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Wednesday, September 29, 2004 

Moving Ahead

As I noted a few weeks back, I'm getting ready to move, and the time has come. I don't plan on blogging for the next week or so until things settle down. Wish me luck! :-)

 

Passing Fancy

Some games deserve a second look, and Sunday's Green Bay-Indy game qualifies. I wrote last Sunday that the defenses would decide the game, and in a sense they did, as Jason David's strip of Javon Walker stalled a late Packer drive and led to the clinching touchdown for the Colts. There were several fascinating aspects to this game:

1. I can remember games where one team barely got on the field for an entire quarter (normally due to turnovers), but I can't recall one team throwing 22 times in a quarter and not running at all. The one handoff to Edgerrin James doesn't count - it was done simply to draw a 12 men on the field penalty.

2. Indy led 38-17 at the half and dominated most of the first half stats, yet the final stats were eerily similar. A few highlights:


GBay Indy
First downs 24 26
Total yards 457 453
Gross passing yards 392 393


3. The fumble/strip gets most of the attention, but penalties killed 2 other Green Bay drives. Late in the third quarter, with the score 35-24, Green Bay forced Indy to go 3-and-out. The Packers drove from their 16 to the Indy 44, then got a 5 yard illegal contact penalty call on the Colts to get to the Indy 39. But an offensive holding call brought the ball back to the 49, and set up a 1st-and-20 they couldn't covert. Indy ended up running out the final five minutes of the quarter, then kicked a 45-yard FG early in the fourth to make it 38-24. But Green Bay wasn't done. It took just 2 plays and an 80-yd TD pass to Donald Driver to cut the deficit to 38-31. Another 3-and-out by the Colts gave the Packers the ball at their 16 with 11:48 left. After one first down, a false start penalty turned a 3rd-and-9 into a 3rd-and-14, Green Bay didn't make it, and had to punt again. The defense rose to the occasion with another 3-and-out, but David's strip ended the ensuing drive.

Green Bay is going to be kicking themselves for this one.

 

Dumb and Dumber

So much for my predictive powers:

While Jacksonville at Tennessee intrigues me, I expect the Titans to win fairly easily. Tennessee has the best overall offense they've faced yet...


Of course, Jacksonville won again in the closing seconds, aided by a pass interference call. This streak of last-second wins reminds me of Chicago a couple of years ago, but in that case they won at least two games on interception/fumble returns for TDs.

Sunday, September 26, 2004 

Games of the Day

The first bye week couldn't have come at a worse time for the Jets, Patriots, and Panthers, who are all coming off wins. Of course, the Bills needed the break to lick their wounds and get ready for the Patriots next week.

Early Games

While Jacksonville at Tennessee intrigues me, I expect the Titans to win fairly easily. Tennessee has the best overall offense they've faced yet, and the Titans do not want to fall two games behind in the division. Jacksonville's game last week proved how misleading stats can be - the Broncos held the ball for 37:08, outgained the Jaguars 356-176, and had more than double as many first downs (20-8). But they were forced to settle for 2 FGs in the second quarter and fumbled the game away late in the fourth.

A lot of people expected Philadelphia to be 2-0, but Detroit? The Lions have had an easy schedule (Bears, Texans) while the Eagles have faced a rebuilding Giants team and the explosive but defensively-challenged Vikings. Philadelphia's defense was shredded by Duante Culpepper on Monday night (37-47-1-343) but the Eagles smothered the run, with Culpepper outrushing Onterrio Smith 41 to 28 (on 2 fewer carries). The Eagles will not play another division game until November 15, so they need to build on their NFC East lead to give them some breathing room later.

Late Games

Green Bay and Indianpolis have a lot of big names on offense, but their defenses will decide today's game. Indy outclassed Tennessee in the second half last week, forcing 3 sacks, a fumble, and intercepting Steve McNair once. The Colts have given up an AFC-worst 556 passing yards so far, but they've played Tom Brady and Steve McNair, so keep that in perspective. Now they face another challenge in Brett Favre. The Packers couldn't stop Thomas Jones (23-152) but lost to the Bears primarily because of Ahman Green's funble late in the first half that was returned for a TD. Green Bay's defense is improved, but neither Carolina or Chicago are as explosive as Indianapolis.

Prime Time

It's been a while since a Dallas-Washington game generated a lot of national interest. A lot of the focus Monday night will be on the coaches, who had plenty to complain about this week. The Redskins were brutal last week with 7 turnovers in their loss to the Giants. Vinny Testaverde threw 3 interceptions against Cleveland, but also had 322 yards and a TD (Dallas is leading the NFL in offensive yardage per game). The Dallas defense did the rest against a feeble Cleveland attack, holding Jeff Garcia to a dreadful 8-27-3-71 performance. It will be interesting to see if the Cowboys can hold Clinton Portis in check; he's the first quality back they've faced this year.

Saturday, September 25, 2004 

Young Guns

Two young quarterbacks made mixed debuts last weekend. Chris Simms made his first appearance in relief of a woeful Brad Johnson (4-7-1-34) and nearly rallied Tampa Bay. Seattle won 10-6, primarily because Tampa's offense stalled near the goal line 3 times (24 and 27 yard FGs by Martin Gramatica, then Michael Boulware intercepted Simms near the goal line to clinch it). Simms went 21-32 for 175 yards and that interception. It's a hard call for Gruden, but I'd let Simms play and let Charlie Garner run the ball to keep the pressure off. The Bucs are already 0-2, and they certainly do not look like a playoff team even with Johnson.

In Pittsburgh, Ben Roethlisberger was forced to play after Tommy Maddox hurt his elbow in a 30-13 loss to Baltimore. Roethlisberger put together a decent line (12-20-2-176, 2 TDs in fourth quarter), then was ripped by veteran offensive lineman Alan Faneca. Real class... I guess he forgot how bad Maddox fared before the injury (4-13-0-67). Maddox is now out for at least 6 weeks, so the "child" (Faneca's words) will run the team. The AFC North is so wide open that Pittsburgh may still have a shot, but they'll need a better effort from Duce Staley (16-57 yds) than he showed last Sunday.

Fans in Buffalo may look at these stories and wonder if J.P. Losman would be better than Drew Bledsoe. Comparing Bledsoe with Maddox is laughable, and Johnson seems to always get hurt. I wouldn't write off Drew Bledsoe just yet.

 

Green Flag

Earlier this week, Bill Griffith wrote in the Boston Globe that NASCAR is second-highest rated sport on national TV after the NFL. The "regular-season" ratings he cited were:


NFL 10.5 (2003 season)
NASCAR 5.2
PGA 3.1
MLB 2.7 (FOX Saturday Afternoons)
NBA 2.4
NHL 1.1


The MLB number does not include the ESPN games, but I suspect the NASCAR numbers do not include the Busch series or the truck racing circuit (though I'm not sure).

The NFL and NASCAR have a lot in common, starting with the obvious - one big event a week, as opposed to a flood of baseball, basketball, and hockey 7 days a week. Why would a baseball fan reserve a Saturday afternoon to watch a game when he can watch games on local TV the rest of the week? You cannot escape the law of supply and demand.

Sunday, September 19, 2004 

Games of the Day

This week's schedule is back to normal, with better games on Sunday afternoon. The bye weeks start next week, so this is the last full slate until week 11 (November 21).

Early Games

The best game of the weekend is Indy at Tennessee. Both teams have had a little extra time to prepare, but I'm sure Tennessee had a more enjoyable week. Now the Colts have to take out their frustrations in the Titans home opener to avoid falling two games behind in the division. Peyton Manning will challenge the Tennessee defense a lot more than the Jay Fielder/A.J. Feely horror show in Miami, while the Colts aren't going to see much no-huddle, empty backfield formations from the Titans. The 1-2 punch of Chris Brown and Antowain Smith punished Miami for 140 yards, so they'll test Indy's run defense. Should be a classic.

Pittsburgh at Baltimore could be a great rivalry game, but I can't get excited about it. Pittsburgh won their opener, but Oakland won nearly every stat (except for rushing yards and 2 INTs). Baltimore's game against Cleveland had an interesting statistical quirk - both QBs threw for under 200 yards, and both teams' leading receiver was a TE. I'd much rather watch Denver at Jacksonville. Though Byron Leftwich was mediocre at best against Buffalo, the game-winning TD he threw on the final play of the game will give him confidence. Plus, Denver can be fun to watch with Quentin Griffith.

Late Games

Slim pickings late in the day. New England is in Arizona for the ultimate trap game. With a bye week looming and an emotional win ten days ago, I wouldn't be surprised to see Arizona win. New England tends to let teams hang around, and St. Louis nearly fell into that trap last week. Emmitt Smith scored a go-ahead TD late in the third quarter, but then St. Louis woke up and retook the lead 33 seconds later. If St. Louis's defense could hold Arizona to 260 yards, how will New England do? I suspect Josh McCown will have a long day.

Prime Time

Lost in the aftermath of Minnesota's 35-17 win over Dallas was that Vinny Testaverde picked apart the Minnesota secondary for plenty of yardage. He was 29-50 for 355 yards but just one TD. Three Dallas receivers had big games (Keyshawn 9-111, Bryant 8-112, Glenn 5-84). Now Minnesota has to face Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens, plus deal with a legimate running threat in Bryant Westbrook (17-119 in the opener). Good luck. Of course, Philadelphia has to stop Culpepper-Moss, so this game should feature some exciting offense.

Saturday, September 18, 2004 

Tick, Tick, Tick...

60 Minutes has been taking a pounding lately for their George Bush National Guard stories, but they still do some of the best interviews on television. Sunday night they're planning a story on Bill Belichick and John Fox. While I doubt it will reveal and "secrets" (as the promos are hyping) it could be an interesting piece. Should get good ratings in New England since the Patriots play at 4:15 ET.

 

Born to Run

After watching New England throw their way to a win over Indianapolis, even with 142 yards from Edgerrin James, the rest of the weekend was dominated by good running teams. Tennessee outran Miami 182 to 65 on Saturday in 17-7 win, and Green Bay dominated Carolina Monday Night with 152 yards on the ground and 38:04 time of possession (by far the best of the week). In between, Curtis Martin, Clinton Portis, and LaDainian Tomlinson all had huge games in close wins. Not to mention the awesome Quentin Griffin-Priest Holmes battle on Sunday night.

As a Patriots fan, I'm still worried that they don't run enough and have trouble stopping the run. But I've had the same fears the past 3 years...

Sunday, September 12, 2004 

Games of the Day

It's no coincidence that the 3 best games this week are night games. The NFL is smart enough to recognize that the weather can be beautiful in mid-September (unless you live in Florida, unfortunately) and fans haven't dedicated their Sunday afternoons to football yet. I admit it takes me a few weeks to get into the dynamics of the divisonal races. Unlike Opening Day in baseball, the first week of the NFL season isn't quite as romantic. Maybe it's a cliche, but baseball means that winter is over and there's a lot of nice weather ahead. When football season starts, the kids are back in school and summer is gone. On the other hand, at least more NFL teams start the season with legimate championship dreams than their baseball counterparts.

Early Games

Tampa Bay at Washington intrigues me. The return of Joe Gibbs should have the crowd fired up, but sports history is littered with failed second acts (Bill Parcells excepted). Tampa is just two years removed from a Super Bowl win, but last season was so disappointing that they've become an after-thought nationally. With Warren Sapp and Keyshawn Johnson out of the picture, they're definitely more likeable, and their defense should be a good test for the new Washington offense led by Mark Brunell and Clinton Portis.

Late Games

All three should be interesting, but I confess my attention will be on Parcells as Dallas travels to Minnesota. If Darren Woodson was healthy, they'd likely be favored, but stopping Duante Culpepper and Randy Moss will be tough. I suspect Dallas will try to grind it out on the ground instead of asking Vinny Testaverde to throw into an opportunistic Minnesota secondary that intercepted an NFC-leading 28 passes last year (2nd behind New England's 29).

Prime Time

Kansas City at Denver should be tremendous and the best game of the weekend overall. Denver improved their defense, including the trade for Champ Bailey, but can they stop Priest Holmes again like they did last December? In that game, Clinton Portis outgained Holmes 218 yards to 44 with 3 long TD runs in the second half and Denver won 45-27. But Portis was traded for Bailey and Mike Anderson is now out, and I have less confidence in the Denver running game without their long-time OL coach. Still, Kansas City's defense will be tested by Quentin Griffin and Tatum Bell.

Monday night, Carolina tries to prove last season was not a fluke as they take on Green Bay. I like the way Carolina plays, and their defense may force Brett Favre into taking some chances and making some mistakes. Favre can still have great games, but when he starts pressing bad things can happen.

 

Personal Log

I had planned to start posting more often once the season started, but I'm preparing to move so the next few weeks will be fairly hectic. I'll keep writing on the weekends, though I must admit it's a little harder than normal to stay focused on football right now (though I'll manage to watch more than a few hours today :-)

Saturday, September 11, 2004 

Blunder Bowl

Both teams made plenty of mistakes, but the Patriots survived and outlasted the Colts 27-24 Thursday night. The Patriots started the game with an empty backfield and kept the pressure on all night. Corey Dillon got fewer carries than he's used to, but had a nifty 38-yard run to set up Tom Brady's first TD pass.

Unfortunately, the defense was shredded on the ground, particularly in the first half. But the Patriots were clearly playing to stop the pass, and rushed only 3 linemen most of the game while their LBs dropped into coverage. An obvious exception was Willie McGinest's key sack of Peyton Manning at the end of the game...

After Mike Vanderjagt missed his first field goal in 43 attempts, he stuck his foot in his mouth by declaring that the Patriots were clearly not the better team. How does he explain that the Colts, who supposedly have the better QB, a better RB, and arguably the best WR in the AFC, keep losing to the Patriots? In today's Providence Journal, Tom Curran quotes Bill Belichick:

In this league, a lot of times you play 58 or 59 minutes for the right to play just a few plays to determine the outcome of the game. That's what those 58 or 59 minutes are for.

We all know there can be a fine line between a 12-4 team and a 9-7 team - and it's generally decided by whether you can make the key play when it matters. In the Super Bowl, John Kasay clearly outplayed Adam Vinatieri until the final minute, and Vinatieri's two missed field goals and botched squib kick would have been legendary if the Patriots had lost. But then Kasay kicked the ball out of bounds and Vinatieri made the winning field goal - and no one cares about how they performed in the first 59 minutes.

 

In Memory

It's been three years, but sometimes time does not heal all wounds. Take a moment today to reflect on the third anniversary of 9/11. Remember what we lost, but also remember the many ordinary Americans who were heroes on that day.

Monday, September 06, 2004 

Slicing Through

Every year, the cut-down day to 53 players claims some familar faces. Kansas City released future HOFer K Morten Andersen yesterday, deciding to go with the unproven Lawrence Tynes instead. After a shaky preseason, Green Bay gave up on their Tim Couch experiment; I'm sure someone will sign him as early as today to a short-money, low-risk contract. Two former Packers who may have reached the end of the line also got the ax - Miami cut loose Antonio Freeman and Philadelphia released the recently signed Dorsey Levens, who played too much like his age last week.

In this salary cap age, teams cannot afford to keep high priced veterans with recognizable names (but eroding skills) if they have young players to fill the gap. This year's victims include DE Regan Upshaw (Washington), LB Dwayne Rudd (Oakland), and CB Terrell Buckley (New England).

Injuries have also claimed S Darren Woodson and LB Peter Boulware, both placed on the physically-unable-to-perform list over the weekend. For two teams (Dallas and Baltimore) built on defense, the injuries are problematic to say the least.

And finally, Tampa Bay WR Joe Jurevicius is still out with a back injury. He was placed on the reserve/non-football injury list and will be out until at least October 24. It's yet another setback for one of the good guys in football.

Saturday, September 04, 2004 

Get off of my Cloud

Most of the Patriots roster moves yesterday were expected, though the release of RB Mike Cloud and QB Kliff Kingsbury and the signings of RB Kory Chapman and QB Jim Miller were surprising. Cloud has always been sort of a fringe back in my opinion - not powerful enough for the goal line, and not quite fast enough for a change-of-pace runner - but a possibly valuable backup. Since there continue to be questions about Kevin Faulk's durability, and to a lesser extent, Corey Dillon's blocking, I figured Cloud would make the team at the expense of a fullback or extra wide receiver. Chapman, released by the Ravens who are loaded at running back, is probably a long-shot to make the 53 man roster, and draft pick Cedric Cobbs is still banged up. So for now, it looks like the Patriots will roll the dice with only 2 halfbacks.

Resigning Jim Miller should end the speculation about Doug Flutie returning to the Patriots. Flutie would not be a good fit. The Patriots use the pass to set up the run, not the other way around. At this stage of his career, Flutie's scrambling days are over, and he needs a back like LaDainian Tomlinson to take the pressure of him.

 

Jag Lag

I completely agree with Patriots head coach Bill Belichick's decision to rest of all his starters Thursday night. He left them in the previous game deep into the third quarter after their lopsided loss against the Bengals. Plus, what could they prove in the 2 or 3 series the starters normally play in the last preseason game? The Patriots were better off evaluating the players on the edge of making the roster. And spare me the argument about "cheating" the fans. Every season ticket holder understands how meaningless the last preseason game is when they write their checks in the offseason.

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