Around the NFL – Week 3

by Tommy Lawlor  –

* I watched the WAS/STL game last weekend.  Very interesting.  The Rams have been dreadful recently.  The Redskins are very up and down.  When they click, watch out.  When they don’t, ugh.

I figured the Skins would beat the Rams, maybe it would be more workmanlike than a blowout, but surely they’d win.  Nope.  The Rams prevailed 30-16.  You never want to make too much out of one game, but I was troubled by what I saw from the Skins.

Mike Shanahan was hired to be a “win-now” coach.  That was his style in Denver.  GM George Allen was brought in because he works well in that style.  Both men love veteran players.  They built the roster accordingly.

Shanahan made one critical error.  He hired Jim Haslett to come in and run the defense, a new 3-4 scheme.  This was not a “win-now” move.  The Skins defense was built for the 4-3.  Changing schemes would mean several key players having to adjust to new positions.  The whole unit would have to learn a new system.  The results, on and off the field, have been disastrous.   

WAS is 32nd in Total Defense.  They are just 1 of 4 teams allowing more than 400 yards per game.  For them to jump up to 28th place they would need to trim 41 yards per game from their average.  We’re talking bad.  Jim Haslett would argue that they’re only 22nd in scoring defense, but that number is skewed thanks to Dallas’ ineptness in the opener.

As I sit back and reflect on the move to go with Haslett and the 3-4 I’m really shocked at what a bad idea it was.  You have to start with the fact that the Skins most talented defensive player, Albert Haynesworth, doesn’t have a natural fit in the 3-4.  He could be a good DE if he really bought into it, but he’s meant to be a 4-3 DT.  Andre Carter had 11 sacks last year as a pass rushing DE.  He’s lost at OLB.  He’s okay when allowed to go after the QB, but looks completely unnatural when dropping back.  Rocky McIntosh isn’t an ideal fit at ILB.  He was a good WLB.  There is no really good NT on the roster.  That’s the foundation of the 3-4.  Maake Kemoeatu is a big run-stuffer, but doesn’t look the same as he did in his prime.  He missed all of 2009 due to injury and might still be struggling because he’s not all the way back.

ILB London Fletcher and OLB Brian Orakpo are 2 players who can thrive in any system.  You give them a place to line up and they will go make plays.

Think how much better this group would be if Shanahan had hired someone to run the 4-3.  You’d have a good trio of LBs.  Haynesworth can be an impact player at DT.  Carter is a good RDE.  You’d have the makings of a terrific front seven.  Instead, Shanahan and Haslett have a real mess on their hands.

The other decision I think Shanahan questions is trading for Donovan McNabb.  He’s led the Skins to 4 offensive TDs in 3 games.  That sounds like the kind of production Jason Campbell could deliver.   The hope was that the Skins would have a strong running game and that would take the pressure off McNabb to carry the team.  He could then thrive in a balanced offense.

The best laid plans of mice and men, ya know.  The Skins O-line has been bad.  The RBs look old.  Things aren’t going well.  RBs have totaled 189 yards in 3 games.  Back in Denver that would be a 1-game total.  Now the pressure is squarely back on McNabb.  The problem is that he doesn’t have the strong support system that he did in Philly.

WAS doesn’t have a gifted set of pass catchers out of the backfield.  They don’t have anyone like Jason Avant to work the middle of the field on 3rd downs.  They don’t have balance in the receiving corps.  Santana Moss has 22 catches.  Chris Cooley has 14.  Everyone else is half that or less.

The Skins are dead last in the league in Red Zone efficiency.  They score with big plays or they struggle.  There was a telling play in the Rams game.  WAS had 3rd/9 in the Red Zone.  They threw a TE screen, while trailing 14-10.  Maybe they thought they could burn the Rams.  9 yards is a long distance for a screen pass in a congested area like the Red Zone.  Didn’t you trade for McNabb so he could convert situations like that?  The play was stopped short and WAS settled for a field goal.

The Skins had a field goal drive to open the 2nd half.  That gave them a 16-14 lead.  They didn’t score the rest of the game, 27:42 of gametime.  Rookie Sam Bradford led his team to 16 points in that span.  Heck, the Rams only punted once in the 2nd half.  They methodically marched up and down the field.  This wasn’t some hotshot QB, Steven Jackson, and Donnie Avery.  We’re talking about a rookie in his 3rd start, RB Kenneth Darby, and a receiving corps of Mark Clayton, Danny Amendola, and Brandon Gibson.  Yikes.

I guarantee you Shanahan is having some buyer’s remorse on both Haslett and McNabb right now.  The defense has been a headache since the summer thanks to the Haynesworth fiasco.  That controversy died down a bit and now the focus is on how poorly they’re playing.

McNabb hasn’t played like the franchise QB that was hoped for.  If Shanahan had kept the 37th pick he could have taken FS Nate Allen just like the Eagles did.  He and LaRon Landry would be an impressive duo.  Shanahan could have opted for a young RB like Toby Gerhart to help his running game.  He could have chosen DT Lamarr Houston to beef up his DL.  He could have taken a DB/RS like Javier Arenas to help 2 areas of his team.  Any of those guys paired with Jason Campbell might just be an improvement on the current situation.

This isn’t a rip at McNabb.  This is an evaluation on the overall situation.  Part of the reason that McNabb thrived in Philly is stability.  He ran the same system for 11 years.  The Eagles made personnel changes every year, but not wholesale changes.  There was always a stable environment.  Now he’s adjusting to a new system and a whole new team.  That has affected his play.  McNabb also isn’t the dynamic player that he was as a young guy.  Early in his career McNabb could put a team on his back and carry them to the postseason.  That’s no longer the case.  McNabb is still a good QB, but he needs the right situation and that doesn’t exist in DC right now.

Shanahan himself deserves some questioning.  He has a great reputation, but a lot of that is based on him helping SF to win the Super Bowl in 1994 as an assistant and then leading Denver to consecutive titles in 1997 and 1998.  Those teams were loaded with great players.  Shanahan’s last winning season in Denver was 2006 (9-7).  His last outstanding year and playoff win were in 2005 (13-3).  Without the services of great players and a great assistant coach like Alex Gibbs, maybe Shanahan should be re-evaluated.

Now to some other teams…

* Rams DE Chris Long impressed me in the game.  He showed an excellent burst.  He doesn’t have a sack on the season, but he was very disruptive.  The refs didn’t call holding very often, but they could have quite a few times.  Jamaal Brown struggled with Long.   I wonder if Long with be similar to a guy like Kyle Vanden Bosch.  He’ll never post great sack numbers, but his motor and disruptive play will keep him around for a long time.

* Rams RT Jason Smith is a mess.  He was especially awful on a goal line series.  DE Phillip Daniels blew him into the backfield several times.  It was like watching a man vs a boy.  I was shocked.  Smith was a physical, aggressive blocker at Baylor.  He’s got no confidence or is thinking too much or something.  He has been a major disappointment.

* I love watching Packers FB/RB John Kuhn run the ball.  He gets going N-S and runs until you tackle him.  Some guys anticipate contact and let that affect their running.  Not him.  He seems to think that defensive players can just come along for the ride until they actually stop him.

* The Bills offense was night and day better with QB Ryan Fitzpatrick at the helm.  After seeing what he did, the Bills had to cut Trent Edwards.  What was the point in keeping that guy around?  He simply hasn’t been the same player since taking a big hit vs Arizona a couple of years back.  I don’t blame Chan Gailey for seeing if he could revive Edwards career.  Trent doesn’t lack talent.  He’s just lost in the headlights.  I don’t think he’s ever coming out of that.  Fitzpatrick isn’t the answer for Buffalo, but he’s a hell of a lot better than Edwards.

Bad new for Bills fans…the QB class in the upcoming draft isn’t pretty.  You might want to start thinking about how you can pry Michael Vick away from the Eagles next March.

* The Niners fell to 0-3 with a disappointing loss to KC.  That was a tough situation.  Teams that play on MNF and then go on the road have an abysmal record over the years.  Let’s give them another couple of weeks to right the ship before we start talking about what’s wrong with the team.

* Rookie DT Tyson Alualu played pretty well on Sunday for the Jags.  He had 3 tackles and half a sack.  Right now he’s more effort than anything else.

* Oakland RB Darren McFadden looks like a different player.  I watched part of their game with the Cardinals and was really impressed with McFadden.  He wasn’t making crazy runs.  He was disciplined.  He ran N-S and broke to daylight when it made sense and fit the play.  He ran for 105 yards in the game and is off to a great start in 2010.

* Seahawks LB/DE Chris Clemons played his best game in a while.  He had 5 tackles, 2 sacks, and at least one TFL.  He flew off the edge all afternoon long.  He has excellent speed.  Finding the right spot for him has been tricky in the past.  Maybe Seattle has the answer.

* The Packers have to do something with RT Mark Tauscher.  He’s going to get Aaron Rodgers killed.  The Eagles had a trio of guys who gave him fits in the opener.  The Bears got regular pressure off that side and it wasn’t just Julius Peppers.  Tauscher has been a terrific RT for years, but he’s struggling with speed rushers and getting driven back to the QB right now.  That’s dangerous.

* Lance Moore came up huge for the Saints on Sunday.  He had 149 yards receiving, including an 80-yard TD.  He set up another TD with a long PR.  Moore is a terrific role player.  The Saints are good because of Drew Brees and their star players, but Sean Payton should get a ton of credit for how he uses his role players.

* The Houston secondary needs help.  I love SS Bernard Pollard, but the rest of the group has issues.  McNabb and Tony Romo lit them up in the last couple of games.  CB Kareem Jackson will be a good player in time, but Dallas wasn’t afraid to go at him at all.

* I was impressed with WR Antonio Bryant.  He had a PR for a TD in the Bears game and has made an impact as a receiver in the other games.  Bryant is big and physical, but also athletic.  He’s proven to be a good fit for the Cowboy offense.

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