Leslie Frazier

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.

Running Out on You — The Favre Edition

Week 11 was the week the chickens came home to roost — sort of.

Brad Childress was handed his walking papers and the cash cow jumped over a Warring Moon.  Brett Favre has been firmly established by his interim head coach Leslie Frazier as that ride or die dude for the rest of the 2010 season.

Vince Young went ball-istic on his idiot savant idiot coach Jeff Fisher for being benched — again — with the game in the balance.  At the end of their rat-a-tat boom bap, Fisher called to Young, “Don’t run out on your teammates.”  The prodigal QB with the penchant for pounding the alma mater of his coach and pulling out close games responded, “I’m not running out on them…I’m running out on YOU!”  Young’s on-field success (a .638 winning percentage) has provoked the question, in some circles, of whether or not the Titans win games in spite of Jeff Fisher (.551 winning percentage).  In a bit of a twist, Young tends to catch flack for taking clothes off, whereas Fisher tends to catch hell for the clothes he puts on!

Jeff Fisher Working the Trifecta: Boobs, Belly, Butt. GO JEFF!!

Take that!

Brett Favre never needed to run OUT of the locker room and he certainly never ran IN to the locker room.  He mosied here and there, to and fro…from Green Bay to New York (into the waiting cell phone of Jenn Sturger) to Mississippi (into the waiting arms of wife Deanna) to Minnesota (to the waiting chauffeured ride with Brad Childress) back to  Mississippi (to the waiting arms of wife Deanna) and back to Minnesota (with hunting buddies Jared Allen and company).

In all of this back and forth, Favre made it clear that when he skipped the types of activities intended to keep interceptions to a minimum, he wasn’t running out on his wide receiving corps or his offensive line or his running backs.  He was running out on Brad Childress.  Now, Childress is gone.  Last Sunday, Favre ran out on a conversation with his BFF, Darrell Bevel (aka, the Guy Who Couldn’t Pull a ‘Jason Garrett’ and Get the Job He’s Coveted for 10 Years).

Running out on coaches is a common theme around the NFL this season.  Brett sets the records and writes the book — just like those career marks for interceptions, and one big incomplete pass.

And….fade to gratuitous Sterger shot:

Brett Favre may not be able to see defensive backs in zone coverage worth a damn, but he’s not blind.

Is Matt Hasselbeck Done in Seattle?

In 2009, the Seattle Seahawks finished 5-11 and in third place in arguably the weakest division in the entire NFL.  In 2008, Seattle finished 4-12 and in third place in arguably the weakest division in the entire NFL.  In the two seasons before that, the Seahawks won Wild Card games, but lost in the division round to the Packers and Bears, respectively.  Mike Holmgren is gone.  Jim Mora, Jr. is gone.  Edgerrin James is gone.  Walter Jones is gone.  Steve Hutchinson is gone.  Matt Hasselbeck remains, and so does the question.

Is he done?

Down the stretch, Hasselbeck fired four interceptions in back-to-back weeks vs. the Buccaneers and Packers.  Seattle lost by a combined score of  72-17.  The high point of the season was Hasselbeck’s four touchdown performance in a 41-0 drubbing of The Lifeless Del Rio’s (the Jacksonville Jaguars).  Seattle went 3-8 the rest of the way.  The only wins were at home vs. Detroit and San Francisco, and on the road at St. Louis.

Pete Carroll was hired by the Seahawks after team ownership sought the services of Tony Dungy in rebuilding the franchise.  Dungy, who was poised to name Minnesota’s Leslie Frazier as head coach, declined the position of general manager.  Carroll’s arrival, after his success at USC in winning on the field and in preparing players for the NFL, brings high expectations.  Fans in Seattle expect Carroll to bring in talented players; to improve the performances of the current roster; and bring a winner back to the northwest.  The team is less than five years removed from a Super Bowl appearance vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers.

This franchise has committed tremendous resources to supporting Matt Hasselbeck.  Departed guard Steve Hutchinson may be a Michigan Man, but he has underperformed for the past few years.  The Seahawks were wise not to pay an exorbitant price to retain his services.  The absence of Walter Jones, though, damaged this team.  The Seahawks have been abysmal for two seasons and amassed sufficient draft picks to fix some of their weaknesses, but prospects for the quarterback position are not better with a rookie at left tackle.

Bigger than Okung: The Job of Fixing Matt Hasselbeck

Wide receivers T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Deion Branch and others (Nate Burleson, Bobby Engram, Koren Robinson, Darrell Jackson and Ben Obamanu) have all underperformed.  Houshmandzadeh, Branch and Burleson have performed admirably in other circumstances.   The team was enmeshed in rumors around the pursuit of Brandon Marshall.  Entering the 2010 season, Matt Hasselbeck is looking like a guy who needs a game changing wide receiver to mask his increasingly poor performances.

That guy is not on the roster…and maybe Matt Hasselbeck shouldn’t be there either.

Maybe it’s time for the Seahawks to look, once again, to Green Bay for a solution.  It worked when they brought in Holmgren and his prized pupil a generation ago.  Maybe this time, the answer isn’t someone who played for the Packers, but someone like Charlie Whitehurst, a native of the Land that Lambeau and Lombardi built.

2009 NFL Playoffs: The Other Play that Killed the Vikings

With conversations about retirement and recuperation in full bloom, what better time to take a quick look back to Sunday’s NFC Championship Game between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints.  The game was won by the Saints 31-28 in overtime, but was dominated statistically by the Vikings.  Minnesota held large advantages in first downs, yards, and time of possession; but, the Vikings were defeated largely due to turnovers forced by the Saints.

Even though New Orleans surrendered 475 yards, there were some instances where the defense stepped up to set the table for big turnovers that would eventually decide the outcome of this game.  Brett Favre has been roundly criticized for flinging an interception at the end of regulation that kept kicker Ryan Longwell on the sidelines.  Tracy Porter’s pick sent the game into overtime and allowed the Saints to escape.  Before Porter’s play, however, the Saints interior defensive linemen Remi Ayodele and Sedrick Ellis stepped up to stuff Chester Taylor and Adrian Peterson on consecutive plays (first and second down) from the Saints 33.  It was their defense on first and second down that created a 3rd and 10 situation, and caused the Viking coaching staff to consider the best course of action.  The ensuing 5-yard penalty for having 12 men in the huddle influenced the Vikings decision to pass, and the rest is history.

The True Turning Point

These invisible plays in the fourth quarter could not have happened if the Saints didn’t do a few important things earlier in the game.  The Vikings dominated on both sides of the ball and New Orleans committed just one turnover.  That fumble, a muffed punt by Reggie Bush (I am uncomfortable using “muff” and “Bush” in the same sentence.)  gave the Vikings the ball deep in the Red Zone.

The Vikings first play after the fumble may have been one of the biggest plays of the game.  Minnesota lined up in a conventional power run formation and Adrian Peterson took the handoff on a power run to the right side.

First and Goal...Power I

Take a look at where the Saints defensive tackles are lined up in this play.  Sedrick Ellis is on the far left, inside of the defensive end, and Remi Ayodele is in the left defensive tackle (on the right side — offensive viewpoint).

Vikings Center and Guard Go to Second Level

At the snap of the ball, the Viking center and left guard fire off the ball and get to the second level.  Neither of them engage the defensive tackles.  They lock on to the linebackers (inside the yellow circle) and are clearing a path for Adrian Peterson.  The tight end is working on sealing the edge and the full back is coming through the hole to deliver a lead block.  The Saints defensive tackles appear to be caught up in traffic.

Ellis and Ayodele in Hot Pursuit

Adrian Peterson has made it to the corner.  He has his shoulders turned toward the goal line.  There is a defensive back in the picture, but he is engaged by a Viking blocker.  That Saints DB is in no position to make a tackle.  The man around Peterson’s leg is Saints middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma.  Check the video.  Vilma got mauled and is hanging on for dear life.  He is in no position to bring down Adrian Peterson.  The ONLY player in a position to stop Adrian Peterson on this play is defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis.  Remi Ayodele is just a bit too far away.  Ellis came all the way from the other side of the formation to get in on this play.  If Ellis doesn’t run, Peterson walks into the end zone.

Sedrick Ellis: Finishing the Job

Sedrick Ellis finishes this play by tackling Adrian Peterson and taking him out of bounds.

The next play from scrimmage for the Vikings was a fumbled hand off between Brett Favre and Adrian Peterson.

Ellis’ hustle on this play is not the stuff of highlights, but it is the type of play that makes a tremendous difference in how games play out.  If Ellis doesn’t get to the edge, Peterson very likely scores.  Favre never gets to fumble the snap, and more importantly, the Vikings would have led 21-14.  Given how Leslie Frazier’s defense played, that might have been decisive.  Instead, the Vikings played the entire second half from a trail position.

The Saints could continue to have a run/pass balance without getting desperate about playing from behind.  When a team is minus 4 in turnovers, you can point to any number of plays that make a big impact on the final score.  This was one such play.  Kudos to Sedrick Ellis for hustling and making a play.  (End Note:  Remi Ayodele also recoverd a fumble in the fourth quarter which led to the Saints building a 28-21 lead.)