Tom Brady

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.

pg2_i_brady_manning1_300

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.

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?

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Is Joe Flacco the Worst Post-Season QB of All Time?

It is possible that Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco is the WORST POST-SEASON QUARTERBACK in the history of the NFL?  While the national media (and Baltimore’s local media) have given Flacco a pass for his ineptitude, 2010 will be the season where improvements must manifest.  ESPN’s top football writer, John Clayton,  considers Flacco to be an elite quarterback and cites his post-season performance as proof.  While no one at NFL.com is quite that delusional, Flacco has managed to escape public scrutiny.  If Flacco cannot perform with the addition of Anquan Boldin to the receiving corps, Baltimore needs to look for a new quarterback.

In five post-season games, Joe Flacco has an abysmal rating of 46.5.  He has completed 57 of 120 passes (47.5%) for 660 yards.  The Baltimore signal caller has thrown one touchdown and six interceptions.  The Ravens are 3-2 in these games.  The defense and a powerful ground game were able to mask a horrific 4-10, 34 yard, 1 INT performance vs. the New England Patriots in January.

Brady Consoles Flacco for Piss Poor Performance

Flacco has yet to pass for 200 yards in the post-season.  He has had two games with ratings under 20 and two games with ratings under 60.

How much worse does it have to get before Ozzie Newsome turns to the guy he originally envisioned in this position: Troy Smith?

Addendum:  If Flacco is not the primary candidate, “Jaws” is in the running.  Ron Jaworski completed 46.5% of his post-season attempts and finished his career with a 4-5 record, including one Super Bowl appearance punctuated by 3 interceptions to Oakland Raiders LB Rod Martin.

Drew Bledsoe is in the conversation as well.  7 games.  51.2% completion percentage with 6 touchdowns against 12 interceptions.  Cumulative rating of 54.9 and a measly yards per attempt measure of 5.3 yards.

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?

2009 NFL Season: The Once and Future Colts

The 2009 NFL season has come to a close.  The New Orleans Saints, chronicled here often throughout the season, won Super Bowl XLIV in convincing fashion over the favored Indianapolis Colts.  For a team that began the season with 13 consecutive wins, the Saints were able to march through the playoffs under the radar because the national press fell out of love with this team following home defeats to the Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  The Colts, conversely, faced increased scrutiny in the postseason because they chose a fate the Saints tried to avoid.  First year head coach and longtime quarterbacks coach of the Colts, Jim Caldwell, pulled his starters in Week 16 (vs. the New York Jets) and Week 17 (at the Buffalo Bills) in a bid to maintain health and build resolve for the playoffs.

"Back to the track...To the Wall...We are Tied."

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2009 NFL Season: How the Steelers Can Make the Playoffs

Which way is up?

On NFL.com, there are over 21,000 comments on the article concerning playoff scenarios.  I can barely remember and article getting so much attention that wasn’t dedicated to the lucrative commercial in images of Black criminality.  Even illegitimate births by scrawny super models with star QB’s don’t get the juices flowing like 2nd rate cornerbacks in strip clubs.  Whomever said “Sex sells,” never had to compete with the All-American psychopathic racial personality.  Now, it seems the only thing to trump the potential for a Negro perp walk is the prospect of making the playoffs.  Isn’t naked self-interest a beautiful thing?  But I digress…

Polamalu: Closer and Closer to Taking the Field

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2009 NFL Season: Week 6 Recap

There were some compelling story lines that emerged this week.  The Bengals took a not-so-surprising plunge back to earth after beating the Steelers and Ravens.  The Giants were undressed.  The “Sanchise” took it on the chin 5 times and the Jets found a new way to lose.  The Vikings showed just how tough they’re going to be down the stretch.  (It looks an awful lot like the Saints and Vikings are going to play for the NFC Championship.)  The Eagles did the unthinkable.  With all of these stories, perhaps nothing was more surprising that the rapid and complete demise of the once-proud Tennessee Titans.

Welker_v_Titans

AP Photo - Winslow Townson

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2009 NFL Season: QB’s Under the Gun

NFL defensive coordinators are always looking for an advantage.  Of course, with the pursuit of any reward comes some degree of risk.  Such is life with the ‘blitz.’  Some quarterbacks fold like picnic tables…some come out firing and scorch defenses into submission.

Tom Brady - Taking One for the Team

Here is a look at some interesting blitz ratios for QB’s through Week 4. (more…)