The Bills’ defense is comfortably numb, Nnamdi Asomugha is not as good as his billing or as bad as the scuttlebutt, the Rams live a life out of balance and Slingin’ Sammy Baugh gets some love. It’s time to open up the Twitter mail and dig into the game tape to answer reader questions.
Questions have been re-formatted from Twitter-speak.
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Q: Is there a way to tell when Good Cam Newton (vs. Atlanta, New Orleans) or Bad Cam (Giants, Seahawks) will appear? Complaints about towels need not apply.
A: Watch early drives to see if Cam Newton is making any effort to check down to his secondary receivers. If he is dishing the ball away once in a while, you have Good Cam. If he is waiting forever for Steve Smith to flash open, then either forcing a pass or running for daylight, you have Bad Cam. By the way, this trick works with just about every mobile young quarterback.
One thing I noticed this year is that the Panthers have far fewer scripted short passes in their game plan than they did last year. Newton does not get as many middle screens or bootleg passes to get into rhythm. Don’t be surprised if those types of plays soon return.
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Q: Which oft-cited statistic do you find the most misleading, and why?
A: That is an easy one: quarterback win-loss records. When someone quotes a quarterback’s win-loss record to prove a point, he is really saying, “Look, I don’t really understand football at all, but I like finding meaningless factoids that support my position, stating them and folding my arms knowingly as if I was just possessed by the ghost of Socrates.”
Win-loss records are used almost exclusively to fluff up the portfolios of terrible quarterbacks who managed to stay out of the way in lots of 13-10 wins, or to denigrate the accomplishments of great ones who were stuck on so-so teams for a long time. No one quotes Roger Staubach’s win-loss record to prove that he is good or JaMarcus Russell’s to prove that he is bad, because that is what other stats and common sense are for.
The only thing worse than hearing about an NFL quarterback’s win-loss record is hearing about a college prospect’s win-loss record. “He was 44-2 as a starter!” Hey, all of them were: That’s how college football works.
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Q: Why is Buffalo's defense so bad? Was the talent overrated? Is it schematic? A bit of both?
A: The Bills’ defense was unbelievably slow and passive against both the Patriots and 49ers. Defenders dropped into pass-coverage zones and just planted themselves in a patch of grass; there was no sense that they were reacting to pass patterns or anticipated the throw. Against the run, linebackers and safeties were slow to recognize, then got wired to their defenders. The Bills’ overall reaction time is the kind of thing I used to associate with fans at a Pink Floyd concert. Some of the veterans, like George Wilson and Nick Barnett, now appear to be a step slow for their roles, and the overall talent in the secondary is bad. Kyle Williams is the only player exerting himself on the line, but the Bills keep trying to pressure the quarterback with a four-man rush that never arrives.
I cannot speculate on whether the core problem is the scheme, the preparation, the effort or the talent, because the game tape looked too much like watching my nephew play “Madden” on the rookie setting, making it hard to tease out useful observations besides “this is ugly.”
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Q: Do you think Denver would trail by 20 points in the second half less often if the offense would score more points in the first half?
A: Mathematically, it would be hard not to! Seriously though, looking back at the Broncos in first halves this year, it is stunning how many long, grinding drives they have allowed on defense. The Steelers had a 14-play, 89-yarder and a 16-play, 74-yarder before the Broncos started their comeback in the opener. The Texans had some quick strikes, but also an epic 14-play, 97-yard drive before halftime. The Patriots had 12-, 14- and 16-play scoring drives before halftime on Sunday, then another 16-play, 80-yarder in the third quarter.
These epic drives are giving opponents the lead, keeping the Broncos’ offense from establishing itself, and shortening the game. When the Patriots can tick six minutes off the clock and extend their lead in the third quarter, it limits the Broncos’ offensive options from both a score and time situation. This isn’t to suggest that Peyton Manning and the offense are doing a spectacular job, but they were only truly awful in the first half of the Falcons game. They are moving the ball and generating points early in games. The Broncos’ defense has to keep games from tilting away from them.
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Q: Do Chiefs fans remember what happened to the Jets when they cheered Chad Pennington getting hurt and Kellen Clemens coming in?
A: Do Chiefs fans remember Tyler Palko? Brodie Croyle? That period when they thought Damon Huard was a viable starter? The backup quarterback is a backup for a reason, and that reason is almost never the popular talk-radio theory: “The general manager and coach won’t admit they are wrong.”
There’s a deeper issue, of course, and it is the phenomenon of cheering for an injured quarterback. That is not a Kansas City problem or a football problem, but a humanity problem. When we elevate our desire to be entertained above our empathy for another person’s well-being, we become something very ugly. That applies to cheering for an injured quarterback, or for gawking at an obvious case of paternal neglect on reality television because the mom talks funny. We can all do a little better.
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Q: What's the verdict on Nnamdi Asomugha? Incorrectly used? Not as good as advertised? Both? Neither?
A: Last year, the Eagles used Asomugha incorrectly too often early in the year: They made an excellent press-man defender sit in zone too often. This season, Asomugha is playing much more man coverage, and while he has not lived up to the All-Pro reputation he earned in Oakland, the “Nnamdi stinks” storyline that is brewing in Philly is just as inaccurate as the “Asante Samuel stinks” theory from last year.
Asomugha gave up a 37-yard touchdown to Larry Fitzgerald on a play where he got no safety support a few weeks ago. Fitzgerald will do that. Most of Fitzgerald’s damage in that game came when he faced rookie Brandon Boykin or worked against zone coverage in the middle of the field. The Giants and Steelers attacked the Eagles in similar ways, and it is important to note that neither team got much done in the passing game.
Two Asomugha plays stick out from the Giants and Steelers games. Asomugha was the defender Ramses Barden interfered with at the end of the Giants game; the defender had perfect position on the receiver, who pushed off and drew a flag that knocked the Giants out of field-goal range. In the Steelers game, Antonio Brown got behind Asomugha (isolated one-on-one, again) by a fraction of a step, but the defender kept the window small enough that Ben Roethlisberger could not deliver a perfect pass, and Brown could not haul in the throw. These were positive plays for the Eagles, but they are being held up as evidence against Asomugha, because opponents are “challenging” him.
The Eagles’ defense has kept the team in games while the offense rolls to the opponent like a kickball pitcher. Asomugha is not one of the team’s pressing problems. Some folks just expect a good cornerback to never give up a reception, just like good quarterbacks are never allowed to throw an interception.
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Q: Who's the most unbalanced team in the league? I'm thinking the Rams.
A: The Rams are up there. I checked the Football Outsiders DVOA rankings to get a more statistically precise look at offensive and defensive efficiency. The Rams rank eighth in defense but 28th in offense. Two other teams have a 20-spot spread between their two platoons: The Cardinals rank seventh in defense but 27th in offense, while the Saints rank 11th in offense but 31st in defense. Also noteworthy: The Seahawks are third in defense, 21st in offense and second in special teams. Defense rules in the NFC West!
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Q: After all the discussion about Brees breaking Unitas' record, which sports record do you find most impressive?
A: Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game will never be matched. Basketball was different then, but it wasn’t that different. This isn’t 19th century baseball we are talking about. The ball didn’t have stitches, the hoop wasn’t a peach basket and the opponents were not all 5-foot-11. The cool sportswriters like to downplay Chamberlain’s achievements; you can tell just how mountainous Chamberlain’s achievements were by just how hard so many people work to chisel away at them.
As for football records, this is an odd one, but I am fascinated by Sammy Baugh’s single-season record of 51.4 yards per punt in 1940. Shane Lechler flirts with the record every year, and there are a bunch of punters hanging around 51.3 right now, but punting averages always go down when the weather breaks, so Baugh’s record is safe for another season. And while I often go against old-timey traditionalist thinking, if someone breaks Baugh’s record, my first thought will be: Baugh also led the league in passing yards and touchdowns that year. Try that, Lechler.
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Q: Did the Jets punt from Houston's FORTY down 6 late in the 4th? Why is nobody pointing out that awful call?
A: The Jets did punt from the Texans' 40-yard line with 7:04 to play, trailing by six points, in the Monday night game. Under many circumstances, that would be a terrible percentage play, but the Jets are a unique case. A very, very, very unique case. It was fourth-and-15, and the Jets had a third-and-long conversion rate of 20 percent entering the game, so the odds of a conversion were slim. A 57-yard field goal to cut the deficit to three is fraught with problems. The Texans made many special-teams mistakes in the game and kept pinning themselves inside the 15-yard line with penalties and bad returns, so it was mathematically justifiable for the Jets to let their defense try to force a turnover or punt, then start over. That is exactly what happened, and the Jets got the ball back with plenty of time to win the game if they weren’t the Jets offense.
The plays leading up to the punt were more questionable. Mark Sanchez completed a 12-yard pass, then the Jets ran a goofy Joe McKnight wildcat play. Sanchez threw a screen for a first down, then out came Tim Tebow to run for no gain. Hey, Coach Sparano, the quarterback appears have some rhythm. Why not try letting him be a quarterback?
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Q: If the Jets were a comedy movie, what would they be?
A: Bobby answered his own question on Twitter. I suggested that the Jets are one of those awful comedies where a “Saturday Night Live” sketch that was barely funny for four minutes got stretched to two hours. Bobby’s response, for the win: “Night at the Rexbury.”