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01 Oct 2005

Game Previews: SD-NE and PHI-KC

by Aaron Schatz

In the NFL schedule lottery this year, no division drew a shorter stick than the AFC West, where each team will face both defending conference champions before the season is done. Two of those matchups highlight this Sunday's action.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (2-1) AT KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (2-1)

Each of these teams is currently dealing with major injuries. For Philadelphia, the biggest questions revolve around quarterback Donovan McNabb, who has decided to play through a sports hernia rather than having surgery that would cost him four to six weeks. It's hard to tell how much the injury will limit McNabb, who was dominant in a five-touchdown game against San Francisco in Week 2, but had trouble completing passes in the season opener against Atlanta and a close win over Oakland last week.

With McNabb also dealing with lingering chest and leg ailments, the one thing we know is his mobility will be severely limited, since tucking the ball and taking off will mean a great deal of pain. It's part of the reason why he has rushed for all of eight yards on the season.

But while McNabb's injuries won't keep him off the field, kicker David Akers has no such luck. Last week, Akers's hamstring strain led to the strange sight of long snapper Mike Bartrum kicking off and backup linebacker Mark Simoneau attempting an extra point. The loss of Akers will be felt not only if replacement Todd France (NFL Europe's leading kicker this season) misses a field goal, but also in the field position advantage provided by Akers's long kickoffs.

Losing a kicker, however, is nothing compared to losing a starting offensive tackle. The Chiefs have a potent offense when running on all cylinders, but too many of those cylinders are old, and the biggest one is now broken. His name may not be as well known as those of Tony Gonzalez or Priest Holmes, but 35-year-old left tackle Willie Roaf has been the most important player on the Chiefs since he arrived in 2002.

Roaf injured his hamstring in the first game of the season and hasn't played since. Last week, Denver's defense took advantage of his absence and held the Chiefs to 74 total rushing yards. The Broncos manhandled Roaf's replacement, Jordan Black, who switched over from right tackle, as well as the players who replaced Black at right tackle, Chris Bober and Kevin Sampson.

Compounding the problem, 34-year-old right guard Will Shields is suddenly playing like an aged veteran instead of a regular Pro Bowl selection. As the holes disappear, so do the opportunities for Holmes and Larry Johnson to break long runs.

Philadelphia is a balanced team that can win with either offense or defense. But the Chiefs can't win if their offense doesn't perform. Looking back, Kansas City's opening day domination of the Jets seems more like the exposure of New York's flaws and less like the coming out party for a new and improved Chiefs defense. Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham likes to blitz and trusts his cornerbacks to cover receivers man-to-man, a strategy that could prove fatal against the Eagles.

Two weeks ago, the Chiefs were burned by Randy Moss for a 64-yard touchdown. Is it likely they will have more success against Terrell Owens? Should the Eagles choose not to throw long, the best weapon against a blitzing defense is the screen pass, and that's a play where running back Brian Westbrook -- who has 235 receiving yards on the season, 110 yards more than any other running back -- and the strong Philadelphia offensive line can shine.

Oddsmakers have the Chiefs as favorites in this game, probably because Arrowhead Stadium is considered one of the hardest places in the NFL to win on the road. But a hurting McNabb is better than an absent Roaf, especially given Philadelphia's advantage on the defensive side of the ball.

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (1-2) AT NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (2-1)

When it comes to the impact of major injuries, we're never quite sure what to say about the New England Patriots. Despite injury after injury, they keep finding suitable replacements for even the most important players.

Once again, after the Patriots lost left tackle Matt Light and safety Rodney Harrison last week, the press is asking whether these are the injuries that will finally cause the Patriots to falter. And yet New England beat the Steelers without those players, as quarterback Tom Brady went 12-for-12 in the fourth quarter with rookie backup Nick Kazcur at left tackle, while the defense kept the Pittsburgh offense at bay despite the loss of their playmaking strong safety.

The Chargers will test the Harrisonless defense much more than they will test the Light-less offense. A 1-2 record masks the fact that, on offense, San Diego is even stronger than last year. LaDainian Tomlinson, the league's best running back, is once again healthy, and All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates has shown no ill effects from his preseason holdout. Taken in tandem, the Chargers' two stars will make the Patriots miss Harrison, who specializes in neutralizing tight ends and tackling in run support.

But while San Diego will score points on the New England defense, that won't stop the Patriots from scoring even more points against the Chargers' defense. San Diego's forte is stopping the run, which isn't good news for Patriots running back Corey Dillon. But the Chargers struggle against teams with diversified passing attacks: Dallas third receiver Patrick Crayton had a career-high 89 yards against them, and Eli Manning threw for at least 50 yards to five different receivers last week. New England's offensive line, even without Light, was able to give Brady plenty of time in the pocket against a muscular Pittsburgh front seven, and they shouldn't have too much trouble with San Diego's improved, but still mediocre, pass rush.

The resulting game should be high scoring and exciting, but it's hard to imagine that it will end any differently than the last 21 regular season and postseason games in Foxboro, each one a New England victory.

McNair Beware: Colts' Defensive Line Looks for Its Next Victim in Tennessee

by Michael David Smith

Name an injury and you can bet it has afflicted Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair. Last season, he injured his sternum and ankle. The year before it was his ankle, calf, knee, and finger. Past injuries have included his thumb, ribs, back, toe, shoulder, neck, and elbow.

McNair missed practice on Wednesday because of a sore foot, but that could be the least of his problems Sunday when the Indianapolis Colts come to Nashville. In three games, Colts defensive linemen have injured two quarterbacks -- Baltimore's Kyle Boller and Jacksonville's Byron Leftwich - and sacked Cleveland's Trent Dilfer four times. It's just another season at the office for Indianapolis defensive line coach John Teerlinck, the assistant coach NFL quarterbacks hate.

Teerlinck's sour relationship with opposing quarterbacks dates at least to 1996, when Commissioner Paul Tagliabue summoned Teerlinck, then with the Detroit Lions, to the league office. There, Tagliabue reviewed film with Teerlinck, detailing what he saw as dirty play by Detroit linemen. The following year, Sports Illustrated asked 150 NFL players to name the dirtiest player in the league. First among defensive linemen was the Minnesota's John Randle, and several players mentioned that Teerlinck was Randle's mentor.

Teerlinck calls his tactics rough but legal, and judging by the penalties called on his players, he has a point. In Teerlinck's four seasons in Indianapolis, Colts linemen have been flagged for only four roughing the passer penalties - Dwight Freeney, Raheem Brock, Montae Reagor, and Robert Mathis have had one apiece. Those four players have given the Colts 80 sacks in that time.

His players might not break the rules, but that doesn't mean Teerlinck shows any concern for opposing quarterbacks' health. He once told the coaching magazine American Football Monthly that one of his commandments to defensive linemen is: "Run through the quarterback. Use his body as a cushion to break your fall."

Many quarterbacks despise Teerlinck's tactics -- sometimes even including his own team's quarterbacks. Defensive linemen know that hitting the quarterback in practice is verboten, but with the Lions, quarterback Scott Mitchell accused Teerlinck's linemen of ignoring that protocol. (It's fair to say, however, that Teerlinck knows better than to let any of his linemen hit Peyton Manning.)

As unpopular as Teerlinck is with quarterbacks, head coaches want him on their staff, because his tactics work. He's a master of getting the most out of his linemen's skills, often by having them change positions. Last season, Brock recorded a career-high 6.5 sacks after being switched from end to tackle. The threat of Brock on the inside allowed Freeney and Mathis to get more one-on-one blocks on the outside, leading both to career highs totals in sacks.

Teerlinck teaches his players that a defensive lineman can gain a huge advantage over an offensive lineman by taking an effective stance. The Colts' linemen line up like sprinters in the starting blocks and take a hard first step up the field on every play. Teerlinck dislikes 350-pounders who take up space but lack quickness, and he doesn't teach his linemen to read and react. He wants them on the attack the instant the ball is snapped, which is why he gladly substitutes speed for size. Freeney weighs 268 pounds and Mathis weighs 235, which makes them the smallest pair of ends in football.

Opposing defenses have sacked McNair only six times in three games this year. Limiting the Colts to two sacks on Sunday would be a major accomplishment for the Titans. But it seems more likely the Colts will get to McNair, and Teerlinck's line will claim another victim.

These two articles appeared in Friday's edition of the New York Sun.

Posted by: admin on 01 Oct 2005

16 comments, Last at 04 Oct 2005, 11:36am by MDS

Comments

1
by Opiwan (not verified) :: Sat, 10/01/2005 - 4:53pm

Quick typo note: second last paragraph in MDS's article, second last sentence should say, "size for speed" instead of the other way around...

I'm liking the new content. Keep it coming!

Opi

2
by DavidH (not verified) :: Sat, 10/01/2005 - 4:58pm

I think "speed for size" is right, because Teerlinck uses speed as a substitute for size

"substitutes speed for size" = "substitutes size with speed"

(I think)

3
by Trogdor (not verified) :: Sat, 10/01/2005 - 5:28pm

During last Sunday's game they had a montage of Colts hits on opposing QB's, and intimated that other teams were complaining about them being cheap shots. None of the ones they showed looked late or otherwise illegal (although the one on Leftwich was just nasty), but I've been hearing that they've been accused of dirty, intent-to-injure type stuff. I was wondering if anyone's seen anything illegal from them, or has more info on what exactly is drawing their ire - is it something borderline legal like Denver's blocking? From what I've seen, they just play hard, always get near the QB, hit him as often as possible and always follow through. Seems like just good defense to me.

4
by Theo (not verified) :: Sat, 10/01/2005 - 9:27pm

you have a talk about the English language, as far as you can call your 'accent' English.

I think the Colts will do ok, as long as the O doesn't step up. If they dont the D has a problem because opponents are going to gameplan more conservative, to keep the D on the floor...

5
by Purds (not verified) :: Sun, 10/02/2005 - 1:23am

I hate to think FO is just following the media buzz without any analysis, but I have to admit that to me it seems that part of this article does.

I'm not sure where all the buzz about the Colts D hurting QB's is coming from, other than Boomer saying something about the coach from the mid-90's and that two were injured in the first three games. They did have 13 sacks and 28 pressures in those games. Someone is going to get hurt.

The Colts put a ton of hits on Leftwich -- not a wonder that he got hurt trying to pick up a fumble and run with it, knowing Colts defenders were free in front of and behind him. Boller's injury seemed like an unfortunate freak thing -- he was running from a lineman who caught him from behind and landed on Boller's feet.

I'd like evidence of the "intent-to-injure" nature of the Colts linemen. Every time I see Freeney near a QB from behind, with an open shot, he ALWAYS seems to chop with his right hand to strip the ball and then drag the QB down. If he wanted to injure someone, there are surely better angles to take from the blind side.

6
by bobman (not verified) :: Sun, 10/02/2005 - 2:43am

I'm with Purds. Three seasons, 80 sacks, 4 roughing penalties (and none of them involving low hits). Not sure how this compares to the league overall, but how can anyone other than Boomer see a trend or intent in this? Teerlink doesn't sound like the kind of guy I want babysitting my kids (unless I plan to make them DLs), but that's not his job.
Honestly, I'm pretty Colt-obsessive and read about everything I can about them, and Boomer's gripe about Teerlink is the first I heard of that (and it was Teerlink, not the Colts he had a problem with), and I've never heard anything bad implied about the Colts DL, except that for years it wasn't so hot and is still potentially suspect vs the run.
Two AP articles recently have egregiously stated that "some oposing quarterbacks have been complaining." No names. Just "some QBs." What, is this a federal case and they have requested anonymity? Doubtful. Who then? Boomer. Is he an opposing QB? NO. Just sloppy, sloppy reporting, which keeps the allegation in circulation long enough for everybody to say "I heard that a few times, so it must be true."
I'm sure the same careful reporter can tell me where to find some WMDs.... The explicit answer is bound to be "somewhere over there."

7
by bobman (not verified) :: Sun, 10/02/2005 - 2:45am

I'm with Purds. Three seasons, 80 sacks, 4 roughing penalties (and none of them involving low hits). Not sure how this compares to the league overall, but how can anyone other than Boomer see a trend or intent in this? Teerlink doesn't sound like the kind of guy I want babysitting my kids (unless I plan to make them DLs), but that's not his job.
Honestly, I'm pretty Colt-obsessive and read about everything I can about them, and Boomer's gripe about Teerlink is the first I heard of that (and it was Teerlink, not the Colts he had a problem with), and I've never heard anything bad implied about the Colts DL, except that for years it wasn't so hot and is still potentially suspect vs the run.
Two AP articles recently have egregiously stated that "some oposing quarterbacks have been complaining." No names. Just "some QBs." What, is this a federal case and they have requested anonymity? Doubtful. Who then? Boomer. Is he an opposing QB? NO. Just sloppy, sloppy reporting, which keeps the allegation in circulation long enough for everybody to say "I heard that a few times, so it must be true."
I'm sure the same careful reporter can tell me where to find some WMDs.... The explicit answer is bound to be "somewhere over there."

8
by bobman (not verified) :: Sun, 10/02/2005 - 2:46am

sorry for the double-send.
sorry for the doub--(okay, just kidding this time)

9
by B (not verified) :: Sun, 10/02/2005 - 1:07pm

I dunno, maybe it came from the fact that the two of the three teams who faced the Colts so far this year ended up with an injured QB.

10
by Alan Milnes (not verified) :: Sun, 10/02/2005 - 1:26pm

"Donovan McNabb, who has decided to play through a sports hernia rather than having surgery that would cost him four to six weeks."

If it was that short he would probably have it done, you're looking at 10 - 12 weeks according to the Eagles medical staff.

11
by Purds (not verified) :: Sun, 10/02/2005 - 6:03pm

B:

That's a pretty pathetic argument. Which hit looked dirty?

With that logic, 2 of 3 as proof not only of injury but also of intent, we could say that Tom Brady's a terrible quarterback because he couldn't get the job done today or against Carolina and his team is 2-2...which would be foolish.

12
by B (not verified) :: Sun, 10/02/2005 - 8:53pm

Purds: MDS has clearly shown Teerlink's tendancies as a coach.

13
by MDS (not verified) :: Mon, 10/03/2005 - 12:26pm

Purds, I'm trying hard to understand what in my article you have a problem with. Could you please use specific quotes that I wrote and explain why you think I'm wrong?

14
by Pat (not verified) :: Mon, 10/03/2005 - 1:16pm

Aaron:

Dead on right regarding the Eagles-Chiefs game. The Chiefs simply tried to put pressure on McNabb, and Owens and the other receivers ran completely free. On the other side of the ball, after giving up those initial 7 points, the defense stiffened considerably. On the next drive, they gave up a 49 yard pass, and a 13 yard run - and then 2 yards, -1, and -2, and that was pretty much the end of the easy road for Kansas City's offense.

Philly's defense should have a very good showing in DVOA, I'd imagine. They can't be blamed much for giving up a touchdown after starting on the 27 yard line, nor the touchdown return on special teams. Really, the KC offense had 3 good drives out of 12, and that's pretty darned good for a good offense at home.

15
by Purds (not verified) :: Tue, 10/04/2005 - 3:21am

Well, here is what I wonder about:

"In three games, Colts defensive linemen have injured two quarterbacks – Baltimore’s Kyle Boller and Jacksonville’s Byron Leftwich - and sacked Cleveland’s Trent Dilfer four times."

True, that is a fact, but then you infer this right after:

"It’s just another season at the office for Indianapolis defensive line coach John Teerlinck"

Really? Did the Colts D-Line injure a bunch of QB's that I didn't know about last year? Two in three weeks (now 2 in 4) is hardly evidence of "just another season" of the Colts injuring QB's.

And, for a site which looks so carefully at plays, players (the Ogden/Freeney bouts, for example) and techniques, why aren't you commenting on the exact nature of the hits on Boller and Leftwich? I don't think either were dirty. Leftwich's problem is that he has no idea of self-preservation -- see the college game where his teammates carried him for proof that he has no clue how to avoid the big hit.

So, why suggest that the Colts D linemen are deliberately trying to injure QB's anymore than any other team tries to knock out a QB?

16
by MDS (not verified) :: Tue, 10/04/2005 - 11:36am

Again, where did I suggest that the Colts D linemen are deliberately trying to injure QB’s anymore than any other team tries to knock out a QB?