Friday, November 20, 2009
10 Spot: Browns, Raiders truly offensive
By Adam Schefter
Not in any recent season -- and maybe never -- has football seen two teams in one season this offensively inept. The Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders are challenging, and could set, the NFL 16-game regular-season record for fewest points scored in a season.
The 1992 Seattle Seahawks, putrid to watch, set the mark with 140 points. Through nine games this season, the Browns (78 points) are on pace to score 138.6 points. The Raiders, with 88 points, are on pace to score 156.4 points. Either team could set the record. Maybe both will.
It's amazing how similar the two teams are. The Browns have 1,929 passing yards, the Raiders 1,998. The Browns have 883 rushing yards, the Raiders 931. The Browns have seven touchdowns, two of which have come on returns, and the Raiders have seven, as well. These also happen to be the two teams that drafted what were thought to be the top two quarterbacks in the 2007 draft: JaMarcus Russell and Brady Quinn.
Think about how much time was wasted debating which quarterback was better. It's not unlike how much attention was given last summer to wondering where quarterback Michael Vick would play this season. This is the time of year when NFL teams are competing for division titles, playoff spots, home-field advantage. In Cleveland and Oakland, they're relegated to being in the running for records for offensive ineptitude.
Now this week's 10 Spot:
When NFL teams were sifting through head-coaching candidates to interview this past winter, at least three of them were advised to talk to Buffalo's then-defensive coordinator Perry Fewell. None did. But now the Bills have given 47-year-old Fewell an opportunity as interim head coach. He starts his new job Sunday in Jacksonville, where he held his first NFL coaching gig as the Jaguars' defensive backs coach from 1998 to 2002. Some men carry themselves in a way befitting an NFL head coach; Fewell is one of them. Sitting in a conference room in an Indianapolis hotel before a 2008 preseason game against the Colts, Fewell impressed those around him with his mix of smarts and seriousness. It is what he has done in each of his NFL stops -- Jacksonville, St. Louis, Chicago and Buffalo. Now Fewell inherits a talent-deficient roster, with plenty of holes along the offensive line. But should the Bills play for him the way the 49ers played last season for Mike Singletary, Fewell could wind up having the "interim" tag removed from his title.
Even after losing a game and control of the AFC North to Cincinnati on Sunday, Pittsburgh still is formidable. Its problem is that it is getting beat in the most unexpected of ways. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin must be seething over this: Pittsburgh has gone seven straight games allowing at least one type of return for a touchdown. Three have come off kickoff returns, such as the one Sunday against Cincinnati. Two have come off interceptions. Another has come off a fumbled punt. And another has come off a fumble return. It all is very un-Pittsburgh-like.
In Pittsburgh's past two games, against Cincinnati and Denver, the Steelers' defense has not allowed a touchdown. But the Steelers had a fumble returned against them for a touchdown and a kickoff returned against them for a touchdown. If breakdowns like this continue into December and the postseason, the Steelers will be knocked down fairly quickly. But if the Steelers can solve the quirky plays that have hurt them the past seven weeks, starting Sunday at Kansas City, they have a chance to defend their Super Bowl title.
Vikings wide receiver Sidney Rice has a tattoo on his arm that reads "Showtime." This season, it has been. Rice leads the NFC with 786 receiving yards. He has six catches of more than 40 yards, tied with DeSean Jackson for the league lead. In Week 10 against Detroit, Rice caught seven passes for 201 yards; had he held on to one pass late in the game, he would have set the Vikings' single-game receiving record that Sammy White set in 1976 with 210 receiving yards, also against the Lions.
The performance was consistent with what we've seen from Rice all season. In the past four games, in which he has evolved into Brett Favre's favorite target, Rice has caught 27 passes for 453 yards. None of this is a big surprise. Two offseasons ago, Vikings wide receivers coach George Stewart declared that Rice was like a baby T.O. -- only it never showed up last season. But it has this year. Anyone looking for one reason Minnesota just might be the team to beat this season should look back at the 2007 draft. In Round 1, the Vikings drafted running back Adrian Peterson, who leads the NFC in rushing. In Round 2, the Vikings drafted Rice, who leads the NFC in receiving.
Cadillac Williams has seen the video, just as any running back who faces the unbeaten Saints this season will. In the past three weeks, the Saints' run defense has been gashed. In Week 8 against the Saints, Falcons running back Michael Turner carried 20 times for 151 yards and one touchdown. Two weeks ago against the Saints, Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams carried 21 times for 149 yards and two touchdowns. This past Sunday, Rams running back Steven Jackson carried 26 times for 131 yards and a touchdown. So in three games, three premier running backs combined for 431 rushing yards, at an average of 6.43 yards per carry. As opportunistic as the Saints' defense has been -- and it has scored seven touchdowns this season, two more than the Cleveland Browns' offense -- its 20th-ranked run defense has been spotty. For New Orleans to get where it wants this season, its run defense must improve -- especially if it harbors any hopes of slowing the Vikings' Peterson in a playoff matchup.
In the middle of Monday night's snoozefest between Baltimore and Cleveland, ESPN ran a graphic that deserved to be seen by more people. It spelled out the surprisingly high number of Ravens defensive assistant coaches who have gone on to become head coaches after working with all-world linebacker Ray Lewis in Baltimore: Marvin Lewis, Jack Del Rio, Mike Nolan, Mike Singletary and Rex Ryan. And as the pictures of each of those coaches flashed on the screen, one after another, ESPN analyst Jon Gruden pointed out, "Ray Lewis creates jobs for people." It's one of Lewis' overlooked legacies. And he'd like to add one more. He'd like to be a part of the defense that hands Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts their first loss of the season Sunday.
|Sidney Rice has emerged as an explosive and consistent receiving threat for Brett Favre.|
The idea to trade Jay Cutler from Denver to Chicago hardly originated after Josh McDaniels was hired in Denver. The idea, as far-fetched as it seemed, had come up in Denver exactly one year ago. Now it looks as if Denver knew what it was doing, trading the immensely gifted but occasionally troubled quarterback to the Chicago Bears for the bounty that was two first-round picks, a third-round pick and quarterback Kyle Orton.
Thanks to mistake-prone wide receivers, a leaky offensive line and inadequate play calling, Cutler has struggled. His biggest problems have come at night, in nationally televised games; he will play another Sunday night against Philadelphia. In his past four prime-time games -- the regular-season finale in San Diego last season and three this season -- Cutler has thrown 13 interceptions. There were two in the regular-season finale, four in the regular-season opener against the Packers this season, two more against the Falcons and five Nov. 12 against the 49ers. The Bears don't regret the Cutler trade, but they can second-guess it. And ultimately, it's expected to cost some offensive coaches their jobs after the season.
The only thing that could have made Sunday's San Diego-Denver game juicier would have been if Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers were squaring off against his personal rival, Cutler. But even without that matchup, this still shapes up as a great game. Back when San Diego was 2-3 and Denver was 6-0, Rivers predicted that Denver wasn't "going to fall apart" like it did last year, when the Broncos squandered a three-game lead in the final month of the season and lost the division title to the Chargers. But lo and behold, the Broncos did. They fell apart, at least in a three-game stretch against the Ravens, Steelers and Redskins. Hard as it is to imagine, San Diego and Denver are tied for first in the AFC West with 6-3 records. San Diego's preseason believers now believe again. Denver's preseason doubters now doubt again. And the two teams play a game in November that could decide who will win the division in January.
Once one domino falls, the others begin to follow. The first one fell Tuesday, when the Buffalo Bills fired a good man, Dick Jauron. Now the others follow. From now through the end of the regular season, NFL coaches from Oakland to Washington are on the hot seat and on the clock.
Last year was the first year this decade that an NFL head coach was fired before Thanksgiving -- and there were three. Scott Linehan and Lane Kiffin were fired after four games, Mike Nolan after seven. The league hadn't seen that since Raiders owner Al Davis fired Mike Shanahan four games into the 1989 season. Now, a fourth head coach has been sent home before the holidays.
The timing of these firings has changed; the number of them hasn't. Since 2000, there have been 70 head-coaching changes -- 70! That's an average of seven per season. This season, when all is said and done, there will be at least seven -- and quite possibly more. But it started Tuesday, will continue through December and will not end until the first couple of rounds of the playoffs do. Hunting season -- for NFL head coaches -- is now officially open.
When Washington hired Sherman Lewis to call its plays, he was mocked and criticized. The amount of ridicule was shortsighted and mean-spirited, particularly for a man as accomplished as Lewis -- a former offensive coordinator for the Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions.
Now that Lewis has had three games to call Washington's plays, check out how the Redskins' offensive production compares. In the first six games of the season, the Redskins averaged 12.4 points per game; in the past three games, they have averaged 20.3. In the first six games, the Redskins averaged 16 first downs per game; in the past three games, they have averaged 20. In the first six games, the Redskins averaged 294 yards per game; in the past three, they have averaged 336.
The average rank of the defenses the Redskins played in the first six weeks was 21st; the average rank of the defenses the Redskins played in the past three weeks was 13th. And, in the past three weeks, the Redskins have been without offensive linemen Chris Samuels and Randy Thomas, tight end Chris Cooley, and running back Clinton Portis for one game. So when the Redskins brought aboard Lewis to call plays, there really was one word to describe it: Bingo.
Three weeks ago, when Tennessee was 0-6, the Titans made dramatic lineup changes. Much of that focus has been, rightfully, on quarterback Vince Young. But what has gone overlooked is the one involving cornerback Rod Hood, who started last season's Super Bowl for Arizona. Since Hood joined the Titans' starting lineup three weeks ago, Tennessee hasn't lost and has held its opponents to a total of 57 points -- two fewer than the team surrendered in one game against the Patriots. Not only has Hood started but he has excelled, intercepting passes in each game he has started. Three starts, three interceptions, including one he returned 31 yards for a touchdown last week against Buffalo in a game in which he covered Terrell Owens.
It has been quite a journey for Hood, whom Cleveland signed in the offseason. Yet a mere three weeks after the Browns handed Hood a $400,000 signing bonus, they released him. Now Hood has found work with the Titans, who have been impressed with his professionalism and his play.
|Prime-time performer? Not quite. Bears QB Jay Cutler has thrown 13 interceptions in his past four night games.|
The Schef's Specialties
Game of the week: Indianapolis at Baltimore -- What's almost as bad as seeing moving vans taking your Colts from Baltimore to Indianapolis? Seeing Peyton Manning coming into Baltimore.
Player of the week: Eagles RB LeSean McCoy -- With Brian Westbrook sidelined indefinitely, no pick looks smarter or better.
Upset of the week: Oakland over Cincinnati -- The Bengals have come off physically and emotionally draining wins and now have to travel west for what will not be an easy game; ask the Eagles.
Adam Schefter is an ESPN NFL Insider.