Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Hangover 9-15-2010


It's an extra long Hangover thanks to the Monday night Jets debacle and some work craziness. Let's just get to the games...

- After one week, it’s hard to say what to make of the Jaguars. Certainly, there were flashes of 2007 there, with Garrard coolly moving through his reads (16/21, 3 TD and 0 INT), exploiting the defense’s fear of the run, and being careful with the football (he never once looked like he was pushing…unlike Kyle Orton, who ALWAYS pushes when he’s down). If the ground game, while being the focus of opponents’ defenses, can continue to produce at an average clip (MJD averaged 4.2 per carry on 23 carries), this team is shaping up to be the precision based machine that Del Rio turned it into in 2007, when they could have won it all but for a buzzsaw of a Pats team. Equally exciting: The team is finally figuring out how to use TE Marcedes Lewis, who was built for intermediate end zone aerial mismatches.

- I’m also not freaking out if I’m a Broncos fan, considering everything that happened to your team this offseason. The Jags found the mismatch they liked in Lewis and exploited it all day, but with all of the injuries on defense (particularly to Dumerville), it’s hard to imagine this team going through a matchup without any hiccups defensively. Meanwhile, Knowshon Moreno showed more of his diverse skillset than we saw all of last season, and a pass game without its biggest threat (Demaryius Thomas, who is hurt) put up almost 300 yards. No, it’s not going to be smooth sailing, but the McDaniels system is working, and if Tebow can develop passing skills to complement his athletic talent, this offense is going to get a lot better as the year progresses.

- A game that might be worth freaking out over is the 49ers-Seahawks matchup. Look, I get that the Seahawks were jacked up to prove that the new regime works; it’s why I like Carroll as a coach (yes, you can motivate individuals as a group without diminishing their identity) and why I’m not immediately back on the Seattle bandwagon (never forget: FREE SENECA). I also get that the Seahawks were (and kind of still are) a total unknown thanks to the turnover; that’s the only reason why I’m not crucifying the 49ers for getting blown out in a division game. Still, for the Seattle offense to roll out there with Deion Branch and Mike Williams as the top receivers, Justin Forsett as the top running back, and Matt Hasselbeck running the show, and then just bend the San Francisco defensive backfield to their will, is damn near incredible. Almost as preposterous is the fact that the 49ers offense got nothing going on the ground (Gore gained 38 yards on 17 attempts), managed 225 yards of desperation air (and 2 INT), and were kept out of the end zone all game, though this is more understandable when you remember that the Seahawks may have my favorite LB corps in the league (Tatupu, Curry, and Hill), Marcus Trufant is very good when healthy, and the D-line is surprisingly deep and powerful, if not spectacular. Oh, and that 31-6 beatdown happened when their star left tackle was out. It’s a long year, but calling that game a fluke seems like a cop out, particularly given all the skepticism that front office faced for its work. Embrace the unknown, people.

- On a more brief note: That wasn’t all Alex Smith’s fault, but my faith is shaken, if only because he pressed so hard when things got tough, like he thought Nolan was there to yank him for J.T. O’Sullivan all over again.

- Okay, so I know the narrative is that Derek Anderson sucks because Peter King said so and “DID YOU SEE HE ONLY CONNECTED ON 3 OF 15 PASSES TO FITZGERALD AAAARRRRRGGGHHH!”. That said, dude threw for 297 yards, threw no interceptions, and brought his team back in the 4th quarter with a well placed throw to Fitzgerald. I’m not saying he’s a great, or even a good quarterback, but if the whole point of dropping Leinart was choosing someone who believed (and made the team believe) that he could win, don’t you want him going to your best playmaker as many times as possible? Not to mention, Fitzgerald was bracketed to hell all day, making finding him and avoiding picks tough, and Anderson managed to make use of Steve Breaston being in single coverage. No, a winning strategy isn’t as sexy as someone dominating the competition with their own identity, but craft deserves respect.

- As for the kid Bradford…eh. Ndamukong Suh remains the truth

- I’m impressed that the Vikings hung around as long as they did on Thursday. That’s a team that is beaten up, without its top receiver or a healthy QB, and but for one bad turnover following a big hit, these guys could have stolen one of the hardest road games on their schedule. If that pass attack gets settled into its identity, Brad Childress could finally have the offense that solidifies the offensive thinker cred that got him his job

- I also want to see the Saints actually start putting the hurt on people. The death of a thousand pin pricks is cool when both teams are wildly talented (which the Vikings showed they still are), but it won’t work over the long haul, and is no way for an offense this thrilling to get by.

- I haven’t seen a game as ugly as that Buffalo/Miami contest in a long time (read: since MNF Jets/Ravens). Look, I know that Sanchez didn’t get the chance to look good or bad, but can we all agree that Chad Henne, whose team DID allow him to throw, looks bad (21/34 for only 182 yards)? Everything is long or short except for that 7-10 yard window, and without a receiver like Brandon Marshall to bail him out (8 catches for 53 yards off of 13 targets) he would have been in trouble against a stout Buffalo defense. There is no art to his game, just bludgeoning arm strength, making him the perfect Parcells quarterback.

- Oh, and Chan Gailey, when the most savvy move in your repertoire is the “intentional safety,” maybe you should hang it up.

- OK, we can all agree that the Megatron call was a travesty. If you don’t think a referee arbitrarily negating an athletically spectacular performance based on a questionable technicality is always the wrong call, you’re at the wrong blog. Here’s my more sinister and, admittedly, crazier take: After a slate full of ugly, medium to low scoring games, the Megatron call was the biggest example of a trend of refs minimizing the spectacle of the players’ performance on the field in an effort to give owners leverage in the upcoming labor negotiations. Say it’s crazy all you want, but nobody has been more focused on diminishing the importance of individual players (you know, the ones who score the points) than the owners, and we’re about to see why this offseason.

- On a football note, nothing about my opinion of the Bears changes, and as for the Lions, here’s all that changes: That defense is a lot friskier than I thought it would be. Take away two big plays to Matt Forte (one of which was a bizarre combination of poor flat coverage and bad pursuit angles, and the other of which was a young defense losing track of the running back), and you’re left with just 255 yards of Chicago offense through the air (and just 7.73 yards per attempt), and an even more intriguing 3.3 yards per carry on the ground. Look, it SUCKS that Stafford is hurt. It sucks a lot, and it’s going to add time to his development…but it’s not the end of the world for this offense. Shaun Hill has been adequate with decent teams, and these tools are the best he’s had. Stafford will get back soon (hopefully), and hopefully he’ll develop into the distributor this offense needs, but for this team to lose the edge that it showed in its first game back would be a cop out.

- Nothing makes me happier than watching Vincy Young operate on the run, out of the pocket, and hurling the ball downfield with accuracy (13/17, and 9.1 yards per attempt, with 2 TD and 0 INT). It’s hard to find yourself, and for VY to do so, come back to something as difficult as pro football, and succeed would be really special, and not just in a football context. He could do it, too; if he’s at potential, this team is going to be very difficult to beat on either side of the ball, particularly with players that can punish defenses if they aren’t adequately respected (Johnson, underrated receivers, and Young).

- I still believe in the Raiders. That Titans team could mess around and win a Super Bowl this year; the Raiders are just trying to change the direction of the franchise. That said, the protection up front for this team is still horrendous, and plays completely against Campbell’s weakness as someone who tends to overthink the pocket. Campbell has the arm to maximize the physical talents of these receivers, but it may very well be more important that Gradkowski has the quick thinking and ability to work under pressure that allows them to be used at all. Frustrating, but rudimentary execution is a building block toward success; imagined potential, even if it could exist in an ideal universe, would be more of the same old nothing for the Raiders.

- Hakeem Nicks attacks the ball with a recognition that his greatest weapons are his body control and his hands. The result is that his frame is extended beyond it’s static range, and his speed becomes more deadly thanks to the minimal space required for him to be “open”. Granted, it was against a poor Carolina secondary, and it will be interesting to see how the team responds if opponents start to focus on Nicks. Still, those are gifts that are difficult to compensate for without constructing horribly flawed defensive schemes (as opposed to speed or size, both of which can be schemed against with smart ways of doubling coverage assignments without taking people completely out of place). I had wondered if there would be any receiver who could give the Giants flexibility in attack for them to maintain their trench warfare identity, and Nicks certainly is geared to attack defenders as the kind of uniquely gifted receiver who needs to be covered by a uniquely gifted corner in order to be stopped.

- I give Matt Moore one more shot, but otherwise, the future needs to be now for the Carolina quarterbacking prospects. John Fox needs to make his bones with one of these quarterbacks and prove he’s still got juice.

- Oh, and Steve Smith (yes, THE Steve Smith, no matter what they say in New Jersey) may never get to be on a winner while he’s still elite (which he has been for a long time, even past when it should have ended), but he’s a street legend in the NFL. In fact, I’m making this the year of the NFL street legend, and Steve Smith is the standard bearer for the cause.

- Weirdest game of the day: What the hell happened to the Bengals? Are the Patriots that good? After last season, in which the ground game was average at best, the Pats were able to move the ball on the ground effectively with all three of their primary backs, averaging 5.1 yards per carry on the ground, even when the game was out of hand. Meanwhile, over the course of a single, well done draft, the Pats look like they’re a pass attack that can kill teams at ever level by spreading the field, and, as mentioned above, they have the backs to take advantage of spread defenses. No, the defense didn’t look great, but it looked like a scheme that kept the Bengals offense on its heels long enough to let the Pats offense build an insurmountable lead, which means Belichick is back on his frustration game, which is how that dynasty of his got started, if you remember.

- Then again, are the Bengals that bad? I don’t think so, but that front got abused by so-so rushers and a so-so line, negating the strength of their corners. Also, I understand that Cedric Benson was nice last year, but he wasn’t the centerpiece then, and he shouldn’t be the centerpiece now. When the Bengals were on, they figured out how to use their traditional passing scheme to run the ball from a pro set. This year, without a credible deep threat, defenders are able to camp down on intermediate and short routes and dare Carson to go long to receivers who haven’t shown they can (even Shipley, who broke free deep on one route, was easily chased down). Unless the Bengals are committed to distributing the ball and taking multiple stabs in the place of sweeping slices, this offense doesn’t seem to function as a whole, and it can’t do so if Benson is the focal point of the attack. Fear in the face of expectations could kill this team. Sad.

- I mean, it’s cute to trash the Browns, and particularly Eric Mangini (who I have issues with, but mostly as an in-game coach), but don’t forget that without one fluky touchdown, this team wins on Sunday against a Bucs team that I’ve gone on the record saying is going to be a tough beat for opponents thanks to total renovation through the air and a young lightning and thunder combo in the defensive trenches. The fact is that the Browns game plan, executed correctly, would have worked, which seems simple if not for the fact that my gripes with Mangini in New York were based on that NOT being the case there. The problems, then, lie in miscues (though you could make an argument that, once leading, Mangini should have just run to daylight with his backs and taken the ball out of Delhomme’s hands). While Hillis is, by his nature as a running back, relatively simple to deal with either by replacement or reuse (bad as they were, fumbles do happen in the Florida heat), the Delhomme question is one that may very well stare this team in the face for the foreseeable future. The picks, while certainly the product of Delhomme’s admirable competitive streak, were still the kinds of shortsighted mistakes that people feared Delhomme would bring to Cleveland. Yes, I’m a fan of Seneca Wallace (FREE SENECA), but considering how well we heard he and Cribbs worked as a backfield tandem, is it crazy to think that a scheme built around him as a starter would be the kind of move that is effective both for being unique and for being built on the most athletically gifted offensive lineup the Browns can throw out there? Say it with me: A coach is most successful when he maximizes the talent he has, not when he builds the best system for the talent he lacks. I want this team to succeed, if only because I think Mangini has the potential to be a free thinking innovator as a head coach (that ESPN Magazine article was good for his image), but considering they’re outgunned on paper, why not run something different, and maybe even scary out there, even if it means eating the price paid for a flawed tradition.

- That said, that Bucs WR Mike Williams’s catch, though fluky, was still the product of the kind of scary athleticism that daring teams take advantage of late in the draft. Get Carlton Mitchell going, and a similarly bright future could be yours, Browns.

- Michael Vick is the truth. Honestly, how do you NOT start him if you’re the Eagles, after he had you so close to beating the favorite to win the NFC championship? 16/24 for 175 yards and a TD through the air, and 11 carries for 103 yards on the ground means that there could be at least one more year of the combination of raw physical talent and deceiving passing that once made Vick the standard bearer for the future of NFL offenses. Better still, his ability to scramble creates opportunities for single coverage for a lightning quick, but undersized receiving corps to get time to break out of double coverage or take full advantage of single coverage mismatches (the Maclin TD was a good example of this). Meanwhile, Kolb looked lost, and not just because he might have been leaking brain fluid. All I’m saying is that Vick didn’t go to the Pro Bowl twice because of his image or his popularity; the man used to be an elite and unique quarterback.

- I told you so about Alex Barron. Look, all the offensive talent in the world means nothing if Tony Romo doesn’t get more time out of that line, and although the Redskins are a decent defense, they certainly aren’t elite like others he’ll face. Golden Pleasure Domes built on sand never work out well.

- Meanwhile, Washington seems awfully chipper for an offense that completed fewer than half its passes, couldn’t get any meaningful ground game going, and won thanks to a miscue out of a Pop Warner football game. They may gel before its all said and done (Moss seems to be benefiting nicely from the new offense), but so far, both teams from the Sunday Night game look a class below their peers in the NFC East.

- Chargers/Chiefs was a wash. Nothing to be learned about either team from that game given the weather and the impressive home crowd.

- The Jets started the season off by ripping my heart out through my stomach. 21 passes? On a night when EVERYBODY could have told you that the tide was turning against the Jets, who have positioned themselves to be the league’s villain this season, Schotty geared up an offense that threw just 21 times??? I understand protecting your quarterback, but that was gutless to the point of disgust. He’s a first round draft pick, not Trent Dilfer being told “hey, just don’t screw this up.” Against that secondary, there really is no excuse for Edwards getting just 4 targets, or Keller getting just 5. Five years into the Schotty experience, this guy has just proven that he’s good enough to make a poor offense decent, but has almost no ability to make a decent offense special, and this team has spent a lot of money to give him some special tools on offense. More heartbreaking than the loss (which, though bad, was as much the product of questionable officiating and minor miscues as it was overall execution) was the way the game plan seemed to gut Sanchez of the confidence he’d built up in the last offseason. Considering how hard last season was, and how he’d seemed to grow from it, wouldn’t it make sense to take a couple of shots down the field to let the league, and probably Sanchez himself know that the offense believes in his ability to run the team? What I saw Monday was pretty much the exact same team that snuck into the playoffs in 2009 at 9-7, and while it was a pleasant surprise last season, that would be a huge mark against both this front office and coaching staff.

Alright. We’ll be up with something else in the afternoon, and don’t forget to follow us on twitter at @titraffic.

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