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?
12 Oct 2005
by Al Bogdan and Vivek Ramgopal
Vivek: The Jets-Ravens game two weeks ago should have had the disclaimer: â€œDo not watch while operating heavy machinery.â€? And this week's Jets-Bucs game could have had one that read, â€œDo not watch immediately after eatingâ€? because it was enough to make anyone sick to his stomach. Muffed/fumbled kickoff returns, three interceptions overturned by penalties and a non-existent running game made this a very difficult game to watch.
Sure, Vinny Testaverde filled in admirably for the Jets and led them to a much needed win, but the offensive line that rejuvenated Curtis Martin's career last year (if you can say that for a back who has always topped the 1,000-yard mark) suddenly looks a lot older, especially on the left side. The Jets have been averaging a paltry 2.6 yards per carry on the season, and the loss of Derrick Blaylock adds injury to insult. I might have been a year off in my prediction of the demise of Curtis Martin.
Al: The Jets did a nice job of protecting Testaverde, but you're right, their run blocking was awful, especially Mawae. They rarely pulled with him, which was a staple of the Jets running game in past seasons. When they did ask him to pull, he wasn't able to get out in front of the play and lay a helpful block on a defender. When he was just asked to move the person in front of him out of the way, Mawae didn't fare much better. Chris Hovan and Booger McFarland were both able to resist Mawae and clog up any holes that the Jets were trying to create.
In many ways, it's just dumb luck that we're here talking about a Jets victory and not slamming Herm Edwards for his decision to go for a touchdown early in the third quarter when the Jets were facing fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line instead of taking the lead with a chip shot field goal. True, with the way Mike Nugent was kicking on Sunday, there was no such thing as a chip shot. But with the way the Jets offensive line was getting manhandled, I didn't agree with the call to have Curtis Martin try to plow his way from a yard away.
Fate was on the Jets' side on that play, however. The offensive line did get dominated by Tampa at the line of attack. The Jets didn't create a single hole for Martin to run through, giving him only one place to go -- up. Derrick Brooks hit Martin in midair short of the goal line, but instead of pushing him backwards, Brooks spun Martin's body in such a way that the running back ended up across the goal line for six points.
Vinny looked decent, and he may have given Jets fans hope that their team's season isn't over just yet. But if the offensive line can't find a way to open up some holes for Martin to run through, it won't matter who lines up behind center.
Vivek: Moving over to the Jets' divisional counterparts in the NFC, the Redskins' loss, coupled with the Cowboys' dismantling of the Eagles, made the NFC East title picture a bit cloudier. The Broncos exposed several holes in the Redskins defense on Sunday, first and foremost being their inability to tackle. This is uncharacteristic of a Gregg Williams defense, but so is the inability to create turnovers (surprise, surprise, a strength of Lavar Arrington).
Tatum Bell had free reign all day, breaking off touchdown runs of 34 and 55 yards. During the past two games, the Redskins defense has allowed 5.6 yards per rushing attempt. The schedule does not get any easier as Washington visits Arrowhead Stadium for a matchup with Priest Holmes, Larry Johnson and one of the best offensive lines in the game.
Al: Maybe it's living down in D.C. that's getting to you ,Viv, but I'm not down on Washington at all based on their loss in Denver. The Broncos were a top 10 defense according to DVOA going into last week, and the Redskins were able to move the ball against them in the air and on the ground. Washington lost five points because of a blocked field goal attempt and an overturned safety (more on that later). The defense had trouble stopping Tatum Bell, but completely took Jake Plummer out of the game. Not counting the final Denver possession where they knelt on the ball three times, Washington held the Broncos to three-and-outs on six of their eleven possessions. Washington didn't have a single three-and-out all game, although their performance on third down declined greatly from only one week ago.
Vivek: Sure enough, right after I praised the Redskins for their 13-for-18 performance on third down conversions, the team regressed last week. Mark Brunell started 3-of-11 on third down passing attempts, including an 0-for-6 stretch. If not for some interesting officiating, Brunell would never have had the chance to boost his third down stats.
Al: I was surprised at how often Washington had Brunell throw the ball on third down. The Redskins only ran on third down three times, two of those scrambles by Brunell. Clinton Portis was having success running the ball most of the game. The Redskins had eight third downs with five or fewer yards to go and only handed it to Portis once, when he gained four yards on a third-and-1.
Tommy writes in:
Since I'm in a flex league, will you kindly rank these following players for me: C.Chambers, J.Jurevicius, C.Brown, K.Barlow, and Mewelde Moore. Also, I have to drop N. Rackers this week, who would you advise that I'd pick up in his stead? Tynes, Edinger, Dawson, Scobee, Bironas, or Hanson? And lastly, which QB would you start this week? D.Brees or K.Holcomb?
Al: Tough call between Brown and Jurevicius. The Bengals defense showed last week that they still struggle against the run. Jurevicius excelled on the road against St. Louis in the starting lineup last week, and has a potentially better matchup this week going against the Texans at home. I usually favor starting a RB over a WR at the flex spot, so I'd go with Brown, but it's a close decision. None of those kicking options are that great. I'd go with Tynes. No question you should start Brees against the Raiders over Holcomb.
Randy P. asks:
1) I currently have the Chargers Defense. Should I drop them in favor of Giants, Cleveland, Detroit, or Washington?
2) At TE, should I start Marcus Pollard or Ben Troupe ?
3) Which two of these 3 RB's should I start: K. Jones, C.Brown, C.Benson?
4) Please rank the following WR's in the order you would start them: C.Chambers, R.Smith, J.Jurevicius, and T.Glenn.
Vivek: 1) Al and I have both preached playing the matchups on defense, and Week 6's winner will be the Browns. How often do we push someone to start anyone (or anything) from Cleveland? Well, we do when the defense is matched up against Baltimore. Brian Billick has lost this team (see last week's 20+ penalties as evidence). Last week we talked about the brutal play of the Ravens offensive line and Jamal Lewis' inability to break free. Did you ever think that people would say, â€œMaybe Kyle Boller will jump start this offense when he returns?â€?
2) Troupe â€“ he has turned into an effective red zone weapon for McNair.
3) Jones and Brown. Benson has still not learned the offense and is a liability during passing situations. That will limit the amount of touches he will get.
4) Glenn, Jurevicius, Smith and Chambers. Glenn and Bledsoe together again have been terrific. 15 of Glenn's 20 career 100-yard receiving games have come from Bledsoe. Jurevicius gets the second slot by default â€“ Hasselbeck is void of targets. If you have to play a third wide receiver, Smith is my pick against the banged up Patriots secondary.
Al: I'm with Viv on all of these, with a slight caveat on number three. Benson hasn't looked very good in his limited playing time, but he has a great matchup against the Vikings at home. With Thomas Jones potentially out with a knee injury, I'd go with Benson over Brown.
Ross from Boston writes:
Are the Cowboys consistent enough to rely on Terry Glenn and Drew Bledsoe week-to-week? I have both of them on my team and neglected to start them this past week, given they were playing Philadelphia.
Al: I think you'll be fine sticking with Bledsoe and Glenn for most of the season. A quick glance at the rest of Dallas' schedule shows plenty of teams that struggle stopping the pass. This week against the Giants secondary should prove to be no exception.
Reader Zac was one of the fantasy owners burned by the rash of running back injuries in Week 5:
My fantasy season is ruined! Well, maybe not, but I am reeling after the news that Deuce McAllister is out for the year. With that in mind, who should I replace him with? I'm in a 10-team league where each owner has 4 or 5 RBs, so we're talking Antowain Smith, Tatum Bell, Marcel Shipp, and Michael Bennett (plus any sleeper candidates you care to name [Tyson Thompson?]). Also, I'm seventh in the waiver priority, so please rank them for me, if that's not too hard.
Al: I'm going to assume that Aaron Stecker is also available. As of press time, it looks like, at least for this week, Smith is going to get the first crack in New Orleans/San Antonio/Baton Rouge/East Rutherford to be the primary ball carrier. Playing the Falcons, who weren't stopping anyone from running the ball even before they lost Edgerton Hartwell for the season, he'd be the best play for this week. However, I don't see Smith hanging onto the job for too long. Aaron Stecker, and potentially the recently acquired Jesse Chatman, will end up taking away most of Smith's carries within a few weeks. If you need a starter for this week, Smith should be your first choice, followed by Bell, Stecker, Bennett, Thompson, and Chatman. If you're looking for depth, or someone to help you later in the year, I'd bump Smith behind Bell and Stecker.
As for other sleepers in a league where 40-50 running backs already on teams, let me suggest Tony Fisher. With Najeh Davenport done for the year, he'll be Ahman Green's primary backup as soon as Green is healthy enough to play. Hopefully for you, if you pick up Fisher, that will be more than two weeks from now when the Packers take on Minnesota's terrible run defense.
And to close this week's mailbag, Dan B. from Medford, MA asks:
Am I the only one left in the world who hates fantasy football?
Here's my issue: Let's say your home team is one win away from making the playoffs and it is the last game of the season. If they win, they're in, but if they lose, they're out. Say they're up two and the other team is lining up for a game-winning field goal late in the fourth quarter. Now, let's say you have the opposing kicker on your fantasy team and if he hits the field goal, you win the fantasy prize money. Here's my problem: Most fantasy geeks would be rooting against their team because they would win the fantasy league. I have a serious problem with that: Winning fantasy should NOT be more important than your team.
Vivek: Yes, Dan, you are the only one left. May God have mercy on your soul.
Vivek: I was at a bar on Lansdowne Street when Tom Brady escaped with a win against Oakland courtesy of the tuck rule. Because of how ludicrous the rule is, I think I will remember where I was during Tuck Rule Part II, when Jake Plummer â€œthrew an incomplete pass.â€? This rule has to be changed. Yes, it is in the books, but when a quarterback is trying to cover the ball with his non-throwing hand, it is pretty evident that this is not a pass attempt.
Vivek: I have been hearing lots of sports talk radio callers and some columnists knocking the 49ers for supposedly throwing Alex Smith to the Lions against Indianapolis. Unlike most of the organization's decisions, I agree with this one. The team is going nowhere, and waiting until after the bye week would have had Smith facing the Washington defense. After his four-interception performance against the Colts, Smith will have the bye week to review the tapes and build on his NFL debut. Tim Rattay was not going to lead this team to more than four wins, so please stop hammering this decision.
Al: I completely agree with you Viv. And for the same reasons, it was a terrible move for Mike Mularkey to bench J.P. Losman in Buffalo in favor of Kelly Holcomb. Sure, Losman has looked terrible, and the Bills beat Miami thanks in part to Holcomb's nice first half. But where does that get Buffalo? Maybe if Holcomb starts the rest of the year they have a better chance of squeaking into the playoffs as a wild card, so they can get blown out on the road in the first round. In the meantime, you've learned little to nothing about Losman's ability to be the team's quarterback for the future. I say give the ball to Losman and see how he develops over the course of the year. Maybe he really isn't good enough to be a starting quarterback in the NFL, but you won't learn that when Kelly Holcomb is guiding your team to an 8-8 record.
Vivek: Remember Nate Kaeding in the playoffs last year against the Jets? Or how about Sebastian Janikowski's 22 for 32 rookie year? Jets kicker Mike Nugent's two missed field goals could have cost his team the win against Tampa Bay, and it is only a matter of time before he does. Nugent is 4-for-7 on field goal attempts so far, and he is hurting his team with weak kickoffs. His touchback in Week 5 was his first of the season, and the Jets need all the help they can get.
Vivek: How in the world did this week's recipient, Brian Griese, lead the Buccaneers to a 4-0 start? Donnie Henderson's defense played Griese perfectly, pressuring him into making bad decisions. In his defense, the offense was out of sync without Cadillac, but a veteran should not have made the mistakes that Griese did.
The box score does not accurately depict Griese's performance, as Ty Law was his favorite target for the afternoon. Two penalties negated what would have been the second and third interceptions for Law. As the Bucs starter, Griese has averaged more than 1.5 interceptions per game, and a good portion of those picks resulted from bad decisions instead of bad throws.
Al: An honorable mention goes to wrestling legend Hacksaw Jim Duggan for his spectacular performance in the New Smyrna Beach, Florida charity bus race. I guess there are people willing to pay money to see celebrities get in school buses and race around an oval. Normally, watching a bus drive around a race track is boring. Not when Hacksaw is behind the wheel! Duggan lost control of his vehicle, causing the school bus to flip on its side. Thankfully, no one was seriously hurt. No truth to the rumor that the Iron Sheik was found in the back of the bus with cocaine and marijuana in his possession.
Al: Your Week 5 All-Loser Team:
QB: Alex Smith, SF -- -7 points (23 passes, 74 yards; 2 carries, 3 yards; 1 fumble; 4 INT)
RB: Marcel Shipp, ARI â€“ 2 points (13 carries, 22 yards; 2 catches, 6 yards)
RB: Willie Parker, PIT â€“ 3 points (10 carries, 26 yards; 1 catch, 14 yards)
WR: Bryant Johnson, ARI â€“ 0 points (2 catches, 8 yards; 1 carry, 0 yards)
WR: Josh Reed, BUF â€“ 1 point (2 catches, 13 yards)
K: Mike Nugent, NYJ â€“ -2 points (0/2 FG; 2/2 XP)
Not only did Alex Smith put up the worst performance in the brief history of DPAR, but we believe he also put together the greatest performance ever in the even briefer history of the Loser League. The closest performance that we could find was a -6 point game from former Dallas Cowboys kicker Billy Cundiff in Week 1 of 2003.
Vivek: (2-2 last week, 7-10 overall)
For the second straight week, I'm going with all the road teams.
Atlanta is 4-0 with the lines this year (there was no line for Week 2), so I'm going with them against the Deuce-less San Antonio Saints. I was one of those Donte' Stallworth owners salivating when I saw Joe Horn on the sidelines, but last week's six-yard performance confirmed all our suspicions â€“ Stallworth will never be a reliable option.
Chris Brown might be able to get some yardage, but expect Chad Johnson to check the Titans' cornerbacks off on his list.
This is going to be ugly for Culpepper and the offense, but I have a hard time seeing Chicago piling up much offense now without Thomas Jones.
This will be the week where a team finally scores more than ten points against Indy.
Al: (3-2 last week, 11-6 overall)
I'm not crazy about any of this week's lines, so I'm just taking three home favorites. Nice to see we're picking against each other in two of the games. It'll just make it easier for me to pad my lead.
The Texans are fed up with their poor offensive line play that has plagued them throughout their franchises history. What are they doing about it? That's right, they're inserting a rookie drafted in the fifth round at center, and shuffling the rest of the line around to different positions. Insert joke about deck chairs and the Titanic here.
The Rams allowed 37 points against Seattle last week at home. On the road, where Mark Bulger has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns in his career, the Colts should be good for at least 40.
Perfect matchup for the Bears coming off their tough road loss to Cleveland. Kyle Orton won't have to worry about the other team's pass rush forcing him to make quick decisions. He can sit back in the pocket and wait for one of his receivers to get wide open. Mike Brown should be good for at least one interception return for a touchdown.
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