Football Thoughts Archive
Football Thoughts Archive
The source for back issues of Football Thoughts.
WARNING: Results may vary!
Last season, there were two teams in the NFL which did not replace the head coach, but did replace both coordinators. Those teams were Pittsburgh and San Francisco. I mention this because those two teams respectfully posted the best and worst records in the NFL last year.
FYI on why there are two weeks between the Conference championship games and the Super Bowl this year, the answer is the Senior Bowl.
For those of you who aren't familiar with the Senior Bowl, it is not an NFL oldtimers game. It's the last of the college All-Star games and it's run in conjunction with the NFL. In fact, each team is coached by an actual NFL coaching staff.
What makes it worth delaying the Super Bowl for is that every coach, scout, and personnel director in the NFL (and several who are looking for work) descend on Mobile, AL to watch the practices, to meet the players, and to schmooze with their friends and peers from around the league. In that sense, it's sort of a preview to February's Scouting Combine, only on a smaller scale in a more interesting setting.
You might have heard that Kurt Warner wants to leave the Giants so that he can try to land a starting QB job somewhere else in the NFL. Kurt, good luck finding a taker.
On the surface, Warner is an accurate passer (career completion percentage of 65.9%) who racks up yardage (262 passing yards/game over his career) and is also a two-time MVP who's won a Super Bowl (and its MVP award as well). Teams should be falling all over themselves to sign him, right?
Since his last MVP and trip the Super Bowl, Warner's career took a wrong turn somewhere. Yes, he's still accurate, completing 356 of 562 passes (63.3%) and can still put up yardage (3850 passing yards in 19 games), but something happened to the little clock in his head. The one that tells a QB that he's held the ball for too long and that it's now time to throw it, either to a receiver or away.
How can I tell that? Well, he's been 66 sacked times in those 19 games. Or, to better illustrate the point, of the last 628 times that he's dropped back to pass the ball, he was sacked 66 times, which roughly translates to Warner being sacked about once every ten times he drops back to pass.
Now, to be fair, I'll admit that I'm not including his rushing attempts in these calculations, but as he's only been credited with 22 rushing attempts over this span, I'm going to call those a wash because they'd have little impact anyway.
Of course, you can make the case that the numbers are skewed because the Giants had such a cheese-cloth offensive line this year, but Eli Manning played behind the same line this year and was only sacked once every 16 times he dropped back to pass. Warner, for the record, was sacked once every 8 times he dropped back to pass this year.
Back to Warner, the word is out that he holds onto the ball too long. Defensive coordinators know it and use it to their advantage. He's also started showing lapses in his decision making. Over the last 3 seasons, he's thrown 16 INTs vs. 10 TDs which, when you consider the sacks, says to me that Kurt is just throwing the ball in the direction of a receiver, regardless of where the defensive players are, just to avoid being hit.
While some team will undoubtedly take a chance on Warner based on his previous body of work, I'm more interested in seeing if and how he can restore his internal clock or if the concussions and other battering that he's taken throughout his career have damaged parts of his brain beyond repair.
If I were Mark Whipple (Pittsburgh's QB coach), I'm getting on a plane with Ben Roethlisberger and we're going to Edmonton this week and, without a glove on, we'll be throwing a football through a tire until the kid learns how to throw a football outside during the winter.
The 5 INTs he threw in the playoffs were 5 of the ugliest passes I've ever seen.
While only three teams will have a new head coach next season, at least a dozen teams will have a new offensive coordinator. And possibly the most interesting of those will be Mike Heimerdinger, who made a lateral move from the Titans to the Jets.
What causes this to be interesting is that Heimerdinger has been in the rumor mill for possible head coaching job for a while now, however he hasn't been offered so much as an interview for most of the jobs which have become available. My thinking is that he's taking the job in New York in part to leave a rebuilding team for a playoff-caliber one but mostly to increase his exposure by moving to the media capital of America.
I'm thinking that, after his second straight playoff exit at the hands of the Patriots, Peyton Manning must have found himself alongside Derek Jeter on eBay trying to find a new set of teammates who can pass a gut check and not choke under pressure.
What I mean is that, contrary to what I constantly hear from Patriots fans about "Belichick being in Manning's head", the reason why Peyton Manning has lost his last four games played against the Pats is because he's been let down by his teammates.
In fact, "let down" might be too soft -- "dropped like an ugly girl for a Pam Anderson" might be more apt.
Manning's hallmarks are intelligence and precision in execution, but the fact is that he himself doesn't make a lot of mistakes. His teammates, on the other hand, are a different story. Specific suspects would include Edgerrin James, who fumbled away Indy's chances of beating the Patriots in the 2004 season opener, Brandon Stokley, who has is showing that he would be a better fit among St. Louis' "receivers who don't like to go over the middle and get hit" than in the AFC, and the turnstile who doubled as Indy's right tackle in the second half of this year's divisional playoff game.
Coming into the divisional round, the Colts were riding the most prolific offense the NFL has seen this millennium. They were set to go up against a Patriots team that would be without not only its best defensive player (Richard Seymour) but also both of its starting cornerbacks. The conventional wisdom spouted by most football "talking-heads" (of which I am one) was that the Colts would attack New England's patchwork secondary and put the pressure on the defense to hold its own.
However, in their preparation for the game, the Patriots coaches found a hole in the Colts' offense. And proceeded to drive a truck through it.
The hole in the offense was the pass protection skills of the right side of Indy's offensive line. The truck was constant pressure by McGinest, Colvin, Vrabel, et. al. and the result was that it folded like an old towel. Under constant pressure from his right side, Manning was prevented from rolling out to the right (his preferred side). This helped to prevent him from being able to make any deep throws and forced him to throw to his check down receivers (most of whom were well covered).
The highlight of New England's gameplan came in the fourth quarter when the Patriots collapsed the Colts' pocket with a two-man rush. That's right, New England rushed two guys, and the guy lined up against the right side of Indy's line was able to beat his block so easily that he forced Manning to move up in the pocket and make a poor throw.
Returning to the subject of Indy's need to find players who pass a gut check, I would recommend that Bill Polian and Tony Dungy take a long and objective look at their roster come the start of free agency. They have a lot of needs that require attention, including gaping holes in the character and heart department.
In case you missed it: The Patriots have been favored to win all 19 meaningful games which they've played in this year.
Win or lose the Super Bowl, Philadelphia will still be sitting pretty come April's draft as they have an extra pick in each of the second, fourth, and fifth rounds, courtesy of trades with Miami, Kansas City, and Washington.
OK, my predictions for the road to the Super Bowl were off, by a bit. But I'll admit I let myself get carried away with the whole Randy Moss thing and it was fun.
But, now, with the Super Bowl this Sunday, I've got some things on my mind about the game.
First, what I really want is to see an entire game like the 4th quarter of last year's Super Bowl (you know, one that ends something like 48-45 on a last second FG) but I doubt that I'll get my wish.
Second, possibly more than the outcome of the game or its pace is having good officiating. Last year's Super Bowl featured some of the best officiating I've seen in a Super Bowl in quite a while (which is no surprise given that it was Ed Hochuli's crew who did the game). I hope to see the same caliber of officiating this year.
Next, commercials. Some years, these are the only reasons to watch the game. I'm hoping that we get at least one commercial that has "all-time classic" potential. But, even more than that, I'm hoping that I don't have to suffer through any of the inane commercials that I had to endure over and over during the regular season.
Finally, here are my thoughts as to why each of these teams can win.
Why the Pats can win
They're the defending champs. They've been here before, they're well prepared, and there won't be one player on this team walking around Jacksonville with a look of total bewilderment on his face.
They also have a damn good defense. Sure it's of the "bend, but don't break" mold but they stop more opponent's drives before field goal range than any other team I can remember seeing. They've made up for the deficiencies in the secondary by increasing the pressure they put on the quarterback. They are all great tacklers. (You will not see the Pats surrender a big play as a result of a blown tackle.) And most importantly, they force their opponents to make mistakes (i.e., turnovers).
Their offense is better than anything that Philly has seen this year. Let's face it, if the Eagles (who wrapped up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs before Christmas) didn't win the NFC then we'd be talking about a choke act an order of magnitude above this year's Yankees. The best offenses the Eagles saw in their conference were the one-dimensional Vikings and Rams. The Patriots offense features a balanced attack which can overpower you with Corey Dillon or pick you apart with Tom Brady. They don't rack up yards and points with the best of them, but they can certainly move the ball and put points on the board when they have to.
Why the Eagles can win
Despite being 7-point underdogs, the Eagles ought to give the Pats a run for their money. A lot of which has to do with the fact that the Eagles are carrying a chip on their shoulder as a result of having lost 3 straight NFC championship games.
They've reached this point in large part because of the play of their defense. They bring the blitz early and keep bringing until you can make them stop. They love to hit the quarterback, in the pocket and on the move. They are very hard to run against. They also tackle very well. They are, without a doubt, the most aggressive defense that the Patriots will face this year.
On the other side of the ball, the Eagles have a pretty good playmaker in Donovan McNabb who is coming off a career season and who's mobile enough to avoid the rush and make plays with his arm or his feet. They move the ball predominantly through the air and like to go deep a lot. In fact, they've had at least one pass of 40 yards or more in 13 games, and one pass of 50 yards or more in 9 games. Lastly, their offensive line is big, mean, and very good at giving the running back and quarterback room to work.
As for the inevitable "who do I think wins the game?" question. I don't know. I think that one of two things happens: either the Patriots will beat the Eagles like a rented mule or the Eagles will stave off a late charge by the Pats to win by less than a touchdown. I'm not sure, but I'll be watching the game to see what happens.