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.
03 Dec 2004
Al: Why does Dennis Green torment me? I was the only person in America predicting that the Cardinals would make the playoffs in the preseason and there they sat after Week 10, only one game out of first place in the NFC West. So what does Green do? He decides to start Shaun King at quarterback. Now, I didn't understand the move at the time, but maybe there was an argument to give someone other than Josh McCown a chance to start against Carolina. But after King's disastrous game against the Panthers, there's no way he'd start again in a must win game against the New York Jets, right?
Of course, Green went with King again, who showed why Tampa gave up on him after leading the Bucs to the NFC Championship game after the 1999 season and into the playoffs the next year. King looked like anything but a competent NFL quarterback on Sunday. He became flustered any time someone with a white jersey was within three yards of him. If King saw the rush coming, he would heave the ball up in the air and hope it was near one of his wide receivers. When he was able to evade Jet pass rushers, King was equally ineffective as he didn't seem to notice that he had open receivers standing a few yards down the field from him.
I'm not saying Josh McCown would have topped Aaron's ESPN QB rankings if he had started the game, but there was no reason King should have been near the field on Sunday. Sure, McCown tossed two interceptions when he got in the game in the fourth quarter, but there was little he could have done at that point to bring the Cardinals back into the game.
That doesn't mean I'm jumping off the Cardinal playoff bandwagon just yet. When I predicted that Arizona would make the playoffs, I said that they would do it by winning their last five games. The season is going almost exactly how I expected it would for Arizona, except I thought they'd be 5-6 right now and need to finish with ten wins to make the post season. With the way the rest of the NFC has been playing, a 9-7 team will easily win the wild card and possibly even a division championship.
Vivek: Al, are you still going to stay on the Cardinals bandwagon now that the 202nd pick in the 2004 draft, John Navarre, is getting the start on Sunday?
The Cardinals were not the only ones who left some people scratching this week with their QB situation. The Chicago Bears have lost Rex Grossman to injury and given up on both a molecular biologist and a guy who had not thrown a pass in nearly three seasons (Jonathan Quinn). Now they have signed 37-year old Jeff George. I thought I saw Browning Nagle and David Klinger warming up on a field by my office. For those of you who subscribe to the out of sight-out of mind mentality, let me remind you that George has not thrown a pass since September 24, 2001. He might be the Bears fifth starting quarterback of the year, if this week's sacrificial lamb Chad Hutchinson falls quickly.
Chicago has no shot of making the playoffs, so why not let Craig Krenzel and Quinn play out the season to see who has a role as a backup? None of these guys is the quarterback of the future, so again, why the need to bring in George and start a former major league pitcher?
Staying with the quarterback theme, the Redskins have not faired any better with Patrick Ramsey at the helm, going 0-3. Ramsey has gotten worse from a ball movement standpoint, tossing only 138 yards last Sunday against Pittsburgh. Pop Quiz -- who is the highest rated passer on Washington? Answer -- Clinton Portis, with a 158.3 passer rating. He might be looking to get some playing time at QB after last week's game. I expect some sort of outburst from Clinton Portis, who had the worst game of his career as a regular starter against the Steelers. Portis only rushed for 17 yards on six carries and saw himself on the bench behind Ladell Betts. The offense has been so inept that they have lost four games in which the defense has yielded 17 points or less.
The Skins' division-mates, the Cowboys, also have been illogically juggling quarterbacks. Rewind to Week 11: Starter Vinny Testaverde gets hurt in the second half against the Ravens, prompting Bill Parcells to give Drew Henson his first dose of NFL action. Parcells gives Henson the starting nod in Week 12, with Testaverde's bum shoulder and back as a driver for that decision. Henson performs so poorly against the Bears that Testaverde is suddenly healthy enough to play at a pretty good level in the second half. Now Parcells has reinserted Testaverde as the starter for the rest of the season since the 4-7 Cowboys have a remote shot at making the playoffs in the weak NFC. I understand that Testaverde's shoulder was a reason for Henson's start, but Parcells had to be thinking towards next year if the veteran was healthy enough to lead his team to a win upon his return. I was not a fan of letting Henson start amidst the QB controversy in Dallas, but Bill, if you make a decision, stand behind your call.
Al: Of course I'm still on the Cardinal bandwagon. Quarterbacks drafted late out of Michigan have a great track record of taking over a team in the middle of the season and leading them to a Super Bowl championship. I expect nothing less from Navarre.
I guess Dallas still has a shot at making the playoffs. Hell, everyone still has a shot at making the playoffs in the NFC. Forget 9-7, 8-8 should be good enough for the final wild card spot. The only team that has been eliminated from playoff contention is 1-10 San Francisco. If the season ended today, the 5-6 Rams would play in Green Bay during the first round.
I wouldn't hold out hope for that Clinton Portis break-out this week. The Giants did a pretty good job containing him in Week 2. Although they're missing Michael Strahan and Keith Washington from the defensive line, their replacements Lance Legree and Osi Umenyiora played very well. They held their own against the run and put some solid pressure on Donovan McNabb. The Redskin offensive line is near the bottom of our adjusted line yard rankings, so I wouldn't expect Portis to have an easy time making it to the Giant linebackers.
Speaking of the Giant linebackers, they've been getting an undeserved free pass this year. Early in the year, the Giant troubles were blamed on the secondary, which has improved along with Will Allen's health. The past few weeks worth of struggles have been blamed on the offense's failures to move the football and their quarterbacks' propensities to turn the ball over. But New York's linebackers have played poor football all season. No team has allowed a higher percentage of runs of 10 or more yards than New York has. The Eagles were wildly successful in both their wins over the Giants by throwing underneath to their backs and tight ends. The Falcons were successful in Week 11 by having Michael Vick outrun the Giant linebackers and throw 2/3 of his passes to running backs and Alge Crumpler.
Random aside: I'm reading the NFL injury report for this week and see this gem:
A.J. Feeley -- probable (right middle finger/buttocks)
Sometimes jokes just write themselves.
Al: Butch Davis is out in Cleveland, yet another failed attempt to have one person in charge of both cooking and shopping for the groceries. With the amount of time and energy NFL head coaches have to devote just to coaching, I don't understand why teams would want to give head coaches ultimate power over personnel decisions as well. One of the two jobs, and most likely both, is going to suffer in quality because the coach can't give either job the time it deserves. Has there been a successful team in the salary cap era that has put so much power into the hands of its head coach?
Vivek: Completely agreed. There have been very few people during the past decade who are able to handle both duties. None of Butch Davis's 20 draft picks have gone to the Pro Bowl. The biggest bust has been Gerard Warren. Warren, the former number three overall pick in the 2001 draft, has ten tackles and three sacks this year. The Browns could have gotten that production from a waiver wire pickup in the offseason. Even Mike Holmgren had to hand over the personnel reigns to Bob Ferguson after the 2002 season before the Seahawks made the playoffs.
Al: Apparently so, after Ricky Williams decided not to accept reinstatement this season. I'm guessing Ricky will continue his studies at the California College of Ayurveda, where he is studying to become a Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist. Ayurveda, of course, is an ancient healing technique that has its roots in 3500 year old texts and is based on the theory of biological humors and body energies. Does Craig Krenzel know about this?
Vivek: Remember that you can send us your fantasy and other NFL questions to us at email@example.com.
Al: Barry G. chimes in with a few questions for us:
My nominee for KCW is the Denver Broncos secondary (with the possible exception of Champ Bailey who had a pretty good game) for letting receivers get behind them in obvious preven situations.
On to my fantasy questions. I just had a dreadful week with my fantasy teams which included two one-point losses. On two of my teams, I have to win or be eliminated. For those teams I have the following Start/Sit questions:
(1) Pick two of the following 3 WRs: McCardell vs. Denver, Lelie @ SD, D Jackson vs. Dallas. I lean to McCardell and Lelie, but I also like Jackson's matchup.
(2) Pick 1 of these 3 D/STs: Buffalo @ Miami, Atlanta@ Bucs, Bengals @ Ravens.
I lean to Buffalo.
(3) Pick 2 of these 3 RBs: Droughns @ SD, Barber @ Washington, McAllister vs. Carolina. Lean to Droughns and McAllister (tough matchup for Tiki).
(4) Pick 2 of these 3 WRs: D. Jackson vs. Dallas, C. Johnson @ Baltimore, Roy Williams vs. AZ. I lean to Jackson and CJ only because of Roy Williams recent lack of production.
(5) Pick 1 of these two D/STs: Buffalo @ Miami, Carolina @ New Orleans.
Al: Let's do these in order.
1) I don't know if I could start Darrell Jackson. With Koren Robinson out these past two weeks, you'd expect Jackson to have put up good numbers. Instead, he's only had 7 catches for 84 yards. I agree, that the matchup looks favorable, but McCardell and Lelie are the safer plays. Ashley's scored at least eight fantasy points for seven straight weeks. McCardell has had eight points in three out of the last four weeks.
2) I agree, play Buffalo. Who knows if A.J. Feeley will be able to fully recover from his devastating finger/buttocks injuries. Even if he does, the Bills are a good play. Feeley's thrown three interceptions and fumbled the ball three times the past two weeks.
3) I'm not so sure it's that bad of a matchup for Tiki. Jerome Bettis, Brian Westbrook, and Rudi Johnson have all done well against the Redskins over the last three weeks. I agree, though, that McAllister and Droughns are the better plays. The rest of the Saints may have gone into the tank lately, but McAllister's continued to put up good numbers. Reuben's just a stud. There's no way you can consider benching him under any circumstances.
4) I already talked about how down I am on Jackson, but I'm even further down on Williams. He's killed one of my fantasy teams over the past month.
5) Again, I'm going with Buffalo. For the reasons I said before and because they have two of the best return men in football in Terrence McGee and Nate Clements.
1) I am on the same train of thought as Al. Matt Hasselback and the Seahawks have to be the worst over-.500 team in the league. The once potent fantasy wideouts have been reduced to second and third options. Lelie is finally showing the ability that his owners have been hoping for during the past three seasons.
2) I've been using the "start whatever defense plays Buffalo" strategy all year, and now is not the time to give up on that.
3) Droughns and Tiki are my picks. I expect a pressured Eli Manning to use Barber as his safety net. Barber might only rush for 50 yards, but he should surpass that in receiving.
4) We have a consensus on Jackson and Johnson. Williams hit the rookie wall after Week 3.
5) Buffalo. See #3.
Al: I'm going to agree with Barry and give it to the Denver secondary as a whole. I know there was snow, but there's no reason Kerry Collins should have been able to throw 123 yards and 2 touchdowns in just over six minutes in the fourth quarter.
Vivek: I feel bad considering he is unemployed after his Week 12 performance, but my vote is for Martin Gramatica. He entered last week's game against the Panthers with only 11 of 15 field goals converted and missed all three of his attempts. With the Bucs still alive for the wild card spot, the kicker could have put his team ahead with only 1:48 left to play. Instead, the missed field goal left enough time on the clock for Jake Delhomme to engineer the game winning drive for Carolina.
Al: What an awful week for kickers. There were three missed extra points this week. Gramatica missed three field goals, and Jeff Chandler and Nate Kaeding each missed two.
Al: For the three of you out there who are interested, I'm still alive. These past two weeks was the closest scoring period yet. All four of the remaining teams were within twenty points of each other. Thankfully, my one remaining team, Hit or Miss, was able to outscore Ian's Fear Factors by three points because of Marshall Faulk's touchdown on Monday night.
Al: Amazing week out of the Dolphins' Offensive Practice Squad, who scored an incredible 11 points in Week 12. Josh McCown and Martin Gramatica combined for -7 points. If it wasn't for Kevin Jones' 40-yard run against the Colts on Thanksgiving, DOPS would have scored in single digits. After three weeks, Ready to Crumble is in first place with a solid nine-point lead over four different teams.
Here are your Week 12 Loser League All Stars. If you had picked this team, your season point total would have decreased by two points:
QB: Josh McCown, QB -- -3 points (10 passes, 62 yards, 1 fumble lost, 2 INTs)
RB: Kevan Barlow, RB -- 2 points (9 carries, 20 yards, 3 catches, 0 yards)
RB: Shaun Alexander, RB -- 3 points (13 carries, 39 yards)
WR: Derrius Thompson, MIA -- 1 point (3 catches, 19 yards)
WR: Brandon Lloyd, SF -- 1 point (2 catches, 15 yards)
K: Sebastian Janikowski, OAK -- -6 points (0-1 FG, 1-2 XP)
Vivek: (2-2 last week, 15-29 overall) Two straight weeks of non-sub-.500 picks. I'll take it. Martin Gramatica owes something to me after killing my shot at going 3-1.
"Whatchu talking 'bout" Willis McGahee looks pretty comfortable as the starter, and that's an understatement.
I'm surprised that the line is this low. Could we see Jeff George this week?
I'm going to ride the hot hand of Kelly Holcomb to cover the spread. Take the Browns plus the points, but the Terry Robiske era will start the way the Butch Davis era ended.
No Jamal Lewis and a hot Cincy offense will push the Bengals over the Ravens outright.
Al: (2-1 last week, 18-18 overall) Non-sub-.500 picks? I guess that's something to be excited about when you're at .341 for the season.
The Redskins shouldn't be favored over anyone at this point in the season. Like I said earlier, I don't think this is a great matchup for Portis. The Giants only get into trouble defending the run once a back gets through their defensive line. I don't have any confidence that the Redskin offensive line will allow Clinton to get far enough downfield to hurt New York. The Giants secondary won't mind facing Patrick Ramsey again after he tossed three interceptions to them in Week 2.
Shhh... here come the Panthers. Could they become the first team to make the playoffs after starting the season 1-7? They'll keep the dream alive at least one week longer after defeating the woeful Saints.
It's slight road underdog week. The Chiefs are going to be able to score against the Raiders. The big question is whether the Chiefs will be able to do anything to stop the Raiders from scoring on them. As Oakland showed last week, if you leave their receivers wide open and give them an unobstructed path to the end zone, they can score some points. However, the improving Chiefs defensive line should be able to put some pressure on Kerry Collins and force him into throwing a pick or two. That should be enough for Kansas City to pull out the victory.