Thursday, October 13, 2011

Week 6 Coin Toss: The Pirate Ship is Sinking

The Buccaneers' ship seems to be sinking fast. Will they be
able to right it or will their 2011 season be lost at sea?
Austen: Stally and I have so many pressing issues this week that it was very difficult for either of us to choose what we wanted to talk about. So many teams looking way better than expected (Bills, Lions, 49ers), and some teams looking way worse than we ever could have imagined (Eagles, Jets, Bucs).  If the season ended this week, the Chargers, Bills, Lions, and 49ers would all have first round byes, and the Bengals and the Redskins would also sneak into the playoffs.

I know a lot will change over the next 12 weeks, but the fact that five of the 12 "playoff" teams were expected to be around .500 or worse is pretty shocking. The lockout has clearly effected how prepared players are both mentally and physically, and injuries are becoming a big factor in how teams are capable of performing. However, there are no excuses in the NFL and you have to give props to these bottom dwellers for coming out to play every week.


The Buccaneers have been killing me this season. I really thought they were going to make a strong push to the playoffs this season, and despite a decent record at 3-2, they have looked awful this season. The three teams they have beaten (Falcons, Vikings, and Colts) have a combined three wins between them and they barely eked out those wins. On top of that, they have looked shockingly bad in their two losses, especially in getting blown out 48-3 to the 49ers last week.

Against the 49ers, they did not find success in any part of their game. Their defense allowed Alex Smith to pass for three touchdowns and allowed over 200 yards rushing to a 49ers team that has struggled running the ball this season. Despite all that, it is their offense which seems to be their biggest weakness. Freeman again failed to lead his team to a single touchdown all game, while throwing two more interceptions for the season, one of which was returned for a touchdown. 

So, I have a few questions about the Bucs for you, Stally. What is wrong with this team? Is it simply that they are very young and were really hurt by not having training camp thanks to the lockout? Is Freeman slumping or have we seen him play his best football? Is Mike Williams Michael Clayton 2.0 for the Bucs? Is it LeGarrette Blount's fault the run game is struggling or is it a failure of his supporting cast on offense and a defense that puts them down early in games? Which has looked worse, the offense or the defense? Is there any way this team can right the ship and get back on track to 9-10 wins?

Which will it be? Can the Bucs right their pirate ship or is this team sinking like the Titanic?

Stally: Whoa!  Let's step back a second.  When you said "some teams looking way worse than we ever could have imagined" and then cited the Bucs, I'd like to clarify that isn't a "we" statement.  I picked the Bucs to finish 6-10, which means that, at 3-2, they'll need to go 3-8 down the stretch for me to be right.  Thus, I feel like Jim Mora being asked about playoffs or even better Allen Iverson being asked about practice.

I mean, we're talkin' about the Bucs, man.  Not the Jets, not the Eagles, not the Falcons.  We're sittin' here.  We're talkin' about the Bucs.  What are we talkin' about!?...The Bucs!?

I didn't think this team was good last year and thought they greatly overachieved.  Last week was the first week I was higher on them than you were, and a lot of that had to do with last year's embarrassing 21-0 home loss by the 49ers that soured me to a rematch.

Now, you asked a lot of questions that I can't answer.  I don't have enough interest in a team I maintain should lose double-digit games to try and catch replays of their games at obscure times, and I can't find them live because most networks seemed to side with me that they weren't worth showing.  When they were on national TV for Monday Night Football, I made sure to watch Hawaii Five-O instead of suffer through that yawner.  When I tuned in a little early and found out Mike and Molly was on, I regretted not watching that over the Colts at the Bucs!

As far as the offensive players that you mentioned, in general, when players come out of nowhere, they tend to fade the following year.  Both Blount and Williams were unheralded rookies that appear to be suffering a classic "sophomore slump."  Freeman is in his third year, but his rookie season in which he threw 10 touchdowns and 18 interceptions didn't smell of roses, so, by practical accounts, this is his second year of relevance.

When you look at the defense, I mean, Ronde Barber is still playing!  I could have sworn Tiki retired about a decade ago.  He's been gone for so long that when he said he wanted to comeback this year, most people just laughed.  Yet, his twin brother still plays!

Austen: Yes, I agree that the Bucs absolutely overachieved last season when they won 10 games. But they won 10 games! Not only is the number impressive, but their offense was consistent and very effective. This year they are anything but.

Freeman looks uncomfortable, his receivers aren't getting open and they cannot run the ball at all. Young teams are supposed to get better, not worse. Remember in Brett Favre's last few years in Green Bay, when they were the youngest team in the NFL like the Bucs are now, he said that this Packers team was the best he had ever played on and everyone laughed at him? That team won a Super Bowl without him.

I am not comparing Freeman to Aaron Rodgers, but he should be playing better than Rex Grossman! I still believe this team can make the playoffs (I predicted them to win 9 games and make the playoffs), but their offense needs to get back to how they were playing last season. They can solve a lot of their problems by just getting the running game back going, which would really help my fantasy teams!

Stally: Let's talk about the injury to LB/DE (hybrid beast) Mario Williams of the Houston Texans.  Williams was infamously drafted first overall before Heisman Trophy-winning Reggie Bush, a move that we all can agree at this point was the right decision.  Unfortunately, he's now out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle.

Obviously, the injury hurts, but how does his injury affect the Texans big picture?  I mean, they're probably still the favorite to win a weak division, right?  And, they were never a favorite in the AFC at any point, correct?  So, do the season's expectations change at all with Williams out?  How are they going to fare?

Austen: Two weeks in a row the Texans have lost their best player on the field. First Andre Johnson went down and now Williams. I thought they could manage a few weeks without their offensive leader because they had so many other weapons on offense. However, there is no way to make up for the presence of Mario Williams. On draft day, I was the only one on USC's campus that thought the Texans probably made the right choice taking Williams over Bush. Williams is a freak of nature. The fact that he is playing linebacker at 290 pounds should tell you that (he is the largest linebacker in the history of the NFL). 

In passing situations, Williams has to be at least double teamed on every play. He essentially eats up 2-3 blockers every play, which allows his teammates to run free at the quarterback. To make up for his production, you would have to blitz two people instead of just one, thus leaving less guys in coverage. The Texans secondary is definitely improved since giving up the most passing yards in the NFL last season, but how much they have improved has yet to be seen. Williams is the only defensive player on the Texans that offensive coordinators really have to game plan around, so it is going to be a lot easier for teams to put up points on this team without him in the lineup. In my mind, Williams is in the top five of all defensive players in the NFL, so Wade Phillips has a lot of work to do in order to find a way to make up for this gaping hole on their roster. 

The next two weeks, the Texans have a brutal schedule going on the road to Baltimore and to Tennessee. While neither of those teams have top notch offenses, their offenses are still strong enough to put up a good amount of points on a weakened Texans defense. Look for Ray Rice and Chris Johnson to run right at rookie Reed Brooks (Williams' replacement) and we will see how he holds up. Also, without Andre Johnson, the Texans offense is significantly less productive and explosive so they might have trouble keeping up with the Ravens and Titans, considering both of their defenses are playing very well so far this season. 

If the Texans drop the next two games, they will be 3-4 and Week 17's matchup against the Titans could end up deciding who wins the division and who is sitting home during the playoffs. That would be a bad situation for a team I considered to have a shot at the AFC Championship game (yes, I think they are that good, or were that good). I still think they take their weakened division, but I cannot see them winning a playoff game for the first time in team history without Williams, which was my expectation of them.

Stally: I think you're overrating how hard it is to make the AFC Championship game.  I mean, the New York Jets have made that two years in row!  Tie together a few shoestring wins at the right time, and you're there.  I also question your statement on the premise that you drafted the Colts in the Season Draft over the Texans, who I took with the next pick.  After taking Houston, I was the one that proudly proclaimed I'd stolen the division winner.

All that said, however, your break down  is accurate.  The Jags and Colts are out of the AFC South.  The Titans are definitely better than expected, but they're not that great.  I said before the season that Houston would win 11 games.  At this point, I'm knocking that down to 10, but I still think that should be enough to take the division.  I agree that the 10th win could be on the line when the Titans head to Houston in Week 17.  I also don't foresee either team winning what would end up as a 4 vs. 5 playoff matchup.  I'm projecting Pittsburgh to be that five-seed and expect they'll be at their Steelers' best by the time playoffs hit.

So, we agree to knock about a win off the playoff-bound Texans and knock one (in your case, maybe two) playoff wins out since they won't overcome the loss of Williams against the bettrer teams.  That said, going back to my original question: they still will make the playoffs and they were never a top Super Bowl contender, so I don't see their big picture fate being drastically changed by the loss of Williams.

Austen: I disagree because I think this team has to win a playoff game this year to build up their confidence and to possibly save their coach's job. If they lose their first playoff game ever, which should be at home, this season will be a failure for them. This is a team with high expectations and failing to reach those expectations has consequences. Gary Kubiak could end up fired prematurely if they lose that game, or fail to reach the playoffs again, and that would really set this team back, so I think this is a big blow to this franchise. 

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