Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Week 1 - Random Thoughts

A quick spin around the league, mostly just my thoughts from various things I noticed in various games this weekend...

Chiefs @ Ravens
I drove up first thing Sunday for the game in what's becoming an annual ritual of going to the home opener with my dad. Lots of fun as it always is. We have tickets between the 25 and 30, 14 rows up on the Ravens sidelines. The 500 yards of offense was great to see. If this team has a real offense, and special teams aren't as vomitously horrendous as they were Sunday, this team could be very dangerous.

Of particular note in this game was the decision to go for the TD on fourth and inches with 40 seconds left; a decision which has sparked vicious debate on two separate message boards on which I participate. I won't rehash the entire debate, but it comes down essentially to swapping a reduced chance of losing the game with the chance to make a statement. I won't start another debate here, but I fall on the side of it being a very bad decision not to kick the FG.

Titans @ Steelers
Both teams put on a really entertaining game here and both look like solid teams. But both also should be very concerned about some things as well. Tennessee was dominating the Steelers offense when they were constantly blitzing, and suddenly and inexplicably abandoned the blitz in the fourth quarter. Allowing Roethlisberger enough time to hang out, read his copy of Motorcycle World magazine and flirt with the cheerleaders before bothering to look if someone's open to throw to isn't a particularly sound strategy, as Ben showed. Man, what a terrific, clutch quarterback.

Meanwhile, the Steelers have got to be worried about their running game, and frankly Roethlisberger's health if he keeps taking hits like he was in the first three quarters. Ben could be dead by week 6. The offensive line isn't terrible, but it's certainly not good. And the reckless abandon with which Roethlisberger plays has got to make Steeler fans worry.

Dolphins @ Falcons
I think what's interesting about this game is the failure of the Wildcat, and what the future of the Wildcat really is. Short-lived trickery, or a strategy here to stay?

I don't pretend to know, but I want to throw one thought into this. Regardless of whether or not the Wildcat works, what it forces an opponent to do is to prepare for it. So a defense has to take time out of its defensive game-planning to prepare for it. If they don't, it'll kill them. And if they do, maybe they aren't as prepared for the rest of the offense. Just a thought.

49ers @ Cardinals
I can't help but think the Niners are for real. I like Singletary. I think he's learning on the job and he's getting better at the Xs and Os coaching each week while being one of the best motivators in the game. This from a fan of the team with Billick who I thought was the quintessential motivational coach with almost no Xs and Os sense.

The defense played terrific on Sunday, and the offense is good enough to get the job done. This team to me looks like a poor man's 2000 Ravens... Very good defense, very good running game, don't-screw-it-up passing game. Shaun Hill is the perfect QB to play on that team. In what's probably the weakest division in the NFL, they are very much a contender to take it.

Bears @ Packers
So the big story is Jay Cutler's 4 INTs, and I'm trying to stay away from the shallow stories here, but I think there's a more interesting one buried in here. I think Cutler's probably going to hate life without receivers that can actually help him be a better QB. In Denver, Marshall and Royal got open consistently, and fought for balls in close coverage. In Chicago, his receivers just aren't good enough to do that. So while you have Crazy-I'm-Just-Having-Brett-Favreian-Fun-Out-There-Cutler slinging risky passes and getting balls picked off like in Denver, we're going to lose out on a lot of big receptions that are a direct result of those great receivers he had to get him out of jams out west.

So what Chicago's in danger of having is a poor-man's Brett Favre who takes risks, but takes too many of them and winds up looking as bad as, oh, say Rex Grossman (who always seemed to me to be like Cutler except without the receivers) until/unless they find him at least one receiver that can dominate. I wasn't sure if Cutler was "the answer" or not a week ago. Based on what I saw Sunday, I can't help but say "No, he's not."

Bills @ Patriots
With all the interesting story-lines here, there's one very tiny little nugget that I'm going to attack with some vigor here.

Early in the 4th quarter on 1st and 10, Edwards drops back to pass. Adalius Thomas beats his man badly and wraps Edwards up. Adalius is still running Edwards backward, turning around him but Edwards isn't going down and the refs aren't blowing the whistle. And so Adalius spins, falls, and in the process throws Edwards to the ground. *flag* 15 yard penalty, roughing the passer.

Now think back to November 26th, 2006. With just under 3 to play, Vince Young drops back to pass on 4th and 10. Young scrambles, and Mathias Kiwanuka wraps Young up and runs him backward. He then lets Young go prior to the whistle blowing. Young scrambles, gets the 1st down, and leads the Titans to a 24-21 win.

In Sports Illustrated's NFL Preview issue a couple weeks ago, Peter King did a QB round-table with several guys, including Carson Palmer. Carson was quoted as saying the following: "The truth of the matter is ... somebody is going to die here in the NFL. It's going to happen."

I get that. I really do, and I do believe that quarterbacks should be afforded certain protections that go beyond what many players think these days. Those guys are out there more than most other players (other than ST'ers and WRs coming across the middle, and I believe those guys should get protected as well).

But if I'm Adalius, I've got to simply ask "How the hell can I legally tackle the quarterback in that exact situation?" If Adalius lets up and lets him go, he risks becoming a huge goat, the way Kiwanuka did. It's a disaster. But if he takes him down, he's risking getting a flag thrown on him.

The tackle looked like a very good one to me. It was a little hard. But this isn't Pop Warner with seven year olds. You simply have to let guys play at times. And as a fan - and I'm sure most players would agree - this call is absolutely infuriating to me. It is one thing to protect guys from dangerous tackles. Things like the low hit Wilfork had on Edwards (another call I disagree with, but I don't have all that much of a problem with it).

It's a complete other thing to basically strip a defender of the ability to do his job. If, as a ref, you are going to penalize a guy for following through on a tackle like that, it absolutely MUST obligate you to blow the play dead IMMEDIATELY upon the defender wrapping the quarterback up.

At which point we're basically playing two-hand-touch on quarterbacks, which is stupid. Let the guy freaking make the tackle...

Chargers @ Raiders
I've typed and deleted several ways of trying to say "The Raiders are idiots for cutting, rather than starting, Jeff Garcia." So I'll just say that. It's pretty much the very definition for why this organization is destined for eternal failure.

Let's face some simple facts here. The Raiders absolutely, positively destroyed the Chargers. What was most striking to me is how the Chargers have a very good offensive line and defensive line, and the Raiders counter-lines completely dominated San Diego's.

Around the end of the second quarter, the score was 10-10, and I thought "The Raiders are just killing this team, and it's a tie game. If Garcia were playing, they'd be up by no less than two touchdowns." And thus leading me to say it...

If the Raiders had kept and started Jeff Garcia, the Raiders would be a playoff team.

Tom Cable's impressed me. He's starting at the right spots. He's teaching a classically undisciplined team the fundamentals of football. He's building from the lines out. And with the addition of Richard Seymour, he's actually got a defense to be proud of. Offensively this team can move the ball.

But opposing defenses simply have to be salivating to stack 10 guys in the box, leave one free safety deep, and say "Go ahead Jamarcus, complete a pass if you can." And till the Raiders are ready to say "We made a $60 million mistake" and find someone that can play solid football - like Garcia - they will continue to underperform.

The end of the game was incredible. Very exciting. But if Garcia were under center, the game never would have been in doubt, and the Raiders likely would have won by 17-20 points.


As always, an incredibly interesting week. The NFL is such fun!


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