Tuesday, September 28, 2004

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Quarterback U.

Sigh... the QB situation. Clearly it is the most pressing conundrum at Tulane.

First, I admit that I think Tulane’s two biggest problems are a complete inability to generate things other than turnovers from the QB position- and a pressing need to keep our defense off the field by generating more first downs/time of possession. Since I think both of these problems stem largely from the quarterback, and I think the wrong QB is playing, there is a certain comfort in knowing that the “Irvin experiment” is coming and things will only get better.

That being said, when Ricard was named the starter, I was totally okay with it. Totally. I saw no problem with the theory that Ricard should start due to his superior physical potential- and still don’t.

I posted at the time that Ricard should start until the team lost six games (and thus could no longer go to a Bowl) or they lost to A&M, ECU, or Army- a loss after which one could not realistically think they could get to six wins. You owe your football team every chance to get to the post-season- with the players you most think can help you win that Saturday- before you start wholesale experimentation with the “future”.

Consequently, I think Ricard should start two weeks from now at ECU. Period.

That being said, I must admit I never thought he would struggle so much. Six completions? 55 yards passing? Three turnovers?

So while I would start him, I would shift the approach in two ways. First, Scelfo clearly has been content to play Ricard until the game is out of hand. I would change that. If after twenty/thirty minutes against the Pirates, he has similar poor numbers- I would be okay if Scelfo went and got him. Start him again the following week against Memphis- but this is ultimately a spread offense- and you need more than alarming play from the quarterback. At this point, you have to begin to look at your options. You might not agree with my assessment of Irvin- but I cannot imagine he could possibly be worse under center right now.

Second, again this is a spread offense. Its best players are the wideouts and tight ends. Jovon is a better RB in spread sets than a “power” rusher between the tackles. The OL was recruited here as a mobile, pass protection first, get out on the screens unit- not a collection of bludgeoners. Accordingly, you must throw the ball more than fifteen times. You have to find ways to get the ball to those good wideouts and tight ends. A future 2005-6 eight-win team will not be predicated on the offense we ran Saturday. It can’t be. If Scelfo doesn’t think Ricard can throw the ball thirty times a game, then we need to confirm that now. What worried me about our approach in the USM game was that the coach seemed to telegraph he had lost confidence in his pass-first approach and quarterback. He has four on the roster; he ought to have confidence in one, right? So let Ricard play quarterback.

Tulane vs. Southern Miss Wrap Up

Since I am usually the “Prince of Darkness”, I am surprised that I am a bit more optimistic right now than most folks- although I frankly don’t disagree with the tenor of most of the press concerning the game. Tulane deserved this whipping; USM is better than the Wave right now.

But don’t you get the impression, aside from the QB situation, that we just might be making a little progress. First, those kids can flat out block the run. Period. USM was totally loading up to stop the run, and our kids buckled their helmets and ran it successfully anyway. USM has a very solid, big for C-USA, front seven- and we competed up front as well as any Tulane team in a long while- even had a big play in the running game. While he might not be in Anthony Harris’ league, Jovon is a quality C-USA back, we seemingly block the plays correctly- and despite a determined effort by USM to shut down our rushing attack- we ran the ball well. It gives me hope that we’ll be able to run it against Navy and UAB- games we’ll need to make a run at 4-5 wins. If we can rush the football for 150 yards- I guarantee we are in the game against, say, Houston or UAB. And the pass protection was pretty good as well. They only asked Ricard to throw three balls down the field- and all three times he did not have guys in his face.

And I think the defense is more than a little improved from last year. Okay, they clearly still wear down- but USM and MSU are two of the bigger teams we’ll see this year. But teams don’t run totally wild on us anymore- at least early. And while the USM quarterback did not play particularly well- part of the reason was that we generated- sit down for this- a pretty consistent pass rush against one of C-USA better offensive fronts. I am still not really sold on the back seven on defense- but Cannon hides some flaws among the LBs- and our defensive front is much improved from the utter disaster it was last year. It is so obvious to me that some of these freshmen DL have good motors and real potential.

Look, we are still a long way from eight wins. But they are still on target to win the three games they should win: Army, A&M and ECU. I am increasingly confident they can sweep that slate- as Army and ECU are truly horrible- and I don’t think either can score 17 against this defense (I cannot believe I just wrote that). They could steal a game or two from the rest of the schedule: Houston, UAB and Navy- they could definitely get one of those, right.

For me, the utter frustration is that if they could get anything other than brutal, crippling turnovers out of the QB position, coupled with this better than average rushing attack and defense that can play a little, they could get near five, maybe six, wins.

Still, I’m sticking with four wins- and with all the young players we are playing and returning- that is not a hopeless result. I guarantee you this- if this mob can win four games, they will be Bowl eligible next year.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Tulane vs. Southern Miss Preview

I have to post my prediction early this week- as I am off to New Orleans tomorrow morning for the game. It is my first look at the Wave in person this season- so I hope to return with some good views of some of the younger players.

The NY Post gives the line as Tulane +13 over USM. Thirteen is a lot of points. I think this game is a referendum on a single question: do you believe the Tulane offense, particularly Ricard, has improved to the point that it can score some points (say 17-20) and protect the defense? If Tulane has the ball for 28 minutes and scores said 17-20 points, I think our defense has improved enough over last year that USM is not coming into the Dome and scoring 30, right? Even if we lose 28-17, the Wave covers that big number.

Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening. First, since I absolutely cannot believe USM thinks Ricard can hurt them, they are going to unquestionably load up the box and take away the run. I think our OL is improved and all that- but with seven-eight guys consistently near the line of scrimmage, no one can run. Which means there will be opportunities for Ricard to throw it- and Scelfo- God bless him- has to let him try. Conversely, USM will blitz and blitz and blitz. Force Ricard to make throws with guys is his face, throws to guys being covered one on one, or soft zones- and Ricard has to makes some of those plays work. In some respectes, he "alone" has to do it. Teams loading up to stop the run and blitzing leave guys open.

I simply don’t think Ricard can yet- and that’s a problem. In late November, I can see us getting to 20 points in this spot. I cannot right now. While I support, sort of, starting Ricard right now- this is one spot where I think him being the pick over Irvin hurts. There are going to be throws to be made this weekend, maybe more so than against MSU. Yes, Ricard has a striking arm and he has hit on some attention grabbing deep balls. But this week our offense is not predicated on the QB necessarily having gorgeous physical tools and/or a lot of down-field passing. It is completing lots of not-so-hard throws to open guys while under pressure- and today Irvin might be the better guy to do that- if just because I don’t think Ricard can right now.

That being said, with Tulane having 25-30 incomplete passes, USM should have a big edge in TOP and rushing yards- and unlike Mississippi State they have a good enough offense to really punish the Wave. We’ll hang around- but ultimately they’ll just wear us out. So I would go with USM and give Tulane 13.

Lastly, all signs point to Ryan Johnson getting his first start this weekend. As I wrote during spring practice- I think this guy is the best-looking DE Tulane has recruited in like forever. So take a minute and watch him this weekend. Those of you who don’t think you can project an underclassman to the NFL particularly need to watch carefully. He still needs to grow- but he already is a ferocious player with very good speed and a great frame. I have been in love with this DL class since the minute it arrived- and this kid is my favorite.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Vikes @ Eagles Wrap Up

Sometimes in life you can overanalyze stuff- particularly important things like, say, your own children or even, perhaps, professional football. So in its simplest state: While there are no doubt trials and tribulations ahead, right now the Philadelphia Eagles are a good football team playing pretty darn well.

By no means was the Eagles’ A-game on display at America’s favorite glittering jewel: Lincoln Financial Field.* But they still demolished a pretty good Vikings outfit by two scores, played ahead by multiple scores for most of the game and never were in a position where Minnesota had the ball with a chance to tie or win from the second quarter on. This is very similar to the sort of predicament the Huskies face Saturday in South Bend.

You can’t expect teams to “bring it” emotionally week after week in the NFL- and both Minnesota and Philadelphia are franchises that know the NFL is not about Monday night in September. But the Eagles are a real challenge in this sort of environment- as the Patriots are the only other team in football that brings a competent, professional effort Sunday after Sunday regardless of circumstances like Philadelphia does.

For example, have you noticed Philadelphia seemingly doesn’t commit penalties anymore? When was the last time the Eagles were called for a penalty that hurt them? The OL is never off-sides. Or holds. The defense played an entire game against Minnesota(!), who dropped back to pass in excess of 55 times, and did not take a single penalty against the defensive backs? In today’s NFL? When was the last dumb personal foul? Every single kick is covered- I can’t remember the last kick off run back they allowed past the fifty. Or the last time we had a return come back due to a clip. By the way, you can see why our kick returner, JR Reed, led the NCAA in kick-off returns last year. It is scary how good he is running in space. An outright steal in the fourth round.

Of course, the QB has clearly taken a huge step forward in his play. Another 19/28, 240 yards, throw for two scores, run for another (just an unbelievable play). I am not reporting his interceptions anymore for fear of jinxing him- but you all know the magic number. It rhymes with “hero”. Can you even imagine him coughing it up on the one-yard line like Culpepper? Please. And his TD run- watch him “sense” the defensive lineman just behind him….

TO! On pace still to catch over thirty touchdowns! The Freak! I know it is a long season, and I know he’s got to stay healthy, but he is unbelievable. First guy I’ve seen since Reggie White that is literally un-blockable at times. And Westbrook had his traditional 150 yards of offense on 15 or so touches.

The defense let up a lot of yards- but they were on the field all the time- and still held the Vikings to one “almost meaningless” touchdown and some field goals. The defensive backs weren’t asked to do much (if you can ever say that about playing Randy Moss and pals)- just keep play in front of them- and they did a commendable job. Even had a big sack. I thought the linebackers quietly had the best game they’ve had in forever. Minnesota couldn’t run it a lick- thirty something yards?- the first time in like forever you could say that. They tackled brilliantly on the endless underneath stuff- did they miss any? And they made the defensive play of the game forcing the Culpepper fumble on that scary, brutal hit. The Eagles have really, really punished QBs this year- I wouldn’t be surprised if they “cart” a few this year. Some happy thoughts: Brunell, hobbling pitifully away from the Freak. Ramsey crumpled, just blown up, from the blind-side by Trotter- the ball skidding away. Tim Hasselbeck’s eyes wide in fear- audibling to yet another “run”. Gibbs better prep his “emergency QB”. Yo! Joe! You could probably get Blake for a “two”.

The schedule takes a curious turn the next couple weeks- as the Eagles head out on the road. A short week, coupled with Detroit’s nice start, make this Sunday an interesting affair- particularly since this is probably the Lions’ most important game in about ten years. Then travel to the up-start Bears and Chicago. I think the Bears are terrible- for example I know Rex Grossman is horrible- but still…. The Eagles last seven games are shaping up pretty easy (lots of division games against what appears to be a particularly sorry lot)- so this next stretch of four-five games is probably the hardest of the season.

*Did you hear Al Michael’s lavishing praising Philadelphia fans- saying he “loved” us for “understanding every nuance” despite astonishing levels of intoxication?

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Giants @ Eagles Wrap Up

You know how we all, during the season, carefully look at the schedule and put little “W’s” and “L’s” next to all the games. Well, this morning there are undoubtedly a lot of people sensibly scribing a little “L” next to the line for Philadelphia.

Oh my. Arriving at the Linc near 6PM, missing the first half at the beautiful C___n wedding (congratulations all!), I have also been studying the tape. That was pretty scary, wasn’t it? I still don’t think the Giants are that bad a team- and really they did not play that badly. New York ran the ball pretty well and Warner was more than okay. Their secondary is terrible right now- but they generated a pass rush upfront. Nevertheless, for a fifty minute span there, they weren’t even in Philly’s league.

The keys to the Eagles’ long term success are three criteria: the quarterback, a constant talent infusion to off-set losses due to the salary cap, and a certain consistency in approach. All three were on glorious display yesterday.

Everyone knows I enlisted in the glorious Donovan Army years ago. He was, frankly, awesome yesterday. The Giants were, in all probability, always going to be in big trouble Sunday- but when McNabb hangs 26-36, 330 yards, four touchdowns- and altogether now!- zero turnovers (yet again)- a small chance rapidly became no chance. He’s never going to be the most “accurate thrower”- but he is point-producing machine producing seemingly endless big plays with no corresponding turnovers. The jaw-dropping second TD pass to TO- seriously, not five guys in the history of the NFL can make that play.

TO is a self-aggrandizing crazy person- but he is a real, real good professional player. This morning, he is on pace to catch a shade fewer than 50 TDs. His performance galvanized the Linc, flapping his new "wings" after each sore, almost as much as the return of Trotter and Douglas. Wasn't their fourth quarter close up touching? You could almost read the joy in Trotter's & Douglas' faces- as they remembered what it felt like to play in front of adoring, yet demanding, fans. Trotter particularly seemed genuinely moved- not only by watching his quarterback make plays for once, but also that the defense did not quit totally at any point. Westbrook was also scary good. The Eagles really are going to make a serious run at scoring 420-440 points this year- a staggering figure for an outdoors, eastern team.

The Eagles’ defense is clearly not the lock-down outfit it was two-three years ago- the departure of talent here is most glaring. Yet again, they give up some meaningless rushing yards- and Warner had a okay-plus day. However, the Giants only scored ten points until a garbage time score with 2 minutes to go. The Giants really only had 275 yards of offense- before they surrendered with Manning entering the game.

But rushing the football really does not matter so much in today’s NFL- other than protecting a lead late. The Eagles were terrible against the run last year- but only one team in the NFC allowed fewer points. The Patriots were the best team in football- and couldn't run it a lick last year. It frankly just doesn’t matter that much. Unless you can resultantly produce big plays with the passing game as part of your offensive attack- rushing the football is the singularly most overrated part of the professional game. There were a lot of teams in the NFL on Sunday with big rushing days and suspect quarterbacking struggled to score- i.e. the Giants. Portis ran for a bunch in Washington- and the ‘skins scored a whopping 16. The Rams and Titans both had almost 200 yards rushing- and both scored 17 points. And so on. You watch, the Eagles will be 28th against the run- and fifth in points allowed.

Accordingly, the Eagles take the pass away and almost ignore the run- playing six-seven guys in the box. Does anyone play their safeties deeper? Just play those safeties back, protect our young corners, and count on the finally healthy defensive line to stop the run every other time and rush the passer. The DL got great pressure all day- and put a pair of genuinely brutal hits on both Warner and Manning (was that scary or what?). Hugh Douglas is on a pace to have 24 sacks.

All in all an encouraging opening weekend- all you ask for (Tulane wins! Notre Dame wins!). Coupled with the pretty lackluster performances of the rest of the division- I still see no reason the Eagles don’t win the East by three games.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Tulane vs Florida A&M Wrap Up

Rattlers bring excitement! And lots of bad players! And few fans! We were sold a bill of goods there, weren't we?

I don’t think there is really too much to say about the game Saturday. Before the game, I posted that I thought the Wave would handle this team by a few scores- and that I would consider the game a success if:

• They ran it down the Rattlers throat.
• Get Ricard a chance to really exercise the offense and build some confidence
• Not allow the game to be competitive after the first half.

Frankly, mission accomplished in all three phases. It was a strong, bounce-back effort, albeit against a pretty hapless opponent. There might have been more to pull out of the game, but I did not see it- and it was not on the satellite either- so I am going to leave it at that.

Nevertheless, I sense the Wave, was a team that really was going to be helped by a glorified scrimmage- particularly the quarterback.

More importantly, it keeps them on track for a non-disaster season. To me, the goal of this season has always been to win the three games they ought to win- this past one, ECU and Army- and get to the turn at 2-4. They probably have to get the ECU game to make that happen- as I really cannot see them being competitive against Lousiville or @ Memphis. USM is a real stretch at this point too.

The Cardinals are -17 over the Wave this week. Unfortunately, I believe they are going to really smoke us. I cannot imagine any scenario where we score more than 17- or worse- keep them under 40. Unless Louisville literally turns it over five times or so.

However, there are a prospective two wins, even maybe three more if Ricard continues to improve, in the second half of the season. For one thing, I saw the Army game- they’re brutal again.

A 4-7 campaign, returning most of the offense and the defensive front seven, sets us up for some nice runs in 2005-2006.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Tulane vs. Florida A&M Preview

Well, the Wave will try and hold it together this weekend against Florida A&M. There is no line this week- so I guess we can’t make an “official” pick.

I know nothing about Florida A&M- other than that from the Illinois game, they threw it like one hundred times- suggesting they aren’t shy about chucking it around. Still, any fool has got to know you have to at least try to run it against the Wave.

I don’t think our offense is capable of scoring a ton of points right now- so I doubt we’ll throw a real ugly whipping on these guys. But this cannot be a good spot for A&M- you have to figure the Illini administered a physical beat down as well as blowing them out. Plus they are on the road again. But without a Tulane team featuring lots of offensive firepower, I expect this will be a game for more than awhile.

I actually expect we’ll try and run it right at them. In the first half, I thought the Mississippi State game showed that we can block the run more than a little- and Jovon seems up to the task. Right now he inspires more confidence than any other part of the offense. I expect him to touch the football at least 25 or so times- and Forte and Tuyo another five to ten times. Establishing a dominant rushing attack, if Tulane’s rushing attack can ever be called dominant, will also serve to take some of the pressure off the guy we’re all coming to see: Ricard.

Obviously, the single most important thing we need to see Saturday is Ricard show a little life, some confidence back there- rather than the tentative, uncertain young man we saw at MSU. Don’t spoon-feed him- let him build some confidence by pitching it around a little- especially down the field. He’s never going to be a guy who generates his game by surgically completing 60% of his passes. He’s got to set up and get those wide outs down the field the ball. One positive from the MSU game is that our wide outs ostensibly can catch the football- so let’s give them every chance Saturday night.

It could help the Wave offense to see the game a “little slower” this weekend. Run the ball, then run it again and throw it downfield more than a little, build some confidence in the offense itself.

I imagine our D should keep them to a reasonable number- and we are better than this football team. Close for awhile- but we win 34-13.

World Cup of Hockey

First of all, what is this "World Cup of Hockey" nonsense? It is the "Canada Cup". Also, the fact that none of the games are in New York, Philadelphia or Detroit is testimony to the utter stupidity of the NHL. Utterly stupid.

Now. No bones about it- I want Canada!

That is assuming Canada even makes it through the semi-finals. Sure they ought to roll Slovakia in the quarters tonight in Toronto- but then they get the Czechs- and I know I'd want no part of that Czech-flavored medicine in a one-and-done situation. There is no guttier team in international play than the Czechs- and they are always prepared and always nasty. There are like eight guys on the Czech roster who play in the NHL only because they are mean.

The Americans really, after a shaky start, have a good chance to win this tournament. Okay, they looked awful against Canada to open play: they looked old and unready- did not hit anyone.

But Wilson has made the right changes- and the tournament has opened up for them in a big way. They absolutely hammered Russia in the quarters last night- top to bottom. Yes, the defense is old, but I am not sure in a short tournament with three days between games, it is that big a weakness. Chelios and Leetch might not be a world-class players every night, but they might be six times over an eighteen-day tournament. And of course, Chelios brings a unique advantage to the Americans. If Coach Ron Wilson decides he has to cripple, say, Thorton or Iginla, to win this thing, it really isn't a problem for Chelios. "Yes Coach," Chelios would say cheerily- reaching for the "stick" he keeps for "crippling".

As a reward for last nights big win, the USA catches a real break in the semi-finals. After playing Slovakia, Canada again has to deal with those tricky Czechs. Conversely, the Finns have to fly across the ocean and play the semi-final in some horrible place in Minnesota. The Fins aren't terrible- but c'mon- they ain't the Swedes or the Czechs either. Particularly at home, we ought to beat up their chicken European wingers- and roll that mob by two goals.

I honestly wouldn't be surprised to see the Czechs in the Final- again no one overachieves more than that team. But realistically Canada ought to advance- and set up a great Final in Toronto.

Again, I know the Americans looked real bad in that first game. But this is kind of a good spot for them. First, Ron Wilson is a very good coach. He made the mistake of playing all-star hockey with Canada the first time- and yes, Canada is at least two goals better than the USA playing that game. But he isn't stupid- and the USA isn't playing that way anymore. Scratching Hull, refusing to play Amonte- all are signals that Wilson is going to play something besides the "skate in circles" effort we played the first time. In that scenario, Jamie Langenbrunner is a more important player than Hull.

It would be a big upset to beat Canada- but they only have to beat them once- and you don't have to beat them playing "hockey". They have to turn it into a contest of "who wants it more?" rather than "who is better?" Thorton defines pretty soft already- let's see how soft he is with an irritable Rafalski draped over him for twenty minutes. You know Chelois won't blink if asked to take a run at Lecavalier- again and again. How bad does Joe Sakic really want it? You think Martin St. Louis is going to stand up to Brian Rolston in a big spot? The Americans need to ask Canada to answer these sorts of questions- questions Canada didn't answer well at all in '96.

Plus, if you had to design a team to upset Canada, it might look like the one Wilson has. The top line is on fire. Esche is better than Brodeur (see last year's play-offs for one thing- and Esche has been fantastic in the tournament thus far) in the most important position on the ice. Canada hold distinct advantages up front- but the USA defense is more than adequate to hold it together for one game, one time, one supreme effort. Plus, let's face it- no team plays tighter than a drum in big spots than Canada in Canada.

Imagine Tuesday night, in Toronto, as the disappointed, sad crowd is forced to listen to "The Star Spangled Banner" yet again. The good news for Canada is that only a handful of people believe it can happen. The bad news for Canada is that twenty of them will be in Toronto wearing "USA" on their sweater.

NFC East Predictions

Frank picks the NFC East:

Philadelphia: For yet another year, Philadelphia enters the season head and shoulders above their division foe. The Eagles are the Atlanta Braves of football. Last December, missing nine starters, they faced Dallas straight up for division supremacy- and beat them real bad- see “Die Hard 2” for a visual example. Even banged up, they were probably a touchdown-plus favorite over anyone in the division at the end of the season. And I cannot imagine that has changed all that much.

Andy Reid may not be the best game day coach in the NFL- but he is among the elite in managing his roster in the salary cap era. Year after year the Eagles are loaded for bear- and a nice crop of young players is eased into the rotation. Only three starters remain from the first 2001 division champion team. The Eagles are- by far- the youngest, deepest team in the division. Again, they lost nine starters (plus Westbrook) and never lost a beat.

Any time you finish at the top of your division, sacrifices are coming in terms of the salary cap. The Eagles came at running back and corner back. But the idea that Buckhalter and Staley are earth-shaking losses is comical. Did anyone watch these guys play last year? Both are below-average NFL players- and the idea that the “crucial” 400 or so yards rushing they provided is not easily replaceable by just about anyone is ridiculous. I understand Westbrook is not exactly durable- but did you know the Eagles did not have a RB average eight carries/game last year. Yeah, I think Westbrook can handle that kind of load.

Corner is a more peculiar question- but the fact is the two kids played a lot back there last year and played pretty well. Sure, they are not Vincent and Taylor in their prime- but Taylor and Vincent aren’t in their prime anymore. All of a sudden Johnson can’t evaluate corner talent anymore? Please. They probably still can’t consistently stop the run- but in today’s NFL it doesn’t really matter- except when you’re losing late.

Most importantly, as long as #5 is around to torture NFL East defenses, the Eagles are more than okay in this division. Bark! McNabb is the Big Dog. He might not be a top ten QB, he might not be a fantasy football darling, but he ought to be the league’s MVP year after year after year. He brings every intangible to the field: no turnovers, mobility, leadership, a knack for back-breaking big plays. And for the first time, he has a true top wide out to throw to- and sshhh… Freddie Mitchell is turning into a really, really good slot receiver.

Their health is all-important for a deep play-off run, but they will almost effortlessly dominate this mob again- and win the division by two-three games in the end. 12 wins.

Dallas: In the cap era of the NFL, everyone has problems- Dallas is no exception. But their outstanding defense is back- with reinforcements (Willey at DE for example). And don’t kid yourself, that defense is a talented, mobile, and hostile unit- that is much, much better than anything Washington or New York can throw out there. They'll miss Woodson- but safety and center are the most unimportant positions in the NFL.

The questions are on the offense. Okay, they were bad last year. But no matter what- aren’t Testeverde and Henson just better than Quincy Carter? Isn’t an older Eddie George better than anything they had last year? They almost have to be better on offense. Plus, with the new cast of skill players, they can take away about one hundred downright crippling turnovers. The offensive line ain’t too good- but again it is even or better than Washington or the Giants.

This team deservedly made the play-offs last year- and I don’t think they’ve regressed- so I think they get in again. Somewhere between 9-10 wins.

Washington: The ‘skins are hard to figure out- but for the first time in a long time, with a break or two, they could get in the tournament. So much of this is leveraged on Joe Gibbs- and the next two years (this team could be scary bad in 2006). But one could argue that you could do a lot worse than take a chance on Coach.

First, there is clearly more order and a plan. And there was always talent in Washington. But when you took an anarchic coach, a vapid owner and indolent fans, no one was surprised when the team itself was the most anarchic, vapid and indolent franchise in football year after year.

More so than any team in the division, the ‘skins must, must stay healthy. There is zero depth in lots of key places- part and parcel of having 30% of your cap tied up in one position. They are a pair of tackle, quarterback or Portis injuries away from 5-11. Joe Bugel aside, the OL just isn’t very good- and there is literally no one who can play behind the regulars. The defensive line is truly ghastly. I am not sure they can cover people either. I can think of no singular reason why they won’t be the worst pass defense, and not by a little bit, in the division. They gave up an astonishing 45 touchdowns last year. I can’t see that number falling much- if at all. It is emphatically hard to make the play-offs if week after week your offense has to score 24- just to be in it.

Conversely, if the OL can stay healthy, this team can clearly hurt people on offense. While I disagree with the idea that handing any RB the ball 25 times is the way to win in today’s NFL, perhaps they can make it work. As I wrote last year, if you are averaging 35 rushes a game, you are conclusively hurting your team. And that, frankly, is the only real problem I have with Gibb’s off-season. He appears determined to construct an offense established on creating 12-play, 65-yard drives. No one scores that way anymore; I don't think the Eagles have had a twelve play drive in five years. Most scoring drives in the NFL are seven plays or fewer- and most involve a big pass-play. Particularly with the new rules, the quarterback is even more important. No one cares anymore if your completion percentage is 55% vs. 59%- or if your yards per pass play is seven yards versus eight. You need quarterbacking that regularly creates 25 yards-plus plays, stays healthy and never turns it over.

That is not Brunell candidly. I am not sure the ‘skins grasp that yet- plus very few quarterbacks prosper their first year in a new system. In an open draft, Brunell would not be taken in the first fifteen QBs anymore. However, I suppose he is a professional- and he clearly has weapons he can utilize at the skill positions.

If Brunell and Portis make 28 starts between them, and the OL stays healthy, they’re in the play-off hunt. But I doubt they will. Frankly, I doubt Brunell will make it to Week Eight behind that line. 6-7 wins.

New York: Other than Gibbs magic presence, why are the Giants so much worse than the Redskins? I cannot figure it out.

Their lines are better. In fact, their defense is loaded with young guys who can run and should get better- particularly with Coughlin insisting they be. Is Warner (at $3 million) really that much worse than Brunell (at $10 million)? Is Portis, in today’s NFL, really a substantially more important player than Shockey?

The Giants made a lot of strides to fix the defense through the draft the past two years. The offense is no great shakes- but Shockey is back and the OL got reinforcements (Diehl and Snee might be the two best young OL in the division). I think they’ll be better than the four they won last year. No team lost more games stupidly last year- and Coughlin will fix that.

Young teams can flourish real quickly in today’s league- and they are a tough nut in the Meadowlands. Playing the last place schedule, would it really surprise anyone to see them go 5-3 at home? My guess is that they'll be favored in five home games. So I think six-seven wins total- and I think they really could surprise to the upside.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Tulane- Mississippi State Wrap Up

Time to Panic!

Well what can you say? Some quick thoughts before Notre Dame kicks off.
I guess the QB is going to take some heat from some quarters- and yes, he did throw two crippling interceptions- and if you remember, I have the over-under for "Ricard’s crippling interceptions" at six through the first half of the season- and I bet in retrospect his TD pass won’t look so good in the morning (how can a guy get behind your safeties when you have a fourteen point lead?). But we ought to relax a titch- he’s not the first RS sophomore to see the elephant and cringe a bit.

But again, anyone who watched Ricard in practice- well, I assure you, right now this is what he is. Great tools- did you see that first pass rocket downfield. But he isn’t quarterback-ish. His feet move around. He looks ungainly and unconfident at times- and we should finally be able to bury any suggestion that Irwin is substantially less athletic/mobile- if anything he throws better on the move than Ricard. He doesn’t have a lot of touch exactly- and why is he being asked to make a touch throw on 3rd and Goal late in the first half when everyone in the building knows that is not his strength? He has a gorgeous arm and terrific size- but not too much polish.

As to the rest of it- well, the defense looked improved at times. They flat out played well in the first half. The second half was increasingly ragged. Teams seem to still be able to run on us- but it never seemed crazy- until late- like last year. We still are weak at corner. But they certainly run better- and considering we played lots of freshman up front, we did okay on the DL. There was some pressure on the QB- and they competed most of the time. Let’s put it this way, it is the sort of effort that will beat Army and A&M.

If the quarterback is overwhelmed- it is hard to evaluate the receivers. I thought the OL played decent-plus in the first half. We ran the ball well in spots early- but once we got down multiple scores in the second half- and MSU lost any fear of Ricard’s ability to hurt them, they pushed eight guys in the box and sold out coming for the QB- and our OL could not handle that. But in the first half- when they were still able to run a functional mixture of run/pass- the OL was okay.

All in all, it was a tough spot- and unfortunately they played "like it was a tough spot." It was not the kind of game they could win with the QB turning it over one time in both red zones- that was fourteen point swing and 90% of the difference tonight.

I gotta go now- the Skull of Mike IV wants to watch OSU.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Preview: Tulane v. Mississippi State

Well, here we are, right?

Poor Scelfo. Not only does he have to game plan a road win against an emotional opponent, but also Coach has to design it knowing the singular thing he can count on is that Mississippi State will be the 12th out of 13 opponents in a row to rush for 200+ yards against us. How many teams last year won a game conceding 200 yards on the ground? Heck, is it even possible?

Clearly, by putting the visiting Wave up as only a 6-point underdog, Vegas certainly thinks it is do-able. I mean, when was the last time a consensus 8-10th place finisher in C-USA went on the road to an SEC school- and was not a double-digit underdog? This line is convincing evidence of one thing- Mississippi State is thought by the “smart guys” to be pretty damn horrible.
One thing I took from last year that Tulane can compete in, even win, road games, as semi-big underdogs, if they play their A-game offensively AND their opponent:

- not only turns it over a whole bunch of times but also repeatedly in the red zone

- plays a totally uninspired or sloppy half

- does not feature a real dominant offensive line

I think that is sort of true about Saturday night too. The Wave has to play a competent offensive game, and kind of give Mississippi State every chance to press a little: miss a field goal here, throw a bad pass there, try and do too much on a 3rd and 13, take a key dumb unsportsman-like penalty, etc.
I sense this isn’t a game about Tulane so much. Our offense isn’t going to score 28 points in this spot- so I am more concerned about them not turning it over. Our defense probably isn’t going to stop them consistently- particularly on the ground- so we need the Bulldogs to stop themselves a few times with a bunch of turnovers. Some penalties would unquestionably help. We win the turnover differential by two, or MSU has 90 yards or so in penalties, I guarantee MSU is in some real trouble.

Last year, the UAB and USM games, teams better than MSU is this year, showed us that this largely same group of Tulane players is capable of a heady, emotional road effort with near-zero terrible mistakes. However, that is an awful lot to expect right off the bat- with both a young team and particularly a QB making his first start.

I woutotally would not be surprised to see the Wave win it. Still,if you forced me, I’d say go with the Dawgs and give Tulane the six points. But had the line been Tulane plus seven, I probably would go the other way.