NFL 2010 Week One
by Tony Medley
This opening week saw the
second dumbest play in the history of football. With four seconds left
in the half of a 3-0 game, Dallas had the ball inside their 40. Not a
chance in the world to score. But they call a pass. Washington is in a
deep cover 2 defense, so what Dallas hopes to achieve is a mystery.
Predictably, Romo can’t find a receiver so he starts rolling to his
right and throws a little swing pass. The halfback catches it and,
instead of falling down and ending the half, fights to stay up when hit.
Washington pulls the ball loose and runs it in for a touchdown. But this
shouldn’t be surprising. Wade Phillips coaches Dallas. He’s guy who at
Buffalo had a charismatic quarterback, Doug Flutie, who led them to the
playoffs. In the meaningless game before the playoffs, Phillips played
Ron Johnson, a former USC quarterback. Johnson had a good game in the
meaningless game, so Phillips benched Flutie, started Johnson against
Tennessee and lost to Tennessee. How the guy continues to get coaching
jobs is beyond comprehension. Dallas lost the game because their rookie
right tackle was called for holding while Romo was throwing a
game-winning TD pass. Whoever he was holding was lucky because the
holding was so blatant and clumsy the guy could have had his neck
broken. I blame the coach for stupid penalties like that.
In case you’re interested,
the dumbest play occurred on November 19, 1978 when The Giants had the
ball, and the Eagles had no timeouts left. Everyone watching expected
the Giants to take the final snap and take a knee, running out the
clock, to end the game winning 19-17. Alas, quarterback Joe Picarcik
tried a handoff to fullback Larry Csonka. It was botched, there was a
fumble, and Eagle defensive back Herm Edwards grabbed it and ran it 26
years to a touchdown to win the game for Philly.
The two best teams this
first week were Houston and New England. As I said last year, I firmly
believe in sports karma, which led to Indianapolis’ Super Bowl defeat.
It’s still there. Either Indy has the worst offensive and defensive
lines in football, or Houston has the best. Peyton Manning never had
time, was rushed horribly the entire game and Houston ran against Indy’s
porous defense at will. Houston has management that knows football. I
liked it when they had the first pick in the 2006 draft, which featured
Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush and his biggest rival for the trophy,
Vince Young, who beat SC in the championship game. Houston eschewed each
of these ballyhooed stars, realized that games are won on the line of
scrimmage, and chose defensive end Mario Williams, who has been a
perennial All Pro, something that is just a pipedream for the other two,
at least Bush, anyway.
Houston running back Arian
Foster got all the ink for running for 231 yards, but running backs
generally get more credit than they deserve because most of their yards
are due to holes opened by offensive linemen. My aunt Alice could have
run for 200 yards in the holes the Houston offensive line was ripping in
the Colts’ defense. Sometimes it looked as if Indy didn’t have anyone on
the field the holes were so huge. Either Houston is a power or Indy is
going to have trouble this year, or both.
New England reminds me of
1978 when a young Dallas team annihilated the favored Los Angeles Rams
in the L.A. Coliseum, 28-0 in the Playoffs. New England has appeared to
have fashioned a very strong team of new, young players. In a game that
was ballyhooed to be even, since Cincinnati signed wide receiver Terrell
Owens to go with Chad Ochocinko, the Patriots demolished Cincy. Woe to
everyone in the East.
Another memorable play
occurred on the second to last play of the Detroit-Chicago game. Lion
wide receiver Calvin Johnson caught a pass to win the game. But when he
came down he held it in one hand and fell to the ground. The ball hit
the ground and Johnson left it there, although he had had possession of
it and could have kept it in his hand. The referee signaled TD and I
thought, “Boy, that’s a mistake; that should be incomplete.” Sure
enough, it was ruled incomplete. Everyone criticized the rule, which is
a stupid one, but shouldn’t players know the rules, the stupid ones as
well as the good ones? Or should they just have to know the good rules?
But to be frank, Johnson is no Rhodes Scholar when it comes to football,
a game they pay him millions of dollars a year to play. On the play
immediately preceding the offending play, with Detroit behind, out of
timeouts, and less than a half minute to play, he caught a pass on the
sideline and instead of stepping out of bounds to stop the clock, cut
the other way to be tackled inbounds, keeping to clock running. Could he
have made a dumber play? Well, yes. He did on the very next play.
Now to the Jets, which was
my team last year. Oy vey! I said last year that their big weakness was
their USC quarterback (there’s never been one in the Super Bowl, except
for Willie Wood, who was a defensive back for Green Bay in the first
two). I spent most of my time as a LA Rams season ticket holder rooting
for the George Allen-coached Rams. Allen was another defensive coach
(like Rex Ryan). Allen thought the offense was just something to pass
the time without making a mistake so his defense could get on the field,
so he employed the most inaccurate passing quarterback I’ve ever seen,
Roman Gabriel. Allen liked Gabriel because he didn’t throw a lot of
interceptions. But there was a reason for that, that nobody cared to
explain. To throw an interception, you have to be accurate enough to get
the ball somewhere near the intended receiver because that’s where the
defenders are. Gabriel was rarely close enough to his receivers to be
intercepted. To close on this, if you check out Gabriel, you will see
that he had a completion ratio of 52.6%. That sounds fair, not great,
but barely acceptable for an NFL quarterback. But I saw virtually every
game Gabriel played for the Rams and most of his completions came on
swing passes to backs coming out of the backfield, like Lester
Josephson, a lumbering fullback who couldn’t beat me in the 100 yard
dash if I were running backwards. Anybody can complete a swing pass
(except UCLA’s present quarterback Kevin Prince and the aforementioned
Mark Sanchez, who missed one in the opening game) because they generally
only travel less than 5 yards.
So Sanchez gets his chance
at a 2-minute drill. First there is an illegal procedure penalty by the
right tackle for a five yard penalty, mainly due to the way Sanchez was
barking the signals and probably changing the play. Then Sanchez takes
forever to call a play as the clock is ticking down, then he muffs the
pass from center (He allegedly has the best hands on the team). Then on
4th down and 10 with 40 seconds left, he throws a 9-1/2 yard
pass to a guy named Keller who blithely runs out of bounds right in
front of, and a half yard short of, the first down marker without even
trying to put the ball over the first down line with his left hand,
which he could have easily done.
I think Rex and the Jets
spent too much of their training camp posturing for the NFL Films
cameras as they starred on Hard Knocks when they should have been
practicing not committing illegal procedure penalties, and maybe giving
a little work to 2-minute drills and some basic pass plays. Speaking of
Hard Knocks, watching it bothered me because it looked like the
Jets were having far too much fun and doing far too little work during
their training camp. Years ago I read Instant Replay and Paper
Lion and one thing I came away with from those books is that an NFL
training camp is no fun. So the Jets had a lot of fun in training and
they weren’t ready for their opening game. There’s a lesson there.
In their opening game
against Baltimore the offense got only 6 first downs, tied for worst in
team history. Sanchez threw for only 60 yards, the worst since 2006.
They had 125 penalty yards, their most since 1988. Worse, two of the
penalties were silly defensive holding calls on defensive back Warren
Cromartie on third down with Baltimore deep in their own territory (once
on Baltimore’s own 3 yard line). They ran only 44 plays, the fewest
since 2005. Sanchez was 10 for 21 for 74 yards; that’s a joke, folks,
for an NFL quarterback.
I will still root for the
Jets this year because I like their defense, but they need a quality
quarterback and an offensive coordinator who knows what he’s doing, and
maybe Rex Ryan needs to be a little tougher.
Off the first week’s game,
I think the two teams to beat are New England and Houston. I don’t
really see any team in the NFC that impressed me much, including Super
Bowl Champ New Orleans.
September 13, 2010