Thursday, November 04, 2010

Week Eight Observations

1. Football Outsiders have the Kansas City Chiefs as the #1 team in the NFL through eight weeks. This is obviously pretty surprising, but the truly stunning part of their analysis is ranking KC fifth in passing efficiency this season. As a Dwayne Bowe fantasy owner, this lofty ranking seems almost impossible. But FO's measures are based purely on efficiency. The Chiefs rank 31st in passing attempts while Matt Cassel has only thrown three interceptions and been sacked just eight times.

2. Todd Haley continues to go for it in 4th down situations that make Bill Belichick look like a Tea Party member. The latest was a 4th and 3 from the 20 in a 0-0 game at home against the winless Buffalo Bills.

3. Jamaal Charles averaged 5.3 yards per carry as a rookie, 5.9 last year, and is at 6.5 this season. This isn't variance, or "running above expectation", so to speak.

4. It’s nice to see Chiefs CB Brandon Flowers getting some publicity. The guy has been making plays since he entered the league in ’08. He’s got a good shot at making his first Pro Bowl this season.

5. Bad run/pass playcalling and terrible punting and coverage contributed to Buffalo's loss to the Chiefs. The Bills played to win, not to tie, deciding not to call a run down the stretch which would have made it impossible for Kansas City to win outright.

6. In the rapidly-shifting world of kickoff returns, Brandon Banks of Washington has emerged as the best in the league. He possesses the two key qualities any good kick returner must have – speed and fearlessness. Banks is also a very dangerous punt returner.

7. I’m not saying it made sense to bench Donovan McNabb for Rex Grossman, but McNabb did not look close to decent for much of the Detroit game against the Lions.

8. Washington’s offensive line is awful. This is a team that has been surviving on defense and luck.

9. Kevin Smith has always been able to grind out four-yard gains without much space. He is better than Jahvid Best at making lemonade from lemons, though he lacks Best’s explosivity.

10. The Rams are grinding out wins like Knish from Rounders grinds it out at the poker tables. No Fancy Play Syndrome for these guys. Sam Bradford: 25/32, 191 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT vs Carolina.

11. It was Halloween, so Matt Moore dusted off his Jake Delhomme costume and threw a few picks.

12. I think Brian Schottenheimer is one of the best offensive coordinators in the league (my OC of the year last season), but he has games he can't figure out. It happened last year and it has already happened twice for the Jets this season. Having said that, this shutout had more to do with the players on the Jets and Packers than the man calling the plays. You get the feeling New York's season is going to end with a single-digit scoring effort on a cold winter day in Pittsburgh, Foxborough, Baltimore, or Kansas City.

13. Last week the Browns pulled off an incredible fake punt on 4th and 8 in New Orleans. This week the Jets unbelievably tried a fake on 4th and 18 from their own 19 and came up just short. This was the craziest call of the season thus far.

14. The Packers seem to be missing Jermichael Finley more than the Colts are missing Dallas Clark.

15. The injuries to Finley and Donald Driver are drawing attention to the incompetence of James Jones and Jordy Nelson.

16. Troy Smith posted solid numbers in his first start for San Francisco and led the Niners to a win, but he failed the “smell test."

17. I think I’ve finally got the Dallas Cowboys figured out, though I can’t explain the reasons behind their tendencies. The first, and most inexplicable, reason the Cowboys can’t win games is they can’t play defense. They have plenty of good players, but they are not playing well at all. The D hit bottom against a mediocre Jacksonville offense, making David Garrard and Mike Sims-Walker look like Steve Young and Jerry Rice. The Cowboys aren’t generating much of a pass rush, they aren’t stopping the run, and their secondary isn’t covering anyone. The play of the defensive backs recalls the incredibly bad secondaries of the ’08 Broncos and Lions, who had two of the worst defenses in the history of the NFL. None of this makes much sense, because most of these players have been part of solid units the last few years. Less than one year ago the Cowboys walked into the Superdome and pummeled an undefeated Saints team, led by the same defense that would now have trouble stopping some of the better college teams.

18. Sometimes when things aren’t going my way, I vow to “make my own luck.” The Dolphins made some costly mistakes and had a couple key plays go against them vs. Cincinnati, but they made their own luck and beat the Bengals to improve to 4-0 on the road. It helps to employ the services of Dan Carpenter, booter of ten field goals the last two weeks. Carpenter is now the most accurate kicker in NFL history, albeit with a sample size of 73 kicks.

19. The play of Darren Sproles has been in decline since he signed a big contract two seasons ago.

20. Meanwhile, the promising career of Ryan Mathews is off to a rough start. His first problem is that he runs behind a line that can’t run-block. His second is that he got banged up early, missed some time, and now finds himself in a platoon with Sproles and Mike Tolbert. His third is a common issue you see with a lot of young running backs. He fumbled a few times early on, and has since adapted his natural running style to be more conservative. He doesn’t run as aggressively as he did when he hit the pros, though he is still pretty tough to bring down.

21. San Diego finally caught a few breaks:

  • Tennessee’s Kenny Britt went down early with a hamstring and did not return
  • Vince Young went down late with a recurring ankle
  • The Titans came in with a questionable game plan and only gave Chris Johnson fifteen carries
  • The Titans dropped six passes on the day, including a game-sealing drop by Johnson on fourth and two in the red zone down eight with a minute left

22. The Chargers once again suffered from some special teams breakdowns, including a blocked punt for safety and blown extra point, but their offense and defense continue to play well. You can’t afford to bet against the second best quarterback in the league.

23. It really is incredible how poorly Seattle plays away from home, how consistently this happens, and how thoroughly this affliction infects the whole team. Whether it’s the offensive line, defensive line, secondary, quarterback, wide receivers, or kicker, anyone in a white Seattle jersey uncannily becomes bad at football upon departure from the Emerald City.

24. But when a team has to come to their house, as the New York Giants do this Sunday in a classic Trap Game, it’s a different story.

25. Jason Campbell is playing well and making good distribution decisions.

26. Darrius Heyward-Bey: 5 catches, 105 yards, 1 TD on Sunday. Seriously.

27. As well as the Raiders have played the last two weeks, they have also been catching the breaks. I think the Chiefs will find a way to win Sunday’s showdown in Oaktown.

28. LeGarrette Blount isn’t the quickest cat, but he is running with amazing ferocity. You see this a lot – young backs taken from the back end of the draft (or like Blount, Arian Foster, and Benjarvus Green-Ellis, not drafted at all) who run like there’s no tomorrow. It never lasts more than a few years (see Barber, Marion and Jacobs, Brandon) but it’s fun while it lasts.

29. Last week I described how “the best team in the NFC” turned a 1st and goal at the 6 into a 3rd and goal at the 34. This week they pulled off this hideous sequence with the game on the line in Arizona:

1st & 10 at the 22, Bucs ball after intercepting a tipped pass. Bucs up 38-35, 5:01 left. Arizona has all three timeouts, Bucs have none (red flag #1). With both safeties visibly cheating up into the box, Josh Freeman hands off to Blount. The big man is pulled down by run-blitzing linebacker Gerald Hayes for a loss of 2.

2nd & 10 at the 24: Blount runs for two yards.

3rd & 10 at the 22 (now 3:34 left): Swashbuckling Buccaneer captain Freeman takes a 14-yard sack.

Cardinals call timeout (a mistake in my book as they should save the timeouts to give themselves a chance to make a second comeback drive should the first one quickly fail).

4th and 25 at the 36: This is a tough decision whether to punt or try to double the lead to six with a field goal. If you miss, the Cards will have excellent field position. This really comes down to how much confidence you have in your kicker to make a 53-yard field goal. Bucs opt to send Connor Barth out for the attempt. Kick is blocked. Cardinals take over at the 43 yard line. Obviously Derek Anderson throws a red zone interception, Blount changes field position with this spectacular run, a desperate last-minute Arizona drive runs out of time, and “the best team in the NFC” improves to 5-2.

30. Even more so than the Randy Moss fiasco, the drafting and misusage of Toby Gerhart illuminates the lack of vision from Minnesota’s higher-ups. Gerhart looks lost.

31. Minnesota’s lack of a pass rush (no sacks in three straight games) and generally disappointing defensive line play is inexplicable. Jared Allen is AWOL.

32. But by far the biggest culprit for Minnesota’s 2-5 record is strength of schedule. The Vikings play arguably the worst team in the league, Arizona, this Sunday in Minneapolis.

33. The 6-1 New England Patriots will appear atop a lot of power rankings this week. The Pats are certainly well-coached and lack discernable weaknesses, but also lack explosive players. They are grinding out wins rather than blowing teams out of the building, Raider-style. New England’s remaining schedule (@Cleveland, @Pittsburgh, Indy, @Detroit, New York Jets, @Chicago, Green Bay, @Buffalo, Miami) will test them in every way that a team can be tested.

34. Drew Brees finished the game 34/44 for 288 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. But they didn’t come easy. This was a sharp, focused, grinder’s effort from one of the best in the game at home in a game the Saints wanted and needed more than their opponents. Pittsburgh has the league’s best defense and the league’s best team.

Power Rankings

32. Arizona (32)
31. Carolina (31)

30. Buffalo (30)
29. Denver (28)
28. San Francisco (29)

27. St. Louis (23)
26. Tampa Bay (26)
25. Dallas (20)
24. Jacksonville (27)

23. Seattle (21)
22. Cleveland (24)

21. Detroit (22)
20. Oakland (25)

19. Cincinnati (18)

18. Washington (18)

17. Chicago (19)

16. Houston (16)
15. Minnesota (14)
14. San Diego (15)
13. Kansas City (13)
12. Green Bay (12)
11. Miami (11)

10. New Orleans (10)
9. Atlanta (9)
8. Tennessee (8)
7. Philadelphia (10)
6. New York Jets (4)
5. New England (6)
4. New York Giants (3)
3. Baltimore (2)
2. Indianapolis (5)
1. Pittsburgh (1)

Week Nine Picks

Also like:

TEXANS +3 over Chargers
Jets -4 over LIONS
SEAHAWKS +whatever it ends up at over Giants
Chiefs +2.5 over RAIDERS

If forced to choose:

VIKINGS -9.5 over Cardinals
Colts +3 over EAGLES
FALCONS -9 over Bucs
BILLS +3 over Bears
BENGALS +4.5 over Steelers
BROWNS +4 over Patriots
Cowboys +7.5 over PACKERS
Saints -6.5 over PANTHERS
Dolphins +5 over RAVENS

Lock season record: 1-0
Really like season record: 2-1
Also like season record: 20-10-2
If forced to choose season record: 38-41-1
All games season record: 61-52-3


Blogger Ryan Wanger said...

Maybe you already knew this, but I thought I'd point out that the Jets fake punt was called by the punter himself, unbeknownst to everyone else.

8:57 AM  
Blogger GnightMoon said...

Didn't know that. I wish Hard Knocks was still going so we could see the earful that punter got afterwards.

12:08 PM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

By far the strangest line to read in your post:

"They are grinding out wins rather than blowing teams out of the building, Raider-style."

Never thought I'd hear a blowout described like that again.

1:02 PM  
Blogger 81Trucolors said...

A few stats for you courtesy of walterfootball:

Jay Cutler is 8-21 ATS as a favorite.
Tony Sparano is 9-0 ATS on the road against teams with a winning record
Peyton Manning is 12-3 ATS as an underdog

1:11 PM  
Anonymous GmorningSun said...

seattle +34.5 would of been a good bet huh tommy boy.

So much for trends and trap games and all theory's inbetween ;)

Hope you didn't put the whole roll on the line this week!

6:27 PM  

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