Monday, November 2, 2015

NFL 2015 Week 8 Snap Judgments

....or, "The Week Where the Football Injury Gods Let Their Fury Upon the League."

This weekend was brutal, and there's no getting around it.  The Seahawks' Ricardo Lockette took a massive blow during a punt and fell immediately to the ground.  He was immobilized and taken off the field by stretcher (though he did give a thumbs up to everyone on the way out, so he could be okay).  Le'Veon Bell's knee bent almost literally backwards and his MCL was shredded.  Half the Chargers went down with various injuries against the Ravens yesterday.  We might have seen the last of Steve Smith as well, as he tore his Achilles tendon in his left ankle.  His career didn't deserve to end like that, and as both a Ravens fan and football fan I hope he returns for one last round next year.  But none of those injuries are what I want to discuss in some detail here.

I want to talk about Reggie Bush.

Reggie Bush fielded a punt in the first quarter against the Rams, and eventually ran out of bounds.  The Rams play in a dome, and they have cement flooring on the outside surrounding the actual field.  Football cleats aren't designed to run on cement, so Bush slipped and fell, immediately grabbing his left knee.  He tore his ACL on the way down, and ended his season.

Why would anyone put cement flooring around a football field?  Did no one think this could happen?  Playing football on astro turf is bad enough, considering the litany of serious injuries that have happened over the years.  This is worse, considering someone should have seen this coming and could have taken measures to avoid it.

Then again, it's worth pointing out that even playing football on natural grass is hazardous, considering that two weeks ago Justin Tucker slipped and fell while attempting a field goal kick.  Fortunately he wasn't hurt on the play, but Levi's Stadium is pretty terrible to play on.

Oh, and that's where Super Bowl 50 will be played in February, too.  Awesome.

1. On a more positive note, the MVPs of the Week were Eli Manning and Drew Brees.  Manning and Brees played a game of "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better," combining for 13 touchdown passes and only 1 interception (the one pick was a pass from Brees that bounced off Willie Snead and landed in Jermaine McBride's hands, which he ran back for a touchdown).  Brees tied the NFL record for touchdown passes in a game, and Manning did everything in his power to keep the Giants neck and neck, until the very end when Kai Forbath kicked the game-winning field goal as time expired.  That's an offensive showcase.

2. On the flip side of that coin, the Giants' and Saints' defensive backs are the combined Goats of the Week.  When two teams combine for over 100 points in a football game - however often that happens - the defensive secondaries aren't doing their jobs.  I'd hate to be in either team's film room in reviewing the tape this week, though at least the Giants managed to capitalize on a deflected pass to run it back for another score.  Still, this is one game tape both Steve Spagnuolo and Rob Ryan will want to burn.

3. Dean Pees will keep his job for another two weeks.  Had the Ravens lost to the Chargers, the last slack John Harbaugh would have been able to give his defensive coordinator would have been used up.  There was no doubt in my mind that with the Ravens' bye week coming up, Harbaugh would have had no choice but to fire Pees this morning.  The Ravens win bought Pees at least two more weeks, and since they don't have to leave home until after Thanksgiving they have a chance to win some football games.  My armchair GM self still thinks Pees needs to go since he's obsessed with having his defensive backs play at least 10 yards off the line of scrimmage all the time.  The Ravens will have to win at least two of their next three games for Pees to keep his job for a while.

4. Mediocrity is taking over across the league.  Through 8 weeks, the AFC has only 5 teams who are over .500.  The NFC isn't much better with only 6 teams above .500.  While that's still nearly enough to cover the teams in the playoffs, the NFC East-leading Giants are 4-4, and the AFC South-leading Colts are 3-4, pending their game tonight in Carolina.  It's possible that things can change in the second half of the season, but if there's this wide of a separation a month from now, the final four weeks of the season will lose a little drama.  The good teams will still be good (possibly great), but the bad teams will be that much worse.  There may not be multiple teams fighting for Wild Cards and/or division titles since teams like the Jets and Raiders have clearly distanced themselves from the rest of the AFC.  There's an awful lot of football to play between now and December so things can change radically, but realistically I don't see much chance of any sleepers lying in waiting in either conference.

5. We may need to redefine what the MVP is.  Tom Brady is unquestionably the front runner for the league MVP at this point, and he's head and shoulders above everyone else.  Consider for a moment other names such as Cam Newton, Philip Rivers, and even Tony Romo.  The Panthers are 7-0 going into tonight's game against Indianapolis, and Newton is almost literally single-handedly winning them games.  Few people outside Charlotte can name anyone catching the ball there aside from Greg Olsen, and as I had discussed before, Newton is winning games despite very pedestrian stats.  His overall value to Carolina cannot be overstated.

Likewise for Philip Rivers.  Sure, the Chargers are terrible, and they are losing player after player to injury.  Just like Newton, Rivers is keeping them in every game.  If not for him at quarterback, they wouldn't even have their two wins on the season, and they'd be blown out every week.  The entire franchise wouldn't even get more than a footnote of recognition on television and in the media without him.  That's true value.

Lastly, there's Tony Romo.  Romo hasn't played since Week 2 when he had broken his clavicle against the Eagles, a game the Cowboys won.  They have gone 0-5 without him under center, and there's little doubt the Cowboys wouldn't have won at least two of those games had Romo been playing.  His situation is the most unique of these three players since we're talking about his value while being absent versus actually on the field, but it's hard to deny what he means to the Cowboys.

6. Gary Kubiak's system can work in Denver, after all.  For what felt like the first time this season, the Broncos won a football game because the offense finally complemented the defense.  Peyton Manning had a fairly pedestrian night, but the running game finally got going.  C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman combined for three rushing touchdowns on the night, which gave the defense more than enough cushion to rough up Aaron Rodgers.  All season long, it didn't look like Kubiak could make the Broncos' offense fit into his style, but he made the most of the bye week to prepare for the Packers.  Denver can still compete for one of the top two seeds in the AFC for the playoffs if their running game continues to thrive and adjust for Manning's lack of arm strength.