Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The "Far Too Much Time On My Hands" NFL Report

WOW! The NFL Pro Bowl teams were announced yesterday, and 11 Dallas Cowboys were selected to represent the NFC in Hawaii. Sure, they had the best record in the conference for most of the year, but that's still a ton of players -- 7 starters and 4 reserves. TE Jason Witten, WR Terrell Owens, OL Leonard Davis, Flozell Adams and Andre Gurode are the starters on offense, while LB DeMarcus Ware and K Nick Folk get the nod at their positions; backups include RB Marion Barber, QB Tony Romo, CB Terence Newman and S Pat Hamlin.

For all you Cowboys haters out there, there's even more bad news: S Roy Williams is likely to get a spot on the team replacing deceased Redskins S Sean Taylor -- making it an even dozen Dallas Cowboys on the NFC squad. Now they better make some noise in the upcoming playoffs, or there will be a huge and well deserved backlash. Even the so-far-perfect Patriots will only send 9 of their players to the AFC. But part of the process is directly related to popularity, and we know the Cowboys aren't called America's Team for nothing.

Not that I'm prescient or anything, but in my preseason picks, posted on this very blog back on September the 9th, I did have 10 'Boys going, along with my having Dallas going 12-4 if they got off to a quick start, along with Tony Romo throwing for 30 TDs on the year.

Specifically, without designating starter or backup in that post, I had Romo, Witten, T.O., Bigg Davis, Gurode, Ware, NT Jason Ferguson (injured in first game), Williams, RB Julius Jones (wishful thinking on my part), and P Mat McBriar, and I also made a case for rookie K Nick Folk being special, which he has been. It's all there in the Warden's World archives in black and white, or more technically it's the exact series of 1's and 0's that make up the digital content you see arrayed before you.

Cowboys lost their second game of the season, 10-6, to a fired-up Eagles squad, with some Dallas partisans (and players) affixin' the blame for the loss squarely on the comely (and come-worthy) shoulders of one Jessica Simpson -- spotted during the game in a Texas Stadium luxury wearing a Cowboys jersey with #9 in pink while Tony Romo suffered through his worst game as a pro: 13 for 36 with 3 picks.

Even before he banged his thumb early in the 3rd quarter, Romo's passes were often wildly off the mark. But in my opinion, a huge dose of blame has to be placed in the lap of offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, who, on a day when his QB just didn't have his A-game, all but abandoned the running game. With the Eagles obviously in no danger of pulling away, Garrett called only 14 running plays, and just 4 total in the second half -- an absurd imbalance when you consider Romo was nursing a sprained thumb and their starting center also had to leave the game. This has been a trend all year with Garrett, and he's been bailed out all year with his risky play calling because Romo had been so sharp up until Sunday. The running game has been an afterthought most of the season, something you do to give Romo a chance to catch his breath, rather than a real strategy to set up the defense and keep them guessing.
This is a trend not confined to Garrett, but has spread league-wide with often predictably disastrous results. The Giants loss to the Redskins last Sunday was a case in point. Despite a swirling wind and freezing temperatures at the Meadowlands, offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride called for a mind-boggling 52 Eli Manning passes, 34 of which were not completed -- tying a 40-year record for futility set by Joe Namath.

Now, Eli Manning is not the most accurate of NFL QBs (55.7% completion rate on the season), but to be fair, by some estimates 12 of Manning's throws were on target but dropped by Giants' receivers -- but that has to be factored into a game plan where weather is such a big factor. And it wasn't like the Giants were having no success running the ball. Their bruising RB Brandon Jacobs rumbled for 130 yards on 25 carries, better than a 5-yard average, which will win you a whole lot of games. But Gilbride tried to get too fancy, and instead of feeding Jacobs, he called for those 52 passes by Manning (one off Manning's career high of 53 attempts set in 2005), many of which were thrown in the face of a stiff wind.

By comparison, Manning's counterpart, Todd Collins of the Redskins, had less than half the attempts, going 8-25 for 166 yards, just 18 total passing yards less than Eli had, in 27 fewer attempts. Collins by the way started his last NFL game almost exactly 10 years ago, so there was good reason to expect some rust from him.

In fact, just to play with the numbers a little more, the combined passing stats of the four NFC East starting QBs last Sunday -- Manning, Collins, Romo and Donovan McNabb (23-41 for 208 yards) -- amounted to a paltry 62 completions in 154 attempts, just over a 40% completion rate. That's ugliness personified.

Going against this trend, Saints QB Drew Brees was one exception to the incompletion-fest witnessed around much of the league's stadia (that's Latin for stadiums). The underrated Brees has had an up and down season after least year's stellar campaign, and against the Cards he went a remarkable 26-30 for 315 yards and 2 TDs. Earlier in the year he put together a sparkling 66-88 stretch, and now is doing all he can do save the Saints season: for the year he's completing passes at a 68.7 clip (second only to Tom Brady's 69.2), with 25 TDs against 15 INTs, while playing without his two top RBs (Reggie Bush and Deuce McAllister are both out for the year).
Best use of fines by the NFL in a long time has to be those penalties meted out to the Atlanta Five -- that clueless flock of Falcons who thought it would be a nifty idea to show their solidarity with accused dog murderer Mike Vick by revealing home made signs supporting their ex-teammate during their one-sided loss to New Orleans December 10th on Monday Night Football. Their misguided show of morality cost them fines ranging from $7,500 to $10,000 for offenses that the NFL termed "displaying an unauthorized personal message" -- which quite frankly sounds like Iron Curtain terminology straight out of Stalinist Russia. But even the old Soviet Kremlin was probably right once in a while, as the NFL is in this case.

The latest Falcons loss was a typical stinker -- a 37-3 setback at the hands of the Tampa Bay Bucs that had all the earmarks of a team quitting on itself. In many cases, a team's lack of will shows up first in special teams, and sure enough Tampa Bay finally got the first kickoff return for a score in the 31-year history of the franchise -- a weird statistical anomaly right up there with no New York Mets pitcher ever throwing a no-hitter.

Now, Bobby Petrino himself flat out quit on the 3-11 Falcons right after the game, turning tail and leaving town without addressing the team and telling them of his plans to return to the college game. But Joe Horn (serial jackass), Roddy White (classic bust), DeAngelo Hall (most despised NFL-er?) and the rest of the sorry-ass Falcons had long ago tuned out Petrino and his coaching staff, and now they are truly a rudderless mess of a franchise. And where do teams who are hopelessly barren of talent at most positions turn but that noted football guru and shopper of groceries Bill Parcells, who has thus far taken four such teams from worst to first: the Giants, Patriots, Jets and Cowboys all making the playoffs under his trademark brand of stern, gruff guidance.

In fact, just a cursory glance at the Cowboys who made this year's Pro Bowl roster is a testament to Parcells' undeniable personnel acumen. We all know the story of how he mentored the undrafted Tony Romo, plucking him from the ranks of the unknown, nurturing Romo while stashing him on the 53-man roster until he was game-ready, and then turning to him last year when Drew Bledsoe faltered. The rise of Romo, whether you love or hate Dallas, is merely one of the most unlikely sports stories in recent years, and Parcells deserves the lion's share of the credit for sticking with Romo when other coaches would probably have given up on him at a much earlier point.

Among the other Cowboy Pro Bowlers directly tied to Parcells, RB Marion Barber was a 4th round pick and TE Jason Witten a 3rd rounder during his reign. Parcells can also be credited for turning DeMarcus Ware into the all-around player he is today -- such that he is a leading candidate for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

So while first-year coach Wade Philips rightly gets credit for his leadership skills in guiding the Cowboys to their 12-2 record, let's not forget that Parcells built the roster almost from scratch. And while his 34-32 overall record has been judged a disappointment, keep in mind that he inherited a team that was just 15-33 in the three previous seasons. That's a pretty good turnaround, and so who would be surprised if he turned around a morosely moribund Atlanta franchise, sooner rather than later.
My First Annual "Worst Choice of Words" Award goes hands-down to NBC's Al Michaels, who, during an appearance last week on New York's Mike and the Mad Dog radio show following the Colts-Ravens game, said the following, bringing insensitivity to new depths: "Tony Dungy would've killed himself if he left Peyton Manning in the game and he got hurt!" Dungy's troubled 18-year-old son, of course, committed suicide two years ago. Way to keep sports in perspective there, Al!


jimithegreek said...

How great is it to be Tony Romo? He is kinda like the Derek Jeter of football except he's got baberama Jessica!!

Wardens World said...

I guess Tony likes 'em kinda dumb, but there's no denying here babe-liciousness!