Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Are These NFL Teams Really That Bad?

Okay, I am back from vacation, many thanks to Windsor and Falco for holding down the fort!

As we approach Week 8 of the regular season, the “surprise” teams and the “disappointing” teams are still taking shape. Some of them will go on to turn things around and validate the summer-time hype, and others will fall back to Earth. I felt like this was a good time to look back and figure out whether the Saints and Chargers were as bad as their records. Why not Indianapolis? At 3-3, they still aren’t under .500 just yet. Why not Cleveland? I don’t know, it just sort of feels natural to have them at 2-4, nothing special about that. Next week we will look at two teams that are overachieving and figure out if they are really that good…

New Orleans was a hot team going into this season. In fact, they are my preseason pick to go to the Superbowl from the NFC (hey, last year I had Cowboys-Patriots so at least I was close). Any team is hot when they sport one of the best offenses in football and a defense that on paper got better. Well, one thing is certain- the defense has been like paper. Two years ago, when New Orleans finished a surprising 11-5 and went to the NFC Championship game, their defense ranked 13th in the NFL at 20.1 points allowed per game.* They currently rank 22nd. This team’s problem has never been offense. Sure, they will fall flat from time to time- either side of the ball will have several lousy games in a season. However, when those days come there is no way for this defense to step up. My mantra has been that when a team scores at least 24 points, they should win the game. Instead, having scored 24 points in all but one contest, they find themselves 3-4. Sean Payton might want to pay less attention to his shiny new playmakers and a little more attention to Steve Smith gashing the secondary for 122 yards.

If the defense doesn’t get a hold of themselves, they are an 8-8 team at best.

San Diego was also a Superbowl contender going into this season. Even after Shawn Merriman’s injury, the defense was a solid pass rushing group with Antonio Cromartie coming into his own in the secondary. However, LaDainian Tomlinson lost his faithful fullback Lorenzo Neal who had been his primary blocking back since 2003. In his absence, Tomlinson has sported a 3.6 yard per carry average, his worst since his rookie year. The scoring remains high at 27.4 points per game, but Neal’s absence has significantly affected Tomlinson’s ability to run. However, like the Saints troubles, it all comes back to the defense. The unit that ranked 5th last year in points, 5th in sacks, and 14th in pass defense now ranks 21st, 8th, and dead last in those categories. A defense can never rank 32nd in the NFL in any category and be successful. The loss of Shawn Merriman could impact the slight decline in sacks, but the points are being poured on as a result of a faulty pass defense that hasn’t changed much in the ways of personnel over the past year. In all but 2 of their games so far this season, they have allowed the opponent to score first. This likely has prevented their ability to run the football consistently, with Tomlinson on track to finish with the fewest carries of his career, 281. His previous low was 313, in 2003.

In this division, with two games against Kansas City yet to play, this is still a 10-6 team.

Oddly enough, these teams face each other this week at Wembley Stadium in London, England. I hope they improved the turf from last year, or we could be seeing another Mud Bowl across the pond.

Photo Credit: AP Photo

*Forget yards, I care about how many points they allow to the opponent. I don’t care if they let the opponent get to their 1 yard line every time if they don’t give up points.

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