Tuesday, January 03, 2012

2011 NFL -- Parting Thoughts

Wow. Rex Ryan, what a clown (surpassed perhaps only by his brother and Cowboys' defensive coordinator Rob Ryan). As a regular sports radio listener for hours a day in New York City, I can tell you that Rex Ryan is getting killed up here right now. I mean, you can't go two callers without someone ranting like mad about all of Rex's bravado, his phony predictions, the way he has managed Mark Sanchez, and I could go on and on. I mean, imagine Waffles on one of his "off the meds" days, multiply the anger by maybe 50 or 60 times, and then imagine one such Waffles calling in after another, after another, and another, and another. It is just unbelievable the beating Rex Ryan has taken, and the depths to which he has fallen after his team predictably failed to even make the playoffs after coach Rex guaranteed another superbowl victory for this team in the preseason this year.

On the flip side, it is almost equally amazing to behold the way that both Tom Coughlin and Andy Reid managed to play their ways into saving their jobs for at least another year. I mean, these guys looked completely dead and buried just a few short weeks ago. After his Giants lost embarrassingly to the hapless Redskins at home in a crucial game in Week 15, the Giants' postseason hopes were significantly in doubt and Tom Coughlin's chances of returning as Giants' head coach in 2012 seemed virtually nonexistent. Fast forward a couple of weeks, and after steamrolling both Rex Ryan's Jets and then the Dallas Cowboys in the final two weeks of the regular season, the Giants are postseason-bound, division champs, and Coughlin is all but assured of returning to produce yet another late-season collapse for the G-Men. And make no mistake, you happy Giant fans this week: that's exactly what happened this year again. You just got into the playoffs anyways after another pathetic season because the Cowboys are so laughable late in the season, and the Eagles were so laughable for almost the entire season before rattling off four straight wins to finish up strong.

And yeah, the Eagles. I had already written Andy Reid's eulogy here in Philly -- posted it right here on the blog in fact less than a month ago -- and then what does he do? Immediately after everyone and their mother had written this team off entirely following a horrible Week 13 give-up loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Monday night football to drop the Eagles' record to 4-8, Reid leads the team into Miami for a convincing 26-10 beating, a complete steamrolling of the playoff-hopeful Jets in Philly the in Week 15, and then into Dallas for another convicing beatdown in a suddenly completely meaningless game for both teams, and then a strong win over the Redskins at home to end the season on a four-game upswing. 8-8 still blows chunks for this team in 2011, but even though all four of those teams Philly beat in December ended up missing the playoffs, Andy Reid still comes out smelling like a rose, especially as Mike Vick's return from several games missed due to broken ribs coincided with the team's late-season resurgence. So, it seems Andy Reid, too, amazingly played his way right back into a job in Philly, which means, much like with the Giants above, another season coming up of struggle, of a total lack of defensive focus, complete and utter clock mismanagement, and probably a playoff berth but not much more than that to hope for for the fans in the city of brotherly shove. Oh well.

Tony Romo. Still the biggest choker this side of Greg Norman in a major. Romo's knack for stepping down in December is becoming legendary. Despite a 19-2 career record in November after going 4-0 in the month here in 2011, Romo adds a 1-3 record this year to his 7-10 lifetime December stats, just when it matters most. And Jerry Jones can say whatever he wants about not blaming Jason Garrett or Tony Romo for a lot of what went wrong this year, but the simple fact remains that the division was clearly the Cowboys' for the taking this year, but they simply could not step up and go and win the games that they had to win.

Did I mention enough times here how gutless and slimy the firing of Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano was late last year? After starting off the season 0-7 (against four teams in the top four seeds in this year's postseason, as well as the Chargers and the Jets who both missed the playoffs in the AFC but had formidable teams and were in it until the end), the Dolphins went on a tear, ending with a 6-3 push to finish at 6-10 for the season, tying the all-time NFL record for most wins by a team that started off 0-7 on the season. After Sparano had piloted that team to a 4-2 record following their 0-7 beginning, Sparano was summarily fired from the team following the Eagles' beatdown of the Fins in Week 14, and the team just went on completing with Sparano had clearly started, and what he had already proven he had the ability to do in his previous time in Miami. That team just never quit, and I give Tony Sparano about 95% of the credit for how they finished up this year. 6-3 in their final nine games. Even if that stretch did include only one game against s 2011 playoff team.

Speaking of new coaches who really did step in and change things around, doesn't it kinda seem that way with Romeo Crennell in Kansas City? I mean, in three games following the firing of Todd Haley, Crennell's Chiefs beat the Packers for their only loss of the entire 2011 regular season, lost an overtime game to playoff-hopeful Oakland, and then beat the division champion Broncos while laughably shutting down Broncos' quarterback Tim Tebow. He's been involved with a lot of successful team endeavors in his career, so who's saying Romeo Crennell can't lead the Chiefs back to the top of the lowly AFC West next season? The Chargers will likely have a new head coach so who knows how that is going to go, the Raiders are kind of stuck with Carson Palmer, who fulfilled his destiny of throwing more picks than touchdowns again in 2011, and they've got the Broncos who look to be kind of stuck with Tim Tebow who simply cannot throw the football, period. This division is the definition of "up for grabs", and with Crennell the Chiefs might look as good as anyone else to compete for the title in 2012.

And speaking of Tim Tebow, no season in review post could ever be complete without some treatment of Tebow's overall performance this year. My take on the situation -- and this is not something I've heard anywhere else but I still think there is something to it -- is that Tim Tebow seemed to turn it on and on and on, higher and higher and higher, almost on a weekly basis there in the mid to late part of the regular season this year, and all the while Broncos EVP John Elway was there, on the sidelines with the fake smiles, on the radio giving out the backhanded compliments, etc. It was very clear that Elway had not yet bought in to the Tim Tebow madness, and I'm sure no one felt that more than Tim Tebow himself. But then, just after the Broncos' loss to the Cheatriots where Tebow played ok and led his team to an early lead and a first-quarter touchdown run, Elway came out and really spoke the praises of Tebow for the first time. Give the guy a little security, a little taste of a true compliment from the guy he had been fighting so hard for the affection of for the past couple of months, and it was just enough to get Tebow to take his foot off the magic gas just a little bit. The team then proceeded to get blown out by the given-up Buffalo Bills 40-14, and then followed it up in a win-and-you're-in game to end the season with a 7-3 loss to the divisional rival Chiefs, at home no less. Tebow threw for 185 yards in the Buffalo loss, but his team was behind the entire game and thus had to abandon its preferred style of running on 85% of offensive plays, and Tebow still connected on only 13 of 29 attempts and only 2 of 11 attempts of 11 or more yards downfield. And in the abysmal defeat by the Chiefs in Week 17, Tebow was almost unspeakably bad, going 6 of 22 for a 20.1 qb rating. Nice. Tim Tebow becomes only the fourth quarterback in NFL history to start a playoff game next weekend after completing less than 50% of his passes for the season, a feat not done since the mighty Scott Zolak and his 42.8 completion percentage back in 1998.

Keep an eye on Indianapolis for what I would guess is a seriously developing story. Colts' owner Jim Irsay's surprise firing of the Polians -- who have run his team since 1998 a week before the team drafted one Peyton Manning as their quarterback of the future -- on Monday I think speaks volumes about the team's focus going forward. Now that the team secured the right to pick Stanford's Andrew Luck with the #1 pick in the NFL draft coming up this spring, it looks to me like Irsay expects his team to give some very serious consideration to trading Manning and going with Luck as the team's next quarterback of the future. The Polians had been perfectly vocal that if Peyton is healthy, he is their quarterback for the next few years, and now the team wins the right to draft Luck, and a day later the Polians are fired? Strange things are afoot at the Indy offices these days, you just watch.

Coach of the Year honors go squarely to Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco this year. I was just getting on the John Fox bandwagon, but then the loss to the Cheatriots followed by the late-season collapse has taken him totally out of the running, despite a very impressive effort nonetheless in 2011. Even after going five games without starting Tim Tebow and while still playing the "currently" passing-heavy style of offense in the NFL, the Broncos ended the season with 2708 passing, and 2632 yards rushing, and compiling over 500 more yards rushing than yards passing in 11 games with Tebow at the starter. For Fox to have spearheaded this kind of change -- keep in mind that in Week 1, Kyle Orton threw for 304 yards for the Broncos while they rushed for only 38 -- and to have come from 1-4 to 8-8 and a division win, Fox really deserves an honorable mention here despite the three losses to end the season. Other coaches worth a mention in this category this year include Marvin Lewis, who led Andy Dalton and the Bungles Bengals back to the playoffs in an unlikely story, and Mike Munchak who led the Titans to a 9-7 record in a similarly surprising outcome. In the NFC, most of the great head coaching jobs were done in the NFC West, with Harbaugh leading the back of course, but even Ken Whisenhunt in Arizona and Pete Carroll in Seattle are probably worth at least noting, given how they led their teams to second-half success in the face of extreme adversity. But Jim Harbaugh -- no matter how quickly his team loses in the playoffs to the eventual superbowl winning Packers or Saints -- to go 13-3 with Alex Smith at qb and essentially the same personnel that Mike Singletary ran absolutely into the ground over the past couple of years, that is really something special.

And while I'm on the topic of postseason awards, not sure I've seen this much elsewhere either, but the performance of Packers' backup quarterback Matt Flynn on Sunday against a strong Lions defense in a must-win game for Detroit to protect their playoff seeding -- 480 yards on 31-for-44 passing, with a franchise record six touchdowns -- most definitely changes things for me in the MVP vote. I had already written previously about the Saints' Drew Brees playing his way into the MVP voting with his incredible, record-setting, among the best-ever individual seasons for an NFL quarterback this year by the numbers. But if the Packers' unknown and inexperienced backup can go in there on a dime against one of the league's tougher defenses and throw for five hundy and 6 scores, then it seems stunningly obvious that Aaron Rodgers is not at all the most valuable player to his team this year. Shiat, the Packers might better with Flynn in there for all we know, as long as he still has that incredible core of Jennings, Jones, Finley, Nelson and Driver in the receiving corps! But if you take away Drew Brees from the Saints, I don't get the feeling at all that Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, Darren Sproles, Lance Moore and Robert Meachem are going to be treating the Saints' no-name backup to a five-spot and six touchdowns on the day. The Saints seem a heck of a lot more like the Indianapolis Colts to me than what the Packers obviously are. Give me the incredible record-setting season in passing yards, completions and completion percentages from Drew Brees and his 13-3 record this year, and after Matt Flynn's performance on Sunday, I'll take Brees for the league's MVP hands down.

I'll be back later in the week to take another look at my preseason NFL predictions and how badly I screwed them up this year. Hope everyone had a great new year and is ready to put 2012 all in.

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Blogger Lucki Duck said...

Don't know how people can continue to lay another Dallas collapse in Romo's lap. Unless he was playing in the porous secondary Rob Ryan put on the field, the accusation just doesn't hold water. Romo actually played pretty well the last half of the season, December included. The defense just gave away too many 4th quarter leads.

Enjoy your blog.

10:06 PM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

Rob Ryan and the Dallas defense cannot be blamed enough for that team not reaching the postseason this year, no doubt about it.

But I also think you are giving Romo a big fat pass if you don't want to lay any of the blame on his shoulders. His record in December isn't just a fluke. His play steps down as the pressure ratchets up. Some guys -- say, Joe Montana, Troy Aikman, etc. -- are just the opposite. And don't rely too much on Romo's "stats", as Romo has proven to be extraordinary at "padding" his stats during non-pressure times and games while simultaneously costing him team playoff berths, etc.

1:18 AM  
Blogger Josie said...

Hi Hoy! Happy New Year!

3:45 AM  

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