A look back at New England's worst games this year shows which matchups will be critical in Super Bowl XLIX.
05 Sep 2005
by Al Bogdan
Peerless Price signed a $1.8 million deal with Dallas to become part of what is becoming a crowded Cowboy receiver corps -- and reunite with Drew Bledsoe. Bledsoe was the quarterback who threw a career high 1,252 yards and nine touchdowns to Price with the 2002 Bills. It's not obvious where Price will fit in on the Cowboy depth chart. Keyshaun Johnson is firmly established as the team's #1 option, but after that, everything is muddled with the addition of Price.
Terry Glenn had a successful 2004 campaign, albeit in only six games before his season ended early because of injury. Compare Glenn's 32.6% DVOA and 400 receiving yards in only six contests with the -26.9% DVOA and 575 receiving yards Price totaled in a full 16 games last season. (Last year's WR stats here.)
Patrick Crayton had won himself the Cowboys' #3 receiver job earlier in training camp, beating out Quincy Morgan. Crayton was impressive after getting playing time in the last two games of last year, catching all seven passes thrown his way, converting six of those into first downs or touchdowns. During the preseason, Crayton was the team's leading receiver with 11 catches for 202 yards.
The only receiver slot where the Cowboys appear to be getting an upgrade with the addition of Price is at the #4 spot which Morgan had previously occupied. Morgan has been a huge disappointment afte what looked like a breakout year in 2002 with the Browns. Since then, Morgan has caught fewer than 50% of the passes thrown his way and regularly had a negative DVOA and DPAR. It's likely that if the Cowboys decide to add a recently waived player to their roster before the season opens on Sunday -- most likely a safety -- it will be Morgan that is cut to make room.
The Cowboys cut 15 players on Saturday and placed an additional two on injured reserve. The biggest name to be let go by the Cowboys is tight end/long snapper Jeff Robinson. Robinson was let go in large part because of salary reasons. Robinson was slated to make over $1 million this season to accurately throw a ball between his legs seven yards. Rookie Jon Cando's play in training camp and the preseason convinced the Cowboys that he'd be able to handle the job at a fraction of the price. Robinson will likely find himself a new employer by the weekend, most likely for the veteran minimum.
He's still on the team, but Drew Henson's tenure in Dallas is unlikely to last much longer. The former Yankees and Reds farmhand was beaten out by Tony Romo to backup Drew Bledsoe. Bill Parcells has shown no confidence in Henson's ability to be a successful NFL quarterback. He pulled Henson after a poor first half when the Cowboys were out of playoff contention last Thanksgiving. This preseason Parcells declared Henson was â€œnot readyâ€? to be even the backup quarterback on his team. If Parcells comes back for 2006, it would be a shock if Henson was there with him.
It turns out the fourth preseason game really is meaningless. Or at least it looks that way when you compare the play of some Giants in their victory over the Patriots on Thursday and the list of players that didn't make the Giants 53-man roster on Saturday.
The roster decision that has received the biggest press was the release of former reality television star Jesse Palmer in favor of the man with a thousand disparaging nicknames, Jared Lorenzen. Lorenzen made the team as the Giants' #3 quarterback, while Palmer is now free to join Team Miz for season two of Bravo's Battle of the Network Reality Stars.
The move was likely the right one for the Giants, as Palmer has never shown the ability to be an NFL starter. But Lorenzen was less than impressive against the Patriots in his only action in the preseason, while Palmer completed the one pass he was asked to throw, a picture perfect 46-yard strike to Jamaar Taylor.
Lorenzen showed decent scrambling ability against New England's third string defense, and decent pre-snap blitz recognition, but was inconsistent when asked to throw the ball. Early on he threw some nice deep passes, one of which was dropped on the sidelines by Tim Carter. This was a nice change of pace from the first quarter-and-a-half, where Tim Hasselbeck completed only two passes to wide receivers, neither longer than eight yards. However, Lorenzan made some mistakes that an NFL caliber quarterback just shouldn't make. On two consecutive plays in the third quarter, Lorenzen threw the ball directly at the hands of incoming pass rushers who were able to easily deflect the ball away. And he was called for an illegal forward pass when he decided to throw the ball after he had scrambled at least a yard past the line of scrimmage.
(Ed. Note: Only quarterbacks named Brett are allowed to make this mistake.)
Another curious roster decision was the release of veteran Mike Cloud in favor of second year running back Derrick Ward. Ward put up the better superficial numbers on Thursday (nine carries for 40 yards) compared to Cloud (nine carries for 23 yards) but was the less effective running back overall. Ward's poor pass blocking cost the team at least one sack. When he ran with the ball, Ward was erratic. A few times he showed a nice ability to change directions and find holes, but other times it was like watching Ron Dayne out there running straight ahead into a logjam of bodies instead of through the hole a foot to his right.
Cloud was asked to run down the clock for the Giants in the fourth quarter, getting the ball nine times on their final drive after the team was up by 17 points. Cloud and Palmer combined to run down six and a half minutes of game time to hold onto the Giant lead. Cloud was very effective when asked to fill in for Ron Dayne last year as a short yardage specialist. He'll be a nice addition to a team that needs some depth at running back.
In addition to Palmer and Cloud, sixteen players were let go by New York on Saturday. The most notable cut was linebacker Kevin Lewis, the team's #2 tackler and starting middle linebacker from a year ago. Lewis lost his starting job when the team signed Antonio Pierce in the off-season, and he lost his roster spot after an impressive preseason from rookie Chase Blackburn. The most surprising cut was wide receiver/punt returner Mark Jones, who had seemingly secured himself a spot on the roster after a nice game against New England. Instead, the Giants signed former Jet/Redskin/Patriot Chad Morton.
Once upon a time, defensive tackle Corey Simon was the Eagles' franchise player. Simon, like many a player tagged with the â€œhonor,â€? decided to hold out of training camp in hopes of turning the one year contract that comes with the franchise tag into a long term contract with a little more job security. So Corey never got around to actually signing the team's franchise tender offer. Like countless other franchise holdouts that came before him, most recently the Jets' John Abraham, it was widely expected that Simon would wait until the end of training camp to sign his tender offer, get in a week or two of practice, and be ready for Week 1.
That isn't how things ended up turning out. Philadelphia decided that they would rather have the $5.1 million in salary cap space and rescinded their tender offer, making Simon an unrestricted free agent. Simon became expendable in Philadelphia's eyes after Hollis Thomas and rookie Mike Patterson both had impressive training camps. Add in Darwin Walker and Sam Rayburn, and defensive tackle is still a position of strength for Philadelphia even without Simon. Simon quickly signed with Indianapolis, strengthening one of the Colts' glaring weaknesses on defense and increasing the chances that they and not the Eagles will be holding up the Lombardi Trophy in Detroit next February.
Depth at defensive tackle alone, however, doesn't adequately explain why the Eagles would allow Simon to become freely available to everyone else in the league, possibly strengthening one of their division or conference rivals. It's not like the Eagles needed the extra cap room. According to profootballtalk.com, the Eagles enter the season with $12.6 million in salary cap space. Even if Simon's $5.1 million were added to the cap, the Eagles would still enter the season with more cap space than any other team in the league.
The only explanation that makes any kind of sense is that the Eagles didn't want to have yet another disgruntled player looking for a long-term contract on their sidelines every Sunday. Even so, the Eagles should have found a way to work this out and not allow a player of Simon's caliber to go onto the market and strengthen the Eagles' competition for a Super Bowl ring.
Joining Simon on the outside of the Eagle roster were 19 other players let go on Saturday. The biggest names were defensive end Hugh Douglas and fullback Jon Ritchie. Douglas had off-season surgery on a torn tendon in his right shoulder. It's likely that there are a few teams that could find a roster spot for Douglas in a role of a pass rush specialist, but according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Douglas told an Eagles employee that his career was likely over. Ritchie was also cut after coming off surgery. Ritchie missed most of last season after tearing his ACL early last season. He was beaten out for his roster spot by Josh Parry, who filled in well for Ritchie last season.
The Washington Redskins management has clearly read the Pittsburgh Steelers chapter of Pro Football Prospectus 2005, where Ryan Wilson examined the relationship, or rather lack thereof, between a receiver's height and his ability. After cutting veteran receiver Kevin Dyson on Saturday and Darnerian McCants earlier in the pre-season, Washington enters the year without a wide receiver on the roster over six feet tall. James Thrash and Taylor Jacobs measure in at exactly 72 inches, Santana Moss and David Patten are listed at 5' 10â€?, and return man Antonio Brown is an inch shorter at 5' 9â€?. In his post-cuts press conference, Joe Gibbs seemed to think Thrash and Jacobs were taller than their listed heights, but in any event the Redskins have one of the smallest group of receivers in the league.
For a team like the Ravens, whose quarterback likes to sail balls six inches above his receivers' heads, height in a receiver might actually make a difference. Patrick Ramsey, on the other hand, seems to have a bigger problem underthrowing his receivers. With Ramsey behind center, the most important attribute a receiver needs is not height, but hands. And the ability to come back to the ball quickly after the receiver realizes the ball will be landing five yards shorter than it should be. In Santana Moss, Ramsey may have the sure-handed receiver he'll need for the Redskins to have a successful passing game. Moss caught over 60% of the passes thrown to him the past three seasons, mainly from another quarterback who is not known for his arm strength, Chad Pennington.
Along with Dyson, sixteen other players were let go by Washington on Saturday. Veteran punter Chris Mohr was let go after being brought in earlier in training camp following an injury to Tom Tupa. Mohr was beaten out by Andy Groom, who is making an NFL roster for the first time after being cut in the pre-season by other teams the past two years. Defensive back Siddeeq Shabazz was also let go, reducing by one the number of NFL players with three sets of consecutive double letters in their name.
This is the final edition of Four Downs for 2005. The feature will return in February 2006.
34 comments, Last at 08 Sep 2005, 1:16pm by Pat