Jun 102013
 

Reggie Bush5. Detroit Lions
Head Coach: Jim Schwartz
2012 Record: 4-12
2012 Offense: 372 points scored, 17th in points, 3rd in yards (2nd in passing, 23rd in rushing)
2012 Defense: 437 points allowed, 27th in points, 13th in yards (14th in passing, 16th in rushing)

 

Key Additions
RB Reggie Bush, S Glover Quinn, WR Devin Thomas, DL Jason Jones, DL CJ Mosley. K David Akers, DE Ezekiel Ansah, DB Darius Slay

Key Losses
T Jeff Backus, K Jason Hanson, WR Titus Young, CB Drayton Florence, LB Justin Durant, DE Cliff Avril, G Stephen Peterman, CB Kevin Barnes, DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, DE Lawrence Jackson

Why 2013 will be better
Reggie Bush brings a running game to Detroit, something that was nearly non-existent in 2012. Having any consistency from the running attack will nearly guarantee more production from an offense that had no problem moving the ball last season, but had difficulty turning yards into points. A defense that lacked aggressiveness underperformed in 2012, forcing only 17 takeaways for the year. Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley had good seasons, with Suh doubling his sack production last season (8 sacks) while Fairley racked up 5.5, but the Lions overall pass rush took a step back. It is hoped that the additions of Ansah and Jones up front should add more pass rush and create a better wall against the run, but the loss of Avril is noticeable. The additions of Slay and Quinn should improve the secondary, though Slay lacks physicality to complement his coverage skills and is currently behind Ron Bartrell on the depth chart. Head Coach Jim Schwartz is coaching for his job this season, so nothing less than an 8-8 record is likely to be acceptable in the Motor City this season, and even that may not be enough. And if a head coach is fighting to keep his job, that usually means the same for the starting quarterback. Matt Stafford has tons of talent, but took a step back last season from his breakout 2011 campaign. He will need to return to form if the Lions have any hope of competing for the playoffs.

Why 2013 will be worse
Calvin Johnson is a sensational receiver, but the Lions lack secondary targets to help distribute the load. The Lions have done little to upgrade this group, meaning Johnson is again a predictable focus of any opposing defense. Having Bush as the primary back is a major plus, but if he struggles to gain consistent yards and move the chains, the Lions will again be a team who pass for a lot of yards but fail to put up points. The defense appears to be improved, but the linebacker corps is thin in talent, and is playing in a read and react system off of Suh and Fairley. Stephen Tulloch is among the nest middle linebackers in the game, but he needs DeAndre Levy and Ashlee Palmer to step up their games, or else the defense continue to hemorrhage points.

Outlook
On paper another 4-12 season seems unthinkable; this team is more talented than that. But the Detroit Lions gave the vibe in 2012 of a team that felt it was entitled to win, but wasn’t necessarily willing to give the effort to make it happen. Schwartz doesn’t always seem to be in control of his own team, and the use of the term undisciplined seems an accurate way to describe this team, who ranked 23rd in penalty yards last season. Bush’s addition is important, but the receiver corps is weak after Megatron. Given the strength of the division that they are in, the Lions will do well to win six or seven games this season, in which case 2014 promises a new head coach as the first of what is likely to be many changes.

Jan 132013
 

The Denver Broncos vs Baltimore Ravens AFC Divisional playoff game.Saturday was a great day to be a football fan. It was also a pretty good day to be a Harbaugh brother.

The early game, and we use the term “early” loosely, turned out to be a classic as the Baltimore Ravens edged the Denver Broncos 38-35 in double overtime in the fourth longest playoff game in NFL history. And while that game was wrapping up, the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers were engaged in their own slugfest, which the 49ers eventually took control of as they went on to a 45-31 victory. Here are quick recaps for the two games.

Baltmore Ravens 38 Denver Broncos 35 (2OT)

Justin Tucker kicked a 47 yard field goal 1:42 into the second overtime to give Head Coach John Harbaugh’s Ravens a shocking 38-35 win over the host Broncos.

Ray Rice ran for 131 and a score on 30 carries, and Joe Flacco lit up the Broncos’ secondary for 331 yards and three scores, including an inexcusable 70 yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones with only 41 seconds remaining to allow the Ravens to force overtime. Torrey Smith also burned Champ Bailey for two big touchdown receptions as the Ravens generated 479 yards of offense.

The Denver loss spoiled an amazing performance by Trindon Holliday, who ran back a first half punt 90 yards for a touchdown and then brought the opening kickoff of the second half back for a 104 yard score.

Peyton Manning struggled for consistency, having a solid first half, but seemingly melting under pressure in the second half and in overtime. Manning was 28/43 for 290 yards and three scored, but threw two costly interceptions, one which was returned for a touchdown in the first quarter by Corey Graham, and another that was picked off by Graham near the end of the first overtime that set up the game winning field goal.

While Broncos’ fans will no doubt point to some suspect officiating as costing them some opportunities, there are too many internal causes for the defeat. At the end of the first half the Broncos got the ball back with 36 seconds left on the clock and time-outs in hand, but chose to instead run out the clock. The Broncos similarly had a chance to end the game on a third down play late in the fourth quarter and chose to run the ball on third and seven rather than let Manning try to pass for the first down. But the biggest reason for the Broncos loss was the pitiful play of the secondary, including Champ Bailey getting beat deep twice and Rahim Moore giving up the late bomb to Jones. After the game, Moore said, “It is my fault, plain and simple.” But really the fault rests with a secondary that helped make Joe Flacco looked more like Peyton Manning than Manning did.

Baltimore will now travel to face the winner of the New England Patriots – Houston Texans match-up in the AFC Championship.

San Francisco 49ers 45 Green Bay Packers 31

Four plays into the game, Colin Kaepernick threw an interception that Sam Shields returned 52 yards for a Green Bay touchdown and an early 7-0 lead. But after that, Kaepernick was unflappable, as he threw for 263 yards and two scores, and ran for another 181 yards and two scores as the 49ers dominated the Packers 45-31  at Candlestick Park.

The two teams fought a back and forth battle throughout the first half, with the 49ers taking a 24-21 lead on a David Akers field goal to end the half. After an Green Bay field goal almost midway through the third quarter, San Francisco took control of the game. Kaepernick exploded for a 56 yard touchdown run to put the Niners in front, and then Frank Gore and Anthony Dixon each scored on two yard runs as San Francisco closed the door and advanced to next week’s NFC championship, where they will face the winner of the Atlanta Falcons – Seattle Seahawks contest.

Michael Crabtree had a huge game for San Francisco, catching nine passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns, while Gore ran for 119 yards and one score. James Jones caught four passes for 87 yards and a score for the Packers, while Greg Jennings added six catches for 54 yards and one touchdown.

The Green Bay offensive line did a good job of limiting the San Francisco pass rush, limiting the 49ers to one sack and three quarterback hits. But Aaron Rodgers never seemed to get into synch in the contest, and Kaepernick was simply too much for the Packers’ defense. The young quarterback is making Head Coach Jim Harbaugh look like a genius for choosing to start him over veteran Alex Smith. “It feels good. We’re one step closer to where we want to be,” Kaepernick said. “I feel like I had a lot to prove. A lot of people doubted my ability to lead this team.”

Jan 102013
 

Packers - 49ersIn a span of five playoff appearances between 1995 and 2001, the Green Bay Packers stood in the San Francisco 49ers path to a sixth Super Bowl Championship. On four of five occasions Green Bay emerged victorious and have had good luck in Candlestick Park where they have emerged victorious twice in three chances. Fast forward to 2013 where the 49ers, still chasing the elusive sixth world championship, are set to renew their playoff rivalry with Green Bay. This will be a rematch of Week One when San Francisco drew first blood, limiting the anemic Green Bay running game to 45 yards, and offensively received stellar performances by QB Alex Smith (20-26, 211 yards, 2 TDs) and RB Frank Gore (112 Yards, 1 TD). Much has changed since the 30-22 San Francisco victory that was never in question despite what the score may indicate. While the Niners have continued their winning ways throughout the season, Colin Kaepernick—a Wisconsin born Packer fan– has replaced Alex Smith and will be making his first playoff start. Meanwhile, the loss to the 49ers was the first loss of three that would occur in the first five weeks for Green Bay. The Packers would recover in stellar fashion behind the MVP caliber play of QB Aaron Rodgers (ironically, a Niner fan growing up) by winning 9 of their last 11 en route divisional crown and a 4th consecutive playoff appearance.

Keys for Green Bay
Despite the constant threat of being torched through the air by Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay rushing attack—and attack is a term used lightly here—is not likely to foster any type of impactful effort against the league’s number four ranked defense against the run. DuJaun Harris was superb in his 100 yard effort against the Vikings and FB John Kuhn picked up a score on the ground as well. However, there are vast differences. The X-Factor for Green Bay will be the ability for Don Barclay and the Packer offensive line to give Rodgers the time needed to work effectively against a pass defense that has been as effective against the pass as it has against the run. Given time to executive, Rodgers should enjoy some level of effectiveness to finally healthy targets Randall Cobb and Greg Jennings. Rodgers, looking to up his playoff record to 6-2, was able to pick up 279 yards through the air in the week one contest. It should be noted that Rodgers has never come back against a team above .500 in the fourth quarter in 18 tries; the Packers will need to build an early lead for Rodgers to avoid such a predicament in his first ever trip to Candlestick.

The Packers defense will need to build off their successful performance against Adrian Peterson in the Wild Card round. Peterson, who averaged over 200 yards per game against Green Bay in 2012 in two regular season games, and torched them for 199 yards in Minnesota’s playoff clinching week 17 victory, was held to 99 yards in the Packers 24-10 victory a week ago. They were also successful in limiting QB Joe Webb on the ground. While nowhere near the level of Kaepernick it was suspected that the main asset Webb could utilize was the speed element of his game—which Green Bay had no time to game plan for due to the Vikings late QB change. In Frank Gore and Colin Kaepernick (5 rushing TDs in 2012), San Francisco boasts an RB that has had recent success against the Packers combined with a QB with elite speed. Additionally, LaMichael James is a handful when spelling Gore in relief. Ultimately, Green Bay will need to mirror last weeks’ effort if their 17th ranked defense is to contain the Niners 4th ranked rushing attack. To do so B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett and C.J. Wilson must be effective in dealing with the physical multiple tight end and goal line type sets that San Francisco’s used in Week 1. If the Packers can limit the San Francisco running game they could find themselves trending toward their performance in their Super Bowl winning run a couple of seasons ago which was buoyed by a strong run defense throughout the playoffs. Charles Woodson and the Green Bay secondary remains the strong suit of the Packer defense, but stopping the run will go a long way toward stacking the odds against an inexperienced QB by forcing their opponents to move away from the balanced attack the 49ers favor.

Green Bay passed the test against the number 2 rushing attack in the league last week and also where able to get a look at an option style quarterback—albeit one less talented than Kaepernick—in Webb. Kaepernick, in his 5-2 run as a starter, threw 10 touchdowns against only three picks to go with his 5 rushing scored and his 7.2 yards per carry clip. The Packers struggled with Alex Smith in Week 1 and Kaepernick’s speed element makes him profoundly more difficult to game plan for. Nonetheless, if there is a weakness in Kaepernick’s game to compliment his lack of post season experience it is his propensity to put the ball on the ground. He fumbled seven times in seven starts but lost only one—the Packers will need to capitalize if Kaepernick puts the ball on the ground. Furthermore, the Packers remain solid in the secondary and will hope to benefit from mistakes that can be forced if the Packer front seven can pressure Kaepernick.

Keys for San Francisco
Whether it’s John Harbaugh firing his offensive coordinator with a month to go in the season or brother Jim replacing Alex Smith in-season despite a 21-6-1 run as a starting including last season’s post season run, no one will ever accuse the Harbaughs of following conventional wisdom. Last week, John was successful in Baltimore’s first effort of the season with the Ravens defeated the Colts 24-9. This week it is Jim’s turn to throw egg on the critics of his bold move—though his risk to a much higher degree. How Colin Kaepernick performs in his first season start will not only determine whether or not the 49ers earn a shot at an NFC Championship and Super Bowl appearance it was also validate or invalidate Harbaugh’s risky switch. So far, in the regular season, Harbaugh has been rewarded; however, with a quarterback who has been successful and won recently in the playoffs sitting idle the stakes couldn’t be any higher. Pro Bowler’s Joe Staley and Mike Iaputi will need their usual effectiveness in protection. Additionally, Gore and James will need to continue on their recent run of success on the ground. If the Niners are successful in those two key areas it will go a long way to mitigating any nerves and the overall inexperience of Kaepernick. Furthermore, Kaepernick will then be able to target Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree and pick apart the Green Bay secondary.

If you hold up the starting lineup for last year’s 49ers team and the 2012 unit you will note minimal change to the defense on paper. However, the Justin Smith that lined up on the defensive line in 2011 was perhaps the top defensive player in the league last year—making 1st Team All-Pro and 2nd Team All-Pro simultaneously. This year he enters the game after missing two weeks with a triceps injury—emotional impact only goes so far and it will only be known as the game unfolds how much of a physical impact his return will have. Smith went down against New England and the defense quickly unraveled and matters got bad as they gave up 28 unanswered points. Bad turned to ugly the following week when the Seattle scored 42 points in Smith’s absence. How effective Justin Smith is on Saturday with also impact the other Smith—Alden—whose 19.5 sacks this season were a strong derivative of the double teams faced by his namesake at on the defensive line. The Niners will need Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, NT Isaac Sopoaga, and LE Ray McDonald to get pressure on Aaron Rodgers and what will likely be a one dimensional Packer attack

With Pro Bowl Safeties Donte Whitner and FS Dashon Goldson, in addition to CB’s Tarell Brown and Carlos Rodgers (who experienced a career year in 2012), the Niners fourth ranked passing defense is healthy and matches up well with Greg Jennings and Randall Cobb. Jennings has been catching his stride lately with 3 TDs in as many games and Cobb is healthy; however, the Niners will need to keep the Packer deep threats in front of them. With the front seven likely to limit the Packer ground game, the San Francisco secondary will need to limit buy not completely ground the league’s top quarterback.

The Outcome
This is the most interesting of the three games this weekend that feature rematches of regular season lop-sided affairs. The unknown that is Kaepernick in this situation makes this game a virtual pick ‘em in the eyes of many. Questions surrounding Justin Smith’s healthy only further muddy the picture of what the outcome could be. If Smith is healthy and Kaepernick is not caught in the moment it would be hard to pick against the 49ers in a game at home against a team that is 4-4 on the road. The Packers offense will likely be rendered one dimensional against San Francisco—however, that one dimension happens to be the best player in the league. The Packers were workmanlike in taking apart the Vikings last weekend; meanwhile, the Niners have been prone to embarrassing performances on defense in the absence of Smith. Nonetheless, I am counting on Smith to return in grand fashion and Kaepernick to seize the moment. Rodgers will have a strong day but in the end will move to 0-19 when attempting to comeback against better than .500 opponents. This could be one for the ages.

San Francisco 28 Green Bay 27

Jan 022013
 

15cgvike1203.jpgMinnesota Head Coach Leslie Frazier has given a high appraisal of backup quarterback Joe Webb’s ability, making it no secret that he feels Webb can be an NFL starter. So it was faith in Christian Ponder, rather than the sense he lacked depth at the QB position, that prompted Frazier to stick with Ponder through his mid-season struggles. Ponder rewarded his coach with a 234 yard 3 td performance in Week 17 at home that capped a 4-game winning streak, in which Ponder was picked off only once, and launched Minnesota into this week’s re-match at Lambeau. Ponder’s ability to relocate his early season efficiency in conjunction with Frazier’s guile and Adrian Peterson’s historic comeback season have turned around a franchise that bottomed out at 3-13 just a season ago.

For Green Bay, 2012 was more of the same from a franchise that has taken on a level of consistency and success in the McCarthy-Rodgers era. Aaron Rodgers overcame the lack of a marquee running attack and injuries to both Greg Jennings and Randall Cobb to post MVP caliber numbers. Green Bay overcame a 2-3 start, albeit a controversial loss to Seattle thrown into that mix, to win 11 of their final 13 games. Saturday brings round three of the Vikings-Packer series back to Lambeau where the Packers overcame a 14-10 halftime deficit against Minnesota on Dec. 2 and have not lost since opening day.

The Keys for Minnesota
It was Ponder’s 2 interceptions thrown to Morgan Burnett that sunk the Vikings on Dec 2nd and rendered Adrian Peterson’s 210 yard performance for naught. Fast forward to Week 17 when Peterson rushed for 199 yards but Ponder avoided turnovers and passed for three scores in the wild card clinching victory. Ponder will need to be equally as efficient if Minnesota is to win the rubber match. Additionally—it almost goes without saying—Peterson needs to continue his dominance against the Packer defense.

If Minnesota did one thing right on the other side of the ball in Week 17 it was in the pass rush where they were able to register 5 sacks. Unfortunately, the back end of the defense did not fare as well—giving up 365 yards and 34 points. Greg Jennings seems to be returning to form while Randall Cobb is likely to be available for Rodgers this week. Minnesota will need to slow down Green Bay in the secondary if they are to move on.

The Keys for the Packers
The Green Bay defense proved more than proficient at getting to the quarterback this season—ranking inside the top 5 in sacks. However, they have not fared well against the Vikings pass protections schemes and have sacked Ponder once in two games this season. Green Bay will need to put more pressure on Ponder in the second year quarterbacks playoff debut. The Packers can withstand another big performance by the NFL rushing champion as long as they make the Vikings offense one dimensional.

On the offensive side of the ball Aaron Rodgers will need to produce like Aaron Rodgers typically does. The Vikings defensive line has been able to find Rodgers, who has been able to overcome 7 sacks in the two meetings to produce stellar numbers. One has to wonder if Rodgers overcome back-to-back 5 sack performances? The Packers would be served best not to find out and would likely benefit from better pass protection and a better performance by the running game. They rushed for 72 yards in the week 17 loss versus 137 in their victory on Dec. 2nd. DuJuan Harris will likely get the chance to lead the Packers rushing attack.

Outcome
It can be argued that Minnesota has outplayed Green Bay in 6 of the 8 quarters the teams have played. Two things have held true through the two meetings: Green Bay cannot stop Peterson and Aaron Rodgers has been able to overcome Minnesota’s pressure to exploit the Vikings’ secondary. The “Wild Card” here is Ponder and whether or not he has the ability to build the performance of last week when he not only took care of the ball but he made big plays when needed. Similarly to the Colts and the Redskins, Minnesota getting to this point marks a dramatic resurrection from where they were a year ago. Win or lose, the Vikings are headed in the right direction. However, this week that direction is a return flight to Minneapolis where they can begin an off-season with designs on building on the success of 2012. Green Bay 35 – Minnesota 21

Dec 312012
 

lovie-smithThe Chicago Bears have fired Head Coach Lovie Smith after the team posted a 10-6 record, but failed to make the playoffs for a second straight season. The Bears made the playoffs in only three of Smith’s nine seasons as head coach, where he posted a 81-63 regular season mark and was 3-3 on the playoffs, reaching the Super Bowl in the 2006 season before losing to the Indianapolis Colts.

The Buffalo Bills have fired Chan Gailey after three seasons with the team. The Bills were 16-32 during his tenure. This season’s 6-10 record was a major disappointment after the Bills went on an off-season spending spree to try and improve their defense.

The Jacksonville Jaguars announced the firing of Gene Smith as GM. This was an expected decision, as new owner Shad Khan is looking to put his own management team together. It is likely that Head Coach Mike Mularkey will be joining Smith in the unemployment line soon. the Jaguars finished 2012 at 2-14.

Nov 242012
 

If the Detroit Lions didn’t have enough go wrong on Thursday against the Houston Texans, Ndamukong Suh made sure that there was more to talk about this week, as the talented but troubled defensive tackle appeared to intentionally kick Texans’ quarterback Matt Schaub in the groin. Watch the video below for yourself. Note that Suh’s foot appeared to be going along a certain path until he seems to flex/push it, then making contact with Schaub.

Suh of course was famously suspended for two games last season after he pushed Packers’ offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith’s head into the ground three times, then stomped on his arm, all of which took place after the whistle had blown. Suh was penalized for unnecessary roughness and ejected from the game. Initially, Suh denied stomping on Dietrich-Smith, saying he was only trying to get his balance back. However, after the Lions issued a statement calling Suh’s actions “unacceptable,” Suh then acknowledged that he’d “made a mistake” a day before and intended to learn from it. After this incident, what he learned will be a matter of interesting debate.

Mike Freeman reports that the situation will be reviewed Monday, and that Suh could be facing a one game suspension. While I recognize that this incident is not as serious as the shots he took against Dietrich-Smith last season, the fact is that discipline for behavior like this should be progressive, and be strongly influenced by his past behavior. If it were up to me, the “Dirtiest Player in the NFL” would be losing at least three pay checks for this one.

Finally, it has been said by some that this incident is not a big deal because Schaub is protected by a cup. Wrong. Because contact to the groin is relatively rare in football, the practice of wearing cups is a thing of the past at most levels of football. While still worn in youth leagues, most high school football players do not wear cups and it is nearly unheard of in the college and pro ranks. Players argue that their speed and agility is impacted by wearing an extra protective device, and that the protection is rarely needed.

This story will be updated after the league has reviewed the incident and announced a decision.

UPDATE (11/26/12): According to Greg Aiello of the National Football League, there will be no suspension for Suh, but the play will be reviewed for a fine. Frankly, this is not just surprising, but disappointing. There is enough of a smoking gun in this case to warrant at least a one game suspension, and players across the league have demonstrated time and again that fines are not an effective deterrent to future violations. Given Suh’s history, I’m not sure that he should have been given the benefit of the doubt in this case. More news when fines are announced at the end of the week.

Nov 232012
 

With just under seven minutes left in the 3rd quarter, the Houston Texans found themselves trailing the Detroit Lions 24-14 in their Thanksgiving match-up. Then Justin Forsett took a handoff from Matt Schaub and ran the ball for a six yard gain. Or what appeared to be a six yard gain. Or what should have been a six yard gain. Instead, after Forsett’s knee and and elbow contacted the ground (and thus ended the play) he kept running, going 81 yards for a touchdown.

Of course what should have happened is that a review of the play should have reversed the field decision and given the Texans the ball at their own 25 yard line, because all scoring plays are subject to booth review. Instead, the play was declared non-reviewable, and a touchdown that should never have been was allowed to stand.

How did this happen? Simply because Lions’ Head Coach Jim Schwartz threw the challenge flag on the play. In previous years such a play would have had to have been challenged from the sideline, but this year is the first season of reviewing all scoring plays. None the less, Schwartz’s emotions got the best of him, and the challenge flag was on the field before the play was even over.The officials then determined, as is outlined in NFL rules, that the challenge was illegal and unsportsmanlike, requiring a penalty against the Lions. Further, the rules state that the Lions then cannot benefit from a challenge, even one normally scheduled to take place, and the play was therefore deemed non-reviewable. To add insult to injury, Detroit was assessed a 15 yard penalty on the ensuing kickoff for the illegal challenge.

The Texans would go on to win the game 34-31 in overtime, leaving Lions’ fans outraged over the egregious call on the field that sparked the controversy. It was an error more befitting the replacement officials that we began the year with than the “real” officials, but they are human and screwed the call up on the field. And it only got worse from there.

I am not arguing that the call made the difference in the game. There was still well over a quarter of football to play, and both teams squandered opportunities to win the game in overtime before Shayne Graham finally connected on a 32 yard field goal with 2:21 left in the extra session to give the Texans the victory. The mistake simply became a part of the game, and the Lions had numerous opportunities to make sure that the play did not cost the Lions the game. The loss itself is on the Lions.

Nor am I arguing that the officials made the wrong call in their enforcement of replay rules. Point in fact, they enforced the rules exactly as they are written.

And that brings us to the real culprit; the rule itself.

Presumably, the NFL changed the rule this year to review all scoring plays in order to make sure that the officials got calls right on the plays that had the greatest impact on the game. Secondarily, I imagine that the rule was changed because the challenge system is inherently flawed; why is it the Head Coach’s responsibility to seek to correct the mistakes of the officials? Ever since the challenge system was created, I have advocated for booth review of all plays, buzzing down to the referees for further review whenever necessary. After all, if the emphasis is on getting it right, then let’s remove the doubt. Instead, the NFL created a ridiculous challenge system whereby coaches were given two challenges over the course of the game and, if they were better at officiating than the officials, they could earn a third for two successful challenges. So what if the officials make four mistakes against the same team? This arbitrary and illogical system seemed to straddle some strange concern over whether or not officials would be offended by the use of replay. My advice to the NFL? Get over it already. If we’re going to have replay, which only makes sense given the speed of the game and the technology available to us, then let’s use it to make sure that all calls are correct.

Even worse, instead of creating rules that reinforced the idea of getting calls right, the NFL adopted a rule penalizing a coach and team for an illegal challenge and then making plays non-reviewable. The only possible conclusion to the NFL’s logic is that it is more important to make sure that the Head Coach doesn’t throw a weighted red bag onto the field than it is to get the call right. Right? On what planet does it make sense to prioritize the convenience of the officials over the need to call the game right?

Jim Schwarz was overly gracious in taking full responsibility for the mistake by saying, “Yeah, I know that rule,” Schwartz said. “You can’t challenge a turnover or a scoring play and I overreacted. I was so mad that they didn’t call him down ’cause he was obviously down on the field. I had the flag out of my pocket before he even scored the touchdown. That’s all my fault. I overreacted in that situation and I cost us a touchdown.” No, Jim. It’s really not all your fault, at least not yours alone. This is also the fault of a system that was not very well thought out, and that considered getting the call right to be a secondary concern.

This rule is one that is likely to be changed, and the biggest wrangling seems to be over whether or not the change will occur during this season or if it will wait until after the season. In any event, it is unfortunate that a game as good as the one yesterday had to be tainted with such a horrible call on the field, and a ridiculous league rule that prevented a correction of the mistake. The call itself is no better, and probably worse, than the one made by replacement officials that awarded a touchdown to Golden Tate in the Seahawks’ win over the Packers. And this one was created by the guys we trust. At least in this case Forsett at least had the decency to later admit that he was down even if he didn’t think so at the time.

Ironically, this call was made by a field crew headed by Walt Coleman. Coleman is famous (or infamous) for being the referee who reversed his own decision in the famous 2002 “Tuck Rule” game (more appropriately referred to by Patriots’ fans as the Snow Bowl) which awarded the ball to the Patriots after Tom Brady had appeared to fumble. The Patriots, of course, went on to win due to two clutch field goals by Adam Vinatieri, and then went on to beat the Steelers in the AFC Championship before beating the St. Louis Rams to claim their first Super Bowl title. A huge difference, of course, was that the call on the field in the game yesterday was dead wrong, a major mistake by the officials on the field. In the 2002 game, the call on the field seemed to make sense from initial visible evidence (even Brady thought it was a fumble), but the replay was used to correct the call on the field to match NFL rules, whether or not one agreed with the rule. In the case of the tuck rule, eleven years later the rule is still in effect, is used at least a couple of times each season, and makes sense as a rule even if people disagree with its enforcement. In yesterday’s game, the officials were prevented from correcting their own mistake and conforming to league rules, because someone, somewhere was more worried about officials having to deal with an occasional bean bag being thrown out of order. And that rule gets our tag for being the dumbest rule ever.

Oct 082012
 

For those of you who have somehow managed to avoid watching the Green Bay Packers this season consider yourselves fortunate. The television commercials starring individual Packer players are much more fun to watch, and they are also much more indicative of what this 2012 Packer team is all about. I am sure you have seen some of these commercials, right?

This Packer team is a team of individual stars both on and off the field. Gone is the unified team that took the National Football League by storm in January and February 2011. There seems to be no hunger, desire, togetherness, or accountability on this outfit. This is in stark contrast to the 2010 team that hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in Dallas.
I pointed out two weeks ago that the Packers, and not the officials, were responsible for the loss in Seattle. Yet, you still saw starters from an offensive line unit that was manhandled throughout much of the game in Seattle jump on their Twitter accounts and point the finger at the replacement officials as opposed to looking in the mirror. You heard no references made, as good teams would have done, that the Seattle game was not lost by virtue of the replacement officials. The good teams would have, as opposed to blaming the officiating, stated that they have to go back to work and make improvements so that games of this nature in the future can be won going away as opposed to losing on the last play of the game.

The million dollar question, though, is, do the Packers even care? Some of them seem to be happy by virtue of receiving the individual accolades. The Packers held a 21-3 lead at halftime yesterday. Good enough, right? Well apparently some in the Packer locker room must have felt this way? The offense had performed well in the first half, and the defense had held the Colts to three points. It certainly appeared that some of the Packers must have thought that they had put in a good days work at that juncture of the game.

In stark contrast to the 2012 Packers are the 2012 Indianapolis Colts. The second half turned out to be a wonderful, beautiful story of perseverance, character and teamwork as the less talented Colts won one for their ailing coach by outscoring the Packers 27-6 in the second half.

I was listening to the Colts radio crew broadcast the game yesterday. Right before halftime, the crew was discussing how you do not have to be mean in order to succeed in football, just tough. The Colts radio crew pointed out that this is what Andrew Luck is all about, that he is one of the nicest, yet the toughest players in the game. Apparently, Luck is also a team player because this “toughness” was embodied by the Colts during that second half.

I discussed back in August that football is won with both a solid defense and running game. I cautioned everyone that the Packers had neither of these essential qualities in 2012. Compounding this problem is apparently the lack of a team concept, accountability, and an overall toughness. The Colts wanted it much more than the Packers did yesterday. Besides beating their arch rivals back in Week 2, have the Packers wanted anything this year besides individual accomplishments? If this does not change soon the Packers are going to find themselves in last place of the North Division come early January.

Sep 252012
 

…maybe the replacements got it right, after all.

If a pass is caught simultaneously by two eligible opponents, and both players retain it, the ball belongs to the passers. It is not a simultaneous catch if a player gains control first and an opponent subsequently gains joint control.

Go watch the video, and tell me you can see whether the defender caught the ball first, or if the ball was caught by both players at the same time. Even the announcers called it “simultaneous”.

But it was reviewed, you say?

Irrelevant.

A ruling of simultaneous possession is a judgement call — i.e., one that cannot be overturned on review. Replays can only be used to determine if a pass was complete or incomplete. So, the only way the referee could have overturned the score is if the video clearly showed the ball hit the ground. Since it didn’t, they had no choice but to award the touchdown — and the game — to Seattle.

EDIT: In light of the NFL’s statement, I stand corrected on this. Simultaneous possession is reviewable in the end zone. This changes my thinking somewhat, but my larger point still stands (read on).

In other words, the replacement referees made a split-second call (and anyone who says they saw an obvious interception at full speed is lying), a call the rules expressly prohibited them from changing upon review.

Blame the referees for making horrible calls all night, if you must. Seattle wouldn’t have been in the position to score if not for a very questionable pass interference flag a few players earlier. On the other hand, Green Bay’s only touchdown drive was saved by another, just as (if not more) questionable, penalty.

I’m not suggesting the replacement referees have been good. However, I don’t for a second buy the argument that it’s inevitable a “real” crew would have called the play correctly. I’d say the odds are 50/50 at best. If you remember, there’s a reason we have replay in the first place; the game is so fast that even those who have officiated games every week for years still get it wrong sometimes.

EDIT: This is where I stand by my thesis. If you honestly think every “real” referee would have overturned the call upon review, you haven’t been watching the same league I have. In light of the NFL’s clarification (above), I’d increase the odds to 60/40 or even 70/30 that the locked-out officials would have made the correct call, either initially or upon review, but no more than that.

The game last night was a godsend for the locked-out officials, in that one play has provided a focal point for all of the boiling anger and resentment by players, coaches, and fans alike. The NFL is all but certain to settle within weeks, if not days. That’s good news for everybody.

The better news for the officials and the league (and the bad news for fans) is the “real” guys weren’t on the field last night. That gives cover for what is an unacceptable state of affairs — namely, that in the age of dozens of camera angles and high-tech replay booths, the rules still prevent officials from correcting many of their “mistakes”. This is the most obvious place where a rules change is needed (aside from the forever-damned “Tuck Rule”).

I put “mistakes” in scare quotes because I have argued for years the mere existence of replay creates an unrealistic expectation of perfection. Referees, umpires, and back judges are human, after all — and while the past couple weeks have proven they are the best at what they do, they still can’t see what fans at home can see with their 90″ HDTVs and super-slo-mo. Frankly, I would be happier if replay was done away with completely, but I realize it’s here to stay. So, here are my humble suggestions:

1) Require reviews to be made at full speed, or at most, slightly slowed. If a call isn’t obviously wrong at 50% normal speed, then live with it.

2) Do away with limitations on what can and cannot be reviewed. I’m not sure where those limits come from, but if the referee can overturn himself, or a member of his crew, on a question of whether a player stepped out of bounds, it seems reasonable he can also overturn judgement calls like whether a cornerback made contact with a receiver too early.

3) Get rid of (or at least refine) the challenge system. If you want to get it right, get it right. Whether or not the opposing head coach wants to wager a timeout should have no bearing on the matter.

4) Finally, adopt the system in place in Canada, and have all replays reviewed centrally. This will ensure consistency (and remove any subconscious reluctance on the part of referees to overturn their crew members’ decisions).

In the end, I have to say no: the replacements didn’t get it right. That much is obvious. But the list of who got it “wrong” is much longer than the poor guys in the end zone last night:

  • An offense that scored 35 points a game last year could only manage a single touchdown, with the assistance of a phantom interference call.
  • The top takeaway defense in the league couldn’t manage a single turnover against a rookie quarterback.
  • The officials aren’t even in a position to make the call if M. D. Jennings takes Tom Jackson’s perennial advice in Hail Mary situations: “KNOCK IT DOWN!”
  • While it didn’t affect the outcome of the game, Mike McCarthy’s professionalism took a major hit when he and his team left the field before the game was officially over. Not a classy move, Mike.

I join my fellow Rats in imploring the league to get this mess over with as quickly as possible.

Sadly, I doubt the griping over the officials will end, one way or the other.

Sep 252012
 

“I am sick to my stomach” were the words used by Jon Gruden at the end of the Packers vs. Seahawks game last night. I could not agree with him more. The integrity of the game has been lost by the situation with the replacement referees. They are not getting it done. They cannot manage the game, make correct calls, or control coaches. Roger Goddell must rectify the situation with officials immediately. I cannot stand to see games decided in this manner. If I were a Packers fan or this happened to my beloved Browns, I would have lost my mind last night. I hope this is the tipping point and the real officials are back soon. To all the NFL fans, good luck with your teams this year, as we have no idea what we are going to get each game.