Sharing the ball works better than feeding the diva

Alan TruexIf there’s one thing that annoys me about the NFL – and there are many – it’s diva receivers. I’m weary of their self-importance, their outcries whenever they’re not the primary focus of a game plan.

Actually I have mixed feelings about them. I appreciate a good celebration dance, since, being overly white, I’m incapable of such a thing. I don’t understand the flags around Antonio Brown.

But I do understand Ben Roethlisberger lashing out at him: “He put our kick coverage team in a bad situation, and we can’t have it. And AB knows it.”

Keyshawn Johnson, one of the earliest divas, circa 2000, insists Brown is really not one of his kind. “It’s a label someone gave a receiver, and now every wide receiver who has fun is a diva.”

I say if the fun he’s having harms his team, that’s a diva.

Brown’s choreography aside, most of these prima donnas provide sideshows that aren’t entertaining. Spare me the constant jawing with the cornerbacks and refs and the pleas of “Just Give Me the Damn Ball.” Which, in the case of Keyshawn, became the title of his autobiography.

Dez Bryant is one of America’s best-known athletes, not just for telegenic receptions that swing outcomes of games but also for mood swings. “I’m America’s most hated,” he has said.

In his first game back from a knee injury this season, he was cited by TV analysts for quitting his routes when he wasn’t the first option, thereby prompting the defense to shift away from him to the intended receiver.

Other things I don’t want from receivers: any sort of embrace with the kicker’s net (Odell Beckham Jr.) or any farther-afield misadventures that will be noted on police blotters (Michael Irvin, Plaxico Burress).

Even more disheartening are the wannabe divas.

Kenny Britt of the LA Rams is having his best of eight seasons in the NFL. He’s so ecstatic about ranking 11th in receiving yardage that he set up a pep rally for himself and recorded video to launch a Pro Bowl campaign.

Seattle’s Doug Baldwin is less delusional than Britt and more accomplished. So perhaps it’s properly divalike for him to make an obscene middle-finger gesture at offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, who wanted him to pass instead of receive.

The play was a touchdown, but in the postgame locker room Baldwin protested that it’s not enough to just give him the damn ball, you better throw it to him.

One of the newest and most promising divas is Brandin Cooks. He was chosen in the first-round of the 2014 draft to be the long-distance receiver Drew Brees has lacked. He’s been fine in that role – stretching the defense to create underneath opportunities for the rest of the offense.

But Cooks posted an Instagram complaint after he was not targeted for any passes during a Week 12 rout of the Rams. Asked why he went public, he had a snappy response: “Closed mouths don’t get fed.”

Call me old-school, but when your team wins by four touchdowns, it’s the height of conceit to criticize the strategy.

Funny thing about the celebrated receivers, while they earn their multimillions in salary, endorsements and TV gigs, they’re often inefficient at moving the football.

Consider Mike Evans of Tampa Bay. According to Pro Football Focus, which claims to evaluate every NFL play, he’s the best receiver in the league. He’s also the most targeted (11 passes per game), yet he secures just 55 percent of balls thrown his way.

He’s so fully covered that Jameis Winston could try almost anyone else and have higher probability of success. Options include Russell Shepard and tight end Cameron Brate, who are both above 65%.

With the unconscionably accurate Brees aiming for him, Cooks has caught a very respectable 69%. Even so, he’s exceeded by Michael Thomas (78%) and Willie Snead (70%). Who can fault Sean Payton for not calling for more Cooks?

Curiously, when the diva is missing, he may not be missed.

Detroit quarterback Matt Stafford is having his best season now that future Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson retired to a mostly different show, Dancing With the Stars – specifically, dancing with Lindsay Arnold.

The Lions are uncharacteristically in first place in the NFC North, while  Megatron just finished his season, more typically, in third place.

The Cowboys lost their only game this year, the opener by a point when Bryant was targeted five times and caught only one, for 8 yards. When he was inactive for the next three games with a knee injury, they won them all, not seeming to miss a receiver with a 51% catch rate. They found it’s better to spread the ball than feed the diva.

The Bucccaneers figured that out, and maybe not too late to make the playoffs. In Sunday’s game in San Diego, where they were a 4-point underdog, they threw 6 times to Evans, out of 29 total. They targeted Brate 9 times (he caught 6 for 86 yards and a TD) and won 28-21.

The drama cravers (not saying Evans is) tend to be erratic because they’re ultrasensitive. If defenders insult them or their mother, they lose concentration and commit penalties. Josh Norman last year goaded Beckham into a head-hunting assault that got him suspended.

Bryant last week became so enraged by Norman’s banter that a scuffle ensued. Afterward the receiver declared twitter-war against his foe. Who does Dez think he is, a future president? Hey, I’m not saying being a diva won’t bring fame, wealth and a dance with Lindsay Arnold. I’m not devaluing any of that. Just saying the self-obsession is annoying.

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