Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Football Roundup: Good, Bad, and Ugly

Things are getting ugly for the NFL, which has gone into full-on "damage control" mode. What's a commissioner to do?
 By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin) and Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

Every week, editors Jeremy Conlin and Joe Parello bring you the good, the bad and the ugly from the pro and college football weekend that was.

The Good

Patriots Defense/Special Teams

Probably the two best performance from any units on any teams - they sacked Matt Cassell six times, picked him off four times (including one with a sixty yard run-back), a blocked field goal that was returned for a touchdown, and to add some icing to the cake, they averaged 16.5 yards on punt returns (they only received two kickoffs and both went for touchbacks). The Patriots dominated field position and only surrendered 217 yards of offense - that's how you win by three touchdowns despite only gaining 292 total yards on offense yourself and committing 15 penalties for 163 yards (in their defense, two of those penalties for 58 of those yards came on a meaningless drive at the end of the game, up 30-7 with under two minutes left). The Patriots average drive start point was their 42 yard line and started three drives inside Minnesota territory. The offense sputtered - they only scored 10 points on those drives, and if you take those away, plus the blocked kick return touchdown, this was a much closer game. But the defense tipped the scales.


Jordy Nelson

The Packers were trailing 21-3 and were looking like a team about to fall into an 0-2 hole, until they decided to switch up their playcalling and go to their "throw ridiculous passes to Jordy Nelson and have him make insane plays" offense. From the 10:31 mark of the second quarter onward (the point where the Packers took over after falling behind 21-3), Nelson had seven catches for 173 yards and a touchdown, plus 27 more yards on a pass interference penalty for which Nelson was the intended receiver.


Darren Sproles 

When you're targeted seven times, come up with seven catches, and those seven catches go for 152 yards, and none of those seven passes travel more than 10 yards in the air, then you're probably doing something right after the catch. Turns out that's what happened - in the most mind-blowing stat from the weekend, 147 of Sproles' 152 yards Monday night came after the catch. All last year, the Eagles were searching for a back to spell LeSean McCoy and keep the offense productive, but they couldn't find one. I think they found one. 


Boston College

I was very, very, very, incredibly close to wagering on USC to cover their 17.5 point spread on Saturday night. I'm glad I didn't. I have no idea what happened. No earthly idea. At one point in the second half, the rushing totals were BC 343, USC 0. They finished at BC 452, USC 20. They scored 37 points on a top-10 team in the nation while completing just five passes. And this is the same BC team that got spanked by Pittsburgh. It's by far the most inexplicable result of the college football season so far, and I'm not sure it gets topped.



13 kickers scored at least 10 fantasy points in Week 2, and 11 did it in Week 1. Compare that to last season, when there were only two kickers in the entire league who averaged 10 points per game (Matt Prater and Stephen Gostkowski - although to be fair, there were seven more who averaged between 9.4 and 9.9 per game). Dan Bailey scored a cool 19 points (I'll assume that most leagues offer bonuses for longer field goals), which was more than 28 of the week's starting quarterbacks (again, assuming a mostly standard scoring system), which I'll go out on a limb and say doesn't happen often.


The Bad

Florida's Perceived Improvement

The Florida Gators have to be better than last year.

That much is true, there is pretty much no way the Gators can be as bad, and as unlucky, as they were during last season's injury-riddled 4-8 campaign. Still, all this talk that Florida could contend in the SEC after beating up on poor Eastern Michigan may have been premature.

Since Kentucky hasn't defeated UF in football since the Cretaceous Period, it seemed a foregone conclusion that the Gators would again make short work of the Wildcats as a tune up before Alabama next week. Well, things didn't go quite according to plan, as an occasionally sloppy offense and suddenly porous pass defense allowed the Wildcats to force THREE OVERTIMES in the Swamp.

If quarterback Jeff Driskel doesn't come out a lot sharper next week in Tuscaloosa, and coach Will Muschamp doesn't fix some of his defense's coverage issues, the Gators could be in the "Ugly" category next Tuesday.


The Big Ten

I guess I'm just going to keep saying the Big Ten is bad/ugly until it gives me a reason not to. This weekend the conference flexed some muscle when Ohio State took out its frustrations on overmatched Kent State, Michigan blasted Miami (Ohio), and Nebraska made short work of a Fresno State team that has looked awful so far. Still, the rest of the conference didn't fare so well against slightly tougher competition.

In fact, bottom-dweller Purdue probably acquitted itself best among the rest of the teams in the league by "only" losing to Notre Dame 30-14.

Penn State and Rutgers may have set offensive football back 30 years in the Scarlett Knights' Big Ten debut, a 13-10 PSU win, and pictures popped up all over social media of Rutgers fans making light of the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal with shirts like "Beat Ped State" and far worse banners/signs.

Iowa somehow lost to Iowa State again, making it three wins in the series over last four years for the Cyclones, who are terrible. Washington crushed Illinois 44-19 in a game that wasn't as close as the score makes it look, TCU annihilated Minnesota 30-7, West Virginia squeaked by Maryland and Indiana's bowl hopes died on the vine when Bowling Green came back to upset the Hoosiers 45-42.

The Minnesota and Indiana losses are troubling for the conference, because not only is there a lack of elite talent at the top of the league, the mid-to-bottom may not feature a single bowl team. We knew Purdue, Illinois and the transplants (Rutgers/Maryland) would struggle, and the early season has shown us Northwestern is pretty bad this year, but most thought the conference would be decent because Minnesota is better than people think and Indiana had the feel of a bowl team.

Now the Gophers look like a 6-6 squad destined for Detroit while Indiana, who must travel to face reigning SEC East champion Missouri next week, looks like it will be home for the holidays yet again.

Oh yeah, remember that Virginia Tech team that went into Columbus and beat Ohio State? It just lost to East Carolina. So yeah...


Teams Holding Leads In Primetime NFL Games

I mean, when was the last time that we saw two *good* teams (they both won 11+ games and won playoff games last year) blow two-touchdown leads in the second half *at home* on consecutive nights? The Colts at least can (partially) blame their loss on the officials - they missed a fairly obvious pass interference penalty on the interception that Luck threw as the Colts were driving for a game-sealing score, and then on the first snap of the ensuing drive, called a horse-collar tackle where there clearly wasn't one. But the 49ers just had a collapse of epic proportions, committing four turnovers and 16 penalties and losing a game that they very well could have won by 30.


The Ugly

NFL Damage Control

First the Ray Rice disaster, and now Adrian Peterson is facing charges for child abuse. The Vikings did the right thing in deactivating their star running back for Sunday's loss to the Patriots, but quickly declaring that he'd play next week while the legal process played out was an unbelievably tone-deaf move in the current climate.

Then came the second allegations of child abuse from one of Peterson's other sons, and things are just getting totally out of hand. The league has been in full damage control mode for weeks now, and it has handled things poorly at nearly every turn. Adrian Peterson suiting up for Minnesota will continue that trend.


The New York Giants

I wasn't really expecting much from the Giants this year, but good lord are they terrible. They can't block even a little bit. Eli Manning throws hilariously poorly timed interceptions. Their defense can't tackle or cover anyone, and Victor Cruz is a nice receiver in theory, until you realize he's only really effective in the slot, and he can't be effective in the slot when there's nobody on the outside to attract attention and prevent defenses from pinching all their coverages towards the middle of the field. If they don't figure this out quick, they could go 3-13.


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Of all the mediocre teams that some people at least talked themselves into as potential playoff teams (read: not the Raiders or Jaguars), the Bucs have to be the most disappointing so far. They've lost two games at home and haven't exactly looked good doing it. In their defense, they've faced probably the two best front fours in all of football - the Panthers and Rams, but Lovie Smith's vanilla offensive tendencies aren't exactly helping (yes, I know that Smith isn't the one calling the plays on offense, but regardless of who his offensive coordinators are, his teams consistently have creativity problems, and eventually it stops being a coincidence). I was never on the Tampa Bay bandwagon to begin with (I just didn't buy Josh McCown's supposed career turnaround at age 35), but they couldn't out-score offenses led by Derek Anderson and Austin Davis. I think we've seen enough to at least say they're not a playoff team.



Up and down week for special teams, I suppose. Detroit's Nate Freese missed both of his field goal attempts. Cincinnati's Mike Nugent missed three of his own. Tampa Bay's Patrick Murray had one blocked from 24 yards. Minnesota's Blair Walsh had one blocked as well, as did Houston's Randy Bullock. It was by only the sheer grace of God himself that no extra points were missed (granted, Washington's Kai Forbath did shank one last Week).


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