Read-Optional: Ten thoughts from week-16 – Manning HGH report, Packers struggles, ‘Concussion’ and more


By Oliver Connolly, Editor-In-Chief

A week filled with intrigue and controversy; from that report about Peyton Manning, to the Panthers finally falling, the possibility of Drew Brees’ last home game in New Orleans, the Jets toppling the Patriots, the release of the film ‘Concussion’ and another embarrassing display from the Packers offense. All that and more is covered in this week’s Read-Optional. Here are my ten-thoughts from week-sixteen, starting with the Manning report. 

That Peyton Manning HGH Report

I have many thoughts on the Al Jazeera report linking Peyton Manning and other sports stars to HGH and PED use;

a) I recommend reading Peter King’s MMQB column for the chronology and facts of the story so far.

b) I would not at all be shocked if each of the player’s named did use HGH or other substances in 2011. Testing was still not a reality in the NFL and the testing was still not concrete.

c) I’ve learnt not to trust any sports star, no matter how emphatic and angry their denial. It’s a shame for those listed but Lance Armstrong more than anyone showed us the depths to which hyper-competitive people will plunge.

d) Though I would not be shocked, I do not believe the report regarding Peyton Manning;

  • As Lance Armstrong once said himself; “extraordinary allegations must be met with extraordinary proof.” We don’t have any proof, let alone extraordinary proof. What we have in this report is a former intern (and it’s unclear when he was at the Guyer institute) looking to sell products, or impress a former Olympic athlete by naming other star athletes as clients.
  • Furthermore, if you’re looking to skirt HGH rules or cut-corners with drugs in the NFL (and many have) would it really be wise to get it sent to your house? And to someone with your last name? Let’s ask Roger Clemens how that one went. If you’re looking to avoid detection for PEDs you don’t get those PEDs shipped to your wife, at your place. It’s purely speculative, but after the Clemens incident and with Peyton being so smart, would he really get a box pumped to the brim with HGH shipped to his house with the only cover being the first name on the box? I don’t buy that.
  • I imagine Ashley Manning was receiving treatment at the clinic (that’s her business) and that’s why I believe Peyton Manning will not sue, despite his strong assertion to Peter King on Sunday evening that he would; “Yeah, I probably will. I’m that angry.”
  • If Peyton Manning were to sue, all of Ashley Manning’s treatments and reasons for visiting, or receiving help, from the Guyer institute would be revealed during discovery and would likely be leaked immediately to Deadspin, ESPN or TMZ Sports.

e) I am far more interested in the public reaction and the national media reaction to the story than the story itself. That an all-time great player, heading into his age-36 year, coming off four-neck surgeries (as Manning told ESPN on Sunday Countdown “more or less a broken neck”), would use a substance that was not illegal at the time, to get back on the field and continue playing the game he loves, would not shock me and I would not really be that bothered.

The faux-outrage and pearl clutching is far more interesting and it’s an interesting study in player/media relations given the comparison to an equally great quarterback and how he, and the media, dealt with last year’s great faux-outrage, turned real outrage, turned ex-quarterback crying on television, “deflategate.” I won’t jump to the conclusion that Manning is ‘more media savvy’ than Tom Brady. It could simply be that he is more interested, has more time for it and enjoys it more than Brady. But there’s no doubt that Manning has far more heavy-hitters in his corner, from a national perspective, than Brady did during his GATE last year.

f) I have watched the Al Jazeera documentary. If it has any credibility it is far worse for the Green Bay Packers than Peyton Manning. Charlie Sly, alleges that he met up to 25 Packers players this past offseason, naming Mike Neal (a business partner with Sly), Clay Matthews (even cites a text within the documentary) and Julius Peppers. Again, there’s a lack of credibility and evidence linking Sly to those players, but that would be far more damning than the allegations laid at Manning’s door. 

g) I don’t know what on earth is going on here, but I will forever remain suspicious with these guys. A-Rod, Lance Armstrong, Ryan Braun et al. They were all big stars, they all denied and they all lied. It’s unfair to Manning but it’s probably how most fans feel when they hear these reports. It’s either suspicion or a ‘oh yeah, they all do it’ attitude. 

h) Finally, the NFL should use this as an opportunity to jump on HGH testing and the science of growth hormones. From what I’ve read, researched and discussed with others (including users), the only clear disadvantage to HGH, at this time, is the possibility of a changing facial appearance and it not being used long enough to know the true long-term impact on the body. That being said, the league should be at the forefront of financing and aiding studies to discover just how much growth hormones can help the league and its players in recovery and performance. It certainly seems far more appealing than the plethora of painkillers and gateway drugs current and ex-players have been using for generations. If it is truly a ‘super healer’ and can aid recovery, why wouldn’t the league want to help its research?

TJ Lang Vine sums up Packers season

a) If ever there was one video to sum up the Packers season it would be the one above of T.J. Lang and Aaron Rodgers. Lang appears to ask Rodgers “why did you throw?” A beat up offensive lineman, asking the reigning MVP of the league, why he threw on a run-pass option play that flew through the hands of struggling wide receiver Davante Adams. Lang wasn’t wrong and he continued after the game, dropping one of the best quotes of the season; “Obviously today the protection was shit, the running game was shit, everything was just shit.”

b) It is time to ask more questions of Aaron Rodgers and his individual struggles in 2015. In the midst of his athletic prime it can’t purely be the loss of Jordy Nelson that has hurt him this bad. Despite his touchdown and interception numbers being similar to his previous years, the other numbers have fallen of a cliff. Comparing 2014 to 2015;


Completion %

Net Yards Per Attempt

Yards Per Game


Passer Rating













c) Green Bay’s beat down in Arizona was an embarrassment. I can’t explain the Packers troubles on offense. Yes, in Arizona they were down their starting offensive tackles (replacement Josh Walker gave up five pressures on just 26 snaps) and T.J. Lang was beaten up. But that doesn’t explain the Packers struggles throughout the season. They have some of the best offensive minds anywhere in the league in that building, one of the league’s great quarterbacks, explosive weapons, talented, Pro Bowl calibre, lineman and they’ve reverted back to having Mike McCarthy as play-caller who is a master sequencer and play-caller. I’m done trying to explain their struggles, if the people inside that building can’t explain them, I don’t know how to.

d) The Packers opening eight possessions vs the Cardinals;







GB 40





GB 4





GB 20





GB 20





ARI 15





GB 27



End of Half


GB 20





GB 9





d) The Davante Adams problem is borderline humiliating. The second-year, second round pick has been a mess all year for the Pack, averaging 7.3 targets a game with just 3.8 receptions, 35.8 yards and just one touchdown grab for the season. That is not to mention, multiple drops, many of them at crucial moments of games. Adams has been a symbol of offensive ineptitude for the Packers this year and somehow is still featuring in a majority of snaps (51 vs Cardinals). Despite Adams’ poor play it’s unlikely he will be moved on any time soon due to the lack of a replacement, the financial implications and the ‘Green Bay way.’


Vic Beasley’s coming out party

There’s no doubt that Vic Beasley’s rookie season has been a disappointment in Atlanta. The box score production has not been there and while he has flashed on tape it’s been a disappointing first-year return for a top-ten pick at a position that should have an immediate impact. In my re-evaluation of this year’s first round I was critical of Beasley:

“Beasley reminds me of early Chandler Jones. He is not a speed-to-power edge-rusher in the ilk of Khalil Mack or Ziggy Ansah. He is a pass rushing specialist who wins with his first step and will need to learn to improve on tackle-end stunts, as well as develop his pass rushing moves and counter moves, in order to consistently generate pressure.

Through week-fourteen of the season I would consider him a disappointment as a first year player. Beasley has played 50% of the Falcons defensive snaps due to his inability against the run. He needs to add weight, but you cannot add effort. Jones should be Beasley’s development model; he’s a speed rusher who is now right near the top of the league in terms of sacks and he’s constantly on the field due to his effort and intelligence in the run game. Jones is not a great run defender but he’s willing, he chases down the backside of plays, sets the edge and does the dirty work to setup third and long situations that enable him to unleash his speed-rush and get after the quarterback. That sort of development is exactly what the Falcons will be looking for from Beasley.”

What we saw from Beasley in week-sixteen was his best game of the season. He pressured the pocket consistently throughout the day, sacked Cam Newton once and generated three quarterback hurries. He remained gap sound throughout the day and did a quality job of maintaining his pass-rushing discipline and holding contain on the edge, stopping Cam Newton multiple times in the quarterback run game.

Some more thoughts from an intriguing Falcons/Panthers clash;

a) Atlanta pressured Cam Newton on 15 of his 34 dropbacks.

b) Newton and the Panthers were looking for deep ‘shot’ plays early in the game, the Falcons base cover-3 system is designed to prevent deep balls and keep most things in front of the defense.

c) Newton completed just one ball that traveled ten yards or more through the air.

d) The Falcons played ‘star’ coverage on Ted Ginn until he left the game with a calf injury. Star coverage means to put your best cornerback man-to-man (Desmond Trufant) while also keeping a safety shaded slightly toward that players side of the field. I never thought I’d see a team defend Ted Ginn like that, or that I’d write that sentence in 2015. Hooray for the 2015 season!

e) The Panthers’ fell as the last undefeated team of the season. I don’t buy any of the ‘pressure’ nonsense, or the thought that it’s ‘like playing everyone else’s Super Bowl’. It’s just near-impossible to go undefeated in a sixteen game regular season. Only one team has ever done it and they did it with perhaps the greatest quarterback and coach of all time. 

Rams offensive coordinator change sparks results

When the Rams fired offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti three weeks ago it was a major blow to all of us who love great names in pro football.

Jeff Fisher said he made the change in order to ‘simplify the offense’; somehow the Rams gameplan of handoffs to Todd Gurley, a series of jet/fly sweep to Tavon Austin and double-moves/go routes outside the numbers was not simple enough for Fisher.

Despite my cynicism of Fisher’s coach speak the change has worked for St.Louis. In their last five games before moving on from Cignetti (all losses) the Rams averaged; 10.8 points per game, 275 yards per game and 2.2 turnovers a game. Since the move to Rob Boras (all wins) they have averaged; 25 points per game, 279.3 yards per game and 0.6 turnovers per game.

a) The Rams are killing the good old-fashioned notion that you ‘build a team to win your division.’ They could finish 5-1 in their division (currently 4-1, face the 49ers in week-17) and still not make the playoffs, despite two NFC West teams making it in.

b) Todd Gurley may have wrapped up offensive rookie of the year honors vs the Seahawks. It’s a tricky award to pick this year with not a great deal of standouts. It seems to be down to Jameis Winston vs Gurley. I like to go with the guy who I will remember most from the season rather than raw numbers. For me, that guy would be Gurley, just edging Winston. Though I do love them both.

c) It’s time to invent the all-encompassing Aaron Donald drinking game; sacks, TFLs, ‘holy f***’ plays. Send all your suggestions to @OllieUKEZ or email here.

Patriots Injuries

The Patriots were thoroughly outclassed by the Jets on Sunday, falling deservedly before any coin-flipping decisions.

For New England the loss was a disappointment but their focus is on the bigger picture and retaining their Super Bowl crown. That’s being made mightily difficult given the raft of injuries that are piling up in Foxborough.

At present, the Patriots have 18 players on the different football injury lists; IR, PUP and NFI and have had to make an ungodly number of changes to their starting offensive line throughout the campaign. This season the Pats have had; four different starting right tackles, two different starting right guards, two centers, three left guards and four left tackles. They’ve also played a big chunk of games without their top-two running backs, number one receiver and played the Jets on Sunday without their starting safety combination of Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty.

In the great game of football jenga the Patriots have removed a number of precious blocks and are being held up solely by messrs. Brady and Gronkowski. Even with those two, it’s getting to the point where they are simply too beat up.

Richard Sherman beat one-on-one by Kenny Britt

I can’t remember the last time Richard Sherman was beat this bad in a one-on-one press-man situation. Sherman plays inside-technique (lining up over the receivers inside shoulder and forcing him to the boundary), forces Britt to release outside and Britt burns him for speed. With no safety help it’s a simple touchdown.


I text Andrew Symes, lead NFL writer for UKEndZone and Seahawks homer, and he replied that he can only remember Sherman being beaten on a breakdown in the ‘Hawks pattern-match concepts or when Sherman ‘peaks’ in on quarterbacks like week-ten vs the Cardinals and Carson Palmer.

Concussion Review

I watched ‘Concussion’ last week and had many initial thoughts. After giving myself some extra time to think, here are my takeaways (SPOILER ALERT);

a) It’s a good and important film but it takes liberties with the truth, when it really did not need to; the true story is horrific enough.

b) I really could have done without the ‘NFL is the mob’ implications and the smearing of Dave Duerson’s name under the principle of ‘artistic licence’ and ‘it’s philosophically true.’ As expected it was Hollywoodizing the issue because it wanted to be sold as ‘the movie the NFL doesn’t want you to see’ in order to sell more tickets and make more money.

c) The film really did not need to include the Bennet Omalu relationship storyline, or his wives subsequent miscarriage, though again, it’s a movie not a documentary.

d) There are a number of harrowing scenes, that are extremely powerful and stay with you for days on end. One such scene involves Will Smith’s character demonstrating how the brain reacts to blunt force using a glass jar filled with water and an egg to show the lack of shock absorbers in human brains compared to that of other animals. It’s thought-provoking and worrisome.

e) The NFL gets off lightly, in my opinion. They are seen more as a ‘mob’ entity pressuring Dr. Omalu’s life secretly and openly, rather than concealing any evidence. One can only conclude that’s due to possible litigation.

f) The casting of Luke Wilson as Rodger Goodell must have been an F-U from the filmmaker who didn’t want to take personal shots and deal with the litigation. That’s the only explanation I can fathom.

g) The scenes following Hall of Fame center Mike Webster (who is depicted as living in his truck) are the most memorable and saddening of the film. Webster died at the age of 50 and suffered from memory loss and depression.

h) The film ‘the NFL doesn’t want yo to see’ certainly makes the Sunday viewing experience much more difficult. Though I did still watch.

The Chiefs are the second team ever (1970 Bengals) to start 1-5 and reach the playoffs

Andy Reid, his coaching staff and players have done an excellent job turning around what was a dismal season and making it a playoff-bound one.  How’ve they done it?

a) They’ve been rhythmic and systematic on offense. Spreading the ball around to multiple receivers, backs, controlling the time of possession and bossing the line of scrimmage. The Chiefs rank 14th in average time of possession and in time of possession percentage.

b) Their running game has continued to succeed, despite the loss of Jamaal Charles for the year. They’ve got contributions from Spencer Ware (327 YDs, 5.8 Y/C, 5 TDs), Charcandrick West (600 YDs, 4.1 Y/C, 4 TDs) and Alex Smith has been a chain mover with his arm and with his legs (437 rushing YDs, 5.8 Y/C, 2 TDs). Teams often play straight man-coverage vs Smith, they don’t believe he can beat them downfield or that he’s willing to throw into tight windows at the intermediate level. That leads to defensive backs and linebackers turning their backs on Smith in the passing game and allowing him to take off for first downs with his legs.

c) An athletic offensive line. The Chiefs line has battled injuries along their line this year but with Mitch Morse, Eric Fisher and Jeff Allen they have an athletic group that allows them to get creative with their angle-blocking scheme and punch open holes for Ware, West and the run game. KC does a good job between the tackles with their power and trap plays but are even better on the perimeter where they can get a convoy of big, powerful and quick lineman on toss and sweep plays, putting their backs in space and given them chances to make big plays.

d) Jeremy Maclin has been worth every penny to this offense since joining as a free-agent last offseason. Many, myself included, believed the Maclin signing was a classic free-agency case of ‘we have a need and we stunk there last year, let’s go get a guy familiar with our system’ and that the Chiefs overpaid to do it. Long term, the contract may still hamper them, they’re paying just $3.4m of the total $55m contract in 2015. With them unable to realistically get out of the contract until 2018. However, Maclin’s play in 2015 has been as good as any receivers in the AFC West and he’s a key reason why the Chiefs season has turned around.

e) Defensively, the Chiefs have playmakers all over the field. Their secondary may be the best in the league and when healthy (they missed linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston this week and potentially for the playoffs) have one of the best edge-rushing units in the NFL – fourth in adjusted sack rate.

Drew Brees last home game in New Orleans?

Was this really Drew Brees’ last home game in New Orleans?

I can’t see how the Saints’ and Brees cannot come to a renewed, re-worked deal to keep him in town for the remainder of his career. Brees is on the books for $30m next year in what will be his age 37 season and final contracted year in New Orleans. The Saints continue to pay the price for their credit card culture that has continually pushed Brees’ and other veterans salaries into the future in order to cash in while he is still at his peak.

There’s no doubt that Brees has declined some, but there’s also no doubt that he remains good enough to build a team around and win championships. It’s a long-term vs short-term decision for the Saints who have made far too many of the latter in recent times.

Clouding the issue is the future of coach Sean Payton who consistently leaks stuff about his own future and may be angling for the job in Miami with the Dolphins. Is it possible that Payton and Brees could leave as a package deal? It’s fun to speculate about but I can’t see it happening. I’m a Payton fan (on the field) but I’d be much happier letting him walk and freshening up the organization than letting Brees go while he remains a championship calibre quarterback.

Re-visiting the Brandon Marshall trade

Back in November I tweeted this:


Most of the responses I got were along these lines:


My feeling at the time, and confirmed now, is so what?

Marshall cost the Jets a fifth-round pick and has put up, statistically, the best season in Jets franchise history for a receiver. Whether Marshall flames out in year-two, three, four or five becomes moot at this point. He has been worth a win, if not two, to the Jets this season, the difference between a playoff berth and sitting at home in January once again. For a fifth round pick it’s an absolute bargain, regardless of what happens from here on out.

Non-Football thought of the week: The Hateful Eight

I watched Quentin Tarantino’s eighth film over the Christmas holiday. As usual, it’s fantastic. It takes about an hour to get going but once it’s off and running it doesn’t stop. It keep building and building to a thrilling ending. Overall, it’s another epic; smart, gruesome and funny with many stellar scenes, including a spine-tingling Samuel L. Jackson monologue (playing Major Warren) who steals an entire chapter of the film and is the scene left in your mind for the following few days. Another great film and it was awesome to have Ennio Morricone scoring a Tarantino movie.

Oliver Connolly is the editor-in-chief of UKEndZone and a football columnist. He’s a former recruiting advisor for Western Michigan University, a contributor to SI Draft research and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. You can find him on Twitter @OllieUKEZ, listen to his podcast here, or join in the conversation @UKEndZone, in the comment section below or on our Facebook Page.


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