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NFL Quick Hits 11-26

November 27, 2012

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New age of defense: When having a discussion of the best defensive players in the NFL a pattern noticeably emerges. This season the player #1 in sacks is Aldon Smith who is in his 2nd year and is on pace to have the most sacks EVER by a player in their first two years combined. The #2 player in sacks is JJ Watt who is in his 2nd year and has 13 batted balls at the line of scrimmage making him nearly double the next closest defensive lineman in batted balls (Brian Robison is 2nd with 7). The #3 player in sacks is Von Miller who also is in his 2nd year and has played such spectacular defense that it wouldn’t be surprising if he overtook the two guys in front of him for not just the league lead in sacks but the lead as frontrunner for defensive player of the year. Do you notice the trend here? Every few years there is a draft so dominant at one position that it’s forever etched into our minds as “the year of the quarterback/defensive tackle, running back, etc.” The 2010 NFL Draft was all about the tight end as not only did Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham, in my eyes the two best tight ends in the league, come out of that draft but great depth was added to the league at that position as well with Dennis Pitta, Ed Dickson, and Jermaine Gresham being drafted. In 2012 the NFL Draft appeared to be all about the quarterback as four were drafted in the first round and seven are currently starting (1st rounders plus Russell Wilson, Nick Roles, and Ryan Lindley) with most producing good numbers. The 2011 NFL Draft has the look of a historic draft for defensive players as not only are the top 3 sackers in the NFL from the draft but other defensive talents such as Patrick Peterson, Robert Quinn, Ryan Kerrigan, Justin Houston, Adrian Clayborn, Jabaal Sheard, Phil Taylor, Bruce Carter, Muhammad Wilkerson, Cameron Jordan, and Brooks Reed came from this draft. In fact not only are the top 3 sackers in the NFL from this class but 5 of the top 11 (Justin Houston and Robert Quinn) and 7 of the top 28 (Ryan Kerrigan and Cameron Jordan) are all from the 2011 NFL Draft. It’s a class that could go down in history as one of the best pass rushing draft classes of all time.

Sunday Night Game: The Packers-Giants game was pretty shocking to me. I fully expected the Packers wouldn’t just beat the Giants but would blow them out as the Giants had lost 2 straight and had an ailing secondary that I thought Aaron Rodgers would pick apart. Yet while this win was impressive let’s not jump to any conclusions like “The Giants have the Packers number,” or “The Giants are back!” The Giants were at home, had two weeks to prepare for the Packers, and faced Green Bay on a week that saw them without their top two pass rushers (Clay Matthews and Nick Perry), top defensive back (Charles Woodson), top wide receiver (Greg Jennings), and starting right tackle (Brian Bulaga). I was very impressed by the Giants in last night’s game but let’s be honest and admit that the Giants picked the perfect time to play a superior team and if they play again in a month and a half in Green Bay with most of those players back then the result could be very different.

Still in the hunt: Despite the Cowboys losing at home last Thursday to a sub .500 team and being 5-6 on the season, Dallas is still somehow in the playoff hunt. With the Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Bucs, and Minnesota Vikings all losing Sunday the Cowboys are only 1 game behind in the Wild Card standings. Also they are still only 2 games behind the Giants for the division lead and if they can win out in their division games (1 remaining against both the Eagles and Redskins) they could possibly have the tiebreaker if the Giants lose a few of their remaining division games. It’s all very iffy but considering how poorly Dallas has played recently, it’s pretty surprising there is even still a chance. Playoffs? Playoffs? We’re talking playoffs?

Fantasy: (Written 2 weeks ago so stats are slightly altered) I rarely discuss fantasy related topics here as fantasy football is a fun game but isn’t as enjoyable to breakdown as the actual game of football. Also to spend too much time on fantasy football is just kind of sad and I’m already too close to that line yet today I will make an exception as I have seen something recently that has me intrigued. For years the golden rule of fantasy football was to draft your kicker in the last round and your defense in one of the final few rounds. It wasn’t a shocker to see a defense taken 3 or 4 rounds from the end yet anyone who took a defense before round 10 or so would be universally laughed at and most teams drafted a defense in the 2nd to last round and called it a day. The reason was that defenses were notoriously unpredictable and it was often better to pick up a defense from free agency that was facing a weak offense that week than stick with a superior defense facing a top notch offense. Most teams took a defense late in the draft as they knew they were unlikely to keep that defense all year long and would regularly switch them out throughout the season. Yet this season the teams that took defenses early have been rewarded as the top defenses have been outperforming their peers by a wide margin. When comparing the #1 defense (Bears) with the #2 defense (Texans) the margin is an astounding 6.2 pts per game. That trumps any other positions between the #1 and #2 producing players and in some cases, QB (difference of 0.2), RB (0.3), the differences are almost negligible. Yet this new trend of elite defenses performing above expectations isn’t solely based on the Bears incredible run this season as the difference between the #5 defense (Giants) and the #10 defense is 1.2 pts per game which again trumps the difference at some other spots like WR (0.8) while being comparable to spots like TE (1.4) and RB (1.6). Considering that a person can often get one of the best defenses by drafting one in the 8th or 9th round instead of taking a player that likely will be a backup on a team makes me wonder why defenses are still considered so interchangeable. There are 14 defenses this year that are averaging less than 1/3 of what the Bears are averaging per game (19.1 ppg) and owners who have that defense have reaped the benefits as in 5 games this year the defense scored 19 points or more and in one game they went off for 31 pts. I’m not saying you should draft a defense with your 1st round pick but in the 8th round when you’re looking at the draft board and see two RBs with similar value and three WRs with similar value yet the Bears, Texans, or 49ers are still available I might just go out of character and take the defense while leaving other rounds to improve depth. It might just win me my league next year.

Eli Manning: “No, he is not one of the elites,” Simms said on CBS Sports Network’s “NFL Monday QB” show. “Because when I hear the word elite, I’m thinking about guys that can make unbelievable plays on the field by themselves. There are very few quarterbacks in that category. So yes, Eli has been a tremendous team player. He has been MVP of the Super Bowl twice. I know that. But the way I look at it, the answer is no.” This was the quote Phil Sims made two weeks ago that caused so much discussion around the NFL and I have to say that I 100% agree with him. Eli Manning has not been an elite quarterback in his career and I’m of the opinion that winning and losing isn’t the sole means of determining greatness. Whether it’s Trent Dilfer in 2001, Brad Johnson in 2003, Ben Roethlisberger in 2006, or Eli Manning in 2008 there have been numerous average or below average quarterbacks to win a title and the statistics all point to Eli being an average or at best a slightly above average quarterback during his career. Eli has been in the NFL for 9 years but taking out his rookie season (he split time with Kurt Warner and was a rookie so it’s fair to remove that season) we have 8 seasons of statistical data to work with and it’s not that promising for those trying to put a case together that Eli is an elite quarterback. Of all the stats for quarterbacks the most valuable is the QB Rating as it combines all the statistical measurements of a quarterback, except sacks taken which to me is a very large oversight, and puts them all together. It’s the OPS of football and is the best stat out there in ranking quarterbacks so I will start with QB Rating. In the past 8 seasons Eli has been in the Top 10 only one time (2011) and has an average ranking of 16th in the NFL in QB Rating. In a 32 team league like the NFL there is nothing more average than being 16th in a statistic and leads credence to the idea that the Giants have won Super Bowls for reasons other than Eli. Another stat I like to look at is interceptions thrown as teams that win the turnover battle are much more likely to win games than teams that don’t, this is the best argument against Tony Romo being elite by the way. In this category Eli is downright awful as he’s led the league in interceptions two different years (2007 and 2010), was 2nd a third year (2005), and has been in the Top 11 in 7 of his 8 seasons. Eli now has the reputation of being a clutch, fearless leader with numerous Super Bowl rings but it wasn’t that long ago that he was looked at in the same vein as Romo, Cutler, and other gunslingers who at times caused their teams’ more harm than benefit from their risky pass attempts. Eli is a very clutch player who has risen to the occasional on a number of occassions. In his most recent Super Bowl he outplayed Tom Brady, who in my eyes is the best QB of this generation, so he definitely has some skins on the wall but it’s hard to argue the kid is elite. In his two Super Bowl wins his teams have only scored 17 and 21 points, despite facing New England defenses that weren’t considered elite. Both Super Bowl wins by the Giants were due to dominant pass rushes that shutdown elite New England offenses (New England was ranked 1st in 2007 and 3rd in 2011 in scoring offense) and were only memorable due to 4th quarter heroics. He’s superior to Terry Bradshaw who was atrocious early in his career yet is on a similar career trajectory as the quarterback of a team with a dominant defense and multiple titles. No one considers Bradshaw in discussions of the best QB’s of all time despite him having the most Super Bowl wins ever and Eli should be skipped as well due to his mediocre career numbers. I know Eli plays in the media capital of the world and has two Super Bowl rings to his name but he’s not an elite quarterback and I fully agree with Phil Simms when he made that point. 

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