By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff
Lost in the pile of fraudulence in this year’s NFL sit the Chicago Bears, winners of their first three games, losers of three out of their last four and looking as though not winning another game all year wouldn’t necessarily fall too far out of the realm of possibility.
In last week’s home loss to the Redskins, their second defeat in as many weeks at Soldier Field, the Bears were given no chance by their quarterback, Jay Cutler. This has become routine over the last season and a half as Cutler, owner of a golden arm, a sour face and head full of rocks, simply can’t – or won’t – take care of the ball. Against Washington, he committed five turnovers, four of them interceptions by the same Redskins defensive back, DeAngelo Hall. If that wasn’t bad enough, Cutler then proved that not even nearly single-handedly losing a game for his team can cure him of his petulant thick-headedness when he made a point in his post-game press conference of saying that if the game had gone on longer, or if the Bears were to play the Skins again, he would keep throwing it in Hall’s direction. I’m sure the folks in the Bears front office who cut his game checks got a hearty chuckle out of that one.
In 22 games started for the Bears since the beginning of last season, Cutler has thrown 34 TD passes and 33 INTs. The Bears are 10-12 in those games. He’s fumbled six times this year and lost three of them. And he’s already taken 27 sacks in 2010, just eight fewer than he took last year. In the interest of at least sort of giving him the benefit of the doubt, his offensive line has been an abomination this year (he was sacked nine times in the first half of Chicago’s Week 4 loss to the Giants). But his penchant for holding the ball far too long as opposed to getting rid of it when things are falling apart around him plays a huge role as well. Which brings us to the Bears other major problem.
This past off-season they hired Mike Martz to be their offensive coordinator. The same Mike Martz who presided over the Rams Greatest Show on Turf spectacle that won St. Louis Super Bowl XXXIV and got them as far as Super Bowl XXXVI. Martz’s offense is predicated on intermediate to deep passing and in order to complete intermediate to deep passes, a quarterback has to have time to throw. It’s not Martz’s fault the Bears O-line can’t block anyone. But it is his fault that he can’t adjust to it. In these two losses, the Bears have run 82 pass plays and 33 running plays despite having a former Pro Bowler at tailback in Matt Forte. They barely even try to run. I’ve never coached an team to the Super Bowl, but I think if you run the ball every once in a while, not only does it eliminate the possibility of your QB throwing a pick, fumbling or getting sacked, it may even keep the opposing defense guessing as to what you may do next as opposed to allowing it to pin it’s ears back and run over your linemen en route to crushing Cutler while he waits for his receivers to complete their routes 20-30 yards downfield.
Martz is notorious for being as hard-headed as Cutler if not more, and he hasn’t led anyone anywhere since his 2001 Rams were upset by the Pats in that Super Bowl. But that’s another discussion. The Bears and their soon-to-be ex head coach Lovie Smith haven’t even made the playoffs since advancing all the way to Super Bowl XLI following the 2006 season. They may still be in first place in the NFC North thanks to the injuries of the Packers, the massive underachievement of the Vikings and the steep learning curve of the Lions. Regardless, unless Cutler or Martz or both of them somehow adjust the way they do things, it’ll be another January spent watching football on TV instead of playing it.
This Week’s Five Best Teams
1. Pittsburgh: It’s important to note that the Steelers are unquestionably the best team in the league right now. It’s also important to note that they were as lucky to win in Miami last week, if not more so, that the Pats were to win in San Diego. If turning the ball over twice inside their own 20 in the first two minutes of the game and only allowing six points (a testament to their outstanding defense as well as two lucky breaks) in a game they won by a single point wasn’t enough, the goal line call that took a clear fumble in the end zone away from the Dolphins and resulted in a game-winning, chip shot field goal definitely should be. And what’s with crybaby James Harrison? I thought he was supposed to be so tough, not such a whiny little you-know-what? “That was my least productive game of the year,” he told Inside the NFL. “We can still play the game, but it’s not the same.” Dude, shut up already. We get it, the NFL is persecuting you for trying to keep you from spearing guys with your helmet. Now get over yourself.
2. New York Jets: Wasn’t it pleasant not to be forced to hear anyone associated with the Jets tell anyone who might be listening how good they are? Love those bye weeks. Be prepared for the onslaught to restart leading up to, during and after their game with Packers this weekend, a matchup the Jets and their defense should handle with relative ease. Hope someone out there is planning on being Rex Ryan for Halloween. There are a bunch of Priuses on my street if you’re looking.
3. New England: One week after The Great Escape (or Escape From San Diego, or any other applicable movie title), the Pats get Randy: The Return in their plastic jack-o-lanterns. It should be interesting to see what kind of game the Vikings get out of him on Sunday. It will be more interesting to see if the Pats defense, vastly improved the past two weeks, can keep up the good work and if the offense can show Randy it doesn’t miss him at all.
4. New York Giants: Something must have clicked for the Giants following their embarrassing home loss to Tennessee in Week 3. Since then, they’ve won four in a row to take control of the NFC East with multiple guys (Eli Manning, Osi Umenyiora, Hakeem Nicks, Ahmad Bradshaw, and more) providing MVP-caliber performances on a weekly basis. Following a bye this week, they get Seattle on the road, the Cowboys at home (likely a challenge no matter how bad Dallas is) and Philly on the road. That stretch should tell us all we need to know – if they win at least two of those three my money’s on a division title and a first round bye.
5. Tennessee: How about the Titans? With Vince Young on the bench, 64-year old Kerry Collins leads them to a huge win over the red hot Eagles, scoring 27 unanswered points in the process. Receiver Kenny Britt proved that when he’s not getting into bar fights, he’s kind of a stud, as his seven catches for 225 yards and three TDs (16, 20 and 80 yards) will attest. With the way they’re playing on both sides right now along with the Colts injuries and the Texans inexperience, the Titans look like the faves in the AFC South.
This Week’s Five Worst Teams
1. Buffalo: Hard to do much more than the Bills did last week and still not win. 505 yards at Baltimore, 373 yards and four TDs by Ryan Fitzpatrick (now, jaw-droppingly, the second-highest rated QB in the league) and a 10-point, fourth quarter comeback weren’t enough. After all, this is the Bills we’re talking about, which is why turning a 14-point lead into a 10-point deficit in just over a quarter’s worth of time and allowing yet another huge rushing total outweighed the positives and kept them winless.
2. San Francisco: Only the Niners could come off their first win of the year, go into Charlotte, give up 382 yards and hand the Panthers their first win of the year, then have their coach come out afterward and say he still thinks his team will make the playoffs. Obviously, Mike Singletary isn’t going to say they have no chance. But maybe he might think about oh, I don’t know, not saying anything at all on the topic. Anyway, when they play the Broncos in London on Sunday, a whole other country will get the chance to see how much they suck.
3. Carolina: Good for the Panthers, who finally, after five miserable games, got a quarterback to actually look like a quarterback. Initial starter Matt Moore reclaimed his role and was 28-of-41 for 308 yards and two TDs in a rousing, come-from-behind win. The Panthers got 216 yards and two TDs out of rookie receivers David Gettis and Brandon LaFell and set season high marks in several offensive areas. Of course, the win came against the woebegone 49ers, so take it with a great, big grain of salt.
4. Dallas: It was likely already over the sad sack Cowboys even before they got smoked at home by the Giants on Monday Night Football. But with Tony Romo, overrated as he is, now out for the balance of the season thanks to the shoulder injury he suffered in that loss, we can finally dismiss Dallas once and for all. About the only thing worth paying attention to with this team for the rest of the season is which comes first – Jerry Jones names himself coach or gets another facelift.
5. Denver: Playing the Raiders at home, the Broncos allowed 59 points, 38 of them in the first half and 52 in the first 40+ minutes. They also allowed five rushing TDs and three Raider scores within a six-play span before they even ran their third play of the game. Remember when Josh McDaniels started out his first season last year at 6-0? He’s 4-13 since. He’s also soon to be out of a job.
- Steven Jackson, Rams: With his 110 yards on 22 carries in last week’s loss to the Bucs, Jackson reached 7,324 for his career and became St. Louis/L.A.’s all-time leading rusher. It’s really no small feat, not just because the Rams have been so bad for the majority of Jackson’s career, but also because he surpassed guys like Marshall Faulk and the magnificent Eric Dickerson in achieving it.
- Darren McFadden, Raiders: Lost in a haze of injuries and the lingering woe that envelops the Raiders franchise, McFadden, the fifth overall pick in the 2008 draft, carried 16 times for 165 yards (10.3 YPA) and three TDs in Oakland’s rout of Denver, and added two catches for 31 yards and another score. With 557 yards in just five games, McFadden has already set a career high for a season with more than half the year still left to play.
- Josh Freeman – Bucs: Tampa’s second-year QB may not have the flashiest stats or play in the biggest market, but he sure seems to know how to win. Freeman led the Bucs from a 17-6 halftime deficit against the Rams to an 18-17 victory, throwing the game-winning TD pass with just 17 seconds left. It was the fifth fourth quarter comeback and win in just 15 games as well as the second in three games for Freeman, not bad percentages at all.
- Drew Brees, Saints: It has to at least have something to do with not having either of his top two running backs since Weeks 2 and 3. But Brees is as much a puzzle as anyone on the oddly underachieving Saints right now. Last year’s Super Bowl MVP threw four INTs in New Orleans shocking, 30-17 home loss to Cleveland (yes, Cleveland??!!??) last week. Three were in the first half and two were returned for TDs. Brees, who threw 11 picks all of last season, has already tossed 10 in seven games for the 4-3 Saints.
- The Ravens Defense: Baltimore certainly hasn’t looked like Super Bowl material the past two weeks. Not after lazily blowing a nice lead against the Pats in Week 6 and especially not after squeaking out an OT win at home against the Bills in which they gave up over 500 total yards and blew a 10-point, fourth quarter lead. The biggest myth regarding the Ravens is their defense thanks to its past exploits. News flash: it’s not that good anymore.
- Cris Collinsworth, NBC: I’ve always thought I liked Collinsworth as game analyst, though my memories of his spot near the head of the line of finger-pointing at the Pats regarding Spygate leave a bad taste. Anyway, he nearly pitched all his credibility out the broadcast booth window while covering the Vikings/Packers game last week, placing himself firmly at the forefront of the Favresucker movement. Collinsworth wouldn’t criticize his binky at all despite three crushing INTs, one of which was a pick 6 that cost Minnesota the game. On each one, he meticulously explained why it was someone/something else’s fault, while mercilessly ripping Packers QB Aaron Rodgers all night long for a few inaccurate passes (note: Rodgers’ team won the game, BrettFavre’s didn’t). BrettFavre could have started tossing sticks of dynamite into the press box and Collinsworth (as well as his partner Al Michaels, who was also rather insufferable with the Favresucking) would have found a way to suck him some more anyway. Painful, painful stuff from a guy who is supposed to be one of the best in the TV business.
Perhaps lost in all the hemming and hawing over the NFL’s new stance on what it insists on referring to as “devastating hits,” is the fact that now, defenses are at an even greater disadvantage than they already were in a league that more and more often resembles Arena football. Take the Falcons/Bengals game for example, which featured 71 total points and 921 cumulative yards of total offense. The Bengals, who are allowing 23.5 PPG and 340 YPG, fell behind 24-3 before scoring 22 straight points which preceded them getting outscored 15-0 before putting up a garbagey score in the end that made the score look closer than the game actually was. It was the Bengals second straight loss as well as the second consecutive game in which they allowed more than 390 total yards. This is a team that won it’s division last year and claimed it had title aspirations this season. Sure, QB Carson Palmer threw for over 400 yards and had two receivers rack up over 100 with a third finishing with 88. But it didn’t matter thanks to their defense being shredded. The Falcons are 5-2 and arguably the top team in the NFC. They’re so good that they have allowed 469 and 474 total yards, respectively, in their last two games. With guys like Matt Ryan at QB, Michael Turner at running back and the amazing Roddy White (11 catches, 201 yards, two TDs against the Bengals) on your offense, maybe it’s not such a big deal that defense looks to be on the road to obsolescence in some places. But as the 2007 Pats – among many other teams – will tell you, a great D will at least slow down, if not stop, a great O. Defenses already can’t hit quarterbacks anywhere but between the thighs and the shoulders and now, they are being asked to change the way they hit everyone else or potentially be suspended, on the fly. All of this makes some of the week’s top teams – the Steelers, the Jets, the Titans – look that much more impressive given the way they play without the ball.