Thursday, October 21, 2010

National Friday League, Week 7

Chad Henne and Mike Sims-Walker edition

Viking-Packer Preview
I watched the Dolphins beat the Packers last Sunday, and I thought the Packer defense looked pretty helpless. They couldn't really rush the passer, weren't good at stopping the run, and were leaving open receivers all over the place. If Chad Henne weren't regularly throwing passes high, the Dolphins might have been torching the Packers (Brandon Marshall was still like a demigod out there). The Packers have suffered some major injuries this season, so it might just be a depleted team (that could be less depleted this week). But that defense looked imminently beatable, even though the Viking o-line has been pretty lousy.

And offensively the Packers still have two problems: they can't run the ball, and they struggle to protect the passer. Aaron Rodgers' most impressive display of skill is the mobility he is required to show in order not to get sacked 10 times a game. Of course, all he has to do is find Donald Driver or Greg Jennings matched up against Lito Sheppard on one out of three downs, and the Vikings are cooked.

None of these things matter, of course. Whether the Vikings or the Packers might actually be better than the other barely matters. These two teams will likely do what these two teams do against each other: they'll play a streaky game featuring offensive scoring streaks by each team, it will come down to one or two late possessions, and, likely, the home team will win.

But here's a new way to talk myself into optimism about the Vikings: Adrian Peterson and Randy Moss. These are two players whom we know--we know--can absolutely take over a game and dominate, giving the Vikings a chance to win in virtually any situation against any opponent. They don't do it often (few do). But just look at the game logs. Adrian Peterson has had 160+ yards rushing seven times. Randy Moss has had 36 multi-touchdown games. The Vikings now have two explosive, super-talented, dominating players that on occasion take over football games. It's going to happen again this year. Whenever there's a time that things look bleak, we should remember that: we have two players who might, at any surprising moment, take over. And I could see either guy doing that this week.

Other Intriguing Matchups
Both teams seem really average, with the potential to be a lot better. That's probably a fair description for this blog, too: really average, with the potential to be a lot better.

I said last week I'm intrigued by the Dolphins, and that's the truth (I finally traded for Ronnie Brown this week, suckers! Tony Gonzalez, straight-up, and now I'm in a situation where I'm required to start Mike Sims-Walker for one week, which is obviously awful, but when you get a chance to trade for a guy with one TD that's averaging 60 rush yards per game, you have to jump on it). But the Steelers are, in my opinion, the best team in the NFL, maybe by a long way. This will be a test to find out of the Dolphins are a contender or an interesting 7-9 team. If Chad Henne weren't Chad Henne, I'd think the Dolphins have enough offensive weapons to move the ball for a few drives against the Steeler defense, and make a tight game of this. But I have not been impressed with Henne's accuracy, which makes me wonder how many opportunity-plays the Dolphins will blow. "Opportunity-plays" is a concept I'm trying out. It's a big play that's there, that a team can get and that can change the game, but that they can also miss out on. In last week's Viking game, E. J. Henderson made two opportunity-plays, an interception a tipped ball (it was there, and a defender just needed to make the play, but it could have just as easily been dropped by somebody), and an interception on a pass that required a savvy, athletic move. In last week's Packer-Dolphin game, Brandon Marshall got very open a lot, which I'd consider an opportunity-play: the receiver is wide open, and if the line protects, the QB sees him and throws an accurate ball, and the receiver doesn't drop it, a big play is made. In that game, Miami's line protected, Marshall was wide open, and Henne usually threw high. Sometimes Marshall made the play anyway, and sometimes he couldn't. This has gotten pretty rambling, just terrible: I realize the whole point of National Friday League is to be rambling, but I teach freshman composition so I'm still embarrassed by it (and I'm not helping matters, really, by explicitly discussing it, but here I go). My point is, there will be a small number of opportunity-plays for the Miami offense, and they'll have to be precise, hitting on a high number of them. I think they'll miss on too many of them.

The Chiefs are another team that will probably be making me say "How good are they, really?" all the way until Week 17. They should beat this Jaguar team, whose pass coverage fluctuates between ungodly awful and ungodly terrible. Plus, Mike Sims-Walker running patterns while a backup QB drops back into the pocket! This is real football, folks!

Interesting game, because both teams look good, but both teams might be really good.

3-2 NFC West rivals. The Cardinals have been outscored by 50 this season.

I think you should smile if you have fantasy starters going in this game.

Irrational Viking Fan
At this point, Brett Favre has done no more--and possibly less--for the Vikings historically than Randall Cunningham did (it's true: try to dispute it), except in this: he tainted a beloved icon of Packer fans, which is itself something.

NFC North Box
The Bears really might get to 10 wins this year. The Bears also could lose to absolutely any team on their schedule. Even Buffalo. I'm terrified to play them because Julius Peppers has had some monster games against the Childress-era Vikings (it seems in my hazy memory that the Vikes have been content to let a tackle block him one-on-one, which has been like being content to let a bear wander around your living room).

Every scandal is an opportunity for new expressions of meaning
I think "I just got done with practice" should be the new code for "I would like you to have sex with me." I'm told by those that matter that this is a terrible idea.

Again: in praise of DVR
When I was a teenager, I suddenly realized I watch a sickly amount of basketball when, sometime in March, I watched a trailing team foul intentionally for what felt like the thousandth time that season. And last Sunday, I realized I watch a sickly amount of football when I watched a receiver get tackled a yard short on third down, wondered how many receivers I’ve seen get tackled a yard short on third down in the past two months, and realized it was too many.

I have two small children that get a lot of my time. I also have a job that demands a lot of my time, including evenings and weekends to grade papers. How am I watching all this football?

The answer is obvious: DVR. When my kids need or want my attention, I can pause the game whenever I like. When my insane dog needs to go out, I pause. During night games, I generally record/pause the game and then go about doing necessary tasks for an hour or more--usually grading papers--and when I'm done I turn on the game, zipping through and catching up before the game ends. I've paused games to get ready for the next day, to wash dishes, to get laundry, to do any number of necessary tasks. DVR allows me to function as a dad, teacher, and housekeeper while still getting to watch football seemingly constantly.

Announcers during blowouts say the darndest things.
As Monday night's Jaguar-Titan game devolved not only into a blowout, but a boring blowout featuring backup quarterbacks, I started reading The New Yorker (because I like to try fulfill the stereotype of an urbane liberal) while the game was on in the background. I heard Ron Jaworski say this: "You get that first score, then you're in a situation where you're only a couple scores behind." Beautiful. Just beautiful.

Announcers talking quarterbacks say the darndest things.
Let me continue talking about Chad Henne way too much in this blog entry. During the Dolphin-Packer game, Dan Fouts defended Henne based on his inexperience, suggesting he hadn't had that much time and that he's learning and maturing. At one point, Henne threw a ball away. Fouts said what announcers seem to think is a wise thing to say whenever a young QB throws the ball away: that it was a smart move not to try force a pass, that earlier in his career, maybe even earlier this season, Henne might have forced it rather than throw it away. Did Fouts mean earlier this Henne's previous game, when he threw three interceptions? Was it just over the bye week that Henne learned to throw it away? And is throwing the ball away one time, while being chased around by pass rushers, really something special showing the wise maturity of a QB?

Do we really have to hear announcers heap praise on a young QB for knowing not to chuck the ball into coverage? Any time a young QB throws the ball away we hear about it from the announcers like we just watched a baby learn to eat with a spoon for the first time. Throwing the ball away rather than taking a sack or throwing the ball into coverage does not, in fact, make a quarterback a genius: it's not exactly Darwin's insight here. But by all means, praise the QB that you just sat down with in a production meeting and had a friendly, personable discussion with, that you now find yourself wanting to be friendly toward: your job doesn't require objective analysis or anything. Throwing the ball into the sidelines is probably the greatest skill a young QB can have: nothing else really matters, actually. Reading defenses, throwing accurate passes to open receivers, none of that compares to being able to hit an assistant coach's clipboard as you're being chased by defensive ends.

Why did Chris Johnson get carries late?
Leading by 20 points with a few minutes left, the Titans left Chris Johnson in the game to get some late carries. I'll never really understand this: why? When the game is not in doubt and you just need to run out clock, why not use your backup running back, rather than the superstar running back on whom most of your hopes depend? Is it really worthwhile to let your star player get tackled a few extra times, when those carries are no longer necessary to win the game? My theory is that NFL coaches devote so much mental energy to preparation for a single game and have a certain degree of, not anxiety exactly, but let's say edgy intensity, that it takes quite a giant lead with quite little time left before they are actually convinced themselves that the game is in hand.

Fantasy Box
J'Rod gave me the idea to follow my fantasy players on Twitter. It's a good idea, because it is one more way to keep Mike Sims-Walker in my life.

Frank Deford might just not have much to say anymore
In 2010, Frank Deford has the very fresh take on NPR that technology and ticket prices make some fans prefer watching games on television rather than in person, and includes such insightful observations as

"But even more important, younger fans have been raised on TV and other electronic entertainment — these are people who play video games for fun by themselves and who don't communicate so much face-to-face, but text on cell phones."

He so nailed young people!

To be fair, evidently Deford was once one of the best, and trying to be creative talking/writing about sports over the course of decades is probably difficult. But even more important, older sportswriters are trained to see new technology as destructive and damaging--these are people who treat younger people with a mixture of confusion and contempt, and who don't so much write well, but write a lot.

Enjoy your weekend, everybody. Except Packer and Bear fans.


  1. The Vikings haven't had a significant road victory since they beat the Packers at Lambeau last year.

    Sunday's game would be a good time to change that.

    And one thing that's always bugged me about the use of Randy Moss.

    You know he gets a bit disinterested if he's not getting the ball. So why not throw a few short passes to him early in the game to get him going?

    Moss has never been a yards-after-the-catch guy. He just kind of drops to the turf when he senses there will be contact. But with corners consistently giving him 10 yard cushions, why not throw a short pass to him in front of that cushion? That's a guaranteed five-to-eight yard play and it might set up some deeper routes later on in the game.

    Seems silly that it doesn't happen more often with Moss.

  2. Slight correction: the Vikings haven't a a road victory PERIOD since last year's Lambeau game. And their road wins before that were Cleveland, Detroit, and St. Louis (who off the top of my head combined for seven wins last season).

    2009 was wonderful and all, but this has been an awful road team for a while.

  3. PV:

    No correction necessary. That was what I was getting at by writing "significant." Road wins against the Browns, Rams and Lions aren't really significant, they're expected – even if you're the Vikings.

    But I think we can all agree the Vikes have been a bad road time for a while.

    Interestingly, the 2008 team, despite being quarterbacked by Tarvaris Frerotte, was a pretty good road team by Vikings standards.

    They went 4-4 on the road, with wins against the Jaquars (who didn't suck that year), the Cardinals (Super Bowl runnerups) and the Saints (who weren't Super Bowl calibre in '09, but were certainly a very dangerous team, especially at home).

  4. I guess the Saints were Super Bowl calibre in 2009. Bit of a typo there. But don't point out my spelling of "calibre". That's how we spell it in Canada.

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