Following a defiant seventh-round knockout of previously unbeaten Jose Pedraza (22-1, 12...
The Mad Scientists’ Guide to NFL: The NFC
PHILADELPHIA — We’re now ready to peek at the NFC — and who has the best chemistry to do you-know-what to who based on the formula of run the ball, stuff the run on defense, and pressure the opposition’s quarterback.
Allowing for the X factors that can’t be foreseen, we will give three points for each aspect of the game plus the X point for a max score of 10:
1. DALLAS : A very diversified ground game with Julius Jones, Marion Barber and the pickup of Leonard Davis from Arizona (along with the subsequent move to guard) will make for long afternoons as opposing teams try to get the ball back from Dallas in crunch time. DE DeMarcus Ware has “sacks appeal” and Roy Williams is a run-stuffing strong side safety in the mold of former Cowboy great Darren Woodson.
X-perimenting: For years, Davis was one of the few Arizona Cardinals opponents had to key on. A new lease on life in Texas should bring Davis back to his previous All-Star form. (Total: 3 run, 2 defend, 3 pressure + 1 = 9).
2. NEW YORK : Just a thought: Ex-Giant RB Tiki Barber ran the rock well for 10 years, broke every team rushing record, and walked like an Egyptian into the broadcast booth. Would they selfishly rather Tiki end up carted off on a stretcher or unable to walk like Hall of Fame back Earl Campbell? Obviously, the man balled his ass off until season’s end. Now that Barber has gone, Brandon Jacobs, at 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds is ready to carry the load. The real question should be — are opposing defenses ready to carry 25-30 carries worth of Jacobs? DT Fred Robbins is a good run-stuffer, and DE Osi Umenyiora has Pro-Bowl potential. Now that D-line mate Michael Strahan is back, Giants have a puncher’s chance to become a top-ranked defensive unit.
X-pansion: The name of the game is match up — and Jacobs has the potential to be an automatic mismatch against every defense when he steps in the huddle. The Giants need to put the fear of GAWD back in their running game, and if Jacobs, whose upright style reminds me of former Seattle Seahawk star Chris Warren, can lean into his victims a little more upon impact, he will punish every linebacker and safety within hitting distance. (Total: 3 run, 2 defend, 3 pressure +1 = 9) .
3. WASHINGTON: ( As a point of information, it still pains me to acknowledge the name of Washington’s team — I don’t dig the name nor the Chief Wahoo bullshit behind Cleveland’s baseball team — and, if given the opportunity, will address at another time). Meanwhile, back at football. Just as Davis was a great pickup for Dallas, the last-minute gift from the New York Jets — OG Pete Kendall — will have QB Jason Campbell sending the Jets Christmas cards. Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts are the best two-back tandem in the league, and free agent pickup London Fletcher-Baker is the kind of sure-tackling, intelligent presence Washington’s defense has needed.
X-pensive: Owner Dan Snyder has sunk lotsa cash into his investment, and this may be the first year a positive on-field return is not a fantasy. (Total: 3 run, 2 defend, 2 pressure, no X point = 7)
4. PHILADELPHIA : Anyone who saw the Iggles last year against the New Orleans Saints saw them get skull-dragged in the pit by the Saints as they chewed up eight minutes of clock on them in a 27-24 loss in Week 4 — and later manhandled them in the playoffs. Conventional thinking would indicate beefing up the D-line would be Job 1 for Philly, but Iggles come into another season with this major flaw in their defensive makeup once again. Compounded further with the unique problem of carrying the largest — and possibly best O-line in the conference, averaging 325 pounds tackle-to-tackle, and you can find another tactical error on the part of HC Andy Reid and staff. With Road Graders like Jon Runyan, Shawn Andrews, William Thomas, and a gifted do-it-all back in Brian Westbrook, Philly could drive-block most teams into submission — but Reid’s adherence to the West Coast offense will leave them on the East Coast waiting to buy Super Bowl tickets unless they commit to the running game and balance their very predictable passing attack. Will QB Donovan McNabb remember that it’s okay to haul ass out the pocket when you have to? Can DE Jevon Kearse become an impact player again as he comes off knee surgery? If so he and Trent Cole will be crucial to defensive coordinator Jim Johnson’s mad blitzes.
X-pendable: Releasing MLB Jeremiah Trotter after a Pro Bowl season makes you wonder what this team really wants to do — win a Super Bowl or a Salary Cap Bowl. Right now, Barbara Bush could run for five yards behind the Iggles O-line; and run for 10 against its D-line. (Total: 2 run, 0 points defend, 2 pressure, no X point = 4).
1. NEW ORLEANS: Resurgence of Saints has gone down better than beignets and chicory coffee — BUT HALF THE TOWN IS STILL UNDERWATER! (Sorry ’bout that –didn’t mean to yell!) Among their offensive aces (Drew Brees, Reggie Bush & Marques Colston) the Deuce (McAllister) has emerged as the true trump card that may guar-an-tee a playoff spot for New Orleans. Ends Will Smith and Charles Grant provide great pressure from the D-line, but the linebackers may be suspect to wearing down as MLB Mark Simoneau is smallish and better suited outside.
X-ploring: Saints will probably spend some quality waiver wire time looking make moves if their first half of the season proves out in their favor; too bad the government can’t seem to make improvements to New Orleans faster than the team can. Total: 3 run, 2 defend, 3 pressure + 1 = 9)
2. CAROLINA: Now these cats have the kind of claws on defense that would give the opposition paws to reflect! Well, they used to before injuries hit D-linemen Kris Jenkins, Mike Rucker and MLB Dan Morgan. Black Cats are hoping the injury bug will stay away long enough for the aforementioned players — along with the multi-talented Julius Peppers — to inflict the kind of damage that would make Darth Vader smile. Tailbacks DeShaun Foster and De Angelo Williams will be delightful clock chewers in sustaining drives for Jake Delhomme or David Carr.
X-emplary: After witnessing some of the constant ass-whipping he took in Houston behind that Swiss-cheese O-line, I’m convinced David Carr has got to be one of the physically strongest ever to play the position-and once the rest of his brain cells get recycled, he’ll be a damn good edition to Carolina. (Total: 3 run, 3 defend, 3 pressure, no X point = 9)
3. TAMPA BAY: Looks like Bucs — at least QB Bruce Gradkowski, anyway — have some “splainin” to do about alleged gambling while playing at Toledo University. But Tampa was likely already accused of gambling when they took Jeff Garcia as a free agent. After a good start, RB Cadillac Williams has not provided the mileage on turf Bucs need over 16 games. And unless rookie Gaines Adams is a beast on the D-line, LB Derrick Brooks will be taking a lot of punishment for a unit that gave up too much on the ground.
X-port: Many were surprised by Garcia’s late season success with the Eagles, but Garcia looked so good running that offense because he’s run it his whole career. When he was winning Grey Cups in Canada, Garcia, as pivot for the Calgary Stampeders, ran the same offense — with spread variations to accommodate the receivers in motion that are allowed in the CFL; and understudied at the feet of the shifty Doug Flutie. When he took over for Steve Young in ‘Frisco, he did the same thing. (Total: 2 run, 1 defend, 2 pressure + 1 = 6)
4. ATLANTA : You can try to forget about Michael Vick if you want. Hell, Virginia Tech was getting their asses waxed by LSU and the Tech quarterback wore Vick’s old No. 7 — as if he didn’t exist. But this must be said: no player in NFL history ever terrorized defenses from his position as Vick has; because no one has ever generated that kind of speed from the position. And no coach has ever been prepared to approach coaching for or against speed at a position designed for, shall we say slower athletes. DE John Abraham will look to rebound from injury and give the Falcon D some timely sacks, but the O-line play was very shaky — one big reason why Vick ran his ass off for over 1,000 yards. A superior ground game is further downgraded to good because of nicks to Warrick Dunn.
X-humed: Just a thought: who the heck is Vick’s agent? And after watching how the media and the Players’ Association went about their business with attacking Vick — rightly or wrongly — why would any player want this cat handling their affairs? (Total: 2 run, 1 defend, 2 pressure, no X point = 5)
1. CHICAGO: Bears avoided a potential chemical implosion with the return of LB Lance Briggs. Tank Johnson will be missed, but Thomas Jones will be missed more. On the plus side, two of my favorite defensive players, tackle Tommie Harris and super-smart free safety Mike Brown are back from injury, and will help Chi-town freeze any aspirations of potential playoff purloiners.
X-lax: Bears can’t afford to fall into the “unfinished business” trap. The league has a year’s worth of film on the electric Devon Hester, and no one has given HC Lovie Smith credit for winning a conference championship with an average quarterback like Rex Grossman. Though no fault of his own, Grossman’s problems handling the ball are similar to former Seahawk passer David Krieg, who consistently led the league in fumbles because of his small hands. When Grossman has a bad game, you can point to this contributing to his inability to focus. (Total: 2 run, 3 defend, 3 pressure, no X point = 8)
2. MINNESOTA: Thanks to new head man Brad Childress, Vikings have shown good balance in their attack, and the Williams brothas (DTs Pat and Kevin) are two tons o’ fun that will pounce their ounces in the pit. Both Williams’ are monsters against the run, and should free up Kenechi Udeze for leftover sacks. Chester Taylor and rookie Adrian Peterson will make second year man Tavaris Jackson a genius and that sound you hear coming out the Windy City won’t be the Hawk; it will be the pitter patter of Purple People Pounders.
X-amined: Strength up the middle has always been a constant to sustained success. With the Williams brothas on D, and the core of Matt Birk, Steve Hutchinson and Bryant McKinnie on the O-line, the foundation justifies the kind of talk magazines and experts like to toss around when sleepers are mentioned. And they probably would have if Tavaris Jackson weren’t the starting QB. As our beloved departed brotha Johnnie Cochran would’ve said if he were a football fan, “If your lines aren’t fit, your game ain’t shit.” (Total: 3 run, 3 defend, 2 pressure, no X point = 8)
3. GREEN BAY: Green Bay has some good stuff to look forward to: LB A.J. Hawk will improve, CB Charles Woodson has proved he’s a Hall of Fame corner with a great comeback season, and end Aaron Kampson make for a good corps. But someone has to run the ball — and unless Brandon Jackson is the real deal, Packers may be a big player in a trade if somehow Brett Favre and company get off to at least a 5-3 start by mid-season.
X-iled: Cornerbacks always play out “on an island” but it seemed for a while that the intent to exile Charles Woodson to Green Bay was to break his spirit because of his frustration in Oakland. Woodson, however, begged to differ. Along with Al Harris, they provided solid island coverage and run support. Total: 1 run, 3 defend, 2 support + 1 = 7)
4. DETROIT: While GM Matt Millen’s mediocrity continues to be rewarded, even he can’t mess up a talent like Calvin Johnson. Tatum Bell, picked up in free agency from Denver, has many believing he can be a mighty mite in the mold of Maurice Jones-Drew. When DT Shaun Rogers is right, he is a bad mo-fo — but injuries have slowed him down a little. Lions talked defense a lot, but are still trying to drive an Escalade with Goodyear tires.
X in the City: Lion fans have got to be more frustrated than any others in the NFL universe — especially on Thanksgiving, where they’re all ready out of any chance for a sniff of playoff action. If Millen and company don’t show visible improvement, I say storm the Dome with torches, turkey drumsticks and force him to watch the last three years of Lions’ games tied to a rack. Or go watch Michigan play — ouch! (Total: 2 run, 2 defend, 2 pressure, no X point = 6).
1. SEATTLE: Shawn Alexander, having survived the “Madden Jinx,” is expected to have a big year. But everyone in the division has caught up, and the West may be the most competitive because of it. Seahawks have great linebackers in Julian Peterson and Lofa Tatupu; D-linemen Rocky Bernard and Patrick Kerney are equally adept in run-stuffing and sack pressure. But the excellent Walter Jones misses Steve Hutchinson complementing him at guard — as does Alexander.
No X on the second date: Seahawks made a big mistake in letting WR Darrell Jackson go. He was consistency personified — caught the ball, caught in traffic, blocked well and had separation speed. Coupled with the previous loss of Hutchinson to the Vikings, one has to wonder about talent assessment in the Pacific Northwest. (Total: 3 run, 3 defend, 2 pressure, no X point = 8)
2. ST. LOUIS: The Greatest Show on Turf has added an opening act — a potentially devastating ground game, courtesy of power back Steven Jackson. After averaging over 100 yards a game on the ground last season, Jackson’s quest to run for 2,500 can only make the defense very happy — especially tackles La’Roi Glover and Adam Carriker, who are smallish (as tackles go) but tenacious in the pit.
Pre-marital X: The marriage of power running to the sword-stroke mid-range pass patterns of the Rams makes me want to scream “SCIENCE” like my man did in the Thomas Dolby video. This marriage will surely be a happy one, but Dante Hall’s silence will ensure it will be a successful one as well. When Hall had his big year in Kansas City, he went on HBO’s “Inside the NFL” and tipped off defenses as to how he was breaking returns. At that point, he had four TDs on returns; by the end of the season, he had — four. Dante — shhhhhhh! (Total: 3 run, 2 defend, 2 pressure + 1 = 8)
3. SAN FRANCISCO: Perhaps it was more to protect young QB Alex Smith — but the emergence of Frank Gore turned the ‘Niners from foe to formidable. Gore’s success has allowed the young O-line (captained by the All-Universe guard Larry Allen) to do what comes naturally and smack people in the mouth. ‘Niners, in trying to provide glue to what was once a sieve of a secondary, grabbed Nate Clements out of Buffalo to show his teammates how to stuff and cover. Free agent Tully Banta-Cain showed flashes of breaking out as a sacker in New England, and anything he adds to the pressure package as a blitzing linebacker will be a plus.
X-Squared: Give San Francisco credit. There are so many franchises in the league that are happy to cash that TV revenue and other goodies without improving their on-field product. ‘Niners won their share of Super Bowls, paid the price for mortgaging their situation with some down years, but now seem to be on the road back. It’s easy to be spoiled when you know your front office is trying to get to the Super Bowl every year. (Total: 3 run, 2 defend, 1 pressure + 1 = 7)
4. ARIZONA : Cards are the perfect example of a team getting a lot of flavor because of the awesome potential, but coming up short. New HC Ken Whisenhunt brought in ex-Washington Hog Russ Grimm to fine tune the O-line. Technique improvements alone should mean another 500 or 600 extra yards for Edgerrin James. Cards can’t seem to generate a consistent pass rush, and will need a huge effort up front in their 3-4 alignment to be taken seriously. Karlos Dansby and Adrian Wilson are something Cards haven’t had in a long while — players that will be part of a true corps on defense to build on.
The Root of X: Arizona got a Super Bowl on the heels of its assistance after Katrina — but let’s not forget it wasn’t that long ago the Players’ Association had to stir the pot about not playing a previous Super Bowl there because then-governor Evan Mecham would not recognize Dr. King’s Birthday. They missed out on a $250 million pay day — and that SB was moved to Pasadena. The following year, Dr. King’s birthday was recognized. Free to cash! Free to cash! Thank Gawd Almighty — they are free to cash! (Total: 3 run, 2 defend, 1 pressure, no X point = 6) .