Monday, September 8, 2014

Week 1 NFL notes

This first Sunday of the NFL season is history, and there were a few interesting tidbits worth mentioning. 

First, I want to comment on the cutting and suspension of the Raven’s Ray Rice. Some news networks, like CNN, have shown a slightly truncated version of the elevator footage released by TMZ, which “specializes” in the salacious. Rice’s fiancé, Janay Rice, is seen throwing an “open” punch at Rice, who responds by either hitting or pushing her (it isn’t all that apparent which). But the complete video shows that Rice's fiancé threw a punch at him as soon as they entered the elevator. Rice is seen backing away from her, and then she advances toward him and attempts to punch him a second time before he responds, causing her head to hit against the railing.  Again, I see nothing but hypocrisy in the way the NFL and the media are treating this. How was Rice supposed to respond to her violent actions? Just stand there? Run away? Put up his hands and arms to block her blows? Or if he did, would that be somehow construed as a “violent” act? Why are not women also held accountable for their actions, actions that she admitted to when Roger Goodell first imposed the “light” sentence?

(As a side note, I commented on this on the CNN website; someone called me a "coward" for "defending" Rice's actions--and actually claimed that a "real man" should take a punch from a woman, or two, or three. But in truth, it takes a lot of guts these days to point out the hypocrisy all too evident here--even using your own name!--and in my estimation the real "cowards" are those who refuse to see reality, and tow the politically-correct line. Janay Rice "blasted" the decision for making a "nightmare" of their life, but CNN's so-called "expert" on domestic violence, Lisa Bloom, claimed that this was a "natural" reaction by the typical victim, and went on to assert that violent behavior by a female was more deserving of "compassion" than censure.)

Anyways, in what was supposed to be a “revenge” game for Peyton Manning, the Denver Broncos nearly blew a 21-point fourth quarter lead at home against his old team, the Indianapolis Colts. For some reason, his replacement, Andrew Luck, seems unpredictable, which is probably as good an explanation as any for his success. After a tepid first three quarters, Luck threw for more than 200 yards in the fourth quarter in leading an “improbable” comeback.  As one may recall, the Colts trailed Kansas City 38-10 in the third quarter in the playoffs, yet Luck rallied the Colts to a 45-44 victory. This time, it was 31-10 deficit. The Colts fell short this time, losing 31-24, with the key play of the game a fourth down stop at the goal line by Denver earlier in the quarter, which at first seemed to clinch the game for Denver before the Colts rallied. Far from “cruising” to victory as ESPN put it, only an interception after a successful onside kick and then failing to move the ball with three minutes to play prevented an entirely different outcome.

Another game of note was the Miami Dolphins embarrassing Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, 33-20. The Dolphins, trailing 20-10 at half time, scored 23 unanswered points in the second half. This is the type of game that inevitably brings up the debate of whether teams win with the passing game or the running game. It is hard to argue that teams that live and die by the pass can’t win, at least in the regular seasons; Brady, Manning and Drew Brees have been doing for years, and even won Super Bowls. 

In this game, 75 percent of the Patriots’ plays were passes (four ended in sacks), and these 60 plays yielded but 226 yards, an average of a mere 3.8 yards-per-play—and this “attack” became more and more ineffectual (because of its predictability) as the game wore on, until it finally ground to a halt. Meanwhile, third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill has shown himself to be as pedestrian as ever, with extremely modest numbers and a 79.9 quarterback rating. But the running game, led by Knowshon Moreno, gained nearly 200 yards, averaging five yards per play. 

Given the fact that New England has a track record of success with its brand of play and Miami does not, the “argument” is difficult to sustain. But as Seattle demonstrated last year, a team that can run the ball and play defense to nullify the passing game can go all the way to the Super Bowl, and win. Some may argue that we may be seeing the passing of the “passing” era, and this game is the way it will look.

In other games, Jake Locker impressed with a 22 of 33, 266 yards and 2 TD passing performance as the Tennessee Titans defeated Kansas City 26-10. Locker was supposed to be a “stud” coming out of high school when he agreed to attend the University of Washington, but other than his athletic ability, he never really “blossomed” into the star he was supposed to be, even under Steve Sarkisian; his passing mechanics rarely seemed “professional,” and there was some question here if he could ever be NFL material. Yet he seemed to have “potential” with some polishing, or at least that is what the Titans were hoping when they drafted him as the eighth pick in the draft a few years ago, which seemed more than a little high.

Locker’s career to date has been marred by injuries, and perhaps this season will be his “breakout” year. Coach Ken Whisenhunt certainly hopes so.  "Jake did great,” he said. "All those things we've worked with, footwork-wise and technique-wise, and you saw it. That's really exciting. But it's just one game." Then again, this was against the team that allowed itself to be outscored 35-6 in a quarter and a half  that loss to Indianapolis in last year’s playoffs. 

Remember when  Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder traded the farm for Robert Griffin III—who, do be honest, was a half-season wonder who had a history of serious knee injuries in college, which not the “choice” of then coach Mike Shanahan. This certainly strained the relationship between both, and it came to the fore last season when it was clear that RGIII was not the same player when he could not run. Now both of his knees are “gimpy,” and his playing time during the preseason was predictably skimpy. Against the Houston Texans, his numbers were not horrible on paper—29-37, 267 yards—but when a team loses 17-6 despite “outplaying” the a team “on paper” that hasn’t won a game in almost a year, something is obviously terribly amiss. 

One problem is that RGIII must become a “pocket passer”—he only gained 2 yards on three carries—and it is not yet apparent he can be so, even with a deceptively “high” passer rating (especially when he threw no TD passes or ran for one). According to ESPN researchers, while he completed 15 of 17 passes in the first half, they went for only 74 yards—and the average pass went less than a yard beyond the line of scrimmage. What this means is that he is failing to “read” the defense to find an open receiver downfield, relying instead on the quick outlet or screen pass. In the second half his numbers improved, largely assisted by a 48-yard pass play to Niles Paul. But two fumbles killed potential scoring drives. 

Now it is back to “square one” with RGIII. Did we see the “best” of him in his rookie season, when he was physically intact and epitomized the so-called new-fangled “zone-read” or “read-option” quarterback?

And how’s the “education” of Geno going? Well, Smith and the New York Jets escaped with a 19-14 victory over the hapless Oakland Raiders; I didn’t watch the game, so I don’t know if they were “assisted” by officials with a penalty no one knew existed. I say “escaped” because you expect that a team that out-gained the opposition 402 to 168 yards. Smith had a “passable” day as far as completing those short passes, but his attempts to be a “running” quarterback only hurt the team. And, oh yes, he is on pace for 32 turnovers.

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