BY SAM HITCHCOCK
I rarely watch television that is not sports related anymore, but like most of America, I just finished watching the second season of Homeland. After predicting the New York Giants to win last Sunday, and then watching my prognostication go disastrously wrong, it seems only fitting to combine the two biggest enigmas in my life, the NFL and Homeland, and try to find some answers.
The goal is to try to change my inceptive reaction of “What the hell did I just watch?” to something that resembles reasoned conclusions. Hopefully this will lead to a more defined opinion on the Giants, New York Jets, and their opponents this Sunday (the Giants play the smoke and mirrors Baltimore Ravens, and the Jets are against the rotting corpse affectionately known as the San Diego Chargers).
I will be doing my analysis utilizing Homeland characters, with some minor characters getting a lot of ink just because it happened to come out that way.
Mike Faber – The Jets Quarterbacks
Best defined as the good guys in a bad situation. The NMT (Notorious Mike Tannenbaum) gave Mark Sanchez his $8.25 million guaranteed money in the form of an extension for the 2013 season, reportedly because he felt guilty for pursuing Peyton Manning this past offseason and coming up empty handed. Oops.
Now Sanchez is the albatross persona non grata. By releasing Sanchez now instead of keeping him on the roster, New York would suffer a further devastating salary cap hit of $4.3 million. And the trade possibility the Jets floated to the media this week was far too absurd. A franchise that is so adept at scapegoating their players seems poised to humiliate its former franchise quarterback for another season.
Speaking of scapegoats, Tim Tebow cannot feel good about how this whole saga has played out. He came to New York expecting a chance to compete for the starting quarterback job, when in reality it was a ploy to steal headlines and fill more seats. After Sanchez surrendered five turnovers in the Jets’ loss to the Tennessee Titans -- the defeat that officially ended their playoff chances -- it was clear he would no longer be the starter. But Tebow was never in the cards as New York’s Plan B, at least in Rex Ryan’s deck. Tebow was overtaken on the depth chart by Greg McElroy, the 2011 seventh-round pick who has thrown seven career NFL passes. The Tebow era is over, but certainly not mercifully.
The connection to Homeland can be found in one of the most amusing love triangles in recent television memory. To recap, the aforementioned Mike Faber and Jessica Brody (Sergeant Nicholas Brody’s wife) were “enjoying each other’s company” for the seven years while Sgt. Brody was captured by Al-Qaeda in Iraq and presumed dead. The two are ready to move in together when Sgt. Brody is found alive, and comes back to the United States, putting the kibosh on Mike and Jessica’s relationship. It becomes increasingly clear that Sgt. Brody feels emotional detachment from Jessica and recognizes the relationship Mike and Jessica were having, and the reunion of the Brody family does not work (this is not helped by Sgt. Brody’s love interest in Carrie Mathison).
In Season 2, Mike sticks around the Brody family when he is needed. He offers his support to the Brody children when Sgt. Brody disappears for days and gets rewarded in episode nine by consummating his relationship with Jessica Brody again. You feel sympathy for Mike because Sgt. Brody is such an unstable force, and he appears to care for the Brody family much more than the Sergeant does. He is a victim of unfortunate circumstances, much like the Jets’ quarterbacks are casualities of the bewildering triumvirate of Tannenbaum, head coach Rex Ryan, and offensive coordinator Tony Sparano.
Sanchez was given the extension, and then Tannenbaum traded for Tebow. This move shredded any confidence Sanchez may have had since he was bombarded with “Is Tebow going to take your job?” every time he made a bad play. The specter of Tebow and his body of adherents seemed to plague Sanchez’s psyche, and the upshot is a league-worst 24 turnovers (he has accounted for 50 individually when combining last season and this year). The lack of skill and aptitude at the receiver and running back positions certainly has not helped his case either.
Season 2 of Homeland ends with Mike receiving permission from Brody to keep enjoying sexual intercourse with his wife (which definitely took the title for best unintentional comedy moment in a season filled with them), and the chubbier version of Matt Damon gets his happy ending for now.
So what would the happy ending be for Sanchez and Tebow? For Sanchez, the Jets make the amicable gesture of apologizing to him privately for bestowing him with such difficult circumstances, and Gang Green brings in another quarterback in the offseason to compete with him (e.g., Alex Smith or Matt Flynn). There have been some whispers that Ryan wants to bring in Michael Vick, and if that is true, Jets fans will react worse than Homeland’s Abu Nazir after the drone strike. And they would be justified in their horror, because that would be an unmitigated disaster.
For Tebow, the Jets apologize for making him a sideshow and try to find a trade partner that would give him an opportunity to compete for an NFL job. Reports are that the pair is divorcing at the season’s conclusion, and it appears there is very little interest for him as a quarterback. Finding a suitor who would employ him as their fullback might be his best career option, instantly making him the league’s most famous fullback.
Abu Nazir/V.P. Walden– Tannenbaum/Ryan/Norv Turner/A.J. Smith
Grantland’s Bill Barnwell wrote a phenomenal article detailing the Jets from 2007 to present, and how they have reached their present crisis. Barnwell explains that Tannenbaum’s big weakness as GM is his propensity to splurge on free agents and acquire big names through trades (Favre, Edwards and Sanchez). This practice ultimately handcuffed the Jets with a dearth of draft picks, preventing them from having the cap space to develop young talent. (Albeit Tannenbaum had a crafty talent to manipulate designated contracts within the cap, it eventually caught up with him.)
The Jets were a good team in 2009 and 2010, making the AFC Championship game consecutively, but once their costly acquisitions got old they were not able to supplement them with young upstarts.
Rex Ryan and Norv Turner of the Chargers are their team’s respective villains because of the culture they have cultivated, and the lies they have propagated, like Rex’s now infamous quote “this is the most talented team I have ever coached.” Turner is coaching a team that went from having an abundance to a paucity of talent. When your GM lets high-end players like Vincent Jackson, Darren Sproles, Mike Tolbert, and Antonio Cromartie leave, it presents a gaping void. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has been atrocious this season, and it is clear that Turner and GM Smith seem to be on their way out. (Turner is so convinced he will be fired that he has already begun to publicly campaign for coordinator jobs – even while currently holding the title of head coach.)
Turner has not been entirely responsible for this season’s demise, but when you coach a team to a 24-0 halftime lead and allow 35 unanswered points (Week 6 against the Denver Broncos), a change of venue is mandated. The Chargers annually lack discipline, seem disinterested, and are unprepared on game day far too often. A separation between the Bolts and Turner is a necessity, and in the dark cosmic/karma twist, Turner may end up as Jets offensive coordinator next year.
The Chargers and Jets are two beleaguered, woe begotten franchises that fall prey to insults by fans because they crave headlines and media attention. In the theatre of the absurd, it is only fitting that these two teams would be attached to V.P. Walden and Abu Nazir, the catalysts for some of the Homeland Season 2’s most preposterous moments.
Brody kills the Vice President, uttering the lamest line -- “You just don’t get it do you!” -- while watching him die on the floor after hacking into his pacemaker, and no one in that government mansion is aware that this is taking place? There are no cameras or surveillance devices in the room monitoring his office study?! Also, anyone who has ever used a Blackberry knows that accessing the Internet is virtually impossible because the technology is so supine; yet Brody and Nazir can Skype through it? Blackberrys are so clunky and inefficient it would have been much more realistic if Brody and Nazir lost connection right at the dramatic moment of Nazir’s gun pointing at Carrie.
Jessica Brody – Giants’ David Wilson and the Baltimore Ravens
The Giants’ David Wilson’s yards per carry when subtracting the New Orleans game is 3.9. The Baltimore Ravens have lost three games straight after starting 9-2 and are on their second offensive coordinator of the season. This is the smoke and mirrors section of your NFL/Homeland edition preview!
It also should be noted that David Wilson cannot pass block very well or be efficient in the receiving game. And Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has had one game of more than 260 yards passing in his last five outings, and has conceded six turnovers in the past three contests.
Those once celebrated Ravens defenses are gone, too. Baltimore is 22nd in pass defense and 26th in rush defense. And the pass defense is only getting worse for Baltimore, because one of the starting cornerbacks is special teams’ gunner Corey Graham. The other corner liability is Cary Williams, a former seventh-round pick who got waived multiple times from the Tennessee Titans’ practice squad before signing with the Ravens.
This unreliability adds intrigue to Sunday’s matchup between the Giants and Ravens, and will be even more compelling if Ahmad Bradshaw only gets limited snaps and Wilson is relied upon to shoulder the load. The same workload he appeared unable to handle against Atlanta.
Jessica Brody seemed like she could be an asset to the show in Season 1 (hint: her looks help), but too much responsibility and acting submarined her in Season 2. There were way too many painful moments of “BRODY, I can’t do this anymore!” A decreased role for her in Season 3 would be a wise move by the show’s writers.
David Estes --Tony Sparano (Spoiler Alert)
These dark, brooding characters made unpopular decisions, choices that ultimately got them removed from the picture (this is based on the very safe assumption that Sparano gets fired). The Jets wanted to run the ball, and they did, just not successfully.
Gang Green approached 2012 with the plan of giving running backs’ Shonn Greene and Bilal Powell significant carries, but neither proved to be a ball-carrier who could consistently accrue yardage on first and second downs. It didn’t help that the Jets’ run blocking has been below average (ProFootballFocus has them 20th in run blocking), ultimately forcing Sanchez into long-yardage situations on third down.
The results were bad because teams did not fear the run-heavy packages New York would utilize with their two tight ends and half backs. Sanchez was unable to exploit the man-to-man coverage, and receivers failed to get separation. With Greg McElroy starting at quarterback this week, a San Diego defense that is typically aggressive and pressure-oriented should execute even more blitz packages than normal.
Estes could be Tannenbaum or Ryan because of the way he exiled Carrie from the CIA after Season 1, portraying her as a lunatic and embarrassing her. But ultimately Estes’ downfall was not listening to his gut, which was telling him to kill Brody.
Did Brody orchestrate the bomb that killed everyone at Walden’s memorial? It is hard to say because it was left purposefully ambiguous for the fade to black. However, history is not on Brody’s side. So far the Sergeant has almost blown up the Vice President and everyone in that bunker room in a suicide mission in Season 1, only stopping because of his daughter’s cries not to do so.
In the beginning of Season 2, Sgt. Brody warns and saves Nazir’s life via text when the CIA was operating a mission in Beirut to assassinate him. He kills the tailor in cold blood, and likely tipped off Al-Qaeda about the CIA coming to Gettysburg to confiscate the bomb. Brody disappears in a helicopter with Roya Hammad and Nazir and what they discuss for nearly a day is left unclear.
Carrie gets kidnapped and Brody subsequently kills V.P. Walden to “save Carrie.” Sgt. Brody separates from his wife to spend time with Carrie, an especially shrewd move because after the massive bomb blows up the memorial service for Walden, she believes that he is innocent and helps him escape the country. Estes fails to take out the terrorist who will have the bomb in his car, and it bites him when that same terrorist murders many members of government attending Walden’s memorial service (including himself).
Sparano’s ground and pound falls short because he tries to implement a scheme with below average running backs and a mediocre offense line, and his game manager, Sanchez, had his confidence destroyed when they brought in Tebow. For both, mission failed.
Dana Brody - Bad Giants, Bad Jets
What exactly does Bad Giants and Bad Jets mean? It means the same thing everyone who watches Homeland thinks when Dana Brody enters a scene: this is going to be a brutal spectacle to watch. When the Giants come out flat, Eli is throwing it inaccurately and making bad decisions. Big Blue’s pass rush is unable to shrink the pocket and dust up the opposing quarterback, and the Giants’ secondary has fans enacting a very famous painting by Edward Munch.
The first half possessions for the Giants-Falcons game unfolded like this for New York: interception; missed field goal; punt; interception; stop on fourth-and-1 ; stop on fourth-and-1. There was no mystery as to why it was 17-0 Falcons at halftime and would eventually balloon to 34-0. They got merked in the worst way.
The biggest harbinger for the Giants of what team shows up is whether their two biggest receiving targets, Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, are playing well or badly. If those two are off-kilter, the team has no chance. They don’t have a Mario Manningham to lean on anymore.
The Bad Jets changes now that Sanchez is not playing, but at its core still remains somewhat the same. They will continue to try to extend the field with vertical passes, bring Tebow in for the Wildcat whenever their quarterback (now McElroy) finds a mini-rhythm, commit foolish penalties, and get lost in their coverage assignments. Their usually stout run defense allows 94-yard touchdown runs (*cough Chris Johnson on Monday Night Football), and their offensive line gets no push -- with their runners compounding the problem by being unable to get any yards after contact. Their receivers don’t get separation. The Bad Jets is an ugly sight.
The most excruciating Dana moment of Homeland was when she tries to visit the daughter of the girl whose mom she and Walden’s son killed with the car. I won’t go into further detail because no one wants to relive that nightmare acting performance, but it was worse than last Sundays Giants’ performance and equivalent to the first half of the Jets’ Thanksgiving game against the Patriots.
Saul and Quinn - Good Giants, Good Jets
The two best characters in Homeland are appropriately equated with when the Giants and Jets play well. For the Giants, this means quick downfield strikes, and getting a clean-jersey Manning in sync with Cruz, Nicks, and No. 3 options’ Domenix Hixon/Rueben Randle. The Giants’ defense is solid (they rank 12th in the NFL in points per game), but their strength lies in forcing turnovers.
If they can stagnate the rush offense of the Ravens (running back Ray Rice), and force Flacco into compromising downfield throws with intense heat from the pass rush, the Giants will capitalize (New York is +13 in turnover margin). When the G-men are at their best, they make their special teams work to their advantage. This will mean holding in check Baltimore’s Jacoby Jones, who has a penchant for breaking long touchdown runs on punt and kickoff returns.
When the Jets are playing well they seal the A, B, and C gaps and suffocate the opponent’s running game. When opposing teams are forced to throw on the Jets, their secondary can dominate their coverage assignments and force incompletions or turnovers. Against Arizona and Jacksonville, the Jets controlled the ball and ran with gusto. The Jets can’t rely on their run offense as a crutch against good teams with good run defenses, but against subpar adversaries their run offense can win them games. (The most puzzling aspect of their loss to the Titans was that they took the ball out of their running backs’ hands and threw frequently.)
Look for counters and misdirection runs against a San Diego defense that will be bringing a lot of pressure off the edge and inside. When the Jets avoid submitting turnover opportunities, win field position and special teams, try to run the ball as much as possible, and look for safe, short passes in the play-action when the opponent stacks the box -- that is when they win games.
Saul… where to even start? Is he too trusting or “sensitive” like Dar Adal disdainfully quipped? Probably. In fact, Season 2 was strewn with constant reminders of how Saul’s inability to make the cold, calculated decision is why he was an ineffective CIA operative (when Saul gets duped by Eileen, that foreshadows the biggest oversight by Saul which was trusting Carrie, who trusted Brody).
But Saul’s infinite belief in good and righteous behavior is the light of hope in a show littered with dark spots. Carrie and Brody have an impossibly doomed love affair, Brody’s family is in constant turmoil, and all of Sergeant Brody’s army buddies are drunk, conspiracy theorists. In the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy, Harvey Dent is portrayed as the beacon of hope for Gotham. Saul typifies the same role in Homeland; in an America gone wrong with political corruption and domestic terrorist threats, Saul tries to always be morally just. The irony is that this makes him a bad CIA officer, and culpable for another foreign attack on American soil.
For part of Season 2, I had a running joke with a friend that the best dimension brought into the new season of Homeland was the “soldier” Quinn; the worst dimension was everything else. Ultimately, the show redeemed itself and Quinn remains a great addition. The end of the season makes you think that maybe Quinn, a very determined pragmatist, doesn’t have the spine to be black ops because he is too morally virtuous. Or as he defines it, “he kills bad guys.” Estes is supposed to be dislikable, but he makes the decisions that no one wants to make, and in turn, he is/was the best at his job.
Carrie/Brody - Prediction Time
With the Giants, I might be as delusional as Carrie when she said to Brody that helping him is a way out for both of them, but I believe in the G-men. Is it concerning that Justin Tuck’s pass rush is graded as -5.4 by PFF right now? Yup. Does it worry me that 14 games have been played and I can think of only a handful of good Mathias Kiwanuka moments? You betcha. But Jason Pierre-Paul remains atop the upper echelon of great pass-rushers in the NFL, and Osi Umenyiora and Tuck have a knack for coming up big when it counts. The same is absolutely true with Eli and his fickle receivers. So here it is, I’m taking them against the papier-mache Ravens.
GIANTS 27, RAVENS 17.
For the Jets, this was the best thing that could have happened to them. For an organization that cares so much about personal image, they need to get rid of the riverboat gambler (Tannenbaum) and demote Sanchez and rebuild. One of the biggest lies propagated by the New York media is you cannot start from square one in the Big Apple. False. Fans are too smart, too savvy, too informed these days.
Jets fans, like all fans, are led by their heart, but ultimately would appreciate some honesty from an organization that has been so closely linked with deceit. Jets fans want some remnants of hope. That means tearing the house down and starting over. Building around young draft picks and not trying to win the Super Bowl in the offseason. After such a farce of a season, being forthright would go a long way. (And no, I’m not picking the Jets to beat the Chargers.)
CHARGERS 20, JETS 17.
So what exactly happened in Homeland? Why am I still haunted by Claire Danes’ crying face? Possibly because we all have been Carrie Mathison. All of us have wanted to believe someone so much that it interferes with our judgment in other areas of our lives. People might have been disappointed with Season 2, but partially that might be because they were disappointed with how childishly Carrie acted, how she was able to become so invested in a terrorist’s personal life that it compromised United States’ national security. She potentially threw it all away to be with Brody, and then her house of cards collapsed.
In the wise and now iconic words of Saul spoken to Carrie, “You’re the smartest and the dumbest f****** person I’ve ever known.” The same could be said for my dogged belief in the 2012 Manningham-less Giants, and prophesizing of the tenet that fans are smart and you can rebuild in the Big Apple. We can only wait and see.