Wednesday, September 14, 2011

2011 NFL Season, Week one: recap

Cowboys @ Jets
We might as well get this one done first, because it has been one of the major talking points since Sunday night. Basically the Cowboys looked like they had it all sewn up at one point, and then they shit the bed in epic fashion. I mean it was, for me at least, painful to watch.I don't even like the Cowboys and I felt sorry for them. It was embarrassing at times.

Watching them line up, watching Romo dicking about at the Line Of Scrimmage, and all the time you're watching the play clock slowly wind down and then sure enough, another delay of game penalty. Oh wait, now it's twelve men in the huddle. And now Romo isn't paying attention when the balls snapped etc. It was laughable in a way. The Cowboys committed 7 penalties for 40 yards, the Jets 0-0.

Both quarterbacks looked terrible as well. Romo did his usual trick of standing around staring at open receivers, before scrambling as the pressure closed in and somehow finding a way to mend broken plays, which then leads to the inevitable "oh he's so great at improvising" lines, while ignoring the fact that his own basic lack of awareness is what put him in that position in the first place. Then he threw a terrible pass completely behind to an injured Dez Bryant, who became more of a hindrance than a help later on, which was picked off by Darrelle Revis and prompted a new wave of "Da Revis Island" bullshit.

I also found it quite amusing that Romo looked like he was blaming Bryant afterwards, which is what you like to see in a quarterback. Very Peyton Manning of you Tony, except without all the yards, touchdowns and the Super Bowl ring.

Mark Sanchez did little better. The Jets won the game in spite of their quarterback, not because of him. Another stupid pick in the bag, which further emphasises the good/bad dichotomy that is Mark Sanchez. One minute he's throwing superb back shoulder passes, the next he's driving balls into the hands of the linebackers. He must be the single most annoying person to coach in the NFL right now. How he ended the game with 335 yards I'll never know.

Credit where it's due... LaDanian Tomlinson had a great game. Even if you don't like him still as a runner, his ability to come out of the backfield as a receiver and still make plays against linebackers is unquestionable.

On defense, both the Ryan brothers took the leashes off their defenses and let it rip. Except unlike the Saints, both teams have some very capable pass rushers. DeMarcus Ware of the Cowboys had 2 sacks and another hit. Overall the Cowboys had four sacks and two additional hits. Linebacker Sean Lee also excelled, capping his 12 tackle display with an interception.

The Jets were led in tackles by Bart Scott with 8, as well as having a sack and another tackle for loss. Scott was playing havoc with the Cowboys disjointed O-line and the Jets ended the game collectively with four sacks.

Panthers @ Cardinals
This game had to come second and it's all about two words; Cam Newton. But here's a few more words for you; how come all of a sudden everyone thinks Newton has proven his critics wrong? I don't get it. All across the Internet and the TV, from the NFL Network to ESPN, pundits and fans alike seem to be agreed that Cam has shaken off all the criticism he received pre-draft and is now on pace for a Hall of Fame career.

I say hold the fuck up a second.

Interesting fact for you - yes Peyton Manning once threw for 400+ yards in a game during his rookie season, but so did Matt Leinart. Yes, that Matt Leinart. The Matt Leinart who is universally hailed as a bust and a waste of a good roster space.

People also seem to be over looking the fact that Newton was playing the Cardinals, a team with a terrible pass defense who put an exclamation point on that assessment by blowing coverages against the Panthers like it was going out of fashion. People also seem to be missing the fact that Newton was consistently under throwing receivers. On the long bomb to Steve Smith, Smith had to stop and wait for the ball to come to him, despite being wide open on a blown coverage, a trait that Newton demonstrated repeatedly in college.

And people also seem to be ignoring the fact that despite throwing for 400 yards, he produced just three touchdowns, one on the ground and two through the air. Contrast with Monday nights performance by Tom Brady, which not only produced 500+ yards but also 38 points. And then there's the two interceptions, one of which was scratched off due to a penalty.

All in all, throwing for over 400 yards is good and should definitely make people go "hmm, not bad for a first start". But to claim that this one performance proves all the "haters" wrong is bullshit. Those haters might ask what happened on the other 13 passes among the 37 that Newton threw. Or would just quietly suggest that people hold on for a minute before stamping the word "hit" all over his file, and instead wait and see what happens against Green Bay next week.

Yes, Green Bay is coming to visit the Bank of America stadium, complete with a vastly better pass rush and a much better secondary. If Newton can pull another 400+ yard performance out of the bag then maybe I might stop for a second and at least give him another look. Until then I'm sticking by my pre-draft assessment; failure.

Steelers @ Ravens
Well thank you Pittsburgh for absolutely taking a dump on what I said in my predictions. Far from the Steelers pulling away in this one it was the other way around, as the Steelers contrived to do everything possible to make a hash of this game.

Seven turnovers; 3 interceptions and four fumbles. It's practically impossible to win a game like that and once again the root cause of the problem was the Steelers O-line. They were terrible, Doug Legursky in particular. It was just a complete mess. I guess the problem is we're used to seeing Roethlisberger cover up those mistakes with great improvisational play. Well not this week we didn't.

Now that still doesn't mean I'm ready to bow at the feet of Joe Flacco and put him up there as an elite QB. He still ended the game 17/29, albeit for 224 yards and 3 touchdowns. That's good. Against the Steelers that's all the more impressive. But it still represents a pass completion percentage that only just nudged over 50%. The true story of this game was the Ravens D.

Let me throw some numbers in your direction. Five sacks, including three alone by Terrell Suggs. Four tackles for loss. Four forced fumbles, including two for Suggs. Three interceptions, including two for Ed Reed. Another seven passes defended, including two for Reed. That was the story of this game. The Ravens defense came up big and they hammered the Steelers hard. That's what won the game... and cost me a pick.

Falcons @ Bears
Ugh, Jay Cutler gets another pass. 22/32 for 312 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception. Not bad for a change. Better than normal, let's put it that way. And only four sacks given up. I see the Bears have tried to mitigate the problem with both their quarterback and their O-line by leaning much more heavily on screen passes.

The performance of the Falcons though is what caught my eye. 4-13 on third down? (Compared to the Bears 6-16). 2 fumbles and an interception? Matt Ryan 31/47 for 319 yards and no touchdowns? I mean seriously, 47 passes? I know they were behind but it was only 3-16 at the half. Why then just ten measly carries for your best player in Michael Turner? (who picked up 100 yards on those ten carries, hence why he's your best player). 

It's almost comedic. I'd laugh if it wasn't for the fact that it cost me what I thought was a sure fire pick. Credit where it's due though, and that's to Henry Melton of the Bears. A fourth round pick in 2009, Melton was credited with 2 sacks and another 5 QB hits in this game, which is impressive any way you chose to look at it.

Bengals @ Browns
God this was hideous, in more ways than one. Colt McCoy was 19/40. 19 of 40? That's less than half, which is well below the standard that McCoy had set for himself during his rookie season. Then there was the debacle with the Browns defense not getting lined up in time and giving the Bengals basically a free touchdown play to take the lead. It really did look shambolic at times.

Bit of props for Andy Dalton who defied his pre-season form by going 10/15 for 81 yards and a touchdown. Still a little too much of the "dink and dunk" element to his game for my liking, but at least it was a more solid show until he got injured. Then enter Bruce Gradkowski! 5/12 (blurgh) for 92 yards and a touchdown (the one where the Browns didn't line up). The futures bright, the futures orange... and black.

And possibly a little blue as the Bengals bruising running game made its mark. Cedric Benson carried 25 times for 121 yards and a touchdown. Peyton Hillis of the Browns managed just 57 yards off his 17 carries, which will no doubt spark rumblings about the "Madden Curse", one of the most annoying pieces of misguided fandom in the the entire NFL (hint; the main criteria to get on the cover of Madden is to have an exceptional season. The definition of exceptional being; Unusual, not typical. Which explains why players typically don't have back to back Madden worthy seasons).

The Bengals D also deserves a shout. Beyond the interception for Michael Johnson was another nine passes defended.

Colts @ Texans
This was going to come up eventually. I suspected, just like everybody else, that the Colts would suck minus Peyton Manning. But I'll be honest, I didn't realise it was going to be this bad. I mean even the defense stunk it up. By halftime the score was 34-0. What the hell happened?

Well two fumbles didn't help the cause, though in all fairness the Colts D came up with two interceptions to balance that. Maybe the Colts 1/9 performance on third downs had something to do with it? Or the three sacks and four additional QB hits that the Texans D chalked up? Maybe it was the Texans running game, which saw Ben Tate carry 24 times for 116 yards and a touchdown, as well as the 11 carries for 39 yards by Derek Ward.

Perhaps it was Kerry Collins himself, who went 16/31 passing for 197 yards and just the one touchdown. Which explains why I hate passer ratings so much, because he came away with an 82.3 rating for his performance. That's not great, but it just sounds like it was ok, when it really wasn't.

The Colts have some serious thinking to do about their future. The Texans need to keep their concentration for next week.

Bills @ Chiefs
If any of you live in the Kansas area, I ask only this of you; if you ever see Todd Haley in the street, please punch him in the fucking head. What is wrong with this man? Why is he so obsessed with Matt Cassel? Why will he not just accept the fact that it was Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin that made him famous, it was them that made his pass offense work, and that now he should be rolling with his hot hand which is Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones?

Charles carried ten times for 56 yards. That's a 5.6 yard per carry average. Even Dexter McCluster, a running back in college, was given four carries which he took for 42 yards. That's two explosive players that the Chiefs have there and in the past their running games has proven to be exceptional... when they stick with it. But that's half the problem with Todd Haley, the man has no damn patience.

And of course, the Bills were just better. Ryan Fitzpatrick was 17/25 for 208 yards and four touchdowns. Fred Jackson carried 20 times for 112 yards. Three Bills receivers had over 60 yards each. The defense produced 9 tackles for loss. This was a great win for the Bills and a terrible day for the Chiefs. Kansas lost promising safety Eric Berry to injury and just generally stunk it up. It remains to be seen where they go from here.

Eagles @ Rams
It all looked so promising for the Rams. Early on they watched Steven Jackson bust out a 47 yard run and it looked for a moment that the Eagles linebackers would be their down fall. Alas, Jackson was injured, and the rout was coming. The Rams were a miserable 2/12 on third downs and then to cap it all off they lost Sam Bradford to injury as well.

Bradford managed just 17/30 for 188 yards before departing. Still, at least he wasn't as bad as Mike Vick. 14/32 for 187 yards and 2 touchdowns. The two touchdowns are good, the 14 of 32 much less so. I mean that is just chronic and it has people in Philadelphia shifting around nervously in their seats, despite the win. In fairness Vick did carry the ball ten times for 98 yards (longest run was 19) to make up for it to a degree.

Now those who felt the agitation will be helped little by seeing Nnamdi Asomugha's first run about in an Eagles jersey. He was thrown at twice and gave up a pass interference call and a 31 yard pass, which is another tick in the box for my theory about supposed "shutdown corners" being a little over rated.

Someone who's not right now is LeSean McCoy, who had another fine game, carrying 15 times for 122 yards and a touchdown. Which emphasises the sad thing about the Eagles offense; despite Andy Reid's reluctance to run the ball, the Eagles are actually really good at it! DeSean Jackson also had an ok game. He had 6 catches for 102 yards and a touchdown, but I should point out that he was targeted 12 times.

The Eagles pass rush probably had the most fun though. They notched five sacks between them, including two for new signing Jason Babin, and ended the game with a further six collective QB hits and seven tackles for loss. The Rams D did ok too, with 7 tackles for loss, 3 sacks and another 8 QB hits.

Lions @ Buccaneers
Frankly I'm a little surprised that the Lions managed to pull this one out of the bag. They gave up a pick 6 early on, ended 2-11 on third downs and had four fumbles. But they persevered and were rewarded, with Matthew Stafford throwing 24/33 for 305 yards and 3 touchdowns, plus that interception.

Josh Freeman didn't look quite as sharp. Against a not so brilliant Lions secondary he put up 28/43 for 259 yards, one touchdown and one interception. The ground game was terrible. Freeman was the leading rusher and between four different ball carriers the Buccaneers had just 16 carries for 56 yards, despite it still being a once score game going into half time.

The respective defenses had their moments. The Lions managed to rack up two sacks and seven passes defended, the Buccaneers had 6 tackles for loss. It's precisely the start the Lions were looking for, but it might be back to the drawing board for the Buccaneers.

Titans @ Jaguars
Well, the Luke McCown era has officially begun in Jacksonville and it started with 17/24 for 175 yards. Not exactly pro bowl numbers (that being the amount of times a player is featured on Deion Sanders's prime time segment, what with the pro bowl being a fair and balanced selection process and all. And now I'm just ranting) but a good start.

Matt Hasselbeck tried, by gawd he did! Well 21/34 is ok ish, must do better territory. He ended with 263 yards,2 touchdowns and a pick. The surprise of the day though was running back Chris Johnson, fresh off his holdout, who carried 9 times for a measly 24 yards. What's that Tennessee? You're regretting paying him all that money? Worried that his huge seasons might be behind him? Still haven't learnt that probably 50-60% of a running backs yards are down entirely to the offensive line? Ooops! Maurice Jones-Drew had a better day for the Jaguars, with 24 carries for 97 yards and a touchdown.

Receiver Kenny Britt had a pretty good day for the Titans, with 5 catches for 136 yards and two touchdowns, but off 10 targets. Neither defense had a great day, apart from perhaps Jaguars defensive end Jeremy Mincey who had 3 QB hits. If he can just take that a step further then the Jaguars could really use some sacks.

Vikings @ Chargers
This was a game notable perhaps for some of the weird ass interceptions, such as Jared Allen getting a pick and Shaun Phillips blocking a screen pass, which went up and then back down into his arms. I guess it was also notable for the Chargers special teams, that gave up yet another touchdown when Percy Harvin returned the opening kick off 103 yards, they lost kicker Nate Keading to injury and even had their punter Matt Scifres kick a 40 yard field goal (it was actually a really good kick. I'm not sure if he had the wind at his back but that thing still had a lot of leg in it when it hit the net).

During regular play now and Donovan McNabb debuted with 7/15 for a paltry 39 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception. The Vikings are gonna need something a lot more impressive than that if they hope to stand any chance in a much more competitive NFC North this season. Adrian Peterson still looked pretty good, carrying 16 times for 98 yards, but ultimately the Vikings scored just the one offensive touchdown.

The Chargers were in so-so form offensively. Phillip Rivers was 33/48 with 335 yards and two touchdowns, but also two interceptions and some other miscues. The star of the show was, for once, a fullback; Mike Tolbert had one rushing and two receiving touchdowns.

Seahawks @ 49ers
Part of me is delighted with the result - the part that bleeds red and gold. The rest of me is a) gutted at another lost pick and b) worried very much with the manner in which we won against a team that isn't very good.

Third down efficiency for the 49ers? 1-12. One. Of twelve. Four field goals, two long special teams returns for touchdowns and a run in by Alex Smith. That's hardly confidence inspiring stuff right there. Although that's precisely what Ted Ginn jr. was brought in to do, it would be nice if we could use that speed for some deep passing. In all fairness, Alex Smith had an ok game, ending 15/20 for 124 yards. The running game however looked a little stifled, with Gore carrying 22 times for just 59 yards, including a 16 yard run.

At least we're not the Seahawks though. Tavaris Jackson was just 21/37 for 197 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception. Jackson also had three fumbles and running back Marshawn Lynch never really got going on the ground. The sole bright spot was the Seahawks defense which was ok, and recorded 8 tackles for loss, including two for safety Kam Chancellor (on last years rookie watch list) and two for Earl Thomas. The 49ers D had 5 sacks (including two for defensive end Justin Smith, who still gets no credit) as well as nine tackles for loss and seven defended passes.

Giants @ Redskins
You have to love the Giants, as they continue in their quest to give Tom Coughlin either a heart attack or stomach ulcers. Whether it's giving up fumbles, sacks, or simply having their field goals blocked, the Giants excel at making the hard working and talented Coughlin irate. Not least among the culprits is Eli Manning.

18/32 for 268 yards and one interception. He was sacked four times, hit another four and even chucked in a fumble for good measure. The Giants were 1-10 on third downs and their offensive line looked horrible. Ahmad Bradshaw managed a mere 13 carries for 44 yards and a touchdown. At least Manning himself was able to dive over the line for a score.

On the other side, Rex Grossman was 21/34 for 305 yards and 2 touchdowns and actually looked a bit better, although you can see there is still a long way to go for Washington. Tim Hightower didn't quite find the form he did in pre-season failing to climb over 3 yards per carry.

At least the Giants defense pitched in with four sacks, including two for Jason Pierre-Paul who continues to impress. The Redskins were lead in sacks by rookie tackle Chris Neild. Rookie outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan had the interception.

Patriots @ Dolphins
The penultimate game sees New England man handling Miami. Well I say that, but that's really only how it looked on paper. Going in to the fourth quarter it was 28-17 and had Miami managed to punch in an opportunity on the 1 yard line instead of having to kick a 20 yard field goal then it would have been 28-21.

There is no denying though that Tom terrific was... terrific. Kind of. 32/48 for 517 yards, 4 touchdowns and 1 interception. Wes Welker helped a lot with a 99 yard catch and run, which effectively was 15 yards of air and 84 yards of Welker running for dear life. Welker ended the night with 160 yards and two touchdowns, Aaron Hernandez had 103 yards, Deion Branch had 93 and Rob Gronkowski turned in 86.

Which gave Chad Henne all the more reason to be gutted. He ended 30/49 for 416 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception. Brandon Marshall had 7 catches (13 targets) for 139 yards, Davone Bess had 92 yards and Anthony Fasano another 82 yards. Reggie Bush wasn't quite as electric on the ground this time, with 38 yards off 11 carries.

It was an impressive display still by the Pats. Brady looked calm, poised and for the most part accurate. He read the field well and his ball placement was first class. Behind a strong O-line, New England is going to be tough to beat this year. Miami may yet surprise us still.

Raiders @ Broncos
Lastly, thankfully (do you have any idea how long this shit takes to write? If so, click the facebook or Google like button at the end. And if you don't, shame on you. Also click the button), it's the Raiders and the Broncos and the fans in Mile High have already begun the Tebow chants, which I'm not really sure is fair. Now coming from a confirmed Tebowliever, that might sound odd.

The simple fact is though Orton is still a good quarterback and its only been one game. He was 24/46 which admittedly is a bit sketchy, but his 304 yards were nearly three times as many as his opponent Jason Campbell (13/22 for 105 yards, 1 touchdown). Orton also threw a TD... and a pick.

Truth is, the Broncos simply couldn't compete with the Raiders running attack, as Darren McFadden gashed the Broncos for 150 yards off 22 carries. The four fumbles by the Broncos didn't help either. Nor did the Broncos O-line allowing the Raiders to clock up 5 sacks, 7 tackles for loss and 6 quarterback hits.

It was just a mess for the Broncos in so many ways. But then what more do you expect from John Fox?

So that's your recap done for the week one, which is now officially in the books. Pick wise I am 7-9 after week one, thanks in large part to the Steelers O-line, the Falcons offensive coaches, Tony "Pass me some water, I think I'm choking" Romo and the patron saint of stubborn, misguided arse holes - Todd Haley. Oh, and I still hate John Fox.

Now then, teams get that joyful experience of going back to their facilities and trying to work out either where it all went wrong or where it might go wrong in the future. The players are either patting each other on the back or crying into their beers.

And while they do that, I'll be back tomorrow to look at a few things that have caught my eye over the last week. Before that though I want to leave you with some Jerry Springer style final thoughts on week one.

-- The fad for childish, ridiculous dances in the endzone (what Bill Walsh often referred to as "Histrionics") seems to continue this year. I have to say, at the risk of sounding like a boring old fart, that I find the dances to be unsportsmanlike and very much a sign of arrogant show boating. Now stuff like the Lambeau leap I can live with, along with players celebrating with their team mates, high fives and all that. It's just the stupid fucking dances that I hate and I wish the league would put a stop to it. If the cameras weren't there in the end zone, nor would the dances be.

-- Proper tackling hasn't been a wide feature in the NFL for years now, but it seems the lay off has done the players no good. I'll couple this with a point I was going to make seperately about injuries and ask the question; is it really wise that the new CBA includes restrictions on the amount of off season training and the amount of padded practices? I get the feeling it could have the reverse effect that what was intended, with players actually getting injured more frequently, not less. Of course I doubt the NFL gives a shit because bad tackling equals more big runs and more points. Will we ever get a commissioner who appreciates good defense? (hint; no).

-- The four and five receiver sets are here to stay. Teams have been lining up in wide, "spread" formations and airing the ball out big time this first week. If this is the course of things to come then Dan Marinos 'passing yards in a season' record wont be safe and might even be done by week 14, with an outside chance that more than one person might break it. Unless of course someone can crack the code on defense, in which case the NFL, for all its faults, does at least learn quickly.

-- Some of the officitating has, for the want of a better word, been shit. Of particular note is the emphasis still on punishing defenders for daring to try and make plays on the ball in the air, despite having an equal right to, as well as more stupid calls about hits on 'defenseless' receivers. I've noticed that some defensive players seem to be playing much more tentatively as a result of the new rules, which is only bad for the game.

-- For some reason I noticed there was a lot of slipping about this week. Whether teams are using new cleats (or sneakers for the indoor "turf" *rolls eyes*) I dunno, but there definitely seems to be a lot more people slipping and sliding about. Will have to keep an eye on this.

So anyway, I must be off to the land of sleep and honey. Thanks for stopping by. If you could hit up the facebook button or the google like button at the bottom that would be awesome. If you have friends who are into football, drop them an e-mail or something. Every reader helps out the blog and helps me to keep going.


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