2008 NFL Review – Week 7

(Philadelphia, Pa) — The 89th NFL Season is nearing the halfway point and the topsy-turvy world of the NFL is wackier than ever.  Every Sunday shows that teams play with pride and spirit when facing an opponent predicted to be superior.  What we do know is that no team in the NFL is leaps and bounds above the rest of the pack.  Not even the (6-0) Tennessee Titans can overlook an opponent, because parity rules in the NFL.  Sure there are seven teams who are at least 3 games above .500 (Titans 6-0, Bills 5-1, Giants 5-1, Steelers 5-1, Panthers 5-2, Redskins 5-2 and the Bucs 5-2) and five teams that are at least 3 games under .500 (SF 49ers 2-5, Chiefs 1-5, Seahawks 1-5, Lions 0-6, and the Bengals 0-7) who are all probably getting ready for April’s draft.  But the vast majority (20) of NFL teams are stuck somewhere between 4-2 and 2-4.

With the halfway season almost upon us and crucial playoff pre-testing games in November and December soon to follow, we will know who the pretenders and contenders are real soon…We hope.  Usually it is easy to predict the top teams, but with injuries and an attitude of “Any Given Sunday” prevalent around the league who knows what will happen next.  This week there were more upsets that showed no one knows a thing, when it comes to the NFL.  The Patriots came back strong throttling the Broncos, Carolina thumped the Saints, Buffalo took another step toward respectability by beating the Chargers, and the Colts looked old and befuddled as they didn’t show-up in another loss in Green Bay.  But the biggest surprise had to be what happened to the vaunted Dallas Cowboys.  Five weeks ago the ‘Boys were on top of the NFL after a big Monday Night Football win over the Eagles, but the wheels are coming off the Jerry Jones Express rather quickly.  The Cowboys continued crashing back down to Earth this week as the formerly lowly Rams ran all over them ending with a score of 34-14 over America’s Darling. 

The Cowboys face a huge uphill battle (cue the Young and the Restless Music) as quarterback Tony Romo’s pinkie does not look to be healing anytime soon, forty-year old back-up Brad Johnson looked awful, troubled cornerback Pacman Jones is probably gone for this year at a minimum, T.O is about to blow about his small number of catches (2 receptions for 31 yards this week), the lingering question of “How will new receiver Roy Williams fit in the Cowboys scheme?” (no catches this week), owner Jerry Jones is desperate and it showed in a locker-room blow-up after Sunday’s fiasco, and how safe is head coach Wade Phillips’ job as his defense has looked like Swiss cheese lately.  Alright did I miss anything else surrounding this team, oh yeah “Who shot JR??”  Hopefully with key games coming up against the NFC South leading Buccaneers (week 8), at the NFC East leading Giants (week 9), and at the NFC East second-place Washington Redskins, we will know if the Cowboys are the real deal (team that won 13 games last year) or just bunch of high-priced parts that don’t fit together (no playoff wins since 1996).

Some trends that we saw this week include:

Injuries everywhere – Steelers CB Bryant McFadden (arm injury), Steelers SS Troy Polamalu (head – possible concussion), Saints RB Reggie Bush (will not make the trip to London as he will have surgery on his left knee and will miss 3-4 weeks), LB Bradie James (hyperextended left elbow), Bears WR/KR Devin Hester (quad injury), Jets RT Damien Woody (left leg injury), Chiefs QB Damon Huard (thumb), Broncos starting QB Jay Cutler (finger), Broncos LB Boss Bailey (knee), Cowboys QB Tony Romo (broken pinkie), Eagles RB Brian Westbrook (ribs), 49ers SS Michael Lewis (sprained knee), Patriots RB Laurence Maroney (shoulder), Patriots FS Rodney Harrison (knee – season ending), Broncos CB Champ Bailey (groin – expected to miss several weeks), Chiefs starting QB Brodie Croyle (right knee injury – season ending), Cowboys SS Roy Williams (broken right forearm season ending), and Bengals rookie LB Keith Rivers (broken jaw – season ending). 

NFL is all about discipline – We already knew about Commissioner Roger Goodell’s stance on cleaning up player misbehavior, but now clubs are dealing with their own problems first.  A new “team” first view is spreading throughout the NFL and coaches are going forward with the players they have without their malcontent superstars.  We already saw Steve Smith and Plaxico Burress sat down earlier in the season and this week it was Chiefs running back Larry Johnson’s turn.  Johnson was deactivated as the Chiefs looked into a bye week incident as the brawny running back had an alleged another incident with a woman.

Must-win situations for teams thought to be division leaders – I cringe every time I look at my predicted Super Bowl match-up of the New Orleans Saints vs. Indianapolis Colts.  Surprisingly both these franchises have been up and down this season more than a yo-yo.  Just when you think the Colts (last second win over the Texans and a shellacking of the Ravens) and Saints (beat Tampa in opener) are back, they fall apart like they both did this week.  If the playoffs started today, both teams would be sitting at home eating popcorn.  The next couple of games will show us if these two are contenders or over inflated pretenders.  The (3-3) Colts face play at Tennessee, host New England, and travel to Pittsburgh in the next few weeks.  The (3-4) Saints have the unenviable task of flying to London, England to face an equally desperate Chargers squad, a much-needed bye week, and then travel to Atlanta to face a rejuvenated Falcons team.

Game Balls

Tennessee Titans RB’s LenDale White and Chris Johnson — “Smash and Dash”  as they are known around the locker-room were spectacular as the Titans pounded the Chiefs for 332 yards rushing in their 34-10 win.  Head coach Jeff Fisher and  running backs coach Earnest Byner understand the importance of the run as they called 40 runs to only 19 passes.  Johnson who looks like the rookie of the year already had 168 yards on 18 carries, including a 66-yard TD scoring burst.  Not to be outdone, White who looks to be in better shape, had 17 rushes for 149 yards and 3 touchdowns including a rumbling 80-yard touchdown run.

Honorable Mention

Washington Redskins RB Clinton Portis – The NFL’s leading rusher with 818 yards continued his romp through the NFL this season.  In a close 14-11 victory over the Browns, Portis ran  27 times for 175 yards and  1 TD.  He also added 8 receiving yards, but he did have to sweat through a some defensive stand time as he had a key 4th quarter fumble.

New England Patriots QB Matt Cassel – One week after being named my lackey, Tom Terrific’s back-up led the Patriots to a crucial Monday Night Football win over the Broncos.  Cassel looking efficient in the Patriots short passing game, threw for numbers of 18-24, 185 yards, 3 TDs (career high), and 0 INTs in the 41-7 shellacking.  

New England RB Sammy Morris – No Maroney, No problem as the versatile veteran had 16 rushes for 138 yards and 1 touchdown.  Morris was also bolstered by undrafted rookie free agent running back from the University of Mississippi BenJarvus Green-Ellis (13 rushes 65 yards, 1 TD).

Giants LB Chase Blackburn – The 4th year special teams ace out of Akron came off the bench for the injured Antonio Pierce and produced big time.  Blackburn had a team-high 10 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.

Other Honorees – Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski (kicked a club-record 57-yard field goal to win 16-13 over the Jets in overtime), Detroit Lions WR Calvin Johnson (only two catches, but had 154 yards including a deep 96-yard touchdown catch), Tennessee Titans DT Albert Haynesworth (3 TKLs, 1 sack, and knocked QB Croyle out of the game), Pittsburgh Steelers Defense (sacked Bengals QB Ryan Fitzpatrick seven times), Baltimore Ravens Defense (held the Dolphins Wildcat offense to 4 net-yards on five direct snaps) and Carolina Panthers DE Julius Peppers  (3 TKLs, 1 sack, and 1 FF with constant pressure in a big win over the Chargers).

 Lloyd’s Lackey

Indianapolis Colts QB Peyton Manning – The player I thought could never win this low-light award did this week.  Manning was terrible in a stinky 34-14 loss to the Green Packers. On a day the former Super Bowl MVP would like to forget, he threw two pick-six interceptions including one at the goal line.  Manning finished with numbers of 21-42, 229 yards, 0 TD, and 2 INTs.  The Colts are now 3-7 all-time at Lambeau Field.

Dishonorable Mention

Denver RB Andre Hall – Maybe you can’t just throw any running back in the backfield for the Broncos.  Hall fumbled both times he carried the ball in the first quarter.

Seahawks QB Seneca Wallace – Playing for an injured Matt Hasselbeck, the small passer from Iowa State was awful in a 20-10 loss to the Buccaneers.  Wallace didn’t even reach 100 yards passing finishing with terrible numbers of 12-23, 73 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT and only 6 rushing yards.

Cowboys QB Brad Johnson – The 40-year old looked like he deserved to be back on the bench as he looked befuddled  in a bad 34-14 loss to the Rams.  Johnson finished with passing numbers 17-34, 234 yards, 1 TD, 3 INTs plus a missed snap fumble and he could have easily thrown 5 picks.

Raiders head coach Tom Cable – Your team won in OT, but you almost blew it by calling my “favorite” timeout just as Jets kicker Jay Feely was attempting a 52-yard field goal with three seconds to play.  Of course Feely missed the kick by hitting the upright, then of course he sent his mulligan through the goalpost for overtime.  My advice to Cable and all of the NFL coaches, especially Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan, is to STOP calling these (bleeping) timeouts, because they are infuriating.

 

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

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