Drew Brees

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2011 NFL Season: 10 Early Questions for NFL QB’s (Week 3)

No time like the present to dig in and ask some tough questions about performance.

Ndamukong Suh, DT, Detroit Lions

  1. Why is Ravens’ QB Joe Flacco currently ranked 28th (tied with Browns’ QB Colt McCoy) with a completion percentage of 54.1%?
  2. Of the three QB’s that have thrown for over 1,000 yards this season (Brady, Brees, and Newton), which one has the biggest “upside”?
  3. Which QB with a lower completion percentage than Minnesota’s Donovan McNabb should be benched first: Jay Cutler, Chad Henne, Kyle Orton or Sam Bradford?
  4. Quarterbacks averaging less than 7 yards per attempt include Matt Ryan, Andy Dalton, Josh Freeman, Sam Bradford and Donovan McNabb. Only Ryan has offensive weapons as deep and varied as Michael Turner, Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White and Julio Jones. Is it time for a change in Atlanta — and if so, who stays, who goes?
  5. Why is Chad Henne still playing (and why is Tony Sparano still coaching)?
  6. Should we all expect Kevin Kolb to win close games by now? When does his honeymoon end with the national press? Kolb and Cam Newton are the only 2 QB’s average more than 8 yards per attempt with losing records. The Panthers lost to the Cardinals in Week 1 due, in part, to a dropped pass in the endzone at the end of the game.
  7. How many writers had to trash stories about a “gritty, tough, resilient, smart, heady and really, really gritty, tough, resilient, smart and heady” Kevin Kolb positioning the Cardinals for a playoff run after T. Jax ran over both Cardinals safeties to knock off the red birds? Kolb is as unproven today as he was when the Philadelphia faithful fawned over his every move.
  8. When is Ben Roethlisberger going to stop playing down to the level of his competition and author a blowout defense that allows his aging defense to get some rest?
  9. Philip Rivers, Tom Brady, and Matt Cassel lead the league in pass interceptions. Anyone covering this?
  10. Philip Rivers has thrown two interceptions in EVERY GAME THIS SEASON; his teams have always underperformed; and the Chargers are a razor’s edge away from an 0-3 start, but it’s crickets ALL AROUND the national media. Can Phil get a check up from the neck up? Is it as simple as the loss of a “security blanket”?

EXTRA CREDIT

  1. Tom Brady throws 4 picks and some analysts, I use the term loosely, are blaming receivers for failing to run routes properly…but missing Brady’s failure to finish plays and convert to defense once he surrenders the ball. Play the game the way its supposed to be played.
  2. If you’re running the Rams right now, would you rather have Ryan Fitzpatrick and Ndamukong Suh or Sam Bradford?
  3. The Texans next three games are against the Steelers, Raiders and at Baltimore. Is Matt Schaub the guy? Will we know after this stretch, once and for all?

Just one final note: At some point it will be fitting for the NFL family to remember that Tom Brady has essentially had two careers. In the first stage of his career, as his team won 3 Super Bowls in 4 years by a total of 9 points (three point wins each time), Brady was not a dominant passer. He was efficient. He didn’t throw interceptions. He was a game manager, not a game changer. Young Tom Brady didn’t win games with his arm. He won them with his hand offs, and his execution of play action fakes. He had some big passing games (Super Bowls vs. Carolina and Philadelphia), but each of those games was also punctuated by high carry games from Patriot running backs. He threw for less than 4,000 yards in each of the Patriots Super Bowl-winning seasons…and he had QB ratings of under 93.

Rivals of the Era: Closer than Close

In the second stage of Tom Brady’s career, he has emerged as a dominant passer, but his teams have struggled to win post-season games. The Patriots, with an undefeated team, lost a Super Bowl to the New York Giants in which Brady threw 48 passes for a mere 266 yards. He was throttled, hammered and harassed all night long – and it still took a miracle for them to lose. Still, they lost. His passing was unable to carry the day – in much the same way that dominant passing was unable to garner rings for players like Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb, and others.

It seems as though there is a bit of collective amnesia with respect to these two phases of Tom Brady’s career. The elite passer of the second phase has not won a Super Bowl. Like Peyton Manning and Donovan McNabb and Dan Marino and others, he was won a lot of regular season games. However, he has lost a home playoff game to a team that featured an overwhelmed Joe Flacco (4-10, 35 total passing yards, 1 INT). He has lost to the New York Jets and second-year QB Mark Sanchez. And, for what it’s worth, Tom Brady has not thrown for 300 yards in a PLAYOFF GAME since 2005 against the Denver Broncos…and New England lost that game by 2 touchdowns.

It is difficult to separate Brady’s numbers and the regular season wins from his early success as the offensive leader of a team that was actually run by men like Willie McGinest, Rodney Harrison, Tedy Bruschi, Richard Seymour, Ty Law, and Lawyer Milloy. It’s hard. I know it is. But the bottom line for Brady and the Patriots is what it is…and the numbers never lie.

Bears MLB Brian Urlacher Shows Who's Boss

2010 NFL Season: Week 17 Previews

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in need of help from the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers make the most interesting case for a compelling “must-see” game.  The Young Bucs will be in the Big Easy taking on the resurgent New Orleans Saints.  The Saints survived a sub-par performance by quarterback Drew Brees to win on the road in Atlanta last Monday night.  With the world watching, the Saints made a case for themselves as the team to beat in the NFC.  Today, the Bucs will bring the fight to a team that still has something to play for: a division title.  Both of these teams would love nothing more than for the front runners  to open the door with a loss at Carolina.  Regardless of the outcome of those games, both Tampa Bay and New Orleans have a lot to play for.  Pride!

In other games, the needy and the greedy will be separated for better or worse.  Green Bay just needs a win.  Will the Packers try to go for too many home runs to get the job done?  Will the slow and steady Bears win the race?

Looking Ahead: Top NFL QBs in 2010

Who is in your Top 10?

Drew Brees is a no-brainer. What about Vince Young (26-13 as a starter)?  Joe Flacco (21-13 as a starter)?  Alex Smith?  Mark Sanchez?  Are you looking to the upside of a quarterback who has yet to make his mark, or are you sticking with the men who’ve done it before?  Manning (2x) and Brady.  What about the potentially retired?  Are you expecting a Beltway Revival for choir boy turned QB, Jason Campbell?  How much are you going to hold Peyton Manning’s Super Bowl loss against him?   How much are you going to hold Eli Manning’s late season collapse against him?  How ’bout them fumbles (Tony Romo)?

Romo: "Sometimes, you've got to give the defense...give the defense what they want."

Who do you rank in the top 10 — and who is number one on your look good chart?

Super Bowl XLIV: The (Other) Snap that Killed the Colts

Games always boil down to more than one play.  Pierre Garcon’s dropped pass on 3rd down near the 8 minute mark of the 2nd quarter was a big play.  Earlier this week, I showed how the Saints defense stepped up to halt the march of the Colts in the 4th quarter after Reggie Wayne converted a 4th down.  Those were not the only plays that mattered in Sunday’s game.

A Lesson in Clock Management

This clip shows how the Colts hurt themselves before the snap of the ball.  The defense had just stopped the Saints at the goal line on 4th down.  Indianapolis had secured the ball deep in their own territory.  The play that the Colts would run (pictured below) on 3rd down was the same play they ran for a few yards on first down.  In between these mirror plays, Joseph Addai ripped off a 7 yard run to get the Colts close to the Promised Land (halftime with a 10-3 lead).

With one minute remaining, the Colts had the ball and faced a 3rd and short.  The ball was on the 10-yard line.  If the Colts were going to be aggressive, they should have run a play as quickly as possible and tried to get into scoring position.  Indianapolis did not do that.  They didn’t rush to the line.  They didn’t call a pass play on this sequence to preserve the clock for their own drive.

Manning Snaps the Ball Too Soon

If the Colts were not going to attempt to score, the best decision would have been to do on 3rd down what they did on 2nd down: run the clock down.  Manning snaps the ball with :14 seconds remaining on the play clock.   It was this decision, as much as any other, that allowed the Saints the time to mount a scoring drive of their own and close the halftime gap to 10-6.  Michael Hart was tackled by Sedrick Ellis; the Saints called timeout; and Brees hit Devery Henderson deep down the seam to put the Saints in field goal range.  Peyton Manning gave the keys to Brees and he scored.

(The thinking behind the early snap may have been to catch the Saints defenders off guard.  Manning may have thought the Colts would have been at an advantage snapping at :14, rather than running the clock down to :01 where a quick snap or modified cadence would have no impact.  The Saints were prepared and capitalized on what must be classified as either an error or a calculated risk by Peyton Manning.)

Super Bowl XLIV: Three Downs to Remember

The Indianapolis Colts were defeated by the New Orleans Saints last night by a score of 31-17 in Super Bowl XLIV.  The signature plays of this game included an onside kick to start the second half by the Saints, an overturned 2 point conversion by Lance Moore and a brilliant 74-yard interception return for touchdown by Tracy Porter.  There were, however, a number of other plays that were just as critical to the outcome of this game — and they will be forgotten before long.  I am putting the spotlight on three plays to illustrate the point that momentum is sometimes really only as good as the next play.

Early in the 4th quarter, the Colts had the ball and a lead.  Indianapolis was about to go forward on the 8th play of a drive that began on their own 11-yard line.  It was 4th down with 2 yards to go from the New Orleans 46-yard line.  I remember saying at the time, “Caldwell’s telling the Saints, ‘I’m not scared of you’s!’”  Peyton Manning executed a slant pass to Reggie Wayne for 14 yards.  Wayne cut inside of Tracy Porter (something he was unable to do later in the game), bobbled the ball and held on just as he was crunched by free safety Darren Sharper.

Reggie Wayne Converts a 4th Down in the 4th Quarter

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Super Bowl XLIV – Quick Postscript

The New Orleans Saints outplayed the Indianapolis Colts. Drew Brees outplayed Peyton Manning. Gregg Williams’ guys outplayed Larry Coyer’s’ guys. The Colts led 10-0, but were outscored 31-7 for the rest of the game.

On this historic night, Jim Nance twice mentioned the 1987 Washington Redskins, but was so overcome by the disease that he could not mention the name of the architect of that win – Doug Williams. Williams overcame a 10 point deficit against a “Golden Boy” (John Elway) and had one of the greatest Super Bowl performances of all time.

The Saints deserve a lot of credit for building the type of team that is more balanced than the experts think…more experienced, and just a bit tougher. For all the pomp and circumstance surrounding largely one-dimensional offenses run by Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, both the Patriots and Colts were only able to muster 17 points.

That defense played better than I thought they could, but they gave us a glimpse of what was possible earlier this season. On offense, the Saints simply did what they do. The Saints were clearly the best team tonite.

END NOTE: It is ironic that in the past two seasons, where the Super Bowl featured three of the most prolific offensive teams in recent memory, the games have been decided (in large part) by interceptions returned for touchdowns.  That the passers were Kurt Warner and Peyton Manning makes this fact all the more intriguing.  Both were intercepted trying to make quick throws to the left side against a blitz.  Both quarterbacks were targeting a favorite receiver on a route to the inside that was successfully read and jumped by the defense.

Super Bowl XLIV: Keys to Victory – New Orleans Saints

The 15-3 New Orleans Saints head into Super Bowl XLIV against the 16-2 Indianapolis Colts as four point underdogs.  No need to add to the hype.  Let’s cut to the chase.  

SEVEN KEYS FOR THE SAINTS

Get consistent hits on Peyton Manning.  The Saints already know this and have admitted as much.  Gregg Williams, the defensive coordinator, like to bring pressure.  The Saints knocked around Kurt Warner and Brett Favre as much as I can recall in years.  Warner hasn’t been hit like that since he played for the Giants.

The Saints have an “ace in the hole.”  Unlike most teams, the Saints have NO FEAR of getting outscored by the Colts in a shootout.  This means that even if Manning burns the blitz, the Saints will not feel the added burden of trying to slow down the game for their offense.  New Orleans’ capacity to SCORE will impact their willingness to blitz throughout the game.  Three teams in the AFC have used this same approach with some success against the Colts: the New England Patriots, San Diego Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers.  When teams don’t feel that they can keep up on the scoreboard, they get conservative defensively.  New Orleans showed none of that in their all out attack on the Cardinals and Vikings quarterbacks.

Bobby McCray: Saints Speed Rusher and QB Retirement Machine

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2009 NFL Season: Diggin’ In the Crates on the New Orleans Saints

The biggest topic of conversation in the NFC over the Christmas holiday will be, “How do we beat the New Orleans Saints?”  The answer won’t come easily — but it can be done.  On any given playoff Saturday or Sunday, any team can lose.  Just as surely as the 15-1 Minnesota Vikings (1998) fell to the Atlanta Falcons in the confines of the cozy Metrodome, the Saints can lose this season.

I’ll be revisiting this topic over the next few days, but I wanted to illustrate a point that may not be understood by fans in places like Arizona, Minnesota and Philadelphia.  Drew Brees is an athletic football player.  He makes plays with his feet and his eyes and his arm.  If you underestimate any of those aspects of his game, you will probably lose — and never fully understand why you lost.  Just because he looks like “an average dude” does not entitle you to get it twisted.  At 6’0″, he came within a stones throw of toppling Dan Marino’s single-season passing record.

A little respect will go a long way.

Here is Exhibit A:

Raymond James Stadium in the Elements

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2009 NFL Season: A Look Back at Week 7

So, how’d I do?

After going 5-8 last week, it couldn’t get any worse could it.  Let me get this out of the way first.  I was wrong about Miami being able to hang on and beat the Saints.  I was wrong about Chicago at Cincinnati…really, really wrong.  Sorry Cedric.  I was a believer at the end of the preseason.  I just slipped.  Next time you all are in New York to collect rent from the Jets, holler!

I wasn’t perfect this week, but I was better.  Heading into the Monday night game featuring the heavily-favored Eagles vs. the seriously-sedated Redskins, I had a record of 7-5. Let’s get to the good.

The Classics

Pittsburgh Steelers 27, Minnesota Vikings 17. I have maintained two things since the beginning of Brett Favre’s flirtations with the Vikings…that this team is going to be a tough out in the post-season and that if the Vikings play teams that Adrian Peterson does not dominate – teams that force Brett Favre to beat them, he’s not going to do it.  I don’t dislike Favre.  For me it’s simpler than that.  Since 1997, he hasn’t won more than one playoff game in any season.  To play in a Super Bowl, the Vikings will need to win 2 or 3 playoff games.  The Steelers allowed 69 rushing yards to Adrian Peterson and the game was put in the hands of Favre to win or lose.

He threw 51 passes.  The chances of losing increase exponentially for most QBs after 45 passes (at least in the post-season).  Favre, for much of the game, did a masterful job of mixing up plays.  The Vikings attacked short and deep.  There are were a few plays where only good fortune and a very strong sun prevented Percy Harvin from dominating the action.  He is a very impressive young player.   The hamstring injury to Bernard Berrian significantly impacted the game.  Berrian did drop an easy pass, but he was otherwise having his way with William Gay.  Berrian’s speed forced Gay to play off — leaving room for underneath routes.  When Berrian went out of the game, Favre was reduced to throwing to Harvin, Sidney Rice (another great game) and Visanthe Shincoe.

The Steelers still have issues.  Rashard Mendenhall is a fumbler — until proven otherwise.  He’s not a nice back who happens to fumble.  He’s not a young power back with great speed and agility who happens to fumble.  He’s a fumbler.  He is a player who jeopardizes possessions each time he touches the ball.  After his Red Zone fumble yesterday, Coach Mike Tomlin went to former Viking Mewelde Moore to hold down the fort.  Moore, of course, is not a powerful between the tackles runner, but he is not a fumbler.

Adrian Peterson Runs Over Steeler RCB William Gay

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