I'm fighting off the preseason flu, so unfortunately things are coming out late today:
Time to answer a question I got via email:
Wanted to know your thoughts on Marvin Harrison. What do you think the rest of the season will look like for him? I'm looking at his 63 or so yards per game, and thinking that's gotta come up, especially the way manning is playing. also looking to last year, he hit two very big games (5td) in weeks 4 & 5 after starting slow.
Do you think he's underperforming for some specific reason? I saw trainers paying a lot of attention to one of his fingers on a night game recently. Are wayne & stokley really going to keep up their production? Will harrison have some of those breakout games this year?
Curious about your thoughts...
The short answer is: I wouldn't worry about Marvin too much. It's a general rule that as a team gets better, it relies less on one player to make all it's plays. I don't think we'll ever see Harrison come close to pulling in 143 catches for 1722 yards again. That's an obvious statement. Now for the long answer:
In years past, Payton Manning would end up forcing passes into double and triple coverage to Harrison and, as good as those two are, they could still complete a lot of plays. At the beginning of last season, the Colts then gave Reggie Wayne, who was starting his third season, a chance to become more involved in the offense. Since opposing defenses were so focused on not letting Harrison beat them, the Colts knew that would leave Reggie with single coverage on many downs. And so as a result of this and two months of Manning to Wayne touchdown passes (5 total from September to October), opponents eventually had to balance out their coverage schemes a little more in order to account for the threat of both Wayne and Harrison. Manning's accuracy statistics improved, his interceptions reduced, and the Colts became a much more difficult team to plan defenses against on their way to the AFC Championship Game.
I think we're just seeing that same thing here with the 2004 Colts. Brandon Stokely is a talented wide receiver. He was a big part of the Ravens' 2000 playoff run and, when healthy, has been a big part of the Colts' offense. He only really played in 5 games last season. And in the four he played in December, Stokely caught 19 passes (almost 5 per game) but for just 177 yards. He did have three touchdowns in those four games, however, which combined with the 19 receptions means he was a focal point of the offense.
Now, when I think about Stokley's big plays from this season's first four weeks, most of the time I remember him being wide open. Teams, so focused on Harrison and Wayne, have tried to put linebackers and safeties against Stokely and it's just not working out. It's only been four weeks and teams are going to adjust to the fact that Brandon is also someone they need to pay more attention to.
So, going back to Marvin's 'slow' start to the 2003 season, it appears to be the same type of thing that is happening this year. And I think it will balance out. The Colts are just such a powerful offensive team. They have been with the same offensive coordinator (Tom Moore) and quarterback (Manning) for over six years now. The Patriots broke every rule they could get away with last January, had home field and home weather advantage and still weren't able to put the Colts away until the final minutes of the game.
I don't know if Marvin Harrison is the deep threat he used to be in the same way that Randy Moss isn't. It's not that they still can't do it (no one is better on a fly route than Moss) it's just that opposing teams are making it their first priority to not to get beat deap by them. So if you're Payton Manning or Daunte Culpepper and you have all these other great receivers that are being single covered by linebackers, safeties, and nickel DBs, there are just so many options that one player isn't going to rack up all the yards. But like Moss is on the Vikings, Harrison is still the go to man on the Colts. Marvin is still a big reason Stokely and Wayne and Pollard and Clark get open. And for that to remain, Harrison has to continue to put up numbers that make other teams fear him first. And over the course of an entire season, he will.
In the last two games, both of which we covered and charted, Manning completed 24 of 35 passes off of play-action, for 355 yards, with five touchdown passes and one interception.
It's finally fun to follow baseball again. My first thought when looking at the matchups (which start tomorrow: see schedule) is the quality of pitching on the NL side. Here are the projected starters for the first round:
- LA STL - HOU ATL Game 1 Odalis Perez Woody Williams - Roger Clemens Jaret Wright Game 2 Jeff Weaver Jason Marquis - Roy Oswalt John Thompson Game 3 Jose Lima Matt Morris - Brandon Backe Mike Hampton
I was leaning towards picking Houston to win the NL to begin with, and looking at this doesn't change my mind. Neither Clemens or Oswalt nor Wright or Thompson have great career number versus their NLDS opponent. So if this comes down to clutch plays, I'd say the Astros have the advantage. They have been the hot team going in and that usually is a key factor. And the top of their lineup reads Biggio, Beltran, Bagwell, Berkman, Kent which isn't too far off from Womack, Walker, Pujols, Edmonds, Rolen (assuming the Cards are all healthy).
Some other thoughts:
CIN at PIT IND at JAX OAK at TEX NE at BUF PHI at CHI WAS at CLE NYG at GB 24-19 22-18 21-20 21-17 24-13 23-18 28-17 PIT IND OAK NE PHI CLE GB ATL at CAR NO at ARZ NJJ at MIA TEN at SD DEN at TB STL at SF KC at BAL 18-11 18-13 23-16 24-17 27-18 25-17 23-14 CAR NO NJ TEN DEN SF BAL
If only ESPN's NFL team could have narrated his life over the past few weeks.
Maguire: "I'm gonna tell you somethin' right now ... you want to talk about a guy whose gambling has suffered this season? You want to talk about a guy whose life is in shambles right now?"
Theismann: "We had dinner with Sal on Friday night ... you just could not help but feel like this isn't affecting his gambling this season. I mean, here's a guy whose WHOLE LIFE revolved around Jimmy's house for 20 Sundays a year, and that was just taken away!"
Maguire: "I want you to watch this replay right now ... watch Sal's face when Jimmy says that the construction won't be finished for another few weeks because he wants to sound-proof the living room in case he ever has a karaoke party. Watch Sal's face, watch this right here, watch this -- BAM!!!!! You want to talk about a guy who looks like his whole world hasn't just been turned upside down?"
Theismann: "And while we're here, kudos go to Jimmy's construction team, including the guy in charge, Paco Morales, who has designed a SUPERB floor plan over these past few weeks."
Summerall: "Uh-oh ... there's a man down."
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