Authored by Jeff Risdon - 7th November, 2011 - 12:11 pm
$.01-- Normally, I like to lead with the most compelling game on Sunday, but this story coming out of Happy Valley is too weighty not to discuss. It's too disturbing and important to push under the rug, even though that is precisely the direction the Penn State authorities chose.
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If you haven't heard by now, legendary former Penn State Defensive Coordinator Jerry Sandusky has been charged with numerous counts of some very serious child molestation crimes. If the allegations are true, Sandusky is a very sick monster that deserves more punishment than can possibly be dealt. Frankly, I'm uncomfortable reading about some of the sordid activities of which Sandusky is accused, so I want to focus on the Nittany Lions football response.
Joe Paterno seems to feel comfortable that he did the right thing. When a particularly disturbing episode was brought to his attention, Paterno informed his superiors of the football facility shower sodomization of a 10-year old boy. As Sandusky was no longer under direct employ of Paterno or the university at that point, Paterno probably did do all that he was required. But is there not a moral imperative to do more than just pass the buck when a young boy is being sexually abused by a friend? Is it not your responsibility as a decent human being to make sure these atrocities stop? I don't care if the culprit is a long and trusted friend; a man in Joe Paterno's position must use his power to protect the young boys, not his beloved program. Paterno made an egregious and criminal choice of judgment by not going to the police. Simply banishing Sandusky from operating his charity on campus is not even close to enough. For that, Paterno needs to be fired immediately.
One of the things that crossed my mind while brimming through my anger at this story is how harshly the national sports media (myself included) has crucified Jim Tressel, Butch Davis, and Pete Carroll for their "crimes". Those coaches crossed an arbitrary line mandated by a rampantly hypocritical and corrupt governing body in an effort to win more football games. Covering up for a star quarterback exchanging his jerseys for tattoos or a Heisman Trophy-winning running back leveraging his skills for a better house for his family seems pretty minor in the grand scheme of things when given what has gone down at Penn State. None of those coaches will ever work at the college level again, and the stain on their programs is long and virulent. Here's hoping that the NCAA realizes that fostering a climate of sexual abuse of children brings down stronger sanctions than letting a football player get a free dinner or a sleeve of tattoos from boosters. Sadly, I doubt they do.
$.02-- Baltimore and Pittsburgh squared off in the Sunday night at the fights, a contest that lived up to the billing of a grudge match between two punishing teams. The Ravens prevailed in stunning fashion, with Joe Flacco exorcising some demons with a last-minute TD pass to rookie Torrey Smith.
I've been a frequent and harsh critic of Flacco, but in this game he was very good. Joe Flacco mastered third down against the Steel Curtain defense. At one point Flacco was 12-for-14 for 156 yards and 12 conversions on 3rd down, and the game winner also came on third down. Pittsburgh entered the game 14th in third down defense, but Flacco trampled all over that. Their 14 conversions was a NFL season high, and much of it came with Flacco under extreme duress. His blank-slate oop-de-doop demeanor was exactly what the Ravens needed and makes a nice foil for Ray Lewis' hyper-charged intensity.
Steelers fans are going to cry over some suspect calls, but they had their chances. A terrible delay of game penalty ruined a chance to extend the lead with a late field goal. The real issue was the coverage on Baltimore's game-winning drive. After playing aggressive, swarming coverage all night, the Steelers went passive on the final drive. Well, that's not entirely correct; Troy Polamalu was overly aggressive and took himself out of several plays by guessing wrong. So swings the Sword of Damocles with the talented hairball, but I digress.
On the broadcast, Cris Collinsworth made the Mr. Obvious proclamation that "superstars take over in big moments." Ironically he was talking about James Harrison (who had a monster night) sacking Flacco, but it turns out Flacco donned the superstar cape down the stretch. Because of his steady heroics, Baltimore rises to 6-2 to keep pace with Cincinnati. More importantly, they are a half-game ahead of the hated Steelers but owning the tiebreaker. That makes the Ravens a lot closer to their stated goal of hosting playoff games this year. Take care of Cincinnati--no easy task--and the Ravens are poised to do just that.
$.03-- Green Bay stayed perfect by outscoring San Diego 45-38 in a game that had the feel of an Oklahoma State/Texas A&M matchup. Aaron Rodgers was nearly perfect himself, going 21-for-26 for 247 yards and four touchdowns to four different receivers. Rodgers also scampered for over 50 yards as the Packers gashed out over five yards per carry against an exhausted, bewildered defense. San Diego impressed me by hanging tough after falling behind by multiple scores at different times, but Philip Rivers continued his nightmare season with a couple of terrible mistakes that doomed his team to failure.
The most egregious-looking error from Rivers wasn't even entirely his fault, as the Charlie Peprah pick six came off a deflected pass, but he followed up that one with a classic misread of coverage that led to Tramon Williams getting a pick six of his own. (Tangent: Did anyone else think Peprah ran like he kept waiting for someone to try and tackle him but nobody ever really tried?) As the Chargers were mounting a late comeback, Rivers took an intentional grounding penalty on a play where he wasn't under major duress and had a checkdown receiver open. His whining about that call nearly drew an unsportsmanlike conduct flag and a delay of game as well. And then the final Peprah INT that sucked out the last San Diego gasp was a terrible throw from a quarterback that is showing an alarming propensity for having no idea where the defense is in coverage.
Aaron Rodgers has no such problem... which is a good thing, because the Green Bay defense is alarmingly vulnerable for such a talent-laden group. I've been surprised at how much Tramon Williams has fallen off from his stellar 2010, even given his pick six in this one. He appears to really miss safety Nick Collins directing him and holding his hand in coverage, particularly when faced with multiple wideouts to his side. The pass rush begins and ends with Clay Matthews, and none of his mates have shown the ability to pick up the slack even with offenses scheming heavily to neutralize Matthews.
Last year, Green Bay's front seven (or six, as they played a lot of 2-4-5 scheme) did a great job bringing pressure from multiple places. More to the point, they looked like a finely tuned instrument, with coordinated movement on stunts, dogs, and twists. This year it has looked like a lot more of the players playing as individuals tasked with beating their men on their own. Other than the occasional bull surge from BJ Raji or delayed gut blitz from AJ Hawk, it just hasn't happened. Perhaps the vanilla front is by design to keep some tricks in the bag for when the Packers really need them, but those tricks had better be incredible because right now the talent is simply not playing to its prior level. Thus far the offense has been awesome enough to more than cover for the defense, but at some point Rodgers is bound to have an off day (right?). For the Packers to survive unblemished, their defense will have to play significantly better on that day.
$.04-- Just when I thought it was safe to throw dirt on the New York Jets, they come out and win two in a row in highly impressive fashion. They beat up the host Bills in recording their first road win of the season, a game that was pretty much must-win territory for New York. Now the Jets have clawed their way into a 3-team tie atop the AFC East and carry all the momentum at the moment.
This game was vintage Rex Ryan Jets at their best. The offense ran the ball 39 times, including 8 times on the opening drive. Even though The Sanchize threw an ugly end zone INT to cap off that 10-minute drive, the tone was set. The Jets were here to chew bubblegum and kick some ass, and they were all out of bubblegum. Ryan's beloved defense had no problem following suit, led by Sione Pouha having a career day with seven tackles, a forced fumble, and repeatedly knocking blockers onto their keisters.
I thought the Jets defensive game plan was outstanding, not to mention well-executed. They repeatedly and aggressively attacked the football, forcing a Fred Jackson fumble early and getting into the heads of Ryan Fitzpatrick and his receivers. The Jets didn't allow David Nelson and the Bills receivers to run clean routes, disrupting the timing and keeping Fitzpatrick out of synch. For as solid as Fitzpatrick has been, it's easy to forget he is the same guy that badly struggled breaking down press coverage earlier in his career. Rex Ryan didn't, and he has the personnel to make it work.
This game was also an example of how the Jets can win with The Sanchize as their quarterback. He threw a couple of first half INTs, including the opening drive end zone pick that was closer to three different Bills than any Jets receiver. But he settled down as the Bills committed more resources to stopping the run, and Sanchez took advantage of the indecisiveness of the linebackers to exploit some nice gains. The Jets didn't ask Sanchez to win this game for them, but rather keep the train on the tracks and let the playmakers do their thing. Mission accomplished, and now my proclamation on two different radio shows after Week 7 that the Jets were not going to sniff the playoffs sounds like a bad case of premature speculation. I wonder if Pfizer makes a drug for that...
$.05-- All bow before Tim Tebow once again. The Broncos are now 2-1 in games he starts as he led the Broncos to a convincing upset over the surprisingly sloppy Raiders. Tebow didn't throw the ball particularly well once again (10-for-21, 124 yards) but he protected the ball and avoided the dramatic gaffes that predominated his prior efforts. He also trucked for 118 yards on 12 carries, almost all of which were designed run plays. This was the kind of game that the Tebow sycophants dream about.
I'll give Tebow credit for playing smarter and to John Fox and the Broncos coaches for creating a complete game plan that Tebow was comfortable with. But this game strikes me as much of a Raiders loss than a Broncos victory. Oakland started out well but essentially stayed in the locker room at half time, as the second half was all Denver in all three phases of the game. The Broncos got two long TD runs from Willis McGahee, a game-breaking punt return touchdown from Eddie Royal, and the defense forced consecutive three and outs at the start of the fourth quarter, the second of which resulted in Royal's return. Champ Bailey picked off Carson Palmer with just over a minute remaining, capping off the improbable comeback. It was a total team effort aided by a startling loss of manly vigor by Oakland.
Palmer was picked three times, giving him six INTs in as many quarters. All three INTs occurred on the Denver half of the field. There is rust and then there is just not being very good anymore, and Palmer is hurtling towards the latter. Oakland committed 15 penalties and had two others declined. Also disturbing was how they abandoned the run. After taking a 24-14 lead, the Raiders ran the ball eight times for 10 yards. Michael Bush, who had 91 yards on 14 physical carries prior to that point, ran five times for three yards down the stretch. That is not the kind of five dollar foot long the Black Hole will digest easily. Remember all that when you hear the Tebowmaniacs gushing over their messiah's winning performance.
$.06-- There are few things in the world that Tom Brady doesn't have going for him. Smart, good looking, great hair, stable family upbringing, married to a supermodel, baby daddy to a different gorgeous starlet, Super Bowl rings on multiple fingers, owner of several NFL records and two MVP Awards. One thing Tom Brady apparently cannot do, however, is defeat Eli Manning.
The last time they met, you might remember, Eli and friends stunned the world by ending New England's perfect season in the Super Bowl. This time around, Manning and a feisty Giants defense rudely terminated a long Patriots home winning streak; Brady had not lost at home in his last 31 starts. Manning found Jake Ballard on an eerily similar route to the one that connected with Plaxico Burress to win that Super Bowl, and once again the Patriots are left shaking their heads wondering how they lost to a supposedly inferior Giants team.
Here's how: the Giants dominated the line of scrimmage (+6.1 Trench Counter), and they made fewer mistakes. How big of a role the Giants played in those New England mistakes is debatable, but Tom Coughlin's team played with an opportunistic poise. Even without top receiver Hakeem Nicks and top runner Ahmad Bradshaw, New York played as if they belonged and as if they knew they were going to win. That is easier said than done and it's a real credit to both Tom Coughlin's stern encouragement and Eli Manning's easy intensity. Manning is playing better than at any point in his career, and today he was better than Brady. I got the sense that when the Patriots scored to take the lead late, Manning and the Giants offense just knew they were going to answer. Eli was unflappable, and his teammates played with a controlled sense of urgency. It was precisely the sort of play you expect to see out of Brady and the Patriots offense.
Now, both New York teams appear to have New England's number. The Giants helped the Jets get back into the AFC East race (more on that below), and they also sent a message that they are strong contenders in a top-heavy NFC. The Patriots are now in a crowded jumble in the middle of the AFC playoff race, faced with an increasingly sputtering offense and a defense that cannot make key stops when asked. Advantage New York.
$.07-- Miami got off the schneid in emphatic fashion, pounding the Chiefs 31-3 in Kansas City. Aside from the personal satisfaction I got from correctly discerning that my gut was telling me Miami would win, I feel great for the Dolphins players. They have had a host of close but no cigar moments this year, including falling victim to Tebowmania and blowing a big 4th quarter lead a week ago.
Matt Moore played easily the best game of his career, dicing the KC secondary for 244 yards on just 23 attempts and cashing in three touchdowns. Reggie Bush had a strong game where he consistently impacted the defense, which chose to spy Bush instead of bringing extra heat on Moore. That backfired, as Moore proved up to the task. The Chiefs registered zero sacks and Moore often had several seconds to survey the field unencumbered.
But the real story was how well the shorthanded Dolphins defense dominated the KC offense. Minus starting CB Vontae Davis, rotational DE Philip Merling, and often without Davis' backup Nolan Carroll, Miami played very sharply and dictated the action on almost every snap. Matt Cassel was harangued into frequently running for his life. He was sacked five times, had to run on 9 other dropbacks, and got hit repeatedly. Randy Starks and Paul Soliai spent their afternoon making life miserable for Cassel, and those two have not had much prior backfield action this year. The back end provided solid under coverage, consciously taking away the midrange throws that Cassel loves. He did hit a couple longer throws and made several solid checkdown throws, but Cassel could never get into any sort of rhythm. This is precisely the kind of execution the Dolphins defense has struggled with all year.
And as for "Suck for Luck", Miami is now poised to make a run to get out of the top-5 overall. Next week brings Washington, one of the few teams with a worse QB situation than their own. That gets followed by a visit from the suddenly reeling Bills. Forget 0-16; these Dolphins could very well be 3-7 when they head to a vulnerable Dallas on Thanksgiving.
$.08--5 NFL Quickies:
1. Tampa Bay has some physically imposing receivers, but they need to learn to be a little more finesse. They earned two offensive pass interference calls on the same first half drive, scuttling a scoring chance. They could have been flagged for at least three others throughout the game that I saw. Someone needs to teach Mike Williams and Kellen Winslow that when they push off, don't extend the arms or taunt the defender they pushed away. Then again, K2 has done that since his first game at the U of Miami.
2. Some of the fun on Sundays comes out of little things. In the late afternoon games on the NFL Game Mix channel, the Chargers/Packers game was showing highlights of the Raiders/Broncos game. At the same time, the New England/Giants game was showing highlights of the Oakland game, the Oakland game was showing highlights of the Bengals/Titans game, and the Cardinals/Rams broadcast was teasing an update on the Packers game. The Bengals and Titans were on commercial, otherwise it could have been a unanimous case of football voyeurism.
3. It will not make the highlights, but Aaron Rodgers threw one of the best passes I've ever seen. With Antoine Cason in very good trail coverage position, Rodgers guided a ball into Jermichael Finley. Cason read the route, undercut it very nicely, and even leapt for the ball with perfect timing. But Rodgers put the ball where only Finley, with his freakish catch radius and long fingers, could get a paw on it with an athletic leap. It shows up as a run-of-the-mill 9 or 10 yard completion in the play sheet, but there is not one other QB in the league that completes that pass.
4. A couple of weeks ago I slammed a nameless fantasy columnist for dispensing terrible advice. After what I heard today, he must be exposed! The Fantasy Guru, prominently featured on Sirius NFL Radio's Sunday morning yakfest with the unlistenable Adam Schein, dished out the following choice nuggets today: start Chris Ogbonnaya and Jackie Battle ahead of Ray Rice or Ben Tate; get rid of every Dolphins player you have as they are completely worthless with Matt Moore at QB; Josh Freeman is a lock as a top-5 fantasy QB against the Saints; start Michael Bush ahead of Michael Turner; Roy Helu won't get 25 yards against the 49ers; and Tim Tebow is "valueless" as a fantasy QB even as an injury fill-in. To quote my friends on the Boers and Bernstein show on WSCR in Chicago, "Who ya crappin'?!"
5. Washington has scored 11 points in the last 8 quarters, and the touchdown came late in the 4th quarter after the Niners had already wrapped up the road victory. I don't like to issue definitive absolute statements, but I am confident in this one: John Beck is the worst starting quarterback I've seen since Luke McCown got a series of starts for the Browns in the early 00s. Yes, he's worse than Jamarcus Russell.
5a. San Francisco is now 4-0 in the Eastern time zone. They hold a 5-game lead in the NFC West and have only played one divisional game so far. They will be hosting a playoff game in San Francisco come January, especially if they can beat back the visiting Giants in next weekend's most meaningful game.
-- Excellent win by my alma mater Ohio University over Temple in a midweek showcase game on ESPN. But it bothered me that the students felt the need to rush the field after the game. The Bobcats have been to two bowl games in a row, and we've beaten Temple in four of the last five years. I know we were terrible for eons, but guess what, so was Temple! Start acting like you expect to win these kinds of games, OU students.
-- The MAC also staged one of the most entertaining games in years on Tuesday, as Northern Illinois outlasted Toledo to seize control of the MAC West. It was nice to see the offensive explosion, but what really made it nice to this draftnik was the exposure Toledo WR Eric Page got for his 5 TD effort. Page is going to be a solid complementary weapon in the NFL for a decade, similar to Davone Bess or Laveranues Coles, nothing flashy but a reliable receiver that reliably moves the chains and does all the little things.
-- LSU/Alabama was even more boring than I expected. There is a fine line between a battle of great defenses and a battle of inept quarterbacks, and this game crossed that line somewhere in the 2nd quarter. At least Bama has the excuse of breaking in a new guy. How the LSU coaching staff can be so excellent at developing talent all over the field except the quarterback position is just baffling. Give that team even an average Big 10 QB and they would win every game by at least 20 points. And no thank you on a rematch, BCS Gods...
-- Oklahoma rolled Texas A&M but lost star wideout Ryan Broyles in the process. Broyles tore the ACL in his left knee, an injury that makes his draft prospects very cloudy. He has been an amazingly proficient receiver in the Sooners' spray gun spread offense. His college work will have to speak for itself, as this effectively ends any chance of working out before the draft. Just an assumption on my part, but I have to think this puts his draft ceiling as the 3rd round and probably sends him into 4th-5th round range.
-- I attended the Baylor/Missouri game in Waco, primarily to check out Bears QB Robert Griffin III but also a couple other prospects. Griffin had a solid night under breezy conditions, but I saw some issues that give me pause for rating him so highly in last week's Top 103. He throws a flatter ball than I saw on film, and he tends to not react to the rush until the very last second. That works against average Big 12 defenders but will not fly at the next level. Still, RGIII has great short and intermediate accuracy, exceptional field vision, and runs similarly (but not as top-end fast) to the way Michael Vick did at Virginia Tech. His downfield throw to Tevin Reese had perfect timing and just the right amount of zip. He is vastly and more immediately better as an overall quarterback than either Jake Locker or Blaine Gabbert from the last draft class, and both went in the top 10.
-- Also from that game, Missouri TE Michael Egnew gave draftniks fodder for both sides of his argument. Egnew showed consistently strong hands and the ability to easily pluck the ball from the air. He is not thickly built but does play with decent power, and he blocked better than I expected. But his main advertised asset is his downfield speed, which was not evident at all in this game. He caught 12 passes but almost every one of them was of the short dumpoff variety, gaining just 69 yards and not showing much YAC ability. Every time Mizzou tried to get him down the field, Baylor did a strong job of bracketing Egnew. I like his work in the short game and his run blocking was a pleasant surprise, but I still see a #2 TE at the next level and that merits nothing more than a 5th round pick.
$.10-- Halloween proved truly scary for Metallica fans, as that date marked the release of their collaboration with Lou Reed. The effort is called "Lulu" and the title is easily the best thing going for this musical monstrosity.
I was pretty skeptical when I first heard about this. After all, I've never been much of a Lou Reed fan. In fact I find his work to be the musical equivalent of an artist that glues pieces of trash together, defecates upon it, and calls it modern sculpture. But I have enduring faith in Metallica to deliver. I happen to really like the Load album, I think the S&M project is mostly successful, and I'll even tolerate the swing and miss that was St. Anger. Sadly, this is the worst thing they've ever associated with by as wide a margin as the difference between Aaron Rodgers and Tim Tebow as passers of the football.
This is clearly a Lou Reed project, with Metallica serving as a sort of house band providing support. Reed's style is to loudly read, bark, and occasionally warble discordant poetry with a voice that recalls the years of Johnny Cash's career that nobody liked. The song "Iced Honey" is the best example of the epic failure here. It sounds like Metallica has barely had time to tune their instruments. It's as if they are tinkering and twisting within the song to try and figure out what sounds best for when they record it, but Reed decides that the very first take is brilliant and runs with it. It's not, it's terrible, and it should never be heard again.
Perhaps the hard core Lou Reed fans will appreciate this. Not that I am aware of the existence of any, but I have to imagine they might find the pairing with Metallica some sort of divine collisions of counter-culture worlds, one that makes their hipster cred skyrocket. Those people would never be caught alive at a Metallica show, and probably loathe "Seek and Destroy" or "One" as much as the garden variety Metallica fan hates and Lou Reed songs. I'd list off some Lou Reed songs here, but I can only identify two of them, a curious anonymity for such a hyped Hall of Famer. I thought maybe Metallica would be awesome enough to make his music palatable, but there are apparently limits to the incredible musical godliness of James Hetfield et al. Please Lars, learn to say "No"...