Monday, September 18, 2006

NFL Week 2: some unconventional wisdom, please

There is no more conventional wisdom on the NFL than what Peter King writes in his Monday Morning QB column each week. And his missives epitomize the notion that conventional wisdom is a phrase known for its 1/2 accuracy rate. King is the best at relating the thought processes of players, coaches, GMs. His analyses are ok at best. His predictions are horrible (four words: Detroit NFC North Champs). And his Fine Fifteen is often ridiculous. King is a weathervane of conventional wisdom (just look at his continual conjecture about the Chargers in the Super Bowl -- rookie QBs don't get there, period).

So what really happened yesterday in some key games? The Monk doesn't have all the answers, but he has some:

(1) There are at least five horrible offenses in the NFL right now: Tampa, Oakland, Tennessee, Carolina, Denver. The Chargers have played two of those, so have the Ravens, so have the Falcons. Don't jump the bandwagon of any of those three quite yet for the Super Bowl. That said, the Falcons are looking like a division winner right now and will be in great shape if they beat the Aints next week to fire off to a 3-0, all-intradivision start. The most impressive of the three 2-0 teams mentioned above is the Falcons -- both Tampa and Carolina were preseason playoff caliber teams and each won 10+ last year. The Raiders and Titans were expected to stink (although the Titans' offense should suck less than it has). The real surprise is Denver -- 0 TD allowed, but the Broncs are barely 1-1 after scratching out a home win against undermanned KC.

(2) Contrary to King, Don Banks and all of ESPN, the Giants' schedule of doom is not bad because of the defenses the Giants will play in the first seven weeks (Indy, Philly, Seattle, 'Skins, Falcons, Cowpatties, Bucs), but because the Giants defense itself is pretty hideous. The Jints have rolled up more than 400 yards in consecutive weeks thus far against good defensive teams; last year, they scored less than 20 just twice in the regular season. But that defense, especially the pass defense, has been putrid: two sacks (none for Strahan), one interception, > 600 yards allowed. The key for the Giants will be to move around their linemen (they've basically been rushing just a straight four, minimal twists and stunts), and stop dropping Arrington into coverage. He's simply not a cover linebacker. The Monk lost all faith in Tim Lewis last year during the playoffs. If the team keeps going like this on D, Lewis needs to clean out his office.

(3) The Pats desperately need a deep threat. Their offense is still sputtering after losing Branch and Givens. Although the moves may have made team and monetary sense, the Pats should have picked up Donte' Stallworth or Koren Robinson -- two troubled nutcases that Belichick could have used to help the passing attack whilst curing them of their stupidities. Good for the Pats that the scouts nailed their evaluation of Laurence Maroney.

(4) The Colts are lacking defensive capability. The Giants rolled up 430+ yards but shot themselves in the rear with penalties. Yes, the horseshoes whupped the Texans, but Houston still scored 24 and David Carr hit 22 of 26 passes. In Super Bowl XXI, Phil Simms hit 22/25 -- an 88% accuracy rate that remains the record. What happens if someone better than Carr with a better team can put up those types of numbers (Brady, Palmer)?

(5) Peyton Manning is the best quarterback in football. Eli is moving swiftly toward the top 5. Little Brother's comeback performance (31-43-371, 3TD, 1INT) on the road showed the type of presence and leadership at QB that the Giants have lacked since the Simms era (he made the read against the Philly blitz in OT to send Burress long for what became the game-winning TD). He's also one of the best comeback and two-minute drill QBs -- and credit coach Coughlin for that. The Giants don't abandon the run even when they're behind (see Giants 24, Denver 23 from last year) and don't just run draw plays. They stay with their offense and let the QB use all his weapons.

(6) I wonder if Andy Reid will actually end up costing the Iggles a game later this year by NOT running the ball while ahead after criticizing his own play calling as too conservative yesterday. After all, the pass-happy birds became almost self-parodying last year when they refused to run the ball. What could happen? The Eagles, up by two scores early in fourth quarter, keep passing. Misfire. Punts. More time for comeback. Comeback occurs. It's entirely possible. Yesterday's honk was as much a product of fortuity (Westbrook's fumble more than halfway through the fourth quarter with Philly up 24-14, Manning's pass to Carter) and stupidity (Coles' personal foul with :10 left) as it was a product of play-calling problems. Another question is: why blitz on 3rd and 11 at your own 31 and leave the Giants' receivers (who'd already combined for more than 200 yards) one-on-one when the front four of your defense had accounted for most of the 8 sacks of Eli without need of the blitz?

(7) How good are the Bills? They could (and should) be 2-0 after road games against divisional co-favorites New England and Miami. They thumped the 'Phins. They blew a win against the Pats. If only they had an offense . . .

(8) The Redskins may not be the third-best team in the NFC East. All the offensive infirmities they seemed to escape for most of last year are beating them this season. Brunell is bad, Portis is hurt, the O-line is not producing, etc. An 0-2 start is not a death blow by any stretch, but Joe Gibbs owes the Giants some thanks after Big Blue's comeback rendered the NFC East a cluster of 1-1 teams at the top, preventing the Iggles from getting any early separation.

(9) The Niners suck dramatically less than I expected, especially on offense. What a difference an off-season can make for a young QB. The exception to that rule: Chris Simms.

(10) NBC's Football Night in America show stinks. Too much talk, talk, talk after the games have been played. For the first 20 minutes last night, NBC had bloviating analysis by Sterling Sharpe, Cris Collinsworth and pabulum from Jerome Bettis. Add in uninsightful "insight" from Peter King, a bunch of on-field, reaction interviews after big games (which are among the LEAST informative interviews on any sports show) and more chirp chirp chirp. No highlights until nearly 25 minutes into the show.

That's ridiculous -- after the games of the afternoon, we want to SEE what happened, not hear random chatter about it. And the highlights we saw were too few, devoid of analysis and overrun by commentary (someone needs to turn Sharpe's microphone down, preferably all the way). There's a reason NFL Primetime was the best show of its kind -- one host, one analyst who knows the game well (Collinsworth is a pompous ass, but he'd fit this role), discussion of the game after the highlights (i.e., in context) then add in the preview of the Sunday game at the end. A recap/preview show needs to be fast-moving and intense, not laid back and relaxed like a preview-only show. Fox's baseball preview shows are more energetic.

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