Thursday, December 02, 2004

Not the Draft

I promised a look at some draft issues (NFL draft, that is), but that will have to wait for another day. Instead, I consider today several notions that have gained currency throughout NFL writer's circles but for which the support is either entirely underwhelming or readily contradicted.

Madden on Ray Rhodes

In his preview of this Sunday's NFL games, John Madden stated that Ray Rhodes does "a good job of scheming [the defense] and getting [players] in the places they have to be."

Apparently Madden has not seen the Seahawk's defense the past eight weeks. After beginning the season with three consecutive victories--a span in which the defense surrendered 13 points--one might, and I mean might, be forgiven the inclination to tout the Seahawks' defense. But through 11 full weeks of the 2004 season, there is absolutely no justification for such optimism--or any optimism of any sort--as it pertains to the Seahawks' defense.

Since allowing an average of 4.33 points in its first three games, the Seahawks have surrendered an average of 26.25 points per game--easily among the worst in the NFL. And lest one think that the numbers are skewed by a couple of bad games, consider that the Seahawks have allowed at least 17 points in every game in this eight game slate, 23 or more in six of the eight games, and 30 or more in three of the eight games. Moreover, in the two games in which the Seahawks surrendered only 17 points, the opponents were the offensively challenged Dolphins (averaging 12 points per game) and Panthers (averaging 13 points a game). Add to this the fact that their three game period of defensive dominance came against New Orleans, Tampa Bay, and San Francisco and the picture is all the more complete.

I confess that Madden may see schemes that look good on paper and Rhodes may have a bunch of duds on defense, but, notwithstanding these possibilities, there is no way to put a good face on the Seattle defense. It's just bad.

Then There Was Ben

Several weeks ago, as his team prepared to face the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells compared Steelers' QB Ben Roethlisberger to Dan Marino. ESPN's John Clayton echoed the sentiments--"he's good now. How much better can he get? Teams will need to adjust," Clayton warned.

Around the dial, pundits took their turns assessing Parcell's comments. As a sign of the times and the near epidemic among pundits of being wrong or the lone dissenter, nobody much challenged Parcell's statement, and the worst "rebuke" was the comment that "he might be close, but he is not there yet" (one of several ATH gems).

And what has Roethlisberger done to merit such lofty praise? Well, he did do well in college, and, as several analysts said in the wake of Parcell's comment--"I told you he should have been the first QB taken in the draft." And Roethlisberger is the quarterback of a 10-1 team (4-1 at the time of Parcell's comment). And the Steelers have won with fewer, but more high percentage, passing plays, a la the Patriots and Tom Brady. So that makes comparisons of Roethlisberger to Brady, who won two Super Bowls, logical. And that puts Roethlisberger a rung above even Brett Favre who has only won one Super Bowl. And we all know that, in the order of things, it is Brett, then God, then the rest of us. So it must now be Ben, then Brett, then God (with Tom in there somewhere). So that is that. Right?

Maybe not.

It seems that, in spite of the fact that the Steelers are 10-1 this season, that mark is not entirely the result of the play of Roethlisberger. In fact, one could make a strong argument that the Steelers are 10-1 in spite of the play of Roethlisberger.

Since taking over for the injured Tommy Maddox in the third quarter of a 30-13 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, Roethlisberger has thrown 12 touchdown passes and 6 picks. He has also accumulated 1,719 yards on 141 completions (a 66% completion rate) for an 8 yard-per-pass average. Take away the fairly high interception to touchdown ration and that seems fairly good. . . for a rookie.

I mean, let's be real here. Roethlisberger has 12 touchdown passes in 9.5 games. Twelve! That averages out to 4/5 of a touchdown per game. It doesn't get much worse than that. Unless we look at Roethlisberger's trend, that is.

Since throwing two touchdown passes in consecutive games against the Patriots and Eagles, Roethlisberger has thrown one touchdown pass in the past three games combined. Worse yet, two of those games were against Cincinnati and Cleveland. You know, the two teams that last week combined for the second most points in an NFL game. Last week against Washington, Roethlisberger was 9 of 20 for 131 yards and zero touchdowns.

To which I add that if Roethlisberger really is the second coming, I think I've spotted the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, . . . , sixty-seventh, . . . one hundred twenty-first, etc., and they all fall in line ahead of Ben.


Is that how they say it in Georgia? Something like that. I'll use Atlanta, because that pretty much says what we need to know. A chronically bad team with signs of resuscitation that the media overhypes because (1) they can; (2) everyone wants to spot the next big thing first; and (3) pundits/wonks know that by hyping the Falcons they will have a chance to tear them down even more when the inevitable decline sets in. Plus, there is a lovefest with Michael Vick because "we haven't seen anyone like him in the NFL"--oh, except for Steve Young, Randall Cunningham, Donovan McNabb, and Daunte Culpepper, all of whom were/are far better quarterbacks than Vick.

But even Vick has taken a back seat of sorts to the Jim Mora Jr. Show, now loudly blasted through our sets during every SportsCenter airing (unless you decide that SportsCenter has become absolute garbage and refuse to watch it until the football Gophers are in the running for the national championship). The current MO is that Mora has brought a "toughness" to Atlanta that it previously did not have. And it is this defense that has purportedly made Atlanta the second best team in the NFC.


Here is what the Falcons have accomplished this season. They beat San Francisco by 2. They pounded the Rams. They beat the mighty Cardinals, at home, 6-3. They beat Carolina. They lost at home to the Lions (!). They beat San Diego by one at home. They lost to KC by a mere 46 points. They beat Denver 41-28. They beat Tampa Bay, the Giants with Eli Manning at quarterback, and the Saints.

In total, the Falcons have allowed 215 points or nearly 20 points a game. The Vikings have allowed 23 points a game. Are you starting to get the picture?

If not, consider that the Falcons play in the second worst division in the NFL. For that, they are paired against New Orleans, Carolina, and Tampa Bay twice each during the season. The combined record of those three teams is 12-21. Combined, these three Falcons' opponents have "scorched" the opposition for 655 points, an average of 218 for the three or 19.8 per game by the three. Atlanta has allowed 19.5 per game. Not exactly distancing themselves from the bottom are they?

And, as if intent on proving the point that their defense is oversold and that victories are largely the consequence of one of the easiest/lamest schedules in NFL history, consider that Atlanta has already played three teams from the worst division in the NFL--St. Louis (5-6), Arizona (4-7), and San Francisco (1-10)--and will play the lead dog of that group of dogs at the end of the season. Combined with the six wins from their own lousy division and that's 10 easy wins for any non-bottom-feeding team. Atlanta fills that role this season.

Atlanta has a good record. Atlanta will probably get home field in the playoffs. But Atlanta will probably lose its first playoff game because Atlanta will face something it will not face the entire regular season-- a legitimate NFC playoff team.

Enjoy the (regular) season Atlanta.

Up Next: Bears' Preview. Who's in? Who's out?

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