Tuesday, September 25, 2012

NFL Week 3 Rundown: Replacement Ref-pocalypse

Clear enough?
Lock it down; Week 3 of the 2012 NFL season is now closed and the league has pretty much collapsed in on itself like a dying star. Here’s a rundown of what I think may have happened, starting with the Big Story:

Big Story – Replacement refs…so, so bad

You know that nightmare everyone has? The one where you’re on a bridge or a really tall building and you’re about to fall? And just before you go splat on the surface, you shoot up out your sleep, sweaty and completely out of breath. Well the past two weeks of the NFL has been that nightmare, and last night was the moment when your body hits the ground, except, instead of waking up to a league with real referees, you just went splat. Now you, the league’s credibility, and the Packers, are dead.

What happened to the Green Bay Packers last night was, quite possibly, one of the most egregious screw jobs in NFL history. From the horrendous roughing the passer call that wiped out the ‘would-be’ game-ending INT, to the mind-numbingly awful 31 yard pass interference penalty on Sam Shields, it was all too clear what was going to happen to Green Bay in the end. Even then, nothing could have prepared me for that last play. You had a clear push off by Golden Tate, you had a clear catch by M.D. Jennings, you had two officials signaling different things, and, in the end, you had a Monday Night contest that should serve as a gigantic wake-up call to Roger Goodell and the league’s owners.

In theory, the replacement referees idea wasn’t the worst thing in the world. With the league in a protracted labor dispute with the NFLRA, they had to do something to create some semblance of leverage.  Hiring and training new crews was the logical move as they attempted to prove to Ed Hochuli and his cronies that the game would go on as it always has, with or without them.  Besides, it’s not as if the old refs were anything spectacular. These new guys couldn’t be much worse, could they?

But the funny thing about “theories” is that they are…theoretical. Because while in theory this should have worked, in practice, it has been a complete and utter disaster. Instead of stocking the crews with quality/experienced officials from the SEC, Big Ten, or Pac-12, the NFL landed Steve, who refs games at your kid’s high school. How is that supposed to work? How is that supposed to create leverage?

What we’re left with now, as NFL fans, is a pair of should-be-amazing prime time games this week ruined by 48 combined penalties, constant skirmishing between the teams, countless game altering calls/non-calls, the most egregious sequence of bad calls in league history, a hoodied coach trying to go all ‘Ray Lewis’ on an official, and about a million profanity laced tweets from various Packers players.

Most importantly, what we’re left with is a league sorely lacking credibility, and a product that is almost completely unwatchable. Flags are flying everywhere, phantom penalties are routinely called, egregious penalties are routinely missed, rules are commonly misinterpreted, league officials are persistently babysitting, players and coaches are near homicidal…it’s a mess. Needless to say, everyone who is not named Roger Goodell and who does not own an NFL team is fed up.

Until last night, the only redeeming factor about the replacement refs situation was they had not technically given away a game on a bad call. That, clearly, is no longer the case. The Green Bay Packers, as lackluster as their play was, won that football game last night. M.D. Jennings clearly caught the ball in the end zone, and the game clearly should have ended then with a Packers victory. They earned that win and the officials wrongfully took it away from them.

Replacement official or no, that is simply unacceptable. They signed up for the job, voluntarily, and they are subject to the same high standard we would subject the old refs to. Clearly, they are unable to meet that standard, or anything resembling it. If Roger Goodell has any integrity, this referee lockout will end today and the real refs will be back on the field Thursday night. Not Monday night, not Sunday afternoon – Thursday freaking night. After what happened last night, the league would be irresponsible to allow these joke replacement officials to be involved with even one more football game.

Ball is in your court, Roger. Get it done before the 2012 season is completely ruined.

Carson Palmer INT Update
The Vinny Testaverde Zone

OK, time to officially call off the Carson Palmer watch. He only has two INT’s this season and has genuinely played decent. So disappointing. Maybe another time, Carson.

Instead, we’re going to go ahead with the Vinny Testaverde Zone. You remember Vinny, right? Dude topped 20 INT’s four times in his career, threw 267 in 214 career starts, and tossed 35 (!) in 1988. Let’s see if anyone can keep pace with that!

Jay Cutler – 6 INT’s in 93 attempts (6.5%)
Michael Vick – 6 INT’s in 125 attempts (4.8%)
Brandon Weeden – 6 INT’s in 115 attempts (5.2%)
Cam Newton – 5 INT’s in 83 attempts (6.0%)
Drew Brees – 5 INT’s in 137 attempts (3.6%)

If I had to predict which one of these guys will win the Testaverde award, I’d take Weeden. He throws a high volume of passes (because the Browns are always losing) and is genuinely inaccurate. Perfect type of QB for the Browns…

Cardinals Flying High?

In case you haven’t heard, the Arizona Cardinals are 3-0. In fact, stretching back to Week 9 of last season, the Cardinals have won 10 of their last 12 games. Dynamo!

Well, sorry to interrupt everyone’s little love fest, but I’m still not seeing it with this team. Here is what I’m seeing:

1. The Cardinals are a Braylon Edwards drop and an atypical Stephen Gostkowski miss away from being 1-2.

2. The Cardinals have been outgained in all three of their games, and rank 31st in total yards. Obviously, total yards isn’t an ideal way to grade a team, but it means something when you can’t even put up 300 yards of offense in a single game.

3. The Cardinals are still starting either Kevin Kolb or John Skelton at QB.

The one thing Arizona really has going for it is their defense, which has been adept at forcing turnovers. In fact, many are comparing this team to last year’s 49ers team. I can see why that comparison would be made, but this team reminds me much more of the 2001 Chicago Bears. That Bears team, quarterbacked by the Kevin Kolb-like Jim Miller, was similarly punchless on offense, but made a living off timely turnovers, riding that formula to 13 wins.

So why am I down on the Cardinals after comparing them to a 13 win team? Because I watched that team and I know how things turned out for them. Chicago was blown out by Philadelphia in the Divisional Round and followed that up with a dismal 4 win season in which the offense completely tanked and the turnover margin inverted from +13 to -7.

At some point, the lack of offense is going to kill the Arizona Cardinals. They’ll keep the defense on the field too much, they’ll put them in too many bad situations, and the magic will simply run out. This is an offense based league (especially once the old refs come back) and the Cardinals don’t have a good one.

Schedule wise, things set up well for them to continue this mirage. They have Miami, St. Louis, Buffalo, and Minnesota in the coming weeks, giving them an opportunity to make hay before hitting the tough part of their schedule. However, with all four of those teams looking stronger than expected, perhaps the road isn’t as easy as it sounds. The second half of their schedule is a bear, so if they can’t get to their bye week with at least 6 wins, they’ll likely find it tough to make the playoffs.

The Rex Grossman Zone
Any QB with a QB Rating under 39.6
Present Membership: Weeden (5.1), Cutler (28.2),Tannehill (39.0)

One new member this week, but it gives me no pleasure to admit him:

Sam Bradford (18-35, 152 YDS, 0 TD, 2 INT, 39.2 QB Rating) – Let’s not blame Bradford, alright? He’s lost all his offensive lineman, Stephen Jackson is banged up, and he has no one to throw to. That excuses him, right? Right? Right? Right?

Alas, we came thiiiiiiis close to adding a bunch of new members. Here are some guys who fell just short:

Cam Newton (16-30, 242 YDS, 0 TD, 3 INT, 40.6 QB Rating) – Sooooooooo close! If only you could get negative QB Rating points for sulking on the sideline!

Josh Freeman (10-28, 110 YDS, TD, INT, 45.2 QB Rating) – A late surge kept Freeman out of The Zone. Shame, because it really feels empty without him.

Philip Rivers (21-38, 173 YDS, 0 TD, 2 INT, 45.2 QB Rating) – Hey… you…you don’t belong here.

Sink or Swim

Given the random, unpredictable nature of the NFL, it should come as no surprise that several supposedly playoff-bound teams find themselves struggling early. Underachieving and disappointment are, after all, a staple of the NFL. From the Eagles last season to the Chargers, well, every season, there will always be at least one team that fails to live up to expectations. But this season – this is ridiculous! After another round of upsets, there are currently six playoff teams from last season that sit under .500. Let’s look at each of them and see if they can bounce back.

1. New England Patriots (1-2) – No reason to worry, yet. They should have won Sunday night, but even still, a 1 point loss at Baltimore is nothing to hang your head about. The remainder of their schedule is shockingly easy (@BUF, vs. NYJ, @STL, vs. IND, @NYJ, @MIA, @JAX, vs. MIA), and the offense will only get better once Aaron Hernandez returns. Still a 10+ win team, in all likelihood.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2) – Choking away Sunday’s game at Oakland is troublesome, to say the least. It could also be very costly in the end. Injuries are already plaguing a defense I and so many others pegged as “aging” and “declining,” and they have plenty of tough matchups ahead. They get a bye this coming week, but then face Philly at home, Tennessee on the road, and Cincy on the road in the weeks after. They probably need two wins in that stretch.

3. Denver Broncos (1-2) – Manning’s arm looks wobbly, but it’s hard to bury the Broncos after they had to open up with Pittsburgh, Atlanta, and Houston in succession. Even if they’re just 2-4 heading into their bye week, Denver should be fine given their creampuff closing schedule.

4. Green Bay Packers (1-2) – They should be 2-1, as we already discussed, but that’s beside the point. Offensively, they just haven’t been able to find their rhythm. Some of that is just bad play, some of it is the officiating, and some of it is the defenses they’ve been up against. They get New Orleans, Indy, St. Louis, and Jacksonville in four of their next five, so expect a huge rebound from Rodgers and Co.

5. Detroit Lions (1-2) – While I’m not at all concerned about Green Bay, I’m horribly concerned about the Lions. Even in their one win, against the Rams, they played like complete crap and probably deserved to lose. The defense has been pathetic, the offense has been erratic, and who knows what the status of Matt Stafford is? Could be trouble, here.

6. New Orleans Saints (0-3) – Wow. Giving up an 18 point 3rd quarter lead to Kansas City…at home! Who would’ve guess this? Stick a fork in ‘em.

Are they elite? Presented by ESPN

Such a complicating week, QB-wise! Here are my ESPN-sanctioned conclusions:

Joe Flacco was elite, then he wasn’t, now he is again after leading his team to victory over the Ravens. I even saw him will an official into not calling a blatant offensive pass interference penalty on Jacoby Jones!

Aaron Rodgers…what to do with him? He just hasn’t been elite this year. I think, clearly, Eli Manning has passed him up. After all, Manning would never throw 3 INT’s in one half, nearly sinking his team singlehandedly to the crappy Buccaneers.

Matt Ryan. Matty Ice. So, so elite. Best QB in the league. But if he doesn’t win a playoff game, then Atlanta should probably cut him.

Madden Curse Update

Calvin Johnson – 10 REC, 164 YDS, 1 TD, no injury

Huge game by Megatron…but wait, what’s that, Stafford is hurt? Uh-oh. Is that The Curse I hear calling?

Non-QB Rookie Spotlight(s)

T.Y. Hilton – 4 grabs, 113 yards, a TD…where did this come from? Hilton had been a complete non-factor in the Colts first two games, but responded this week when needed to step up. With Austin Collie out for the year, Indy has an even greater need at WR, and Hilton could quickly ingratiate himself as Luck’s favorite downfield guy.

Bruce Irvin – Seattle’s first round pick was largely panned as too weak, too small, and too one dimensional to be worthy of such a high pick. We’ll see how all that turns out in the long run, but for one night, Irvin was definitely worth that pick. His speed and burst were on full display as he racked up 2 sacks and flushed Rodgers out of the pocket, often into the arms of another pass rusher, multiple other times. Irvin was so quick into the backfield that it almost seemed like he was just lining up back there.

Five guys who should give their paycheck back

Replacement refs – Does this need to be explained?

Roger Goodell – Does this need to be explained?

Josh Freeman – 10-28 passing is brutal, man. This is now the second straight bad outing for Freeman. There’s no such thing as job security in the NFL. Just sayin’.

Dan Carpenter – Miami’s kicker missed not one, but two FG’s after the third quarter, including one from 48 yards that would have gotten Miami to 2-1.

The Eagles – The whole team. Coach, players, owner, general manager…this is a pathetic, underachieving bunch that doesn’t deserve any money for what they’re doing. 2-1 looks nice, but in all reality, this team should have lost to Cleveland and should have lost to Baltimore, which means they should be 0-3.

Week 3 MVP

Honerable Mention:  Calvin Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew, A.J. Green, Michael Johnson, Matt Schaub, Larry Fitzgerald, Justin Houston, Ryan Fitzpatrick

#5  Christian Ponder (21-35, 198 YDS, 2 TD, 1 Rush TD) – The numbers are relatively modest, but Ponder’s impact and value in defeating the 49ers is unquestioned. The second year QB kept the offense moving, converted key third downs, and avoided big turnovers despite facing arguably the league’s best defense. Huge moment in his career.

#4   J.J. Watt (7 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 4 TFL, 3 QB Hits) – There are more than a few who think Watt is the best DE in the NFL. Like, of anybody. Hard to argue given the havoc he’s wreaked this season.

#3  Chris Clemons (4 tackles, 4 sacks, 4 TFL, 1 PD, 4 QB Hits) – Chris Clemons, meet Aaron Rodgers. And repeat.

#2  Jamaal Charles (33 ATT, 233 YDS, TD, 6 REC, 55 YDS) – Welcome back, old Jamaal Charles! His 91 YD TD near the end of the third quarter sparked the Chiefs huge comeback, and he continued to pour it on the rest of the way.

#1  Torrey Smith (6 REC, 127 YDS, 2 TD) – This wasn’t just a ‘feel good’ story, this was a stunning performance from one of the league’s most stunning athletes. You just don’t see guys break free from coverage as easily and as often as Smith did Sunday night. Every time the Ravens needed a big play, it seemed like he was three steps ahead of his guy downfield. And then you add in his life situation…well, it really was an iconic performance. Good for you, Torrey Smith.

Power Rankings

If you want to be critical of this week’s Power Rankings, then go for it. I had a heck of a time putting this together, and quite frankly, I’m critical of my own rankings. 

#10  Philadelphia Eagles (2-1) – Same old story with the Eagles. Talent, talent, talent. Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. They could legitimately be 0-3 right now.

#9  Dallas Cowboys (2-1) – While the loss to Seattle looks far less damaging now, the win against Tampa Bay is certainly not inspiring. As usual, this is an up and down group. One week, they’ll play like a top 5 team. The next, they’ll get hammered by some random cellar dweller. They have a good win on the board, though, and the defense is clearly improved.

#8  Seattle Seahawks (2-1) – I put them at #8 fully acknowledging they should be 1-2 right now. Doesn’t make a difference to me. Seattle’s defense has been impressive the past two weeks, and though the offense hasn’t broken through, Russell Wilson is clearly getting better. Seattle should be a dangerous group by the end of the season.

#7  Green Bay Packers (1-2) – Do I think they’re a top 5 team? Yes. Have they played anywhere near that level? No. The offense needs to find its groove in the coming weeks.

#6  Atlanta Falcons (3-0) – There’s a really good argument for Atlanta to be higher on this list, but I still have the same questions about them that I’ve always had. Beating the Chargers and Broncos is fine, but how will they stack up against a truly elite team?

#5  New England Patriots (1-2) – Outcome bias will force many to drop New England closer to 10 (or lower), but that seems narrow minded to me. The Pats had that game in the bag and were the victims of poor officiating and an ill-timed stumble by Kyle Arrington on what should have been the game ending INT. Even still, why would anyone penalize the Pats for losing by 1 at Baltimore? Doesn’t that just validate them as a top team?

#4  New York Giants (2-1) – The real question isn’t whether they belong this high – they do – but when they’ll screw themselves with a horrendous, mind-blowing loss. Cleveland in two weeks, anybody?

#3  Baltimore Ravens (2-1) – You may agree with me, you may not. The personnel is obviously there to win the AFC, but Joe Flacco is Joe Flacco.

#2  Houston Texans (3-0) – The first real test Houston has had all year and they pass it with flying colors. Games against Green Bay and Baltimore in coming weeks will give us an even better gauge on how good they are.

#1  San Francisco 49ers (2-1) – Nope, I’m not dropping them. Dating back to last season, the 49ers have been the most consistently excellent team in the entire NFL, and I’m not about to degrade them because of one off day. Expect Harbaugh’s group to throttle the Revis-less Jets next week.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, sticking to your guns and no AZ in the top 10. Good for you. By season's end, I'd be shocked if they're in the top 10 of anyone's Power Rankings. But there is the reality of how good they have looked against solid opponents so far.

    You're right, though. I just cannot understand how they have won with such an inept defense. I am currently taking it upon myself to troll the NFC West blogs for delusional AZ fans. Everyone wants to compare their team with the 9ers last year... but yeah, say what you want about Alex Smith, he's not asked to THROW for 300 yards per game, but he can lead an offense to 300 TOTAL yards per game! And they regularly scored well last season! AZ has practically nothing good going on offense, other than trusty #11, as usual. No matter how good that D may be, they won't carry them.