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 Jan 2006
by Al Bogdan and Vivek Ramgopal
Al: Vivek, another season of football has passed us by and it's time to recognize those players who made noteworthy contributions on and off the field of play in the 2005 season. But we're not going to bore our readers with yet another column discussing who the best players on the season were. No, we'll bore our readers with the Third Annual All-Keep Choppin' Wood Team, honoring those players who did the most to hurt their teams this past season.
For those of you just joining us, we started giving out the Keep Choppin' Wood Award in Week 9 of 2003 in honor of Jaguars punter Chris Hanson's ending his season by slicing his foot open with an axe. Coach Jack Del Rio had placed a tree stump and axe in the Jaguars locker room as a motivational tool. The stump and axe were a symbol of the team's motto, "Keep Choppin' Wood."
The All-KCW Team honors those players who are not necessarily the worst at their position, but contributed the most to the detriment to their teams. If they are truly awful at their job, all the better. Did you commit five false start penalties in a game? Did you get arrested outside of a nightclub before training camp? Did you get offered the lead in Love Boat: The Movie? Then you might just be a member of the All-Keep Choppin' Wood Team. (If you are curious, you'll find last year's team here.)
Kerry Collins, Oakland
Al: This was the most difficult position to decide, with the FO staff offering a record number of nominees. In the end, Collins' league leading nine delay of game penalties pushed him over the top. Collins was given all of the weapons to put his strong arm to use in a high powered offense, but instead was benched three quarters of the way into the season in favor of Marques Tuiasosopo.
Other players considered: Michael Vick, Alex Smith, Kyle Orton, Daunte Culpepper, Drew Bledsoe, Joey Harrington, J.P. Losman.
Jamal Lewis, Baltimore; Willis McGahee, Buffalo
Vivek: Something wasn't right with Jamal Lewis this year. It is hard for me to believe that a 26-year old runner with his abilities suddenly is on the downside of his career. With Derrick Mason on board for 2005, many (including yours truly) expected a big year from Lewis, not one which saw him average more than a yard per carry less than his career average. I was probably too optimistic about seeing some sort of development by Kyle Boller, which would have prevented teams from stacking up against the run.
Lewis never was comfortable running through tacklers or to the outside this season, and as a result only topped the 20 carry mark in five games. He finished as the second-worst back in terms of DPAR, sandwiched between Michael Bennett and Marcel Shipp.
Al: I guess a federal penitentiary isn't the best place to conduct four months of your off-season training program. In just two seasons, Lewis has gone from rushing for the second most yards ever in a season to being the second best back on his own team.
In late October, Willis McGahee declared himself to be the best back in the NFL. After making that bold statement, McGahee topped 100 yards just once, and averaged only 64.3 yards per game and 3.4 yards per carry. The Bills went 2-8 over that span, cementing their spot in the top half of their draft where they could potentially draft McGahee's replacement.
Vivek: And taking a runner-up spot without playing a single down this year is Onterrio Smith. Say it with me one last time, everyone: Whizzinator.
Other players considered: Kevin Jones.
Terrell Owens, Philadelphia; Charles Rogers, Detroit
Al: If you need us to justify TO's selection on this squad, then maybe you haven't watched enough ESPN this season. Kudos to you for that.
We couldn't have an All-KCW Team without Michael David Smith's favorite player, Charles Rogers. It would be impossible to compile all the negative things MDS has written about Rogers this season in one place. Rogers set a career high in games played this season with nine. During those rare occasions when he wasn't injured or suspended for violating the league's substance abuse program, Rogers was making his case for being the biggest draft bust this side of Ryan Leaf. The former #2 overall pick, on whom the Lions have spent $20 million in salary cap space, found himself below the immortal Scottie Vines and Glenn Martinez at different points this year.
Other players considered: Eric Moulds, Reggie Williams, David Patten.
Doug Jolley, New York Jets
Vivek: First Terry Bradway traded last year's first round pick for Jolley, and then he used the second-round pick he acquired from the Raiders on kicker Mike Nugent. And we have a nominee for KCW GM. Jolley could not even beat out Chris Baker for the starting tight end spot, and could not even effectively pass block in a reduced role. While Jolley's final numbers looked respectable, you have to take into consideration his nine-catch, 102-yard game against the Dolphins. Now how do his numbers look?
Al: As more than one person noted at the time, instead of dealing a first round pick for Jolley, the Jets could have just drafted Heath Miller out of Virginia. Miller finished the year with 459 receiving yards and six touchdown receptions, finishing tied for second in offensive rookie of the year voting. Jolley finished the year with one touchdown catch and 324 yards receiving, almost a third of which came in the New York's loss to Miami in Week 15. Jolley had six games this season where he gained zero yards or less.
Luke Petitgout, New York Giants; Leonard Davis, Arizona
Al: Petitgout combined poor blocking with a great ability to pick up penalties. He was second in the league with 15 penalties, costing the Giants 101 yards in field position on the season. Ten of those penalties were false starts, with five of those coming in New York's near upset of Seattle. Had Petitgout merely waited until the ball was snapped to get into his two-point stance, the Giants would have had to wait until at least the second round of the playoffs to get blown out at home.
Vivek: The Cardinals desperately need to revamp the worst offensive line from 2005, and they started by hiring former Minnesota offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Steve Loney as its O-line chief. His first job should be to better discipline Davis, who was the "human false start" with 12 on the season. Honorable mention goes to Buffalo's Mike Gandy, the "human offensive hold."
Other players considered: Torrin Tucker, Rob Petitti, Scott Gragg, Oliver Ross, Victor Riley.
William Whitticker, Green Bay; Sean Mahan, Tampa Bay
Al: In the damning with faint praise department, William Whitticker was ranked as the second best rookie guard in football by Mike Tanier, in a year where only two rookie guards saw any serious playing time. Whitticker had a tough job replacing a Pro Bowler who departed for greener pastures, and did a pretty poor job at it. The Green Bay running game had been built successfully on the pulls of Mike Wahle. With Whitticker at right guard, those pulls weren't nearly as effective, as the rotating cast of Green Bay running backs all struggled to get into the second level of opposing defenses.
Sean Mahan earns his spot on this list by leading all guards in penalties this season. Yeah, it's tough to pick out really bad guard play. Let us know if you have any better suggestions.
Other players considered: Reggie Wells.
Cory Withrow, Minnesota
Al: The loss of Matt Birk left big shoes for Withrow to fill. It was opposing defensive tackles that proved to be too big, as Withrow was too small to handle the 300+ pound behemoths lining across from him. Minnesota went from one of the best teams in football at running up the middle to the worst.
Chauncey Davis and Jonathan Babineaux, Atlanta;
Al: As part of our in-development defensive stats here at Football Outsiders, we track the plays that defenders are involved in. DeMorrio Williams was third in plays among outside linebackers, in large part because of the poor play of Jonathan Babineaux and Chauncey Davis in front of him. The two rookies filled in for Brady Smith on the right side of Atlanta's defensive line with poor results. Babineaux had the lowest stop rate -- percentage of plays where a defender stops the offensive player from achieving success -- among all defensive linemen. Babineaux also allowed more yards per play -- 4.1 -- than any other defensive lineman in the NFL. The two combined to rack up a whopping 1.5 sacks on the season while allowing one of the highest yards per carry in the league on runs to the left side of the offensive line.
Other players considered: James Hall, Kalimba Edwards.
Jason Fisk, Cleveland; Lance Legree, New York Jets
Al: Fisk ranks first in the league among starting defensive tackles in yards per play allowed. Teams ran up the middle on nearly 60 percent of runs against Cleveland, in large part because of Fisk's ineffectiveness anchoring the middle of the Browns' 3-4 defense. This isn't the first year of ineffectiveness for Fisk, who lost his starting job in San Diego last year right before the San Diego run defense miraculously improved.
Lance Legree was brought in by the Jets to provide depth at a defensive tackle position that lost it's mainstay, Jason Ferguson, to Dallas. Legree was one of the main reasons New York's run defense declined from one of the ten best in the league to one of the ten worst when it comes to stopping runs up the middle . If Legree was involved in a play, odds are the back was moving the football. Legree allowed more yards per carry on the ground â€“ 4.0 â€“ than any other defensive lineman in the NFL. The Giants saw marked improvement when they replaced Legree with free agent to be Kendrick Clancy at defensive tackle this year. The Jets should consider doing the same.
Other players considered: Ted Washington, Seth Payne, Jason Ferguson.
Keith Brooking, Atlanta; Monty Beisel, New England; Morlon Greenwood, Houston
Vivek: All-Pro Brooking will probably be a surprise pick, but his performance at middle linebacker was not at the level that he was accustomed to on the outside. (He actually made the Pro Bowl as an outside linebacker.) Brooking was forced to the inside after Ed Hartwell went down early in the season. Offenses in fact had a high success rate on rushing plays up the middle, right at Brooking and the other inside linebackers. This is an unfair recognition for Brooking, but he did get by this year on his past accolades.
Al: Look here, another Atlanta defensive player. It's admirable that Brooking played most of the season out of position at inside linebacker after Hartwell's injury, but how he made the Pro Bowl, we'll never know. Only two other linebackers involved in over 100 plays had a lower success rate than Brooking's 49 percent.
Vivek: It was no coincidence that the Patriots went 7-3 with Tedy Bruschi this year, and part of the reason was that his return (coupled with the move of Mike Vrabel to the inside) pushed Monty Beisel to the bench. Beisel lacks Bruschi's ability to read the offense and anticipate plays, which made him a liability. He was also using the matador tackling technique at the start of the season, not exactly what Belichick and company look for. As we wrote in the Kansas City chapter of PFP 2005: "Beisel is now in New England, and Patriots fans are still trying to figure out why."
Al: Monty Beisel didn't endear himself to New England fans with his poor play as one of the team's starting inside linebackers early in the season. He endeared himself even less when he allegedly took a swing at a Boston beat writer who wrote an unflattering article about Beisel, and then berated a New England public relations worker for allowing the reporter near his locker. I'm guessing Beisel won't see the second year of the two year contract he signed this past off-season.
Morlon Greenwood may have led the Texans in tackles, but those tackles only came after opponents had already gained a good amount of yardage. Greenwood led all starting linebackers in most yards allowed per run, and finished in the top 10 in yards per pass allowed. Greenwood was one of only three linebackers to be involved in over 100 plays that allowed the opponent to be successful in more than half of them.
Other players considered: Jason Babin.
Adam "Pac-Man" Jones, Tennessee; Fred Smoot, Minnesota
Vivek: The Vikings who were on the Love Boat organized by last offseason's free agent signee might disagree with this selection. Smoot signed a six-year, $34 million deal, but finished the season with five missed games because of a shoulder injury and his lowest interception and tackle totals since his rookie year. In the first half of the season before getting hurt, Smoot did nothing to help a defense that yielded on average 224 passing yards and 352 total yards per game. The KCW clincher was in Carolina, when Smoot proceeded to run his mouth in front of Steve Smith. Smith exacted revenge by torching Smoot for 201 yards.
Smoot's KCW teammate came into the season with a tremendous amount of promise and ability, but a summer arrest and a contract holdout tempered those expectations. Jones' season was marred by inconsistency, a lack of interceptions, a failure to grasp the pro game and immaturity evidenced by a tantrum directed towards the team's equipment manager. Head coach Jeff Fisher, who defended Jones all season, finally benched the rookie in the season finale against Jacksonville after he committed two personal fouls in three plays. His only redemption this year was his play as a punt returner. Hopefully for the Titans, his success as a returner will carry over to his defense.
Other players considered: Dre "It's Joey Harrington's Fault I Can't Cover Anyone One on One" Bly; Duane "Makes Aaron Schatz Want to Shove Hot Pokers in His Eyes" Starks, Philip Buchanon.
Greg Wesley, Kansas City; Derrick Gibson, Oakland
Al: Did you see Tiki Barber set the New York Giants record for most rushing yards in a single game against Kansas City? Then you saw quite a bit of Greg Wesley. Rather, you saw quite a bit of Barber running past Wesley after he missed tackle after tackle. 21 percent of the rushing yards allowed by Kansas City came on runs of ten yards or more, sixth worst in the league, in no small part because of the poor tackling of Wesley.
As fellow Outsider Mike Tanier put it to us, "Derrick Gibson has to be the worst safety ever to start about three full seasons."
Other players considered: Troy Vincent, Eugene Wilson.
Kris Brown, Houston
Vivek: Kris Brown might be Houston's MVP, if you consider the fact that Brown single-handedly gift wrapped Reggie Bush for the Texans. Brown missed two field goal attempts at Tennessee, including a complete shank of potential game-tying field try as time expired, then failed on a 31-yard attempt late in a 20-17 overtime loss to San Francisco. Brown's conversion percentage was better than last year, but his penchant for missing key kicks this year just added to the debate about whether the Texans were throwing in the towel.
I'll give an honorable mention to Jose Cortez. It is amazing that he is playing for a Super Bowl favorite, even though it is his fourth team of the season. Cortez started 2005 with Dallas and faced the wrath of Bill Parcells after missing one field goal during a one-point loss to the Redskins. Bill Parcells finally made a change after Cortez missed three kicks in a two-game span, both of which the Cowboys lost by a field goal. He lasted with the Eagles for a month before heading to San Francisco, and then the Colts signed him to be the team's kickoff specialist. Needless to say, Cortez has not attempted one field goal since his Dallas tenure.
Al: We should just give an honorable mention to all of Dallas' kickers this year. In addition to Cortez, Billy Cundiff and Steve Suisham both missed big kicks for the Cowboys this season.
B.J. Sander, Green Bay
Al: At Football Outsiders, we've made more than one snide remark in the direction of the New York Jets for their decision to draft Mike Nugent in the second round of this past year's draft. At least, however, the Jets didn't trade up to grab Nugent, as the Packers did two years ago when they moved up in the third round to draft another kicker out of Ohio State, punter B.J. Sander.
Vivek: We're all numbers guys here, and the numbers don't lie with Sander. He averaged 39.2 yards per punt and a league worst 34.5 net yards on each kick. He was also near the bottom of the league in kicks inside the 20-yard line, only ahead of punters from San Francisco and Baltimore. Neither of those two teams could move the ball, so of course it would be hard for their punters to reach the opponents' 20. Green Bay at least had Favre slinging the ball.
Al: My team is done. Tim is in the lead thanks to Steve Smith, Tom Brady, and Jerome Bettis. We'll begin to update the "Best of the Rest" teams next week when we know which first-round teams actually made it through two games.
|QB||Manning, NYG||-3||Plummer, Den||0||Manning, IND||0|
|RB||Alexander, SEA||0||James, IND||0||Johnson, CIN||12|
|RB||Anderson, DEN||0||Foster, CAR||15||Dillon, NE||5|
|WR||Smith, DEN||0||Galloway, TB||6||Moss, WAS||2|
|WR||Ward, PIT||7||Branch, NE||3||Engram, SEA||0|
|WR||Jurevicius, SEA||0||Houshmandzadeh, CIN||8||Smith, JAC||3|
|TE||Stevens, SEA||0||Clark, IND||0||Miller, PIT||1|
|K||Brown, SEA||0||Vinatieri, NE||4||Elam, DEN||0|
|DEF||New England||16||Chicago||0||New York Giants||1|
|QB||Hasselbeck, SEA||0||Palmer, CIN||3||Brady, NE||22|
|RB||Barber, NYG||6||Jones, CHI||0||Williams, TB||3|
|RB||Bell, DEN||0||Portis, WAS||11||Bettis, PIT||11|
|WR||Wayne, IND||0||Harrison, IND||0||Smith, CAR||21|
|WR||Jackson, SEA||0||Johnson, CIN||5||Muhammad, CHI||0|
|WR||Toomer, NYG||3||Burress, NYG||0||Lelie, DEN||0|
|TE||Watson, NE||15||Shockey, NYG||5||Cooley, WAS||1|
|K||Vanderjagt, IND||0||Feely, NYG||0||Gould, CHI||0|
Vivek: (2-2 last week; 2-2 playoffs)
I'm still protesting the incomplete pass call on Edell Shepherd. I still see that he had possession before he hit the ground. With the way Chris Simms was running Tampa Bay's offense, I might have been ahead in the win column if that call was overturned.
Say all you want about a weak schedule, but 8-0 at home is undefeated no matter how you analyze it. The Redskins are playing on borrowed time, and the question is how are they going to score enough points to keep up with Shaun Alexander and friends. Mark Brunell has not been effective since hurting his leg against the Giants, completing only 16-of-40 pass attempts for 182 yards in two games. It looks like Santana Moss will be returning punts this week, so the Redskins had better hope that he breaks free on one.
This is a different New England team than the one that lost 28-20 in Denver earlier this season. The New England defense, for starters, will not be giving up the big plays like it did in the first game â€“ a 68-yard run by Tatum Bell, a 55-yard reception by Ashley Lelie and a 72-yard touchdown strike from Jake Plummer to Rod Smith. Key players who were absent during New England's first trip to Denver: Tedy Bruschi, Corey Dillon and Richard Seymour. Like I said, this is a different team. You know that the Colts are pulling for the Broncos.
I just noticed that every playoff game this week is a rematch of a regular season game. Like my first two picks, I'm going with the loser to come out on top this week. The Carolina defense shouldn't yield more than one touchdown, and Deshaun Foster, while not as good as he appeared last week, will still get his yards. Carolina 17-7.
The Colts, like the Patriots, are healthy now. Cato June, Corey Simon, Bob Sanders, Robert Mathis, and Montae Reagor should be at or near top shape for this weekend's game. The Steelers, who averaged nearly 180 yards on the ground in the past six games, were held in check (86 yards) during their previous meeting. The Indianapolis defensive line can win the battle on the line, and the end game result will be the same.
Al: (1-3 last week; 1-3 playoffs)
What a great start to the postseason.
Washington's defense has been firing on all cylinders lately, but the Redskins haven't gone up against an offensive line as good as Seattle's during their end of the season run. With Renaldo Wynn out for the season and Phillip Daniels lined up against Walter Jones and Steve Hutchinson, Washington's defensive line will not be able to put the same pressure on Matt Hasselbeck that they have been recently putting on opposing quarterbacks. Given time, Hasselbeck should be able to exploit the injuries in Washington's secondary and put points up on the board.
The Patriots had a nice run, but it will end on Saturday. The Patriots won't be able to run the ball against Denver's great front seven with a hobbled Corey Dillon and Kevin Faulk. Darrent Williams expects to be back in the lineup for Denver, returning one of the league's best pass defenses to full strength.
There's always the risk that Peyton Manning blows out his ACL on the first play from scrimmage, but I wouldn't bet on it. The Colts are going to roll through the post season, starting with a big win over the Steelers.
This line should be at least twice what it is. The Bears actually have linebackers that can tackle, which means the Panthers shouldn't have the same success running the ball that they had last week against the Giants. I'm not expecting the Bears to light up the scoreboard against the Panthers, but they should get enough field goals to outscore an inevitable Steve Smith touchdown.
79 comments, Last at 16 Jan 2006, 12:23am by CaffeineMan