Philadelphia Eagles

Tom Brady, Haloti Ngata, Dawan Landry

2011 NFL Season: Championship Week

And then there were four:

Baltimore Ravens (13-4) vs. New England Patriots (14-3). 3:00 pm ET. Foxboro, Massachusetts.

Give me the Ravens over the Patriots (-7.5). How much of the betting line is driven by the Patriots impressive win over the one-dimensional Denver Broncos? How much is driven by another underwhelming performance by Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco? The Patriots are at home and have the better quarterback. They also have a defense that just might be coming together at the right time. The return of Patrick Chung (#25) to the lineup has inspired some confidence in New England that the back end just might hold up under duress. Who knows! The Patriots haven’t faced a team with a decent passing game since Week 12 (Philadelphia), and in that game, they surrendered 393 yards to Vince Young.

Conventional wisdom says the Ravens have to run the ball to win this game; that Ray Rice is their most reliable, consistent, and dynamic offensive player. The “smart money” says that Baltimore’s defense is beginning to show signs of age and strain; and, that they will be hard-pressed to defend the new tactical weapons in Brady’s arsenal (tight ends Gronkowski and Hernandez). Perhaps, this game will be decided by the battle between Patriots safeties Patrick Chung (and whomever else Belichick puts back there) and Joe Flacco. The Patriots tight ends have been tremendous all season long, but the Ravens tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta are very talented and capable of exploiting mismatches all over the field.

The production of Gronkowski (90, 1327, 17) and Hernandez (79, 910, 7) during the 2011 season has been historic. Still, the more conventional and conservative Ravens had a productive duo. Hickson and Pitta combined for 94 catches, 1033 yards, and 12 touchdowns.  Gronkowski and New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham were the only single players to eclipse those numbers. So, the Ravens also bring a viable tight end duo to this contest.

Perhaps the single greatest advantage in this game goes to Tom Brady. However, in recent years, Brady has proven susceptible to pressure up the middle combined with press coverage on his slot receivers. This approach compels him to hold the ball longer, while in a collapsing pocket. He must wait for his excellent (but slower) tight ends to uncover against man or zone coverage, or he must buy time with his feet. The Ravens have a solid rotation of defensive tackles, including Haloti Ngata, who are capable of man-handling the Patriots interior lineman, pressuring Brady, deflecting passes, and defending the run. I believe the game will turn on the ability of these players to pressure Brady and slow down the Patriots offense.

The 2011 Ravens defense, in my estimation, is not as powerful as the 2008 version. Still, the Ravens have some options. I believe that Lardarius Webb (#21) may wind up facing Wes Welker in the slot. The Patriots have the option of featuring Welker or either of their tight ends. I’m not sure that Deion Branch or any of the other wide receivers are still capable of having a big game against the Ravens (#Ocho!!). Ed Reed is going to spend a major portion of the day dealing with Gronkowski and/or Hernandez. This will place a premium on Bernard Pollard’s ability to cover, make tackles, and deliver big hits.

The Patriots did not win any games this season against teams that finished the season with winning records. I’m not sure what difference that makes. The Patriots beat teams that had Super Bowl aspirations all season long: San Diego, the Jets, Philadelphia. Still, they have managed to lose to teams that used physicality to dominate the line of scrimmage: the Giants and Steelers, in particular.

I like the Ravens physicality in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Baltimore 31, New England 21.

Stats of interest:

Tom Brady’s 300-yard passing games vs. Baltimore: 0

Brady’s 3 touchdown games vs. Baltimore: 0

Games completing under 60% of passes: 3

New York Giants (11-7) vs. San Francisco 49ers  (14-3). 6:30 pm ET. San Francisco, California.

It’s pouring down rain in San Francisco. I like the Giants as much as any team in the league in bad weather. The last time these teams met, Frank Gore played a half, and Ahmad Bradshaw missed the entire contest. Bradshaw’s return to the lineup means a great deal for him and Eli Manning, but it also makes Brandon Jacobs more dangerous…and in bad weather, with a wet track, Jacobs’ change of pace may be just what it takes to finally power through that impenetrable San Francisco defense.

The Giants have more versatility on offense. The 49ers have more depth on defense. But if the rain is going to affect the Giants pass rush, it’s also going to affect 263 pound Aldon Smith. I like Cruz, and Nicks, and Manningham more than I like Michael Crabtree and whomever else the 49ers have found to play opposite him. Vernon Davis is a phenomenal talent, but he is not a wholly unique talent. I like the Giants to live with his production and force someone else to beat them.

New York 27, San Francisco 17.

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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.

Tom_Flores_vs_ny_jets.sized

The Case for Tom Flores to Enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Perhaps the most widely known coach in the history of the NFL is John Madden. The former leader of the Oakland Raiders established a virtually unsurpassed record of regular season success during his brief ten-year tenure. Madden won more than 76% of his games. His closest active pursuer, Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin, has managed only a .672 winning percentage. John Madden also coached the Raiders to an impressive, physical victory over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI, 32-14. After leaving the sidelines, Madden carved out the most unique, imposing and meaningful niche in the history of sports broadcasting. And, if that was not sufficient, he also established the premiere video gaming series that has redefined how our society views, plays, and understands football. Simply, John Madden’s football legacy is incomparable. In 2006, John Madden was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

2nd in Playoff Win Percentage Behind Vince Lombardi (10 games, min.)

Madden’s successor in Oakland and Los Angeles was the man pictured above, Tom Flores. Back in 1960, Flores shared passing duties with George Blanda and Babe Parilli, but he did most of the heavy lifting in the Raiders first season and over the next 6 seasons. The Raiders laid the foundation for one of the greatest offensive machines in league history. In the popular mind, the preeminent offensive teams were Bill Walsh’s San Francisco 49ers and the Miami Dolphins of Dan Marino. However, Al Davis’ Raiders ranked in the top 10 in scoring offense every year but 1 from their inception in 1960 until 1984. No team in the league has enjoyed a similar run of offensive prowess…not even the San Francisco 49ers during the era of Walsh and Seifert.

During this run, Tom Flores was the leading passer on the team for five of their first 7 seasons. And, he won two Super Bowls as head coach – one in Oakland and one in Los Angeles.

Time doesn’t permit a full exploration of all that Tom Flores achieved on the sidelines, but the recent nominations of Bill Cowher and Bill Parcells for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, suggest a few bullets may be in order.

Flores and Plunkett Defeat the Eagles in Super Bowl XV

 Consider these facts:

  • Tom Flores coached the Raiders for 9 seasons and won 2 Super Bowls. John Madden coached the Raiders for 10 seasons and won 1 Super Bowl.
  • Tom Flores amassed an 83-53 record with the Raiders, and a winning percentage of .610. Bill Walsh’s career winning percentage is .609. Marty Schottenheimer, another nominee for induction to Canton, has a .613 winning percentage.
  • Tom Flores ranks 2nd all-time in playoff win percentage (10 games minimum) behind Vince Lombardi. Bill Parcells has an 11-8 career playoff record. Bill Cowher has a 12-9 career playoff record. Marty Schottenheimer has a 5-13 playoff record. Tom Flores is 8-3.
  • After the 4th Super Bowl title of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1979-80, Tom Flores’ Raiders were the only AFC teams to win the Super Bowl until 1997. The NFC dominated the Super Bowl for two decades with powerhouse teams in larger markets like New York, Chicago, Dallas, Washington, and northern California.
  • Tom Flores won 2 Super Bowls in 4 years, and in 1983 he handed Washington Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs his only loss in a Super Bowl.

Perhaps the thing that has kept Tom Flores out of the Pro Football Hall of Fame these many years, aside from a bias against Latino excellence and a league-wide contempt for the Raiders, is the fact that he coached in Seattle. The Great Northwest has been the equivalent of a Black Hole for talented football players. It’s where careers go to die. Flores coached the Seahawks for 3 years. His teams had a combined record of 14-34.

Flores went from being a coach with a sterling 83-53 record to a rather pedestrian 97-87 (At .527, he’s tied with the recently fired Brad Childress…but he’s still ranked higher than Dick Vermeil). However, this should not undo the greatness that he achieved in Oakland and Los Angeles for the Silver & Black. Did a stint in Seattle keep Franco Harris from induction? Of course not. Did two 8-8 seasons in Seattle keep Warren Moon out of Canton? Of course not. The remoteness of Seattle and the irrelevance of many of their games may have shattered our collective memory of players like Cortez Kennedy, Kenny Easley and Curt Warner (with a C), but Flores should be teflon in this regard.

Mike Holmgren is still regarded highly even though he’s only managed to win one Super Bowl and lost two. Holmgren has a 13-11 playoff record and, unlike Flores, he had prized QB’s at the helm in each of his playoff games. Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells are still revered though neither has been able to ameliorate the morass or mend the mess that is the Miami Dolphins.

And, Tom Flores’ quarterbacks in Seattle were Stan Gelbaugh and Rick Mirer!! That he managed to win as many as 14 games in 3 years with these passers qualifies as a minor miracle.

Some other thoughts to consider on Tom Flores:

  •  In 1980, the Raiders won the Super Bowl as a Wild Card. Statistically, the Eagles were “better” than the Raiders on both sides of the ball, but Flores and his staff and team figured out a way to win that game.
  • Since 1980, Eagles QB Ron Jaworski has become nationally known as a broadcaster and analyst for ESPN. Perhaps he could take up the mantle on behalf of Tom Flores. It’s long overdue.
  • In 1983, the Raiders beat a team with one of the largest statistical advantages in league history entering a Super Bowl. The Redskins were defending champions and were perceived to be a juggernaut. Jack Squirek did to Joe Theismann what Rod Martin did to Ron Jaworksi. And Marcus Allen did to the Redskins defense what Kenny King had done to the Eagles only three years prior.
  • Since 1983, Redskins QB Joe Theismann has become nationally known as a broadcaster and analyst for ESPN and the NFL Network. Perhaps he could take up the mantle on behalf of Tom Flores. It’s long overdue.
  • Tom Flores won two Super Bowls with an over-the-hill, washed up, washed out quarterback named Jim Plunkett. He beat long odds twice and still stands in the record book — right next to Vince Lombardi as the second-winningest coach in the post-season with an astounding .727 winning percentage.

It’s time for Flores to make his speech and be heard…for perhaps the first time.

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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.

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…)

Five Quarterbacks: Name that Buster!

Curious stats for the viewing public.

’09 Eagles offense (except vs. Dallas): 29.5 ppg  McNabb (11th in yards, 5th in Scoring)
’09 Eagles offense vs. Dallas: 8.0 ppg  McNabb

’10 Eagles offense: 29.4 Vick/Kolb (1st in Yards; 2nd in Scoring)
’10 Eagles offense: 33.6 ppg  Vick

’09 Cowboys offense: 22.6 ppg  Romo (2nd in Yards, 14th in Scoring)
’10 Cowboys offense: 25.3 ppg  Romo/Kitna (7th in Yards, 7th in Scoring)
’10 Cowboys offense with Jon Kitna: 32.1 ppg  Kitna

’09 Giants offense: 25.1 ppg  Manning (3rd in Yards, 6th in Scoring)
’10 Giants offense: 25.7 ppg  Manning (8th in Yards, 8th in Scoring)

’08 Broncos offense: 23.1 ppg Shanahan with Jay Cutler (2nd in Yards; 16th in Scoring)

’09 Texans offense: 24.1 ppg K. Shanahan with Matt Schaub (4th in Yards; 10th in Scoring)

’10 Redskins offense: 19.1 ppg M & K Shanahan with McNabb/Grossman (17th in yards; 25th in scoring)

I don’t know about you, but I see a trend.

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…)

McNabb Trade: Playoff Bound Redskins Cause Expert Reversal

All it took was ONE DAY for ESPN’s Mark Mosley to start hedging his bets.

All it should have taken was a quick look at the fact Washington lost 7 games by less than a touchdown last year…that they always have a chance to beat their division rivals (because that’s the way it is in the NFC East)…and they’ll play the AFC South next season and will surely benefit from Mike and Kyle’s familiarity with Houston, Albert’s knowledge of Tennessee, and their ability to compete against the largely one-dimensional attacks of Indy and Jacksonville.

The Unstable Stable

The additions of Maake Keomeatu on the D-line, the conversion of Brian Orakpo in the new alignment and the addition of quality depth in the secondary and in the offensive backfield mean this team is poised to go to the next level. The Bengals went from 4-11-1 to 10-6 and a Division Title with Carson Palmer at the helm.  The Redskins should have similar expectations.  The Giants and Cowboys cannot be expected to pose a tougher challenge than the Steelers and Ravens.

Good to see Mosley get that hedge in early.  The problem is that the first piece was written as if he’d neglected to even look at the Redskins roster or to weigh the impact of how they will operate on offense.  The Redskins are going to feature three experienced backs in Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson and Willie Parker.  Each one has faced different challenges over the past few seasons, but none of them should be concerned with hitting the wall in Week 16.  The Redskins should have one of the most dominating rush attacks in the league in 2010.  Mosley spent so much time attempting to minimize the impact of this trade that he ignored the return of Chris Cooley and maturation of Fred Davis until today.

Doesn’t Mosley know that the last thing a defensive end wants to face is a zone-blocking, two tight end offense featuring all of those backs and Donovan McNabb or any elite mobile QB running play action?  Apparently not.  Mike Shanahan coached a Top 10 offense in Denver for a DECADE.  His son just converted Michael Vick’s perennial backup into the leading passer in the entire league.  And, the Redskins defense has been ranked in the Top 10 for 8 of the past 10 seasons.  Do you really think the wheels are going to fall off with the addition of elite offensive coaching, play-calling and execution?  Really?

GOLD STAR QUESTION: By how many games did the New Orleans Saints improve when they added Sean Payton and Drew Brees?

GOLD STAR ANSWER:  SEVEN.

RED STAR QUESTION: By how many games did the Atlanta Falcons improve when they added Matt Ryan and Alex Gibbs?

RED STAR ANSWER: SEVEN.

Both New Orleans and Atlanta made the playoffs.   Perhaps all that can be said about Mosley and the Redskins playoff chances is that he denied it was possible before he thought it might be “kinda-sorta” possible.


McNabb to Washington: Unflappable Eagle Heads South

NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb has been traded from the Philadelphia Eagles to the Washington Redskins.  A quick run down of the facts: McNabb was drafted 2nd overall in the 1999 NFL draft, ahead of projected favorite Ricky Williams.  McNabb gets unceremoniously booed, but shrugs it off and begins his tenure as the Great Unflappable Eagle.

The oil and water marriage results in a ton of franchise records being set; multiple playoff appearances; Pro Bowl appearances; and a lone Super Bowl defeat to the New England Patriots.  There were some heart-breaking losses to teams that delusional fans just knew the Eagles would vanquish!  Who were these bums from Tampa or Carolina or St. Louis to dare and defeat us?  Never mind our dirty laundry replete with pink(ston) t(h)rash bags.  Never mind our cute, cuddly and fragile rush game (Staley, Buckhalter, Westbrook).  Never mind the diminishing returns from our shrinking defensive tackles.  Nope, never you mind.  As the hate-love-hate relationship evolved, there were countless moments of “Philadelphians being Philadelphians” and acting as though civility and common decency are to be ceremoniously discarded (like bad breast implants).  Broad Street’s civilian bullies tried to grit their teeth (and show their tits) as a means of getting a rise out of the head bird.

Nothing worked on Mr. Never Irked.  Not the how-low-can-you-go-pill-poppin’-pundit, not the boorish and amateurish “player,” not even the punk ass finesse play calling of the Eatinest Eagle of All.  Maybe folks just wanted to see a little Charlie Hustle…a little Nails Dykstra…a little criminality?  A little of themselves.

So, the “Filthadelfians” branded the bird a turkey and quickly sought to have the wings clipped.  How fitting, then, that these fits of animus would result in a turkey being given to, of all franchises, the Redskins.

At the end of the day, I suspect that the team in Philadelphia will perform to the level of their talent.  The franchises’ Supermen are all gone now.  No more swooping Dawkins; no more 70 yard screen plays from Westbrook; no more 14 second miracles from McNabb vs. the star-crossed demons from Dallas.  The longest-tenured birdman remaining at the new Alcatraz on the Lincs is David Akers.

The new-fangled, footloose and fancy free Philadelphia Eagles will be the youngest, most exciting team in the entire NFL.  Without a single player on offense who knows how to win a big game, the city is sure to revel in the shared experience of growing together.  It’s called rebuilding.   “Down goes Balboa!”

How To Topple Larger Than Life Figures 101

Fade to DC.  In the wildest of all scenarios, 5 + 15 + 81 = 45.