Are the Chiefs real or opportunistic?
They've gone from worst to first. Kansas City, laughingstock of 2012, is the sole undefeated remaining in 2013. But are the Chiefs for real?
There is a lot to like. Kansas City leads the league in defense against points, allowing just 12.3 per game -- better than last season's leader, Seattle, which allowed 15.3 per game. The Chiefs are a league-best plus-12 for turnovers, and are first in sacks. Stretching back to his time in San Francisco, quarterback Alex Smith hasn't lost a game as the starter in more than a year. There is athletic talent aplenty, including five Chiefs elected to the 2012 Pro Bowl (and a sixth added later), and Eric Fisher, the No. 1 choice of the 2013 draft.
By winning six more games than the previous season, Kansas City is already in the annals of turnarounds of teams that finished 1-15 or 2-14. The 1980 Lions won seven more games than the 1979 Lions; the 1992 Colts and 1997 Jets won eight more games than their prior years; the 2012 Colts won nine more, and the 2008 Dolphins stand as best with 10 more victories than their prior year. These are full-season results: the Chiefs have six more victories after a half-season. They are sure to keep climbing.
But -- and you've already guessed a "but" was coming.
The offensive line has allowed 24 sacks, close to the league-worst 32 allowed by Miami. Smith has a pedestrian 82.1 quarterback rating, lower than Jake Locker or the benched Michael Vick. Three times in the last two games, Smith has badly missed receivers open in the end zone. For yards gained per game, the Chiefs are 16th -- OK, but nothing to boast about.
The big concern is that Kansas City has played a soft schedule. The Chiefs have not defeated any team that currently has a winning record: their opponents so far are a combined 20-41. Of course those numbers include losses to the Chiefs. But factor out the Chiefs, and Kansas City opponents are a combined 20-33. Kansas City victories have been posted against Jacksonville, Dallas, Philadelphia, Jersey/A, Houston, Oakland, Cleveland -- all among the league's problem children.
On Sunday, the Chiefs struggled to edge out the lower-echelon Browns, who were playing their third-string quarterback. There's nothing like a signature win on Kansas City's card so far.
For one more week, the schedule is kind to Kansas City. The Chiefs meet lower-echelon Buffalo, led by a practice-squad guy at quarterback. After that it's four of the final seven on the road with five total games versus Denver, San Diego and Indianapolis, current combined record 16-6. The Chiefs go home-and-home versus the Broncos twice in three weeks. After then, we will know whether Kansas City is for real -- or is the Baylor of the NFL.
In other football news, in college the Xbox offense is causing a long line at the door of TMQ's 500 Club, admission reserved for teams that gain 500 yards on offense, but lose. Parking spaces have been surprisingly hard to come by in the lot of the 600 Club; the 700 Club has more than one member; hard as this seems to believe, there is an 800 Club. I thought it would be impossible, just impossible, to gain more yards than that, and lose. I was wrong: see below.
In an attempt to cope with the outpouring of stats from the Mile High City, TMQ debuts Denver's Own Personal Stats of the Week. Here is the killer stat line: the Broncos are 7-1, have outscored opponents by 125 points, and if the season ended today, would be a wild-card team.
The outpouring of stats from the City of Brotherly Love has stopped. When the Eagles gained 322 yards in the first half of their opener, Chip Kelly might have thought his Blur Offense would be unstoppable in the pros. For the first few games, Kelly's charges rolled up stats.
But now it seems that like the Borg on "Star Trek," the NFL has adapted. In Philadelphia's last two outings, the Eagles' offense has scored a mere three points, while punting 15 times and committing six turnovers. Quarterback injuries have been a problem -- but Kelly's offense exposes the quarterback to injures, which many NFL veterans warned the incoming Eagles coach about. During his first half of professional action, Kelly looked pretty self-satisfied -- "It's true, I'm a genius," he seemed to be saying to himself. He's looking stressed-out now.
Last January your columnist said Kelly "would seem ill-advised to leave his dreamlike situation at Oregon for the backstabbing environment of the NFL." So soon after being the target of a bidding war, could Kelly end his first season fired, or quitting? NCAA sanctions prohibit him from coaching in college again until 2015.
Stats of the Week No. 1: With 329 offensive yards, Calvin Johnson outgained 15 entire teams: Atlanta, Buffalo, Carolina, City of Tampa, Dallas, Jacksonville, Jersey/A, Jersey/B, Miami, Minnesota, New England, Oakland, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Seattle. He also outgained all his Detroit teammates.
Stats of the Week No. 2: The Buccaneers and Eagles have combined to lose 17 straight at home.
Stats of the Week No. 3: Carolina outscored its last three opponents by 96-38.
Stats of the Week No. 4: NFL teams from Florida are 0-10 in the month of October. (Noted by reader D.J. Ekphora of Baltimore.)
Stats of the Week No. 5: Geno Smith of the Jets threw more touchdown passes to Cincinnati defenders (two) than to his teammates (zero).
Stats of the Week No. 6: Since taking the field to host the NFC title game, Atlanta is 2-6.
Stats of the Week No. 7: Since taking the field to host an NFC wild-card game, the Washington franchise is 2-6.
Stats of the Week No. 8: Since taking the field for an NFC wild-card game, Minnesota is 1-7.
Stats of the Week No. 9: In 2011, Dallas led Detroit by 24 points, and lost. In 2013, Dallas lead Detroit by 10 points in the fourth quarter, and lost.
Stats of the Week No. 10: The Giants are 2-6, have committed 25 turnovers, and are two games out of first.
Denver's Own Personal Stats the Week Item: The Broncos are on a pace to score 686 points; the NFL season record is 589 points. Denver has outscored opponents 115-52 in the fourth quarter. Peyton Manning is on a pace to throw 58 touchdown passes; the NFL record is 50. Jacksonville has six PATs; the Broncos have 43.
Sweet Play of the Week: On Terrelle Pryor's 93-yard touchdown run on the first scrimmage down of Pittsburgh at Oakland, Pryor was 20 yards past Steelers free safety Ryan Clark before Clark realized who had the ball. Sweet.
Sweet Play No. 2: Leading 20-17, New England faced second-and-goal on the Miami 3. The Flying Elvii went empty backfield, flanked a stack formation right and set tailback Stevan Ridley wide left. Ridley came in motion toward Tom Brady, then at the snap -- with defenders looking at the stack on the right -- took a handoff left behind two pulling offensive linemen. Touchdown, and Brady is a very sweet 90-16 career in home starts.
The Genetically Engineered Surimi led 17-3 at the half then folded, dropping their seventh straight to the Patriots. Miami general manager Jeff Ireland's offseason decision to wave goodbye to left tackle Jake Long looks worse all the time -- Miami allowed six sacks at New England, and is last in the NFL in sacks allowed. A sack-fumble by the Patriots' defense was the decisive play of the contest. Ireland's decision to wave goodbye to Reggie Bush isn't exactly looking genius-class, either. The Dolphins are nearly two-to-one called passes over called rushes, and while the Broncos or Packers are able to operate that way, neither Ryan Tannehill nor his line are good enough for a pass-wacky attack.
Leading by 10 as the sun set behind the stands, New England blocked a Miami field-goal attempt. The entire right side of the Miami line was knocked to the ground. New England guys pushing each other in the center might have been easier for Miami to handle.
Sour Play of the Week: Trailing late at Kansas City, the Browns ran a play-fake on third-and-30. Who's going to fall for a play-fake on third-and-30?
Sweet 'N' Sour Endgame: Dallas led 27-24 with 1:14 remaining and Detroit out of timeouts. The 'Boys were called for holding. Choices available to Jim Schwartz: accept and push the visitors out of field-goal range, decline with a likelihood a kick makes the score 30-24, but prevent Dallas from replaying third down and running precious time off the clock. Schwartz wisely declined.
Now it's 30-24, Detroit gets the ball back on its 20-yard-line with 1:02 remaining and no timeouts. No gain, but Bush alertly gets out of bounds. Completion for 17 yards, clock-stop spike. Completion for 40 yards and suddenly it's the sequel to the New England-New Orleans ending. Completion for 22 yards to the Dallas 1-yard line with 14 seconds. The 'Boys expect a clock-stop spike: Matt Stafford leaps into the end zone on a confused play, and a memorable victory is won. Detroit gained 265 yards in the fourth quarter, almost identical to Dallas' total yardage in the game. The final minute was so sweet, Detroit faithful will be reminiscing about it for years.
As for the 'Boys -- they continue to play as if uncoached. Early in the contest, Calvin Johnson took a routine short slant pass 87 yards as Dallas safety Barry Church air-tackled and other members of the Cowboys secondary jogged. Then Detroit scored on fourth-and-goal from the Dallas 2 when Johnson ran the same slant on the same side of the field, with the 'Boys secondary basically just watching him. Sour performance.
Now it's Dallas leading 27-24 with 2:38 remaining, Detroit at that point holding two timeouts, the 'Boys facing third-and-12 on their 23. A first down obviously would be nice, but an incompletion would stop the clock -- better to rush and force Detroit to spend a timeout. Instead Dallas coaches radio in a pass attempt; incompletion, the clock stops. Detroit would score the winning touchdown with 12 ticks showing. Had Dallas simply run up the middle for no gain at 2:38, the Cowboys likely would have won the game. Sour tactics.
"The King of Sports is a fantastic book"
-- Chuck Todd, NBC
What is the real harm done by concussions? It's not to NFL players. What is the real problem in college football? It's not that players aren't paid. Find out in "The King of Sports."
Now it's Dallas 30, Detroit 24 with 42 seconds remaining, Lions stuck back on their 37, out of timeouts, needing a touchdown. Where oh where might the pass go? Maybe up the field! Flanker Kris Durham runs a basic up pattern and blows past corner Orlando Scandrick. Stafford looks right toward Calvin Johnson, whom you may have heard of, then throws back left to Durham for a 40-yard gain, the drive's big play. Not only was Scandrick making the high school mistake of looking into the backfield trying to guess the play, rather than just cover his man, but defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin appeared to have called a Cover 2 that required the corners to watch for short passes, when the play absolutely had to go up the field. Sour by both player and coach.
Durham's catch moved the ball to the Dallas 23, where he went out of bounds, stopping the clock. The 'Boys defense was confused and reeling. Dallas had a timeout, and could have called time to allow its defense to take a deep breath and collect itself. When Detroit reached the 1 and was about to snap, Dallas could have called time then. Instead Dallas never stopped to regroup: presumably the unused timeouts can be donated to charity. On some teams, the head coach makes all timeout decisions: on others, when on defense the defensive coordinator decides when to call time. Whether Kiffin or Princeton-educated head coach Jason Garrett screwed up, somebody on the Dallas sideline posted a very sour performance in the closing seconds.
Press 0 to Be Wiretapped: "OBAMA TELLS MERKEL USA IS NOT MONITORING HER PHONE" -- news headline. What might that conversation have sounded like? Wait, we can find out, since the United States is monitoring Angela Merkel's phone. Here is the NSA intercept:
[Female voice] Guten Abend.
[Male voice] Angela? Hier ist Barack.
[Merkel] Good evening, Mr. President. Congratulations on having your country function normally for several consecutive days.
[Obama] Listen, I wanted to say -- we're not tapping you.
[Merkel] What is that soft beeping noise in the background?
[Obama] Must be music. Americans love music! Anyway, tapping sounds like this.
[Whispering male voice] I like the Red Sox in six. Darn, the microphone is on, they might have heard us.
[Obama] Angela, I have to go kick a can. Just wanted to make sure you know, this call may be recorded for quality-control purposes.
The NSA Voice Mail : Thanks for calling the National Security Agency. Press 1 for a blanket denial. Whatever you heard, it's not true. Press 2 to hear a transcript of every call you've ever made. Press 3 to confess. If you haven't done anything, that's OK, the NSA treats everyone like a criminal. Press 4 to have your tax money used to violate your privacy . Press 5 to hear these options again.
Helmet Instructions -- Step One, Insert Head: The NFL just ended its decades-long exclusive arrangement with Riddell helmets -- players could wear other helmet types, but had to cover the brand name if they did so. It would be nice to think this decision was motivated by safety. More likely, the NFL was trying to distance itself from liability exposure by no longer having an "official" helmet.
The league continues to refuse to mandate that players wear those helmets that have been shown to lower the odds of concussions -- no helmet can prevent concussions, but some provide better protection than others. Here is the latest Virginia Tech star-rating of helmet safety. There are several five- or four-star models from Riddell, Rawlings, Schutt and Xenith. Some clubs, such as the Giants, protect their own players' heads by only issuing top-rated helmet models. But the NFL won't mandate that only top-rated helmets be worn. Do NFL owners care more about avoiding liability than protecting players' brains?
Skip That "Carrie"-Themed Homecoming Dance: The "Carrie" remake is really scary -- not the content of the film, but the fact of yet another remake. Nothing should frighten moviegoers more than remake after remake. At least the "Carrie" cinematic remake does not include any singing. The 1988 musical "Carrie," which cost $15 million (in today's money) to stage at Stratford and then move to Broadway, closed after five performances, which was four too many.
Fake blood note: Brad Pitt's "World War Z" was originally marketed as sci-fi. The Wall Street Journal reports that Paramount is now calling "World War Z" a "horror film," because that definition makes it the highest-grossing movie in a genre.
Why Didn't Pittsburgh Pull the Goalie? Oakland leading 21-18, the Raiders lined up to punt at midfield with 28 seconds remaining. Pull the goalie -- rush all 11 men! Not only did the Steelers not rush 11, they didn't rush, period -- both gunners were double-teamed, while everyone else peeled back to block. Pittsburgh took possession on its 3 with 18 seconds left. True, a punt block is a long shot, but at least it was a shot.
StubHub World: Late last week, 50-yard-line seats behind the Broncos' bench for the Washington vs. Denver collision were offered at $600. Bargain shoppers could snap up high end zone seats for Atlanta at Arizona for $5 per -- less than mailing cost. Home sideline 50-yard-line seats for the monster UCLA at Oregon contest could be had for $400. Bleacher seats for Louisiana Tech at Florida International were selling for $2. Maybe Florida International should have paid people to come in.
When "Tweet" Means Something Else: Half a century ago, Rachel Carson's famed book "Silent Spring" predicted the extinction of North American bird life -- thus a silent spring, without chirping. Now the New York Times warns the ever-rising North American bird population is an increasing hazard to aviation.
Carson's predictions were wrong because her work helped inspire environmental reforms that prevented the calamity she foresaw. This dramatically hit home a few days ago when a bald eagle -- a species close to extinction in the contiguous 48 states a generation ago -- soared over my suburban Washington, D.C., home. Not only was the eagle itself impressive, but even its shadow was impressive!
The best gauge of bird numbers is the Audubon Society's annual census, conducted during the Christmas season since 1900. The most recent Audubon bird count for Pennsylvania, Carson's home state, found "a record 209 species," along with highest-ever numbers for bald eagles, sandhill cranes and black vultures, "exceptionally high totals" of many birds, and declines for only a few, including American kestrels. Some sharp-eyed Pennsylvanian observed a Ross's goose, the sort of moment on which birding reputations are made.
The big factor in bird population numbers is assumed to be declining releases of toxic chemicals, down about 40 percent since 1988. (Dive into the data.) Declining toxins are probably a reason cancer deaths are down. Greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated, but most other environmental indicators -- declining smog and acid rain, improving water quality and forest health -- have been positive for decades. Regardless, voters tell pollsters they think the environment is getting worse. If misconceptions rule on issues like bird populations and air quality, where the evidence is all around us, how will the nation ever to come to grips with abstractions like the federal debt?
"Monday Night Football" Analysis: If offense has been making your head swim, the Seattle at St. Louis contest was a sugar crash. Both front sevens so totally dominated both offensive lines that it almost made no difference what anyone else did. The Seahawks' 14-9 win offered fewer yards by both NFL teams combined than the average gain by 29 big college programs.
The Bluish Men Group got 80 yards on one play -- it turned out to be the game-winning TD -- and 55 yards on their 39 other plays, totaling just 135 yards of offense and seven first downs. The main reason was tremendous performance by Les Mouflons' front seven, but the Seattle offense was so horrible, it gave winning ugly a bad name. The Golden Tate knucklehead move will be universally mocked -- if you haven't mocked Tate yet, hurry to do so before all the slots are taken. TMQ will just ask: How often has anyone on a Super Bowl-caliber team done anything comparable?
The Hawks have football's easiest stretch run, with their next three dates City of Tampa, Atlanta and Minnesota -- combined record 3-18. Toss in a late-season date with the bumbling Giants plus the St. Louis rematch, and Seattle should sleepwalk into the playoffs. But the Seahawks have now shown what it's like when they sleepwalk, and it's not pretty.
The Rams -- how can anyone take seriously an NFL team that has reached the halfway point of the season and not scored a rushing touchdown? The visiting Seahawks practically begged to be beaten, and the hosts refused. Yes, St. Louis has injuries. In the NFL, everybody has injuries.
Trailing 14-9, the Rams reached first-and-goal on the 6 with 49 seconds remaining, holding all three time outs. Les Mouflons went incompletion, run for 4 yards, run no gain, incompletion. On fourth-and-goal from the 1, Seattle was so sure St. Louis would throw that there was no middle linebacker. Les Mouflons came out five-wide facing a Cover Zero front -- no one beyond the defensive tackles in the center of the field. Backup quarterback Kellen Clemens should have been able to walk in standing up if he'd just audibled to a sneak. But Seattle knew he'd throw, and he did. The final sequence was so bollixed that St. Louis didn't even use its final timeout. And check the St. Louis wide receivers on the right of the formation on the final down, especially Austin Pettis. They barely bother to run patterns, knowing the pass will go left. Game on the line and they're jogging. Ye gods.
Yes, This Item Is About Duke Football: Leading favorite Virginia Tech 13-10 on the road in Blacksburg, Duke faced fourth-and-1 on the Hokies' 44 with 3:12 remaining. Since the hosts were out of time outs, the "safe" thing to do was punt. Duke coach David Cutcliffe went for it, putting a backup quarterback in a wildcat formation. The result? A three-yard rush, and the rest was silence at one of football's loudest stadia. The week before, Duke went for it four times on fourth down, converting all, in a comeback victory over Virginia.
Last season, Duke went to a bowl. This season, at 6-2, Duke's bowl outlook is favorable. And Duke not only graduates nearly all of its football players, but the Blue Devils program is also rare in having an African-American football graduation rate (93 percent) higher than the white football graduation rate (90 percent). Long an exemplar of basketball, Duke is on the verge on becoming an exemplar of football -- winning combined with classroom success.
For its part, Virginia Tech is no slouch in either category. The Duke at Virginia Tech contest paired a 6-1 top-division team with a 78 percent football graduation rate against a 5-2 top-division team with a 92 percent football graduation rate. That's exactly what college football needs -- games between major winning programs that both have graduation rates to be proud of. Yet if any sportscasters, including ESPNU's announcers, mentioned the two colleges' graduation rates, I missed it.
Stop Me Before I Blitz Again!: Contest tied at 10 in Minnesota, the Packers faced third-and-6. Minnesota blitzed a safety. Aaron Rodgers threw a quick pass to the spot the safety vacated, 76-yard touchdown to Jordy Nelson and Green Bay never looked back.
Three Cheers for Top Two: Block-by-block computer analysis of the 2000 and 2010 censuses has allowed the controlling party in many states to engage in such extreme gerrymandering that seats in the House of Representatives are all but guaranteed to go either to Republicans or Democrats based on the gerrymandering pattern. Activists of the left or right dominate the primaries in gerrymandered districts, demanding obedience to pet causes. The general election is just a rubber-stamp. "I don't care who does the electing, as long as I do the nominating," Boss Tweed said, an ethos now transferred to many statehouses.
Both parties are to blame for extreme gerrymandering. Democrats in control of the Maryland statehouse created this monstrosity to oust a GOP member. Republicans in control of the North Carolina statehouse created this monstrocity to squeeze as many Democrats as possible into one district, thus preventing them from voting against Republicans.
Algorithm-generated congressional districts would solve gerrymandering, but would statehouse political hacks ever cede power to them? That makes the "top two" voting experiments in progress in California and Washington state important. Under a top-two format, all candidates for congressional nominations are on the same ballot, regardless of party and the two highest vote-getters face each other in the general. So the general election could be Democrat versus Democrat, Republican versus Republican, Green Party versus Libertarian and so on. Voting in California and Washington bears close watching. If successful, top-two voting will reduce partisanship. That both Democratic and Republican party apparatuses hate top-two voting is a good sign.
Long a national leader in trends good and bad, California now has in office its first class of political leaders chosen by top-two primaries after neutral redistricting. The result is an outbreak of bipartisanship plus a notable decline in what seemed like a hopeless budget deficit. Let's hope these California fads spread to the whole nation.
Comedy of Errors in Philadelphia: The Eagles' crowd steadily booed Michael Vick -- but then, that crowd had sat through nine consecutive home defeats, which was about to become 10. Eagles cheerleaders, normally on the cutting edge of cheesecake technology, did not sport Halloween costumes. Not even the cheerleaders brought their A-game!
In came Matt Barkley, who drove the Eagles to first-and-goal on the Jersey/A 2 -- where Philadelphia coaches radioed in a pass play that required Barkley to sprint backward for 10 yards. Sack, fumble, Giants' ball. The Eagles entered the contest with the NFL's No. 1 rushing attack -- why not run on first-and-goal from the 2? Instead a rookie is sprinting backward.
Jersey/A leading 15-0 with 4 minutes remaining, the Giants lined up to punt. The snap sailed above the head of punter Steve Weatherford, who chased the rolling ball to the Jersey/A 2. Don't try to pick it up, just kick it out of the end zone for a safety! In this situation, punters are coached kick the ball backward for a deliberate safety. Had Weatherford succeeded in picking the ball up, he only would have been tackled near his own goal line, giving Philadelphia position for a touchdown -- that's why the deliberate safety is a better outcome. As it was, Weatherford failed to control the ball, which Philadelphia fell on for six points. Just kick it out of the end zone!
Semi-Good News on Graduation Rates: The good news is that the latest NCAA athletic graduation report shows excellent overall numbers, and slight improvements in football. Overall, NCAA athletes in the latest study graduated at an 82 percent rate, better than the caps-in-the-air rate for public university students as a whole. This overall number includes the revenue sports of football and men's basketball, plus everything else: lacrosse, soccer, Nordic skiing, mixed rifle. In big-college football, the Football Bowl Subdivision graduation rate hit 71 percent overall -- 84 percent for white players, 64 percent for African-American. The overall football numbers though OK, could stand improvement.
The bad news is that the NCAA doesn't break down academic results at the 50 or so football-factory programs, schools where football money is off the charts. When Richard Southall of the University of North Carolina did that breakdown two years ago, he found just 55 percent of football-factory players were graduating -- and because not many were going on to glory in the NFL, about one in 35 ever receives an NFL game check. Overall numbers are only slightly different from two years ago, so the likelihood is that football-factory graduation rates remain bleak.
Bring Me the Head of the Head Coach: The sportsnut world assumes Greg Schiano will be fired at the end of the season -- perhaps sooner, though dismissing a head coach midseason doesn't accomplish anything beyond placating the boo-birds.
Assuming Schiano is shown the door, it couldn't happen to a more deserving person. The cliché "you never get a second chance to make a first impression" is a cliché because it's true. The first impression Schiano made in the pros was of poor sportsmanship, by ordering his defenders to attack kneel-down formations of winning teams. Then Schiano tried to justify his bad sportsmanship by claiming the tactic caused turnovers at Rutgers, which was simply a lie. (In this column, scan for "Richard Nixon.") Maybe once Schiano is cashiered, he and Bobby Petrino can run coaching clinics.
A terrible won-loss record should not be held against a high school coach, since winning games is just one of several things a high school coach should accomplish -- helping boys become men should be the essence of the high-school coach's role. Big-college programs are too quick to fire head coaches for losing. The college coach's role ought to include academic performance. But at the NFL level, there is clarity of purpose -- all that matters is winning. NFL teams are entertainment organizations that do not serve any larger role in society. Losing isn't entertaining. It is perfectly fair to toss an NFL head coach out the door for a bad year.
Do a Little Dance: TMQ's Law of Short Yardage holds: Do a little dance if you want to gain that yard. On short yardage downs, misdirection is essential. On third-and-1 at Minnesota, the Packers came out in an ultra-jumbo with seven offensive linemen and two tight ends, then ran straight ahead., Stuffed. Green Bay went for it on fourth-and-1 with a rolling-pocket action, converted and recorded a field goal on the possession. Do a little dance if you want to gain that yard!
Broncos trailing visiting Washington on the first down of the fourth quarter, the hosts went for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1. Not just a little dance -- the call was Twyla Tharp Right.
First Denver showed a power set, then shifted to two men wide right. Washington was confused. Veteran linebacker London Fletcher alertly called timeout. After the timeout, Denver again showed a power set with no one split wide and an extra lineman as the fullback. Then the slotback switched sides while the tailback split wide left, making it appear the lineman would get the ball. Then both tight ends shifted wide right while the tailback shifted farther left; suddenly a jumbo look had become a trips right.
The action so thoroughly confused Washington that there were only two defenders across from the trips set. The R*dsk*ns should have called time out again -- that would have been a penalty, but with the ball already on the 1, half the distance doesn't matter. Nobody's alert enough to think that through at game speed, however. The trips receivers ran a double pick while the extra lineman provided blitz blocking. The result? A touchdown to an uncovered tight end cutting behind the combo move. Denver's Virgil Green could have been flagged for offensive pass interference as he pushed a defender out of the path of the primary receiver. ("Moving pick," a basketball referee would have called.) Perhaps Denver had a choreographer in leotards and leg warmers at practice to teach the players that play.
Pity the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons -- They were leading at the start of the fourth quarter, then blown off the field 31-0 in the final stanza. RG III missed open receivers and when his passes were on target, often they were dropped. One sack came on a busted line call. Left guard Kory Lichtensteiger turned outward to double-team as Derek Wolfe came through unblocked and practically beat the snap to Griffin, who was hit 10 times for every time that Peyton Manning was hit. Constant pounding of Griffin is just not sustainable.
He Went That-a-Away: Misdirection in football sometimes involves a lineman pulling one way while the runner goes the other way. You'd think this would leave the runner exposed, but if the defense reacts to the line cue, the play may succeed. Misdirection pulls tend not to work in high school play, because young defenders only watch for the ball. NFL defenders watch the offensive line for cues. A tactic that doesn't work on kids may work on adults.
Panthers leading 7-3 at hapless City of Tampa, left guard Travelle Wharton pulled right. The defense reacted and followed Wharton, expecting a trap run in the direction he was moving. Tailback DeAngelo Williams ran left, away from the line motion, nearly untouched for a 12-yard touchdown.
About the only thing that's gone well for the train-wreck Bucs is placekicking -- Rian Lindell is 10-for-12 on field goals. Lindell, who has 40 points so far, was cut in the preseason by the Bills when he was within 32 points of being Buffalo's all-time scorer -- something he might have dined out on (literally, on the sports banquet circuit) for a lifetime. The guy who won the Buffalo job from Lindell immediately got hurt, and hasn't played. Lindell headed south to the league's worst team and has barely missed his chance to put his name in record books.
The End Is Near! Of This Item, Not of the World: Many readers have complained that the Nobel Prize for economics is not adequately covered by ESPN. Your columnist recently did his share with an item on new Nobel winners Robert Shiller and Eugene Fama. Now let's turn to 2008 winner Paul Krugman.
Krugman, who writes a twice-weekly column for the New York Times, last week denounced "doomsayers" who entertain "fantasies" of an apocalypse, in this case economic. Yet Krugman himself is a prominent doomsayer.
In 2009, Krugman declared "frustration, even panic" about the economy. By 2010, Krugman foresaw a "lost decade" looming for the U.S. economy. Since the "panic" warning, the GDP has grown 8 percent. That's somewhat below the postwar norm, but no emergency.
In 2010, Krugman opined that "the odds are that unemployment "will rise, not fall, in the months ahead." At the time, unemployment was 9.5 percent. By the next winter (the "months ahead") unemployment was down to 8.9 percent. Today the rate is 7.2 percent. That's still too high, but much better than when a Nobel economist made a doomsday forecast about unemployment. In 2011, Krugman saw doom in political deals to slow deficit growth, saying Washington compromises were "almost guaranteed to make the broader economic slump worse" Since then, the broad economy has improved.
Krugman has foreseen "utter catastrophe" owing to climate change, which he calls a menace to "life as we know it." This doomsaying is hard to fathom even if, like me, you believe artificial global warming is scientifically proven and greenhouse gas strictures are justified.
My favorite Krugman doomsay is this goofy column proclaiming "the lights are going out all over America" while the United States is "in the process of unpaving itself: in a number of states, local governments are breaking up roads they can no longer afford to maintain, and returning them to gravel."
The lights seem to be on, so much so that some complain of "light pollution." Krugman gave no specifics for the claim of vanishing pavement. Perhaps he had just read this story about the smashing of a rural road. The dateline was Spiritwood, N.D. -- population 78. In a huge complicated society like the United States, there will always be someplace where something unusual, such as the ripping up of a road, is happening. Overall, multilane highways are proliferating like mad in California, in Colorado, in Maryland, in Texas, in Virginia and other populous areas. It's not doomsday! Though, that is no guarantee it never will be.
Maroon Zone Play of the Week: Trailing Nebraska 10-7, underdog Minnesota faced fourth-and-10 on the Cornhuskers' 33. This is a classic Maroon Zone dilemma -- too far to placekick, too close to punt. The Gophers went for it.Touchdown. This play seemed to inspire Minnesota's upset victory.
Give the Ball to Octavias!: Two weeks ago, TMQ highlighted the incredible day by Octavias McKoy of Division III Western Connecticut, who rushed for 372 yards in a game. Except your columnist noted, "that's not enough to win a college shootout," since Western Connecticut lost to Massachusetts Maritime. How much is enough? Turns out 455 yards and five touchdowns is enough -- which is what McKoy rushed for Saturday as his school defeated Worcester State. Western Connecticut coaches called 21 passing plays, resulting in three interceptions, two sacks and a net of 3.7 yards per pass attempt. They called 43 runs by McKoy, for an average of 10.6 yards per rush. Just give the ball to Octavias!
Dewey Beats Truman, TMQ Reports: With a minute to go, the Lions looked so beaten I jumped the gun and admitted them to the 500 Club. Then I retracted the tweet rather than delete. My view is Internet errors should be corrected, but should not vanish: there's something 1984 about a statement that appears on the Internet, then doesn't. It's OK to be wrong once in a while -- trust me, I have plenty of experience! -- so long as you admit it.
Detroit Lions join the 500 Club -- gain 500 yards, lose.— Gregg Easterbrook (@EasterbrookG) October 27, 2013
The Peyton Paradox: Last week TMQ noted that Peyton Manning has an admirable regular-season record but a losing postseason record. Readers including Marylou Jenkens of Omaha, Neb., noted that because playoff teams are as a group stronger than regular-season opponents -- there are no Jaguars A&M-class playoff opponents -- one would expect a quarterback to do better in the regular season than postseason. Reader Kirk Taylor of Summerville, S.C., broke it down further: "Only one in 12 playoff teams each postseason will escape without a loss. More than half the teams that start the postseason end it with a losing playoff record -- if you lose the first game, you don't get another chance for a win to balance it out. Only about one team in three that reaches the postseason will end the playoffs with a record over .500."
I Say Old Chap, Do You Get Points for Punting in Gridiron Football?: On its opening drive, winless Jacksonville punted in San Francisco territory. And that's all anyone needs to know about the season's second London game.
The 500 Club: Boise State just missed admission when, at BYU, the Broncos gained 499 yards, and lost by 17 points. Visiting SMU, Temple gained 593 yards, and lost by 10 points. Hosting Mercer, Campbell gained 544 yards, and lost. (Campbell is averaging 30 points per game, and is 1-7.) Visiting UT-San Antonio, UAB gained 506 yards, and lost by three touchdowns. Hosting Minnesota Moorhead, the University of Mary gained 522 yards, and lost.
The 600 Club: Visiting Maine Maritime, Nichols gained 618 yards, scored 52 points, and lost.
The 1,000 Club: It's more exclusive than the Trilateral Commission. It's harder to get in than Nikki Beach Club on South Beach on a Saturday night. Reader Craig McMichael notes that in juco action, in a road game at College of the Redwoods, Mendocino College gained 1,041 yards on offense, scored 10 touchdowns, did not punt, and lost. Mendocino quarterback Travis Taylor threw for 796 yards and nine touchdowns in a losing cause. College of the Redwoods was held to 860 yards of offense, but won the turnover battle. The schools combined to gain a little more than a mile. Both schools finished the 69-66 contest with more points than tackles.
Oregon Held to 42 Points: Trailing 28-14 in the fourth quarter at Oregon, facing college football's best offense, UCLA punted on fourth-and-5. Game, needless to say, over. Earlier, the Bruins punted on fourth-and-4 at midfield. TMQ has nothing against Florida State. But assuming current trends hold -- Oregon must play Stanford, FSU faces Miami of Florida -- if the BCS title pairing isn't Ducks versus Tide, best offense versus best defense, a wonderful game will be lost.
College offense note: In its last two outings, the fast-paced offense of BYU has averaged 103 snaps per game. NFL teams average 65 snaps per game.
Obscure College Score: Concord University 9, Charleston of West Virginia 3 in double overtime. The Xbox Offense has not completely taken over college football. The Mountain Lions prevailed despite just 198 yards offense, one completed pass and a 2-for-16 conversion rate on third down. Located in Athens, W.Va., Concord University teaches "non-verbal communication."
Overtime note: the Washington Post has been doing some magnificent work lately, on projects set in motion before the arrival of Jeff Bezos. Sunday, the paper rolled out a free, searchable database of financial scandals by tax-free organizations. The database is the sort of tool that would have taken a government agency five years and $50 million to compile. Great work!
But the Post continues to have a quirk apparent only to the sort of quirky people who scan the fine print looking for obscure college scores. The paper's compositor has a command that converts the letters OT in a sports score into the symbol (OT). The result is that in the football scores column, obscure Otterbein University is listed as (OT)terbein. TMQ noted this Washington Post quirk a full decade ago -- and a decade later, on Sunday it was Mount Union 48, (OT)terbein 0.
Next Week: Tuesday Morning Quarterback wonders again what he wondered at the season's start -- will the NFC East be won by a losing team?
In addition to writing Tuesday Morning Quarterback for ESPN, Gregg Easterbrook is the author of "The King of Sports" and eight other books, and is a contributing editor of The Atlantic. His website is here and you can follow him on Twitter here. Every Tuesday during the football season, at 3 p.m. Eastern, he will answer questions on Twitter about that day's column.
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