Thursday, September 29, 2011

Week 4's Opening Coin Toss

Hype around Vick and the
Eagles has cooled off. (Getty)
Stally: Austen, what's up with the Buffalo Bills?

They trailed the Raiders 21-3 and the Patriots 21-0 and came back to win both.  Is this just the karma training bowling me over for making you talk about Tom Brady's greatness?  Was it just proving my theory that there's too much parity in the NFL for lengthy streaks to exist (like the Patriots 15-gamer over Buffalo that was snapped)?

Or, are you actually buying the Bills are this good?  Likewise, do I need to be worried in New England or was it just a bad half of football?

Heads or tails?

Austen: I am buying the Bills as a decent team. I have been a strong proponent of Ryan Fitzpatrick being a franchise quarterback since his impressive play last season with a very mediocre offense, and one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. Since Fred Jackson was on my sleeper list this season in fantasy, I am clearly a fan of his skills in what he can do in the run game and the passing game. He is a rare feature back in the NFL and I really hope the Bills pay him what he deserves. 

However, this team still has a lot of holes that I think will get exposed as the season goes on. Like I said, the offensive line is one of the worst in the NFL. Their secondary has a lot of talent, but that does not always lead to being productive and has hurt them in the past. While they have two great defensive tackles in Pro Bowler Kyle Williams and first round pick Marcell Dareus (who I still believe is the best player in the 2011 NFL Draft), they do not have much other talent along their front seven. 

While I really like the way this team bounces back from being down early (they were down over 20 points to the Bengals last season and ended up winning big, and last week they overcame a 18 point halftime deficit against the Raiders), their first half woes will often be too hard for them to overcome consistently enough to make them a true contender. Be wary of the Bills, but I see them a lot like their 2008 team, that started 4-0 and finished 7-9. Don't worry Stally, the Jets will beat them twice for you!

Stally: I said before the season started that I thought the Bills would be clearly better than the Dolphins and you snickered at that.  Clearly, the Bills are a decent team, I agree with that assessment, but let's not get carried away (you haven't seemed to do so).

They beat the Chiefs badly in Week 1, but I've started touting them as the worst team in the league.  Then, as stated, they trailed the Raiders by 18 at the half and needed a comeback in the last minute to pull it out.  A home win against Oakland has never been considered a huge feat!

Beating New England is always big news, but let's take a look at it.  Danny Woodhead popped up a miserable interception late in the first half while the Pats were in the red zone, and the Bills were able to counter for a field goal.  Imagine if Woodhead keeps that ball down?  New England is up 24-7 or 28-7, instead of 21-10 going in at the half.

Then, with the Patriots driving midway through the fourth and up a score, George Wilson makes a great play to intercept Tom Brady on what would have be a touchdown to Rob Gronkowski.  The Bills go down to score.  Again, that's the difference between 31-17 and 24-24.  If those two picks in the red zone don't happen, we're looking at a 14-24 point swing and it's just another laugher Patriots win over Buffalo.

As afar as New England, I'm somewhat worried about the defense, but I said the same thing last year and the young group clicked in a matter of a week last year halfway through the season.  Us New Englanders put a lot of faith in Bill Belichick's system and trust the defense will eventually be there to support the league's best offense.

Austen: Now for my burning question: What is wrong with the Eagles? I knew that Michael Vick would end up injured and that the passing game would not be as dangerous as it was last season. However, it is the defense that is really killing this team. Was signing a 30-year-old corner to a $60 million a big mistake? How can this team rebound and get back on track and make a push into the playoffs?

What's your call?

Stally: I avoided Michael Vick like the plague in fantasy football.  There was zero chance I'd end up with him on my team, barring an auto-draft, as I ranked him sixth among QBs (I think), while some managers were taking him sixth overall.  For him to be successful, he needs to develop a better pocket presence.

We talked about Donovan McNabb last week.  The reason he was so good in Philly was because he had the potential to take off at any time.  The keyword there is potential.  You're not much of a baseball guy, but in baseball, some times batters with the potential to hit a home run will get intentionally walked.  Now, if you went ahead and pitched to the guy, would he hit a homer?  Law of averages: no.  But, you have to respect that possibility and, likewise, defenses had to respect the possibility McNabb could take off on them and defend accordingly.

The problem with Vick is that he's always been a guy that doesn't read the defense too well and takes off at the first sign of trouble.  He's not as young as he used to be, and while the two years he spent out of the league "touring Virginia" might have saved some of his prime, he needs to reinvent himself to keep himself out of harms way.  He has one of the strongest arms in the league and there's no reason with DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Steve Smith running routes for him that he can't modify his game to build a stronger pocket presence and use his athleticism to its advantage.  He can still take off now and again, but that has to be his last resort, not just his second option if his first look is covered.  That kind of taking off is also safer, because by the time he takes off, the wide receivers have taken the secondary downfield and there are less players out there to clobber him.

As far as the defense, a lot of people seem to have quickly forgotten the effects the lockout had on the teams.  Offense is easy: you study a playbook, learn your responsibility and go do it.  Defense is a lot harder because it takes all eleven players on the field working as one.  When you bring in a player like Nnamdi Asomugha, who basically had the responsibility of single covering the other team's best player in Oakland, and try to meld him into a new system, that takes time.  He's still the best corner in the league and I think that three games is way to early to determine if the Eagles wasted money.  My gut reaction is no and that he will prove himself as time goes on.

Austen: I agree Vick needs to quit complaining about getting hit and adjust his game to protect himself better. He has so many weapons, but his offensive line has really let him down. As I wrote a week ago, the Eagles/Andy Reid made a huge mistake by over-drafting Danny Watkins when there were so many quality offensive lineman left on the board. Andy Reid also needs to embrace the fact that LeSean McCoy is his best offensive weapon, not Vick, and run the ball a lot more.

Still, I believe the Eagles' defense is still their problem. Remember when no one was supposed to be able to pass against this defense after spending around $130 million to improve the pass rush and acquire Nnamdi Asomugha? Well on top of still being very soft against the run, they have given up an astonishing 8 touchdown passes in the last TWO games, and lost both of those matchups. Past his prime Tony Gonzalez and undrafted second year player Victor Cruz have each scored two touches on the Eagles in those games. To make matters worse, it has been $60 million Asomugha (clearly the second best corner in the NFL) who has looked the worst in their secondary. He was burned for Cruz's first touchdown, when he completely muffed a tackle (Asomugha's tackling skills was supposed to be one of the reasons that made him such an impressive corner). And on Cruz's second touchdown, Asomugha was out of place and Cruz was able to catch the pass right over him. 

Asomugha will get better, but considering it was fundamental breakdowns in his game that allowed the Giants to pass all over him, I am not sure how much better he will get. Stally, as I told your friend who is an Eagles' fan, Asomugha is a terrible fit for the Eagles' defensive scheme that mostly uses zone coverage, while Asomugha thrives in man coverage. Overpaying for a player who does not fit your scheme is how you ruin teams. Say what you want about the Patriots, their success has a lot to do with finding guys who fit their scheme. Asomugha will never live up to the contract that they gave to him.

Stally: Overtime coin flip for you, Austen.  Scale of 9-10.5, how excited are you that baseball's regular season is over? 

Austen: 15, especially since the Red Sox (the second worst team name in all of professional sports, only to the White Sox) are not in the playoffs and I don't have to listen to their fans talk trash.


  1. Very solid point on your part, Austen. McNabb, Terrell Owens, they were all just pieces of a Brian Westbrook designed offense. LeSean McCoy is the same type of weapon and the offense should go through him.

  2. McCoy might be the second best running back in the NFL right now. He is insanely good.