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14 Nov 2006

Any Given Sunday: Browns over Falcons

by Ned Macey

Two weeks ago, the Falcons were 5-2 and coming off consecutive wins over 2005 playoff participants in which Mike Vick starred. They faced upcoming games against the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns, who had a combined three wins. Two weeks and two losses later, the Falcons are falling apart. Cleveland is still rebuilding, but they have won two out of three, and only one of their six losses has come by more than a touchdown. The defense is developing, and they just need a quarterback to make them a playoff contender.

Vick is a lighting-rod, a player whose unique set of talents makes him difficult to evaluate. Football Outsiders' advanced statistics can certainly measure the relative success of both his running and passing plays. Vick's combined passing and rushing ability have him firmly established as a legitimate NFL starter but hardly one of the game's best players. Our similarity scores suggested that Vick could still develop into a legit passer, like similar players Steve McNair and Steve Young, but as Aaron Schatz points out over on the FO FOX blog, things aren't looking optimistic right now.

Admittedly, these numbers exclude two important aspects of measuring Vick's output. First, they cannot take into account how his presence frees up his running backs. This impact is likely very real but overstated by Vick's supporters.

More importantly, it does not account for a very pedestrian receiving corps. Despite numerous investments in draft picks, the wide receivers are among the worst in the league. Admittedly, Vick has a propensity to stare down receivers, but he is not having trouble with safety help. His receivers cannot get separation in single coverage, and Vick lacks the ability to consistently fit the ball into tight spaces. Both of his interceptions came on balls where his intended target had one-on-one coverage and the defender made a better play on the ball. The pre-season loss of Brian Finneran, Vick's most consistent wide receiver, is holding back the offense.

The NFL media propagates an absurd notion that certain quarterbacks are "winners," and this notion led to a certain deification of Vick following the 2004 season. At that point, the Falcons had made the playoffs in both of his full seasons as a quarterback. In 2002, he was outstanding according to our advanced metrics. In 2004, he had a J.P. Losmanesque season but was bailed out by good teammates, some good fortune, and an easy schedule.

Two years later, Vick has improved from his 2004 level but failed to recapture the magic of 2002. Meanwhile, the team around him has regressed, and the NFC has improved. The Falcons will need Vick to be one of the ten best quarterbacks in football to make it to the playoffs, and unfortunately, he spent the past two weeks proving he was not up to the task. His two breakout performances gave Atlanta narrow wins over Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, two teams who are a combined 7-11.

On Sunday, Vick was far from his best. He completed less than half his passes, threw two interceptions, and fumbled the ball away on a potential game-winning drive. The rest of the team did not have enough talent to overcome an inferior opponent without Vick on top of his game.

The Falcons have been remarkably consistent in the Jim Mora era. Their overall DVOA has been -2.7%, -3.5%, and -7.7%. Vick's struggles were their problem in 2004. In 2005, it was a defense with a DVOA of 10.9%, 28th in the league. This year, Vick is playing worse than a year ago, and the team is getting killed by its special teams. The good news is that much of this is the result of the Michael Koenen as place kicker experiment, a mistake that has been remedied.

A more troubling development for the future of this year's team is the decline of the running game. The Falcons started the year with a spread option look that confounded opponents. Since the offense got on tape, however, defenses have adapted, and the running game has been slowed.

Starting with the New Orleans game in Week 3, Warrick Dunn has been a non-factor. He has averaged less than four yards per carry in five out of seven games, including a 21 carry, 73 yard performance on Sunday. The only recent game he impacted was against the Giants when he broke a 90-yard TD run. A season ago, he only ran for less than four yards per carry twice in 16 games a season ago.

Jerious Norwood, the impressive rookie averaging 6.8 yards per carry in a reserve role, was inactive with a knee injury. Given Dunn's age and Norwood's superior production, it is legitimate to question if Dunn's toughest opponent is Father Time.

Meanwhile the rebuilt defense is losing players left and right. Big-time acquisition John Abraham remains fragile and has only played two games. Ed Hartwell, last season's major acquisition, has also played only twice. Cornerbacks Jason Webster and Jimmy Williams missed Sunday's game, and even stalwart defensive end Patrick Kerney was lost for the season on Sunday with a torn pectoral muscle. Current information has Hartwell, Abraham, Webster, and Williams all returning in the next few weeks. Unfortunately, the Falcons are slipping out of the playoff race and need them now.

The Falcons' depleted defense did not cost them on Sunday, as the Browns managed only 17 points. That may be all you need to know about the Browns offense. Charlie Frye still can hide behind the "young quarterback" tag for another year or so, but he is inaccurate, prone to mistakes, and on the Joey Harrington career path. The seeming blind faith in such an unproven commodity by the Cleveland front office is mind-boggling.

Is it possible that Frye could mature into a capable game-manager? Anything is possible, and Frye shows flashes of potential. Those flashes are far outweighed by bad plays that have made him one of the least valuable quarterbacks for two consecutive seasons.

One reason for optimism is that the Browns are starting to deploy some decent receiving talent. Kellen Winslow, Jr. has fought his way back from a knee injury and is one of the most productive tight ends in football. He made a pair of outstanding catches on Sunday. Braylon Edwards is not all the way back from his knee injury and drops too many balls, but he definitely has big-play ability. He scored a touchdown and was missed by Frye on a potential huge play on Sunday. Injuries to Joe Jurevicius have left the team hampered a bit, but the receiving talent is definitely good enough for an average passing game.

Frye is not helped by a running game that is completely inept. The line was overpowered routinely by the Falcons on Sunday. Reuben Droughns is a tough runner, but that does not mean he is good. On Sunday, it was 54 yards on 21 carries, and he has averaged four yards per carry just once all season.

What success the Browns have had this year is mostly attributable to their defense. At the risk of sounding blasphemous, is it possible that, on the defensive side of the ball, Romeo Crennel misses Bill Belichick less than Belichick misses Crennel? The Browns defense is statistically equivalent to the Patriots this season and was better a year ago. In 2004, Crennel's last year in New England, the Patriots ranked 6th in DVOA defense while the Browns ranked 23rd.

Injuries are to blame for some of the Patriots problems, but the Browns are not exactly healthy. Sunday's game was vintage 2004 Patriots. Down Leigh Bodden, Gary Baxter, and Daylon McCutcheon, their pre-season top three cornerbacks, the pass defense excelled with Daven Holly, Ralph Brown, and Jereme Perry. What, no Earthwind Moreland? Safeties BrodneyPool and Brian Russell both had strong games and protected the untested cornerbacks.

The defense does have talent, and like any good Belichick-tree defense, much is in the linebacking corps. Andra Davis and Kamerion Wimbley are a menace to copy editors and opposing offenses alike. They were all over the field on Sunday, helping in large part to contain Vick. The elusive quarterback got free for two big gains, but considering his 40 pass attempts, holding the damage to two big running plays is a win. The Browns brought pressure often, but the rushers maintained their discipline.

The Browns have seven games to decide if Frye really is their future, or they are going to waste additional years "developing" a mediocre quarterback. That decision likely is tied to the future of Crennel in Cleveland. Nobody doubted he could coach defense, but he has already switched offensive coordinators, and the offense still struggles. A tough remaining schedule will leave them with a good draft pick to help continue the rebuilding policy. Adding a talented offensive lineman in the draft and someone like Byron Leftwich through a trade would go a long way toward getting the Browns to .500.

The Falcons have had more success than Cleveland but are equally at a crossroads. The team is not getting better under Mora, and maybe more importantly, Vick is not getting better. They have a brutal remaining schedule that will make a playoff spot difficult to earn. If the Falcons do not show improvement, some hard questions need to be asked. Should they keep going after big name veterans to fix an average defense or rebuild through the draft? Is this the right coaching staff to get the most out of their franchise player? Can that player succeed with this receiving corps? Vick is an amazing talent, and as a fan of football, I hope to see him succeed. A potential second consecutive disappointing season makes that possibility more remote.

Bonus AGS

The Browns' win over the Falcons was far from the only shocking result on Sunday. Five other teams with at least a .500 record fell to an opponent with a worse record. That does not even count surprisingly close wins by Indianapolis and Denver or amazing comebacks by Baltimore and San Diego. It was certainly a wild weekend in the NFL.

The NFL Sunday Ticket offers Short Cuts, a feature allowing you to condense every play of a game into 30 minutes. I sat down and spent a little over two hours watching these upsets to provide you with a quick thought or two on what transpired and what to expect going forward. Many of these teams have appeared in this space in previous weeks, and reference may be made to those articles.

Pittsburgh 38-New Orleans 31

This game was defense optional. The Steelers held on thanks to a late fumble by Terrance Copper. As I noted a few weeks ago, Pittsburgh is better than their record. Their secondary has holes, so they might not be a top 10 team, but they will win more than they lose down the stretch.

New Orleans is basically the same team as the St. Louis Rams with better special teams. The defense ranks 25th in DVOA, and the secondary let Pittsburgh receivers run free all afternoon. Their linebackers fill gaps well but have trouble covering outside runs. Their safeties, Josh Bullocks and Omar Stoutmire, have to be questioned after the team gave up five plays of at least 35 yards.

Offensively, Marques Colston is one of the best stories in the NFL. He has spent a lot of time facing the opponents' second or third cornerback thanks to Joe Horn and Reggie Bush. He excelled as the primary receiver against the banged-up Steelers. He will need to continue to amaze in the likely event of forthcoming shoot-outs. They have four games remaining against top 10 DVOA offenses. Odds are that despite the hot start, the season-ender against the Panthers will decide the division.

New York Jets 17-New England 14

The "bark park" where I bring my dog has better turf than Gillette Stadium featured in a rainy day on Sunday. That is not an excuse for the Patriots, the home team that is familiar with inclement weather, but it certainly was one of the major factors in the game. Tom Brady never looked comfortable in the conditions, and the Jets mixed their blitzes well and basically neutralized the Patriots in passing downs. Brady was sacked twice and went 5-for-8 for only 32 yards and two conversions on ten third and fourth down pass plays.

After the Patriots lost to Denver, I hypothesized that they were changing into a power-running team. Instead, Brady is on pace for the second most attempts of his career even though he is much less productive than the past two seasons. The reason is in large part that the running game has not dominated. It is below average according to DVOA. Meanwhile the defense has struggled at a league-average level, and most of that was before Rodney Harrison suffered an injury. The Patriots are good, but they are not at the level of their last two Super Bowl seasons.

The Jets have a terrible DVOA, thanks in part to their 41-0 loss to Jacksonville. The rest of their games have all been decided by a touchdown or less. Basically, this is an average team masquerading as a playoff contender. The team has thrown the ball well all season, and thanks to some developing young linemen, actually runs the ball at a league-average level. Defense is another story. The Jets have one of the worst defenses in football. Holding down New England on a sloppy field does not change that. Thanks to a joke of a schedule -- one opponent remaining with a winning record -- nine wins is a definite possibility.

Miami 13-Kansas City 10

Damon Huard had played at an amazing level since taking over for an injured Trent Green. That is until Sunday's game. The benefit of hindsight makes clear that his big games were against bad defenses except for San Diego, a defense whose primary weakness is in the secondary. Against Miami, Larry Johnson was contained, and Huard's windows were much smaller. Huard's early success was in large part due to the heavy focus of defenses on Johnson, who started playing well only after Huard softened up the defense. Miami's talented front seven was able to contain him with seven or eight defenders, and receivers were never running free in the secondary.

Huard only appeared comfortable throwing to Tony Gonzalez, who is out for a few games following an injury. Now is the time to thank Huard for a job well done and turn the team back over to Green. Green is the only quarterback besides some guy named Peyton to rank in the top five in DPAR the past four seasons. The Chiefs have their best defense in years, and it would be a shame to waste it without their best quarterback on the field.

The Dolphins followed their same formula as a week ago, with Joey Harrington carrying more of the weight. Meaningless late season run, here we come.

Green Bay 23 Minnesota 17

Nobody thought it was possible that Brett Favre could be playing some of his best football in years and it would be an underreported story. Favre is playing much better than Steve McNair, who is receiving a number of accolades. The Packers have rebuilt their offensive line with young players who are giving new life to Favre and Ahman Green. Favre is on pace for over 4,000 yards and only 12 interceptions. The Packers host the Patriots next week with a shot at .500.

Brad Johnson, another AARP quarterback, played reasonably well, but he is much nearer the end than Favre and is overseeing a putrid offense. Chester Taylor is only gaining yards thanks to a huge amount of carries, and this offense is wasting an excellent defense. With the defense now giving up big plays in the passing game -- hello Donald Driver -- the season is spiraling out of control in Minnesota.

Houston 13-Jacksonville 10

For more on this game, read my Any Given Sunday from these teams' previous encounter, but exchange the name David Garrard for Byron Leftwich. Also, apparently the Jaguars defense can withstand their injuries, as they played great except for one big pass play to Andre Johnson. For Houston, all that has changed is the emergence of Owen Daniels and the elimination of Eric Moulds from the offense.

Going forward, Jacksonville has a decision to make at quarterback. Byron Leftwich was benched officially because of an ankle injury, but his poor performance in a loss at Houston is the more likely reason. Replacement David Garrard "won" the past couple games, and a switch looked permanent. Four interceptions later, we have a full-blown quarterback controversy. Two interceptions went through Matt Jones' hands. Those interceptions highlight the offense's real problem, a lack of quality receivers. Garrard made a number of other questionable throws that were not intercepted. The Jaguars are blessed with a good quarterback and a pretty good quarterback. If the good one's ankle is healthy, they would be making an enormous mistake not to play him.

The Jaguars are now 3-1 against teams with winning records and 2-3 against teams with losing records. They close with four games against teams with winning records and three road games against losers. They have to play more consistently, or they will miss the playoffs.

Each Tuesday in Any Given Sunday, Ned Macey looks at the most surprising result of the previous weekend. The NFL sells itself on the idea that any team can win any given game, but we use these surprises as a tool to explore what trends and subtle aspects of each team are revealed in a single game.

Posted by: Ned Macey on 14 Nov 2006

51 comments, Last at 17 Nov 2006, 12:10am by Sid


by asg (not verified) :: Tue, 11/14/2006 - 2:35pm

Frye is really that bad?

by Kalyan (not verified) :: Tue, 11/14/2006 - 3:23pm

Wonder how much the loss to the Jets will come back to haunt the Patriots later in the season? With a trip to GB Packers followed by the bears - wonder if the Patriots will come under pressure from the resurgent Jets ?

A trivia question: Has it ever happened that all the wildcard entries ever go to a single division?

by Jets fan (not verified) :: Tue, 11/14/2006 - 3:33pm

Now the Jets can compete to win the AFC East. I think most pundits counted them out in the beginning of the year, and many claimed that the Dolphins would give the Pats some competition. Boy was that far from the way things have developed. But have the Jets gained any respect? Obviousely not, they're just masquerading as a playoff contender. Tell that to Tom Brady!

Bring on Du Bears!

by Led (not verified) :: Tue, 11/14/2006 - 3:38pm

"Basically, this is an average team masquerading as a playoff contender."

With 6 teams making the playoffs in each 16-team conference, average teams are always playoff contenders, no?

by Travis (not verified) :: Tue, 11/14/2006 - 3:45pm

A trivia question: Has it ever happened that all the wildcard entries ever go to a single division?

Yes, several times, though not in the 8-division era. The 1998 AFC East, 1997 NFC Central, and 1994 NFC Central each sent 3 wild card teams to the playoffs, and the 1989 AFC Central, 1988 AFC Central, 1985 AFC East, 1984 AFC West, 1983 AFC West, 1981 AFC East, and the 1981 AFC West sent 2.

by Just Another Falcon Fan (not verified) :: Tue, 11/14/2006 - 3:49pm

Funny that Atlanta's overall results have been consistent, but that their game-by-game variance has been very high. It makes being just another Falcon fan an extremely frustrating experience.

I listened to most of the Browns game over the internet, so I'm lacking visuals to match my perceptions. However, you can note these additional observations:

1) Field position; in the first half the Browns had much better initial field position than the Falcons and managed to get onto the board by mixing the run and pass. In the second half, the Browns were usually backed up in their end of the field, played very conservatively and were stymied. On their last major possession, the Browns had a little bit more room to work with and came out aggressively, earning a FG and some breathing room.

Conversely, Atlanta never had field position in the first half and were incapable of generating field position until the 2-minute warning. In the second half, the Falcons took advantage of good starting field position, but again couldn't drive down the field for 6. The TD came on a position that started at the Browns 12 following a punt from the back line of the end zone and a good Rossum return.

2) Injuries to Atlanta have hit the offensive line as well. Kynan Forney is gone for the season, while Matt Lehr is recovering from a 4-week injury of the needlestick type. The replacements (Clabo and Alexander) have been better in pass protection but worse in run blocking. Giving Vick time to throw works if his receivers will actually catch the ball.

3) Greg Knapp is a goober. Feeling pressure from the press, he opens up the offense against Pittsburgh and the receivers actually run patterns with cuts. This continued against Cincinnati, but the last two games appear to be a reversion to the "everyone run 5-yard curl patterns" offense. I'm a little less sure on this point lacking visual evidence, though.

4) Ron Jaworski had apparently commented on Friday or Saturday that the Browns had a very good and underrated pass defense, based on his film study. It certainly sounded like Brodney Pool was all over the field in coverage yesterday.

by dbt (not verified) :: Tue, 11/14/2006 - 3:50pm

Here's a rookie QB's three year progression:

Year 1: DVOA -3.5 (29th), DPAR 22.2 (24th)
Year 2: DVOA -21.5 (37th), DPAR -12.6 (41st).
Year 3: DVOA 29.5 (7th), DPAR 75.6 (9th).

Year 1: DVOA -25.0 (38th), DPAR -9.3 (38th).
Year 2: DVOA -22.6 (32nd), DPAR -11.9 (37th). Partial season.

I still think it takes three years to write off a quarterback. I'm not going to defend Vick by saying he's still developing, but it's pretty obvious that Frye has some progress he can make. By the way, that's Drew Brees as a baseline. Sadly, I don't have PFP06 at my fingertips to look up Frye's projections.

by Riceloft (not verified) :: Tue, 11/14/2006 - 3:57pm

Re: Ned

Sean Jones is the other starting Safety, not Brodney Pool. Most often, Pool was in as an additional corner to make up for injuries. At least from my perspective.

I'm suprised you didn't make mention of the shadow/spy the Browns assigned to Vick throughout much of the game: Rookie middle linebacker Leon Williams. He did an exceptional job considering he hasn't played much this season except on special teams.

by Just Another Falcon Fan (not verified) :: Tue, 11/14/2006 - 4:19pm

5) Penalties. How could I forget all the stupid, stupid Falcon penalties? Of course, Eric Beverly's hold at the end of the game lined up the nail that Vick's fumble drove home, but that was just the climax to a long day of stupid mistakes. By comparison, the only big penalty I recall the Browns committing was Kellen Winslow's cheap shot on former teammate Chris Crocker.

In particular, the penalties show a lack of discipline that bodes ill for Jim Mora's future employment as a head coach in the NFL.

On the positive side, no one else in the NFC South is blowing the doors off the competition either. Carolina has a one-dimensional offense and the Saints are coming back to earth. I could see 8-8 winning this division for any of the three contenders.

by Tom Kelso (not verified) :: Tue, 11/14/2006 - 4:19pm

I think dismissal of the Jets has as much to do with 41-0 as it does with all the preseason picks of Miami.

After playing two consecutive games in Jersey, do the Bears get the Giants' locker room this week?

by Wanker79 (not verified) :: Tue, 11/14/2006 - 4:25pm

After playing two consecutive games in Jersey, do the Bears get the Giants’ locker room this week?

Even as a J-E-T-S' fan, I find the idea of the Jets having to use the visitor locker room at "Giants Stadium" very funny.

by blahblahfalcons (not verified) :: Tue, 11/14/2006 - 4:28pm

I'm linking to a thread from the Falcons messageboard where someone broke down all of Atlanta's offensive drives play-by-play. It's from a homer's perspective obv., but still pretty fascinating and blame is properly assigned to Vick for his mistakes (definately his worst game of the season). It paints a picture of the coaching staff that is pretty disheartening and almost unbelievable. The skeptical side of me, even with no analytical contribution, just automatically thinks that no professional coaches at this level can actually be this clueless, can they?

The state of the defense is another thing altogether. The relative failures of our two most expensive free agents (Abraham & Hartwell) reminds me of the WaPo article on the Redskins from a few weeks back. I know McKay is a hell of a lot smarter than those guys though.

by blahblahfalcons (not verified) :: Tue, 11/14/2006 - 4:30pm

9 - yeah, penalties + turnovers have been the magic combo for the last two games. I guess that's the case with most losses. It's odd though, considering they were one of the league's least penalized teams last year.

by blahblahfalcons (not verified) :: Tue, 11/14/2006 - 4:31pm

Though now that I think back on it, I'm pretty sure Crocker was cheapshotted multiple times by Cleveland's fullback, in addition to K2. Bad blood among Browns, I guess.

by Pacifist Viking (not verified) :: Tue, 11/14/2006 - 4:35pm

Brad Johnson is not even a functional QB right now. His limited arm strength limits the plays the Vikings can run successfully, and he has little mobility to make plays or avoid pass rushers. I'm in favor of replacing him with Brooks Bollinger who would be, I hope, at the very least functional. He might be able to throw a ball 40-50 yards that doesn't just hang, and he might be able to move around a bit. Turnovers? Johnson has 8 in 3 games, so I don't see what Bollinger could hurt.

And if the answer isn't Bollinger, it might as well be Tarvaris Jackson. Even with no experience he would give the Vikes a better chance to win because Johnson's main weaknesses (arm strength and mobility) are Jackson's strengths.

by Kaetab (not verified) :: Tue, 11/14/2006 - 5:39pm

Having Brown's season tickets (48 yrs in the family, so it is more a tradition than sadism), and being a frequent visitor of training camp, I must say that I would much rather let Frye develop than risk another pick/trade with some retread. Yes, Frye makes too many mistakes, and doesn't protect the ball. However, 6 of his interceptions hit his intended receiver's hands. (I've screamed myself hoarse over this little issue.) At one point, three of his starting O-line were not with the team until 7 days before the season, (I'd have to check this week's depth chart to see if it is still true.)

Now, I'm an engineer, so I can play with statistics and numbers all day long and not get bored. I can also manipulate those numbers to tell you whatever I want. However, I still believe that football, more than anyother sport, has a leadership/emotion skill which can improve a player's value to a team more than raw skill. Having sat at more than 100 Browns' games, through a litany of garbage QBs, and teams that shouldn't be on the field, I have no problem admitting that I have tasted the cool-aide and Frye can lead an offense. He has started, what, 12-15 games now and many are ready to write him off?!?!? Trent Dilhole may have been a better QB statistically, but if no one will follow the leader, he has no value. Charlie will be fine, and the Browns have way more pressing needs.

by What (not verified) :: Tue, 11/14/2006 - 6:02pm

I agree kaetab. I've watched every Browns game so far and the biggest flaw on Frye IMO is that he doesn't know when to give up on a play and consequently gets drilled or throws an ill advised pass. Sure I might be a homer but if we could finally build up the offensive line to something resembling above average Frye could lead us to the play-offs.

Edwards drops waaayyyy too many balls also :(.

by Rollo (not verified) :: Tue, 11/14/2006 - 6:04pm

Amazing how much a coordinator can improve a defense. Braylon Edwards looks like the real deal to me - if the young players can improve in time for next year, does the AFC North officially become football's most competitive division?

Also, just ponder how much the retirement of Jimmy Smith is hurting Jacksonville. Vic Ketchmann, jaguars.com editor, has noted that JAX has no players among the top 50 in receptions or receiving yards. Outside of September, the WRs have been simply awful. The offense has a very good running game, very good pass protection, and good quarterbacking paired with an elite defense. Add in even one good receiver to that mix in Smith and suddenly the team turns from struggling to a wild card to looking able to go deep into the playoffs. Prophetic call in PFP 2006 indeed...

by Peremptor (not verified) :: Tue, 11/14/2006 - 6:20pm

re #16

Great point Kaetab. It's even better when it seems you have the full package of leadership/stats as Rivers seems to do in San Diego :).

by dbldown (not verified) :: Tue, 11/14/2006 - 6:20pm

7: I think it's fair to compair Frye to Bree's in so far as both of their first two seasons were spent behind suspect lines with few weapons around them.

If the o-line stays healthy and they get some production from a running back I wouldn't be surprised to see Frye develop into a Bree's like player. That said, it wouldn't be a bad idea to draft the next Philip Rivers just in case.

by Vince (not verified) :: Tue, 11/14/2006 - 6:51pm

There are two ways to look at the Falcon's schedule. The pessimistic view is that it's brutally tough. The optimistic view is that they play all the teams they're in immediate playoff contention with (Saints, Panthers, Eagles, Cowboys). So the season is far from lost.

The frustrating thing about Abraham is that he was SO GREAT in the game and a half he was healthy. His game in Carolina on opening day was, seriously, a HOF performance. Then he got hurt on a meaningless fourth quarter play with the game decided and ruined his season.

I've watched almost all Falcon games the past two years, and have yet to see Hartwell make any kind of impact.

I'm still hopeful Atlanta will rebound and make the playoffs, but I think it's more likely they just miss. And the good news then is that Mora (and, more importantly, Greg Knapp) will be sent packing.

by Joseph (not verified) :: Tue, 11/14/2006 - 7:01pm

Regarding Frye: (and I am from New Orleans, not Cleveland)

Remember, they lost LeCharles Bentley first day of training camp, and there was a piece here, I believe, about the 3 or 4 centers they tried out in training camp. Center usually calls line assignments, and is responsible for moving NT for middle runs. Cleveland's staff prob would like to see Frye with Bentley as his center, who is regarded as one of the league's best and was the first player Cleveland signed and targeted in FA this past offseason.

by morganja (not verified) :: Tue, 11/14/2006 - 7:05pm

I wonder, without any proof whatsoever, if all the line injuries for Atlanta are payback from teams for the cut-back zone blocking that Atlanta is famous for.

by Dave (not verified) :: Tue, 11/14/2006 - 7:11pm

Was wondering if anyone had comments on the Deuce McAlister rushing TD in the Pittsburgh game, the one in which there was a bad snap that rolled straight to him and he picked it up and ran it in for a TD. Any word on if this was a completely broken play or some kind of trick play?

by Vince (not verified) :: Tue, 11/14/2006 - 7:36pm

#24: It was ABSOLUTELY a trick play, and it was CLEARLY designed to happen. Watch Brees on the play. As the ball bounces to Deuce, Brees just does a normal dropback, looking to his right.

The snap was probably not supposed to bounce to Deuce, but he was definitely supposed to get the ball. I can't believe anyone could watch the play and think anything different.

by blahblahfalcons (not verified) :: Tue, 11/14/2006 - 7:40pm

23 - nah. there's really only one oline injury, forney's seperated shoulder. And I think that's just the kind of thing that happens to olinemen. Lehr's out because he was caught roiding.

by Sophandros (not verified) :: Tue, 11/14/2006 - 7:46pm

7: I agree with you, but for some reason, this site enjoys writing off QBs, even before they have a full season of starts below their belt.

by Just Another Falcon Fan (not verified) :: Tue, 11/14/2006 - 7:51pm

Re: 23

No, there haven't been any obvious "revenge" factor to the injuries; some of them have even occurred during practice (Jason Webster, Jimmy Williams).

by jocko (not verified) :: Tue, 11/14/2006 - 7:59pm

McAllister was supposed to throw a pass off a direct snap.

by underthebus (not verified) :: Tue, 11/14/2006 - 9:06pm

Has there been any articles in regards to division opponents? I'm thinking of the conventional wisdom of teams always playing divisional opponents well (no matter how bad a team they are). Some recent examples are Hou-Jac, SF-STL, NYJ-NE. Does DVOA have a problem being predictive when it comes to divisional games? Thought this would be a good topic for ASG.

by kaetab (not verified) :: Tue, 11/14/2006 - 9:25pm

A couple of follow-ups to the responses to my "Frye" post:

The Browns are on their 7th center this season, not 6th as is frequently published. I'm sure this has no significance.

Yea, I'd love to have P. Rivers, but if Frye had spent two years on the bench, he might have started off much hotter also. I have no problem spending a lower draft pick on a QB, but there are too many issues with an aging D-Line, a talented but injury prone secondary, and the aforementioned O-line issues to blow a high pick on a QB. I actually think one of the best decisions this year was to purge all QB experience off the roster. "When Cortez reached the New World, he burned his ships. His men were well motivated." (Sean Connery - The Hunt for Red October). Similarly, there is no needless and useless call for the back-up, because we don't have one. With no real SB aspirations, the risk, I think, is worth the benefit.

And since I'm such a homer --- How 'bout Wimbley and DQ Jackson! They're going to be monsters!

by Spyker (not verified) :: Tue, 11/14/2006 - 9:52pm

By the logic that Frye makes too many mistakes and doesn't have the greatest measurables, I guess we can write off Rex Grossman and Eli Manning too. I'm not saying that Frye is as good as either of those, but the kid is playing behind a patchwork line with no running game, one competent WR, and a brand new offensive coordinator. His teammates love him and he's a leader, something the Browns have lacked at QB since Kosar was forced out by Bill Belichick. He reminds this long-time Browns follower of Jim Harbaugh or Brian Sipe, two other guys who kept winning despite always being labelled "easily replacable". If the author thinks it's Charlie Frye holding the Browns back from the playoffs, I want more of what he's smoking.

by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 11/15/2006 - 12:51am

It’s odd though, considering they were one of the league’s least penalized teams last year.

See, there's one thing that actually could be added to a "luck factor" as well: we always think of 'disciplined teams' and 'coaching' being important in not having penalties, but as has been shown many, many places, just as important as the team are the officials the team faces.

I wouldn't be surprised if that's a good part of Atlanta's number of penalties from last year and this year.

by Ruben (not verified) :: Wed, 11/15/2006 - 1:00am

Hey all,

I've said this before, but it's worth repeating: woe be onto he who places his faith in Braylon Edwards. I watched every down he played at Michigan, and came away with the knowledge that he'll catch a 40 yard bomb on 1st and 10, but on 3rd and 7, his hands turn to cinder blocks. Bitter irony that he's on the same team as Joey "always good for a first down" Jurevicius...who's on IR.

Sorry, Browns fans, but you have no luck 't all.

by Riceloft (not verified) :: Wed, 11/15/2006 - 1:11am

Re: 34

Uhhh, Joe J isn't on IR. He played last game, and as far as I know and have read, he wasn't injured during the game.

by Just Another Falcon Fan (not verified) :: Wed, 11/15/2006 - 1:55am

Thought I'd check the penalty factor for Atlanta

Through 9 games:
Atlanta: 56 penalties for 493 yards
Opponents: 59 penalties for 466 yards

Atlanta record in games where they have more penalties: 2-2
Atlanta record in games where they have more penalty yards: 2-3

So, I suppose it's not been as big a factor as it felt like.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 11/15/2006 - 2:07am

The Vikings defensive vulnerability is most pronounced when it faces a top-flight quarterback, and luckily for them, that only happens twice more this season, when it faces Favre and Bulger in weeks 16 and 17. The Vikings nearly always have very close games with the Packers, and who knows what the Rams will playing for by week 17. Thus, if the Vikings offense can merely become bad, as opposed to being too hideous to behold, they have a chance at salvaging their season, as the defense will likely keep them in just about every game. It better start this Sunday in Miami, however. Pacifist was correct above; Johnson is so physically limited in what he can do now that Childress is making an error if he doesn't change qbs.

No discussion of Vick's pros and cons is complete unless one mentions that amount of cap space he consumes, compared to his performance vis a vis other quarterbacks. The guy just doesn't pull his salary/bonus weight.

by Adam, VA (not verified) :: Wed, 11/15/2006 - 3:13am

Re: 11

There are 3 locker rooms at the Meadowlands, one for the Giants, the Jets and a visitor's locker room. So the Bears will be in familiar territory this coming weekend.

by Sophandros (not verified) :: Wed, 11/15/2006 - 12:37pm

9: So you think that the Saints will only win two more games this season?

Personally, I think that the winner of the last game of the season between the Saints and Panthers wins the division, and the loser stays home for the playoffs.

by mawbrew (not verified) :: Wed, 11/15/2006 - 3:20pm

I'm surprised that folks would be so quick to bail on a young QB like Frye. I haven't looked at every QB's DVOA, but I did do a comparison of the passer rating young QB's with similar experience vs Frye's. There were only three QB's that were meaningfully higher (Big Ben was one, don't remember the others right now). In addition, to the Brees comparison, both Mannings had similar passer ratings after a similar number of starts.

As has been mentioned many times before on this site, it can take a long time to reach a definative conclusion on a young QB. At least Frye has the distinct advantage that he doesn't cost much against the cap.

by Trogdor (not verified) :: Wed, 11/15/2006 - 4:51pm

I didn't think Ned is writing Frye off, so much as saying that Cleveland needs to figure out whether or not to write him off. In that case, he's absolutely correct, and that's obviously been one of the main objectives all season. They traded away any chance of QB controversy, so they'd in effect force themselves to play Frye and figure out what they have. And before this offseason, they need to figure out if he's going to be the QB they hitch the wagon to, or if they need to look in a different direction. No harm in raising the question that this season's begging to have asked. Given the potential, likelihood of improvement, mistakes and probability of overcoming them, is he the QB of the present and future or not?

I do have to say that he does remind me of Brian Sipe though. Unfortunately, that has as much to do with ridiculous end zone interceptions as anything.

I would have to wonder where any official FO stance on Frye would come from anyway. According to the Audibles threads, nobody watches them (not that I can blame them - if you weren't a die-hard fan, would you?). So would it come from purely stats? The replay shows on NFL Network? I don't get the latter, so I'm not sure how complete they are, and stats may not be the best way to judge a young QB playing behind a patchwork line. So until you see an EPC or other article really focused on Frye, you might not want to get too worked up over it.

by Kaetab (not verified) :: Wed, 11/15/2006 - 5:06pm

RE 41

You are correct, of course. However, I feel the need to take up the banner whenever someone criticizes the current rebuilding process, as many local commentators in the Cleveland seem to enjoy. They apparently get paid to comment, and almost universally support the demotion of Frye and the removal of RAC and his staff. (That would be the Larry, Moe and Curly of The Plain Dealer, et. al.).

I think the next person I hear/read tell me the Browns need to draft Troy Smith from Ohio State in the first round, I'm literally going to have to bludgeon them with their own pancreas.

And after the nightmare of the Butch Davis era, I'm downright giddy about the RAC era. For anyone who has watched the Browns since 1999, the improvements under RAC are blindingly obvious, and too numerous for me to detail right now.

by Trogdor (not verified) :: Wed, 11/15/2006 - 5:09pm

"For anyone who has watched the Browns since 1999, the improvements under RAC are blindingly obvious, and too numerous for me to detail right now."

Which just makes me marvel even more at how bad Chris Palmer must have been. Because I remember feeling exactly the same way early in the Davis regime! To summarize, Crennell>>Davis>>>>>Palmer. That about right?

by Just Another Falcon Fan (not verified) :: Wed, 11/15/2006 - 6:25pm


The Saints finish up:
San Francisco
@N.Y. Giants

Yeah, I can see the Saints losing to the Bengals in a shootout, to Atlanta in Atlanta assuming the Falcons haven't melted down, to Dallas in Dallas, to the Giants in the frozen toxic waste swamp, and to Carolina to finish out the season. That's 8-8.

by mawbrew (not verified) :: Wed, 11/15/2006 - 7:27pm

Re: 41

Reading this:

"Charlie Frye still can hide behind the “young quarterback� tag for another year or so, but he is inaccurate, prone to mistakes, and on the Joey Harrington career path."

"Is it possible that Frye could mature into a capable game-manager? Anything is possible, and Frye shows flashes of potential. Those flashes are far outweighed by bad plays that have made him one of the least valuable quarterbacks for two consecutive seasons."

it's much easier to see the 'Frey can't play' angle than the 'Cleveland needs to make a decision on Frey' angle. For example, there's no recognition that Frey's two consecutive seasons actually amount to less than one full season. It seems premature to me to suggest that the best Frey can hope to achieve in his career is 'capable game manager'. Perhaps I'm misunderstanding the intended use of that description, but it sure sounds like journeyman (ie. Trent Dilfer) to me.

by kaetab (not verified) :: Wed, 11/15/2006 - 10:14pm

RE 43
Yup, you equation seems correct to me.

Remember, Palmer was a last resort. No one wanted to be the first head coach of the expansion team. One candidate stating "Please call me after you fire the first coach." (Sorry, can't immediately cite the reference, it is buried in a box in the basement.)

by admin :: Thu, 11/16/2006 - 1:53pm

Now up at the FO FOX Blog: a post by Ned Macey about Charlie Frye and other quarterbacks with negative DPAR in their first two seasons. (Click link.)

by Tom Kelso (not verified) :: Thu, 11/16/2006 - 2:15pm

I'm surprised that Kyle Boller isn't on that list, although DPAR has always been kinder to him than the conventional wisdom.

by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Thu, 11/16/2006 - 8:05pm

I'd like to point out that there are only two Detroit draft picks on that list. :)

Also, right now, I'm not sure it would make much difference if they had Otto Graham at QB. The Browns' OL DVOA is awful. Aside from blocking for power running, they don't seem to do much of anything right (as mentioned above, injuries playing a role). So it doesn't help things that Frye hasn't yet shown the ability to be a solid NFL QB, but he isn't the Browns' only problem.

by Dave (not verified) :: Thu, 11/16/2006 - 8:30pm

#25- The reason I asked is that while I thought it was some kind of a trick play that didn't go exactly as planned the announcers did not really get into it being a trick play and kind of assumed it was a lucky bounce on a bad snap. I just felt it kind of odd that pro announcers didn't analyze it further as being a trick play.

by Sid (not verified) :: Fri, 11/17/2006 - 12:10am

RE: 14

And Crocker is the guy that took a blatant cheap shot on Chad Johnson a few weeks ago. DeAngelo Hall had an unnecessary hit driving Chad Johnson OB, and then when Ocho Cinco got up, here comes Crocker to deliver a cheap shot.

About Ron Mexico:

I believe he's actually dropped the ball two weeks in a row (on a running play, carrying the ball loosely close to the ground and just dropping it sans contact).