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?
25 Oct 2006
by Bill Barnwell & Ian Dembsky
Bill: Let's start it off with a rule question. Brian Westbrook is alone on the Buccaneers 2-yard line with about 30 seconds to go, and no Tampa player, from replay, appears to be within ten yards of him. Furthermore, he has a colleague hanging out with him. The score he would create when the ball crossed the plane would give the Eagles a likely insurmountable lead (ignore Matt Bryant for now). So here's my question. Why did he go into the end zone?
Couldn't he have just stood around on the one foot line and waited for someone to try and tackle him? Shouldn't his teammate have blocked to keep tacklers who'd likely given up already -- and, judging from the Buccaneers defense's tackling on that play, had given up before Westbrook had even gotten the ball -- away from him while Westbrook killed time? Can the referee blow the whistle if all the ballcarrier is doing is standing still? If so, couldn't he have just run in place around the one-yard line? How much time could he have run off the clock? Five seconds? More? Would that have won them the game? Westbrook even slowed down as he got to the two, as if he was thinking about stopping, and then creaked across the goal line. Of course, he left just enough time for Matt Bryant, who busted out the ROBO-KICKER Halloween costume about a week and a half too early.
Ian: Brian Westbrook absolutely could have done that. Despite many instances of this situation arising in NFL games past, however, I've never seen it actually done. Heck, after breaking five tackles en route to one of the most amazing touchdown runs I've ever seen, who could blame him for not thinking about it? Laying blame on him for not stopping at the one and waiting is ridiculous after what he'd just accomplished. If Donovan McNabb hadn't gift-wrapped two touchdowns to Ronde Barber, the loss wouldn't be Westbrook's fault.
If you think about it, that game was almost the Arizona-Chicago game in reverse. Tampa could get nothing going offensively, but scored early on defensive touchdowns. The Eagles offense came alive in the second half, scoring just enough to take the lead. But instead of missing the game-winner, Matt Bryant hit a ridiculous 62-yarder.
Bill: It was really Halloween week all across the NFL. Joey Harrington threw 62 passes, which seems like some misguided attempt to try and get someone's attention on either his or Nick Saban's part. Maybe Saban was trying to get Brady Quinn's attention. At this point, Miami is seriously in the Quinn sweepstakes: they're 1-6 and have Chicago, Kansas City, Minnesota, Detroit, Jacksonville, and New England after the bye. How many of those games can they seriously be expected to win at this point? Furthermore, can they really give up on Daunte Culpepper and Joey Harrington and draft Quinn?
Ian: If Miami does continue their awful play and finish in a position to take Brady Quinn, I don't see them doing it. They just have too many needs all over the field, too much money tied to Culpepper, and Harrington has been serviceable as a quarterback. They really need to look into upgrading their offensive line so they can revolve the offense around Ronnie Brown, with a little play-action mixed in.
Seriously though, does anyone know what's going to happen from one week to the next at this point? Kansas City continued their run as the league's schizophrenics, beating the San Diego Chargers one week after being demolished by the Steelers, one week after annihilating the 49ers. Oakland beat up on a Cardinals team that almost shocked the Bears one week prior. Atlanta and Pittsburgh, two teams that like to run the ball as much as anyone else, had an aerial shootout. And finally, the Houston Texans manhandled the Jaguars in one of the most surprising final outcomes so far this season. Just goes to show you -- any given Sunday.
Jacksonville is certainly a confusing team. Their defense looks dominant at times, and horrible at others. I also get tired of people commenting on Byron Leftwich's windmill-like throwing motion -- it's the way he throws; deal with it. Funny how people only bring it up after poor performances.
Speaking of poor performances, I don't understand why there's even a debate about benching Drew Bledsoe. Tony Romo should be the starter for now and for the future. Romo looked excellent in relief of Bledsoe. The only problem with his performance was the three interceptions. I chalk those up to the crazy pressure under which he was put in his first NFL snaps. Monday Night Football against the Giants, when your team has been struggling and is currently behind? It's no wonder his picks came in an attempt to force the ball. The most important things he did were using his legs to buy time in the pocket, and looking to get the ball to Terrell Owens often. If he can practice all week knowing he's the starter, I anticipate he won't be as careless with the football in the future, and he'll keep both T.O. and the Dallas faithful happy.
Hey, Terrell Owens: Unless you're going to catch wide-open passes on fourth down, quit being a prima donna and shut up. Had to be said.
If you're smart enough to be making money off of my Worst Bets, you knew that the Colts were going to blow out the Redskins at home after I picked the 'Skins to keep things close. Fantasy owners of Peyton Manning rejoice! Not only did he get the ball to his wideouts all game, he even looked for them over and over at the one-yard line. The true test of whether this is a trend or an aberration will come next week, when the Colts head to Denver for a fascinating match-up of an offensive touchdown machine against a defense that almost never allows any. If Denver wants to believe they can advance in the AFC playoffs, they'll need to make a statement this Sunday at home against Indy.
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Bill: You may have read in Audibles this week that I was slightly inebriated (from Saturday's merriment, even) whilst watching the 1 PM games last Sunday. I bring this up to explain what was, probably, the highlight of the day before Vince Wilfork was straining to pick his nose on live television. CBS cut away and showed a highlight of the Chiefs' third touchdown, a short Larry Johnson run. Nothing new. As the highlight faded, though, James Brown informed the world that Lawrence Tynes had, in fact, missed the PAT. My reaction to this was not to chuckle, or smile, or even to guffaw. Instead, I screamed "YES!" loudly enough that I was immediately ashamed of myself. Keep in mind that I don't have Lawrence Tynes on my Loser League team, and even if I did, and I ended up winning Loser League, all I would win was a copy of the book I help write. With all that being said, this missed extra point was still so glorious. I love the Loser League with all my heart.
QB: Not a bad week for quarterbacks in Week 6, especially compared to Rex Grossman's going-back-in party the week before. Bruce Gradkowski remains a tantalizing option for second half Loser League teams, but no one has him now, making his 6 sadly useless. Instead, low score for quarterbacks is Byron Leftwich, who recorded a 6 while throwing like Peter Gabriel. Charlie Frye had a fourth-quarter touchdown push him to a 9, which earns him the second sad sack. Actually, if we could hand out trinkets for appearing in this part of the column the same way international soccer players received caps in the earlier part of the century (with the name sticking around to this day), I'd like to think that we could ship Charlie Frye some silica gel with a frown on it.
RB: Willie Parker may have been out back counting stars with Ben Roethlisberger in the second half of the Falcons game. He followed Big Ben's injury by suffering a ten-yard loss and fumbling on the next play, which seems like some misguided attempt to break the DVOA spreadsheet and/or an equally-misguided homage to Edgerrin James' performance last week. After that, he carried the ball five times for nine yards. His 2 for the week was tied with Dominic Rhodes for the low score in the AFC. On the NFC tip, meanwhile, it was the same sad story. When I announced my Loser League team this year, I noted that I'd picked Edgerrin James because one of the first comments in the Loser League thread was daring people to do so, as if it would be a dangerous move. Once rosters get reset, it's going to be hard to find a team that doesn't select James. 13 carries, 34 yards, one catch, four yards, 3 points. On the bright side, at least the Cardinals offensive coordinator can apparently be Matt Leinart's wingman, or they can play Sega together or something. I'm not sure what Denny Green's justification really was yet. Mike Alstott gets the Honorary Mention; he had no rushes, but caught two balls for zero yards.
WR: Braylon Edwards ran into the Denver #1 WR-killing machine this week -- two catches and six yards receiving get you a 0, young man. Eric Moulds, part of the most productive WR tandem in football, only scored 1 point. (Meanwhile, his partner Andre Johnson, while scoring his touchdown, had to suffer what would be considered sexual harassment in most workplaces.) Amani Toomer has all but returned back to the form that made him a cornerstone of my Loser League selections, earning a 2. What's the equivalent of a contract year in Loser League? Finally, Roddy White spent another week not being Atlanta's top receiver, earning a sole point by a single yard.
K: Sure, Lawrence Tynes may have hit (two) game-winning kicks against the Chargers this week. He can't hide in the Loser League. Despite hitting the aforementioned game-winning field goal and three extra points, Tynes' misses earned low score of the week with a -1. Don't miss extra points, kids. Phil Dawson and Josh Scobee also made cameos by hitting a lone extra point each.
Ryan: I wrote in the preseason asking for advice for drafting a dynasty league. Well now that league is in full swing, and I feel I've got a solid team, I need some wide receiver help, for now or for the future. Basically, I'm not sure how a first-round pick in next year's draft should be valued, and if I can exploit this to either get a player for one of my draft picks, or stock up on draft picks. We have a 25-player roster, so pretty much anyone is on a team (10 teams). At the end of the season we'll drop five players and have a five-round draft of league free agents and rookies. Basically my question is: how big of an impact do you think a pick around 5-7 would have in such a draft? And what should I expect to get if I traded my first rounder?
Ian: Wow, that's a deep league. 250 players are on rosters, and 200 will be kept going into the next season. As a point of reference, I looked at the top 200-rated fantasy players in my league, and around 200 come such standout players as Josh Reed, Daniel Graham, Hank Baskett and Bobby Engram. Safe to say, you won't be spending your first-round pick on anyone who was in the league last season.
What you will be going for, however, is rookies. Every season there will be a number of impact rookies, at least ten of which are usually worth drafting for keeper league fantasy rosters. A pick in the 5-7 range should get you a nice shot at a rookie with upside. So the question becomes: What are you giving up to get that pick? If the answer is a Greg Jennings, or a Marques Colston, I'm not sure you're not better off just hanging onto those guys. To give up a proven commodity for a chance on the fifth rookie selection at best just doesn't seem worth it. If you can deal away your first-rounder to get a player of such caliber, I'd recommend doing it in a league where so many players are kept season-to-season.
Ian: This week's Keep Choppin' Wood Award goes to Brian Westbrook, for not stopping at the one-yard line and waiting for the clock to run out. When your team just takes a lead, and there's less than a minute ... no, no, we're kidding. Let's pick someone who actually deserves the award.
Candidates that fell short include Jake Delhomme and Drew Bledsoe, for terrible goal-line turnovers. Edgerrin James' run of misery merited some consideration (he's certainly in the running for the season-long award). Even Donovan McNabb was in the picture this week thanks to digging his team a huge hole with two pick-sixes.
Bill: They were all deserving, but this week's Keep Choppin' Wood Award goes to the assorted members of the San Diego secondary who, for the second time this season, have shown comically bad tackling near the goal line. In their loss to Baltimore, Todd Heap caught a ball several yards short of the goal line and, despite being around several Chargers players, bounced into the end zone while avoiding what appeared to be several Chargers attempting to give him dead arms and Indian burns. Meanwhile, in their game against the Chiefs this week, Larry Johnson's first touchdown had all the imagery of an American Gladiator (pick your favorite -- Nitro, maybe) running through so many contestants with ease. It isn't two-hand touch, gentlemen.
Bill: (1-2 last week, 12-8-1 overall)
My first losing week of the season. Not only that, I let Catholic Match Girl down. I am ashamed. And you don't want to see Catholic Match Girl's disapproval eyes. That is, assuming those aren't her disapproval eyes. On the bright side, I did get the Giants game right, even down to Tony Romo coming in during the third quarter. And, on the even brighter side, LB #55 tore his ACL! Maybe he can read the playbook if he gets bored not rehabbing.
Oh, how the tables have turned! Welcome to the light side, Baltimore. I don't know if Steve McNair is playing in this game and, realistically, I hope he's not -- I think the Ravens really have a better shot with Kyle Boller. Well, for the first three quarters at least. Maybe they could employ McNair as football's first closer. Brian Billick's a quarterback guru; I'm sure he could ... oh, that ship's already sailed, hasn't it? Oh well. I know that I'm probably setting myself up for failure betting against the Saints at home, but I think the Ravens grind out a win here.
Sometimes, I think Vegas just has a read on something and I decide to trust the line. There's no reason, at first, to think the 1-5 Browns are going to beat the 4-3 Jets. And then, you look at the Team Efficiency chart and see that the Jets are 25th, according to DAVE, and the Browns are 24th. After that, you realize that Leigh Bodden may very well be back to cover Laveranues Coles, and that the Jets have been the beneficiaries of a little bit of luck (and some tenderness) and a lot of stinky teams showing up in New Jersey this season. Browns take this, and Reuben Droughns has his first big day of the season. For those of you who have Sunday Ticket, try and watch the first half of this game. I understand that may be a struggle, but you have to see how bad the Jets run defense is to believe it. You could put me and the FOX Blog commentator of your choice (since they've all played the game before) behind five Rob Pettiti's and I could run for 100 yards. Easy.
Clearly Vegas did not read the Football Outsiders Commenter RPS Corollary. Colts win in the Catholic Match Girl Staredown Lock of the Week. Colts fans, I may have just cursed your team.
Ian: (0-2-1 last week, 6-12-3 overall)
Another successful week for the Worst Bets, as the Colts and Texans proved me wrong. Only a push in Cincinnati prevented me from the 0-3 record I so desired.
Seriously, how often do you get to lay over 16 points? After last week's horrible showing by the Bears offense, the perfect tackling dummy comes to town -- the San Francisco 49ers. I like the direction the Niners are headed lately, but this game is certain to set them back. The Bears don't like to sit on leads at home -- they like to pound you into submission. No problems here.
As I said before, I expect Tony Romo to start (Parcells can't be stupid enough to let Bledsoe drop back against Julius Peppers and the Carolina pass rush), and I expect Romo to perform well. This feels like a high-scoring, back-and-forth affair, so I'm taking the Cowboys and the points.
Bill Belichick is smart. He knows that the Minnesota offense needs its running game to be working if the Vikings are to move the ball. So he will do what it takes to stop the running game. Easier said than done, I know, but he will do whatever it takes to make Brad Johnson beat them through the air. Meanwhile, don't think that Laurence Maroney isn't fired up to be playing back in Minnesota. Expect a big game from him.
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