Tuesday, September 18, 2012

NFL Week 2 Rundown: Saints Step out on the Ledge

Real smart, Josh Morgan. You sure showed Finnegan!
Lock it down; Week 2 of the 2012 NFL season is now closed…and I have no idea what just went down. Here’s a rundown of what I think may have happened, starting with the Big Story:

Big Story – Saints fall to 0-2, nearing the point of no return

Well, this was…unexpected. What’s so shocking about this isn’t just that they’re losing; it’s who they’re losing to. The Saints simply could not have asked for a more generous opening to the 2012 season, a season that follows an offseason of unprecedented disruption. No head coach or interim head coach? Don’t worry; we’ll give you the ‘Skins, Panthers and Chiefs to open things up. Sound good?

It did sound good – until it didn’t.

In Week 1, against the Redskins, the Saints defense was bludgeoned for 459 total yards and 40 points. The ‘Skins, as if to say “screw you” to the Saints, scored exactly 10 points in each quarter. They did it through the air, they did on the ground, and they did it despite only going 4-15 on 3rd down. In short, the Saints D was ‘defenseless’ against the onslaught of Robert Griffin and his band of overpaid and/or overlooked teammates.

But that travesty was almost forgivable, given the circumstances. First game after the Bounty debacle, first game without Sean Payton, first game for Robert Griffin – no tape can be a powerful friend, as Cam Newton can attest to – it was an emotionally charged game and the Saints didn’t have their leader to keep them focused. The loss, though tough to swallow, makes some sense in that context.

But Sunday, against the Panthers, what was that? This same Panthers team that managed a paltry 10 rushing yards against the Bucs (THE BUCS!!!) tore up the Saints for 219 rushing yards and 3 TD’s. In total, Carolina put up 463 total yards. They axe-murdered the Saints, and unlike last week, there are no excuses. The fact is that Sean Payton is not coming back in 2012. He’s gone, and the team has to either rise above that or collapse in on themselves like a dying star. Thus far, they’ve chosen supernova.

So now the question must be asked, are the Saints dead in the water? Are they done? Are they completely out of the playoff picture? Of course, we’re just two games in, but the plight of the Saints is far more dire than you may have imagined, even at 0-2.

Now, let me just state that the Saints are NOT out of the playoff picture. As I pointed out, we’re just two games in, and there’s plenty of time for New Orleans to get it together. Anytime you have Drew Brees as your QB, you have a chance.

How slim that chance is, though, is another matter entirely. By losing two of their “winnable” games, New Orleans has made their schedule significantly more difficult. Instead of entering the difficult portion with a 3-0 cushion, they’ll enter it with 1 win, at the most. And trust me; things get tough in a hurry. Starting in Week 4, the Saints go to Green Bay, Denver, Atlanta, New York Giants, and Dallas; and face San Diego, Philly, Atlanta, and San Francisco at home. Brutal. Even their remaining “winnable” games – Tampa Bay twice and Carolina at home – don’t appear too winnable.

Of course, the schedule is only one part of the equation. The real problem isn’t who they’re playing, it’s how they’re playing (bad). They simply cannot allow 450+ yards every game and expect to get back in the playoff picture. Head coach or no head coach, the defense has to be fixed or the conversation isn’t even worth having.

Carson Palmer INT Update

Good news: Carson threw an INT. Bad news: He threw only one despite chucking the ball 48 times (and completing only 24). So…

Carson Palmer:  1 INT

This is not turning out the way I envisioned. At all.

On the plus side, it seems like the rest of the NFL is picking up the slack. Maybe it’s just me, but the INT totals appear to be absurdly high at this early stage. Is it the replacement officials allowing more contact? Is it defensive adjustments to the new rules? Is it a glut of Weedon’s, Tanne-suck’s, and Skelton’s in the last few years? Tough to say, but with Carson not giving me what I look for in our relationship, I’m gonna have to start seeing other people. Here are the candidates for INT King:

Michael Vick – 6 INT’s in 88 attempts (6.8%)
Jay Cutler – 5 INT’s in 62 attempts (8.1%)
Drew Brees – 4 INT’s in 101 attempts (4.0%)
Matthew Stafford – 4 INT’s in 80 attempts (5.0%)
Brandon Weeden – 4 INT’s in 72 attempts (5.6%)
Ryan Fitzpatrick – 3 INT’s in 51 attempts (5.9%)

Keep up the good work, Jay.

(By the way, I’m considering renaming this section “The Vinny Testaverde Zone.” Thoughts?)

None of this makes any sense!

Confusion is starting to become a Sunday ritual for me. Each and every week leaves me scratching my head, perplexed at what just happened on my TV screen. “Did the Saints really drop to 0-2? Did Stafford really overthrow his guy by 20 yards?” (Yes, Stafford did.) Week 2 was no exception, providing several oddities that defy logic and reasoning. Two of them stand out:

2. Eagles defeat Ravens despite turning the ball over 4 times.

To glance at this game and see four Eagles turnovers, you’d have to assume the Ravens took care of business, right? Wrong. Baltimore somehow could not take advantage of Philly’s constant miscues despite Mike Vick’s repeated efforts to gift the game away. But still, you might be sitting there thinking, “Yeah they turned the ball over, but the Eagles are really talented, so this can’t be too much of a surprise, can it?” To be frank, yes. It’s a huge surprise.

Since 2008 (not counting this week), the Ravens have been plus-2 in turnovers a total of 24 times. They have won 22 of those games and have an average margin of victory of 28.3 to 13.6. Getting even more specific, the Ravens have forced 4 or more turnovers a total of 14 times. They have won all 14 of those games by an average score of 29.9 to 11.1. The last time Baltimore lost a game in which they forced 4 or more turnovers was Week 10 of 2003! Basically, when this defense gets takeaways, the Ravens almost never lose. So yeah, Sunday’s result was more than a bit shocking.

1. Patriots lose to the Cardinals

This one takes the cake. Like, of the last decade, perhaps. Bill Barnwell featured this game in his Week 2 news column on Grantland, stating that the game shows just how unpredictable and random the NFL can be. Spot on, Bill. There is literally no possible way to explain this game other than to chalk it up to those two reasons. New England significantly outgained Arizona (387-245), had significantly more first downs (25-16), won the TOP battle (32min to 28min), and even won the turnover battle (2-1). You look at those numbers and then tell me how Arizona could possibly win under those circumstances! Better yet, go look at Arizona’s awful roster (featuring Kevin Kolb!) and tell me how they could even be on the same football field as the Patriots! Random, random, random.

By the way, do yourself a favor and go read Barnwell’s Week 2 piece. I’m a huge fan of his work and you should be too. It’s much better than wasting your time here!

The Rex Grossman Zone
Any QB with a QB Rating under 39.6
Present Membership: Weeden (5.1), Tannehill (39.0)

Only one new member this week, but it’s a big addition. The club wouldn’t be whole without him.

Jay Cutler (11-27, 126 YDS, TD, 4 INT, 28.2 QB Rating) – Huge, huge week for Cutler as he becomes a full fledged member of the Grossman Zone and becomes the current INT King while simultaneously turning his entire team against him! That takes commitment, folks.

Rookie Resurgence

True fact: If you could somehow take all the column space and radio/tv/podcast time devoted to talking about the 5 rookie starting QB’s, and link them all together end to end, you could build a bridge of hyperbole and speculation stretching all the way to the sun.

OK, so I might have made that up. The point is we spent a ton of time talking about these rookies and how they would fare. And what was all that time rewarded with? Two Grossman Zone performances and 11 combined INT’s. Basically, if you didn’t have one of those completely uncreative “nicknames” that are nothing more than your initials (which is not a nickname, actually), then you sucked.

Week 2, though, was a different story. Not a single rookie QB had a bad performance. In fact, you could argue that they were all…good. Yes, even Weeden! Perhaps, especially Weeden!

The aforementioned “young” QB (stop that, announcers) was particularly notable in Week 2 due to how dramatic his improvement was. This was the same guy who, in Week 1, posted a 12-35 4 INT stink bomb that was so awful, Browns fans were thinking back to the “glory days” of Kelly Holcomb. Jokes and mocking criticism were rampant after that performance. Radio hosts ripped him, fans called for his head – even casual Browns fans recoiled in horror at the mere mention of his name, as if you had just told them their grandma died. It was a disaster…

…which I suppose makes Sunday’s performance nothing shy of a miracle. Not only did Weeden improve, he actually looked like a QB you would actually want to take in the first round. His accuracy was good (26-37), his arm strength and ability to drive the ball down the field was good (8.7 Y/A), his pocket presence was good, and his decision making was good. Basically, he was good, and his strong play was the primary reason Cleveland’s offense got on track. The jury is obviously still out – one game, especially against the Bengals isn’t enough to draw conclusions – but at least for one week, Cleveland fans can actually feel hopeful about their future.

‘Are they elite? Presented by ESPN

Last week, Tony Romo, Joe Flacco, Mark Sanchez, and Jay Cutler became ‘elite’ thanks to one game. This week, each of them struggled, which means they’re not elite anymore. Sad.

Also, we now have to seriously consider whether Peyton Manning is elite or not. Three INT’s and a Monday Night loss is a huuuuuuuge hit to his legacy, so perhaps we should downgrade him.

Speaking of those Manning’s, let’s talk about Eli. Of course, we all learned last year just how elite Eli can be –and also that you can’t spell ‘elite’ without Eli. Then, Eli reminded us that you can’t spell ‘Interception’ without an ‘i,’ which is ironic because you also can’t spell Eli without an ‘i.’ (Follow?) So, where does that leave us with Eli? Is he elite, or does he throw interceptions? Or maybe it’s both, but at different times. Like, on Sunday, when he ceased being elite because he was throwing interceptions, but then he once again became elite after he stopped throwing interceptions and singlehandedly won the game…all by himself…without any help. So Eli is elite again. Yippee.

(Quick thought: With the Saints at 0-2, perhaps Drew Brees is not elite anymore? What about Brady after losing to the Cardinals? Man, this is all so complicating!)

Madden Curse Update

Calvin Johnson – 8 REC 94 YDS, no injury

OK, I know there hasn’t been any major action on this yet, but if you look closely, you can see the Curse starting to do its work.

#1 – Through two games, he has 0 TD’s. Compare that to last year, when he started the season with four consecutive two TD games. Just sayin’.

#2 – Stafford is throwing weird. Dude is throwing these goofy sidearm throws that flutter and sail way over his receivers. What’s up with that?

#3 – Johnson had a minor foot injury that kept him out of practice earlier in the week. Gotta start somewhere.

Non-QB Rookie Spotlight(s)

Trent Richardson – First 100 yard game, first rushing TD, first receiving TD. Richardson looked like the monster they thought they were getting and was a big part of the team’s offensive success. What really stood out to me was his effectiveness in the passing game. If he can be a two-way asset as he was Sunday, he might come close to making the team NOT regret its decision to pass on a real WR. Close.

Shea McClellin – Overshadowed by Clay Matthews’ dominance and Cutler’s craziness, but McClellin was a force throughout. He consistently got to the QB (1.5 sacks, 2 QB hits) and just looked like a crazed monster for the most part.

Likely ESPN ‘First Take’ Topics

Is it Tim Tebow time?

Elite, elite, elite, elite, elite

Replacement refs…ANGER!!!!!!!

Five guys who should give their paycheck back

Josh Morgan – What are you doing, man? Morgan made one of the most bone-headed plays you’ll ever see, chucking the ball straight at Cortland Finnegan, resulting in a personal foul that pushed the game tying FG attempt back to 62 yards. As you might have guessed, they missed.

Stephen Gostkowski – The kicker missed a 42 yarder that would have given New England a dramatic, unlikely come-from-behind victory over Arizona. You know what; “missed” doesn’t even do it justice. Gostkowski might as well have just whiffed the kick altogether.

Darren McFadden – 11 carries, 22 YDS, 35-13 loss against the Dolphins. Any more questions?

J’Marcus Webb – No, it wasn’t cool what Jay Cutler did to him on national TV, but Webb did deserve to get a good verbal lashing. Still, Webb has been a human turnstile for years now, so what did the Bears really expect?

Dez Bryant – Bryant spent most of Sunday dropping key first down passes and fumbling the ball. It’s time to stop talking about talent and start delivering on it.

Week 2 MVP

Honerable Mention:  Marshawn Lynch, C.J. Spiller, Andy Dalton, DeMeco Ryans, J.J. Watt, Sam Bradford, Danny Amendola

#5  Hakeem Nicks (10 REC, 199 YDS, TD) – Nicks, along with the rest of the Giants passing game, went nuts once Eli stopped throwing the ball to the defense. Even with an injury, Nicks is still a stud.

#4   Cam Newton (14-20, 253 YDS, TD, 71 Rush YDS, TD) – Is that a shovel you’ve got in your hand there, Cam? Why do you have a shovel? Oh, you’re digging the Saints’ grave. I see. Carry on.

#3  Calais Campbell (10 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 TFL, 3 QB Hits) – Man, I really wish I had the guts to make my ‘Calais Campbell will be in the top 5 for Week 2’ Bold Prediction! Seriously though, Campbell was a man against the Pats. He blew up their protection time and time again, and was a huge reason why their offense could not get in a rhythm. Besides, who says we ignore defensive players around here? What are we, ESPN?

#2  Reggie Bush (26 ATT, 172 YDS, 2 TD, 25 REC YDS) – So, maybe last year wasn’t a fluke for Bush, huh? Granted, he blew up against a terrible Raiders defense, but 172 YDS is an awful lot. This might be the Dolphins only win this year, and Bush was the main reason why they got it.

#1  Clay Matthews (7 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 3 TFL, 1 PD, 4 QB Hits) – I’m not old enough to have watched Lawrence Taylor in his heyday, but I’m assuming this is the type of performance everyone refers back to. Matthews completely controlled this game right from the very beginning, blowing up the pocket play after play and frustrating Jay Cutler from start to finish. Not only is he directly responsible for 3.5 sacks, he’s also indirectly responsible for the majority of Cutler’s 4 INT’s and, essentially, the outcome of the game.

Power Rankings

#10  Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1) – The Steelers are a fundamentally flawed football team and their lack of protection and a consistent running game is eventually going to do them in against a more complete team. But with Big Ben still slinging it and that group of WR’s catching it, they’re still a borderline Top 10 team.

#9  New York Giants (1-1) – It’s almost impossible to peg the regular season Giants, but you have to respect and fear them for their ability to pass the ball and get to the opposing QB.

#8  Denver Broncos (1-1) – A minor drop after last night’s poor showing, but there’s no reason to overreact. They simply lost a road game to a really good team.  As Manning gets more comfortable and the offensive gets more ingrained, they’ll have fewer “disaster” stretches.

#7  Atlanta Falcons (2-0) – The Falcons are going to get a lot of love this week, but I’m not totally sold on them as a Super Bowl team. In fact, I don’t even think they were all that impressive last night. With the myriad opportunities they had, Atlanta should have put that game in the bag by halftime…which ironically would have given Michael Turner the opportunity to get drunk on the sidelines and sober up before post game.

#6  Philadelphia Eagles (2-0) – Those turnovers, man. I mean, what are we supposed to make of this team? They move the ball at will, but they just can’t stop killing themselves. They clearly can play with anyone in the league, but we need to see some more consistency.

#5  New England Patriots (1-1) – Puzzling loss aside, the Pats appear to be more vulnerable than we originally thought. The offensive line, in particular, is in transition right now, and just isn’t playing up to usual standards. I suspect they’ll be fine by season’s end, but it’s worth mentioning.

#4  Baltimore Ravens (1-1) – How can I justify putting them ahead of Philly? Well…because it’s my Power Rankings? Seriously though, a 1 point loss on the road is hardly reason to alter one’s thought process. I still believe the Ravens are one of the most complete teams in the league, and one poor showing against a top team on the road is not going to change that.

#3  Green Bay Packers (1-1) – No matter how bad the Bears offensive line is, some credit must be given to the Packers defense for how well they played. This is a unit that most think will be the Packers’ undoing, and to see them play with such speed and fire is a particularly good sign for Green Bay. Eventually, the offense will regain its rhythm, and then all bets are off.

#2  Houston Texans (2-0) – The Texans aren’t even worth talking about, yet. They’ve beaten the Dolphins and Jags…call me when they play a real team.

#1  San Francisco 49ers (2-0) – No change at the top. The ‘Niners once again had no trouble bottling up an explosive offense and exerting their will on both sides of the ball.

1 comment:

  1. This might be my best pick 'em week ever!!! Dolphins, Seahawks, Rams... of course the Patroits hurt me, but who didn't miss that one? Don't throw out my Seahawks Super Bowl just yet...!!