Friday, September 26, 2008

NFL Week 3 And Other Things

Okay, so I'm a little late this week; it's nearly Week 4 as I write this. So sue me.

Bloody Hell: Considering the amount of time Tony Romo's been given in the pocket so far this season -- he's practically had time to take a seat, read the newspaper and drink a cup of coffee before finally throwing the ball -- Washington getting a decent pass rush this weekend against the Cowboys was already going to be a difficult exercise. And now that Jason Taylor is out -- difficult probably just got upgraded to impossible.

Taylor will miss this weekend's game -- and likely at least a few more weeks -- after getting kicked in the shin last Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals. Yes, you read that right ... he got kicked in the shin. In all seriousness, the injury caused blood to pool just below the skin, resulting in something called comparmental disease, which could eventually lead to such things as nerve damage, paralysis and even death.

Long and short, Taylor needed the procedure, and he needed it about an hour before he actually got it. The problem is, the Redskins go up this weekend against the NFL's most explosive offense (the Cowboys are averaging a league-best 440 yards a game), and one way to derail an explosive offense is to stuff the quarterback into the turf repeatedly.

Just ask the Patriots.

Without a pass rush -- and if the first three weeks are any indication, Dallas has a brick wall for an offensive line -- Washington will be able to do very little against that offense. And it's not like Washington can blitz every other play, because Dallas' running game -- the two-headed monster of Felix Jones and Marion Barber III -- will take advantage. The best the Redskins can hope for is to contain the running game and get to Romo before he can find the likes of Terrell Owens, Jason Witten and Austin Miles.

But let's face it, that's easier said than done. Washington's offense better crack the 30 mark if it hopes to win this game.

In Limbo: You have to feel for Oakland Raiders coach Lane Kiffin. Sure, he's partly to blame for taking that job in the first place, but the way owner Al Davis is treating him, letting him twist in the wind like a chime during a tropical storm, is doing nothing but drag the hapless Raiders even farther into the abyss.

In the offseason, Davis wanted Kiffin to resign. Kiffin refused, knowing that if he was fired, he'd at least be entitled to a huge payday. After a Week 2 win, Davis hinted he might want to fire Kiffin. Then, when Oakland came from ahead to lose to Buffalo this past Sunday, Kiffin's pink slip seemed a virtual certainty.

But he's still Oakland's head coach. Forhow long, though? And if he does get the axe before the season's out, who will take his place? Who would want to?

My guess is, the only job worse than the Raiders right now might be the Kansas City Chiefs, simply because they have two bad quarterbacks and little else in that city. Herm Edwards isn't so much playing to win the game anymore, but playing just to keep his job. Though if one thinks about it, winning games is the best way to keep your job in the NFL.

Kiffin hasn't done much winning in Oakland ... then again, no one has since the Raiders were last in the Super Bowl in 2002. I can't help but think if this situation will help Kiffin land another NFL job down the road. He's a young, bright guy -- once the offensive coordinator for collegiate powerhouse USC -- and a lot of teams might look at the situation in Oakland and say he got a raw deal.

It might not be another head coaching gig yet, but if Kiffin finally does get the axe from Davis, I can see a good NFL team letting him be a coordinator. And what better way to resurrect a coaching career than to run a successful offense for a few seasons?

Dallas might be in the market for an offensive coordinator at the end of the season, if Jason Garrett gets that expected promotion.

Just Saying: For the first time in 13 years, Joe Torre was not the manager of the New York Yankees.

For the first time in 13 years, the Yankees won't be in the playoffs. Meanwhile, Torre's new team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, have clinched their first NL West title since 2004.

Coincidence? I think not.

New head man Hank Steinbrenner gave manager Joe Girardi a pass for the season, saying the injuries the team suffered left his hands tied. Basically, Mini-George said the team's failures weren't Girardi's fault.

Now, I like Girardi -- he did wonders for a young Florida Marlins team with literally no payroll -- but how can he get a free pass for failing where Torre succeeded? Torre had injuries and other obstacles during his tenure; hell, each of his last three seasons, the Yankees were out of the playoffs in June, only to rally and make it. Then again, Torre hadn't won a World Series ring since 2000, so he was washed up.

By that logic, Girardi will never amount to anything, because he's never led a team to the playoffs, let alone a World Series title. I'm glad Torre has found redemption with the Dodgers, just as I'm sure he thanks Manny Ramirez for helping out. And though Torre will never rub the Yankees' faces in it, I'll take the liberty of doing so for him.

New York made a mistake letting Torre go; sure, he hadn't won a World Series in seven years, but he still put his ball club in a position to win every year. It wasn't his fault Alex Rodriguez forgot his bat come October, nor was it his fault the pitching spent more time in the hospital than the entire cast of Scrubs.

Very good show, by the way. I've been missing out.

Oh, and while we're on the subject of the Yankees, ESPN the Magazine's Buster Olney has a really good piece over on the website about the Yankees' slow demise over the years. It basically boils down to the draft. Read it here.

Here We Go Again: After USC's 27-21 loss to Oregon State Thursday night, everyone and their grandmother wants to know: with one loss, will the Trojans still play for the BCS National Championship?

Chances are, if there are two teams at the end of the season that are undefeated, the answer will be no. At this point, USC's best hope is we end the season with no more than one undefeated team and the Trojans win out.

Which again illustrated how flawed the BCS system is.

I know the pro-BCS honks are going to tell me this is the beauty of the system, that it makes every regular-season game mean something. Lose a game in September and you'll be crying come bowl season. But see, for me, that's exactly the problem.

Are we really gonna punish a really good USC team for losing a conference game? On the road?! Anyone who knows anything about college sports (football and basketball in particular) knows how hard winning a conference game on the road can be, and lest we forget that USC has lost three of the last four times it has traveled to Oregon State.

Oddly enough, each time the Trojans bounce back, win out and still find themselves in a prestigious bowl, so is losing on the road to Oregon State really that bad? Seriously? C'mon, it's not nearly as bad as last year, when USC lost at home to Stanford.

Now that was a punishable offense.

Under a playoff system, USC's title hopes would not be automatically dashed. And at a school where it's national title or bust (I don't buy for one second the whole "Oh, at least we have the Rose Bowl" thing), the BCS system is particularly problematic. If you lose early in the season and are knocked out of national title consideration, what's left to play for the rest of the season?

Sure, there's a possible Heisman bid for someone and some guys will be looking to improve their stock before the 2009 NFL Draft, but at the end of the day, don't we play for championships? To be out of the title hunt in the first month of the season is just stupid and wrong on so many levels ... the BCS needs to go.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go see what Division I-AA games are going on this weekend.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

NFL Week 2 -- and Other Things

Huh?: Imagine if you will ... you're the manager of a Major League Baseball team. Your team is tied for the National League wild card and there are 12 games to go in the regular season. You've lost seven of your last 10 games, and some might think you're starting to choke. What do you do?

If you're the Milwaukee Brewers, you fire your manager. The Brewers did just that Monday, letting go of Ned Yost. They didn't wait until the end of the season to see if the team would pull out of it. No waiting to see if the Brewers could in fact right the ship and secure the wild card, no waiting for a possible chokejob.

Just gone. Twelve games to go and the Brewers have to get used to a new manager. And before you ask, no, Bud Selig isn't controlling the team anymore. But it does seem like something he'd do, doesn't it?

The Brewers are looking for their first playoff berth since 1982, but I think this firing could end up keeping them out of the postseason. What kind of message does Yost's firing send to the team?

"We'll let you go if we think you're about to fail!"

I don't know how the players felt about Yost, though Mike Cameron was generous when he called the firing a "surprise." I just don't see the point in firing a guy over something that might happen -- I realize the Brewers stumbled down the stretch last year and missed the playoffs, but if that was the basis for this, then I'm shocked.

GM Doug Melvin is usually a pretty loyal guy, and every indication is this wasn't his call. Ownership wanted this, from what I can tell, and the Brewers are apparently desperate to get in the playoffs and win now -- I just can't help but wonder if they'll even make it, now that the team has to get used to a new leader with less that two weeks to go in the regular season.

Offense!: Yes, that 67-yard strike from Jason Campbell to Santana Moss against the New Orleans Saints was a thing of beauty, but let's remember something: the Saints have a terrible defense, certainly not on the same level as the Super Bowl champion Giants.

Don't get me wrong: I'm glad Campbell threw for 321 yards and Clinton Portis came close to a 100-yard rushing game (he had 96 yards and two TDs). But I need to see it more often and more consistently before I believe Jim Zorn's system is truly working. A nine-point comeback is encouraging, and if the Redskins can build on it for next week against a 2-0 Arizona team, that would be great.

But let's hold off on anointing Zorn the new genius of Washington. You don't go from goat to god in one week.

Defense?: Apparently, someone forgot to tell the Philadelphia and Dallas defenses there was a game Monday night, when the Cowboys beat the Eagles 41-37. Not that I'm complaining; it was a thrilling, entertaining game, and even in the loss, I think the Eagles showed something.

Aside from defensive deficiencies. And before you bring up the three points they gave up in Week 1, it's worth remembering: that was against the St. Louis Rams.

Tony Romo finally had a good game against Philly, throwing for 312 yards and three touchdowns. Two of those were to Terrell Owens, who is now second on the all-time touchdown receptions list behind his hero, Jerry Rice (seriously? T.O.'s caught that many?). The only thing glaring was, again, the defense, which allowed Donovan McNabb to throw for 281 yards and rookie DeSean Jackson to catch for 110.

But Jackson: dude, wait until you cross the goal line before letting go of the ball in celebration. If Brian Westbrook doesn't score on the very next play, you'd probably have gone down in Leon Lett-like infamy.

The Cowboys are the best team in the NFC, and will more than likely run roughshod over the tough and talented NFC East ... but I wanna see Romo beat people after November before I make any Super Bowl predictions.

Fumble!: Before Sunday's San Diego-Denver game, who knew of this obscure rule: if a running back or wide receiver fumbles, the play goes on. If a quarterback fumbles the ball, the play is blown dead.

Before Jay Cutler fumbled the ball as he went back to pass in the fourth quarter, I didn't know the rule, either. Replays showed Cutler's arm was not moving forward before the ball came out, which meant the on-field ruling of incomplete pass was incorrect. It should've been San Diego's ball ... but referee Ed Hochuli called it a fumble after viewing the replay and said the play was dead once the ball hit the ground.

Denver kept the ball, scored the touchdown and got the game-winning two-point conversion. San Diego, a team many thought would contend for the Super Bowl, is now a heartbreaking 0-2.

Ignoring for a moment the idiotic fumble rule ... what's the point in having instant replay if you're still going to get a call wrong? Especially one as obvious as Cutler's fumble? Hochuli has a reputation as one of the best referees in the game, but he has to take a hit and be held accountable for this mistake.

Because of his mistake -- one he admits, it's worth noting -- the Chargers are 0-2, two full games behind the Broncos in the AFC West. If San Diego misses the playoffs this year, Hochuli deserves a fair bit of the blame.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

NFL Week 1 Recap

Some random thoughts and observations after the first week of the 2008 NFL season:

Offense?: What happened to Jim Zorn being such a good offensive mind? What happened to how he was supposed to help Jason Campbell develop as a young quarterback? In Thursday's 16-7 loss to the New York Giants, Zorn and his Redskins looked downright lost, and I have to admit: I don't see it getting better any time soon.

The Redskins only amassed 209 yards of offense against the defending Super Bowl champions, but the last two minutes of the game were even more distressing: down by nine, Washington showed no urgency on offense. No hurry-up, no no-huddle ... and at one point, it took Campbell 18 needless seconds to spike the ball. If this keeps up, Zorn could be looking at a 5-11 season -- and maybe a pink slip.

New Beginnings: Aaron Rodgers looked quite impressive in Monday night's 24-19 win over the Minnesota Vikings. Rodgers did not throw a pick and was never sacked, even rushing for a touchdown and doing his first Lambeau Leap. It's only the first game of the season, but between Monday night's game and last year's performance against Dallas, maybe Rodgers is more ready than the Green Bay faithful think.

Which shouldn't be that surprising; Rodgers was a first-round pick and was so good at Cal, many thought he'd be the top overall pick. He wasn't -- how's Alex Smith working out, San Francisco? -- but I think over the course of the season Rodgers and the Packers will be just fine.

AFC Least?: All those preseason predictions of the New England Patriots running away with the AFC East don't look so good now. With reigning NFL MVP Tom Brady out for the season with a knee injury (coach Bill Belichick still won't tell us what the injury is), it's up to Matt Cassell -- who hasn't started a meaningful game since high school -- to keep the ship afloat. While Brady started his career in a similar, I don't expect similar results.

Does Brady's injury suddenly make Brett Favre and the New York Jets the favorites? Hard to say; New England still has a ton of talent. But it will make the division more interesting -- particularly if Buffalo's pasting of Seattle turns out to be a pattern. If I'm New England, I start looking for another QB ... and hope Daunte Culpepper hasn't yet filed his retirement papers with the league.

Vick who?: Michael Turner rushed for 220 yards in his Atlanta Falcons debut, and rookie quarterback Matt Ryan led Atlanta past Detroit 34-21. Ignoring for the moment all the jokes regarding the Lions (Matt Millen is a joke in and of himself), Ryan deserves note.

The rookie from Boston College, whom Atlanta selected with the No. 3 overall pick in April's draft, went 9-for-13 for 161 yards and his first career touchdown pass -- which actually came on his first pass, a 62-yard strike to Michael Jenkins. It was a nice tone-setter for a Falcons team trying to move on from the debacles of Michael Vick and Bobby Petrino, and while I don't think Atlanta can challenge for a playoff spot this year, the Falcons will win a lot more than three games.

Da Bears: Matt Forte is a beast, and Kyle Orton doesn't lose football games. This much we learned Sunday night when the Chicago Bears stunned Indianapolis 29-13. While Peyton Manning looked rusty, on the field for the first time since having an infected bursa sac removed from his knee, Orton did the one thing Rex Grossman couldn't: he played mistake-free football.

The Bears have a good defense, even if the secondary is a little suspect. Orton is now 14-8 as a starter for Chicago, and though he didn't throw a touchdown pass Sunday night, he didn't throw an interception, either. And Forte, a rookie from Tulane, impressed with 23 carries for 123 yards. If he can provide the spark Cedic Benson lacks and gives the Bears a consistent running game, that'll make Orton even better and give Chicago an actual offense -- which could make the Bears a contender in the weak NFC North.

Defense, Please: If the Cleveland Browns are going to make the playoffs this season, they might want to think about picking up a defense. Dallas exposed the Browns' biggest weakness on Sunday in a 28-10 win. I realize Dallas is an offensive powerhouse, with Tony Romo, T.O. and Jason Witten, but Cleveland's defense was just pitiful.

Cleveland gave up 487 yards of offense, and even after busting open Romo's chin, the Dallas quarterback torched the Browns for 320 passing yards and a score. Witten had 96 yards receiving, while Owens had 87 yards and a touchdown. Dallas will put up the points, and after the Philadelphia Eagles put up 38 against the Rams, look for next Monday's game to be a shootout.

Defensive coordinators, begin updating your resumes.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

I Wonder ...

Overrated?: How does the No. 18 team in the country lose in overtime to an unranked team with a quarterback who threw four first-half interceptions? Ask Tennessee, which lost 27-24 in OT Monday night against UCLA. Bruins quarterback Kevin Craft threw four first-half picks and still the Volunteers found a way to lose. UCLA fans will again honk that USC's monopoly is over, but here's a thought: maybe Tennessee isn't who we thought they were?

Overlooked?: You can tell we're getting close to the start of football season. When else can Major League Baseball see two cycles on the same day for the first time since 1920 and there's hardly a peep about it? Congrats to Seattle's Adrian Beltre and Arizona's Stephen Drew, who each accomplished the feat on Monday. Someone has to acknowledge this latest bit of history ...

Overprotective?: Is Shawne Merriman's decision to play with two torn knee ligaments rather than have surgery a dumb one? Absolutely, but who are we to tell him what to do with his life and career? That's the football mentality -- play through the pain. And considering the Chargers have a legitimate shot at the Super Bowl this year (never thought I'd ever type that about a Norv Turner-coached team), can you really blame Merriman for wanting to be on the field?

Over His Head?: Welcome to Michigan, Rich Rodriguez. How does that season-opening loss to Utah taste? It can't really be that much worse than last year's loss to Appalachian State, can it? And surely you're not having buyer's remorse after watching West Virginia light things up against Villlanova. Pat White -- yes, that Pat White -- threw five touchdowns. Without you, Coach-Rod.

Overhyped?: Virginia Tech lost its season opener -- and probably any hope at a BCS game -- with a loss to East Carolina. Yes, Division I-AA East Carolina. On a blocked punt. The Hokies got beat by Beamer Ball. I bet that felt real good, didn't it, you turkeys. Clemson may be the most overhyped team in the ACC after getting thumped by Alabama, but Virginia Tech isn't that far behind.