Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
02 Nov 2005
by Ian Dembsky and Vivek Ramgopal
Ian: Well, as Steve Tyler would say, "I'm baaaaack in the saddle again." (Go on, sing it with me now... "I'm baaaaack!" Thank me when you're singing that the rest of the day.) For those of you who haven't been reading the column for awhile, allow me to introduce myself: Ian Dembsky here, fantasy sports addict and longtime Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan. I originally wrote this column with Al, before life ceased allowing me the time. Well right now, life isn't allowing Al the time, so I'm returning to my roots and filling in for Al for a few weeks. But enough about me, on to the wonderful world of football.
First off, I was treated to an early viewing of the St. Louis Rams going up against the Jaguars. And I say "treated" for one reason -- and its name is Steven Jackson. Have you seen this guy run? He turns sure losses into 1 or 2 yard gains. He runs over people. He jukes by people. He gets separation in the open field. He's simply amazing; and if you want to give Jamie Martin credit for leading the Rams to two straight wins, you're crediting the wrong guy.
Vivek: Come on, Ian. I was expecting Eminem lyrics instead of Aerosmith.
Ian is right about giving credit to the wrong guy, but what about placing a hell of a lot of blame on the Jaguars? This was an easy game plan for Jack del Rio. Injuries left the Rams with the deadly (note the sarcasm) passing attack of Jamie Martin to Kevin Curtis and Shaun McDonald, so all the Jaguars had to do was stuff the box and contain Jackson. Oh, and make a field goal. (Do I smell the KCW winner for this week?) Well, neither happened.
The Jaguars lost a chance to gain a bit of separation between themselves and the rest of the AFC wild card pack.
Ian: A lot of people have been hyping Byron Leftwich, and I understand why. We've all heard about (or even seen) him getting carried by his offensive linemen upfield in college, as he lead his team while on a broken leg. He's a warrior, he'll be there for your team, and he's a leader. But it's about time he started throwing the damn football well.
I mean, seriously, have you seen him throw the football lately? He and Donovan McNabb have the same problem, and it's that for some reason, half of their passes are either short-hops or airmails; basically not catchable. It's unbelievable to me how crappy many of the quarterbacks in this league are at delivering the football. And don't even get me started on Michael Vick.
And that's why guys like Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning are succeeding. It's a novel concept, but they almost always throw the football on target. Speaking of Eli, he led your Giants to a pretty dominating victory this weekend, eh?
Vivek: You wouldn't know it if you talked to Joe Gibbs. The Mr. Obvious Award this week goes to the Skins' coach, who noted on Monday that the Redskins run defense played well (allowing only 3.3 yards per carry) if you took out Tiki Barber's two big runs. Well, sure, if you remove runs of 59 and 57 yards, your stats look a lot better.
The Redskins' tackling has not gotten better (case in point, the lack of forced fumbles and opposing running backs breaking off long plays). Looking back to the Denver game in Week 5, Tatum Bell got into the end zone on runs of 34 and 55 yards. Sunday's injuries to Washington's front four will not make the situation any better when the Eagles come to town. Defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin was not able to stay on the field because of a hip injury, while defensive tackle Joe Salave'a and defensive end Phillip Daniels left the game with foot injuries.
As averse to the run game as the Eagles have been this year, they need to get Brian Westbrook the ball in order to take advantage of Washington's injuries. The Eagles use short passes to Westbrook as their running plays, but he needs to run the ball consistently to get a better feel for the game. Look at Westbrook's carries per game for the season â€“ 12, 15, 13, 9, 6, 10 and 13 â€“ hardly the workload of a feature back.
Ian: And when did the Eagles start coming back in the Denver game on Sunday? When they started handing the ball off now and then! If all you do is pass, it makes life a lot easier on the opposing defensive line. They can speed rush around the outside without fear of a taking themselves out of a running play. Then, when the offensive lineman senses this and starts to drop back further in protection, you can pull the Dwight Freeney Special and spin it back inside for a free shot at the quarterback. The running game does more than just "balance" the offense; it keeps a defense honest. And with a shifty running back like Westbrook, you can really force the D-linemen to stay home on running plays.
Switching topics, I'd be remiss if I didn't discuss the Survival Pool killer of the season -- Tampa Bay's loss to San Francisco. Thank goodness I wasn't able to watch the game, because I might have broken a thing or two. But I've watched this game beforeâ€¦
The year is 1999. Tampa Bay's defense is at its absolute prime, and Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott in the WD-40 backfield are pounding the rock. And who is the Tampa quarterback? None other than Trent Dilfer. It's Week 1 of the NFL season, and the Bucs are at home against a Giants team coached by Jim Fassel and headed for a disappointing 7-9 season and third place in the NFC East. The Tampa defense dominates. The Giants are held to 1-of-14 on third downs, 27 yards rushing on 24 attempts, and a mere 107 yards of total offense.
But the Bucs have Trent Dilfer. On the Bucs opening drive, Dilfer fumbled the ball, and it was returned for a touchdown. In the third quarter, Trent threw an interception out of his own end zone for another defensive touchdown. Then, in the fourth quarter, Dilfer made the worst throw I've ever seen. As he was getting chased, and literally falling out of bounds, he threw the ball across his body trying to get it to someone for the first down. But the only player near the pass was a Giants defender.
It marked Dilfer's third interception of the day, and after the Giants gained no yards it turned into a field goal to make it a 17-13 win loss for the Bucs. Despite complete and utter defensive dominance, the game was lost thanks to turnovers converting directly to points.
Nowâ€¦ I'm not saying that Tampa's defense was completely and utterly dominating on Sunday; after all they gave up 100 yards rushing to Kevan Barlow (who's quietly putting together a very respectable season). But if not for two costly interceptions by Chris Simms in the second half that turned directly into field goals by the 49ers, Tampa would surely be 6-1 right now and alone again atop the NFC South standings.
Vivek: Yes, I too am one of those who have been slain by San Francisco this year. Not once, but twice â€“ Week 1 against St. Louis and this past weekend. You would think that a team which held its opponents without a touchdown and allowed only 50 yards passing would come out on the winning side. Yet the Bucs let Commander Cody Pickett eat up five minutes en route to the game-clinching field goal. The same Cody Pickett that was on special teams earlier in the game. The same Cody Pickett that was the fourth string quarterback a few weeks ago.
But as Ian mentioned, two second half interceptions and a late fumble by Chris Simms killed any chance of a Tampa Bay comeback. Jon Gruden needs to make a change if Simms' decision making does not improve. At first glance his numbers looked decent, but the five sacks and three turnovers show that he needs time to adjust to the pro game. And with a crowd at the top of the NFC North, time might not be what Tampa Bay has.
Speaking of which, has anyone noticed that the sexy preseason NFC pick turned disappointment Carolina Panthers are now 5-2? After a loss to Miami dropped the Panthers to 1-2, a lot of folks were backtracking on their predictions of a division title. After the addition of cornerback Ken Lucas and the return of defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, I expected a defense that ranked near the top. Then the team lost Jenkins (again) to injury, but it has been the offense that has carried the team. Jake Delhomme has quietly put together a solid season while John Fox has effectively used DeShaun Foster to spell Stephen Davis.
Granted, the offensive explosion (26.6 points per game) has not come against any marquee defenses (Green Bay, Arizona, Detroit and Minnesota), but when the defense tightens up, the offense will not need to score that much to win.
My one concern is that the team is not getting the yardage on the ground that it should, only 3.1 yards per carry and 92 yards per game. With Foster and Davis sharing the load, it is only a matter of time before big runs come.
Hi Guys. 1) Which Defense should I start out of these selections this week? New England, Cleveland, Jets, Seattle, Washington, or San Diego.
2) Please rank the following players in the order you would start them for Week 9: Randy "Decoy" Moss, Chris Chambers, Joe Jurevicius, Chris Brown, Mewelde Moore, Jerome Bettis, and Kevan "Big Game" Barlow (actually, he's been putting up decent numbers lately). Thanks, Tommy.
Vivek: San Diego versus the Jets or Seattle against Arizona. I'd lean towards San Diego with the chance of a Brooks Bollinger sighting in the Meadowlands.
Ian: Actually, it seems pretty certain that Vinny will be the starting QB for the Jets this weekend, but I definitely agree than San Diego is the best choice here, with Seattle a close second. If the Seahakws were at home I'd rate them first, but on the road Arizona's defense plays tough, so its offense probably won't need to be reckless with the ball.
As far as ranking those fantasy options, I have to admit I'm completely in the dark on Randy Moss right now. He's on my team as well, and has been killing me with his quitting the game after the first quarter performances. Of course, you can't really bench him, can you?
Here goes: Chris Brown (I hope no one actually started Travis Henry last week), Joe Jurevicious, Mewelde Moore (risky with Brad Johnson though), Chris Chambers (Laveraneus Coles put up some nice numbers against Atlanta a few weeks ago), Jerome Bettis (too much of a boom-or-bust player these days), then Kevan Barlow (look at what Clinton Portis did against the Giants last week)
Vivek: My only change is that I would put Chambers ahead of Moore. Moore did not have that one big game in October and did not get into the end zone either. Until Brad Johnson shows that he can beat you, defenses won't cheat to defend the pass.
Thanks for your help these past weeks. Anyways, may you kindly tell me which TE would you start this week M.Pollard or B.Troupe? Also which two receivers would you start out of this group: R.Smith, C.Chambers, J.Jurevicius, and A.Chatman? Excelsior, Randy.
Ian: Ben Troupe left Sunday's game with an injured ankle, and he is questionable to play this weekend. And in case you didn't notice, Minnesota's defense gets penetrated more than Tara Reid. Pollard is not only the better play here, but is among the better plays not named â€œGates.â€?
As far as the receivers, Rod Smith may catch a cab, but he won't catch any passes on his bye week. I'd rank the others: Jurevicius, Chatman (become one of Favre's top targets, but Pittsburgh matchup is daunting), Chambers.
Here's a question about the 49ers from Natfre.
Over three months ago, in the over/under for the West Divisions, you wrote about the 49ers:
"Al: In the premiere edition of Scramble for the Ball two years ago, I asked myself, in print no less, 'Can I really lay money on a team of professional football players winning four games or less this season?' The answer was yes, as I correctly predicted the 2003 Cardinals would finish the year with fewer than five wins.
The question now is whether the 2005 49ers will be better than the 2003 Cardinals. You have to expect them to be better than the 2004 49ers, just because they can't get much worse."
Given that this year, through Week 7, the offensive DVOA is -55.7 percent and the defensive DVOA is 33.2 percent, and last year the DVOA for the 49ers offense was -19.9 percent and for defense it was 26.7 percent, it appears they have gotten worse. Any thoughts on how that has happened? It can't all be Alex Smith's fault, can it?
Ian: Yes, it really can be all his fault. Well, mostly his fault. Turnovers play a big role in DVOA calculations, and Alex Smith is a turnover machine. Not to mention a Loser League All-Star when he plays. One more question, this one from Peter in Reston, VA.
What am I going to do with my TEs? I've got Courtney Anderson (Oak) and Bubba Franks (GB) and I can only really be counted on to start the wrong one. Is either looking to have a decent game, or is there some diamond in the rough I might be able to snag at this point?
Ian: Courtney Anderson started off hot, but has become an absolute non-factor in the past few weeks. Drop him. The good news, though, is that Bubba Franks is back. A very nice game from him this past Sunday, and with Green Bay wide receivers dropping like flies, it's good for Favre to have one of his reliable receivers back on the field.
I doubt there's any â€œdiamond in the roughâ€? that has a better chance of outperforming him at this point. If you must have a name though, keep an eye on Tennessee's third tight end, Bo Scaife. When Ben Troupe went down with an injury last week, Scaife stepped up and caught 5 passes. Sure, they were only for 19 yards, but touches are most important for sleeper tight ends, because that often means more one-yard catches at the goal line.
Ian: Wow, what a dominating performance by the Broncos on Sunday. Sure, Philadelphia's one-dimensional offense helped the Denver D look awfully good, but what about that Denver rushing game? Remember what the Eagles defense did to LaDanian Tomlinson last week? The Broncos have to be the first team in a while to have two running backs worth starting in fantasy leagues without even thinking about it. And the dominance of the running game is helping Jake's play-action passing work to perfection.
Vivek: That might be a lesson from Captain Obvious, but it is becoming more evident that he is only going to get worse as the season progresses, to a point where he will become a detriment to the team. The Eagles have quickly fallen back to the rest of the pack.
When an All-World quarterback does not complete a pass until midway through the second quarter, something ain't right. When Donovan McNabb cannot throw across his body, something ain't right. When Donovan McNabb cannot throw the deep ball, something ain't right. See the pattern?
Ian: You hear it every year, but man oh man, is this season proving true the adage that running backs are the MVPs of the fantasy football world. How's the guy doing that drafted Daunte Culpepper this season? How about that Peyton Manning pick? Or Torry Holt or Randy Moss? Now how's the guy who drafted LaDanian Tomlinson or Shaun Alexander looking? Or Edgerrin James, or even LaMont Jordan? Running backs are tough warriors, and the good ones make much more difference than good players at other positions. If you have Shaun Alexander or LaDanian Tomlinson on your team, and you're in last place, just quit fantasy football right now.
Vivek: Is it just me, or are kickers losing their touch this year? Nine kickers who have attempted ten or more field goals have a 75 percent or worse success rate. Last year, only three regular kickers were that bad. Josh Scobee did his part to validate my theory on Sunday by missing both of his attempts (44 and 48 yards) in a three-point loss to the injury-depleted Rams.
Scobee was not the sole reason that the Jaguars lost, as Ned Macey writes in this week's Any Given Sunday, but just one of those two missed field goals would have tied this game.
Ian: How can you not give this week's award to Chris Simms? On a team where your defense dominates, you really only need to not turn the ball over and hand them the winning points. Maybe I'm biased, but he gets my award.
Ian: And now, your Week 8 All-Loser Team:
QB: Jeff Garcia, DET â€“ 7 points (197 pass yards, 1 interception)
RB: Jerome Bettis, PIT - 2 points (8 carries, 22 yards)
RB: Cadillac Williams, TB - 2 points (13 carries, 20 yards)
WR: Travis Taylor, MIN - 1 point (2 catches, 17 yards)
WR: Brandon Lloyd, SF - 1 point (2 catches, 18 yards)
K (tie): Paul Edinger, MIN â€“ -1 point (1/1 XP, 0/1 FG)
K (tie): Josh Scobee, JAX â€“ -1 point (3/3 XP, 0/2 FG)
Welcome back, Jeff Garcia!
This week's winning team was Manifest Destiny, putting up an awe-inspiring 21 points: Eli Manning (9), William Green (4), Cadillac, Lloyd, Santana Moss (3), and Matt Bryant (2). Let's face it, if you chose Santana Moss this year, you didn't get to think about winning many weeks.
One more week in Loser League Part I, and next week we'll have your chance to enter Loser League Part II.
Vivek: (1-2 last week, 10-17 overall)
You have to admire my consistency in getting one game right for the third straight week. Bonus points for picking Houston to win outright?
Pop Quiz: Who has more passing touchdowns on the season, the Jets offense or LaDainian Tomlinson? Trick question, it's a tie. That is a pretty accurate indicator of the Jets offense, which has also scored just one more touchdown than Tomlinson has scored on the ground. Hopefully Pete Kendall and Vinny Testaverde have gotten over their fumbling problems.
When was the last time the Giants were favored by this much? Well let me tell you â€“ November 9, 2003 when they were 11 point favorites against Atlanta. The Giants wound up losing by 20 that week, but this will not be a repeat. Despite last week's final score, Eli Manning did not look sharp at all (as indicated by his 12-for-31 passing day). The brutal 49ers passing defense will give Eli the ability to hone his throws.
If the 27th ranked Bills offense can drop nearly 400 yards on the Patriots, imagine what Payton Manning & Co. will do.
Ian: (Al was 2-1 last week, and is 18-8 overall)
I'm going to jump right in and give you 5 of my Best Bets.
Only three? Really? Maybe it's just me, but I don't understand why the line isn't bigger. Chicago's defense is starting to gel, and Aaron Brooks is still Aaron Brooks. The Bears will run a conservative offense that runs all over the hapless â€˜Aints, and their defense will make sure they cover the spread.
Michael Vick may not be able to pass well, but who cares? His impact on the team is far greater than the accuracy of his passing arm, and Atlanta's defense is playing extremely well. I can't see them losing to Miami, even outdoors.
I think this week New England realizes that running the ball is not a very good option due to injuries, so they'll have Brady run the shotgun, 4-wide offense and pick the Colts defense apart. And they'll most certainly be double-teaming Dwight Freeney on every play.
Yeah, Houston sucks- But thanks to Domanick Davis and the upstart Jabar Gaffney (one more solid week and he should be on fantasy rosters), they seem to be getting better. I'll take the 13 points, even though it's on the road.
Hard to take Arizona seriously; especially against a strong Seattle team coming off of a bye week.
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