Friday, October 16, 2009

8 In the Box- AFC

1. If you were mesmerized into a catatonic state by the Broncos' brown acid trip striped socks, you may have missed a riveting 4th quarter of action last week between the still unbeaten Broncos and the now twice beaten Patriots. For the second week in a row, Brandon Marshall willed himself into the end zone late in the game for a critical touchdown. I think it's safe to say he's now fully up to speed in the Broncos offense and back among one of the best receivers in the league. I think it's also time to start giving credit to Kyle Orton as being one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Yes really.

2. In Chicago the Orton vs. Cutler debate rages every day on the sports talk airwaves, and the thing you hear most about Orton is "all he does his win", like he is playing in a motorized wheelchair that he controls with a straw in his mouth or something, handing the ball off all day. Kyle Orton threw the ball 48 times in this game, folks. He was only picked off once and had 330 passing yards. There's more to playing QB than throwing the ball hard and running fast. In fact, I dare say the MOST important skill a QB can have is the ability to get the ball out of his own hands by throwing it forward and into the hands of one of the guys that get paid to run around with it as fast as possible. Kyle Orton does that very, very well. He never gets sacked, and he very rarely turns it over. So yeah he may not make the one throw a month where he threads the needle and makes everyone ooh and ahh, but there's a difference between what looks cool and what wins you games. Kyle Orton does the things that win you games.

3. So what exactly do we have in the team that lost that game, the Patriots. They clearly are not the 2007 vintage juggernaut people thought they might be. In fact, they are mediocre in pretty much every phase of the game. 16th in yards per pass attempt on offense, 25th in yards per rushing attempt. On defense they are 14th in yards per pass attempt against, 21st in yards per rushing attempt against. The one thing they have done well is move the chains (2nd in the league in first downs), but what that tells me is that they're not generating big plays on offense, and they're having to methodically dink and dunk it downfield all game long. Hard to believe but I can easily see this team missing the playoffs this year.

4. Usually, if you start 0-3, you spend the next 14 weeks in a completely useless, "Keep Fucking That Chicken" mode. Not so for the Miami Dolphins. They've swum valiantly to two consecutive wins to put themselves back in the AFC East race. On Monday Night, they embarrassed the vaunted Rex Ryan and his vaunted Jets defense, using liberal doses of the Wildcat formation and a surgical 20 of 24 performance by Chad Henne to get a 31-27 win. The Dolphins are a good team. They outgained the now 5-0 Colts when they played them, and played the Falcons and Chargers tough in their other 2 losses. Unfortunately for the Dolphins, the schedule remains tough in the immediate future. After this week's bye they have the Saints, then on the road against the Patriots and Jets.

5. The schedule's been kind of soft, but the 5-0 Colts have my vote as best team in the league until someone proves otherwise. Last week they did what they've been doing lately, which is just putting the hurt on their unfortunate opponent, this time 31-9 on the road against the Titans, who the adjective "unfortunate" is very applicable to. Only thing that bothered me about this game was that Pierre Garcon had only 1 catch for 9 yards, despite waving his arms frantically at the line of scrimmage before every snap. If he could have just had like 30 yards me and Dook!e would be 4-1 now instead of 3-2. Of course, there was another thing that was kind of our fault that is probably more responsible, more on that in the NFC column.

6. Before there was Rex Ryan, before there was Mike Nolan, the defensive guru in Baltimore was Marvin Lewis. Lewis is now the head coach of the Bengals, and has been for a while. Up until now his success in building a defense in Baltimore has not translated in Cincinnati. Until now? The Bengals are now 4-1, and of those 4 wins, they've beaten heavyweights like the Steelers, Packers, and last week the Ravens. They beat the Ravens with their defense. They shut down both the running and passing game, and rolled up 400+ yards on the Ravens D. There's nothing smoke and mirrors about this team right now. They are running it down the oppositions' throats, able to disrupt opposing offenses, and are beating good teams.

7. It seems like the Houston Texans just are never going to get over that hump. Last week they come back from 21-0 deficit to tie the Cardinals on the road, only to give up the go ahead TD on an INT, then fail to score on 1st and goal from the 1 yard line late in the game to send it into OT. So much talent on that team and they just don't know how to win. If any of the coaching pantheon of currently inactive greats (Cowher, Gruden, Holmgren, Shanahan) is looking for a great situation to step into, I would think Houston would be at the top of the list. All of the pieces are there, they just need a change in organizational aura that results in an expectation of victory rather than an expectation of finding a way to lose.

8. Finally, we saw what possibly was the worst NFL game ever played this past weekend. The Browns "won" against the Bills, 6-3. This despite their quarterback completing 2 passes. The whole game. They also remain steadfastly committed to rolling out said QB, Derek Anderson, every week, to the point that they are trying feverishly to deal his backup, former 1st round pick Brady Quinn. This a week after they dealt Braylon Edwards, their most talented offensive player, and while they are issuing denials that their second most talented offensive player, Joshua Cribbs, is also going to be traded. That and Mangenius is having running backs play without shouldpads in "Opportunity Periods", where you apparently have the "opportunity" to receive a compound fracture. The last time I saw a Cleveland team this messed up, their owner was trying to lose on purpose so she could move the team to Miami.

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