Saturday, September 17, 2011

2011 Week two picks

Evening. Or morning. Possibly afternoon. It all depends on when you're viewing this. For me it's 04:24 ZULU, or Greenwich Mean Time as it's otherwise known. Such is the joy of being a Football fan who lives in the UK and must subsequently live a moderately anti-social lifestyle in order to indulge in a life long passion. But there you go, everyone chooses their own path and all that McGuffin.

So, today I want to do my picks for this weekend, but much depends on the need for sleep and the availability of strong coffee.

Before I do though, I want to pick up the whole Steelers/Ravens spat that has been going on this week, with the Steelers accusing the Ravens of using illegal blocks and the Ravens saying that's rubbish, everything they've done is perfectly legal. The story was picked up by and that's the only reason I'm interested in it myself, because I enjoy shitting on Mike Florio and proving him wrong (just purely for my own entertainment), and not because of any sympathies with irritating Steelers fans who mundanely insist their team is still dominant, despite the fact they lost the Super Bowl last February.

The story was originally reported on that site by Michael David Smith. There was a follow up post later in which Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh explained that the blocks were;

"... 100 percent legal, and it’s 100 percent ethical, and there is no danger whatsoever in the way the block is being executed because it’s in front."
Which is a straight lie. The blocks in question were illegal and it's precisely because they were not executed in front. Of course that doesn't stop one of the biggest blowhards in the mainstream media - Mike Florio - from pitching in;

"But the Steelers, and folks like ESPN’s Merril Hoge, apparently don’t understand the chop block rule,"
Now strictly speaking, the Steelers have got the rule regarding 'Chop Blocks' wrong. But as a journalist who is attacking the integrity and knowledge of the Steelers and of fellow journalist Merril Hoge, not to mention trying to take a smug stance of superior knowledge in all things rule based, it beehoves Florio to go and watch the film and make sure there that everything is in order before commenting. Which is something even an amateur like myself did.

The problem is this; there was a foul being committed by the Ravens, it just wasn't specifically 'chop blocking'. Whether the Steelers just didn't know the correct terminology or not, they at least knew something was wrong and they were right. Still following this? While it is perfectly legal for two adjacent offensive linemen to high/low a defensive player (which is where the argument over chop blocks stems from), what those offensive linemen are not allowed to do is hit a player below the knees, from behind.

This is what is known as 'clipping'. The official explanation, according to the NFL's own website is;
Clipping: Throwing the body across the back of an opponent’s leg or hitting him from the back below the waist while moving up from behind unless the opponent is a runner or the action is in close line play.
The observant among you will jump on that last sentence about 'close line play' (the less observant should stop yacking on the phone to that person who you don't need to be talking to right now). But if you follow the link above to and their definitions of the various terms, you'll see close line play right underneath clipping;
Close Line Play: The area between the positions normally occupied by the offensive tackles, extending three yards on each side of the line of scrimmage. It is legal to clip above the knee
I underlined the final sentence because that's what's important. Clipping is only legal in close line play when the clip occurs above the knee. Below it is still a foul. And this - friends - ok, acquaintances - is where we come to picture time. Basically the best picture I could get is taken from a clip of the NFL Networks 'Playbook' show. This is merely a screen capture of one of their videos, to which they obviously own all rights etc. All I've done is insert a red circle in order to draw your eyes to the correct location.

What you can hopefully see is Steelers Nose Tackle Casey Hampton getting his legs taken out from under him by the Ravens right guard who takes a shot at Hamptons ankles. That - my acquaintances - is what Hampton and the Steelers were complaining about. And that is indeed an illegal block.

The moral of the story? Watch the video first Florio, before you make one of your stupid, smug, sweeping assertions. Unlike a certain blogger I know. What you might also be able to see in the picture is that I refuse to use Akamai's "high quality" video service, basically on the principle that their standard quality service is shit and plagued with glitches, so I can only presume the high quality videos will be the same, they'll just be a bit sharper and take three times as long to load.

Or in other words - fuck that and on with the picks.

Raiders @ Bills; A tricky pick right out of the gate. On the one hand you have a Bills team that went on a riot week one and destroyed the Chiefs. But you also have a Raiders team who ran the ball really well against the Broncos and are certain to not abandon the run so quickly as the Chiefs did in week one. The question then becomes - for me - whether you think the Bills can stop the run and.... I think they can. I really do. I think they've done a lot of good work drafting and preparing that defensive front since Chan Gailey took over as a Head Coach and I think their passing game is leagues ahead of the Raiders. Bills win.

Packers @ Panthers; The Cam Newton express is on display at home for the first time in the regular season and there is a lot of optimism abounding, both in the locker room, the stands and around the media. Cam Newton threw for 400+ yards in his first appearance and showed a number of desirable traits. Well that's all well and good, but I happen to believe he also showed a number of undesirable traits as well and that the Packers defense is going to be a much tougher nut to crack. Mix in Aaron Rodgers ripping up the Carolina D and I'm afraid I'm going to have to put the brakes on the Newton express for one week. Packers win.

Chiefs @ Lions; I have to ask myself one thing - do I believe that Todd Haley will finally lean on his rushing attack? The answer is no. And even then, I think the Lions D-line is good enough, just, to keep that rushing attack in check and allow Matthew Stafford to open up a lead against a vulnerable Chiefs secondary. Lions win.

Browns @ Colts; Did you watch last weeks Colts game? If you did, then you wont even need an explanation for this. Browns win.

Buccaneers @ Vikings; The Minnesota Vikings come in 2011 and they entertain a Buccaneers team that is angry over its week one loss to the Lions. I think the Buccaneers will run it more this week and frankly I don't think they'll have to do too much to beat the Vikings. The Vikings offensive line was horrendous in week one and the Buccaneers have more than enough playmakers on their defense to expose that weakness. Buccaneers win.

Bears @ Saints; Tough one. The Bears had a great start to the season, certainly way beyond the expectations I had for them. The Saints lost to an explosive Packers team, but gave the Packers D a good licking at times just to let them know they were still in the game. Honestly, I think the Bears have been skating on thin ice for a long time now and this is the game where the ice breaks, letting Drew Brees and company flood that secondary for some big points. Saints win.

Jaguars @ Jets; As impressed with the Jaguars as I was in week one, and as much as I dislike Mark Sanchez for his inconsistency, I still can't look beyond New York in this game. I just don't think the Jaguars have the offensive line to contain Bart Scott and the Jets pass rush, nor do the Jaguars have the ability to do the reverse, with their own pass rush being too weak I think to seriously hamper the Jets offense. Jets win.

Seahawks @ Steelers; Pete Carrol brings his Seahawks side east across the states to face a Pittsburgh team that is licking its wounds after being mauled by the Ravens. I can't see the Steelers giving Seattle anything less than 100% as a result. They're going to be angry in this game and much more focused during practice this week. I think the Seahawks don't have the tools in any phase of offense to do much damage to Pittsburgh and I think their defense lacks enough bite to really expose a Steelers line that was shown last week to be a bit ropey. Steelers win.

Ravens @ Titans; The Titans offense looked bad last week. Really bad. I can't see that improving against the Ravens. Ray Lewis, Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs and the rest of the Ravens front seven are well placed to pour the misery on Chris Johnson and Matt Hasselbeck, while the Titans defensively really don't have the speed to get after Joe Flacco, or a single player who can really contain Ray Rice. Ravens win.

Cardinals @ Redskins; Both these teams got big wins in week one, but only one team really asserted itself. The Redskins handed a butt kicking to an otherwise pretty good Giants team, meanwhile the Cardinals somewhat scraped through against the Panthers, relying on a special teams return to wrap it up. I think Rex Grossman is good enough to exploit the weaknesses in the Cardinals secondary, I think the Redskins O-line is good enough to contain the Cardinals pass rush and to overpower their rush defense, while the Redskins pass rush is well poised to exploit the Cardinals weaker O-line. Redskins win.

Cowboys @ 49ers; As much as I would love to see my 49ers pound the Cowboys into the floor, that is patently a pipe dream. Offensively the 49ers might just be one of the worst teams in the NFL right now. It's a close run thing between them, the Manning-less Colts and the Tavaris Jackson lead Seahawks. And as much as we all like to bash Tony Romo, he did have a good start to last Sunday Nights game. That should be all he needs to put this one beyond the reach of San Francisco. Cowboys win.

Bengals @ Broncos; John Fox will trot out for a second home game with the Broncos, this time looking for a much better result with Kyle Orton still at the head of his offense, and hopefully without his fans starting up any Tebow chants. The Bengals will be looking to capitalise on a great team start to the season and impressive individual performances from both rookie quarterback Andy Dalton and his back up Bruce Gradkowski. Personally I think the Bengals running game will be a little too strong for the Broncos and that could tip the balance of an otherwise tight game. Bengals win.

Texans @ Dolphins; Despite their terrible start to the season from a scoreline perspective, the Dolphins actually did ok on offense. They certainly looked improved compared to last year. Chad Henne was more confident and the receiving corps looked a little more in tune. Is that enough to beat a Texans team that has markedly improved its defense? I'm not sure. The Dolphins O-line should stand up to the pressure a little better than the Colts did last week, but can Miami's defense get after Matt Schaub and slow the Texans passing attack? I'm going to take a punt here and go out on a limb by saying yes. Dolphins win.

Chargers @ Patriots; No doubt, Phillip Rivers is a great quarterback. No doubt the Chargers have a great offense all round, and a pretty good defense. But good enough to beat the Patriots? I mean Tom terrific? Tom Brady? The three rings Brady, golden boy of the NFL? Now that's a tough ask. The Patriots pass protection was rock solid for the most part against the Dolphins and Brady looked as good as he's ever been. The form book would say take New England and I think that's exactly what I'm going to do, though I do think the Chargers will keep this one close. Patriots win.

Eagles @ Falcons; Mike Vick returns to Atlanta, which might have been special were it not for the fact that he's already done this once since signing with the Eagles. Question is, can he come away with a win? Last week he really struggled at times throwing the football, yet still managed to generate enough big plays to push his team through to victory. The Eagles defense meanwhile was very vulnerable against the run, which means their is a mismatch in favour of the Falcons back Michael Turner. Will the Falcons keep it on the ground and chew some clock? Can their offensive line actually pass protect this week? I'm going out on another limb here and saying yes. Falcons win.

Rams @ Giants; Both had losing starts, with the Rams losing to the explosive Eagles offense and the Giants losing to Rex Grossman. No offense Rex. Now when I look at this game the first thing I see is the Giants pass rush. I see guys like Jason Pierre-Paul ripping across the line and making short work of the Rams O-line. I see Eli Manning as just good enough to expose the holes in the Rams secondary. And I see a home victory for New York. Giants win.

I'll be back either Sunday night or Monday night to share my thoughts on the weekends games. Till then, have a beer. Relax. And enjoy week two of the NFL season.

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