by Mike Tanier
The Meadowlands, Monday Night
JACQUAIN WILLIAMS: Wow, the Rams sure are driving on us, Deon. Let’s hurry back to the huddle and prepare ourselves for the next play as quickly as possible. Deon, what’s wrong?
DEON GRANT: Don’t ... know ... Invisible force ... making ... me ... roll ... on ... ground ... and ... speak ... slowly...
WILLIAMS: That is strange, why ... Youch! It ... has ... affected ... me ... too...
GRANT: Must ... get ... up ... Do not want ... referees ... to think ... I ... am ... faking an injury ... just ... to ... kill ... the ... clock.
MARK WAHLBERG: Save your strength. I am an investigator from NFL headquarters trying to isolate the mysterious ailment that is plaguing Giants defenders. It is strange, like some sort of "happening."
GRANT: I think ... it ... is ... being ... carried ... on ... the ... wind.
WAHLBERG: Yes, the wind. Always dangerous in the Meadowlands. Stare at the wind, guys. Stare at it nervously. My goodness, be very frightened, it’s the wind.
WILLIAMS: What ... do ... we ... do?
WAHLBERG: Pull yourselves together and come with me. You will not miss anything: the Rams are in the red zone, so there is no chance they will score a touchdown. Follow me out to the wetlands that surround the stadium. Let me ask this snack vendor for directions. Sir, where is the quickest exit to get me to the Timex Performance Center?
M. NIGHT SHAMALAN: That way!
GRANT: That ... was ... self ... indulgent ...
WILLIAMS: Mark ... e ... Mark ... Do you think ... that this sickness ... is ... Mother Nature herself ... punishing us ... for our human ... failures ... and ... wiping ... the ... slate clean?
WAHLBERG: No. It is emanating from East Rutherford, where Mother Nature gave up long ago. I get the impression that this story is about to have an obvious, predictable twist ending.
GRANT: Look ... a ... huge ... cooling fan.
WAHLBERG: Yes, I see it. It is blowing an unhealthy miasma clear across the parking lot to the stadium. But what could the origin be? Who could produce an airborne toxin that makes it appear that Giants defenders are faking injuries for wholly self-serving reasons?
OSI UMENYIORA: Hi guys. I hope you don’t mind that I turned on that big fan to cool myself off while riding my stationary bike.
GRANT: Osi ... stop! We ... are ... catching ... Umenyiora!
WILLIAMS: Must ... accuse ... Jerry ... Reese ... of ... lying.
WALHBERG: Osi, please! Stop pedaling! Turn off the fan. You are causing widespread damage. The Giants are running out of available defenders. They are being accused of faking injuries. Why, they were so shorthanded in the opener that people are starting to think Rex Grossman is a good quarterback!
UMENYIORA: My God, it has gone that far? I will stop.
GRANT: I can speak clearly again!
WILLIAMS: Yay! Finally, this nightmare of an evening is over.
HALEY JOEL OSMENT: No, it isn’t Jacquain.
Fun with Stats
Some statistical notes from the first few weeks:
Mike Tolbert leads the league in receptions. Somewhere, Larry Centers is smiling. Tolbert has 17 catches for 131 yards and two touchdowns, solid numbers for a solid dude. The reception leader board is currently filled with running backs and Patriots, but no Patriots running backs. Mike Wallace of the Steelers is second in the league with 16, while Matt Forte, Darren Sproles, Wes Welker and Deion Branch have 15.
|Figure 1: The Tolbert Report|
But back to Tolbert. I checked the tape to see if the Chargers were doing anything exotic with Tolbert. They aren’t. Figure 1 is an example of classic Norv Turner scheming. Sending fullback Jacob Hester (22) in motion from the wide receiver position to the backfield is vintage Norv; Daryl Johnston used to motion across the formation like that. The double "big back" look with Hester and Tolbert (35) is a great way to use the available personnel, because both backs block very well but are also fast enough to get out into patterns. The Chargers can use a seven-man protection from this scheme or put five receivers into patterns, depending on the situation, and they never have to use Antonio Gates (85) as a blocker. As shown in this play, Hester stays in as a sixth pass protector. On a similar play earlier in the Chargers game, tight end Randy McMichael replaced Hester but did the same thing.
The pre-snap motion makes the man coverage an easy read, and Tolbert has no problem getting away from Rob Ninkovich (50), who is more of a pass rusher. On an earlier play, Tolbert broke outside instead of inside, and he may have an option on routes like these, as shown in blue. The speed of Gates and the Chargers receivers creates a lot of space underneath for Tolbert and other backs; Ryan Mathews (10 catches) has also been effective out of the backfield.
Tolbert caught one short touchdown pass in Week 1 on a play similar to the one shown. He has a second touchdown on a play in which Philip Rivers scrambled and drew the underneath defenders toward him, something that is bound to happen about once a year. Mathews has been more effective than Tolbert as an every-down back and may start to eat into Tolbert’s playing time, but the Chargers spend so much time in formations like the one shown in Figure 1 that there will be plenty of receiving opportunities for all of their backs.
The Seahawks are averaging 3.5 yards per offensive play and 191.5 yards per game. To add a little perspective, the league-leading Patriots average 8.2 yards per game and 563.0 yards per game. If you write off the Patriots as ridiculous, the second-ranked NFL team, the Panthers, average 6.8 yards per play and 476 yards per game. That means...
Wait a minute, that means that the Panthers have the No. 2 ranked offense in the NFL, at least in terms of raw numbers. Holy cow.
The Seahawks offense is awful, though they appear to be far worse than their numbers. Doug Baldwin had a 55-yard touchdown reception for the Seahawks, their only offensive play in two games of over 17 yards. Baldwin’s touchdown accounts for 14 percent of the Seahawks' net offense. Take it out of the Seahawks' figures and they net just 3.6 yards per pass attempt. Their running game averages 2.7 yards per rush, so at least no one can point fingers.
DVOA ranks the Chiefs and Jaguars below the Seahawks offensively; they are all so darn low that the difference probably amounts to very little, and I barely consider the Chiefs an NFL team at this point anyway. It’s a shame the Chiefs and Seahawks don’t play each other this year though -- it would be our best chance to see two teams pass 70 times for 60 yards.
The Lions and Titans have not returned a kickoff yet. The Lions will probably get one this week; Ryan Longwell of the Vikings has given up eight returnable kickoffs. The Broncos have still not had a kickoff returned, though their game against Tennessee is their first trip out of Mile High, so maybe Matt Prater, currently 10-for-10 on touchbacks, will slip up.
Here’s a terrible idea: the Broncos should make Tim Tebow their kickoff returner for home games. He can go out, get the fans in a lather, and watch the ball sail over his head. It’s the perfect extra task for a No. 3 quarterback. And if someone kicks short, Tebow could probably do something useful.
The Giants have been involved in eight replay challenges this season. No other team in the NFL has had more than three. Five of the Giants’ challenges have resulted in an overturned ruling. ESPN posted a graphic on Monday Night saying that Tom Coughlin is the only veteran coach in the NFL with a replay average over 50 percent. I think the referees are just making loopy, easy-to-challenge calls so Coughlin can look good.
The Greg Salas "catch" at the end of the first quarter on Monday night was a prime example. The ball hit the Rams receiver somewhere on his torso, bounced around various body parts, hit the ground seven or eight times, then skittered 15-yards down the field just a split second after Salas himself hit the ground, all of it occurring in the open field for all to see. The referees somehow ruled it a catch. That was clearly a challenge to get Coughlin’s average up. The ball might as well have hit Salas in the helmet and caromed into the seats.
Coughlin needs good luck with the red flag, because he has no luck with either injuries or ricochets. My favorite Monday Night highlight, besides Salas getting temporary credit for a catch by brushing against the football, was Mario Manningham mishandling a deep pass and deciding to bat the ball high into the air in an effort to regain control. Oh, now there’s an idea, Giants receiver. Tip the ball nice and high. That never works out badly.
Bang, Marry, Hire as Cap Consultant
Any football column can rank general managers on their track record, vision, or overall effectiveness. Only Walkthrough dares to rank them on their sex appeal.
Most NFL general managers do not draw attention to their physical appearance: they just try to look clean cut and professional. That’s why Thomas Dimitoff of the Falcons stands out. His hair is moussed into a poofy thicket like the last survivor of a Vidal Sassoon factory explosion, his moustache fussily plucked until it looks like a wispy middle schooler’s attempt at machismo, Dimitroff is a GQ guy in a Who’s Who in Midwestern Pre-owned Acura Salesmen profession. If the general managers all got together to stage a summer stock production of some teen literature sexy vampire story, Dimitroff would have to play all of the roles except for Creepy Old Arch Demon Lich. A.J. Smith would nail that one.
Dimitroff requires complex hair because he is a complex guy, as Peter King podcast listeners know. King and Dimitroff often share green tea, organic cookies, and "full-bodied Cabernet," because it is impossible to consume any liquid in King’s general vicinity and escape comment. Dimitroff is the son of a CFL player, scout, and coach, but he still spent time on the Browns grounds crew while trying to blaze his own trail in the NFL. He told King last week about how the other groundskeepers did not believe he was the son of a scout who had a future in a front office, and they would tease him about being stuck painting fields for the rest of his life. "You’ll see," he said, "and when I make it big, I will tease my hair into the most ridiculous tangle of frippery the NFL has ever seen! Why, I will look like some 17th century Rococo dandy, and no one will ever suspect that I used to have to paint the dirt in Cleveland again!" Actually, he might not have said that last part.
Do women find Dimitroff physically attractive? More crucially, do women find NFL general managers physically attractive? To find out, I made my wife look at pictures of every man with the title of "general manager" in the NFL except Jerry Jones and give me an honest appraisal of their all-around hotness. She will never refuse to eat a wide receiver-themed cereal again after this experience. I guarantee it.
We started with Dimitoff. I loaded a whole page of Google images of him. Encountering 50 or so thumbnail Dimitroffs is like walking into a dollar store and seeing a giant display of old Treasure Troll dolls. The vast expanses of pointy pampered parakeet hair briefly overwhelmed my wife, and not in a good way. "He wears too much hair gel," she said. "He spends more time on his appearance than I do."
The only picture of Dimitroff she found attractive was an outdoor action shot. Standing on the sideline next to Mike Smith, Dimitroff’s hair appears to be windswept, giving him some "active young executive" panache. But other pictures revealed that his hair always has that Duran Duran cover band poof in the front. Smith is also wearing a a white safari hat in the outdoor photo. You stand Steve Buscemi next to Mike Smith in a white safari hat, and he will look good.
My wife was shocked at how young all of the general managers looked, until I reminded her of how old we now are, which did not go well. Dimitroff is only 45, and while his hair does not make him look younger, it makes him look like an older guy trying to look younger, whereas we expect NFL general managers to look like older guys content with being older guys. General managers are supposed to have executive hair: graying at the temples, receding a bit, very full, very short, the hair of airline pilots and Congressmen and dentists who recommend one brand of toothpaste over the others. A few GMs, like Mark Dominick of the Buccaneers, exude the alpha male mover-and-shaker hyper-confidence we expect from young execs in major corporations: piercing stare, power suits, hair so affixed and sprayed that you hope he never tackles with the crown, lest a piece of his hairdo splinter between your ribs. Others, like Marty Hurley, look like the sweaty old real estate salesman who just lost his territory and is downing a few shots of whiskey before breaking the news to the missus. None but Dimitroff dare the party-in-front, business-in-back look, which may be a subconscious subversion of his mullet-sporting Canadian roots.
So who did my wife find attractive, if not Dimitroff? Here’s a rundown:
Jeff Ireland, Dolphins, and Mickey Loomis, Saints "I like the receding hairline and goatee look," she said. Comforting. The picture I showed her was of bearded Loomis, who is far cooler than shaven Loomis. Bearded Loomis has thrown his share of cabbage at Mardi Gras.
Martin Mayhew, Lions, and Rick Smith, Texans "Black guys age better," Karen said. I don’t have the heart to tell her that Smith is younger than her.
John Schneider, Seahawks No, I did not get mixed up and show her Bo Duke. She compared this Schneider to Conan O’Brien, and noted that he was the only general manager who looks happy. The Seahawks always look happy, don’t they? They are the NFL’s devil-may-care slackers.
Howie Roseman, Eagles She really couldn’t offer much of an explanation for this one.
These general managers got mixed reviews:
Jerry Reese, Giants, and Trent Baalke, Niners I purposely chose a picture of Reese wearing a trench coat with the collar popped and looking philosophically into the distance. To me, he looks like Billy Preston during the "Let it Be" recording sessions. "They both look like British spies," Karen said. Now, there’s an idea: remake I Spy with Reese and Baalke in the lead roles! Karen also said that Baalke looked like one of the characters from The Rookies. In case you are wondering, my wife and I don’t speak English to each other, we just communicate in an endless series of references to old television shows and classic rock albums.
Chris Polian Polian’s photos still suggest a boy propped up behind the wheel of dad’s truck and making "vroom vroom" noises in the supermarket parking lot, which is just as well.
As for strong negative reactions:
Scary Guys Karen described Billy Devaney as "scary." Devaney does have an angry, intense look about him, as if he has just noticed that I misspelled his name in a Times article last week, or worse, that he has somehow become general manager of the Rams. Despite the goatee and receding hairline, Tom Heckert of the Browns also looked a little "scary." Dominick earned a "scary hair" comment, but Karen saved most of her scorn for the Bears’ Jerry Angelo. Angelo looks to me like Eugene Levy portraying some clueless department store manager, but my wife perceived something sinister in the goofy, grinning picture I showed her. "He’s conducting experiments or something," she said. I assured her that there was nothing on Angelo’s resume to remotely suggest either aspect of "evil mastermind."
In summary, there is no reason that you cannot be a general manager with normal fashion sense and still be perfectly attractive to women. There’s the "hail fellow well met" look (Loomis), there’s geek chic (Roseman), there’s the MI-7 cool cucumber look (Reese). Dimitroff also knows a thing or two about wine and organic cookies, and women love men with interests besides football I am told. Dimitroff just needs to ditch the gel and discover the confident corporate raider deep inside himself. And if he discovers that the person deep inside himself is not a corporate raider but a Seaside Heights cabana bartender, well, he just needs to stand outside next to Mike Smith on windy days.