As I’m writing this, the TV is broadcasting the 7th inning stretch in game five of the world series. Did you know they don’t sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame anymore? Instead, they sing God, Bless America. I believe I am not alone when I say fuck you, baseball!
Major league baseball is dead wrong to replace peanuts and cracker jacks with the somber and politically-charged America song. Baseball is nothing without its tradition, and the seventh inning stretch was a good tradition. It’s evidently been this way since 2001, but why? Who could possibly think such an idiotic idea sounds good? If you don’t understand my outrage, imagine if we sang Allah, Bless America. Would that be okay with you?
For the record, I have no issue with the national anthem before games. I’m a patriotic American just like the next guy, and singing the anthem before a game is a tradition too. But do I really have to prove I’m still patriotic every two hours?
Watching sports is one of the only times I can happily see eye to eye with the most conservative Republican, and we can agree that Tony Romo is over-rated. I have no interest in discussing evolutionary theory with a tea partier, but I would talk to anyone about the virtues of a 3-4 defense. The last thing I’m looking for in the middle of a ballgame is a reminder that people are never going to get along. Let’s keep sports fun, and let’s keep politics the fuck out of football.
Allah, Bless America; the terrorists may have already won.
Jacksonville Jaguars 35 vs Dallas Cowboys 17
Last week I predicted the Cowboys would win this game. Sometimes, it feels great to be wrong! Why is everybody so surprised that the Cowboys suck this year? I understand that everyone at Fox is rooting for them in every broadcast, but that only explains the stupidest fans. Even intelligent football analysts were wrong about the Cowboys. Let’s take a look at the franchise and see what’s going on:
- People root for the team they think is going to win, even in the league that taught a nation what the word “parity” means. This clouds perception more than you might realize. There are Steelers fans across the country who can’t tell you what state Pittsburgh is in. Many of these people grew up in little Midwestern towns without home teams, and watched the Steelers win 4 super bowls on tv before they were old enough to learn what “frenching” is. People like to root for winners. The Cowboys were good last year, and everybody assumed they would continue improving. Instead, last year turned out to be the high-water mark.
- They suffered injuries to some of their key starters. Everybody blames losing on a team’s injuries, and often they have a point. But you never hear people say, “of course the Cowboys were good in 2009, they only lost one starter to injury and it was at a position where they had a good backup!” True story.
- Along with Marty Schottenheimer and Norv Turner in San Diego, and Rex Ryan and Greg Mattison in Baltimore, add Bill Parcells and Wade Phillips. Parcells built the talented Cowboys so many people want to see, but his successor has let the team slowly but surely decline. The truth is today’s team is filled with pedestrian talent, and their coaching staff lacks the ability to take advantage of the team’s remaining strengths anyway. Miles Austin is a true star player, and an extremely hard worker by all accounts. He broke out under Phillips, but he was drafted by Parcells. Who has this coaching staff developed? DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff are stars thanks to Parcells, who also put together all those great offensive lines. Phillips and Jason Garret got a good year or two out of Leonard Davis, but as of today he’s lost a step, or two, to put it nicely.
- Romo is the anti-Orton: he appears skilled to the casual fan, cavorting around the pocket confidently, throwing strong-armed tight spirals down the field to wide-open receivers. But it turns out he can’t read a defense (surprise!). In his best years, he had plenty of time in the pocket behind that strong offensive line, and he could afford to horse around waiting for Terrell Owens and Jason Witten to get open. Without the same receivers or protection, he (and Jon Kitna) can still be effective, just not good enough to cover up for the rest of the team.
Back to the game on Sunday: let’s not lose sight of the fact the Cowboys are 1-6. It brings joy to my heart to write that sentence. A couple of observations from the bits of the game I saw:
*Miles Austin > Rashean Mathis.
*All 8 of Mike Sims-Walker’s catches were good for a first down or touchdown. The Cowboys secondary is terrible.
*Football Outsiders projected David Garrard to throw for 3300 yards and 21 touchdowns in a 16-game season. In his five years of starting, he’s thrown for more than 15 only once. He has 13 through seven games. FO’s numbers were right, and nobody believed the projection, not even the writers at FO!
Denver Broncos 16 vs San Francisco 49ers 24
Shell-shocked. That’s how I would describe the Broncos. They expected to lose on Sunday. They expected to have bad calls go against them. They might even feel like they deserve to be penalized. Even their offensive game plan, which used to be a strength, was stupid and careless. Josh McDaniels has made it clear that he would rather lose his way than win by compromising his system. What a bunch of shit.
Patrick Willis plays the same inside linebacker role in San Francisco’s 3-4 as D.J. Williams does in Denver’s 3-4, which makes sense as both defenses were designed by Mike Nolan. But Patrick Willis is much better at it. If the Broncos expected to gain yards, maybe they ought to have put a guy on Willis to block him. But on too many plays, the Broncos treated Willis just like any average linebacker, and he made them pay for it. He could have singlehandedly defeated the Broncos offense. I noted in my preview that the 49ers struggle to cover wide receivers, and the Broncos passing game is built on the strength of their wide receivers. That should have been a huge mismatch, but all throughout the first half it was screen play after screen play, and the Niners defense was blowing them up and forcing punts.
Mike Singletary doesn’t make any more sense to me than McDaniels does. That’s probably why their teams combine for a record of 4-12. I seriously don’t think Singletary understands the game of football. “They do a good job passing the ball, but we wanted to take away the run and leave them one-dimensional,” he said. I am not joking, he really said that. He wanted to focus on stopping Denver’s league-worst rushing attack. Kyle Orton averaged more than 9 yards per attempt against the run defense, throwing for 369 yards and 17 first downs or touchdowns.
With that kind of efficient air attack, Denver needed just an average performance on the other side of the ball to win. They didn’t get it.
Correll Buckhalter gets an A+ for his excellent pass protection. On most downs he was the best blocker the Broncos had on the field. Thanks to his help, the whole offensive line seems to be playing much better than they were earlier in the year. Still, no one could block Justin Smith, the best 3-4 DE in the league. Like with Willis, if they had concentrated on blocking Smith a little more they could easily be 3-5 instead of 2-6.
Washington Redskins 25 vs Detroit Lions 37
What a game. The Redskins played 57 minutes and 50 seconds of smart, tough football. Football games are 60 minutes long. If I wasn’t emotionally attached to the Redskins, I would have found the remaining 2 minutes and 10 seconds hilarious. It was as if somebody pressed the self-destruct button again. They really need to increase security around that thing.
Forget about the first 57:50 for a moment. It’s the fourth quarter, 2:10 left, Washington’s down by three points. They faced a 4th and 10 from their own 28 yard line, with two timeouts and the two-minute warning in their pocket. I glanced over at another game for a moment, because surely the Redskins would punt and try to get a stop or a turnover on defense, right? Wrong. They went for it and McNabb was sacked. But the defense held, getting their three-and-out, and the Lions kicked a field goal to go up by six. Yes, going for that fourth and ten was the baffling error that cost the Redskins the game, but fortunately they still had a chance. Unfortunately they weren’t finished making errors just yet.
This is where Rex Grossman came into the game, and that should tell you enough. I’m sure Rex’s mom thinks he’s a good football player. She and the Shanahans are the only people in his fan club. I thought, “uh-oh. This can’t possibly end well.” Grossman didn’t just fail, he failed spectacularly. On his first snap, he didn’t just fumble, he fumbled the ball high in the sky like a lava bomb exploding out of a volcano. Three hundred and seven pound Ndamukong Suh recovered and scored an easy touchdown, Santana Moss bouncing off of him like a gnat bounces off a hippopotamus. The tight game was now a rout.
If the ‘Skins had held on to win, returner Brandon Banks would have been the team MVP. He singlehandedly won the field position battle, and added a touchdown of his own halfway through the fourth.
There were other reasons the Lions won. (1) The Redskins couldn’t cover Calvin Johnson. They have never been able to handle players like him. DeAngelo Hall continued his streak of remarkable statistical achievements; he schooled Stafford and Johnson for a first quarter pick in the end zone, which was good. He made some solid tackles in run support, which is good. But Johnson beat Hall for two of his three touchdowns, which wasn’t so good. (2) Just as the ‘Skins can’t stop guys like C.J., they never seem to take advantage of the opponent’s weaknesses. Lions safety C.C. Brown is notorious for being the worst coverage safety in the country. He should get burned for at least two or three long touchdowns per game, but I guess that’s news to the ‘Skins. I didn’t see them target Brown all game. (3) The other biggest reason Washington lost this game and why they struggle in all their games is their offensive line sucks. The line was dominated by Detroit’s defensive line. Suh, Cliff Avril, and especially Kyle Vanden Bosch had their way with them like scissors have their way with paper.
So why Grossman? We all know McNabb runs the slowest two-minute drill in football. He plays with no urgency, but with 1:45 to get in the end zone, I figured they would be fine. The coaches made a
huge, unbelievably stupid mistake. I can get over it. It was an entertaining game, for the most part. The always level-headed London Fletcher kept a sober perspective. “We still have a good football team. We’re not in a panic-type mode.”
Miami Dolphins 22 vs Cincinnati Bengals 14
Damn—I was really hoping Cincy would win this game so I would look smart for predicting it! Chad Henne is Kyle Orton Lite—a smart QB who can read a defense and make good decisions, but with limited physical tools. Both QBs struggle in the red zone, and Miami kicker Dan Carpenter had a big day thanks to Henne’s ability to get the ball into the red zone, and his inability to do anything once there.
Buffalo Bills 10 vs Kansas City Chiefs 13 (OT)
FO Founder Aaron Schatz on the Chiefs: “Right now, shocking as it is to say, the Kansas City Chiefs may be the most balanced team in the league. The Chiefs rank sixth on offense, fifth on defense, and 12th on special teams… Now, I don’t think that the Chiefs are truly the best team in the league, even if they have the best numbers so far. However, the Chiefs need to be taken seriously as a Super Bowl contender.”
The Bills need to be taken seriously as a colder version of the Chicago Cubs, the league’s new lovable losers!
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 38 vs Arizona Cardinals 35
What I think Max Hall must’ve said after his first interception: “I saw the double coverage, coach, I just didn’t see the triple coverage!” Despite the high score, this was a terrible game to watch, unless you enjoy mistakes. It was full of sloppy, ugly, low-level football. You’d expect this kind of thing if BYU were playing Kansas, but these teams records supposedly add up to 8-6.
The exception was Arizona safety Adrian Wilson. He made Josh Freeman look stupid by jumping a route for a nasty pick, but it was called back due to an unrelated penalty. Hothead LeGarrette Blount also looked great for the Bucs, running with impressive power. He’s proof that you should never take a running back in the first round. If only Knowshon Moreno was this good!
Tampa is 5-2 and in first place in the NFC South, but don’t for a second mistake them for a playoff-caliber team. This is a bottom-10 team playing a bottom-10 schedule, and unfortunately, it doesn’t get any harder for them going forward. Tampa fans may be enjoying wins, but they aren’t enjoying quality football.
Minnesota Vikings 18 vs New England Patriots 28
Brett Favre was great last year. He really improved his decision making and took care of the ball en route to a career year at the age of 40. But last year was the aberration, the real Favre. The inept careless gunslinger who lolled his way through the Jets season is the quarterback we ought ot have expected all along. He never should have put together that 2009 run but he did, and those Vikings were as good as any super bowl champion, though in 25 years nobody will remember it that way. Fate had other plans. I expect all the signs were in place telling him to call it quits, but that championship must’ve felt so tantalizingly close that his greed for the shiny Lombardi overcame his good sense. His stubborn loyalty to the 2010 Vikings may be admirable, but stupid. Their Loveboat is sinking. What is it with Vikings and sex scandals?
Two weeks ago, the Cleveland Browns upset the New Orleans Saints, in large part owing to Browns linebacker Scott Fujita’s inside knowledge of the Saints. After all, he was their defensive team captain for three years before signing with Cleveland. Vikings receiver Randy Moss might know a thing or two about the Patriots. He “tried to talk to the players and coaches about how this game was going to be played, couple tendencies here and a couple tendencies here.” But Brad Childress isn’t that kind of coach. He’s got his scheme, and that’s the scheme the team is going to run, rain or shine, day or night, earth or moon.
Speaking of space, Adrian Peterson looks lost in it. On one screen play he had three blockers to his left; he ran right, directly into the only defender that wasn’t blocked.
Pats rookie Brandon Tate ran a sweet route en route to getting open on a 65-yard touchdown catch. His assignment was to run a short sideline route, but when he saw that the play was busted, he found some space behind him and got some separation from his defender, and by the time Brady got the ball to him, he was going full-speed and wasn’t looking back. Playing wide receiver isn’t as much about running precise routes as it’s about improvising precise routes. It’s not enough just to get open, and Tate got open at just the right time. Fans witnessed something beautiful on that play. Somewhere, Troy Aikman is talking about Brett Favre.
Tate’s sweet play was only the second sweetest route I saw on Sunday. The first was ran by Darrius Heyward-Bey.
Seattle Seahawks 3 vs Oakland Raiders 33
I’m not sure I’m ready for a world where the Raiders are a good team. For much of last year, Michael Bush was their only effective player on offense. But though he was rushing for first downs, you could always count on Oakland’s wide receivers to foul things up. You can’t even count on that anymore— Darrius Heyward-Bey ran one of the sweetest stop-n-go routes you’ll ever see, getting open for a 69-yard touchdown.
You may notice a few differences between this year’s team and last year’s, none more different than Jason Campbell. He’s head, shoulders, torso, legs, and feet better than Bruce Gradkowski. If Oakland banches Cambpell for Gradkowski or for anyone again this year, laugh at them.
I’m impressed with the Raiders for bringing back the off-tackle pitch. The play hasn’t been used much in the last several years, because nobody runs it like Darren McFadden. McFadden is a lot like Reggie Bush—he’s not your typical Arian Foster type back. He can excel in certain situations, and Raiders coaches are getting better at figuring out how to get him into situations he’s good at. This is a new and scary Raiders team. With any luck they will simply fall apart against Kansas City next week, we’ll all will wonder why we were worried in the first place.
Pittsburgh Steelers 10 vs New Orleans Saints 20
*Hay cool, this game was a rare opportunity to see Casey Hampton play! They say that the 3-4 nose tackle is the hardest position to find players for, but the Steelers have three good ones.
*This game was more exciting at 3-0 than the Cards/Bucs was at 35-31.
*To beat the Steelers, you have to block James Harrison. On one first quarter play, they left him unblocked on the backside of a play, and he blew it up for a short gain. Two plays later, they bring CB McFadden on a delayed blitz; Brees doesn’t see it. Strip sack, Steelers ball.
*Chris Collinsworth says that Harrison “hasn’t recovered from his $75,000 fine” last week. Have the players he concussed recovered from the hits he put on them?
*The Steelers and the Colts both prefer “underized” defensive players, but the Steelers players are still huge! LaMarr Woodley is “undersized” for a defensive tackle, but he’s playing linebacker! The Steelers 3-4 is different thn any other in the league. I just got the NFL Game Rewind, and I will be studying them this week.
*The Steelers offense lives and dies by their tight ends, and maybe every team in the NFL too. Their Wide receivers, at least in the Saints game, were secondary.
*Marques Colston = Troy Polamalu. Both of them made some great plays against the other.
*Lance Moore is a great example of the benefits of playing loose. He was flying around all game, taking way more abuse than a guy his size ought to be able to handle.
*Calling Antwaan Randle-El a punt returner is a misnomer; he is a punt fair-catcher. He will never, ever return a punt. I should know, I suffered through three years of watching him play in Washington. The Steelers made special teams a priority this off-season, adding returners Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. Brown and Sanders have been wicked, so in a game where every yard of field position matters, why would the Steelers send in Randle-El? A good returner is as valuable as a good starting wide receiver.
*Pitt kept running right on the goal line, and kept getting stuffed. What, do they think Flozell Adams is their best run blocker? It doesn’t seem so to me. Rashard Mendehall looks great running outside right when he has space, however.
*Ben Roethlisber looked like crap. Sure, the Saints were blitzing 8 or 9 half the time, but some of Bens throws reminded me of Jay Cutler, and not in a good way.
*J.I. Halsell, former salary cap analyst for the Washington Redskins, wrote up a comparison between these two teams from his unique (among sportswriters) perspective. His piece sheds some light on the differences between how each team was assembled.
Carolina Panthers 10 vs St. Louis Rams 20
Sam Bradford continues his hot streak, which is especially surprising considering the replacement-level talent he’s throwing to.
Green Bay Packers 9 vs NY Jets 0
This is not the way anybody expected this game to turn out. 9-0? Three field goals? Add two more interceptions to Mark Sanchez’s stat sheet. Consider this further proof that unsustainable performance (opening the season with 5 games without a pick) will regress toward the mean.
Tennessee Titans 25 vs San Diego Chargers 33
This time, the Chargers won despite the worst special teams unit the NFL has seen since Arizona was in the NFC East. Not only did the Titans lose, they lost Kenny Britt for perhaps the season. Sad news.
Houston Texans 17 vs Indianapolis Colts 30
Kubiak forgot how to score against the Colts. The Texans got behind, and he got impatient. Stick to the plan, Gary! Take what the defense gives you! Hand it off to Foster! Ug.
Austin Collie. Mike Hart. Jacob Tamme. The Colts are like elephants, they never forget how to score, no matter who’s playing for them, as long as it isn’t Craphonso Thorpe.
Bye: Atlanta Falcons, Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns, NY Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Baltimore Ravens