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23 Sep 2006

Game Previews: CHI-MIN, IND-JAC

by Aaron Schatz

CHICAGO BEARS (2-0) at MINNESOTA VIKINGS (2-0)

(Sunday, 1:00 pm EDT)

The Bears and Vikings are both undefeated, but they are far from equal. The Bears were the better team last year, they had more positive indicators going into this season, and they've destroyed their first two opponents by the combined score of 60-7 while Minnesota has won two games by just a field goal apiece. One required a missed field goal by Washington, and the other required Carolina to fumble a pointless gimmick lateral during a punt return, handing the Vikings the ball in the red zone so they could tie the game in the fourth quarter.

Running back Chester Taylor provides a good example of how public perception doesn't line up with Minnesota's actual play on the field. Television announcers continually refer to the ex-Ravens backup as a workhorse who wears down opposing defenses. But even though the Vikings improved their offensive line with the return of Pro Bowl center Matt Birk from injury and the signing of Steve Hutchinson, the best guard in the game, Taylor is averaging just 3.7 yards per carry. Six of his 55 carries have lost yardage, another seven have gained nothing, and more than half have gone for two yards or less. And he isn't running better late in games, either; even considering a 33-yard overtime run last week, Taylor averages just 3.75 yards per carry in the fourth quarter or overtime.

The Bears aren't gaining much yardage on the ground either, but that's a product of opposing strategy, not their own offensive problems. Last year, the Bears couldn't pass at all, but ran well, so this year Green Bay and Detroit both stacked the line to stop the run -- only to discover that Bears quarterback Rex Grossman is better than he looked during a bad preseason, and much better than last year's starter Kyle Orton.

Last year, tight end Desmond Clark gained just 229 yards receiving. This year, with safeties and linebackers looking in the backfield and ignoring him, he already has 162 yards receiving. And with safeties watching the run instead of playing deep pass zones, speedy second receiver Bernard Berrian gets open with regularity. He has six catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns.

Will Minnesota fall into this trap as well? The Vikings turned star Washington tight end Chris Cooley into a non-factor in Week 1, limiting him to three catches that lost three yards. As for Berrian, the Vikings have controlled both of the number two receivers they've faced, Brandon Lloyd (one catch, 23 yards) and Drew Carter (four catches, 34 yards).

Combine these trends with home-field advantage, and the Bears don't seem likely to continue their surprising offensive barrage. If the Bears defense plays as well as it has in the first two games, and the Vikings can't find some consistent offense to go with their early good luck, it won't matter.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (2-0) at INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (2-0)

(Sunday, 1:00 pm EDT)

Despite a 12-4 record, the Jaguars spent last season hidden in the shadow of the Colts, and looked to be on the decline going into 2006. There was no reason to think their stalwart defense would falter, but the offense had to adjust to the departure of its best player, wide receiver Jimmy Smith, and deal with the waning talent of aging running back Fred Taylor.

Surprisingly, Smith's absence has not been a problem. In two years, Matt Jones has gone from college quarterback to Jacksonville's number one wide receiver. His tremendous size and speed make him tough to stop, although he sometimes stops himself thanks to his low catch percentage. (Both last year and this year, Jones has caught barely half the balls intended for him.) 2004 first-round pick Reggie Williams was a total bust in his first two seasons, but this year he seems to be a completely different person. He looks more interested, his routes are crisper, and he's in the right place when quarterback Byron Leftwich throws the ball.

With Taylor still subpar at 3.9 yards per carry, the Jaguars offense has been average overall, which is fine because the defense has been phenomenal. The Jaguars held Pittsburgh to just two yards per carry, less than four net yards per pass attempt, and zero points. The week before, the pass rush harassed Drew Bledsoe into three interceptions.

The problem for Jacksonville, of course, is that Peyton Manning is not Drew Bledsoe. The departure of Edgerrin James has cut down on the success of the Colts' running game, but Manning is as dominant as ever, and so are receivers Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. While safety Donovin Darius played an important role in stuffing the Pittsburgh running game last week, the Jaguars need to use their safeties to help cornerbacks Brian Williams and Rashean Mathis this week. So far this year, the one weakness of the Jacksonville defense has been the deep pass. Dallas' Terry Glenn caught a 51-yarder against them in Week 1, and Mathis has twice given up long gains with defensive pass interference. When these teams met last year, Harrison torched Mathis over and over, including a 65-yard touchdown.

The Colts will need to score a lot of points to win because, through two games, their defensive improvements of 2005 seem to have vanished. They are last in the league giving up 5.8 yards per carry, so Taylor will look better than usual and Jacksonville can drain time off the clock if they get an early lead. The pass defense hasn't been much better, 23rd allowing 6.7 net yards per pass.

To maintain their divisional supremacy, the Colts need to get out to an early lead, picking on the Jacksonville secondary with long passes and taking away Jacksonville's ability to attack the weak Indianapolis run defense. A close game favors the strong Jaguars defense and could mean a changing of the guard in the AFC South.

This article appeared in Friday's edition of the New York Sun.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 23 Sep 2006

30 comments, Last at 27 Sep 2006, 10:33pm by ackpfft

Comments

1
by Bobman (not verified) :: Sun, 09/24/2006 - 12:42am

First! Okay, I know that ticks some guys off, but it has a long tradition here.

The Indy Jax game is pretty juicy looking. I think Indy's D rating is hurt by the fact that they truly sucked vs NYG, but they shut lowly Hou down to three points until the 4th quarter, when a lot of starters were not exactly in the mix. So really, one stinker, and one question mark. They're not the 2005 Colts, but neither are they the 2000 Colts. That being said, it will be a tough game for them--Jax's O did not look stellar vs Pitt, but then again, that was Pitt!

I'd be surprised if Indy's run game did as poorly as Pitt's (effective QB opens up run lanes). If Addai and Rhodes top 75 yards, Indy should score at least 20, regardless of the cause and effect relationship there. The question is, will that be enough. Probably.

2
by Theo (not verified) :: Sun, 09/24/2006 - 1:11am

Is Matt Jones' % catch problem that he gets a lot of those impossible "loop one up there" balls?

3
by Bobman (not verified) :: Sun, 09/24/2006 - 1:59am

Jones looked pretty good vs the Steelers, but everything I saw him catch seemed to be the Plex Burress alley-oop type pass. Not sure if he caught any more traditional passes, or if any were thrown to him.

Everybody loves to talk about height and especially when the DBs (as in Indy) tend toward the miniature (give me back my lunch money!). But Indy has a 6-6 TE and he isn't their main TE receiving target... why? Speed, hands, routes, and discipline matter. Jones is already fast, we know that. He may be improving on the other aspects enough to be an impact player. I hope not. But in five years nobody may remember thinking he was a "stretch" pick when they took him.

4
by Basilicus (not verified) :: Sun, 09/24/2006 - 3:35am

# 3:

Well, Utecht really only has three inches on Dallas Clark (and I'm not talking about height!) Okay, sorry. Past a certain point, height doesn't matter as much with tight ends, especially in an offense like the Colts' wherein there is rarely a call for a jump pass. Being a tight end is much more about running the routes, having good hands and using your body well to create space for the catch, getting yards after the catch and occasionally blocking.

However (and I know this site studied how much height impacts receivers way back when), there are certain things you can do with a Plex or a Randy Moss (when he tries) that you can't do with a shorter receiver. I don't think it matters as much with a tight end because they're rarely in a position to speed burn to the last defender to get in position for a jump catch. A receiver is faster and can do that, so height can change what you are able to do as long as that receiver can also jump. I'm not saying a Randy Moss is better than a Santana Moss, but he does make the jump pass an option. A good QB can find more places to put the ball for his receiver to get to without the threat of a short defender intercepting it.

5
by Jake (not verified) :: Sun, 09/24/2006 - 5:01am

#4

...except things like the fade and jump ball are low %, high risk plays in reality. Imo, it's a flashy play that's almost always a bad idea.

6
by Theo (not verified) :: Sun, 09/24/2006 - 5:52am

But Does Matt Jones get a lot of those senseless 'rainbows'?

7
by Podge (not verified) :: Sun, 09/24/2006 - 5:59am

#5. Maybe. But the percentage is still a heck of a lot higher if you have Randy Moss or Plax on it!! You can also fire those "The Catch" like passes high to the back of the end zone to guys like Moss (R) that you can't to Moss (S), and they are fairly high percentage, cos its a decent chance of completion with virtually zero chance of interception, and can be done pretty quickly too.

Tall receievers can generally do things short guys can't. Sure, short guys like Steve Smith or Moss (S) can do things the big guys can't, but if you've got 2 guys who are exactly equally talented you've gotta go with the old football (soccer) maxim: Its better to have a good big'un than a good little'un.

8
by thad (not verified) :: Sun, 09/24/2006 - 10:27am

The problem for Jacksonville, of course, is that Peyton Manning is not Drew Bledsoe.

I assume that this is not a shot, since Bledsoe actually got to the super Bowl.

9
by Joe (not verified) :: Sun, 09/24/2006 - 11:32am

"I assume that this is not a shot, since Bledsoe actually got to the super Bowl. "

I assume that this is not a shot, since you can't possibly think Manning and Bledsoe are comparable in their present state.

10
by Noble (not verified) :: Sun, 09/24/2006 - 11:40am

9: You make it sound like Bledsoe is drunk. ;)

11
by T. Owens (not verified) :: Sun, 09/24/2006 - 11:43am

"The problem for Jacksonville, of course, is that Peyton Manning is not Drew Bledsoe.

I assume that this is not a shot, since Bledsoe actually got to the super Bowl."

Nice! I have to say I agree with the sentiment 100 percent. Peyton does an awful lot of commercials for a QB who has never won a damn thing.

12
by B (not verified) :: Sun, 09/24/2006 - 12:02pm

10: That would go a long way towards explaining his performance against Jax.

13
by DavidH (not verified) :: Sun, 09/24/2006 - 12:02pm

11:
He's the Anna Kournikova of the NFL. Uh, except for the beautiful part.

14
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Sun, 09/24/2006 - 12:06pm

Aaron, I don't really differ that much regarding the comments pertaining to the Vikings' running attack so far, but I do think they have run more effectively at the end of games than the stats you cited indicate. Against the Redskins and Panthers, Taylor had very effective runs at the end of the contests, and then, when the Vikings had gotten very deep into the opposition's territory, and it was obvious that the Vikings would not throw the ball under any circumstances, the oppostion stacked nine guys or so at the line, and Taylor had multiple carries for zero or negative yardage. If I'm not mistaken, DPAR should adjust for this sort of situation, but I think the stats you cited in this piece do not.

In any case, I still think the Bears win today, although the money line has gotten attractive enough to perhaps warrant a small play on Minnesota.

15
by beedubyuh (not verified) :: Sun, 09/24/2006 - 1:11pm

What I am looking for is MIN to play the pass honestly. Then I want to see how Rex reacts to real coverage. If this happens, Tom Jones should have his first 100 yard game this week, too, which is good for my fantasy team.

16
by paytonrules (not verified) :: Sun, 09/24/2006 - 1:23pm

"Nice! I have to say I agree with the sentiment 100 percent. Peyton does an awful lot of commercials for a QB who has never won a damn thing.

:: T. Owens"

Is your handle meant to be ironic? Or did T.O. win a high school state championship?

17
by calig23 (not verified) :: Sun, 09/24/2006 - 1:25pm

Re:#10

It's all the fault of the liquored up idiot kicker.

18
by stan (not verified) :: Sun, 09/24/2006 - 2:24pm

8 and 11,

Football is the ultimate team game. I don't know of a single QB in the history of football who ever won a game. Every football game I ever played in, coached in, or watched was between two teams with 11 players on the field at a time.

Perhaps you watch a different game?

I've never seen a champion with a bad defense. And I had never seen a good QB with a bad offensive line (until Peyton Manning).

Can anyone recall a team that won an NFL championship with a bad defense? A team that won with a bad offensive line? Both?

I guess all those other players must make a difference. Otherwise, teams are really, really stupid to pay more than the minimum to anyone but the QB.

Or maybe it isn't the teams that are stupid. Perhaps it is the people who think no one affects winning and losing but the QB.

19
by Blitz Fitness (not verified) :: Sun, 09/24/2006 - 2:26pm

I need FO readers help to understand something. I'm watching the Bears-Vikes game. Thomas Jones runs to the left side, is tackled, knees and elbow down, and then the ball comes out of his hands. Desmond Clark picks it up, and the play gains the Bears an undeserved 2 yards. I say undeserved, because Jones was down and no fumble happened. Vikings challenge the play. I thought they were challenging that no fumble happened, which was true, and it would be 2nd and 7 instead of 2nd and 5. Instead, we're told that the Vikings challenge was that Jones was not down by contact and that the spotting of the ball was correct, in which gives them no help at all, and is instead a waste of a challenge. The review confirms what I saw, that no fumble happened on the play, it's 2nd and 7 or whatever, and then says that the Vikes would not be charged a timeout. Shouldn't they still have been charged since the thing they were challenging (that he was not down by contact) was incorrect?

I'm confused and know that this is the place to get answers.

20
by thad (not verified) :: Sun, 09/24/2006 - 3:05pm

re 18
yeah i know.
But if Bledsoe is gonna be a fairly regular target here i am gonna make the occasional sarcastic comment.
I am well aware of his weaknesses, as every reader here is.
But the harping on him just gets on my nerves sometimes

21
by Marko (not verified) :: Sun, 09/24/2006 - 6:09pm

19: You're confused, which is not surprising considering the way the play was described by the officials and the announcers. The ruling on the field was that Jones was not down by contact. As you saw, and I saw, when watching the play live, he WAS down before the fumble (i.e., he was down by contact). The Vikings challenged the ruling in an effort to save the two extra that the Bears would have received had the ruling on the field stood becaause the ball went forward after the "fumble." The Vikings were not charged a timeout because the play was reversed (i.e., after review, he WAS ruled down by contact, so no fumble). So it was 2nd and 7 after the replay reversal rather than 2nd and 5 as originally ruled on the field.

Part of your confusion was that the announcers in describing it had it backwards, saying that the Vikings challenge would result in 2nd and 5 rather than 2nd and 7, when in actuality it was the opposite.

22
by Jake (not verified) :: Sun, 09/24/2006 - 8:36pm

The Vikings make you enter "the suck zone." Every game is close. Or maybe the Bears aren't that good.

23
by Blitz Fitness (not verified) :: Sun, 09/24/2006 - 11:05pm

Oy, thank you greatly Marko. My brain was overloading, but after hearing you describe it I think I now got it all. Thanks again.

24
by T. Owens (not verified) :: Mon, 09/25/2006 - 12:43am

"Is your handle meant to be ironic? Or did T.O. win a high school state championship?"

Actually my name is T--- Owens, so it's semi-ironical, I guess you'd say.

Re: 18, of course football's a team game. But Peyton has not come through in big games. He's won his share, sure. But he hasn't won a championship, correct? And his demeanor in those big games ... man, he just bugs the hell out of me. When things go bad, his expression is that of a kid who didn't get what he wanted for Christmas. So much for rallying the troops.

25
by Bobman (not verified) :: Mon, 09/25/2006 - 1:34am

24: When things go bad/Manning's face? A common meme here, where only Bledsoe gets more scorn heaped on him by the NE homers.

Did you see Tom "Mr Composure" Brady in Sunday night's game? Okay, so PM is no male model, but Brady's entire night was an ad for Prozac--ranging from "lookin' down at my shoes" depressed to red-faced screaming at the refs, to whining about calls. He looked good doing it, sure, but if he were my little brother I'd backhand him and say shut up and grow up. (What was it Don Corleone said to Johnnny Fontaine, while slapping him around: "Be a man!")

And that was on a night when TB threw for about 325 yards! I'd hate to see how he acts when he has a couple picks.

Who actually looks GOOD when things go bad? I'm guessing that whoever they are, they're not much of a player.

26
by T. Owens (not verified) :: Mon, 09/25/2006 - 1:53am

Bobman. Brady has how many rings? I am not a NE honk, but come on dude. You can do better than that.

Great Johnny Fontaine reference though. Respect.

27
by Kami (not verified) :: Mon, 09/25/2006 - 5:46am

"Brady looks bad when he's losin', too."
"Brady won Teh Supar Bowal!!"

News flash! Brady won the Super Bowl!

Um...wasn't Brady by definition NOT losing at the time?
I really thought we were past the point of excusing everything Prince Brady does wrong due to the fact that he WAN TEH SUPAR BOAEL!!!1

28
by bowman (not verified) :: Mon, 09/25/2006 - 10:25am

Pasquarelli on ESPN recapped the JAX-IND game. He said that the Colts had bunches of hurt players, especially on their front 4 on Defense.

I see Simon and J. Thomas (?) as inactive, and J Goddard (?) on the IR. Obviously, Sanders and Stokely are also hurt. Is this the extent of the "key" injuries?

Meanwhile, the Jaguars were without their starting and backup FB, a starting and backup DE, their primary PR and KR; 9 people total on IR, but the Colts were the ones with injury problems?

I just thought it was an interesting slant to take...

BTW, he mentions a hurt Colt, but I don't recall one. I know Naeole (Jax G) was taken off, and the Colt Homepage doesn't mention an injury.

Also, the "football move" is the worst rule since the "tuck".

29
by B (not verified) :: Mon, 09/25/2006 - 10:40am

28: from nfl.com, these are the inactive Indy players:
K 4 A.Vinatieri, DB 21 B.Sanders, DB 26 K.Hayden, RB 30 D.Dorsey, LB 56 T.Hagler, WR 83 B.Stokley, DE 91 J.Thomas, DT 97 C.Simon

30
by ackpfft (not verified) :: Wed, 09/27/2006 - 10:33pm

28: Nick Harper the Colts CB went out w/ a knee injury in the 1st Q.