So, how’d I do?
After going 5-8 last week, it couldn’t get any worse could it. Let me get this out of the way first. I was wrong about Miami being able to hang on and beat the Saints. I was wrong about Chicago at Cincinnati…really, really wrong. Sorry Cedric. I was a believer at the end of the preseason. I just slipped. Next time you all are in New York to collect rent from the Jets, holler!
I wasn’t perfect this week, but I was better. Heading into the Monday night game featuring the heavily-favored Eagles vs. the seriously-sedated Redskins, I had a record of 7-5. Let’s get to the good.
Pittsburgh Steelers 27, Minnesota Vikings 17. I have maintained two things since the beginning of Brett Favre’s flirtations with the Vikings…that this team is going to be a tough out in the post-season and that if the Vikings play teams that Adrian Peterson does not dominate – teams that force Brett Favre to beat them, he’s not going to do it. I don’t dislike Favre. For me it’s simpler than that. Since 1997, he hasn’t won more than one playoff game in any season. To play in a Super Bowl, the Vikings will need to win 2 or 3 playoff games. The Steelers allowed 69 rushing yards to Adrian Peterson and the game was put in the hands of Favre to win or lose.
He threw 51 passes. The chances of losing increase exponentially for most QBs after 45 passes (at least in the post-season). Favre, for much of the game, did a masterful job of mixing up plays. The Vikings attacked short and deep. There are were a few plays where only good fortune and a very strong sun prevented Percy Harvin from dominating the action. He is a very impressive young player. The hamstring injury to Bernard Berrian significantly impacted the game. Berrian did drop an easy pass, but he was otherwise having his way with William Gay. Berrian’s speed forced Gay to play off — leaving room for underneath routes. When Berrian went out of the game, Favre was reduced to throwing to Harvin, Sidney Rice (another great game) and Visanthe Shincoe.
The Steelers still have issues. Rashard Mendenhall is a fumbler — until proven otherwise. He’s not a nice back who happens to fumble. He’s not a young power back with great speed and agility who happens to fumble. He’s a fumbler. He is a player who jeopardizes possessions each time he touches the ball. After his Red Zone fumble yesterday, Coach Mike Tomlin went to former Viking Mewelde Moore to hold down the fort. Moore, of course, is not a powerful between the tackles runner, but he is not a fumbler.
William Gay has to play more aggressively on defense and learn to tackle. After he was positively mauled by Adrian Peterson, I told a friend of mine that I couldn’t remember another Steeler corner getting abused like that in 30 years. I’m sure it’s happened — I just couldn’t remember it. Not with Earl Campbell, not with Jamal Lewis, not with anyone. Gay invited Peterson to maul him by breaking down in a defensive/protective position that screamed, “I surrender.” That’s unacceptable. It wouldn’t have happened to Bryant McFadden.
Keyaron Fox filled in for Lawrence Timmons in the 4th quarter. Timmons walked off the field with an injury and his replacement walked off with an 82-yard interception for touchdown. Troy Polamalu is definitely not 100%, but his impact can be seen all over the field. He and Favre played some great cat and mouse games yesterday. Polamalu jumped a number of routes all over the field — and Favre didn’t get sucked in. He pump faked or worked the other side of the field (isolating William Gay) or simply threw it away.
The Steelers have a bye this week, then its off to Denver and home to Cincinnati. This would be a good time to work on SPECIAL TEAMS. Josh Cribbs and Percy Harvin have scored in the past 2 weeks. Eddie Royal is just as dangerous. If Pittsburgh can run the table, they’ll greatly improve their chances of hosting a divisional round playoff game. Who knows, maybe Denver will host Cincinnati in a Wildcard rematch of their Week 1 classic. Minnesota is headed to Green Bay. They’ll need all hands on deck for what promises to be their toughest game of the season.
New Orleans 46, Miami 34. Wow! I think most observers thought this game would be a classic. The contrasting styles of the Dolphins and Saints promised to make for interesting viewing. I haven’t watched this game yet — so I could have more to say later…but the highlights were compelling. New Orleans overcame a 24-3 lead against a running team. That’s tough to do. The Saints deserve a great deal of credit for pulling this one out. The Dolphins lost starting cornerback Will Allen to a torn ACL in the 3rd quarter and were outscored by the Saints 22-0 in the 4th quarter. Perhaps there is a correlation. Either way, kudos to the Saints. They were last in 2008, but now they are rolling.
Is Saints Nation on the rise? Did you see Jeremy Shockey (former Hurricane) and Drew Brees doing Ripken-esque victory walks across the Dolphins stadium? The Dolphins are 2-4 and only a few plays away from sporting two impressive wins over the Colts and Saints. If Miami can hold it together, they should be able to make their Week 17 meeting with Pittsburgh very meaningful. Jets and Patriots are next before winnable games vs. Tampa Bay, Carolina and Buffalo.
The Meat and Potatoes
Arizona 24, New York 17. The Giants were healthy on offense – until Kareem McKenzie was ruled out of Sunday’s game. Still, was that a big enough loss to “excuse” a loss to the Cardinals? Could it be that this team simply is not as good as we all believe them to be? Brandon Jacobs, for all his size, power and agility can be contained. Some might argue that he’s contained as much by Tom Coughlin as by opposing defenses. His season high carry total is only 26. Jacobs probably needs to have a few 35 carry games to really maximize his value for the Giants. He hasn’t had an opportunity to really wear down a defense.
I think the Giants have to forego some of Ahmad Bradshaw’s explosiveness in order to reap the full benefit of Brandon Jacob’s power. He needs more carries between the tackles to wear down quality opponents. This portion of the Giants 2009 schedule simply demands it. Up next: Philadelphia, San Diego, bye, Atlanta, Denver, Dallas, Philadelphia. I am not alone in believing that Eli Manning is incapable of leading the Giants to victory over these teams. He’ll need to rely on the power of Brandon Jacobs and his defense to run this gauntlet.
I picked Arizona because I like their ability to defend. They’ve had some rough games, but I simply like their talent at all 3 levels. From Darnell Dockett to Karlos Dansby to Adrian Wilson, they’re loaded. This is the type of team where you need to run the ball 30+ plus to wear down that defense — and keep their explosive offense off the field. Arizona is on the rise. They’ve just beaten Seattle and the Giants ON THE ROAD. They can beat everyone else on their schedule. If they play like this, Super Bowl talk won’t be misguided.
Dallas 37, Atlanta 21. I cannot recall the last time I picked the Dallas Cowboys to win a big game before this week. I picked them this week because I thought the team would have a solid defensive effort (they did). I thought that Wade Phillips would be able to do some things against Matt Ryan that would cause problems (he did). Ryan was 19-35 with two interceptions. The Cowboys were able to get pressure and sack Ryan as well. The Falcons have allowed Ryan to play with clean pockets for most of the season. They have been able to run for decent yardage on early downs and convert 3rd downs by targeting Gonzalez and Roddy White. Dallas took most of that away and forced the Falcons to play “Catch up” with the Dallas offense. With the Falcons best corner (Brian Williams) done for the season, that was not a winning proposition for Atlanta.
The best defensive back in Dallas is Mike Jenkins. He’s a baller. He’s the guy they wish Terrance Newman was.
Besides, the Falcons never play well in Dallas!
Note to Dallas fans: This game says more about the state of the Falcons than it does about the state of the Cowboys. Don’t get too high about this one. It doesn’t mean what you think it means. Trust me.
Houston 24, San Francisco 21. Things are worse in San Francisco than I had imagined. Okay, I did correctly predict that the Texans would score 24 points. Hoorah!! The problem is that I thought the 49ers would go for 30. Alex Smith represented by Vernon Davis for 3 touchdowns in the game. That’s good news for 49er fans. Smith has always had more upside than Shaun Hill. The problem for this team is that Frank Gore only had 13 carries. They cannot win unless he’s at full strength and toting the rock for 20+ carries…and even then, they typically need to win the turnover battle.
The Texans appear to be a team still learning how to win close games. This is still a very young team — and they don’t have much veteran leadership at key positions to really rally the defense. The one player who fits this bill most closely, former New England Patriot Eugene Wilson, put the finishing touches on yesterday’s win over San Francisco.
Green Bay 31, Cleveland 3. Why Cleveland, why? Why are you still in the NFL?
New England 35, Tampa Bay 7. Whoa, mercy, mercy me. Things ain’t what they used to be, no, no. Sing it Marvin.
San Diego 37, Kansas City 7. The Chargers need to use this game the way the Patriots need to use the Titans and Buccaneers games. Rebounding with slump breakers. It’s a tried and true tradition.
Indianapolis 42, St. Louis 6. Just one thought — Steven Jackson is…
Cincinnati 45, Chicago 10. There has to be an awful lot of head scratching going on in Chicago. Last week, I wrote about how certain injuries can so significantly ravage a team that people go from talking about how good you are to how much you suck overnight. What invariably happens is that a score like this causes people to think the Chicago Bears are worse than they are. Yesterday, the Bears took the field WITHOUT Tommy Harris, without Brian Urlacher and without Hunter Hillenmeyer. The Bears cannot stop the run or get consistent pressure without these players. No team could be expected to play without their starting defensive tackle and two of their top 3 linebackers (Lance Briggs) and throttle the Bengals.
It bears repeating (no pun intended) that the last time the Bengals were this healthy, they went 13-3 and won the AFC North. They did lose Antwaan Odom for the season, but as I said weeks ago, this team did get younger, stronger and faster on the defensive side of the ball. Cedric Benson is a monster. Chad Ochocinco is reminding the foolish media and the public that without a torn labrum, he is one of the top receivers in the entire NFL. No one runs better routes…no one gets in and out of cuts quicker…and no one does more to take pressure off of his teammates.
When I picked Chicago to win this game, I was thinking that the Bears would find a way to get the ball to Forte and Olson through the air. The Bears aren’t a bad team — they’re a depleted team — and they are in trouble. I don’t believe they will be playing in the post-season this year.
New York Jets 38, Oakland 0. I admit I was fooled by the Raiders win over the Eagles last week. I admit I was fooled by the Jets loss to the Bills last week. I admit I was fooled by the Jets poor play, historically, in Oakland. The Jets showed much of what allowed them to notch that surprising win vs. New England. The Jets, though, lost Leon Washington. That doesn’t have to be a fatal injury. In fact, had the Jets not drafted Shonn Greene out of Iowa, every paper in the city would have led with an Obituary-style column on this game.
The Jets can run the ball. With DeBrickashaw Ferguson, Alan Faneca and Nick Mangold, the Jets can get to the left side — and that means they can also work the middle and occasionally counter back to the right. Thomas Jones and Greene give this team some nice options on the ground. When Jerricho Cotchery returns, Mark Sanchez should feel right at home.
Imagine if Andy Reid had run the ball last week!
Question: When was the last time that 6 teams lost by 4 or more touchdowns in one week? (Will the Washington Redskins become number 7 this week? What if the Detroit Lions didn’t have a bye?)
The Last and the Least
Buffalo 20, Carolina 9. Are the Carolina Panthers really going to allow quarterback Jake Delhomme to complete his contract with the team? The Bills were plus 4 in the turnover battle (resulting in 17 points). The Panthers allowed Delhomme to throw FORTY-FOUR PASSES. The results: 325 yards, no touchdowns, 3 interceptions. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart only ran the ball 23 times, combined.
Someone is throwing games in Carolina. Do you know this man?