Archive for November 13th, 2011

Worst nightmare: Somewhere in Seattle a small child attended his first football game today, and tonight he’ll dream about birds.

Thanks to that guy those dreams won’t be about nice birds though. The birds will do crazy bird things, like set gas stations on fire…

Most shame to quarterbacks everywhere: Saying that Matthew Stafford looked horrible today is a blatant insult to horrible quarterbacks. He threw four interceptions, matching his total for the season prior to today, and he looked frustrated while being routinely flushed out of the pocket by Julius Peppers and Chicago’s front seven. A Detroit offensive line that silenced the doubters early in the season and allowed only five sacks over the Lions’ first four games has now watched Stafford crumble to the ground 14 times in the last five.

But it gets worse for Stafford. The Lions looked very much like the old Lions today and were down by three touchdowns at one point in the third quarter, which forced Stafford to throw 63 times and flirt with the record for the most pass attempts in a game (70).

He completed just 33 of those passes, which meant Matt Forte needed only an incompletion on a halfback pass to do this…

Yikes.

Best head toss/attempt to disfigure opposing player: Stafford had nearly the worst game of his career (he threw five interceptions in his sixth career start in 2009), and two of his four picks resulted in a Bears defender dancing in the end zone.

Quarterbacks are people too, and just like anyone near the end of a rough day of work Stafford had some built-up frustration he needed to release in the fourth quarter. So instead of doing something a little more conventional (squeezing a stress ball on the sideline, repeating a psychologically damaging word), Stafford chose to loosen D.J. Moore’s head from his shoulders after his third interception.

The result was some fine head toss form by Stafford, and a melee that led to Moore getting ejected.

In his mind, Stafford was somewhere else today, maybe in a change room with Maria Sharapova.

Thoughts on the late games:

Baltimore: The NFL’s most confusing team

Actually, it’s not that complicated. The Ravens play the good teams well and the bad teams poorly. This isn’t completely foreign — teams have fallen into traps like these before — but what makes it so baffling here is that the Ravens are an experienced team that shouldn’t be looking past inferior opponents.

If you weren’t already aware, the lead paragraph probably let the cat out of the bag: Baltimore lost to the Seahawks on Sunday, falling 22-17 in a game that was actually much more lopsided than the final score indicates. Tarvaris Jackson had his best game of the year and Marshawn Lynch totaled 167 yards as the Seahawks out-muscled and out-performed the Ravens and their world-class defense.

It was also a tough day for the Baltimore coaching staff, which panicked and completely ditched the running game after falling behind early. Ray Rice had just five carries while Joe Flacco attempted a career-high 52 passes.

The Seahawks simply looked like the better team, which is startling when you consider how poorly they’ve played in recent weeks.

All that said, it’s hard to be surprised by the fact that Baltimore laid an egg in the Pacific Northwest. The feisty Seahawks are sneakily dangerous at home, where they nearly beat Atlanta earlier this year and went 4-4 despite being a bad team otherwise in 2010. And the Ravens continue to struggle on the road and against weaker teams.

Ravens at home: 4-0
Ravens on the road: 2-3
Combined record of the teams they’ve beat: 31-25
Combined record of the teams they’ve lost to: 11-16

And considering that they barely held on to beat the terrible Cardinals at home and that the Titans and Seahawks are probably worse than their records would indicate, the above statistics might not do it justice.

Figuring they might fall into the trap again, we predicted on Friday that the Ravens would win by only two points. Baltimore was indeed flat on Sunday — flatter than anyone imagined. Now, they’ve squandered their edge on Pittsburgh in the AFC North. They’re always competitive against good teams, so I like their chances in January. The problem: I’m not convinced they’ll make it that far.

The Lions continue to fade

Remember September, when the Bills and Lions were the talk of the football world? We tried hard to remember that it was September and that the football season spanned four months, but it was so easy to catch Bills and/or Lions Fever. Now, on the same day that Buffalo sent a message that it wasn’t ready for prime time with a disgusting loss in Dallas, Detroit has followed suit with a terrible performance in Chicago.

The one-dimensional Lions were dominated by the Bears, who have clearly become the second-best team in the NFC North. A little over a month ago, the Lions were strutting after a fairly easy victory over Chicago in their first Monday Night Football game in nearly a decade. Since then, though, Detroit has dropped three out of four games, while the Bears have yet to lose.

The problem is that defenses have figured out how to stop a somewhat predictable Detroit attack that features Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson and nobody else. Stafford, who was killing it until this week, had his worst game since his rookie season, while Johnson was only a factor in garbage time.

Detroit has to face a slew of good defenses down the stretch, and on Sunday it became evident that teams like Dallas and Chicago will make it extremely difficult for the young Lions to snap an 11-year playoff drought in 2011. Just like the Bills.

The Niners don’t need Frank Gore to win

Again, it was all about the defense Sunday, as the 49ers beat the Giants despite losing red-hot running back Frank Gore to a knee injury early.

The D completely shut down the Giants’ running game and made big plays when it mattered. Their top three players from each layer — Justin Smith, Patrick Willis and Carlos Rogers — were again fantastic, forcing Eli Manning to make classic Eli Manning mistakes that were the difference in the end.

They trailed 13-12 at the start of the fourth quarter, but after an early score and a two-point conversion, it was a Rogers interception on the ensuing New York series that served as the turning point. On the very next play, Kendall Hunter was in the end zone and the Niners had their second touchdown in 59 seconds.

In the end, that was the difference. Gutty effort by the Giants on the road, but the better team won. The way San Francisco is playing defense, there aren’t many teams that they aren’t better than right now.

Best running back who’s not a running back: In the first quarter of Pittsburgh’s win over Cincinnati Mike Wallace had 31 rushing yards on two carries, and Rashard Mendenhall had nine yards on four carries, one of which was a two-yard touchdown run. Mendenhall’s┬áday was salvaged by two short-yardage touchdowns and he finished with 44 yards, barely out-running a wide receiver.

A tough day against the league’s second-best run defense certainly isn’t surprising, with the Bengals one of just three teams giving up fewer than 90 yards per game. But just like Chris Johnson (who finally broke out today), we’ve come to a point in Mendenhall’s season where the opponent is irrelevant.

He’s started nine games, eclipsing the 50-yard mark in only four of them, and his average per game output has dropped by nearly 20 yards compared to last year’s career-high 79.6.

Best playground-style catch: If there was a streetball version of football where mixed tapes were made and players had cool nick names like Skip to My Lou, Chiefs wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin would be a legend…(viewable in Canada only)

Most predictable and destined to fail offense: The Tim Tebow apologists will create an unhealthy puddle of drool while repeatedly watching their Messiah’s beautiful arching 56-yard rainbow to Eric Decker in the fourth quarter of Denver’s 17-10 win over Kansas City. He’s unique, is what they’ll say, and the option offense isn’t made for a conventional quarterback. It’s structured around Tebow’s run-first mentality, but it still allowed him enough space to be creative and make the timely, clutch throw.

And I’ll agree with you to an extent, imaginary arguer. Then I’ll also say that no quarterback who wants to have longevity in what’s rapidly becoming a passing league can exist when tucking and running is not only his first instinct, but his only instinct. It’s an approach that’s difficult to maintain when Denver is trailing.

Eventually a quarterback still has to be trusted to perform a quarterback’s primary function: throw a football into the hands of a receiver. Four starts in, John Fox still hasn’t shown that trust in Tebow. Denver had 14-straight rush attempts to start the game, and Tebow finished with only eight pass attempts, finally connecting on one of his two completions at the 3:54 mark of the third quarter, two hours into the game.

Most damaging childhood experience: This kid will never wear jeans again. He’ll become the kid in high school who’s always wearing jogging pants, often with the Ninja Turles plastered on them in their various action poses. It’s tragic, really, and no father should ever do this to his son.

(via Darren Rovell)

Best exploitation of a weakness: Tony Romo threw 11 passes to start the Cowboys’ demolition of Buffalo, and he completed 11 passes to start the Cowboys’ demolition of Buffalo. Jason Garrett immediately took advantage of a Bills secondary that was giving up 260.4 passing yards per game prior to this week, and the 44-7 rout ended with Romo misfiring on just three pass attempts.

Buffalo has now lost three of its last four games, and if we exclude a Redskins offense in Week 8 that could get out-thrown by a group of 12 year olds playing touch football at recess, the Bills have seen balls sail at a pace of 279.3 yards per game since Week 5.

Most awkward moment: David Nelson’s life was kind of alright today.

He caught a touchdown pass in his home state deep inside Jerry World, but every man watching that catch was more impressed by his touchdown celebration. It was simple, really. All he did was jog nearly the entire length of the field in the opposite direction to give his Cowboys cheerleader girlfriend a hug and a football.

That’s Kelsi Reich, and she’s a fourth year Cowboys cheerleader whose best habits are being smoking hot and trying to make everyone happy, and she can hold Skittles in her dimples. Reich and Nelson have been dating for over a year, and earlier this week Nelson said that if he catches a touchdown and she’s in the area he’ll have something planned. She wasn’t in the area, but Nelson ran to her anyway. He’s willing to make the effort to make this relationship work.

The moment of awkwardness came when Reich was left clutching a football with her pom poms in front of over 100,000 people after the opposition scored a touchdown. Go Cowboys? Or go David Nelson?

When DeMarco Murray scored a few minutes later to put the Cowboys up by three touchdows again he should have handed Reich the ball too. Unfortunately, no one on the Cowboys’ roster is fun anymore, and it is the only time Dallas actually missed Terrell Owens.

Nelson also could have proposed, but that wouldn’t have been very original, and Chris Myers would have ruined it anyway…

Most inexplicable decline: Roddy White had an OK game today during Atlanta’s overtime loss to New Orleans, adding to an OK year for a receiver who’s been far from OK over the past two seasons. For the Falcons that’s not OK at all.

White’s disappeared, and he hasn’t been able to create the necessary separation to be the consistent deep downfield threat he was last year, which is odd and troubling given his speed. Drops have been a problem throughout the season, but his inability to test opposing defensive backs deep is illustrated in his declining receiving yards.

After nine games last year White was already flirting with 1,000 receiving yards, and had 934 yards. Including his 62 yards on four receptions today he has just 563 yards this year. During Atlanta’s 94-yard drive to force overtime Matt Ryan turned to Harry Douglas, who had 66 yards on that drive alone, and 133 overall.

The Falcons paid a steep price to trade up and draft Julio Jones last April, thinking they had acquired duel deep threats. Now White has lost some burst, and Jones has been explosive when healthy, but a sore hamstring has forced him to miss time and it slowed him significantly again today (nine yards on two receptions).

The early return on Atlanta’s investment is looking bleak now that they’re down 2.5 games to New Orleans in the NFC South through 10 weeks.

Worst way to cover a potential record-setting tight end: Jimmy Graham could set a record for receiving yards by a tight end this year, and between weeks 3 and 6 he had a four-game stretch with 485 yards.

So clearly he was ready for some extra attention today from the Falcons secondary. That didn’t happen…

(Via Will Brinson)

My first take on the early slate of games:

Season-changing moment in Atlanta

The highlight, or lowlight — or at least the most talked about moment — of the early batch of games came, of course, in Atlanta, where the Falcons and Saints predictably went into overtime, and where Mike Smith unpredictably went for it on a 4th-and-1 on his own 29-yard line. And it blew up in his face.

It’s easy to be a Monday morning quarterback, but I just don’t understand the video game-like move from Smith, who essentially gambled the game away with a rather obvious Michael Turner run up the gut. In Smith’s defense, Turner hadn’t been stopped for a loss or no gain the entire game, and the New Orleans run defense isn’t exactly known as stout.

When Bill Belichick went for it in a rather similar situation against the Colts two years ago (also failing), he was roundly criticized for not having enough faith in his defense. But the Patriots had allowed Peyton Manning and the Colts to score on four consecutive drives, so Belichick made a calculated decision that didn’t pay off.

In this case, despite Turner’s relative success throughout the game, Smith owed it to his defense to punt the ball. The Falcons had held New Orleans to a three-and-out earlier in overtime and hadn’t let the Saints get into the red zone since the third quarter. There was no need to panic.

I often feel that NFL head coaches don’t roll the dice enough. But in this case, Smith went too far. Would I be singing a different tune had the Falcons converted and won the game? Probably, but I’m allowed to use in hindsight to conclude that it wasn’t worth it.

It’s amazing how largely that play may loom come December and January. This was the biggest win of the year for the Saints and the biggest loss of the year for the Falcons. In the tight NFC South, you’ve got to win intra-divisional home games. New Orleans now has a firm grip on the division, with a chance to sweep the season series with Atlanta at the Superdome next month.

Playing on a team that’s winning doesn’t make Tim Tebow a winner

55-to-8. That was the run-pass ratio for the Broncos in Kansas City, where Denver again proved how useless the “quarterback wins” statistic is in another “Tim Tebow victory.” Old-schoolers will continue to insist that Tebow has been a success because he’s 3-1 as a starter this season, but those with logic and/or eyes can safely conclude that the Broncos are winning in spite of Tebow, not as a result of his spiritual presence.

The Broncos beat the Chiefs despite the fact that Tebow completed just two of his eight passes. He had zero completions at halftime and finished with just 69 yards. A few of his passes were flat-out embarrassing.

Eventually, defenses will adjust to the Broncos’ one-dimensional attack. Right now, they’re not sure exactly how to defend such a unique quarterback, but they’ll adapt. They always do. Today, the Chiefs couldn’t stop the run and couldn’t do anything on offense. But as KC proved last week, it is a bad football team. Tebow and the Broncos’ offense won’t be so lucky against real NFL teams (as we saw when the Lions crushed Denver in Week 8).

It’s unfortunate that Tebow is monopolizing the attention in Denver, because the defense has been the real story. Rookie Von Miller had what might have been his best game yet as Denver sacked the Chiefs four times and held them to just two third-down conversions on the afternoon.

But no, it’s all about No. 15. As always.

Are the Bills done?

Almost every week, we wonder if a new team is “done” after a particularly rough loss that accentuates a particularly rough stretch. In Week 10, the Buffalo Bills are that team. Coming off their second straight blowout loss, has Buffalo’s bubble burst?

The Bills, who were trounced 44-7 in Dallas, have now been outscored 71-18 in back-to-back losses, falling to 5-4 after a 4-1 start. Next up, they’ve got the suddenly respectable Dolphins (winners of two straight) in Miami and the red-hot Jets (winners of three straight) in New York. They don’t return home until the first week of December.

There are signs of promise in Buffalo. Fred Jackson had another solid performance in a losing effort today and the offense has several key pieces in place. But the defense only survived early because they were forcing turnovers like no one else in the league. When you actually lack depth and talent, winning via takeaways isn’t usually a sustainable strategy. Today, the Cowboys drew up a safe game plan that didn’t give Buffalo a chance to make big plays on defense, instead attacking a depleted unit with their red-hot running back and steady quarterback.

There’s your blueprint for how to beat the pesky Bills. Expect more teams to follow it as the season wears on, and expect Buffalo’s 11-year playoff drought to continue.

No byes this week means it’s a busy Sunday, but c’mon, NFL, let’s space these games out a little. There are 10 early games today and only three afternoon games.

Can someone please think of the bloggers?!?

The gems in our notes from another NFL Sunday morning include DeSean Jackson’s lack of alarm clock skills, and the Redskins’ lack of quarterback skills.

New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons

A tight divisional game could be highly influenced by third-down conversions. The Saints are second in the league, converting at rate of 55.7 percent.

Also, as expected both Mark Ingram and Julio Jones are active.

Tennessee Titans at Carolina Panthers

Don’t worry, Cam Newton’s shoulder is fine, and it was just an Advil injury. He was probably a little sore from carrying an entire franchise.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals

Throwing the ball will be a challenge with wind gusts reaching 40 mph today at Paul Brown Stadium.

St. Louis Rams at Cleveland Browns

How can you tell that it’s mid-November, other than the date at the top of this post? Our two consecutive weather-related updates, of course. The winds in Cleveland today may not be quite as strong as the gusts in southern Ohio, but they’ll be pretty close.

This will lead to Colt McCoy throwing check downs the entire game, instead of just almost the entire game.

Buffalo Bills at Dallas Cowboys

Rob Ryan’s usual rant in his Friday press conference included an analysis of how much Fred Jackson kicks the crap out of the opposition with both his power running style and blocking ability. Therefore, Ryan needs his defense to do some crap kicking of its own.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts

The Colts have a realistic shot at a win here, but if they lose today and continue to lose, draft critics (meaning anyone who’s everyone watched a football game) will point to Stanford’s loss to Oregon last night and say something about Andrew Luck’s inability to win the big game. And the big game will be referenced as though it’s a real, quantifiable stat, and not a mainstream media-driven mirage we use to arbitrarily manipulate a quarterback’s value to fit a narrative.

It’ll all sound very familiar.

Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs

Surprisingly, Josh McDaniels is getting a little bit of respect in Denver long after his dismissal as the team’s head coach, because the Broncos’ recent mini turnaround has been fueled by his draft picks.

But more importantly and painfully, this is an actual line written by an actual columnist:

In the only statistical measure of an NFL quarterback that really matters, Tim Tebow has won two of three games since being named the starter.

Sigh.

Washington Redskins at Miami Dolphins

The Redskins have some major offensive injuries, with Tim Hightower and Chris Cooley done for the year, and Santana Moss in the middle of a lengthy absence. Even though others have filled those voids effectively (i.e. Fred Davis has far exceeded Cooley’s production), those injuries are an easy excuse for the lack of chemistry and cohesiveness on offense.

But it’s difficult for a quarterback to develop any chemistry with his offense when Mike Shanahan’s constantly spinning the carousel, and the Redskins head coach will put another quarter in the merry-go-round today and replace John Beck with Rex Grossman. The former Bears flop started Washington’s first five games before throwing four interceptions and being pulled in Week 6.

Beck’s reign under center has been worse, but only marginally. Combined Grossman and Beck have a QB rating of 69.3, and they’ve thrown eight touchdowns to 13 interceptions. Eventually Shanahan will realize that he’s stuck with two painfully mediocre quarterbacks, and keeping the carousel turning isn’t helping his offense, or his image.

Arizona Cardinals at Philadelphia Eagles

DeSean Jackson has always lived in DeSean Jackson land, and his unpredictable attitude and erratic behavior are easily tolerated when the Eagles are winning. But when the losses mount, he can magnify existing frustrations. Or maybe that’s giving Jackson far too much credit, and maybe he should invest in a better alarm clock instead of using one with a separate knob for the radio alarm.

Jackson will be benched today after he overslept and missed a team meeting Saturday. His production has already been far below pedestrian (two touchdowns, four games with less than 40 receiving yards, and two fumbles lost in the last two weeks), so Jackon’s latest act of stupidity will only grow the frustration towards his performance and attitude during a season when he’s openly asking for more money.

Houston Texans at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Albert Haynesworth will immediately be given a chance to be lazy and ineffective.

Baltimore Ravens at Seattle Seahawks

The Ravens have looked stagnant offensively in two games that seemed like easy road wins this year, a pattern that’s resulted in ugly losses to Tennessee and Jacksonville. What’s even more frustrating is the minimal combined point differential of 18 in those two games, with Baltimore losing a Monday night game in Jacksonville by a score of just 12-7 when Joe Flacco struggled to generate anything offensively.

That’s a fate the Ravens hope to avoid today in what feels like another very easy game during a cross-country trip.

Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears

Calvin Johnson has a special touchdown dance planned if he reaches the end zone today in Chicago that will likely pay tribute to his game-winning touchdown catch that wasn’t really a game-winning touchdown catch the last time these two teams met at Soldier Field.

Lions fans will just be happy if he holds on to the damn ball.

New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers

Hakeem Nicks had been progressing well all week after missing New York’s Week 9 win over New England with a hamstring injury, and NFL Network’s Jason La Canfora reports that he feels fine and is expected to play, while Mario Manningham remains a game-time decision.

New England Patriots at New York Jets

Randy Moss was often a lunatic and an unpredictable jerk, but he gave the Patriots’ offense something it’s sorely missing heading into another major divisional clash tonight: a receiver who can run very far, very fast.