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NFL Week 8 observations: chicken man, bar tabs and more

Adam Vinatieri is still kicking after all these years. Colts team web site

Week 8 of NFL action brought us few surprises. Most of the favorites won, some even covered the spread. But, as always, there were some exciting action and unusual plays/occurrences. Let’s check out how I saw things this week:

The Good

-A Panthers fan staged a protest against over-priced fried chicken by bringing his own to the game Sunday. Although the chicken was consumed before they made it inside, it’s still worth top billing here. Hopefully stadium execs across the country will see this more often and take note.

-Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri became the league’s all-time leading scorer Sunday. He passed HOFer Morten Andersen on a field goal 29 seconds before halftime against the Raiders. At 45 years old, Vinatieri is in his 23rd year and still one of the most accurate and clutch kickers in football. To put things in perspective: his rookie year was my sophomore year in high school.

-Cardinals rookie quarterback threw the game winning touchdown pass to fellow rookie Christian Kirk and the two-point conversion to future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald for their second win of the season. Composure under pressure and decision making are two critical keys to good quarterback play. Here’s to hoping Rosen can be their franchise quarterback.

The Bad

- Bucs’ quarterback Jameis Winston was pulled after throwing four interceptions, including a pick six, against the Bengals. Ryan Fitzpatrick, A.K.A. Fitz-magic, came in down 34-16 in the third quarter and helped them to tie the game with about 1:05 left in the game. They lost on a field goal with time expiring. The Jameis Experiment in Tampa should be over now.

-The Rams went up 29-27 at the two minute warning. The Packers had been giving them hell all game. Packers’ running back Ty Montgomery fielded the kickoff two yards deep in the end zone and decided to run it out, then he fumbled on the 21 and the Rams recovered. They’d go on to run the clock out for the win. Tough way to lose on such a bad decision.

-The Lions only managed 34 yards rushing in their 28-14 loss to the Seahawks. After signing LeGarrette Blount, drafting Kerryon Johnson, and still having Amir Abdullah, this was a pitiful output. Matt Stafford’s arm will fall off at this rate.

The Ugly

-We all have criticized the refs at one point. Whether we feel they screwed our team, cost us money, or made games hard to watch, we have all thought they should lose their jobs. The NFL went there when they fired Hugo Cruz effective immediately this past Thursday after he missed a critical false start call against Chargers’ Russell Okung against the Browns in week six. Typically, an official will have to rank in the third tier of grading two consecutive years before being fired.

-Four Jags’ players were arrested, detained, and eventually released early Saturday morning in London for allegedly skipping out on a bar tab. Safety Barry Church, one of the four, said Sunday after their 24-18 loss to the Eagles this was a misunderstanding. Since when is a $64,000 tab a “misunderstanding?” This team is now on a four game slide with no signs of recovering.

-The 2-5-1 Browns fired head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley Monday. Jackson and Haley will be seen as scapegoats for the team’s failures this season. The team is 3-36-1 under Jackson, but the roster finally has talent worthy of an NFL roster. GM John Dorsey will get to pick his own head coach. In the meantime, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams (of Bountygate fame) will serve as the interim.  

Another great week of NFL football in the books, but still some questions remain: Who will be the next Browns coach? Are the Rams and Chiefs destined to meet in the Super Bowl? Who’s next on the chopping block? Who will the Giants take with the first overall pick? Will the Raiders’ 2019 first round draft selections go over or under 5.5? I’m looking forward to the answers. See yall next week!

 

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Here's what to make of the Rockets free agency moves. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

No NBA team with title aspirations entered the offseason with more questions than the Houston Rockets. Ironically, Houston's situation got more precarious as the offseason went along. From head coach Mike D'Antoni walking away after the season to general manager Daryl Morey following suit shortly after that, the Rockets have been a sinking ship in desperate need of stability. They found some of that once new head coach Stephen Silas was hired, but the boat took on more water when star players James Harden and Russell Westbrook demanded to be traded a couple of weeks later.

It's been a giant roller coaster and it was unclear how Houston would approach their free agency. Would they double down on contending for a championship to try and convince their star players to stay or would they be forced to rebuild?

It looks like Houston tried to thread the needle and accomplish both: They appear ready to rebuild if they can't convince James Harden to stay, but also addressed roster needs and acquired better fitting pieces for their stars. It's hard to say whether or not they got better, but they're certainly a lot younger and look to play a lot different. Let's take a look at each player and how they fit into the framework.

Christian Wood

Contract:

3 years, $41 million

Grade:

B+

If there's a signing that embodies Houston's offseason, it's Christian Wood. For obvious reasons and some subtle ones, Wood is the exact kind of player Houston had to acquire this summer. Let's start with the obvious: Wood is the perfect player to have alongside both James Harden and Russell Westbrook because of his unique set of skills. Wood can hit threes at a high clip for someone his size (36.8% for his career) and stretches the floor for the moments you want Russell Westbrook barreling to the rim or James Harden trying to break a trap.

Lob threat

The Rockets didn't have a big man with that capability on the roster last year, so they had to resort to trading for Robert Covington and going small so they could properly space the floor. However, in doing that the Rockets lost their best lob threat and limited themselves on offense even further. This is where Wood solves the second problem: He may not be as good of a lob threat as Clint Capela, but he's damn close.

Over the past few years, the Rockets have slowly phased out pick and roll out of their offense and resorted to isolation. Part of it is because of how teams have defended the pick and roll, but part of it is also them not having the option anymore. James Harden is too good of a pick and roll ball handler for it to not be a part of the Rockets' attack. Adding more pick and roll to Houston's offense should be a priority next season, regardless of what else Silas decides to do.

Clint Capela was the perfect center for James Harden. P.J. Tucker was the perfect center for Russell Westbrook. Christian Wood is the perfect center for both.

Defensive rebounding

Another weakness Houston needed to address this offseason was their defensive rebounding (26th in NBA last season). It got to the point where it was a rarity that Houston would win the rebounding battle against good teams. This was partly by design and partly because of roster weakness. Houston was so porous at rebounding in the beginning of the season, they decided to emphasize turning over opponents to even the possession battle. If Houston were to even marginally improve in defensive rebounding, it could have a drastic positive impact on their defense.

Per 36 minutes:

22.0 PPG

10.6 RPG

1.5 BPG

65.9% True Shooting

Houston also replenished their coffers in the process of acquiring Wood. By flipping Robert Covington to the Blazers, the Rockets netted two draft picks back after losing two the prior offseason in the Westbrook trade. It may not matter in the grand scheme of next season, but these assets could be especially useful if Houston pivots to a rebuild. They could also be useful to upgrade the roster at the trade deadline if Houston gets Harden's buy-in. (As an aside, the series of transactions that led to Wood are impressive and reflect well on new GM Rafael Stone's ability to get deals done.)

The subtle reason Wood embodies their offseason is his age, 25 years old. Wood would immediately become the youngest starter on the team and be a building block piece on the next iteration of the Rockets. He's also old enough to make an immediate impact should Houston acquire a ready-made blue chip prospect in a James Harden trade. With the 76ers rumored to be a team interested in Harden's services, it probably isn't a coincidence that Ben Simmons (24 years old) falls neatly into Wood's age group. It also probably isn't a coincidence that the ideal team for Simmons has always been imagined to be a team that can spread the floor at the four other positions on the court. Having Wood is great start to try and accomplish that.

David Nwaba, Sterling Brown, and Jae'Sean Tate

Contracts:

Negligible

Grade:

B-

Nwaba, Brown, and Tate are all being placed in one category because it's quite clear what the Rockets are trying to accomplish: Take bets on young, cheap wings on the market and hope one pans out enough to make the final rotation for Stephen Silas.

While David Nwaba technically wasn't signed this offseason, he's essentially a free agency signing because the Rockets signed him up a few months ago with the knowledge he wouldn't be able to play in the first year of his deal. He's the oldest of this group (27 years old), has the largest wingspan (7'0"), and has logged the most NBA minutes (3295). Because of all this, he's probably the safest bet to make Houston's final rotation. However, just because he's the 'safest bet' doesn't mean he's a 'safe bet' per se.

Nwaba suffered a season-ending achilles injury on December 9th of last season and has spent the past year rehabbing. It's unclear how he will respond from this, but before the injury, Nwaba had found a nice role in Brooklyn as a combo forward who could shoot well enough from beyond the perimeter (34.4% for his career). The Rockets have desperately needed competent perimeter defenders off the bench since their 2017-18 campaign and a healthy Nwaba was just that.

Sterling Brown, 24, found his way on the fringes of the Bucks' rotation the past few seasons and gained the trust of head coach Mike Budenholzer enough to play nearly 15 minutes a game. Brown is a pesky defender and average three-point shooter (34.5% for his career) and like the other wings in this category, he doesn't need the ball. He's probably the second most proven wing here and if he cracks the rotation, it's unlikely he will have to play more than he did in Milwaukee.

Jae'Sean Tate, 25, is probably the most intriguing prospect of this bunch as he's never played in the NBA before. Tate played under new Rockets assistant coach Will Weaver on the Sidney Kings and averaged 16.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 2.0 assists on 66.0% shooting from the field last season while earning first-team All-NBL honors. He's 6'4" with a 6'8" wingspan and was considered to be one of the top basketball prospects outside the NBA before signing with Houston. The Rockets appear to be quite high on him considering they used part of their mid-level exception to sign him to a three-year deal.

The Rockets already have much of their rotation locked in:

James Harden and Russell Westbrook will likely play at least 35 minutes a piece, P.J. Tucker will probably play around 32 minutes, and finally Danuel House and Christian Wood will likely play around 30 minutes each. That leaves 78 minutes for a bench that already has Eric Gordon and Ben McLemore. Also, Houston will probably sign another center before the season starts. Now, the Rockets may try to ease the load off of some of their older starters, in which case there might be more time available. However, whatever way you slice it, they really only need one of these wings to crack the rotation for regular season purposes.

It's unlikely all three signings end up backfiring for them, but we'll see. Stranger things have happened.

It's also convenient that all three of these players are 27 years or younger should the Rockets decide to trade Harden at the trade deadline. Like Wood, these signings give Houston the option to pivot in another direction. Because of Houston's lack of room under the apron, they didn't have the option to use their full mid-level or bi-annual exception. Ring-chaser types also weren't going to sign with the Rockets for the minimum given the uncertainty surrounding their stars. This was a nice way for Houston to hedge their bets while also filling out the roster with possible contributors.

The Rockets aren't done making moves yet, but they're close. Understanding the circumstances, it's hard to be too critical of what they did in free agency.

Overall Grade: B

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