Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Hangover - Week 3


- I am invincible, people. INVINCIBLE. Let me give you a list of rookie quarterbacks to win their first three games in the NFL. Ahem: El Guapo Mark Sanchez. LIST OVER!

- Okay, taking a deeper breath, I recognize that Sanchez had a pretty bad day on Sunday (the rain was KILLING him), but even that is encouraging. The fact that he had the kind of nightmare game you expect from a rookie quarterback and the Jets still managed to win speaks both to the strength of this team’s defense (is there a better one in the league right now?) and to Sanchez’s strengths as a quarterback. Bad quarterbacks panic easily and never seem to dig their way out of holes in which either they or the circumstances around them have put themselves. Great quarterbacks respond to problematic starts by capitalizing on inevitable mistakes made by the other team. Brady has always done it, Romo has done it when he’s been great, and on Sunday, El Guapo turned punished the Titans for their special teams miscues at every turn.

- That said, I’m not thrilled that Kerry Collins was able to move the ball down the field against a sub par coverage unit, the one flaw in this Jets defense. Outside of Revis and Rhodes, there’s really nobody I trust in coverage schemes, and if the blitz doesn’t pressure the quarterback, Dwight Lowery isn’t staying with ANYBODY. He seems like a nice guy, and he’s certainly smart enough to figure out routes, but that just makes it more embarrassing when he’s getting burned by speedy wideouts or shrugged off by larger receivers . He’ll make a great coach, hopefully sooner rather than later.

- Last note on that game; what do we make of Tennessee? In each of their three losses, they’ve shown flashes of the team that dominated the AFC last year, but isn’t there a point where you’re no longer a good team playing bad games, but a bad team that plays respectably? Collins seems just good enough to make you lose close (this is the difference between VY and Collins, for those scoring at home), and the excuse of “no pass catchers” seems all the more fraudulent with what the Titans possessing the most underrated three man receiving unit (Gage, Washington, and Britt) in the league (them or the Giants, at this point). Chris Johnson is amazing, and Lendale White is as good a short yardage back as you’ll find, but it feels more and more like teams will just dare Collins to throw, and this year he doesn’t seem good enough to take advantage of the situation. Long story short: VY is going to make his comeback this year. Yes, I am excited. Thanks for asking.

- I am completely confused by what Todd Haley is doing in Kansas City. If the plan is to wave the white flag on what wasn’t going to be a winning season anyway and pick up a sweet draft pick, well, kudos for brilliant execution. Still, he might want to be a little less obvious than he was this past week. Against an Eagles offense that was killing him, Haley called only 18 passes, even with Cassel playing a clean game (he finished 14/18 with 2 TDs and no INTs) and his run game generating absolutely nothing (3.4 yards per carry, and that includes a 22 yard anomaly by Bradley). If that doesn’t signal the kind of stubbornness that kills coaching careers, I’m not sure what does.

- Mark my words: This Kevin Kolb thing is going to end poorly this season.

- Here’s the thing: The Packers are 2-1, with one of those wins coming against an abysmal Rams team suffering from injuries and the other coming from bit of a lucky break against a Bears team that all but gave away the game. 2-1 is good no matter how you split it, but for a team that was supposed to be firing on all cylinders, this defense looks surprisingly porous (19th in the league) and the offense looks even more disappointing considering how good it was supposed to be (particularly the pass attack, which is a disappointing 18th in the league). With all the hype surrounding this upcoming matchup against the Vikings (with whathisface at QB), I’m not sure this team is ready for a spotlight matchup against a legitimate NFC title contender.

- It’s not even a question whether Kyle Boller is the better option at QB for the Rams. At least fail while trying, guys.

- There wasn’t a game better than the 49ers-Vikings matchup on Sunday. Both teams look poised to make a run at the NFC title, particularly the 49ers, whose division doesn’t quite seem ready to compete with them (though I’m still rooting for a Seahawks resurgence). I would have loved to see that game play out with Frank Gore, still involved, but that game winning drive proved that this Vikings team, unlike the last two years’ versions, has all the pieces to succeed. Favre has the arm to take advantage of mismatches created by defenses focusing on Peterson, but he also has the quick strike capability to win games in a single throw (that last pass was more incredible vision and skill than luck). Equally exciting was the emergence of Vernon Davis as the potentially breathtaking receiver that we always knew he could be but stopped believing he would be. If he’s for real (and if he is, then Mike Singletary is a genius and all my doubts about him are gone for good), this team is one of the few squads without a glaring hole (even Shaun Hill at QB doesn’t count, considering he’s finding Davis better than anyone before him). I feel like we’ll see this matchup again come the postseason.

- I’m not sure I’ve seen a pass rush as ineffective as the Falcons was on Sunday. While I’m not ready to crown the Patriots as being “OK” just because it’s early, I’m equally unprepared to pronounce them dead to rights, and it is due in large part to the talent of the skill positions they demonstrated against Atlanta. Since the season began I was wondering if the Falcons had a “hole” in their game; the defensive front proved to be a glaring weakness against New England. For the Pats, the ground game found its rhythm thanks to Fred Taylor being utilized as a primary back, and Brady was able to work with the pocket his O-Line provided him. How much of that was due to the effective rushing attack and how much was due to a genuine improvement of the O-Line will be the difference between “crafty lurker” and “dominating title contender”, but either one works perfectly for a team that has had its doubters for the past three weeks. Besides, Belichick has always worked better as a crafty Iago than a dominating Greek god.

- Meanwhile, the Falcons need to figure out a way to work Jerious Norwood into their regular offense. He’s too fast to ignore, and he’ll be an important part of making up for days when Matt Ryan is being challenged by good coverage schemes.

- It’s hard to explain, largely because the results have been similarly disappointing for both teams, but the Bills and Bucs are excellent examples of simplicity used rightly and wrongly, respectively. For the Bills (whose 1-2 record stems from a heartbreaking loss that falls squarely on one man and an early matchup against what may be the Super Bowl favorite), simplicity was the perfect decision, largely because their personnel fit neatly into narrow, yet effective roles. Terrell Owens is the dominating presence both figuratively and literally who controls his realm of possession, Lee Evans is the combustible threat at the edges, Marshawn Lynch (when he returns) is the angry battering ram, and Trent Edwards is the machine that determines when each piece is most effective. Reducing the offense to a small set allows each piece to maximize that which their character makes them do very well and minimizes ineffective, unnecessary experimentation. On the other hand, the Bucs have a collection of individuals whose skill set is varied (Antonio Bryant, Kellen Winslow, and Michael Clayton all have downfield speed and imposing size, and Derrick Ward was brought in to be an equally versatile weapon in the backfield. As such, Byron Leftwich, a plodding, slow release catapult of a QB was never the right call here. Either Josh Johnson (who will get the start this week) or Josh Freeman are the better choice for this team due to their ability to create plays with their feet and pose equally amorphous threats to defenders. Complexity and simplicity in the league both play the same role a system does in general: They ought to be tailored to the personnel involved.

- My personal Super Bowl favorites proved they are every bit the imposing monster that a favorite needs to be against bad teams, as the Ravens killed the Browns and Brady Quinn’s career. More impressive is the resurrection of Willis McGahee as the second head of the backfield monster and the stunning strength of the passing game, a strength that has to rest almost entirely on the emergence of Joe Flacco as a great passer (the Baltimore offense is 5th in passing yardage and Flacco is averaging over 8 YPA on 104 attempts). That said, keep an eye on the upcoming matchup with the Pats, which should answer a lot of our questions regarding Baltimore’s secondary, which Brady will attack relentlessly.

- The Texans are not a legitimate threat this year. Legitimate threats don’t get picked apart like that by sub par teams, nor do they let a teams obvious best (and for the Jaguars, only) weapon totally destroy them (MJD had 119 yards on 23 carries and 3 TDs…meanwhile Garrard completed just 18 passes of 30 attempts for 214 yard). Everything about this squad from the top (coaching) down (defense, run game) looks very confused, and why they didn’t throw any confusion into the Jags backfield (Garrard had ALL day and MJD was untouched at the line on most runs) is bizarre considering the investment they’ve made in their defensive front.

- I’m sorry, Redskins fans, but your team is EASILY the most disappointing squad in the league. Also, can anyone explain why Clinton Portis gets just 12 carries against a run defense that STILL has done nothing to prove itself this season? It’s the curse of the platoon system when a back can’t get a rhythm and find holes that emerge as defenders tire.

- Also, I love that it’s pretty much always a bad sign for Redskins fans when Santana Moss is having a great game.

- Stafford looked good in the Lions first win in years, and more importantly he looked good without relying too heavily on Calvin Johnson. Yes, the offense should still be centered around Megatron, but the only way that will work is if the team works to develop credible receiving threats around him. For the first time since Roy Williams was in town, the Lions may have those threats (Bryant Johnson is scrappy, and Pettigrew is becoming more comfortable in the pass game each week). Throw in Kevin Smith (who suffered an unfortunate injury) as a versatile back, and this team may finally be on the long road back.

- I don’t care if I catch crap for it: Seneca Wallace is the right choice for the Seahawks. Behind a decimated line (seriously, look at the tape and tell me when Wallace had time to work in a pocket) and with his kicker failing to capitalize on offensive yardage earned, the Seahawks offense still looked somewhat respectable, especially considering Wallace was making his first start of the season against a stout Bears defense (9th in the league in yardage allowed). Furthermore, his feet (which Mora strangely opted not to use more often) give the Seahawks an option that Hasselbeck does not, and I’m honestly not sure that the passing suffers as much as people tend to argue (that INT wasn’t an errant throw, it was a last ditch attempt to avoid a safety due to his O-Line getting crushed). Yes, I know I’m making a lot about this, but I genuinely believe the Seahawks could have a frightening pass attack, and Wallace’s mobility behind a bad offensive line is a big part of that.

- Carson Palmer may no longer be an elite quarterback, but he’s become something more important. Before, mistakes like interceptions and stalled drives would throw Palmer into such a panic that he’d inevitably try to win the game on the strength of his arm, which doesn’t work against good defenses. Now, Palmer looks like he just doesn’t care about miscues. Yes, this means he’s throwing more picks, but it also means he looks genuinely relaxed against good defenses, even when losing. That game winning drive against Pittsburgh doesn’t happen last year; now, Palmer sits back, trusts the firepower he has around him (those receivers are the real strength of the offense) and is infinitely better for it. In essence, he’s figured out that being a member of the family is more fun than being the captain of the ship, and in this case it’s more effective too.

- Fine, give up on Limas Sweed if you want, Steelers, but with that offensive line, Mike Wallace, an aging Hines Ward, and an undersized Santonio Holmes aren’t scaring anybody.

- The sad thing is that I would take Tyler Thigpen right now over both Pat White (who hasn’t had a chance to really learn the offense either thanks to his Wildcat duties) or Chad Henne (who is the “Fat Chad” yang to Handsome Chad’s yin). Furthermore, Thigpen’s mobility makes this offense slightly (VERY slightly) less impotent thanks to mediocre deep threats. Yes, this team could still easily lose at least 12 games, but you should at least put someone under center who makes it interesting.

- The Chargers offense is shaping up to be the one unit that nobody in the league should want to see come January, but unless they can get a semi-decent ground game going during Tomlinson’s absence, they’ll wind up losing more shootouts than they win. That said, Vincent Jackson is killing teams this year (5 receptions for 120 yards against Miami is ridiculous), and if the ground game can keep anybody honest, Rivers is going to pick apart defenses all year long.

- Dear Eddie Royal: Die. Signed, my fantasy football team.

- Seriously though, can someone explain why the phrase “over his head” is still being used when talking about Josh McDaniels? I heard someone compare him to Eric Mangini the other day and almost smashed my head through my laptop. Mangini held a clipboard while Belichick ran his defense, like he always has during his tenure in New England. Meanwhile, McDaniels, in his tenure as offensive coordinator, made Matt Cassel a very rich man last season and RAN THE BEST OFFENSE OF ALL TIME. His offense, run by Kyle Orton and basically missing the disappointing Eddie Royal is getting better each week, and his intelligent hiring of Mike Nolan has his defense as the best in the league. But yeah, he got rid of Jay Cutler, who is 2-1 with a league leading 5 interceptions after playing the overrated Packers and Steelers and a Seahawks team that would have won with either a healthy offensive line or a better kicker (no, it’s not OK to miss a 30 yarder just because you made 4 kicks). We should probably fire Josh McDaniels now.

- Seriously, Correll Buckhalter is a top ten running back on 31 attempts. HOW ARE SPORTSWRITERS STILL QUESTIONING THIS HIRE?!?!?

- I have no explanation for that JaTrocious performance from the other offense. Thanks, I’ll be here all night.

- I’m not sure why we’re not hearing more about the Colts as a Super Bowl contender, but it’s time to start talking about them. Their defense has never been particularly good, but Manning has never looked this good either. It’s like he picked up where last season left off (remember, they lost a playoff game without their offense seeing the field thanks to the NFL’s utterly retarded overtime rules). 24/35 for 379 yards and 4 TDs is just stupid, and he’s been looking similarly unstoppable all season. In an AFC South that looks particularly weak this year, these guys could coast to a first round bye and suddenly look very, very scary for opponents.

- I’m going to defend the indefensible and say that John Fox is making the right call by sticking with Jake Delhomme. Yes, he’s looked terrible the past three games, and he leads the league in INTs hovering just above JaMarcus Russell in QB rating, but you don’t pull him after Monday’s game. If you do, you take away the chance that he might die on the field and never ruin your football team again. That’s the plan here, right?

1 comment:

dave said...

missin the hangover.. where did she go?