An Excellent Inside Look at What It’s Like to Coach in the NFL

This is an excellent book about what it’s like to be a coach in the National Football League.  While the author was embedded with one team for the 2011 NFL season, the New York Jets, it still provides some great insights into the world of the NFL and its coaches.  While there may be some nuances and differences across teams, the major themes are likely very consistent across the league.

Even better, the book is extremely well written and entertaining as well.  It does a great job of not only providing thematic examples of what it’s like to be a coach in the NFL, but brining the personalities of the players and coaches to life as well.

The main theme of the book is just how hard coaches work and what gruesomely long hours all coaches put into their profession.  This is nearly a 24 hour a day job during the start of training camp through the end of the season, and there’s not much rest in-between either.  Being a coach in the NFL is a major commitment and a sacrifice for not only the coaches but their families as well.  They literally live football and often wind up sleeping in the facilities.  From player evaluation, game planning for the next opponent, installing the game plan during the week, dealing with player injuries and personalities, it is simply an all-consuming job.  You have to really love football to adopt this lifestyle.

Add to the long hours the pressure of winning is tremendous.  The NFL is a win now league and losing teams generally have quick turnover of head coaches and their assistants.  Winning is a tonic that brings joy, but short-lived, while losing it torturous.

Another significant theme of the book is the schism between the defensive and offensive sides of the balls, even between coaches.  So much goes into the offensive and defensive game plans and installing them with the players that the coaches of these squads do not interact that often.  Sometimes it can even get a little heated if one unit is performing significantly better than the other, which often happens with the Jets who have a great defense but at best a mediocre offense.  That tension certainly existed for the Jets to some degree, and I have heard it existing on other teams as well.  It is not entirely surprising that this schism exists on teams but it is intriguing.

A third theme, and I am sure this is where it probably varies more widely depending on the personality and approach of the head coach, is how much control or involved a head coach might exert on any specific aspect of game planning.  The head coach is supposed to be a big picture game planner and let his coordinators do most of the intricate work on the game plan for their units.  Rex, being a defensive coach, has his particularly defensive philosophy and might be more hands on there, but on the offensive side, while having a ground and pound approach, leaves more in the hands of the coordinator.  Of course there are some coaches who essentially are their own offensive coordinator and call the plays.  It is all a matter of what a head coach wants to take control of and what he is comfortable delegating.  For the Jets, the offense did not perform so well, eventually lead to the ouster of Brian Schottenheimer, the offensive coordinator.

Another theme is just tension on the team generally between players. Again, this is probably something that exists at different degrees on other teams.  For example, we know there was some tension between quarterback Mark Sanchez and receiver Santonio Holmes that eventually blew up into the public sphere, which is alluded to here.  And older players trying to adapt to new roles is also an underlying theme.

Another interesting aspect of this book was simply reading about the personalities of the players.  The intelligence and studious nature of Darrell Revis goes a long way in explaining why he is so great at his position, and the sometimes slovenly approach of an Antonio Cromartie explains why such a great athletic talent is sometimes so inconsistent.  Having a serious minded winner like Revis can have a positive influence on those less inclined to be such students of the game and why they often bring not only talent but leadership and a positive example to the team as well.  These types of players can be as valued by what they bring to the team off the field as by what they do on it.

Much is also made of how immature Mark Sanchez is and how frustrated the coaches were with his inconsistent play and turnovers.  Again, it seems like the immaturity factor has a lot to do with the sloppy, inconsistent play and underperforming on the field.

Yet another major theme is the pain of losing.  The rollercoaster ride of winning and losing and the difficultly of keeping coaches and players positive and not letting a string of losses knock the wheels completely off is an important function of the head coach and his staff.  The Jets did not make the playoffs after the 2011 season and being used to winning that is hard to take.  And it puts coaches’ jobs at jeopardy.  And as we have seen since this book was written, as of 2015 all the coaches and the GMs are gone because they never turned the team back around.

Finally the General Manger’s role is discussed.  Tannebaum is an interesting case.  Of course he is responsible for player personnel and contract negotiations but he also has to work well with his coaches and scouts and be a problem solver during the season.  All GMs are going to have their own philosophy’s and style and Tannebaum tried to fit in and help where help was needed during the season while dealing with player issues and personnel as they came up.

Overall I found this to be a well written and fascinating look at coaching in the NFL through the prism of the personalities and quirks of the New York Jets and recommend it to any serious NFL fan.

Collision Low Crossers: Inside the Turbulent World of NFL Football

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Review of Bill Parcells: A Football Life

parcellsThis “autobiography” of Bill Parcells is certainly fascinating, as any biography of such a character should be. Character is a good word to describe Parcells, as he is a character. Arrogant, sarcastic, demanding, profane, psychologist, restless and successful are just a few of the adjectives that describe one of the best professional football coaches of the modern era.

I have always been fascinated by people who make sports their life calling, especially one as demanding as being the head coach or executive of a National Football League team. Parcells has been one of the best with a unique and not always likable style.

This biography does a great job of providing the background of Parcells’s growing up and how being a self-described Jersey guy has colored his personality. His dedication to football and being a football coach is evident in his hopping from job to job at small schools in the college ranks, constantly moving his family and working for little pay hoping for bigger and better opportunities. The demands of his job and the constant moving eventually cost him his marriage, which unfortunately is not that uncommon for coaches. Parcells’s life has certainly been defined by football.

Bill Parcels really made his stamp on football immortality as the head coach of the New York Giants whom he lead from a bad team to two time Super Bowl champion grounded in the philosophy of a strong defense and solid running game. His time with the Giants was not always without its stresses. Parcells was furious when he found out General Manager George Young was essentially looking to get rid of him after his first season, one which saw the team go 3-12. Between the lines it appears Parcells never really got over that.

After eight seasons with the New York Giants and two Super Bowl wins, Parcells stepped down as the head coach. While it is never made clear why he left the Giants, only saying “it was time” he did have a heart condition and it is also clear that Tim Mara selling his share of his team to Robert Tish, ushering in a new ownership group, likely had something to do with this move as well. More than once in the book Parcells exclaims that a change in ownership is a good reason for a coach to leave the organization.

After heart bypass surgery and few years away from coaching, Bill Parcells became the head coach of the New England Patriots.
I am a diehard New England Patriots fan and many of my fellow compatriots do not like Parcells because he left the Patriots in a lurch before Super Bowl XXXI after the 1996 season. This was a pretty terrible thing for Parcells to do because he had been secretly working out a deal to leave for the hated New York Jets, which made him, in some ways, a lame duck head coach going into the franchise’s second ever Super Bowl. It was not quite as bad as the suspension and then reinstatement for the playoffs of New England head coach Chuck Fairbanks in the 1978 season where the team lost to the Houston Oilers in the divisional round lead by a coach on his way out the door and no respect among the players. But it was not an entirely classy move either.

But Bill Parcells did make one key decision that turned around the Patriots franchise and lead us to the Super Bowl. Had he made a different decision, who knows what the future would have held for the franchise. In the 1993 draft there were two quarterbacks that were going to go number one and number two: Drew Bledsoe of Washington State and Rick Mirer of Notre Dame. Parcells chose Bledsoe who went on to become a solid starter and part of the resurgence of a moribund franchise. Rick Mirer, while winning Rookie of the Year honors with the Seattle Seahawks, quickly became a washed up bust. Parcells made the right move. And let’s not forget that Parcells took a terrible team and through the draft, free agent signings, and his leadership turned it into a playoff contender.

And then there is the ownership situation. Robert Kraft bought the New England Patriots in 1994 and Parcells was part of the previous regime. It appears that Parcells did not give Kraft the respect he deserved as owner, as mostly what Parcells wanted from ownership would appear to be to just stay out of his way. Kraft, on the other hand, was probably a bit too meddlesome in football operations, which is highlighted by the Patriots selecting Ohio State wider receiver Terry Glenn in the first round of the 1996 draft, against the wishes of Parcells. This is probably the beginning of the end of Parcells’s stay in New England.

Bill Parcells went on to turnaround the Jets organization and make them into a contender and fostering a heated rivalry with the New England Patriots who got several New York Jets’ draft choices because of the way Parcells left the Patriots. After leaving coaching and being an executive with the Jets, Parcells again stepped down.

But like The Terminator, he’d be back, surprisingly with one of the most meddlesome owners in the league, Jerry Jones. He then turned around another ailing franchise, although not with quite the dramatic impact he had in his previous stints. But he did put the Cowboys on the right track after a four year tenure there.

Parcells’s final act was as the head of football operations for the Miami Dolphins where he tried to piece back the organization through hiring the right coaches and the draft. He didn’t have quite the success with the Dolphin’s as he did at other stops but they were certainly in a better place when he left than when he came. The wheels came off shortly thereafter.

Next I want to turn to a few of the major themes of the book that interest me the most.

Does Bill Parcells deserve to be in the National Football League Hall of Fame?

There were several detractors to Parcells Hall of Fame candidacy. The reasons included his less than spectacular overall record of 172-130-1. His job hopping didn’t help his candidacy as some wanted to make sure if elected he didn’t go back into coaching and possibly harm is legacy. He didn’t stay with any one team long enough, except maybe the Giants, to truly establish a dominant legacy with any one team. The most ridiculous argument is that Bill Belichick was with him during his most successful years.

Bill Parcells without a doubt belongs in the Hall of Fame. You can’t even think about the history of the NFL from 1983 to today without Bill Parcells’s being a major part of the story. He won two Super Bowls. And he turned around the fates of four franchises.

He also left an extensive coaching tree include Belichick, Tom Coughlin, and Sean Payton, all Super Bowl winners and many others who have been coaches in the professional and college ranks.

Relationship with Bill Belichick

Bill Belichick was the contractual heir to the New York Jets head coaching job when Bill Parcells stepped down in 1999. But in one of the most bizarre resignation speeches ever, Belichick jilted Parcells and the Jets to take the head coaching job with, of all teams, the New England Patriots. This lead to falling out over what heretofore had seemed to be an extremely strong bond as Parcells brought Belichick along with him everywhere he went and they had great success together. Parcells take on it was “a deal is a deal.”

Here I think Parcells is being a bit disingenuous and inconsistent. First, the way he left New England was a bit classes and he two broke his contractual obligations which lead to a brokering of a deal giving New England several of the Jets draft choices. Second, Parcells himself said that a change in ownership is a good reason for a head coach to be concerned and leave a job and the Jets had just been sold to a new owner.
I suspect, although this has never been stated, that Belichick also wanted to be his own man and since Parcells was set to be head of football operations and still his boss, and he didn’t want Big Bill constantly looking over his shoulder at his coaching decisions and being meddlesome.
I think Parcells feelings were just hurt. It was good to see that they have mended their fences since then.

Bill Parcells and Robert Kraft

Another difficult relationship that has since seemed to be repaired is the bad relationship Kraft had with Parcells when he took over the ownership of the New England Patriots. Parcells’s famous line “if they want you to cook the dinner, they ought to let you buy some of the groceries” is a classic. Of course a coach wants a strong say over the draft and other roster acquisitions and Kraft not handing more of the personnel responsibilities over to Parcells was a mistake. Parcells, on the other hand, did not communicate well with Kraft and presumably left in him in the dark and even had intermediaries speaking on his behalf. This is not a healthy way to run a football team. Both made mistakes. This is another relationship I am happy to see, if not fully patched up, at least each acknowledging mistakes were made and both regretting how the parting of Parcells from the team came about.

Conclusion

The one quibble I have with this book is the prose is not always as clear as it could be and sometimes I had to read something twice because of it. It was also written in the third person, which was a bit odd, but I eventually got used to it. Parcells voice is loud and clear in the book, nevertheless.

Overall I would heartily recommend the book to any NFL fan as it tells the “Football Life” of one of the most interesting and important coaches in the history of the game.

Parcells: A Football Life

 

Tom Brady on the Couch

Moving the Chains: Tom Brady and the Pursuit of Everything by Charles P. Pierce
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007
ISBN-13: 978-0374214449

This is undoubtedly one of the oddest biographies I have ever read. And one of the most intriguing.
Author Charles Pierce tries to uncover what makes Tom Brady tic. What makes him such a consummate team player and leader on the field? What made a player drafted in the sixth round, whom nobody but maybe Bill Belichick and Scott Piloli, thought would ever amount to much in the pros, become a Hall of Fame bound quarterback, one of the best to have ever played?

There are a lot of things.

First, Brady was never the most gifted athlete and he had to work for everything through high school and college. In fact, he was barely recruited and his father put together a video package and he ultimately ended up at the University of Michigan. He persevered despite not even being a full time starter, even as a senior, despite that he was a winner.

Second, in the pros his work ethic is infectious to his teammates. He is the first to arrive and the last to leave. His hard work put him in a position to take over for Drew Bledsoe when he was hurt during the 2001 regular season and progress. He became the team leader that despite his talents Beldsoe never really was.

Third, he is a team first player. He truly buys in to the Patriots’ modern day credo, there is no “I” in team. He doesn’t care about stats, he cares about wins. But that has propelled him to put up unbelievable stats.

And he his simply a nice person. He gives credit where credit is due. He doesn’t do a lot of endorsements. And when he had the opportunity to do one for a credit card company he refused to do it unless his offensive linemen, his protectors, were involved. He wanted them to shine to.

Don’t believe Tom Brady is a really good guy in a sport fraught with me first, selfish, athletes with an undertone of criminality? Read Charlie Weiss’s book about his near death experience and how Brady helped him and his wife out in their time of greatest need. Read Tedy Bruschi’s book that has a few anecdotes about what Brady’s friendship means. Or simply read this book about to hear what his family, friends, and teammates have all said about his leadership skills. There is a reason his teammates and coaches have the utmost confidence in him.

The oddest aspect of this book is Brady himself did not participate in it and it really takes somewhat of a psychologist’s approach at times in examining its subject. From the influence of his Catholic upbringing, the impact of his athletic older sisters who sometimes outshined him in his youth, to his perseverance in the face of sports adversity, you learn the inner workings of one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

This is a recommended read.

Moving the Chains: Tom Brady and the Pursuit of Everything

New England Patriots’ Super Bowl Hopes Dashed: What Went Wrong Against the New York Jets?

The New England Patriots 28-21 loss to their hated rival New York Jets in the 2010 divisional playoff round is a bitter, bitter pill to swallow for Patriots fans. But the bottom line is the Patriots got outplayed and outcoached and the New York Jets deserve their victory.

That leaves one wondering, what went wrong? Well, a lot went wrong. Here is my take on the game with the keys to the Jets victory.

Defensive Game Plan

I would not call the Jets defensive game plan brilliant because it was copied from the San Diego Chargers, and ironically, the Cleveland Browns (who Rex Ryan’s brother Rob Ryan was the defensive coordinator of at the time). Once the Patriots jettisoned Randy Moss earlier this year they really lost their only deep threat on offense. Brandon Tate was the most likely candidate to fulfill this role but at this stage in his early career he just hasn’t come through. Thus, New England eventually thrived on a short passing game and the run.

Shortly after New England booted Moss to the curb the San Diego Chargers played a perfect defensive game against them. What did they do? They didn’t blitz Brady leaving openings in the short passing game that he has so thoroughly exploited against most teams after that. They simply threw a lot of defensive backs into the game and blanketed the smallish wide receiving crew. As a result Brady had nowhere to go with the ball and was harassed all day in the pocket, not because of a great pass rush, but because the coverage was so good. The only reason the Patriots won that game is gaffs and turnovers by the Chargers.

The Cleveland Browns did the same thing to the offense, while gashing the very young defense in the running game for a blowout victory.

The Jets replicated that, and with two of the best cornerbacks in the league. They covered the receivers and got what I consider coverage sacks on Tom Brady. And later in the game when the Patriots seemed to be making a comeback they ran the ball effectively, but ate up so much of the clock they left little time to complete the comeback.

In their second meeting the Jets blitzed, Brady exploited it, and the Patriots got a lead. Sorry, while all this praise is heaped on Sanchez after this game, but put the ball in his hands for a comeback bid and that is usually going to spell disaster. Tonight the Jets defense didn’t leave it in Sanchez’s hands.

And one final point, this game showed clearly what the lack of a Randy Moss meant to this offense and team. A receiver to stretch the field is sorely needed.

Coaching Decisions

Bill Belichick is clearly one of the greatest head coaches in NFL history. You don’t have a team, especially in the era of free agency and parity, which competes year in and year out for a Super Bowl title unless you have a great coach. But why is it in big games that Belichick seems to outsmart himself?

Everyone remembers the infamous forth and short call against the Indianapolis Colts two years ago. With a small lead and the ball backed up within the Colts 20 yard line, near the end of the game, Belichick decides to go for it on 4th and 1 instead of punting the ball and making Peyton Manning drive most of the field for a winning touchdown. The Patriots didn’t make it, and paid for it with a loss.

Less remembered will be Belichick’s decision to eschew a 51 yard field goal in Super Bowl 42 and instead went for it on 4th and long, resulting in great field position for the Giants. Given the indoor stadium and kicker Stephen Gostkowski, it was a makeable field goal, even if he was a rookie.

So the Patriots are only down 7-3 in the second quarter near midfield and Belichick calls for a fake punt. Patrick Chung botches the snap and it’s the same as a turnover. The Jets have the ball on a short field and it’s suddenly 14-3. (I know Chung claims it was his call but I find that hard to believe).

Playing behind against the Jets defense is not where you want to be.

And what was with the challenge so early in the game on a first down play that was clearly a catch by Santonio Holmes?

Then with a 21-14 deficit with 1:32 seconds to go in the game, Belichick decides to go for an onside kick. Granted the Jets just torched the Patriots defense for a big play earlier to turn a 14-11 lead to a 21-11 lead prior to the long drive and field goal. But otherwise the New England defense had played pretty well in the in second half forcing a few three and outs.

Now I am not going to really fault Belichick for the onside kick call too much because head they kicked the ball and the Jets gotten a few first downs the game would have been over. But give the Jets the ball at midfield on a play that rarely works? Game over. I would have kicked the ball off and forced the Jets to make the first down.

Bad Plays

Despite the great play of the Jets the New England Patriots could have still won the game but the players simply made the worst mistakes and the worst times.

New England’s opening drive was a promising one, moving the ball well and looking to be on their way to a score. But Brady threw an interception which stopped the Patriots’ momentum in its tracks. While the Jets ultimately missed a field goal on their subsequent drive, this was a lost scoring opportunity.

Then on the next drive, Algae Crumpler crumpled and dropped a touchdown pass right in his hands on third down, so the Patriots had to settle for three instead of seven.

Then Patrick Chung, with the Patriots down 7-3, fumbled the ball on a fake punt attempt. Replays showed he very likely would have made the first down to keep the drive alive. Instead the Jets get the ball past midfield and convert it into a touchdown and a 14-3 lead.

In the second half when the Patriots cut the Jets’ lead to 14-11 after a nice scoring drive and two point conversion, the defense gives up a huge play to Jerchico Cotchery which eventually lead to the Jets extending the lead to 21-11. A sad and unforgivable let down by the defensive that had played well in the second half up to that point.

Then the onside kick attempts at the end of the game were simply pitiful. Shayne Graham did a nice job on the first kick but all the Patriots players were blocking but nobody was going after the ball. They should have had at least one player aggressively going after the ball but they were all standing around trying to block. And even worse, they let Antonio Cromartie get the ball and run into scoring position.

And the second onside kick was just as bad. A good kick by Graham, but nobody aggressively trying to get go after the ball, which the Jets recovered.

That was pretty sad for Patriots fans who were teased with a possible comeback.

And finally the kickoffs by Shayne Graham were just pitiful. Line drives to the 10 yard line with Antonio Cromartie consistently putting the Jets in good field position were not helpful.

How Depressed Should Patriots Fans Be?

Any time you lose a playoff game against a team you know you can beat it is depressing. And there is so much parity in the league this year the Patriots had a great chance to win another Super Bowl. So it is very depressing.

But if you had asked me in the middle of the season, with one of the youngest and seemingly weakest defenses in the league, with two rookie corners, no real pass rushing threat, and a team relying on a cast of small receivers with no deep threat, to me it is amazing the Patriots made it as far as they did. The defense is clearly in rebuilding mode, so going 14-2 is pretty good.

On paper, in my opinion, the Baltimore Ravens have the best team in the league and they blew it too after second half turnovers against Pittsburgh.

Atlanta, the number one seed in the NFC got smacked in the mouth by the Green Bay Packers.

Peyton Manning and the Colts suffered a lot of injuries on offense and lost to the Jets last week.

While the New Orleans Saints, last year’s Super Bowl champions, lost to a 7-9 Seattle Seahawks team.

So the Patriots loss, especially considering the personnel they have on the field, is nothing to be ashamed about.

The Patriots were overrated going into the playoffs in my opinion. Their defense has been vulnerable all year and is one of the youngest in the league and other than Brady and a solid offensive line, they really have no big playmakers on offense. I’ve heard commentators say the Patriots have done it with smoke and mirrors. The smoke and mirrors have been Brady’s superlative play all year. Other than the interception early in the game he actually played quite well, his receivers simply could not get open.

So at the end of the day it will take me a long time to get over this loss, but based on the personnel we had on the field all year, we got further than I thought we would.

But it sill stings, because we could have, should have taken it all again.

2010 NFL Football Season: Week Ten Observations

General Observations

Michael Vick. I hereby officially and unequivocally eat my words. When Michael Vick took over the starting job for the Philadelphia Eagles I said he would never be more than a running quarterback. I predicted he would look brilliant at times and has a cannon for an arm but would make bad throws and poor decisions just like he did in Atlanta not allowing the Eagles to get over the hump. I couldn’t have been more wrong. When Vick has been healthy he is the best quarterback in the league. He brings an unprecedented threat of the run at the quarterback position but now makes good decisions in the pocket and throws the ball more accurately than I ever saw from him in the past. He has always had an unbelievable arm. The only reason he didn’t make my Midseason All Pro team is because he missed too many games because of injury. Were I picking the team after Philadelphia and Vick embarrassed the Washington Redskins I’d go Vick, Brady, Manning (Peyton). I must say that I have a hard time getting over his abuse of poor dogs, but he has been simply amazing this year when healthy.

Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys showed up against the Giants after being railed on in the press all week about being quitters. I wonder how long it will last?

Brett Favre. Brett Favre stunk, throwing three interceptions in the Vikings loss to the Bears. Now he says he needs an MRI on shoulder. I wonder what excuse he will come up with next. Brad Childress is gutless or Favre would be on the bench. Neither Childress or Favre are likely to be back next year with the Vikings.

Terrell Suggs. Suggs should keep his fat, ugly, slobbery lips closed and quit making a fool of himself. Shut up already.


GAMES I WATCHED

New England Patriots over Pittsburgh Steelers, 39-26

I was really worried last week that the embarrassing loss to the Cleveland Browns exposed our young defense for what it really has been all year, a bit undisciplined, a bit out of place, and at times a bit soft. This game proved otherwise. As in the game with the Minnesota Vikings the Patriots defense played tough, hardnosed, disciplined football, while the offense found some rhythm, built a lead, and never looked back.

The offensive line of the Patriots played a wonderful game. Left tackle Matt Light has struggled more than I am used to seeing this year but he did a great job against James Harrison. Granted he often had a little help from Algae Crumpler and the Steelers attempted to play more coverage than blitz, nevertheless Light handled himself well. And Logan Mankins added that little bit of toughness and meanness to the offensive line that was sorely needed against a team like the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Overall I thought the Patriots game plan on both sides of the ball was excellent and Tom Brady played a great game. Of course you give just about any quarterback the kind of protection Brady had they are going to slice you up.

The only bothersome part of this game was the defense playing so soft in the second half keeping the Steelers in the game and making me nervous until the final seconds ticked off the clock.

MVP: Tom Brady, QB

Atlanta Falcons over Baltimore Ravens, 26-21

The Atlanta Falcons are an impressive team and will be a real threat in the playoffs. Matt Ryan is a calm, cool customer at quarterback and Roddy White is having a career year at receiver. Along with a solid offensive line, a thumper in running back Michael Turner, and a very good, solid defense, other NFC teams better take notice.

After building a 13-7 halftime lead that really should have been more, the Falcons let the Ravens back in it in the second half. Both teams hds very nice drives for touchdowns in the fourth quarter, but Atlanta had the last laugh with the last score and the win. Both teams are upper echelon teams.

Roddy White had a great outing with 12 catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns, including the game winner. He has always been a very good receiver but this year he is having the best of his career.

MVP: Roddy White, WR

Indianapolis Colts over Cincinnati Bengals, 23-17

Cincinnati is fun to watch, mainly because it is so comical watching them beat themselves week after week. The defense and Chad Ochostinko played well enough to win this game. Ocho was making great catch after great catch. But five turnovers, including three interceptions by Carson Palmer, one that was returned for a touchdown, just doomed the Bengals.

The Colts played well enough, especially on defense. Their offense, significantly hampered by so many injuries, was a bit mistake prone. There were a lot more dropped balls and miscues than I am used to seeing from a Colts team on offense, but they were good a lot of the time and excellent at other times.

But this game was very winnable for the Bengals. They gave up five turnovers, one an instant touchdown, and still only lost by six points. Carson Palmer was just simply horrible in the second half. And Terrell Owens, after a great outing last week, didn’t even look like he showed up for the game. He clearly short armed a few balls, one which lead to a Palmer interception.

MVP: Kelvin Hayden, CB

Dallas Cowboys over New York Giants, 33-20

You never know what is going to happen when two bitter division rivals meet. Records don’t matter. With new coach Jason Garrett at the helm and players admitting they didn’t show up last week in an utterly unprofessional, embarrassing outing against the Green Bay Packers, the Cowboys woke up and played football. The Giants, on the other hand, did their best imitation of the Dallas Cowboys this season and were just plain awful in nearly every phase of the game.

Many pundits touted the Giants as the best team in the league before this game but they have had some major clunkers this season.

Dez Bryant, the Cowboys rookie wide receiver is about the only player that has showed up week in and week out and this week as no exception.

MVP: Dez Bryant, WR

Chicago Bears over Minnesota Vikings, 27-13 (DVR)

Brett Favre’s three interceptions plus a couple of nice kick returns by the Bears’ Devin Hester doomed the Vikings to another loss. I really am sick of the Favre soap opera this year. I’ll be glad when he is finally gone.

While the Bears looked pretty decent at times in this game Cutler just doesn’t cut it for me as a quarterback. While he had a decent outing he too threw a few interceptions. While his offensive line is a struggling mightily, he doesn’t help them much as he seems to run right in to trouble. And let’s face it this team just does not have the personnel to run a Mike Martz style offense. They are not fast enough, their offensive line isn’t good enough, and they don’t frankly seem smart enough to get it done.

MVP: Devin Hester, WR/KR

Philadelphia Eagles over Washington Redskins, 59-28

This game was simply mindboggling. I don’t believe I have ever seen an offensive performance as unbelievable as the one the Eagles put up against the Redskins. From the first play from scrimmage, an 88 yard touchdown pass from Michael Vick to DeSean Jackson, through a lighting quick 35-0 lead, the offense just embarrassed the Redskins. I frankly don’t know if the Eagles are this frighteningly good, or the Redskins defense just had a horrible off day.

Vick played as well both passing and running as I have ever seen a quarterback play. It was simply amazing to watch.

I will give this to the Redskins, I never throughout the game got the feeling that the team quit. They fought hard and played hard throughout. This just very clearly was not their night.

And let’s face it, as bad as McNabb has played this year, the offensive line is a disaster, he has what would be a fifth or sixth running back on most teams, he has no good receivers except maybe the aging Santa Moss and the dinged up tight end Chris Cooley. He really is in a no win situation. Now, maybe if he were a Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. But he never has been, never will be.

MVP: Michael Vick, QB

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Offensive Player: Michael Vick, QB, Philadelphia Eagles
Defensive Player: Kelvin Hayden, CB, Indianapolis Colts
Offensive Lineman: Max Jean-Gilles, Philadelphia Eagles
Special Teams: Devin Hester, KR/WR, Chicago Bears
Rookie of the Week: Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys

2010 NFL Football Season: Week Four Observations

Patrick Chung

The big theme of the last two weeks was the huge days wide receivers have put up, with Terrell Owens of the Cincinnati Bengals snagging ten catches for 122 yards and a touchdown this week.

And Josh Scobee’s 59 yard field goal allowing the Jacksonville Jaguars to put up a big win against the Indianapolis Cots got upstaged on special teams Monday night by Patrick Chung’s heroics.

And of this writing, of course, the New England Patriots trade of Randy Moss to the Minnesota Vikings is the story of the week. But I will save that for later.

GAMES I WATCHED

New England Patriots over Miami Dolphins, 41-14

First, fellow Patriots fans should not get overly excited about our defense after this win. They are still awful. Miami pretty much moved the ball on us at will most of the game and in the second half gave up a long touchdown run to Ricky Williams. Rob Ninkovich’s two interceptions stopped drives, yes, but until Miami got way behind in the second half, our defense still looked vulnerable.

The big story of this game was simple: special teams. Kick off return for a touchdown, block punt setting up good field position for another touchdown, block field goal ran back for a touchdown. Sweet! But we won’t do that every week and our defense is still a work in progress.

Our offense was efficient but didn’t have the greatest first half, especially in the red zone. But when Miami scored in the second half to inch closer, Brady engineered an excellent drive for a touchdown that pretty much sealed the game.

For Miami much of the blame was placed on the Chad Henne. He has seen his better days at a quarterback, and played poorly once his team got behind, but I think he’ll bounce back. I liked his attitude after the game in the press conference, taking some blame and saying he’ll get better. The special teams coach was also fired. And there were a lot of bright spots for Miami. The Patriots took away Brandon Marshall, but Davone Best had a great day. And Patriots left tackle Matt Light had a horrible time against Miami Linebacker/Defensive End Cameron Wake. That kid had an unstoppable motor until late in the game.

To me, Miami seems to be a slightly above mediocre team with a lot of upside. Unfortunately, I would say the Patriots defensive this year has been a slightly below mediocre team, but they do have a huge upside in their youth, speed, and raw talent.

But this was the Patrick Chung show with the blocked punt, blocked field goal, and pick six late in the game. Oh, and let’s not forget Woody, or Woodhead, and no this not a plug for an erectile dysfunction drug. Thank you Jets.

So let’s not spoil this with talking about the Randy Moss trade which I will leave for another time.

MVP: Patrick Chung, SS

Baltimore Ravens over Pittsburgh Steelers, 17-14

This was a brutal, hard hitting, defensive game and the Ravens managed to come out top, mainly because their defense played extremely well. The Steelers squandered two scoring opportunities off of Ravens’ turnovers and Jeff Reed missed two field goals, which were really the difference in the game. While the Ravens still gave up some yards in the running and passing game, they mostly played great when it counted. Two road wins against division opponents, even if one of them was an improving Cleveland Browns team, puts the Ravens where the want to be four games into the season.

And Pittsburgh must be thrilled to have survived four games with a 3-1 record while Ben Rottenberger served his three game suspension for egregiously bad and probably criminal behavior toward a female college student in the off season. It’s rather interesting that both defenses gave up scoring drives late in the fourth quarter, with Baltimore having the ball last and the last laugh as they waltz out of Heinz Field with a victory in hand. But I think the Steelers are still the team to beat in that division. While you can only greatly admire the excellent play of Charlie Batch, this offense should be more explosive with Big Ben at the helm.

It’s hard to choose an MVP for this game because it was a real team effort across the board. But cornerback Lardarius Webb broke up to sure touchdowns to Mike Wallace so that’s my guy.

The AFC Central should come down to the wire and expect both of these two teams to be in the playoffs. And I have to say, the Steelers are scary good with Big Ben coming back and Rashard Mendenhall finally looking like the running back he was drafted to be.

MVP: Lardarius Webb, CB


Washington Redskins over Philadelphia Eagles, 17-12

After seeing about one full game of Kevin Kolb this season I have one word to say – awful. What Andy Reid sees in Kolb I have no idea. He was awful in the first half of the first game of the season before sustaining a concussion and he was awful against the Redskins when he came on in relief of Michael Vick. It’s pretty clear why Andy Reid made the smart move and started Vick. I’ve heard pundits make all kinds of excuses for Kolb’s performance but he clearly does not see the field well and misses wide open receivers he should hit under the type of pressure any quarterback is going to face. And it is also clear the coaches don’t trust him because as soon as he enters the game the offense becomes screens and short dump off passes with a few runs mixed in. The only time they finally opened the offense up a little bit is when they got behind. And for the most part Kolb could not deliver. Going into this season I was a big believer in Kevin Kolb. Not anymore.

I will say this for him though. He does have a good arm and he put the ball right in Jason Avant’s hand on the hail marry at the end of the game. Avant should have caught the ball for a stunning win.

And while we are on the Eagles, linebacker Quintin Mikell should be benched. He was lousy throughout the game and was the worst defensive player I saw this week. And I only had to laugh when I saw Asante Samuel and his half-hearted, make believe attempts to make a tackle. And then getting hurt on one. I remember when he was with the Patriots a few times I even saw him run away from big running backs with a head of steam.

The Redskins played relatively well but the Eagles soft defense made them look a little better than they probably are. They ran the ball well, and once Donovan McNabb settled down a bit in what had to be an emotional day for him, he played well enough to win. But his inaccuracy, which has plagued him throughout his career, was certainly on display for large parts of the day. The running game helped the Redskins offense out a lot. And I do wonder when Ryan Torain will simply be named the starter over Clinton Portis. Portis ran well but he stays hurt, which is unfortunate but not uncommon for an older running back with the kind of mileage he has being a featured back for so many years.

And linebacker Lorenzo Alexander was a beast on special teams! He was jacking people up left and right.

At the end of the day, despite not having off the chart stats, I felt Ryan Torian’s running sealed the deal.

MVP: Ryan Torain, RB


New York Giants over Chicago Bears 17-3

I can not remember a worse performance by an offensive line in my lifetime as the Chicago Bears displayed on Sunday night. That was such a pathetic, embarrassing, and atrocious performance I’d be utterly ashamed were I on that unit. And again I heard pundits making excuses that it’s Mike Martz’s system, blah blah blah. I don’t care what system you are in, or what your offensive scheme is, if you have an offensive line that blocks that badly you are going to lose, badly.

I don’t like Jay Cutler and his petulant attitude but I really felt sorry for him against the Giants. He had no prayer in the backfield. The Giants defensive line was left to basically tee off on him until he was knocked out of the game. And then they knocked Todd Collins out of the game. Had I been third string quarterback Caleb Hanie, after seeing the massacre on the field, I might have turned in my helmet and shoulder pads and quit the NFL for good before trotting on the field and putting my life on the line against a basically unblocked Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora.

And that, really, is the story of the game. The Giants were not utterly impressive on offense facing a good Bears defense, but Ahmad Bradshaw did have a solid game. But the Bears defense was pretty much worn out toward the end of the game. I have no idea how good the Giants were in this game, I just know how bad the Bears offensive line was.

MVP: Justin Tuck, DE


PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Offensive Player: Terrell Owens, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
Defensive Player: Justin Tuck, DE, New York Giants
Offensive Lineman: Maurkice Pouncey, C, Pittsburgh Steelers
Special Teams: Patrick Chung, SS, New England Patriots
Rookie of the Week: Maurkice Pouncey, C, Pittsburgh Steelers

2010 NFL Football Season: Week One Observations

Wes Welker Scores Against the Bengals

A new season is upon us and it should be an exiting one.

In the NFC we wonder if the New Orleans Saints can repeat as Super Bowl champions, if all the hoopla over the Dallas Cowboys will end again in ignominy, if Brett Favre can take a depleted receiving corps back to the playoffs, if the San Francisco are as good as advertised, and how will the only rookie starting quarterback in the league, Sam Bradford, fare in St. Louis?

The AFC appears to be even more wide open than the NFC. Several teams have a legitimate shot at Super Bowl glory. The New England Patriots with a healthy and hot Tom Brady, Wes Welker, and Randy Moss and a young defense should improve over the year and be a contender. The New York Jets and their slothful undisciplined coach say they are the heirs to the AFC East. The Baltimore Ravens are loaded on offense and their defense looks as good as ever. The Pittsburgh Steelers defense has proven to be as formidable as ever and when Big Ben gets back their offense should improve. The Indianapolis Colts are always a tough team and the Houston Texans are emerging. Meanwhile, the San Diego Chargers may or may not slip. They are in the weakest division in the AFC and despite losing their opener, will likely have a spot in the playoffs.

Before jumping in the games I watched this, a few big picture headlines that week one revealed.

  • Brady, Welker, Moss and the offense are back and as good as ever.
  • New Orleans appears to have started right where they left off last year, with a powerful offense and defense that is solid. They are the favorites to emerge from the NFC.

  • Minnesota, after the tiresome annual saga of Brett Favre’s retirement dance, suddenly found themselves without receivers. Their defense is solid but their opening salvo on offense bodes ill for their chances this season.

  • Thankfully, for once, we won’t have the annual will the Indianapolis Colts go undefeated as they spank the teams in their weak division. Houston hung a loss on the Colts, and if their offense line continues to struggle, Peyton Manning is in for a long season.

  • Will Michael Vick be the Eagles starter this season?

  • San Francisco is not as good as we thought they were.

  • Dallas continues to shoot itself in the foot.

  • Finally, for the most part the defenses in the league seem to have started the season a step ahead of the offenses. This is likely to change as the season progresses but as someone who loves the defensive side of the ball, it was refreshing to see.


GAMES I WATCHED

New England Patriots over Cincinnati Bengals, 38-24

One word: Welker.

It was a very happy sight to see Wes Welker looking like, well, Wes Welker, after his amazingly fast recover from reconstructive knee surgery after suffering an injury in the last game of the season last year. WELKER! WELKER! WELKER!

Tom Brady also looked very sharp in this game, as did the entire offense. It was good to see a little bit of the running game back in the game plan, although I still think they could run the ball even more. Fred Taylor seemed to have fresh legs in the first half and the running back by committee approach worked. And I continue to be amazed at how older players like third down back Kevin Faulk can continue to be so effective.

What was also heartening to see is the very young defense with two rookie starting cornerbacks holding up well against the powerful Cincinnati Bengals offense with two of the best receivers in the league. I did get somewhat worried in the second half when the Bengals had two back to back sustained scoring drives. Barring injury I expect the defense to continue to improve as the season progresses. While it was not a lock down defense, it was good enough to win this game.

And Brandon Tate! His kickoff return for a touchdown to start the second half was crucial, as it turned out, to extend the lead. Instead of providing even more momentum for the Patriots, it almost seemed like the Patriots players thought the game was over and played really rather poorly in the third quarter. The defense suddenly looked vulnerable and the offense didn’t do much either.

The Patriots played a very good all around game while the Bengals really didn’t get started until the second half. But for us Patriots fans the story was Wes Welker.

As a side note, good riddance Baloney Lauren Maroney. And don’t worry about Randy Moss, he’ll be fine.

MVP: Wes Welker, WR


New Orleans over Minnesota Vikings, 14-9

There are really a lot of storylines to this game.

The Saints look like a Super Bowl team. While their offense did struggle a bit their two scoring drives were dominant and once they started running the ball in the second half, they locked the game up. If they can continue to mix in a solid running game with their vaunted passing attack they will be very difficult to beat this season.

The Saints’ offensive line was the most dominant unit in the game and the best I saw all weekend. Guards Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans, along with center Jonathan Goodwin, completely dominated Minnesota’s defensive tackles, Pat and Kevin Williams. Maybe the Williams boys need to get back on that supplement that almost cost them a suspension. They got punked in this game. And I really have to give a huge shout out to Jermon Bushrod. He totally handled my 2009 defensive player of the year Jared Allen entirely on this own. Last year I got a lot of criticism for favoring Carl Nicks over Jahri Evans as my All Pro guard. I did so because last year Nicks often had to help Bushrod, who really was the weak link on the offensive line. I don’t know if this is a one game stellar effort by Bushrod or if he has really improved that much. If continues this level of play the Saints may even be better this year than last.

In the second half the Saints finally started running the ball with Pierre Thomas, who ate up the clock and moved the chains. He has solid performance behind the dominant offensive line and I felt it was a great change of pace by Sean Peyton.

Minnesota, meanwhile, looked awful on offense. With Sydney Rice out for at last half the season and Percy Harvin ailing and running lousy routes, there really were no receivers open to throw to. Bernard Berrian looked awful in preseason and woeful in this game as well. He seems to have completely disappeared. I was surprised Greg Camarillo did not see more action in the slot.

Minnesota’s defense did not play up to their usual standards on the defensive line but they settled down and did manage to hold the Saints to 14 points. They are battling injuries in the secondary and Antoine Winfield is also coming off an injury plagued 2009 and really did not play up to his usual standards. It was great to see linebacker E.J. Henderson back in the lineup and playing extremely well after suffering a gruesome broken femur last year. I though his career was likely over, but clearly it’s not.

Minnesota is likely to continue to struggle on offense unless the receivers get their heads out of their ass and start playing football.

While Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans are better and played wonderfully, I am giving the most valuable player award here to Jermon Bushrod for handling Jared Allen.

MVP: Jermon Bushrod, T

Green Bay Packers over Philadelphia Eagles, 27-20

Let the quarterback controversy begin! The Eagles offense looked absolutely miserable in the first half. Kevin Kolb was harassed and the receivers weren’t really getting open but he wasn’t doing much either. I am not sure if it is because Michael Vick kept entering the game and did not allow Kolb to establish a rhythm or something else, but once he sustained a concussion and Vick took over the offense came to life. But, that was mostly because of Vick’s legs. His running really broke the game open for the offense even though they still fell short in the end.

It will be fascinating to see what transpires this season now that Kolb might be out for a few games and Vick will be the starter. If Vick is successful it will be hard for Andy Reid not to keep him behind center once Kolb is healthy. But you know what? Vick will never lead a team to the promised land (although he has sent quite a few dogs to doggie heaven). His success in this game was mostly his running ability. Just like in Atlanta, once teams scheme against him, his inaccurate passing and poor decision making will catch up with him. Yes, he may have a rocket arm and can throw the ball 60 yards with a flick of the wrist, but Eagles’ fans should not get too giddy over the possibilities. Unless he continues to be a running quarterback he will not be that dynamic, and eventually teams will catch up with the Eagles if Vick is at the helm.

Green Bay didn’t really look all the wonderful either. The offensive tackles had a hard time handling the rush but they did manage a couple of really nice touchdown drives. The star of the game was Clay Matthews, Jr. who was all over the place on defense and recorded a couple of sacks.

MVP: Clay Matthews, Jr., LB

Washington Redskins over Dallas Cowboys, 13-7

GOAT: Jason Garrett. And no, that is not for “greatest of all time” but idiot. I am sure everyone has seen the play by now, but at the end of the first half, in bad field position, with little time left on the clock, the Cowboys ran a short sideline route to Tashard Choice who ended up fumbling the ball which was returned for a Redskins touchdown and was the difference in the game. What made this play so stupid? First, the Redskins offense was doing absolutely nothing and had only a 3-0 lead. Scores were clearly going to be a premium in this game and with so little time left on the clock, the smart move was simply to run the time off the clock and regroup in the second half. Secondly, the play had no chance of even netting enough yards to get into field goal range. It was stupid play call, period, for that situation.

What this play and head coach Wade Phillips’ comments after the game shows is that Wade Phillips is not in control of this team. He basically threw Jason Garrett under the bus by saying they should have kneeled on the ball, didn’t know why the ran a play there, and tersely said the defense (which he runs) did its job and did not give up a touchdown. I believe they will continue to be destiny’s stepchild this season.

Otherwise, both teams struggled a great deal on offense. Dallas’s offensive line did not protect Tony Romo well but they finally got going late in the game to finally make a run for a win, but alas they failed. A holding penalty on the last play of the game negated a would be game winning touchdown. It was clearly holding too so nobody can gripe about the call.

The Mike Shanahan era started off with a win over archrival Dallas on Dallas’s home turf. While it was not a dominating or particularly impressive win, especially on offense, it was a win. As usual, the Washington defense is very solid this year, as they have been in year’s past. While they have sometimes been criticized for not getting enough turnovers, they are basically a very sturdy unit.

The offense, however, was woeful and did nothing. Shanahan needs to find a way to fix that quick because they won’t be winning many games like this otherwise. He can thank DeAngelo Hall for the fumble recovery and touchdown, which was the difference in the game. Or, send Jason Garrett a thank you card for the gift.

MVP: DeAngelo Hall, CB

Baltimore Ravens over New York Jets, 10-9

The New York Jets are an undisciplined team and reflection of their coach, the slovenly Rex Ryan. They shot themselves in the foot with penalties and giving up big plays on third and long when they had the Ravens’ offense on the ropes, which was the difference in the game. Add to that the harassment by Jets players of a female reporter also shows a lack of professionalism, decorum, and discipline, again a reflection of their head coach. The Jets may very well implode this season.

The Jets defense continues to be a stellar unit, one of the best, if not the best in the league. But their offense looks awful and Mark Sanchez has not proven, yet, that he can be a starting quarterback in the NFL. They were facing another top defense in the Ravens, so maybe time will tell.

The Ravens defense played excellent football and Ray Lewis continues, in his fifteenth NFL season, to be one of the best defensive players in the league. He got some great hits on the Jets, and the rest of the unit played excellent as well. I was surprised at how the offense was so throttled, however, even facing the Jets. With Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, and a very good offensive line, Anquan Bolden, Derrick Mason, and Todd Heap, I thought they were loaded on offense. The Jets bailed them out with bad penalties most of the game and Ravens were lucky to escape with a win.

MVP: Ray Lewis, LB

Kansas City Chiefs over San Diego Chargers, 21-14

I was happy to see the Chiefs beat the Chargers on Monday night but Chief’s fans shouldn’t get too excited. It was really two big plays on offense that sealed the deal, a great 56 yard touchdown run by Jamaal Charles and a 94 yard punt return for a touchdown by rookie wide receiver Dexter McCluster were the keys to the game. Otherwise the offense looked anemic and Matt Cassel really did not do much to distinguish himself.

The Chief’s defense did play well. Defensive tackle Glen Dorsey finally looked like a first round draft pick in this game and the defensive backs did a very nice job on the Charger’s receivers, especially Brandon Flowers.

Philip Rivers made himself look like a complete idiot and proved what a jerk he is yelling at his teammates and carrying on a like a petulant child in the second half. While indeed his teammates made mistakes, I can’t imagine that endears him to his offensive line or establishes him as the leader of the team. They did almost come back and win, however. Rookie running back Ryan Matthews had a decent game, but he gave up a fumble that lead to a touchdown, helping the Chief’s secure the win.

MVP: Dexter McCluster, KR/WR

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Offensive Player: Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans (231 yards rushing, 3 TDs)
Defensive Player: Clay Matthews, Jr., LB, Green Bay Packers
Offensive Lineman: Jermon Bushrod, T, New Orleans Saints
Special Teams: Brandon Tate, WR/KR, New England Patriots
Rookie of the Week: Dexter McCluster, WR/KR, Kansas City Chiefs