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2011 NFL Season: Trends, Ends, and Bends (Week 3)

When does a season really take shape? Is it in the beginning when surprising teams get off to hot starts? Is it when elite teams hit their stride and begin to pile drive the competition? Or is it late in the season when the scramble for playoff position is at full tilt? Each season is different, but I think I can say there are some things I know about the 2011 season.

  1. The Buffalo Bills are for realfinally. I’ve liked this team for several years now and they’ve been a disappointment. This team has more confidence, better offensive coaching (Chan Gailey), and more playmakers at key positions. Can they outlast the Patriots and Jets? I think they’ll have to beat one or both of them on the road to make the playoffs.
  2. The Minnesota Vikings are a mess. The entire team is playing the second half of games as if they are expecting the worst. And their fans are doing the same thing. In the first half of games this season, the Vikings have outscored the Chargers, Buccaneers and Lions by a combined score of 54-7. The second half of games has been a merciless parade of broken tackles, three-and-outs, “too smart” playcalling, and sloppy play. Leslie Frazier bears full responsibility for this. The team has the talent. He has to get inside his player’s heads and clear out the cobwebs.
  3. The Atlanta Falcons are overrated…and so is Matt Ryan. Guys who are mediocre outdoors and on the road are mediocre, period. When Michael Turner is unable to get off on the ground, the Falcons have trouble scoring and winning. Roddy White could have won that game yesterday. It’s not all on Matt when they lose, but it’s not all on him when they win — and they can’t seem to win consistently outdoors and on the road.
  4. However, the luck of the Bucs is due to run out soon. For the second consecutive week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won big games vs. conference opponents that harbor dreams of making a post-season splash. For the second consecutive week, Bucs QB Josh Freeman has thrown an interception in the end zone. That has to stop. Focus up young man and take what the defense gives you!!
  5. Cam Newton can win games. The Panthers played in a virtual monsoon for part of their game vs. Jacksonville. The Panthers have issues on their offensive line and only one professional wide receiver. Still, Newton has found a way to provide leadership and stability. For a team playing without Thomas Davis and John Beason, getting off the field on 3rd down is going to be a stiff challenge. Carolina has the toughest schedule in the entire league this season and it will get much more difficult as the year progresses.
  6. Running Mike Martz’ system requires mental toughness. I don’t believe there is a coordinator in the league that puts more pressure on his QB’s than Martz. Whether it’s calling protections with limited blocking, reading blitzes, calling audibles or making accurate and timely throws, Martz’ demands may just be too high for Jay Cutler and this group of Bears.
  7. Why did the Vikings run the ball with Toby Gerhart on 4th down vs. the Lions? Why???????
  8. The Steelers have a +/- turnover ratio of -9. This team doesn’t have the overall talent to play at that level. If that number doesn’t change, the Steelers are going to miss the playoffs. Between Roethlisberger’s fumbles, interception and missed field goal, Pittsburgh lost roughly 19 points. A game that might have been a blowout, especially given that starter Kerry Collins was knocked out, wound up as a tightly contested game that I will remember for Pierre Garcon’s dropped touchdowns as much as anything else.
  9. Before this season, the Steelers have ranked in the bottom half of turnover ratio only 6 times since 1988. Each time, they’ve missed the playoffs. This morning…they rank dead last in a league of 32 teams.
  10. The Patriots haven’t won a Super Bowl since 2004. That was a long time ago. What’s missing? The power running of Corey Dillon. Even before Dillon, the Pats could rely on Antowain Smith to get short yardage conversions, maintain possession and keep defenses honest. Dillon, of course, was particularly valuable in the Red Zone. When the Patriots lose, it’s because they’re throwing a few too many passes against teams that either have a slew of good DBs or they have a good pass rush or both (Bills ’11, Jets ’10, Ravens ’09, Saints ’09, Giants ’07). They don’t lose often, but when they do — that’s why.
  11. The Giants’ Victor Cruz really is that good. I know most people have never heard of this guy, but if you live in New York, you must remember his breakout performance in last year’s pre-season game vs. the New York Jets. Yeah, it was pre-season. Yeah, it was a year ago. But, Cruz showcased the savvy, strength, agility, and speed against the Eagles that he did against the Jets. He never saw the light of day behind Hakeem Nicks, Steve Smith and Mario Manningham and Domenik Hixon. The Giants were DEEEEEEEEEEEP at wide receiver. Cruz is just one more high-quality player at the position.
  12. Big men with bad feet. Antonio Gates. This is going to be an ongoing problem isn’t it?
  13. James Harrison is a strong man. If anyone threw Dallas Clark around like that on the street, the police would have been called hours ago.
  14. I don’t care much for Mike Shanahan. I think he definitely knows what he’s doing. Two rings bear that out. Still, I thought Washington has the pieces in place to make a run last year. The best player on that offense, when his hands cooperate, is Fred Davis. The best player on that defense, once he masters that scheme, is Brian Orakpo. That’s not a bad tandem to build around.
  15. So let me get this straight. Some people think the Eagles would be better off with a guy who couldn’t beat the lowly Seattle Seahawks. If Tarvaris Jackson can beat Kolb (as a Seahawk) and Warner (as a Viking), maybe he knows something about the Cardinals that even Ken Whisenhunt doesn’t know.
  16. Andy Dalton and Cam Newton are both 1-2, sort of. Guess what. Andy Dalton has been credited with a win he didn’t deserve. In Week 1, the Bengals beat the Browns, but Dalton was knocked from the game with his team trailing 14-13 at halftime. Dalton didn’t return to the game. The Bengals won under the leadership of Bruce Gradkowski. Dalton is 0-2 in his other starts and mustered all of 8 points vs. the San Francisco 49ers. I’m not sold.
  17. I was wrong about Matt Schaub. Maybe I don’t watch enough Texans games…maybe I do. It seems to me that Schaub almost always manages to put up big numbers (thanks to Andre Johnson and a Shanahan-based offensive system), but never does enough to win the big game. Week 1 wins at home vs. the Colts are not big wins, especially if the game is played in Houston as it was in 2010. On the road vs. the Saints — make me a believer! Couldn’t get it done. At home vs. the Ravens in ’10 — make a believer! Couldn’t get it done. Winnable games with a playoff spot on the line in 2010 — make a believer!! Couldn’t get it done!!!
  18. If your name is Matt, I’m not feeling you, unless…. Matt Hasselbeck, Matt Schaub, Matt Ryan, Matt Cassel! No thanks. Matthew Stafford! I’m buying that guy. He’s a baller. If he ever begins to go by Matt Stafford, we’re done. Matt’s come up short almost all the time. Hasselbeck is the only Matt to even win a playoff game. As highly regarded as these players are, you’d think they were setting the world on fire. Let’s put this in perspective…the four Matt’s have been in the league for a combined total of 28 years and have amassed a combined post-season record of 5-9.
  19. I was for the Raiders before I was against them. The Raiders swept the otherwise powerful AFC West in 2010. While the national media continues its infatuation with the San Diego Super Chargers and the Kansas City Chiefs, the Silver & Black have quietly emerged as the team to beat once again in this division. Oakland is poised to make the post-season in 2011 if they can remain focused and out of the 9-7 morass that will get dicey if they face a tie-breaker with the Bills in late December.
  20. All I know about the Jets rush defense is that they are not nearly as good as Rex Ryan would have you believe. Call it The Kris Jenkins Effect. In last year’s Super Bowl, we saw a bit of the Cullen Jenkins Effect. Of course, it was overshadowed by the B.J. Raji Effect, but nonetheless, the Jenkins men cast a large shadow in the trenches. The Jets have been without Kris Jenkins off and on for much of the past 2 years. They have been their most formidable with Jenkins, but now it’s all catching up with them.
  • 27 – 121 – 1
  • 27 – 112
  • 32 – 234 – 4

In last year’s AFC Championship Game, Pittsburgh’s Rashard Mendenhall pounded the Jets for 121 yards on 27 time consuming carries.  The Jets were unable to overcome the Steelers running game and were forced to retool for this year. A week ago, the Jacksonville Jaguars crawled into town led by Luke McCown. En route to a 32-3 blowout, Maurice Jones-Drew was still able to scratch out 88 yards on 18 carries. The team ran for 112 yards on 27 carries in a losing effort. The writing was on the wall. Yesterday, the Raiders dispensed with any notion that the New York Jets have a stout run defense. Darren McFadden bought space in Rex’s head like a desperate shoe salesman with a web cam and a penchant for panty hose. 171 yards later, the Jets are looking for a new story to tell. They are not the bullies of the AFC. They weren’t at the end of last season and they are not at the beginning of this season. Rex has work to do and so do the men in the trenches. Kris Jenkins is not walking through that door.

On to the next.

4 comments

  1. I haven’t watched the Vikings, but something is seriously wrong with this team at the top. To play so well in the first halves of games, and then not be able to generate any offense in the second half, that speaks to the coordinators and head coach not making adjustments after halftime, because you know the other teams are making those adjustments.

    I’ve watched parts of every Panther game this season. Cam Newton has surpassed expectations that anyone had. I didn’t think he’d look this good, this fast. He’s even re-energized Steve Smith’s career. If the O-line could block better for those running backs and take some of the pressure off of him to throw, this team could throw a scare into division opponents later in the year.

    I never thought Cam was the next Michael Vick like the so called experts thought. He reminds me of Roethlisberger or Josh Freeman. Always moving when he has to, but he has his eyes up the field in case someone breaks free.

    The Steelers D-line’s age looks like it’s catching up with them again. This happened a couple of years ago, but they came back last year and had a fine season. I’m not sure if there’s going to be any coming back this time. Most of those guys are in their 30’s, and have a lot of wear on their body. It’s going to make those linebackers work harder than what they’re used to, if the Steelers want to get back to the playoffs.

    The O-line, as usual has it’s share of injuries and inconsistencies. When I first saw Ben play, the way he holds on to the ball and gets hit, I always thought that he wouldn’t play more than 10 years if he didn’t change. He’ll probably play longer than that, but he’s going to have to change holding on the ball so long or Tomlin had better be making long term plans. Dixon already held out of training camp seeking a trade for an opportunity to start somewhere else. If the hits keep racking up on Ben, Dixon or Batch might get a chance to play.

    Glad to see that pre-season was a fluke for Mike Wallace. Teams held him down there, but with the real lights on, his star is shining brightest for the Steelers. He’s on pace for that 2000 yard prediction he put forth in the pre-season. It doesn’t seem like teams rolling a safety to his side of the field is affecting him in the regular season like it did in the pre-season and early in the game against the Ravens where Sanders was the beneficiary.

    Bruce Arians is being Bruce Arians once again. Mendenhall only got 18 rushes the entire game. Sure, he only got 37 yards, but this used to be a team that would keep up with the running game even when it wasn’t working well. Isaac Redman is proving to be a good running back. My only problem is, he was drafted to be a fullback. I like him as a running back, but it would be good if Arians would at least try to work Redman in as a fullback for Mendenhall a couple of times a game.

    I think the hoodie is obsessed with trying to prove that spying on other teams isn’t what got him those Super Bowls. Even though commentators on television don’t mention it, since the 2007 season, the Patriots haven’t sniffed an AFC Championship game. Heck, I don’t think they’ve won a post season game since then. They’re a good regular season team, but they lack the toughness that they had when they won those Super Bowls to advance far when they have to take on teams like the Ravens and the Jets who will resort to some of the same tactics (excessive chucking and holding receivers, intimidating hits, O linemen getting away with holding, big hits right at or immediately after the whistle) the Pats used when they won their Super Bowls.

    Matts are over-rated in the NFL. Maybe that’s why Stafford actually goes by Matthew most of the time as opposed to Matt like the rest of those guys. If Detroit keeps him healthy, they’re challenging the Packers for this division. Folks may even tune in to watch them on Thanksgiving this year.

    The Raiders and Bills are the surprises of the AFC. San Diego always lays eggs when they should be beating the tar out of certain teams. The Raiders can win the division. The Bills probably won’t win the division, but could win a wild card at some team’s expense.

  2. Do you think the rookie addition to the Steelers DL will get some playing time with Ziggy Hood to rejuvenate the line this season? Also, do you think Keisel’s absence can serve a long-term benefit by saving his legs for later in the season?

    I’m wondering if this crazy off-season doesn’t actually help the Steelers long-term. Maybe it’s the older teams in the league that will need time to “get their legs.”

  3. I think Cameron Heyward ought to be getting more time along with Ziggy Hood. It certainly can’t hurt. The problem though, is in the LeBeau’s scheme, he won’t always be doing things that traditional defensive linemen do. Hood seems to get it now. It took him about half a season before he started to get serious time. It may take Heyward about that long before he starts getting serious time.

    As for Keisel, yes and no. It might save his legs, but if you aren’t out there playing, you’re going to lose something until you get back out there. It may be conditioning or it might be technique. If he stays in shape, though, it would probably only affect him for one or two games.

    Interesting thought about the lockout hurting older teams. Time will tell, but I think it’s time that the Steelers got serious about addressing their lines in the offseason. They’re set at WR & LB, they went after DB’s in this past draft. They need some replacements to help out on both lines.

  4. Yep. I agree. It seems to me that getting a replacement for Casey Hampton is a pipe dream. The Steelers were very fortunate to have Joel Steed in the 90’s. He had a nice run and retired in ’99. Hampton came along in ’01 and grew into the position (no pun intended). Hood or Heyward will have to do the same thing OR stay at end. The Steelers need an anchor to start logging minutes. It might even be time to start thinking about getting a couple of high motor guys to play a lot of 2-man fronts as dictated by offenses around the league and these rules. I suspect that Hood and Heyward could be expected to hold it down in a year to 2 in the context of nickel and dime coverages. I’m not sure what they would do in a base alignment unless Keisel is still there.

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