Saturday, October 24, 2009

Week 7 Pick: Marquee Game

Giants/Cardinals again? Nope, I can't rightly call that the Week 7 Marquee Game. Bears/Bengals is nice, as is Eagles/Redskins, but I felt compelled to choose:

Minnesota Vikings @ Pittsburgh Steelers

Over/Under: 45 1/2
Line: Steelers by 5 1/2

My Thoughts:
Come on, you have to agree that this is the Marquee Game! Last year's Super Bowl winners against the off-season's biggest story?! Yeah! Great run defense against the league's best runner? Yessir! Troy Polamalu versus Brett Favre? Oh yeah!

Sorry for that little outburst, but this game really does get me all excited. The Vikings have gotten off to a not-entirely-unexpected 6-0 start, while Pittsburgh after struggling early, sits tied for their division lead at 4-2. Who doesn't like to see two very good teams play?

As good as both offenses have been thus far, this game will be decided on defense. Brett Favre may have gotten about 6 years younger for the Vikings, but Heinz Field is as hostile an environment to play as there is, and that Steelers defense is the real deal. Sorry Brett, but you're going to feel 40 after this one. The Steelers have stopped the run extremely well all season, and Polamalu's return only makes that unit better. Adrian Peterson is an incredible talent, but he has been proven to struggle against true top-shelf defenses, which Pittsburgh is. Meanwhile, Ike Taylor, William Gay, and Deshea Townsend have the experience and ability to hang with any of the Vikings' receivers. The x-factor is Polamalu, who's hair and freakish playmaking will be a nightmare for Old Man Favre. I expect ol' Troy to get at least one pick in this game, maybe even for a touchdown. And just for completeness, find me a better group of linebackers than those on the Steelers. Try it!

Now that I've trumped up the Steelers D, it's time to give Minnesota's defense the respect they've earned. Between the Williams Wall, Jared Allen, a very underrated and athletic linebacker group, and a decent secondary, the Vikings have been awesome on defense for years, and 2009 is no different. Kiss Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall goodbye, as Pat and Kevin Williams will literally eat them up on inside runs. The only real problem I see is the injury to Antoine Winfield, the Vikings best cornerback. If he can't go (and he's listed as doubtful), Ben Roethlisberger will be attacking Cedric Griffin and Karl Paymah without remorse. Between Santonio Holmes, Hines Ward, Heath Miller, and rookie Mike Wallace, someone will be open. Pittsburgh's passing game has been a revelation the last two years, and I really think the Winfield injury makes the difference in this one.

While it won't be a big, high-scoring shootout, this should be a fun game to watch for those who like good defense and occasional big passing plays. I think home field advantage and an unfortunate Minnesota injury tip this one in favor of the Steelers laying 5 1/2, but Minnesota should keep it close enough to cover.

Steelers 21
Vikings 20


Week 7 Pick: Most Interesting Game

Honestly, I'm most interested in Giants/Cardinals to see how my Giants bounce back off a miserable loss. However, I have a policy of not picking Giants games unless I absolutely have to, which I don't, because I'm also extremely interested in:

San Francisco 49ers @ Houston Texans

Over/Under: 44
Line: Texans by 3

My Thoughts:
Why, you ask, is this such an interesting game? First, the Niners have been one of the bigger surprises of the season, riding a 3-2 start (2-0 in their division) to a tie for the lead in the NFC West. Second, this game marks the debut of mercurial wide receiver Michael Crabtree for the 49ers, and it will be more than interesting to see what the allegedly talented rookie brings to the table after missing, well, everything this off-season. Finally, I'm interested to see which Texans team shows up, the offensive explosion, or the mistake-plagued sloppy group that loses stupid games.

For the Niners, their offense this season has revolved entirely around the running game. Lucky for them, the Texans have allowed over 120 yards per game on the ground, and haven't seen a back like Frank Gore yet this year. Gore's outstanding size/speed combination will be awful for Houston's sloppy run defense. And to rest him, San Fran will bring in 6'0", 210 lb Glen Coffee to continue the merciless pounding. Shaun Hill has only thrown 144 times this year (compared to Matt Schaub's 219), and will only do so if absolutely necessary. The best hope the Niners have is to keep the game close so Houston tries to run, allowing their own, more effective, running game to control the clock and the score. Since I mentioned Crabtree, I don't expect much out of him this game. I'll guess maybe 2 or 3 catches, 20-30 yards, no touchdowns. Give the kid some time.

On the other side, Houston's insane passing attack seems to have hit its stride. The battle between Nate Clements and Andre Johnson should be a great one, as both players are among the best at their positions. If you have Steve Slaton on your fantasy team, sit him this week, because Patrick Willis and that Niners defense will give him nowhere to run. But the fact remains, Matt Schaub is on a hot streak, shredding decent defenses with a great group of pass-catchers that includes Johnson, Owen Daniels, Kevin Walters, and Jacoby Jones. I have to wonder if San Francisco can match that kind of depth on defense.

I expect this to be a pretty good game, and fun to watch. In the end though, the better, more explosive offense wins this one by a touchdown, covering that tricky 3 point spread.

Texans 27
49ers 21


Week 7 Pick: Upset

Despite there being a couple of candidates for Upset Specials this week (anyone think the Raiders can do it again?), the real Upset of the Week was just too dang easy, and it is:

Atlanta Falcons @ Dallas Cowboys

Over/Under: 47 1/2
Line: Cowboys by 4

My Thoughts:
No way. No WAY the Cowboys deserve to be favored against the Falcons! I don't care if they're at home (referred to in some places as the North Texas Football Cathedral, here as the "Palace in Dallas"), the Falcons have more talent, are better coached, run by a sane owner, and are simply the better team.

Ever since Dallas lost to the Giants in Week 2, things seem to have come apart for them. They lost to Denver (who is better than I thought, but not as good as their record indicates) and would have lost to Kansas City but for the late-game heroics of Miles Austin. I wouldn't expect to see Austin do something like that again (ever, but definitely this season), especially against a Falcons secondary that is a lot better than KC's. Chevis Jackson and Chris Houston are some of my favorite corners not named Webster or Asomugha, and both have more than enough speed to keep up with Roy Williams (probably, rib injury) and Austin. Mike Peterson brings a ton of leadership and credibility to the Falcons' LB corps, and they will more than handle and injured Marion Barber, an injury prone Felix Jones, and a good-not-great Tashard Choice. The Cowboys will be made one dimensional, and OC Jason Garrett will want to show his offense can outgun the Falcons playmakers. Sorry, Jay, they can't.

Atlanta's offense has the makings of an elite ball-moving, point-scoring group on par with the Saints, Colts, and Patriots. They've shown that they can destroy good teams (San Fran Week 5), and find ways to win against tough teams (Chicago, Week 6). Dallas' defense qualifies as neither. Demarcus Ware notwithstanding, there is no one on the Cowboys' defense that should intimidate the dynamic Falcons. If Sam Baker can hold up in pass protection, Matt Ryan will efficiently pick apart the overconfident Cowboys. Expect Tony Gonzalez to find a ton of openings in the middle of the field against Dallas' coverage-challenged linebackers and safeties. Roddy White is a bona fide star, and should make life very difficult for Terrence Newman, who doesn't have the size to win that match-up often.

In the end, I just think the Falcons' maturity and talent will be too much for the overrated, easily rattled Cowboys. The Falcons won't just cover, they'll win outright. Give me Atlanta getting 4 on the road for a solid win.

Falcons 30
Cowboys 24


Week 7 Pick: Blowout

There are a few lopsided games this week with huge spreads, namely Pats/Bucs, or Packers/Browns, but there's one in particular I can see being completely out of control, and that is:

Indianapolis Colts @ St. Louis Rams

Over/Under: 44 1/2
Line: Colts by 13

My Thoughts:
All the Colts need to do in this one is win by 2 touchdowns. Peyton Manning and company should have very little trouble in that regard against a badly struggling Rams team. St. Louis has had a tough time generating pressure on defense, and the Colts' offensive line is very good, with running backs who are very good at blitz pickup. Steve Spagnuolo loves to blitz, but he simply doesn't have the players to do it effectively in St. Louis.

The Rams' secondary is suspect at best, with their only decent player being Safety OJ Atogwe. They simply do not have the cornerbacks to cover the Colts' receivers, especially a dynamic deep threat like Reggie Wayne. If Indy shows some 3 or 4 receiver sets, the Rams are done, plain and simple. The Colts' 4th best receiver (we'll call him Pierre Garcon) is better than the Rams' best corner (Ron Bartell? Who?), so there will be match-up problems all over the field. That's even without looking at Dallas Clark running in the flat, covered by James Laurinaitis (because Paris Lenon can't cover anyone). Even if St. Louis is able to manage some offense, which I think they will, the Colts' offense will splatter the Rams' D all over the walls of the Edward Jones Dome.

On the other side of the ball, I will give a little credit to the St. Louis offensive line. There is talent there, especially with Center Jason Brown emigrating from the Ravens this Spring. It's a nasty, run-oriented line that should look to control the tempo of this game on the ground. The Rams will give Indy's small defensive line and linebackers a heavy dose of Stephen Jackson (who I think has loads of ability), and try to keep Peyton off the field. Though as we saw with the Miami game, Manning doesn't need a lot of time to shred your defense. I think where the Rams' plan falls apart is when the Colts jump to a 17 point lead, and Stephen Jackson is relegated to just pass protection and short screens. Outside of Donnie Avery, St. Louis doesn't have an NFL receiver on their roster, and Marc Bulger is simply finished as a quality QB. The Rams will be drafting corners, receivers, and a franchise QB in April, and all those areas will hurt them this game.

Colts 41
Rams 17

Last Week: 3-1 straight up (stupid Eagles...), 3-1 against the spread (STUPID RAIDERS!!!)
Overall: 17-6 straight up, 14-9 against the spread


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Wednesday (Oops) Feature: If They Played in the NFL

Sorry for the late post. Weird week. Anyway, I'll be playing catch-up for a day or two here to get this thing straight. This week, I'll focus on the big sports business of the moment, and hit up someone who's currently having a big week in another sport:

Alex Rodriguez
3B, New York Yankees
6'3", 228 lbs

Position: Wide Receiver

Love him or hate him, call him a ton of insulting nick-names (A-Roid or A-Fraud are personal favorites), no one can deny A-Rod's freakish athleticism. His height/weight combination are almost ideal for an NFL wide receiver, though I've heard he was heavily recruited as a quarterback when he was in high school.

What makes me lean toward receiver with Rodriguez is his speed, something which is less of an asset as a QB, and his intangibles, which do not lend themselves to leadership (putting it nicely). While not necessarily known as a speed guy or base-stealer, A-Rod is a more than capable base runner with plenty of speed to be a factor in a running game. He is a well-known work out warrior, and spends a lot of time honing his craft. Imagine if he spent that kind of time working on his route running, or catching passes from a Jugs Machine. Freak, right?

It's hard to project a power-hitting baseball player like A-Rod into the NFL because, well, power-hitting doesn't really have a parallel in football. The best I can do with that is say that his upper-body strength would probably help his pass-catching, as strong arms and hands make for sure catches and few fumbles. With that kind of muscle mass, he would be very effective going over the middle and taking some big hits. Then again, no one ever accused A-Rod of being tough or gritty.

The knock on A-Rod, and the thing that just screams "NFL Wide Receiver," is his off-the-field attitude. He's a prototypical diva, a party boy, and can't stand to not be in the spotlight. The good thing is that he keeps his antics off the playing field, and only gets into media trouble after game time. So when imagining Alex Rodriguez as a receiver, I picture the playing ability and style of Larry Fitzgerald, with the attitude of Randy Moss. I can easily see A-Rod dogging it when plays don't come his way, half-heartedly blocking on runs, but making great SportsCenter catches.

Alex Rodriguez has often had the label of "choker," as he has typically performed not badly, but miserably in big spots and big games. However, anyone paying attention to this year's ALCS has seen A-Rod shed that label in a big way, playing light's out at big moments. So taking into account his current play, I can't worry about him in the playoffs or Super Bowl.

Just looking at A-Rod's athleticism, he of course seems like a good fit for Al Davis and the Raiders. But when I think of teams that both have a need and have a system that he'd fit in, I look at a team like the Rams or Redskins. Both run a West Coast offense, which focuses on quick reads and timing. A guy like A-Rod would get open fast (quick read), and would run tight routes to aid his quarterback (timing). The Rams need him worse, and Marc Bulger would do just about anything for a receiver with that size and ability.

Picks will be up a day late; I should have them posted tomorrow. I've made them, but they take a while to type. Sorry!


Monday, October 19, 2009

Giants v Saints Recap

Let's face it, the Giants weren't going to win every game this year. I just wish this one, which I called in my picks, wasn't so disgraceful. I think the Giants can learn a lot from this game, and use it to build on and make a good run in the latter stages of the season. For now, though, a look back at a truly hideous performance by Big Blue.


Sean Payton/Drew Brees
I'm not sure which guy to credit, and they probably both deserve it, but the Saints had the absolute perfect game plan for the Giants. CC Brown had proved himself a liability in coverage, and they used their spread offense perfectly to abuse both Brown and nickel back Kevin Dockery all day. They created match up nightmares in the LB corps against Jeremy Shockey and Lance Moore, while isolating Aaron Rouse and CC Brown on big receivers on deep routes. The Giants don't have a lot of weaknesses, but the Saints offense used their bye-week perfectly, and absolutely killed us in our Achilles heel.

New Orleans' Offensive Line
Granted, they frequently used a 6th offensive lineman and ran play-action out of that running formation, but they protected Drew Brees perfectly. This goes into the game-planning mentioned above, but that max-protect into the spread style worked great against the Giants' vaunted pass rush. I doubt Brees even had to wash his jersey after this game, as New York barely laid a finger on him. Part of this falls on Bill Sheridan, who I'll address in the Lowlights, but I have to credit the Saints O-line for a job well done.

Gregg Williams
New Orleans' new Defensive Coordinator has always been good, but he was absolutely on fire yesterday. As soon as the Saints were playing with the lead, he brought pressure from everywhere, as the Giants were forced to throw (which partially falls on Kevin Gilbride, who I'll address in the Lowlights) constantly. Williams used his personnel to perfection, confusing the Giants' protections and simply outplaying New York's offense. Again, they were helped by the Giants' shoddy game plan, but I have to credit a job well done.

Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw
Despite an otherwise putrid performance by pretty much the entire team, hidden in this awful loss was the fact that the Giants actually ran the ball pretty well. Jacobs (4.7 YPC) and Bradshaw (4.8 YPC) were actually fairly effective against the Saints defense. They don't play defense, though, and it's not their fault the Giants gave up on the run game from their first offensive snap.


Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride
Gilbride obviously forgot how to game plan for an offensive juggernaut in the last 1.5 years since taking down the '07 Patriots. Everyone on Earth knew the plan for the Saints should have been "Control the clock, control the tempo, run early and often to keep Drew Brees off the field." So on the Giants first possession, they throw the ball the first 3 snaps, break off a great 7 yard run on second down, then throw deep on 3rd and 3. I've been on Gilbride since before he got the OC job, and I still hate him. He game plans like crap, goes for the deep ball at horrible times, and gives up on the run way too easily. He obviously got spooked by the Saints ability to score, and got baited into an ill-fated shootout. He should have shown more faith in his runners, who played well, and stuck with playing NYG football. 17 called runs to 36 called passes, even in a blowout, is not how this team will win games going forward.

Defensive Coordinator Bill Sheridan
I'll admit, even I was drinking Sheridan's Kool-Aid after some dominant defensive performances, and had failed to notice the lack of blitzing and extra pressure he promised to increase this offseason. Against a Saints team you knew was going to come out slinging it, Sheridan insisted on only rushing his front 4 most of the game. My brother made the perfect observation at half-time, noting that "they may as well blitz the linebackers, because they're not helping at all in coverage." And he's absolutely right. While we couldn't afford to blitz safeties (though the way CC Brown played, he may as well have not been in coverage), the linebackers should have been used more to blitz the A-gaps (between center and guard). Umenyiora and Tuck were getting up field well, but the lack of push up the middle let Brees get very comfortable in the pocket. A few LB blitzes up the gut may have slowed them down a little, and like my brother said, it's not like they were covering anybody. Sheridan needed to take more chances in this game, and seemed to scare himself into dangerously conservative play-calling, something Spags never would have allowed.

Safety CC Brown
To put it mildly, Brown got beat like a drum on Sunday. It seems like every big catch or touchdown, you saw CC Brown waving harmlessly at a ball that landed squarely in a receivers hands. That, or he was making up ground a couple seconds to late to make tackles on underneath routes he should have seen coming a mile away. I don't think anyone expected this big a drop off in coverage ability from the Safety position after Kenny Phillips went out for the year. The Giants can't live with that kind of performance, as you know every big offensive team the Giants play the rest of the year (and there are a lot) took note of that match up problem. More to come in the Notes.

Osi Umenyiora
I know he's still getting back to form after last year's knee surgery, but he was playing a backup left tackle on Sunday. Osi got credit for 3 total tackles, but he needs to destroy Jermon Bushrod in that game, and was turned into a non-factor in the pass rush. I don't know if he's still thinking about his injury, or if he's still rounding into shape, but he needs to step up in a big way if this team is going anywhere in the post-season.


First, I need to start with something that's been bugging me for a few weeks, and that is how badly the Giants have botched their response to Aaron Ross' hamstring injury. When he re-injured it, and apparently pretty badly, at the end of training camp, he should have immediately gone on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list, which would sideline him for 6 weeks, and more importantly open up A ROSTER SPOT for a mid-level veteran CB who could have helped them tremendously. Rod Hood was available until about a week ago, and there are any number of decent-but-not-great vets to be had. They would only need to lease one for the 6 weeks Ross was on PUP, and our secondary wouldn't have been as badly exposed against the Saints. I don't care how deep a team is, what quality their backups, being down a starting corner against a great passing team will always hurt you.

Second, the Safety position clearly needs to be addressed. With games against Arizona, Philly, San Diego, Minnesota, and other quality passing teams, we can't stand pat with CC Brown covering deep on the field. Either Michael Johnson, who is athletic enough to cover a bit, needs to move into coverage and Brown goes into the box, or the Giants need to swing a trade before tomorrow's deadline. My proposal, which is an easy one, is this:
CC Brown and a 4th round pick to the Rams for OJ Atogwe. This is beautiful for a few reasons. First, Atogwe is a very good coverage Safety, and Brown clearly isn't. Second, he's the Rams' Franchise player, so he's only under contract through the end of the year. If Kenny Phillips looks like he'll be back next year without problems, the Giants can let OJ walk at the end of the year, and heck, the Rams could re-sign him if they want. If he plays well, they can keep him as insurance in case Phillips is slow in his recovery. Besides, the Rams stink this year, and they would probably be happy to unload a guy they're likely to lose anyway in exchange for a pick or two and a player. It also helps that the Rams coach is Steve Spagnuolo, who might not object to doing business with the team that got him is current job.

Whether it's Atogwe, a free agent, or my grandmother, the Giants need to address the lack of coverage ability in their Safeties. If Johnson is the only one who can do it, then he needs to be that guy. They can't go the rest of the year hoping that CC Brown and Aaron Rouse learn to do something neither one has ever been particularly good at.

Let me know what you think!