Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Football Roundup: Good, Bad, and Ugly

Are Andy Dalton and the Bengals the best team in football?

 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

Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals look like the best team in football, outscoring opponents by 47 points over their first three games (best in the league) and surrendering just 33 points (also a league-best). Their rushing attack certainly leaves something to be desired (they're averaging just 3.6 yards per carry) but Giovanni Bernard has emerged as one of the best out-of-the-backfield weapons in the league, and the Bengals' screen/swing/checkdown offense is so prolific that it doesn't quite matter that they can't run the ball effectively (yet). They're off next week, and then have a brutal stretch of at New England, home for Carolina, at Indianapolis, and then home for Baltimore. If they can go 3-1 there (very possible), we could be looking at Cincinnati getting to 12 wins and securing a first-round bye.


The Big Ten (Sorta)

Ok, so the Big Ten may not have lit the world on fire, but it certainly didn't stink. So, since we're now grading this sorry conference on a curve, I think it deserves a week in the "Good" category.

The Big Ten went an impressive 12-1, highlighted by lowly Indiana's road win against reigning SEC East champion Missouri and Nebraska's 10-point win over Miami. Now, let's not get too high on these two teams, and remember that Indiana lost to Bowling Green a week ago, while Nebraska needed a miracle to sneak by McNeese State two weeks back.

Still, those are two objectively good wins, plus Iowa and Maryland scored road wins over "Power Five" conference foes Pitt and Syracuse, respectively.

After that, the rest of the conference (mostly) managed to avoid embarrassment. Penn State blew out UMass, Wisconsin got conference redemption in a route of Bowling Green, Purdue handled an FCS school far better than it did last year, Illinois avoided an upset against Texas State, Rutgers edged Navy, Minnesota pounded San Jose State, Northwestern picked up its first win against Western Illinois and Michigan State destroyed doormat Eastern Michigan.

Ohio State had the week off, so there's no way they could bring the conference any shame, but fellow blue blood Michigan wasn't so lucky. The conference's lone loss of the week came in the Big House where, after a lengthy weather delay, the inevitable came to fruition, and the Utah handed the Wolverines a humbling 16-point defeat.

Hey, this is the Big Ten, there had to be at least one embarrassing loss, right?


Atlanta Falcons

It's tough to say exactly because they were at home on Thursday night (home teams always seem to have the upper hand there) against a Tampa Bay team that really looks like it might be the worst team in football, but the Falcons were [expletive deleted] incredible. And the craziest thing was that they led 56-0 entering the fourth quarter DESPITE TURNING THE BALL OVER THREE TIMES INSIDE TAMPA TERRITORY. Combine that with the benching of Matt Ryan for the 4th quarter (I mean, they were up by eight touchdowns) and the Falcons could have broken 80 if they wanted to. One of the all-time great ass-whoopin's.


DeMarco Murray

He's leading the NFL in rushing and has been over 100 yards in all three games. I'm not sure he can keep up the pace all season (he already has 83 touches through three games, which would prorate to 442 for the season, which would probably result in four concussions, seven broken ribs, and a ruptured spleen by Week 17), but the Cowboys are moving in an interesting direction. I'm not sure how much credit to give them, because chances are they're doing it by accident, but if they're smart enough that they've realized their defense is an absolute train-wreck, so their only hope to stay in games is to pound Murray over and over again to chew clock and keep their defense off the field, then they're much savvier than anyone realizes. If Murray keeps up his strong season, Dallas could end up with a respectable record.


Emmanuel Sanders

Playing with Peyton Manning certainly will positively impact your career. In Pittsburgh, Sanders had career highs of 67 receptions (4.2 per game) and 740 yards (46.3 per game). So far this season, Sanders already has 25 receptions for 334 yards, double his previous per-game career highs. At this pace all season, Sanders would haul in 133 balls for 1780 yards. He almost certainly won't keep up the pace, as Wes Welker returning to the lineup will likely mean he'll see fewer targets, but so far, Sanders is making everyone forget that Denver lost Eric Decker, who combined for 2352 yards and 24 touchdowns over the last two seasons.


Wisconsin Running Backs

644 rushing yards. Four different ball carriers over 90 yards. 10.7 yards per carry as a TEAM. Eight rushing touchdowns. 


California @ Arizona

Cal led Arizona 31-13 entering the fourth quarter. Cal scored 14 more points in the fourth quarter. They lost, because Arizona scored THIRTY SIX POINTS IN FIFTEEN MINUTES, including NINETEEN POINTS IN THE LAST 3:30. They won on a 47-yard Hail Mary which is undoubtedly the most incredible finish to a college football game so far this season, and probably won't be topped. Scoring 36 points in one quarter of football probably won't happen again.

The Bad

Non-Heisman Trophy Winning Florida State Quarterbacks

While Florida State came out on top Saturday, mostly thanks to Clemson's inability to retain possession of the ball or make a field goal, the Seminoles got some pretty poor quarterback play from backup Sean Maguire.

Don't let his 300 yards passing fool you, Maguire was awful, throwing a pair of interceptions and over half those yards coming on just four plays, most notably a 74-yard touchdown to a wide open Rashad Greene.

But keep your chin up Sean, because you weren't the only non-Heisman winning Nole QB to have a bad week.

E.J. Manuel wasn't awful for the Bills, but he did show that he's not ready to take over against a good team either, completing mostly short passes on his way to 238 yards and a touchdown in Buffalo's loss to San Diego. Manuel's 6.1 yards per attempt won't strike fear into any defenses, and he was unable to generate anything down the field with his team trailing by double-digits for much of the game.

And how about that Christian Ponder guy? His wife is doing a fine job on College GameDay, and she may have to get him a job in TV soon, because he doesn't look like he'll be an NFL quarterback much longer. After being demoted to third-string with the Vikings, behind Matt Cassel and rookie Teddy Bridgewater, no less, Ponder is getting one last shot at holding an NFL clipboard following Cassel's injury Sunday.

The former first round pick bombed last year without a 2,000 yard Adrian Peterson, and will likely hit the quarterback scrap heap after this season.

If those three guys aren't bad enough for you, just remember that Xavier Lee, Drew Weatherford, Wyatt Sexton, Fabian Walker, Adrian McPherson, Chris Rix and Marcus Outzen all still suck.

Oh heck, even their other Heisman winning guys aren't great. Chris Weinke was like 35 when he won the award, and Charlie Ward went on to be a crappy point guard.


New England's Offense

They can't block. Because they can't block, they can't run the ball or protect the quarterback. They have three good inside receivers (Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Shane Vereen), but they can't create plays down the seam because (a) they have no threatening receivers on the outside, so defenses can just sit two deep safeties in the middle of the field and not worry about getting beat down the sideline, and (b) the offensive line can't keep Brady upright long enough for a receiver to get that far downfield anyway. They scored 16 points. Against the Raiders. That's not good. That's bad.


Ryan Fitzpatrick

He completed almost as many passes to New York Giants' defenders (three) as he did to Andre Johnson (4). And those interceptions were returned for more yards (35) than Johnson gained (24). Not a great showing from Fitzpatrick.


Philadelphia's Secondary

Let's just say that Patrick Chung was prominently involved last year, and somehow they've gotten even worse. Bradley Fletcher, Nolan Carrol, Nate Allen, Brandon Boykin, Cary Williams, and Malcolm Jenkins combine to make one of the worst pass-coverage units in recent memory. Chad Henne torched them for two quarters in Week 1, and then Kirk Cousins (who, spoiler alert, isn't actually that good - he had a career QB Rating of 68.6 entering this season) consistently beat them deep on Sunday. Their offense is incredibly explosive, so they'll always be in games, but their secondary is atrocious, so teams will always be able to come back on them.


The Ugly

The AFC South

Three teams got unequivocally blown out. Houston lost by 13. Tennessee lost by 26. Jacksonville lost by 27. The only team that didn't get blown out was Indianapolis, and that's only because they had the good fortune to play within their own division - they're the ones who trounced the Jaguars. They are by far the worst division in football through three weeks.


Job Security for High-Profile Coaches

Being a big-time college football coach certainly isn't an easy job as fickle fans, meddling boosters and unrealistic athletic directors can derail a coaching tenure before it really gets started. Good will is a powerful, yet fleeting thing for a coach to have with his team's fan base and school officials, and I can't remember two coaches that have wasted good will as quickly as Michigan's Brady Hoke and Florida's Will Muschamp.

Following the dumpster fire that was the Rich Rodriguez era in Ann Arbor, Hoke came to Michigan in 2011 promising a return to the program's Bo Schembechler/Lloyd Carr roots, and delivered in a big way, leading Big Blue to an 11-2 record, including a Sugar Bowl win over Virginia Tech, Michigan's first BCS Bowl win since the Orange Bowl following the 1999 season.

Never mind the fact that his offense was still running Rodriguez' zone-read based ground game with Denard Robinson, Hoke was still able to dramatically improve the UM defense by switching from Rodriquez' 3-3-5 alignment to a base 4-3, finishing 6th in the nation in scoring defense.

Since then, Michigan has finished the last two years 8-5 and 7-6 with a pair of bowl losses, and has lost seven of its last 10 games overall. Sitting at 2-2 after Saturday's rain-drenched home loss to Utah, it will take a remarkable turnaround for Hoke to keep his job. It may take a win over Michigan State and/or Ohio State. For as much grief as UM fans give Hoke, the program has been losing to its rivals for quite some time now. Big Blue has lost nine of its last 10 to Ohio State and five of its last six to Michigan State. Those two wins? Both orchestrated by Hoke between 2011 and 2012.

Muschamp isn't in quite as much trouble as Hoke, but he has done an equally impressive job of wasting all the good will earned by his team's 11-2 finish in 2012.

Last year, thanks to injuries, some bad luck and, some would argue, inept coaching, the Gators finished 4-8, their first losing season since 1979. The year included a loss to FCS Georgia Southern and led to some major staff turnover.

The pressure is on Muschamp to win this year, and Saturday's 42-21 loss at Alabama won't help, especially when the score could have just as easily been 42-0 if Bama hadn't fumbled the ball three times in their own territory.

Still, a loss in Tuscaloosa won't seal Muschamp's fate. If anything, that performance sparked more optimism than Florida's triple-overtime home win over conference doormat Kentucky. His real tests begin in early October when the Gators hit the road to face Tennessee, then return home for LSU and Missouri, before they play Georgia in Jacksonville.

2-2 is the absolute worst Muschamp's Gators can go in that span if he still wants to be the head man in Gainesville by season's end. Even that may not be enough, as dates with South Carolina and at Florida State loom, meaning UF would be a 6-5 or 7-4 also ran even if they play well in October.


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