On three separate occasions on Sunday, NFL officials flagged a defensive player for a “malicious” hit. Now that a clean, violent hit is penalized, has the league gone too far to protect offensive players? Also, the Vikings are back in the playoff hunt, but don’t write off the Cowboys just yet.
(I apologize for being a bit brief this week, but I must devote my evening to cursing Cody Ross.)
Week Two Headlines
This is football, right?
I’m all for protecting players. They have families to take care of and shouldn’t have to unnecessarily risk their well-being for our entertainment. On the other hand, this is football. On Sunday, there were three personal fouls called for “hitting a defenseless receiver.” I believe all three calls were absurd. The officials threw flags based on the ferocity of the hits, not because a penalty was actually committed. I mean, what are defenders supposed to do, allow the receiver to catch the ball? Unless the NFL plans to transition to two-hand-touch, I don’t think that’s how the game works. DeSean Jackson got licked because his quarterback hung him out to dry. Dunta Robinson aggressively pursued the ball and put a totally legal, bone crushing hit on Jackson once the ball arrived at Jackson’s hands. Robinson’s shoulder lit into Jackson’s chest and forced both to the leave the game. If Robinson were to avoid the hit and stop dead in his tracks to wait for Jackson to make a move, Jackson would have already been 10 yards downfield. Robinson would find himself on the bench. The same thing happened in Pittsburgh when James Harrison laid-out Browns receiver, Mohamed Massaquoi as he crossed over the middle. A flag wasn’t even thrown until after a referee realized Massaquoi didn’t get up. The worst call of the three came in Denver when Brian Leonard put his shoulder into Brandon Lloyd’s chest as he reached for a ball near the sideline. An incompletion forced by a great defensive play resulted in a 15 yard penalty. In all three situations, there was no helmet-to-helmet contact, leading with the head, or malicious intent. It was simply three defenders making a read on a play and making contact right after the ball arrived. In other words, they did exactly what football players are taught to do since junior high. The NFL can’t protect its players by asking defenders to defer to offenses. This isn’t basketball.
What happened to the NFC North?
With their win on Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings are alive and well in the hunt for the NFC North title. In fact, they’re probably the current favorite. In a matter of weeks, the NFC North has gone from heavyweight hitters to fleeting contenders. The Packers? Even with Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay offense has been struggling, and that’s putting it nicely. They’ve lost two straight and desperately need a running game. The Bears? After getting clubbed by the Giants, Chicago responded to defeat the lowly Panthers, then followed that up by losing at home to Seattle. While the Bears are still the division leader at 4-2, they’re fading faster than Jay Cutler’s career. Here’s the best part for Minnesota; the Vikings have yet to play the Packers or Bears. I know I would pick Minnesota to beat either team right now. While Green Bay and Chicago jumped out to an early lead in the division, they did so without beating the reigning division champ. Now the Vikings are surging and Green Bay and Chicago are flailing. The NFC North is up for grabs.
Dallas is bad, but not dead
Everyone is quick to point out that only 5% of teams with a 1-4 record in NFL history have ever reached the playoffs. All week I’ve heard how the loser of the Dallas/Minnesota affair would be as good as gone from playoff contention blah, blah, blah. I think we’re forgetting how bad the NFC is. Even in their current conditions, the Cowboys and Vikings are hardly at the bottom of the conference. In fact, pick one team that you’re totally confident would defeat either the Vikings or Cowboys on any given Sunday. There isn’t one. The NFC is a mess of mediocrity right now. Even the 1-4 Cowboys are alive. Yes, their road to the postseason now resembles Frodo’s journey to Mordor. But if a short hairy-footed creature can destroy evil, anything is possible. One thing the Cowboys actually have going for them is this: Of their eleven remaining games, 8 are against teams that are currently above them in the NFC standings (NYx2, PHIx2, WASH, GB, NO, AZ). That’s a great opportunity to make up ground. Of the other six teams above them, I don’t expect both the Rams and Seahawks to finish above .500, the Bears and Buccaneers have begun to tail off already, and the Vikings and Falcons have issues of their own. The Cowboys aren’t very good right now. There’s no denying that. But to eliminate them from playoff contention after 5 games seems premature, especially when you look at the field in the NFC. A 10-6, and maybe even a 9-7, record will put Dallas in the mix come playoff time. For now, they just need to figure out a way to win.
Someone take them to Chic-Fil-A (NFL’s top 5)
1. Steelers – It wasn’t the prettiest win, but they’re now alone atop the AFC North. The offense will only get better as Ben Roethlisberger gets more comfortable.
*There’s a three-way-tie for second. (In no particular order.) Here’s why. I can’t put the Patriots at #2 because the Jets beat New England. I can’t put the Jets at #2 because they lost to the Ravens. And I can’t put the Ravens at #2 because they lost to the Patriots. See my dilemma?
2. Ravens – Sunday’s loss belongs to the defense. Joe Flacco was exceptional. The Raven defense was not, blowing a 10 point 4th quarter lead.
2. Jets – Sanchez struggled on the road in a hostile environment and still New York won.
2. Patriots – A huge win for the Patriots. The win puts them in the conversation as a legitimate contender in the AFC.
5. Giants – This week the token NFC spot goes to the New York Giants. I considered the Eagles but decided on the Giants based on their wins (CAR, CHI, HOU, DET vs. Eagle wins; DET, JAC, SF, ATL). Neither victory slate is something to brag about, so we’ll have to wait before we declare either Superbowl contenders.
(Last Week: PITT, BAL, NYJ, NE, ATL)
Not even Ramen Noodle worthy (NFL’s bottom 5)
28. Raiders – I kicked the Browns out of the bottom 5. Colt McCoy’s gutsy performance and the overall grit of Cleveland’s team doesn’t deserve to be ranked below the Raiders. Sunday’s effort was embarrassing.
29. Lions – Detroit has alligator blood. They’re not winning, but they don’t make it easy on their opponent. Unfortunately, a 1-5 record doesn’t reflect margin of defeat. Matt Stafford should return soon, though.
30. 49ers – Unfortunately for the 49ers, both the Rams and Seahawks also won today. Nevertheless, San Fran is back in the hunt for the NFC West. Sorta.
31. Panthers – Baring a miraculous turnaround out of their bye, John Fox won’t be back next season. And I think that’s best for the Panthers.
32. Bills – Based on their schedule, Buffalo should get comfortable here, maybe even until 2011.
(Last Week: CLE, DET, SF, CAR, BUF)
Stock rising (but not in top 5, yet)
Eagles – Philadelphia knocked off what was thought to be the NFC’s best team, in convincing fashion nonetheless. More importantly, Kevin Kolb looks more comfortable with every start.
The NFC West – No one is harder on the NFC West than I am. However, even I can’t ignore that the NFC West boasts three teams with winning records. St. Louis and Seattle both put up impressive victories in week 6.
Stock falling (but not in bottom 5, yet)
Packers – If I had a category titled, “stock really falling,” the Packers would go there. I don’t, so this will have to do. The Green Bay offense has looked especially bad in recent weeks.
Cowboys – I think it’s time for Wade Philips to be sent packing. Wait, what am I saying? Don’t blame Philips! It’s not his fault! Bring Jim Zorn in to help!
Chargers – I gushed over the Chargers in my week 6 picks. Whoops. Consecutive loses to the Raiders and Rams? There’s a particular running back in New York who is probably enjoying this more than anyone.
Things I thought and would’ve said, but my son is only 4 months old and wouldn’t understand…
- The holding penalty on Dez Bryant’s 4th quarter punt return was a game-changer. In my opinion, it cost Dallas the game. Instead of the ball around the Viking’s 35 yard line in a tie game, The Cowboys started deep in their own end. Tony Romo threw the decisive interception a few plays later.
- The St. Louis Rams are just a different team at home. Sam Bradford may not wait until next year to declare the NFC West his for the next decade.
- I can’t confirm this, but I’m almost positive Kevin Kolb was the first quarterback to be called for a horse collar tackle in NFL history.
- Charles Woodson was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year last season. I think it’s safe to say he isn’t in contention for the award in 2010.
- Pass interference calls are getting out of control. The call on Kansas City’s Brandon Flowers was totally bogus. What’s worse, it came on Houston’s game-winning drive. Denver also suffered from a questionable call. Although I agreed with the call, it appears defenders are at a severe disadvantage in today’s NFL.
- The Miami Dolphins should burn down their home stadium. The Dolphins are 3-0 on the road and 0-2 at home. Maybe it’s LeBron James’ shadow.
- Gus Johnson’s call of Andre Johnson’s game-winning touchdown reception; “AAAHHHHHHNDRE JOHNSON!” By the way, the Texans should implement their 4th quarter offense at the start of the game. They might be better off.
- What an amazing one-handed grab by Pierre Garcon. That was impressive.
- So where do we think the Bears will finish now? My money is own 8-8 or somewhere close. That offense is bad. Would the Bears trade Kyle Orton for Jay Cutler now? No sir.
- Brett Favre played his best game of the year and only threw 19 passes. Until Favre is completely healthy (if ever), this is the best strategy for Minnesota. Allow Adrian Peterson and a stout defense to lead the way, and just ask Favre to manage the game without committing costly turnovers.
- I turned on the Giants game for ten minutes today and saw what felt like 20 penalties. The Lions aren’t horrible anymore but they’re certainly not good enough to overcome 11 penalties to beat the Giants, or any team for that matter.
- Ben Roethlisberger’s return went as expected; rusty, but good enough to defeat the Browns. What will scare opponents is Roethlisberger’s ability to get Mike Wallace the ball deep down field. That guy is fast.
- I loved Aaron Rodgers’ audible at the line of scrimmage on 4th and goal from the 2 with the game on the line. Down 7, Rodgers walked to the line and found no one but his center standing between him and the end zone. So, Rodgers audibled, snapped the ball, and walked in for the game’s tying score. Unfortunately, the Packers lost in overtime. Again.
- Tom Brady and Deion Branch look like they’ve been holding secret workouts since Branch was traded to Seattle. Back shoulder passes, audible to quick screens at the line, 3rd down conversions; it was like Branch never left.
- The best cornerback on the New York Jets roster? Currently, that title belongs to Antonio Cromartie, not Darrelle Revis.
- Matt Ryan doesn’t look good enough to take the Falcons deep into the postseason. The Eagles had him flustered and confused for most of the day.
- Kevin Kolb, on the other hand, looked great. It was the first we’ve seen the Eagles allow Kolb to go down field. The results were overwhelmingly positive, too. Fittingly, Kolb, not Vick, led the Eagles to their most impressive win of the year thus far.
- Leave it to the St. Louis Rams to figure out Philip Rivers and the high-flying San Diego offense. I love the NFL.
- Alex Smith is weird. He looked horrible on Sunday and then suddenly found a rhythm to lead the 49ers past Oakland. It was similar to his 4th quarter against Philadelphia last week. Consistency, young grasshopper, consistency.
- I think Jason Campbell’s days in the NFL are numbered. Veteran quarterbacks that look scared in the pocket aren’t in high demand.
- It took until week 6, but the Saints and Drew Brees finally started chucking the ball deep downfield. I’m not sure why it took that long, though.
- Jimmy Rollins made my weekend.
- On a more somber note, thoughts and prayers go out to the Rutgers player that was paralyzed on Saturday. Get well.