Some Early Observations, Week 9 of the NFL – Rams, Dolphins, Patriots, Chiefs and Cardinals, and Some Quarterback Numbers

Coming into week nine the New England Patriots were 3 point home underdogs to the Denver Broncos – despite rarely losing at home in Foxboro, and despite defeating the Broncos in a wild 24 point come from behind win in Foxboro (before losing to them in the AFC Championship game in Denver).

In this game, the oddsmakers either didn’t know what they were doing, or thought the public didn’t (or perhaps the Patriots just outperformed.)  But the team from New England built a strong lead early, and beat the Peyton Manning led Broncos, 43-21. And as starting QB, Brady is now 11-5 all time against any team quarterbacked by Manning. (Their complete matchup history up until last January’s AFC Conference Championship game, is here.) Manning’s teams are now 2-7 playing at New England.

Brady’s lifetime regular season record for all games started is now 155-45. (Complete regular season record is here). Record including the playoffs? 173-53. And his 18 postseason wins is the most by any QB all time.

The QB with the all time highest playoff winning percentage among QBs with 5 or more such games played, incidentally, is Bart Starr of the Green Bay Packers, from another era. While Matt Ryan, who has been aptly named “Matty Ice” in the regular season, has the lowest (link).

Frank Reich, a career backup who engineered perhaps the greatest post season comeback in modern NFL history, and now the offensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers, is the only player with more than one post season appearance to have a perfect record – at 2-0.  Reich was in charge with his Buffalo Bills trailing the then Houston Oilers, 35-3 with 8:00 remaining in the 3rd quarter, when he and this teammates put on this remarkable show. (Note there’s a little extra religious footage at the end, which to many may be very valid, but more of a personal matter than relevant proclamation over a football game outcome):

Kurt Warner was almost the first quarterback ever to win championships with 2 different clubs in the past 50 years, but James Harrison put an end to that:

It’s easy to make too much of a win loss record; football is a team game and, in addition to the rest of the team, head coaches also matter greatly. But it’s still interesting to note that Brady’s .765 winning percentage easily bests any QB with at least 100 starts who is still playing today. (Russell Wilson is close, at .733, but has only 45 starts so far.)

Other notables include Manning, who leads with 184 wins, and a .679 percentage, Ben Rothlisberger at .673, Aaron Rodgers at .654, Joe Flacco at .644, and Philip Rivers at .603.

The much maligned Mark Sanchez, who unlike those other names never really played on a team that was all that strong talent wise (until perhaps this last Sunday when, filling in early for an injured Nick Foles, he helped lead the Philadelphia Eagles to their 6th win of the season at the Texans), has a .544 winning percentage over 105 career starts.)

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Under Jeff Fisher, the St. Louis Rams continue their several year pattern of playing some strong games against the powerhouses in their division – probably the toughest in the NFL; but otherwise performing at a sub par level.

Two weeks ago, the Rams, along with some other special teams magic, used a “trick” play that is legal but borderline sketchy – having a normal punt returner who is not even close to where a punt is heading seem to call for a “fair catch” anyway – to upset the defending Super Bowl champions, 28-26.  (The Bears pulled of a beautiful version of this play a few seasons ago against the Green Bay Packers, called back on an unrelated penalty!)

Then, as 10 point underdogs yesterday in a game against the spread I uncharacteristically labeled an “easy call,” the Rams held off the San Francisco 49ers at the goal line by inches – or by a little help on an extremely difficult call from the referees – to pull out a 13-10 win.

With the ball and a 3 point lead in the final few minutes, the Rams made a key – but for essentially every team in the NFL, nevertheless routine – strategic mistake just before giving up possession of the ball to the 49ers. (A link to that decision and the final few minutes of the game will be added upon completion.)

The 49ers then in turn drove fairly easily from their own 12 yard to the St. Louis 30. There, they started to get bottled up, but drew a valid but otherwise completely unnecessary pass interference call on a 3rd and 5 by Trumaine Johnson that, instead of setting them up for a 48 yard field goal try on 4th down “just” for the tie, gave them a 1st and goal from the Rams 5 yard line.

Side note regarding that pass interference call on Trumaine Johnson – who was in great position and could have easily turned around and broken up the play legally – and hundreds of others that have changed the course of games, even seasons: It’s good I’m not a general manager in the NFL, because filled with excessive compassion or not – I don’t have it for correctable and fully controllable poor technique in professionals getting paid millions to play a game: and would sit down with defensive backs and after softening words of kindness and support, very simply utter the idea that “the second time you try to break up a pass without attempting to look back at the ball, we’re sitting you. The next time after that it’s either a demotion or we’ll let you go.”

Clearly, and perhaps correctly on this one – who knows – head coaches generally disagree. Since, along with poor tackling execution, they apparently don’t do it.

The pass interference situation is tricky. But when it comes to tackling I think they are incorrect to not insist upon proper execution: Unlike pass coverage situations where watching the receiver is helpful, and turning around can both take the receiver out of a defender’s line of sight as well as slow up the defender, there is no strong justification, routine as it is in the NFL, for incorrect tacking technique – and without a doubt it increases the number of missed, as well as long, dragged out yardage relinquishing, tackles.

Back to the Rams – 49er game’s intense conclusion, a hold on an incomplete gave the 49ers 1st and goal from the 2 1/2.  A low completion to Michael Crabtree just shy of the end zone, followed by another incomplete then set up a quarterback sneak on the key ensuing 3rd down goal to go from inside the 1 yard line with 9 seconds remaining – which turned into an “interesting” situation. (Not from the 49ers perspective however.)

Although it was unclear, examination of that play from multiple angles suggests that runner Colin Kaepernick might have started to lose control of the ball before he was down; but while also unclear it did suggest there was a reasonable chance the ball “broke” the plane of the goal line first regardless, meaning TD, and S.F. victory.

Live and at full speed, it was an extremely difficult call for the referees on the field, who, after Rams Linebacker James Laurinaitis emerged and definitively “stood up” holding the trophy – or rather, football, opted for the fumble and Rams recovery.

When asked how officials were going to be able to tell whether the play was properly ruled a fumble – on a call to literally decide the outcome of the game (and, though it is early, quite possibly ultimately decide whether the 49ers are able to make it into the playoffs later this season as a wild card), former vice president of NFL officiating and current rule adviser to Fox Sports, Mike Pereira very aptly said “I don’t think they can.

Pereira shows the jumble here; other angles didn’t add anything definitive. Whatever the call on the field by the referees made, it was likely going to stand on review. Thus the fumble call, and a 13-10 Rams upset victory, rather than a 17-13 San Francisco win, so stood.

(The game had a few other notable close calls, including an almost Safety against the Rams on the last play of the first half on, of all things, a short 55 yard field goal try fielded by Tavon Austin who then, very ill advisedly, stepped back into the end zone to try and elude tacklers on a play that by that point he was going to have almost no chance to score on anyway, thus ending the half; and two strange ones where the whistle blew, making them nonreviewable – on a punt return by Austin that was going for a clear TD but was whistled dead for a still somewhat inexplicable reason and that was ultimately re played on offsetting penalties anyway, ultimately leaving the Rams at the 49ers 29 on a half shanked punt anyway; and on a 50 yard possible fumble return for a TD that wasn’t.)

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The Miami Dolphins, who here and there showed signs under third year head coach Joe Philbin, may have been flying a little bit under the proverbial NFL radar of late.

But probably not so much anymore after their 37-0 pounding of the San Diego Chargers Sunday. Philbin, who delivered a heralded post game locker speech, also very lamentably lost his father two days earlier; that likely didn’t sit well with his players, either, and may have only added to their motivation for the game.

San Diego has had a lot of injuries, but as mildly suggested here, the anointment of them as the possible new king of the NFL a few weeks ago was perhaps premature.

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After getting solidly beat in the opener at home by the somewhat awful Tennessee Titans, then getting stopped at the 2 yard line at the end of the game against Denver trailing by a touchdown, the Kansas City Chiefs quietly continue to roll along, amassing yet another win; this time 28-10 over the Jets.

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The Arizona Cardinals, though not pummeling anyone, and with four games still left to play against division rivals Seattle and San Francisco, have with their 28-17 victory over the Dallas Cowboys snuck away to an NFL best 7-1 record, and a solid lead in the same tricky NFC West division which last year saw Arizona lose out in a remarkable wild card and NFC West divisional late season playoff race.)

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Two last quick thoughts on quarterbacks:  2012 saw the introduction into the NFL of three new and quickly very well known quarterbacks with absolutely remarkable skill sets: Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, and Robert Griffin (also known as C3po or RG3).

Though Griffin, however, has gotten hurt a lot, and regressed considerably last year from a near extraordinary (and it seems somewhat forgotten) rookie campaign where he nearly carried the Redskins on his shoulders. And this past Sunday, back after the second major injury of his young career and with the game on the line and his team trailing by 3 at the Minnesota Vikings on a 4th and 6 with a minute to play near midfield, Griffin missed his receiver (a sufficiently open Pierre Garcon on a short pass that would have gone for the 1st down), in a pivotal play that with games on the line good quarterbacks simply don’t miss on most of the time.

But there was another pretty quarterback taken that year, also in the first round: 8th overall. (Luck went 1st, RG3 second overall, and Wilson, strangely due to his size – as if another inch or so below below Drew Brees for a remarkable college quarterback would keep him from being any good in the NFL, and projected to go as low as the 5th round, went in the 3rd, 75th overall.)

That other QB started to show it in his rookie year as well, but was overshadowed by the big 3, the fact his team was hasn’t been too successful, and that he also didn’t seem to take the next step last year. But Ryan Tannehill of the Miami Dolphins is also a pretty good quarterback with still a lot of upside, and yet another taken in that remarkable 2012 quarterback draft.

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One thought on “Some Early Observations, Week 9 of the NFL – Rams, Dolphins, Patriots, Chiefs and Cardinals, and Some Quarterback Numbers

  1. Pingback: Week 10 NFL Picks Against the Spread « NFL Football Strategy

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