New York Jets

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2011 NFL Season: Week 5, Ehh…Not So Much!

For the first time in a long time, I can say I was largely bored by the Week 5 action. There simply were not many great games played this week. Perhaps a bit of the separation between teams is beginning. Perhaps conditioning on older teams is beginning to kick in. Are the fogeys starting to get their legs?

If nothing else, I’m fairly certain that you’ll need garlic, silver, and a very, very, very long stake to kill the Packers this season. In fact, that might only kill off a few of them. Last year, they won with 38 guys and 15 “what’s his names.” This year, with 53 guys they’re just pounding the living daylights out of game plans, and opponents and their smack talking fans.

The Lions aren’t scared, but the Lions haven’t played this team.

The Falcons had the Packers by the holes in their Swiss speedos…and they let ‘em off the hook.

Cam Newton threw the worst pass of his career on Sunday. It so happens that it was his first pass of the game. And, it so happens that instead of winding up in the waiting hands of Steve Smith, it wound up in the hands of the New Orleans Saints. The pass was returned deep into the red zone and led to an opening touchdown. The Panthers played uphill for the rest of the day. By the time they mustered up the strength to take the lead late in the 4th quarter, the defense was running on fumes and gave up a decisive score. The Panthers dropped another close game, 30-27. The team seems to be getting close. Losses this season have been by 7, 7, 5 and 3 points respectively. Next up, a desperate Atlanta Falcons team.

We’re going to find out a lot about the resiliency of these teams on Sunday. The Falcons are hosting and should win by 10-14 points, but the Panthers have exceeded expectations all season.

Do you want to play this team?

Frank Gore: Opening Up A Can of Whoop! on the Bucs

The Lions do. The Bucs didn’t. If you had high expectations for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this season, it’s probably time to put those on the shelf until 2011. The team has three marginally impressive wins (I’m being kind) over Minnesota (1-4), Atlanta (outdoors), and Indianapolis (sans Peyton Manning). The Bucs lost an eagerly anticipated matchup with the Lions in their home opener and this weekend, they laid the egg of all eggs. Last year, Tampa was strong enough to go West and return with a 21-0 win over the Niners. This year, the Bucs were forced to walk the plank in an embarrassing 48-3 rout.

In other news around the league:

  • Quick Pass Roethlisberger passed for five touchdowns against the Tennessee Titans. Four different receivers caught touchdowns. Slow Pass Roethlisberger apparently missed the bus. Steelers 38, Titans 17. If he gets rid of the ball on time and uses all of his weapons, the Steelers will score lots of points for the rest of the season. Mike Tomlin’s fake punt call opened the floodgates. Kudos to the coach with the cojones.
  • The Giants figured out a way to do the unthinkable. Big Blue blew a chance to take tremendous strides in the division by losing a home conference game to the lowly Seattle Seahawks. While the Cowboys and Redskins watched at home, and the Eagles stuggled elsewhere in the state of New York, the Giants were busy finding inventive ways to put their guests in unique scoring positions. The Giants also hosted a Coming Out Party for Stanford’s Doug Baldwin (8 rec, 136 yds, 1 td).
  • The Andy Reid Reject Bowl took place between Arizona and Minnesota. There were no winners there, except for Donovan McNabb. Statistically, he did enough to keep the train on the track. Kevin Kolb was abysmal. Thankfully for Kolb, he is benefitting from a media white out that has yet to call for his head. Kolb may well be the NFL’s leading affirmative traction candidate.
  • Kolb, Part Deux.  The national media may have already been instrumental in duping the Cardinals into believing he was worthy of his juicy contract. Kolb is not a proven winner and he faces a significant up hill climb. It’s too bad he only has Larry Fitzgerald. I wouldn’t be surprised if we start reading articles about how Larry has lost a step or doesn’t know the playbook or gives up on plays or something — and if we do, they’re sure to come from ESPN (Chris Mortensen — Week 9?)
  • The Vikings need to get better at the QB and the WR position. McNabb’s not a Back Foot Betty (Favre, Romo, Kolb, etc.), but he just throws too many balls in places that defy explanation. Berrian is fast but he has not used his speed wisely in tight spaces. He isn’t getting separation and has demonstrated poor route running and pass catching over the first month of the season. He has to step his game up.
  • One thing that struck me about the San Diego Chargers is that Philip Rivers has always been blessed with well-rounded backs. LT2, Darren Sproles and Michael Turner were not one-dimensional. LT and Sproles were excellent blockers. Turner has been known to throw a knock-out block or two as well. Tolbert is solid, but he’s not as proficient as Turner across the board. Matthews is on the rise, but he has yet to arrive. The overall versatility of LT2, Sproles, and Turner gave the Chargers a much bigger matchup edge than they have now. The well has not run dry, but it is simply not as deep.
  • Matt Cassel’s ribs are healed. Four touchdowns and a close relationship with Dwayne Bowe and Steve Breaston mean big things for the Chiefs. Jamaal Charles isn’t there, but Jackie Battle has stepped in and played well. The Chiefs look a little different this season, but they have some pieces and are still in the fight. Following historically bad losses to Detroit and Buffalo, the Chiefs have rebounded with wins over mediocre teams and are in position to challenge in the AFC West.
  • The Chiefs and the Jets are both 2-3. The teams in the AFC West ahead of the Chiefs are Oakland and San Diego. The teams ahead of the Jets are New England and Buffalo. If the Chiefs are definitely out, so are the Jets. Right?
  • The Jets. Ehh!!! The Jets. Losers on the road at New England. Losers on the road at Baltimore. Losers on the road at Oakland. There is a reason why this was called “The Make or Break Portion of the Schedule.” Up next: Miami, San Diego, bye, @Buffalo, New England, @Tebow, Buffalo. And then there’s that Week 15 game vs. the Eagles. It’s early, but this team is going to be CHALLENGED to make the playoffs as a 3rd entry from the AFC East. Put simply, if the Jets get in, it will come at the expense of either the Steelers, Chargers, Raiders or Ravens. They’ve already lost to the Raiders and Ravens. It doesn’t look good.
  • I’ve got nothing on the Eagles.
  • Quiet as it’s kept, the Houston Texans dropped another game in which the performance of QB Matt Schaub was decisive. Last week, Arian Foster did the heavy lifting vs. the Steelers. Schaub has to prove he can get it done in big games. Next up: Rested Rapacious Ravens Relentlessly Ripping Ravaging and Rolling with Ray Rice.
  • Congratulations to the Raiders for beating the Houston Texans 25-20. “Just Win, Baby!” Nicely done.

Week 6 is sure to provide more fireworks. Looking forward to the Lions-Niners, Cowboys-Patriots, Panthers-Dirty Birds, among others.

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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.

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2010 NFL Season: AFC Championship Recap

Steelers 24, New York Jets 19.


What worked:

  1. Heath Miller’s return to the lineup had a tremendous impact on the running and passing game of the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Miller has been lauded as one of the elite tight ends in league circles for several years.  Sunday night was one of his most impressive games to date.  NFL Network’s Solomon Wilcots put the spotlight on Miller twice on two separate run plays.  On the first, Miller drove Jets inside linebacker (and leading tackler) David Harris a full seven yards down the field.  Miller locked up on Harris, inside the shoulders, and put him on skates.  Rashard Mendenhall could have carried a dozen eggs through that hole without incident.  On the second highlight, Miller blocks another Jets linebacker, Bryan Thomas, right into the endzone.  Miller seems to be the only player who is playing through the whistle.  A play that started on the four or five yard line ends with Miller tossing Thomas on his rear end towards the back of the end zone.  Miller was targeted a team-high 4 times in the passing game.  Ben Roethlisberger missed him for an easy touchdown in the first quarter, but Heath Miller cemented his contribution on the ground.
  2. Bruce Arians.  Few Steelers fans have called for the “head” of offensive coordinator Bruce Arians as often as I have.  We routinely lament Arians’ lack of imagination in the Red Zone; his infusion of finesse into our beloved Steelers scheme; his reluctance to use a fullback in situations that clearly call for a lead blocker; and, perhaps worst of all, his tenure with the Browns (usually an automatic disqualifier).  If I slam him when the team fails to do what it’s supposed to do, I have to give him some love when they exceed expectations.  Arians (likely influenced by head coach Mike Tomlin) went to the run when it mattered most.  It’s a little known fact that Arians also leaned on the run in the Super Bowl vs. the Arizona Cardinals in order to buy some time for his weary defense.  His efforts shortened the game and facilitated the ability of the Steelers to close that game out without allowing too much time for Kurt Warner to engineer a comeback. Scott-Kemoeatu-Pouncey/Legurski-Foster-Essex-Adams and the tight end triumvirate of Miller, Johnson & Spaeth beat the Jets front-7 to a pulp.  No play epitomize the effectiveness of this approach more than Rashard Mendenhall’s run to close out the first quarter.  The Steelers new, fast mini-bus delivered a crushing blow to Jets safety Eric Smith.
  3. Ben Roethlisberger.  Statistically, Sunday’s game was as bad as it gets.  Roethlisberger’s passer rating at the end of the game was 35.2.  Yet, he played a great game against a great defense.  The Jets defense, coached by Rex Ryan, had put the smack down on Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in the weeks preceding their trip to Pittsburgh.  10-19, 121 yards, 2 interceptions and 0 touchdowns.  That’s ugly.  It’s worth noting that Roethlisberger was inches away from completing 2 touchdown passes in this game, too.  He missed a wide open throw to Heath Miller early and, Mendenhall slipped in the flat with only Antonio “I HOLD, I Don’t TACKLE” Cromartie in his path.  Roethlisberger’s game was punctuated by a sweet flip pass to Mendenhall; a huge 12-yard rush while facing 3rd-and-12 on that historic first drive; a touchdown run; and a few big throws to Miller and Brown on the game’s final drive.
  4. Special Teams.  The Steelers won the “hidden yardage” battle against the Jets on Sunday.  Pittsburgh punted once and swarmed all over Brad Smith and Jerricho Cotchery consistently.  This area of the game was decisive for the Jets in Week 15.  Brad Smith took the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown.  This time, the Steelers special teams out-kicked, out-returned, and out-covered the Jets.  Mike Westoff is one of the best in the business, but his charges were not up to the job in the AFC Championship Game.
  5. Rashard Mendenhall.  He did it all.  Without his performance in the first half, the Steelers might well be at home with 30 other teams in this league.  Instead, Rashard cranked out 121 yards on 27 carries.  His day also included a touchdown in which he placed the ball over the goal line while wearing Bart Scott like a pair of too-tight shorts.  Mendenhall ran hard; caught passes out of the backfield; and, did not turn the ball over.  He gets the Game Ball.

Next stop?  Dallas.  “Can’t wait!!!!”

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2010 NFL Season: Championship Weekend

There is no need to be complex about the games on tap for this afternoon.  These teams all know one another.  They all play tough, physical games.  Today’s contests should be no different and should come down to the wire.

Green Bay Packers vs. Chicago Bears.

I am sure that I like Jay Cutler, the QB, much more than most people.  I think he can do most of the things that Aaron Rodgers can do, but I don’t believe he does them as artfully or as consistently.  That should be the difference.  Packers 27, Bears 23.

Greg Jennings: One-Fourth of the League's Most Explosive WR Corps

New York Jets vs. Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Jets are doing something very wise this week.  They have been quiet in the days leading up to today.  They have not sought to manufacture tension or animosity.  They’ve needed this time to rebuild their emotional reserves following 2 games vs. heated rivals in New England and Indianapolis.  I think the Jets will that energy against a healthy defense featuring the league’s most dynamic player in Troy Polamalu.  The Steelers also bring the league’s #2 offense over the second half of the season.  I like the Steelers to finish what they started in the 2nd half against Baltimore where they outscored the Ravens 24-3.  I know everyone expects a close game, but I have a feeling that Pittsburgh may have tapped into something that really works.  When is the last time anyone outscored the Ravens by 3 touchdowns in a half?  Steelers 38, Jets 13.

Rashard Mendenhall: Ground and Pound

Note: Roethlisberger is 9-2 in playoff games.  The losses? 1)  A 41-17 blowout loss in the 2004 AFC Championship Game, at home vs. the New England Patriots during his rookie season.  2) A 2007 Division Round Game vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars at home.  The Steelers played without Willie Parker (the league’s leading rusher through Week 16 that season) and Aaron Smith.  The Jags won on a gutsy 4th-and-2 draw play by David Garrard.  The league later admitted to missing the hold that kept Steelers DT Casey Hampton from crushing Garrard.  That’s it. 

Note 2: According to Cold Hard Football Facts, the Defensive Hog Index is one stat that tends to track well with predicting post-season winners.  How did it work last season?  Not so great.  The number 1 ranking Green Bay Packers were knocked off in an offensive firestorm out in the Arizona desert.  What’s the deal in 2010?  The Steelers ranked #1, the Jets are #4, the Bears are #6, and the Packers are #10.

Matt Cassel Under Seige

2010 NFL Season: Wildcard Weekend Preview

First things first:  What happened in the AFC West?  The San Diego (not so Super) Chargers finished the 2010 season with a 9-7 record.  The Chargers led the entire NFL in offense and defense, but missed the playoffs.  San Diego finished 2nd in the division to the Kansas City Chiefs.  If that wasn’t strange enough, the Oakland Raiders beat every team in the AFC West twice this season, but finished in third place with an 8-8 record.  Today, they wrapped up Week 17 with a resounding road win at the new Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.  The Raiders won 31-10 and completed their sweep of the playoff bound Chiefs.

Matt Cassel Under Seige

Oakland Trounces Playoff Bound Kansas City, 31-10

The Raiders were the ONLY team in the NFL to sweep all division games this season.  Oakland became the first team since the merger to sweep a division and miss the post-season.  The Chargers could not have been better statistically on either side of the ball.  Oakland and San Diego will have a lot to think about in the off-season.  The Raiders’ focus, according to reports, is replacing Coach Tom Cable and establishing consistency at the quarterback position:

Perhaps part of the problem has been Cable’s wavering on the Raiders’ starting quarterback. After starting the season with Jason Campbell at the helm, Cable switched to Bruce Gradkowski when Campbell struggled. After Gradkowski separated his shoulder, Cable turned back to Campbell but insisted Gradkowski was still the starter. While Campbell was under center during the Raiders’ three-game midseason win streak, Cable fluctuated between both quarterbacks throughout the second half of the year until Gradkowski reinjured his shoulder and was placed on injured reserve.

Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive coordinator Charlie Weis is rumored to be taking the same job down in Gainesville at the University of Florida.  What does this for next week’s contest vs. the Baltimore Ravens?  (more…)

2010 NFL Season: Week 15 in Review

A game of inches, obscene noises, and definitive silence.

Antonio Cromartie, aka The Jersey Boy: Nice Grab

And this, too. (And it’s not a replay.)

Antonio Cromartie Masterfully Turns the Inside Shoulder

Um, and this one, too.

Antonio Cromartie Demonstrates Desperation

And this, too.

Dwight Lowery Snuggles Close to Emmanuel Sanders

Jets 22, Steelers 17.   “Emmanuel!! Wait!  Dont’ leave me this way.   I luuuuuuuv you, man!  Don’t go!  I need you.”

No whistles.  No biggie.  It all evens out in the end.

In other news: (more…)

2010 NFL Season: Week 12 in Review

The season is winding down and the significant games for this week are in the books.  Tonite, the San Francisco 49ers play the Arizona Cardinals.  The game may well prove to be very entertaining (Remember last year’s tilt in San Francisco?), but both of these outfits have proven unfit for the rigors of this season.  Big winners this week: the New England Patriots who have found a way to get deep without deep speed; the San Diego Chargers who are serving notice that they are a team to be reckoned with — until the playoffs start; the Chicago Bears who provided a template for beating the high-flying Eagles; the Atlanta Falcons who showed that in the Dirty South, they have just enough to take all comers; and the “Survivors” — Pittsburgh and Baltimore — who were probably peeking around their Week 12 opponents, and thinking about health insurance for Week 13.

Chargers, Chargers Everywhere!

A few random thoughts:

  • As great as Peyton Manning has been in his career, he cannot like living THE LIFE OF MCNABB right now.  Without Joseph Addai, Dallas Clark, Austin Collie, and Ryan Lilja, Manning is experiencing life on the other side.  He still has Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon and others, but this is his first taste in years of getting hammered — with no hope of relief.  Manning, unlike McNabb is not able to make plays with his feet — and it shows.  He’s giving up interceptions for touchdowns.  He isn’t choosing to throw the ball at the feet of his receivers to avoid turnovers.  He’s taking big risks and losing.  Fortunately for Manning and the Colts, they’ve lost 2 games in a row, but moved ahead of Jacksonville in the playoff hunt.
  • In 5 of his last 7 games, Manning has averaged less than 6 yards per pass attempt.  That’s awful.  You cannot win in today’s NFL doing that.  During that span, the Colts are 4-3, with one of those wins coming by 6 points over the Bengals who were “fueled” by Carson Palmer’s 3 INTs.  Manning has thrown 10 picks over the frame — and had two games with no touchdown passes.
  • The national media is articulate, understanding, and acutely accusatory in their analysis of Peyton Manning’s present condition.  Commentators are able to identify injured players at skill positions and along the offensive line.  Many have become Maddenesque with their ability to break down offensive line play (Exhibit A: former wide receiver Cris Collinsworth; Exhibit B: Yahoo.com’s Shut Down Corner column).  THE LIFE OF MCNABB, however, is not about making excuses.  It’s about making plays…even when playing with guys like James Thrash, Todd Pinkston, Hank Baskett, and Freddie Mitchell.  It’s about figuring a way to move the ball on the ground even when your running backs all weigh 180 pounds soaking wet and the last tackle they broke was made by a toddler on the living room floor.  The Colts may make the playoffs, but I suspect Peyton Manning may need what Jay Cutler needed last year if he is to right this ship, right now.

What Can This Brown Do For You?

(more…)

A Challenge to the Pittsburgh Steelers

You love to hear the story, again and again, of how it all got started way back when.” — MC Shan

Earl Campbell: 17 carries, 15 yards. STEEL CURTAIN.

I am a fan of the game of professional football.  I am a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers.  That’s been my team since the early 1970′s.  My affection for the team was born of a rivalry with a dear cousin who had pledged his football soul to the Minnesota Vikings and the Purple People Eaters.  He taught me most of what I knew about the game: players, teams, formations, terminology.  For him, it was all about Sir Francis (Tarkenton), Sammy White, Ahmad Rashad,  and Chuck Foreman.  We both felt like we’d lost a loved one when Drew Pearson caught that Hail Mary pass back in ’75.  Still, I liked the team with the black uniforms and the black helmet and the logo on just one side.  I liked Terry Bradshaw and Jack Lambert and Joe Greene and Mel Blount and Lynn Swann and Franco Harris.  I even liked Frenchy Fuqua.  What a name!  Maybe it was as simple as just liking the team that could beat the Cowboys. (more…)

2009 NFL Playoffs: Championship Edition

2009 AFC Championship Game

J-E-T-S! Jets, Jets, Jets.  What are the Jets doing in this game?  I have no idea.  I’ve picked against them for weeks and they keep winning.  I thought the Bengals were a superior team — and I am certain there are people in Cincinnati who STILL feel the same way.  Shane Graham’s missed field goals have done nothing to ease the pain.  I thought the Chargers were a superior team — and I know that people in SoCal are still stunned that Nate Kaeding missed three kicks.  Those playoff games were decided by more than missed field goals.  They were decided by the ability of the Jets offensive line to create navigable lanes for Shonn Greene and Thomas Jones, while also providing time for Mark Sanchez to complete a handful of passes.  The games were also won by a top-ranked defense that has yet to allow a single opponent to breathe.

The Jets are for real, but I can’t help thinking that the Colts are going to win this game.  During the Ravens-Colts playoff game, there was a big 4th down play where Indy decided to go for it.  They were in Baltimore’s territory and the decision made sound football sense.  I had an opportunity to watch this play on Game Rewind.  The Colts spread the Ravens out and threw a quick out pass to Joseph Addai for the first down.  How quick?  From center snap to release by Peyton Manning, the Colts took 1.45 seconds.  That’s amazing by any standard.  This play was successful by the narrowest of margins because a Ravens LB (Ellerbee) came from nowhere and delivered a powerful blow on Addai which stopped his momentum.  It is this type of precise execution that the Colts are accustomed to on a weekly and annual basis.  It’s why I think they’ll win on Sunday afternoon.

The Colts don’t have an offense that overwhelms you.  They have an offense that drains you.  Scoring drives are not typically punctuated by deep passes as in Philadelphia or New Orleans.  The highlight package isn’t full of bruising red zone rushes like in Minnesota or New York.  Instead, the Colts have scored using all of those approaches, infrequently, and a bevy of precise, indefensible passes to players like Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark.  Indianapolis simply takes what the defense gives them — and no defense can take away everything.  The Colts have also won games because of a blazing fast, hard hitting, and opportunistic defense that is tough against the pass and solid against the run.  The Colts have lost some depth at cornerback, but that doesn’t figure to be a problem on Sunday.

What the Jets need to do on offense.  1)  Throw the ball early to loosen up the defense.  I would attack Freeney and Mathis directly by throwing middle screens to Dustin Keller or Tony Richardson.  The Jets can also use bunch formations to throw middle screens to wide receiver Braylon Edwards.  A couple of short throws might give him the confidence to make catches down field later.  2)  Run at Freeney and Mathis, but don’t try to pop it outside…stay inside the tackles.  Teams often make the mistake of trying to outrun the Colts LB to the sideline.  The Jets would be better off making cut back runs off of those edge attacks.  3) Use running backs who chip on edge rushers as receivers.  Jones and Greene will be much more valuable to Mark Sanchez if they can make themselves available as receivers after delivering chip blocks on the Colts rushers.  4) Use play action and throw deep.  The Jets can make big plays down the field if they can get Cotchery, Keller and Edwards down the field on a jump ball.  Antoine Bethea is the Colts best aerial defender, but after that — they can be beat.  With Marlon Jackson out and Jerraud Powers doubtful, the place to strike is deep.

What the Jets need to do on defense. 1) Move Revis.  If Revis is matched up on Wayne for the entire game, it will make it easier for Manning to focus on other targets.  Keep the chess game alive by moving Revis — but not too much.   2) Challenge and bump the Colt receivers.  Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon may be comfortable playing at home, but they’ve never been in this situation before.  Nerves can be a factor for anyone in a championship game.  The Jets shouldn’t give them any room to breathe — unless they’re trying to direct Manning to throw into a particular coverage.  3) Bring pressure up the middle.  Manning has excellent pocket mobility, but the physics of the game remain the same.  Bring the most guys from the shortest distance and force the longest throw.  That means if the Jets send more defenders than Indy can block, they have to take away the shortest and easiest throws (short over the middle and deep vs. man coverage).  If the Jets can take away those LOOKS early, that may give them the extra second they need to get a hit on Manning or snatch an interception.

What the Colts need to do on offense and defense: Play their game.  This team is heavily favored and playing at home for a reason.  Indianapolis does not need to do anything spectacular to win.  The need to execute.  That means make field goals, avoid penalties and turnovers, and maintain composure.  If they do that, they win.  If they don’t, they will join the Bengals and Chargers as the answers to one really interesting trivia question.

THE PICK:  Indianapolis 27, New York Jets 17. Look out for Michael Hart in the Red Zone.

2009 NFC Championship Game

I had the good luck of watching the Minnesota Vikings play a game in the pre-season this year.  My immediate thought was that the Vikings were going to be a tough out this season.   They have proven to be just that and now, they are poised to make a long-awaited trip to the Super Bowl if they can defeat the New Orleans Saints on the road.  My reservations about the Vikings were based on my reservations about Brett Favre.  His production has been nothing short of spectacular.  This is arguably the best season he has ever had.  I have maintained that the Vikings would lose to a team that was capable of stopping Adrian Peterson from running.  I thought, initially, that it would be a team like the Eagles (with Asante Samuel, Sheldon Brown and Ellis Hobbs) or the Cardinals (with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Bryant McFadden and Antrel Rolle).  The Cardinals did pummel the Vikings this season, but could not conquer the Saints for a chance to replicate their earlier success.

The Saints have a dynamic balanced team.  The offense is simply superb.  The team can run and pass.  They have backs that catch and run with power.  They have receivers that block and get deep.  The line is anchored by a left guard, Jahri Evans, who thoroughly dominated Darnell Dockett last week.  And, the Saints have Drew Brees and Darren Sharper.  These players could have claimed Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year, respectively, and there would have been little grumbling around the league outside of Tennessee and Green Bay.  I believe New Orleans has what it takes to beat the Vikings — but they may not do it the way I envisioned.  I wrote a piece a few weeks ago about how Saints DT Sedrick Ellis has played a critical role in allowing that defense to hold teams under their rushing averages.  Ellis is going to play today and he should play well — as long as he doesn’t spend too much time on Viking LG Steve Hutchinson.  Peterson could have a big day — and the Vikings could still lose because the Saints can win a shootout with anyone…and they’re just not going to lose a shootout at home.

What the Vikings need to do on offense: 1)  Don’t worry about getting Peterson off.  The Saints will be expecting an early emphasis on the run game.  Instead focus on mixing up the play calling and getting first downs.  The key to the game will be sustained offense.  The Vikings have a very good offense, but it doesn’t have the versatility of the Saints attack.   2)  Don’t get cute with Darren Sharper.  It didn’t work for Tom Brady or Kurt Warner or Eli Manning.  It isn’t going to work for Brett Favre.  3)  Attack the Saints outside linebackers.  If the Saints have a weakness, its Shanley and Fujita on the outside.  Chester Taylor and Visanthe Shincoe are the perfect weapons to keep the chains moving and foil the efforts of Gregg Williams to get the ball back to Brees.

What the Vikings need to do on defense: 1)  Don’t get beat deep.  The Vikings were able to sustain enough pressure on the fumble-fingered Tony Romo to prevent deep throws.  The Saints are going to throw deep no matter what.  They’ll throw deep to Henderson or Meachem or Bush or whomever is on the field.  Nothing cheap, nothing deep.  2)  Stop Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell on first and second down.  Contrary to popular wisdom, the Saints actually like to run the ball.  When Thomas and Bell get going early, everything is easier for everyone else.  Reggie Bush has more room to get to the corner.  Brees has more time to throw deep and the receivers have more time to run deep digs or double moves.  3) Force turnovers.  If the Vikings are going to win, they are going to have to deliver a few signature hits.  With Antoine Winfield playing principally in the slot, that challenge may fall to Bennie Sapp and Michael Griffin.  Can they bring the wood?  We know the Saints have the bat.

What the Saints need to do on offense and defense: See the Colts game plan (above).

THE PICK:  New Orleans 34, Minnesota 28. Maybe we’ll see Lance Moore running Winfield ragged in the slot?

2009 NFL Playoffs: Divisional Round Wrap-Up

Perfect Saturday.  Imperfect Sunday.

The AFC

The Colts did indeed beat the Ravens with one hand tied behind their backs.  Without a running game of any consequence, Peyton Manning threw 44 passes and led Indianapolis to a Rhythm Nation win over the Ravens.  The dink and dunk passing game was in rare form and the Ravens were unable to make the Colts pay for being unable to stretch the field.  Ed Reed had a game to forget.  The Colts look good — but they also look different.  The powerful Baltimore Ravens really were not able to run at will against Indianapolis.  Up next, the Jets.

The Chargers really are not ready for prime time.  It would have been interesting to see what the outcome of a streak play would have been with all receivers and Antonio Gates running deep down field.  Nate Kaeding is going to have a long time to think about his day.  He won’t be able to redeem himself until he kicks the Chargers into a Super Bowl appearance or a Super Bowl win.  Norv Turner will have to ponder his decision to kick onside instead of kicking deep.  I won’t say it cost his team the game, insofar as there is no guarantee that Rivers would drive the field and create another opportunity for Kaeding to tie the game.  Still, the Jets field position absolutely demanded that they attempt to convert that fourth-and-1.   They did it.  Game over.  Revis Island is the new Alcatraz.

The NFC

New Orleans did what New Orleans does.  They attack teams all over the field — and they attack deep.  When you play the Saints, you must defend the entire field.  You have to respect Reggie Bush in the flat because he can pop it for a 60-yard touchdown.  You have to respect Pierre Thomas up the middle because he can gash you for 4 or 5 yards at a time, or he can stop and turn and flip the ball to Drew Brees for a deep “flea flicker.”  And, defensively, this rested team showed how it marched out to a 13-0 record with smart, aggressive pressure and experienced secondary play.  Next up, Minnesota and the Favr-orites.

Jared Allen and Ray Edwards showed that “the Williams Brothers” are not the only reason to fear the Minnesota Vikings front line.  If Bud Grant had this much beef up front when he coached, he might well have won four Super Bowls.  I picked the Cowboys because I chose to believe that Tony Romo would protect the ball.  It didn’t happen.  Three first half fumbles and a missed field goal put this game out of reach for an offense that seemed more concerned about getting to the edge (showcase for Felix Jones), rather than making plays in the middle.  Kevin and Pat Williams owned the middle.  Allen and Edwards owned the edges.  Game, set, match.