Monday, January 16, 2006

NFL fever: muddling the minds of the refs

Let's see: The Monk went 1/4 in his predictions and only one game met the blowout standard of 14+ point win. Hence, more reason he doesn't bet on football.

So some good, bad and ugly from the NFL weekend:

The Good: the Steelers' Blitzburgh defense, Steve Smith, Jake Delhomme, Ben Roethlisberger's tackling technique, Seattle's compensation for losing Alexander, Carolina's compensating for losing Foster.

The Bad: New England's butterfingers, THE BEARS DEFENSE!, Indy's offensive gameplan, Washington's offense again, the refs in Denver and Indy.

The Ugly: Foster's injury, Grossman's numbers, New England's turnover differential, Seattle's special teams, Vanderjagt's errant field goal attempt.

Quick thoughts:

Seattle 20, Washington 10 = this game ended up in Matt Hasselbeck's hands and he essentially delivered. Nonetheless, Hasselbeck's little brother has the hotter wife, no matter what. That Redskins offense became suddenly putrid, which shows just how bad the Giants' defense was at the end of the season.

Denver 27, New England 13 = worst officiating of the week = the side judge in this one. Why? That phantom interference call at the end of the first half that led to Denver's first TD helped turn the game around. Terrible call and highly consequential -- Denver went from struggling to tie at 3-3 to an easy 7-3 lead that grew when the Pats fumbled the kickoff. Special props to Ben Watson for tracking down Champ Bailey on the latter's 100-yard interception return. And debits to Phil Simms and Jim Nantz: Bailey wasn't running out of gas, he began hotdogging when Watson cleaned his clock.

Pittsburgh 21, Indianapolis 18 = second worst officiating, worst game plan. Tom Moore deserves every last criticism he gets and here's why: Peyton Manning told the CBS broadcasters that week (good inside info by Dick Enberg) that the only team he could not talk out of a blitz with his line calls is the Steelers, but the Colts failed to max protect and failed to work Manning from the shotgun enough. The Steelers big blitzed constantly, including on third-and-long, but the Colts never diffused the blitz's effectiveness with screens and draws. Meanwhile, big credit to Roethlisberger for a fine game, ditto the Steelers' O-Line. And the officiating was horrid: (1) failing to call interference on the second quarter bomb to Randle-El when the Indy DB pulled and tugged on the WR long before the ball fell into range; (2) the horrid overrule on the Manning interception with 5.5 minutes left -- Steeler DB Polamalu caught the ball, took two steps, fell on both knees then got up before having the ball slip out of his hands. That's a catch and fumble (which Pittsburgh recovered) and should have ended the game right there. The overrule let the Colts keep the ball, and they drove for the TD that brought the score to 21-18. The last two minutes of this one will go down in history for the twists and turns. It takes a lot for The Monk to be stunned and look like those little hobbit kids did in Fellowship of the Ring while Bilbo told the story of Smaug, but the fourth-down sack of Manning, fumble by Bettis and Roethlisberger's season-saving tackle did the trick.

BTW, The Monk thinks its great that MaBus and PaBus go to all of Bettis' games.

More bad from this one: (1) CBS' failure to show a replay after a possible third quarter fumble by the Steelers at the Colts' goal line (called down by contact, Pitt ran it in thereafter); (2) the Colts' allegedly solid defense sat out the first 20 minutes and the Steelers knew exactly where to throw against the Colts' two-deep zone to maximal effect; (3) the liquored-up kicker's awful shank at the end. Buffalo Bills fans complain that Scott Norwood choked in Super Bowl XXV, not so: he missed a 47-yarder on grass, outdoors, a little to the right. Kickers should hit about 50-60% outdoors on grass between 40-50 yards. Kickers should hit 75% or more of kicks INSIDE, ON TURF, NO WEATHER FACTOR from 40 yards to the end of their range. No kicker should bang one so far off the mark that it ends up in the corner of the stadium, that's a choke, Mike Vanderjagt.

Carolina 29, Bears 21: Anyone doubting the coaching prowess of John Fox and his staff after this one is just off the mark. The Panthers average about 309 yards per game, the Bears had the #1 defense in the league, and Carolina goes into Chicago, rolls up 434 yards (including > 100 on the ground despite losing Foster) and gameplans a way for Steve Smith to roll up 218 yards receiving. That's ridiculous. Right now, Steve Smith is having a bigger impact on the game than any receiver since Jerry Rice in his heyday. Any Bears fan who thought their team would score 21 and lose must have been a successful fortune teller in a past life. Bad gameplanning by Lovie Smith and his assistants for not stopping the deep throws to Smith and allowing too much one-on-one. Props to Dan Henning, Carolina's offensive coordinator, for designing the gameplan that kept Delhomme on his feet (in the first meeting, the Bears sacked him about 8 times) and enabled the Panthers to run without Foster.

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