Thursday Football

I'm fighting off the preseason flu, so unfortunately things are coming out late today:

  • Duece McAllister probably will not play against the Bucs this week.
  • Depsite reports indicating he was available to play, Tyronne Wheatley will miss 2-4 weeks with a shoulder injury. Fargas is hurt too and so Amos may start, but Zack Crockett also practiced some at tailback.
  • Other Raider news has rumors that Jerry Rice is being shopped around. I doubt how likely it is that he will be traded, but it is interesting to read Rice's recent comments about the current state of the Raiders and his place in it.
  • It's been a tough week, year for the Favre family. Brett has been cleared to practice.
  • Jonathan Wells may get the start again this week. He adds a completely different dimension to this Texans team that they will benefit from as long they are involved in close games. Together, Davis and Wells share much the same relationship to their team as Westbrook and Buckhalter (respectively) do to the Eagles.
  • Redskins looking for solutions to their struggling offense. They may try out a no huddle this week. It makes sense for them to increase the pace of their offense because all of their talent is in the skill positions. Their offensive line isn't very good, and it doesn't look like Portis is entirely comfortable yet either. They have three above average receivers in Gardner, Coles, and Thrash and a veteran QB with Brunnell.
  • Tatum Bell will probably get a chance to show what he can do this weekend. It could prove to be a great opportunity for him. Take notice.
  • Bengals trying to get Chad Johnson more involved. Beware of the Randy Ratio.
  • The Titans, the Pats, and the Bucs are signing receivers off the street that may play this week.
UPDATE: Randy Moss tweaked his ankle in practice but should be fine to play this week. Jamal Lewis was sentenced to four months to federal prision.

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.

Wednesday Football
  • Jamal Lewis will play this week. Here's a nice article (subsc) about whether or not the NFL has jurisdiction to suspend him.
  • Artose Pinner will start this week, but I can't remember that last time I saw Mariucci give one RB a ton of carries.
  • Favre will most likely have to answer to Packer doctors and NFL doctors to avoid further concussions.
  • More on Tiki Barber's surprising start.
  • Eric Johnson, 49ers TE story.
  • Martz talks about Steven Jackson.
  • Chris Simms named starter for the 'immediate future.' The Ravens are reportedly (subsc) not interested in trading for Brad Johnson.
  • After looking further into Calico's MRI, doctors say maybe he won't be back after all.
  • The whole Ricky Williams mess may end with him being traded.
  • If the Bills can ever get consistent production from their offense, Lee Evans could have a nice second half of the season.
  • Todd Heap and Travis Taylor not likely (subsc) to play this week.
  • Vikings' schedule may be affected if the Twins make the World Series.
  • It looks like Moe Williams' injury is still lingering. Mewelde Moore will get some chances this week. He might be 4th string in Minnesota, but he's a decent player and a good plug in for this week.
  • John Clayton has printed a brief "Inside the Huddle" for this week.
UPDATE: I like what Tiki Barber says here in this column written for NFL.com. The perfect way to follow it would be to click around their week 5 preview.

Tuesday Football
  • Len Pasquarelli has a great stat about Payton Manning in his Monday Morning column.
    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.
  • Onterrio Smith reportedly withdrew his appeal and will be suspended for the next four games.
  • It looks like Favre will start Monday night. But this may be the end for his career. Montana wasn't the same after LT hit him in that playoff game. Steve Young and Troy Aikman both retired due to concussions. If this was Favre's first big one, his future will depend on if he can take the next big hit. Concussions are the strangest, most frustrating, and most worrisome injury in all of sports. Favre's backup, Doug Peterson, will miss a few weeks too. That leaves the Packers with Craig Nall and newly acquired JT O'Sullican to back up Favre if something bad happens. In other Packer news, Coach Sherman says that Ahman Green won't be benched because of his fumble problems.
  • Fielder still the starter in Miami. No word on the hurry up and punt offense.
  • The status update on Quentin Griffin is that they don't know yet.
  • Story on how Butch Davis 'forgot' to play William Green last Sunday. I guess watching Suggs break twenty yard runs can lead to memory loss.
  • Marvin Lewis is sticking with Carson Palmer. Jaws said it best on Monday Night Countdown: "If you want to go 8-8, play Jon Kitna. If you want to go to the Superb Owl, play Carson Palmer."
  • Stephen Davis may practice on Wednesday.
  • Kevin Jones missed practice on Monday with injury. Questionable for week 5.
  • Mike Vanderjagt may miss this week's game.
  • Jon Gruden may start Brian Griese this week. There are also rumors that Brad Johnson may be traded.
  • The MRI on Tyrone Calico came back OK. He still came back too early.
  • Once Jamal Lewis pleads guilty on Thursday, expect the NFL to have their suspension ready. The big issue here, however, is that this crime took place before he was in the NFL. So it's basically a conduct suspension, and one aimed directly at drugs.
  • Warrick Dunn only had cramps. Is okay (subsc) for this week.
  • McGahee is patiently waiting his turn.
  • Story on Stokely. If you have him, I'd trade him. He's injury prone and won't have 100 yards and a score every week.
  • Update on Patriots receivers and their injuries.
  • Wheatley's status for week 5 now uncertain.
  • San Diego columnist wants Drew Brees traded. Not sure if he realizes the Charges aren't his fantasy team.
  • It looks like McNair will get to face Favre.
  • Rams, Seahawks early preview.

Monday Football
  • Why does ESPN still use that "I Love Football on TV" song? I was under the impression that most thought it was annoying.
  • As expected, the ESPN Game Simulator showed an average performance. Going 7-6 yesterday, they have the Ravens tonight. I don't see any need to continue this experiement.
  • Mike McKenzie got sent to New Orleans for and 2nd rounder 05 pick and a QB that the Packers have liked for a few years. All sides seem happy.
  • Michael Bennett won't be back as soon as most thought. After watching the injury live, I've maintained since then that I thought he would miss at least half the season. Oct 24 against Tennessee seems to be more of the timetable now. I can't find any more news on Onterrio Smith other than what I linked to last week. If Bennett and Smith are ruled out, Moe Williams will obviously start, but look out for Mewelde Moore to possibly get a shot. He has more ability to break something open than Williams does. But the Vikes usually go with Moe on third downs and in red zone situations anyway. And with Moss and Culpepper, this team loves to call red zone TD pass plays.
  • Coach Sherman says Favre is okay, but won't practice until Thursday. Also, I heard in his post game talk that the reason he let Brett go back in (and throw their only TD pass) was because Brett said he was able to play. But Favre was pulled after that because the medical team hadn't cleared him and Sherman was in error to let him play.
  • Jay Fiedler speaks about his four turnovers in his loss to the Jets.
  • Turnovers? Kerry Collins gave away four on the last four Raider possessions. This article points out that the Raiders have now lost 11 straight road games, which dates back to their Super Bowl loss to Tampa Bay. I didn't see anything about that last week. It's amazing how the press can focus on one story a week and think they are doing their jobs. There were so many stories about David Carr's hair after that one local story I linked on Friday came out. Not that big media is reading breakaway beach, but they are reading the Contra Costa Times (and others) and after Carr started talking about his hair, that's all there was. Norv Turner speaks out about the road woes here. As for Wheatley, Zereoue, and Fargas. Norv will probably still start Wheatley, and then change it if someone else gets hot. Or hurt. Translation, there's a 90% chance that one of these guys will get around 20 carries. There's just a 33% chance in guessing who it will be.
  • PFBW's Whispers are out for this week.
  • Green Bay's fading home field advantage.
  • Peter King was taking notes while watching the NFL Ticket too.
  • McCardell's agent says his client won't sit out the entire year. The Bucs will probably just suspend him if he has a bad attitude.
  • John Clayton on how Vick beat the Panthers this time.
  • Expect Bettis to have -2 yards and 2 tds a game for the entire season.
  • Titan news: Chris Brown shut down. Calico to have MRI today.
  • Chad Johnson's production hurting with Warrick injury.
  • Chris Mortensen was wrong on Sunday to report that William Green would see many carries. Lee Suggs looked great.
  • Fox's Mike Chappell says that Marcus Pollard's production will be limited this season, but that's not what I see. He's not running routes on every pass play, but he is definitely a target on plays he does go out on.
  • Local Arizona writer thinks Hambrick will start to get more time in the next few weeks.
  • Fanball reports that Quentin Griffith sprained his ankle on the last play of Sunday's game. His status is uncertain. Scroll down and read the note on Aaron Brooks too. Coach Haslett has always been questioned about his team chemistry, and the wheels may be falling of the bus again.
UPDATE: Why did it take so long for the big networks to pick up on how funny it is to see John Henderson get slapped by his trainer? The real good clip though, from the NFL Films preseason 2004 series, is the one where Henderson starts to walk away post-slap and decides that the trainer has taken it too easy on him and he yells at the trainer and demands to be slapped harder. His teammates should replace his jersey one day with one that says "Tyler Durden."

Today's Baseball

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:

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:

  • Peter Gammons has an excellent breakdown of the four series and also writes about the quality of the NL starters some. He also leds me to believe that the Astros will have a good October.
  • SI's John Donovan has a quick preview and also writes about a few of the teams left behind.
  • Fox Sports has their Playoff Page already up- with tv schedule.

UPDATE: The Sports Frog pointed me to this ESPN article by Buster Olney detailing 10 intriguing matchups of the divisional series.

Live Looks
  • 1:20 - The Jags have started the game realling mixing their play calling well. It looks like they are going to do their best to try to have long drives that take up a lot of clock to help keep Peyton off the field. That usually works until after half time. We all saw last week you can go deep against the Colts, and both their starting safeties are out today, but all that does is give the ball back to the Colts' offense. This is a much wiser strategy that the Jags have started with today. But they need to get points, not fourth down coversions.
  • 1:25 - Teams lately have really been making an effort to rush to the line to call a new play right after a questionable, reviewable call goes in their favor. The Pats just did it after a 44 yard Givens catch that may or may not have hit the ground. The next play they ran? A QB sneak. They were basically trading a down for the lack of review.
  • 1:38 - One of the reasons the Steelers give up a lot of big pass plays is because their two safeties, Troy Polamalu and Chris Hope are big time hitters. It gets them into trouble sometimes.
  • 1:44 - The Colts/Jags CBS announcer pointed out that Fred Taylor has 1) made 36 straight starts, and 2) has never made the Pro Bowl. Both are surprising.
  • 2:08 - One of the things that keeps Amos Zereoue in the NFL is his great vision and his ability to run behind blockers. He had a few good games with the Steelers doing just that and when this replay from the Texans game today gets its airtime, it's easy to see why.
  • 2:50 - Halftime just hit in Buffalo. We're half way through the third period in Jacksonville.
  • 2:59 - Brett Favre doesn't look too healthy.
  • 3:16 - Why are the Raiders not taking shots deep? They also just said Wheatley is okay. Has a bruised shoulder and is cleared to come back in, but they're going with the hot hand in Zereoue.
  • 5:00 - July 30th, 2004 - "TO won't have good numbers this season because of the style of offense the Eagles play." - Fantasy 'experts'.
  • 3:51 - Raiders update: Wheatley hurt, Porter hurt, four stupid turnovers, terrible play calling, and now the refs are not calling pass interference. And I don't even like the Raiders. Help.
  • 4:30 - In an attempt to set the record for fastest series three and out , the Dolphins have come out with a 'no huddle' offense.

Sunday Morning Football
  • ESPN Links: Engel's keys. Mailbag. Hector and Victor. Player Projections. Engel's long term advice. Jaws. Player News.
  • Some ATS notes from Hank Goldberg. Miami is 1-9 against the spread in its last 10 home games. The Eagles three victories this season have each been by 10 or more points. The last three times Michael Vick has faced the Panthers, the Falcons have outscored them by a total of 91-14. Carolina, as a favorite, is 3 for its last 13 ATS.
  • Before you take too much stock in Vick's history versus the Panthers, read this.
  • More Baltimore Sun (subsc) news about Jamal. He still may be suspended.
  • St Pete Times story about McCardell's trade situation.
  • Tyrone Calico should play.
  • Dominick Davis, still a game time decision, not expected to play.
  • Deion Branch is out.
  • Lots of good stats about today's games over at the Football Project.
  • Some other nice gameday stats over at CNNSI.
  • In the world of 10 point teasers, I recommend - Oak +7.5, Ind +6.5, NYJ +3.5.
  • Mort reports that Suggs will play, but Green will get most of the carries.
  • ESPN has a game simulator. Here are the results from this week. Let's see how well they do: (table in progress)
  • CIN at PIT
    IND at JAX
    OAK at TEX
    NE at BUF
    PHI at CHI
    WAS at CLE
    NYG at GB
    ATL at CAR
    NO at ARZ
    NJJ at MIA
    TEN at SD
    DEN at TB
    STL at SF
    KC at BAL
  • The following is from Bill Simmons. Substitute Sal for the everyperson.
    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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