Cerebral Football: Featuring James Jones And Sam Shields
The great ones all say the same thing like it’s their mantra. It’s not like they collude at the annual “Elite NFL Players’ Conference” and get everyone on board with the company line to tout to the masses. They all say the same thing because it’s the truth of any profession and it’s the truth about the best players in the NFL.
If you want to be the best, you always need to improve as a player. You need to work hard and continue to learn and figure out new ways to learn. You have to learn from your mistakes and try to never make the same one twice.
Continue to improve.
James Jones was the definition of the word maligned last season, this offseason, and the first couple games of the year. The Packer faithful were split on whether Jones should even be brought back in 2011 or be let go via free agency. Those opposing his return were certainly more passionate and vocal in their assessment than those defending him.
The word drop followed him everywhere he went, which actually tended to mask the crucial mental errors he was also making on the field. There was the late fumble at Chicago early in the season, where Jones was carrying the ball in his inside hand, making a strip much more likely and that’s exactly what happened. Several instances after this occurrence, Jones still wasn’t switching the ball to his outside arm, putting himself, the ball, and his team in the exact same situation.
Then there was the lack of awareness late in Super Bowl XLV. The Packers were in the midst of their final drive attempting to either run out the clock or put the Steelers away and Aaron Rodgers drops a perfect back shoulder throw to Jones. Instead of pivoting inside, which there was clearly room to do, Jones pivoted outside, stepping out of bounds and stopping the clock with under four minutes to play. This mistake simply wasn’t discussed in enough detail in any forum. The Packers ended up winning the game and everyone remembers the back shoulder throw, not the 40 seconds of time (or time out) it saved the Steelers when Jones stepped out of bounds.
I’d probably drop a lot of Aaron Rodgers passes zinged my way so it’s difficult for me to complain about receiver drops — as inexcusable as they are for a professional — but as someone that understands the game I feel it’s reasonable for me to expect players should learn from their mistakes, correct them and never make them again. Part of this is coaching, part is thinking, most is common sense.
The bottom line on James Jones is this — I became a huge fan because of one play this year. No, not the 70-yard TD he caught versus Atlanta. Nope, not the bootleg left versus the Rams. It was just a simple play where James Jones demonstrated all at once that he learned from past mistakes and is improving his mental game.
Four minutes, 45 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Packers lead 22-14 facing 2nd and 10 at Atlanta’s 45-yard line. Jones runs a five-yard stop route, makes a great catch, sheds a tackler, switches the ball from his right hand to his outside left hand, gets the first down and avoids a tackler before very intentionally staying inbounds and keeping the clock rolling. I was so excited I almost hit the ceiling .
You might remember it, you might not, but in that play I became a believer in James Jones.
Let’s take another guy that has mad, mad, mad skills. I don’t think we’ve even begun to see what this young man is capable of. The man I speak of is cornerback Sam Shields.
In the NFC Championship game at Chicago, Packers fans remember those lasting images. We remember B.J. Raji’s interception, we remember the defense, and we remember Sam Shields’ interception to end it.
But that’s not all we remember, is it? Who can possibly wipe clean the lasting image of Mike McCarthy practically running out and tackling Sam Shields as he begged him to hit the deck in order to effectively end the game? Shields made a big play and then proceeded to make a selfish, me-first, no-thought-process decision by trying to return the interception for a TD, when that would do the team zero good. His decision after making a great play put the team at unnecessary risk.
Like James Jones carrying the ball in the wrong hand, Shields would not learn right away. The corner had an interception versus Denver in the fourth quarter with his team leading 42-17 and proceeded to run around in the end zone before returning the ball 60 yards to the Broncos’ 40. This was a play that was glossed over, but once again demonstrated a me-first mentality and made no sense from a team football perspective. If he takes it coast to coast in that spot does anyone really care? What if Clay Matthews got hurt blocking someone? Shields should have been condemned for that play and obviously was not. You take a knee in that spot 100 times out of 100 and get off the field. Nothing good will ever come of that decision, up 42-17.
Maybe pick sixes are part of contracts, so there’s heavy incentive for guys to return them, but you have to know and understand the situation as it relates to winning football games. Part of me wishes Shields would have fumbled in the end zone versus the Rams, further demonstrating how asinine his attempt to return it was. Instead it was even worse, as it appears Shields has a concussion and may miss time.
The moral of the story is this: Great players know when to take a knee or when to stay inbounds. They know when to get off the field, when to try to make a huge play for their team and they know WHEN their team needs that big play. In all three of these situations, Shields did his job well and should have taken a knee.
We can only hope that Sam Shields takes a page out of James Jones’ book and learns from his past mistakes. He’s far too talented and valuable to the Packers to be getting injured on a play that should have ended with a very quick knee, a big fat smile and high fives all the way to the bench.
James Jones is becoming a touchdown machine and fan favorite. Sam Shields has all the tools to be one of the greats. He just needs to think.
Feel better Sam.
Andrew Chitko is a Packer fan who enjoys the mental and mathematical side of football just as much as the action and excitement on the field. "Cerebral Football" will focus on key coaching decisions, situational football, and other NFL-related topics deserving deeper analysis.