A 2009 Collection of NFL Lucubrations

JW NixSenior Writer IIDecember 11, 2009

Here is a compilation of thoughts I wrote during the season so far. Some stats were updated, but most entries were left alone to serve as time capsules of each week.

This might be one of the most mediocre seasons the NFL has had in recent memory. After ten games, there were 14 teams over the .500 mark. Of those teams, four of them have a winning percentage of .600 or less. Most teams have been struggling to stay healthy on the eve of the league thinking of shortening training camps and extending the seasons.

What has been the most obvious flaw in the game the NFL pushes out today is poor fundamentals. Even after the league has revamped their rule books to cater to a group of mostly average quarterbacks and players who rely on kill shots over proper tackling technique, you are left still seeing sloppy football games each week.

Offensive linemen, who hold every play, are now less important to protecting the quarterback than the NFL. The hit zone on the quarterback has now shrunk to the coffee can strike zone of baseball so that points can be put up on the board with much more ease. Even special teams has been effected by changes from a group of men largely consisting of guys who haven't put on pads since school yard days.

Though it is understandable the NFL is trying to progress with society, the failure to hold onto old school principles has helped the game suffer to the point it now resembles basketball with a helmet. To show further example, many players go out on Sunday without hip or thigh padding, because they rather protect up high where most end up head hunting.

The NFL probably doesn't see this, much like they did not see their game stagnating in the 1960's. This allowed the fourth version of the American Football League to gain a following and then later force a complete alignment between the two leagues. Other previous leagues that competed against the NFL had forced the NFL to merge some of those defunct leagues into theirs, but not all teams like the AFL did.

Now the United Football League has just completed their first season with an overtime championship game. The difference between the UFL and other leagues that competed against the NFL in the past is that the UFL is being almost marketed as a minor leagues for the NFL by some. The UFL refers to itself as a complimentary addition, though they have several rules that are different. Their overtime rule is like the college rule, where both teams get a chance to play offense.

The UFL might now have a chance to survive with the NFL shortening training camps. There will be even more excellent football players available after the NFL makes cuts faster—many will happen because of the lack of opportunity; many will get less time in camp or exhibition games. Then there is the chance the NFL players could strike after 2011, much like they did in 1982 and 1987. The NFLPA is advising cut players from going to the UFL, which echoes the same message the league gave to players when they jumped to the AFL in 1960.

If the UFL plays this smart, much like the AFL did in the 1960s, they could offer much needed competition to the perceived fat and lazy NFL. Perhaps the UFL can go a step further and enable the defenses to play less inhibited, unlike the castrated version of defense in the NFL. If the 2009 season keeps wafting along in a uninspiring waddle for the NFL, fans will begin to look more into the other option. Much like they did for the AFL only 40 years ago. The timing of the AFL anniversary and the UFL inception is no coincidence.

Perhaps some of you readers will find this installment of Lucubration tinged with unrealistic hope for more well-played football, and perhaps even a few will nod in agreement on some avenues that were attempted to be taken. The ones that are skeptical need only look at the 12 teams in the NFL that were born in other leagues. The AFC itself houses only six teams that have just played in their league alone, though the Bengals franchise is still considered an AFL franchise on paper.

Some say more is better, and this can apply to professional football, too. The UFL should continue applying wrinkles to their game to attract fans. One suggested wrinkle is to apply some old school playing that the NFL once lived and breathed on. It can work, much like how the AFL once showed the NFL that lots of scoring can bring in fans. It did.

As another Sunday approaches for the NFL, one cannot help but recall certain themes that have transpired thus far. The days of parity appear to not be in play this season. With the Rams, Lions, Chiefs, Redskins, Browns, Raiders, Titans, and Buccaneers all struggling, as well as the Dolphins, Seahawks, and Panthers all with just two wins as well, it has become a case of the have and have-nots. The list of have-nots may be the deepest in recent memory for the league. Will things change after the new collective bargaining agreement on the horizon? That is one tune waiting to be composed.

Matthew Stafford, of the Detroit Lions, has had a rookie season that can best be described as trying. Both he and his team have struggled all season, which was expected by all observers.

There was a time this season some thought Stafford would be shut down for the season as he struggled with a knee injury. Stafford kept plugging along, and has taken his lumps all season long behind a porous offensive line that does not allow the team offensive balance with a consistent running game.

Coming into a game against the lowly Cleveland Browns, Stafford had thrown 12 interceptions against six touchdown passes in the seven games he was able to get on the field and play. Though the numbers may seem unimpressive to some, others feel the rookie has shown great promise thus far.

Stafford showed an even bigger glimpse at his abilities when he set an NFL and Lions record of five touchdown passes in a game by a rookie as the Lions won 38-37. It also ties the franchise record, which was set by Gary Danielson in 1978 against the Minnesota Vikings.

He got the ball rolling forward for his team late in the first quarter with his team down 24-3 by finding rookie running back Aaron Brown on a 26 yard pass play. He added two more in the second quarter, including a 75 yard heave to wide receiver Calvin Johnson.

With the Lions' defense playing better in the second half, he added two more with each being a one yard toss to his tight ends. The second was was the most important, because it was with no time left on the clock and secured the Lions an important second win of the season.

Stafford still shows fans that he is a rookie. He did throw two interceptions and was called for intentional grounding while attempting to throw out of the end zone, which resulted in a safety. Now up to 20 interceptions this season, fans realize it may take Stafford a few more years of playing experience—to go with solid drafts to upgrade the surrounding talent—for him to truly show why he was the first player drafted overall this year.

Still, Lions fans have to be happy for the win and the prospects of their young quarterback's future. Though fellow rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez has gotten more press, due mostly to his playing in the media heavy New York City, it is easy to say Stafford has played better so far.

Though Matthew Stafford might not win the Rookie of the Year Award this season, he is in the record books already. How much further he can delve into both the leagues and his team's record books remains to be seen, but plan on it being fun to watch.

After watching Jay Cutler toss his eighth red zone interception in 16 games a few weeks ago, I had a few thoughts. None of Jeff George, because even George didn't pull stunts like that. I actually began to recall my questioning Chicago gambling away their future for Cutler. If you recall, the Bears gave up two first round and a second round draft pick for his services.

Please consider these words from Broncos legendary player Karl Mecklenberg, "I have gotten to know Jay through the Broncos and golf tournaments, and he is a child still. He is more concerned with himself than the team, and when McDaniels came in, he came in with a system that wasn't going to throw as much, and Jay saw that and put McDaniels in a tough place where he had really no choice but to get rid of him."

So, what you have here is another diva who puts himself before his team. A child who would rather pad his statistics over winning. This is what the Bears traded away their future for.

Then there is the old "Sid Luckman Curse." Luckman is the last great and perhaps even good quarterback to play for the Bears. Luckman, a Hall of Famer, retired in 1950, and is STILL the franchise's leader in passing yards with 14,686 yards. Think about that. Luckman played in a run first era where it was a lot harder to throw the ball with the ten yard chuck rule, let alone the way offensive linemen had to block.

Since 1979, receivers have the luxury of the five yard chuck rule and blockers are allowed to extend their arms and hold on virtually every play. It is also easier to play quarterback because they cannot be hit too high, low, or hard. Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers had 14,974 yards passing in 71 games coming into this season. This is just a small example of the long line of inept quarterbacks that have followed Luckman in the last 60 years for the Bears.

I am not ready to label Cutler a complete and utter failure yet for the Bears. His receiving unit is nothing special, and his offensive line is pathetic. He is also young, so there is a lot of room to grow and mature. Chicago better hurry up and get him some blockers at least, or Cutler might soon have irreparable damage to his body and fragile ego.

Was anyone really shocked to see Brett Favre fumble, then throw away the game for the Vikings against the Pittsburgh Steelers? It was about time if you ask me. We are talking about the NFL's All-Time Turnover King. No player has thrown away the ball more in history than Favre, and he is just three fumbles away from tying Warren Moon for the record of most fumbles ever.

With 315 interceptions and 158 fumbles, and counting, the Steelers decided to just let Brett be Brett that week. When you do that, you will win more than lose to him. Just be ready for the inevitable mistake. With a career average of about 1.7 turnovers for every game he has played, it is a sound strategy.


Watching Larry Johnson bubble over with frustration, you have to wonder what is the big deal is. Is it his homophobic remarks, his rant on his new head coach, or his bemoaning the loss of cash? Johnson, some may say, had his mind destroyed along with his body with all those carries several years ago.

Some may recall former Chiefs coach, Dick Vermeil, calling his character into question once. Johnson, a coaches son, realizes his career is coming to an end and that he will never again command the salary he currently makes. He stands to lose $600,000 this week, not exactly chump change.

Though his comments were not politically correct, this still is America. Freedom of speech and expression is a right. Taking his money hurts, but watching his career end has to gouge him deeper. If he does latch on with another team next year, he will be a part-time back with a pay rate showing such a role.

The mess in Washington DC has gotten a lot of publicity lately. Talking heads are now trying to goad the gullible Redskins owner, Dan Snyder, into a retread hire like Mike Shanahan, Jon Gruden, Bill Cowher, and even Mike Holmgren.

The issue is compounded by the fact the team just probably lost All-Pro offensive tackle Chris Samuels forever because of a spine issue. Things will get so ugly this year that Snyder may finally be forced to fire Vinny Cerrato. Out of the embers of hell a miracle can occur.

There are a few teams at their lowest right now. The Redskins, Bills, Buccaneers, Raiders, Rams, and Lions are certainly in that group, but perhaps no team has looked as lost as the Cleveland Browns.

The Browns' ownership seems to be taking a tremendous gamble on coach Eric Mangini. Mangini quickly pulled the hook on quarterback Brady Quinn after a few weeks, even though Cleveland traded up to get the kid out of the green room in 2007.

Now Quinn has sold his house as the trade deadline approaches. There has also been word floating that Mangini might trade Pro Bowl return specialist Josh Cribbs. Mangini never came across as a coach with a plan while with the Jets, so it will be interesting to see if he actually has one or is just trying to establish his ego. After seeing recently traded wide receiver Braylon Edwards contribute immediately with the Jets, you have to wonder if the gamble on the coach is smart.

For those of you not glued to ESPN listening to the Favre Diary, there has been a few other things going on in the NFL.

One big subject might be to hold an Exclusive Poll on which NFL head coach will be fired first. You could toss in a few others, but this is my five, in no particular order, who I think are on the hot seat.

1. Jim Zorn, Washington Redskins: He wouldn't even make a good offensive coordinator.

2. Eric Mangina, Cleveland Browns: He, as I said the day he got the job, was a mistake to hire.

3. Jack Del Rio, Jacksonville Jaguars: Jack is rebuilding, which takes time. Yet, he has been in Jacksonville a long time. Most coaches don't last that long with a team these days, so he makes this list almost by default.

4. Wade Phillips, Dallas Cowboys: Jason Garrett should go first, but Jerry Jones loves this guy enough to call him a future head coach. Let him try in the UFL before the NFL, Jerry. Word is that the 'Boys are hot for Mike Shanahan right now.

5. John Fox, Carolina Panthers: Another coach on one team a long time. His team is really not performing well right now, so perhaps his sand glass is running empty in Carolina.

You may have noticed I spelled Eric Mangina's name wrong, but maybe you didn't? This name was given to him by me when he was running the Jets. Retread hires are an unknown generally, but this one had disaster written all over it. Mangina seems to have a predication for neglecting the trenches. This is something Cleveland does not need right now, and the top brass should accept the full brunt of the blame.

Brady Quinn was handed the starting job, and did little. Derek Anderson replaced him last week, and gave lesser results. Anderson was a Pro Bowl player two years ago, which also happened to be the last time running back Jamal Lewis was effective. There happens to be a reason for this theme.

The Browns' offensive line has stunk the past two years. If the team had Johnny Unitas and Jim Brown together in their backfield now, I doubt the results would be much better. Though I never saw Quinn as a top flight NFL talent, he certainly cannot be blamed. That applies to the season Anderson had last year. If no one is blocking or catching with any consistency, you just will not win many games. Mangina might go into next year as coach, but they may as well get rid of him now if he does not build their trenches in the 2010 draft.

The Tennessee Titans are without a win so far. This is not what was expected from a team that had such a long and dominant stretch last year. Though I did predict a last place finish for them this year, which many disagreed with me on, I certainly wonder what will happen to their season if they fail to win Sunday in Jacksonville.

The Titans will face the Colts and Patriots the next two weeks before facing the Jaguars again. Losing this week will give Jacksonville confidence to come into Tennessee and win again. If the Titans are 0-6 at that point, who knows what the morale of the team will be. Jeff Fisher has, perhaps, his most daunting task ahead of him so far in his 17 years as head coach of the team.

Did Jim Zorn get hold of the Denver Broncos playbook for 1983? Watching the Redskins struggle with the Saint Louis Rams, it seems so.

While Washington barely won in spite of Zorn's inept play calling, it was a victory so shallow that the most loyal of Redskins fans sent boos cascading down onto the field after the final gun. Hopefully, the reactions sunk into Zorn enough to understand where he is at.

The Redskins play in the NFC East, not the AFC West. The weak finesse style of play Zorn seems to want will not work in Washington's division. The West Coast system may work in other divisions, but it has never produced a champion out of the rough NFC East.

This is a division known for being won by the strongest, not the prettiest. Though some of the mashers who became champions out of the division were deemed pretty by some after successes, usually the champion limps into the playoffs having battled some of the NFL's best teams which happen to reside in the NFC East as well.

The inadequacies of Zorn's offensive philosophies shone brightest under the spotlight of scrutiny on the teams final drive. As the Redskins clung to a 9-7 lead with the game clock winding down, they found themselves inside of the Rams 10-yard line. It was first down, and critical the Redskins to score a touchdown to put the game out of reach.

Zorn then resorted to calling a series of plays that were both ludicrous and baffling. The first play was an attempted shovel pass that was incomplete, and was destined to go nowhere. Then it was fourth and less than a yard. Zorn decided to go for it.

Conventional wisdom would mandate either a sneak play from quarterback Jason Campbell, or a run up the middle with running back Clinton Portis. Zorn elected to do neither. He called a sweep play with Portis that went nowhere, and caused the Rams to acquire possession of the ball.

Luckily for Zorn, the Redskins' defense held the Rams from moving the ball. The game ended in favor of the Redskins, though it was viewed unfavorably by many of their fans. Going into Detroit next week, they may find refuge on the opposing team's field. Hopefully, Zorn will also left have some pages of his playbook in Washington as well.

Many pundits of the NFL say that a head coach usually gets a pass in their first year on the job. Zorn is now entering his second season, and his offensive scheme is as ineffective as it was last year. If this season continues on as it has started, it would be hard to imagine him back for a third season.

The NFL Rules Committee is out of control. Last year, we saw a defensive player getting a fifteen yard penalty for hitting Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan as he was releasing the ball. The reason for it? Putting too much weight on the quarterback.

Most know the quarterback has had many rule changes since 1979 to make his job obscenely easy, but now it is quite clear that the NFL quarterback is no longer a football player. They have become a media image full of unworthy hype and adulation.

I guess, the powers that be decided to change the definition of a touchdown. Most saw rookie Louis Murphy catch a ball in the end zone. He came down with both feet, and had full control of the football. Murphy then landed on his elbow, which is considered down and makes it a dead ball. Though, that should not matter, because the ball itself is supposed to be dead once it crosses the goal line.

The thing was that Murphy then lost the football after crashing down to earth. The new rule states it is an incompletion, not a score. This is perhaps the dumbest new rule farted out of the bowels of the committee, though the new rule on only having two players form a wedge to block on kickoffs is pretty darn close as well.

When does enough become enough for this group trying to justify their paychecks? These rules all subtract from the game, and proves that not all busybodies contribute positive contributions. Perhaps, in these lean economical times, it would be prudent to disband this insipid council for at least a decade so the players can play football with the little rules left that allow them to do so? This is not the NBA, though Paul Tagliabue tried to make it so.

Let us remember the Houston Oilers.

Bud Adams started the franchise in 1960 with the fledgling American Football League. Adams put together an excellent team quickly, some with hard work and some with good luck.

His big move in 1960 was signing Billy Cannon away from the clutches of the NFL.

Cannon was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams with the first pick of the draft, and he was the first pick of the AFL as well.

Adams signed the LSU legend and 1959 Heisman Trophy winner on the field after LSU won the Sugar Bowl.

Future NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle was the general manager of the Rams at that time, and he tried to force Cannon to sign with his team. Adams took the NFL to court and won.

Another of the many key signings that season was of future Hall of Famer George Blanda. Blanda had washed out of the NFL and did not even play football in 1959.

He joined the Oilers and immediately became the team's leader, helping them win the first AFL Championship when he hit Cannon for an 88-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter vs. the Los Angeles Chargers.

Blanda led the Oilers to a second consecutive championship in 1961 and was named the AFL Player of the Year.

He tied the record of seven touchdown passes in a game the next season, as the Oilers reached a third championship before losing to the Dallas Texans in the longest championship game in professional football history.

Blanda also set a record of 42 interceptions thrown in that 1962 season.

Though the Oilers would reach the AFL Championship in 1967, losing to an Oakland Raiders team that now had Blanda on their roster, the team never won a championship game again.

Many great players played for the Oilers, and several are members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Blanda, Earl Campbell, Ken Houston, Elvin Bethea, Mike Munchak, Warren Moon, and Bruce Matthews are just a few players that played for the Oilers and are now enshrined in Canton.

I have also included many Oilers in my Crazy Canton Cuts series. Robert "Dr Doom" Brazile, Billy "White Shoes" Johnson, Curley Culp, Jim Norton, and Bob Talamini are Oilers whose profiles can be found on crazycantoncuts.blogspot.com. Charley Hennigan is a player I will be profiling in the future.

Despite their legacy, as well as being the first professional sports team to win a championship in Houston, the team relocated to Nashville, Tenn. before the 1997 season.

They changed their name from the Oilers to the Titans just before the 1999 season.

The timing of the name change worked out well for Adams, as his team went on to Super Bowl XXXIV but lose to the St. Louis Rams. It is the only season that the franchise has won the AFC Championship.

To learn more about the Houston Oilers, I encourage you to visit this site


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