Pedicures or not, this was the best episode of the season.
Maybe it's perspective relative to the state of Hard Knocks, where teams have an increasing amount of editorial control, but Tuesday's fourth installment of the Atlanta Falcons edition of this series managed to peel the public relations sheen back and feature real, live conflict inside the world of professional football.
This was also an episode that featured:
- Running backs getting pedicures
- An offensive lineman nicknamed "Brawly" finding solace in clay sculpture
- An oiled-up Matt Ryan being unsuccessfully coaxed into taking his shirt off for a photo shoot. "Not after I saw those pictures of Colin Kaepernick. Holy shit, he was huge," our beloved bird-framed Ryan said.
- Too much screen time for Kroy Biermann's reality TV star wife ("too much" time being defined as "any")
Doesn't matter. Best episode of the season.
1 - Something rarely seen on Hard Knocks is a player's comments on the show coming back to haunt him with his coaches. Rookie corner Ricardo Allen's enthusiasm about making "the first big play of the year" seemed innocuous enough back in the first episode, but he was chastised for being starry-eyed by one of his position coaches. This is why Hard Knocks could never work at the collegiate level, where coaches have total authority over player behavior - the entire series would be used as a monitoring device.
2 - Bryan Cox. With just one episode remaining, Hard Knocks knows its marquee stars are Cox and wide receiver Roddy White. The former has come on as the mascot of a newly "toughened" staff, and his dynamic with rookie defensive lineman Ra'Shede Hageman has become fascinating TV. As we've mentioned previously, Hageman was considered a reach in the 2014 Draft because of perceived character issues.
After lazy play on defense and special teams in Atlanta's ugly-even-for-the-preseason loss to Houston, Cox is charged with physically exhausting the stubborn Hageman.
"I want you to see how fucking pitiful you look. They make you they jailhouse bitch," Cox says to Hageman during film study.
"I put my name on you," he says.
SB Nation contributor and former Tampa Bay defensive end Stephen White has noticed Hageman's lukewarm play-to-play performance, too:
To RaShede Hageman tonight in Hard Knocks. Nobody that big and strong should be getting pancaked that many times in a game. He got a sack— Stephen White (@sgw94) August 26, 2014
But man that catdoesnt understand the concept of wanting to make every play. Louis Nix looked rusty as hell but you could SEE he was trying— Stephen White (@sgw94) August 26, 2014
Trying to make it happen every play on the field. I just dont see that from Hageman. Not sure if it can be coached either— Stephen White (@sgw94) August 26, 2014
White's last comment makes the footage of 'Shede begrudgingly running gassers as Cox screams - a high school punishment at best - that much more intriguing. As a Falcons fan it's terrifying to think we've wasted a second round pick on a guy with incurable "motor" issues. But here we have the realization of a rookie's worst perceived traits from his draft report on national TV for God and the rest of the league to see. Credit the Falcons for letting HBO go all-in on the storyline. It's interesting and relevant journalism nestled among entertainment.
3 - The standard roster cut montage came and went, but with little emotional heft. This season hasn't focused on any particular UFA or position battle. It wasn't impactful to see these no-names go, but HBO's quick hit on fourth stringer quarterback Jeff Matthews did have some football-centric interest. Matthews has a rocket arm, but was lost in terminology and couldn't replicate Matt Ryan's pre-snap cadence. Cadence is something most fans don't invest much into, aside from Peyton Manning's "Omaha" joke, but it's crucial for linemen to anticipate snaps. Matthews' struggles - at least what made TV - came down not to his arm, but his ability to holler correctly. Football is bizarre that way.
4 - Special teams coach Keith Armstrong's dressing-down of his unit after the Falcons' horrific Houston game. I counted three "fucks," two "shits" and three "asses" in a tirade on the effort of Hageman, Freeman and defensive end Malachi Goodman among others. Just like Cox vs. Hageman, this was unflattering, unfiltered footage that served to inform the audience far more than represent the franchise.
"You ain't good enough to be an asshole," Armstrong screams at Goodman, and somewhere I hope this is crocheted onto a pillow to be sold at an adults-only Cracker Barrel.
I thought the scene was a fascinating look at what an acceptable form of aggressive coaching is at the pro level. You know who didn't like it? Resident Saints fan @angrywhodat, here with this week's 150-word Saints fan review:
Apparently the Falcons coaches have this R. Lee Ermey idea of "toughness" where the key word is gained through being belittled and cursed at. Real life isn’t basic training; I didn’t hear a guy get berated like that in two tours in Iraq as an infantryman, because real grown men just don’t respond to that kind of nonsense.
Soldiers in basic don’t follow so much as they try to tolerate until they leave. Pyle shot Hartman before doing himself.
1. "You should be TOUGH! Remember when Vaccaro ruined our whole season with one hit? RETALIATE!"
2. "Yay Matt got hit in the face and you fought them for it! LIKES TO FIGHT GUY GETS A ROSTER SPOT."
3. "Hey, you just got kicked out for fighting, stupid! NO ROSTER SPOT FOR YOU."
Did I miss the scene where a coach taught a thing about football to a football player?
Ah yes, New Orleans pro football! Where the franchise and fans would never endorse such a silly thing as a profanity-infused invective about violence.
Aside from a somewhat whitewashed editing job on the Falcons 24-17 loss to the Titans - there were several ugly plays involving starters that HBO ditched for a positive outlook, most especially the first team offense failing to convert on a fourth-and-inches inside the red zone - this was the least buffered, least rounded-off "behind the scenes" look all season. More of this in the season finale, Home Box Office.