NFL Hangover - Week 7

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NFL Hangover - Week 7

Quick Observations from the Couch

I couldn’t believe the amount of big leads at half-time across the league. 21-7 Patriots, 21-0 Texans, 21-3 Colts, 17-0 Chargers and 31-3 Bengals. It’s not often that so many games are out of hand so quickly.

Texans-49ers
Alex Smith has a legitimate shot to get his starting job back. After falling behind 21-0 by halftime, Mike Singletary decided to pull Shaun Hill and give Alex Smith a chance to run the offense. Smith responded by throwing 3 TDs to Vernon Davis while looking quite poised in the pocket, and giving the Niners a legitimate chance at opening up the offense. The addition of Crabtree helped the passing game as well. Smith’s performance definitely warrants another look for a team that started the season hot, but has cooled off lately. The tough part for Singletary will be avoiding a team-splitting QB controversy on a squad that seems to have turned the corner.

Bengals-Bears
The Cedric Benson revenge game was definitely all it was hyped to be. He started the game with real determination, with several strong runs on the opening drive. To be honest, I didn’t realize he had such great speed. He’s not much of a lateral back, but takes one cut and hits the hole hard. He finished the day with 189 yards on 37 carries, and helped the Bengals to a 45-10 dismantling of the Bears. With 27 more yards next week, Benson will already have the highest yardage total of his career. Besides Benson, Carson Palmer looked very crisp and the Bengals defense really impressed me, especially with Antwan Odom injured. They got great pressure from their front four and the secondary looked fantastic.

Dolphins-Saints
The Miami meltdown reminded me of the “They are who we thought they were” game by Dennis Green’s Cardinals against the dominant Bears a few years back. They started out fantastic, getting some great runs from Ricky Williams and converting 2 well-earned interceptions into touchdowns. With a 24-3 lead, they should have been milking their power-running game and their great pass-rush all the way to a massive upset. Instead they managed to give up a touchdown to close out the half and a quick INT for a TD to Darren Sharper to start the 3rd Quarter. Once the Saints were within a touchdown, it was always going to be a losing battle for the Dolphins.

Note to Chad Henne, if you think the Saints might start a CB that you abused during your college career, it’s best to keep that a secret until game day, not mention it in public. It’s especially embarrassing when he picks you off and runs it back for a TD.

Cardinals-Giants
This may also be known as the Beanie Wells breakout game by the end of the season. He showed a ferocious running style and a willingness to hit tacklers with a vicious stiff-arm. I was extremely impressed by his patience and burst once he saw the hole open up. If the Cardinals truly want to run more, I think they’ve found their man.

It was obvious that the Cardinals were confusing Eli at the line of scrimmage, which made their blitzes very effective. However, I can’t understand why the Giants kept drifting away from the power running game with Brandon Jacobs. He had 76 yards on only 13 carries despite the Giants leading at half-time and the game remaining close until the end of the 3rd quarter. Even with the Cardinals stacking 8 in the box to stop the run, why not pass out of a power formation and catch their corners in man coverage on the outside? Instead, the Giants went to a spread attack that showed they were going to pass and removed their best weapon, Jacobs. When did Tom Coughlin start getting coaching advice from Norv Turner?

Cowboys-Falcons
Miles Austin puts up the most receiving yards in the league, for the 2nd straight week he’s started. Following up his last performance, Austin dominated the Falcons for 6 catches, 171 yards and 2 touchdowns. If he keeps playing this well, he’ll be dating a Kardashian sister in no time.

I don’t mean to brag, OK yes I do, but I predicted this. Once again, please pay no attention to any predictions that were completely wrong, like the Redskins winning the NFC East.

Sports Opinionated’s “Choice” Analysis

Many of the stats in this section are derived from the publicly available and premium database statistics at FootballOutsiders.com, NFL.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. Salary cap numbers provided by USA Today’s Salary Database.

Andre Johnson’s place in the WR hierarchy
After watching Andre Johnson’s beautiful catch downfield in between 2 defenders, I got to thinking about how his career compares to other top receivers in their first years in the league.

I took 2 of the all-time greats and their stats to this point in their careers, along with Larry Fitzgerald, who is widely regarded to be the best receiver in the league at the moment.


Both Johnson and Fitzgerald compare closely, but slightly behind the yards per game stats of Marvin Harrison and Jerry Rice. Where Johnson seems to come up considerably short at this point in his career is touchdowns. The greats found a way to get into the end zone, and Fitzgerald seems to have that same knack. Johnson, however, has quite a poor TD per season rate, despite being the main weapon for the Texans offense. It’s not like they’ve had a dominating back to take away all his TDs.
 
The other stat that really jumps out is Rice’s yards per catch, which is almost 4 yards better than any of the others. When we speak of efficiently getting the most yardage out of every play, Rice was the master.
 
WR Cap Efficiency
One thing that always irks me, are GMs who overspend for talent. Just like business leaders, GMs need to invest their money wisely. Some measure of Salary Cap Efficiency needs to be used to assess the roster, whether it’s win per dollar or some other statistical measure to evaluate players at different positions. After doing the quick comparison above to see where Andre Johnson fit with some benchmark wide receivers, I decided to include him in a comparison of other wide receivers in the league. The goal was to see which players gave their teams the best bang for their buck.
 
I used the DYAR and DVOA stats from Football Outsiders and compared them with last year’s salary cap numbers for a variety of receivers in the league. Remember that DYAR is a measure of overall worth versus a replacement-level player and DVOA is a measure of value per play.

 



Johnson’s DYAR is decent, basically saying that he’s 66 yards better than a replacement level player and slightly less efficient per play. This is also a reflection of the Texans offense and quarterback play, but it’s quite surprising given the view of most experts.

It’s also very interesting to see that it’s not necessarily the performance of the receiver, but the size of the contract that makes an efficient cap situation. This should be an reminder for GMs that cap efficiency comes from first contracts on up and coming players or market savvy contracts for veteran players. Austin, Smith and Rice are all examples of players on their first contract who are far outperforming it, and Donald Driver is a great example of a veteran who performs well, but isn’t paid an exorbitant wage.


The cautionary tale in this case are players like Lee Evans. While Evans is a good receiver, he’s not having a great year, and the Bills dramatically overpaid for him. So this year, they’re tying up a giant amount of cap space for a player that is below replacement level overall and below average on a per play basis.

Live Game Spotlight: Vikings at Steelers

This was the game I was most excited about going into the weekend and it didn’t disappoint. The Vikings were 6-0, but as I stated last week, were only 2 plays away from being 4-2. The Steelers, with a 4-2 record coming into the game looked like a good team, but had failed to look convincing against Detroit and Cleveland in their last two games.

Also, I’m eager to find out if there is another player in the NFL equipped as well as Troy Polamalu to stop Adrian Peterson.

1st Quarter

Both defenses started out playing well, with the offenses struggling to gain yards.

The Steelers defense was managing to keep outside containment on Adrian Peterson, which was clearly a priority for them by the way they looped the outside linebackers out so wide on every play.

Kluwe, the punter for the Vikings, was single-handedly giving away field position, resulting in an early Steelers FG. 3-0 Pittsburgh.

2nd Quarter

Minnesota adjusted their protection schemes enough to give Favre time to throw, and he capitalized by leading a drive down inside the 10 yard line. From there, Adrian Peterson took over with a hard-fought TD run, 7-3 Vikings.

On Pittsburgh’s next few possessions Big Ben took a few hits, but couldn’t even find open receivers when the line gave him time. The Minnesota secondary is blanketing the field, which is quite an achievement given that Antoine Winfield is injured. Ben was almost picked twice.

Minnesota is relying on the passing game for offense as the Steelers defense has almost completely shut down AP.

With the half quickly coming to an end, Roethlisberger hits Mike Wallace up the middle, spikes the ball, and hits him again for a TD. Minnesota was only rushing 4, yet Big Ben found a hole in the zone for two straight plays. 10-7 Pittsburgh.

3rd Quarter

An early FG by Pittsburgh increases the lead to 13-7.

Brett Favre and Sidney Rice just improvised a 4th and 1 play after it broke down and gained ~25 yards. Wow. The Vikings got it down inside the 5, but the Steelers defense made a great stand to hold Minny to a FG. 13-10.

With 2:30 left in the 3rd quarter, Adrian Peterson has 14 rushes for 34 yards. So far the Steelers defense has kept him in check, but he’s like Athlete’s Foot, he’ll come back.

Percy Harvin is drilled by Ryan Clark going over the middle. I’m impressed by how tough he is, but he’s going to be even more banged up after this game.

Rashard Mendenhall looks great running the ball against a tough Vikings defense but he definitely needs to work on his receiving skills if he wants to see the field more.

4th Quarter

The network just showed a graphic indicating that Minnesota and Pittsburgh are both in the bottom 3 defenses for points allowed in the 4th quarter. These defenses are easier than a cougar at a hair band concert.

Santonio Holmes catches a quick crossing route, throws a couple stiff arms and weaves his way for about 50 yards down to Minny’s 10. With all the momentum on their side and crowd going nuts, Rashard Mendenhall promptly fumbles on the next play. He might want to get his groceries delivered this week, rather than be seen in public.

I am completely impressed with Sidney Rice. I don’t care if he has a stripper name, I think he’s a good receiver. It’s amazing what happens when Tarvaris Jackson isn’t your quarterback anymore, huh?

Rice makes an absolutely amazing grab down the sideline and just touches his toes down in bounds before Polamalu hits him like a missile. Most receivers wouldn’t even hold on to the ball, let alone get their feet down. That catch converted on 3rd and 18, which has completely deflated the Steelers defense.

Adrian Peterson just decided to bust one for 19 yards up the right side. I told you he was like Athlete’s Foot!

Favre makes a throw to Sidney Rice in the endzoe for a touchdown, but it’s called back on a tripping penalty. The penalty was iffy at best, and frankly never should have been called. Swallow the whistle on that one ref. It was way too minor to be called.

Three plays later, with Favre trying to find someone open in the endzone, Brett Keisel makes a fantastic play by stretching out to knock the ball loose from Favre. Lamar Woodley picks it up and goes 77 yards to the endzone with a huge blocking contingent. This defense wanted the touchdown badly. 20-10 Steelers.

Percy Harvin has apparently recovered from that big hit because he just returned the kick-off for a TD. 20-17. Jeff Reed my get a string of wedgies from his team-mates this week after shying away from contact with a 184 lb kick returner.

Pittsburgh is forced to punt with 3:37 left in the 4th quarter, giving Favre yet another chance to win a game on the final drive. The Vikings wisely give Adrian Peterson a few touches before the 2 minute warning, just in case he breaks one, he gains 5 yards and 6 yards. On the next play, Favre dumps it off to AP out of the shotgun with Randall Gay in perfect position to make the tackle. AP absolutely steamrolls Gay and takes it 29 yards down to the 26 yard line. I hope no one mentions that I compared him to Athlete’s Foot.

The Vikings are now inside the 20, and within easy field goal range but they have time to try for a touchdown and the win. With AP on my roster, I would absolutely run this ball as many times as I could, then kick the FG if I didn’t get into the endzone. The Vikes try a screen pass, which bounces off of Chester Taylor’s hands and into the arms of Keyaron Fox, who returns it 82 yards for a TD. 27-17 and all hope for the Vikings is gone.

Both Brad Childress and Chester Taylor are going to feel like a train hit them tomorrow…..in other words, hung over.

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