Our offseason Four Downs series continues with a division-by-division look at each team's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. In the NFC North, quality wide receivers and defensive backs are in short supply.
20 Sep 2006
by Bill Barnwell and Ian Dembsky
Bill: I try and make being conspicuously wrong a habit, if solely to make the FO readership feel on the level. Sure, maybe not everyone has the knowledge and analytical skill to do work like Mike Tanier. God knows I don't. My role on the wonderful Football Outsiders website is to make refutable statements, watch them be refuted, and then blindly shake my head like I'm a five year old. Then, when you are right, faithful readers, you get to feel like you are smarter than me. It is not my incompetence but merely a psychological exercise to boost egos around the world. Except for mine.
With that all in mind, it is my privilege and pleasure to say that I was, in fact, very wrong about the Eagles passing attack. For three quarters of regulation, the Philadelphia Eagles' pass offense was not, in fact, equal to that of the Giants' pass defense; in fact, Donovan McNabb and company made me dream of Conrad Hamilton and Phillippi Sparks. Fortunately for me (and Ian), the Giants were simply laying in wait, something that had nothing to do with the Eagles pass offense whatsoever. In fact, the only reason the Giants had the opportunity to make good on their second drive in overtime were glaring drops by L.J. Smith and Donte' Stallworth, who very much looked like a breakout receiver during the game.
Oh, and I've said this about two dozen times, but it still terrifies me: Eli Manning plays quarterback like your seven-year-old cousin playing Madden. He makes all the throws -- the chicken with his head cut off bullet, the one where he lobs it over the middle and his receiver makes a sliding catch in traffic (which the FOX announcers preposterously complemented him for afterwards), and finally the definitive Madden throw where he was panicked by two unblocked blitzers and tapped a receiver button as fast as he possibly could. Of course, like Madden (at least, Madden '04), Plaxico Burress caught the ball with little or no interference from the defensive back, ran over him, and waltzed into the end zone. Exactly how they drew it up.
Ian: Not to take anything away from McNabb, Stallworth, L.J. Smith and the rest of the Eagles' passing attack, but any team can move the ball through the air at will when the other team can't get within five yards of the quarterback. Where was the Giants' pass rush? Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora and the rest of the D-Line were totally shut down, leaving McNabb all day to scan the field and find the open receiver. Ever play 4-on-3 football with friends, and you add a 5-Mississippi rule where the quarterback is simply down if he doesn't throw the ball by then? That rule is put into place because otherwise he can just stand there all day, and of course, he'll eventually find an open receiver. Watching the Eagles pass was like that, but with no time limit. Frankly, I was mostly disappointed that the Eagles didn't run up the score more than they did, given the lack of defensive resistance.
Elsewhere around the league, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are one bad week away from breaking out the retro-creamsicle uniforms. Two weeks, no touchdowns scored. The strange thing is that as a long-time Bucs fan I'm not really all that depressed about it. Performances like this were my entire childhood. The year we won a Super Bowl was an incredible one, and nothing can take that away. If we're headed for another ten seasons of suckitude, it's nothing I haven't been through before -- but at least we won a title.
Atlanta deserves some major praise. There's nothing more deflating to a defense than facing an offense that can simply run the ball at will on you, and that's what the Falcons have been able to do. It's becoming clearer and clearer that whether or not Michael Vick can pass accurately is not important. What's more important is the way he, Warrick Dunn, and Jerious Norwood can team up to give a team fits trying to stop the run. Maybe the New Orleans Saints should teach Reggie Bush to pass the ball with mild efficiency, then run him out there as a quarterback. It helps to have the ball in the hands of your best player on every play.
Another team that deserves some major praise is the New York Jets, even in losing. It turns out that the perfect complement to Chad Pennington is receivers that can maximize their yards after the catch. Laveranues Coles has been electric, and Jerricho Cotchery has also provided a nice spark in the passing game. Chad's strength has always been to deliver short, accurate passes, and it seems the Jets are doing their best to take advantage of that. If they can keep this up, perhaps the Under bet on the Jets won't be the most likely of scenarios.
One big help to the Jets' potential success this season is the demise of what looked to be a promising season for the Miami Dolphins. Enough about Daunte Culpepper not quite back from injury -- he was terrible against the Bills regardless! Repeated early fumbles that simply slipped out of his hands, red zone passes directly to Bills defenders, holding the ball in the pocket way too long -- these are not symptoms of a bad knee. These are symptoms of a bad quarterback. The thing that irked me the most watching Sunday's game is how infrequently Ronnie Brown touched the football. Ronnie Brown is one of those few running backs that can seriously make defenders miss. He hasn't looked that much worse than Larry Johnson running with the football this season, except that Miami won't hand him the damn ball, and when they do, the offensive line is barely giving him daylight. In a relatively close game against Buffalo, Brown compiled 132 yards on a mere 21 touches, 15 touches coming via the handoff. This is far too few touches for a player averaging over six yards per play.
Some other quick hits from around the league: My goodness did the Jaguars defense look incredible Monday night. Should be a heck of a game at Indianapolis this weekend. Will the Colts even bother to hand the ball off? ... The only time I'm ever picking Green Bay again this season is in my Loser Survivor picks pool ... Looks like Arizona's offense still isn't strong enough to be productive against defenses both good and bad ... Could Philip Rivers' NFL career possibly have gotten off to a better start? What better spot for a rookie quarterback to be in than on a team with a dominating defense and running game ... Finally, a thanks to Bill Parcells for wearing a puffy jacket this week and keeping his boobs to himself. Stick with it Bill; it's a good look for you.
Bill: Let's not talk about my team's Loser League performance this week. I am blinded by both my rage at Amani Toomer for ruining my LL team's week and my love for him for bringing the Giants back from the dead.
QB: I can't imagine that many people drafted Andrew Walter for their Loser League team, but if you did, you got paid off this week. He rolled a nice big zero this week, but he'll always be strong-armed. Maybe he can fire his wildly thrown balls through someone's chest next week and scare defenders away. Kerry Collins may also have not found many Loser League rosters because of the timing of his signing, but his -2 this week rewarded those brave souls who took a chance on him. Among those quarterbacks who were expected to start at the season's inception, there weren't too many awful weeks. J.P. Losman and Mark Brunell's 8s and Steve McNair and Jake Delhomme's 9s were the low-water marks for Week 2.
RB: Last one on the Kevin Jones bandwagon might want to put a forwarding address up. Several years from now, is he going to be our Jackie Rexrode? Our Jack Cust? Monster K did his falling-down-running-home equivalent this week by only gaining 82 yards from scrimmage and fumbling twice, leading to a 4. DeShaun Foster, who might be the captain of "STEVE HOLT!" if I could specify such a thing, non-delivered this week in spades. While he sadly did not fumble, a 3 for the week will do nicely. Cadillac Williams and Ron Dayne were equally effective, while those participants hardy enough to prescribe Cedric Benson playing time were rewarded this week with a 2.
WR: Only two wide receivers fumbled the ball this week, which sadly means that no one had the coveted negative score. Antwaan Randle El led the way this week with a zero -- that's right; he couldn't even muster ten combined yards on his two catches. There's your deep threat, Redskins fan. But hey, he's a great emergency quarterback. Beyond that, a veritable boatload of guys ended up scoring a sole point this week: Peerless Price, Reche Caldwell, Rod Smith, Lee Evans, and Michael Jenkins all showed up in spirit alone this week.
K: No missed extra points in Week 2, which makes for a less exciting Nugent Zone. That being said, Michael Koenen somehow managed to miss four field goals this week, keeping a woeful Tampa Bay in their game versus the Falcons and racking up a league-wide low of -5 for the week. The only competition for negative numbers this week at kicker consisted of his opponent, Matt Bryant, who missed two field goals on the way to a -1 performance.
You can now check the progress of your Loser League team. Click the button at the top left of the page, or click here. One important note: Due to a server error, we somehow ended up with a bunch of teams that had no owner data. One of them might be yours. If you don't see your team's name, send your team roster, your name, city, state, country if necessary, and nickname that you entered at signup to Patrick Laverty at Pat-at-footballoutsiders.com. (Please put "footballoutsiders" in the subject line.) Assuming you get most of your roster right, we'll synch up the team with your name and information.
Bill (2-1 last week, 4-2 overall)
What, am I supposed to give Detroit some respect here? They've been absolutely miserable to start off the season. Roy Williams is clearly angling to be the "Don't" side of a Powerpoint at the Rookie Symposium next year. I'm pretty sure Mike Martz is charging the Lions on a page-by-page basis for his playbook and Ford is cutting costs. The Packers have looked about awful the first two weeks of the season, too, but I'm going to stand by my predicted (shudder) NFC North (shudder) champions. Hey, Rex Grossman can't stay healthy much longer. Right?
Only part of this pick is in the hopes that Ian won't get his jersey. That's an awful way to gamble, but I feel pretty confident that Baltimore's been matched up against some even more awful opposition these first two weeks. Steve McNair, as Aaron points out in this week's Quick Reads, hasn't been at all effective these first two weeks. I think that Baltimore's defense has the potential to dominate this game, but I don't see their offense doing very much. Baltimore might win, but it's been two games. If this game had been the season opener, the Ravens wouldn't be giving seven points on the road, and I think it's still safe to operate under that mode.
Atlanta makes its third straight appearance in my Best Bets, and they're on the good side for the second week in a row. While it's a small sample, Michael Vick is undefeated as a starter against the Saints. While Vick is about as good of a passer on grass (76.0 QB rating) as he is on turf (76.2), he averages over a yard more per carry running on turf than he does on grass, and 18 of his 20 career touchdowns have come on the hard stuff (where, granted, he's played 41 of 60 games.) I'm not saying that will make the difference in this game, but it's a little thing to think about. I just don't see the New Orleans defensive line being able to stop the Falcons' rushing attack, and if the Falcons can get any of their walking wounded on defense back, the Saints' offensive line will struggle with the Atlanta pass rush. Reggie Bush is really dynamic on an exercise bike. You'll be seeing a lot of that on Sunday while Atlanta runs down the Saints defense. The FO FOX blog has more on the Saints and other recent teams that started fast after losing seasons.
Ian (2-1 last week, 3-3 overall)
After last season's playoff exit at the hands of the Broncos, Brady and the Patriots want revenge. Denver's biggest strength has been its running game, but New England has the strength up front to neutralize it. Given the way Jake Plummer's been struggling, I can't imagine him having a good game on the road this week. Look for the Patriots to win on the backs of their defense with just enough offense to make the victory a comfortable one.
Ugh. Julius Peppers, meet Chris Simms. That should be worth a couple of turnovers in and of itself. I expect Carolina to win because I expect them to protect the football better, and as a result win a relatively close game by booting a few more field goals than the Bucs. This one is likely to be an ugly game -- especially for Tampa Bay.
Who would've thought when the season started this would be such a big game? If Chicago wins this game on the road, the Vikings have a long way to go to win the division. If Minnesota can hold serve, then the Week 13 game in Chicago will likely be for the division crown. I've been pimping the Vikings up to this point, and I'm sticking with them. Look for a very similar game to Minnesota's first two games -- low-scoring, high-punting, close finish. It might not be a game with a lot of fireworks, but it will sure be fun to watch.
Ian: Another win for the Ravens, another game closer to them hitting the Over and me winning my Ed Reed jersey. The funny thing is, though, the Ravens victory over the hapless Raiders was more disconcerting than concerting as far as the Ravens' chances of making the over. Steve McNair and the offense really have not been getting it done. Dominating defensive efforts should produce more offense than we've seen from Baltimore so far. His long throws have not been accurate, and the running game hasn't been especially successful. McNair is doing enough to let his defense win, but he was brought in for more than that. That being said, next week's game at Cleveland should have the Ravens off to a 3-0 start.
Bill: I just want to note that the Ravens have played the Buccaneers and Raiders so far. In addition, Michael Irvin ranked them #1 in his top five thingamajig this week, which I'm pretty sure is some hard, empirical evidence that they're bound to come down real soon.
Thomas: I'm 0-2 in my 14 team PPR Fantasy League with 14 roster spots. As I enter week 3, should I drop the likes of Chris Simms? I already have Chad Pennington and Alex Smith. Also, should I give up hope that the Colts D will morph into an elite defense and drop them and just play the weekly matchups?
Bill: Thomas, let me answer the second part of your question first. Aaron wrote a lengthy piece on projecting defensive performance in this year's Pro Football Prospectus 2006. If you bought the book, I'd advise you to take a look at that; if you didn't, well, shame on you. I'll answer the question anyway though. It depends on a few things -- how many free agent defenses are available? If 16 are available, then you're likely to find a good matchup each week, and I'd recommend that you go on a week-by-week basis; if there are only eight, well, you might want to give it a second thought. How active are the other owners in your league at signing/waiving free agents, particularly free agent defenses? Are you going to be able to beat them to the punch each week when it comes to getting the best matchup? Finally, is there a transaction fee? Are you willing to eat that fee each week? In a league with no fee, lazy owners (besides you of course), and 14-16 freely available defenses a week, I would go on a week-by-week basis. Otherwise, I'd probably just stick it out with Indy. They're in a weak division and it's only two weeks in.
Another week full of honorable mentions for the Keep Choppin' Wood award. Roy Williams and his bogus "guarantee" warrants consideration. Daunte Culpepper truly looked terrible in leading the â€˜Fins, though he's not calling his own plays, and handing off to Ronnie Brown more would have made his life a lot easier. Chris Gamble's terrible, well, gamble did not pay off when his lateral attempt after a Minnesota punt went terribly awry. Kerry Collins continues to show no good reason why he's the Titans quarterback and Billy Volek is headed elsewhere. Meanwhile, Chris Simms certainly did his part to try and repeat as the KCW winner for the week.
All that being said though, the winner has to have been a part of one of the biggest choke-jobs this season, that of the Philadelphia Eagles. The winner is none other than Trent Cole, whose completely unnecessary personal foul turned the tying field goal attempt from a 50-yarder, where Giants kicker Feely is 6-of-15 lifetime, into a 35-yarder, where he's 56-of-64. Not only was this the likely decider between the Eagles' winning and the game going into overtime, but what in the world was he thinking?!? Talk about losing your cool at the absolute worst possible moment. Individual efforts as boneheaded as this deserve both an earful from the coach and a Keep Choppin' Wood award.
114 comments, Last at 28 Sep 2006, 12:58pm by Josh