Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Monday Hangover: 9-15-2009

I’m already late, so welcome back to the Hangover that lasted so bad that it came out on Tuesday. Enjoy…

- Did you see my boy El Guapo under center for the Jets yesterday? If you had told me that Mark Sanchez would commit only one costly error on the day for his entire first career start, I’d have been thrilled. If you’d told me that he’d have a throwing touchdown, I’d have been even happier. If you’d told me that he would look relaxed, make throws on the move (showing a remarkable ability to hit receivers while under pressure and off balance), and effectively compliment the stellar defense and the grinding, wear-you-down run game en route to a stomping of a talented Texans squad, I wouldn’t have believed you. Consider my disbelief suspended. We’re officially on pace for 16-0, and El Guapo could wind up being be the steal of the draft at the fifth pick.

- On the same note, kudos to Brian Schottenheimer for figuring out how to turn four solid pass catchers into a varied, unpredictable receiving corps. Dustin Keller, Jericho Cotchery, Chansi Stuckey, and Neon Leon put up 18 receptions, with each catching at least four passes, and the three receivers (not RB Washington) gaining at least 60 yards a piece. Mark my words: It’s tougher to cover three solid receivers on an offense that distributes the ball evenly than it is to cover one, or even two stellar receivers.

- After watching Matt Schaub’s performance for the Texans, I went back to watch an episode of “House” where Foreman got “the yips”. It applies here. Matt Schaub has all of the physical and mental tools to be a great quarterback. The problem is that he’s been hurt twice over his tenure as the Texans quarterback, and both injuries resulted from the kind of questionable hits that happen when teams are devoted to intimidating a pocket passer. Yesterday, as soon as Schaub took one solid hit, his entire game fell apart, and unless he has a game that proves he hasn’t got the yips, he’ll lose his job to Rex Grossman by week eight. The booing fans know it, and worse still, Schaub knows it.

- The Titans will be just fine, despite a heartbreaking loss to the Steelers. First, there is no way Rob Bironas is blowing two kicks like that in another game, and either one wins it for the Titans in regulation. Second, the team appears to finally have found its much needed deep threat in Kenny Britt, giving them a mismatch nightmare for smaller defensive backfields (Britt stands 6’3”, and equally dangerous Justin Gage stands 6’4”). If everything works out, the Titans may have a fascinating “power receiving” game to compliment their brutal ground attack. After watching the rest of the division, this is still the team to beat in the AFC South.

- John Fox, described Jake Delhomme’s job security as “probably like the security of all of us.” I am officially building a panic room in my studio apartment. I’m pretty sure Fox just inadvertently raised the threat level.

- The McNabb injury is the worst thing that could happen to both the Eagles and Donovan McNabb. For the Eagles, it takes a Super Bowl contender and turns them into an also ran in what is shaping up to be a very, very difficult division. For McNabb, this means that the potential for discord surrounding his position begins starting next week, when former usurper Kevin Kolb likely gets the nod. Then, in week three, former Pro Bowl QB and comeback story of the year Michael Vick returns. Oh, and they just signed Jeff Garcia to fill the gap, coming off of two playoff seasons in his last two stints as a starting QB (Tampa Bay and the same Eagles to which he now returns). All of this means that unless McNabb returns in top form, and it seems unlikely that he will with this injury, he’s going to be holding off three rivals for his position in a year when most people believe that the passing game should dominate opponents. No way that ends poorly, right?

- I’m not prepared to say that the Dolphins were a fluke last year. What I will say is that considering how every other AFC East team has made at least one big change to make their teams significantly better than last year (yes, TO and the no-huddle offense count for the Bills), I wouldn’t be surprised if this team went from AFC East champs to worst in the division this year.

- Also, I’m prepared to pick the Falcons as my team to beat in the NFC. Strong running game, QB that takes advantage of defensive mismatches, an elite downfield threat, an emerging possession receiver (Michael Jenkins had 4 catches for 41 yards), and now a TE who is as good a pass catcher as any in the league make this offense as imposing as anyone they’ll see. If the defense continues to look as solid as it did, I’m not sure who is going to stun this team come December.

- Say what you will about that Broncos-Bengals finish, but the real culprit may not be luck, but instead the same kind of personnel stupidity that has crushed Cincy in the past. If safety Roy Williams is playing with the ball in front of him, like he should, instead of going for a largely unnecessary big hit on a receiver who was no longer a threat to catch the tipped pass, then he’s in position to stop Stokely in the middle of the field, and Kyle Orton has to quickly engineer a pass play after almost being picked off twice. That’s the same kind of idiotic, showy-but-stupid style that got Williams booted from the Cowboys, and somehow the Bengals thought he’d be the solution for their defensive woes. Forgive me if I’m less than sympathetic to that finish.

- You have to wonder if Eric Mangini doesn’t see even a shred of irony in losing to a team that has a solid running game, unspectacular receivers, and only asked Brett Favre to throw 21 passes while allowing their top flight ground game to carry the ball 32 times en route to controlling the ball for over 33 minutes. Excuse me while I replace the computer monitor I just punched repeatedly.

- Stop dumping on Brady Quinn, everybody. It was his first game as the official starter, and he has literally one receiver who can stretch defenses (and he hit him for what could have been a TD if Edwards’s feet and hands could both be coordinated at the same time). Throw in the fact that you’re playing from behind against an offense that is dominating the clock, and it’s not exactly the fairest sample to run with. He’ll get better as the season progresses, assuming Mangini doesn’t waffle on him like he did on Handsome Chad.

- I don’t care that you didn’t throw an INT, David Garrard; a 4.4 YPA average is as bad as anything not produced by Jake Delhomme. Maybe adding two washed up former first round picks wasn’t the answer to this team’s aerial woes last year, but it’s starting to look like getting rid of both Matt Jones and Reggie Williams, particularly after Jones had his best year as a pro, is what slams the door shut on this team finishing last in the AFC South.

- Without Anthony Gonzalez, the Colts are a possession receiver away from being able to hang with the elite teams in the AFC. They may have that target in Pierre Garcon, but for now I’m holding off on this being another surefire playoff season.

- Somewhere, Joey Harrington watched that Lions game and cried for Matt Stafford, whose defense forced him into a vertical shootout, and whose most reliable receiver (thanks to Megatron being blanketed all day) was running back Kevin Smith. Furthermore, first round pick TE Brandon Pettigrew didn’t get involved all day. Throw in a predictable offense (targeting Calvin Johnson 13 times is going to wind up getting a QB intercepted 3 times) and you’ve got all the ingredients for a confidence crusher heading into Minnesota. The shame is that, much like Harrington, I really like Stafford’s physical skill set, but if he’s forced into making bad decisions for the sake of saving a team that’s falling apart around him, he’s headed for a similar career trajectory.

- While I’ve never been a fan of the “addition by subtraction” mentality, the play of the Cowboys receivers on Sunday makes me wonder whether or not that team may be better off without former star WR Terrell Owens. Patrick Crayton got free for 4 catches and 135 yards (for a stupid 33.8 average per catch), Roy Williams looks capable of filling in a the number one wideout, and Miles Austin looked like a man possessed now that he’s finally got some playing time. If Romo really is able to distribute passes more freely, it’s hard not to like this offense better than any offense Dallas has shown up tot his point.

- That said, you can’t possibly be happy with a Dallas defense that let a mediocre Bucs offense (despite a snappy ground game and a finally emerging Michael Clayton) light them up for 21 points in addition to 174 yards on the ground. At some point, these guys are going to run into much stiffer NFC East defenses, and that won’t cut it against rushing offenses that are arguably better than anything they saw against the Bucs.

- One more note, Cadillac Williams is officially my favorite story of the season. He could blow his knee out next week, and he still deserves the comeback player of the year award after what he’s been through to come back like he did on Sunday.

- I don’t care if you won; Brody Croyle did that to you, Baltimore. You’ve brought the terms “quarterback controversy” and “Brody Croyle” together. Shame. On. You.

- I still loved what the Ravens did through the air, allowing Flacco to take advantage of holes in the KC secondary. This team finally seems ready to embrace its potential as a varied aerial offense. Now if they can find a way to do that without forgetting what made them great in the past (brutal defense, solid special teams, and a blistering run attack), this team could be one of the scariest in the AFC. Granted, that’s going to be like watching a man balance dishes on sticks, but since when was greatness supposed to be easy. Considering how bad the Steelers O-Line looked, don’t sleep on this being Baltimore’s year to take the division.

- Wow Jason Campbell loves to hold on to the ball for a long time. I could have raised a family in the time that he gave Osi Umenyiora to strip that fumble return for a TD. I thought Zorn was supposed to be installing a West Coast offense, with quick passes and multiple targets and such. Unless there are 4-5 plays with approximately 700 reads to go through, Campbell is doing something very wrong.

- Speaking of which, how can a team have that many receiving threats, including one of the better pass catching backs in the league, and still target Antwaan Randle El, Chris Cooley, and Alligator Arms Moss 22 times out of 26 attempts? Weak sauce, formerly exciting Redskins pass attack.

- Yes, after 2 INTs and a fumble, I do regret thinking the Kurt Warner led Cardinals weren’t in for a letdown. Still, that 49ers defense was much tougher than they got credit for last season, and if Vernon Davis has finally emerged as a legitimate receiving threat (5 catches for 40 yards is a good sign), then maybe what we need to take away from that game is that the NFC West is better than it has been in the last five years. The Cards still have a ton of talent on both sides of the ball, but the 49ers seem to have finally gotten their offense to catch up to their rapidly toughening defense. After all do you want to play a team with an aging but still good WR (Bruce), a top tier RB (Gore), a defensive middle (courtesy of Patrick Willis) that will kill you, and now a TE with the physical skills to stretch the field or kill you in the middle (Davis)? Hooray for bicoastal football!

- I say that with the belief that the Seahawks are for real this year. Despite two early miscues on offense (during a stretch in which Hassy seemed to be DELIBERATELY looking for double and triple coverage), the Seahawks seemed to settle into their attack, spreading the ball around to 8 different receiving targets (three of whom had six catches or more and at least 48 yards), and trusting Julius Jones to clean up when the Rams defense inevitably cheated on pass coverage (Jones lookes as impressive as he’s looked in his career picking up those 117 yards). If John Carlson is the real deal (and there’s no reason to doubt he is) and Deion Branch can either come back soon or be replaced by Deon Butler (and there’s only some reason to doubt he can), this offense looks scary. Meanwhile, the defense pummeled Marc Bulger and Steven Jackson into submission (5.3 YPA through the air, and just 67 yards surrendered on the ground), with the backup LB corps proving just as reliable as the injured starters. I like this team to win the NFC West, and I like them even more in an NFC that is lacking in interesting passing attacks. Most fun division in football. Calling it.

- Oh, and the Rams are not invited to the NFC West cool kids party in the parking lot. Julius Jones will even be smoking cigarettes, because even he’s cool again.

- MONDAY NIGHT BONUS ROUND (or “Zac’s Laziness Tax”):

- Is it just me, or could the Oakland Raiders be the second best team in the AFC West? I knew things were bad, but man. We’re already in a recession; America doesn’t need these guys reminding us how upside down our world has become.

- In all fairness, that defense wasn’t THAT bad last year, and the addition of Richard Seymour makes that front seven significantly more imposing, especially against a shaky division. If Russell can cool it on the picks (and one of those was in garbage time…the real problem is his inability to nail a deep out route), this team could be one of those squads that knocks out some significantly higher rated competition. All I know is that for the first time in a long time, the Raiders looked pissed off to be the raiders last night,

- Meanwhile, there is no competition: The Bills have the most heartbroken fan base. I don’t even know how they still feel. We’re lucky Buffalo isn’t crawling with Anton Chigurh types.

1 comment:

dave said...

just wanted to leave a post to let you know that your work is basically the only worthwhile football commentary I've heard in a long while. keep it going zac!