NFL 2012 Week 7: Patriots Look Average, But So Does Everyone Else

One of the more intriguing aspects of this NFL season is just how parity has clearly taken hold early in the season. In the AFC there were only two teams with winning records going into Week 7, the Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens. And after Houston was trounced by Green Bay talk of Houston being the best team in the NFL waned a bit. Houston really bounced back by running over the Ravens, a team that has looked vulnerable in most of their wins and now of lost MLB Ray Lewis and CB Ladarius Webb for the season.

Meanwhile the darlings of the NFC at the start of the season, the San Francisco 49’ers and Green Bay Packers have both had slow starts, especially the Packers who sported a 2-3 record after five games. And the only undefeated team, the Atlanta Falcons have really pulled a few games out at the last moment. Meanwhile the Giants at 5-2 might look beatable but they seem to always come on strong late in the season.

It is still a wide open race in both conferences.

GAMES I WATCHED

New England Patriots over New York Jets, 29-26 OT

Immediately after this game was over, one that the Patriots nearly gave away, I felt it was a demoralizing win. This game just proved the Patritots are an average team, right down in the pack with all the rest. And they are. Instead of making the one or two plays that win close games they make the two mistakes that give them away. This is nearly what happened in this game when the Jets tied the game at 23-23, the Devon McCourtny fumbled the kickoff that gave the Jets a chip shot field goal for the go ahead score. At least the defense kept them out of the end zone. Then Brady did what he does best – drive the field for a tying score with less than two minutes to play, then did it again in overtime.

Granted I keep hearing that had Stephen Hunter caught a few balls the Jets would have won. But Brandon Lloyd, who frankly has been a big disappotment so far, dropped at least three long balls he should have had. For some reason he insists on making even easy catches acrobatic and as a result drops the ones that he should catch. We have no receivers that can really steatch the field. In fact, we really have no true number one receiver outside the slot with Wes Welker. This is a big problem with both tigh ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski ailing.

I have to give the MVP of this game to lineback Rob Ninkovich who made the play that sealed the deal at the end with his forced fumble on Mark Sanchez.

MVP: Rob Ninkovich, LB

San Franciso 49’ers over Seattle Seahawks, 13-6

This game was a slugfest between the two most rugged, physical defenses in the league. If defense and a little luck on offense leads to championships, then either of these teams have a decent shot at it. The 49’ers have a better overall quarterback (despite Russell Wilson’s recent late game heroics) and Frank Gore played a fantastic game.

Frankly coming into this season I thought we’d see a Frank Gore on the decline. Instead, he is playing as well as I have ever seen him play. If he can keep this up then the 49’ers have a shot. They, however, lack a good outside receiver which will hurt them down the road (as do the Seahawks).

MVP: Frank Gore, RB

Houston Texans over Baltimore Ravens, 43-13

Wow, the Texans really bounced back from the embarrassment at Seattle and dished out their own punishment on the Baltimore Ravens. With the Ravens depleted on defense and Haloti Ngata a bit dinged up they just couldn’t stop the Texans offense. And the Ravens offense is just wildly inconsistent. I can’t quite put my finger on the problem with the Ravens offense as the certainly have the talent. They don’t use Ray Rice enough though, and Flacco just doesn’t seem to be able to get the job done when it counts.

While I think the Ravens are still likely a playoff team come the end of the season, they certainly do look inconsistent and out of sync. And with their defense missing two key players, it’s going to put even more pressure on the offense to perform.

MVP: Connor Barwin, LB

Pittsburgh Steelers over Cincinnati Bengals, 24-17

I really, really, really expected more out of the Bengals this year. But as with so many teams in the AFC, they define the word “average.” Pittsburgh had a nice, solid running game with third stringer Jonathan Dwyer and held the ball 15 more minutes than the Bengals and that really was the story of the game. Shaun Suisham’s three 40 plus yard field goals sealed the deal.

MVP: Shaun Suisham, K

Chicago Bears over Detroit Lions, 13-7

Charles Tillman shut down Charles “Megatron” Johnson and the defense harassed Lions QB Matthew Stafford into some bad throws (Stafford just is way overrated frankly). And Urlacher might be hurt but he is a smart football player who really made some fine plays in the middle of the field, along with fellow linebacker Lance Briggs. The Bears defense lives.

And Bears QB Jay Cutler barely survived the body slam takedown by Ndamukong Suh. I do think Dirty Suh is a dirty player but this was a legal hit. Cutler showed a lot of moxie getting back in the game after have his ribs practically shattered.

MVP: Charles Tillman, CB

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Offensive Player: Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans
Defensive Player: Charles Tillman, CB, Chicago Bears
Offensive Lineman: Mike Iupati, G, San Francisco 49’ers
Special Teams: Dan Bailey, K, Dallas Cowboys
Rookie of the Week: Dont’a Hightower, LB, New England Patriots

As the NFL Turns: Observations on NFL 2010 Season Week 8

Nearly every NFL season has its soap operas, usually revolving around diva wide receivers (Terrible Terrell Owens, Chad Ochostinko, Keyshawn Johnson, and Randy Moss have provided good fodder for years). But frankly, I cannot remember a season with so many teams falling apart and in disarray.

The real center of the soap opera of the 2010 season has been two teams, the Minnesota Vikings and Brett Favre and the Washington Redskins with Albert Haynesworth and now the benching of Donovan McNabb in the last two minutes of a winnable game.

Let’s start with the Vikings. It’s been fun watching them implode this year.

The Minnesota Favres, Brad Childress, and Randy Moss.

Brad Childress does not run the Minnesota Vikings, Brett Favre does. I used to have a lot of respect for Favre but now I simply find him despicable. It has become clear over the last several years that Favre wants the universe to revolve around him and craves attention. The Green Bay Packers finally got fed up with his will he retire, won’t he retire annual soap opera and jettisoned him. Luckily for the Packers they did it before he could destroy the team. He has now succeeded in doing just that to the Minnesota Vikings. I am so sick of Favre I can hardly stand to see the purple uniform anymore. Hopefully they will continue to lose so I don’t have to see them in the playoffs.

First, Favre had his annual rite of lounging around in Mississippi leaking word that he might retire, he might not retire, don’t you want me back Vikings? “I’m injured and had ankle surgery so I might not come back. Did you hear me? I might not come back?! But I’m throwing the ball and working out. Pssst, I might retire. But I’m working out! Hey, look at me…I might retire, but the arm feels good.” I have come to believe the entire story of several Vikings players flying to Mississippi to get Favre and bring him back to Minnesota was entirely scripted. He missed all of training camp and has played mostly horrible this season.

Then rumors surfaced of him sending voice mails trying to lure a then New York Jets sideline reporter to his hotel room when he played for the Jets, and then supposedly sending lewd pictures. He admits to the voicemails but not the pictures. Give me a break. If he did one he almost certainly did the other. And guess who knows if those pictures really are of Brett Favre? His poor wife, a breast cancer survivor who has become a public figure herself. I feel sorry for her. Maybe the injuries and certainly a lack of domestic bliss has Favre distracted and that is why he isn’t playing well. Or that he missed all of training camp. Or that he is, and always has been, overrated.

Reportedly he doesn’t get along with or respect coach Brad Childress, and maybe for good reason. How can Favre respect a coach when he is the one that is really in control of the organization, not Childress? And stemming from that, why should the rest of players respect him? It’s becoming pretty clear they don’t.

And then we have the Randy Moss saga. The Vikings, desperate for wide receivers with the injury to Sydney Rice and the health of Percy Harvin, make a trade with the New England Patriots for the mercurial Randy Moss. And then cut him four weeks later after a tirade in the locker room aimed at some poor mom and pop outfit feeding the team and his rant about how much he misses the Patriots and taking a subtle jab at the coaching staff for not listening to before getting beaten by the Patriots this week. So the Vikings are out a third round draft pick for four weeks of Randy Moss with little to show for it.

Brad Childress, aka Chili, must be feeling the heat after the Vikings owner Zygi Wilf showed up to practice to talk to the players about their coach. Another nail in the proverbial coffin as far as any respect the players are likely to have for Childress. He may last this season, but he has got to be gone next. And if the Vikings are smart, so will Brett Favre, even if they have to lock him out of the facilities.

And then, unfortunately for a team that was on the cusp last year, they will likely be almost in a rebuilding phase next year.

If Childress were smart he’d bench Favre and put in Tarvaris Jackson to see, once and for all, if he can be a starting quarterback in this league. I suspect not, but they need to be looking to the future

Fat Albert, Donovan McNabb, and the Shanahans

No, this is not a new age rock band. This is the mess that is the Washington Redskins. Granted, the Redskins are much better this year with essentially the same personnel, except at quarterback, as they had last year. Mike Shanahan has clearly improved this team’s play. But what a whacky way to start his new coaching gig. It’s not a very auspicious start.

I find it hilarious that Dan Snyder gave Albert Haynesworth a $100 million contract with nearly half guaranteed. Last year he played okay but not a $100 million worth. And then he shows up to camp out of shape, doesn’t want to play nose tackle in the 3-4 defense, and can only get on the field in third down situations. I bet a lot of players would love to be making Haynesworth kind of money for taking a handful of snaps in the game. That is what Danny Boy gets. He loves the high priced, flashing signings instead of going after players of substance both mentally and physically. Haynesworth has no heart but he has a bank account full of Danny Boy’s money.

And now we get an even juicier story. The Redskins sign one of the better quarterbacks of his generation to lead the team into the future. And let’s face it, he has been very streaky this year and most of the Redskins’ wins have been because of their defense. McNabb played horribly against the Chicago Bears but the Redskins won thanks to four interceptions, with one being a touchdown, by DeAngelo Hall. But with about two minutes to go against the Detroit Lions this week, in a winnable game, they bench McNabb in favor of Rex Grossman. Rex Grossman! Of course Rex promptly fumbles the ball and gives up a touchdown to seal the game for the Lions.

Now wait a minute. You bench Donovan McNabb with two minutes to go for Rex Grossman? Shanahan first said it was because McNabb didn’t know the two minute drill as well as Grossman. So what has McNabb been doing since training camp during the two minute drill offense? Then he said it was because he was out of shape. Okay, maybe he is but what does that say when your starting quarterback is not in shape to run the two minute offense halfway through the season? Then he said it was because of injuries. While McNabb is dinged up, he said this is not the case.

Clearly Shanahan made an emphatic statement that he does not trust nor think McNabb is the quarterback of the future. His actions speak loudly. This will clearly be a strain on the Redskins’ psyche the rest of the season. Even with McNabb playing poorly with his overthrows and under throws and missing open receivers, Shanahan undermined a team leader. If McNabb is not your guy just say so and move on. It should be an interesting rest of the season for the Redskins.

The Dallas Jerry Joneses

The Dallas Cowboys are 1-6. Before he got injured Romo was inconsistent and the play calling suspect. Now with Romo out and Jon Kitna in the defense seems to have quit on the season as well. All the talk before the season started from the Cowboys and pundits was that this team would be playing the Super Bowl in their home stadium. Then the losses mounted up. Wade Philips took what appeared to be a swipe at offensive coordinator Jason Garret and heir apparent to the head coaching job after the loss to the Redskins. And Jerry Jones weekly, but it seems like almost daily, has to reiterate that Wade Philips is the coach for at least the rest of the season. It’s been fun watching the Cowboys lose this year. I hope it continues.


GAMES I WATCHED

New England Patriots over Minnesota Vikings, 28-18

The New England Patriots shut out Randy Moss and after a shaky first half offensively and defensively, outplayed the Vikings in the second half to secure the win. One of the biggest keys to the game was the Patriots’ outstanding goal line stand, stopping Adrian Peterson on fourth and 1 with a few seconds left in the first half to keep the Vikings from building their lead.

New England finally got its running game going in the second half with BenJarvis Green-Ellis pounding the ball for 112 yards and Danny Woodhead making some nifty runs to keep the chains moving. The biggest play of the game came in the third quarter when Brady scrambled around and then found a wide open Brandon Tate for a 65 yard touchdown pass and a 14-10 lead. That was followed by a Devin McCourty interception of Brett Favre (which actually bounced out of Percy Harvin’s hands) that New England promptly turned into another touchdown and never looked back.

The New England Patriots may have the best record in the league but their offense really has struggled at times without Randy Moss, who opened up the short passing game, and their defense has been mostly not up to par. In this game both units played very well in the second half, which was heartening to see for Patriots fans.

Danny Woodhead has been a huge addition to the team. If you simply look at his stats they appear unimpressive but Woodhead is a playmaker. He made some very nifty moves and fought for yardage to secure key first downs in the game and is as valuable a player as anyone on the squad save Tom Brady. And New England finally getting a running game going in the second half greatly helped keep the Viking defense a little off balance. On defense, Jerrod Mayo is a rock. He was mostly responsible for stopping Adrian Peterson on the goal line stand to end of the half, and frankly had stopped Adrian Peterson on the Vikings first score of the game but the referees gave the Vikings a touchdown.

Brett Favre actually played quite well in this game despite his ankle injury and before being knocked out of the game on a hit late in the game. But this team is in disarray and will likely continue to spiral downhill.

Meanwhile the Patriots are winning games on special teams, turnovers, and simply playing smarter than their opponents.

MVP: BenJarvis Green-Ellis, RB


Detroit Lions over Washington Redskins, 37-25

This was a fascinating game to watch. Both teams’ defensive lines dominated their opponents and both teams had outstanding special teams play, especially in kick returns. Ndamukong Suh and Corey Williams just decimated the interior line of the Redskins leaving the running game and passing game in disarray. But the same can be said for the Redskins front three, plus London Fletcher and Brian Orakpo.

The difference? In the second half Matthew Stafford handled the pressure better than Donovan McNabb did, hitting Calvin Johnson for three touchdown passes. Johnson was taking a beating in the process but manned up and grabbed some tough catches. And Stefan Logan’s kick returns consistently set the Lions up on good field position. While he didn’t outduel the Redskins’ Brandon Banks returner who took one to the house for a score, his runbacks were a real difference maker for the Lions.

For the Redskins, like last year’s loss to Detroit, this could be a negative turning point in the season as Mike Shanahan benched Donovan McNabb with about two minutes to go in a winnable game. This unfathomable decision led to backup quarterback Rex Grossman taking a snap and getting mauled by the Lions’ defense and giving up a fumble for a touchdown. Redskins Park will be interesting for the next two weeks after this call (see above).

Ndamukong Suh is the real deal at defensive tackle and when healthy, Detroit rookie running back Jahvid Best has proven to be a dynamic runner. The Lions have a good, young core of players to build around for the future.

I know it will be odd not to give Calvin Johnson and his three touchdowns or Ndamukong Suh for his sterling play the MVP award for the game. Both of them deserve it. But the most telling difference in the game, outside of McNabb’s poor play even when he wasn’t under pressure, were the kick returns.

MVP: Stefan Logan, KR

New Orleans Saints over Pittsburgh Steelers, 20-10

The Pittsburgh Steelers defense is the toughest, roughest, meanest, nastiest unit in the NFL. They are scary. And they played a great game against the Saints. The only problem is the Saints defense played a great game too and a turnover by the Steelers’ Heath Miller late in the fourth quarter was too much to overcome. With the score 13-10 New Orleans, and the Steelers moving the ball well, Miller fumbles near midfield. The Saints score what turns out to be the decisive touchdown. Then Big Ben throws another interception on the ensuing drive. Game over.

This very well might be the hardest hitting game I have seen all year long by both defenses.

MVP: Jonathan Vilma, LB

Indianapolis Colts over Houston Texans, 30-17

Many pundits crowned the Houston Texans Super Bowl champs and said the Colts were through after the Texans upset the Colts in their first tilt in the season opener. Peyton Manning simply did what Peyton Manning does best, pick apart the Texans like they were schoolboys against real men. Even with injuries to several starters and his security blanket Dallas Clark, Manning just made the Texans look silly on defense. It was a little embarrassing to watch actually.

And of course once behind, Dwight Freeney could tee off. He got a couple of sacks and some good pressure on Matt Schaub. At the start of the season after seeing him for a few games I thought Texans’ Duane Brown might be the best left tackle I’d seen. After being suspended for four games for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy he looks rusty and got schooled by Freeney. Maybe he needs to get back on whatever it was he got suspended for.

MVP: Peyton Manning, QB

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Offensive Player: Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs (238 total yards)
Defensive Player: Ndamukong Suh , DT, Detroit Lions
Offensive Lineman: Maurkice Pouncey, C, Pittsburgh Steelers
Special Teams: Stefan Logan, KR/WR, Detroit Lions
Rookie of the Week: Ndamukong Suh , DT, Detroit Lions

2009 NFL Season: Week 12 Thanksgiving Day Special

INTRODUCTION

After the New York Giants went 5-0 many pundits had them ranked as the best team in the NFL in their power rankings. I said then that they were at best a mediocre team. I may not always be right, but I was right about that.

The traditional football games on Thanksgiving Day featured two matchups that really were not that compelling to the average football fan. The still lowly Detroit Lions hosted the solid but struggling Green Bay Packers, while the Dallas Cowboys hosted the usually pathetic Oakland Raiders. Most thought the games would be blowouts and they certainly lived up to the tripe. Green Bay had no trouble rolling over Detroit, and Oakland proved to be no match for Dallas.

Many have wondered if the Detroit Lions should no longer be hosting a nationally televised game on Thanksgiving given their long standing lack of quality teams. A Thanksgiving Day matchup should be a marquee game between two quality teams, right?

I disagree though. The Detroit Lions have been hosting a Thanksgiving Day game since 1934. That’s 75 years of tradition for the Lions, sometimes a good team, lately not, hosting a game on this holiday. The National Football League is built on tradition and after 75 years I don’t see a reason to break that tradition now. Despite not being a great team now, presumably the Lions will be relevant again. And for me, watching any professional football game is enjoyable. And I always know I’ll see the Lions host somebody on this day and I look forward to it every year.

GAMES I WATCHED

Green Bay Packers over Detroit Lions, 34-12

As expected this game was not even close. After Green Bay fumbled the opening kickoff leading to a quick Detroit touchdown, the game was basically over. Detroit’s offense never did much else, while Matthew Stafford threw four picks.

Green Bay played an all around solid game, with Donald Driver catching seven passes for 142 yards and a touchdown. This included a 68 yard grab in the first quarter to set up Green Bay’s first touchdown. Cornerback Charles Woodson had his second sterling game with two interceptions, one that he returned for a touchdown in garbage time.

I’m not sure why the Lions started rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford who played with a separated left shoulder. I think he has the potential to be the franchise quarterback for the Lions and it just doesn’t seem worth risking further damage to his shoulder at this point in the season.

This game turned out pretty much as expected. It was a good game for Green Bay to get back to winning and try to jumpstart an attempt to make the playoffs as Wild Card team. They have a long way to go for that.

MVP: Donald Driver, WR


Dallas Cowboys over Oakland Raiders, 24-7

The NFC East used to be considered the toughest conference in the NFL. Not anymore. Right now the storied franchise of the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, and Philadelphia Eagles are middle of the road teams, at best. The Washington Redskins are abysmal and shouldn’t even be in the conversation.

The race for the NFC East is going down the stretch and Dallas needs to keep winning with the Giants and Eagles right in the mix. Pundits have even taken to calling Tony Romo not just an average quarterback, but a bad one. And he deserves it given the way he has played this year.

In this game Dallas had no trouble putting the Raiders away. Romo had a very good outing and wide receiver Miles Austin was again fantastic. He had seven catches for 145 yards and touchdown to lead the Dallas Cowboys offense.

On the other side of the ball, the Raiders started fourth year quarterback Bruce Gradkowski over the bust of a number one overall draft pick JaMarcus Russell. Gradkowski, frankly, is never going to be a particularly good NFL quarterback, but he is gutsy and had didn’t play that badly against the Cowboys. The Raiders were just simply overmatched talent wise on the field.

Dallas, like Green Bay, really needed an easy win and to get their offense rolling after a very pedestrian performance against the Redskins last week, a game they should have lost but didn’t.

MVP: Miles Austin, WR


Denver Broncos over New York Giants, 26-6

This was the marquee matchup of the day which most thought we be a closely contested ball game. Both teams have been struggling a great deal the past month, with the Broncos losing four straight games and the Giants losing the last five out of six. Too bad it was on the NFL Network. Many football fans, as a result, didn’t have access to the game. Well, it was an interesting game but not much was missed.

I actually thought the Giants would win this game but they never bothered to show up. They were pathetic.

The Giants, on their second offensive snap of the game, had to call a timeout to avoid a delay of game penalty. They followed this up with a minus two yard run by Brandon Jacobs. That basically set the tone for the game as the Giants offense seemed to have stayed in New York.

I watched Brandon Jacobs very closely in this game because he has been struggling of late. What I noticed was disturbing. Even when he got into a good hole he didn’t have the same burst of speed and power to make a good gain like he has in the past. I don’t know if it’s because he has been injured a bit or some other ailment, but he definitely is not the same runner he has been in the past. There were holes that he got to that a Chris Johnson or an Adrian Peterson, or last years Brandon Jacobs for that matter, would have turned into a long gain. Something is missing or gone awry there.

Meanwhile a lot has been said of the struggles of the Giants offensive line. They played reasonably well at all times, more so on running plays. The announcers kept saying they were getting beat physically but they most looked confused by the Broncos tricky defensive alignments than physically dominated.

But the Broncos defense played extremely well. Elvis Dumervil had two sacks and a forced fumble, safety Brian Dawkins was a menace all over the field, and the Denver secondary, led by Champ Bailey, blanketed the Giants’ receivers. In fact the quarterback pressures could often be attributed to superior defensive back play more so than the defensive line dominating the line of scrimmage. But it was a very well played game by the Denver defense all around.

The Giants defense didn’t play terribly but again, they weren’t beaten physically as much as the Broncos just outplayed them. Case in point, if you watched Giants’ defense end Osi Umenyiora against the Bronco’s left tackle, Ryan Clady, he often got good penetration and sometimes pressure on Kyle Orton. But he was completely shut out of the game.

Meanwhile Denver’s rookie running back Knowshon Moreno played very well with a shifty, slithery style of running that netted yards when most backs would have been shut down. I have seen Denver play several times this year and I have not seen these moves by Moreno before. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t watching him at his best or that he has been injured, but now I see why people are so excited about this guy. He has a unique running style that avoids big contact and can make the most out of small openings. And of course wide receiver Brandon Marshall was making some sick one handed catches.

But frankly, at the end of the day I am not sure whether Denver looked so good because the Giants were just plain awful, or if they have come out of their funk. They certainly looked much better than they have the past few times I’ve seen them. I do know one thing, however, the Giants appear to be on the way down an out. See ya!

The MVP could really go to Dumervil, Dawkins, or Bailey. I am going with Champ Bailey because I thought it was the Denver pass coverage that was the key to their success on defense.

MVP: Champ Bailey, CB

Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez: Two New Rookie Starters in 2009

Last year Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco had great seasons as rookie starters in the NFL.  I was pretty high on both of these quarterbacks coming out of college, especially Ryan who I saw more of watching ACC football.

Both Stafford and Sanchez will no dobut be starters for their teams given the quarterback situation on both clubs. 

I don’t think that either Stafford or Sanchez have the same chance to be a success.  All things being equal I like both Ryan and Flacco better as NFL quarterbacks.  Stafford goes to sorry team, although he should have Calvin Johnson to throw the ball to.  That does not bode well for a rookie starter.  Sanchez goes to a team with better skill around him, but I am not convinced he is ready to step in and be more than an average NFL starter, or worse.

It will be interesting to see if they can duplicate the success of Ryan and Flacco.  My money is against it.