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A Way To Make Pro Football Safer Has Been Hiding In Plain Sight


Drew Magary’s Thursday Afternoon NFL Dick Joke Jamboroo runs every Thursday at Defector during the NFL season. Got something you wanna contribute? Email the Roo. And buy Drew’s book, The Night The Lights Went Outthrough here.

Every season, the NFL trots out a new product, study, initiative, or flat-out lie to convince you that football is safer than it’s ever been. This year’s innovation was the Guardian Cap, which looks the acoustical padding inside any recording studio and which turns any helmet into a pillow-top mattress. Fond memories of Mark Kelso shall now ensue. Soon you’ll be able to buy the officially licensed Guardian Cap of your favorite team from the NFL Shop for the low, low price of $85. Maybe you can eat chips out of it.

Without the NFLPA’s consent, the league mandated these caps for specific positions all throughout training camp. Once the regular season began, the NFL then declared that—wouldn’t you know it—the caps reduced concussions by a whopping 50 percent. WOW! Amazing! Hard to believe, especially given that the Mayo Clinic explicitly says that concussion symptoms don’t always present themselves right away! You’ll excuse me if I don’t take the NFL’s word that they’ve found a magical way to prevent head injuries that doesn’t involve them becoming a professional badminton league. They aren’t exactly a trustworthy lot when it comes to protecting their charges.

However, since 2020, a handful of enterprising head coaches have found a far realer, more effective way of keeping their players healthy, which is to have them play as little football as possible. Sean McVay famously never plays any of his starters in the preseason, as do a growing number of teams that watched the league forgo the preseason entirely during the pandemic and realized that no good player was worth any preseason snap. Jonathan Taylor didn’t play this preseason, nor did Nick Chubb, Davante Adams, Ja’Marr Chase, Khalil Mack, Jeffery Simmons, Myles Garrett, and many others. Justin Herbert has never taken a preseason snap. And while I have a strange fondness for my annual 15 minutes of preseason viewing, I know that it’s always a mistake to subject important players to any sort of contact that has no effect on the regular-season standings. A shame that Robert Saleh of the Jets did not realize this himself.

Not content to eliminate preseason contact, McVay also minimizes full-contact practices once any Rams regular season is underway, instead of beginning the phaseout once midseason has passed, as other teams traditionally have. The Rams also clock the workload of every individual player on the roster and then give those players time off during the week anytime they cross that threshold. McVay’s former offensive coordinator, Kevin O’Connell, forbade tackling to the ground all throughout Vikings camp and then sat every vital starter for the entirety of the preseason. O’Connell was implementing new systems on both offense and defense with the Vikings, mind you. His players still managed to learn their respective playbooks and, in Week 1, put on one of the cleanest, crispest performances in recent Vikings memory. Let DT Harrison Phillips explain why he so deeply appreciated his new head coach’s methods.

None of this stopped announcers like Mike Tirico and Cris Collinsworth from bemoaning the lack of preseason reps as they watched two other teams, the Cowboys and Bucs, fart their way through an uninspired 60 minutes to open up the SNF slate. But both of those men, Collinsworth in particular, should have understood that lessening the physical toll on NFL players any way you can is both safe and shrewd. Once more we turn to the Rams, who offered no shortage of proof of this concept a season ago:

Last season, who were arguably the best two teams entering the playoffs? The Kansas City Chiefs and the Buffalo Bills. Where did they rank in adjusted games lost? First and second in the league. They were the two least injured teams in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders. The Super Bowl Champion Los Angeles Rams were fifth in that ranking. The Cincinnati Bengals were seventh. Eight of the top-12 teams in adjusted games lost made the playoffs. 

Again, we already have the 2020 campaign as evidence that NFL players come fully assembled for the regular season, regardless of whether or not the preseason exists. It’s a cruel fact that only younger players need contact drills to learn to how to hit each other properly before they ever see live action, but it’s a fact all the same. And players at all levels often like hitting in practice, because A) it’s been ingrained in them, and B) hitting is fun. I liked hitting in practice because I knew that, since I was second-string, it’d be the only action on the field I’d see that week anyway. You jog out to the practice field, you see the tackling sled lingering over in the corner, and just the sight of it gets you feeling giddily violent. But I was an inessential player, outside of being a useful foil for starters who still needed a bit of midweek contact drilling.

These, by contrast, are NFL players. They’re not fucking 16. Many of them are over 30. They’ve played football their whole lives, so much so that they don’t need Oklahoma drills to remember how to beat the piss out of someone. They don’t need many practice licks to toughen their hides. They know how to stay in shape on their own. They’re more self-motivated than you or I could ever hope to be. So why the fuck would you ever force them to run into each other if they don’t need to?

This, more than Guardian Caps, is the future of player safety in this league. Smart teams will practice less and less, conducting vigorous walkthroughs and saving their players for when they’re truly needed. Not only will that keep players from getting hurt, but those players will understand that their coaches actually CARE about their bodies, rather than using them to get off on cheap Junction Boys reenactments. All of those players are still at risk for injury, obviously, but only a 2023 ad campaign funded by the NFL would tell you otherwise. Protect all the players you can, as much as you can, and they’ll pay you back handsomely on the field. It’s not that hard to figure out.

The Games

All games in the Jamboroo are evaluated for sheer watchability on a scale of 1 to 5 Throwgasms.

Five Throwgasms

Chargers at Chiefs: Here’s your first exclusively streaming TNF game of this season. You have to sign up for Prime to watch (unless you borrow a friend’s account password, which I will not discourage you from doing), and yet Amazon will still have ads on during TNF. I wanna protest at Amazon headquarters, but I also know that I still reflexively NEED commercial breaks during any NFL game so that I can piss, shit, tweet, and eat … often all at the same time. I’ve had Sunday Ticket for well over a decade now and am still not used to the Red Zone Channel channel having no ads. I keep waiting for a break so that I can go take a weewee, but there are no breaks. You just get snap after snap until your bladder busts open like a dam. And yes, I could PAUSE Red Zone to go do my business, but I also forget that option exists too. I am roughly as smart as my own dog.

Four Throwgasms

Vikings at Eagles: While my personal hero Justin Jefferson got a lot of MVP chants last week, I thought about the last time a wideout won that award. Turns out the answer is never. Randy Moss never won it. Calvin Johnson never won it. Not even Jerry Rice ever won it. And no wideout has been drafted No. 1 overall since Keyshawn Johnson back in 1996. Ever since that draft, the No. 1 pick has either been a quarterback, an offensive tackle, or an edge rusher.

Both the research and the trade market have made clear that wideouts are franchise players now, too. I know Keyshawn turned out to be a turd, who then became a perfectly serviceable player, who then turned back into a turd a second time. I also know that every year, the wideout class is so deep that it’s hard to pinpoint one guy as head and shoulders above his peers. But look at what Jefferson means to Minnesota. Look at what A.J. Brown means to Philly. Look at what Davante Adams meant to Green Bay. Somehow wideouts STILL aren’t getting their due, even if they’re finally being traded and signed for proper market value.

AP voters and GMs alike are gonna figure this out one day. An AP voter will say, “Wait a minute, we gave this award to a fucking kicker named Mark Moseley in 1982, but never a wideout? FUCK IT I’M VOTING FOR JEFFERSON.” And a GM will look at their draft board and cry out, “FUCK IT WE’RE TAKING JAXON SMITH-NJIGBA.” That second one will be a bold and exciting day. And then Smith-Njigba will get photographed out a titty bar and the entire CBS pregame crew will be like he should have been playing more preseason games instead of doing this.

Titans at Bills: Both games in this section are Monday night games, with this one kicking off at 7:15pm ET, and Vikes-Eagles kicking off 75 minutes later. I will spend all of this Monday night demanding concurrent doubleheaders remain a staple of MNF, and then forget the entire matter two weeks later.

Three Throwgasms

Seahawks at Niners: It’s extremely funny that the Seahawks decided the best time to diversify their offense was AFTER getting rid of Russell Wilson. It’s like doing your first line of blow right after you’ve suffered a heart attack.

Bears at Packers

Dolphins at Ravens

Bucs at Saints

Two Throwgasms

Cardinals at Raiders: Clete Blakeman was assigned this game. Last we saw of Clete Blakeman, he was presiding over this war crime:

In the grand scheme of things, this fuck-up didn’t matter. Replay showed that the Broncos had clearly made a first down on the above play, and Nathaniel Hackett blew the game anyway when his brain turned to oatmeal in the waning seconds. But I’m still pissed. Not only did the refs fuck up the spot—which they always do, despite there being a tracking chip inside the ball—but then Blakeman brought out the chains and blithely ignored what everyone watching at home and in the announcing booth could see. The spot was short. By less than an inch, but short all the same. He should’ve awarded possession to Seattle and forced Denver to burn a challenge.

Is this the most efficient way of enforcing the rules of this sport? No. But according to this report from Henry Bushnell of Yahoo, using the tracking chips to spot the ball on every down is apparently quite difficult at the moment, because various body parts play a role in that spot, and because we can’t implant chips inside players (yet). So for now, we have to rely on fallible humans, which I and most of the Defector staff prefer to machine-based officiating. That means that Clete Blakeman had no right to play cowboy here. He should have called it short and then dealt with the consequences. GIVE HIM THE CHAIR.

Falcons at Rams: The dropoff from Al Michaels to Mike Tirico is steep, but last week’s Rams loss reminded me that NBC’s upgrade at sideline reporter from Michele Tafoya to Melissa Stark is an almost equivalent upgrade. And I’m not just saying that because Stark is attractive. She and Lisa Salters and Erin Andrews are all just straight-up BETTER at this shit than Tafoya ever was. Tafoya was a smarmy kiss-ass who rattled off canned anecdotes that ran for hours at a time and could barely conceal the wingnuttery she’s openly displayed ever since leaving NBC. The others are just normal professionals intent to give you useful information before the snap gets off. Makes quite a difference.

Panthers at Giants

Patriots at Steelers

Bengals at Cowboys

One Throwgasm

Jets at Browns: When Robert Saleh was hired by the Jets, I was like, that’s a kick-ass hire. Robert Saleh will do that team a world of good. Let’s see what less than two years on this particular job have reduced him to:

It’s like watching your best friend commit to Ohio State. Just a long, drawn-out exercise in self-debasement. I didn’t want Robert Saleh to suck ass. I really didn’t. And yet here he is, starting a limbless Joe Flacco at QB and promising to silence all the haterz like he’s Matt Patricia after playing a game of Edward Fortyhands with all of his Amherst buddies. [Bugs Bunny voice] A revoltin’ development.

Texans at Broncos: One team deliberately punted for a tie last week, the other deliberately settled for a 64-yard field goal to lose a game. This means that the Texans will, in this game, find an end result that lies somewhere between winning and tying. It shall be the brunch of final scores and look something like 24-2&. Their record will be 0-1/2-0-1.

Commanders at Lions: My wife called them the Commandos over the weekend, and that’s how I’ll think of them from now until Jeff Bezos buys the team and re-names them the Hobbits or some shit.

Colts at Jaguars

Pregame Song That Makes Me Wanna Run Through A Goddamn Brick Wall

“High Risk, High Rewards” by High Tension! AN AUSSIE BAND OI OI OI! From Timothy:

Tronted by the amazing Karina Utomo. Holy shit: the singer kicks ass and the band throws down major riffage.

That truly is major riffage, with the monster drumbeat to match. Plus the bassist’s axe has a clear body. Gotta be confident when you have a transparent guitar or bass. Gotta make sure your fly is closed, or else people might see your peener!

Great Moments In Poop History

Reader Jon sends in this Distraction podcast crossover horror story I’ll call POOPAHONTAS.

My first mistake was eating at Chipotle. I know it it’s a cliché, but I’ve managed to avoid any gastrointestinal consequences before now, and their burritos are the closest to edible ones in rural upstate New York. 

My second mistake was taking the dog for her usual morning walk the morning after spending a day running between the bed and the bathroom. I was feeling pretty good by that point, though, and my wife was busy getting our spawn fed and ready for school. Doggo was my job, so I layered up and popped my earbuds in, picking up at the back half of the most recent Defector podcast, as it happens. 

My third mistake was trusting a fart. Of course I was at the very far end of our loop, at the bottom of the hill, when it struck. I was zoned out, feeling fine, listening to three guys bullshitting about movies. I didn’t think twice. Then the near-automatic release, followed by the horrifying realization that it wasn’t gas that was spreading its warm, sticky way down my shorts. 

Incredibly, about two seconds later, I was transported back from my horror by hearing Roth utter the words, “walking like you’re pooping your pants.” Which is what I did for the next ten minutes, back up the hill.

That’s a downright magical tale. Proud to have played indirect part in it.

Which Idiot GM Is This?

You know your team is in good hands when the man in charge of the roster is a professionally sweaty guy who MEANS BUSINESS. Which team does the man below hold in his meaty paws?

No that’s not one of the guys who hit on Jennifer Lopez in the airport bar in Out of Sight. That’s Broncos GM George Paton, who traded five draft picks and three rostered players for Russell Wilson, but forgot to hire a coach who would actually USE Russell Wilson when it’s vital to do so. Why, it’s as if John Elway is still in charge of this team, and he’s still REALLY drunk all the time!

Gametime Cheap Beer Of The Week

Look at the horsey!

Cisk! Preferably served at… cisk… temperature. HUH? HUH? From reader Jorma:

Got to take a trip to Malta recently, and it’s got surprisingly good local beer options for a barren Mediterranean rock with a smaller population than the Cleveland metropolitan area. But Cisk (pronounced “cheesk”) is the one that’s available in any retail outlet. Museum gift shop? Cisk. Bookstore? Cisk. Ice cream truck? Cisk. For like 80 Eurocents, you can get a bigass can of this really nice, if not exactly standout, lager literally anywhere. Sip it while strolling the majestic coastline. Shotgun it before visiting the most opulent church you’ve ever seen. The options are limitless.

Eh shit, I pronounced it wrong. I stand by my pun regardless. I know nothing about Malta, so let’s hop into the Google machine and take a look at the place right now.

“Fragile” by Sting plays in your head

OK now I wanna go to Malta. Dragons might live there, but I am undeterred.

Gameday Movie Of The Week For Panthers Fans

The Favourite, which I brushed off back when it got nominated for a bunch of Oscars (and won Olivia Colman a Best Actress statue), because I hadn’t heard of it until right then. Naturally, I assumed that no one else had heard of it either, and that it was just two hours of prim, forgettable Oscar bait. WRONG. WRONG WRONG WRONG. I finally watched this movie a year ago and it had the kind of script where you’re like why aren’t all movies written this well? (it’s because studios don’t care). I love any British movie that takes place in a proper Victorian setting strictly so that it can unleash a fusillade of filthy sex talk, lewd jokes, open backstabbing, and generally outlandish behaviour. That’s the last time I judge a highly acclaimed, impeccably acted lesbian sex triangle movie before I even bother to watch the trailer.

Gratuitous Simpsons Quote

“Mister Burns, we’ve heard a German consortium offered to purchase the plant. Any comment?”

“You’ll see the Statue of Liberty wearing lederhosen before you’ll see Germans running my plant!”

“Well then sir, why are you meeting with them?”

“So I can look Uncle Fritz square in the monocle and say… NEIN!”

Enjoy the games, everyone.





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