Monday, December 1, 2008

Monday Hangover: 12-1-2008


We're slowly marching back. Better late than never...

The Hangover…

• I can’t figure out what’s going on with the Packers, but at least some of it has to do with a rush defense that hasn’t gotten enough attention for being awful (141.8 yards per game, 27th in the league). If I watched DeAngelo Williams march through that line without anybody stopping him, I was going to lose my mind. Anyone who was hoping for an offseason free of “Brett Favre never should have been allowed to leave Green Bay” stories is about to be sorely disappointed.

• Meanwhile, let’s all take a deep breath on the coronation of the Panthers as a dominant team. Yesterday’s win came in a game when they lost the time of possession battle and were outgained both through the air and the ground, and it took a Steve Smith circus catch to save the day. Furthermore, every time this team has come up against a legitimate opponent, it’s come up short, and it’s only due to a lack of legitimate opponents on the schedule that their record is this good.

• It’s been an NFL season full of mediocre play, but watching AP run is still one of my favorite things in the league. It’s like an old school LT, but with less brutal contact than LT had early on (people forget that he had a mean stiff arm). The best example of this would have to be the long run against the Bears in the second quarter, where he disappeared into a sea of jerseys only to emerge at full speed, as though he had been above the pileup the whole time. Watching the Vikings play last night, it’s hard not to think they’ve got the division wrapped up, and if AP keeps running the way he’s looked recently, and Berrian acts as the quick strike alternative, this team has the pieces to be the contender we all thought they’d be in the offseason.

• The Grossman-Orton battle ended exactly like I knew it would: There are no winners. The fact that everyone was going insane over the Bears having “finally” discovered a quarterback who plays just below the league average and can’t throw an effective deep ball should tell you how bad things have gotten there.

• Anybody who tells you that the Chargers should have kept Turner over LT is an idiot. Turner has had one great season, and yes, you probably could have predicted that would happen. Still, don’t underestimate the value of having an effective spell back (Turner has Jerious Norwood, who will one day pull a Michael Turner on another team, while LT has the undersized Sproles and the so-so Hester) or the value of having a consistent pass attack (whatever is going on with Vincent Jackson, it’s time to pull the plug on that experiment). Give LT either one of those pieces, and I’m betting his season is much more effective than it’s been up to this point.

• That said, we’ve officially left the era of LT dominance. His average yards per carry is 3.7 (down from a career average of 4.4), and he’s just not hitting the hole with the same burst that he did in years past. For a runner who’s primary strength is his quickness, that’s the kiss of death.

• I can’t be the only person rooting for the little engine that could in Atlanta. There was a great article last week on how Matt Ryan is winning back fans in Atlanta who were eager for the return of Michael Vick. Which leads to the question: From day one, why would anyone still need to be “won over” on the Ryan versus Vick debate? Did the fans miss the chance to catch a game ball that Vick launched into the stands by mistake? Has the number of roaming strays increased since Ryan took over?

• Trent Edwards being outplayed by Shaun Hill is the official sign that the Trent Edwards experiment is a failure. In fact, I suggest we apply this test to every singe quarterback in the league. Shaun Hill could be the official end of days sign for a shaky quarterback, riding in and bringing death and despair to young signal callers throughout the league. Seriously, Skeletor, put JP Losman back in. Last week. If you’re going to lose, at least show us some breathtakingly athletic ways to fail.

• Remember when we were all buying into the “Jay-Z vs. Nas” debate? When Nas dropped a couple of really good freestyles and diss tracks, then rode the hype into an OK album, and then Jay proceeded to release album after album that was better than what Nas was putting out? Matt Cassel’s back to back 400 yard games were the “Ether” to Tom Brady’s Blueprint and every album/track from that point on. We won’t be seeing anymore “Cassel vs. Brady” debates anytime soon.

• So…why aren’t the Steelers the team to beat in the AFC? It seems like everyone thought it was the Titans, then jumped onto the Jets bandwagon, only to abandon it for the Titans again. Meanwhile, Mike Tomlin has the best defense in the league, and one of the most potent 1-2 ground punches (Mewelde Moore is this season’s Earnest Graham) is coming together for the end of the season, with Fast Willie Parker having been spared a lot of wear and tear. Assuming they get a first round bye (which is a definite possibility) and can rest up, is there a team in the AFC that we don’t think they could hang with, particularly if they can avoid falling far behind and get to stick with their rush attack?

• Between Larry Johnson, Tyler Thigpen, the entire Raiders coaching staff besides Rob Ryan, and possible Herm Edwards, did the Chiefs vs. Raiders game set some sort of record for “most personnel on a field who will lose their current jobs within a year”?

• It’s hard to get excited about the Colts when they have that much trouble putting away the Browns. Look, I love what Peyton is doing as much as the next guy, but the fact remains that this team still can’t move the ball efficiently on the ground, and when Reggie Wayne struggles, everything goes straight to hell. If they don’t get Addai working between the tackles in the next couple of weeks, this team isn’t going to scare anybody come playoff time.

• Meanwhile, could life get any worse for Derek Anderson? After a Pro Bowl year, he loses his job to Cleveland’s clear QB of the future, then, once he gets it back by default, loses any chance to gain some trade value with an MCL injury. It’s like last season was to DA what Mean Girls was to Lindsay Lohan and everything from here on out is Just My Luck. And while that makes Anderson the season’s saddest story, the fact that I’ve watched that movie in its entirety allows me to maintain dominance as the biggest loser on this blog.

• Having watched Handsome Chad play for a while, let me say that unlike the Colts, the Dolphins should be totally fine with narrowly eeking wins against below average teams. Nothing about that squad is built for crushing opponents. Instead, that team is going to win by strangling opponents with brutal clock control and a ground game that, when it’s on (and it’s struggled recently), 3-4 yards teams to death. As a Ronnie Brown fantasy owner, I’m psyched about this (/punches self). I didn’t think I’d find a more frustrating experience than last year’s Cedric Benson experiment. I was wrong.

• Geez, Bulger, you don’t have to throw every single pass that enters your head. Sometimes, particularly when there’s a guy in the other team’s jersey standing in the way, that’s the WRONG idea. They’re going to have to cut him after this season, right? Or are they still on the hook for a ton of that wheelbarrow full of cash they gave him after he had one good year. That deal should be getting as much attention as the sub-prime mortgage crisis for destroying our economy.

• As much as I liked the idea of Washington using its new west coast attack to bewilder opponents through the sky, getting away from Clinton Portis is going to be the reason this team misses the playoffs. Regardless of how good a system you’ve created (and again, I believe in what Zorn is trying to do and think it will make Campbell a star), when you have the conference’s second most enigmatic weapon (AP being the first) in the backfield, you need to find ways to get him involved for more than 12 touches. In trying to give their identity a new edge, the Redskins seem to be smothering the part of the team that gave them their original character, which is just as bad as never establishing who you are at all.

• Remember that thing I said about Derek Anderson being the season’s most unbelievable fall from grace? I just remembered that he doesn’t have a bullet hole in his thigh. I take it all back.

• The sad thing is that on a neutral field I’m pretty sure the Lions kill the Bengals. Like, by 2 scores at least. Rod Marinelli should have an incentive in his contract built around his not hanging himself by the end of the season.

• Outside of Jamarcus Russell, who may never achieve his potential thanks to the bizarre mismanagement of his front office, there isn’t an arm in the league that intrigues me more than Joe Flacco. He’s nowhere near as polished a product as Matt Ryan, but it’s refreshing to see a team give a rookie the ability to use his physical talents to their full extent (the Falcons have done this to a point, but have a run game to take pressure off of Ryan). Where other teams would build in multiple check down routes and dump offs, the Ravens are letting Flacco gun his passes into traffic and trust his arm to beat defenders. Doing that and letting him throw 20-30 times a game may be completely stupid, and will probably cost them a game or two, but it also could make Flacco much better in the long run. Get him a receiver who can legitimately outrun the opposition, and things could get much more interesting next season.

• And because it’s obligatory around these parts: FREE TROY SMITH.

• I have the nagging fear that the New Orleans Saints are going to wind up being the Phoenix Suns of the NFL.

• I can’t get a read on the Bucs, but if they can win their division, I certainly wouldn’t want to have to play them once the weather gets cold. They have big receiving targets (Antonio Bryant seems to have finally gotten over that nagging hangover he had in San Francisco), a ground game that should be fully formed soon (4 rushes for 20 yards is great considering that I seriously doubt doctors actually found the remnants of Cadillac Williams’s knee), and the fourth best defense in the league (allowing the third fewest points). Throw in a quarterback whose bread and butter is spreading the ball around and hitting intermediate passes consistently, and it’s the second year in a row Tampa Bay is going to sneakily host a playoff game.

• I don’t even want to talk about the Jets game, but I’ll do it anyway. First, I don’t buy this “everything went wrong” business for one second. The Chargers, who are built pretty much the exact same way as the Broncos offensively, did the same thing to us in week three. Gang Green can’t cover downfield targets to save their lives. Abram Elam is the slowest corner I have seen in my lifetime. At least when Justin Miller got beat, it’s because he was doing something goofy like running backwards or blatantly covering the wrong guy, not because he just wasn’t fast enough to play the position.

• I’ll keep it going. My personal favorite stat of the season: In the four games where Brett Favre has thrown more than 35 passes, he has thrown 8 of his 14 picks, and the Jets have gone 1-3 in those games (with the one win being a lucky comeback victory against the Chiefs in week 8). I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but we need to give Thomas Jones more touches. I know, I fully expect to wake up and find out I’ve been in a coma and this season has been one long dream,, but he’s averaging almost 5 yards a carry. This thirtysomething to forty passes per game crap is so obviously Mangini playing to the media it’s silly.

• I mean, if I knew that you could beat a player up in order to dislodge a ball that he’s clearly in possession of, I’d have criticized this defense a lot more.

• That said, my rule still rings true: Nothing good ever comes from getting Brad Smith involved on offense.

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