Archive for October 16th, 2011

Worst sideline coach placement: When a coach is mentioned in the same sentence as Joe Paterno, that’s good, but when he receives the same treatment in reference to Mike Tice, that’s bad. Very bad.

Saints head coach Sean Payton has won a Super Bowl, so he’s much more Paterno than Tice. Regardless, after suffering an injury on the sideline today he now has something in common with both, as all three have been seriously injured while standing on the sidelines and coaching their teams.

A first-quarter play during the Saints’ loss to Tampa Bay ended with New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham getting pushed out of bounds by Bucs linebacker Mason Foster. Graham fell directly into Payton’s legs, and the picture above is the result of the collision.

Payton coached the remainder of the first half from a bench, and then summoned his inner Paterno by moving up to the press box for the second half. X-rays in the Saints’ locker room later revealed a torn MCL, and a tibial plateau fracture.

Worst luck: Somewhere there’s a disgruntled player with several holes ripped in voodoo dolls. On a day when Jim Harbaugh decided to be a frat boy after winning a football game and Payton shattered his knee, Wade Phillips, the league’s favorite coaching teddy bear, was accidentally run over and knocked to the ground by a ref.

Only pride was damaged, so really Phillips didn’t feel a thing because his pride has already been fatally wounded.

Oh, and as our grand finale, in the same game that Payton busted himself up Buccaneers defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake tore his patellar tendon while celebrating.

Turtle award: Here turtle means slow and awkward, not douchey.

The Saints are primarily a passing team, and the NFL has become a passing league. Over the past two seasons Payton and Drew Brees have established a consistently prolific passing attack, one that’s ranked in the top five for both of those years and has accumulated a combined 8,756 passing yards. In 2009 during their Super Bowl year Pierre Thomas was rolling and provided the necessary offensive balance, pacing the Saints to a rushing offense that averaged 131.6 yards per game.

But last year injuries and ineffectiveness caused that balance to vanish, and the Saints’ rushing offense plummeted to 28th in the league. The resulting pressure that shifted to Brees’ arm contributed to the highest interception total of his career (22). That same mediocre running game remains in New Orleans this year, but now injuries can’t be used as a crutch.

The three-headed monstrosity (Thomas, Mark Ingram, and Darren Sproles) combined for just 54 rushing yards on 17 carries from running backs today, a meager total against a young and maturing Tampa Bay front seven that’s allowing 123.4 yards per game.

Under Payton the Saints have always leaned more towards a platoon situation, or at the very least establishing two very different runners with very different styles. Previously, Thomas was the downfield runner while Reggie Bush was the explosive pass-catching presence in the flats. Now Sproles has become the new Bush, and Ingram the new Thomas, and Thomas has become…what?

Thomas had 11 yards on seven attempts today, the fifth game this year that the Saints failed to field a rusher who ran for at least 60 yards. Ingram has become the physical goal-line presence and has three touchdowns, while Sproles is easily on pace for a career-high in receiving yards (826). Thomas, meanwhile, seems lost, and in 2008, when he was receiving almost the same number of carries per game, his weekly yardage was nearly double what it is now (41.7 in 2008, 27.5 in 2011).

Solid victory for Oakland today. Nothing special, but the Raiders took care of business at home against a weaker team. It could have been a trap game after a big win in Houston and with three division rivals waiting, but the Raiders dug in while battling the emotions attached to their first home game sans Al Davis and came away victorious despite losing their starting quarterback.

But with Jason Campbell reportedly done for the remainder of the season with a broken collarbone, there’s gotta be a simmering fear that Oakland won a battle Sunday while actually hurting their cause in relation to the war.

Campbell wasn’t putting up Pro Bowl numbers, but he was doing a formidable job as the starter in Oakland. The Raiders’ offense runs through Darren McFadden, and it’s Campbell’s job to keep defenses honest by keeping them from stacking the box to limit Oakland’s running game. Without him, they’ll suffer.

Now you have to wonder if the Raiders will look for a quarterback. Kyle Boller is a decent backup, but does anyone really believe he can manage the offense during a playoff run? They’d be better off giving a shot to a guy like David Garrard, who ran a similar offense in Jacksonville. Garrard’s 2010 numbers were far better than Campbell’s, and the team has $6 million in cap space, so money shouldn’t be a major issue.

After hosting the Chiefs next week, the 4-2 Raiders have two weeks to prepare for Denver. Both of those games are at home, so Oakland doesn’t have to travel again until they head to San Diego Nov. 10. That’s also the next time they play a team with a winning record, and it could be the biggest game they have all season. The smart move? Bring in a veteran like Garrard and let him compete with Boller in practices and “games” over the next few weeks.

And then maybe he’ll be able to save a potentially special season in the nick of time.

Worst handshake: Jim Harbaugh forgot that he’s not at Stanford anymore, and that acting like you just successfully executed your first keg stand after a win isn’t acceptable.

Harbaugh apologized while speaking to the media after his college kid fit of joy, saying he was “really revved up,” and shook Schwartz’s hand too hard.

Schwartz was rightfully pissed, but he’s no post-game saint either when the adrenaline is flowing…

Most misplaced middle finger: Please forgive A.J. Hawk. In his hometown of Kettering, Ohio a salute with the middle finger is akin to a hand shake or knuckle tap.

It’s unclear why Hawk decided to remind everyone that the Packers are indeed No. 1, or why his colorful sign language was apparently directed towards the Packers sideline during a 24-3 destruction of St. Louis. Maybe he just needs to stay angry and make sure that Green Bay’s weekly dominant doesn’t start to feel mundane, and to do this he picks one teammate to fight each game.

This week’s impossible catch: Last week Dwayne Bowe and Victor Cruz made incredible juggling catches, the kind that are usually reserved for gamers in parental basements logging their 849th hour playing the latest Madden game. Eagles tight end Brent Celek saw their juggling, and raised them a backwards fall.

This week’s second impossible catch: Celek’s juggling act still wins, but Dallas Clark gave us a reason to feature a Colts highlight that doesn’t involve soul-destroying embarrassment.

This week’s third impossible catch: Cam Newton has been surprising and exciting, and he’s pumped life back into a position that was irrelevant in Carolina last year. But he’s still a 22-year-old kid who had appeared in only five regular-season NFL games prior to today, so mistakes and blatant errors in judgment are expected.

They’re just not expected to land in the arms Corey Peters, a 305-pound defensive tackle.

Best rules change suggestion: Now that the 49ers won and put the first dent in the Lions’ loss column a play that was ruled an incomplete pass to Michael Crabtree is irrelevant. But the play could have been massively important, and it would have ended much differently if we made an easily justifiable tweak in the rule book.

San Francisco was down 13-12 and looking for a key third-quarter score when Crabtree made the catch a few yards shy of Detroit’s goal-line. Crabtree leaped for the ball and was unable to come down with both feet in bounds. His body positioning and the amount of real estate left on the field only allowed enough time for Crabtree to bounce on one foot twice in bounds before falling out of play. Shouldn’t that be good enough?

The primary purpose of the two-foot rule is an obvious one: to ensure that the receiver establishes himself and demonstrates proper possession in the field of play after a catch. Crabtree had enough time to hop on one foot twice, and one foot twice should equal two feet. That should be enough to meet the rule’s simple criteria, just like the existing rules in which an elbow counts as two feet, and likewise for a knee.

Best interpretation of an existing rule: Lions fans were nearly haunted by the Calvin Johnson rule, the somewhat asinine but unavoidable ruling last year in a game against Chicago that saw Johnson’s game-winning score overturned because in his hurry to celebrate Megatron didn’t get up with the football after falling to the ground. Instead Johnson left the ball–and consequently a touchdown–on the ground, forcing officials to rule that he didn’t maintain possession throughout the entire act of making the catch.

Enter Nate Burleson, the Lions receiver who lines up opposite Johnson and made a fourth quarter touchdown catch today that put Detroit ahead briefly.

After doing several pirouettes and tap-dancing with both feet in the end zone Burleson falls to the ground and losses the ball. Similar to Johnson, that was his potentially fatal mistake, and officials ruled the catch incomplete because he didn’t demonstrate proper possession.

The Johnson ruling last year may have felt cheap and dirty, but it was also necessary because there’s little room for shades of gray during the process of determining possession after a catch, and especially a catch that results in a touchdown. But there’s still enough gray involved to allow common sense to wiggle through, and we saw that when the ruling on Burleson’s catch was challenged, and after several minutes under the hood it was determined that he physically held on to the ball for enough time.

We will remember this as the day when on-field judgment and observation (so in short, what referees get paid for) scored a victory over the black-and-white pages of the rule book.

Worst attempt to befriend cheerleaders: Mike Vick did what Mike Vick often does during a third-quarter play in Philly’s win over Washington: he ran very far. But when he finished a 31-yard run after getting pushed out of bounds he did something no man should ever do, and he almost pulled a Michael Boley. Only this time it was much worse, and Vick’s near target was a group of Redskins cheerleaders.

Vick apologized during his post-game press conference: (via The 700 Level)

“It was very inappropriate to kick the ball. I’m sorry about that. I apologize to the cheerleaders. That was a very bad gesture. I can’t let my emotions get the best of me. Sorry to the Redskins cheerleaders, I didn’t mean to offend anybody.”

Shortest hook: Rex Grossman was horrifically horrid today, the kind of horrible that leads to a quarterback throwing four interceptions and being benched in the fourth quarter. He’s thrown nine total picks, all coming over his last four games.

But now after the first regular-season sighting of John Beck Washington returns to exactly where it was in August. The choice is between one quarterback who’s made five career starts–with the most recent coming in 2007–and another quarterback who has experience, but severely lacks poise and confidence.

Warmest doghouse seat: Two weeks ago, prior to Washingon’s bye, Tim Hightower received only eight carries during a win over St. Louis, and he sat comfortably on the sidelines while a rejuvenated Ryan Torain finished with 132 rushing yards, averaging 7.1 yards per carry on 19 attempts. Head coach Mike Shanahan said after the game that Hightower was banged up with a shoulder injury, which at the time seemed like a poorly-disguised excuse.

We’re not doubting Hightower’s injury. We’re doubting Shanahan’s interpretation of the severity of the injury, and wondering if he’s exaggerating it and reaching for an excuse to play his usual RB shuffle game and sit Washington’s primary offensive offseason acquisition. Hightower was listed as questionable this week but was still active, or at least active enough to be a third-string RB. He sat behind Torain and Roy Helu–figuratively, at least–and didn’t receive a single touch all game. Torain led a feeble rushing attack with 22 yards on 10 carries.

After the game Shanahan said Hightower was only an emergency back, and he didn’t play because of his injury. If he was too injured to play, why was he even active? Only Shanahan would waste a roster spot to keep the tunes going on his running back musical chairs.

(Lead pic via Mocksession.com)

Thoughts from today’s early slate of games…

Lions and Bills run out of magic

I’m not saying either team is in trouble. Detroit wasn’t going to go 16-0 and Buffalo wasn’t going to finish 15-1. But it was interesting to see both Cinderellas fall flat against less-than-great opponents on Sunday.

In Jersey, the Bills felt the absence of starting defenders Kyle Williams, Chris Kelsay and Shawne Merriman. Without Williams dominating inside, Ahmad Bradshaw was able to put up triple digits while scoring three times. And Eli Manning wasn’t sacked. No excuses: the Giants have been hit by injuries like no other team in the league, yet they were able to prevail for their fourth win of 2011. That doesn’t mean it was a bad loss for Buffalo, who was an underdog on the road and had a chance to win until the final minute. But for the first time all year, the offense wasn’t able to rally on the final series of the game and the Bills fell to 4-2 headed into their bye.

Although they’ve now lost back-to-back road games, the Bills continue to be in every game until the bitter end. I get the feeling that’ll be the case with their season as a whole, too.

In Detroit, the Lions blew a fourth-quarter lead to the 49ers. While Detroit wasn’t badly outplayed (if it was at all), it was still a flat effort for an unbeaten team. The Lions just didn’t look themselves coming off a short week and a high-intensity victory over a longtime rival. The running backs once again averaged fewer than three yards per carry and the run defense was gashed by Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter. San Francisco has proven to be a very, very tough out, and the Lions should be devastated by the loss. They had the ball in their hands with a chance to tie or win on the game’s final possession, but the magic wasn’t there this time.

Still, Jim Schartz knows that if his team wants to compete in January, it has to win home games against teams travelling across the country.

And so now, the Packers are the league’s only undefeated team, while the 5-1 Niners probably become the biggest surprise success story of the first six weeks. They’ve now won four straight games, with three of those wins coming in the Eastern time zone. Jim Harbaugh is lapping the field in the coach of the year race. Now, the rookie head coach will just have to learn to compose himself.

Speaking of teams falling back to earth…

The Washington Redskins had a golden opportunity to tighten their grip on the NFC East. With Dallas and the Giants expected to have their hands full against New England and Buffalo, Washington could step on Philadelphia’s dreamy throat with a win at home Sunday. And despite having two weeks to prepare, the ‘Skins failed miserably.

There’s usually little shame in losing to a strong division rival by a touchdown, but the Eagles were a train wreck. The running game was nonexistent against a run defense that was surrendering 140 yards per game, and Rex Grossman was chased and officially benched after tossing four interceptions in the first three quarters.

It would be easy to peg this on Grossman, but Ryan Torain had nowhere to go and pass-rushing studs Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan weren’t able to get past a depleted Philly offensive line and take down Michael Vick.

With three feisty teams — Carolina, Buffalo and San Francisco — on deck, I’m worried about the Redskins. The NFC East is wide open.

Andy Dalton challenging Cam Newton for rookie of the year

Newton is the bigger name with the bigger smile and the bigger numbers, but Dalton continues to quietly get the job done in Cincinnati. I realize that wins aren’t the only way to measure a quarterback’s success, but it says something that Dalton now has four of them while Newton’s Panthers still have just one victory.

Newton ran for 50 yards and a touchdown Sunday, but he also had three picks while failing to throw for a score in Carolina’s 14-point loss to the Falcons.

Dalton committed zero turnovers and took zero sacks as the Bengals beat the Colts to move to 4-2. He still has about 600 fewer passing yards than Newton, and he’s not the kind of dynamic rushing threat that Newton is, but Dalton has just one turnover in the last two weeks. In that same span, Newton has six. And after today’s games, Dalton now has a passer rating that is six points higher than Newton’s.

This should be a close race for the remainder of the season. Don’t count out the ginger, even if he can’t imitate Deion…

Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons

Losing isn’t something that Cam Newton is very familiar with, just like most highly-touted, franchise-saving players when they first come out of college. But if he’s given the stubborn Newton haters anything to grasp it’s that damn towel on his head as he sulks during losses.

Indianapolis Colts at Cincinnati Bengals

Colts wide receiver Austin Collie said that two years after being drafted he’s still learning Indy’s offense, so we can maybe forgive Curtis Painter for the odd miscue as he continues to go through the same process after being a backup quarterback who rarely sees the field.

San Francisco 49ers at Detroit Lions

49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers has a new nickname for Calvin Johnson. It may not be as sexy as Megatron, but calling him the “ultimate migraine” seems quite appropriate after he became the first receiver in NFL history with nine touchdowns in the first five games of a season.

St. Louis Rams at Green Bay Packers

Sam Bradford is fighting through a familiar storyline with his wide receivers this season due to both injuries and ineffectiveness.

Buffalo Bills at New York Giants

If Kyle Williams’ foot injury keeps him on the sideline Torell Troup will slide in at nose tackle and get his third career start.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Pittsburgh Steelers

Three rookie quarterbacks have started games this year, a strategy that’s now become common with the fate of coaches often tied to a first-round golden arm. But it wasn’t too long ago that one year of being an understudy was still a mandatory rite of passage for a rookie quarterback, even if a franchise was direly in need of hope.

That mold was broken by Ben Roethlisberger, and today he’ll face the only 2011 rookie QB who hasn’t experienced some degree of immediate success.

Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins

The Redskins plan to slow down the Eagles with tall grass.

Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens

Arian Foster will be attempting to do more than just excel against a strong Ravens run defense today. He’ll be looking to run over his mentor.

Cleveland Browns at Oakland Raiders

The running joke during a bye week for a routinely terrible team is that Team X can’t lose this week. It’s the kind of self-depreciating humor that allows total strangers to find a common bond through their sorrow, and often it’s the saddest kind of friendship.

When those bad jokes fade you’re left with a fan base that greets mediocrity with indifference.

Dallas Cowboys at New England Patriots

When Logan Mankins was nine years old he dressed up as Jerry Rice for Halloween, and he won’t be offended if there isn’t a single Logan Mankins costume walking around in a few weeks.

New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

With LeGarrette Blount out Tampa Bay’s offensive focus will shift to Josh Freeman’s arm, which is a part of the young quarterback’s body that he’s been relying on far too much.

Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears

Julius Peppers is doubtful, and so is an easy win for the Bears during the first of what could be two awful prime-time games this week. Bear Goggles On outlines an unpleasant equation for Bears fans that has Adrian Peterson running over what’s recently been a poor Chicago run defense, which will open holes for Donovan McNabb to finally and mercifully get some semblance of a passing game going against inexperienced safeties Mike Wright and Chris Conte.