WHAT I SAW, Wk 5 2012

Blair Miller > WHAT I SAW IN WEEK 5, 2012

One Legendary Coach Bill Parcells-ism: “I go by what I see.”

Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot by watching.”

This is What I Saw from the past week’s NFL action.

( A list of TFQ’s PROPS from this column will be posted monthly.)

 

Away from the game(s)

I SAW no reason to say much about the reinstatement of the suspensions of players involved in the Saints bounty scandal except that it doesn’t surprise me.  Now, commissioner Roger Goodell having a chance to be a despotic asshole and not taking it?  That would surprise me.

I SAW PROPS for three star running backs – Steeler Rashard Mendenhall, Chief Jamaal Charles and Viking Adrian Peterson – on their virtually seamless returns to top form after sustaining brutal knee injuries within the last 13 months.  It’s long been the custom that such reconstructive surgery takes over a year of regular play before the knee is back to the strength and lateral mobility that it had prior to ACL tears.  It could be that medical rehabilitation has taken strides that help make this possible.  Maybe there’s some new voodoo working its magic in training rooms. (I’m thinking waving a flaming bunch of Billy Sims’ hair over it.)  Maybe it just so happens that all three men are freaks of nature.  Perhaps it’s all of the above.  But after initially worrying that each aforementioned player was being allowed back into the fray of a real game too soon, it’s nice to see them making jump cuts and churning their legs through contact in ways not often seen after such an injury – at least not in the past.

I SAW PROPS to Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera for winning baseball’s first Triple Crown since 1967.  (It’s won by leading the league in batting average, home runs and runs batted in).  Cut it up all you want, nerdy sabermetricians, but doing something that is both one of the more publicly revered achievements in baseball and a feat that hasn’t been accomplished in 47 years is pretty cool.  I’ve read a lot about super rookie Mike Trout and his historic Wins Against Replacement value.  WAR, what is it good for?  Absolutely next to nothin’ (in this case).  WAR merely evaluates a player against the others at his position that season, which is about as position-relative as you can get with a sports stat.  All it could say, for instance, is that Trout was really good this season and his fellow outfielders, not so much in comparison.  That hardly places him in the pantheon of baseball figures like the Triple Crown will do for Miggy.

Trout is a phenom the likes of which the league hasn’t seen for a long time – if ever.  He deserves recognition for it.  But the media has very much spun the American League MVP race into the traditionalist camp versus the new generation of stats geeks who are changing the evaluative landscape of pro baseball.  When win-loss record took a back seat to other stats in the Cy Young race it was fairly understandable.  In this case, though, advantage: Traditionalists.

Which begs the question: was anybody other than scouts and sabermetricians sitting around dissatisfied with the wealth of baseball stats prior to this recent numeric revolution?  The stats have their value, but it’s still the fans’ game, not statisticians’.

I SAW that since younger brother Jim Harbaugh became the head coach in San Francisco at the start of last season he and older bro John (in Baltimore) are a combined 35-11, including playoffs.  In other words, two guys from the same family have stepped into demanding NFL coaching positions and immediately started producing success at a .761 clip.  That’s very impressive and effectively starts a (open-ended) countdown to a Harbaugh Brothers Super Bowl some day.

I SAW a crowded woodshed this weekend, with several 40-burgers and other various whoopings.  Houston had been sweeping out the woodshed all week, clearing room for the hapless Jets, but before the Texans could even cross the yard the Giants, Niners, Bears and Vikings stuffed garbage bags full of the Browns, Bills, Jags and Titans, respectively, into the shed – and New York surprisingly stood up to their heavily-favored opponents Monday night…kinda.  (see: Houston wins @ New York Jets, 23-17)

I SAW another sad, mortal note for the league come up this week.  The Detroit Free Press and Detroit News have reported that former Lions lineman Alex Karras has just days to live after a kidney failure.

At 77, Karras’ 12-year NFL career is very much a thing of the past, but the talented 3-time All-Pro’s reputation extended well beyond the field.  He was one of the central – and most humourous – figures in George Plimpton’s famous book Paper Tiger, which tells the real-life account of the merely able-bodied writer Plimpton trying out for the 1963 Lions and the training camp experiences he had while doing so.  Karras also played the memorable oaf Mongo in the classic Mel Brooks comedy film, Blazing Saddles.  But what Karras will always hold a place in my heart for is his role as George Papadapolis, the surrogate father to the title character in the TV sitcom Webster during the 1980s.

What many people may not know is that Karras married Susan Clark – the actress who played his wife Katherine (or M’am, as Webster called her) in Webster.  Sadly, it has been up to Clark to care for Karras in recent years while the former football player has become one of the (too) many retirees of his sport to suffer from dementia.  Clark and Karras are one of many families involved in the lawsuit filed against the league about 6 months ago that serves as an attempt to hold the NFL accountable to the mounting cases of chronic dementia (and the like) suffered from head injuries sustained during NFL careers.

We can only hope, as in many of these tragic cases, that the peace soon to come to Karras will be a comforting end for him and his family after dealing with all that they have had to endure in the meantime.

With the deaths of Art Modell and Steve Sabol, the diagnosis of leukemia for Chuck Pagano last week and now the impending passing of Karras, the NFL family is spending too much time in funerals and/or hospitals so far this season.

UPDATE: Karras passed sometime Wednesday morning (Oct. 10).  RIP

Byes: Dallas, Detroit, Oakland, Tampa Bay

TNF-St. Louis(3-2) wins vs. Arizona(3-1), 17-3

I SAW need for a week 5 CHILL PILL (see: What I Saw, Week 1) after this baby.  I’m a big Jeff Fisher fan.  The defensive mindset he instills in his teams has its flaws in that they push the envelope for dirty play but somehow, like Major Howard “Bunny” Colvin from The Wire, he has his people doing dirty shit and he’s still genuinely professional and well intentioned.  Still, I’m willing to bet even Fisher himself will tell you that his team is much more a work in progress than the media might make it out to be for now.

For example, the cover page teaser for Thursday night’s game summary at NFL.com was this:

“If Arizona was the surprise team of the season, what does that make the Rams, who shut down the Cardinals 17-3?  Jeff Fisher might be building something special…”

He might be.  But relax.  This column has spent a fair amount of time building up the NFC West (see: What I Saw, Week 4: Away from the game(s)) – and rightfully so.  However, aside from the Niners the members of this resurgent division have a lot to work on in order to become “special” and the offenses will undergo growing pains to say the least while things sort themselves out.  Yes, Arizona had been undefeated coming into this game.  But QB Kevin Kolb is no game manager and even if he was, no quarterback can do so while his line is the leading candidate for Paper Wall Award of the year.  (See below.)  All the Rams did was terrorize an offense that is almost getting used to being terrorized.  And on the other side of the ball, sure, the ’Cards have one of the best defenses in the NFL, but Sam Bradford completed 7 passes (on 21 attempts) – and 111 yards rushing hardly offsets that stinkitude.  In other words, that’s not special.  It’s not even an indication of an ability “to avoid big mistakes”, as NFL.com’s Michael Lombardi asserts.  In fact, one could argue that an offense that ranks last in the league with just 5 offensive touchdowns (4 of which were scored in weeks 1 and 5) must be making a hell of a lot of mistakes to pull that off.

Expect St. Loo to contend more this year than it has in recent years because their turnaround is indeed impressive compared to the stench the team gave off last season (see below), but in truth both of these teams have some work to do before they’re building anything special.  For now, they look like the 2000 Champion Ravens, with lesser defenses, and lesser offenses.  The latter is saying a LOT.  (For the record, the Seahawks can be included in that description as well.)

That being said, there’s no need to take away from the early success the NFC West teams are having.  Their offensive struggles don’t mean these aren’t three good teams – they’re just not building something special.  Not yet.  And if you doubt, look no further than the Lions.  They started last season 5-0.  How special does Detroit look now?  As such, Arizona isn’t as special as their start has been, and St. Louis isn’t special for beating them.

I SAW …what a difference Jeff Fisher makes.  Yes, adding two talented corners (Cortland Finnegan via fee agency and Janoris Jenkins in this year’s draft) make all the difference in today’s NFL.  But the Rams hadn’t been above .500 between November 4, 2006 and last Thursday (a 93-game span!), despite not much having changed in St. Loo from last year’s edition of the Rams.  Oh – except Fisher, the new Rams head coach, and a rarely-seen tectonic shift in team attitude and culture that he has created.

Fisher’s deft coaching work is a good reminder that it wasn’t long ago when the NFL was a head coach’s league – sprouted from the Bill Walsh coaching tree and buttressed by the likes of Jimmy Johnson, Bill Parcells and his one-time protégé Bill Belichick.  These days the league is touted as a quarterback’s domain, and when Manning, Brady, Brees et al became the starting points from which all planning grew (on either side of the ball), the reasons for ordaining this change became somewhat obvious.  But it’s just overlap – an above-average head coach can be a team’s heartbeat just as much as its QB can.  Just ask the players in St. Louis or New England – and, say, New Orleans.  (The last two examples all the more telling since they possess precedent-setting standard bearers at both QB and HC.)

I SAW an early nominee for one of TFQ’s Upside Down Awards, given following the Super Bowl:

Paper Wall Award

 (You know when college teams come out of the tunnel and burst through a paper banner?  Often offensive linemen or whole O-lines end up barely sufficing as such while getting torn apart by defensive fronts.  This dubious distinction is given for the paper-thinnest protection offered for an NFL QB in 2012.) 

The Cardinals O-line

Talk about taking a huge leap out in front of the pack for the season award in this category!  After allowing 8 sacks against the Dolphins last week, Arizona’s offensive line gave up 9 against the Rams, becoming the first team in the NFL to give up 8 sacks or more in consecutive games since – oh hey, the Cardinals in 2003!

At the risk of stating the painfully obvious, the whole ‘Zona line is porous.  But its weakest point is at the most dangerous – the tackles.  LT D’Anthony Baptiste gave up 3 sacks and 5 QB hurries but somehow looked even worse.   The right side was “blocked” by RT Bobby Massie, who blatantly held all night and still got schooled.  Neither men have the footwork to merely stop the outside rush from being embarrassingly effective.

At the end of the day – as usual when one’s O-line is a paper wall – it was the QB who took the punishment.  Kevin Kolb was hit so many times that at one point NFL Network’s announcer Brad Nessler saw the quarterback chewing on some ice chunks on the bench and remarked, “I’m surprised Kolb can even chew that ice.”

I SAW Rams WR Danny Amendola go down with a broken collarbone.  One had the feeling that the injury was serious when NFL Network live footage showed the wideout throw his helmet into the wall on his way to the locker room and yell “FUUUUUUUUUUUCK!”

That’s a crippling loss for the St. Louis offense.  At the time of his injury Amendola had 32 receptions for the Rams.  The rest of the team had 31.

I SAW Cardinals WR Cousin Larry Fitzgerald continue to play with Perfect Strangers on offense ever since the Flanders (Kurt Warner) years.  The people Cousin Larry has to tolerate playing with is ridiculous.

I SAW cause to bring in Christopher Walken.  Late in the game, NFL Network noted the red zone scoring rank for the Rams over recent years:

Year                                        Rank in NFL in red zone scoring

2008                                        32

2009                                        31

2010                                        31

2011                                        31

2012 (mid-game)                       31

At that point in the broadcast play-by-play man Brad Nessler remarked that, for St. Louis, “the red zone’s been a dead zone.”

I SAW Cardinals RB Ryan Williams go out for year again, this time with a shoulder injury.  (Last year the then-rookie missed the entire season due to a knee injury.)  Let’s hope for Williams’ sake that he isn’t headed down a Ki-Jana Carter-esque road.

New England(3-2) wins vs. Denver(2-3), 31-21

I SAW an early nominee for one of TFQ’s Upside Down Awards, given following the Super Bowl:

The Back-To-Basics Award

In an increasingly cerebral league sometimes it makes all of the difference to get back to the simple things…

The Patriots’ O-line

After getting torn apart in pass blocking to begin the season New England’s hogs were in danger of burning out their QB Tom Brady before thanksgiving.  But then the Pats did something simple: They started to run the football.  This team has some good blockers; they were just struggling to get position.  That can happen when all you’re doing is pass blocking, which generally equates to standing there and waiting for contact.  Run blocking sends the linemen forward, looking for contact.  It can do wonders for a line’s momentum.  And it has for New England…

I SAW the Patriots rip off their second straight 200-yard rushing game as a team.  Add New England’s renaissance in the ground game to the “What the Fuck??” list of eyebrow-raising developments in the 2012 NFL season.  If you somehow thought Pats QB Tom Brady is concerned with his own stats in the Brady v. Manning series, the constant shit-eating grin on his face during this game while RB Stevan Ridley and others kept the game out of Denver’s reach by eating up the clock with frequently-called run plays should confirm the opposite.

I SAW, speaking of play calling, Sports Illustrated’s Don Banks report that Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said this game against the team that fired him as a head coach 2 years ago is just another game.  Still, it must have felt pretty good for McDaniels to have his offense pump out 35 first downs (11-for-17 on third down), 251 rushing yards and dominate time of possession, 35:49 – 24:11.

I SAW that Patriots RB Stevan Ridley looks like a Bill Belichick mainstay.  The second-year back is usually in the right place in pass protection and he runs hard with the ball, always seeming to fall forward after contact.  Then again, the road into Belichick’s doghouse is wormhole-short.

I SAW the complex relationship between a team’s offense and defense shown with the Broncos.  Many pundits had lauded Denver’s defense for shouldering the load last season while their Tim Tebow-led offense sputtered at best.  But this year the Orange Crush is playing more like Vernors – a lemon.  The Broncos don’t rank higher than 18th in the NFL in any of the 4 major defensive categories – overall, passing, rushing and scoring.  Why?  One reason could be that new QB Peyton Manning’s quick-strike style ends up putting the defense on the field more often and longer than the Tebow-led ground game that ate up clock like Prince Fielder at a buffet.  The Patriots exposed Denver’s D by executing almost at will in the running game.  Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has his hands full.

Pittsburgh(2-2) wins vs. Philadelphia(3-2), 16-14

I SAW a game that played out as expected: A close-fought, intense defensive battle.  Often times the outcome of these sorts of games can be explained by the fact that one team stands to lose more by coming away empty handed.  The Steelers sure needed this win more than the Eagles.  Starting out the year at 1-3 with the Ravens leading the AFC North at 4-1 would have been daunting, to say the least.

I SAW Eagles QB Michael Vick raise his season turnover total to 11.  What would Vick have done to a dog back in the day if it had done that?

Seriously, though.  There should be concern in Philly about a disconnect between Vick’s self-perception and the reality of his play in recent times.  Recall that last week Vick said, “The thing I know how to do is protect the football when I want to.”  In the words of Ricky Ricardo, Mikey, you got some ’splainin’ to do.

Actually Vick did attempt to explain his crucial goal-line fumble in Pittsburgh Sunday, but it only served to further prove his being out of touch.  During the postgame press conference Vick said that Steelers CB Ryan Clark just “hit the right spot” with his helmet – meaning that Clark put his helmet on the ball in order to knock it loose, thus making the ball harder to hold onto.  But the replay shows that Clark’s helmet wasn’t very close to the ball at all; it was Clark’s forearm that appeared to make contact with the pigskin.

Andy Reid shows no desire to bench Vick anytime soon.  But you can bet he’ll be up in his star QB’s grill all week about taking care of the rock.  If that doesn’t work, the game plan for opponents against the Eagles remains simple: Get at Vick, and wait for him to make a mistake with the football.

I SAW cause to wonder if the body of Steelers S Troy Polamalu is starting to break down…Polamalu has already been ruled out for this Thursday’s game against the Titans after reinjuring his calf.  It just seems like there’s always something seriously wrong with his body over the last few years.  One gets the feeling his body is being held together by more and more duct tape.  How long can he keep this up?

I SAW this game serve as a reminder that no one guts out a slugfest like the Steelers do.  Credit head coach Mike Tomlin and his team captains.

Indianapolis(2-2) wins vs. Green Bay(2-3), 30-27

I SAW the moral of this game: You just can’t beat cancer.

Too soon?  Green Bay may have thought they had this game in hand too soon, leading the Colts at halftime 21-3.  Down the street from the stadium in Indianapolis was head coach Chuck Pagano – in a hospital with leukemia.  One could say that the whole team played like men possessed, with Pagano in their hearts, and maybe that’s true.  But there were two players in particular who stepped it up and took the game from Green Bay…

I SAW Colts QB Andrew Luck pick up his game when it counted against the Packers.  The first overall draft pick’s team had gone 0-for-8 with 1 interception on third down, until 3:55 remaining in the fourth quarter while trailing Green Bay by 5 points.  Then Luck converted two third-and-longs to the equally clutch WR Reggie Wayne (see below) and ran for another himself to set up a TD pass to Wayne to win the game for a grief-stricken and motivated team.

Luck looked great in the last 5 minutes of the game.  His best moment was on third-and-twelve near midfield when Packers LB Clay Matthews broke through the line and got to Luck, only to have the rookie shrug him off and find Wayne downfield as though Matthews wasn’t even there.

I SAW PROPS to Colts WR Reggie Wayne.  Notice to the doubters who had written Wayne off as too old: the Indy wideout caught 13 passes for a career-high 212 yards.  (It’s also the highest single game total by an Indy receiver since Raymond Berry in 1957.)  One of those passes came via a gorgeous one-handed diving job with his left hand while his right hand was being held.  Wayne knows Pagano from when the two men were at the University of Miami years ago.  That might have served for extra motivation for Wayne, but, as mentioned, notice is served to defenses around the league – Wayne can still light it up.  And he’s not the only supposed over-the-hill guy shutting up skeptics.  (See: Atlanta wins @ Washington, 24-17)

I SAW that Colts WR Reggie Wayne might be schooling his new QB Andrew Luck in the ways of Peyton Manning.  The former Colts quarterback was known for staying late after practice and working with both Wayne and then-Colt Marvin Harrison so that they could develop trust with each other.  It’s early on in their relationship as teammates but Luck and Wayne are already showing a lot of trust in one another, as evidenced during Sunday’s game when the rook would serve up balls to his top WR at angles that Wayne anticipated and thus beat out his defenders for.   Wayne won’t be around forever, but he’s passing the torch to Luck in terms of QB-WR non-verbal communication.

I SAW Packers DL B.J. Raji go down with an ankle injury and could apparently be out “a while” according to a team spokesperson.  Green Bay’s starting RB Cedric Benson is likely out for the year with a lisfranc injury in his foot (see: Darren McFadden and Santonio Holmes).  There’s no definite timetable for the return of WR Greg Jennings from a lingering groin injury.

Those are three very important players for the Packers – especially Jennings and Raji.  It could be time to start considering the possibility that this team might not make the playoffs.

Atlanta(5-0) wins @ Washington(2-3) 24-17

I SAW that despite the playoff asterisk on their success (Atlanta is 0-3 in the postseason under head coach Mike Smith), the Falcons are 5-0 for the first time in franchise history.  More importantly, Hot-Lanta isn’t just hot in the Peach State – the team is 3-0 on the road this season and all of those victories have been outdoors (KC, SD & WAS).  That could go a long way toward boosting this team’s confidence in the playoffs if they outgrow the reputation of only being able to win big games in the Georgia Dome.

I SAW Redskins QB Robert Griffin III have a game he’ll want to forget, which works out well because his memory of Sunday might be foggy after having his bell rung by Falcons LB Sean Witherspoon at the end of a scramble towards the sideline.  Griffin had to leave the game for stitches and a concussion.  RG3’s availability for next week will depend upon concussion tests conducted throughout the week.

My thoughts on running QBs and taking care of them might be forthcoming in the weeks to come, should this issue become more of a hot-button topic…

I SAW, in the “Naaah, really??” department: The Redskins cut the chronically inaccurate kicker Billy Cundiff Tuesday after he had gone 2-for-6 on field goals in the last two games – including a pair of shanks from just 31 yards away.  Former UCLA kicker Kai Forbath has been signed to replace Cundiff.

There’s more than enough reason to doubt Forbath as a solution to Washington’s problems at kicker, which are now legion.  According to the Washington Post, the ’Skins have now gone through 19 kickers since 1994!  That’s 46 percent more than any other team in the league.  With that, D.C. is now officially the place where kickers go to die.

I SAW Falcons WR Julio Jones make a great TD catch in the fourth quarter, spinning around and lunging for the ball while keeping his feet down near the sideline.  Hopefully Jones isn’t developing “circus hands” – the ability to make the difficult circus catch and still drop many easy passes.  Lord knows the second-year wideout has dropped a lot of catchable balls this season.

I SAW PROPS to Falcons TE, the ageless wonder Tony Gonzalez.  Until Sunday the 36-year old surefire Hall Of Famer hadn’t had 10 receptions or more in a game since arriving in Atlanta in ’09.  Against the Redskins, Gonzo pulled in 13 catches.  He now has 39 receptions this year, which leads the league.  It’s performances like that which makes the rest of us feel greedy and want to somehow convince Gonzalez not to retire after the season, as he has planned.  His wasn’t the only standout game put up by an aging receiver on Sunday.  (see: Indianapolis wins vs. Green Bay, 30-27)

Seattle(3-2) wins @ Carolina(1-4), 16-12

I SAW Panthers QB Cam Newton is having his problems, especially with regards to forcing the issue at times, but don’t overlook the decline of the Carolina running game this season.  Last season this team did virtually whatever it wanted on the ground, ranking third the league with 150.5 rushing yards per game (tops in the NFC).  This season, with banged-up RB Jonathan Stewart and underachieving DeAngelo Williams just part of the explanation, the Panthers rank only 14th with 114.0 per game (8th in the NFC).  That places too much pressure on Newton to produce, and that could go a long way toward understanding his perceived discomfort so far in ’12.

I SAW, nonetheless, that Panthers QB Cam Newton is lacking discipline with his footwork.  The most poignant example of this happened on a must-have scoring opportunity late in the fourth quarter.  On 4th-and-1 at the Seahawks’ 1-yard line Newton was forced to roll right under pressure and proceeded to short-arm a wide open TE Ben Hartstock in the end zone.

Newton is struggling with his footwork.  He’s not being disciplined enough with his feet and hips and as a result he’s throwing too many balls with his shoulders open.  This results in the sophomore pivot throwing too many balls across his chest when he doesn’t have to – like he did when trying to throw to Hartstock to win the game Sunday.

I SAW need to give credit where credit is due for the above-mentioned goal line stand won by the Seahawks’ defense.  It’s time to start hearing Seattle defensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s name more often.

Baltimore(4-1) wins @ Kansas City(1-4), 9-6

I SAW Chiefs QB Matt Cassel get knocked out of the game in the fourth quarter with a concussion…

First, on the matter of the reports that the Kansas City fans cheered Cassel’s injury: On NFL Gameday Final I heard Deion Sanders and Marshall Faulk each separately say that they spoke to someone who was in Arrowhead stadium at the time, and that the fans weren’t cheering Cassel’s injury so much as they were supporting the backup QB, Dr. Brady Quinn, Medicine Woman.  This is a delicate issue – one which KC offensive lineman Eric Winston rendered anything but when he chastised fans for cheering Cassel’s being hurt by saying, among other things, that it was “100 percent disgusting.”

On one hand, concussions being as serious as they are, fans should be more sensitive if they did indeed cheer Cassel’s injury.  On the other hand, the once-spoiled Arrowhead fans haven’t had much to cheer about in recent years.  In the 15 years from 1992-2006 the Chiefs treated their faithful followers to an outstanding 90-30 (.750) record at home.  In the 5-plus seasons since that dominant stretch, Kansas City has whittled down that Arrowhead to a blunt stone by going 14-29 (.326) – including an 0-3 start there this season.  (The Chiefs started 2010 by going 7-0 at home, but then blew the last game of the year there by bowing down to the archrival Raiders 31-0 behind a 11-for-33, 115 yard, 2 interception car wreck from – you guessed it, Matt Cassel. Come to think of it, the whole 2010 season now comes off as an aberration that likely serves to frustrate Chief fans even more.)  It’s strange that the media still refers to Arrowhead as a tough place for opponents to play.  I doubt Chiefs fans feel that way anymore.

There’s no way to justify being happy when a football player gets hurt – especially when that player is on your team.  But the quarterback is every team’s lightning rod these days, and the Kansas City natives have been restless for some time now.

I SAW, still on the topic of frustrated fans in Kansas City: With the exception of their field goal in overtime against the Saints in week 3 the Chiefs have not led in a game all season.  Craptastic.  Is there a more confounding team in the league than Kansas City?  Either way, the Chiefs have issues beyond their turnover-stricken QB Matt Cassel…

I SAW that one of those main issues could end up being Dr. Brady Quinn, Medicine Woman.  Aside from being the most built QB around, KC’s backup quarterback has brought little else to the table to help his teams win since he entered the league in 2007.  If anyone is wondering why head coach Romeo Crennel might be nervous if he has to start The Medicine Woman over concussed starter Matt Cassel next game against Tampa Bay, remember that Crennel was in charge of the Browns in ’08 when his starting QB Derek Anderson went down with an injury.  Crennel had to start Quinn for the next three games for Cleveland and though the Medicine Woman played well against a Broncos defense that was ranked 28th in the league against the pass that season, he wasn’t good for what ailed Crennel over the next two games as he stunk it up and was one of the closing chapters that lead to Crennel’s firing weeks later.  That kind of deja-vu must be pretty hard for the rotund head coach to ignore.

Who can blame Crennel if he’s not optimistic?  The Medicine Woman is no more of an answer to what’s ailing the Chiefs than Tim Tebow is to the Jets’ problems.  Both moves only serve as akin to putting lipstick on a pig.

I SAW much be made of Ravens LB Ray Lewis getting pushed around Sunday by the KC running game.  That’s accurate.  (He wasn’t alone; Baltimore gave up 214 yards on the ground to Kansas City.  That was once verboten against the Ravens.)  But let’s not start blaming his age or his (intentional) off-season weight loss for it.  Everyone has bad days and as such the best all-around linebacker in NFL history should get at least one or two free passes before his overall effectiveness is questioned.

I SAW that the power of Ball Yoda is getting stronger.  That’s right – Ravens S Ed Reed isn’t just guiding tipped balls into his fingertips now.  On Sunday Cassel fumbled the snap at the Baltimore 1-yard line and the ball somehow squirted free of a pile in the end zone and right to a waiting Reed for the recovery.

I SAW Sport Illustrated’s Peter King say that he didn’t like this:

“Chiefs offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, down 6-3 in the third quarter, with a 3rd-and-12, called a draw play to Jamaal Charles. Guys, if you have zero faith in your quarterback, pull him and play the backup.”

Normally that could be a valid claim, but two issues contradict King’s criticism: First, a draw play is often employed to try and slow down a successful pass rush, which the Ravens were enjoying.  Second, where was this opinion when Bill Belichick used to often run the draw play in those situations?  It sure as hell didn’t force anyone to call for Tom Brady’s benching.

(In fact, New England used to be amusing with their shameless use of the draw, possibly inspiring the old Warren Sapp commercial for NFL.com Fantasy Football, during which he endures retirement by occasionally forcing his housemaid to play against him in EA Sports Madden Football and reminding her after a tackle, “Can’t run the draw on third-and-long, Sonia!”)

New York Giants(3-2) wins vs. Cleveland(0-5), 41-27

I SAW …And then there was one winless team.  And I mean winless.  Losers of 11 straight, the Browns are 2-16 in their past 18 games.  Is it me, or is it getting increasingly difficult to pinpoint where the stench is coming from in Cleveland when it comes to sports teams?  It’s getting so bad that Torontonians travel there and say it smells like home…

I SAW the Giants do their best Patriots impersonation by all of a sudden pulling a run game out of their collective ass.  New York’s ranking of 32nd in the league in rushing last season is well documented.  On top of that, the team came into Sunday against the Browns ranked 23rd in the NFL on the ground in 2012, averaging 89.5 yards per game on 3.9 yards per carry.  Then the G-Men just up and decide to rip off 243 rush yards (7.1 average) against Cleveland led by RB Ahmad Bradshaw’s career-high 200 yards on 30 carries – a beastly output of 6.66 yards per.  Bradshaw fumbled on New York’s first play from scrimmage, but more than made up for it.

I SAW that Giants WR Victor Cruz is showing some staying power.  It’s still pretty early in his career to anoint him as a consistent scoring threat, but his QB Eli Manning definitely looks for him at key points during games.

I SAW, in the Puddle-like Depth Dept: Browns Rookie RB Trent Richardson has 5 of Cleveland’s 9 offensive touchdowns so far this season.

I SAW, despite the presence of RB Trent Richardson, only Matthew Stafford and Drew Brees have attempted more passes this season than the Browns’ first-year QB Brandon Weeden…What’s up with that?

I SAW Deion Sanders put it aptly during NFL Gameday Final when discussing Browns QB Brandon Weeden, who is a 28-year old rookie:

“You can’t call a man a rookie when he’s been driving for twelve years.”

I SAW the Giants continue to epitomize the Next Man Up mantra.  After backup WR Ramses Barden was ruled out for Sunday’s game due to a concussion (he had been playing in relief of injured starter Hakeem Nicks), it fell upon Rueben Randle and Domenik Hixon to pick up the slack for the banged-up wideout group in New York.  Even though neither Randle nor Hixon figured much into the scheme of the Giant’s offense at the start of the season, they stepped in and combined for 11 receptions and 137 yards.  Now virtually every position group on the roster except for quarterback is producing despite a slew of injuries.  Credit the front office and coaching staff in New York for both signing players who will stay focused even though they may not see the field regularly, and keeping them focused all the while.

That being said, Big Blue is going to need some of those hurt guys back for the long haul because they play either playoff teams from last year or division opponents in every game from here on out.

Miami(2-3) wins @ Cincinnati(3-2), 17-13

I SAW unwarranted surprise at the Dolphins’ rush defense.  Sure, Miami hasn’t given up a TD on the ground since week 1 against Houston, but this was a unit that quietly ranked third in the NFL against the run last season and were one of only 3 teams to hold opponents to a 3.7 average per carry or lower.

Chicago(4-1) wins @ Jacksonville(1-4), 41-3

I SAW things stay competitive at 3-3 until the second half.  Then the Bears scored 38 unanswered points to end the game.  Pray for MoJo.

As an aside, I find it hilarious that Jacksonville owner Shad “Shaka” Khan is gung-ho on building his team in the global market by committing to the next 4 games in London.  Shaka Khan has a great point, especially when he refers to the market that the English Premier League in soccer tapped in North America when they embarked on a similar mission.  There’s one problem, Shaka: The Premiership is replete with good, exciting teams.  Your team is shit.  A bag of shit is a bag of shit no matter what continent you try to market it in.  As the Jags continue to slide down the slippery slope into ineptitude one has to wonder if the NFL has mixed feelings that their short-term hopes for expanding the league outside this continent are tied to one of the suckiest teams that suck.

I SAW that maybe the emotional Bears QB Jay Cutler and WR Brandon Marshall really do belong together.  It sure seemed like The Nutler thought so against the Jaguars: Marshall pulled down 12 passes while being targeted 17 times (144 yards, 2 TD) and no other Bear receiver had more than 2 catches or 4 targets.

I SAW Bears CB Charles Tillman and LB Lance Briggs become the first teammates in NFL history to return interceptions for touchdowns in consecutive games.  I don’t like to refer to fantasy football much in this column, but I heard Tuesday in a Fantasy TV show that the Bears special teams/defense ranks 6th overall in standard rankings – including position players.

Translation: This defense is making big plays with regularity.  In fact, Chicago has a defensive TD in 3 straight games.  It’s the first time the franchise has done so since 1950.

I SAW Jaguars QB Blaine Gabbert put up an underthrown ball intended for WR Justin Blackmon that resulted in the aforementioned pick-6 for Bears CB Charles Tillman.  Not to take anything away from “Peanut” (Tillman), but the throw by Gabbert was awful.  Good luck selling that to Europeans, Shaka Khan (see above).

I SAW that Cutler’s pouty body language smacks of entitlement and is already the stuff of legend.  (And amusement – see: http://smokinjaycutler.tumblr.com).  The Nutler often rubs me the wrong way too.  But I don’t know him personally.  Neither does FOX analyst Terry Bradshaw, which is just part of the reason why his comments during his network’s pregame show were irksome:

“If I were you, I would learn how to be a little bit nicer. I know you don’t care and nor do I care if I ever sit down and do an interview with you — which I have yet to do. Maybe there’s a reason for that. I like everybody. I’d like to like you but right now I don’t like you. Grow up, young man.”

Maybe Bradshaw is right.  But if he is, it’s by accident.  It’s disappointing to hear such presumptions from the mouth of a former NFL QB who admits to suffering depression and anxiety due to the pressure he felt on himself while trying to live up to the expectations heaped upon a pro quarterback.

Minnesota(4-1) wins vs. Tennessee(1-4), 30-7

I SAW Vikings QB Christian Ponder come into the game against the Titans with a chance to equal the great Fran Tarkenton’s franchise record of 5 straight games without an interception…

Speaking of Tarkenton, is there a more underrated all-around quarterback in history?  When Dan Marino broke all three major career records for a QB in 1995 – completions, yards and touchdowns – he took each one from Tarkenton (and Brett Favre holds all three now).  Years later, Randall Cunningham set the career mark for rushing yards for a pivot.  The man he passed was, again, Tarkenton.  Oh – and when he retired Tarkenton also held the record for most career wins by a QB.   So for over 17 years, Fran Tarkenton had most major passing career records, AND the rushing mark.  It’s a shame that wasn’t a bigger deal while the former Viking dominated the record book.  It’s also strange.  After all, he did lose 4 Super Bowls, but did that really hamper the appreciation of former Bill QB Jim Kelly?

…At any rate, Ponder threw his first 2 picks of the season to Tennessee, so never mind.

I SAW that crackling sound you may have heard at the end of the third quarter wasn’t dry autumn leaves underfoot, it was the snapping of the ankles of Titans defenders as Vikings WR Percy Harvin juked his way to a 10-yard TD reception.  It marked the first time Harvin scored a rushing TD and a receiving TD in a game in his young career.

I SAW kudos should go to new Vikings defensive coordinator Alan Williams.  The quality of the squad he inherited was one of the main reasons why many (including myself) expected Minnesota to end up with the worst win-loss record in the NFL this season.  Outside of DE Jared Allen the Vike’s D appeared to have no other exceptional playmakers, but Williams has the group ranked 7th in the league overall and 6th both against the run and in scoring.  Beyond the numbers, opponents look genuinely frustrated and stymied against Minny.  Who knew?

I SAW Titans RB Chris Johnson has 0 TDs in his last 9 games.  The CJDeuceK log keeps getting steamier and steamier.

San Francisco(4-1) wins vs. Buffalo(2-3), 45-3

I SAW Bills head coach Chan Gailey question his team’s toughness during the week leading up to Sunday’s game against the Niners.  Apparently that was a very bad idea.  Like encouraging a fat kid to try hard, it just makes the losing more embarrassing.

After the last 2 weeks it’s hard to fathom how this Bills team has managed to beat anybody this season.  They’ve been a dartboard for offensive records.  For example, according to ESPN.com, Buffalo became the first team to give up at least 550 yards in consecutive games in the same season since the 1950 New York Yanks.  Oh, there’s more…

I SAW – you want balance?  How’s this for balance: The Niners tore the Bills a plethora of new ones en route to 310 yards passing and 311 yards rushing.  That’s 622 total yards – a team record for a franchise known for gobbling up yardage.  It will be amusing, years from now, to watch people try and answer the trivia question: Who was the starting QB when San Francisco set the team record for most total yards in a game?

I SAW that the Niners have outscored the Jets and Bills 79-3 over the last 2 weeks…Think the other 2 AFC East teams (New England and Miami) took notice?

San Fran plays them in consecutive weeks, starting week 14.

I SAW that all of the talk in the offseason about the Niners now enjoying an abundance of skill players to help QB Alex Smith ascend to the next talent level is proving to be true – and not all of those players have contributed much either.  (Ahem, Randy Moss, LaMichael James…)

No team is firing on all cylinders over the last two weeks like the Niners have been.  Perfect timing for an NFC Championship rematch with the Giants next week!

SNF-New Orleans(1-4) wins vs. San Diego(3-2), 31-24

I SAW PROPS to Saints QB Drew Brees for passing for a TD in 48 straight games – breaking a record that was held for 52 years by the legendary Johnny Unitas.

No one will ever compare to Unitas.  He, his favorite receiver, Raymond Berry and their head coach Weeb Ewbank did much to elevate game preparation and the passing game to what it has become today when they, as Colts, pioneered things such as watching game film and developing unspoken route improvisations based upon how a defender was covering Barry that were nurtured by endless practice.  (Another famous Colt duo would repeat this pattern when Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison came together.)  All the hard work proved worthwile: Johnny U put up the amazing numbers he had while the passing game was at a point in history that had yet to appreciate and integrate the things he was doing with the football.  In other words, he set a standard for scoring consistency at the quarterback position with a smidgeon of the passing attempts afforded contemporary pivots.  Case in point: Brees has more completions during this streak than Unitas had attempts during his.

Maybe that’s why all the talk about the similarities between Brees and Unitas feels subtly forced – though even Unitas’ son, Joe, feels that the two QBs remind the younger Unitas of one another.  Mind you, Joe has also mentioned that his father seldom spoke of football at home…there’s that.  More specifically, it’s been played up that both Brees and Unitas were a cut above because neither men cared as much about individual accomplishment and accolades as they did winning.  Why must the things we expect out of famous athletes be celebrated as special?  There are certainly some players that do care about individual records – more of them than just the ones who know that about themselves.  But is it far-fetched to think that the majority of team athletes prioritize winning over other personal gain?  Really?

I SAW that the air being breathed by QBs Johnny Unitas and Drew Brees may not be so rarified for too long.  Similar to when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa both broke Roger Maris’ long-held single-season home run record in baseball, Patriots QB Tom Brady’s current streak of 37 consecutive games with a passing touchdown could have him pass the record of 48 before the season ends.  Imagine if Brees’ streak were to get snapped and Brady pass him… Just sayin’

Wait, though – Brady probably cares more about wins than such records… By god, it’s like the guy’s channeling Johnny U!

I SAW it’s worth noting that the first game the Saints won in 2012 happened to be with head coach Sean Payton in attendance.  (Peyton and GM Mickey Loomis were granted special permission to attend despite their suspensions for the bounty scandal.)

As Michael Irvin put it on NFL Gameday Final, “Daddy’s in the house,” implying that the players were more focused under the watchful eyes of their authority figure.  There could be something to that, but the notion that players need their coach in order to focus hard is unnerving.

I SAW a cause for hope for the Saints defense – sort of.  The cause: New Orleans had 5 sacks after having gone 5.5 quarters without one.  The sort of: This season,’Nawlins has yet to hold an opposing offense under 420 total yards.  Jesus.  (Not Tebow.  His offense couldn’t gain 420 yards if it went around the Hall of Fame with a collection plate.)

Emphasis on the “sort of.”

MNF-Houston(5-0) wins @ New York Jets(2-3), 23-17

I SAW the Jets have officially reached the point of desperation.  New York kept infusing substitute players and getting fancy – in all three phases – without success.

Once again it comes down to coaching with Gang Green.  You just can’t get too fancy with players that are already struggling with the simple physical in-game tasks.  For instance, having clunky QB Mark Sanchez run unusual plays like a quick forward handoff after a shotgun snap – to a receiver streaking in front of him on an end around, no less – isn’t going to work out well.  Of course, said play resulted in a botched handoff and a fumble.

Yes, there were some dropped passes, but that has to stop bailing Sanchez out.  The guy has a 48.4 completion percentage this season.  That means even if his players have dropped 20 balls so far he’s still playing like crap.

I SAW that even though this win came harder than the Texans thought it would it’s not exactly bulletin board material for head coach Gary Kubiak going forward.  Houston sits atop the AFC South at 5-0 and the next-best team in the division is Indianapolis at 2-2.  It’s going to be tough for Kubiak to keep his team’s sails full of wind as the likelihood of the Texans clinching an early playoff berth becomes more and more likely.  Just ask Packers head coach Mike McCarthy, whose team started last season 13-0 but looked flat in losing their first game of the playoffs after having coasted for two meaningless regular season games and a bye week.

I SAW Texans DE J.J. Watt continue his stellar play this season with 6 tackles (one for a loss), a sack, 2 QB hits and three more tipped balls.  Now Watt has 8 tipped passes in 5 games this season, which is unusually high for a defensive end.

Give Watt credit.  He has a great sense of a QB’s timing and release points (I bet he watches a lot of film) and solid instincts for when to lament on his rush and jump for passes even though he also leads the league in sacks. [UPDATE- After reviewing game footage, the league as revised Watts’ sacks total and Packer LB Clay Matthews leads Watt by half a sack.)  But come on, O-line coaches.  You’ve got to get your hogs to stick their helmets into Watt’s gut on blocks longer than 3 seconds so that the Texan lowers his arms as a reflex.  That’s blocking 101, and no one seems to be doing it with Watt.

I SAW Texans LB Brian Cushing go down for the year with a torn ACL when he was hit low by Jets lineman Matt Slausen while pursuing a play.  There has been a lot of debate about whether or not the hit was dirty.  It doesn’t seem like a dirty hit, but it at least calls the rulebook into question, as Packers LB (and former teammate of Cushing at USC) Clay Matthews tweeted:

If the NFL really wants to increase player safety, start protecting players on BOTH sides of the ball./Where is the NFL’s protection on blocks below the waist like that on Cushing.  Double standard!”

Former Niners CB Eric Davis said as much on NFL Network AM Tuesday when he expressed a desire for the league to police low hits on pursuing defenders the same way they do for offensive players.  He actually said the NFL needs to “modify the rulebook.”

What is interesting is that the rulebook may already prohibit such hits – in print.  In 2007 the league changed the ruling on blocking within the tackle box (between the two offensive tackles) and in doing so disallowed blocking when either the head of the blocker contacts the defender below the knee or the offensive player rolls into the legs of his opponent.  So technically Slausen’s block is illegal.

However, as previously discussed in What I Saw as it applied to the scab referees, there is the letter of the law as it reads in the rulebook, and then there are the customs and conventions of applying the rules.  Sometimes those two methods don’t match, and in this case defensive players – not being the ticket draw that offensive players are – aren’t afforded the same strict observation that offensive players are.  Perhaps that is because there just aren’t enough zebra eyes watching each play to watch everything.  But people are right to call out the league on the inconsistency between defensive hits and chop blocks.

At the end of the day, Cushing was the leading tackler for Houston when he went down.  Time will tell if the injury has a noticeable impact on the Texans’ season.

I SAW cause to wonder: Where is Texans WR Andre Johnson?  He only has 17 receptions.  Word is that he’s having a groin issue.  When was the last time Johnson was 100 percent healthy?

I SAW my remote control almost hit the wall when people were questioning giving Texans RB Arian Foster too many carries so far this year.  Come on.  Foster is playing great and his line is fantastic.  As the tailback’s teammate QB Matt Schaub said when asked about it after the game, “just keep feeding him.”

What’s next, sitting a back with high carries, a la Stephen Strasburg?  Players should be pushed beyond their limits (within reason); it’s one of the things that help them grow.

I SAW one of the Texans’ potential weaknesses get exposed Monday night.  217 passing yards allowed isn’t usually much to worry about, but it was against a group of bums. CB Johnathan Joseph looked especially slow to react in coverage.

I SAW that after just one injury (albeit key, to Santonio Holmes) Jets CB Antonio Cromartie is the best active receiver on the Jets.  Unacceptable.  That’s not the only position where New York suffers from serious depth issues, either.  (All of them.)  It’s time for owner Woody Johnson to take a serious look at GM Mike Tannenbaum.

I SAW, when Jets CB Antonio Cromartie came on the field as a WR Monday night, retired jackass WR Terrell Owens tweeted the Jets, advertising his services.

Awkwaaaaaaard…

Jets head coach Rex Ryan responded to questions about the possibility of signing Owens by saying, “never say never.”

God, let’s hope Ryan misunderstood the question and was just misquoting the name of his favorite Bond movie, Never Say Never Again.

STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK FOR WHAT I SAW, WEEK 6, HERE AT TFQ

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2 thoughts on “WHAT I SAW, Wk 5 2012

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