Warren Peace’s Week 4 NFL Review
October is apparently breast cancer awareness month, where NFL players show they care about breast cancer by wearing hideous pink accessories! There is no better way to show you care than by making yourself look ridiculous. Considering Michael Vick’s personal history, I wonder if raising awareness of animal rights might not be more appropriate. But alas, the NFL cares more about breasts than animals!
Kyle Orton, Peyton Manning, and Philip Rivers are all on pace to break Dan Marino’s record of 5,084 passing yards in a season. In general, early season stats like that don’t hold up, as extreme numbers tend to regress toward the mean as the season progresses, but this year may be different. The mean performance for those players is not far from where they are now, and those quarterbacks are likely to keep on passing at similar rates. I’ll bet this is the year where one or more of them break that record. Now, on to last weekend’s games…
Seattle Seahawks 3 @ St. Louis Rams 20
It says here that the officials stopped the game in the middle of the fourth quarter for a celebration, because Steven Jackson rushed for the milestone 6,970th yard in his career. Huh? What the f? Why would they do that? Oh, he passed Marshall Faulk to become the second leading rusher in Rams history. Big whoop, right? It would have been stupid if they stopped the game even if he was the first leading rusher in his team’s history, let alone the second.
This reminds me of a few years ago when the Raiders pulled a similar stunt in Oakland. Tim Brown had just caught his one thousandth career reception. In the middle of the third quarter of a close 10-6 ballgame, before a critical 3rd and long, they stopped the game for fifteen minutes, at one point driving Brown’s mom out onto the field in a team golf cart, with camera crews rushing behind. Brown was crying, his mom was crying, having not watched him play since high school because she hates the violence of the sport. His whole family had showed up on the field for the emotional moment, as Brown signed autographs and made a speech for the cameras. At the time, the Raiders had been struggling on offense, gaining enough yards to attempt only two field goals. Now suddenly they had a second halftime, and the offense used it to huddle up to make adjustments. The big offensive linemen got a much needed breather. The Jets team just stood there baffled, because nobody had bothered to them that this was going to happen. They didn’t have a clue when game was going to start again. So on the first play after Josephine Brown was slowly driven off the field in the Raiders official golf cart, on a critical third down, quarterback Rich Gannon hit Jerry Rice for a 26 yard touchdown. The momentum of the game had irrevocably shifted. The Jets looked certain to win the game before the non-football-related interruption, but afterwards, the Raiders held on to win.
It was the single dirtiest moment in professional sports that I can remember, the most despicable win, and I’ve never forgiven the Raiders for it. Last week the Rams were already up 17-3 when they pulled this crap, but this has no place in professional sports. In a league where joyfully dancing with your teammates after you score a touchdown gets you a 15-yard penalty, this kind of behavior glorifying a minor personal achievement is obnoxious.
Denver Broncos 26 @ Tennessee Titans 20
Who is Chris Johnson? If you answered, “the guy who gained 2,000 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards in 2009,” you’d be living in the past. The Broncos shut him down this week, holding him to 2.8 yards per carry on 19 attempts. The Broncos had a sound gameplan: use OLBs Robert Ayers and Jason Hunter to “set the edges” on both sides of the play. That is, both linebackers rush 2-4 yard upfield and try to hold their ground, shrinking the field and funneling CJ back inside between the tackles, where Denver has three linemen, two inside linebackers, and Brian Dawkins to make the tackle, with few remaining Tennessee blockers to fight through.
But more important than the scheme is the quality of players, and both Ayers and Hunter did their jobs well. I’ve had my doubts about Ayers developing into an effective pass rusher (see his SackSEER projection out of college), but he played this role to near-perfection, only losing the edge once when CJ’s backup Javon Ringer got past him and the rest of the defense for 54 yards. Ironically, if Elvis Dumervil had been playing, we might have seen a much different result, as Dumervil is at his best as a pure pass rusher, getting by blockers rather than maintaining ground.
The whole defense played well on Sunday. They were helped out by some craptastic play calling on the Titans side—the Titans got a few nice gains in the first quarter when the Broncos were fooled by the misdirection on counter plays. Then, the Titans proceeded to call ONE play using misdirection for the rest of the game. It’s not surprising that they couldn’t move the ball running such predictable plays. Stupid playcalling on offense is a theme I can see developing in Tennessee. This Mike Tanier article analyzes the series of ineffective Titans plays from week 3 that led to Vince Young getting benched. The Titans are a very good team this year, but their offensive coordinator needs to do a better job putting his guys in a position to succeed.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Denver’s offense moved the ball well, but they could have done better. The offensive line was pushed around by Tennessee’s talented defensive line, and early on it looked ugly. Even Ryan Clady played poorly, having one of the worst performances of his career. Because of this, the Broncos RBs were able to rush for only 8 yards on 17 carries. But before panicking and screaming about how the run game needs to be fixed, like McDaniels seems to be doing, we need to look at what the Broncos did right.
Kyle Orton is clearly one of the best QBs in the NFL at reading a defense, and McDaniels has done a fantastic job coaching up WRs Brandon Lloyd, Eddie Royal, and Jabar Gaffney. The great thing about the unadulterated west coast offense McDaniels runs is that even with no protection, they were able to adjust their routes and get open before the pressure reached Orton. In contrast, look at how Mike Martz got Jay Cutler sacked 89 times in the first half last Sunday night. The Bears and Broncos o-lines played comparably—the difference was in the play calling and option routes the receivers were running. Martz kept sending his guys on slow-developing vertical routes. McDaniels called for short slants, crossing routes, and the occasional pick play. Orton read the defense and audibled into some very nice looking screen passes. I don’t understand why McDaniels is so concerned about the lack of a ground game. There is no reason you have to run the ball in the NFL, especially when your QB is completing 70% of his passes! It would behoove the Broncos to take a look at what they do well, and to do that! If they aren’t running well, then don’t run! It’s that simple.
For all McDaniels did right, he did a terrible job on short yardage situations. Rushing converts 40% more often than passing in short yardage, yet McD kept sending the offense out in the shotgun on those plays. Only one of those plays was a handoff, which Correll Buckhalter converted for a first. Yes, I know that in the last paragraph I just said the Broncos should basically abandon the ground game—but not completely. They should run more in third or fourth and short.
The worst coaching moment came at the end of the first half. There were 28 seconds left, the clock was running, and the Broncos were about to kick a field goal. Instead of bleeding the clock down and calling a timeout with only a few seconds left, they called one immediately, giving the Titans enough time to put a couple of plays together and kick a field goal before the half! That was mind-bogglingly bad, and that gave the Titans 3 free points. Those 3 points very nearly cost the Broncos the game. It was inexcusably bad clock management.
Other Broncos thoughts:
*D.J. Williams is outstanding in man coverage, and pretty good in run support sifting through blockers to make tackles.
*Brian Dawkins may be a liability in coverage at this point in his career, but he’s a beast in the backfield. He PWNED Vince Young several times, and at one point in the fourth quarter pwning him twice in a row to end a drive forcing a field goal.
*The special teams looked terrible on the 98 yard kickoff return—nobody even touched returner Marc Mariani. Sure, the guy was Fast with a capital F, but I only counted three Broncos even near to being in a position to make a tackle. What were the other seven guys and the kicker doing?
* Demaryius Thomas looks slow. Fortunately, blazing speed is only really important in Madden, and he still looks like he’ll be a very good receiver.
*Speaking of receivers, I’m beginning to think we should give a lot of credit to McD for coaching up Brandon Lloyd. I laughed when the Broncos signed him. He’s had a career of making highlight-reel catches after his team is losing, but underachieving the rest of the time. By all accounts he is a world-class asshole, which led all of his former teams to cut him just to be rid of him. I figured he’d be out of the league by now, but McD has him playing at a pro bowl level.
*McD is turning out to be a really good football coach—his coaching might win the Broncos four or five extra games in a season. But before we go getting all giddy about it, remember that his absolutely putrid personnel decisions have cost them probably ten or twelve more. The Broncos should keep him as a coach, but should never, ever, let him handle free agency, trades, or the draft. They would be a better team today if Matt Millen were in charge of their drafts. I can’t stress this enough—with his coaching, and even an average general manager, this is a super bowl team. As it is they are going to have to fight to make the playoffs in a surprisingly strong AFC West.
*Correll Buckhalter looked great on plays where he didn’t get the ball—he threw some real good, physical blocks. On one QB sneak, he came up from the backfield and put a nice hit on someone on the Titans to keep him off the pile. I like plays like that.
* I figured out why McD was so excited to trade Alphonso Smith for TE Dan Gronkowski—his brother Rob Gronkowski plays for the Patriots, and maybe having a Gronkowski on the roster makes McD feel at home.
Washington Redskins 17 @ Philadelphia Eagles 14
The Redskins are in first place in the NFC East! W00T WOOT! Okay, I’m done.
Two weeks ago, the Redskins fell behind the Rams 14-0 in the first six minutes. Last week, the Redskins jumped ahead of the Eagles 14-0 in the first ten. Funny how luck evens itself out sometimes. And doesn’t that loss to the Rams look a little different after seeing the Rams’ 20-3 drubbing of the Seahawks last week? The Rams may be a better team than we thought they were.
The Redskin offensive line looked superb, even without LT Trent Williams, and everything the offense did depended on them. They were getting to the second level, taking care of LBs and safeties for Clinton Portis and Ryan Torrain.
The passing offense needs plays from WRs Joey Galloway and Anthony Armstrong—defenses are focusing on stopping Santana Moss—so the complementary guys have to be able to get open down field, and McNabb has to get the ball to them accurately and on time. In the wins over Dallas and Philadelphia, and the close loss to Houston, McNabb was able to get the ball to those guys. In the loss to the Rams two weeks ago, they were getting open, but McNabb missed them by some narrow margins. Moss is still going to get open and make some plays, even with the double coverage he’s been facing, but the ‘Skins aren’t going to be able to compete against the better teams on their extremely tough schedule unless McNabb can hit his second and third and fourth targets as well.
Even though the Redskins D did a great job of blowing up the pocket last Sunday, Kolb looked slippery back there, avoiding sack after sack after sack. This is a disturbing trend. Fortunately, his receivers were covered down field so he could only do so much. But imagine if Michael Vick didn’t get hurt on the Eagles third drive. Sure, Vick is the least accurate starting QB in the league, but if they’re letting Kolb scramble for first downs, who knows what Vick could have done. LeSean “Shady” McCoy was amazing in space for the Eagles, showing great vision and making people miss every time he touched the ball. He had plenty of chances to, since Kolb kept checking down to him instead of throwing the ball up and giving his talented WRs opportunities to make a play on the ball. He missed DeSean Jackson by several yards the one time he tried to go downfield, but considering Jackson hasn’t had any success in five games against the Redskins in his career, there probably wasn’t much there to begin with. Redskin middle LBs London Fletcher and Rocky McIntosh got a lot of tackles in the stats, but they were all too far downfield. The Redskins defensive line is going to have to do a better job keeping blockers occupied so those smaller and faster LBs can make stops, not down field tackles.
Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is doing a great job with his secondary. LaRon Landry is a beast playing near the LOS; he’s like a younger Brian Dawkins. Kareem Moore is weak against the run, but excellent in deep coverage, and Haslett has both of them playing to their respective strengths. He’s not doing as well with the front seven, but in the first year of a transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4, such struggles are somewhat inevitable.
Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander is perhaps the best all-around football player you’ve never heard of. He started at OLB instead of Andre Carter Sunday, but in previous seasons he’s started games at defensive end, defensive tackle, offensive guard, and tight end. That kind of versatility is almost unprecedented in the modern NFL. Carter has struggled in the new 3-4 defense. He’s a very good 4-3 DE, but a below average 3-4 OLB. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Redskins were to trade him before the deadline.
San Diego Chargers 41 @ Arizona Cardinals 10
According to head coach Ken Whisenhunt, Derek Anderson > Matt Leinart. Fine. But why cut a guy like Leinart when you might one day need him again? For example, like today. Very Puzzling, and that move may cost the Cardinals the season. I’m sure Whisenhunt’s job is safe though, as he has done an otherwise exemplary job with the team.
Mike Tolbert looks like the Chargers best RB. He is further proof that it’s just plain stupid to take a running back in the first round of the draft, unless you’re getting a crackerjack talent like Adrian Peterson or LaDanian Tomlinson. Chargers first round pick Ryan Mathews is averaging nearly a yard less per carry than the undrafted Tolbert.
The Chargers may pretend they’re not missing Vincent Jackson, but I’m not buying it. Sure, Antonio Gates can pick up some of the slack, but while Malcom Floyd looks good in conventional stats, he’s only caught 46% of the passes thrown his way this year. Compare that with his 59% catch rate in 2009 and his 73% in 2008, and a picture emerges of a guy who’s a great complimentary target but one who will struggle when teams key in on him with their top CBs. Compare that with Jackson’s 63% and 59% over the last two years while facing constant double and triple teams. The only above-average pass defense the Chargers have played this year was Kansas City in week 1, when Floyd caught only 3 of the 12 passes thrown to him, for a total of 48 yards. Fortunately for Floyd, the Chargers face a ridiculously easy schedule of pass defenses this season, so he may continue to put up strong conventional numbers as Phillip Rivers challenges the all-time passing yardage record.
Indianapolis Colts 28 @ Jacksonville Jaguars 31
The top QB-WR combos by yardage in NFL history: 1) Peyton Manning-Marvin Harrison 2) Peyton Manning-Reggie Wayne. After 4 weeks of the 2010 NFL regular season, the Indianapolis Colts are in last place in the AFC South, yet are still realistic super bowl contenders, and will remain so as long as Manning is on the team. With the loss of safeties Bob Sanders and Melvin Bullitt, every Colts game looks to be a high-scoring shootout. Manning might also break the passing record, because with his defense giving up 30 points a game, he may have to.
Did you see David Garrard on that option play he took in for a TD? I couldn’t tell from the replay which Colt defender he juked out of his shoes, but he juked a Colt defender right out of his shoes. The Jaguars are a preposterously variant team. Some games they play well, others they get dominated. Stay away from betting on any of their games until a clearer pattern emerges.
Houston Texans 31 @ Oakland Raiders 24
The Texans suspended their own Arian Foster for the first four drives to open the game, because he had missed a team meeting. The Raiders were tied with the Texans 14-14 when he was given his first carry with just under seven minutes left before the half. But wait. Do you remember what happened a couple of years ago in 2005, when San Diego suspended their own Antonio Gates for the first game of the year? They lost to the Cowboys in a close game that Gates probably would have helped them win, even if he had only played for the Charger’s final drive. San Diego missed the playoffs that year by exactly one win. Yes, teams need to take control of their locker rooms somehow. But why would a team risk so much by keeping their best players out of games? It’s mind-boggling to me. After a different suspension that the Texans had no control over, LB Brian Cushing will also be back vs. the Giants next week.
Only 32,218 Oaklanders bothered showing up for the game. If wins and losses aren’t numbers that mean anything to Al Davis, I wonder if this one will. Still, though, the Raiders personnel decisions are far better than the Broncos..
Pittsburgh Steelers 14 @ Baltimore Ravens 17
The NFL loves the Pittsburgh Steelers! Is it just a coincidence that they get their bye week after four games, which happens to be exactly the number of games Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for? This gives him two weeks to practice with the first team offense instead of one in preparation for playing Cleveland. Actually, it probably is a coincidence. But in a league where the head office tries to maintain a sinister control over every detail of every football game, nothing is impossible. I didn’t watch this game, so I don’t have anything to say about it, except that it looked entertaining. And I heard that Lardarius Webb had a big game for the Ravens.
New York Jets 38 @ Buffalo Bills 14
OH YEAH BABY LDT IS BACK, 133 YARDS, HOLY CRAP AND TWO TOUCHDOWNS RIGHT IN THE END ZONE BABY YEAH!!!! Oh wait. Is ldt back, or was he playing the Bills? Shonn Greene also rushed for 100 yards in a game where the Bills only handed off to their running backs nine times, and Ryan Fitzpatrick was their leading rusher with 74 yards. And sure, Tomlinson looks better in New York than he did in San Diego last year, but remember he wasn’t bad the year before that.
Mark Sancheez threw an interception once every 18 passes last year, an extraordinarily high rate. He’s yet to throw a pick in 100 attempts this year. What was I just saying about luck evening itself out? Santonio Holmes becomes unsuspended next week, and the Jets also expect Darelle Revis and Calvin Pace to be in physical shape to play against the Vikings. Barring further injury, the Broncos will have to face a healthy Jets team in two weeks.
San Francisco 49ers 14 @ Atlanta Falcons 16
I’m sure Mike Singletary knows way more about being successful in football than I do. I, for example, probably wouldn’t fire my assistant coach simply to postpone my own inevitable firing for a short amount of time. That’s the kind of football genius I can only admire from a distance. The thing that bothers me about Singletary is his obstinate insistence on making the 49ers a power running team. It would be fine if they had the personnel for it, but they clearly don’t. Alex Smith has looked great in the shotgun throughout his pro career, yet the 49ers use the shotgun less than nearly any other team. That’s just retarded coaching. Remember a couple years ago when Tyler Thigpen of the Chiefs put up great performances in the pistol type shotgun? Then the Chiefs traded the 2nd pick in the 2nd round of the draft for Matt Cassel? That was the pick the Pats used on Patrick Chung, the guy who singlehandedly beat the Dolphins on Monday night. I don’t know why dumb teams keep expending valuable resources on players they don’t need. I don’t know why teams insist on doing things “their way,” even if it means losing games as a result. But I guess that’s why I write about the NFL, rather than take part in it.
Detroit Lions 26 @ Green Bay Packers 28
The Lions held the ball for 38 mins to the Packers 22, and lost. Shaun Hill threw 2 TDs in 54 passes, and Aaron Rodgers threw 3 TDs in only 17.
Cincinnati Bengals 20 @ Cleveland Browns 23
The Broncos traded Peyton Hillis for Brady Quinn before the season. Whoops. The Broncos have invested more resources in their two backup QBs than any team in the history of the NFL. Meanwhile, their starter is one of the best in the NFL, making their backups useless.
Carolina Panthers 14 @ New Orleans Saints 16
Saints RB Chris Ivory is not a passing down player—the team doesn’t seem to trust him in pass protection, or to catch the ball out of the backfield. The Panthers entire passing offense—er, I mean Steve Smith—will miss next week’s game due to injury.
Chicago Bears 3 @ New York Giants 17
Only three days after I wrote that Trent Cole of the Eagles was perhaps the best and most complete DE in the NFL, he was a nonfactor against Washington. Later that evening, Julius Peppers played a hell of a game on national TV. Credit to NBC and their excellent producers and camera crew for capturing in such fine detail Pepper’s night. It’s too bad the rest of his team didn’t perform at anywhere near his level. And about the rest of the Bears, imagine what they could do with Orton, Martz, and two first round draft picks!
Everybody blames the Bears offensive line for the Sunday night debacle. But look at what the Broncos did with an o-line that was getting destroyed. Does the Martz playbook not include any mid-range crossing patterns? And Matt Forte? Ignored! He’s been great lining up and playing as a wide receiver, why not have him play to his strengths? I kept seeing him trying to block Giants d-linemen. He’s not a bad blocker, but isn’t the Martz offense supposed to mitigate pressure by sending all five eligible receivers out on quick routes? Anyway, now everyone is going to think the Giants have some awesome pass rush, like that flukey year where Osi Umenyiora pwned Winston Justice for 12 sacks in one game. I haven’t seen stats piled up like this since the last time I played Madden, and even in Madden I don’t get 12 sacks a game.
It’s good that Giants coach Tom Coughlin gave a goal line touchdown to Brandon Jacobs at the end of the game, otherwise Jacobs might have thrown Coughlin into the stands in frustration!
New England Patriots 41 @ Miami Dolphins 14
It seems that every week, at least one game is determined solely by special teams. Last week it was Seattle’s Leon Washington beating San Diego, this week it was New England’s Patrick Chung beating Miami. The Pats secondary is still bad, but whether it was scouting or just good reactions, some guy named Rob Ninkovich was able to jump two routes to pick off Chad Henne in the first half, ending what probably would have been Dolphins TD drives. Then Henne started forcing the ball downfield, and things went from bad to worse. The ‘Fins aren’t made to come from behind to win games, they’re built to hold on to close games with their strong running game. Miami fired their special teams coordinator after the game, with good reason. When you’re getting beat, you’re supposed to make adjustments. He didn’t, and got beat again and again.