Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Week 15 recap

Time to look back at the week that was... Week 15. New Orleans Saints 24 @ Baltimore Ravens 30: Would you credit it? All this time that the Ravens offense has spent flapping around ineffectually, week after week, then along come the Saints and suddenly the Ravens have an epiphany. "Wait! What if we feed the ball to Ray Rice! He was pretty good last year!". We'll congratu-f***ing-lations. Now can I have my pick back? Ray stormed the day, scoring two touchdowns (one on the ground, one in the air), leading his team in receiving yards and piling up over 150 yards on the ground off 30+ carries. This was the Ravens of old, the Ravens that went to the playoffs last year. The Saints were not the Saints of last year. Drew Brees ended up throwing nearly 50 times, completing 29 for 3 TD's and an interception. But there was little support from the run game. Last year I observed that the Saints scored a lot of their passing touchdowns on play-action, but at this rate their rushing attack will be barely worth honoring. Of course we've seen with the Colts that even a poor rushing attack isn't always a barrier to good play action. Regardless, after the 49ers/Chargers game, this result squares me up at 1-1 pick wise for the week. Arizona Cardinals 12 @ Carolina Panthers 19: Yep. I told you the Cardinals were that bad. And they were. John Skelton completed just 17/33 for 196 yards. Like a lot of coaching staffs, the Cardinals either simply refused to adapt to the reality of a rookie QB, or simply were just very keen to see how Skelton panned out with an eye to next year. The Panthers took a different approach. With the number one overall pick practically in the bag for 2011, they went back and revisited what has been a winning formula for them in recent years; turn around and hand the ball off to whoever is at running back. Mike Goodson got 10 carries, Jonathan Stewart 27. They didn't score between them, but at least they helped to build drives that ended in field goals. Exciting stuff when Arizona and Carolina meet. 2-1. Cleveland Browns 17 @ Cincinnati Bengals 19: The Bengals won a game! Christmas has come early in Cincinnati. And what an exciting game it was, as you can clearly see by the score. At least one person enjoyed it and that was Cedric Benson, who had 31 carries and 150 yards plus a TD. The sad fact about this game is that the Browns actually scored more touchdowns, with Colt McCoy returning to the lineup and throwing in both. But alas the Browns couldn't match the Bengals for putting together field goal ending drives. Possession and field position favoured Cincinnati. Four sacks on defense helped, including one for rookie Geno Atkins (watch list) and two for rookie Carlos Dunlap. And it dropped me to 2-2 in the picks. Washington Redskins 30 @ Dallas Cowboys 33: It was close for a while. I happen to like Rex Grossman, who can be something of a double edged sword. Sometimes he's very good. Sometimes he's an unmitigated disaster. This week he was a bit of both. 300+ yards and 4 TD's, as well as two 2-point conversions is not to be sniffed at. The two interceptions might generate a mild sniffle though. The Cowboys actually dragged their heels in the touchdown stakes, but again, field goals made up the difference, along with 5 sacks by the defense (including two for DeMarcus Ware). John Kitna did well, putting up 305 yards and 2 touchdowns of his own. The running game probably made the difference though. 27 carries between Felix Jones and Tashard Choice produced over 120 yards and a rushing TD for Choice. Perhaps critically it reduced turnovers in a game that was decided by 3 points. 3-2 Jackonsville Jaguars 24 @ Indianapolis Colts 34: The Jaguars tried to get cute with Peyton Manning. Generally that's not advisable, as the Jaguars have learned. Having watched the film of the Cowboys/Colts game, the Jaguars will have seen the Cowboys using a "Tampa 2" defense (two deep safeties, with the middle linebacker dropping into coverage up the middle to create a cover 3 look) to great effect. The Jaguars tried to emulate this success, but as is all too often in coaching, emulation without the inner understanding can be worse than just sticking with what you otherwise do really well. Manning obligingly ripped it up with 2 touchdowns. What was more surprising was the Colts sudden explosiveness in the run game and their sudden stoutness against the run on defense. Donald Brown busted out two long runs, one ending in a TD. That does tell you a lot about the Colts rushing attack though, as his 12 remaining carries generated about 30 yards. Maurice Jones-Drew on the other hand was held to just 46 yards from 15 carries. David Garrard had almost 300 yards passing, but it produced just 2 TD's and 1 interception. Both teams also had special teams returns for touchdowns, with Mike Thomas's 78 yard punt return scamper being a little more impressive than Tyjuan Hagler's 41-yard pick up of an obvious onside kick. 4-2 and doing well in the picks. Buffalo Bills 17 @ Miami Dolphins 14: Alright Buffalo!!! There's something about being English that compels me unconsciously to support underdogs at any opportunity. Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Bills are definitely my favourite underdog right now. Fitzpatrick put up just over 200 yards passing, with 2 touchdowns and an interception. But I still have no idea how the Bills won this. Chad Henne managed to complete 33/45 passes. Thirty three completions. And yet that mustered just 276 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. Talk about struggling to find that killer edge. The Dolphins looked to have taken strides to improve in the off season. But now? Man, there are some issues that need solving and I'm really not sure how the Dolphins go about it. On defense, the 'phins pulled out two sacks, including one for rookie watch lister Koa Misi, but the Bills even trumped them in that respect, producing three sacks, with LB Arthur Moats snagging 1.5 of them. 5-2 Philadelphia Eagles 38 @ New York Giants 31: I have absolutely no sympathy for teams like the Giants. None. With the kind of lead they had, all they had to do was see the game out. That was it. You don't even have to put together scoring drives anymore. You can be much more relaxed with your play calling, both offensively and defensively. You can afford to run the ball much more, driving down the field and using up the clock. And if anyone can run the ball right now, it's the Giants. On defense you can afford to play a little softer in coverage, using the odd zone blitz to get after an opposition offense that badly needs some big plays to get back in it. You have your opponent right where you want them. But somehow, somehow the Giants failed to capitalise on their dominant position. Having started the 4th quarter scoring with a TD, the Giants then proceeded to give up four unanswered touchdowns to the Eagles, including allowing the Eagles to recover an onside kick largely due to a failure to deploy their hands team, then finally getting the ball back only to have to punt.... and punting the ball right to DeSean Jackson who returned it 65 yards for the score as time expired. It was just second half game management ineptitude on a scale probably not seen before in the NFL. It was that bad that we probably wont ever see something like that again. If the now 9-5 Giants miss out on the playoffs and let the now 10-4 Eagles slip by, it could potentially cost Coach Tom Coughlin his job. It cost me a pick. 5-3. Kansas City Chiefs 27 @ St. Louis Rams 13: This is just simply not playing fair! Like most people, I had no idea that Matt Cassel was going to play until close to kick off, which kind of hampers a persons ability to make accurate picks. There is a lot of difference between Cassel and his current understudy Brodie Croyle. That difference was noticeable. Cassel didn't do anything particularly fancy, but then he never does. The great skill that Cassel seems to bring to the Chiefs is just not turning the ball over an excessive amount, with just one pick on Sunday to Sam Bradfords two. That's pretty much all the Chiefs need out of their QB right now. The defense and the running game does the rest. Chiefs RB's Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones combined for 33 carries, 188 yards and 2 TD's (one each). The defense produced three sacks, all by the hands of DE Wallace Gilberry. They also had two interceptions, both going to safety Kendrick Lewis (rookie watch list). Probably the biggest problem for the Rams though was their own quarterback, as Sam Bradford had an unusually off color performance, completing just 21/43 passes, for less than 200 yards and with those two interceptions. This was the Chiefs sticking to a tried and tested game plan. If they keep this up, there is no reason they can't reach the playoffs and make a good run when they get there. Unfortunately that drops me to 5-4 for my picks. Detroit Lions 23 @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20: The Lions finally did it. They finally bucked their losing streak away from home. It's been a tough ride for the Lions and the game in Tampa was no exception, as it went right down to overtime after a game that was punctuated by brief spells of action. By some miracle the Lions managed to produce a 100 yard rusher, Maurice Morris (15 carries, 109 yards, 1 TD). The Buc's did too with rookie LaGarrette Blount (15 carries, 110 yards, 1 TD) who battled and fought and pummelled his way through the Lions defense. Trust me, it never gets tiresome watching Blount run. But the most impressive thing in this game has to be Drew Stanton, who was the number 3 guy only weeks ago and who now has lead the Lions to back to back wins. Much of the credit to how well the Lions offense has coped with the loss first of Matthew Stafford, and then his backup Shaun Hill, has to go to the Lions coaching staff. Fingers crossed on behalf of Lions fans that they can keep that up. Except when I pick them to lose of course, as I did this week. 5-5. Houston Texans 17 @ Tennessee Titans 31: No Vince Young? No problem say the Titans. We'll just sit back and let Chris Johnson carry the ball 24 times for 130 yards and a TD. Then we'll get Kerry Collins to throw 14/24 for 237 yards and another 2 touchdowns, against all previous expectations. Meanwhile on the Texans sideline, they responded to a first quarter performance that saw them give up 3 touchdowns by coming back gunning the ball downfield. The result was Matt Schaub throwing 35/54 for 325 yards and 2 touchdowns, 1 interception. That's good, but when you're chasing a big score that's not quite enough. I just don't get the Texans. They always seem to wait until the game is practically beyond their reach before they finally find the right gear and begin playing to their full potential. And they cost me another pick! I hate the Texans. 5-6. Atlanta Falcons 34 @ Seattle Seahawks 18: You can trust Atlanta. Like a good Ford automobile, they're reliable. As indeed are the Seahawks on most week ends. You can rely on them to stink up the field, which they did. With the win, the Falcons are now guaranteed a place in the postseason, which is where their form will really count. And they're on form alright. Matt Ryan may have only found the mark on 20 of his 35 passes, and for just 174 yards, but crucially he had 3 touchdowns to his one interception. Contrast that with the combination of Seattle quarterbacks Matt Hasselbeck and Charlie Whitehurst, who combined for zero passing touchdowns (Whitehurst had one rushing) and two interceptions. The Falcons were simply a class above the Seahawks. If they can keep this up, good things will happen in 2011, including a possible place in the NFC Championship game. They also helped me even out pick wise at this stage. 6-6. Denver Broncos 23 @ Oakland Raiders 39: Tim Tebow (rookie watch list) got his first start and made a pretty good impression, not least when he carried the ball 40 yards for a touchdown, despite several assertions from prominent footballing commentators before the draft that Tebow wouldn't be able to do such a thing given the speed of NFL defenses. Well that theory has been blown out of the water. Tebow finished the game with 8 carries for a team high 78 yards. He threw just 16 passes, completing 8 for 138 yards and another TD. It proved however to be not enough. The Raiders QB Jason Campbell put up 15/26 for 238 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. RB Darren McFadden had 20 carries for 119 yards. Michael Bush had 12 carries for just 24 yards, but also 2 touchdowns, and all this after Jacoby Ford opened the scoring with a 71 yard TD on a reverse. The win keeps alive the Raiders hopes of making the playoffs. For the Broncos it was a good early sign of things that might be in the ensuing years. For me, it was another pick well placed. 7-6. New York Jets 22 @ Pittsburgh Steelers 17: Mark Snachez hardly stunned once more. 19/29 for 170 yards. In all fairness, he did manage to rush home his teams only offensive score. But the Jets still look less than the Super Bowl worthy team that Rex Ryan thought told them they were and that many in the off season (including me) thought they might be. Still, can't turn your nose up at a win over the Steelers. There will of course be claims that without Troy Polamalu the Steelers weren't the same defense. Mainly because without him, they're not. But that doesn't explain why Ben Roethlisberger completed just 23/44 passes, with 1 TD and 1 interception. There is little that Polamalu could have done about that. It also doesn't explain how the Steelers got "home" for a sack just once compared to the Jets 3 sacks. Regardless. The Steelers have bagged a playoff berth thanks to results elsewhere going there way. They still haven't got the AFC North in the bag, but that's a work in progress that they should be able to handle. The Jets are still in the hunt themselves, looking predominantly for the chance to steal a wild card spot. They have the players, it's just a case of finally gelling this team into a solid and consistent unit. Based on the way they've played recently, that might take some doing. 7-7. Green Bay Packers 27 @ New England Patriots 31: Hands up who thought the game would be this close? Now put your hands down you liars. I don't think anyone presumed for a second that Matt Flynn would do as well as he did, reeling in the Patriots time and again. 24/37 for 251 yards, 3 TD's and 1 INT is not a bad days work for an understudy like Flynn, even if it was against the Patriots slightly flimsy defense. But Packers FB and so-so Carson Palmer look-a-like John Kuhn was the running highlight of the game for me, despite his low numbers (6 carries and 3 receptions). Barreling through tackles and jumping over defenders he set the tone for the Packers offense that was mirrored by RB Brandon Jackson. It's just a shame then that Kuhn's antics were overshadowed by probably the most hilarious thing ever to be seen on a football field; Patriots offensive guard Dan Connolly getting his hands on a short kickoff and returning it 71 yards, including a stiff arm and a nice cut back along the way. Connolly started off looking so out of place it was unreal, then suddenly channelled his inner Walter Payton to set up a short field for the Patriots offense. An offense that didn't really seem all that threatening, but still managed to score 3 touchdowns. Tom Brady was just 15/24 for 163 yards and 2 touchdowns (both to TE Aaron Hernandez (rookie watch list)). Part of the reason for their struggles was Packers DT B.J.Raji, who had two sacks and was a menace all night, much like his Patriots counterpart Vince Wilfork who shrugged off much of the Packers less than stellar blocking to make plays along the defensive line. All in all, the big special teams return plus Kyle Arringtons 36 yard "pick 6" might have been the only things that really saved the Patriots from what could have been a frustrating and slightly embarrassing loss. It also saved my pick. 8-7. Chicago Bears 40 @ Minnesota Vikings 14: Brett Favre; 5/7, 63 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception and potentially one career ending bash on the noggin, courtesy of the cold, hard field at TCF Bank Stadium, the Vikings current home away from home. It's almost certainly the end for Favre this year, and possibly forever (finally, for real this time). Having hit the turf, Favre didn't move for a good while. If there was a light on still, then there was most certainly nobody home. That should be enough for him to say goodbye, so long, and farewell. I doubt his wife will use such kind or restrained words though after seeing her husband lay motionless for a lot longer than most healthy human beings should. His replacement, Joe Webb, did as well as could be expected for a rookie who probably can't remember the last time he took a snap with the first team, if indeed he ever has. 15/26 for 129 yards and 2 INT's isn't great, but it's not the end of the world. He also carried the ball 6 times, including a 13 yard TD run that saw him dive for the pylon. At this point however we need to stop and take stock. We need to refocus. Because for all the drama surrounding the offense in Minnesota, it really is the defense that has to shoulder a substantial amount of the blame. Where are the sacks form last year? Where is the tight defensive unit that helped accompany the offense to the NFC Championship game? It's just disappeared, vanished into thin air. Jared Allen has been a non-factor this year. Ray Edwards is up for free agency in 2011, and he seems to be the only person playing like he's giving it his all. Let's put it this way. They gave up 40 points to the Bears. Ok so seven of those came on a punt return, but that still leaves 33 others to account for. And even though many of the points were booted through the uprights by Robbie Gould (4/4 on field goals), that doesn't excuse the fact that the Vikings defense gave up the yards to make those kicks a reality (the longest kick was just 34 yards). In the end Jay Cutler had quite an easy day. 14/24 for 194 yards, 3 touchdowns and just the one interception. RB Matt Forte had 17 carries for 92 yards. Devin Hester had a good day as well in the return game, returning a punt for a 64 yard touchdown and taking back a kickoff for 79 yards to leave a short field. All of the above means that the 2010 Bears have done the unthinkable; they've clinched the NFC North. Only God knows how they did it. But at least they kept me above even in my picks. 9-7. So after a hectic week, congratulations are in order to those teams that have already booked their place in the post season. Good luck to you. As for me, my Week 15 picks left me a disappointing 9-7. I was hoping to do much better. For the season that puts me at an equally disappointing 113-95. But what concerns me a bit more is the way I'm doing recaps. I just remember last year that I seemed to spend less time doing the recap, which allowed me to get them done in a more timely manner. I also feel that I spend more time this year just regurgitating numbers at people than last year, when I preferred to delve a little deeper into what was happening on the field. Hopefully I can buck this trend fairly shortly. Might need a rethink, me thinks. Anyway, until next time, Have a great day everyone.

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