Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Week 2's Opening Coin Toss

Bad day or sign of things to come for Big Ben? (AP)
Us oxen are trying to find ways to keep the content coming here on The SOB Story.  Obviously, we don't have all day, every day to devote to the small time blog but we definitely want to do our best to cover all things NFL.

In an attempt to keep up on the major stories from the past week, we'll open up the upcoming week with a ceremonial coin toss.  True to its name, it'll be a topic question that could go either one way or the other.  Each of us will toss up a question to the other guy and have him answer.

Of course, being argumentative, the guy tossing might consider the reverse side of the coin, or perhaps he'll just agree whole heartedly.

Stally: Austen, we both strongly agreed on several games last week, but, like Jim Carey ("Samsonite!"), we were way off.  The two games I find most intriguing were the Bears win over the Falcons and the Redskins win over the Giants.  My two or three or four part questions for you:

Should we let the Falcons off the hook or the Bears still who we thought they were (to roughly quote Dennis Green)?  Despite our early doubts, can the Bears contend at the top of NFC like last season and possibly take the division from Green Bay?  What about the Falcons?  Is this a significant loss or a minor hiccup?

Shifting to D.C., what was up with that game?  Simply put: are the Giants less mediocre than we thought they would be or are the Redskins closer to mediocre than we thought they could be?

Heads or tails.  What's the call?

Austen: Let's start off with the Bears unbelievable performance. One of the reasons I drafted the Bears in the season draft is that this team always seems to play above their expectations. I have defended Cutler against all skeptics and I really think he is a top-10 quarterback in this league, and could be top-five in a few years if he gets better protection from his offensive line and some more weapons. Brian Urlacher played like he was 25-years-old in this game and I think he is playing angry over all the negative press the Bears and specifically Cutler has received. He played like he was trying to prove a point, and he definitely did just that. The Bears' toughness could take them a long way.

The Falcons on the other hand showed that they are still a team that really struggles on the road. Matt Ryan is almost unstoppable at home, but has been mediocre at best on the road. The fact that Ryan could not get the offense into the end zone despite Michael Turn averaging 10 yards a carry should be extremely concerning and shows that Ryan has not yet become a top-10 quarterback. Aside from Ryan, the defense, which is clearly the weakness of this team, looks soft and made some horrible missed tackles that are completely inexcusable for a team that is trying to make a real playoff run. The Falcons should still make the playoffs, but I don't see them winning the division or a playoff game this season.

While the Giants' loss to the Redskins may be surprising, it is definitely not shocking. Rex Grossman tore them up last season when their defense was much healthier. The Giants had probably at least five defensive starters out for this game. Their secondary is a mess (losing their best cornerback and their first round pick in 2011), their top two defensive ends were out for this game, their middle linebacker is out for the season, and their underrated defensive tackle who was a second round pick in 2011 is also out for the season.

There is not a single team, let alone defense, that has suffered these types of injuries. They should improve as the season progresses and some of their players get back on the field. Offensively, the Giants cut three long time starters along their offensive line and they lost two great targets in Steve Smith and Kevin Boss. This is a team that is in the middle of a lot of transition and is definitely hurt by the publicity and expectations they receive by being in New York. They will be better than they played in this game, but a playoff spot might be out of the question at this point.

On the other hand, the Redskins could not have been much worse than they were last season. They added a lot of weapons to that offense and seem to have found a starting running back in Tim Hightower, if he can stay healthy.  Rex Grossman could become Jake Plummer 2.0 and become a lot more successful than anyone expected. Their defense looks much improved as well, which also added a lot of talent in the offseason. They should be a better team than last season, but I don't see them winning many more games than they did in 2010 and definitely staying below .500 for the season. 

Stally: I expected the Bears to go 8-8 so I suppose I was more surprised by the statement they made than the wingless bird the Falcons produced.  It's just easier to play badly in Week 1, especially after the lockout, than it is to play well.  In that sense, I'm not hitting the panic button on Atlanta.  I agree that they should still be a playoff team, but this definitely lowered my opinion of them as an elite team.

The Bears might as well keep getting angry and keep winning because, throughout the last decade, I've never really bought into them being as good as they've often been.  I will agree Jay Cutler is underrated.  He was phenomenoal in Denver and I think that the controversy with which he left (and seeing Philip Rivers taunt him from the sidelines on national TV) hurts his image, even though that has nothing to do with his performance.


Austen: Moving on from those two games, we have to talk about Cam Newton and Ben Roethlisberger's performances. All through the draft, we have ripped on Newton for being a terrible draft pick and how he should be out of the league in 2-3 years. The nicest thing I have had to say about him is that he is much smarter than both Vince Young and JaMarcus Russell, whom he has been compared to often. Do you think after his 400+ yard performance you might change your opinion of him a bit? Will he be a franchise quarterback, or at least a top-15 quarterback? Or does this performance only show his immense potential and is not the type of performance he can replicate? What do you need to see out of him before you believe in his potential?

On the other hand, Ben Roethlisberger had possibly the worst performance of his career, and it could not have come against a worse opponent. Failing like this against Joe Flacco's Ravens, who Roethlisberger had never lost to, really puts them in a bad spot to start the season. Was this a bad performance by Roethlisberger, the team, or both? For a team with such high expectations, how do they bounce back from such a devastating loss to a heated rival? 

Coins in the air, buddy!

Stally: Let me start by pointing out that the Carolina Panthers are one loss closer than they were last week to drafting first overall  for the second straight year.  With that in mind, I'm not calling off the notion of them cashing in on the Andrew Luck sweepstakes.  I'm no more impressed with Cam Newton now than I was when he passed for four touchdowns and ran for a fifth against Chattanooga last year.  He might as well have been playing them on Sunday!

I watched the 49ers, who were not good, destroy the Arizona Cardinals on two separate occasions last year.  In 2010, Arizona was the third-worst team in scoring defense and fourth-worst in yards against.  They waved goodbye to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the secondary and, while I'm not a regular reader of the Arizona Republic, I don't read much about them adding a whole lot to replace him.  Future All-Pro corner Patrick Peterson flashed some potential when he returned a punt, but it's much easier to run fast in your pro first game than it is to contain a veteran speedster like Steve Smith, which didn't happen.

I need to see Cam Newton lead the team to an 8-8 record in 2012 before I can begin to believe he'll reach his potential and not end up in some scrap heap with the other athletic specimens you listed.  You know me, Austen, I'm a man of conviction.  I'm not a guy to buy to into the front wave of a fad, but I'm not the guy looking to jump off a bandwagon at the first sign of trouble.  I don't believe in Cam Newton, period.  If he leads the team to a .500 season in Year Two, I can accept that he actually might have the longevity to serve as the future of the franchise.

As far as the Roethlisberger goes, it's just the opposite.  As I said, I'm not the guy looking for a reason to bail.  I wasn't that into Big Ben when he first started, but it's been hard to ignore two Super Bowl rings (or, one more than the Jets have in their history).  Big Ben's been through a lot in his career on and off the field, so let's defer to Peter Griffin for a little encouragment:

"Did George W. Bush quit even after losing the popular vote? No! Did he quit after losing millions of his father's friend's money in failed oil companies? No! Did he quit after knocking that girl up? No! Did he quit after he got that DUI? No! Did he quit after getting arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct at a football game? No!"

You get my point!  Big Ben will be ok.

The only thing that bothers me is that he was never the smartest quarterback, his off the field antics prove that.  He did a great job taking care of a strong running offense, being safe with the football, controlling the clock and letting a rigid defense take care of the rest.  Against Baltimore on Sunday he threw three picks and fumbled away two more possession, so he didn't play his game.  Early season, in a rival's building, playing a good team; there are plenty of excuses for a bad day and I'll grant a mulligan.

As far as the Steelers in general, they'll be fine.  With the exception of the fluke of the Matt Cassel led Patriots, you don't miss the playoffs at 11-5!  Take a look at their schedule: they play the AFC South, the NFC West and four games against Cincinnati and Cleveland.  Aside from a game against New England, at Baltimore was one of the biggest challenges of the season.  It doesn't matter if they lost 34-7 like they did or 24-21 in overtime.  It's just one of 16 games and I still think they're good enough and have the schedule to go 11-5.  Remember that at the end of the season they ask not how, just how many.

Austen: I am going to give Cam Newton a little more credit than you are, but I am by no means jumping on the bandwagon. This is by far the most impressive first game a rookie quarterback has ever had in the NFL. The fact that they lost should not be held too harshly against Newton, since the Panthers are a flat out awful team and he got no help from the run game or the defense. Before Monday night's massive game, Tom Brady had never passed for as many yards as Newton put up in his first game! The Panthers have very few weapons in that pass attack, so its very impressive that he hit 8 different receivers. He always seemed to go through all his reads before he took off running, which is impressive for a guy that ran the ball so much in college. Yet the most impressive part of this game is his accuracy. He completed almost 65% of his passes and looked very sharp. Since his accuracy was a big problem I had with him while he was in college, that number sticks out to me. Again, I love the performance, not the player. However, if he can avoid costly turn overs and keep his accuracy over 60% consistently, he will not need to throw for 400 yards for this team to start winning some games.

As bad as Roethlisberger's performance was this week, I am much more concerned about their defensive issues. Joe Flacco absolutely torched them for 3 touchdowns and they were never able to even slow down Ray Rice in the run game, which has been their specialty for most of their existence as a team. They handed out a lot of money to their star defensive players, but they had almost no impact on this game. I wonder if they should have gone after a guy like Nnamdi Asomugha instead of keeping a team vet like Ike Taylor. Their secondary needs a lot of work and it could be the reason why they lose their division this year. 

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