Monday, September 15, 2014

Week 2 NFL notes

As the Green Bay Packers were falling further and further behind Geno Smith and the New York Jets, I tried to “console” myself with the knowledge that it was still early in the season, that the Packers “new-look” defense, a 3-4 supposedly built to handle some of these speedier quarterbacks, was still a work in progress. Unfortunately, with B.J. Raji out for the season the Packers don’t have any size in front; without big bodies and long arms to control the line of scrimmage, the linebackers were unable to use their speed to maneuver and plug holes. This flaw was apparent in the season opener against the Seattle Seahawks, and most of the first half against the Jets.

Thus it was not exactly inexplicable that Smith was having his way with the Packers. After scoring a touchdown on a short field following an Aaron Rodgers fumble, the Jets diced the Packer defense on two long drives to take a 21-3 lead. Nevertheless, this could have been mitigated if Rodgers started playing like the allegedly greatest quarterback on the planet some claim he is, which has not been all that apparent in games that count; after all, outside the Super Bowl season, Rodgers has a 1-4 playoff record. Instead, Smith was outplaying Rodgers; by the two-minute mark of the first half, Smith had completed 10 of 13 passes for 101 yards, one TD and no turnovers, and was threatening to put the Jets up 28-9 at halftime. 

Fortunately for the Packers, at that point Fate decided that it had enough of its fun and games, and returned matters to their normal state. For once under pressure, Smith threw up a floater that was intercepted at the Packer 3-yard line, and from there Rodgers threw darts at the Jets defense, throwing a six-yard TD pass to Randall Cobb with eight seconds left to cut the Jets lead to 21-16 at the half. Smith was almost completely ineffective from that point, completing just 6 of his last 19 passes for 75 yards; after their first three drives—all ending in touchdowns—the Jets managed just 132 yards on their last 9. Meanwhile, after completing just 9 of his first 20 passes, Rodgers from there was 16 of 22 for 244 yards and three touchdowns, including an 80-yard strike to Jordy Nelson that put the Packers ahead for good in the third quarter, 31-24. 

Not that the game was ever in the “bag,” but this time the officials were not finding ways to “help” give the Jets another undeserved victory. A Rodgers interception was nullified after officials chose to notice that a 12th Jets defensive player was still a half-step from being off the field when the ball was snapped, nor did they ignore the inexplicable timeout being asked for just before Smith threw the apparent gaming-tying touchdown pass on fourth down late in the game. 

What this game means for either team remains to be determined. The Jets have a sad road record, but they were a few bonehead mistakes of “upsetting” the Packers on their own home turf. I still think Smith has a lot more to prove, despite the wishful thinking of Jets fans. As for the Packers, they can’t afford to play rollercoaster games like this. Perhaps they can look at game film and discern what the defense did right in the second half against the Smith; but then again, it was just Geno.

In other games, I would be amiss not to at least acknowledge the Chicago Bears own “stunning” victory over the San Francisco 49ers on the road. Frankly, I’ve always viewed Colin Kaepernick as a bit of a fraud that teams just needed to figure out. Down 20-7, television analysts were slobbering Kaepernick with praise—before he threw three interceptions, lost a fumble and was sacked four times, as the Bears nullified his running threat and scored the last 21 points of the game. Kaepernick has always had “issues” with his decision making, and in this game—like the Packers against the Jets—the Bears just needed time to “adjust.” 

Elsewhere, The New England Patriots decided to run the ball against the Minnesota Vikings, and won easily as Tom Brady passed the ball only when absolutely necessary, unlike in last week’s embarrassing loss to Miami. One interesting note to this game was the suspension of Vikings superstar running back Adrian Peterson for alleged child abuse; this incident has received far less attention in the national media than has the Ray Rice domestic abuse incident. This confirms for me that (some) adult women are self-obsessed hypocrites, at least those who commentate on news shows; after all, statistics on the subject show that the majority of child abuse cases involve women as the abusers (because so many are “single mothers” as the “excuse”). Adult women, at least to the media, seem to be more “precious” than children.

The Seattle Seahawks lost to San Diego, a team which under Phillip Rivers has had a yo-yo existence. If this game proved anything, it is that it is still a question of whether Russell Wilson is the caliber of quarterback who can actually pass a team to victory when called upon. His numbers were as usual solid but pedestrian. Outside a 51-yard run by Percy Harvin, the Seahawks were unable to move the ball effectively, and by allowing the team to fall behind early, the defense put too much strain on their quarterback in the heat. The Chargers held the ball for more than 42 minutes,  as the Seahawk defense unused to the scorching heat seemed  step slower than usual. Although their 377 total yards was only unusual in that it came against the alleged best defense in league, the Chargers grinded them out, converting on 10 third downs and 26 total first downs. Forced to make the quick strikes, Wilson is simply not that kind of quarterback.

On another note, I wonder if there are those who still believe that Eli Manning is a “Hall of Fame” quarterback. Sure, he has been on two Super Bowl-winning teams, but after two mediocre performances as the New York Giants open the season 0-2, it might be useful to examine the tale of the tape. His 58.5 career completion percentage and 81.1 QB rating are among the lowest—if not the lowest—among all current quarterbacks who started at least 100 games in the past three decades; his 3.4 interception percentage is higher than Brett Favre’s, and if he plays enough games, he is on pace to break Favre’s supposedly “unbreakable” record of most interceptions thrown in a career. But because he is a member of the hallowed Manning fraternity, and he plays in New York, there will those who will find other explanations for Manning’s often less than consistent play.

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