2010 NFL Football Season: Week Three Observations

Tom Brady

I realize after the first three weeks of the season that what I thought I knew, I don’t know, but there some things I know that I know, at least I think so this week.

What I Thought I Knew

I was ready to anoint the Green Bay Packers one of the top teams in football going into the week and I thought Mike McCarthy was a good coach. The horribly sloppy play and penalties against the Chicago Bears and questionable decisions by McCarthy lost the game for the Packers.

I thought the Ravens had one of the best defenses in the NFL. Who would have thought they wouldn’t be able to stop the run, against the Cleveland Browns of all teams? Luckily for them the offense woke out of its slumber for a win.

I thought the San Francisco 49’ers were an up and coming team despite their losses, but they proved me wrong Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs.

I thought the Houston Texans might be the best team in the AFC but they got punked by Dallas’s defense.

And while I knew the St. Louis Rams would be better this year than last, I didn’t expect them to completely handle the Washington Redskins the way they did.

And finally, I have never been a big believer in Michael Vick coming back to be an effective every down quarterback. I guess he has proven me wrong, so far.


What I Think I Know

Pittsburgh has the best defense in the league and they just keep proving it. It is scary that they are 3-0 without Big Ben. Very scary.

The New England Patriots young defense is terrible, mostly in the secondary. I sure hope Bill Belichick gets that squad straightened out, soon.

Clinton Portis has seen his better days.

Philip Rivers is a whiney punk and San Diego has once again started off slowly. I’d love to see them lose the rest of their games. I am tired of Philip Rivers.

Baltimore’s offense could be one of the best in the league once Joe Flacco starts playing well. Even though he played well against the Browns, I still didn’t like his jittery feet and mechanics.

The Super Bowl is totally up for grabs this year. So far, there are no clearly dominant teams in the NFL.


GAMES I WATCHED

New England Patriots over Buffalo Bills 38-30 (On NFL Game Rewind)

What is going on with the New England Patriots defense?! Giving up 23 points to the Buffalo Bills is simply not acceptable (I am not counting the kickoff return for a touchdown by C.J. Spiller). The young rookie defensive backs are struggling mightily. Hopefully they will improve over the course the season. Otherwise we are in big trouble.

Thankfully, the offense looked great. Tom Brady had a terrific game and spread the ball around to a variety of receivers. The one huge concern I have is the lack of commitment to the running game. Even without a marquee running back, it is imperative to have a rushing attack to slow down pass rushers and keep defenses a little more off guard. Otherwise teams will just catch up with our passing attack.

Ryan Fitzpatrick obviously had a great day at quarterback as well and you can understand why the Bills jettisoned Trent Edwards who was just not working out. It will be interesting to see what kind of success the Bills can muster when they face tougher defensive backs.

MVP: Tom Brady, QB

Baltimore Ravens over Cleveland Browns, 24-17

I was absolutely shocked watching the Cleveland Browns and Peyton Hillis run all over the Ravens defense. Hillis ended up with 144 yards against what I thought was one of the toughest run defenses in the league.

Luckily for the Ravens the offense woke up after two disappointing weeks with Flacco hitting Anquan Boldin for three touchdowns. Despite having a better game I still though Flacco sometimes looked sketchy in the pocket. No quarterback has a lot of time to throw in the NFL but when Flacco gets what I consider normal pressure, he seems to get happy feet and throw off his back foot or make mental errors. It was less pronounced this week than last but there are still some issues there.

And what can you say about the acquisition of Anquan Boldin? He has been one of the most consistent offensive performers in the league and the bright spot on offense for the Ravens the past three weeks.

For Cleveland this should be a game to build on. If they can play that well against this defense, they should be able to notch up a few wins this season. And I wonder if Jake Delhomme will get his starting job back? Seneca Wallace looked awfully good in this game. Of course he was getting a lot of support in the running game.

MVP: Anquan Boldin, WR

St. Louis Ram over Washington Redskins, 30-16

Despite some miscues and not taking full advantage of some of their opportunities, the St. Louis Rams looked like a good football team against the Washington Redskins! I was extremely impressed with the team on both sides of the ball.

I was most impressed that after taking a 14-0 lead, the Washington Redskins came back to take the lead 16-14 early in the third quarter but the Rams didn’t falter. This is when bad teams fall apart and get spanked. Instead, the Rams stayed calm and retook the lead with a nice touchdown drive and never looked back. While I think Sam Bradford has a lot of work to do, his calm leadership and solid play showed that he can eventually be top flight starter in the NFL if he stays healthy. And the defense shut the Redskins out the rest of the game thanks to linebacker Bill Laurinaitis being all over the field and the play of free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe before leaving the game with an injury.

On the Redskins side of the ball, they absolutely could not get a running game going. Without a running game they just could not do much in the second half. It would appear Santana Moss is getting too old be a receiver that can carry the load and Joey Galloway is even worse. I am surprised the Redskins didn’t go to tight end Chris Cooley more than they did.

The most bizarre play was when Clinton Portis broke off a long run and then simply fell to the ground himself. Later in the week it was reported he told Coach Shanahan it was because of his wrist injury and concern about ball security. While I think Portis is one of the biggest whiners and malcontents in the league, he has been a tough player so I give him the benefit of the doubt on this one.

This game reminded me a lot of the Detroit Lions game last year in the third game of the season where the Redskins lost in a poorly played game and Portis got into an argument with Jim Zorn on the sideline after taking himself out of the game. To me, that game marked the day the wheels came off for the Redskins in the 2009 season. Again, in the third week, they lost to a team most would think they should beat, and didn’t look great in the process. Will the wheels come off again or will Shanahan keep this team rolling forward and improving? With a weakened offensive line, no running game, and a questionable corps of receivers, it might be tough. Donovan McNabb can’t do it all on his own.

MVP: Bill Laurinaitis, LB

New York Jets over Miami Dolphins, 31-23

Mark Sanchez had a great game against the Dolphins. Is this his breakout game or will he revert back to the poor play we saw in the first game of the season? Time will tell. But I will say, I am not a believer.

I also think if the off field incidents like Braylon Edwards’ DUI continue, it will become a distraction for this team. He did catch a long touchdown pass to help redeem himself. The key to this game, to me though, was the ability of the Jets to run the ball with LaDanian Tomlinson, helping out the passing game.

Miami hung tough and tried to come back but to no avail, even with Brandon Marshall catching 10 passes for 166 yards and a touchdown.

MVP: Mark Sanchez, QB

Chicago Bears over Green Bay Packers, 20-17

Green Bay outplayed the Bears but their 18 penalties for 152 yards killed them. Holding penalties thwarting the offense and a stupid roughing the passer penalty negating a Green Bay interception really did the Packers in. Punter Tim Masthay was horrible, having the kind of game that should get him cut. A short low kick allowed an easy punt return for a touchdown by Devin Hester that put the Bears ahead in the fourth quarter and was really the key play in the game.

And then Mike McCarthy challenged a fumble that was clearly a fumble in the fourth quarter costing the team a timeout. That was a really stupid move on his part. There is no way that play was getting overturned.

The Bears are now 3-0, the only undefeated team in the NFC, and have knocked off two good teams in Dallas and Green Bay. Frankly, they just don’t look like a 3-0 team to me.

MVP: Devin Hester, WR/KR

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Offensive Player: Austin Collie, WR, Indianapolis Colts
Defensive Player: Bill Laurinaitis, LB, St. Louis Rams
Offensive Lineman: Adam Goldberg, G, St. Louis Rams
Special Teams: Leon Washington, RB/KR, Seattle Seahawks
Rookie of the Week: C.J. Spiller, RB/KR, Buffalo Bills

Solid Primer on the Evolution of Modern Football Strategies

Blood, Sweat and Chalk, The Ultimate Football Playbook: How The Great Coaches Built Today’s Game by Tim Layden
Time Home Entertainment, 2010
ISBN 13: 978-1-60320-061-5

This is a book for professional football fans who love the history and evolution of the game, and the X’s and O’s that keep coaches up until the wee hours of the morning.

Author Tim Layden, Senior Writer at Sports Illustrated, has laid out a reasonably well organized set of chapters that goes into the innovations in football strategy that have made the game what it is today.

He starts out back in days of Pop Warner and the Single Wing formation. Back in the rough and tumble days when football was about big men smashing into each other and running the ball, Pop Warner came up with a formation that maximized deception and utilized the full talents of three running backs (with the quarterback essentially handling ball and either handing off or running). He then walks through all the variations of this basic attack in both college and professional football that defined the game for decades.

As we get into the modern era there is an excellent chapter on the late Don “Air” Coryell and his passing attack that really is the progenitor of many of the pass happy offenses in today’s NFL. Of course Coryell’s strategy was attacking deep with his platoon of great receivers and Hall of Fame Quarterback Dan Fouts. Coryell’s offense was the origin of some utterly failed and passé schemes like the run and shoot offense. But it’s also the foundation for very successful offenses such as Sam Wyche’s no huddle offense that took the Cincinnati Bengals to the Super Bowl, the K-Gun Offense with Jim Kelly and the Buffalo Bills riding their pass oriented offense to four consecutive trips to the big dance, and The Greatest Show on Turf highlighting the offense of Mike Martz and quarterback Kurt Warner, culminating in a Super Bowl win.

Bill Walsh’s “West Coast Offense” featuring the short passing game and receivers that can run after the catch is, of course, the other great offensive scheme that dominates the NFL’s passing schemes today. Layden has a very nice chapter on how Walsh’s scheme evolved and its importance in today’s NFL.

Thankfully, Layden doesn’t forget the defense. From the zone blitz, the cover two (made famous by Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin in Tampa Bay), and Buddy Ryan’s 46 defense that focuses on attacking the quarterback, to the late Jim Johnson’s Double A Gap blitz, he lays it all out with clear prose. He tells how and why the schemes came about, and gives us a glimpse into the personalities of the coaches who created them.

There are several excellent aspects to this book. First the author describes the X’s and O’s and why various formations or schemes evolved the way they did in a prose that is easily understandable to the avid football fan. He also places each scheme within the context of the history and rules of the game that made the formations or schemes more than passing fads but foundations that can be seen in today’s game. And finally, he allows the personalities of some of the great football minds to come forth in the book, so it’s not just dry chalk talk.

The only drawback to the book is it does not fully explain how changes in the rules are really what have made offensive football today more about the pass than the run by limiting what defenses are allowed to do to stop it. While rule changes are mentioned, and certainly rule changes often spur innovation in the game, these changes are not given enough “credit” for how the game has evolved.

Despite these drawbacks this is a great football book for football fans. It is not a book for the very casual fan, but it clearly is not intended to be. It’s impossible to go into all the chapters in one review, suffice it to say there is much more here for the football fan to absorb.

Sports Illustrated Blood, Sweat & Chalk: The Ultimate Football Playbook: How the Great Coaches Built Today’s Game

Peter King Spouts Off About the National Football League

Monday Morning Quarterback: A Fully Caffinated Guide to Everything You Need to Know About the NFL by Peter King
Sports Illustrated: October 2009

I have always considered Peter King to be a bit of a blowhard and this book mostly confirms my opinion.  Monday Morning Quarterback is a compendium of King’s writings and articles about the National Football League in the print and online versions of Sports Illustrated.  As a result it is a bit of a hodgepodge, jumping back and forth between topics, with mostly short topical comments on many aspects of professional football.

I did find the book rather entertaining though.  I particularly liked where he makes lists, my favorite being his ranking of the greatest 100 football players of all time, and his list of the smartest coaches of all time.  Lists are always fun because there is plenty of room for disagreement and prompts you think what your own list would look like.  Who do you think King considers the greatest receiver of all time?  It’s not Jerry Rice.

Given that King is all over the map in this book I’ll suffice it to say he does have some rather nice pieces in here.  My favorites are where he talks about a particular person in the context of their character or an event.  For example, the opening article on Ernie Accorsi, former General Manager of the New York Giants, and the story behind the Eli Manning for Philip Rivers trade during the 2004 draft is intriguing.  His insights into Tony Dungy and Brett Favre are also insightful.

This book also includes asides about King and his love of his kids’ sports, which are really totally unrelated to the topic at hand, but worthwhile reading nonetheless.

And despite that I find King a blowhard, he is self deprecating at time, like when he admits his prognostications that were utterly wrong.

The aspect of the book that is the most bothersome is his articles about Brett Favre.  King admits he became good friends with Brett Favre when he stayed with Favre and his wife while writing a story on him.  There is certainly nothing wrong with that.  But, he is so close to Favre that he even brokered a phone call between Favre and an agent when Favre was contemplating coming out of retirement and was looking to sign with another team.  I know in sports journalism the line is often crossed between being an unbiased reporter and a participant in the events.  And while I will take King at his word when he says he has some insight into what Favre is thinking, his opinions about the drama king are not worth quite as much.  He is no longer an objective observer on that topic.

That said, overall this was a worthwhile read and mostly entertaining.

Sports Illustrated Monday Morning Quarterback: A fully caffeinated guide to everything you need to know about the NFL