Some Offseason Thoughts

February 18, 2010

by Tommy Lawlor

My latest entry for the Huffington Post.

Link

Shawne Merriman

February 17, 2010

by Tommy Lawlor

A couple of years ago Shawne Merriman was among the best players in all of the NFL.  How times have changed.  He missed virtually the entire 2008 season.  This year he played in 14 games, but wasn’t much of an impact player at all.  Shawne had 26 solo tackles and 4 sacks.

In Merriman’s first 3 years he averaged 62 solo tackles and 13 sacks a year.  He had 15 pass deflections, an INT, and 8 forced fumbles.  He was a disruptive force that offenses had to account for on every snap.  Will we ever see that guy again?

I watched Merriman closely in several games this year.  He simply doesn’t have the explosive burst that we saw several years ago.  He still plays hard.  You don’t see any lack of effort.  Merriman is an effective power rusher.  He can be tough to block when he plays with good leverage.  He has some pass rush moves, but without much of a burst they aren’t as effective.

Merriman is a restricted free agent.  I can’t see anyone giving up picks to get him.  If he was unrestricted I’m sure some team would take a run at him, hoping that Merriman would be better now that he’s not coming off a major injury.  2010 will be a key season for Shawne.  He needs to  get his career going in the right direction.

Now This is Funny

February 16, 2010

by Tommy Lawlor

The Onion has up a short bit on the post-Super Bowl power rankings.  Great stuff.

Link

Any Hope in St. Louis?

February 14, 2010

by Tommy Lawlor

In the last 3 years the Rams have finished 3-13, 2-14, and 1-15.  How bad are things?  In that span the team hasn’t finished in the Top 20 on offense or defense in points or yards.  They can’t move the ball or score.  They can’t stop people from moving the ball or scoring.  Ouch.

Coach Steve Spagnuolo was only at the helm for this year’s 1-win season.   I think Steve is a talented coach, but he’s in charge of a team with some major issues.   Simply put, the team lacks talent.  The 2006 and 2007 draft classes are almost disastrously bad.

2006

1 15 Tye Hill CB Clemson
2 46 Joe Klopfenstein TE Colorado
3 68 Claude Wroten DT Louisiana State
3 77 Jon Alston LB Stanford
3 93 Dominique Byrd TE USC
4 113 Victor Adeyanju DE Indiana
5 144 Marques Hagans WR Virginia
7 221 Tim McGarigle LB Northwestern
7 242 Mark Setterstrom G Minnesota
7 243 Tony Palmer G Missouri

2007

1 13 Adam Carriker NT Nebraska
2 52 Brian Leonard RB Rutgers
3 84 Jonathan Wade CB Tennessee
5 139 Dustin Fry C Clemson
5 154 Clifton Ryan DT Michigan State
6 190 Ken Shackleford T Georgia
7 248 Keith Jackson DT Arkansas
7 249 Derek Stanley WR Wis.-Whitewater

Those draft classes didn’t look bad on paper, but they didn’t work out at all.  I find it hard to believe that the players are completely at fault.  I have to think that there was something systematically wrong with the Rams.  The organization has been dysfunctional in some recent years.

I hope things are starting to change.  The last couple of classes produced solid young players in Donnie Avery, Chris Long, and James Laurinaitis.  The problem is that you still aren’t getting difference makers.

I give Spagnuolo credit for keeping the team focused.  I watched several times during the year and while the team absolutely lacked talent I never saw any lack of effort.  If you can keep millionaire players motivated in the middle of a disastrous season I think that shows the coach has the potential to turn the team around.

St. Louis needs a QB and they need difference makers on defense.  There is no QB worth the #1 overall pick.  As good a player as Ndamukong Suh is I think the Rams would be better off trading back a few spots.  That would allow them to take Bradford and then work on both lines with picks in the 2nd round (assuming they got a 2nd in the trade).

The other possibility is taking Suh #1 overall and then going for Colt McCoy in the 2nd round, assuming he falls that far.  The Rams could always deal up for him if needed.  That would give them a potentially dominant DT and a franchise QB.

The real key is finding a QB you believe in and going for that guy, whether Bradford, McCoy, Jimmy Clausen or someone like Dan LeFevour.  Heck, they could trade for Donovan McNabb or could go after a veteran free agent like Chad Pennington or Kerry Collins.  I don’t think keeping Marc Bulger around any longer makes sense.  He has really struggled the last few years.  I think a change of scenery is the only hope for turning his career around.

This is a crucial offseason for the Rams.  They must add a key player or two to get this franchise headed in the right direction.  The Lions went 0-16, but had Calvin Johnson in place and then added Matt Stafford and Louis Delmas in the draft.  DeAndre Levy may turn out to be the MLB of the future.  Veteran Julian Peterson did some good things for them.  St. Louis needs an offseason like that where they add multiple players who look like key starters or impact players.  Good luck to Coach Spags and GM Billy Devaney.

Interesting Note on Pete Carroll

February 13, 2010

by Tommy Lawlor

We’re all curious to see if Pete Carroll can be a successful NFL coach.  He was great at USC, but pro football is a whole different world.  Pete was an NFL coach in the 90s, but we don’t know what he’ll do post-USC.  Pete did some real crazy stuff with the Trojans and the kids ate it up.  Every day was an adventure.  The NFL is business.  There was an interesting blurb in a NY Times article about this:

N.F.L. scouts would return from visits and marvel at the movie stars and rappers on the sideline for practice. According to one former college and N.F.L. coach, who did not want to be named because he has no close connection to Carroll, one problem some Southern California players have when they go to the N.F.L. is adjusting to the humdrum N.F.L. week.

“The N.F.L. is very exciting on Sundays,” the coach said. “But during the week there’s not much jazz. U.S.C. players had to get used to it. They’d go to practice and say, ‘Where is everybody?’ They had to get used to practicing without the cheering.”

Pete understands the two worlds are very different, but I can’t imagine he’ll be able to completely change.  After all, Pete was a quirky coach in his first couple of NFL stints.  He raised that to a whole new level at USC.  No way all that stuff goes back in the closet, so to speak.

I can’t decide if I want Pete to succeed or fail.  Part of me wants Johnny College to fall flat on his face.  The other part of me would like to see part of the corporate culture of the NFL lighten up a bit.  I know one thing…I’ll certainly pay more attention to the Seahawks this year.

The Missing Fastball

February 12, 2010

by Steve Steiner

I’ve always liked Eagles linebacker Chris Gocong. For one thing, his name is a lot of fun to say. Gocong. That just sounds like a tough guy. I haven’t liked an Eagles linebacker’s name this much since Paul Butcher. Also, I’m partial to the tough guys that play the thankless positions, like fullback for example.

In a recent article Chris described the SAM linebacker position he plays as the “fullback” of the Eagles defense. It requires a lot of heart to get the job done. A lot of the time the SAM needs to run into offensive linemen, who are much bigger than he is, in order to “set the edge” on run plays. The SAM has to get the running back flowing back inside so the other guys can make the tackle and show up on the stat sheet. He has to sacrifice his body just like a fullback does. Chris has never seemed to mind, and at times, has done a very good job of this.

Unfortunately, good linebackers need to do more than just dirty work. They must be playmakers. They need to be instinctive. They don’t have a lot of time to see a play develop. They have to instantly read the play, diagnose run or pass, and immediately move to get into proper position. They can’t have wasted motion. One false step can make a lot of difference when a guy is trying to cover 20 or 30 yards in a matter of seconds.

This is where I think Chris can be lacking sometimes. He seems fast enough to get to where he needs to be, but doesn’t necessarily make the decision quick enough to get there. Chris played end in college. Read and react wasn’t part of his game. He was allowed to attack upfield.

Gocong seems fast enough to cover, but he either doesn’t recognize that he needs to drop back, or his hips aren’t fluid enough to allow him to turn and run as quickly as he needs to. So it’s a paradox because you have a “fast” player, who’s too slow, at times.

Here’s where I think the solution lies: Chris Gocong’s strengths are best suited as a situational pass rusher. The Eagles should move him to Left Defensive End on passing situations. Chris wasn’t just a defensive end at Cal Poly. He was a great one. He had 23.5 sacks in a single season in 2005. That’s the Divison I-AA record!

What about size? Chris is big enough to play LDE. He’s about the same size as Juqua Parker and Jason Babin. He doesn’t have the bulk of Victor Abiamiri, but you make that sacrifice for better pass rush skills. Chris Gocong is a gifted athlete. To be that big and to be able to move as well as he does is special. I think where the experiment failed is that Chris never looked completely comfortable in his new role with the decision making that a linebacker has to do on virtually every snap. As a 3rd down pass rusher, you can take a lot of the hesitation out of Chris’s game. He’ll play up on the line of scrimmage and he can get after the QB. Attacking is what he does best.

The Eagles defense doesn’t have a great option at LDE on 3rd and long right now. Jason Babin played well at times, but Gocong was a pass rushing machine in college. I know, I know, it was at a small school – but sometimes football is football – ask Brian Westbrook about small schools.

Some might question the wisdom of moving Gocong to end. He’s only got 4 career sacks. Blitzing off the edge as a linebacker is very different from rushing the passer on a regular basis. Chris had great success with that in college. He may not have the instincts for linebacker, but he sure knows what to do when he goes after the quarterback.

I think the Eagles can solve two issues with this move. You can open up the SAM linebacker position to another player who might do a better job and you give yourself another weapon in the pass rush on third downs. As Andy says, you can’t have too many fastballs to throw at a QB. I think maybe Chris Gocong is the missing fastball the Eagles have had all along.

Antonio Pierce is an ex-Giant

February 11, 2010

by Tommy Lawlor

The Giants defense has been built around a terrific D-line in recent years, but the heart of the D was unquestionably MLB Antonio Pierce.  No more.  He’s been cut.

Pierce has talked about wanting a raise.  That surprised me.  He’s gotten old in the last couple of years.  I remember watching Brian Westbrook run away from him in a 2008 game.  Pierce was never a speed demon, but neither was Westbrook.  After that play I began to see Pierce’s athletic limitations on a more regular basis.  He’s still a great leader and good tackler, but LBs must be able to run unless they are 250-pound guys that can dominate the middle.  Pierce isn’t a huge, physical guy.

There will be a lot of speculation about who will sign him.  Honestly, I’m not sure that he will get a starting job in 2010.  Antonio has a lot of great qualities, but older LBs are just not a hot commodity.  He’ll be 32 at midseason.  That’s not too old to play or anything like that.  I’m just not sure how many teams will actively want Pierce.  He might be the 3rd or 4th option.  If teams miss on free agents or don’t find the guy they want in the draft I could see Pierce being a good fallback option.

We’ll see how things shake out.  Some coach may covet a veteran MLB to run his defense.  And remember…Pierce only needs one team/coach to want him.  Doesn’t matter what the other 31 teams think.

Career stats

Bill Polian Is At It Again

February 11, 2010

by Tommy Lawlor

Colts GM/President/Head Honcho Bill Polian said in a recent interview that the offensive line “did not have a good game” and got “outplayed”.  I don’t fully agree.

Peyton Manning had plenty of time to throw the ball for most of the night.  He wasn’t sacked even once in the game.  The Colts primary runners, Donald Brown and Joseph Addai, combined to have 17 carries for 95 yards.  That is more than 5 yards a carry.

The OL did fail in some short yardage situations.  The final series of the 1st half wasn’t good.  At the same time…Mike Hart was the RB.  Mike needs a good hole.  Brown and Addai are gifted enough to make something from nothing.  Gifted RBs can make their blockers look good.  Nate Newton used to say that he became a Pro Bowl G the minute that Emmitt Smith arrived.  He was the same blocker before that move, but the results weren’t the same because Emmitt wasn’t the guy carrying the ball.

One other thing bothers me.  The Colts annually take mid round picks and try to develop them.  Is it really fair to expect those guys to develop into a dominating line?  The Jets have a great line.  They invested 1st round picks in a couple of players and big money in signing a couple of others.  The Jets have a right to expect their guys to control the LOS.

The Colts O-line didn’t have a great showing in the Super Bowl, but placing a lot of blame on them just seems unfair.  They didn’t let Drew Brees complete pass after pass.  They didn’t drop throws from Manning.  They didn’t throw the ball to Tracy Porter.  They didn’t fail to recover an onside kick.  The Colts had quite a few breakdowns.  Why pick on the Big Sexies and give the skill players a free pass?

Teasin’ n Pleasin’

February 2, 2010

by Steve Steiner

Is Braylon Edwards worth the frustration?  The soon-to-be free agent has a ton of talent, but his drops and inconsistencies make him seem like as much a tease as a playmaker.

Is he worth it?  Yes, I think he is.  The Jets need to re-sign Braylon Edwards. Although his hands will always be an issue, it’s something you overlook because he possesses that rare combination of size and speed.

If the Jets look to Free Agency for a replacement, they’ll soon find out the choices are lacking. The CBA makes figuring out who would be available a bit of a riddle right now, but no matter how it shakes out, the list of receivers better than Edwards isn’t a long one . You have Terrell Owens, who has a very similar skill set, but he’s nine years older than Edwards and he behaves like a nine year-old. Antonio Bryant was impressive in 2008 and then struggled with injuries. Austin Miles and Vincent Jackson aren’t going anywhere.

Edwards gives the Jets a big, fast target for quarterback Mark Sanchez to grow with.  Sanchez needs a go-to receiver.  That could be Edwards if he plays to his potential.  Jerrico Cotchery led the team in catches this year, but is that the guy you want your QB leaning on?  Who knows?  Maybe Dustin Keller will grow into that role. I don’t think they should count on Edwards to be that guy, but you can count on him to stretch the field, and keep teams from crowding the line of scrimmage. That can be important, especially for a run-first offense.

Jets fans will just have to learn to live with the occasional frustrating drop. No big deal.  After all, New York fans are tolerant, right?

So Long Grocery Boy

January 31, 2010

by Tommy Lawlor

Kurt Warner on Friday announced that he’s retiring.  This felt like the real deal and not just some initial PC to get people off his back.  Kurt took a beating at times this year and I can see where he feels it is time to move on.

Kurt came out of nowhere to lead the Rams to a Super Bowl win following the 1999 season.  He got them back to the big game in 2001, but they were upset by some kid named Tom Brady.

Injuries caught up to Kurt and he left the Rams and went to the Giants in 2004.  That must have felt like a completely wasted year.  Kurt threw for 2,054 yards, but only had 6 TDs.  6?  That is 1 1/2 games for him normally.

Thankfully Kurt headed west to Arizona and got another chance.  He took advantage of the situation and played great over the last 3 years.  The hapless Cardinals won back to back NFC West titles.  They went to the Super Bowl.  They enjoyed tremendous success with Warner at the helm.

Why leave now?  Kurt goes out “on top”.  He played for a winning team at a high level.  He started 15 games.  Maybe Kurt sensed that his body wasn’t going to hold up next year.  Injuries killed him in 2002 and ’03.  That was a miserable time for him.  Could be that the fear of going through something like that again was key to his decision.

Is Kurt a Hall of Fame player?  Yes.  He went to 3 SBs.  He won the first and lost the other two late in the game.  Kurt had a great playoff record (9-4).  He posted impressive numbers in his regular season career.  Kurt threw for more than 30,000 yards.  He threw for more than 200 TDs.  His career rating is 93.7.  He completed just under 66% of his career passes despite being a guy who liked to throw downfield.

Off the field Kurt was everything you’d want in a player.  He was a good teammate.  He stayed out of trouble.  The religious stuff could be a bit much at times, but the media did a lot of that.

I’ll miss his deadly throws on the dig route that seemed so unstoppable.  I’ll miss watching him shred defenses during one of his hot streaks.  When Kurt was on he seemed impossible to defend.  I won’t miss seeing him take crushing hits.  Kurt hung tough in the pocket to give his receivers time to get open.  He paid for that every game with at least one bruising hit.  I’m happy that I can think of Kurt as a top flight QB and not an old man searching for that final moment of glory.