Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Week 14 NFL recap

Oops. Time has slipped me by once again, so I'd better get cracking with this weeks recap. Cleveland Browns 6 @ Buffalo Bills 13: Not quite the classic I was anticipating. At least the Browns have figured something put though; Jake Delhomme is a bad quarterback. Now no offense to the Browns staff, but I kind of could have told you that a few months ago. Delhomme was 12/20 for 86 yards and a pick. Ryan Fitzpatrick however continues to induce nods of approval from Bills fans, though there is still some way to go before we see whoops of joy. 14/23 for 142 yards and a TD, with a passer rating of 93. That's not bad as far as the recent history of Buffalo quarterbacks goes. The ground game was the big surprise for Buffalo. Fred Jackson had 29 carries for 112 yards as the Bills discovered a run game that they never really knew existed. On the contrary the Browns rushing attack disappeared in the second half. Peyton Hillis finished the game with 21 carries for 108 yards, but 12 of those carries and 75 of the yards came before the break. On defense, LB Chris Gocong had another good game for the Browns (have I mentioned that he's up for free agency at the end of the season?) recording 10 combined tackles, a 10-yard sack and a forced fumble. LB Marcus Benard also did well, recording a sack, 2 tackles for a loss, a pass defended and another QB hit. For the Bills the standout is Jarius Byrd with 8 combined tackles and 2 forced fumbles. Atlanta Falcons 31 @ Carolina Panthers 10: Man. What a butt kicking. Matt Ryan and co. cruised largely, taking a 17 point lead before the half. Ryan finished 20/34 for 227 yards a TD and an INT, but the real star of the show was Michael Turner who carried the ball 28 times for 112 yards and 3 TD's. The Panthers didn't produce quite as well. Rookie QB Jimmy Clausen was sent out into battle again and took 5 sacks on the way to finishing 14/24 for 107 yards and an INT. On the ground the Panthers did a little better, with Jonathan Stewart taking 18 carries for 133 yards and Mike Goodson took 9 carries for 70 yards and a TD. But the Panthers struggles on third down didn't help (3/13, 23%). LB Mike Peterson put in some work for the Falcons D, with an interception, a forced fumble and a tackle for a loss. Defensive Ends Kroy Biermann and John Abraham ruled the roost though, both notching two sacks each. The Panthers D had a number of good performances, but then they had plenty of opportunities given how much time the Falcons spent with the ball. LB Jon Beason lead the team with 8 tackles, including two for a loss and 2 passes defended. DE Charles Johnson had a sack and two further QB hits, while DE Everette Brown picked up 1.5 sacks. Now despite the win, what will worry the Falcons moving forward and with the playoffs looming is the nine shots that Matt Ryan took in the game. They need to do a much better job of protecting their main man. Green Bay Packers 3 @ Detroit Lions 7: 7/11 for 46 yards and an INT. That's all Aaron Rodgers managed before his head struck the turf and a concussion took him out of the game. His replacement, Matt Flynn, went 15/25 for 177 yards and an INT. This, and a lack of anything resembling a rushing attack helps explain what happened (though not how Donald Driver caught just 2 of the 9 passes targeted at him). The Lions pounced (chortle, chortle) with Drew Stanton completing a whole 10 of 22 passes for 117 yards, a TD and 2 INT's (Calvin Johnson fared no better than Driver, catching just one of the eight passes thrown his way). Meanwhile 41 combined Lions rushes produced 190 yards in a largely forgettable offensive game. The defense for the Lions made the difference. They combined for 4 sacks, including two by Turk McBride, and another 8 QB hits and 6 tackles for loss. Combined with the 2 INT's it was enough to put away the Packers and leave Green Bay's playoff hopes hanging by a rather loose thread of late. Oakland Raiders 31 @ Jacksonville Jaguars 38: This game was witness to a cracking example of the new ridiculous rules covering QB "safety". The Jaguars thought they were on to a winner (well, they did in the end) when they got a hit on Jason Campbell, forcing a fumble which was recovered and returned for a TD. But no, no. There was laundry on the field because in the process of making the tackle the Jaguar defenders helmet just happened to bump the bottom of Campbells helmet. Cue a 15-yard penalty and an automatic Raiders first down for "unnecessary roughness". Are you kidding me? Just think about the term for a second; unnecessary roughness. That to me invokes images of a violent hit that was delivered completely inappropriately. This was nothing. It was incidental contact at best between two helmets. The question I subsequently ask is this; is the NFL trying to alienate its fans? Is that the goal in this contract negotiating year? Maybe the league is hoping viewers will turn off in droves so they can use it as a bargaining chip against the NFLPA? I can't imagine such extreme measures are seriously the cause, but what other explanations can we come up with? It just makes no sense to ruin football in this manner. The uproar has been mighty. Everywhere you go on radio shows, TV shows and Internet message boards the call of thousands of fan voices decrying the leagues pussification of football is growing ever louder. I only hope the owners start listening soon and realise that not only is Rodger Goodell the primary problem, but he also makes a rather handy scapegoat. What? Oh yeah, the game. Jason Campbell was 21/30 for 324 yards and 2 TD's. Raiders RB Darren McFadden had another great game, carrying 16 times for 123 yards and 2 touchdowns. Shame then that the Jaguars were just better on the day. David Garrard may have only completed 11/22 for 159 yards with 1 INT, but he also threw 3 touchdowns. Tack on another 109 yards and a TD off of just 5 carries for Rashad Jennings (remember who's been touting Jennings for a while now) and then another 101 yards and a TD off 23 carries for Maurice Jones-Drew. Not that Garrard did it without taking a few licks, as the Raiders D put together 2 sacks and 10 QB hits. A half sack and 2 quarterback hits were attributed to Kamerion Wimbley, but what the more mainstream stats don't show is that LaMarr Houston also put up 3 of those QB hits. Obviously sacks are more desirable, but hits are good none the less. Jaguars FS Don Carey gets my defensive game ball though with 6 combined tackles, a tackle for loss, a QB hit, a pass defended and an interception. Well done lad. Cincinnati Bengals 7 @ Pittsburgh Steelers 23: Normally the Bengals just pick a half and decide to pile all their points into that one half, deciding not to show up for the rest of the game. This time the Bengals made a game of it for one drive, then just gave up the pretence all together. Carson Palmer was 20/32 for 178 yards, a TD and 3 INT's, two of which were returned for touchdowns. Ben Roethlisberger was 21/33 for 258 yards, but the Steelers didn't score a single offensive touchdown. There was no need. Their defense and Palmers carelessness with the football did all the work. As well as the three picks the Steelers D combined for 3 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, 5 QB hits and 7 passes defended. The Bengals D hit back, but their offense did them no favours. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17 @ Washington Redskins 16: How often do you see a game lost because of a muffed extra point? With the Redskins on the loose, anything is possible. The scary thing is, RB Ryan Torain was having a field day, carrying 24 times for 172 yards. But 18 of those carries and 158 yards came in the first half. So my question to Mike Shanahan and his coaches is; what the hell happened? Did Ryan Torain come out drunk for the second half? Did Mike Shanahan? Stupid coaching decisions aside, the Redskins did ok. The trouble in the NFL however is that ok often isn't enough. Ok can have a habit of coming back to bite you in the butt. As indeed happened with the Redskins as they worked so hard to get that final score only to fumble away the chance to take the Buc's to overtime. Redskins owner Dan Snyder isn't exactly the forgiving type and he can't be happy knowing that his investment in a top coaching name along with QB Donovan McNabb has resulted in his team looking a lot worse on the field than it did last year. St. Louis Rams 13 @ New Orleans Saints 31: Sam Bradford tried, but 2 interceptions (one returned for a TD) didn't help. The Saints were just too good. Drew Brees finished the game with 25/40 for 221 yards, 3 TD's and 2 INT's. For Brees that's somewhat pedestrian, but big shots down the field exposed the Rams secondary and led the Saints to 10-3. The Saints defense played a big part in the win also. With their own offense going 11/16 (68%) on third down, the Saints held the Rams to just 1/11 (9%) and a red zone efficiency of just 1/4 (25%). Add 3 sacks, 6 tackles for a loss and 8 QB hits and you get the picture. The NFC South is looking very strong this year, which is some how inherently wrong, like Jeff Fishers moustache and Rodger Goodells toupee. Seattle Seahawks 21 @ San Francisco 49ers 40: Hell yeah! This is more like it. And the sad thing is that the 49ers 5-8 record still leaves them in the hunt for a playoff spot! Much of the credit has to go to Alex Smith who was reinstated to the starting line up and finished 17/27 for 255 yards and 3 TD's. One of the prime benefactors of Smith's return was RB Brian Westbrook who caught 6 passes for 87 yards and a TD. But it wouldn't be a football game in the 2010 season if there wasn't a questionable call. On the same play that Westbrook picked up his TD, Alex Smith was lightly tapped by oncoming Seahawks defenders. He didn't even fall over. This however was deemed sufficient to draw a flag for roughing the passer. That's just pathetic. The only reason it's not being talked about more is because the pass was completed. Had the ball missed or been picked off, it would have had Seahawks fans seething (though they probably already were, given the result of the play). So the question now becomes is Alex Smith the answer again in San Francisco? Well, I'm not really sure. What I do know is that it's very media-esque to bash Alex Smith mercilessly. But the fact is that under his command the 49ers have lost a number of games only by small margins. They nearly beat the Falcons (the 11-2 Falcons by the way). If it wasn't for a stupid fumble after an interception, San Francisco would have beaten what is now the leading team in the NFC. The fact is, Alex Smith can be a good quarterback. He played in a spread offense in college and thus finds himself more at home in the Shotgun and with the field spread out by a 3 or 4 receiver set. Under these conditions, Alex Smith plays ok. I'm not saying he's Peyton Manning. I'm not saying he's Tom Brady. But he is good. Given an offense that adjusts to match his strengths, Alex Smith can lead this offense. Just about. Of course it does help when the opposition quarterback (Matt Hasselbeck) throws four interceptions.... Denver Broncos 13 @ Arizona Cardinals 43: Two players dominated proceedings in Arizona; RB Tim Hightower and Kicker Jay Feely. Yes, Jay Feely dominated a game. 5/6 on Field goals and another rushed in for a TD on a trick play. That's 15 points from the field goals, plus another 4 from extra points and then 6 from the touchdown to make a grand total of 25 points. 25! Like I said though, Hightower also put in some work, carrying the ball 18 times for 148 yards and 2 TD's. Just as well really considering that rookie QB John Skelton completed just 15/37 for 146 yards. The only danger to Arizona was the Denver offense getting its butt back into gear after last week. Kyle Orton; 19/41 for 166 yards and 3 INT's. That didn't work then. We can't blame the Broncos offense entirely though. Some credit has to go to the Cardinals D, as odd as that may sound given how bad their season has been so far. Safety Adrian Wilson found some of his old form to generate 11 tackles, 2 QB hits and a pass defended and LB Daryl Washington (watch list) had 8 combined tackles, an interception and 2 passes defended. New England Patriots 36 @ Chicago Bears 7: Erm, what the hell? Chicago has ridden it's defense to get this far. But against New England their defense just fell apart like a cheap pair of boots in the Vietnam Jungle (?). There were 33 points on the board for the Patriots before half time as they adapted well to the snowy conditions inside Soldier Field. Tom Brady was 27/40 for 369 yards and 2 TD's. Danny Woodhead ran in another. LB Gary Guyton took a fumble to the end zone and the rest of the points were kicked home. The Bears did manage a TD, but Cutler finished the day 12/26 for 152 yards and 2 INT's. The Bears defense? They actually managed 3 sacks and 7 tackles for a loss. But it wasn't enough. The Patriots D collectively defended 7 passes as well as the 2 interceptions, forced 2 fumbles and had 2 sacks. It was too much for the Bears, who crumbled in the face of clearly superior opposition. Miami Dolphins 10 @ New York Jets 6: The only story that seems to have come out of this games involves Jets Strength and Conditioning coach Sal Alosi. Which is lucky for both the Jets and the Dolphins, because it masks their terrible performances. Chad Henne was 5/18 for 55 yards and a TD. Mark Sanchez was 17/44 for 216 yards and an interception. The crowd was bored to tears. Then it all got interesting as Dolphins corner Nolan Carroll raced down the sideline on a punt coverage play (as a gunner) and Sal Alosi stuck out that fateful knee which brought Carroll down and has now earned Alosi a $25,000 fine and a suspension without pay for the rest of the season. Much has also been made of the fact that there were five or 6 staff members lined up alongside Alosi. The rumours and speculation are that these men were designed between them to trip Carroll up if Alosi missed. But I have a few problems with that theory. Number 1, it's pure speculation. As a general rule, players and coaches tend to stand on the sideline. Nothing they did (except for Alosi) would suggest that it was some pre-meditated move (many in the main stream press are calling it a "formation"?). Number 2, Carroll shouldn't have been where he was. Now I'm not saying that what Alosi did was excusable. It isn't. It's pretty downright despicable. But people also need to understand that technically speaking, Alosi didn't break any rules. Carroll however did. When leaving the field, whether intentionally or through being pushed, players are required to make an immediate effort to return to the field of play. Carroll clearly didn't. Yes Alosi should have been fired. But accusing the Jets of cheating and planning & using a sideline formation designed to stop coverage players from doing something that is essentially illegal under the rules makes no sense. Enough of that though. Just quickly some more praise for Cameron Wake, as if he needed any more from me. 5 tackles, 2 sack, 2 tackles for a loss, another Qb hit and a forced fumble. Not bad for an afternoons work. Kansas City Chiefs 0 @ San Diego Chargers 31: 7/17 for 40 yards. Someone remind me why in the hell I had faith in Brodie Croyle? Well, I know why. I've seen better from Croyle. Much better. Just not on this Sunday. Philip Rivers on the other hand was back to being the winning Rivers; 18/24 for 226 yards and 2 TD's, 1 INT. Even better for the Chargers was Mike Tolbert returning to form with 16 carries for 66 yards and a TD. Add on rookie RB Ryan Matthews (watch list) who also carried 16 times, but only for 65 yards and a TD (just one out Ryan). Even better than that though was the Chargers defense back to it's best (sort of). Collectively they put up four sacks, 6 tackles for a loss and 6 QB hits. If they keep this up they might even somehow squeeze into the playoffs through the bizzaro world that is the AFC West right now. Philadelphia Eagles 30 @ Dallas Cowboys 27: Michael Vick gets all the plaudits. He was 16/26 for 270 yards, 2 TD's and 2 INT's. He rushed for another 16 yards and a TD off of 8 carries. But two **Sean's are the ones who make it all go. RB LeSean McCoy carried 16 times for 149 yards. WR DeSean Jackson caught just 4 passes... for 210 yards and a TD. And it's DeSean Jacksons TD celebration that got my back up. I understand that when players score they want to celebrate and that's ok. But do you really have to stand on the edge of the end zone and fall into while holding the ball out? For me that crosses the line of celebration and enters the realm of taking the piss. This is the main reason why I thoroughly enjoy seeing DeSean Jackson getting hit. But what also bugged me about it is why did we have to watch 10 or so replays from 6 different angles trying to figure out if he was in the end zone or not. This is what I was talking about the other day when I said that the NFL (or in this case the broadcaster, NBC) is getting too picky and too concerned with whether the hairs on a players beard have broken the plane of the goal line etc. It was an excessive celebration. We could all see that. We don't need to watch it a thousand times over to confirm or refute the decision. Now back to the football and John Kitna. 24/35 for 242 yards, 2 TD's and 2 INT's. Not bad, but not good enough I'm afraid. What bugged me was the continuous use of Felix Jones as the main back when it looked pretty clear that Tashard Choice posed a bigger threat of breaking a big run. But that's just me. New York Giants 21 @ Minnesota Vikings 3: Well, at least we have a pretty good idea now that Tavaris Jackson isn't "the guy" in Minnesota; 15/30 for 118 yards and an INT is almost as bad as Favre's prior outings this season. Actually it's probably worse. But on the bright side for Tavaris, even Adrian Peterson couldn't get it done. 14 carries for 26 yards. Cue then the Giants. Eli Manning; 22/37 for 187 yards, 1 TD and 2 INT's. Not quite what I was expecting. Maybe the rushing attack can save the day for the G-men? Brandon Jacobs; 14 carries, 116 yards, 1 TD. Ahmad Bradshaw; 11 carries, 104 yards, 1 TD. That'll do nicely! But it gets even more intriguing. 4 sacks as a defensive whole. 8 tackles for a loss. 10 QB hits. And then 9 passes defended. I'm almost loathed to say it but, the last time the Giants had that combination of strong front seven play on defense and explosive rushing on offense.... they won the Super Bowl. 2010 maybe? Baltimore Ravens 34 @ Houston Texans 28: The atmosphere inside Reliant stadium must have been awesome. Having watched their team slip away into obscurity, the Texans fans then watched as the Ravens entire team collapsed in truly magic fashion. The decision by the Ravens to throw on 3rd and 2 with barely a few minutes left on the clock would have left Ravens fans stunned and Texans fans elated as the clock stopped. Then came the final scoring drive, followed by a two point conversion that took the game to overtime. And then Matt Schaub pissed it all away. Chasing a big deficit, Schaub finished the game 31/62 for 393 yards, 3 TD's and 2 INT's. Andre Johnson had 140 yards and 2 TD's off 9 catches. Somehow in all of that the Texans managed to find 20 carries for Arian Foster, which he wove into 100 yards. The defense produced five sacks. And they still lost. Joe Flacco was run of the mill in comparison, with 22/33 for 235 yards and 2 TD's. Ray Rice put up leisurely numbers of 19 carries for 54 yards compared to his opposite number. The Ravens D had just two sacks. The Ravens offense managed only 19 first downs to the Texans 28. Importantly however, the Ravens made it count on the money downs. They were 3/3 in the red zone, compared to the Texans 2/3. On third down the Ravens converted 8/15 for a 53% rating. The Texans; 7/18 (38%). But even then the Texans converted all four of their fourth down attempts. Penalties hampered the Texans, with 8 for 51 yards, compared to the Ravens meager 3 for 15. The biggest difference was special teams. The Ravens returned 6 kickoff returns for 233 yards (longest; 103) and a TD. The Texans had 2 returns for just 41 yards. And while the various major news outlets around the web bitch, cry and bemoan the Ravens defense (I'm looking at you ProFootballTalk.com), I'm taking a slightly more pragmatic view. The Ravens won because ultimately they played better all around football. For all the sharp criticism focused on their defense, it was in fact the Ravens D that won the game with an overtime interception. They've found yet another way to win. Now this is obviously very premature, but this is what championship winning teams do. They find ways, any old way, to win. The Saints did it last year. The Jets reached the AFC Championship game on this approach. The Falcons have been doing it all season on their way to the best record in the NFC (so far). I'm just saying. Right, after much typing and distractions (I started this article 8 hours ago) we've come to the end of the week 14 round up. Apology's that it took so long. Pick wise I finished the week 10-6, which now takes my season tally to 104-88. Getting better by the week. I'll be back tomorrow with pick for Thursdays game as week 15 swings around upon us already. Till then, Have a great day everyone.

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