By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
The NFL’s Good, Bad & Ugly: Week 3
NORTH CAROLINA — Week Three is in the books and it as wild and exciting as the previous two weeks. We had two overtime games with one road team winning (Tampa Bay) and one home team winning (Giants).
We also had a surprising beat down in Foxboro, another in San Diego and a last-minute, thrilling game in Buffalo.
There are still several winless teams (Detroit, Kansas City, St. Louis, Cleveland and Cincinnati) and a handful of teams still undefeated (Dallas, Buffalo, Denver, Baltimore, the Giants and Tennessee).
A lot to get to so let’s get to the good, bad and ugly of the NFL, plus my thoughts on other topics in the world of sports.
Titans: Is there a more balanced team in the NFL right than Tennessee? The key to success in the NFL is to be able to run the football and stop the run. The Titans can do both plus put pressure on the quarterback. Add in Kerry Collins, who’s been solid so far and you have a recipe for a record of 3-0. Although Houston had some success offensively against them rushing for 146 yards and a 5.2 yards per rush average, the key in this game was intercepting Matt Schaub three times and holding Houston to 3-of-15 on third down. The Titans are for real and have a legitimate shot at winning the AFC Southern Division.
Cowboys: I know, they are supposed to be undefeated because they’re that talented, but Dallas went into Green Bay and smacked the Packers in the mouth in prime time. We know Tony Romo can put up numbers and so can T.O although they had average games last week. But it was the running of Marion Barber who rushed for a career 148 yards on 28 carries that won this game. Dallas racked up 453 yards of total offense and the defense forced a turnover and made Aaron Rodgers’ life miserable by sacking the new Packer starter three times and pressured him all night. The Cowboys passed the test as the best team in football (in my opinion), but they have another test this weekend as they host the hated rival Redskins who look rejuvenated after two wins.
Redskins: Speaking of D.C., what a difference playing at home against two teams who struggle on defense makes. After looking horrible on opening night in New York, the Deadskins turned back into the Redskins with wins over the Saints and Cardinals. Jason Campbell was solid going 22 of 30 for 193 yards and two touchdowns and the defense forced two turnovers in their 24-17 victory over Arizona. Campbell looks a lot more comfortable in Jim Zorn’s version of the west coast offense, but if they want to have any success offensively and moving the ball, they must get Clinton Portis going. He had only 68 rushing yards which is ok, but not Portis-type numbers and certainly not the numbers they need from their starting running back next week against the 3-0 Cowboys.
Dolphins: How bout’ them Dolphins! Yes, Joey Porter is “Negrodamus” as he correctly predicted the Dolphins beat down on Matt Cassell and correctly predicted Miami would get their first win of the season in Foxboro against the Patriots. The Dolphins completely dominated the Patriots on both sides of the ball with great defense, a solid running game and trick plays leading to a 38-13 spanking of New England. The “Fins” had 23 first downs, 461 total yards in total offense and controlled the ball with over 33 minutes of time of possession. Ronnie Brown had a career game rushing for 113 yards and four touchdowns and threw for another one. The Miami defense sacked Cassell four times, forced two turnovers and held the Pats offense to only 216 yards of total offense. I know Patriots fans are going to say: “This wouldn’t have happen if Tom Brady wasn’t injured” and to all of you I say, Tom can’t play defense. I said it during the off season, before the season started and I continue to say that the Patriots problems are on the defensive side of the ball — with or without Tom Brady. Meanwhile. Miami bounced back from a tough Week One loss against the Jets and a embarrassing loss in Week two against the Cardinals. They now can sit back and enjoy this win as they have a bye next week.
Eagles: ATTENTION ALL THE DONOVAN MCNABB DOUBTERS. SHUT UP! McNabb was accurate, sharp, poised and looks very healthy in the Eagles 15-6 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. McNabb did hurt his chest in the second quarter, but came back to lead his team to victory. The Eagles played most of the game without “Mr. Everything” Brian Westbrook, but still managed to score enough points to beat the Steelers largely because of their active and stingy defense. The Steelers knew the Eagles would blitz most of the game, still Ben Rothlisberger was sacked eight times, including six in the second quarter. The Philly defense also held “fast” Willie Parker to only 20 yards on 13 carries, 180 yards of total offense and forced three turnovers. The Eagles showed they can play competitively in a game that is high scoring and a defensive struggle. They are for real and I thought that even in their loss last week against Dallas. The Eagles get another tough test on the road next week against an angry Chicago Bears team.
Vikings secondary: Coming into this season, we knew Minnesota’s defense could stop the run and rush the passer. But their Achilles heel was its pass defense. Through the first two games of the season, it continued to be their Achilles heel until they faced the Panthers. The much-maligned Vikings secondary, led by Antoine Winfield, forced a fumble that led to a touchdown and held the Panthers to only 157 yards passing including only five yards per catch average and more importantly, held Panther wide receiver Steve Smith to three catches for only 90 yards.Winfield, Darren Sharper and Cedric Griffin along with others playing in the secondary were fast and physical and did a great job covering the Panther receivers all game long. We’ll find out what the Vikings are really made of as they travel to Tennessee to face the 3-0 Titans next week.
Eli Manning: The Giants are 3-0 after struggling to beat the winless Cincinnati Bengals 26-23 in overtime. Manning who seemed to go through the motions for most of the game. But he turned his game up a notch along with his receivers when they drove down the field to ties the game and then put together the winning drive in overtime to keep the Bengals winless. Manning continues to show his maturity as a quarterback and you can see the Giants believe in him as the leader and believe he can lead the team back from any deficit in a game. It helps to have a good running game, solid receivers and an exceptional defense. The Eli of the past would have thrown a big pick or struggled to get his team in a position to win the game, but it’s something about winning a Super Bowl in the fashion that he did that shows his maturation. The Super Bowl Champions had two easy wins and a nailbiter last week. Let’s see what type of game the “G-MEN” will play in two weeks against another opponent they should easily beat against Seattle.
Colts: What’s going on with Indy? I know they have injuries but they’ve played through injuries in the past with a lot of success. If you want the answer, you can look no further than the ground game both defensively and offensively. Offensively, Joseph Addai had another game under 100 yards rushing while the Jaguars had two rushers over 100 yards for the game (Fred Taylor with 126 yards and Maurice Jones-Drew with 107). The offense has been inconsistent and the defense has played soft and it looks to get worse now that Bob Sanders is out indefinitely. The team that usually wins seven, eight or nine in a row to start the season is struggling to get there second win and doesn’t show signs of turning there play around. With the Titans playing well and a home loss to a divisional opponent, the Colts are in trouble after three games. Indy has a much needed bye next week and it comes at a good time to try to get healthy both mentally and physically and to get ready for tough games against Baltimore, Green bay and division leading Tennessee.
Steelers offensive line: Eight sacks, numerous hurries, three turnovers and 180 total yards including only 33 on the ground. Those are the numbers the Steelers managed to accumulate after they were outplayed and pushed around against the Eagles. The offensive line, which was a question mark coming into this season, erased the questions the first two weeks against Houston and Cleveland. However, the doubters now have something to talk about after their performance against the Eagles defense. The scary thing about the performance is they knew defensive coordinator Jim Johnson and the Eagles defense would blitz and try to apply pressure yet they could not stop them. With “Big Ben” nursing a bad shoulder, the offensive line needs to step up and play better or he’ll be stepping out. It doesn’t get any easier for the five guys up front for the Steelers as they host another blitzing, pressuring and talented defense in the Baltimore Ravens Monday night in an early battle for the division lead.
Bengals offensive line: Like the Steelers, the Bengals “O-line”is having problems protecting their quarterback but unlike the Steelers, they can’t afford another loss because they are one of the five winless teams in the league. Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer was sacked six times and was pressured throughout the game by the Giants superior pass rush. Despite the heavy pressure, Palmer managed to do a good job completing 27 of 39 for 286 yards and one touchdown. The defense continues to struggle allowing the Giants to accumulate over 400 yards of offense and gave up two drives late that led to the Giants tying the game in regulation and taking the lead for good kicking the winning field goal in overtime. The Bengals have problems in every area of their team and if the losing continues, Marvin Lewis’ tenure as coach will not.
Panthers: After two weeks of balance on offense and stellar defense, Carolina came back down to earth with a less than stellar performance against the Vikings losing 20-10. There would be no late game heroics for the previously unbeaten Panthers even after getting out to an early lead. The Panthers led 10-0 and fell apart after a field goal and a big play by Antoine Winfield who sacked Jake Delhomme causing a fumble, picked up the ball and ran it into the end zone making the score 10-10 tie at halftime. The Panthers played against the Vikings like the Panthers of 2007 rather than the Panthers that began this season 2-0. They had only 204 yards of total offense including 47 yards on the ground, they were only 3 of 11 on third down conversions and they turned the ball over two times. Defensively, they couldn’t get the stop against the Vikings when they needed and they didn’t get any turnovers. The most important stat comes from there star receiver Steve Smith who only had three catches for 90 yards. The Panthers better get back to the solid play of the first two weeks of this season fast as they host the co-division leading Atlanta Falcons.
Saints: Not much to figure out about the Saints. They can score a lot of points, but they can’t stop anyone. I know there was a controversial call in their loss against Denver 34-32, but they had numerous opportunities to score more points and stop the Broncos just like last week against the Redskins. Drew Brees is solid and they’re finally using Reggie Bush in the right situations, but they still have major problems. There big acquisition, Jeremy Shockey is out up to six weeks and defensively they don’t have any playmakers. Brees threw for 421 yards and one touchdown, Bush had over 150 combined yards, the offense had over 500 yards in total offense, but the defense couldn’t get it done. They allowed the Broncos to convert 6 of 10 on third down and gave up too many big plays during the game. This past playoff team and present playoff hopeful better right the ship fast as they sit behind the three other teams in their division and host a surprising 2-1 49er team next week.
Cardinals: Like the Panthers, the Cardinals come back to earth with a loss at Washington last week 24-17. Arizona played well and were in the game but fell short largely because of two turnovers on offense. Defensively, they played well enough to win but the offense didn’t have the same spark and big plays they normally have especially in the passing game. It wasn’t that the Cardinals were bad, but they were not as spectacular as they have been going back to last season. The one bright spot was Edgerin James who ran for 93 yards on 18 carries but more importantly averaged 5.2 yards per rush which means he is running hard and the offensive line is finally starting to run block as well as pass protect.
Packers: Green Bay got a dose of reality with their home loss against the Cowboys 27-16. What worked well for the offense was non existent against the Cowboys. The play action fakes, slant patterns, mid range passes and deep outs were not there against the Cowboys for most of the game. Dallas also exploited the Packers defense on the ground rushing for 217 yards and compiling 453 yards of total offense. Aaron Rodgers had a tough time getting time to find receivers while Tony Romo had plenty of time to throw the ball down the field to a new target Miles Austin (two catches, 115 yards, TD). The Pack are still the leaders of the NFC Northern division, but with Al Harris possibly out for the year, it doesn’t get easy for that young Packer defense. The Packers will need to bounce back this week especially on defense as they travel to Tampa to face a Buccaneers team that accumulated 454 yards including 407 yards and two touchdowns from quarterback Brian Griese.
Chiefs: After playing the Patriots tough in week one, Kansas City has been pathetic in every phase of their team. They have no true quarterback, no playmakers outside of Larry Johnson and defensively, they look lethargic and slow. Against the Falcons, the Chiefs offense were 8 of 18 on third down conversions and managed only 117 yards in passing yards including three interceptions. Defensively, the Chiefs allowed the Falcons to score 3 out 4 times in the red zone and 3 for 3 on goal to goal efficiency leading to there 38-14 beat down. The Chiefs under Herman Edwards lacks talent and direction and to me are the worst team in football. The “Fire Herm Edwards” chatter will continue this week and get louder if somehow the Chiefs can’t pull out a home victory against the 3-0 Broncos who are coming to town.
Rams: Chiefs fans, if you are feeling bad and low about your team, check out the other team in the state of Missouri. The Rams can score points but like other losers, have trouble stopping there opponents from scoring among other issues. The Rams offense only compiled 240 yards of total offense and 175 yards of that were in the air. That means Stephen Jackson could only managed only 66 yards on 23 carries with his longest run of only eight yards. Defensively, the Rams allowed over 400 yards in total offense, and allowed 3 of 5 scores in the Red zone to the Sea hawks. The Rams have been struggling for years now to put a consistent winner on the field and with Marc Bulger benched as the quarterback and lack of effort from Stephen Jackson, producing a winner with this team and this coach, doesn’t seem likely. The Rams will probably be 0-4 after next weekend as they host the much improved and undefeated Buffalo Bills.
Browns: After three weeks, Cleveland, who came into this season with such promise and expectations, find them selves in a must win situation this week as they were embarrassed by the Ravens 28-10. Derrick Anderson once again was in affective and so was the rest of the offense managing only 11 first downs and only 169 total yards. Meanwhile the defense allowed 151 yards rushing, four touchdowns and over 60 percent success in the red zone. Now this week, Romeo Crennel is leaning towards a quarterback and usually when a coach is leaning it usually means he made up his mind. Look for Brady Quinn to get some action against the Bengals this weekend.
Lions: The beat goes on for Detroit. They are consistently bad and this year they look worse. If you can’t beat an average 49ers last weekend, who are they going to beat? We know the Lions have play makers on offense but the offense turns the ball over too much. Even when the offense is clicking on all cylinders, the defense is horrible.They allowed the 49ers to control the ball for over 35 minutes during the game and like Kansas City and the Rams, were poor defensively in the red zone. I mean c’mon, J.T. O’Sullivan outplayed John Kitna? On Wednesday, GM Matt Millien, who has been criticized for his draft choices and the lack of success during his tenure, was relieved of his duties. The soap opera called “AS THE LIONS TURN”, will be mercifully put on hold for one week as the Lions have a bye. At least they can say they won’t lose this weekend.
Bears: Two straight weeks, Chicago held a lead late in the game and two straight weeks, the Bears defense gives up the winning score. Chicago was on the brink of winning their second game of the year, but a late drive by Tampa Bay led to a game tying touchdown forcing overtime and then the eventual game winning field goal by the Bucs to get the road win. Who would of thought we’d be talking about the Bears defense letting the team down and not the offense? Kyle Orton and the offense hasn’t been explosive or spectacular, but they haven’t made many mistakes (although they had turnovers in this game) and they’ve done enough to be 3-0 yet their defensive struggles late in games have made them 1-2. The Bears defense better fix their problems now because Donavan McNabb and the high potent Philadelphia Eagles offense come to town to try and extend Chicago’s losing streak to three games.
Patriots: New England is without Brady, but doesn’t give their defense a reason to play so poorly like they did against the winless Dolphins. Miami pulled out all the stops using a successful running game, a efficient passing game and trick plays on offense while attacking and being physical on defense. Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown rushed for 117 yards and 4 touchdowns and threw for another touchdown and Joey Porter backed up his prediction with a great game with three sacks and numerous other tackles and plays. In years past, when the Patriots offense struggled to score, the defense was there to make plays and pull victory from a loss, now the defense doesn’t have the play makers and the veterans they have are old and slow so now it’s on the “genius” Bill Belichick to figure out a new way to get victories. The Patriots play in the AFC East which is not that good including a Bills team I am not sold on yet, so they should win the division. Going beyond a division title and deep in the playoffs? Don”t bet on it.
Al Davis: Let’s see, your team is 1-1, you are seconds away from beating the Buffalo Bills to run your record to 2-1, you have a bunch of young talent that will be great with the proper guidance, you are tied currently with the Chargers in your division which tells you how most people have underrated the Raiders, you have a coach that has his team ready to play and the coaches love him, yet you wanna fire this guy? The Raiders are more functional on the field then off the field thanks to Al ” I need to sell the team because I am too old” Davis. Davis continues every week to leak information on his desire to fire Lane Kiffin yet he hasn’t done it yet. It reminds me of some of these “old heads” I’ve worked with over the years in radio who wanna stay on the air until they die regardless that the quality of work and in this case the ratings have declined over 10 years. The Raiders are the perfect example of an organization going no where fast because of this dinosaur called Al Davis an will become extinct if someone doesn’t step in and force Davis to step down.
Vikings: Minnesota finally got in the win column with a victory over the Panthers 20-10, but they are losers off the field. The benching of Tavaris Jackson at quarterback was not only wrong but not necessary. If you compare the stats of Gus Ferrotte to Jackson, their numbers are strikingly similar. Ferrotte threw for a little more yards in the game against the Panthers but not much and there impact on the game has been the same. The fact is this: Jackson can’t play in the secondary for the Vikings, nor can he play receiver and quarterback at the same time. The Vikings lack playmakers in the passing game and that is no fault of Jackson. He has to play the game with the receivers the organization provides for him. And was it me, but did Brad Childress put in more passing plays for Ferrotte or did I imagine it? The fact is Childress and the owner threw Jackson under the boat. They used him as the proverbial “scapegoat” for there two losses although there defense was poor against the Packers week one and gave up big points in the fourth quarter against the Colts. Ownership is folding to the fans booing Jackson and wanting them out rather than staying with what was perceived as the franchise quarterback. If Jackson is so bad, why didn’t the Vikings pull the trigger and do whatever it took to get Brett Favre? What happen if Ferrotte struggles and loses games in the process, would the Childress go back to Jackson? If I am Jackson, I would stay focused and ready so when he does get his opportunity again, play well, lead your team to the playoffs and maybe even further and then tell the Vikings to stick the starting quarterback position where the sun don’t shine! Enough said.
Games to watch
Washington at Dallas: This is what I call the barometer game. The Redskins will see how far or close they are to the 3-0 Cowboys win or lose, while the Boys’ will find out how much better they are against one of there hated divisional foes. The key to winning for the Redskins is controlling the ball and scoring when they have opportunities in particular in the red zone while Dallas needs to take care of the football on offense and can’t get beat on the deep pass on defense.
Atlanta at Carolina:Once again this is a barometer game. The Falcons and their fans probably were not expecting the team to begin the season 2-1 and most think they are pretenders. Meanwhile, the Panthers need to show that last week’s lost was the exception and not the rule (for their sake). Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has to be smart with the football and rely on Michael Turner and the running game to get a victory. The Panthers need to get there pro bowl receiver Steve Smith going early and often and must also run the ball well to set up play action and keep the Falcons defense off Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme.
Green Bay at Tampa Bay: The Packers are trying to re-group while the Bucs are riding high. The Packers looked very much like and average team last Sunday against the Cowboys and were physically dominated by Dallas. The Bucs used a lot of passing attempts (67) from Brian Griese to rally late to tie the game against the Bears and eventually won the game in overtime. This will be a battle of the Packers offense against the Bucs defense and whoever wins that battle wins the game in my opinion. Defensively, the Packers will have to come up with a different sheme and game plan after losing all-pro corner back Al Harris probably for the rest of the season.
Minnesota at Tennessee: This should be a low scoring game because both teams have defenses that stop the run and can make plays down the field. Gus Ferrotte managed the game last week at home against the Panthers but will have to be even better against this Titans swarming defense. Kerry Collins and the Titans offense continues to “stay out of the way” of the defense which has worked so far leading to a 3-0 record. If the Vikings want to win, they must stay out of third and long on offense to keep SOME of the pressure blitzes that the Titans like to implement and he must not turned the ball over. The Titans need to be focused, not take the Vikings lightly and be physical on both sides of the ball. If they do those things, look for the Titans to be 4-0.
Philadelphia at Chicago: This is and interesting match up because of the different styles and philosophies of both teams. The Eagles may be without Brian Westbrook and Donovan McNabb may play hurt (what else is new) but the Eagles will look to be aggressive and attack the Bears defense in Andy Reid’s west coast offense while the Bears offense will look to more ball control to keep Philly’s offense off the field while keeping there defense fresh especially for the final quarter of the game. The Eagles must get up on the Bears early because Chicago’s offense is not equipped for large comebacks. The Bears must be physical with McNabb and that offense and must force turnovers leading to easy points for there offense to win their second game of the season.
My top 15 teams after week 3:
1. Dallas 2. Tennessee 3. Giants 4. Eagles 5. Steelers 6. Bills 7. Broncos 8. Packers 9. Panthers 10. Patriots 11. Colts 12. Chargers 13. Tampa Bay 14. Washington 15. Arizona
In honor of the Emmy’s this past weekend, I thought I give out my own awards to certain teams and players in the world of sports:
Best performance by a college football team:
I have two. LSU and Troy. LSU could have folded after being down to Auburn late in the game and yet they showed the determination of a champion and the character of their head coach Les Miles who despite having a quarterback by committee, continues to keep the Tiger program among the elite in the SEC and in college football in rallying to beat Auburn 26-21.
As for Troy in their game against Ohio State, the Buckeyes came into this game coming off and embarrassing lost to USC, had all kinds of quarterback controversy, a chip on their shoulder, yet this game was not decided until the fourth quarter. At one point the score was 14-10 Ohio State despite statistically dominating Troy the entire game. It further shows the shift in talent attending smaller and lesser known schools and further proves its about play on the field and the heart of a player rather than the history of a program. Who would know that better than Jim Tressell coming from schools like Ohio University. So what happens when new Buckeyes quarterback Terrell Prior struggles? Who do the Buckeyes go to then?
Worst performance by a college football team:
I started to pick Tennessee but they always lose to Florida (although they were embarrassed), but I to chose the “Lightly” Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. Irish fans all over the world got so excited after Notre Dame started the season with victories over that powerhouse Aztec team of San Diego State and the on-the-decline University of Michigan team. Well the luck of the Irish couldn’t help the team as they were manhandled by the Spartans of Michigan State. The Spartans ran and ran and ran for over 200 yards and Mr. Clausen once again forgot what his school colors are throwing two bad picks to Michigan State. Look Notre Dame fans and alumni, the Irish may win more games this year than they have over the last few years because they play the military-the army, air force, navy, marines, coast guard, national guard, etc(you get the picture), but when they play a legitimate team like the Spartans or USC you can’t surely put a big “L” in the right column. The Irish are back? NOT!
Best HBCU football team of the week:
What a start for the Tigers of Tennessee State. Off to their best start since 2001, the Tigers beat Eastern Kentucky 34-20 to run there record to 4-0 including 1-0 in the OVC. Statistically, the Tigers rolled up 541 yards in Total Offense, converting on 8-of-15 third down conversions and 1-of-1 on fourth down conversions. TSU yielded just 253 yards in Total Offense by EKU.
Best HBCU football player of the week:
I thought it was fitting that I chose Tennessee State QB Antonio Heffner as the HBCU football player of the week because he was the driving force behind TSU’s 34-20 victory over Eastern Kentucky. Heffner was 20-28 for 312 yards and 3 touchdowns and rushed for 48 yards on the ground. Heffner accounted for 360 of the Tigers 541 yards in the game. Heffner will have to continue his stellar play for the Tigers to continue to have the magical season they are having so far.
Worst organization of the week:
As a Yankee fan, I was embarrassed and disgusted when they decided to keep Joe Torre off the final stadium celebration last Sunday. Yankee officials are already trying to spin this classless act as not a overslight just that they had too many people to get into the program but I’m not buying it. How do you leave the leader of the teams that won four won championships, a guy who managed a lot of ego’s and characters, had to deal with crazy George Steinbrenner and made the Yankees relevant again. You don’t.
Hank Steinbrenner may be bitter because of the way the Yankees and Torre parted or maybe he is just mad and jealous because he let Torre go and now the Dodgers are going to the playoffs and the Yankees are home for the holidays. Whatever the reason, it was tasteless and classless. It’s always easy to show class when things are going well and you are having success, but you find out the character and class of a person, a team or an organization faces adversity. I think we learned a lot about the Yankees on Sunday.
Until next week, enjoy the games and may your team win!