NFL Handicapping: What the 2011 NFL Preseason Taught Us
by Nicholas Tolomeo - 9/7/2011
The Detroit Lions went 4-0 during the 2008 preseason. They proceeded to not win another game until 2008. So do not get too excited about the fact the Lions went 4-0 again this preseason. The Colts and Bears went 0-4 in the preseason last year, but both made the playoffs. The 49ers went 4-0 in the preseason last year but they couldn’t even win the awful NFC West. The point is that the NFL preseason can teach you a lot about the regular season, as long as you do not pay attention to the records.
Here is what we know about the 2011 NFL season now that maybe we did not know on August 1….
The Baltimore Ravens passing attack took a step back
Last season Anquan Boldin led Baltimore with 64 receptions for 837 yards, but he was barely ahead of Derrick Mason (61 receptions, 802 yards) and Todd Heap (40 receptions, 599 yards). Boldin had seven touchdown receptions, Mason and Heap combined for 12.
Mason and Heap are now gone. They will have to be replaced with veteran Lee Evans and up-and-coming tight end Ed Dickson, a second year player out of Oregon. The Ravens like Dickson, but he had only 11 receptions last season and only four receptions in the preseason. He should have been targeted much more. And there is no depth whatsoever behind the receiving duo of Evans and Mason.
The Ravens passing game is worse off without Mason and Heap. The duo were famous for being thorns in the sides of the Steelers secondary, and Baltimore still couldn’t beat Ben Roethlisberger with the duo. Take them away and the Steelers are the clear cut favorite in the AFC North.
The New York Jets did Mark Sanchez no favors
When is the addition of Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason not a good thing? It’s not a good thing when it comes at the expense of Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery -- and that is to say nothing of Burress spending the last two seasons in prison.
When will NFL teams get it? Continuity is the key to success in the NFL. Just as the young QB Joe Flacco will struggle to adjust without Mason and Heap, Mark Sanchez now has to adjust to losing his favorite targets in Edwards and Cotchery. On top of that Cotchery goes to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the team who beat the Jets in the AFC Championship Game. And if you remember Cotchery came up huge for Sanchez at Heinz Field last January, catching five passes including a touchdown in a losing effort for the Jets.
In the third week of the preseason, generally considered the dress rehearsal for the regular season, Mason caught two passes for nine yards and Burress didn’t catch any passes despite being targeted four times.
The Houston Texans defense wont rank 30th in the NFL again
Okay, that is not exactly going out on a limb, but the Texans defense looks vastly improved and should even be above average, Top 15 perhaps. If you take away Peyton Manning from the Colts and add in the Houston offense we've known and this improved defense, and you have the ingredients for an AFC South title.
Through four preseason games the Texans defense ranked fifth in total yards allowed per game (269.5) and second in passing yards allowed per game (150.5). Yes, its preseason, but after atrocious numbers from last year that was a welcome sight. In the all-important preseason Week 3 the Texans dismantled the San Francisco defense, holding the 49ers to seven points and 105 total yards.
Wade Phillips is the new defensive coordinator, DeMeco Ryans and Mario Williams look healthy, and Brian Cushing is allegedly off steroids and off the suspension list. Add in cornerback Johnathan Joseph and the Texans defense all of a sudden looks tough. Oh yeah, and likely getting to avoid Manning in Week 1 sure doesn’t hurt.
Antonio Brown is the next great Steelers wide receiver
Santonio Holmes burst onto the scene in 2007, Mike Wallace replaced him in 2009 and showed he was even more explosive, and then Emmanuel Sanders appeared ready for the spotlight in 2011 until an offseason ankle injury left him shy of full strength.
Enter Antonio Brown. He showed sparks of greatness last season in catching 16 passes for 167 yards during the regular season, and then a season-changing 58-yard grab on third-and-19 in the playoffs against the Baltimore Ravens. In the first week of preseason, the second-year player caught four passes for 64 yards. Then Brown blew up against the Falcons in Week 3. Playing with the starters for the entire first half, Brown hauled in four passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns.
With Wallace and Hines Ward as the 1-2 receiver, and veteran depth after the acquisition of Jerricho Cotchery, Brown won’t be asked to do a lot, but he is an extremely valuable weapon in the Steelers arsenal that can do a lot.
The Colts, Jaguars, Redskins and Chiefs are doomed
There are other teams doomed this season, but the above four are doomed based solely on what has happened at the quarterback position over the course of the last month.
Kerry Collins looked like Kerry Collins in his preseason debut for the Indianapolis Colts, and that’s bad news for Peyton Manning's apparent replacement. It’s never a good thing when a 38-year old quarterback is auditioning for the starting job in Week 4 of the preseason. It’s really not good when that guy completes 5-of-10 passes for 45 yards while fumbling once. If you have quarterback issues right now, you're team is in for a long season.
The Colts are not alone. Jack Del Rio continued a tradition of releasing a starting quarterback just days before the regular season for no apparent reason. The Jags cut ties with David Garrard and announced he would be replaced with Luke McCown, who has more interceptions (10) than career touchdowns (nine) or starts (seven). McCown has not started a game since 2007 when he was in Tampa Bay. The last three seasons he has attempted 23 total passes and completed 12 of them.
The Redskins are going with Rex Grossman for some reason and the Chiefs are looking at either a banged up Matt Cassel or a guy named Tyler Palko to start the opener. Considering the quarterback plight of the Colts and Chiefs, two playoff teams from a year ago, the AFC playoff picture just opened a little wider.
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