris Johnson fans, and you Devin Hester fans, but I think the electric threat Vick possesses when you know he can pull up before he crosses the line of scrimmage and let go a 45-yard dart makes him a unique threat, and the strength and power Jones-Drew has makes him a different runner.) On Sunday, MJD's 75-yard run late against Cleveland won the game, even though he needed one more carry and a final yard for the winning touchdown. Six Browns had legit chances to tackle Jones-Drew. "But they weren't trying to tackle me -- just trying to strip the ball,'' Jones-Drew told me. "And I got some of the best blocking downfield you've ever seen. We've got a great team for that; guys don't give up on plays, ever.''
He attributes that, in part, to the kind of guys GM Gene Smith has been drafting. "We might not have the most highly touted team,'' Jones-Drew said. "But we've got guys who come here from college and know how to play the game the right way and have the right attitude. We're not flashy, but we play right.''
The win over Cleveland kept the Jags alive, ahead of the Colts in the AFC South even though both have the identical 6-4 record. That's because Jacksonville has the tiebreaker edge with a head-to-head win. Now comes the hard part: All three remaining division games come on the road.
Who is Steve Johnson?
He's having a better year than so many of the famous receivers -- Chad Ochocinco, Anquan Boldin, Miles Austin, Percy Harvin -- with 52 catches, 728 yards, nine touchdowns. His three-touchdown day lifted the Bills to a shocking come-from-way-behind win in Cincinnati Sunday. Yet we don't know him. At all.
"I'm not surprised you didn't know me,'' he said. "Why would you know me? Before this year, I never did anything. I was totally under the radar my first two years in the league.''
The unknown kid from the University of Kentucky (he was teammates with another unknown kid breaking through this year, tight end Jacob Tamme of the Colts) has become the go-to guy for Ryan Fitzpatrick as a bunch of new kids try to show coach Chan Gailey they should be part of the foundation he builds for 2011 and beyond. Johnson has some mustard to him too, as he showed Sunday with his Ochocinco-like mugging for the camera with a T-shirt poking fun at the Bengals' Robin-and-Batman pairing of Ochocinco and Terrell Owens. "Why So Serious?' the T-shirt said, and he'll get a nice fine from the league for the proverbial orchestrated celebration for showing it off after a touchdown. "Just trying to bring a little spark to the offense,'' he said.
My guess is Gailey will talk to him about providing sparks that don't bring penalties or fines. Johnson is clearly a part of the future in Buffalo, and at 6-foot-2 and 207 pounds, he's the kind of big and physical receiver any quarterback -- whether the Bills draft someone to compete with Fitzpatrick or let the Harvard grad take the job for 2011 -- would love to work with.
Leslie Frazier is a good move at the right time.
I know some Vikings, and they really like Frazier, and he's already been a go-to guy for some of them moreso than Brad Childress was. The Vikings were playing poorly, and this was the right time to make the move. I like what I've heard out of Frazier already, about forgetting all the outside crap and moving on and being concerned with one thing and one thing only -- playing the Redskins Sunday. "You interpreted that correctly,'' Frazier told me this morning on Sirius NFL Radio. "We're focused on that game and nothing else.''
He said he thought it was a very bad sign the night before the 31-3 loss to Green Bay that he heard words about having to eliminate the distractions around the team, rather than hearing words solely focused on Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. He's right, and good for him, and he needs to provide that focus when the players report Wednesday for work.
By the way, Frazier told me he met with Brett Favre and didn't see or feel any indecision about playing the last six weeks of the season. "He seems engaged. He seems like he's ready for the Redskins ballgame,'' said Frazier. "He's raring to go -- that's what he told me.''
I GOT A LOT OF MAIL LIKE THIS, BASICALLY SAYING THEY HATE BIG BEN AND THINK HE HAD IT COMING. "You know what? I have no problem with what Richard Seymour did. I don't know what Ben Roethlisberger was doing, and I don't care. He just ran right up into Seymour's face, which I don't believe he had any business doing, and Seymour had him take a seat, pretty much like he deserved. My question: Will the league take Roethlisberger's taunting action into account when they determine Seymour's punishment?''
-- Romain, Menlo Park, Calif.
That is preposterous, and I heard so much of the same thing from so many of my readers, both in e-mails and on Twitter. How utterly ridiculous is it that James Harrison makes a football act and gets fined $75,000, and Richard Seymour, despite whatever happened to provoke him, slugs a player on national TV in full view of the cameras and knocks him to the ground -- and gets fined $25,000. Weak. Very weak.
NO. "Great column this week, Peter, as always. I've a question about the Rooney rule that I hope you or someone will look into. Jerry Jones was refused an exception to the rule if he knows that he wants to hire Jason Garrett by season's end. Completely agree with the league and the rule -- Dungy said it best of the rule that just the interviewing experience is invaluable to candidates. That said, will the Vikings, if they choose, be allowed to just hire Leslie Frazier without interviewing other candidates, and, if so, does Jones have a case to be upset with the rule?''
-- Steve Delpome, North Arlington, N.J.
I don't think so. The rule was put in place to make sure each team interviewed a minority candidate. If the coach in place is a minority candidate, why should a team be forced to interview a second minority candidate?
THE BILLS FANS ARE CONFLICTED. "I'm a huge Bills fan and have been suffering for the past 10 years with no playoff appearances. I hate to say it but I was starting to get excited for the 1st overall pick in 2011 and a chance at Andrew Luck. Now the Bills are deciding to win a few games and it looks like Carolina and Cincinnati are the front runners for the first pick. Do you think either of these teams will draft a QB?''
--Brian, Buffalo, N.Y.
I'd be surprised if Carolina, given the opportunity, would pass on Andrew Luck. And I think the Panthers will end up with the first pick.
THIS IS HIS FIFTH YEAR, AND HE'S STILL ACTING LIKE A KID. "I don't often feel that you're off base about sports-related things, but I feel the need to chime in about the Vince Young debacle. In the heat of the moment, he let's his emotions get the best of him. I agree that his actions were immature at best. But he has improved markedly as a passer this year, and he's still a winner. He's had a rough time staying healthy, and clearly feels like the coaching staff isn't letting him play through pain. He is still the heart of this team. He just wears his heart on his sleeve too often. Letting him go would be a huge mistake for the Titans.''
--Luke, Randolph, N.J.
A lot of fans feel the way you do. My feeling is he's not a good leader and he never has been the guy the coaching staff feels has worked overtime to digest the playbook. There are those who feel he's a 9-to-5 quarterback.
THIS FELLOW IS MOCKING ME, I BELIEVE. "Gosh, Peter, it seems that all of the Colts' summer whining about the movement of Umpire to the backfield was a bit overblown. Contrary to your August 30th mailbag in which you parroted the Peyton/Polian party line. Peyton went so far as to say that last season's 4th quarter comeback against the Patriots in Lucas Oil stadium could never have happened with an Umpire in the backfield. It didn't seem to slow Peyton down yesterday when faced with an almost identical situation. I only wish I had access to the listening device in the Gillette visitors' locker room so I could predict what the Colts' next excuse will be. I love your column.''
--Tim (No hometown given)
Thank you. And thanks for writing. The umpire-positioning thing was a big story with two weeks left in the preseason. I covered it. At the time, everyone accused Peyton Manning of whining about what the league was doing with the umpire, and I understood it. I got some criticism for allowing Manning to whine about it, and to that criticism, I would say this: Any writer who had Manning exclusively complaining about the rule and who says he/she wouldn't have run it and made a big deal about it is either lying or delusional. So I led my column with it. The next time I see Manning I'll certainly ask him about it, and why it hasn't been a problem. As for the tone of your e-mail, I'll just say this: Thank you for reading; passionate people like you are the reason I have a job.