Monday, August 14, 2006
Updated: August 15, 7:11 PM ET
TMQ AFC Preview
By Gregg Easterbrook
Special to Page 2
This time of year, many NFL teams are crowing about the new offense they are installing. Teams installing a new offense for 2006 include the Bills, Dolphins, Jets, Lions, Rams, Redskins, Saints and Vikings. Often "new offense" means that instead of saying "power 80 slide quick," the quarterback will say "blue X-under 247." Both translate as "square out right" -- much of the installation of a new offense boils down to new terminology for standard plays. But there's a larger trend. In recent years, NFL offenses have converged toward a homogeneous product where everybody runs roughly the same stuff, hybridizing previously distinct offenses.
As recently as 15 years ago, some teams were power rush, some teams were run-and-shoot (no tight end, three small receivers running complex crossing patterns), some teams were West Coast (most passes short), some teams were Bart Starr classic (don't throw much but when you do, throw deep), some teams were hurry-up -- there were distinctly different philosophies of offense. Now everybody's using a little of everything. For instance, the five-wide, empty-backfield set, which a decade ago only a few teams were willing to show, is now in every NFL playbook. It's now in every high school team's playbook! The "bunch," which in the early 1990s only Minnesota was using, now shows up everywhere. Once only Buffalo and Cincinnati would go no-huddle before the last two minutes; now most teams show this tactic occasionally. And with the exception of Arizona and Philadelphia, everyone's run/pass ratio has converged. Nobody in the NFL has tried the Texas Tech offense yet: very wide splits from the linemen, emphasis on throwing lanes. But otherwise, in recent seasons every team has sampled a little of every offensive philosophy.
The kickoff game this season is Miami at Pittsburgh. Twenty years ago that game would have matched distinctly different offensive philosophies: power rush versus an up-the-field passing game based on the post and sideline fly. In 2006, the Dolphins and Steelers likely will show a similar mix of formations and plays. Everybody's trying a little bit of everything. It is, after all, the 21st century.
In other football news, who are Tony Romo, Earnest Graham and Rashied Davis? The NFL's leading passer, rusher and receiver. Enjoy your 15 minutes of fame, gentlemen. Now my AFC preview.
It's 2006, do you know who the Ravens' quarterback is? Since arriving in Charm City a decade ago, the Ravens have started quarterbacks Tony Banks, Jeff Blake, Kyle Boller, Stoney Case, Randall Cunningham, Trent Dilfer, Elvis Grbac, Jim Harbaugh, Scott Mitchell, Chris Redman, Vinny Testaverde, Anthony Wright and Eric Zeier. Now Steve McNair takes over. Fourteen quarterbacks in 10 seasons -- honk if you've played quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens! Brian Billick is supposed to be an offensive genius, yet can't keep a quarterback on the field. Of the multitude of starters only one worked out: Dilfer, who brought home a Super Bowl ring. Billick immediately got rid of the guy.
It's become a broken record for the Ravens: plenty of defense, little offense. Last year Baltimore finished fifth in defense (yards allowed), 25th in offense (yards gained). The year before the Ravens were sixth in defense, 31st in offense. The year before that fourth in defense, 20th in offense. Lather, rinse, repeat. Billick came to the Nevermores with a rep as an offensive guru, but increasingly that seems a fluke of his being offensive coordinator of the 1998 Vikings, who had the NFL's highest-scoring season ever at 556 points. That was a stacked team on offense that played indoors. Gary Anderson, Cris Carter, Jeff Cristy, Randall Cunningham, Randall McDaniel, Randy Moss, Robert Smith, Todd Steussie and Korey Stringer -- nine Pro-Bowl caliber offensive stars in their primes, plus other quality players such as Chris Liwienski and Jake Reed. Hard upon the heels of the 556-point season, Billick was hired to be Baltimore's coach. Since then he has had average offensive talent and coached seven consecutive poor seasons on offense.
You can see how frustrated Billick is. It's painful to watch him on the sidelines during games. Whenever the Baltimore offense trots onto the field, Billick starts to wince. At the first incomplete pass or stuffed run, he throws something. By the start of the second quarter, Billick is making all manner of ugly faces. You'd be frustrated too if you were supposed to be an offensive guru and had overseen seven consecutive poor offensive seasons. But coach, maybe a little Positive Mental Attitude is in order. Read your Norman Vincent Peale. Ravens offensive players pick up the vibration that you expect them to fail. Every team has incompletions; stopping freaking out about them.
Ravens note No. 1: Despite its image as a dangerous club, Baltimore has lost its opener four consecutive years.
Ravens note No. 2: Why did Baltimore give up a fourth-round choice for McNair, knowing the Titans would cut him anyway? Tennessee could not have signed its draft choices without unloading McNair's $9 million salary. Also, it's rumored Baltimore relieved Tennessee of a $1 million bonus due to McNair, so in effect, Baltimore sent the Flaming Thumbtacks a fourth-round choice plus $1 million in salary cap room -- nice price for a player who would have been waived soon.
|Norman Vincent Peale was all about positive thinking.|
Ravens note No. 3: The Ravens and M&T Bank Stadium put on one of the best game-day experiences in the NFL, with a marching band (now rare in the pros), artsy National Anthem performers, scantily clad cheer-babes and the league's only cheer-hunks. Here is the very studly Sean. But even though for warm-weather games the Ravens' women wear next to nothing, the men are fully clothed in running suits. Come on, it's the 21st century -- shorts and sleeveless tees to entertain the female demographic, please.
|Gotta wonder how much cheer-hunks get paid ...|
Last summer TMQ's AFC preview said Bills coaches faced "a vexing choice, whether to sacrifice the season to the education of J.P. Losman" or play veteran Kelly Holcomb and try for the postseason. Instead Buffalo did neither: The Bills started Losman for a while, then Holcomb for a while, then Losman, then Holcomb. The result was a worst-case outcome: Losman did not have his learning year and the Bills did not mount a playoff run. Departed coach Mike Mularkey wasted the 2005 Buffalo season by refusing to make up his mind about who should be under center. Compare to Marvin Lewis, who in 2004 stuck with Carson Palmer during Palmer's learning season, and in 2005 was rewarded with premium quarterbacking. Because 2005 was bungled away, Buffalo again faces the choice it faced last year: keep Losman on the field and let him struggle, or let Holcomb try to gain the team its first playoff appearance of the 21st century.
After winning more games than any NFL team during the 1990s, Buffalo has been one of the league's worst clubs in the new century. Maybe the football gods are simply balancing the books. Quarterback turmoil and poor offensive lines have been themes of the Bills' decline. Since Jim Kelly retired nine years ago, Buffalo has invested in the quarterback position three first-round draft picks, one second-round pick, plus third-, fourth- and fifth-round choices -- and has no clear starter to show for it. Plus, the Bills just passed on drafting Matt Leinart, arguably the most Kelly-like signal caller to leave the collegiate ranks since Kelly last taped his ankles. Yumpin' yiminy.
The Bills also have struggled under novice coaches. Former president Tom Donohue hired two consecutive gents with no pro or college head coaching experience: the tastefully named Gregg Williams, then Mularkey. Both were in over their heads. Now the Bills finally have a taskmaster with substantial head coaching experience, and Dick Jauron is well-regarded. But there's a comparison that concerns TMQ. As this column has documented, over the last five seasons Williams and Mularkey led the league in Preposterous Punts: punting in opposition territory, even when trailing or facing fourth-and-short. Two of many examples: Trailing New England by 10, Williams ordered the Bills to punt from the Pats' 32 on fourth-and-2; trailing San Diego by 25, Mularkey ordered a punt from the Chargers' 40. Now I review my file on Jauron and find it contains numerous entries regarding him ordering Preposterous Punts. Last year, the Lions were trailing Cincinnati by 17 in the second half, facing fourth-and-1 at midfield: Jauron sent in the punter. From that play on, the Lions were clobbered. Is there one chance in a million Bill Belichick orders a punt on fourth-and-1 at midfield when down by three scores in the second half? Victories don't come in the mail, they must be seized. Buffalo gets its third consecutive coach with a weird tendency to punt the ball away in scoring position, rather than go all-out to win.
Bills note No. 1: One of Marv Levy's opening moves was to give up on tackle Mike Williams, the fourth overall choice in 2002 and among the worst draft busts in NFL history. A reason the Bills have descended toward the cellar is the 2002 draft -- Buffalo had the fourth overall choice plus two second-round selections, yet likely will have no 2006 starter to show for it.
Bills note No. 2: With the trade of Eric Moulds to Houston, there is no one left on the Buffalo roster who played with Kelly. The last link to Buffalo's Golden Age is gone.
Sure, it was a strange experience last year writing about the Cincinnati Bengals as contenders. And remember, despite losing Palmer on the second snap of their playoff game against Pittsburgh, Cincy led the eventual Super Bowl winners at halftime. The knockout play of that game was not Palmer's injury, rather, Cincinnati's field-goal attempt midway through the third quarter. Leading 17-14, the Bengals botched a try from the Pittsburgh 15. A 20-14 lead at that point would have been significant. Instead, the Steelers were energized, scoring touchdowns on their next two possessions. Then the clock struck midnight on the Bengals' magical season.
Other than those who might be jailed, Cincinnati returns all starters from 2005 and so should contend again. If you want Bengals tix you're too late -- all Cincinnati home games are already sold out. The Bengals of 2005 were the mirror image of the Ravens: plenty of offense (fourth in points), suspect defense (22nd in points). Tuesday Morning Quarterback does not place much score by looking ahead to the schedule before the season starts. Dates that seem like monster games in August might seem ho-hum by November, while games that seem like sure wins have a way of becoming Waterloos. Nevertheless, checking Cincinnati's schedule we observe that the Bengals' final three dates are at Indianapolis on Monday Night Football, at Denver and then playing host to Pittsburgh. That's as impressive a sequence of games as any team faces in 2006.
Bengals note No. 1: Josh LeFevre of Cincinnati was among many readers to propose TMQ resume calling this team the Candy Corns: "The Bengals look much more like giant Candy Corns running around than they look like giant Tootsie Rolls." See Page 30 of this section of the team's press guide for a five-page history of Cincinnati's constant changes in its Halloween-themed uniforms.
Bengals note No. 2: Here, the team's FAQs page explains why the scoreboard at Paul Brown Stadium will not announce proposals of marriage.
Bengals note No. 3: To speed response to the string of Bengals in trouble with the law, the Cincinnati media relations department now uses this fill-in-the-blank press release:
CINCINNATI, XX DATE. The Cincinnati Bengals today announced that player (________) has been arrested and charged with (________). Witnesses said he was also caught in possession of (_______) and was waving (_______). "We apologize to our fans for the (____)th time," coach Marvin Lewis said. After arraignment, the player was returned to team headquarters, "where he can be with his peer group," sources said. Hey kids! Did you know there is now a collectible series of trading cards based on replicas of arrest warrants for Cincinnati Bengals? Collect them all today!
|The season's biggest battles can't all be predicted in August.|
Since rematerializing in the NFL in 1999, the club this column first called the Cleveland Browns (version 2.0), then the Browns 2.1, and last season was calling the Browns (3.0 Beta), has had only one winning season. The Browns have myriad problems, starting with their roster: no Cleveland player has made the Pro Bowl as a Brown, which is especially awful considering the cornucopia of high draft picks. It's not just the well-known first-round picks who never produced: Tim Couch, Courtney Brown, Gerald Warren, William Green. Who are Rahim Abdullah, Andre Davis and Kevin Johnson? Recent high second-round picks who didn't pan out either. (Though Abdullah has ripped up the CFL.) Meanwhile the Browns' first choices of 2004 and 2005, Kellen Winslow Jr. and Braylon Edwards, have yet to do anything.
Pretty much every other barometer about Cleveland is negative, too. Only 232 points scored in 2005, worst in the league. Back-to-back losses to Detroit and Houston: that hurts. A 41-0 punch in the nose by Pittsburgh. A miserable 36-78 record since re-entering the league. A quarterback of the future, Charlie Frye, with a 69.8 passer rating.
And yet -- and yet. Cleveland's got Romeo Crennel, and you know in your bones he will be an NFL success. Last year the Browns shut out the Dolphins, and played credible games against Indianapolis and Cincinnati. Then there's that Cleveland crowd energy. Browns Stadium is not the loudest in the league, but somehow is most energetic -- Cleveland spectators have maintained full enthusiasm despite that 36-78 number. If this year's iteration can mount any kind of respectable September, the Browns surely will have the wind at their backs in terms of public support.
Browns note: Though Cleveland struggled on the field, it leads the league in mascots.
Talk about lather, rinse, repeat: The Broncos are stuck in a cycle of great regular seasons followed by playoff wheeze-outs. Over the last three years the Broncos have gone 33-15 in the regular season, 1-3 in the playoffs. In that span, their scoring margin in regular-season games is plus-8 points -- in playoff games it's minus-15. Each collapse has included the vaunted Denver running game disappearing in the playoffs. During the 2004 regular season, Denver had the league's fourth-best rushing attack. Then in the playoffs, the Broncos rushed for an anemic 78 yards. During the 2005 regular season, Denver had the league's second-best rushing attack. Then in losing the AFC Championship Game at home in the thin mountain air, which offers little resistance to running backs, the Broncos were held to 97 yards rushing.
How to explain Denver's January folds? One explanation might be that the depleted air at 5,208 feet is a bigger home-team advantage during the regular season, when a visitor can lose without his season ending, than during the postseason, when everyone plays on pure adrenaline. In the last three seasons, the Broncos are 21-5 at home, 13-13 on the road. Over the past decade, Denver has the best home-field record, a sterling 64-14. But if the Broncos played at sea level, they'd lose at least one more home date per year. Denver's incredible altitude-based home-field advantage might make the team overconfident. During the regular season the Broncs cruise to relatively easy home wins over opponents gasping for air, and need only a few road wins to qualify for the postseason. But when the postseason arrives, Denver is on the road or facing an extremely pumped opponent not intimidated by the altitude.
The Broncos have a lot of strengths, none more important than their offensive line. Chop blocks aside, all Broncos offensive linemen have played their entire careers for Denver, and four of five current starters have been together five years. Offensive line cohesion is an overlooked essential of football success. Last year's Super Bowl teams, Seattle and Pittsburgh, both sported offensive lines composed of high draft choices who had significant time together as units. Four of the five Steelers offensive line starters had played only for Pittsburgh; three of the five Seahawks offensive linemen only for Seattle. Yet many teams don't get the message of offensive line cohesion, constantly shuffling blockers or treating them as disposable. Len Pasquarelli recently noted that in the last decade, NFL teams averaged 2.2 new offensive line starters per season. Teams that win on a consistent basis keep their offensive lines together.
Broncos note No. 1: Here's the net of Denver's four high-profile trades in this year's draft. The Broncos swapped the 22nd and 29th selections of the first round, two third-round choices and a fourth-round pick in 2007 for Jay Cutler and Javon Walker. That's a pretty penny. Of course, Denver has wasted so many high picks in recent years, the Broncos might feel that high picks aren't really worth conserving.
Broncos note No. 2: It's not that oxygen is lacking in the Denver air, it's that pressure is lacking. The oxygen ratio of air in Denver is the same as at sea level, but lower pressure means less air of all kinds. Barometric pressure at 5,208 feet is 625 millimeters per hectogram, versus 760 millimeters per hectogram at sea level. This leaves only 81 percent of the oxygen molecules per volume of air in Denver as at sea level. Athletes who train at high altitude develop more hemoglobin, which compensates for low air pressure. Young, healthy people arriving in Denver from sea level begin producing more hemoglobin in two to three days, which is why smart teams should fly in early when playing Denver.
Broncos note No. 3: While air pressure in Denver is low, natural background radiation is high. Denver residents receive, on average, 400 millirems per year of natural radiation, versus 300 millirems for sea-level Americans. Colorado residents also live longer than Americans as a whole, and suffer lower cancer rates, leading to the puzzle that mild exposure to low amounts of radiation is not harmful and may even be beneficial. Alternatively, Colorado's outdoor lifestyle might account for the state's longevity stats. Whatever the answer, Tuesday Morning Quarterback has long believed radiation is good for beauty, since the Broncos' cheerleaders consistently finish top five for TMQ Cheerleader of the Week distinction.
|One of the top squads in the NFL -- the Broncos' cheerleaders.|
Big Plus: Parking Cannot Be Outsourced To India: Parking -- not the kind you did as a teenager -- is now a $500 billion industry worldwide. That sum is larger than the United States' defense budget, and represented about 2 percent of the global GDP in 2004. This means the world now spends on parking roughly what it spends on environmental protection, and considerably more than it spends on all books and libraries combined. If parking has become a major industry, there must be a trade association for parking. And there is: the International Parking Institute. Click here for info on its educational seminars, annual conferences, awards for excellence and trade magazine, Parking Professional. Awards for parking excellence? Parking is a leading hassle of modern life -- society has an interest in encouraging well-planned and well-operated parking facilities. Click here for the story of Mark Schtul, a parking expert who was late to speak at an urban-planning conference because he couldn't find a parking space.
|Hmmm ... sports journalism is cool and all, but maybe we should have gone into parking?|
In four years of existence, the Houston Texans have won 10 home games. That is not very good. Houston has the same core problem as the Browns: namely, its players. Return man Jerome Mathis and wide receiver Andre Johnson are the sole gentlemen on the roster who have made the Pro Bowl as a Texan. Check the Houston depth chart -- it's not for the faint of heart. Offensive line woes have exemplified this team's struggles; the Texans have surrendered 229 sacks in four years. No team can give up 57 sacks per season and be a contender. Yet year after year, Houston neglects the offensive line in the offseason. Consult the depth chart for the all-important left tackle position: Listed first is Seth Wand, who did not start in 2005, and his backup is draft choice Charles Spencer, who played only one year at left tackle in college.
Moo Cows note: Title inflation has come to the NFL, and no team is more inflated than the Texans. Houston has a CEO, a chairman, a vice chairman, a president, a general manager, three senior vice presidents, six regular vice presidents, 11 directors, a controller, a coordinator, and someone with the title "risk manager." The Texans are roughly a $250 million per year business, small in corporate terms -- that's about the annual revenue of 10 Macy's department stores. But being small does not seem to prevent the Texans from needing loads of people with imperious titles. If Exxon Mobil had the same ratio of titles to sales as the Houston Texans, Exxon Mobil would boast 4,584 senior vice presidents, 9,168 vice presidents and 16,808 directors.
|There are certainly a lot of hands in the kitchen in Houston.|
Everybody talked about the Triplets of the Colts' offense, but last year it was really the Septuplets: Dallas Clark, Marvin Harrison, Edgerrin James, Peyton Manning, Jeff Saturday, Reggie Wayne and Ryan Lilja, an unknown who had a Hawaii-caliber season. Since six of those seven remain, another big offensive season should be expected.
Can the team's psyche recover from last season's playoff deflation and from the lingering sadness of the suicide of Tony Dungy's son? Like Denver, Indianapolis of late has been great in the regular season and awful in the postseason -- and the Colts' playoff record would look worse if they hadn't gotten two shots at Denver in January. In the last three years Indianapolis is 38-10 in the regular season, 2-3 in the postseason; for his coaching career, Tony Dungy is 102-58 in the regular season, 5-8 in the postseason. Perhaps James Dungy's death a few days before Christmas rendered irrelevant anything the Colts did in subsequent games. Somehow you felt the Colts' spirit was already wavering before the tragedy.
Indianapolis jumped out 13-0, then went 1-3 the remainder of the season. Once 13-0 was reached, the Colts had locked up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and Dungy told the team they would not go all-out to win the final three games. At that point, which came before James' suicide, esprit seemed to depart from the squad. Yours truly wrote at the time that in order to keep the Colts fired up, Dungy should declare a goal of a 16-0 season, publicly challenging his team to be the first to reach this mark. Instead there was a month between the last regular-season game Indianapolis played full-bore to win, a Dec. 11 victory over Jacksonville to reach 13-0, to the next time the Colts went full-bore, their Jan. 15 postseason loss to Pittsburgh. In the first half of the Pittsburgh loss, the Colts looked fuzzy and out of synch; by the second half they were red-hot and the Steelers had to hang on to prevail. You can't help but feel Dungy's decision not to go all-out to win after 13-0 cost Indianapolis its edge.
Colts note: Indiana taxpayers, you might watch your tax dollars disappear here, a webcam of the construction of the team's new stadium.
The Jaguars quietly compiled a 12-4 record in 2005, a record that would have won six of the eight divisions last season. Then Jacksonville dematerialized in the playoffs, losing 28-3 at New England to end their season. But Jacksonville's season really ended a month before, and there's a harmonic convergence here with Indianapolis' demise. Jacksonville's year really ended when the Jags played host to Indianapolis on Dec. 11. Coming into that game, the 12-0 Colts were the toast of the sports-yak universe, while Jax was determined to prove itself a true contender. Jacksonville took the opening kickoff and drove to fourth-and-1 on the Indianapolis 43 -- and punted. Jacksonville punted on fourth-and-1 in the territory of the highest-scoring team in the NFL! Scarcely dost thou even need'st be told that verily the Colts took the ball and flew down the field the other way for a touchdown. Spectators might as well have filed out at that point; as the Jax punt boomed, yours truly wrote the words "game over" in his notebook, earliest time I'd ever writ thus. Game over, though it's scoreless in the first quarter! Sooth, was true. By the start of the fourth quarter the scoreboard read: Indianapolis 23, Jacksonville 3.
In retrospect, one might as well have written "season over" as that punt boomed. Jacksonville knew victory in its final three regular-season games, but against San Francisco, Houston and Tennessee -- three cupcakes with cherries on top. Then the Jags were pasted by New England in the postseason. Look back on the Jacksonville schedule from 2005, and you'll see that early Jax beat both Seattle and Pittsburgh, the Super Bowl pair. But the Oct. 16 victory over the Steelers was the last time in 2005 that Jacksonville defeated a team that finished with a winning record. That Preposterous Punt against Indianapolis not only cost Jax a big game, it seemed to represent the coaching staff's loss of faith in their own season. Note to Jack Del Rio: Victories must be seized, they do not come in the mail.
Jacksonville has used its last two first-round picks on receiver Matt Jones and tight end Marcedes Lewis, yet still looks suspect at receiver owing to the retirement of Jimmy Smith. My 11-year-old, Spenser, a Jax fan, chants ERRNNN-est WIILLL-ford, ERRNNN-est WIILLL-ford during games, because Jacksonville is 6-1 when Ernest Wilford catches a touchdown pass. Unfortunately, K.C. Joyner's nearly omniscient stats say Wilford had the worst drop performance in 2005 of all receivers, dropping one in every five passes thrown to him.
Jacksonville note: When Smith hung up his cleats, ESPN.com said he was retiring after 11 seasons. NFL.com said after 12 seasons. Sports Illustrated said after 13 seasons. All three reports ran on the same day.
Conventional wisdom holds the Jets are two years away, since they had a terrible season in 2005, have lost 15 of their last 20 outings stretching back to 2004, and must break in Eric "I Was a Teenaged Coach" Mangini, who lacks head coaching experience. TMQ wonders about the conventional wisdom. First, Jersey/B was clobbered by injuries last season: five guys played quarterback, including the legendary Kliff Kingsbury and Vinny Testaverde, who at this point should be selling Medi-Gap policies on late-night TV. Second, Jersey/B has improved through the subtraction of two malcontents, John Abraham and Herman "I Honor My Contract When I'm In The Mood" Edwards, who quit on the team last season in a way that never would have been tolerated if Edwards was a player. Third, Jersey/B has Mangini, a product of the New England success system. Fourth, the Jets play seven games against teams that finished a combined 24-72 in 2005. Don't assume this is a lost season for Jersey/B -- though discounting expansion teams, the Jets do have the AFC's worst record since the AFL-NFL merger.
Jets note No. 1: The team's new training facility and business office will be in Florham Park, N.J., at a complex that was once the corporate headquarters of Exxon. The Jets are leaving their cantonment in Hempstead, N.Y., and that in turn means both of the NFL's supposed "New York" franchises now have no connection whatsoever to New York -- plotting, practicing and performing exclusively in New Jersey.
Jets note No. 2: During the 2005 offseason, Laveranues Coles demanded to be traded from Washington because the Redskins' offense was not designed to produce stats for him personally. At Jersey/B, Coles finished the season with 845 yards receiving; at Washington, his replacement, Santana Moss, racked up 1,483 yards. Now Coles is attempting to compile housing stats: Karen Crouse of the New York Times reported he is building a 25,000-square-foot home in Jacksonville, Fla. The mega-manse contains "a movie theater, a gymnasium with bleachers, two bowling lanes, a swimming pool, an indoor golf simulator, an outdoor kitchen and a dance floor." Outdoor kitchen? Gymnasium with bleachers? Crouse described Coles' $8 million manse as "surrounded on three sides by pine-filled woods." Note: You can't be surrounded "on three sides" -- to surround is to encircle.
Jets note No. 3: Mangini has adopted Green and Growing as the Jets' motto. Yes, Weeb Ewbank once used this phrase. So did the Milwaukee Bucks of the late 1970s. Bucks forward Marques Johnson memorably countered, "It makes us sound like some species of mold."
Superman vs. Mike Tyson Headlines Card: Computer-generated special effects increasingly render movies unrealistic and thus uninteresting -- film action was much more impressive when a stuntman or stuntwoman actually had to do the stunt. But there's something in the actually done stunt category that drives me nuts: the misrepresentation of the lowly punch. First, in the movies, a single punch often knocks someone cold. In the James Bond flick "Die Another Day," twice Bond knocks someone unconscious with a single punch. In "Mission Impossible III," Tom Cruise knocks several people unconscious on the first punch, and once knocks someone unconscious with a single head-butt. Some of this is Hollywood preposterousness, some of it star ego -- you suspect Cruise wants the scenes to suggest to audiences that he is so incredibly ultra-strong and ultra-fit, one swing of his fist will make a strong man crumple. But though a single-punch knockout is possible in real life, usually real-life fist fights go on for some time.
Worse is the Hollywood punch that sends a person flying backward across the room. You've seen Mike Tyson deliver what might be the most powerful punches in world history -- did the other boxer fly backward across the ring? In order to cause the punched person to fly backward, a punch would have to deliver considerably more force that the person's body weight. And that just don't happen.
Consider a scene in "Superman Returns." Supe is lured to Lex Luthor's crystal island which, the Man of Steel does not know, has kryptonite soil. After waiting long enough for the kryptonite to deprive Superman of his powers, Lex punches him -- and Supe flies backward about 20 feet. Ridiculous! Lex Luthor has no superpowers, he's just an evil genius. Superman has been described earlier in the film as weighing 225 pounds. For Luthor to deliver 225 pounds of force with a single arm would be the rough equivalent of bench-pressing 450 pounds with both arms, and that is the bench-press range of NFL defensive linemen. But Luthor would need to deliver a punch with many times 225 pounds of impact to make Supe fly backwards. Force is inversely proportional to the square of distance. Perhaps some incredibly scientifically advanced reader can figure this out exactly, but my guess is that to cause a 225-pound superhero to fly backward 20 feet, a punch would need to deliver several thousand pounds of force. Multiply that times two for the bench-press ability represented, and you've crossed into the realm of the laughable.
|Sorry, but Kevin Spacey just ain't that strong.|
At Kansas City they use the Cover 2: cover two receivers and ignore the rest. The Chiefs of 2005 came very close to being an elite team. They finished 10-6, joining the honor roll of 10-6 clubs that did not make the playoffs. Kansas City was first in the NFL in offense as measured by yards, first in average yards per play with a sparkling 5.8, and near the top for points scored, yards per pass attempt and first downs. The Chiefs also rushed more than they passed, appeasing the football gods. Yet awful defense held Kansas City back. The Chiefs finished 30th in pass defense, and while some of that links to opponents who were behind and threw a lot, most of the explanation is that the Kansas City defense was bad again. As noted by reader David Myszewski of Newark, Calif., the key stat was that Kansas City allowed 5.4 yards per play on defense, 28th in the league. That means it took the Chiefs' opponents an average of two snaps to attain a first down. Those kind of numbers say you can't get the other team off the field, and sure enough Kansas City forced only 69 punts in 2005, versus, say, 97 forced by Chicago.
The weak 2005 defensive showing came after an offseason during which Kansas City management had pledged a major push to get stronger on defense. Now the Chiefs have added Ty Law and Herman "I Honor My Contract When I'm In The Mood" Edwards, both with good reps for defense. But remember, both Bill Belichick and his protégé Eric Mangini didn't want to keep Law around, and this pair has fairly good instincts. Law in April: "I've made five Pro Bowls. I should have made nine, because I feel I got ripped off for four others." Any NFL player who considers himself the victim of injustice because he's only gotten five Pro Bowl garlands has serious me-first issues. Last year with the Jets, Law played for interceptions too often, more concerned with his numbers and free-agency bonus potential than with the Jets' chances of winning.
Who else with the Jets last year was more concerned with himself and his contract than with the Jets? Hey, Herman Edwards! By quitting on the team in midseason and becoming a malcontent in order to force Jersey/B to release him from his obligation, Edwards showed serious me-first issues. Keep this in mind, Kansas City: When you hire someone who's only in it for himself, you get someone who's only in it for himself.
Fantasy players have been falling all over themselves to draft stats machine Larry Johnson, a joy to watch in the open field. But the core of the Chiefs for the last several years has been the NFL's best offensive line. Watch tape of these guys -- they block so effectively it often looks like a walk through session, in which defenders are supposed to step out of the way. Let's give credit where credit is due and name the Chiefs' blockers of 2005: Jordan Black, Willie Roaf, Will Shields, Brian Waters, John Welbourn and Casey Wiegmann. If Roaf really has taped up his ankles for the final time, we say goodbye to one of the best. And remember: Roaf and Wiegmann were shown the door by previous employers who didn't want them, while Waters went undrafted.
Copy Desk Debate Roils New York Times: Does a Naked Dominatrix "Wiggle" Or "Wriggle?" Tuesday Morning Quarterback has done not one but two previous items on the sense of civic obligation that moves the august New York Times (that's the august newspaper, not an August edition) to devote space to the vital public-policy issue of the breasts of Las Vegas showgirls. In 2001, the Times ran a Page 1 article on the fact that the traditional feather-boas-and-headdress Vegas topless showgirl was being supplanted by modern, friskier types who gyrate naked, while the traditional elaborately choregraphed Vegas showgirl stage extravaganza has given way to edgy revues featuring woman-on-woman erotica. The Times allowed that dancing naked is better for a showgirl's health -- no backaches caused by a heavy headdress! -- and even rolled out a professor described as an "expert" in strip-show culture. Then, in 2004, the Multicolored Lady delivered a Page 1 article on the vital public-policy implications of nude dancers moving from South Florida, long an exotic dance haven, to Vegas, where tips are better.
Now this Sunday, the New York Times offered a section-lead feature by Erika Kinetz on Jubilee, the last traditional Vegas showgirl production that features beautiful dancers in headdresses performing Busby Berkeley numbers with sets and props. This tradition-honoring review promises "50 stunning topless women" -- only slightly more than in TMQ's standard fantasy. Bear in mind that 50 women dancing topless now seems "traditional." Inevitably this means that at some point Las Vegas reviews comprised of naked women simulating girl-girl sex will be considered "traditional." What, then, will be edgy?
Here's the best quote from Sunday's Times story: The woman who manages the "Jubilee" show told Kinetz audiences "get more value" when showgirls are topless. TMQ is in favor of value! Here's a fun Web game. Want to find the 2001 New York Times showgirls story? Type the search terms "nude," "Las Vegas" and "feather boas" into the Times search engine. Want to find the 2004 story? Type in "dominatrix" and "wiggle naked." Want to find Sunday's story? Enter "topless," "stripper" and "Pussycat Doll Lounge."
|Yeah, that costume looks a little heavy ...|
The Marine Mammals seemed strong by the end of 2005, and if they play strong in 2006 they will prove to be an exception to the rule that football-factory college coaches don't transition well into the NFL. Nick Saban seemed to know what he was doing with the team, though he struggled with the personal-comportment part of the college-to-pro adjustment. Coaches at football-factory colleges are little gods worshipped everywhere they walk, while the knives are always out for NFL coaches. Early in his first Dolphins season Saban had several "how dare they criticize me" moments, but by December he seemed to understand that criticism comes with the territory. The question mark is whether Miami's strong finish last year is deceptive. The Dolphins won their final six games, but only one victory (against San Diego) came against a quality team. The other wins were against Oakland, Buffalo, Jersey/B (i.e., the Jets), Tennessee and a New England team resting starters after locking its playoff seeding.
Saban has added Dom Capers and Mike Mularkey as assistants; both were head coaches last year, so Miami now boasts one of the league's most qualified staffs. Capers is likely to replace Miami's conservative, position-oriented defensive philosophy with the zone-blitz scheme perfected by Pittsburgh. How will Mularkey, the league's most conservative play caller, mesh with Daunte Culpepper? KC Joyner's nearly omniscient stats show that in Buffalo last year Mularkey called the fewest deep passes of any NFL coach, with Bills quarterbacks throwing more than 10 yards downfield only 6.4 times per game and more than 20 yards downfield only 2.9 times per game. (Small wonder Buffalo had the worst offensive performance in its history in 2005.) Culpepper's forte is the deep heave-ho. If Mularkey endlessly calls 5-yard outs, the Dolphins' offensive may sputter and Culpepper could become unhappy.
As Culpepper was heading from Minnesota to Miami, front office dude Rick Spielman crossed him going in the opposite direction. Bottom line on the cycle of trades Spielman initiated in 2004 for the Marine Mammals? Miami gave a second-round draft choice and Adewale Ogunleye, a young Pro Bowl-caliber player, for journeyman Marty Booker and Cleo Lemon, who has never played a down. (The third-round choice Miami obtained in the Ogunleye deal is canceled out by the third-rounder the Dolphins traded for Lamar Gordon, already waived.) This raises the question of how Miami looks good going into this season when its recent trading and drafting has been suspect. In the last dozen years, the Dolphins have blown first-round picks on Billy Milner, Yatil Green, John Avery and Jamar Fletcher, while surrendering two first-round choices for the exiled-to-Canada Ricky Williams. You must go back to 1992 and Troy Vincent for a Miami first-round pick who was an unqualified success.
Three Super Bowl rings and a divisional appearance in the last five years, despite a never-ending procession of who-dats and low-drafted rookies in key positions. The world wonders what Belichick's secret is. Maybe it's this: New England just never has a play where someone is standing around doing nothing. Everybody watches the ball area in game tape. Watch NFL film away from the ball, and you'll be astounded how often there is at least one player who stands like a piece of topiary doing nothing. Offensive linemen are the worst offenders -- it's simply stunning how often these gentlemen, professionals and millionaires all, simply push the person in front of them once, then stand there watching the play unfold. But receivers, defensive linemen and lots of others are guilty of taking plays off, usually when they think the action is moving away from them. (Emphasis on they think.) I don't have stats to back this, but I suspect there is a direct relationship between winning in the NFL and 11 guys always working. Losing teams are more likely to have players who shove someone once, then stand around watching; winning teams don't tolerate this. Review Flying Elvii film from any Belichick game. You just never see a guy standing there doing nothing. Look at Bills, Cards, Lions, Raiders, Rams film -- there's so much standing around you wonder where the barista is. Belichick has impressed on his charges the high school maxim "play to the whistle," and this might be an unnoticed secret of his success.
Or maybe it's the Pats' incredible luck with not being sent on West Coast trips. Some analysts maintain that East Coast and West Coast teams flying to the opposite coast do about the same in opposite-coast games as they do in road dates overall. Nonetheless, players hate to fly opposite-coast, and such trips must have a wearying effect as the season progresses. Which team made the fewest three-time-zone trips in the last dozen years? The New England Patriots, who've been assigned just five in all that time. Surely this is a factor in their dynasty. Who's made the most opposite-coast trips in the same period? The Arizona Cardinals, with 46 three-time-zone journeys. Surely this is a factor in the Cactus Wrens' losing ways.
Last season New England quietly finished 31st in passing defense -- the first year during their winning run in which the Patriots have simply failed in any major aspect of the game. Yet New England won seven of its final nine, discounting the regular-season finale in which it rested its starters, and for the most part the Pats outplayed Denver in their playoff loss, Tom Brady's only bad game in memory. The Patriots remain one of the teams to beat.
Pats note No. 1: In last year's regular-season finale, understudy quarterback Matt Cassel threw two touchdown passes -- two more than he had thrown in the previous six years. Cassel never actually played in college; he backed up Carson Palmer and then Matt Leinart at USC. Before that, Cassel's most recent touchdown pass came in 1999, at Chatsworth High School in California. Yet he enters this season as the stand-in to Tom Brady. And this being New England, something tells you that if Cassel has to play, he'll look like a polished veteran.
Pats note No. 2: New England has two recent first-round draft choices at tight end, yet chose tight ends in the third and fourth rounds.
Last season this team was picked by many touts to go deep into the playoffs but instead finished 4-12, honking seven of its final eight. The Raiders were 21st in offense, 29th in defense; basically they did nothing well. And the idea that opponents are intimidated about having to play at the Coliseum -- which never made all that much sense; are opponents supposed to be afraid because Raider Nation guys in the crowd are wearing tinfoil? -- surely had no bearing in 2005. When the Broncos punched out the Long Johns 22-3 in Oakland, all pretense of Raiders mystique was finished.
Al Davis' arrow is up right now because everyone respects what he did to help prevent an owners-union meltdown in March. Otherwise, his meddling seems to link to the Raiders' decline. Since Tom Flores left in 1987, the Raiders have suffered constant coaching turmoil. First Davis fired Mike Shanahan, who seems to have turned out all right. Then Art Shell was shown the door despite a winning record and an AFC championship appearance. Then Mike White and Joe Bugel were cashiered after just two seasons and one season, respectively. Jon Gruden was a success, but he was so anxious to get out from under Davis that he engineered his own trade to Tampa. Then Bill Callahan and Norv Turner got quick hooks. Now Shell is back, after Davis practically needed to hire a headhunter to find anyone willing to accept the post. Ay caramba.
This year the Raiders passed on California golden boy Matt Leinart in the draft in order to hand the quarterback position to free-agent signee Aaron Brooks. Brooks had five full years as a starter in New Orleans, a much better shot than most struggling quarterbacks get, and Saints management even traded away Jake Delhomme so Brooks wouldn't feel threatened. Why should Brooks suddenly become a better player with the Raiders? Two untested backups wait behind Brooks. Expect at least one of them to be tested.
Raiders' note No 1: Randy Moss' cap number for 2007 will be about $12 million, 11 percent of the $109 million salary cap next year. Unless Moss has a great season in 2006, the Raiders are unlikely to devote that much of their cap to a player who isn't a quarterback. And if Moss doesn't have a great season, he may draw only lukewarm interest if Oakland waives him next winter for cap reasons. The mighty haven't exactly fallen in Moss' case, but he's teetering.
Raiders' note No. 2: Many readers have pointed out that TMQ was wrong to laud the Patriots for having the NFL's first Chinese-language official Web site. Oakland was first -- here is the Raiders' Chinese-language site. Plus the Raiders' front office has two women whose portfolio is "multicultural initiatives."
Pittsburgh, which won four consecutive non-home playoff games to take the Super Bowl, also has the NFL's best road record in the last decade at 44-36 -- an indicator of NFL home-field dominance. Twenty-five of 32 NFL teams have losing road records over the last decade. The Steelers' ability to win away from home not only stands out in the stats but also was essential to Pittsburgh's Super Bowl championship.
Usually this column has the least to say in the preseason about the defending champion, and Pittsburgh of 2006 is no exception. Obviously the Steelers are a terrific team. They don't have any clear fault, though their weakside linebackers are sometimes slow to redirect the tight end on second-and-long drag routes. Sorry -- that was an attempt to sound like I know what I'm talking about.
Pittsburgh note No. 1: The Steelers have had just two coaches in the past 37 years: Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher. That's unprecedented stability by the standards of NFL coach-a-rama.
Pittsburgh note No. 2: The Steelers train at Saint Vincent College, where the football program has a 249-word mission statement. Saint Vincent College is located in Latrobe, Pa. -- which until a few weeks ago was home of the brewery for renowned Rolling Rock beer. Anheuser-Busch just purchased the Rolling Rock brand and shifted production to the company's sprawling Budweiser brewery in Newark, N.J.
Pittsburgh note No. 3: Ben Roethlisberger is 27-4 as a starter in the NFL, his four losses to teams that made the playoffs that season. Stretching back to college, Roethlisberger is on a 40-4 run. Um, that's adequate.
|Latrobe will miss Rolling Rock.|
Disclaimer Watch: Try ordering the hip America's Best Colleges Guidebook from U.S. News. Before the magazine will allow you to complete this $10.95 purchase, you must click "accept" to a 2,912-word disclaimer. Among other things the disclaimer cautions, "U.S. News does not warrant or make any representations regarding the use or the results of the use of the materials at the Web site in terms of their correctness, accuracy, timeliness, reliability or otherwise."
|Who reads disclaimers, right? Maybe we should.|
The Chargers finished seventh in attendance in 2005, a stout achievement for one of the NFL's few franchises that often has seats for sale on game day. The last two years have been excellent at the turnstile, and a principal reason was the strong quarterback play of Drew Brees. Yet in the offseason, Bolts management unceremoniously showed Brees the door, making a bummer 2006 a strong possibility. Even if Philip Rivers becomes a solid quarterback, the odds are against him playing well in his first season.
What happened to Brees (and, by extension, to San Diego fans)? Bureaucratic politics. Brees was drafted in 2001 by the late San Diego general manager John Butler. When Butler died in 2003, Brees lost his management-suite champion. A.J. Smith took over the front office and used the first pick of the next draft on Eli Manning, who was traded for Rivers (the fourth pick). In doing so, Smith effectively declared the previous management's guy a failure and his guy the solution. But Brees trained like mad during the 2004 offseason while Rivers held out; Brees won the starting job, led the Chargers to the playoffs and made the Pro Bowl. Most general managers would be happy if their team reached the playoffs and their quarterback got a free ticket to Honolulu. Not Smith, who reportedly fumed that the Not Invented Here guy became the star while his own choice ran the scout team.
In 2005, San Diego was bitterly disappointed to miss the playoffs, though the Chargers had a rough schedule, finished with a winning record and Brees played only one bad game: the Christmas Eve wheeze-out at Kansas City, during which everybody on the Chargers' roster performed poorly. Brees capped the season by getting hurt in a meaningless finale. Smith seized on the injury as the pretext to send Brees packing, making no bona fide effort to re-sign him, nor tagging Brees to insure San Diego could match any offer. Sports pundits evinced bafflement that Smith would behave as if he were eager to let a young Pro Bowl quarterback go. Yet Smith was eager to do exactly that -- he wanted Brees off the team in the worst way. Sure, the San Diego general manager would have liked draft choices in return. But Smith did not wish to take any chance, via a bona fide contract offer or by tagging, that Brees would don powder blue in 2006.
Brees gone, Marty Schottenheimer turns to Rivers. If the Bolts falter, Smith will blame Schottenheimer for playing Brees in the meaningless 2005 finale and exposing him to injury. If Rivers succeeds, Smith will crow that it was his personal super-brilliant genius that put the right guy at quarterback. Wait -- Smith is already crowing this. "Smith has been masterful on draft day," the Chargers' Web site declares, citing Smith's deal to acquire Rivers. Don't you get the feeling Smith wrote this sentence about himself? If the goal of the San Diego front office was to win the maximum number of games in 2006, giving the boot to Brees was crazy. If the goal of the front office was to indulge Smith, everything that happened makes perfect sense.
Bolts note: The misnamed Charger Girls -- they're women -- are pressing for a place among the league's elite. Auditions for this year's squad were held at the Jenny Craig Pavilion at the University of San Diego. For sheer allure, it's hard to top Chargers cheerleader Casie.
|Casie's surely captured a few hearts in her day.|
This is Year 3 of the Tennessee cap crash. The Flaming Thumbtacks made the Super Bowl after the 1999 season, missed victory by a yard, and seemed poised for more Lombardi Trophy tries. Indeed, the Titans reached the playoffs three of the next four seasons. But a deal was made with the devil -- Tennessee management awarded bonus money like crazy to keep the core players of the Super Bowl run together. It made sense; Tennessee had a Super Bowl-quality roster, why not keep the group intact as long as possible? Inevitably the cap crash came. For three consecutive offseasons it was waivers-city as the Titans let go numerous stars to clear their salary cap, and loss after loss ensued. Now the team the Titans will field in 2006 has nothing to do with the Super Bowl group, other than its high school-inspired uniforms. Take a look-see at Tennessee's depth chart and try to guess which is the sole gent who started for the Titans their Super Bowl season. Hint: it's Brad Hopkins.
Finally the club's finances are back in order. This offseason the Flaming Thumbtacks were able to open the checkbook and sign quality players such as David Givens and David Thornton, whom TMQ views as one of the NFL's least-noted performers. (As a matter of policy this column does not use the word "underrated.") Jerome Solomon of the Boston Globe has pointed out that the $8 million ex-Patriot Givens will earn this season at Tennessee is double the total New England paid to its entire receiving corps in 2005. It's been a while since the Titans could be described as big spenders.
Tuesday Morning Quarterback continues to admire coach Jeff Fisher. First, his 13-year tenure, second-longest in the NFL (behind Cowher), is remarkable in an age when coaches are viewed as corporate day laborers. Second, Tennessee is widely viewed as one of the best places in the league for a coach or player to land, partly owing to the normalcy Fisher projects on the team's operations. Normalcy is weird in modern pro football. Finally through the last two years of cap-induced losses -- 9-23 following five seasons in the limelight -- Fisher hasn't panicked, cried, thrown a tantrum or issued a list of nonnegotiable demands. Not panicking is also weird in modern pro football.
Reader Animadversion: Got a complaint or a deeply held grievance? Write me at TMQ_ESPN@yahoo.com. Include your real name and the name of your hometown, and I may quote you by name unless you instruct me otherwise. Note: giving your hometown improves your odds of being quoted.
Next Week: Tuesday Morning Quarterback considers basketball roughly 1 percent as interesting as football. So next week's column will devote 1 percent of my annual space to basketball issues. Plus some football stuff -- you can squeeze a lot into 9,000 words.
In addition to writing Tuesday Morning Quarterback, Gregg Easterbrook is the author of "The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse," and other books. He is also a contributing editor for The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly and The Washington Monthly, and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. Sound off to Page 2 here or Gregg here.