Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.
25 Nov 2004
Vivek: Ask a random sample of football fans who they think are the top seven running backs of all time, and you will get five players on every ballot -- Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, Erik Dickerson and Jim Brown. Beyond that, responses would include Gale Sayers, O.J. Simpson, Tony Dorsett, Marcus Allen, maybe a few Marshall Faulks. One glaring omission is the NFL's fifth all-time leading rusher, Jerome Bettis, who just can't get any respect.
Eight 1000+ yard seasons, 79 rushing touchdowns, just outside of the top 10 list for a career, and at 32, he could have one or two more good seasons ahead of him which should move him past Dickerson on the career yardage list. He doesn't break ankles like Barry Sanders did; isn't the TD machine that Emmitt Smith is; and doesn't have the 2000-yard season on his resume like O.J. But one thing is for certain -- his consistency in dominating a defensive line.
Al: C'mon now, Viv. Jerome Bettis doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as those other backs. In his twelve years in the NFL, Bettis has averaged over four yards a carry in only four seasons. Emmitt's done that nine times. Barry did it in every one of his ten seasons. Eric did that for his first nine seasons. Brown? All nine of his years. O.J. -- 8, Dorsett -- 9, Faulk -- 8 (including this year). I don't know even how you could put Bettis ahead of Curtis Martin, who's in the middle of his seventh season averaging four yards a carry or better.
Bettis is the Don Sutton of NFL running backs. He was very good to great for a couple of seasons and hung around long enough to put up numbers that placed him near the top of some all time lists. Sutton ranks in the top 10 all time in strikeouts, shutouts, innings pitched, and games started and #13 all time in wins. Does that make him one of the ten best pitchers of all time? No, it just makes him a very good player with a long career.
Week 11 seemed to be new QB week in the NFL. Six different teams started different quarterbacks than they had during their last games. Those teams went 2-4, the two wins being the Titans with the returning Steve McNair and the Seahawks with Trent Dilfer, who played another new starter in A.J. Feeley against Miami. All four teams that made voluntary changes at quarterback -- the Dolphins, Cardinals, Giants, and Redskins -- all lost. I guess it wasn't the old quarterback's fault after all.
The most surprising change was in Arizona, with Shaun King replacing Josh McCown. I've always thought King got a bit of a raw deal in Tampa, but I didn't understand this move at all. McCown hasn't been that good this year, but he's played decent at times. He might not have been the most accurate passer in the league, but at least he didn't turn the ball over very frequently. Odds are he wasn't going to cost the Cardinals the game. King? He had thrown less than 100 passes in NFL games this century. Over his career, he had thrown interceptions at a higher rate than McCown. And the Cardinals asked him to go on the road and defeat the defending NFC Champs in a must-win game? I just don't get it.
Vivek: Another decision that I don't agree with was the one to start Eli Manning when the playoffs were still in reach for the Giants, but that was Week 10's column. Manning held his own against the Falcons, and that can be attributed to the fact that the offensive line held up for a change. Manning went down once, while Warner was a tackling dummy for the past four games. In the second half, Manning completed 12 of his 21 passes for 116 yards, and also developed a good rapport with Jeremy Shockey. I do fear how he will do against the blitz of the Eagles this Sunday. This week will be a test of how Manning reads the coverages that the Eagles throw at him.
Sticking with the QBs, how long until the Dolphins finally realize that they need to make a play for a serious signal caller? What did the Dolphins see in A.J. Feeley, who had not taken a snap since 2002, that made them give a second round pick to Philadelphia? They should take a hard look at soon-to-be-free agent Drew Brees.
One last point about the Dolphins, or rather someone whose rights are held by the Dolphins. Did anyone else notice that Ricky Williams is studying holistic medicine at a school in GRASS VALLEY, California?
Al: That's why it's a good decision to play A.J. for the rest of the season. The next seven weeks will likely show Miami that they need to re-think their QB situation. They'll find a way to unload Ricky Williams on someone so they have some cap space to make a serious run at Brees. Or they can go after a cheaper alternative, like Kurt Warner, and spend their money on getting some actual offensive linemen. Or rather, not just go after large offensive linemen, but linemen with better blocking technique.
Seriously, what's Ricky doing here? If I was trying to get back into the NFL after substance abuse violations, I wouldn't go and start studying at a holistic healing school in a state where medical marijuana is legal.
Vivek: On Wednesday night, the Dolphins ended the Fiedler-Feeley debate by putting Jay Fiedler on injured reserve. Hopefully the Dolphins are smart enough to not throw Sage Rosenfels into the mix.
Al: After starting the season only winning 57 percent of their games over the first ten weeks, favorites went 14-2 in Week 11. Does this mean that oddsmakers have finally figured out the balance of power in the NFL? Or is this just a fluke week that will cost gamblers millions this week as the underdogs once again win over 40 percent of the games outright?
Vivek: I have to touch upon what happened in Detroit last Friday. The Detroit fans were beyond description, but Ron Artest crossed that imaginary line when he ran a few rows into the stands. That right there merited his season-ending suspension. Going on that thought, Stephen Jackson (30 games) should have been given a longer suspension, compared to Jermaine O'Neal'(25 games) for the simple fact that Jackson went in to the crowd as well.
Back to the fans -- where was security courtside before Jermaine O'Neal landed a punch right to the face of the guy wearing the Pistons jersey? And why wasn't security lined up above the tunnel leading to the Pacers' locker room?
There is so much blame to go around, but I applaud David Stern for coming down hard.
Al: Have you seen the rap sheet on John Green, the guy that allegedly tossed the beer on Artest? He was on probation for a DUI. Probably not the best time to be tossing beer on someone on national television. I'm guessing this incident will end up qualifying as a violation of his probation and he'll have to do some more time in jail. Not like that's stopped Green in the past -- one of his previous convictions is for escaping from prison.
Vivek: I've been a fan of Paul Tagliabue for his marketing efforts, but I have to say that the experiment for on-field seating this week is coming at a poor time. I'm not at all suggesting that the corporate sponsors sitting in the enclosed field level boxes this week are going to start a brawl, but now is the time for all sports to evaluate how to better protect the players and tone down the inappropriate behavior of fans. Just a timing issue with me.
Al: I actually liked this idea. At first I thought they were just setting up folding chairs on the sidelines. But an enclosed box with recliners and TVs right on the sideline sounds pretty sweet. The NFL is taking a page out of the Arena League's book by allowing fans to get right next to the action. Sitting right next to the field is one of the highlights of an Arena League game. I really don't see what these new seats have to do with the Piston/Pacer fight. If anything, it says that the NFL thinks highly of its fans and knows they'll behave themselves.
Vivek: Remember that you can send us your fantasy and other NFL questions to us at email@example.com.
Our first question comes from Aaron's chat Tuesday on BaseballProspectus.com. Justin from Los Angeles asked:
Who should I start on my fantasy team? Brooks or Brady?
Al: I'd be very hesitant to start Brady this week against the best pass defense in football. Teams have shown that if you're going to succeed against the Raven defense, you have to run effectively up the middle. I think we'll be seeing a lot of Corey Dillon on Sunday. I wouldn't be surprised to see Brady end the day with something like 150 passing yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT, with all those yards coming on passes to tight ends. Brooks isn't the greatest play in the world, but he is going up against an average Falcon pass defense. The Falcons have allowed an average of 239 passing yards per game. Baltimore has only been giving up 173 yards per game. Brooks has also done well in Atlanta in his career, averaging over 300 yards a game in the Georgia Dome over his last three visits.
Our next fantasy question comes from Jimmy in Baltimore:
I have to start two running backs. I have Ruben Droughns, Clinton Portis, and Kevin Jones. Who should I go with this week?
Al: I'd go with Droughns and Jones. Droughns is a no-brainer play. He's been a stud since taking over the starting job in Denver. Portis only has two TDs on the year and is playing Pittsburgh, FO's #2 ranked run defense. That game is just going to be ugly for the Redskins. Jones only has one TD on the year, but he's been very productive over the past two weeks. Plus, he's going up against a Colts defense that is at best average against the run.
Vivek: "pRed" adds this last question before Thanksgiving:
Which two of these starting RBS would you play? -- D. McAllister, R. Johnson, J. Jones or L. Jordan (assuming Martin doesn't play). And which of these two QBs would you play? -- D. Carr or J. Harrington
Right now, I'm leaning towards Rudi and Jones for RBs because McAllister has done nothing all year and is up against Atlanta's tough run D, also Jones should get a bunch of carries with Henson starting. I'm thinking of playing Harrington this week, even though he has had two bad weeks in a row. Mostly because the Lions will be playing from behind most of the time and he could rack up some garbage points against Indy's weak D. What does everyone else think?
Vivek: I've never been a fan of Harrington, and I don't think that this week is a time to start, even against the Colts. Say all you want about his charisma and enthusiasm, but he has been absolutely brutal the past two weeks. Despite all of Steve Mariucci's public statements, he has to be considering Mike McMahon. Tennessee might have a tighter pass defense numbers-wise, but David Carr dropped 266 yards and a touchdown against the Titans a few weeks ago. Even Carson Palmer had a good game at Tennessee.
As for your RBs, Rudi is the lock against a weak Browns defense. I doesn't look like Curtis Martin will be inactive for the game, so that should eliminate Jordan. Until Jones proves something, I'd go with McAllister. He might not top 70 yards on the ground, but like last week (11 catches for 87 yards), he could tack on extra points as a receiver.
Vivek: Cleveland Phil Dawson entered Sunday's game against the Jets with one impressive streak, and managed to get another one going during the game. Before Sunday, Dawson had made 27 straight kicks, the longest current streak in the league. He heads into next week's game with two straight misses and a lot of the blame for a 10-7 loss. He brought back the call of "wide right" on his 42- and 34-yard attempts. His performance seems fitting on a team that is about to let go of Butch Davis.
Al: Dawson's the easy choice this week. There were so many easy wins that no one else really jumps out.
The Week 11 contest results aren't up yet, but here is the Week 11 Loser League All-Star squad. It's a sad, sad day when Marshall Faulk shows up on this list, but he's still no Bobby Wade.
QB: Craig Krenzel, CHI -- 2 points (175 pass yards, 1 TD, 2 INT, 3 Fumbles Lost)
RB: Marshall Faulk, STL -- 1 point (13 carries, 6 yards, 4 catches, 13 yards)
RB: Emmitt Smith, ARI -- 2 points (11 carries, 26 yards, 1 catch, 4 yards)
WR: Bobby Wade, CHI -- -2 points (2 catches, 6 yards, lost fumble)
WR: Hines Ward, PIT -- 1 point (3 catches, 15 yards)
K: Phil Dawson, CLE -- -3 points (1 XP, 0-2 FG)
Al: (1-2 last week, 16-17 overall) Yeah, we're not very good at this.
I love this game. I love this game so much I almost didn't pick it. But I just can't resist going against the Rams on the road. The weather forecast for Green Bay on Monday night calls for snow and a low of 20 degrees.
How exactly are the Ravens going to score this week? Jamal Lewis is out, and I'm not convinced this Kyle Boller rejuvenation is for real. He's thrown for barely over 200 yards in three of the past four games and folks are ready to forget that he's failed to crack 100 yards three times in the first half of the season.
There aren't that many underdogs that I like this week, so I'll go with the Cardinals. Shaun King vs. Quincy Carter. I can't imagine a worse QB matchup than this. The Cardinals have only lost at home to New England this season. With four more home games this year, I'm not declaring the Cardinals playoff dreams dead just yet.
Vivek: (2-2 last week, 13-27 overall) The .500 mark feels good. Baby steps out of the massive hole that I dug myself into.
I'll make sure that I have additional incentive to watch the Thanksgiving Day games. Detroit. Manning inches closer to Marino, while his counterpart Joey Harrington moves closer to the bench.
How far the mighty have fallen. This would have been Marino and the Marks Brothers vs. Montana, Rice and Taylor in the late 80s. Now we have two 1-9 teams and Rattay, Lloyd and Wilson versus Feeley, Chambers and Booker. The Niners win while the two teams barely top 500 total yards.
Steve McNair had arguably one of the worst games of his career earlier this year against Houston. Look for a better performance from him, but Houston to win on the legs of Domanick Davis.
Michael Pittman will have a big day against a depleted Panthers run defense.