NFL Roundup Observations From Week 4

Ground and Pound Patriots? Who replaced Bill Belichick with Chuck Noll? The surprise of the week 4 has to be the Patriots unleashing a rushing attack out of the 1950s in their 56-21 win over the Buffalo Bills. The Pats gained 247 yards on the ground, led by someone named Brandon Bolden. With their reduced use of Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez injured and opponents focused on Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots offense is in flux. It will be interesting to see if Belichick commits to a run based attack as the season goes on.
Tom Coughlin Out Thinks Himself. One of the staples of recent New York Giants’ teams is their strong decision making, especially down the stretch of tight games. In their loss to the Philadelphia Eagles two bad decisions: a killer interception thrown by Eli Manning in the redzone, and Tom Coughlin’s decision to attempt to score a TD and not simply set up the game winning field goal, hurt the Giants.  To be fair, no coach factors in the risk of a offensive pass interference call in late game strategy.  However at the time it seemed strange to me for the Giants to keep passing when they were well into comfortable field goal range.
Lowly Lions. The Detroit Lions are in trouble. We should have seen this coming when Calvin Johnson was named the cover athlete for Madden 13. The once vaunted defensive line is average at best, the secondary is a shambles and the explosive passing game is stuck in neutral. At 1-3 in the competitive NFC, the Lions are in a deep hole with no sign of turning things around.  They have faced what most viewed as the soft part of the their schedule (Rams, Titans and Vikings in three of their first four games) and came out of it with one narrow victory.  Three of their next four games are on the road, including trips to Philadelphia and Chicago.  Daunting to say the least.

NFL Round Up: Observations from Week 3 AKA Referee Apocolypse

Getty Images

After the insanity that was the end of the Monday Night Football game between the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks, there really is nothing else to discuss from Week 3 in the National Football League. Instead of rehashing what everyone saw or said, I decided to post three of my favorite reads that summarized the game and reaction.

1. Sports Illustrated writer Peter King did a great job of summarizing the process the referees used in making the call and the mistakes that were made.

2. Bill Barnwell from Grantland, who was a defender of replacement referees, put together a great opinion piece that isn’t overly long or reckless.

3. Mallary Jean Tenore at Poynter.org talks to Otto Greule, the photographer who captured the iconic photo of the officials who made conflicting calls on the game’s final play.

Superbowl Sleeper: Kansas City Chiefs

The Superbowl Sleeper series is a look at five teams that finished below .500 in 2011 — the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Kansas City Chiefs, Seattle Seahawks, Carolina Panthers, and the Buffalo Bills– and what it would take for each team to get to the Superbowl in 2012.

What happened in 2011?
The Kansas City Chiefs finished 7-9 as injuries crippled any hope of a playoff birth. They lost quarterback Matt Cassel with a broken hand, and running back Jammal Charles, tight end Tony Moeaki and safety Eric Berry all suffered knee injuries.

The Good
When healthy the Chiefs have a talented nucleus of players. On offense, they feature an explosive group that includes running backs Peyton Hillis and Jamaal Charles, receivers Dwayne Bowe and Steve Breston, and offensive tackles Brenden Albert and Eric Winston. The defense is not as deep as the offense, but pass rusher Tamba Hali, inside backer Derrick Johnson and defensive backs Brandon Flowers and Eric Berry are strong building blocks.

The Bad
The defensive front is poor against the run (they ranked 26th in the league against the run in 2011) and Hali is the only proven pass rusher. Matt Cassel has been inconsistent during his tenure in Kansas City.

Blueprint to get to the Superbowl
On offense, Hillis and Charles control the clock  allowing Breston and Bowe convert big plays versus single coverage.   Defensively young pass rushers Justin Houston and 2012 first round pick Dontari Poe compliment Hali as Brandon Flowers and Eric Berry turn rushed passes into interceptions.

Outlook

The Chiefs are talented enough to win the AFC West and with possibly the best homefield advantage in the league, could definitely make a surprise run.  However they do have questions along the  interior of the offensive line and the run defense is a glaring weakness.

Best of the Rest

photo via inquistir.com

Last season, the New England Patriots signed two defensive ends, Mark Anderson and Andre Carter with little  fan-fare.  Both players received one year deals; Anderson’s contract paid him 1.375 million, Carter’s was worth 2.25 million,  chump change in today’s NFL.   But those small investments hit big for New England.  Carter and Anderson combined for 20 sacks in 2011 as those two ho-hum signings became the best pass rushers on the team.

As the dust settles on the flashy parts of the NFL off-season–the “big money” free agency period and the draft– NFL general managers will now search for this year’s Mark Anderson.  And while the remaining free agents have some warts, there is also a chance for some guys to reach untapped potential, or to regain past form.   The following players are the best bargains available on the market.

Braylon Edwards– He was invisible last season due to injuries and the 49ers conservative offense.  Two seasons ago he was a viable threat for the New York Jets.  If healthy he could provide a good vertical threat at a low price.

Marcus McNeil– His health is a big question mark.  If he recovers from his neck and back injuries he could be a steal.

Gary Brackett– He’s undersized, but is a sure tackler and is good in pass coverage.

Cedric Benson-Benson has no burst left, but still runs with power and leverage.  He would excel in a short yardage/goal line back and could even serve as a spot starter.

Philip Merling– A physical 3-4 defensive end that would provide quality depth or even start for lesser teams.

Does Vilma’s Punishment Fit The Crime?

The NFL suspended Jonathan Vilma, Scott Fujita, Will Smith and Anthony Hargrove due to their participation in the “bounty” program.   Middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma has been suspended for 2012-13 season without pay.

There is no question that players that participated in “bountygate” should be punished.  They must be held responsible for their actions on the field, regardless of the pressure they might have felt to conform to the barbaric culture defensive coordinator Greg Williams established.   However, I do question how Roger Goodell determined the severity of the various punishments.

By suspending Vilma for a year without pay, the NFL is in essence saying he is as responsible for the bounty program as his boss; head coach Sean Payton.  Roger Goodell also held Vilma more accountable than general manager Mickey Loomis who received a six game suspension.   Many reports indicate Vilma had a leadership role in the bounty program, providing large amounts of money for “knockout” shots.  He definitely deserves a harsh penalty. At the same time, this was a program created and promoted by Payton, he could have ended bounty gate at anytime.  Vilma, short of whistle blowing to the league, (does the league have a whistle-blower program?) didn’t have the power to end the program, so why is he punished as if he did?  Also, what about the other 20+ players involved?  Clearly Jonathan Vilma, Anthony Hargrove, Scott Fujita and Will Smith weren’t the only participants.  What kept the other players from getting fined or suspended?

Of course this isn’t the end of “bountygate”.  The NFLPA has announced they will appeal the suspensions.  I’m sure part of that appeal will be why Jonathan Vilma was punished as harsh, if not more, than the people who employ him.