NFL Films and HBO's annual collaboration in pulling back the curtain on the NFL just enough to make it feel like you're learning something while what you're actually doing is watching a reality show is back. That's right, it's Hard Knocks season! And the first episode dropped on Tuesday.
This season of Hard Knocks is special because it's the first year to feature an NFC West team, the Los Angeles Rams, and means that it's the first time we can use Hard Knocks to scout a direct rival of the Seahawks. Combined with Amazon's All or Nothing documentary on last season's Arizona Cardinals season, every good team the Seahawks will face in this year's NFC West has been well documented (sorry, San Francisco 49ers).
And what did an hour of Hard Knocks reveal? Nothing real. But if you read between the lines of the heavily edited footage? Everything. Absolutely everything. And that includes some really good news for today's Seahawks fans, and some medium bad news for tomorrow's Seahawks fans. Let's roll through it.
The best news for Seahawks fans: Rams head coach Jeff Fisher is never going to be a good NFL head coach again. He's been done for years. But when you're a head coach that's next level done and Hard Knocks shows up, it slices you open to reveal the gray mealy interior underneath your charred skin suit. That's Jeff Fisher: burned cafeteria steak.
When we meet Fisher on Hard Knocks, he's fishing in Montana. Get it? Because he's Jeff Fisher and he's boring and doesn't care nearly enough about football to win in a division that has teams coached by Pete Carroll and Bruce Arians. Also his name is Fisher and apparently he likes fishing with his son Son Fisher (I'm not googling Jeff Fisher's son's name) because nominative determinism is real.
I am very grateful Jeff Fisher does not coach my football team of choice. Whereas Pete Carroll radiates unlimited energy, Fisher doesn't. He's the sort of asshole sits at the head of meetings and pauses until someone else can throw out a decent idea. He leans on old school discipline (he cuts a player for sleeping with his girlfriend) and harping on meaningless nonsense (he berates a receiver for getting a cramp) to cover the fact that he is out of ideas. Fisher goes on a rant about not being a 7-9 team, when that's the record any team he coaches will float toward.
Caring is powerful in the NFL. Fisher's defensive assistants care (in the case of coordinator Gregg Williams, he's on the record as caring far too much and paying players to hurt their opponents). But Fisher himself seems to relish nothing. He sighs out the occasional perfunctory, "it's good to be footballing again, eh?" but his heart isn't it. As a Seahawks fan I want Jeff Fisher to coach the Rams forever.
As a fan of football who doesn't want to see a talented roster get wasted forever, hopefully this is Fisher's last year at the helm of the Rams regardless of what happens.
The regular-strength good news: Jared Goff, the first overall pick in this year's NFL draft and the Rams quarterback of the future, isn't ready. He doesn't know which way the sun rises, which is a joke that gets absolutely hammered into the ground, but whatever. That's not what made me think Goff isn't ready. Nor was it his inability to call a play in the huddle, or the montage of fumbled snaps because he doesn't want to touch his center's butt firmly enough. It was more that Rams quarterback coach and noted failed quarterback Chris Weinke absolutely tooled on him in meetings. Goff had the dopey grin of a guy who had skimmed the reading and thought he would skate by on charm. That doesn't work if you want to be a rookie starting quarterback on an NFL team that faces the Legion of Boom twice a year.
Being a bit of a dummy as a rookie doesn't mean Goff can't be a very good quarterback. Lots of good quarterbacks never radiate leadership or intelligence (see: Ben Roethlisberger) and some smart quarterbacks can't quite put it all together (Brian Griese sticks out as a notable example from the recent past, and last year's success aside Ryan Fitzpatrick is another). Goff is also only 21 and has plenty of time to mature. Fellow Cal alum Aaron Rodgers slid in the draft due to questions about his leadership, and after a couple of seasons on the bench he answered those questions by putting together a Hall of Fame career. That said it really helps to at least have poise from day one (see: Brady, Manning, Wilson, Newton) and Goff's inability to cut an imposing figure makes the storyline that Case Keenum will compete for snaps early this season make sense.
Here's the bad news for Seahawks fans: aside from Fisher being an incompetent, and Goff being a bit of a putz, the Rams have some really nice parts. Interior pass rusher Aaron Donald is spectacular. Running back Todd Gurley is an absolute beast. The Rams' special teams are run by John Fassel, and watching his coaching was the most impressive behind-the-scenes portion of the show. The Rams have carved the Seahawks up on special teams the last few years, and Fassel's ability to lead an incredibly competitive practice showed how the sausage of great punt coverage was made.
If Goff can mature and the team can replace Fisher without dumping the better parts of his staff, the Rams will compete in the division as early as next year. Next year though is not this year, and based on an episode of Hard Knocks I deem the Rams: not a threat right now.