Preseason promise is out, and the pretenders are purged
Posted: Tuesday September 24, 2002 6:42 PM
I've come into this week's combat with two resolutions: 1) I've finally shaken all preseason ideas and will give a hard, cold look to what exists now, without excuses (are you listening, Rams?), and 2) I'm going to be brief because whatever I write seems to fuel the fires of my enemies. So no more talk. Action!
Dr. Z's Power Rankings
New England Patriots (3-0) For sure, someone's going to write in that they struggled while someone else -- who? Philly? Miami? -- breezed, but in my mind, a big plus is pulling out a game in which things aren't working right. In this case it was the defense.
Denver Broncos (3-0) Remember how Brian Griese struggled in the fourth quarter last year? Well, he's now the NFL's No. 1 ranked QB in that period. And, yes, I'm as tired as you are of the never-ending psychology lesson involving Griese and Mike Shanahan.
Oakland Raiders (2-0) Safe and secure in byeland they retain their bronze medal, and I don't think they'll lose it against the Titans this weekend. But strange things have happened this season, have they not?
Miami Dolphins (3-0) They have not been behind in a game all year. Their tight end, Randy McMichael, has caught two TDs. Last season all their TEs combined caught two. There are other nice things I could say about the Dolphins, but the rest of the callers are waiting.
New Orleans Saints (3-0) I'm taking a serious early look at cornerback Fred Thomas for my all-pro team. How about the way he was knocking down passes with one hand in a cast?
Philadelphia Eagles (2-1) They gambled with Dorsey Levens. They gambled on an undersized Villanova runner, Brian Westbrook, in the third round of the draft. And now they have a serious three-pronged running attack to make life easier for Donovan McNabb.
Chicago Bears (2-1) I guarantee that at least 20 bad things will happen because they're playing their home games in Champaign. One problem is that there isn't enough pollution in the air, as there would be in, say, Chicago, so the sun comes through brighter than what anyone's used to, and that's why Leon Johnson couldn't see the kickoff that set up the TD that got the Saints back in the game. You'll be hearing more of these as the season progresses. The march of science cannot be halted.
Green Bay Packers (2-1) They got blipped a bit on the rankings because Detroit made such a run at them, but I wouldn't take this too seriously. The Lions always play them tough, even in the grim times.
San Francisco 49ers (2-1) You know something, I'm really tired of Terrell Owens' whining. Now he's all upset that Steve Mariucci ran out the clock at the end of a 20-10 victory over Washington, when the Niners were deep, rather than trying to score again. The guy doesn't understand psychology. Spurrier ran it up on Mariucci in the exhibition season. Mariucci responds by being the good guy in the regular going. The Nobel Prize Commission is watching this very carefully.
New York Giants (2-1) It has been cool and breezy here in New Jersey, exactly the wrong type of preparation for a trip to the Arizona frying pan. Except that the Cardinals are a team the Giants have owned for as long as I can remember -- make that two years.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1) OK, great win Monday night and all that, but I'm studying Jon Gruden very closely, and I think that deep down, despite all that West Coast Offense hoopla, he is a conservative. He buttoned it up against the Rams and let his defense win it, which it did, but I think Keyshawn Johnson was right when he yelled that he should be getting the ball in the second half.
Cleveland Browns (2-1) Kelly Holcomb, the NFL's second-ranked passer, was benched, so what does Tim Couch do? Puts up the second-most yards of his career (326) against the Oilers. What was the most? Last year's 336 against ... you got it, the Oilers. The Browns are a team that can come from behind. They're a team of destiny, at least for now. I wish I'd have seen all this when I did my preseason selecting.
Buffalo Bills (1-2) Drew Bledsoe was supposed to be immobile, but I like the way he operates against a rush. And the way he makes the right decisions in a hurry. I know, I keep writing good things about him every week, but I sure am in his corner.
San Diego Chargers (3-0) They've been well coached, defensively, for years. They're keyed by their front four, particularly the pass rush, which wears down offensive lines, even in unbearable weather, as it did to those big, fat Arizona guys last weekend. They can alternate three serious rushers at the ends, Marcellus Wiley, Raylee Johnson and Adrian Dingle. There are teams that don't have one of that caliber. Plus, they bring a good inside rusher off the bench, Leonardo Carson. The defense will be even better when Rodney Harrison rejoins the secondary. Watch the free safety, Rogers Beckett. He's a sleeper. I heard great things about their rookie LB, Ben Leber, but I didn't see him do much against the Cards. It calls for further study. Junior Seau's hurt, but I've never been a big Seau fan. Sure, he energizes everything, including the TV announcers, but he also gives away too much by being out of position. Nevertheless, they're better off with him than without. Drew Brees has a tendency to get excited and spray his passes, but he's young. He'll be OK. The big weakness I see on offense is the lack of depth, should LaDainian Tomlinson get hurt, God forbid. Is this enough, Chargers e-mailers from last week? I have a whole notebook full of stuff now.
Indianapolis Colts (2-1) Sorry that they got no raise in Power Pay after their stirring victory over the Texans, but it's crowded up here in the top half of the chart.
Atlanta Falcons (1-2) Same situation, after the Sunday nighter over the Bengals, but this is an interesting team to watch, a whole lot better than its 1-2 record.
Pittsburgh Steelers (0-2) Ah, the blessed rest of a bye week. Came just at the right time, after Oakland ran off 87 plays against them.
St. Louis Rams (0-3) Am I the only person in the world who will not back down from the position that Kurt Warner is screwed up physically? I know, John Madden gave him the old Masonic handshake and tested his thumb -- I noted that with interest -- but it is impossible to watch a whole evening of Warner throwing the worst ducks since the heyday of Joe Pisarcik, I mean actual end-over-end passes, and come away thinking he's OK. But if he really is all right and that's just his new style of throwing the ball, then we have seen the sad decline, all at once, of a truly gifted passer.
Tennessee Titans (1-2) Eddie George had his worst year ever in 2001 and averaged 3.0 yards per carry, playing hurt. Supposedly he's OK now, and he's averaging 2.76. Without his big hammer, Steve McNair shows signs of falling apart, plus the defense keeps blowing leads. What's going on here, anyway?
Carolina Panthers (3-0) Unsung hero, Mike Trgovac. Who he? Defensive line coach. It's a smartly moving, regimental unit, led by one of the great unknowns, end Mike Rucker. Both he and Julius Peppers have had a three-sack game this season, and the defense as a whole has 13. Last year it had 26, and that's for the year.
Washington Redskins (1-2) Rookie Patrick Ramsey will be involved in secret sessions during the bye week to determine if his test scores are high enough to merit a start. Shane Matthews and Danny Wuerffel are holding their breath. In other news from the nation's capital, they are still trying to decide whether to go to war with Iraq, but that'll have to wait until this QB thing is straightened out.
New York Jets (1-2) Their O-line is a shambles, and that has affected everything else in the operation. I think that their best lineman, Kevin Mawae, is not fully healthy. He was shoved around plenty last Sunday. Their left tackle, Jason Fabini, isn't functioning well against the speed rushers. Vince Testaverde is having trouble going to his hot reads when he's in trouble. The head coach is hollering for more running, but nobody's opening holes, and the offensive coordinator, Paul Hackett, is getting all the heat, but he's used to that. I still think the defense is pretty good. The linemen, particularly tackle Jason Ferguson, were collapsing the Miami pocket, until they cracked in the fourth quarter.
Jacksonville Jaguars (1-1) Bye. I'm a kind person so I won't drop them in the standings. I expect to be repaid for this.
Dallas Cowboys (1-2) All of a sudden, beating Tennessee doesn't seem like such a huge achievement. But winning in St. Louis, no matter how screwed up the Rams are, will be noteworthy. You know something? This game becomes more and more intriguing, and I think I'll include it on my tape menu.
Minnesota Vikings (0-3) The Randy Ratio, 40 percent of all passes to Moss, etc. I'll bet Mike Tice is pretty unhappy he announced that plan the world, preseason. Moss got 10 thrown to him Sunday. The result -- four catches for 16 yards, three of Daunte Culpepper's four picks, and a starring role in the highlight films, showing sideline shots of an enraged QB screaming at him. Prediction -- the ratio thing is now down the dumper.
Arizona Cardinals (1-2) I've always liked Jake Plummer, but I keep thinking of what that e-mailer wrote a few weeks ago, about how he gives the game away early and then tries to win it with a heroic charge at the end -- that's Jake, not my correspondent. I hope this isn't really true, but it certainly was against San Diego. One thing in the game that fascinated me was the way their supposed superstar RT, Leonard Davis, got whipped by the speed rushers.
Houston Texans (1-2) How's this for finding a shiny trinket among the ashes: Their rookie runner, Jonathan Wells, outrushed Edgerrin James, 93 yards to 88. This Sunday he'll have a chance to do it against the Eagles' Duce Staley. And the following week, which is their bye, he'll have a chance to do it against the kids in the schoolyard. Then the angle will be worn out and I'll have to look for something else of a positive nature to say.
Detroit Lions (0-3) Our slum clearance project has lifted Detroit, which attacked the Packers in noble fashion, out of No. 32. On a good team, Mikhael Ricks doesn't drop the goal line pass at the end, and the Lions win the game. But a good team doesn't have a Mikhael Ricks playing tight end.
Seattle Seahawks (0-3) Sunday's 145 total yards against the Giants gives them the NFL's low yardage number in two out of the three weekends this season. And that was with Dilfer healthy and their All-NFL left tackle, Walter Jones, in the lineup.
Baltimore Ravens (0-2) Well, I can't raise them after a bye, can I? And I can't honestly lower them to No. 32, when the Bengals are making such a strong run at the position. That's my dilemma, and I wish every problem were as easy to solve as this one.
Cincinnati Bengals (0-3) I had the TV on this morning and I heard one of those televangelists say, "You must be born again." Obviously, he was thinking of the Bengals.
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