Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Some observations from Week 16

One of these days I'll actually post my article about the three step drop. By the time I do, the damn play will have been banned from football, along with all forms of contact in football.

Anyway, the reason for the delay is because I want to pick up a couple of the main points coming out of the weekends games and I guess I might generally just run down some of the games, as and when things come to mind of interest. There are two main issues that I want to address though.

The first is to do with the Eagles and their defensive coordinator position currently held by Juan Castillo, the former offensive line coach. Basically with Steve Spagnuolo of the Rams likely to get the chop at the end of the season, many people are lining him up to replace Castillo as the Eagles Defensive coordinator for next year.

And I simply want to ask; why? In fact, let me ask you another question, just out of interest; Which team leads the NFL in sacks right now?

Answer; the Philadelphia Eagles.

See while everyone has been busy lately criticising Castillo for his schemes, people seem to have over looked the fact that the Eagles are actually one of the better defenses out there. They're not perfect, not by any means, but they're pretty good. They'll need some tweaking in the off season; getting the coverages sorted out to make the best use of the available talent, as well as sitting down with that young linebacker corps and watching some film to explain to them better about run fits etc. But otherwise that's not a bad defense and it can only get better in the off season with the right work.

The problem with the Eagles is not their defense. The problem with the Eagles is their offense.

Simply put, it sucks. And has sucked for most of 2011. The Eagles are practically in a league of their own when it comes to getting down into the red zone and then not producing a score. They are brilliant for 80 yards as they rip great chunks out of people in the open field, then they clam up (and stink it up) in those last 20 yards.

Juan Castillo is not the man to blame for the Eagles woes, it's Andy Reid. He's the guy that has at his disposal LeSean McCoy, Ronnine Brown, Mike Vick, Vince Young, DeSean Jackson, Riley Cooper, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, Brent Celek and Jason Peters, to name just a few. That's an offense that a heck of a lot of teams in the NFL would kill for. And yet that is also an offense that has struggled to put points on the board when it mattered most, not to mention the hoard of turnovers they've given up.

All this finger waving at Castillo is pure bullshit. It's a distraction from the real issue here, which is that Andy Reid is struggling to get to his side of the "Dream Team" working the way it should. While the Panthers and Broncos have adjusted their respective offenses to accommodate the running abilities of their quarterbacks, what have the Eagles done? What adjustments have they made to get the most out of Vick?

And what about LeSean McCoy? McCoy is the second leading rusher in the league by yards. He leads the league in touchdowns with 17, which is three more than Cam Newton and five more than the closest running back (Marshawn Lynch). He leads the league in runs of 20+ yards with 14. And perhaps most tellingly, he leads the league in rushes for a first down, with 84, which is sixteen more than the next player on the list, Maurice Jones-Drew.

Yet he only averages 18 carries a game?

You have without doubt one of the most explosive players in the entire NFL on your team, yet you feed him the ball less than the 49ers feed Gore, or the Falcons feed Michael Turner. An especially odd decision given how much trouble the Eagles have had in the red zone.

All this means that I can't take criticism and talk of Juan Castillo being fired seriously. I don't mean that he wont get fired, just that I don't think he should. Considering this is his first season as a defensive coordinator I think he's done really well so far and again, I think an off season of work and preparation by the Eagles could yield some great results.

The question is whether the Eagles offense can lift its game next season and start to actually make that defensive work count for something. The Eagles have the personnel to make a Super Bowl run, I think everyone agrees on that. But until Andy Reid stops making excuses - and people stop making excuses for Andy Reid - then this same old sorry, tired Eagles saga will just repeat itself again season after season.

Now I'm going to take an interlude in my ramblings before I get to the second major issue I wanted to address, and talk about the Panthers. Mainly to give them a lot of credit for their 48-16 win against the Buccaneers.

All thoughts about the Buccaneers horrible run defense aside, I was impressed by the Panthers actually making use of running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, who I've long pronounced to be the best running back tandem in the NFL. Long time readers will be aware that this has been a hobby horse of mine for a while, bemoaning the John Fox/Jake Delhomme era because of the absolute abandonment of an otherwise excellent running game.

It was nice then to see it revived on Saturday. It also points to what is - in my opinion - one of the funniest things about the Cam Newton story. When Cam throws the ball a lot he invariably racks up the yards, rushes for a score, does his stupid Superman celebration... and then the Panthers still end up losing the game. On the other hand when the Panthers manage the game better and lean on their rushing attack, they often end up winning, and doing so comfortably.

C'est la vie, as they often say in France (along with "We Surrender!!").

I was also excited about the 49ers win over the Seahawks, although there was a slight downer in that they gave up their first rushing touchdown of the season. Naturally people have been hailing Jim Harbaugh again, as they have been all season long, but forgive me if I don't hang a poster of the guy on the wall just yet.

See I'm a 49ers fan and as a result I've endured misery for years now. I'm delighted that finally the 49ers are winning games and going back to the playoffs, even doing so in style. However I don't see what Jim Harbaugh has to do with it. Harbaugh is an offensive coach, not a defensive coach. And this 49ers offense has been almost as bad as those that preceded it. Alright, so maybe they haven't turned the ball over as much this year, and maybe there hasn't been as many sacks this year, but fundamentally the offense still sucks balls.

On the other hand I still don't hear anyone talking about Vic Fangio. Without looking at Wikipedia, can you even tell me who Vic Fangio is? If you didn't know already then you've probably guessed that Fangio is the defensive coordinator of the 49ers. It's this man and his defensive staff who should be getting the plaudits, along with whoever the specific people were that drafted or approved the signing of Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, Issac Sopoaga, Ray McDonald, Navorro Bowman, Ahmad Brooks, Patrick Willis, Parys Haralson, Chris Culliver and Carlos Rogers, to name just a few.

I don't blame Harbaugh, there's not really a lot he can do about it. He doesn't write the articles in the press or force people to talk about him on sports radio. I just think it's unfair that he's getting all the credit for something that essentially happens on the opposite side of the ball. That's not to say that he doesn't have some influence on it - I'd be shocked if he didn't - but most of the donkey work throughout the year will have been done by Fangio and his staff, work for which they are not getting their dues.

Vic, in the incredibly unlikely event that you're reading this, I thank you and your staff on behalf of 49ers fans everywhere.

Also congratulations to Drew Brees who has now surpassed Dan Marino for the single season passing yardage record. I'm undecided yet as to whether this should be considered more or less of an achievement than when Marino set the record. Not that it really matters that much, either way it's still a heck of a thing to have done.

The question is whether or not you think that it's easier to break the record now because teams throw the ball more than they did back then, or whether you think that it's precisely because teams throw it more now - which means that defenses are built to stop the pass - that makes Brees's achievement superior. An interesting debate to have over a pint I think.

One quarterback who wasn't setting any records though was Tim Tebow. I'd be gutted to see Tebow and the Broncos stumble at such a late stage, but it was inevitable that he was going to have a shitty game at one point. No fourth quarter heroics this time. Just four fourth quarter picks.

It should be noted that once again the Broncos receivers continued to demonstrate why there will be little demand for their services in the offseason, dropping passes like the ball was smeared in shit. Of course as always that doesn't fit the main press narrative, so we very rarely get even an acknowledgement of that fact. The Broncos defense also struggled for a change, which means the Broncos season now comes down to the final game against the Chiefs; win and they're in the playoffs. Or they can lose, and if the Chargers beat the Raiders then they're still in, but that's playing it risky.

Right, finally back on track and the other thing that I originally wanted to talk about, which was Joe Webb and the Vikings.

One play after Adrian Peterson suffered a sick looking injury to his knee (he could be doubtful even for week one of the 2012 season), quarterback Christian Ponder suffered a concussion and was eventually yanked from the game. In his place came Joe Webb. Webb went on to throw for two touchdowns and run in another with his feet. After the game the press went wild. Everywhere you look now, people are calling for Joe Webb to be the starter next year. My advice? Just hold the fuck up a second. Let's just recap Webb's numbers from Saturday's game shall we?

4/5 for 84 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Yes, four of five. He threw five passes and now all of a sudden people are putting him up on a pedestal and talking about him like he's the greatest thing to happen to the Vikings since they dumped Brad Childress. All this despite the various warning signs around the league about this kind of thing, namely Caleb Haine, Matt Cassel and Kevin Kolb.

Those are three names that should remind people that sometimes things aren't always what they seem. Yes, sometimes players have great games, or at least very good games. But one or two good games does not suddenly anoint someone with starting quarterback traits. It's a good place to begin, but long term success is not guaranteed.

Now don't get me wrong, Webb is a good player and has done well in every appearance he's had off the bench and in pres-season in Minnesota. But people are talking about him like he's the instant answer to all of Minnesota's many woes, and I'm just a little amazed at how quickly people are prepared to give up on Ponder, a first round pick who has done pretty well in his first few showings.

There is still one game left this year and I suspect the Vikings will be unlikely to throw Ponder back into the fray just for that single meaningless game. That means Webb could get the chance to start an actual regular season game for a change. I'm willing to bet that it may not quite be the touchdown bonanza that people think it will, depending on what kind of team the Bears put out.

I'll just finish by reminding people that in his last five starts as quarterback (not including this week), Ponder has lead the Vikings offense to score an average of 23 points per game. When Ponder went down injured this week the game was tied at 10-10, so it wasn't like Joe Webb came on and turned around a lost game either. In an age of instant gratification I'm beginning to worry that everyone involved in the football world has lost their sense of perspective.

So that's Week 16 in the books. Pick wise I came in at 13-3 for week 16, taking my season tally to 159-84, which I've just discovered is better than any of the analysts at (both for the week and the season) and only two behind Accuscore and Pigskin Pick'em (both of whom I beat for the week) with one garbage week left to go.

Tomorrow I expect to put up my article on the three step drop. Slightly ironic that a post about the quick passing game has taken so long to be released.

No comments: