Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

Most Recent FO Features

FolesNic12.jpg

» 2014 KUBIAK vs. ADP: The Overrated

Where does KUBIAK differ most strongly from public opinion, and which players are most likely to disappoint their owners in the upcoming fantasy football season?

03 Nov 2005

Every Team Counts

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 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.

NFC East

New York Giants: Fullback Jim Finn and left guard David Diehl deserve more credit for the quality of the running game. They're both very powerful blockers on inside runs.

Giants defensive ends Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora did a number on Redskins tackles Chris Samuels and Jon Jansen.

Washington: With the exception of the atrocious performance against the Giants, Santana Moss fits perfectly in Joe Gibbs' offense. Moss plays the same role Gary Clark played for Gibbs in his first stint in Washington – he's small, fast, and able to gain yards after the catch.

I like what I've seen of rookie cornerback Carlos Rogers. He's extremely aggressive when helping out in run support.

Dallas: Left tackle Torrin Tucker really struggled against Arizona's Bertrand Berry. With Flozell Adams out for the season, Dallas is going to go through the rest of the year with Tucker and rookie Rob Petitti as their offensive tackles. That's not a playoff-caliber pair.

Philadelphia: Kickers get to hear praise for their toughness about as often as astronomers get to see Halley's comet, so let's give rare credit for toughness to David Akers, who booted a game-winning field goal in Week 3 despite a severely injured hamstring. Philadelphia desperately needs a healthy Akers to make another playoff run.

NFC North

Chicago: The best defensive tackles often make an impact not by tackling the opposition themselves, but by freeing up linebackers to do it. Ian Scott didn't have a single tackle against Detroit, but his strength and quickness in the middle of the line often forced Detroit to devote two blockers to him, which allowed Brian Urlacher to finish with a game-high nine tackles.

Detroit: Unless you've watched the Lions regularly, you don't understand just how bad their offensive play calling is. There are many examples, but here's one: In overtime against Chicago, Detroit had one series that consisted of three complete passes: one for no gain, one for a one-yard loss, and, finally, a seven-yard gain on third-and-11. You're just not supposed to have to punt after three consecutive completions, but Detroit did. That was the fifth time Sunday that Detroit punted after a complete pass. The Lions have also been terrible at the hurry-up offense. Despite being involved in several close games, they're the only team that hasn't scored in the final two minutes of either half.

Kenoy Kennedy is the best strong safety in the league. If you don't want to take my word for it, just take a look at Detroit's defensive DVOA, No. 1 against tight ends, the position the strong safety usually covers. Last year, when Kennedy was in Denver, Detroit was terrible against tight ends, and Denver was No. 2 in the league.

Minnesota: The Vikings really miss guard David Dixon. I still can't figure out why he retired.

Green Bay: Al Harris is having one of the all-time heroic NFL seasons. A lot of players would give up when all around them is breaking down, but Harris is dominating the receiver he covers week in and week out. If he doesn't make the Pro Bowl this year, it's an outrage. Harris was shutting Chad Johnson down all day on Sunday, giving up a few short completions underneath but nothing more. Then Ahmad Carroll covered Johnson, and Carson Palmer promptly hit him for 38 yards. (Carroll was called for pass interference on the play, but Cincinnati declined.)

Just curious: What ever happened to Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila? He took a lot of plays off against Cincinnati, and when he did play he wasn't effective. Aaron Kampman has been a much better defensive end this year.

NFC South

Atlanta: I like linebacker Ike Reese in special teams coverage, but he struggles when he tries to keep up with tight ends. New England's Daniel Graham and Ben Watson are bigger and faster than Reese, and they combined for six catches, 152 yards, and two touchdowns against Atlanta.

Carolina: Steve Smith is one of the most productive receivers in the league even though everyone knows he's Carolina's only real threat. Last year Muhsin Muhammad was one of the most productive receivers in the league even though everyone knew he was Carolina's only real threat. What I can't figure out is why the two of them weren't the best pair of receivers in 2003, when Carolina had both of them on the field at the same time.

Tampa Bay: I like strong safety Dexter Jackson. Arizona gave him way too much money as a free agent after he won the Super Bowl MVP, but he's doing nice work now that he's back in Tampa Bay.

New Orleans: Center LeCharles Bentley is having a great year. He's the quickest center in the league, able to snap the ball and get to the middle linebacker in an instant.

NFC West

Seattle: I loved watching Mike Holmgren's offense against St. Louis. In an effort to stop Shaun Alexander, St. Louis used eight in the box, with safety Adam Archuleta near the line of scrimmage. But Seattle countered that tactic by motioning a receiver out of the backfield, spreading out the formation and forcing Archuleta to cover the extra receiver. Alexander carried 25 times for 119 yards and two touchdowns. Seattle left tackle Walter Jones and left guard Steve Hutchinson both had big days.

St. Louis: The offense has been a lot better than you'd expect with Marc Bulger, Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce and Mike Martz all out. I don't think Bruce has much left in the tank, but I still love Holt, so when he gets back the Rams should be even better offensively. Seattle's Marcus Trufant tried to use press coverage on him, and Holt consistently blew past him, finishing the game with eight catches for 126 yards.

Rams right defensive end Anthony Hargrove has improved considerably in his second year, picking up some of the slack for Leonard Little.

San Francisco: You've got to like Cody Pickett. When was the last time someone made a tackle in punt coverage one week, as Pickett did last Sunday, then was the starting quarterback the next week, as he will be this Sunday?

Tony Parrish just isn't getting the job done at strong safety.

I'm amazed at how well Bryant Young is playing at age 33. I think you can make a pretty good case that Young is a Hall of Famer. Don't forget how good he was in the ‘90s, and now he's having a huge comeback in Mike Nolan's defense.

They gave left tackle Jonas Jennings a fortune and he's missed most of the season with a shoulder injury. But I like what I've seen of his replacement, Anthony Clement. He had a solid game against Tampa Bay.

Arizona: So much for this team's getting better under Dennis Green and maybe even competing for a playoff spot. But I watched the terrible offensive line looking for something positive to say, and you know what? I found something. Fred Wakefield, the right tackle who made the switch from defensive end, is showing promise. It's obvious he's still learning the position – on some plays he looks awkward and is too high getting out of his stance – but if he can stay healthy I think he can be very good. At 6-foot-7 and 312 pounds, he almost looks skinny.

AFC East

New England: For all the talk of the defensive injuries, the player New England misses most is Matt Light. The left side of the offensive line is a mess right now.

Miami: Jason Taylor is having another really good year. He doesn't get as many sacks as he used to, but that's more because of the way he's used in Nick Saban's defense -- he stays at home rather than engaging in all-out pursuit of the quarterback, and the result is that he's knocked down five passes and played well against the run.

Buffalo: Quarterbacks coach Sam Wyche has always encouraged quarterbacks to use their cadences to draw the opposing defense offside, and that tactic has worked for both J.P. Losman and Kelly Holcomb. Losman drew Houston linemen offside four times in Week 1 and Holcomb drew Miami linemen offside six times in Week 5.

New York Jets: The quarterback injuries are the most obvious problem, but there are others. Among them, they just don't have anyone on the defensive line who's as effective as Jason Ferguson, who left as a free agent. James Reed gets pushed around too much in the middle of the line.

AFC North

Pittsburgh: Ben Roethlisberger is a very good quarterback, but the way to beat Pittsburgh is to take away the running game and force Big Ben to pass. That's what New England did, with a strategy that called for the defensive linemen to maintain gap discipline and clog the line of scrimmage, rather than rush upfield and risk letting Willie Parker get past them. It worked. Parker gained only 55 yards on 17 carries and Roethlisberger completed only 12 of his 28 passes.

Safety Troy Polamalu had an unnecessary roughness penalty and a roughing the passer penalty against Jacksonville, but he also played a big role in Pittsburgh's defense that day. Coaches get furious when players pick up penalties, but Polamalu demonstrates how calls often go against the most aggressive players. Having a safety like that is worth a few 15-yard penalties.

Andre Frazier, who had that big special teams hit on Monday night, is the latest good-looking young linebacker in Pittsburgh. Frazier is an undrafted rookie. How do the Steelers keep finding good linebackers?

Cincinnati: Guard Eric Steinbach is a very important part of this offense. It was surprising when he lasted until the second round of the 2003 draft, and ever since he's shown that he was a steal.

Rookie receiver Chris Henry had that big drop in the end zone against the Steelers, but he looks like a talented player. Cincinnati is loaded with talent at receiver.

Linebacker Brian Simmons, the longest tenured Bengals defender, has been through a lot, but he's playing well, making tackles and showing he's one of the fastest pursuit linebackers in the league.

Baltimore: On Monday night Chris McAllister had his hand on three Ben Roethlisberger passes and didn't intercept any of them. Dropped interceptions can really hurt a defense. On the positive side, I liked linebacker Bart Scott (normally just a special teams player) when the injury to Ray Lewis put him into the defensive lineup.

It seems like every time I see Baltimore throw a pass to a receiver near their sideline, Brian Billick is standing right where the receiver's route ends. It makes sense that when he calls a play for a receiver to run a route somewhere on the Baltimore sideline he'd want to stand where he can see his receiver, but you have to think the opposing cornerback playing on that side has noticed that Billick is tipping his hand.

I like Justin Green, the undrafted rookie fullback from Montana. He's a lot quicker than you'd expect a 251-pounder to be. If he'd spend more time blocking for Chester Taylor and less time blocking for Jamal Lewis, the Ravens offense would be a lot better.

Cleveland: Strong safety Chris Crocker is playing well. Romeo Crennel has a lot of work to do on that defense, but having Crocker in place is a nice start. Inside linebacker Andra Davis also seems to be fitting in nicely in Crennel's 3-4.

AFC South

Indianapolis: Middle linebacker Gary Brackett, who entered the league as an undrafted free agent two years ago, is excellent in pass coverage.

Defensive tackle Larry Tripplett has lost weight and is noticeably quicker.

Jacksonville: Defensive tackles Marcus Stroud and John Henderson are having another solid year, but teams are starting to learn that running to the outside against Jacksonville is an effective strategy. I love seeing Stroud and Henderson line up at tight end in short-yardage situations. They're dominating run blockers, and I'm just waiting to see Byron Leftwich launch a high pass into the end zone that the 6-foot-7 Henderson or the 6-foot-6 Stroud can jump up and catch.

Tennessee: Kyle Vanden Bosch is one of those players who must make Cardinals fans shake their heads. He did nothing in three years in Arizona. Now he's in Tennessee and he's having a phenomenal year. Kudos to Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz for finding the right way to use Vanden Bosch. He's a real terror on passing downs.

Houston: With so much discussion of the offensive line, it's been little noted how bad the defensive line is. Rookie Travis Johnson might be a good player some day, but he's not close yet.

AFC West

Denver: I've been in awe of center Tom Nalen for a decade. He's an incredibly sound and consistent player. I don't know if any of the Denver running backs in the past 10 years have had enough sustained excellence to make it to the Hall of Fame, but Nalen should.

Kansas City: Jared Allen had what might have been the best game of any defensive end all season against the Redskins. He sacked Mark Brunell three times and on two of the sacks he forced Brunell to fumble, then recovered the fumble to boot. He's good against the run, too.

I still have problems with the Chiefs' linebackers, though, especially in pass coverage. Kendrell Bell is lousy. That promising young player we saw in Pittsburgh isn't around anymore. Against Philadelphia rookie Derrick Johnson covered Brian Westbrook and put a good hit on him, but Westbrook held onto the ball. Johnson needs to learn that you don't get up and celebrate when you've just been beaten for a first down.

San Diego: Shawne Merriman is a beast. He's not an every-down player yet; the Chargers still take him out at times, but he's going to be a good one.

I like backup running back Michael Turner. He'll never get much time on offense with LaDainian Tomlinson in front of him on the depth chart, but he plays well when he gets the chance, and he's good in special teams coverage: he caught Dante Hall from behind on Sunday.

Oakland: Jarrod Cooper is a good punt gunner. He laid a vicious (but clean) hit on San Diego punt returner Eric Parker.

Posted by: Michael David Smith on 03 Nov 2005

59 comments, Last at 08 Dec 2005, 11:58pm by e

Comments

1
by James Gibson (not verified) :: Thu, 11/03/2005 - 9:31am

I don't usually follow the Giants, but I just moved into their viewing area (and unlike a lot of people here, I don't have DirecTV), and I would like to endorse your Diehl comment. He has been a very key player in their running game - I've been more impressed with him than any other lineman on the Giants.

2
by Bill (not verified) :: Thu, 11/03/2005 - 9:40am

Jim Schwartz REALLY needed the positive feedback, apparently...

3
by Israel (not verified) :: Thu, 11/03/2005 - 10:22am

Andre Frazier was Tunch Ilkin's official Camp Phenom.

Frazier is an undrafted rookie. How do the Steelers keep finding good linebackers?

He was on the practice squad at the start of the season, so not only did the Steelers find him, but no one else picked him up even when he was available.

4
by Craig B (not verified) :: Thu, 11/03/2005 - 10:24am

"Linebacker Brian Simmons, the longest tenured Bengal" You must've missed Willie Anderson and Rich Braham, who have both been there for two more years.

5
by Michael David Smith :: Thu, 11/03/2005 - 10:42am

You're right, Craig B. I meant to write that he's the longest-tenured defensive player. It's fixed now.

6
by ElAngelo (not verified) :: Thu, 11/03/2005 - 11:53am

Perhaps the Panthers' answer is Delhomme more than the receivers.

7
by Todd S. (not verified) :: Thu, 11/03/2005 - 12:10pm

Walt Harris may be having a heroic season, but it's not NEARLY as heroic as Tedy Bruschi's.

(This message brought to you by the Brady Manning Bruschi Department.)

8
by Todd S. (not verified) :: Thu, 11/03/2005 - 12:21pm

Oops. Make that Al Harris. This new department is having some learning curve issues.

9
by Nate (not verified) :: Thu, 11/03/2005 - 12:27pm

Tommie Harris get all the pub, but Ian Scott has been the Bears best defensive tackle this year, despite only playing on running downs.

10
by Independent George (not verified) :: Thu, 11/03/2005 - 12:28pm

I just want to echo the comments about Bryant Young. Let's not forget how badly his leg got mangled in '99. I know bones usually heal much better than soft-tissue injuries, but I remember this being an especially bad break (both the tibia and fibula were snapped), and he was considerably weaker when he returned, due to the prolonged inactivity.

Question: how much of Pittsburgh's LB success is a question of finding talent, vs. developing it? Obviously, both come into play, but which is the bigger factor?

Reason #466 why I would suck as an NFL GM: talent and salary cap be damned, my first goal would be sign/trade for Polamalu, Gbaja-Biamila, and Tuiasossopo(?). If only Tim Biakabatuka and Chris Fuamatu-Mafala were still around, too...

11
by zip (not verified) :: Thu, 11/03/2005 - 1:00pm

Perhaps the Panthers’ answer is Delhomme more than the receivers.

Is the QB focusing on one receiver a good thing?

12
by Led (not verified) :: Thu, 11/03/2005 - 1:05pm

"Among them, they just don’t have anyone on the defensive line who’s as effective as Jason Ferguson, who left as a free agent. James Reed gets pushed around too much in the middle of the line."

Is the run defense really the most notable problem other than the QB situation? I would point to the fact that their OL can't block anybody and that they have an old, hurt RB with a hurt backup. The team is 31st in offensive DVOA and 16th in defensive DVOA, which pretty much shows where their major problems lie. As a result, the defense is on the field for more snaps per game than anybody other than SF and the Giants (who at least have had the benefit of playing with a lead). That said, the run defense hasn't been good, but they have much bigger problems.

And as far as the run defense goes, the Jets problem isn't that they failed to resign Ferguson (who was asking more than he was worth), it's that they failed to come up with even a replacement level guy to replace him.

13
by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 11/03/2005 - 1:05pm

Philadelphia desperately needs a healthy Akers to make another playoff run.

Andrew and I were discussing this elsewhere - I don't think people are quite realizing exactly how important special teams was to the Eagles style of play. Think about it - the Eagles defense is a blitzing, pressure defense. They leave corners on an island frequently.

This kind of defense essentially requires good starting field position, because it can then work out in the long run, because one big play won't kill you, and you've got a better chance of forcing a 4th down somewhere in the drive than their opponents do of getting two big plays in one drive.

Plus, the other problem is that that kind of defense will tire over a full game. So couple a struggling offense with poor field position, and I think a blitzing defense is a recipe for disaster.

Incidentally, one thing I had been suggesting is that a decent offense, plus a strong KICK+PUNT special teams, leads to a better scoring defense than you would expect. I guess a poor offense, and poor KICK+PUNT special teams, leads to a worse scoring defense than you would expect as well.

After all, this is essentially the same defense as last year. It's hard to understand how they could have declined so noticeably unless there are other factors involved.

14
by mawbrew (not verified) :: Thu, 11/03/2005 - 2:01pm

Couldn't agree more regarding Detroit's offense. They just can not get anything going downfield. A pass completion more than ten yards from the LOS is becoming more rare than a drop kick.

There is a lot to like about Kennoy Kennedy. He hits like a brick wall and (as you note) does a terrific job in straight man-to-man coverage. However, he can be overly agressive. Off the top of my head I can remember three big plays he's given up by being overly aggressive (80 yard touchdown to Galloway vs. TB, crucial personal foul vs. Carolina, and big play this past weekend vs. Bears when he was fooled on play action).

Net, I think he's well above average but I'd be hard pressed to believe he's #1.

15
by Mshray (not verified) :: Thu, 11/03/2005 - 2:02pm

Re #10, totally agree. Furthermore he is lending his veteran leadership very effectively in a still-quite-young defense that had given up an average of 37+ pts during a 5 game losing streak. I give him all the credit in the world for the way the defense played against the Bucs.

Nobody has ever won the comeback player of the year award twice, have they?

16
by Weesam (not verified) :: Thu, 11/03/2005 - 2:08pm

Unless you’ve watched the Lions regularly, you don’t understand just how bad their offensive play calling is.

It sounds like the Lions need to coax Scotty Bowman out of retirement and take over the coaching reins in Detroit. He kicked the Wings' asses into shape and turned them into champs. He would be a definite improvement over Dan Henning, Sylvester Croom, Sherm Lewis, et al.

17
by Jeff (not verified) :: Thu, 11/03/2005 - 2:27pm

Re: Ravens

Does anyone else want to see one of the Ravens QBs pull a Varsity Blues and wing a pass at Billick's nose. "Sorry coach... that one slipped."

18
by Yakuza Rich (not verified) :: Thu, 11/03/2005 - 3:10pm

Did you watch the same Arizona vs. Dallas game? Berry had three offsides penalties and Dallas was able to run the ball his way with ease. Tucker also had no penalties.

Berry did have a sack, but that was Bledsoe's fault as he held onto the ball too long. As a Cowboys fan, I was very concerned about Tucker coming in for Adams to the point where I thought the season was over. But so far Tucker has played well against the Umenyiora, Wistrom, and Berry.

19
by Sara (not verified) :: Thu, 11/03/2005 - 3:32pm

The Panthers did use both Smith and Muhammed in '03, along with Ricky Proehl, Kris Mangum (at TE) and a healthy mix of others. Smith specialized in the long balls, like the TD pass that ended the double-OT playoff game with the rams. Muhammed only stepped up last year because 1) Smith was out the entire year with a broken leg, and 2) it was a contract year. Smith's been the go-to guy this year because no one else can consistently catch a friggin' pass.

20
by Andrew (not verified) :: Thu, 11/03/2005 - 3:43pm

"How do the Steelers keep finding good linebackers?"

Cowher was a Linebacker.

21
by Andrew (not verified) :: Thu, 11/03/2005 - 4:04pm

In 2002 in the not missed Rodeny Peete era at Carolina, Smith and Muhammad got equal useage.

Smith had 54 for 872 and 3 TD
Muhammad had 63 for 823 and 3 TD

Muhammad kept that production the next year, while Smith stepped his up:

Smith had 88 for 1110 and 7 TD
Muhammad had 54 for 837 and 3 TD

Muhammad held his own in the Steve Beuerlein era. Delhomme only seems to look for one man though.

22
by Jim A (not verified) :: Thu, 11/03/2005 - 4:16pm

Before the game, Chad Johnson called Al Harris the 2nd-best cornerback in the NFL behind only Champ Bailey (see link), though I'm not sure what he's basing that on. Wonder how he's going to mark his locker room checklist now?

23
by Rowdy (not verified) :: Thu, 11/03/2005 - 5:07pm

the way to beat Pittsburgh is to take away the running game
It also helps to score more points.

24
by Mitch (not verified) :: Thu, 11/03/2005 - 5:19pm

Re: #14

What puzzles me about the Lions offense is they seem to pass it much more than they should on 1st and 10. They get into a lot of these 3-and-out sequences where its incomplete pass on 1st down, Jones for 1-4 yards on 2nd down, pass incomplete/short of the 1st down on 3rd down. Why not let Jones take the ball on 1st down and get in a rhythm?

25
by TomC (not verified) :: Thu, 11/03/2005 - 5:33pm

New Orleans: Center LeCharles Bentley is having a great year. He’s the quickest center in the league, able to snap the ball and get to the middle linebacker in an instant.

Chicago: The best defensive tackles often make an impact not by tackling the opposition themselves, but by freeing up linebackers to do it. Ian Scott didn’t have a single tackle against Detroit, but his strength and quickness in the middle of the line often forced Detroit to devote two blockers to him, which allowed Brian Urlacher to finish with a game-high nine tackles.

I believe this sets up what we in the business call an "angle" for Sundays CHI/NO game. The Bears have indeed been very good against the run this season -- due in no small part to Scott's play -- but they still go through stretches that remind me of that horrible day in 2002 when Cory Schlesinger spent the entire afternoon sitting on Brian Urlacher while Little Man Stewart ran free. In fact, one of those stretches came last Sunday in the third quarter, when Detroit broke three or four good runs on one drive (most behind Schlesinger), the last of which was a TD to make the game 13-10.

(But for some reason, the Lions only ran the ball six more times out of 23 plays the rest of the game! Won't someone ever write about the awfulness of Detroit's offensive playcalling?!)

26
by MCS (not verified) :: Thu, 11/03/2005 - 6:00pm

In other news Green Bay Waives Joey Thomas yet keeps Ahmad Carroll. Is there an available CB out there that I don't know about?

See link

27
by Chris (not verified) :: Thu, 11/03/2005 - 6:01pm

One of my favorite things about this site is that the followers and writers actually seem to be aware of linemen.

I never noticed what you said about Billick and the receivers routes, but I tend to close my eyes everytime that offense is on the field. Watching that unit is about as entertaining as a punch to the stomach.

I just feel really, really bad for Derrick Mason.

28
by jim\'s apple pie (not verified) :: Thu, 11/03/2005 - 6:03pm

I'm pretty sure that it was Kassim Osgood, and not Michael Turner, that caught Dante Hall last week. Osgood was also responsible for running him down last year and forcing a fumble just before Hall got to the end zone on a kick return.

I like Osgood because he's a physical wide receiver. He's big and loves to block, but it seems like the Chargers are telegraphing their plays a little bit with him. He's almost always in when they run, and out when they pass.

Osgood manages to get open but it never seems like Brees puts the ball where he can catch it. I don't know if they just don't have a good "connection" or what, but it seems like a good percentage of the balls thrown at Osgood are broken up by the DB because of poor placement.

29
by Kibbles (not verified) :: Thu, 11/03/2005 - 6:04pm

Re Kenoy Kennedy: I agree that he's terribly underrated as a safety. I said all last season that if he missed the pro bowl, it would be a shame. He definitely deserved to go more than Lynch, but alas, Lynch had the name recognition.

I also think Kennedy's public perception is still colored by the fact that in his first couple of seasons in the league, he was NOT a good safety. He was a devastating hitter, but his tackling was extremely hit-or-miss (pun intended). Lots and lots of missed tackles, which are one thing when they come from the defensive line or outside linebacker, but are devastating to the defense when they come from the safety position.

He really turned his game around last season. Became a ton more consistant, started using proper form on tackles and drastically reduced the number of leave-his-feet hits he went for. I remember Lynch said at midseason that he hadn't missed a tackle yet, which led me to pay more attention to his play. I have to say, I didn't see him miss a single tackle until week 14 or 15. If Lynch was right, then that's simply amazing for a player once known for crushing blows and epic whiffs.

That said, Kennedy is one of the best safeties in the game (I'd call him a top 5-10 SS), but not THE best SS in the game. He's good but not great in coverage, and he's not much of a ballhawk. He's not the one to credit for Denver's amazing DVOA against TEs last season. That would be Champ Bailey, who Denver lined up 1-on-1 with Gonzo and Gates 4 times last season. Both players had two of their three worst performances of the year in terms of receptions AND yards against Denver, and I don't think either caught a TD. Denver returning to average against TEs has a lot more to do with Bailey's hamstring than Kennedy's loss, especially since the reason Denver let Kennedy go is because they guy next on their depth chart, Nick Fergeson, wasn't much of a downgrade at all, and the #4 guy, Sam Brandon, was also good enough to be starting for several other teams.

30
by Jeff J. (not verified) :: Thu, 11/03/2005 - 6:17pm

I like the Gary Clark/Santana Moss comparison, though I'd sugggest that Moss possesses speed like Charlie Brown with Clark's clutch receiving.

My only beef with some of the aggressiveness of the Williams defense is that the players must be very disciplined in their attacking; Walt Harris' run blitz was on time but just a few steps too wide and Tiki Barber blasted right by him for his second long run. Sean Taylor has gotten beaten on other runs this season being just a wee too aggressive and only being able to get a single hand on a streaking back.

Sunday's game against the Egos is perhaps the biggest test of Gibbs & Company in a long time. Here's to a competitive game (that ends with us winning by 20 points).

31
by bobman (not verified) :: Thu, 11/03/2005 - 7:06pm

I feel the Colts got short-shrift here. Come on, two sentences? (New England, too, for that matter, now that I look back. I guess these two teams are getting a lot of ink elsewhere this week.... thought I am not sure why. Oh, hey, don't they play each other sometime soon? That might be a decent game to catch. Can somebody remind me when it is again?)

Nothing about the unsung guys on the Colts O-line (Jeff Saturday better make the Pro Bowl this year, with Mawae out), the lack of TE production (is it Pollard's absence or the new focus?), the poor special teams (aren't teams with young, fast D's supposed to have good special teams because there's so much overlap?)
Or my favorite stat (from ESPN.com's stats pages), if you break down Edge's running success, most of it comes not from their vaunted double-TE attack, but he has his highest YPC from 3- and 4-WR sets. Which says to me that, despite a lot of criticism for him no longer being the Edge of old, he does better when it is him vs the D (admittedly spread out), than him and an additional blocker vs the D (playing more in the box). And maybe that success is a credit to Manning, who comes out in a 4-WR set, sees how the D sets up against the pass, and checks to a run which gets Edge 6 yards. (On 1st and 10, he's averaging 4.9 yards a carry. on all 2nd downs it's 5.8 YPC). Oh wait, that must be a mistake; everybody "knows" Manning is all about personal stats and not team wins...

32
by Michael David Smith :: Thu, 11/03/2005 - 7:18pm

Bobman, don't take offense. I tried to write about things that aren't getting much attention. That's why I found something nice to say about players on the Saints, Cardinals, Packers, Browns, and Titans. If you want to read something about the Colts, I feel confident you won't have a hard time finding what you're looking for.

33
by Jerry (not verified) :: Thu, 11/03/2005 - 8:12pm

“How do the Steelers keep finding good linebackers?�

It'll probably get harder as more teams adopt the 3-4, but the Steelers have had more than 20 years to figure out exactly what they're looking for.

(To phrase it another way, stability in the organization and coaching.)

34
by Michael David Smith :: Thu, 11/03/2005 - 8:43pm

I do think steady coaching is an underrated part of the Steelers' success. (Crap. I just used "underrated" and "Steelers" in the same sentence. Here come the angry e-mails.) I like how the Rooneys have always been hands-on in the sense that they understand everything that's happening with the team, but hands-off in the sense that they find a guy who's capable of coaching the team and stick with him. It worked for Chuck Noll, and even though he hasn't won a title, I think it's working pretty well with Bill Cowher.

35
by charles (not verified) :: Thu, 11/03/2005 - 8:50pm

On Monday night Chris McAllister had his hand on three Ben Roethlisberger passes and didn’t intercept any of them. Dropped interceptions can really hurt a defense.

one pass he had both hands on it and would have returned it for a one hundred yard touchdown. But if you remember the same thing happened when the ravens played the colts in the 1st game of the year mccalister had an int for a td and dropped it.

36
by BlueStarDude (not verified) :: Thu, 11/03/2005 - 9:00pm

Yakuza Rich (re: #18) - I believe Berry actually had 2 sacks, but other than that I agree with you. Tucker has played well enough against some tough ends - esp. when you consider this is his first time playing LT. And I dare say that the run blocking has seen almost no drop off.

Frankly, I don't understand why of all the comments FO could have made about the Cowboys, this is what the focus was on. Tucker at LT has not nearly been the problem some thought he was going to be.

37
by Vince (not verified) :: Thu, 11/03/2005 - 9:14pm

Allow me to throw out a few random observations of my own:

Walter Jones is the best player in the NFL.

The unsung hero of the SD defense is NT Jamal Williams. He cannot be moved.

38
by Jersey Jets! (not verified) :: Thu, 11/03/2005 - 10:23pm

James Reed Has been the most consistent defensive lineman on the Jets...

39
by Yellowknifer (not verified) :: Fri, 11/04/2005 - 3:36am

I just wanted to say that BY has been playing at an extremely high level since he entered the league. If he doesn't get all-pro/pro-bowl berths there is no justice. And yeah, he's gonna end up in the hall. Gotta disagree about Parrish though. He's been decent, not as good as a couple years ago, but he's playing well enough overall. Had a couple bad games. Had a couple good ones.

40
by Yellowknifer (not verified) :: Fri, 11/04/2005 - 4:20am

Defensive tackle Larry Tripplett has lost weight and is noticeably quicker.

----

To say the least. He's been the best player on their d-line I'd say. Yet I haven't seen ANY announcer give him more than a few words at best in every game I've seen him in. It's always Freeney this or Freeney that.

41
by Kibbles (not verified) :: Fri, 11/04/2005 - 5:32am

Re #31: Jeff Saturday better make the Pro Bowl this year, with Mawae out

There's this other center that I think might actually deserve a pro bowl spot more than Saturday. He plays on a line that's allowed the 3rd fewest sacks in the NFL. He's paved the way for the #10 and #13 rusher in the NFL, both of whom are on pace for 1000 yards. He's the key blocker for a rushing attack averaging 5.3 yards per carry. Oh, what was his name... shoot. Tom something. Tom Neelan? Something like that.

Re #34: I do think steady coaching is an underrated part of the Steelers’ success.

If you ask Pat Bowlen or Dan Rooney what the #1 most important ingredient for success is, both will immediately respond with "stability". They have the first and third longest-tenured coaches in the entire NFL (Fisher got his job a couple of months before Shanny). They also have two of the winningest franchises in the entire NFL over the last decade. Tennessee's also doing pretty well in the win department. After the Steelers went 6-10, Rooney rewarded Cowher with a contract extension, and a lot of Pitt fans were going berserk, asking how you can extend the contract of a guy coming off of a 6-10 season. Last I heard, it worked out pretty well for them. I think even Pittsburgh fans were reasonably satisfied with 15-1.

I feel like if you've got a guy who has proven himself to be one of the top 10 coaches in the league, you don't let him go for anything. Any marginal gains you might get from a coaching "upgrade" (which is by no means a sure thing) will be lost anyway because of the instability as the coach brings in his own people.

I also think that Cowher and Shanahan do it the right way. They never blow up their team and start over. They just keep their team competitive every single season and hope to catch lightning in a bottle to take them from a 10-6 team to a 14-2 team. Last year, the Steelers caught it in Big Ben. This year, the Broncos are hoping that they caught it in Darrent Williams, Dominique Foxworth, and the Cleveland Browns D-line. And if they fail, well, at least they're 10-6 instead of 4-12.

42
by Ian (not verified) :: Fri, 11/04/2005 - 8:12am

Re: #41 Cowher
As a long-time reader and first time poster, I'd like to add my $.02 to this discussion. IMHO, Cowher struggles as a game coach and I doubt he will ever be able to win the 'big one', as demonstrated by his record in home playoff games. Stability is a good thing, but I think once a coach has shown an inability to win after several chances, a change may not be the worst thing. Teams don't play for a winning record; they play for the title. Nothing else matters, not even 15-1 records.

The major problem with the Steelers and, to a lesser extent, other Pittsburgh teams (Pirates and Pitt), is that there is a fetish for people with Pittsburgh backgrounds. I grew up in Pgh and went to Pitt and then moved abroad and I just can't understand why a person's hometown should matter at all. Sure, I like to see local people do well, but I'd rather have a championship won by a guy from Cleveland than another disappointing playoff loss with a guy from Carrick.

Unfortunately, I think I'm the only guy who feels this way, so Cowher will be safe in Steeler Nation.

43
by James Gibson (not verified) :: Fri, 11/04/2005 - 9:33am

#42 - I don't think you're the only one that feels that way, as I've seen lots of people complain about Cowher on other forums. However, I think you're all mistaken. I think coaches get the "can't win the big one" moniker just like players do, even though they are capable, but haven't done it yet. Cowher may have a bad home record, but at least two of those teams - '97 Denver and '04 New England - were actually better teams. I think they should have made it in '94 when they lost to San Diego, and they actually did make the Super Bowl in '95, so it's clear Cowher is capable of making it. Yes, they lost the SB, but they made it, so I don't think it's fair to say he can't win the AFC championship game.

44
by Ian (not verified) :: Fri, 11/04/2005 - 9:59am

#43 - I guess that is the difficult part. How long is too long?

Cowher has done an amazing job of building several great teams, but has failed to convert those chances. Yes, he did get to the SB, but came within about 1ft of losing to Indy in the AFC Champ. game. I suppose it is the nature of those losses that is so galling.

Do I have to wait for another decade to go by before we can conclude he isn't good enough? It's a difficult decision with no clear answer as his replacement may be worse. I guess I view it as his replacement may be better.

45
by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 11/04/2005 - 12:20pm

One team wins the Super Bowl. One team. That's one team in 32.

If the NFL were fair, you'd have to wait at least 32 years before you could claim that a coach can't win the big one.

46
by Lions fan (not verified) :: Fri, 11/04/2005 - 1:55pm

RE: Kenoy Kennedy.

Do note that Boss Bailey spends a lot of time covering the TE, and is a huge reason why the Lions defense against TEs has been so good.

Kenoy Kennedy has had a very good year and been all over the field for the Lions, but even as a Lions fan I wouldn't call him the best SS in football. Top 5-10.

47
by Scott de B. (not verified) :: Fri, 11/04/2005 - 2:07pm

Teams don’t play for a winning record; they play for the title. Nothing else matters, not even 15-1 records.

It's easy to say that, but remember you also have to watch the games (well, you don't have to, but ideally you'd want to).

Which team would you rather watch: a team that goes 76-84 over ten years (6-10 eight times, 14-2 twice) and wins the Superbowl twice, or a team that goes 104-56 over ten years (10-6 nine times, 14-2 once) and wins it once?

48
by Sara (not verified) :: Fri, 11/04/2005 - 2:09pm

#21: If Steve Smith were on your team, would YOU look for anyone else?

I'm not comfortable with the Panthers' one-receiver mentality either (especially if they're also going to have the little guy doing kickoff returns). But since no one else could catch a pass in the first several games, and since Smith can put up 800 yards despite everyone on the field knowing the ball's coming to him, why not? It looks like the Panthers are at least trying to spread things out, cultivating Michael Gaines at TE and throwing the occasional bone to Proehl or Colbert.

49
by Jerry (not verified) :: Fri, 11/04/2005 - 4:49pm

re #44:

Would you rather watch/have watched Billick's Ravens instead of Cowher's Steelers over the years, even with the one Super Bowl win?

50
by Sid (not verified) :: Fri, 11/04/2005 - 5:33pm

Guess you got sick of doing only bad teams. :D

51
by Catfish (not verified) :: Fri, 11/04/2005 - 6:07pm

Re: 41

I think MDS sides with you on this one.

"Denver: I’ve been in awe of center Tom Nalen for a decade. He’s an incredibly sound and consistent player. I don’t know if any of the Denver running backs in the past 10 years have had enough sustained excellence to make it to the Hall of Fame, but Nalen should."

52
by Kibbles (not verified) :: Fri, 11/04/2005 - 10:48pm

Re #42: As has been noted, only 1 in 32 teams wins the SB every season. Only 2 in 32 teams APPEARS in the SB every season. Only 4 in 32 teams appears in the conference championship. If you fire Cowher and hire a brand new coach, you've still only got a 1 in 32 chance of winning the superbowl, optimistically. I personally think that Cowher's odds of winning the SB are BETTER than 1 in 32. Still long, but I think he's a better than average coach, so I think he has a better than average chance to win the big one. If nothing else, pretty much no one has been in a position to get to and/or win the SB more than Cowher since he came to Pitt.

Do you think Buffalo, after going to 4 straight SBs, should have said "Holy crap, we just went to 4 straight SBs, let's keep this Levy guy around forever", or do you think they should have said "Holy crap, we just lost 4 straight SBs, let's dump this Levy guy ASAP"?

Let's say that Buffalo shared your opinion, that nothing short of winning the superbowl is acceptable. Here's a list of all the coaches that were hired in '94, which we'll use as a pool of possible replacements for Levy.
Pete Carrol- Two career playoff appearances. Never made the SB. Can't win the big one.
Mike White- Zero career playoff appearances. Can't win the big one.
Buddy Ryan- three career playoff appearances, zero playoff wins. Can't win the big one.
June Jones- One career playoff apperance, zero playoff wins, can't win the big one.
Barry Switzer- Actually one the big one, albeit with a team that had already won without him.
Norv Turner- lifetime losing record. Can't win the big one.

See, your desire to go to a coach who can "win the big one" would have had you firing Marv Levy and hiring Mike White, June Jones, or Norv Turner. Add '95 to the list and you get a whole bunch more absolute scrubs with 3 year careers, plus Shanahan.

I mean, suggesting that anything short of a superbowl is unacceptable is madness. Are you saying that every year, 31 teams should fire their coaches and go a different direction? Or if you want to give each coach 5 years, then every 5 years, at least 27 teams should fire their coaches and go a different direction? Does doing that REALLY increase a team's chances of winning the SB? Absolutely not.

If you are lucky enough to get a top 10 coach in the NFL, I say the smart thing to do is to HOLD ON TO HIM AND NEVER LET HIM LEAVE. Ever.

Re #51: I know. I think if Nalen isn't a first-ballot HoFer, it'll be a travesty. Of course, he probably won't be, since O-linemen get no love, and since he refused to talk to the media for so long. Still, the guy is amazing. Nalen and Mawae really set the standard for centers over the past decade, but I've always admired Nalen more, because he's not as big and strong as Mawae. He's undersized, underpowered, but his technique is just so perfect, and he's just so smart, that he's been outperforming guys bigger, stronger, and more athletic for a decade. And while Mawae fell off the face of the planet this season, Nalen is still performing at a remarkably high level.

53
by Billy D (not verified) :: Sat, 11/05/2005 - 3:28am

MDS, this column is particularly awesome. Dozens of interesting points, thanks for paying attention. I especially like the focus on line play.

On one of the many points, I'd respond that KGB has not been very good since 2003 and that he's more effective this year than last year at generating consistent pressure (probably because he's on the field less). He's a specialist who got off to a great start in his career, and now has (maybe permanently) leveled off. And I agree about Kampman being a better player.

54
by Jake (not verified) :: Sat, 11/05/2005 - 8:13am

Bill Cowher.

#43 got it right, he was beat twice by better teams.

In the salary cap era, coaching is the best way to find stability.

I would like to point out Cowher as had many different starting QBs in his career, which has made his job much more difficult. Despite all those QBs, he still wins. Let's see what he can do after having the same, reliable (it seems to this point Big Ben will be reliable) QB.

Also, many of his OFF and DEF coor. have (or had) head coaching positions around the league. Again making his job more difficult.

55
by Sid (not verified) :: Sat, 11/05/2005 - 8:22pm

RE: 28

I’m pretty sure that it was Kassim Osgood, and not Michael Turner, that caught Dante Hall last week. Osgood was also responsible for running him down last year and forcing a fumble just before Hall got to the end zone on a kick return.

Actually, I watched that game, and it was Michael Turner.

56
by A. Diggity Dawg (not verified) :: Sun, 11/06/2005 - 6:07am

One comment on the "Why weren't Smith and Muhummad the best pair of receivers in 2003" thing: Smith has been kind of a project with Carolina for awhile, and I feel that he's only just now really coming into his own as far as route running, field awareness, defense reading etc. For the longest time (in 2002, parts of 2003), he'd just get lost in coverage, especially in zone coverage that would funnel him to somewhere he didn't want or expect to be. (In fact, some jibes by fellow WR Anthony Byrd about an obvious mistake by Smith caught on game film led to Smith's much-hyped "violent" episode.) His raw athletic skill still got him 1,110 yards in 2003, though, so his defenciencies were somewhat masked. Of late, however, Smith has upped his game in every area, especially mentally.

57
by A. Diggity Dawg (not verified) :: Sun, 11/06/2005 - 6:21am

And RE: #19 on While Smith's speed did help with the famed (in Carolina) "X Joker" TD play St. Louis, it's not hard to outrun Sehorn, who was playing safety (badly) for the Rams and fell down on that play.

58
by A. Diggity Dawg (not verified) :: Sun, 11/06/2005 - 6:21am

And RE: #19 on

While Smith's speed did help with the famed (in Carolina) "X Joker" TD play St. Louis, it's not hard to outrun Sehorn, who was playing safety (badly) for the Rams and fell down on that play.

59
by e (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2005 - 11:58pm

Re: Kenoy Kennedy.
Have we lost that much respect for Rodney Harrison already? Which team was #1 against TE last year? =)