by Robert Ferringo - 09/21/2005
Speed kills in the National Football League - but never forget that this sport is predicated on power. Right now, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Tampa Bay and Cincinnati are each 2-0 and have won their games by an average score of 25-9. What is it that these teams have in common besides an unblemished record? That would be their complete and total dominance along the offensive and defensive lines.
On offense, these teams are completely controlling people up front. Pittsburgh, Indy and K.C. each boast lines with at least two Pro Bowlers on it. Cincinnati was one of only two teams that returned all five of its starters from last year. Tampa Bay - I honestly have no idea how they're doing it with that line, but it's working - possesses the NFL's leading rusher, Cadillac Williams (276 yards). These five teams are muscling their way to an average of 155 yards per game on the ground and have yielded only eight total sacks between them. That outstanding play by the offensive linemen is allowing each of these teams to control the ball and dictate tempo to their opponents.
Conversely, on the defensive side of the ball it's all about getting after the quarterback for these five. Besides Cincy (two sacks) the other four clubs have notched an average of nearly four sacks per game, with Pittsburgh accounting for 11 and Indy chipping in nine. While household names like Dwight Freeney and Simeon Rice still anchor their units, it's been the production of players like the Colts' Montae Reagor and the Steelers' Aaron Smith that's really paying dividends.
All of this may seem kind of remedial and trivial, but it's not. I believe that while it takes a few weeks for the skill players to get in a groove, the pure muscle and strength of players in the trenches is a determinant of early season success. This is important because I think that the teams that have the most stability and performance at their foundations - the offensive and defensive lines - will be the most consistent throughout the season, and stats like the ones I've tossed out are good indicators of future success.
Also, popular opinion about NFL clubs - one of the components used to set a line - is determined in part by humans tendency for grandiose delusion, which is the process of attributing inflated worth to someone famous. This is why people are so quick to assume that teams like Minnesota, Oakland and St. Louis are "good" teams because they identify with the stars at more visible positions (quarterback, running back, receiver). But what they fail to realize is that each of those three teams has serious issues on their offensive and/or defensive lines, which leads to them getting pushed around in a game based on physicality.
Anyway, that's my little five-cent psychology lesson for you. Here are the rest of my Week 2 thoughts:
* Gutty performance by Carolina, which showed why you never abandon the run. While their numbers on the ground (36 carries, 104 yards) are pedestrian, the rushing attack paid off with a perfect 3-for-3 conversion rate in the red zone. A gift touchdown from the referees (one of Stephen Davis' three scores) didn't hurt either. The Panthers play Miami, Green Bay, Arizona and Detroit in the next four weeks. Get ready to ride this train.
* It will be interesting to see how the Jaguars respond to their 10-3 loss to Indianapolis on Sunday. They were just 22 yards away from overtime in the RCA Dome, but there was nothing soft or cutesy about what the Colts did to the Jags - they just beat them up. Indy had a drive right out of the 1920's - a 17-play clock drainer that featured 14 running plays and straddled the third and fourth quarters. Edgerrin James (27 carries, 128 yards) carried the load for the Colts like he was in a contract year or something.
* The Texans have only scored 14 points so far, but they have faced two of the top five ranked defenses in the NFL (Buffalo, Pitt). The offensive line, which has given up 150 sacks since 2001, has already seen David Carr get dropped 13 times (that's a 104-sack pace for the year), causing Carr to chew them out on the sidelines last Sunday. And do you know who Houston named to replaced departed offensive coordinator Chris Palmer? That's right, offensive line coach Joe Pendry.
* In Catholicism, Michael is the Angel of Sunday. If that's so, why is it that just about every NFL head coach named Mike (Tice, Sherman, Martz, Holmgren, Shanahan) is so shady? Buffalo head coach Mike Mularkey is apparently trying to break into that dubious group. I know where he was coming from when he benched J.P. Losman during the fourth quarter of their 19-3 loss at Tampa on Sunday (change of pace, try something new, etc.) but I don't agree with it. First, Kelly Holcomb would've had to have been Jim Kelly in order to lead that comeback. Second, all you've done is opened that Pandora's Box of a quarterback controversy, crushed all the warm and fuzzy feelings that had been built up, and forced Losman to start questioning himself. You're going to lose games during the season, that's just the way it is, but the long-term effects of something like this can linger and be much more harmful.
Keeping with the theme, how much longer do you think Sherman and Tice will be hanging around this season? They both just look completely lost on their respective sidelines, and their teams are playing with no kind of direction, purpose or heart. Also, Martz was five yards and seven seconds away from a 0-2 start at the hands of the two worst teams in football. When is somebody going to post odds on which one of these fools gets canned first?
* Donald Trump singing Green Acres at the Emmy Awards was definitely a highlight of the weekend. You could actually see his arms. I didn't even know he had skin. I thought he was all suit, all the time. Regardless, it was classic.
* Anyone who thought that Kurt Warner was still an NFL-caliber starting quarterback (much less The Savior of a putrid franchise) just needs to go back and watch the last 30 seconds of their game against St. Louis. Up 17-12, the Rams were just begging to give that game away, allowing the Cards to move down to their 5-yard line with time running out. But Kurt Warner was sacked back to the 10, and instead of spiking the ball to stop the clock (he had 20 seconds left) he tried to call a play. The result was a false start by Leonard Davis with seven seconds left, which ended the game.
* I know it's only been two weeks, but check out the quarterback ratings of these players and tell me who sticks out: Brett Favre (76.1), Peyton Manning (74.7), Kyle Orton (74.4), Joey Harrington (52.3), Dante Culpepper (41.6). If you said Orton you're not only correct but you're probably as surprised as me.
The Bears young QB has shown moxie and arm strength, but more importantly he's shown results. Through two games, the Bears are leading the league in third-down efficiency (oddly enough, they're tied with Minnesota and Green Bay) by converting 50 percent of their chances. Through all of last season, the Bears managed only 25 percent on third down.
* Why Oakland has made its way to the top of my Stay Away From List: The Raiders are down 23-17 at home to the Chiefs on Sunday night. They're driving down for the game-winning touchdown with around two minutes left, and have just gained 14 yards on their last two plays - rushes by the bruising Lamont Jordan - to get down to the KC 14-yard line. The Chiefs defense is exhausted. The Raiders have all the momentum. They just need to run right over them, killing the clock along the way, right? Wrong. Incomplete pass, four-yard pass, incomplete pass, timeout, incomplete pass. On fourth-and-six, though they still could've gotten a first down inside the 10, they threw a weak lob pass to Joey Porter. They didn't even go to Moss (forget the fact that they just needed six yards!). Unreal. That was a rookie mistake by Norv Turner and Kerry Collins - two retreads who shouldn't be making those kind of errors.
* What a complete and total shocker in Dallas on Monday night. The Cowboys absolutely dominated the first 55 minutes, were up 13-0, and had Mark Brunell at third-and-27 with about four minutes to play. Game over, right? Wrong. Brunell pulls two bombs out of nowhere and all of a sudden Daniel Snyder looks like he just won the Super Bowl. Be wary of the effects this loss has on Dallas next week. A game like that can be a season-crippler. Also, that says a lot about the character of this Washington squad. That game may have changed the complexion of the NFC.
* Does anyone else think it might be a bad idea to rebuild the whole of New Orleans back into a major metropolitan area? I mean, just think about the toxic chemicals - oil, gas, feces, pesticides, decaying corpses, etc. - that have been stewing about in that place for almost a month. And the federal government, in all its glory, didn't even put the Environmental Protection Agency on its list of first responders. Mark my words, all of that stuff is getting dumped back in the water supply and in about 20 years that place is going to look like Venusville from Total Recall.
* So far this season Indianapolis has given up just 10 points in two games. Pittsburgh has yielded 14 points, Chicago 15 and Tampa Bay 16 through eight quarters.
* I'm not sure what the future holds for the enigma that is Seattle, but they smacked around an Atlanta squad that everyone was ga-ga about one week earlier. Seattle has been very good at home (13-3) over the past two seasons, but have had trouble on the road (6-10). I would play them that way until they prove otherwise.
* Minnesota's game against Cincy was over before halftime. That "retooled" Vikings defense got torched for 337 total yards in the first 30 minutes! Oh, and Culpepper has already thrown eight interceptions (a feat he didn't accomplish until Week 13 last season) to go with no touchdowns. The Vikings have turned the ball over on 12 of their 24 possessions in 2005, and are the biggest fraud since Dianetics.
* As I'm typing this I'm laughing hysterically at all those guys who benched Donovan McNabb this week thinking he was injured.
* Dagger-Through-The-Heart Play of the Week: I have New Orleans getting 16.5 points as part of a sweetheart teaser. They're down 27-10 with four minutes left (after John Carney bounced a field goal off the uprights on their previous possession) and Aaron Brooks has them moving down the field. Brooks hits Joe Horn along the sideline at about the six-yard line, and while he tries to stretch for the pylon, he loses the ball. It's a touchback and the Giants ball. Again, it was like getting kicked in the nuts while watching your girlfriend cheat on you with the guy who just ran over your dog. Only worse. But again, that's why you don't bet the Saints.
* When it comes to hamburgers I only have this to say: catsup = good, barbeque sauce = better, A-1 steak sauce = best. No doubt.
* At this point in the season, home underdogs are both 3-2 straight-up and against the spread. Home teams are 23-9 straight up, and 20-12 ATS thus far. Also, the NFC is 2-1 SU and ATS when playing the AFC.
* I'm still not impressed with the Giants (even though Joe Theisman obviously is). Remember, they started 5-0 last year before taking a complete and total nosedive. They have impressed me with their ability to move the ball - but we expected that. The defense is currently ranked 29th in the league and has yielded an average of 370 yards per game. And like I already mentioned, the Saints were seven combined inches from 10 more points.
Questions or comments for Robert? e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.