Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Week 7 review and my writing schedule for the week,

So my plan for the week rolls a little something like this;

- Review the week 7 action (now)
- Follow up post about zone running by looking at some of the play-action possibilities,
- At look at the unsung heroes of the great contemporary 3-4 defenses,
- Matt Forte's touchdown run versus the Bucs,
- Picks for week 8,

So, we'll start with;

Redskins @ Panthers
A much more comprehensive performance from Cam Newton, with a wider range of passes and a better showcase of his full skill set. No interceptions was also a big plus point. The Panthers offense still has kinks to work out of its system though. They gave up 4 sacks and it could have been more were it not for Newton's physical skills. They finished 5/12 on third down and 3/5 in the red zone. Newton is also still a little too reliant on Steve Smith, who caught 7 passes for 143 yards. That's more to the detriment of the Redskins defense though, which at times appeared to have given Smith far too much room to run, despite him being the only major receiving threat on that offense. I often wonder what till happen to the Panthers this season if Smith gets injured or gets game planned out of the game by a defense.

Speaking of game plans, the Redskins offense have had theirs wrecked with an injury to Tim Hightower. At times Hightower gashed the Panthers defense, but outside of Hightower the Redskins only ran the ball three times; twice with Ryan Torain and once for Roy Helu. Helu is a good rookie and Torain can run pretty good too, so it'll be interesting to see how much the Redskins lean on them in the coming weeks, especially given the quarterback play they've had recently. Beck was ok, but only completed 22/37.

Seahawks @ Browns
Nine points between them? What in Gods name was this, because it wasn't a football game. In fairness there were points left on the field, but not a lot of them. Red Bryant blocked two Cleveland field goal attempts that otherwise could have left the Browns winning 12-3, while the Seahawks had a punt return touchdown by Leon Washington brought all the way back by one of my most hated penalties in all of football; a block in the back.

Now by rule, it was a penalty. I'm not questioning that the referee called it correctly by rule. But why, why in the name of Vince Lombardi is that even a penalty? All it was, was a little nudge in the back, to a player that had no real hope of catching the return man. I can understand something like spearing, because you don't want guys smashing each other in the back during a return. But a little nudge that just about knocks the opponent off balance? C'mon, surely that's not what footballs about, wiping out a great individual play for something so insignificant.

The question out of this game is this; who has the worst offense? Instinctively you might say Seattle, who picked up a whole 9 first downs with 137 net yards, were 2/12 (16%) on third down and gave up 3 sacks to Chris Gocong, T.J. Ward and Jabaal Sheard, all of whom are under rated, largely as a result of playing for the Browns.

But Clevelands offense has to be in there with a shout. They gave up 5 sacks themselves, including two for poor Chris Clemons (deserves to be on a better team). They held the ball for a record setting 42 minutes and 56 seconds, running no less than 84 offensive plays, yet managed just 12/24 on third down (they had 24 third down plays!), a total of 298 net yards, were 0/2 in the red zone and scored a whole 6 points. I just want to vomit reading that.

Falcons @ Lions
Both quarterbacks took their licks, getting sacked three times a piece and suffering some nasty looking injuries, but it would appear neither quarterback will miss any real significant time. That's especially good news for the Lions, who are really struggling even with Stafford. Their last two games have begun to expose the early season hype for what it was... hype. Like the Panthers, the Lions offense is something of a one receiver show, except this one receiver show has no running game to pick up some of the slack when needed.

Unlike the Falcons, who have Michael Turner carrying 27 times for 122 yards, as well as three receivers who went over 50 yards a piece. One of them was tight end Tony Gonzalez, who reaffirmed his future hall of fame credentials by equalling and then surpassing Marvin Harrison to take second in the all time catches list. Only Jerry Rice is ahead of him now, which considering Gonzalez is a tight end, is a huge achievement.

Broncos @ Dolphins
Well, I did pick it right. But perhaps not in this fashion. What an exciting late rally though, coupled with the over time sack/fumble that set up the winning field goal. In truth though it was another horrible game from both teams. Tebow's 13/27 for 2 touchdowns belies the fact that for about three quarters he was something like 3/10 and looked quite shaky. The Broncos offense finished 4/16 on third down and only made the red zone twice, both of which times they converted.

But a win is a win. And a loss is a loss. And it's another loss for the Dolphins, who we should all remember, had less net yards on offense, less first downs, were 3/14 on third down, 1/3 in the red zone and on defense gave up over 180 yards on the ground. The sole bright spot was that they poured on the sacks, finishing the game with seven. Though I'm not sure if such a strong defensive performance doesn't actually make their offense look worse for not capitalising on it?

Both teams have a long way to go before being competitive again. The Dolphins can't seem to buy a break right now. And the Broncos need to seriously reassess their offensive and decide if they really want Tim Tebow holding onto the ball that long waiting for passes to develop down field. They could also do with some better performance at the offensive tackle spots.

Chargers @ Jets
I just don't understand what has happened to Phillip Rivers. Nobody does. He had Antonio Gates out there. He had Vincent Jackson out there. Yet he only hit 16/32, for less than 200 yards, along with two interceptions. It's just not very... Phillip Rivers like. There was some pressure from the Jets defense, but it wasn't like they were over running the Chargers line. They finished with one sack.

Perhaps more remarkable was the play of Mark Sanchez, who completed 18 of his 33 passes, for less yards than Rivers, with one interception but crucially 3 touchdowns to Plaxico Burress. I found this amusing mainly because ProFootballTalk.com spent the first part of the season praising Burress, then have spent the last couple of weeks trashing him, then went into utter back track mode yesterday when mentioning his scores, as if they hadn't said a bad word about him all season.

Shonne Greene ran over 100 yards for the Jets as New York finally managed to find some of that "ground and pound" that Rex Ryan is always harping on about. Just don't mention that a quarter of the yards came on one carry alone. Still, it's an improvement for the Jets. Kind of.

Bears @ Buccaneers
Well, as it turned out well over 70,000 fans arrived at Wembley to watch the Buccaneers and the Bears. I suspect there were a lot of discount tickets among them. Anyway, game on, and once again the Buccaneers offense imploded. With injuries to LaGarrette Blount and Earnest Graham it left only Kregg Lumpkin is a viable back for Tampa. 8 carries for 15 yards tells that story. So the Buc's turned to Josh Freeman and 51 passes later he'd thrown 4 interceptions and just two touchdowns, The Buc's were 4/14 on third down and 1/4 in the red zone. Also, I'm not sure if it's my eyesight, but I'm pretty sure that Freeman keeps lining up in the shotgun just 3 or so yards deep, instead of the usual 5? Weird.

The Bears offense responded in pretty nifty fashion for a change. Ok, so they were only a little better on third down than the Buc's and Cutler was 17/32 with just one touchdown and two interceptions, but Matt Forte was again came up trumps for the Bears, with 25 carries for 145 yards and a TD. There was also an interesting play in that game where the Bears pulled both the center and guard for a touchdown run, so we''l take a look at that later in the week.

Texans @ Titans
Hmm, now I distinctly remember someone I know saying that they didn't think the Texans offense would get going without Andre Johnson and that the Titans defense was more stout than people are giving them credit for. I wonder who said that? Surely it wasn't me? Oh wait... yeah it was. Whoops!

It was just a slaughter. Schaub threw close to 300 yards and had two touchdowns. The Texans had 222 net rushing yards, with Arian Foster carrying 25 times for 115 yards and two touchdowns, plus another 104 yards from 15 carries by Ben Tate. Foster wasn't done though, catching 5 passes for 119 yards and another touchdown, which is one of the play action plays I'll look at when I do my post later this week about play action off of zone running.

The bigger picture here though is the Titans offense. Or rather, lack of offense. Hasselbeck made just 14/30 with two interceptions. Chris Johnson was booed off the field with his ten carries for 18 yards. It was just non existent play from the Titans. No offense, no defense, no tackling. Even the Texans kicker Neil Rackers embarrassed them, by running down hill to lay a hit on Mark Mariani during a kick return. Proof here.

Steelers @ Cardinals
Ok, so this was an optimistic pick me taking the Cardinals. I did my old trick of trying to second guess what the coaches would game plan for and got burned. Specifically, Chris "Beanie" Wells got just 12 carries. I also didn't account for Roethlisberger seemingly having shaken off his foot injury. He was mobile and looked much more comfortable in the pocket, shifting around to avoid the rush and hitting 26/39 for 361 yards and 3 touchdowns in a very impressive performance, including another deep shot over the top to Mike Wallace for a 95 yard score.

Kevin Kolb could only watch in admiration. He still put over 250 yards and 2 touchdowns, but the Steelers pass rush made its presence felt, with LaMaar Woodley getting two sacks. The Cardinals still managed to scrape together 23 first downs, which is pretty good. You just get the sense that there is a hump lying in the road ahead of the Cardinals and if they could just get over that, then they'd have a pretty good season again. Priority one in the offseason; pass rushing outside linebackers.

Chiefs @ Raiders
This was never really going to go any other way. Kyle Boller thre three picks to start with, but then I was frankly stunned to see Carson Palmer enter the game, as if that was going to make a huge change. It didn't, and another 3 picks later the Raiders were done for, shut out, with Palmer completing just 8/21 passes. Matt Cassel tried to get in on the fun for the Chiefs, but he only managed two interceptions, leaving the Chiefs plus four in that regard. Notable among the picks for the Chiefs were Brandon Flowers who had two, one returned for a touchdown, and second year safety Kendrick Lewis, from last years rookie watch list, who had a pick six as well.

Rams @ Cowboys
This was basically a bye in terms of picking the winner. Even with the return to action of Steven Jackson, the result wasn't really in doubt. A.J. Feeley tried his hardest, but it was a bit of an uphill struggle against what is still a very good Cowboys defense. For once though the spotlight was off of Tony Romo, who made 14/24 with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. And it fell on rookie DeMarco Murray, who carried 25 times for 253 yards and a touchdown, which is a single game rushing record for the Cowboys. The blocking up front was excellent and once Murray hit the open field his speed was very impressive.

Packers @ Vikings
I thought I was just being optimistic picking the Vikings. It was more of a moral support kind of thing for Ponder. Damn thing nearly paid off! Ponder was... ok. 13/32, 2 touchdowns, 2 interceptions. There were some big throws, there were some very nice throws. But you can see that he's only spent a week taking snaps with the first team. Some of the passes were well off, but you get the feeling a bit more time with his receivers will sort out some of those problems.

The Packers? Well they were the Packers. Rodgers was 24/30, over 300 yards and 3 touchdowns. James Starks put in some unsung work at running back with 75 yards off 13 carries. The big winner was Greg Jennings, who exploited some truly awful coverage to pick up 147 yards and a touchdown. And that's really where the Vikings are falling down right now. With Winfield still out and Chris Cook being remanded in custody, the Vikings secondary is rapidly falling apart.

(Just read that the Vikings have waived receiver Bernard Berrian).

Colts @ Saints
I left this before the end of the third quarter. The result wasn't exactly in doubt. It was a case of "how many?" would the Saints win by. The answer was 62-7, tied for the fourth highest deficit in NFL history since the merger. Drew Brees was just electric. 31/35, for 325 yards and 5 touchdowns. Tack on 236 yards net rushing. 6/8 on third down. 7/8 in the red zone.

The only good thing to come out of the game for the Colts was the play of rookie running back Delone Carter, who had 89 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries, emphasising the fact that despite being a pass first team the Colts run blocking technique is actually pretty good.

A dark cloud now hangs over Indianapolis though. There is almost constant talk about Jim Caldwell losing his job, and the possibility that the the Polian's might go to, the reasoning being that their failure to develop a plan B behind Manning is what has lead to this mess.

It does look pretty serious. Without Manning, the Colts offense is practically non-existent. More worrisome is that the defense - used to playing while ahead and having plenty of rest as Manning kept the other teams offense off the field - are getting badly exposed. They kept throwing the same two zone defenses at Brees, with minimal pass rush, and he just kept picking it apart like a pro bowl quarterback should. The Colts are almost entirely reliant on Freeney and Mathis for pressure, and don't seem to have a defensive plan B outside of Cover 2 and Tampa 2. It makes for grim watching.

Ravens @ Jaguars
And finally, the Ravens swoop to bail me out of a bad week of picks... what the fuuu, fudge? Are you kidding me? The Jaguars?

The Ravens averaged about 3.6 yards per pass, in what has to be the biggest upset not just of this week, but of the entire season. I don't believe it. I don't think anyone can. The Jaguars didn't even score a touchdown. Blaine Gabbert had another terrible game, making just 9/20 for 93 yards. But 30 carries for 105 yards by Maurice Jones-Drew (who also fumbled three times), plus an interception and an important fumble recovery were enough for the Jaguars.

After the game, Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs bemoaned his teams offensive play calling. And to be fair, he has a point. The Ravens defense played their part, laying down four sacks, three forced fumbles and containing the Jaguars pass offense. The Ravens offense however didn't pull their weight. Ray Rice, pro bowl running back and widely acknowledged best offensive player on that team, had 8 carries for 28 yards. Flacco meanwhile made 21/38, for just 137 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception.

Now a lot of people aimed their displeasure at John Harbaugh for trying an onside kick with two minutes left, two timeouts and down by only 2 points, but I don't think you can really blame him that much for that. He was rolling the dice a little sure, but it's not the cause for the Ravens loss. That offense is. They didn't even have to do anything amazing. Just one field goal prior to the touchdown probably would have sealed the game. Just one field goal was all they really needed and they couldn't even produce that.

They were 2/12 on third down (Jaguars; 2/14). 34 net rushing yards. 112 net passing (off 38 attempts plus three sacks). On a day when the Jaguars were 0/3 in the red zone, the Ravens just needed to get into the red zone more than once and that probably would have done it. The Ravens looked gutted afterwards, and well they should. The Jaguars opened the door for them and practically begged them to run off with the game. They didn't.

So thanks to the Ravens, that leaves me 7-6 for week 7, by far my worst week. That brings my season tally to 61-42. I hate the Ravens. And the Texans. And the Panthers.

Next up, taking a look at play-action off the zone running game. That'll likely be up tomorrow. Till then, enjoy your day and hit the old facebook or Google like button thing. Hell, I don't even know what the Google like button does.

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