Thursday, September 27, 2007

NFL Booms & Busts

The Ups & Downs Of The Young NFL Season ...
Three Games Down, Only 13 To Go!

The Booms
The New England Offense -- Besides the perfect symmetry of scoring exactly 38 points three games in a row, there's Tom Brady hitting his receivers at an 80% clip, with precisely 6 incompletions each game. His completions usually end up as touchdowns. Randy Moss may or may not be the most talented WR to ever suit up, but he may be the best target any QB could wish for. Like a cross between a giraffe and a gazelle, Moss's strides eat up yards like no other player, and as the amazing catch against the Jets opening day proves, even when he's not open, he's open. Best job in the NFL this year? Patriots punter.

The Dallas Offense -- QB Tony Romo leads a group that is scoring at an even higher pace than the NE Offense: 116 points racked up through three games, a faster start than any NFL club since the 1999 St. Louis Rams fielded a group that went by the name of Greatest Show On Turf, led by Kurt Warner in his prime, surrounded by Marshall Faulk and two great wideouts in Isaac Bruce and Tory Holt. Not saying the Cowboys are the second coming of the Rams, but all the pieces seem to be in place for a consistently explosive attack: a QB with the hair trigger release and accuracy, a running game with breakaway speed, and WRs like Terrell Owens who are threats to take it all the way on any given play. And whereas the Rams had Mad Mike Martz at the controls, the Pokes have had Princeton grad Jason "Redball" Garrett one step ahead of the defense at every turn so far in 2007.

The Pack Is (Almost) Back -- A convincing win over a still very talented San Diego Chargers team last week, lifting the Pack to 3-0, has made believers out of many "experts" that Green Bay is indeed ready for another shot at NFC supremacy. If the Packers continue their resurgence, it will be in large part due to QB Brett Favre's renewed commitment to playing error free football -- cutting down on the wild throws into coverage, the forced flings out of desperation. Oh yeah, and they're playing some very solid defense in the Bay as well, led by future All-Pro A.J. Hawk. Over the course of 16 games, though, until the Packers develop a feature back, it's hard to see them keeping pace with the better teams in the conference ... assuming there are better teams in the conference.

The Colts Defense -- The hustling, hard-hitting, fly to the ball abandon we saw displayed throughout last year's Super Bowl run is the same Colt unit that we've seen show up in '07 -- currently ranked 5th in the NFL in total defense. Everyone points to the return of SS Bob Sanders as the reason for Indy's great play in the postseason, but in my opinion the underrated cog in the undersized Colts defense is MLB Gary Brackett, an absolute tackling machine in the middle. Everyone expects the offense to carry the Colts again this year, and QB Peyton Manning has basically the same personnel that won the SB last year, but it will be interesting to see whether the Colts offense, currently ranked 4th in yards per game, or the Colts defense, with their 286 YPG good enough for 5th, finishes higher in the NFL rankings.
Vince Young -- Hard to believe there were so many doubters about this player coming out of college, where all he did was win at Texas, compiling a 30-2 record. His Rose Bowl performance in leading the Longhorns to a 41-38 upset win over USC may have been the best single game ever played in NCAA history, but Young lasted until Tennessee selected him with the 3rd overall pick in the 2006 draft. Since taking over as a starter for the Titans early last year, Young has won 10 out of 16 games. The Titans are 2-1 so far in 2007, with road wins at New Orleans ad Jacksonville and a close home loss to defending SB champs Indianapolis, and Young has thrown for only 426 yards, good enough for only 28th in the league -- and fewer than even the beleaguered Rex Grossman. But with VY it's a matter of making the key plays with his feet as well as his arm that win close games in the 4th quarter.

God's Favorite QB -- Detroit Lions QB Jon Kitna credited his quick return to action after suffering a concussion against the Vikings to the Hand of God, that well-known football fanatic and the inspiration behind numerous Hail Mary passes throughout the years. "I've never felt anything like that, and for it to clear up and go right back to as normal as I can be, is nothing short of a miracle," Kitna said. "I just definitely feel the hand of God. That's all it was. You can't explain it." Who knew the Big Guy upstairs had the time to affect the outcome of a Week 2 NFL matchup. Sure, a playoff game we could understand, but a Lions-Vikes contest? That's blasphemous. However, Kitna leads the NFL with 980 passing yards after three weeks, a pace that would shatter the all-time single-season mark, so who are we to judge.

Matt Schaub No Slob -- Poor Atlanta. First Sherman burns the city down, then Michael Vick torches whatever's left of its sports reputation with his abominable felonies against man-kind and canine-kind. But to show you the kinda bad luck this crazy town exudes, the Falcons develop a terrific backup QB behind Vick in Schaub, only to see him leave for a starting job in Houston and the accompanying riches of free agency. And so far the Dirty Birds' loss has been the Texans' well-paid gain. The relatively untested Schaub, still only 26, received a huge contract after Houston parted ways with the oft-sacked David Carr, with some openly questioning if Schwab was worth the big bucks. This past week against the Colts, playing without Andre Johnson -- possibly the best WR in a league suddenly chock full of real good ones -- Schaub completed 27-33 passes for 236 yards in the 30-24 loss. So far Schwab has completed a sizzling 75% of his throws, connecting on 63 of 83 attempts for 688 yards, and all of a sudden the Texans are 2-1 and a force to be reckoned with in the AFC South.
Redskins 1969 Throwback Uniforms -- We are big fans of teams wearing throwback uniforms. And despite the hated 49ers winning the Super Bowl following the 1994 season, we look back with fondness at that year because every team got to wear throwbacks at least once during that 75th anniversary year of the NFL. We loved the uni's the Redskins wore this past Sunday -- the ones personally designed by the immortal Vince Lombardi and worn in his only season with the club, 1969. The gold-ish pants and helmet were obviously meant to remind Vince of his championship days in Green Bay. Unfortunately, after the Skins blew a 17-3 halftime lead to their division rivals, the classy retro threads once again may be banished to the mothballs of history.

Genius Jon -- Nobody was referring to Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden as a coaching genius after last year's 4-12 disaster. Gone were the heady days when the mighty Buccaneer defense was literally dominating the league, and offensive-minded Gruden rode LB Derrick Brooks, CB Ronde Barber & Co. all the way to the top of the NFL heap in 2002. But soon the talent dried up, and the team went through a prolonged search for a franchise QB, and youngsters like Bruce Gradkowski and Chris Simms recently auditioned to underwhelming results. This year Gruden decided upon a veteran, 37-year-old Jeff Garcia, to run the offense, and it's rejuvenated WR Joey Galloway and the rest of the offense. Garcia has picked right up from his stunning play with the Eagles late in the 2006 season, leading the Eagles to an unlikely NFC East title after Donovan McNabb went down for the year, and into the second round of the playoffs. Brooks, Barber and CB Brian Kelly are among the few holdovers from the glory days, but ace defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin has finally been given an infusion of talent on that side of the ball after years of the front office all but ignoring defense on draft day. LB Cato June, the free agent pickup from the Colts who led them in tackles in 2006, has been a key addition, but it's MLB Barrett Ruud, a third-year player from Nebraska, who has been the biggest positive surprise so far in '07; his 24 tackles leads the NFL through three games, and his play is a big reason the Bucs are off to a 2-1 start.

Kevin Everett -- Best news of all on the new NFL season has nothing to do with touchdowns or picks, wins or losses, jacked-up hits or crunching tackles. They're all well and good, and part of why football has become the must-see spectacle it is. But the tragic sight of Bills TE Kevin Everett not moving after a special teams collision on opening day threatened to put a damper on the entire season. So it was great news to hear that Everett is making progress toward recovery. It's still too early to be certain Everett will ever regain full movement, but considering how bleak things looked just a few short weeks ago, the latest developments are encouraging.
The Busts
New Orleans Saints -- The collapse of the Saints a year after helping resurrect an entire region in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has been as swift as it is stunning. And it's not likely to be getting better anytime soon, because their 0-3 record is no mirage. It's rare when a team follows up an inspired run to the playoffs with such an absolute dud of a season, but that's the fate of the team the entire football world had picked as the class of the NFC entering the 2007 season. Instead, like their chronically underachieving cousins in the AFC, the San Diego Chargers, the once-anointed Saints are digging themselves a hell of a hole. As if a devastating 31-14 loss in their home opener in which they were thoroughly outplayed by the Tennessee Titans wasn't enough, RB Deuce McAllister is lost for the season , thrusting Reggie Bush into the front lines of the rushing game. Will the hyped one finally justify his commercial portfolio, becoming an every down back, or will he prove to be, as his many detractors insist, nothing more than a glorified scatback -- a speedy halfback with good hands and some moves, but not the game-changer he was in college. But it won't matter what Bush does if QB Drew Brees continues his putrid play for much longer. His 4 INTs versus the Titans give him an astounding 7 for the year -- only 4 fewer than the 11 he had in all of last year. And his 1 TD pass this season leaves him 25 short of the 26 he tossed in '06. Coach Sean Payton is another coach doing all he can to shed the "Genius Coach" moniker many were bestowing on him. Not that it gives me any pleasure to see the sumbitch who ruined the Cowboys season last year suffering in such a marvelously excruciating fashion. I'm just saying...

E-Z Pass Defense (Bengals, Lions, Giants) -- The season is but three weeks old and already we've seen three porous defenses scorched for 56, 51, and 45 points. The Giants meekly surrendered 45 points to Tony Romo's Cowboys in week one, and it could have been worse if Dallas didn't choose to run the clock out. In week two, the Bengals played the role of innocent bystanders losing to the Browns 51-45 as legendary Cleveland QB Derek Anderson hung 5 TDs on their sorry asses, aided by a rejuvenated RB Jamal Lewis slicing the Bungles for over 200 large. And last week, the heartless Lions were posterized for 8 touchdowns, allowing Donovan McNabb and the Eagles to score TDs on their first 5 possessions on their way to an embarrassing 56-21 rout.
Norv Turner -- Hard to believe that people were giving Cowboys owner Jerry Jones grief for going with Wade Phillips over Turner to replace outgoing coach Bill Parcells. Norv will be a good influence on Romo, they insisted, just as he was with his protege Troy Aikman 15 years ago. Then the season started, and now those same people are wondering what the hell the Chargers were thinking letting Marty Schottenheimer go, setting off a chain reaction where both coordinators left for head jobs and, ultimately, turning the reins over to mild-mannered Norv. After going 14-2 in '06, the Bolts have stumbled to a 1-2 mark, and it's not just the bad start, it's the uninspired brand of football being put on the field the first 3 weeks. All-world LaDainian Tomlinson -- the fantasy player's fantasy -- is the biggest puzzle, with just 130 yards on the season and but one measly TD for the man known as LT. In the loss to Green Bay last Sunday, LT was seen engaged in spirited debate with QB Philip Rivers -- a fancy way of saying they were yelling at each other on the sideline. But that's the man known as Norval Eugene Turner for you: a real leader of men.

Rex Gross, Man -- In his last 17 starts, he's thrown 26 picks and lost 7 more fumbles. And you know what, he's somehow managed to play even worse than those putrid numbers would indicate. It's not like he's surrounded by a full array of offensive weapons, but you can't be that careless with the football and have any chance to win. Bears Coach Lovie Smith announced he was benching Rex for Brian Griese, effective immediately. Rabidly anti-Grossman fans insist they'd even settle for Brian's dad Bob Griese at this point, even though the retired Hall of Famer is in his early sixties and last threw a pass in the late '70s.

Eagles 1933 Throwback Uni's -- It wasn't just the sheer incongruity of seeing Philly sporting UCLA's familiar powder blue and yellow color pattern, or the fact that their helmets were without their familiar Eagle wing logo. What bothered us most about the Eagles wearing the uni's from their inaugural 1933 campaign is that their opponents, the Lions, played in their modern uni's instead of their own equally outdated duds. This breaks the first rule of throwback uniforms: it only makes sense if BOTH teams are wearing throwbacks.


Serge A. Storms said...

Glad to see you didn't overlook the surprising play of the Bucs this season. My hopes for them this season was to get ATLEAST .500, but I may have underestimated them. Tom Brady has to have been saying his prayers and eating his vitamins like a good Hulkamaniac, and Tony Romo may well be on the same plan, because it looks like...for the first time in a while...Peyton Manning is finally going to be overshadowed. If Brady continues this streak, this season could well make him the best quarterback of all time. The 'Aints are a terrible disappointment, and the Eagle's throwback uniforms were the worst thing to hit TV since 'Cop Rock.'

Great post, my friend.

Wardens World said...

Thanks. Yeah, the Bucs were one of my sleeper teams. Jeff Garcia is a winner, always has been. Ah, Cop Rock... I heard you bought the box set!

Whatever happened to Mad Max? Miss his pithy commentary. Is he taking a hiatus to break open the 9/11 case?

jimithegreek said...


Serge A. Storms said...

Maximus is preoccupied with painting and music at the moment. I'm sure he'll be blogging soon. His commentary is sorely missed. And the special features of the Cop Rock DVD collection are outstanding.

Serge A. Storms said...

Just to give you a breath of fresh air from the Giants camp:

“We are both here to compete. We are both here to help our team win games and that is what we are going to do. Me and B.J. don’t have the big egos like, ‘Oh, we should be number one or he should be number one.’ I could care less who is number one. As long as I am helping my teammates win, get to that Super Bowl - I would rather have a Super Bowl ring than have 2,000 yards rushing.”

-Derrick Ward.

So atleast there's ONE person on that team with a sense of sportsmanship.

Wardens World said...

Actually, now I'm worried the Giants might get on a little roll. With their next 4 games against subpar teams like the Jets, 49ers, Dolphins and Falcons, they could get on a winning streak before they host Dallas for a rematch in Game 9. Tampa Bay has a tough game this week at Indy.

Serge A. Storms said...

I've already chalked that one up in the "L" column for TB. The Colts are just too good. Also, this way if they pull out a win I can be pleasantly surprised.