Saturday, August 28, 2010

NFL Season Preview

It has been a grueling last few months but it is finally football season and I am finally back in action after my summer hiatus. After an amazing opening to the College season it's time to get ready for what should be an incredible NFL season. Instead of doing a team by team preview like I do with the NBA I'm just going to highlight some key elements to this season that you should keep your eyes fixed on. With a ton to talk about I'm going to jump right in, starting with the subject that is always the center of the football world, the quarterback position.

Homophobic QB's
Quarterbacks in this league are starting to become uncomfortable with their hands up other grown men's butts as well as no longer being ok with 300 pound men pounding them into the ground. This league has done everything to turn the NFL into a pass first league. 5 players had a QB Rating of over 100 (six if you include Peyton Manning's 99.9) and an incredible 12 were over 92.9. To put that in perspective here are the number of quarterbacks that had a rating of over 100 and quarterbacks with a rating over 90 for the previous 10 years.
2008: 1, 9
2007: 3, 8
2006: 1, 8
2005: 2, 8
2004: 4, 11
2003: 1, 6
2002: 1, 4
2001: 1, 5
2000: 2, 7
1999: 1, 5

You could chalk this up to quarterbacks making smarter decisions and being less conservative but is that really the case? An NFL record 10 quarterbacks threw for over 4,000 yards, heck even Kyle Orton who has virtually zero arm strength threw for 3,802 yards last year. So what gives? well like I said the big thing is that QB's have become homophobic, nearly every offense runs high percentage of plays now from the shotgun, even just a few years we'd only ever see the shotgun for 3rd and long situations. Peyton Manning is probably the most to blame for this, he has absolutely mastered and in many ways created the NFL spread offense, the way he changes plays and gets the right guy into space to make a play or take advantage of certain coverage schemes is incredible to watch. Because it's been so successful a lot of teams are starting to switch to it. It started off with the Pats in 07 and just took off from there. The other guy that is to fault for this is Tom Brady. Ever since the NFL's Prince Charming went down on a season ending knee injury from a perfectly legal and clean hit the NFL has made it illegal to do anything short of blowing kisses at the quarterback. Now QB's don't ever have to worry about getting hit or not having the right protection because as soon as you feel contact you know your getting a guaranteed 15 yards. Poor David Carr just came into the league too soon could you imagine how many calls he would have gotten? In 6 years with Houston he was sacked an astonishing 250 times, and if you discount the one shortened year he started in which the line actually protected him it's 235 in 5 years, if you want some perspective Peyton Manning has only been sacked 215 times in 12 seasons. There is one more player to blame for this and his name is....... REGGIE BUSH!!!! I know especially now its easy to look at Reggie Bush either being a disappointment or a guy who likes to try and cheat the system but just ignore all that for a moment, think back to College days when he was the most electric athlete people had ever seen. Ever single kid that watched him wanted to be just like him. We had been used to seeing running backs being patient and hitting holes and running guys over. I mean there plenty of guys that had flash like LT or Marshall Faulk but nobody like Bush. Bush revolutionized the position, with his ability to play slot receiver and his speed in the return game. I mean for crying out loud Madden put in their game the ability to pull off his step back move, what other guy has had Madden incorporate a move after them? The closest thing is Boise State's hook n' ladder play. Because of the way he dominated College Football nearly ever up and coming young running back is modeling themselves after him. I know we still have young traditional backs like Shonn Greene, Ray Rice, MJD or Rahshard Mendenhall but every single one of those guys was considered a "sleeper" pick, nobody was looking for them to be their feature back even though that is exactly what they are. Look at the guys who teams are targeting, Reggie Bush 2nd overall pick, Darren McFadden 4th overall pick, Knowshawn Moreno 12th overall pick, and C.J. Spiller 9th overall. I know there are other guys in there too that are more traditional backs (I didn't include Chris Johnson because I don't see him one way or the other, he's simply the perfect hybrid) but you think that those guys would have been so highly targeted if it was even 7 years ago? Backs have become more entertainers and a support system for the QB, a guy to check down to or to throw out wide in the slot for a 4th or 5th receiver and it's expanding the passing games of teams. So what does this all mean for the 2010 season? Well here a few things for you to focus on

1. Rookie QB's
It's no secret that this may be the most talked about rookie draft class of all time. With possibly a new future super star (Sam Bradford) the next passed over Aaron Rodgers type stud (Jimmy Clausen) and then the good guys whom "experts" believe to have better feel good stories then pro potential (Tebow and McCoy). I've spend a lot of time analyzing these qb's, especially recently since I am a die hard Rams fan and I want to make sure that my team is in good hands. So far from the pre-season I couldn't be happier with Bradford, he's shown poise, has taken some big hits and bounced right back, he got better with every game, his teammates are buying into him being the leader and every coach he's gone against has said the same thing, that he's a future superstar and a born leader. I'm stoked for all this but my question with Bradford was never about any of that, I want to make sure that he isn't going to throw for 4,000 yards 30 TD's get my hopes up in the next couple of years then blow his knee out. I know he took some hits in pre-season but I'm not convinced his body is going to hold up long enough in the NFL to ever accomplish what he is talented enough to do. I just know deep down in my gut that some how Bradford is going to have a big "what if" hanging over his career while Jimmy Clausen is winning MVP's in 5 years and Tim Tebow is collecting a Super Bowl ring. I'm getting depressed, time to move on since no one else from this group is going to start this year anyways and if they do I'll come back to it then.

2. Aaron Rodgers
I've been really high on Rodgers ever since he was drafted and he hasn't done a single thing to disappoint. During the whole Favre Packers divorce he is the only one that really acted mature about the whole thing, just letting them take care of business while he handled his on the field. He has matured into one of the best NFL QB's and is now a MVP front runner. Also Bill Simmons reports that Aaron Rodgers was out at a sports bar with some teammates and a few college buddies watching the NFC Championship game and Rodgers was openly cheering against the Vikings and was making a point of it to single out Favre in his jeering. If there was ever any doubt in my mind about being a Rodgers fan that definitely put me over the top, there is nothing to not love about this guy. I know he is everyone's trendy pick but it's too obvious to not agree with it, I think I'm going to kill myself for agreeing with nearly ever ESPN writer but I guess they have to be right about something every now and then. Don't be a bit surprised to see Rodgers throw for over 5,000 yards and/or 40 TD's. Sounds insane but he is that good and if there is any year to do it's this year.

3. Old Dogs Learning New Tricks
It's slightly ridiculous to me how many veteran QB's are assuming new roles this season. Not just guys changing teams but you look at guys like Chad Pennington or Marc Bulger, quarterbacks who are used to field general and are now back up quarterbacks to the new young guns. But I'm very curious to see how McNabb fares in Washington or Jason Campbell does in Oakland, I could honestly care less about Derek Anderson but for arguments sake we'll throw him in there. Jake Delhomme though is the guy I really want to see this year. I know it's random but poor Cleveland fans have gone through so much this summer and Delhomme actually looked great in the pre-season. I would love to see the Browns surprise teams this year and have Delhomme just start dominating. It can't happen, it makes no sense right? It sounds crazy, "so crazy that it just might work". I know I know I'm not really predicting this but I'm secretly rooting for this to happen this year just because Cleveland fans need something like this and I really hate Lebron James. One more fantasy tangent, could you imagine having Washington play Cleveland for the Super Bowl? I mean it would be the single greatest dual F you game of all time, especially if Cleveland beat Miami to make it, just saying.

The Brett Favre Category
Don't worry this isn't another quarterback section but Brett Favre epitomizes this category about the NFL and that is what I believe to be overrated. So here we go starting with overrated players for this year in no particular order.

Players
1. Brett Favre - If you know it is no secret how I feel about Brett Favre. I understand that the fact that he had his best stastical season of his career as a 40 year old is miraculous and that he holds nearly every single quarterback record but I think to say that he is even a top 5 all time quarterback is a complete disgrace to the game of football. I'm sorry but if there is anything that I have seen from Brett Favre is that he is the biggest "me first" person I have ever seen. He has put himself above three different franchises, he cares way more about meaningless records then he does about team success and he has thrown away nearly 10 times as many critical games then he has won. Sure he has won a super bowl and we all remember the magical monday night game after his dad passed away or the last second touch down against the Niners but how quickly we forget the bad. The Super Bowl he lost when his team was an enormous favorite, the last two post season appearances when he made rookie like decisions and threw interceptions to lose the games or how he has progressively gotten worse and worse in the playoffs as his career has progressed despite getting "better" at the end of his career. From 93 to 96 (the year he won the super bowl) he was 7-3 in the post season. Since that time he has gone a very pedestrian 6-8 in the post season, but he is still dubbed a "winner". In a must win game I don't think there is anybody I would trust less then Favre other then Jamarcus Russell but even he may be smart enough to know he can't win it on his own. I can't wait to see Favre hype everybody up again this season just to throw it away again when it matters most, but of course it'll be excused because he'll be fighting through another injury or he's just a natural gun slinger or whatever excuse you want to give him, Brett Favre is vastly overrated.

2. Chris Johnson - I'm going to get so much crap for this but I don't care. All we heard last year was about Michael Turner and how because he led the league in carries would probably have a sub par year because of the work load that he had to endure the past season. Well Chris Johnson is in the same boat yet all anybody is talking about is him breaking the single season rushing record. I'm sorry but when you touch the ball over 400 times as 190lb back you are eventually going to wear down a bit. Does this mean I think that Johnson is going to bust this year? No not at all, he is still probably the number one fantasy back but I'm actually going to say AP will have a more productive year if he can cut down on the fumbles. The reason I'm saying he is overrated is only because of the ridiculous expectations that have been put on him. He has set high goals for himself but I can't fault him for that, he is a competitor and he wants to be the best and he may break the single season rushing record, I just don't think it's this year. Not only does he have the number of touches from last year but Vince Young is going to try and establish himself more this year, the Titans are going to try and establish a stronger passing game and while this will help open up the run game a bit it is also going to take away touches from Johnson. Remember the last guy to rush for over 2,000 yards? It was Jamal Lewis and his next two seasons COMBINED only equated to just over 1,900 yards and dropped from a 5.6 YPC to a 4.3 YPC to a humbling 3.4. Before him was Terrell Davis was before him and he never rushed for more then 700 yards in a season after that. The year before Barry Sanders rushed for over 2,000 yards and while the following season he still had nearly 1,500 yards he had the lowest YPC (4.3) of his career after a 6.1 YPC. The year after Eric Dickerson set the rushing record he only rushed for 1,234 yards with a very mediocre 4.2 YPC after having a 5.6 YPC. And the first man to ever rush for 2,000 yards O.J. Simpson barely eclipsed 1,000 yards the following season as his YPC went from a 6.0 to a 4.2. Chris Johnson's YPC last year? 5.6. I do recognize that he has younger and fresher legs then when the other RB's had their 2,000 yard seasons so let's say he drops to a 4.5 YPC (which is higher then any of the other backs ever did) and say we drop his carries to 300 (that's a 58 carry drop and with the exception of Davis because of injury the other backs dropped off by an average of 70) Johnson's rushing totals will be around 1,350. That's with being generous on the averages, obviously that is still a very good season and it may not play out like that but to me that seems like a much more likely outcome then a 2,500 yard season which is what Johnson is shooting for. I love Johnson as a player so please don't get angy with me for this but just understand that it is logical to expect a drop off in production while everyone is expecting this enormous season from him.

3. Matthew Stafford
Entering into his second season there is a lot of hype surround the Detroit Lions and their second year QB. Granted nobody is expecting them to make the playoffs but they may finally have an offense that is at the very least entertaining to watch. Stafford is a young stud and they have great young weapons in Calvin Johnson, Jahvid Best, Nate Burleason, Brandon Pettigrew etc. All the ingredients to a succesful offense and a breakout year for Stafford right? WRONG!!! HELLLLLOOOOO!!!! What happend for every football head in America to fall asleep, wake up and go "hey you don't need an offensive line anymore to have a succesful offense"? Stafford only played 10 games last year and most of those games were injury plagued because the offensive line couldn't keep him upright. I still can't figure out how Stafford only got sacked 24 times, to me that speaks very highly of his pocket presence because he should have been sacked around 50 times last year. The Lions did upgrade the line with acquisition of Rob Simms at left guard but still how is Jeff Backus still starting? The guy is as good at protecting his quarter back as Lebron James is at being loyal and mature. Why do people think that Stafford is suddenly going to have time to throw down field and get it to his receivers? Granted he's going to have some big games and I'm not nearly as down on him as I was during last years draft but I still don't see that elite level from him and a lot of quarterbacks struggle in their second season. Add all that with the porous O-Line and I just don't see that level of break through for him. Remember last year he only threw for 13 TD's while having 24 turnovers, an improvement on that still just puts him at a mediocre level.

(to be continued.......)

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