Morning After: Dungy's defense
It might not be on the level of his old units in Tampa Bay, but Tony Dungy has the Colts playing some serious defense.
Uh-uh, we're not going to be the one. Not this boy. Find yourself another sucker.
Sure, watching the defense that Tony Dungy coaches now during Sunday night's romp, we couldn't help but think about how the Indianapolis Colts' inspired unit resembles the defense that Dungy used to coach, once upon a time. But we've seen people toss chum into the water at the Tampa Bay Bucs defense and seen the ravenous manner in which they responded.
How do you ignore a guy, Peyton Manning, who threw six TD passes and rung up a perfect passer rating? Tough to do, we agree, but Manning will get a lot more chances to wind up in this spot than will Gus Frerotte. The journeyman completed 16 of 21 passes for 267 yards, four TDs and, most amazingly, no interceptions, in keeping the Minnesota Vikings undefeated. Frerotte is no fool. He kept throwing deep to Randy Moss, who had three touchdowns and 172 receiving yards. Hey, maybe Terrell Owens can suggest to San Francisco ownership that it trade for Gus, huh?
Comments elicited from one AFC advance scout and an AFC pro personnel director:
|Heard in the pressbox|
So we'll just say this: Thanks, boss, for scheduling the Colts-Bucs game of next Monday night as part of our coverage, and for assigning yours truly to attend.
It figures to be, for Dungy, an emotional return to Raymond James Stadium. And if he lines up his defense in front of a mirror in the visitor's locker room, Dungy might discover it looks a lot like the unit in the locker room he used to work: Quick and athletic in the front seven; an opportunistic secondary that plays better in sum than the skills of its individual components; 11 guys who just want to run to the ball. But no way, not in a million years, are we going to hint that the nascent Colts defense, dramatically improved now that the players are reacting in the scheme and not having to think about things so much, looks much like the Tampa Bay defense did a few years ago.
But give Dungy credit for really knowing his stuff on the defensive side of the ball. For all the attention paid Dungy and his allegedly laid-back/low-key demeanor, there is a simmering fire inside the man, or else he couldn't fashion defenses the way he has in several league precincts. Defense is, after all, about emotion. About wanting to chase someone to the sideline. And, yeah, the Colts chased the New Orleans Sinners all over the Blooperdome -- and, nearly out of it, in fact, on Sunday evening -- but, uh, we're not going to say they looked like some upstart version of the Bucs, all right?
That was a tremendous graphic the ESPN research folks tossed up on the screen, though, in the fourth quarter. It showed that, of all the coaches who have entered the league since 1970, Dungy's defenses have surrendered the fewest points on average. Dungy's teams, through Sunday's dismantling, have allowed just a piddling 17.2 points per game. That's 116 games and 1,995 points, just 47 this season, or only six more than Indianapolis coughed up in that gawdawful 41-0 playoff loss to the New York Jets that concluded the Colts' 2002 season with a sickening thud.
The big problem for Dungy has been that, on offense, his teams didn't average a whole lot more points than his defenses allowed. The average, for curious minds, is 19.7 points. Or less than a field goal per game more than the Dungy defenses allowed. Of course, the Colts have outscored four opponents in 2003 by an average of 18.3 points per outing.
Used to be people wondered how Dungy would react if he ever got an NFL caliber offense. It seems they don't need to wonder any longer. After less than two full seasons on the job, it appears Dungy has a big-time defense again, as well. But did someone say that defense looks eerily like the Tampa Bay defense did before it went from scintillating to downright suffocating. Nope. Not us.
No offense intended there, Chris. OK? But if you can't get on the field and do any better than rookie Kyle Boller, well, what other inference can possibly be drawn? So maybe Boller, a first-round pick for whom the Ravens sacrificed a second-rounder in '03 and their No. 1 choice in '04, will grow into the job. Head coach Brian Billick, who seems to be simply sacrificing this season for the sake of the future, had better hope he does.
So how bad is Boller? Really, really bad. Sure, that's what you expect from a rookie, but Billick didn't have to force-feed Boller this season. He could have played Redman, actually lined up in a few NFL-level formations (rather than the conservative sets required to keep Boller in some comfort zone), and perhaps challenged for a title in the diluted AFC North this year. But it looks like the Ravens and their head coach have decided to settle, for once and for all, the game of quarterback musical chairs they have been playing. When Boller gets into something even vaguely resembling a rhythm, wake us up, because we grew comatose watching him and the Baltimore offense on Sunday afternoon.
The rookie has completed all of 56 passes in four games. In the Ravens' two victories, he totaled 19 completions, and pretty much resembled a human tee. You know, put the ball on a flat surface, let tailback Jamal Lewis grab it on the way by, get the heck out of the way. A mannequin could fill the job description.
Then again, the way Boller played on Sunday, one already holds down the spot. At the quarter-pole of his rookie campaign, Boller's completion percentage was just about where it stood for three of his four seasons at the University of California. Which is to say, folks, under 50 percent. C'mon, can Redman really be worse than that? Then again, Boller isn't solely culpable for this mess, since he's not the guy designing formations and calling plays. He's just the one executing them. And poorly. In its current state, the Baltimore offense is strictly primer stuff, nothing more. You know: See Jamal run. And run, and run, and run.
In part because of Boller's callowness, and a dearth of pass-catchers, the Ravens rarely even have two wide receivers on the field. By unofficial count, the team used the standard two wideouts on only about 55 percent of its snaps Sunday afternoon. Most times, the Ravens line up with two tight ends, two backs, one wide receiver. Three wide receivers on the field? What are you, man, some kind of radical! Baltimore's best receiver, Todd Heap, is a tight end. On third down, defenses just bracket him, because no one else is apt to hurt them. The best wide receiver, Travis Taylor, is mediocre, nothing more. It is rudimentary football, so Neanderthal that Billick doesn't want to hear anymore talk about being an offensive guru, and for good reason.
A year from now, maybe we'll be praising the wisdom of the Ravens, for getting Boller a formative season under his belt. For now, Billick's immense ego isn't nearly enough to will the kid to excellence. And if you're Redman, either your confidence is shot, or you've got to be on the sideline and thinking: "I lost the starting job to this guy."
A football caper
Lots of backbone demonstrated Sunday by Houston coach Dom Capers, who with the ball six inches from the goal line and trailing by a field goal, opted to eschew a tying field goal and run a quarterback sneak for the win. David Carr barely nudged the ball over the plane of the goal before having it knocked away.
But this rhetorical query: If Capers wasn't the coach of a second-year expansion team, and still on a honeymoon of sorts, how much testosterone would have been coursing through his veins? That's not to knock Capers or his decision. It was a great call and he is to be congratulated. In 1995, when he was the head coach in the first season of the Carolina expansion franchise, he displayed some of the same daring. In their first-ever game, the Panthers scored late, to pull to within one point of the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome. Capers kept his offense on the field, to attempt a two-point conversion, for the win. Alas, an offensive lineman jumped, and was flagged for a false start. Backed up five yards, Capers sent out the kicking team, and sent the contest into overtime with the extra point. The Panthers lost to the Falcons in the extra session.
This moral, about morale, kind of: When you're the head coach of an expansion team, at least in the first couple years when the ticket patrons are still enamored by the novelty, you can coach a little bit different. Just ask Dom Capers.
Heart of the problem in S.F.
Question the play calling. Wonder about the game plan. Announce to the world that the coach has halitosis and you don't like the choice of quarterback Jeff Garcia's tie. Anything! But don't question the collective heart of a team. At least not publicly. That is a personal affront to the manhood of every player in the San Francisco locker room. Which is, it says here, a location that Owens will only have to tolerate for another three months.
Owens owns outrageous skills and an outrageous ego to match. Some team, apparently one whose owners are currently in a cave and don't know about the problems that San Diego is experiencing with its own wide receiver malcontent David Boston, will reward him with an outrageous contract next spring. Make a wager, faithful readers, it won't be the 49ers. Oh, yeah, memo to Niners coach Dennis Erickson: That baloney about keeping the elements of the West Coast offense but throwing the ball upfield more? Forget it, man, it's not working. So far, the 49ers have just one pass completion of more than 30 yards.
Losing ground in Buffalo
We're getting close to expunging from our memory any allusions made after the first two games of this campaign that relate to statements suggesting the Buffalo Bills are much improved versus the run. In the past two games, both defeats, the Bills defense has surrendered 343 rushing yards.
Adding to the misery, the Bills, playing without tailback Travis Henry, have eked out a measly 62 rushing yards of their own. Think things were bad last Sunday night, when the Bills were outrushed 166-41 by Ricky Williams and the Miami Dolphins? It got worse Sunday, with a rushing game deficit of 156 yards, as the Philadelphia Eagles pounded the Buffalo front for 177 yards. Good of Eagles coach Andy Reid to allow Correll Buckhalter and Brian Westbrook off the bench instead of sticking with Duce Staley.
Drew Bledsoe threw for 296 yards and didn't toss an interception and the Bills still got shellacked. They've got to run the ball and stop the run. And soon. Or else all those rumors this summer about how coach Gregg Williams could be replaced if Buffalo doesn't earn a playoff berth will be resurrected. Speaking of coaches felt to be in trouble, geez, Dave Wannstedt is looking pretty good again in Miami, after two wins and a productive bye week, isn't he?
The little-used Boiman began the demise of the Steelers, sacking quarterback Tommy Maddox for a safety, the Titans' opening points of the game. Then he sealed the win by intercepting Maddox in the fourth quarter and returning the "pick" 60 yards for a touchdown. A wacky win for Tennessee, which got just 11 yards from tailback Eddie George, but a win that continues the team's dominance over Bill Cowher and his 'burghers.
You win on a day when the league's leading pass catcher, Derrick Mason, snares one ball for four yards, you're livin' right. As for throwing it right, well, the wonderful Steve McNair had more touchdown passes on Sunday (three) than he had incompletions (one).
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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