Tuesday, September 20, 2011

2011 Week 2 round up

A wild week two to the NFL season is done, so let's have a look back at some of the key points of the action.

Raiders @ Bills
Talk about a shootout! Right up until the last second it was there for the taking, with Da'Norris Searcy making a last gasp interception in the end zone (more on this later) to deny the Raiders the win. Jason Campbell threw for over 300 yards. Ryan Fitzpatrick had over 250 yards (but also just 28/46). Both ground games were heating up, with Bills back Fred Jackson in particular carrying for over 100 yards and two touchdowns off just 15 carries. Darren McFadden had 20 carries for 72 yards and a TD, plus 7 catches for another 71 yards and a second TD.

The big highlight for the Raiders was rookie receiver Denarius Moore, who caught 5 passes for 146 yards and a touchdown, including some really tough catches. After a run of bad receiver picks by the Raiders, Moore, combined with second year receiver Jacoby Ford (when he returns from injury) could be just the ticket that the Raiders offense is looking for.

Defensively the Raiders back end had its moments, but they just couldn't seem to generate any pressure up front. The Bills had similar problems and they're tackling in particular was a big worry.

Chiefs @ Lions
You have to kind of feel sorry for Matt Cassel. 15/22 with 3 interceptions doesn't really tell the whole story, in that at least two of those picks could be attributed to his receivers poor hands. Add on three fumbles and it just seems like nothing is going right these days for the Chiefs. Everything is going right for the Lions though. Four touchdowns for Matthew Stafford and some solid defense for a change? Are we sure this is really the Lions playing? I mean Jahvid Best is even staying healthy and finally living up to his immense potential. The world can surely only be hours away from spinning off its axis.

Ravens @ Titans
That's more like the Joe Flacco that I remember! less than 50% completion despite 32 chances to throw, two interceptions and just the one touchdown. The balance of the world is restored. Conversely Matt Hasselbeck was getting back to his old days with 30/42, which is the kind of efficiency that the Titans will need from him.

They could also use Chris Johnson recovering some of his old form. After the stupidly big payout they gave him he has so far failed to recapture his previous form. His average per carry was just over two yards and his longest run of the game was a whole 7 yards. At least the Titans receivers were doing better, with Kenny Britt going over 100 yards and Nate Washington falling just one yard shy of his century.

Which highlights an interesting problem with the Ravens D as Ed Reed got burned several times, not least due to his gambling style of play. And this is one of the things that kind of throws up a question for me; is Ed Reed worth it? Yes he gets interceptions and those are great plays. But to do that he often has to run completely out of position in the hope of catching out a quarterback, leaving huge holes behind in the secondary and giving up massive plays to the opposition offense.

On the opposite sideline, credit to Titans defensive ends Dave Ball and Derrick Morgan for their efforts in disrupting the Ravens offense.

Browns @ Colts
The battle of two Peytons beckoned. Except one of them was absent through injury leaving the other to clean up with nearly 100 yards on the ground and two touchdowns. Colt McCoy looked better than last week, Kerry Collins looked just as bad as a last week. Something tells me (perhaps the 0-2 record?) that it's time for the Colts to break out the running game and start getting that defense into gear. Joseph Addai is a good back and Delone Carter has done ok so far. It has to be better than giving Kerry Collins the ball nearly 40 times a game and hoping that the terrible form he showed in Tennessee will suddenly turn itself around. Because it wont.

Packers @ Panthers
You know I laughed at this game, seeing Cam Newton go 28/46 for 432 yards, a TD and 3 interceptions. Because again I make the simple point; if this was Tim Tebow, nobody would be interested in the 400+ yards, just the three interceptions, the sole touchdown and the loss. But no, for whatever reason Newton seems to be getting a pass. "He's just a rookie," "he's learning the game" etc. Well hold the fuck up a second, wasn't he the number one overall pick? Did Matthew Stafford get this kind of leeway? Did Mark Sanchez?

No, that's right. They didn't. Nor really should they. If you're going to splash the number one overall pick and a huge sum of money on a kid then you had better be sure he can play. Which Newton can't. I don't care about the 432 yards. That doesn't interest me. All that means is that Newton has chucked a bunch of long bombs to Steve Smith, who only caught 6 of his 13 targets, and has had some long runs off dump offs.

Where are the touchdown drives? 400 yards and yet you only come up with two touchdowns and three field goals? Off 400 yards? With three turnovers? To me that smacks stat inflation hiding the real story. The Panthers have come out this year looking to throw, relying heavily on 4 and 5 receiver sets to try and move the ball through the air. It's almost like they're trying to prove that Newton is 'the guy'. Well I personally am not buying it.

I am buying the Packers. Rodgers was 19/30 for over 300 yards, with 2 touchdowns and another on the ground from John Kuhn. The defense had a great game, with 3 interceptions overall (two for Charles Woodson), four sacks, 7 total QB hits and 8 total passes defended. Desmond Bishop and Morgan Burnett had great games in particular.

Buccaneers @ Vikings
You have to admire Adrian Peterson. Forget about the numbers (25 carries, 120 yards, 2 TDs). Just watch the guy run and just look at the effort, the determination he displays. I mean, he's not especially fast compared to other backs in the league. His cutting ability is nothing really special, there are lots of backs who can cut and move just as well as he can.

But there really isn't another back in the league who keeps fighting, keeps churning his feet and keeps pushing like Peterson. It's like watching a dog that hates water frantically paddling to get itself out of the river - it'll do whatever it takes, relentlessly, to get out of the water. That's how Peterson plays, relentlessly fighting for yards, until he's literally dragged to the ground kicking and screaming. About the only person that comes close that right now is LaGarrette Blount.

Who unfortunately for Peterson was also in this game and also ran in 2 touchdowns, one of them with just 30 seconds left to win the game. It's one of those wins that is difficult to figure out without watching it. On paper the advantage seems to be just in the Vikings favour, but that doesn't explain how the Vikings managed to race out into a 17-0 halftime lead, ripping great chunks out of the Buccaneers defense and yet only produce a field goal in the second half.

Credit to Josh Freeman and the Buc's for their comeback. An experience like that should stay with the team and give the hope in the future. For the Vikings it will be an agonising game to look back on, one where they will rue the missed chances to put it away.

Bears @ Saints
God almighty, what a game of mess ups. The first has to go to the Bears offense, who seem incapable of finding a way to protect Jay Cutler. He finished 19/45 but with no picks for a change. He was sacked 6 times and hit another 4 and to be honest it wasn't really his fault. They couldn't keep his backside covered, they insisted on running empty sets with Cutler under center (you're not gonna run it, so put him back somewhere safe) and kept receivers tight in the slot on the backside of otherwise "spread formations", without hot routes seemingly built in, allowing the Saints to blitz Cutler at will with no safety net.

The fact that safety Roman Harper had two sacks and that a Saints defense devoid of any natural pass rushers was able to get six sacks tells you everything you need to know about the Bears offense and how they go about protecting Cutler. And as if that wasn't enough, when you start making me feel sorry for Jay Cutler, it means you're fucking something up badly.

Drew Brees had no such problems. He was only touched twice and finished the game 26/37 for 270 yards and 3 touchdowns. Only Matt Forte offered the Bears any hope, with 10 catches for 117 yards plus another 49 yards rushing off ten carries. Poor sod, stuck on that team. I'll deal with the Darren Sproles "touchdown" later.

Jaguars @ Jets
The Jets took to the field dressed as a slightly drearier version of the Rams and then proceeded to lay a beat down on the Jaguars. Four interceptions for Luke McCown, some of them worse than others (but all bad). We even got a Blaine Gabbert sighting. Mark Sanchez was relieved, as for a whole game he wasn't the worst quarterback on the field. He tried his best though, throwing two interceptions. Antonio Cromartie was the big winner in this game, somewhat reviving his flagging reputation as a top corner with two interceptions.

Seahawks @ Steelers
Oh boy! The Seahawks were always going to be fighting an uphill battle against the Steelers, made all the more worse by the Steelers slighting last week against the Ravens. But scoreless? Wow, the Seahawks look bad this year. Tavaris Jackson wasn't actually that bad at quarterback, completing 20/29 passes. The trouble is he never really pushed the ball downfield. Combined with a non-existent rushing attack the Seahawks were never going to compete seriously in this one, and may not for the entire season.

The highlight for me in this game though was Doug Legursky, who is having a season to forget right now, getting flagged for clipping. As I mentioned before doing my week 2 picks this is precisely what the Ravens did to the Steelers in week one, and what everyone was dismissing as just the Steelers crying. I have to say, the Steelers have been somewhat vindicated now, even if nobody in the press will admit it.

Cardinals @ Redskins
When Larry Fitzgerald caught a pass over the shoulder and ran hard for the end zone, scoring a 73 yard touchdown, it all seemed to be finally going right for the Cardinals. Maybe this would be the year that they finally brought it all back together and went back to the playoffs?


Well, not on this evidence anyway. Despite picking off Rex Grossman twice, the Cardinals just couldn't hang in there. The Cardinals offense looked improved, but not enough to bury the Redskins or to overcome their defense, that finally came to life in the second half and forced a critical fumble to end the Cardinals hopes. Still, this game was a lot closer than the Redskins would have wanted it to be.

Cowboys @ 49ers
I almost couldn't believe it. Ahead by ten with about 10 minutes to play. Then with a Miles Austin touchdown and a last gasp field goal the Cowboys came back. God damn it!! We even won the toss in over time but failed to put together the drive needed. Classic 49ers.

To be honest I think the game was a lot closer than it really should have been. If Tony Romo hadn't left the game with a rib injury (which it later transpired had caused a collapsed lung) then I have a feeling he would have tormented a 49ers defense which has lost some of its spark this year. Yes John Kitna was picked off twice, but that's John Kitna for you. The 49ers D managed to rustle up 7 QB hits but just the one sack.

Compare to the Cowboys defense and their nine hits which produced six sacks, including two for defensive end Jason Hatcher and two for DeMarcus Ware, as if anyone would be surprised to read that. You also have to give a lot of credit to Cowboys receiver Miles Austin who caught 9/15 for for 143 yards and three touchdowns, as well as Tony Romo, who pressed on through the pain and lead his team to a great comeback win.

I hate Tony Romo.

Bengals @ Broncos
Tim Tebow at wide receiver? What? Luckily not the shape of things to come, just the Broncos running out of receivers, as you do...

Better from Andy Dalton in this one. 27/41 for 332 yards, but still just two touchdowns. Both Jerome Simpson and rookie A.J. Green had over 100 yards receiving, but still a lot of missed opportunities in the passing game for the Bengals. Kyle Orton was reasonably efficient for the Broncos, but this time Denver leaned heavily on its rushing attack. Willis McGahee had 28 carries for 101 yards and a TD, marking a big leap forward for the Broncos rushing attack.

Texans @ Dolphins
You'd have to be stupid to have taken the Dolphins over the Texans right? Shut up. We'll get to the picks later. The point is that Chad Henne isn't playing all that well lately. Just 12/30 for 170 yards, with a touchdown and an interception thrown in for good measure. A lot of drops by the receivers doesn't help, but at some point as a quarterback you have to hold yourself accountable.

Matt Schaub was the opposite of Henne. He completed 21/29 for 230 yards and 2 touchdowns in a solid performance. Arian Foster returned to action for the Texans... then ten carries later returned to the sideline through injury. Luckily though Ben Tate picked up the slack and carried 23 times for 103 yards. Miami went a few yards better in that regard, with Daniel Thomas carrying 18 times for 107 yards, but it was not enough for the Dolphins, who suffered yet another home loss.

Chargers @ Patriots
I'm not sure which was more impressive; Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson, Vince Wilfork making an interception and then running back 28 yards, or Tom Brady. Hell they were all impressive!

Tom Brady; 31/40 (that's over a 75% completion percentage off 40 throws) for 423 yards and 3 touchdowns, no interceptions. That is truly outstanding play, reminiscent of his performances during the Patriots 16-0 regular season run. Naturally that helped set up the ground game and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who carried 17 times for for 70 yards and another TD.

Phillip Rivers wasn't exactly shabby himself, with 29/40 for 378 yards and two touchdowns, but also two interceptions that, along with a fumble of his own and a bad fumble by Mike Tolbert, gave the Patriots the extra opportunities that you just can't give them if you expect to win.

That's really the story of the Chargers right now. They are a good team, a very good team, but they just can't help killing themselves with those critical errors. Even a 10 catches, 172 yards and two touchdowns for Vincent Jackson can't stop that.

Eagles @ Falcons
If ever there was a game where the scoreboard and the box score tell a lie, then it was this one. Matt Ryan finished 17/28 for 195 yards, 4 touchdowns and two interceptions, but he was all over the place for the first three quarters. The stats don't show the mess that Eagles defensive end Trent Cole made of Falcons left tackle Sam Baker. They don't show the occasional mess that is the Eagles offensive play calling. Or the impact of Mike Vick on this game.

Specifically I'm talking about his interception and his three fumbles, which basically gave the Falcons the lifelines they needed to try and hang in this one. Without those turnovers, which were useful as much because they denied the Eagles possession as for giving the Falcons chances, then I'm not sure the Falcons win this.

Of course in the end the Falcons did pull it back and Matt Ryan retains his "Matty Ice" moniker, but for most of the first three quarters he looked like "Matty Meltdown", as the Eagles pressure him relentlessly. Roddy White only got targeted four times in the entire game, as Ryan tried to lean on the insufferably over rated Julio Jones. Luckily Tony Gonzalez was often there to bail him out of jail.

Andy Reid tried his best to help the Falcons with some play calling that can only be described as bizarre. Why you would want to run that many reverses and plays with complicated ball handling when you have Mike Vick, LeSean McCoy (18 carries, 95 yards, 2 TDs), DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin (13 receptions, 171 yards and 2 TDs) is beyond me. Not that the Falcons were blameless in that regard, overlooking the Eagles shocking run defense for most of the game, despite having scythed great chunks of yards out of it early on. Michael Turner did finish with 21 carries for 114 yards and a TD, but more by accident in the end than design.

I'm not sure whether Vick getting injured helped the Falcons more or the Eagles?

Ultimately the Falcons were 5/5 in the red zone to the Eagles 3/5, which is all that often matters. The Falcons were somewhat fortuitous to win this game in my opinion, and if the Eagles can just clean up some of their mistakes then the Dream Team could well live up to its reputation. Don't hold your breath though....

Rams @ Giants
Monday Night Football!! And god that has to be the worst clash that Monday has seen since I don't know. You have to love (sarcasm reaching boiling point) the Giants dropping to the floor and playing injured to try and stop the Rams no huddle offense. What a fucking sad act to see on a professional football field. This is precisely the sort of crap that has put me off soccer. I just cannot stand such blatant cheating.

Not that it really mattered a whole bunch. The Rams were slaughtered in the red zone, achieving just one touchdown in four trips. The pass was caught by Danario Alexander (undrafted last year, but still made my watchlist) who finished the game with 3 catches for 122 yards and a touchdown. Unfortunately for the Rams that was the peak of their achievements, as Sam Bradford finished 22/46 for 331 yards and that sole touchdown.

The Giants had some fortune along the way, but still put together a reasonable showing. Eli Manning went 18/29 for exactly 200 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception, with some great throws along the way... and some not so great throws as well. The combination of running backs Ahamd Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs did ok, combining for 31 carries for 109 yards and a touchdown. Perhaps critical for the Giants though was the return of Justin Tuck, who finished with 1.5 sacks and looked fresh.

If the Giants can keep their front seven healthy and playing up to the high standards of which they're capable, then the future could be bright this year for them. They'll need a little more out of Eli and that ground game, but the foundation for success is certainly there. For the Rams, they really are going to miss Steven Jackson. They also need their defense to stop looking good on paper and actually start making a serious, sustained contribution. Three sacks is a start, but it's not a finish.

Right, time to check up on my picks; 13-3 for week 2! Screw the Ravens, screw the Bengals, and to be fair, screw me for picking the Dolphins on the off chance they might beat the Texans. That means I've recovered to 20-12 overall, but only thanks to this weeks performance. Although to be honest if anything this week demonstrates more than any other how pointless picks really are.

The Falcons game I came up a little lucky. The Redskins beating the Cardinals was a close run thing. The Bills just barely edged out the Raiders. and so on and so forth. I think in all honesty football games tend to be a little too close run in general for picks to really mean much.

And now some Jerry Springer style final thoughts;

-- The quality of the officiating was once again highly suspect. The Eagles/Falcons game was notable for a hit laid by Dunta Robinson on Jeremy Maclin (for which Robinson was flagged and has since been fined $40,000). But there was a hit later on by an Eagle on I think Julio Jones, but the reason I can't remember much about those involved was because it never drew a flag, despite being just as bad on replay as the Robinson hit (leading with the head, launching, striking up with the arm). It seems that purely because the receiver wasn't knocked out, there was no flag. And this is precisely why players in soccer dive in the penalty area, to ensure they get the penalty. As soon as players catch on to this you can expect to see a rash of NFL receivers faking being injured, if only for a few seconds, in order to draw flags (as well as to stop no huddle offenses).

-- The TV replay system is a joke. Coaches are reliant of the TV directors to give their staffs up stairs the right angles before they can make decisions on whether to challenge. That's bad enough. But the rules regarding scoring plays, all of which are now supposed to be subject to review, is even worse. Darren Sproles stepped out of bounds before scoring the touchdown that gave the Saints a two score lead against the Bears. Had this been reviewed properly, as it should have, the Saints would have stopped at the one and the Bears might well have hung in there and come back into the game. This new rule, which takes the challenge ability out of the hands of the coaches, is going to cause more arguments than it's worth before the season is done.

-- The quality of tackling saw no improvement this week. Can I just then sarcastically say congratulations to the NFLPA for demanding such a radical reduction in the amount of padded practices. You've just defeated the whole bloody point of practice and the chances are that the reduced opportunities to learn proper tackling form will lead to more poor tackling, which will eventually prompt players to resort to throwing themselves wildly at ball carriers, which will finally lead to a rise in injuries compared to before. Well done NFLPA. Well thought out. Twats.

-- There is a similar rash of defensive mistakes, prompted perhaps by the modern "Pro Bowl" mentality among players, with defenders trying to make highlight reel interceptions instead of batting the ball down when they have the chance. What we've seen as a result is a number of catches that shouldn't have been possible and I believe this is partly behind why pass heavy offenses have been so successful of late.

The best example of this risk taking mentality in favour of inflating stats was Bills rookie safety (a rather improper title) Da'Norris Searcy, who should have simply batted down the last gasp pass by Jason Campbell into the end zone. Instead he caught it and risked allowing a Raiders receiver to get two hands on it as well, knowing that a tie goes in the offenses favour.

Oddly enough that play was reviewed upstairs, despite Searcy clearly making the catch and there being no doubt in anyones mind except the replay officials. It's a funny old world I guess.

And that's me done for the weekend. Hopefully - hopefully he says - this week I will finally be able to start introducing diagrams into the blog, which will allow me to explain some of the stuff I've seen and go a little more in depth with regards to the coaching side of football.


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