Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Hangover 2010 - Week 6

- Look, nobody was happy with that Jets win, but of the myriad ways to define a team as “great”, isn’t one time tested route to see what happens when they have a bad day? Well, on Mark Sanchez’s worst day so far, the Jets managed to pull out a 24-20 win. We can debate the amount of penalization resulting from pass interference (although that was clearly interference), but with the rules being what they are, the Jets gutted a win out in a close road game, marking the second win in a row that looked like a reversal of the “classic close Jets loss.” Of the three clearly defined “elites” (Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and the Jets), the role of lingering threat seems to suit the Jets nicely, as they have the youth and unpredictability to get caught off guard, but the talent to make up for their mistakes before a game is lost.

- I said it last week, and I’ll say it again: The Packers don’t have the ground game to take advantage of their high power aerial attack (a pathetic 17 carries for 62 yards on Sunday). As such, they are neither able to keep teams honest on defense, nor able to protect the kinds of leads their offensive tools inevitably provide (case in point: they held the ball for just 28 minutes to Miami’s 38). The resulting tension seems utterly at odds with the philosophy of freedom and happiness as form to which this collection of talents would seem best suited. That’s the thing about football; unlike other sports, there must be central principles. Oriented around those principles, there is freedom to create (a freedom that, as readers of this blog know, we feel is grossly overlooked). That said, the absence of these founding principles is the quintessential “house on the sand” story, all pride and show without any staying power. I’m afraid we’re watching this iteration of the Packers get washed out to sea, particularly having lost dynamic playmaker Jermichael Finley to injury.

- I like Sam Bradford (18/31, 198 yards, 1 TD on Sunday). Against the top passing defense in the league, and with Danario Alexander as his top receiving target (aside from NFL Street Legend Steven Jackson), Bradford managed to attack without pressing or turning the ball over. In fact, can we agree that this is one of the two or three most impressive showings for a rookie QB in the last five years? Matt Ryan’s compares, but I would argue that Bradford is doing more with less, and shows a patience that his offensive line shouldn’t afford him, the mark that “the game slows down” for him, which is as much a real development step as it is a Jaws cliché. Given legitimate top flight receiver and an offensive line, couldn’t this unit turn scary quicker than anybody thought? That’s the beauty of toiling in obscurity; if it doesn’t crush you, it only further establishes your talent.

- On the flip side of the coin, at what point to the Chargers believe in the system that has made them a playoff team for the last couple of years and stop playing like a team that needs to panic when they’re down? Giving Ryan Matthews just 12 carries when he’s averaging 5.3 yards per carry is the height of reactionary foolishness. We asked in the last Hangover if the Chargers’ rival, the Colts, was a team that didn’t believe in their greatness, but that looks more and more like the result of little, well hidden problems. With the Chargers, it really does feel like a confidence issue. In essence, this team is playing its own dysfunction as much as it is playing its opponents, and too often their decision is to play like a one dimensional team, using Rivers as a crutch instead of a unique weapon. You have to solve the Rubik’s Cube before you compete to show you can do it better than others, Norv Turner.

- I genuinely believe that the Ravens are a great team, but they played to avoid an embarrassing loss instead of playing to win, which is the mark of everything that is wrong with this team. All of their offseason moves still haven’t given them the ability to crush their opponents. Boldin is a beautiful, useful tool, but he isn’t going to punish entire defenses the way a Megatron or Andre Johnson can, and nobody else in this receiving corps appears ready to stretch defensive schemes. The stubborn decision to run 28 times when the Patriots were so clearly committed to keeping Ray Rice contained was the mark of a team that still feels like it doesn’t belong. If the NFC is suffering for lack of clear separation between the elites and the mediocre, the AFC is suffering for its elites refusing to play to their strengths, instead choosing to play “right way” football. The fact that the Ravens, who have as strange and wonderful an array of offensive talent as any roster in the league, insist on doing this is just heartbreaking for anybody waiting to see a team take control of the direction of the league.

- I love the Randy Moss move, if only because it returns Bill Belichick to his comfort zone of overachieving hunter. What I didn’t expect, however, was that it might have bought him more time on this borrowed season. The Ravens looked genuinely confused as to how they were supposed to cover this offense, and the result was five different receivers putting up 20 yards or more against one of the stingiest defenses in the league. The inscrutable fog offense is better suited to this team’s talent level, as opposed to the more talented and clearly defined offense built around Moss, and it gives this team an unpredictability that could buy them the extra 2-3 wins they need to make the playoffs.

- Act like Mike Williams isn’t a cool redemption story out in Seattle. It’s bizarre to see someone find their physical gifts so this late in their career, and speaks volumes about what wasn’t being done for him in Detroit and Tennessee. Meanwhile, in Seattle, he’s proof that coaching based on trust and support can be just as effective, if not more effective, than beating the talent out of a player. Strange that so many teams need talent at receiver, and so few teams were willing to invest the time and patience that it takes to get a player like Williams to play up to his obvious physical talent.

- We’re light on stats so far, so here’s one I find as interesting as anything going on in the NFL right now: The 1-5 Browns have lost only one game by more than 10 points (Sunday’s Steelers game, in which rookie Colt McCoy started his first NFL game), and two games by a field goal or less. Also worth noting: They’re starting Seneca Wallace in a decidedly non-Seneca Wallace offense, and he’s throwing to Ben Watson and a bunch of receivers who wouldn’t crack the top two WR spots on any other NFL team. Finally, despite being at the bottom of the barrel according to their record, the Browns are the 20th ranked passing offense, 22nd ranked rushing offense, 21st ranked pass defense, and 23rd ranked rush defense. They are decidedly mediocre despite a record and reputation that says they are awful. All of this is to say something that I can’t believe I’m saying after watching him work in New York: Eric Mangini is doing a very good job coaching this team beyond its very limited potential. Whether that sort of “Old Man and the Sea” commitment to bringing things in respectably should be rewarded with another year to try and add success to improvement is a tougher call (personally, despite the glaring misses on adding a WR, I’d say he gets one more year), but it at least deserves recognition.

- Not sure why everyone is acting talking about how the AFC West doesn’t have a clear favorite; the Chiefs are the truth. Matt Cassel has the physical ability to do what he did on Sunday (20/29, 201 yards and 3 TD) against just about any opponent (the New England season was a lot of system, but not ALL system). Dwyane Bowe is a big body and a smart receiver, and his recent rash of drops seems more like an aberration than a persistent condition. Todd Haley is helming the best rushing offense in the league, and his pass attack is only going to get better as Cassel and Bowe play to their strengths. Considering how tragically flawed everybody else in the division looks (yes, the Chargers are flawed, both in their special teams problems and in NOT HAVING THEIR BEST RECEIVER FOR HALF OF THE SEASON), why would we bet against a team that is turning speed into violence on a regular basis? Besides, EVERYBODY in that division is losing to the Colts and Texans. Bank on it.

- This is going to be another one of those seasons where we need to take Megatron’s yardage and multiply it by three to get an honest sense of how good he is. Quick, who is the worst QB to throw passes to Calvin Johnson: Drew Stanton, Jon Kitna, Shaun Hill, Drew Henson, Dan Orlovsky, or latter day Daunte Culpepper?

- How do we all feel about Eli Manning? For all the talk about his brother being a quiet superstar interested in nothing but winning, the media blitz that followed Peyton’s Super Bowl win certainly established him as an individual superstar with a natural gift for PR savvy. Eli, on the other hand, is becoming something of a rock for the Giants to build upon. Never the star on his own team, Eli has as many Super Bowl wins as Favre or Peyton (and was at least as responsible for that playoff run as his defense…a fact people forget all too easily). Even now, having faded into the media background, Eli has thrown as many touchdowns (10) as all but three quarterbacks in the league, and is tied with the likes of Tom Brady, Tony Romo, and Aaron Rodgers, with just one more interception (8) than Romo or Rodgers. Considering that his pass game lacks the truly phenomenal athlete that Rodgers has had in Finley (up until now) and Romo has throughout his offense, isn’t it time that we at least start talking about Eli as the franchise centerpiece for the Giants instead of a nice sideshow to the defense’s main event? I love Hakeem Nicks (again, he plays bigger and faster than his measureable traits indicate), but I almost feel as though Eli is making Nicks into a great receiver in the same way other elite quarterbacks have turned good talents (such as Donald Driver or Deion Branch) into stars. In the end, despite being in a city made of flash bulbs, it’s looking like Eli Manning is becoming the unheralded, consistent workhorse of his quarterback contemporaries, and his virtual asceticism toward publicity is as much a part of his style as it has been of his substance. Name five other contemporary quarterbacks who would have the success Eli has had with the receivers he’s had, if you think I’m wrong.

- Told you so about the Falcons not being able to hang with truly explosive teams. I. TOLD. YOU. SO. Next up, losses to the Bengals and the Bucs. I don’t hate the team, but I do hate the lack of any flare whatsoever; it’s no way to live.

- No, I’m not done supporting the Bucs, but I do think that my expectations need to be tempered to match a secondary that isn’t ready to do the work that their total lack of a run game is forcing them to do. That’s the danger of the way this team is built, with all explosion on offense and very little to slow the game down to a manageable pace when things get crazy: That sort of energy either burns hot or runs totally cold. The Bucs on Sunday looked like Barthe’s jilted lover, too stunned to respond to the world that the Saints were building around them.

- I thought I was going to do great things coming out of college. The lack of early success that followed was evidence of a lack of understanding of how the world worked and personal problems I didn’t fully recognize. I also had my emotional and mental health completely shredded thanks to a variety of poor choices and less than healthy professional and personal relationships. Now that I’m trying to actually get some traction going in a positive direction, every single failure feels like a return to that awful time in my life, and is scrutinized as such by people who don’t really get what it’s like to fail at great expectations, get another chance to make something of yourself, and struggle on that road to redemption. What I’m saying is this: I get Alex Smith. That doesn’t mean his isn’t unbelievable frustrating to support, but I get him. I’m willing to bet more of us get him than would care to admit.

- Vikings to win the NFC North. They get better every week, they still get the Bears (and their generous offensive line) twice, and that offense is going to be a war machine as Favre gets used to his injuries and Sidney Rice recovers.

- You just felt like Donovan McNabb didn’t have a chance at the end of that Redskins-Colts game, right? Has this guy ever been a guy you want in the clutch? Yes, it’s ridiculous to reduce an amazing career to one consistent failing, but that consistent failing certainly needs to be considered as a defining characteristic when it so heavily influences wins and losses.

- All of my rowdy friends were not pleased that they had to watch a Trent Edwards vs. Kerry Collins showdown in Jacksonville.

That’s all for this week. Be following us on @titraffic on twitter for consistent goodness, and we’ll have another post and a podcast up tomorrow.

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