Eight weeks ago, the Vikings were undefeated and ranked No. 1 in DVOA. Now they're 6-6 and probably done. What went wrong?
12 Nov 2004
Al: This week looks like the start of a few quarterback controversies around the league. Columnists in NY are debating whether Kurt Warner should be replaced as starter by Eli Manning, or if it's not time to pull the plug on Warner just yet. In Dallas, Bill Parcells ripped into a reporter, calling him "foolish" for asking if Drew Henson should replace Vinny Testeverde. Our fearless leader was on ESPN.com this week calling for A.J. Feeley to replace Jay Fiedler in Miami. With Dave Wannstedt resigning as coach of the Dolphins, you have to expect talk of a quarterback change to come up there as well. Folks in Washington have been calling for Patrick Ramsey to take over for Mark Brunell for weeks, forcing Joe Gibbs to reiterate his support for Brunell before Week 9. After Aaron Brooks' recent poor performances, including a backwards pass to an offensive tackle last Sunday, it may be time to start thinking about putting Todd Bouman into the lineup to see if he can give the Saints anything worthwhile.
Well, let's get these quarterback controversies going in full force and decide which quarterback should start.
Al: I think you have to stick with Kurt if you're the Giants. The success of the Giant offense revolves more around the play of the offensive line than it does the play of the quarterback. If the line can remember how to block, which they seemed to completely forget how to do against Chicago, the Giant passing game will succeed, especially those stupid wide receiver screen passes they like to run. If the offensive line plays like they did last week, it won't matter who they put behind center. It's tough to have a successful passing attack when your left guard refuses to make contact with his opposing defensive lineman on every other play. If the offensive line plays well, Kurt has shown this year that he's good enough to keep the Giants in the ballgame and take some pressure off of Tiki Barber. If the offensive line continues to play poorly, then the Giants have even less of a reason to put Eli into the lineup. Kurt Warner isn't the future of the New York Giants. Let him get sacked six times a game instead of the rookie quarterback that you're rebuilding your franchise around.
Vivek: Warner definitely here. Despite the Giants' stock dropping after last week's loss to Da Bears and the even harder losses of Michael Strahan and Keith Washington, the Giants owe it to Warner to give him a shot to make the playoffs. Whether or not he succeeds is a different question. The overachieving offensive line has fallen back to earth for the past three games, allowing 18 sacks. Like Al mentioned, what good does letting Manning get beaten up do?
Al: It was a nice little run, but Vinny shouldn't have been starting in Dallas to begin with. He already has three three-interception games this year. This team isn't making the playoffs. The Cowboys have no running game to speak of and the defense has been one of the biggest disappointments in all of the NFL. They've gone from having a top five defense according to DVOA in 2003, to a bottom five defense in 2004. If the team has little to no shot at making the playoffs with Vinny in there, you might as well see what you have in Henson. One of the biggest differences between the Cowboy situation and the one in New York is that Dallas' offensive line has done a pretty good job at protecting the quarterback. The Cowboy offensive line is in the top ten in adjusted sack rate, while the Giant line lies near the bottom of the rankings.
Vivek: I'm on the other side of the fence as Al for Dallas. Drew Henson has not thrown a pass in a real game since 2000 and has a better chance of hitting a curveball right now than doing anything substantial for the Cowboys. Just like my argument against starting Eli Manning -- what good does letting him get thrown around do? I know the Dallas o-line isn't populated with Brandon Winey, Jason Whittle and Chris Snee, but wait for Henson to learn the pro game (not to mention just the game of football again) before throwing him into the fire. Wouldn't it be ironic if Vinny is still a backup and Quincy Carter is still starting somewhere this season (albeit for a few weeks)?
Al: The Dolphins need to make a change here. Their season has been finished for weeks. Every move they make in regards to personnel this year should be made with an eye on 2005. The Dolphins gave up a second round pick for Feeley and signed him to a "five-year, $21.6 million" contract. Sure, Feeley looked awful as the starter early in the year, but if you're the Dolphins, you might as well take the next eight weeks to see if you can live with Feeley as your starter next season or if you have to spend your resources in the off-season to acquire a legitimate starter.
Vivek: I echo Al's sentiments here. Now is the time for the Dolphins to see if they have a starting QB for 2005 on the roster or whether they need to enter the Kyle Orton sweepstakes.
(Ed. note: Uh, isn't it the Aaron Rodgers sweepstakes now?)
Vivek: The Redskins' problems run deeper than Mark Brunell, but it is time for a change. Joe Gibbs has always protected his players and put on a happy face, but the Washingtonians here are getting impatient. The difference between the Washington QB situation and that of their NFC East foes? Ramsey's learning process has already gone beyond film study. According the Daily Press, Brunell said that he is "seeing the field better than I ever have and my decisions are good." If that's as good as it's going to get, put in Ramsey now.
Al: I didn't like the Brunell signing before the season started, but I'd stick with him now. Although the Redskins and Cowboys have the same record, I like Washington's chances of getting back into the mix for a playoff spot much better than Dallas'. The Redskin defense is good enough to keep Washington in a game against anyone. All Washington needs from their QB is to not make mistakes. Now, that description doesn't necessarily match what Brunell has given Washington this year, he still has thrown more TDs than INTs. Ramsey, on the other hand, was dreadful against the Giants in the one game he played this year, single handedly costing the Redskins a win. I think Brunell will win this week and at the very least keep Washington part of the NFC playoff conversation for most of the year.
Vivek: This shouldn't even be a debate. Brooks has not been stellar for the year, but is not worthy of losing his job. He has made very few mistakes on the field in terms of turnovers (4 interceptions and one fumble lost). Brooks' performance is the product of an underachieving supporting cast. Deuce McAllister is averaging under 70 yards per game in his five full games, and has not held onto the ball well. Everyone in the Big Easy is waiting for him to break a tackle for once -- his longest rush for the year is 16 yards. Combine his woes with the lack of a dependable secondary passing target, and you have problems.
Al: I'm not so sure that this is such an easy call. Brooks has had a QB rating over 80 in only three out of eight starts. He ranks 11th in the NFC in both completion percentage and average gain per pass. So he's missing his receivers, and when they do catch the ball the don't gain much yardage. I wouldn't count on his rushing yards to pick up any time soon either. They've been steadily declining since his first full year as a starter in 2001. I'm not saying I'd start Bouman against the Chiefs this week, but if Brooks struggles against their below-average pass defense at home I wouldn't wait too long before going to the bullpen.
Vivek: Remember that you can send us your fantasy and other NFL questions to us at email@example.com. Alessandro from Maryland has a fantasy question:
My team is in the running for a playoff spot, but I am really short on depth. Do I finally give up on Michael Bennett and try to grab some #2 WRs that are available? My top choices are Johnnie Morton and Az Hakim.
Vivek: I'm in the same boat as you, Alessandro. I feel like I need to keep Bennett since I traded for him after his rookie year. We both need to put aside emotions and wave goodbye to Bennett. Johnnie Morton would be a steal right now on the waiver wire. With Trent Green performing the way he has since Week 3, Morton is a threat for 100 yards and a touchdown every Sunday.
Al: If you're in a keeper league, I'd be a bit more hesitant about dropping Bennett, but with Mewelde Moore back, he's no better than #3 on Minnesota's depth chart this season. Morton's been pretty solid all year, with at least 60 combined yards in all but two games. However, Hakim has come on very strong as of late. He has over 200 receiving yards in his past two games. Detroit also has two games left against the Vikings and one each against the Colts and Packers, all of whom have struggled against the pass this year. I might go with Az.
Al: We have a question from Stan who asks us about a record Peyton Manning might have set:
I am trying to remember if one of Manning's records from last year was his streak of 6 seasons with 25+ TDs. If that is an NFL record, he just broke it again by adding a 7th.
Al: You're right, this is Peyton's record seventh straight season with 25 or more touchdown passes. Only Brett Favre has had more 25+ TD seasons in a career, with eight coming into this season. Dan Marino also had seven 25+ TD seasons, however, both could only manage a streak of five consecutive 25+ TD seasons.
Finally, we have another fantasy question from Will in Washington DC. This was sent last Friday after we went to press, so we didn't get a chance to answer in time for last week's column (this explains the dated Washington references):
I am tanking this year (2-6) and am struggling to get points on the board. Therefore, I have contemplated starting Tomlinson and Chatman. The alternative is Tomlinson and Kevin Jones.
I like the prospect of LDT and Chatman because both could have between 45-75 yards and a TD. All the Charger RB numbers should of course be LDT's but with the groin injury he's had a bad first half. Bad for the second overall draft pick.
My other lineup option is Kevin Jones. He's warming up but he splits carries with about 14 other RB in Mooch's system and he plays the Skins at home. Although Washington has had a tough year it's clearly not their defense's fault. I haven't watched the Lions play too much but they aren't a power football team and I don't see them starting to be one against Washington.
Al: Under a basic scoring system, Will would have actually been better off starting both San Diego running backs. It's an unusual play, but with Kevin Jones as your only option, it does make some sense. The Chargers have been very willing to give Chatman carries once they have a lead to rest Tomlinson. This week, you're kind of screwed since San Diego has a bye, so I hope you picked someone up to start with Jones. For the rest of the season, though, I'd stick with the two Chargers. San Diego has some great matchups over the last seven weeks. Both players could put up double digits in fantasy points any week from here on out.
Al: I have to go with Cleveland punter Derrick Frost, who cost his team a big game against Baltimore with the single worst punt I've ever seen in my life. Frost was punting out of his own end zone with eight minutes to go in the game and the Browns leading 13-12. Cleveland had been able to contain Baltimore's offense the entire game up to that point, holding Baltimore only to field goals. If Frost can kick the ball to around midfield, Cleveland could expect to either stop Baltimore completely from scoring or at least hold them to another field goal. Frost had been having a decent game to that point, averaging 42 yards a punt, including a 51-yarder in the first quarter. So what does Frost do when his team needs him the most? He kicks the ball seven yards directly out of bounds. Three Jamal Lewis runs and a jump ball two-point conversion later and the Browns have to march down the field and score a touchdown against the Raven defense, something they hadn't been able to do all game, just to force an overtime. We saw how that worked out for the Browns. Sure, the Ravens got decent pressure on Frost on the punt, but no one had a legitimate shot at blocking it. The pressure was no more than any other punter would face kicking out of his own endzone.
Vivek: This week's award from me goes to an ensemble cast -- the Giants offense. The score didn't show it, but if you saw the game, you were about to throw the remote through the TV after three turnovers on three straight plays -- a fumble and two interceptions. One of the interceptions was not the fault of Kurt Warner, but the entire offense should have been embarrassed. The worn out defense shouldn't be completely blamed for the 20 points in a 5:08 span of the second quarter -- look at the offense for the real cause.
Al: Congrats to Mark Stinks, the winner from our first half Loser League contest. I ended up pulling out a respectable sixth place, while Viv finished just three points behind me, but six places behind in 12th place. But we have a new season upon us, so here's who I'm picking for the second half contest. Remember to get your roster in, you only have until Saturday, November 13th to sign up.
QB: Kyle Boller was a no brainer here with one of the two picks. He's was the "best" QB in the first half of the contest and is in no danger of losing his job in the second half. I considered going with Craig Krenzel, but as Aaron pointed out on ESPN.com this week, the Bears face some crappy pass defenses in the second half. Instead, I went with Kerry Collins who would have contended for the top QB spot in the first half had anyone actually drafted him.
RB: The two top RBs from the first half are obvious picks here. Kevan Barlow and Eddie George are just tailor made for this league. Barlow has had double digit carries in every game this year, yet has only found the end zone four times. He gets more yardage than you might like game in and game out, but Barlow's inability to find the end zone makes him very valuable in this league. What can you say about Eddie George? Somehow he's managed to get the minimum number of carries needed each week and has found the end zone even less than Barlow has. For my third RB, I went with Kevin Jones. I think Jones may still develop into a decent running back, but I don't see that happening this year. You can't get better loser league performances out of a running back than what Jones gave us last week. It's a risk that he won't get the minimum number of carries every week, but with George and Barlow I can afford to take one.
WR: I had Ike Hilliard on my team in the first half, and he didn't disappoint. He's back on the squad for the second half. For my #2 spot, I went with Jerry Porter. Porter has averaged just over five points a week over the first half, including his 116 yard, 1 TD performance against the Saints. It's very tough to find wide receivers that are good for enough catches to make the minimum every week but not so many that they gain too many yards to be valuable. Porter is one of the few out there that fits the bill. For the last spot, I think I'm going with Cedrick Wilson. A bit riskier, since he doesn't get the minimum every week, but he's managed to avoid the end zone every week since accidentally ending up there in Week 1.
K: This is a crapshoot. Just go with two guys with bad percentages in the first half, whose teams play outdoors and have bad offenses. Paul Edinger and Martin Gramatica come to mind.
Vivek: (1-3 last week, 11-20 overall) On the bright side, I was right to take Baylor +31 over Texas Tech. In a last ditch effort to pull closer to .500, I'm playing a few more games this week.
If there is any time for a letdown, it is now. With all apologies to Ben Roethlisberger, I see Anthony Henry returning an interception for a game-sealing touchdown.
If you are picking the under for one game this week, this is it (37). Two of the most disappointing offenses go head to head, and not to mention both defenses are coming off strong weeks. The Skins are yielding the fewest yards per game and Cincy picked off Testaverde three times last week.
Giants 31-14. Kurt Warner puts aside any Eli Manning pushes.
As I mentioned above, the Saints have offensive problems beyond Aaron Brooks. Even without Priest Holmes, the Chiefs have enough offensive weapons to cover.
The Bills' offensive line has been found. It was in Miami. That's always the last place you look. Drew Bledsoe has been sacked only five times in the past four games and never in the past two. The Pats will win the game, but by about a field goal.
Al: (1-3 last week, 14-16 overall) This is the week to make my move. Why? Because of THE SYSTEM! According to Anthony Brancato, a moderator of the NFL message boards at Sports Central, there aren't many bets better than taking a home team in a cold weather stadium against a team that normally plays its home games in warm weather or in a dome. This is especially true when the game is played in the late afternoon or in prime time. There's really only one SYSTEM game this week, but boy, it's a good one.
Let's see. Brett Favre in Lambeau Field? Check. Randy Moss injured? Check. Football Outsiders Defensive MVP Grady Jackson is healthy? Check. This one is my slam dunk, lock of the season.
This game could determine a playoff spot. And it involves Quincy Carter against the Raven defense.
I don't know if it's because of the opposition they've placed, but I've been extremely impressed by the play of Chicago's offensive and defensive lines over the past two weeks. I'd expect a steady diet of Anthony Thomas this week as the Bears pull an upset and climb right back into the NFC North divisional race.