Friday, August 28, 2009

NFL-The Next Man Up

NFL franchises are officially back to work, their training camps in full swing. Adversity in the form of injuries has also affected teams as it has every year; several key players have gone down with significant injuries.

When it comes to injuries in the NFL it is identical to riding a motorcycle it is a known fact that if you ride one you will go down at some point in time hopefully you can recover from any injuries. Coincidentally when it comes to injuries in the NFL it isn’t a matter of if it happens it is a matter of when.

Let’s be honest injuries suck but they’re part of the game and a setback that has to be overcome. It is also an opportunity for the back up player to step up and prove he can be the guy. Here are a couple of guys who have made it happen. Can Joe Mays be the guy in Philadelphia? Can Corey Irvin, Nick Hayden or Marlon Favorite step up in Carolina? One thing is for certain both clubs and us fans we’ll all find out right away.

1. Kurt Warner stepped in for Trent Green in 1999
2. Tom Brady stepped in for Drew Bledsoe in 2001
3. Kerry Collins stepped in for Rich Gannon in 2003
4. James Harrison stepped in for Clark Haggans in 2005

If the entire organization (Owner, Front Office, Scouting Department & Coaching Staff) is one the same page and has properly built their team they’ll be prepared for this scenario. This is accomplished by drafting well with a 3-5 year vision in mind and clearly defined attainable goals.

In theory a teams 1st & 2nd round draft picks should be integral pieces to the puzzle that have the potential to be longtime fixtures for a franchise. A team should be drafting potential starters or players that can develop into starters in every round. However a team is actually built in rounds 3 – 7. Let’s not forget selecting un-drafted free agents to develop.

It has been said more than once that the best laid plans can and will go awry. Injuries have negatively affected the outcome of the season of several teams. It brings to mind the John Madden Football curse. I know to some people this might sound just a tad out of context but follow me if you will and it will make sense.

It must be stated that this isn’t a knock on John Madden Football. I absolutely love the game and have been playing it for years. Going back over the last ten years Injuries, having a significant impact on a team and being on the cover of the game have been synonymous. 1999 was also the first year that NFL players were featured on the cover of the game.

• 1999 Garrison Hearst - He had an outstanding regular season, finishing third in rushing yards. However, he suffered a broken ankle in the Divisional Playoff game against the Falcons. The severe break caused Hearst to miss two full NFL seasons. The team went 8-8 3rd place in the division.
• 2000 Barry Sanders – He is pictured over Madden’s left shoulder on the cover. Sanders abruptly retired in July before the start of the start of the 99’ season. The team went 8-8 3rd place in the division.
• 2001 Eddie George – George’s curse came in 01’ in the form of him failing to break 1,000 yards rushing and the Titans going 7-9 and missing the playoffs.
• 2002 Dante Culpepper – Culpepper missed 4 games due to injury, threw for 1,300 less yards & 19 less TD passes than in 2000. The Vikings went 5-11 their worst record since 1984.
• 2003 Marshall Faulk – Faulk played in the same number of games but ran for 430 yards less and had 4 less TD’s than in 2001. His worst since 1996. The Rams scored only 16 more points then their 1996 team that had Tony Banks at QB and Lawrence Phillips at RB. The team went 7-9 3rd place in the division.
• 2004 Michael Vick – Vick missed the first 11 games of the season with a broken leg. Vick’s QB rating, completion percentage and yards per attempt were all down from 2002. (* This is clearly a statistic that Vince Young wasn’t aware of by stating in an interview in the Sept. issue of Esquire Magazine when he stated that playing QB was all about your legs) The team went 5-11 4th place in the division.
• 2005 Ray Lewis – Lewis for the most part avoided the curse. His numbers were slightly down from the previous year, he missed one game. However, he didn’t record an interception in 2004, the first time in his career.
• 2006 Donovan McNabb – After week 9, McNabb suffered a hernia and was lost for the season. McNabb threw for more interceptions; his yards per attempt and completion percentage were down from 2004. The Eagles finished 6-10, in last place and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
• 2007 Shaun Alexander – Alexander missed 6 regular season games with a broken foot. He finished the season with 896 yards and 7 TD’s; his lowest numbers since his rookie season. He had a 3.6 yards per carry average; His career average was 4.4 yards per carry) The team went 10-6, went to the playoffs, lost in the Divisional Round to the Packers.
• 2008 Vince Young – Vince Young threw for 2,546 yards, 9 TD’s and 17 Interceptions. He did complete 62% of his passes and Tennessee went 10-6 losing to the Chargers in the playoffs.
• 2009 Bret Favre – Favre passed for 3,472 yards, 22 TD’s & 22 Interceptions. Favre & the Jets experienced a hot start but faded late after Favre injured his throwing arm and the season collapsed. Brett threw 6 less TD’s & 7 more INT’s then in 2007. The Jets finished 9-7 after an 8-3 start and missed the playoffs losing to the Dolphins with their former QB at the helm.

The NFL is the epitome of the next man up. Overcoming adversity and moving on is the name of the game. A highly important factor in answering the obvious question; can the team trust the back up and rally around him?

Oakland Raiders - Will The Lack of Talent at Defensive Tackle be the Raiders Achilles Heel in 2009?

Halfway through the 2009 Preseason for the Raiders and as fans we’ve seen some good things and some bad things but most disturbing is the fact that the team still can’t stop the run.

Reminiscent of a cold that you just can’t seem to shake, similar to having a sheet of flypaper stuck to your hand, the Oakland Raiders can’t dodge the fact that they’ve had great difficulty stopping the run for the past six years quickly going on seven.

Oakland has surrendered 150+ rushing yards per game, on average, for the better part of the last six years. To ask what is the problem or what has gone wrong are questions that are too obvious to ask.

The message to the new Defensive Coordinator couldn’t have been spelled out clearer: stop the run and get after the quarterback. It is way too early to say that they’ve failed because they haven’t. I applauded the selection of John Marshall & Dwaine Board as Defensive Line coach but these guys weren’t given the tools to succeed.

Defensive Tackle is a position of need that has been neglected in the Draft by Oakland for far too long. 2009 has started and this team needs two Defensive Tackles in the 2010 draft.

The last time the Raiders were stout up the middle against the run was 2002. I hate to have to call anyone out but we as Raider fans knew that this was a major area of need, that it had to be addressed and that the two best Defensive Tackles on the team were Tommy Kelly & Gerard Warren.

The blame has to be placed at the doorstep of Al Davis for consistently not addressing this position in the draft. As a Raiders fan I have also been a fan of Al Davis however there is no excuse for this happening.

The importance of the position has been overlooked, the idea of drawing a line in the sand and making a definitive stand on correcting this error has been put on the back burner for over a decade and it continues to be a major weakness.

When you talk of improving any team the first thing that needs to happen would be to improve the defense. Oakland has gone through another draft where the Defensive Tackle position wasn’t addressed, again, and it has been the Achilles heel for the Raiders as well as the reason for their demise.

The last five Defensive Tackles drafted by Oakland were Anttaj Hawthorne (2005), Junior Ioane (2000), Leon Bender (1998), Darrell Russell (1997) & Grady Jackson (1997).

Since the 2006 NFL Draft there have been a total of 80 Defensive Tackles selected. It is a known fact that playing Defensive Tackle in the NFL is night and day different than it is in college.

However, I refuse to believe that none of the previous mentioned players could’ve helped stop the disturbing trend of the Oakland Raiders making every opposing runner look like a Pro Bowl player.

Some of the Defensive Tackles mentioned anchor some of the best defenses in the NFL. What has happened on more than one occasion a solid defensive tackle is available in the draft but Al Davis has chosen to select a position player (WR, RB or CB) with Raider speed.

I’m not saying that having speed is a bad thing because as we all know speed kills but it does you no good in the middle of your defensive line. This writer stated in an article that the Raiders needed to draft not one but two Defensive Tackles or a Defensive Tackle and a Middle Linebacker.

I was told that I was out of my mind and that doing so made no sense at all. I often wonder what those individuals had to say when the team gave up 160 yards rushing in 2008. The same thought crossed my mind twice this year once in the draft when the team had the opportunity to make a definitive statement that they’re finally prepared to stop the run by selecting former Boston College teammates B.J. Raji & Ron Brace.

The second time while I was in the stands watching rookie runner Glen Coffee gash the silver and black for 129 yards in a little more than a quarter of football. I know that it’s pre-season and the games don’t count but Oakland surrendered 275 yards rushing in the game. Thanks to this Oakland ranks dead last in the league in run defense.

I compiled a short list of Defensive Tackles players currently on other teams that may or may not make the roster for the current employers but they’re players the Raiders need to keep an eye on to help them stop the run.

• New England – Mike Wright, Steve Williams & Myron Pryor
• Cincinnati – Jason Shirley
• Pittsburgh – Scott Paxson
• Indianapolis – Antonio Johnson, Daniel Muir
• Jacksonville – Jonathan Lewis, Derek Landri
• Tennessee – Kevin Vickerson
• Miami – Joe Cohen
• Seattle – Red Bryant
• Chicago – Matt Toeaina
• Washington – Antonio Dixon
• New York Giants – Anthony Bryant

We’re extremely close to the first roster cuts and the production generated or the lack thereof by Terdell Sands & William Joseph means that there’s a real chance that both won’t make the roster.

Jonathan Lewis has been released from Jacksonville and I doubt he’ll make a trip to the East Bay. I was surprised to see one of the guys on this list (Joe Cohen) has been signed. There are no guarantees but when you rank dead last in run defense the sign that there needs to more competition at the position and a need for new blood should appear like a large neon sign.

I’ve no idea how Ryan Boschetti & Joe Cohen will pan out but I like their efforts. I’m not saying that these guys will be the answer but could turn out to be steps in the right direction.

The offense will be better with much more production from QB JaMarcus Russell, The Wide Receivers as a group, TE Zack Miller and a solid trio of runners. I’m hoping that the run defense improves in 2009 although you and I know that instead of drafting a Defensive Tackle or two Oakland will sign a free agent.

The run defense is the biggest question mark on this team. This team will put up more points but needs to stop drafting on emotion and start drafting based on production. Leave the projects for undrafted free agents and get this team back on track.

Several people will never forget that the 2008 Lions went defeated and didn't win a game however from 2003 - 2008 that team won more games than the Oakland Raiders. The change for the better and the improvement needs to start in 2009.