Authored by Jeff Risdon - 21st September, 2009 - 1:18 pm
The second week of the NFL season often helps us ascertain what results from Week 1 were prophetic indicators for the season and which were just ?any given Sunday? flukes. With two weeks now in the ledger, the books on teams are a lot easier to read.
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$.01--In a game that almost nobody that cannot smell the Pacific Ocean got to watch, the San Francisco 49ers seized control of the NFC West by beating up Seattle. That makes the Niners 2-0 and firmly in charge. Frank Gore looked spry, the defense once again dictated action, and Shaun Hill just keeps on not losing games. They?re not particularly fun to watch and they?re not a great team, but San Francisco is good enough to cause trouble to anyone and smart enough to make the opponent beat them and not beat themselves. Their strong start completely blunts any leverage Michael Crabtree might have had in his prolonged rookie holdout, which should bring a warm smile to the face of everyone that isn?t his agent. If they can pull off the win at Minnesota next week, the Niners stand a very good chance of hitting their bye week at 5-0, and their style of play leaves a second-half collapse (a la the ?08 Redskins and Bills or ?07 Lions) highly improbable. Of course their lack of star power and depth also make them highly vulnerable, but they just might finally be onto something in San Francisco.
$.02--The only final from Week 2 that really surprised me was the Texans beating the Titans in Tennessee. It?s not just the road win, but the final score that really strikes my fancy. The Titans are a team that is built to cling to early leads and pound the opponent into submission, on both sides of the ball. With an early 21-7 lead and Chris Johnson playing straight out of Madden, everything shaped up perfectly for Tennessee. The Texans deserve a great deal of credit for not letting their season go down with the Nashville flood waters. This is the biggest victory in team history, a gut-check comeback win on the road against a division rival--and one that used to call Houston home to boot. Now the Texans find themselves in no worse than 2nd place in the competitive AFC South (the Colts play Monday night), while the Titans are winless and suddenly in serious jeopardy of being major disappointments; three of their next 4 are on the road, and the home game is Indy. As I wrote in my season preview, I?ve picked the Titans to finish 6-10 three years in a row only to see them progress from 8 wins to 10 to 13. So this year I changed up and predicted a 10-6 finish, and now it sure looks like I should have stuck to my 6-10 guns. Que sera sera!
$.03--The most surprising 2-0 team is without question the Denver Broncos. Say what you will about their offseason from hell, most of it self-imposed, but the Denver defense has allowed just one touchdown in the first eight quarters. Granted the level of competition hasn?t been great, but nobody outside of Antelope Valley would be surprised if Josh McDaniels? team was 0-2 after facing the Ohio players. Instead they find themselves alone atop a winnable division while the Chargers reel from the loss of Jamal Williams and the worst red zone offense in recent memory. In the battle of ex-Pat rebuild jobs, the Broncos are clearly head and shoulders ahead of the Chiefs, who just watched their ?franchise? QB get thoroughly outplayed by his oft-injured backup over the first two weeks. Meanwhile Kyle Orton just keeps winning, often in spite of himself--but they still count. You think Brady Quinn wouldn?t take a win (or a 1st down) right about now...
$.04--Highlight of the week: Ray Lewis finishing off the Chargers by smothering Darren Sproles instantaneously on 4th down to end the game. Ray still has it, and the Ravens still need it. It?s too bad too many people get tripped up in his decade-old off-field antics and his outwardly intense persona, because watching Ray Lewis play linebacker is a genuine treat that we all should cherish. He is a unique Hall of Fame talent, unquestionably the best linebacker of the last 20 years. In a time where Derrick Brooks, Brian Urlacher, and Junior Seau--the other prime candidates--all visibly fell off towards the end, Ray still has game-changing impact well into his mid 30s.
$.05--College time! Longtime readers know I defend (sort of) the BCS more adamantly than most, but I?ve finally been presented a compelling argument against it: the reliance on conferences. If the past couple of seasons have taught us anything, it?s that conference affiliation means about as much as skin color matters to a hungry shark. It?s all about individual teams, and this weekend proved a perfect example. ACC member Florida State embarrassed #7 BYU, the team that beat up Oklahoma. Miami is undefeated and looking great, while Virginia Tech punched out Big 12 Nebraska. That must mean the ACC is real good right? No, it just has some good teams. Fellow ACC member Virginia might be the worst team in the country (sorry Hoos fans!), and Duke and Maryland aren?t much better.
Or look at a team like Toledo, a MAC school that played a somewhat competitive game with Purdue, and then dominated Big 12?s Colorado before getting annihilated by Ohio State. Does that mean the Big 10 is therefore greater than the Big 12? No, it means Ohio State and Purdue are better than Colorado, nothing more. How on earth can you tell if Texas is better than Penn State because Missouri beat Illinois? It?s like saying, ?My dad can beat up your dad, therefore my mom is prettier? on the 4th grade playground.
I wish all the talking heads would stop trying to evaluate the power of a team based on its conference affiliation, because it is truly becoming more and more about individual teams every season. And that?s bad news for the BCS, because as conferences matter less, it?s not unrealistic that 4 of the best 8 teams in the country are all in the SEC and it?s patently unfair to exclude two of them just because of geography.
$.06--Sticking with the college game, in this spot last week I raised my flag against Jim Tressel at Ohio State for his overly conservative game plans hurting his team. My friend Jim Ingraham of the Lorain Morning Journal had an excellent line, ?It?s like asking Frank Sinatra to sing from the catalog of the Red Hot Chili Peppers?. Isn?t it also about time that Pete Carroll starts getting some flak for his consistent failures at USC?
Were you really surprised that the mighty Trojans laid yet another egg in a game that should have been a laugher? All those tremendous recruiting classes--part of their pitch is that their second team could make a BCS Bowl--and yet every season they get upended by a lowly conference rival. Most national wonks won?t say it, but I?ll verbalize exactly what they?re all thinking: Pete Carroll is a master recruiter but he?s just not a very good coach. I?ve talked with several NFL personnel people who all echo the sentiment that USC players fail to develop much in college in terms of becoming better football players, and that many of them need significant work on NFL-type skills. They are the poster children for proving that good football players beat great athletes playing football, and the Trojan coaching staff has not done a very good job of turning those great athletes into better football players.
$.07--By now I?m sure you?ve heard that this Brett Favre guy has an amazing streak of consecutive starts, but there?s another streak that?s just as impressive that I bet you haven?t heard. Chester Pitts of the Houston Texans has played in every single game in team history, a string that goes back to 2002. Not impressed at just seven seasons and change? How about this: Pitts has played all but eight offensive snaps in team history. That?s right, Pitts has played every snap of every season for over seven years, save eight plays. He?s not an elite player and was not good at all as a left tackle early in his career, but Pitts is a good player with amazing durability at a very physically trying position. For a franchise that has burned through players like Seth Rogan drops f-bombs in his movies, Pitts is a real tribute to the power of hard work and stability. Loved the ads he did with Ephraim Salaam too.
$.08: Non-football thought of the week--I?ve never been much of a boxing fan, but I used to follow it with some casual interest. Not anymore. Apparently there was a major title fight over the weekend, but I only know this because I live in Grand Rapids, hometown of Floyd Mayweather. There is little build-up by any media anymore, and unless you?ve been a die-hard boxing aficionado for years you probably have never seen either guy fight. Boxing has killed itself by transforming into a strict pay-per-view sport. You can?t even see highlights of the fights on Sports Center, just still photos. There used to be fights on at least a couple times a week, and even though I didn?t really follow the sport I still would find myself watching every so often. Now there?s never legitimate boxing on free TV. That?s not how you accrue new fans, it?s how you alienate potential ones. The NFL would be very wise to keep that in mind as they are clearly moving towards more pay-per revenue streams.
$.09--19 in a row and counting. That?s the losing streak in Detroit, which has just one win since Veteran?s Day 2007. The question here in Lions country is, ?when will the losing streak end?? A look at the schedule says this week is the best chance, as Washington comes to town. The Skins are about as unimpressive as any team with a win, needing some late-game heroics to beat the lowly Rams a week after slogging to an ugly loss against the Giants. The Lions weren?t all that bad against the Vikings on Sunday, actually holding a lead well into the 2nd quarter and running the ball with surprising acumen. Once the Vikings eased the suicide watch on their radio broadcast team and took over, the Lions still kept fighting to the end against a clearly superior opponent. They can build on that and the early success versus the Vikings, and I think this is the week the agony ends. Okay, the agony will likely persist for my fellow Lions fans, but at least the record-threatening losing streak should finally end.
$.10: Scouting Report--
Brandon Graham, DE, Michigan. 6?0.5?, 268, 4.75ish 40
Positives: Thickly built but naturally strong and athletic; excellent use of his hands and upper body strength to shed blocks; hard hitter, really brings some thump to the table; dogged in run pursuit, can chase down plays across and deep down the field; has some burst off the edge; finishes his tackles and uses sound fundamentals; keeps his feet moving when engaged; great motor; solid football instincts and IQ. Has enough beefy strength and leverage to play tackle in 4-man nickel packages. Has shown consistent improvement from year to year and takes his progress seriously.
Negatives: Short and short-armed for the position; lacks great initial speed but gets faster the longer he runs; doesn?t anticipate the snap well, can be slow to get off; can be too quick to give up on the pass rush and float back into coverage for some schemes, though that is an asset for others (think BAL/NYJ). Has shown he can get wrapped up in the individual battle against a tackle and miss opportunities inside.
Comparison: The most obvious way to rate Graham is to compare him to Lamarr Woodley, who played the same position at Michigan before moving to 3-4 rush LB for the Steelers. Graham will not make a similar move. He has all the tools to make a very good 3-4 LDE but also has great potential as a 4-3 LDE to anchor against the run but still provide good pass rush. 1st rounder, perhaps as high as the 5-10 range if he continues to shine as he has early in his senior season. Low risk pick.
Catch me every Monday at 5:05 ET, 2:05 PT with Papa Joe Chevalier at papajoetalk.com