Denver: great team, or the greatest team? Would you be satisfied with "one of the ten greatest teams?" Plus: hard times in the NFC South, where defense goes to die.
13 Oct 2004
By Michael David Smith
Each week in Every Play Counts, I take a look at one particular aspect of a team throughout a single game. But I watch a lot of football during the season, making it my goal to see every team play a couple of times, and I notice a lot of little things that don't make it into Every Play Counts -- or any other column on the Web, for that matter. Little issues like player quickness, or which wide receivers can block, that don't get covered in the highlights but have an impact on wins and losses. So a couple of times during the season, Every Play Counts becomes Every Team Counts, my notebook of all the little things I've noticed throughout the past few weeks.
Pat Williams is just a big body at defensive tackle -- he doesn't make plays unless a running back runs right into him.
J.P. Losman had better turn out to be special, because the Bills gave next year's first round pick to Dallas so they could draft Losman, and that pick looks like it's going to be a very, very good one.
The offensive line is so terrible and the defensive line is so good that I can't imagine what practice is like. If they ever go full-speed against each other do the offensive linemen start crying? Backup defensive tackle Dario Romero fights through double teams like crazy. Offensive tackle John St. Clair has followed his four seasons of never blocking anyone in St. Louis by never blocking anyone this season in Miami.
I don't see a team that misses Ricky Williams; I see a team that has so little offensive talent that Jim Brown would struggle to run.
Center Kevin Mawae is probably the best in the league at getting out in front of his running back.
I really like guard Pete Kendall. I can't believe Dennis Green didn't want Kendall in Arizona.
Curtis Martin has been great, but how long can he keep it up? He's 31 years old and on pace for 428 carries. His career high is 369.
Rodney Harrison is a good player, but he makes a lot of stupid plays. Witness his hands to the face call on 3rd-and-1 and his holding call on 3rd-and-6 against the Colts.
Corey Dillon is finally starting to get some recognition for his great pass protection. Hardly anyone noticed it in the opener, but he had a great chip on Dwight Freeney, he knocked Cato June down, and he bailed out Tom Brady with a fumble recovery.
Willie Anderson is a great right tackle. If he hadn't spent his entire career in Cincinnati more people would know that.
I love their linebackers, Kevin Hardy and Brian Simmons on the outside and Nate Webster in the middle. I also like defensive end Justin Smith. But the rest of the defensive line is weak, and the secondary is suspect. Marvin Lewis still has some work to do to put together a good defense.
Ryan Tucker is a very good right tackle. When he went out of the Dallas game with a quadriceps injury it became open season on Jeff Garcia. This team has just been killed by injuries.
Safety Robert Griffith, who I thought would be a good free-agent signing, gives up too many big plays.
Fullback Alan Ricard is really, really good.
If you had told me this four weeks ago I would have told you you were crazy, but Ed Reed is their best defensive player, better than Ray Lewis.
Left guard Alan Faneca is the best pulling guard in the league. He had the key block on all three of Jerome Bettis's Week 1 touchdowns.
Outside linebacker Clark Haggans flies all over the field. I think he's a great fit as a pass-rusher in new defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's scheme.
David Thornton has a great motor. He's one of the fastest pursuit linebackers in the league.
If you just watched the highlights, the only thing you know about cornerback Nick Harper's performance against the Titans is that he snatched a pass out of Derrick Mason's hands for an interception in the end zone. What the highlight shows don't mention is that Harper had a terrible game aside from that play, and the Titans had success throwing in his direction all day.
We all know Peyton Manning is good at selling the play fake, but tight end Marcus Pollard plays a key part in that, too. He's great at looking like he's going to stay in to block before running a route over the middle.
Everyone seems to love the receiving trio of Marvin Harrison, Brandon Stokley, and Reggie Wayne, but I think just about any group of receivers would look great the way Peyton Manning lays passes right on their fingertips.
I'm not as impressed as everyone else seems to be with defensive tackles Marcus Stroud and John Henderson. I think they get too much credit, while middle linebacker Mike Peterson and strong safety Donovin Darius don't get enough credit.
Left guard Chester Pitts is the only player I like on their offensive line. David Carr sometimes holds the ball too long, but most of his sacks are the line's fault.
Dom Capers constantly takes notes on his clipboards during games. He looks like an overly ambitious freshman in lecture hall.
Domanick Davis lost four fumbles in the first two games, and he's averaging three yards a carry. He sure doesn't look like the great young runner he appeared to be last season.
Jay Foreman and Jamie Sharper are a good pair of inside linebackers, but the rest of the defense is weak.
Pretty funny that Chris Brown had a 52-yard run in his first start. Eddie George hasn't had one that long since his rookie year.
A lot of the time defensive lineman Kevin Carter doesn't need to be blocked because he just takes himself out of the play, especially late in games.
Two rookies I really like are defensive end Antwan Odom and offensive lineman Jacob Bell.
The Titans were just about out of the division race within the first three weeks, losing two division home games. Last year's eight division winners went a combined 23-1 in division home games.
Champ Bailey seems like he's turned around the whole secondary. The Broncos' other cornerbacks, Lenny Walls, Kelly Herndon, and Willie Middlebrooks, all look better this year.
I'm very unimpressed with right tackle George Foster. He's the biggest guy on a line that is tiny by NFL standards, but his technique is suspect.
Weakside linebacker D.J. Williams looks like a young Derrick Brooks -- great against the run and the pass.
Tight end Antonio Gates is a stud. Remember, this is only his second year of football. He only played basketball in college at Kent State.
Linebacker Randal Godfrey was a nice free agent pickup.
Shane Olivea is a lousy starting right tackle. Why are the Chargers relying on a seventh-round rookie to block for LaDainian Tomlinson? I do think rookie center Nick Hardwick has potential, though.
Jason Dunn is the best blocking tight end in the NFL. This might sound crazy, but I actually think when the Chiefs lost right tackle John Tait to free agency they should have moved Dunn from tight end to tackle. He seems to have a perfect understanding of the Chiefs' offense (whereas Tait's replacement, John Welbourn, looks out of place). At 6-foot-6 and 276 pounds, Dunn could have become a tackle if the Chiefs had told him to spend his off-season in the weight room and the buffet line.
Philip Buchanon is a great athlete, but he just doesn't seem like he has the instincts for playing defense. On a blitz against the Steelers he had a clean shot at Tommy Maddox but ran past him.
Left guard Frank Middleton is surprisingly nimble for a fat guy.
Larry Allen is 32 years old and overweight, but he's still one of the toughest blockers in the NFL.
Antonio Bryant has become much tougher going across the middle. Bill Parcells seems to have that effect on his wide receivers.
Parcells is smart, but having Matt McBriar as his Week 1 holder was dumb, and McBriar's drop cost the Cowboys a field goal. Why do teams use punters as their holders when a quarterback, running back, or receiver with better hands and a better ability to run fakes would be available?
Greg Ellis is a great defensive end.
Brian Dawkins is awesome. When he's healthy he's one of the best defensive players in the league.
Brian Westbrook can run, catch, and pick up the blitz, but I still doubt he can be an every-down back for 16 games.
The offensive line is much better than I thought it would be, and the defensive line is very good. There's more to it than just Michael Strahan. Norman Hand was a good signing. Defensive line coach Mike Waufle is a good one.
I'm a big fan of backup defensive tackle Jermaine Haley. He might be the most athletic 325-pouner in the league.
Joe Gibbs and Joe Bugel have forgotten more about pass-protection strategy than I'll ever know, but I can't imagine why they didn't move Chris Samuels to right tackle. With a left-handed quarterback in Mark Brunell, the Redskins desperately need someone on the right side to protect him. Samuels is a good, solid pass blocker. He's played left tackle for his career so far because his quarterbacks have been right-handed. Now that he has a left-handed quarterback, he should switch. The Skins haven't found anyone even remotely qualified to fill in at right tackle since Jon Jansen's season ended at the Hall of Fame Game.
Rex Grossman is out for the year with an ACL injury, but I like how Terry Shea's offense protects the quarterback. Qasim Mitchell is a liability at left tackle, though.
When Grossman overthrows a receiver he really overthrows him -- he's had a few passes that looked like they were going to go into Lake Michigan.
Lance Briggs is their best linebacker, better than Brian Urlacher. In fact, I know this sounds like sacrilege to Bears fans, but I really don't think the Bears lost much when Urlacher got hurt and Hunter Hillenmeyer replaced him.
This team really misses Jerry Azumah.
I really like rookie linebacker Teddy Lehman. He got lost in coverage a few times against the Texans, but he's so fast that he did a better job of covering Andre Johnson than the Lions' cornerbacks did. And Lehman and strong safety Bracy Walker did a great job on Falcons tight end Alge Crumpler.
Joey Harrington has had two very ugly interceptions called back by penalties. He's getting better, but I'm not sure that he's their quarterback of the future.
Want to know how important Roy Williams is? When he was in the game, the Falcons' secondary was keying on him and Joey Harrington completed 13 of 16 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown. After Williams left with an ankle injury, Harrington went 3-for-8 for 19 yards.
The Lions inked Damien Woody to a huge free-agent contract, and he hasn't provided results. He's clearly overweight, and it's affecting his play against faster defensive tackles; Atlanta's Rod Coleman beat him for a sack.
David Martin contributes a lot to the Green Bay offense as an H-back. He's a good blocker and a good athlete. I bet Joe Gibbs would love to have him.
The loss of center Mike Flanagan will be devastating. Ahman Green got a lot of easy yards running through huge holes last year, and Flanagan was a big part of that.
First year cornerback Jason Horton is terrible.
Corey Chavous might be the smartest player in the league -- he always seems to know where the offense is going. Unfortunately, new defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell always seems to want his safeties hanging back and waiting to see what happens. I'm not in that "all the prevent defense does is prevent you from winning" crowd, but I do think Cottrell uses it too much.
Bryant McKinnie, in his third year, has become the great left tackle the Vikings thought he'd be when they drafted him, but the Vikings have lost two of their best blockers in right tackle Mike Rosenthal and tight end Jimmy Kleinsasser.
A couple of fourth-round rookies, right tackle Nat Dorsey and running back Mewelde Moore, played very well against the Texans.
Too many skill-position players from last year are gone. Just losing Thomas Jones, Aaron Stecker, and Keyshawn Johnson in the off-season was bad enough, but the Keenan McCardell holdout, injuries to Rickey Dudley, Joe Jurevicius, Joey Galloway, and Charlie Garner, plus the Michael Pittman suspension, have really devastated the offense.
Left tackle Derrick Deese is incredibly quick. Against the Broncos he got out in front of Michael Pittman a few times and looked fast enough that he could play tight end.
This is a good running team, but I think it could be even better. Justin Griffith is a running fullback on a team that could use a blocking fullback, and T.J. Duckett should get more playing time in relief of Warrick Dunn.
The defensive line is so much better in a 4-3 that it's hard to imagine why they were ever forced into a 3-4. Ed Jasper and Brady Smith are much improved in the Jim Mora/Ed Donatell scheme, and free agent pickup Rod Coleman is one of the best pass-rushing defensive tackles of recent years. My only complaint is that I think they ought to make more use of rookie Chad Lavalais in the rotation. He's a tough run-stuffer.
First-round rookie receiver Michael Jenkins hasn't caught a pass yet, but he's the best punt gunner in the league.
Jake Delhomme might throw the most accurate deep ball in the league. It's a shame he doesn't have Steve Smith to throw it to.
I like Kris Jenkins because he doesn't need substitutes like most big defensive tackles. He can play the whole game without appearing worn down.
Jordan Gross might be the most physical pass blocker in the league. Did you see the way he mauled Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila?
DeShaun Foster missed a block on the blitz pickup when Jake Delhomme threw his costly interception that Kevin Mathis returned for a touchdown. Is there anyone left who honestly thinks Foster is a good player?
Rookie linebacker Courtney Watson is athletic and great in pass coverage.
Josh McCown will continue to improve under Dennis Green, but he's also made some big mistakes. His fumble deep in Atlanta territory was the worst quarterback play of the season, with the obvious exception of Jake Plummer left-handed.
Larry Fitzgerald is an aggressive downfield blocker. Too bad the Cardinals' offensive linemen so rarely allow the running backs to take advantage of it.
Left tackle Kyle Kosier just gets overpowered too often.
Even before his injury, I felt that Julian Peterson wasn't the game-changing linebacker he was last year. I do like linebackers Jeff Ulbrich and Jamie Winborn, though.
Orlando Pace isn't as good as he used to be, but he's still by far their best offensive lineman.
Rich Coady and Adam Archuleta might be the best pair of safeties in the league.
Anthony Simmons covers 10 yards as fast as any linebacker in the league.
I don't know what to think of the secondary. I thought it was the best in the league until I watched the Rams absolutely shred it in the fourth quarter and overtime Sunday. Ken Hamlin is supposed to be a hitter, but Stephen Jackson ran him over. Terreal Bierria is supposed to be great in coverage, but he gave up the overtime touchdown.
Koren Robinson is a great athlete with bad hands. I guess that's better than being a bad athlete with great hands, but I'm starting to doubt he'll ever live up to the promise he showed coming out of North Carolina State.
6 comments, Last at 26 Mar 2007, 10:44pm by dallas toyota part