Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

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12 Sep 2008

Panic! at the Walkthrough

by Mike Tanier

The Panic Button is conveniently located at the top of the control panel. It is bright red, with flashing lights that emit a loud siren and a soothing aroma -- therapeutic white pine scent. In the event of a household intruder or zombie war, simply press the button and you'll be whisked to your panic room, a closet-sized space in the middle of your house stocked with flashlights, non-perishable foods, and Season 2 of My Name is Earl on DVD.

In the event of a season-opening loss, or a victory marred by serious injuries, you can also press the panic button. You'll be given a brown paper bag to breathe into and a long list of reassuring rationalizations and scapegoats for the Week 1 catastrophe. Dolby surround sound speakers will play a continuous loop of "All manner of things shall be well" as spoken by Morgan Freeman.

Yes, it's National Jump to Conclusions Week, and the Football Outsiders team is here to prevent fans of the Patriots, Colts, Seahawks, and other teams from pounding on that big red button. It's only one game. From a statistical standpoint, Week 1 results have almost no predictive value. Even casual fans can remember teams that went from opening day futility to postseason glory: the Giants last year, the Patriots in 2003. And so on.

We do this every year, and because Walkthrough posts on Thursday I will probably be the fifth or sixth FO writer to mention NJCW. Longtime readers know the drill. But it's time we addressed a few important issues:

1) Few people really jump to conclusions after Week 1. The water cooler talk in your office on Monday was probably rational and measured. Sure, fans of good teams that played up to their preseason billing (Cowboys, Steelers) puffed their chests a bit. Fans of filter feeders who played poorly (Lions, Rams) accepted that this isn't the year to make Super Bowl plans. But fans of surprise winners and losers usually take Week 1 in stride. "We looked good, now let's build some momentum," a Bills fan might say. "Great game, but when did the Temple Owls start wearing Rams uniforms?" was the consensus opinion I heard in Philly.

Local columnists are no different. Searching through regional newspapers, I found few Chicken Little diatribes from Seattle or Jacksonville. There were no "End of an Era" pronouncements in the often histrionic Boston newspapers. Even television analysts, who seem to be paid by the inanity, adopted the "it's only Week 1" stance more often than not. When Steve Mariucci offered an overenthusiastic assessment of Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco after their NFL debuts, Deion Sanders (of all people) pointed to the Falcons running game, the Ravens defense, and the weak opposition before summing the rookie passers up with a cautionary "to be determined, to be determined."

Who jumps to conclusions? A) Hysterical message board posters, many of whom are 15 years old. B) Non-fans who adopt over-optimistic or pessimistic attitudes about the local team because it makes them look more interested or informed. C) The worst of the Screamin' All Afternoon talking heads. In other words, no one who puts a lot of heart into their football opinions.

As real fans, we keep our powder dry. But we do overreact a little, at least during the echo of the final gun, because that's human nature. In our subconscious, our ids count future Super Bowl rings or contemplate the first pick in the 2009 draft, while our superegos dole out reason and the wisdom of experience. (I know Freudian analysis is largely discredited. It's a damn football column. Work with me.) By Monday, our egos are saying nice things about Richard Seymour.

2) Week 1 matters. Tom Brady's injury matters. The fact that the Seahawks used Seneca Wallace as a punt returner matters. One game is 6.25 percent of the season, and if you don't think six percent matters, take that part of your salary and send it to me. The Jaguars and Redskins lost to divisional opponents; those games will matter in January. Some of what we saw on Sunday confirmed suspicions we held in August. The Colts could be in trouble with a rookie center and a rusty Peyton Manning. The Browns aren't a real contender. The Redskins offense is a parsnip. Week 1 solidified many of those hypotheses, and it would be foolish to cover our eyes and say that nothing we saw last weekend had lingering implications.

There's a danger of become too tragically hip during National Jump to Conclusions Week. "Oh, you think the Steelers are good? Silly troglodyte. Don't you know that Week 1 results have no predictive relevance?" Over six percent of precincts have reported, and while we can't declare winners and losers, we have a respectable sample size of evidence to work with.

We shouldn't jump to conclusions, but we must hop toward stronger assertions. HTSA week? Why not?

Widespread Panic

Some people should be nervous after the opener. Sixteen teams lost last week, but some of them entered the season with low expectations: the Lions, Niners, and Rams. A few good teams lost close games against credible opponents, like the Chargers and Buccaneers: disappointing, but no reason for sweaty palms. The Jaguars lost a close game to a credible opponent, but there was more to it than that. The Redskins lost a game they were supposed to lose, but the Redskins are fun to write about, so they made the cut. And of course, one team won a game but lost a quarterback.

What follows is a representative sample of the teams who may feel a little tightening in the throat after Week 1, some sober analysis, a quote, a Week 2 pick, and the team's color-coded Panic Level, as selected by the folks at Eddie Bauer.

New England Patriots
Reasons to panic: Um, Matt Cassel.
Sober Analysis: Take your favorite well-built team with no quarterback -- the Vikings leap to mind -- and give them the Patriots schedule. What happens? They sweep the Dolphins. They lose one game out of the four they play against the Jets and Bills. They beat the Raiders and Cardinals. They lose on the road to the Colts and Chargers. They face the Steelers and Broncos at home; call that a split. They face the Niners and Seahawks on the road; call that a split. Count it up and you get 11-5. You can tweak it down to 10-6 by giving the Jets or Bills an extra win or letting both the Steelers and Broncos win. But you must do a lot of tweaking to get the proxy Vikings down to 9-7 or lower. Now, are the Matt Cassel Patriots a weaker team than the Vikings?

If you want to look for team that matches the Patriots even more closely -- great receivers, solid overall roster, suspect secondary, big "if" at quarterback -- how about the Packers? You probably have the Packers listed as at least a 10-6 team. It stands to reason that the Patriots, in a weaker division, should be just as good.

Of course, anything less than a Super Bowl win is a disappointing season for the Patriots. They are no longer odds-on favorites, though the Colts, Chargers, and Jaguars proved that the AFC is an open race. Let's save January for January. The smart money says the Patriots will still be playing.
Panic Color: Chartreuse
Voice from Sunday: "What the Patriots might have ... is an enormous void at quarterback that could unmask or further elevate one of the great coaches in NFL history." --Tony Massarotti, Boston Globe. Does anyone really think that Belichick will be somehow "unmasked" if Cassel plays poorly and the team misses the playoffs?
Week 2 Pick: Old handicappers say that you should always pick the team that is starting a new quarterback. The new kid gets a custom game plan that no one has film on, and all the fair weather bettors are going the other way. You don't survive to be an old point spreader unless you know what you are talking about. As of Wednesday, you even get points! PATRIOTS.

Jacksonville Jaguars
Reasons to Panic: If you are over 275 pounds, under 40 years old, and have ever lifted a weight, please contact Jack Del Rio. Your uniform number is 71.
Sober Analysis: Apparently, one Patriots quarterback is worth ten times more media attention than four Jaguars linemen. (For the record, those Jaguars linemen are worth more column-inches/Around the Horn segments than eight Lions linebackers or the entire Bills roster). Top reserve Richard Collier remains in the hospital after a serious shooting. Left guard Vince Manuwai is out for the season. Right guard Maurice Williams is out indefinitely with a bicep injury. Even backup Uche Nwaneri limped off the field against the Titans, though he later limped back. All of the other problems the Jaguars faced on Sunday, from David Garrard's sacks and miscues to the sudden disappearance of their running game, stem from the sudden loss of two starters and two key reserves.

The Jaguars have veteran center Brad Meester on their bench, so they may move David Norman from center to guard to replace Manuwai. If Nwaneri and Williams can't go, Tutan Reyes may get the nod at right guard. Meester and Reyes were starters long ago, but there's a reason they aren't starters now. The team quickly signed Milford Brown and Chad Slaughter, neither of whom should start for a playoff bound team. Whoever mans the middle of the line, the Jaguars will lose some quickness and precision, bad news for a team that loves to run delays and draws to their running backs.

Want more bad news? The Jaguars face the Bills, Colts, Texans, Steelers, and Broncos before their bye. There are no gimmies in the pipeline, but there are plenty of dangerous pass rushers.
Panic Color:Goldenrod.
Voice from Sunday: "This is the first time I've ever seen it like this -- a chain reaction," Manuwai said. "In four or five years, we've had a couple of guys miss a few games. But it was never like this. It went from Mo [Williams] to Uche, then to me."
Week 2 Pick: The Jaguars are too banged up to lay six points. BILLS.

Seattle Seahawks
Reasons to panic: Dreadful special teams and a spate of injuries on the receiving corps. Nate Burleson's season-ending injury exacerbates both problems.
Sober Analysis: Sunday's loss to the Bills looks a little like the Eagles' Week 1 loss to the Packers last year. In both games, a not-quite-healthy quarterback couldn't get things going, but the game ultimately hinged on special teams gaffes: fumbled punts by the Eagles, fumbles, coverage lapses, and a brain cramp on a fake field goal by the Seahawks. The Eagles never solved their special teams problems last year, and the Seahawks will face similar woes if Burleson misses significant time. Using your backup quarterback as a return man only makes sense if it's 1976 and Joe Theismann is just itching to take the field.

As for the receiving corps, Deion Branch will return soon and Courtney Taylor has some potential. Bobby Engram will be back in a few weeks. Two Long John Silver impersonators can get open against the Rams, so Week 3 shouldn't be an issue. The Seahawks must find a way to move the ball against a pretty good Niners secondary. Pull it off, and they'll be 2-1 entering the bye, when Mike Holmgren can sort things out.
Voice from Sunday: "You could try to figure out what happened to the Seahawks, but when the parties involved aren't sure, there is no explanation. I was in the Seahawks' locker room for 10 minutes and heard, 'I don't know, I'll have to look at the film' three times. Meanwhile, Holmgren was in the other room twice saying he'd have to look at the film, too." -- Jim Moore, Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
Panic Color: Saffron.
Week 2 Pick: It's Qwest Field, the Seahawks defense is still pretty strong, and the Niners' offense doesn't look very threatening. SEAHAWKS.

Washington Redskins
Reasons to panic: An offense that mistook the Hall of Fame game for the Super Bowl.
Sober Analysis: The Redskins are always experimenting. They can't just hire a coach, install a system, rebuild the roster, and make a playoff run. Every coach must be a guru, and one offensive scheme never suffices when the team can mishmash philosophies like some dizzy Hollywood actor embracing Buddhism, Kabala, and Scientology simultaneously. Their latest Grand Unification Theory morphs Jim Zorn's Holmgren-lite version of the West Coast offense onto Joe Bugel's cloud-of-dust running game. The Papal Demarcation Line between Bugel and Zorn (who was the last coach at the bar at closing time in the offseason) seems clear enough. The running game follows Bugel's tactics and terminology. The passing game belongs to Zorn. No one is sure who has authority over draws, play-action passes, and other plays that fall somewhere within the neutral zone.

Once again, the Redskins have created a Frankenstein's Monster offense: lumbering, slow, and lacking in intelligence. The draw-and-play-action question is a serious one. Play-action passes are supposed to be built directly from specific running plays. While Bugel and Zorn no doubt matched compatible runs and passes, do they use totally different terminology? Are the blocking assignments taught the same way? From what we saw in late August and on Thursday, there's a lot of offensive precision getting lost in translation.

Sure, the Redskins should and will improve. You saw the Cowboys, Giants, and Eagles. How much time do they have?
Panic Level: Tangerine.
Voice from Thursday: "The trouble with the Washington Redskins' new identity is that they don't have a discernable one. After all of the offseason hiring and reshuffling, what showed up on the field in the season opener against the New York Giants was a shapeless and indistinct mess, recognizable only by the logos." -- Sally Jenkins, Washington Post.
Week 2 Pick: Even with Marques Colston hurt, the Saints have far more offensive firepower, and while their rebuilt defense is nothing special, it's good enough to hold off the Zorn Bugel Mothership. SAINTS.

Indianapolis Colts
Reasons to Panic: Injuries on the interior offensive line, an injury to Dallas Clark, a rusty Peyton Manning and a rickety Marvin Harrison.
Sober Analysis: It's one thing to skip preseason games. It's another thing to miss nearly all of camp while recovering from surgery. Peyton's off-beat timing was a natural result of missing the hundreds of reps he gets with his offense in July and August. Manning will be back in midseason form in a week or two.

What will he find when he arrives? The Bears attacked the Colts' jerry-rigged interior line by stationing Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs in A and B gaps, threatening a blitz up the middle on every snap. Sometimes they blitzed, most times they didn't, but the Bears always caused the kind of split-second confusion that can throw the whole Colts offense out of whack. The Vikings will attack that interior line with their huge defensive tackles, and Jack Del Rio will study the Bears tape for when his Jaguars travel to Indy in Week 3. Jeff Saturday will probably return after the bye (he may be practicing by press time); hopefully, he won't return to a 1-2 team.

Clark is a major part of the Colts offense, and there's no Ben Utecht on the roster to soak up any lost tight end receptions. Luckily, early reports state he won't miss much time. As for Harrison, aging receivers often lose their hands before they lose their speed. Harrison's catch-and-fumble in the third quarter might have been a fluke, but it might be a sign that he's lost too much of the twitch quickness receivers use to snatch the ball and secure it.
Panic color: Burgundy.
Quote from Sunday: "It was like everybody had missed training camp, like everybody was trying to knock off the ring rust and not just Manning. Although, yes, it started with the quarterback, who looked tentative all night." -- Bob Kravitz, Indy Star.
Week 2 Pick: The Vikings are a better version of the Bears. Can the Colts lose to the same type of defense-and-running team twice after not losing a September or October game in three years? Not the way Tarvaris Jackson played on Monday night. COLTS.

The Worst Starter in the NFL

Bills tight end Robert Royal caught six passes for 54 yards and a touchdown on Sunday. Most of his production came on one 30-yard touchdown, but he had a solid overall game. He didn't drop any passes, catching everything thrown to him according to the play-by-play. He didn't commit any penalties. I didn't scout his blocking performance, but no one was carted off the field as a result of his ineptitude. It was a fine game.

In Pro Football Prospectus 2008, I singled Royal out as "one of the worst starters in the NFL at any position." His crimes: bad hands ("like patio blocks") (I love quoting myself), a tendency to fumble, and a knack for costly penalties. One game does not change a career; I still think Royal is among the league's worst regulars. But is he the worst?

The Bears quarterbacks are often singled out as being among the league's worst regular starters. Both Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton are pretty bad for experienced players who get significant playing time, but quarterbacks are often over-scrutinized. They have nowhere to hide; when they turn the ball over six times in a game, we know about it. Tight ends like Royal can linger beneath the radar for a few years, surviving on bad teams because replacing the tight end isn't always a high priority. Royal can block a little and run a little, so the Bills can live with him for another year while they address their receiving corps and secondary in the draft. If he drops two passes, jumps offside, and misses a block, it doesn't show up on Total Access.

Defenders are harder for laymen to evaluate, and a bad defensive player can hang around the starting lineup for years if he is a high draft choice, a coach's favorite, or the franchise is hopelessly inept. I found a new candidate for NFL's Worst Regular in Detroit (you saw that coming). Gerald Alexander made 81 tackles last year and picked off two passes, but you can't evaluate a safety on a bad defense by his tackle totals. Even our Game Charting and advanced stats have a hard time figuring out where Alexander's mistakes began and those of his teammates ended.

Watching Alexander in the Falcons game, I saw a guy who had no business in the NFL. He got broken down in the open field several times by Falcons running backs. He let Michael Jenkins get deep on him on the first play from scrimmage (as the safety in the middle of the field, Alexander must stay deeper than Jenkins on that skinny post. High school safeties know that.) Watch the Falcons extra-long highlight reel, and you'll see No. 42 making a mistake on every key play.

So Alexander is on the list with Royal. There are a few other players who can lay a claim to Worst Regular. Bears tackle John St. Clair is on the list, though he turned in a passable performance on Sunday. Rams cornerback Tye Hill won't be a regular for long, but he's on the list for now. Larry Johnson? If he keeps running like he's dragging 100 feet of heavy chain, then he'll make the cut.

Send me your suggestions. Stick with guys who entered the season as starters, not emergency fill-ins. Maybe a few of these players will make our annual Keep Chopin' Wood team.

Nutshells

Bears at Panthers: Here we go, Yo! Here we go, Yo! Who's this, who's this, who's this Rosario?

For that matter, who is this Kyle Orton? Kid Whiskey no more? As Deion Sanders would say: "to be determined, to be determined." Let's see Orton do more than throw a lot of comeback routes to his fast-but-mistake prone receivers and exploit a few Greg Olsen-on-slow-linebacker mismatches before we say nice things about the Bears offense. Pick: NONE.

Titans at Bengals: Some random Titans thoughts:

1) It's too early to talk about the Vince Young situation. I was blogging for FOX when the Terrell Owens overdose/suicide story broke, and there's nothing worse than trying to speculate from a distance about a serious topic, especially when your job is to be funny. I didn't start joking about the Owens saga until the transvestite publicist appeared, and I don't think any such comic relief is forthcoming in this story. For now, Kerry Collins is the quarterback, and he can win a game or two.

2) Cortland Finnegan is really good. Bet you read about him first in Pro Football Prospectus 2007. Who'd we hype this year? Jerious Norwood. OK, so he wasn't much of a stretch. How about Cowboys defensive end Jason Hatcher? Or Browns cornerback Brandon McDonald, who had six tackles on Sunday? Buy Pro Football Prospectus and you can read about the stars of tomorrow, today. Or about the stars of last Sunday, last August. Or something like that.

3) Chris Johnson is every bit as exciting to watch as he looked on Sunday. I tracked him throughout the preseason and his athleticism is rare. He also can't catch a cold in a room full of runny-nosed kindergarteners. You saw him drop a two-yard pass on the play where Young got injured; that happened at least once per game in the preseason. I can't remember a running back as stone-handed as Johnson. Big backs can get away with dropping passes, but a little back like Johnson is expected to provide a spark on third downs, so he better spend some time with the JUGGS machine.

4) The Bengals lost last week to a team with a great defense, a power running game, and the wisp of a passing attack. This week shouldn't be much different. Pick: TITANS.

Packers at Lions: Watching Aaron Notfavre's Lambeau Leap after his touchdown on Monday Night was like watching a shy guy go for a goodnight kiss after a not-so-special first date.

"Well, I did what I was supposed to do. Took her dancing. Wore cologne. Chewed with my mouth closed. She laughed at some of my jokes. I think it was successful. She kind of likes me. I'll go for the kiss. Or maybe just the hug. Handshake? I'll hug, lower my face, see if she goes for the kiss, hope we don't bump noses. What am I thinking? I'm not 12 years old. The goodnight kiss is a given unless you puke on the girl's corsage or call her the four-letter Tiki word by mistake. Oh, she's smiling. She wants the kiss. Here I go!

"Now, open the mouth or not?"

Pick: PACKERS.

Raiders at Chiefs:Nnamdi Asomugha will cover Dwayne Bowe. Gibril Wilson takes on Tony Gonzalez. DeAngelo Hall will be left outside to chase chipmunks. Pick: NONE.

Giants at Rams:Things the Rams cannot do: 1) Cover receivers. 2) Line up on offense without jumping offside. 3) Stand on the sidelines without getting in the way of an official. And that was Torry Holt, the one guy who is supposed to know what he is doing. The Eagles would have beaten them 70-0 if L.J. Smith or Asante Samuel could catch the ball. The Giants defense will make this game look gruesome, and the only thing that will stop Plaxico Burress from gaining 200 receiving yards is that the Giants will be running out the clock by the third quarter. Pick: GIANTS.

Falcons at Buccaneers. Matt Ryan should bottle the feeling he had on Sunday night. You only get to play the Lions once per year, kid. Pick: BUCS, with or without Jeff Garcia.

Dolphins at Cardinals:The Cardinals should win here and start the season 2-0. With their defense playing well and their running game slightly improved, they could easily beat either the Jets or Redskins on the road and enter their bye at 3-1. Is this finally the year? Finally, finally, finally the year? Nah, they'll go 8-8 again. But September will be fun.

Chargers at Broncos:He catches! He runs the option! He passes! He draws stupid penalties from overpriced Raiders defenders! OK, that last one isn't so impressive. But Eddie Royal is the talk of Denver after a rookie performance every bit as impressive as Matt Ryan's. "We've got a lot of confidence in Eddie," Mike Shanahan said after the Monday Night game. "He plays like he's a five-year veteran. DBs are going to have a tough time covering him one-on-one."

Antonio Cromartie and Quentin Jammer can cover most receivers one-on-one, but without Shawne Merriman, the Chargers defense is significantly weaker. Without doing you-know-what to you-know-clusions, Denver looks good, and they are getting two points up in the mountains. I'll take them. Pick: BRONCOS.

Ravens at Texans:The Ravens playoff bandwagon is boarding. Choo-choo. Any takers? C'mon, you get Ray Lewis, Chris McAlister, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, and the rest of the defense. You also get a plodding offense full of inexperience youngsters. This is nothing new, folks. The Ravens do this all the time. I'll save you all seats. Pick: RAVENS.

Steelers at Browns:Tom Brady is a piñata. Peyton Manning is running for his life behind a Blackburn Lancashire line. The Jaguars are hiring temp agency linemen. The Chargers started the season in Find a Way to Lose mode. Guess who is feeling good right about now? The Steelers can also take heart in the fact that the Browns have that one-year wonder smell, the Bickering Bengals are in their usual state of confusion, and the Ravens need double-reverses and quarterback keepers to generate offense. Even a shoulder injury to Big Ben can't rain on the parade in Western Pennsylvania. Mike Tomlin is warning everyone to take the Browns seriously. That's his job, not mine. Pick: STEELERS.

Eagles at Cowboys: Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News wrote that someone asked a Terrell Owens drama question during Andy Reid's Monday press conference. Reid gave one of his polite, non-committal answers, but Bowen spoke for football fans everywhere. "Reid reacted to being asked this better than I would have, which is to say he didn't yell 'AIIIEEEE!!' and run out of the NovaCare auditorium waving his arms," Bowen wrote. "Here's what I was thinking: it was 3 FREAKING YEARS AGO. The Eagles have played the Cowboys TWICE A YEAR ever since. Do we have to do this every time they play? Forever? Note to editors: Insert photo of long-dead horse being flogged here."

Amen. The Owens story has officially decomposed. The real story this week is that two teams that looked excellent in their openers will face something new this week: a live defense. The Cowboys front seven will keep Donovan McNabb from brunching in the pocket and throwing to wide-open receivers, and their secondary will keep those receivers from being wide-open. The Eagles defense has several solutions for the Owens problem -- Asante Samuel or longtime Owens chaser Lito Sheppard -- and Marion Barber's rib injury will slow him down if it doesn't shelve him.

The analyst in me sees a home-home split in this series, so the COWBOYS are my pick, but stay away from the 47-point over. For more on this game, check out my Monday Night preview on ESPN.

Posted by: Mike Tanier on 12 Sep 2008

58 comments, Last at 15 Sep 2008, 6:14am by Anonymous

Comments

1
by Boston Dan (not verified) :: Fri, 09/12/2008 - 3:09pm

"Massarotti, Boston Globe. Does anyone really think that Belichick will be somehow "unmasked" if Cassel plays poorly and the team misses the playoffs?"

Not only Massarotti, but Borges (on weei.com) and Callahan (Herald) as well.

Probably a few more that I missed both locally and nationally.

2
by Boston Dan (not verified) :: Fri, 09/12/2008 - 3:26pm

Full agreement on picks, but I'll pick the Chiefs because they are playing at home and the Bears becuase Steve Smith and Devin Hester.

3
by Bobman (not verified) :: Fri, 09/12/2008 - 3:34pm

Typical Brilliant Tanier.
Burgundy alert for Indy? As in the wine or the color? Because that color is in the red family and I don't quite see that happening.... But I am biased.

4
by Pat (apparently they need a longer name) (not verified) :: Fri, 09/12/2008 - 3:51pm

Take your favorite well-built team with no quarterback -- the Vikings leap to mind -- and give them the Patriots schedule.

Except for the fact that the Vikings, Bears, etc. had all preseason and offseason to prepare for the fact that they have a replacement-level quarterback. The Patriots haven't. Especially this week.

It's funny that people say "well, Bill Belichick is a coaching genius, so he'll figure it out." Sure he can - but the rest of the Patriots aren't all coaching geniuses. It's going to take time for the other players to realize that Brady isn't at QB and respond correctly. How long? Who knows.

5
by RickD (not verified) :: Fri, 09/12/2008 - 4:06pm

The meme "Belichick has only been winning because of Brady" has gotten a surprising amount of traction, for a theory that is so unbelievably silly.

For starters, before 2007, Brady was not even considered a QB with elite talent. For his first few years in the league, the consensus was that he wasn't at Peyton Manning's level, and that the Pats were winning by not depending on him too much, while using short passes, the running game (remember Corey Dillon?) and good defense.

It's no accident that the Pats' DL is comprised entirely of first-round draft picks.

This leads us to the next point: how did Brady improve so much? Well, part of it is his ability and his determination, but don't we have to give the coaching a little credit? Brady has learned a _lot_ in the past seven years. Who do you think was teaching him?

The Boston media love people who are friendly to them and they don't know quite what to do with eternally awkward Bill Belichick. They even preferred blowhard Parcells. It's not surprising that they would turn on him in a heartbeat.

But I'm not too worried. It's unlikely the Pats will advance deep in the playoffs, but they will be there. There really are a lot of good players on the team.

6
by Tim (not verified) :: Fri, 09/12/2008 - 5:06pm

I can't believe I saw A Tribe Called Quest reference on FO. Now back to your regularly scheduled comments....

7
by RMGreen (not verified) :: Fri, 09/12/2008 - 5:14pm

"For starters, before 2007, Brady was not even considered a QB with elite talent."

Um, what?? Someone help me out here, how long has the 'Irrational Manning vs Brady Argument" thread been going now?

8
by Anonymous (not verified) :: Fri, 09/12/2008 - 5:27pm

Brad Meester is an injured (quality) starter, not someone who has been benched. Tutan Reyes has never been a regular starter for Jacksonville. Dennis Norman's name isn't David. Other than that, the Jaguars' summary is perfect.

9
by theantidave (not verified) :: Fri, 09/12/2008 - 5:37pm

"Meester and Reyes were starters long ago, but there's a reason they aren't starters now."

Exempting the Reyes portion, that sentence, on a column and site so regularly intelligent, is just astonishing.

10
by THE BENCH (not verified) :: Fri, 09/12/2008 - 5:48pm

A little research for our author...
Meester will undergo surgery on Wednesday. Head coach Jack Del Rio held out hope on Tuesday morning that Meester could return to action after the Jaguars’ bye week (Sept. 30).

Dennis Norman will replace Meester at center. Norman started the final five games of the 2005 season, including a postseason game, when Meester was lost to a torn biceps tendon. Norman was judged to have played well in Meester’s stead and the Jaguars signed Norman to a long-term contract in Feb. of ’06.

11
by verified (not verified) :: Fri, 09/12/2008 - 6:23pm

Tanier's job is to be funny? Now that's funny. You need more straight men on this site.

12
by Matt Forte (not verified) :: Fri, 09/12/2008 - 6:39pm

until I saw this misplaced modifier, "and a brain cramp on a fake field goal by the Seahawks."

13
by Anonymous (not verified) :: Fri, 09/12/2008 - 6:54pm

I'd like to take this opportunity to add insult to injury in regards to the analysis of the Jaguar's line troubles: Maurice Williams is not 'out indefinitely', he's on IR. I realize that this article may have been written before that decision was made public, but in conjunction with the other mistakes mentioned by posters above me...ugh.

14
by Jimmy (not verified) :: Fri, 09/12/2008 - 6:55pm

Love the look on the new website. Good stuff.

15
by Jimmy (not verified) :: Fri, 09/12/2008 - 6:55pm

Love the look on the new website. Good stuff.

16
by Matt (not verified) :: Fri, 09/12/2008 - 7:13pm

The new website for me includes having the left 10% of the comment entry screen cut-off, so my apologies for any typos. Also, please note that I too am not verified -- just like all you other unverified S.O.B.s.

Anyway, you say that FO is to be congratulated for hyping "Browns cornerback Brandon McDonald, who had six tackles on Sunday?"

But a few paragraphs above, didn't you just tell me that "you can't evaluate a safety on a bad defense by his tackle totals"?

Maybe you can evaluate a CB but not a S by his tackle total, if those were all made in fantastic run-support or something. Or maybe McDonald was just tackling the guys running past him for what -- was it 320 passing yards put up by the Cowboys? I didn't see the game, so you tell me, but telling me his tackle total isn't enough.

17
by The McNabb Bowl Game Anomaly (aka SJM) (not verified) :: Fri, 09/12/2008 - 7:24pm

Wow, nice new format.
Looks very professional.
No more crashed servers?

(I didn't mean for that to be a haiku. At first.)

18
by Tom Gower :: Fri, 09/12/2008 - 7:26pm

Will I be the first verified commenter? Doubtful, quite doubtful.

19
by (´・ω・)つ(・(・ (not verified) :: Fri, 09/12/2008 - 7:59pm

I charted every snap of that Falcons game, and I was astonished by how bad nearly every individual Lions defender is. I think Sims was the only above-average player.

20
by Tundrapat (not verified) :: Fri, 09/12/2008 - 8:41pm

Mike and #16 - Another thing about hyping a CB, then justifying your prediction by saying he had '6 tackles'; Wouldn't a (much) better justification be to say, 'He had only 1 tackle because Romo never threw to the covered WR'? Saying he's good because he had 6 tackles...well, that's the Atari Bigby definition of good.

#12 - I think the modifier 'by the Seahawks' was modifying the 'brain cramp', not the 'fake field goal'. A clearer line would have been 'and a brain cramp by the Hawks in covering a fake field goal'.

However, regarding all of the other beat-downs in this comment thread; perhaps we need to remember that Week 1 extends to FO columnists as well. Let's not jump to conclusions.

21
by B-RICK (not verified) :: Fri, 09/12/2008 - 8:54pm

Great format for the article. I think D'angello Hall should be in the mix for worst player in the league.

22
by Bronco Jeff :: Fri, 09/12/2008 - 9:07pm

I believe...though I would believe a lot more if the Broncos took it to the Chargers on Sunday.

I was having some technical difficulties in posting, but they have hopefully been solved now.

Eschew Obfuscation!

23
by t.d. :: Fri, 09/12/2008 - 9:15pm

good stuff

24
by TomC (not verified) :: Fri, 09/12/2008 - 10:07pm

Typically, I enjoyed the football content but am awed by the pop-culture references.

Two Long John Silver impersonators can get open against the Rams.

But not against those backpedaling, hip-swiveling Bournemouth Gynecologists!

Peyton Manning is running for his life behind a Blackburn Lancashire line..

I don't know how you get 4,000 holes in a 5-man OL, but the Bears were in every one of them.

25
by thestar5 (not verified) :: Fri, 09/12/2008 - 10:28pm

"If you want to look for team that matches the Patriots even more closely -- great receivers, solid overall roster, suspect secondary, big "if" at quarterback -- how about the Packers? You probably have the Packers listed as at least a 10-6 team. It stands to reason that the Patriots, in a weaker division, should be just as good."

Good artice Mike but I just have an issue with one thing. I think the Pats can definitely make the playoffs, but I don't see them being as good as the Packers. I agree that they both have talented offenses with question marks at QB. However, if you really think the two offenses will be about the same, I don't see any way the Patriots will be near as good as the Packers. FO predicted the Packers to have the number two defense while the Pats were number 20. Obviously the Packers have much more on defense, so if they Pats offense isn't elite, they simply aren't that good anymore. Unless you think the DVOA projections are off I don't see the Pats being anywhere near the Packers, unless Cassell excels.

26
by thestar5 (not verified) :: Fri, 09/12/2008 - 10:42pm

Also, props for picking the Cowboys! Not that they'll necessarily win, but I'm surprised an Eagles fan would pick them. :-)

27
by Damon Rutherford :: Fri, 09/12/2008 - 10:49pm

Reasons not to panic for the Colts: Jaguars and Titans have bigger issues, and the Texans aren't a threat.

I am worried about this new stadium and the lower noise level. It's not loud enough!

28
by Utvikefan (not verified) :: Fri, 09/12/2008 - 11:19pm

I vote for Visanthe Shiancoe to be added to the worst player list. I bet he wins. Even if you have to add a clause to have pay/performance in it.

29
by isaiahc :: Fri, 09/12/2008 - 11:46pm

Wow, you mentioned the pats/jets matchup without a word about Parcells! That's better than most of the other sports sites out there. I do, however, have a hard time believing that Cassel can lead the pats to a victory over the Jets. Admittedly, the Jets are a major X factor right now, and nobody knows how well Favre will do against a real defense in this league, but I do know how bad Cassel looked against a team that was surprised by his skill level. I'll take Jets by 3.
Everybody dies, but not everybody lives.

30
by Anonymous (not verified) :: Sat, 09/13/2008 - 12:32am

I vote Joey Harrington for the Keep Chopin' Wood team.

(sorry)

31
by Yaguar :: Sat, 09/13/2008 - 1:28am

Here's an all-worst-starter offensive line. Alex Barron may be too good a run-blocker to be here, but his false starts make for hilarity. Adrian Jones is starting for the first time since an awful stint with the 2005 Jets (4-12) and I have to imagine he'll reach epic levels of suck.

LT: John St. Clair, CHI
LG: Terrence Metcalf, CHI
C: Todd McClure, ATL
RG: Adrian Jones, KC
RT: Alex Barron, STL

32
by Yaguar :: Sat, 09/13/2008 - 1:38am

Another terrible starter of note:

CC Brown is still starting for Houston. Seriously. Reggie Wayne has walked all over the guy for three consecutive years - and even the weaker receivers just school him. I think about a third of Donte Stallworth's yardage with the Eagles came from CC Brown.

33
by not verified (not verified) :: Sat, 09/13/2008 - 2:25am

Re #31:

As a Steelers fan, I must comment on my shock that none on the list are Steelers?

34
by TheDMG (not verified) :: Sat, 09/13/2008 - 2:30am

As a long-time Texans fan (well, as long as the Texans have existed, anyway), my vote for worst starter goes to our strong safety for the last several years, CC Brown. A sixth round pick who won a starting job by default in the final year of the Dom Capers era, Brown has hung on to his job simply because safety was the last thing on the priority list for the Texans rebuilding project. Brown is noted for his speed and hard hitting but there are two important caveats: 1) despite his speed, he's positively awful in coverage and 2) while he hits hard, he's a poor tackler due to bad angles and poor form. Former starter Demarcus Faggins gets a lot of grief from Texans fans, but Brown has been a consistent gaping hole and the weak link in a poorly ranked secondary ever since he stepped into a starting role his rookie year. He's arguably been the worst starting safety in the league each of those years in which Archuleta wasn't a starter (and possibly the worst in those years two, albeit in a less high-profile market.)

35
by Anonymous (not verified) :: Sat, 09/13/2008 - 2:53am

First of all, it's DENNIS Norman, not DAVID Norman. Secondly, Brad Meester isn't a starter anymore because he tore his biceps in the preseason, and will be back in several weeks, not because he isn't very good, but because he's been OUT.

36
by old :: Sat, 09/13/2008 - 6:41am

I would recommend a book called the Groucho Letters. For Matt Cassell I would recommend this book.

37
by Temperance Society Chip Bailey (not verified) :: Sat, 09/13/2008 - 7:12am

Oh man, I did a lot of game analysis last year, so I've been waiting for an opportunity to list some awful players who are still starters:

1. Keith Brooking: He may have been good in the past (he was always overrated), but he's been going downhill over the last few years and his performances at MLB could make your eyes bleed if you watch them closely enough.
2. Kyle Williams: Still the starter at DT for the Bills, but God only knows why. He does nothing well, absolutely nothing.
3. Chad Greenway: Put this guy behind any lesser DL than the Vikings one and you'd really see how bad he is. Horrible angles, whiffed tackles and absolutely clueless in coverage. He's so much worse than Leber and E.J. Henderson that it's embarrassing.
4. Kendall Simmons: Everyone knows the Steelers have a bad OL, but this guy is the worst. He might have been decent at the start of his career, he's certainly nothing of the sort any more.
5. Dan Kreider: Pure blocking FBs seem to hit the wall hard and a certain stage of their career. Kreider for the Steelers last year was horrible, too slow to hit the hole and then getting blown up when he did occasionally get there. He couldn't have found a more appropriate place to start than St. Louis.

38
by Temperance Society Chip Bailey (not verified) :: Sat, 09/13/2008 - 7:26am

Damn, I forgot that Kwame Harris was starting for the Raiders this year! Unbelievable. Let's see that video one more time (click my name). There was a rumour, perpetrated by optimistic 49er fans, that he was a good run blocker. The video, and watching him actually play, would suggest otherwise.

Also, what's with the (not verified) schtick?

39
by Yaxley (not verified) :: Sat, 09/13/2008 - 8:50am

Good article by Tanier, as always.

But can someone explain why the new site refuses to allow me to register?

40
by Shaslers (not verified) :: Sat, 09/13/2008 - 9:30am

I hereby nominate Dhani Jones as the worst NFL player at his position. His free fall from the Giants>Eagles>Saints>Bengals reveals a guy who has only been able to hang on with increasingly desperate defenses. Having just been treated the Bengals dreadful performance in Week One versus the Ravens, Dhani stood out as the guy perpetually plowed into reverse. Including when he failed to stop the Ravens' 42-yard double reverse -- he was effectively blocked not once, but twice, by rookie quarterback Joe Flacco. That was followed by a fourth quarter clock-killing drive by the Ravens when they installed their fullback as tailback and ran up the middle on him, at will, a dozen consecutive times. On the plus side, his bowties are swell.

41
by Dice (not verified) :: Sat, 09/13/2008 - 9:38am

Good read.

42
by Temo :: Sat, 09/13/2008 - 9:42am

Deion Sanders (of all people) pointed to the Falcons running game, the Ravens defense, and the weak opposition before summing the rookie passers up with a cautionary "to be determined, to be determined."

At some point, people are going to accept that Sanders is one of the best TV football analysts out there, and that little addendum used whenever someone quotes him won't be necessary.

43
by RowdyRoddyPiper (not verified) :: Sat, 09/13/2008 - 9:56am

Great as always Mike. I'm willing to try and get HTSA into the lexicon. As for the site's new format...if I were old enough to remember New Coke, I'm pretty sure that's how I would have felt.

44
by alec (not verified) :: Sat, 09/13/2008 - 9:58am

how about DeAngelo Hall as the worst? salary and hype and misbehavior...also need Raider representation!!

45
by Doug Farrar :: Sat, 09/13/2008 - 11:06am

Seahawks safety Brian Russell. Molasses-slow safety help, and he tackles like Garo Yepremian.

45
by Doug Farrar :: Sat, 09/13/2008 - 11:06am

Seahawks safety Brian Russell. Molasses-slow safety help, and he tackles like Garo Yepremian.

47
by jimm (not verified) :: Sat, 09/13/2008 - 12:18pm

After one week of the season and after much thought I can honestly say I have no idea which teams are bad, average, good or great.

48
by t.d. :: Sat, 09/13/2008 - 12:19pm

I think comparing the Pats to the Packers or the Vikings is apples to oranges. Those teams are littered with young, developing talent, and they both chose to go with their situations at quarterback. They think their guys are starter-caliber. Losing Brady affects the Pats other offensive superstar, Moss, who was thought to be washed up before last season. Peterson should be good even if Tarvaris sucks. On the other hand, the Panthers went 7-9 in a season with David Carr heavily involved, so maybe they'll be fine.

49
by B (not verified) :: Sat, 09/13/2008 - 12:27pm

The real problem the Brady injury hurts the Patriots is their defense. Without the threat of the offense puttig up 35+ points, opponents can now dictate the pace they want, instead of trying to slow down the game by running at their stout D-line, teams are going to be passing more, trying to exploit the suspect secondary and linebackers.

50
by billsfan :: Sat, 09/13/2008 - 1:05pm

Some running backs to consider for this distinction, based on Week 1 performances:

Edgerrin James, Larry Johnson, Chris Perry, LenDale White.

It's fun, in a demented sort of way, to watch Edge 'establish the run.'

Johnson appeared to have been outplayed by Jamaal Charles.

I guess since Jason David isn't a starter any longer, he's out of contention.

51
by ArchnerdUW :: Sat, 09/13/2008 - 3:16pm

Kendall Simmons has to be in the running for the worst starter. Not only does he sometimes resemble a turnstile at right guard, but he has a teaser stretch of games (typically 2-3)every season where he seems to be "putting it all together". After said stretch of games, he goes back to epic levels of suck. As a Steelers' fan that transition is just more painful every year. I'm starting to think that perhaps he is some sort of evil genius and does this on purpose. This guy is gonna get the fancy new 100 some million dollar franchise QB investment hurt one of these days.

As always, great article.

52
by Raiderjoe :: Sun, 09/14/2008 - 12:48am

DeAngelo Hall is a good player. just had a bad game. He will shutdown many cornerbakcacs this year you just wait and wtahc

53
by LnGrrrR (not verified) :: Sun, 09/14/2008 - 12:02pm

Strange... the text for me starts off fine at the beginning of the comments, that slowly slides to the left so I can barely see them.

Tom Brady's injury makes me sad.

54
by Jason :: Sun, 09/14/2008 - 12:07pm

Mike,

Chris Johnson doesn't have stone hands. LenDale White dropped the pass on the play VY got injured.

55
by Anonymous (not verified) :: Sun, 09/14/2008 - 12:34pm

Minnesota's defense looks good on paper, but I just don't see it translating on the field. Sure, no one can run on them, but Jared Allen by himself doesn't seem to have fixed the pass defense. I think they're behind the Bears, who are elite on D and ST. I think the Colts dust them.--t.d.

56
by Richard (not verified) :: Sun, 09/14/2008 - 3:21pm

It's "jerry-built" or "jury-rigged," not "jerry-rigged."

http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/jerry.html

57
by Ineedawittyname (not verified) :: Sun, 09/14/2008 - 9:32pm

I would like to nominate the whole Colts Oline (and especially Charlie Johnson) for this award. Manning was constantly facing enormous pressure, and most of it was coming from LT (where Johnson was playing.) Admittedly, Jared Allen is a good reason to look bad at LT, but Johnson was literally turning his back on allen and hoping Manning would get rid of it in time.

58
by Anonymous (not verified) :: Mon, 09/15/2008 - 6:14am

Re the comments on the Redskins offense. After seeing what they did against the Saints - even with the injuries on the Saints D - do you want to have a rethink on anything you wrote?

Identity looked pretty good to me. Draws and play action seemed right on track.

Also quoting anything Sally Jenkins writes as proof positive of any analysis of the Redskins is never a good thing. If you are on the same side of an argument as her on anything Redskins related, step back and ask yourself what you are missing.

Surprisingly there is no Sally Jenkins column in the Post today.

There will be tougher tests to come for sure but Campbell bringing the Skins back with 14 fourth quarter points was a huge step forward for the whole offensive group.