Short-yardage passing had a good year, except at the end of the Super Bowl. We look at the return of quarterback runs, the rise in pass-happy strategy, and 2014 success rates for offense and defense.
14 Aug 2008
The Favregasm is over. Now we're just cuddling.
After a month of foreplay, the actual consummation felt a little anticlimactic. That'll happen; the payoff rarely matches the buildup, at least in the NFL. Now, the deed is done. Favre's head rests lovingly against the Jets' bosom. The Packers, draped in a bed sheet, are smoking and staring absently into the distance like Brigitte Bardot in some 1960s art film, drenched in ennui about the young paramour who is not quite as satisfying as the older Gallic (or Cajun, at least) lothario they rejected. The sports media is left with pillow talk. Endless, insufferable pillow talk.
The Favre saga, at its heart, was a silly, adolescent romance drama, less articulate than The Hills, less mature than DeGrassi Junior High. We've heard very little about touchdowns and West Coast Offense principles in the last month, much more about hurt feelings, respect, fairness, and "moving on." Even now, everyone sounds like they are reading from a rejected script for My So-Called Life. Favre will start the Jets' second preseason game, the equivalent of a hasty prom invitation to make an ex-boyfriend jealous. ("The Packers are looking. Quick, let's start necking.") The Packers are giving Aaron Notfavre the Kim Novak Vertigo treatment. ("Maybe you should dye your hair a little gray, Aaron, and throw the ball underhanded into triple coverage every once in a while.") There's a ripe, odd little conflict brewing between Favre and Laveranues Coles, trusted wingman to Chad Pennington, the Jets quarterback who got shuffled out of the story because he's too much like Sarah Plain and Weak-Armed. The Buccaneers, played by Anthony Michael Hall circa 1988, were left making desperate calls to Jeff Garcia, hoping to rekindle the geek hookup they shunned while chasing Molly Ringwald.
Martin Fennelly of the Tampa Tribune actually beat me to the "Jilted Garcia" gag, so allow me to quote him here instead of making up my own material:
Wouldn't you have loved to have checked Jeff Garcia's cell phone messages late Wednesday?
"Jeff, hey, man, this is Jon. Give me a call."
"Jeff, bro, making a pizza run here, you like black olives, right? This is Jon."
"G-man, Jon again. Can you believe those Favre rumors? Got your back, man."
"Hey Jeff, how about those Rays? They're something, huh? Hey, I'm about to pop one of your highlight films in, eat some garlic -- love that garlic, bro -- to take the edge off. If you come by, cool."
"Jeff, it's about dawn. I came by to rub that calf down. Lights were still off in your room. See you at practice. Hey, and no sweat about the message you left on my door in goat's blood. I love you, bro."
Notfavre, who is called Aaron Rodgers by the mountain gnomes, was the drama's absent center. He must have killed Charlemagne in a past life; it's the only way to explain the tortures he endured in July. Medieval scholars may scoff, saying that Charlemagne died of pleurisy, but that's just an example of ninth century spin control. No, past-life Notfavre slipped some poison into the chalice from the palace (or the flagon with the dragon) and has been praying on the resting soul of Galileo ever since to get things right. His centuries-spanning battle for redemption reached comic proportions during the Packers' Family Night scrimmage, when television stations cherry-picked his most terrible throw as proof that he was really, truly rattled by the return of the king.
By Monday, it seemed that Notfavre had passed his cosmic test. He was under center for the Packers, looking pretty solid in a 9-of-15, 117-yard, one-touchdown, preseason performanceone that also included a tip-drill interception. Despite stories of anti-Aaron protesters burning his jersey in effigy, the Cheesehead crowd was subdued and mildly supportive.
Favre, meanwhile, was taking Manhattan by storm. A Favre joke has been written into Spamalot (true story), and the Post and Daily News were momentarily enamored with their new chew toy (Awww, Eric Mangini made Favre run a lap, how cute. And Favre did it, what a team player.) Rest assured that if Favre throws four interceptions against the Patriots in Week 2, the Meadowlands crowd (some of whom are contemplating a second mortgage to pay for next year's PSLs) will be neither subdued nor supportive.
It's easy to wish this story away and get on with the other 30 teams, but there are three weeks of pillow talk left, and every move made by Favre and Notfavre will be analyzed in pain-inducing detail. We'll probably hear that Packers receivers are dropping passes because they just aren't as inspired as they were when basking in Favre's glorious presence. Sal Paolantonio already has already predicted that the Bucs will go 5-11 this season because they didn't pursue Favre with enough fervor. If I were asked to write one of those Winners-Losers space-fillers about the Summer of Favre for a magazine (I'm available!), it would look something like this:
Winners: Snarky twits like me who make money by telling football jokes.
Losers: The rest of humanity.
On that note, I must tell you that I was in Manhattan with Aaron Schatz when Favre descended into Central Park on a cloud flanked by cherubim. Aaron spent the morning running projections, and he updated our Jets prediction from 7.2 wins to 7.6 wins. That's a lot of hoopla over four-tenths of a win. But there's no need for the cold shower just yet. That will come in December.
Panthers at Eagles: Jake Delhomme is back under center for the Panthers, and Julius Peppers has been running through concrete walls in training camp. But the real reason to watch any Panthers game is to rubberneck for teammate-on-surgically-enhanced-teammate violence. There's little chance that Steve Smith will punch anyone in the face this week, as he is day-to-day with a concussion and probably won't take the field. Still, there's a chance that Delhomme will show up with a tummy tuck and some collagen injections in his lips, which will surely bring out Smith's pugilistic side.
The Eagles offense looked good in the preseason opener, and they will look a lot better if Brian Westbrook plays a series or two. Andy Reid gave the starters a long airing out against the Steelers, but he may limit Donovan McNabb's exposure if Peppers plays the way he did against Indy: a sack, a forced fumble, and a hurry that led to an interception, all in a half-hour's work. Peppers is on a redemption tour after an awful 2007 season, so look for him to keep playing like a rookie fighting for a job.
Raiders at Titans/Patriots at Buccaneers: The major networks and hardcore fans are at cross purposes when it comes to selecting preseason games for national broadcast. Prime time television demands big name teams, which is why the Patriots will be on NFLN on Sunday and the Giants will be on ESPN on Monday. Of course, fans tuning in to see Tom Brady and Eli Manning had better be punctual. The Patriots are particularly tortuous to watch late in preseason games because so much of their roster is set. That undrafted free agent can catch all the passes he wants from Matt Gutierrez in the fourth quarter; he ain't playing in 2008.
Extreme fans like us like to watch bad teams, because bad teams often have quarterback controversies to sort out and big-name rookies to audition. The Raiders make interesting preseason television because both JaMarcus Russell and Darren McFadden need a lot of work. The Titans have several new faces to integrate into their offense, including rookie running back Chris Johnson and free agent tight end Alge Crumpler, so there should be recognizable names on the field until halftime at least. That makes for tolerable television.
Redskins at Jets: The best way to suppress the gag reflex is to brush your tongue with a toothbrush. Start near the back of the tongue, then move the brush a few millimeters down the throat every session, gradually desensitizing the reflex. It takes a few weeks, so it won't help you on Saturday, but you want to get this done before Packers-Patriots in Week 2.
Browns at Giants: The Browns, like the Panthers, endured some wide receiver violence in camp when Donte' Stallworth accidentally spiked a barefooted Braylon Edwards. A freak injury in Browns camp; now there's something you don't see every day. Browns preseason games offer your best chance to see Brady Quinn in action, a thrill for Notre Dame fans and guys like me who spent the better part of last summer talking up Quinn. The defending champs need to get David Carr and/or Anthony Wright ready to back up Eli Manning, and their bench is full of receiving prospects like Sinorice Moss, Domenik Hixon, and rookie Mario Manningham (who may end up on the IR with a quad injury). The quarterback tussle and receiver battles should add some second-half viewing interest. Heck, maybe one of the receivers will spike or punch a teammate. Nah, Shockey is gone.
Country singer Kenny Chesney was a special guest at Saints training camp last week. Chesney was in the bayou for a concert, but he stopped by to visit old pal Sean Payton and take part in a few wide receiver drills. The crooner goofed off with the players while Payton told reporters a rather awkward story about how Chesney helped cornerback Mike McKenzie get undressed after a knee injury (the singer was recovering from shoulder surgery at Dr. James Andrews' clinic at the same clinic). "You know, Mike McKenzie and Kenny Chesney are from the opposite ends of the earth, and yet here they are that one afternoon and Kenny notices Mike's wearing the same clothes he's been in all day from his rehab," Payton said, adding, "And I'd love to see this -- but Chesney's undressing McKenzie."
Now there's no place for homo-eroticism in a story about Kenny Chesney. (Lo-o-ong pause.) And while Payton may have had the urge to watch one of his cornerbacks get undressed by a man who hasn't played receiver since high school, he was more interested in watching Chesney shag punts. Chesney was given three chances to field a punt; if he succeeded, Payton would give the Saints a day off. Chesney needed all three chances, but he hauled in the third kick, making him almost as reliable a return man as Greg Lewis.
The make-a-kick, field-a-punt, eat-a-jar-of-mayonnaise and get a day off from practice tactic is as old as football itself. But in the modern NFL, with practices managed down to the nanosecond, it's hard to believe that there's an extraneous day built into the schedule just in case Iggy Pop shows up and schools Brian Urlacher in an Oklahoma drill. No, Chesney cost the Saints a day of valuable, necessary practice. Maybe Sunday's practice included long-snap drills, or special tape study of Julius Peppers for the linemen, or tips on fending off amorous country singers for the cornerbacks. Now, they'll have to pick up those skills catch-as-catch-can.
Think it doesn't matter? Three years ago, Trevor Rabin of Yes dropped in on Falcons camp, and the South African guitarist successfully pooch-punted inside the 5-yard line, giving the Falcons a day off. Thanks to our mole in Atlanta, we now know what the Falcons missed that day:
7 a.m.: Hitting open receivers instead of running like an over-caffeinated mongoose drill.
8 a.m.: Seminar: Going through life without electrocuting a dog.
9 a.m.: Kicking practice for players under the age of 45.
10 a.m.: Ownership seminar: Differentiating between good coaching candidates and jerks who plan to take your money and quit in mid-November.
11 a.m.: Whatever drill that would have made D'Angelo Hall half as good as he thinks he is.
See? The Falcons would have been a very different team if they had just attended that practice. Let's hope Chesney didn't do similar damage to the Saints.
Chicago: Watching Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton compete for a starting job is like watching two banana slugs race up a steep stretch of sidewalk. Do you really think either of them is going to get separation? After a few weeks of watching them trudge, a millimeter at a time, toward the distant, unattainable competence horizon, Lovie Smith will no doubt wave his arms around and declare a winner. This is no way to run a football team, though it seems to be the new Headless Horseman business model in the NFC North. Ultimately, the Bipolar Bear vs. Kid Whiskey standoff will be a moot point, because the Bears offensive line is in shambles. Top draft pick Chris Williams is on the shelf until November with a back injury, meaning that John Tait must move back to left tackle, with the reliably terrible John St. Clair falling into the starting job on the right side. I was one of the few optimists who thought the Bears offense might reach mediocrity this season. Now I have my doubts.
Baltimore: Everyone in town is thrilled about hometown hero Michael Phelps, who might have 22 Olympic gold medals by the time you read this. Baltimore fans are most grateful that Brian Billick never got hold of Phelps and turned him into a Soggy Boller.
Dallas: After practicing against Brandon Marshall of the Broncos, whose college nickname was "Baby T.O.," Cowboys cornerback Adam Jones sounded unimpressed. "He's nowhere near T.O. He's a good athlete, but he ain't on T.O.'s level. T.O. is 10 times faster and 10 times bigger. I wouldn't say he's nowhere near T.O." By Jones' calculations, Terrell Owens is 63 feet, 4 inches tall and can run 40 yards in about 44/100ths of a second, or about 185.95 miles per hour. Finally, someone who is as impressed by T.O. as T.O. is. Jay Cutler's response was perfect: "We go against Champ Bailey every day." Burn!
Washington: We're nearing the end of Looking Sharp season. The world's greatest training camp clichÃ© is the statement "Quarterback X Looked Sharp in Practice." It's one of those delightfully meaningless beat writer expressions: Hey, he didn't trip over his feet or throw five passes to the waterboy, so he's sharp! Colt Brennan was the sharpest tack in the supply closet after the Hall of Fame Game. Brennan did look sharp against Colts fourth-stringers playing a plain yogurt defense, and the always level-headed beltway media managed to stop short of calling him the next Sonny Jurgensen. Last week, Brennan was 4-of-8 for 37 yards, and coach Jim Zorn found all sorts of flaws in the rookie's performance. So much for sharp. Mid-August is a great time to fall out of love with longshot prospects. The time to look sharp is over; the time to win football games is coming soon.
The whole gang here at Football Outsiders would like to thank everyone who came out for the first leg of our book tour. Aaron and I were thrilled to see healthy crowds in both Baltimore and New York City.
The New York City gig was awesome. Aaron and I were guests on a Sirius Radio broadcast (their Maxim station), pimping the book and answering questions about fantasy football. One caller asked if Adrian Peterson was a good first-round fantasy selection. If only all radio appearances were that easy!
From there, it was off to Park Avenue, for a tour of NFL Offices with the help of chief statistician Chris Hoeltge. We didn't get to see anything top secret, which in the NFL is nearly everything, but we saw lots of awesome memorabilia: Lombardi trophies, old jerseys, and much more. Then, Russell Levine and Sean McCormack joined us for a fancy, elegant Manhattan dinner. See the pic for details.
|Yes, that is Aaron punching a referee blow-up doll outside Mike Pereira's office.||You play to win the game... and the ring.|
Finally, we arrived at the venue: the Happy Ending Lounge, which serves booze. Stefan Fatsis (A Few Seconds of Panic) and Jerry Caraccioli (Boycott: Stolen Dreams of the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games) joined Aaron on the main stage for an event that was truly out of the college bookstore ordinary. A handful of Internet football celebrities came out, including Gregg Rosenthall of Rotoworld, who joined us for post-reading cocktails at a nearby sports bar. Thanks for paying for the cab, Gregg!
The Baltimore gig was also lots of fun; it was great to see so many readers come to a college bookstore on a Tuesday in August. The Baltimore crowd was more PFP-intensive, and Aaron and I got to talk lots of Ravens, Redskins, Eagles, Favre, and DVOA. Unfortunately, my camera battery died, and the pics I took with a disposable aren't developed yet. Maybe by the Thanksgiving Walktrough.
The second leg of the book tour hits Indianapolis, Chicago, Philly, and Boston in September. Check local listings.
30 comments, Last at 15 Aug 2008, 6:19pm by jebmak