Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Hangover – Week 2



- Screw cautious optimism; I root for the best team in the AFC East. After week one, the question was how bad the Texans were. After week two, we should all be wondering just how good the Jets could be this year. Here is what the game looked like for the Pats offense: Punt, punt, FG, INT, FG, FG, punt, punt, punt, punt, downs. The best part is that the Jets defense did this while having to stay on the field for extended drives on little rest (the Jets offense had just three drives lasting over two minutes). Say what you will about their flaws, but the Pats still have one of the best offenses in the league, and the Jets shut them down for an entire game. I want to hug Rex Ryan.

- And just in case you’re thinking I’m not going to heap excessive praise on my boy El Guapo, Mark Sanchez looked equally brilliant in the second half. Once Schotty figured out that we have a quarterback who won’t throw the game away, Sanchez had a second half where he went 11/17 with a TD and a 148 yards (should have been 2 TDs…Chansi Stuckey…). The TD drive was a blistering 56 yard aerial assault taking just over a minute and utilizing both of our top receivers (Cotchery and Keller). Still, the smartest play of the game may have come with 2:35 left in the game on 3rd and 3. With the Patriots having no timeouts left, Sanchez saw a play break down and simply fell to take the sack rather than trying to force a pass or create an unnecessary dangerous play with his feet. Clock runs down to 2 minutes, and all of a sudden the Pats offense is not only heavily pressured, but also rushed due to time constraints. Probably 75% of the QBs in the league force a pass there (certainly Favre would have last year). It’s early, but Mark Sanchez is making a strong case for Rookie of the Year.

- On the one hand, Pats fans need to step back from the ledge. This thing could have (and should have) started with an 0-2 hole in two division games, and Welker was sorely missed in the Jets game. On the other hand, you have to be concerned that maybe another passing target isn’t what the Pats need right now. The Pats ran just 19 planned rushes (compared to 29 by the Jets), and had the ball for a significantly longer period of time in the first half, when they had the lead. At a certain point the Pats will need to figure out ways for their high power offense to show more of a ground game, both to keep defenses from wailing on Brady and to keep what is proving to be a sub par defensive secondary off of the field (Richard Seymour masked more of those flaws than anyone in Boston wants to admit). Still a team to be reckoned with, but Belichick’s squad has always relied on its versatility on both sides of the ball, and although the talent level is still high, everything feels much more predictable.

- I don’t want to alarm anybody (I always want to alarm everybody), but what the hell is going on with the Giants defense? With over 600 yards of offense given up in the first two weeks (272 of them to a shaky, confused Redskins team), losing Justin Tuck for any amount of time has to have fans of this team concerned. They’ve looked like the best team in the league so far, but the fact that it’s been due to a surprisingly versatile offense is cause for concern, as there are too many high power offenses in the league for the Giants to rely on winning shootouts.

- Meanwhile, the Cowboys defense just looks lost. Mario Manningham brutalized Terrance Newman, and he’s the best part of the entire secondary. Considering that the Giants are on the lesser end of the passing offenses this team will face (remember that the Bucs had them reeling for most of the game in week one), I’m prepared to say this team won’t be a factor come the postseason, particularly if the Eagles can get their offensive mojo back.

- I’m segue city today. The Eagles proved on Sunday that they live and die by Donovan McNabb, and it has everything to do with pacing. With Donovan in there, that game turns into an interesting shootout, one in which the Eagles are better equipped to maintain drives and distribute the ball to their myriad receivers. With Kolb (who has to have proven he isn’t the guy by now), the Eagles give offenses too many chances to figure out their defense, which is going to be a problem against solid pass games. Yes, Drew Brees can do that to anybody, but Tony Romo and Eli Manning aren’t exactly slouches, and they’ll each get two shots at this team as the season progresses. It’s going to be up to the Eagles offense to find ways to sustain drives and keep them off of the field.

- Also, if you missed it, Jason Whitlock made an excellent point regarding race and the response to McNabb’s injury as opposed to Brady’s last year.

- Meanwhile, the Saints could not be nastier right now. Brees managed to hit 9 receivers, four of them for more than 40 yards. Don’t sleep on the defense either. Under Gregg Williams, a unit that had no presence last year is at least forcing teams to get rid of the ball faster (thanks to a significantly improved pass rush), which, as we saw in the 2007 Giants, can make all the difference.

- Marques Colston is going to deserve consideration as a top flight receiver (think Megatron, Moss, and The Woefully Nickname-less Andre Johnson) when this season is done. Without Brees, he’s not quite as special, but without Colston, Brees has a much harder time finding mismatches in the end zone. He’s all alone in the second tier right now (above Bowe and co., below the top three), and that’s changing soon.

- Speaking of top flight receivers, The Woefully Nickname-less Andre Johnson proved he’s a killer against Tennessee, but nothing has changed in my stance on Matt Schaub. I said after last week’s blowout that Schaub has all the tools to be a top tier NFL quarterback, and he showed those tools in this game, but he still hasn’t shown an ability to shake off tough pressure and still take command of his skill set. Tennessee didn’t get to him at all (0 sacks, almost no hits), and if he thinks that’s going to happen consistently, especially with future opponents having seen what he does when given room and time to operate ideally, particularly behind an average Texans O-Line, he’s crazy. Sunday was a great showing of potential, but if a team ever needed to get a little dirt under their fingernails, it’s the Texans.

- I said Albert Haynesworth was worth at least two wins per season, and it’s looking like I may have underestimated that total. Without him, the Redskins lose on Sunday. With him, the Titans are probably 2-0.

- Carson Palmer has been saying all season that someone is going to die at QB in the NFL (we get it, Carson; you’re still upset about 2005). Spoiler alert: It’s Jason Campbell. Defenses have time to make their first move, miss, regroup, make a second move, and then figure out a whole new way to hit him before he’s found the read he wants. I feel like I’m watching Final Destination every time he drops back.

- Donnie Avery is going to be the biggest disappointment of the year for me. I can feel it. He’s not getting the same separation he did last year, and he’s honestly as responsible as anyone for the lack of offensive stretch that is limiting Steven Jackson.

- Also, I’m one more good game away from starting a FREE STEVEN JACKSON campaign.

- If I’m working on a big case, one that I’ve been working on all year, and all of a sudden I get incredibly sick to the point where I need to be replaced, it would be utterly retarded to imagine that my replacement would be ready to go within 1 hour of my exit, right? Seneca Wallace will be just fine. Hell, if Burleson can hold onto a pass that a downfield WR is supposed to make, Wallace finishes with a clean game, and probably keeps them within shooting distance. Look at last year’s performance with a decimated receiving corps after Hassy left. An 87 passer rating with 11 TDs and 3 INTs, and that’s with Koren Robinson as the top target. If anything, Seneca Wallace was the originator of John Carlson’s emergence last season. As long as the defense can do a better job in the middle (256 rushing yards proves that the LB corps, which lost both Hill and Tatupu, isn’t just the best part of the defense but the ENTIRE defensive core), this team isn’t going to suffer greatly by losing their aging, injury prone QB. He was my least favorite part of the potentially fascinating Seattle offense anyway. FREE SENECA WALLACE.

- How nasty is Frank Gore right now? We all knew that the new coaching staff would work in his favor, but I don’t think anybody knew how good he’d be with a run-first coach. Gore’s unique ability to make incredibly minor adjustments that capitalize on defensive holes in major ways fits Singletary’s proposed “punch in the mouth” offense perfectly. If Bruce and Vernon Davis keep defenses honest, Gore could be the engine of a very frightening 49ers offense.

- Keeping defenses honest is exactly what David Garrard can’t seem to do in Jacksonville. Against a high powered offense, nobody needed or wanted Garrard to get into a showdown with a Cardinals pass attack that had been managed by the 49ers the week before thanks to efficient drives (49ers won the clock battle by about 3 minutes, and had 7 of their 13 drives last over 2 minutes, including a 7:28 beauty resulting in a go-ahead TD in the fourth quarter). The sad fact is that Jack Del Rio’s “right way” mentality has finally left his quarterback without a soul to catch a pass, as Matt Jones and Reggie Williams, even on their worst days, had the size to bail Garrard out on intermediate passing plays (not to mention their tragically underutilized speed that will forever leave Jacksonville as the most disappointing offensive team of the past five years). Now Garrard has nobody, and MJD needs defenders to have at least some focus elsewhere for his size not to become a liability. Garrard’s 23/43 stat line is all the evidence you need to see that Jacksonville has lost any semblance of the singularity of focus (run, run, and then strike deep to take advantage of the running) that made them great in 2007.

- Meanwhile, someone needs to tell the little Fitzgerald that the Cardinals are adding a desperately needed short game that utilizes their running backs. We all know they can hit Fitzgerald deep with 2-3 guys covering him, but getting a (quasi)ground game going means they won’t always HAVE to do that.

- True story, if Eric Mangini coached the Cardinals, they would have at least 10 targets for Fitzgerald of over 40 yards next game. I hate that guy. His bizarre decision to send Kellen Winslow packing has left the Browns with exactly one receiving target, which is the kiss of death for a young quarterback trying to find a comfort zone. Don’t believe me? Watch Quinn try to force the ball into coverage to find Edwards and tell me he’s got another option. The only other receiver with as many targets was Josh Cribbs, who is a great return man but a fourth string receiver at best. For a QB who is always going to be better with intermediates, dropping an elite pass catching TE for peanuts set the franchise back three years from where they already were. Oh, and Winslow could block better the bulk of that O-Line. But at least you got a defensive coach…who has now given up over 25 points in two straight games. Why is this guy still coaching anywhere?

- Repeat after me: The Broncos are not a bad team. For one thing, they’re on top of the division after two weeks. For another, their offense showed marked improvement from the first week debacle in Cincy. McDaniels has figured out how to blend Denver’s stockpile of good to very good backs with his pass-heavy mentality, and Kyle Orton threw a clean game with over 7 yards per attempt and a wide distribution of the football. It’s the 2008 Matt Cassel experience all over again, except with a less flashy but more consistent player under center, and the man who was behind that offense is still running the show.

- The 2009 Matt Cassel experience is less interesting, but I’m loathe to blame Cassel for that. The fact is that the Chiefs still only have one proven receiver in a pass-first offense, and Cassel is still very, very green as a starter, particularly outside of the friendly confines of Foxborough. That said, those interceptions were ugly mistakes created by a lack of good targets (that last INT should get Dantrell Savage cut…I hate when receivers are the driving force behind INTS instead of the best protection against them). Haley would be wise to find ways to get a short to intermediate game established, because that will be the key to maximizing Cassel’s potential in KC.

- There could not be a worse game on television than that Chiefs-Raiders game. I could not invent it. But it proves that the Oakland defense is as tough as they looked in week 1. For Russell to go 7 of 24 and the running game to average just over 3 yards per carry, leaving the Chiefs with nearly 40 minutes of possession, and the Raiders to still win that game 13-10 is not just good; it’s incredible. If JaMarcus Russell ever reaches his potential, he’ll have his defensive unit to thank in large part for it.

- And now for my credibility killing moment of the week: I believe in JaMarcus Russell more after these past two weeks, not less. His accuracy needs improvement (also, water is quite wet), but he’s managed to march his offense down the field when it counts (the Raiders got SCREWED by the TD reversal in week one), and is at least a little less flustered than he’s looked in the past. You just saw the nadir of his season, and he still led a game winning drive in the fourth quarter. Can anyone say they see the same upside in Brady Quinn?

- That said, NFL.com’s “JaMarcus Russell Highlights” clip from week 2 seems a bit unnecessary.

- I also believe in the Bengals defense, particularly after their stellar 6 sack effort against Green Bay in which they allowed only 46 yards to Ryan Grant on 14 carries. The real test for a Cincy squad that finally seems to be taking advantage of their talented youth on defense will be whether or not a veteran offense can avoid costly turnovers (the Packers turned two Bengals turnovers into 14 points). Running a flanker focused attack with a second receiver as talented as Laveranues Coles and a slot man as capable as Chris Henry is the epitome of self-defeating, particularly with Cedric Benson turning into the anti-Cedric Benson (29 carries for 141 yards…he was right, he DOES run better when absolutely nobody threatens his job). Palmer may no longer be the calm, poised deep threat he once was (the 2 INTs were examples of the panicky Palmer that tries to force bad decisions), but the 3 TDs were proof that Palmer still has one of the best arms in the league.

- There really is very little left to believe in for Detroit fans. That defense looks abysmal, and losing Ernie Sims should guarantee that teams will still have all day to make plays against a very, very questionable secondary (Delmas has promise, but he’s not going to be enough to turn an awful backfield around). Worse still, Stafford’s interceptions were of the variety that display a lack of field vision, with defenders easily between him and his receivers. That said, it was good to see Matt Stafford find both the end zone and TE Brandon Pettigrew (4 rec, 40 yards). The real frustration is that the 24 carries against a Minny defense famous for killing run games are reflective of a team still playing not to lose, which is a shame considering that this year was supposed to show there was nothing left to lose (see: 2008 Falcons). Let Stafford throw, and let him know that whatever happens he’s the guy, and then see if he can’t develop chemistry with a receiving corps that absolutely must become great.

- If you want to say the Falcons are a boring, successful team, you can, but since when did an offense that, in addition to the Michael Turner brutality we saw last year, tears through the sky (Gonzalez and Roddy White each had at least 6 receptions, 50 yards, and 1 TD) become boring? Matt Ryan also managed a ridiculous 21/27 with an 8.1 average YPA and 3 TDs. I’ve been saying they’re the team to beat in the NFC, and I am as convinced as ever. There isn’t a weak spot on offense, and the coverage schemes have proven effective and athletic enough so far to make up for a sub par pass rush.

- Also, don’t sleep, but of the top 10 QB ratings, Matt Ryan is third, he is tied for the second most TDs at 5 (and has one fewer interception than Flacco), and has looked absolutely unflappable against two solid pass rushes. He looks like some sort of unperfected hybrid of Peyton’s physical presence and Brady’s demeanor. If that sounds like Hyperbole, it’s only because we haven’t seen a full season of Ryan with the array of offensive weapons he has at his disposal now. Get ready for Ryan to enter a stratosphere it took Brady, Brees, and Manning a longer time to reach.

- Honestly, the saddest part of the Jake Delhomme saga is that we’ve gotten to the point where going 25/41, throwing 1 TD and 1 INT is acceptable for an 11 year veteran to maintain his starting position on a former division champ. Fire. Everybody. Everybody.

- Told you so about the Ravens offense.

- I really can’t figure out this San Diego team. Granted, they are clearly a more dangerous team with Sproles on the field, but that run on 4th and 2 was stupid, particularly against a surprisingly soft Ravens secondary, particularly with the size the Chargers have in their receiving corps, particularly with Philip Rivers at QB. Even more disheartening is a pass rush that isn’t bothering opposing quarterbacks, even against the porous Raiders O-Line in week 1. There’s a ton of firepower here, but I’m not sure these guys will ever figure out how to use it, particularly now that Tomlinson has lost his fastball.

- I feel better about Jay Cutler on the Bears now that he’s distributing the ball a little more evenly (5 receivers with 6 targets or more). Without a true number one like he had in Denver, that kind of distribution is the only way he’ll be able to make the most of his incredible talents.

- 3 receptions, 52 yards, 1 TD. Also, Lee Evans had a 32 yard TD. But yeah, TO is probably the worst thing to ever happen to Trent Edwards, who had a 97.5 QB rating and is a top 5 QB through two weeks.

- As for the Monday night game, I don’t understand all the whining about the 2 minute offense employed by the Dolphins. The fact that they were still losing that game despite the Colts having had the ball for about 15 minutes is evidence of what the priority of the drive needed to be: Score, but score leaving as little time as possible. The Fins dropped 3 sure touchdowns thanks to their lackluster receiving corps, which we already knew about and makes the unemployment of Matt Jones and Reggie Williams that much crazier. I have never and will never understand the fascination in Miami with Anthony Fasano, who has been a total negative for his team so far, and JaMarcus Russell could go 0/24 and still be a better pick than Ted Ginn Jr. was for the Fins. Seriously, how much does Parcells hate paying that last remnant of the Cam Cameron era? The fact that there haven’t been subtle digs at his manhood all year from press conferences confirms that TO was treated unfairly in Dallas. Ted Ginn Jr. is the best defensive back the Dolphins have. Sorry, but you know how I feel about receivers who kill QBs I like.

2 comments:

Alex said...

Re: Top tier WRs in 9th paragraph

Uh, Larry Fitzgerald?

Cian said...

Andre Johnson's nickname? I propose Andre the Giant.