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Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Morning After—Week 11



1. Do the Bills regret spending $59 million on Ryan Fitzpatrick?

Fitzpatrick’s numbers over Buffalo’s three-game losing streak, in which the Bills were outscored 106 to 26: 546 passing yards, 2 touchdown passes and 7 interceptions, and a ghastly 5.4 yards per attempt. If that doesn’t indicate Fitzpatrick’s regression over the latter half of the season, than I don’t know what does. Fitzpatrick’s steadfast refusal to throw the ball down the field has to be concerning for Bills fans, but it’s not like we couldn’t see it coming. He’s never averaged more than 6.9 yards per attempt once during his career.

So, do the Bills regret signing Fitzpatrick to franchise-player type money? In a figurative sense, yes, but monetarily wise? Probably not. According to Pro Football Talk, the Bills could cut or trade Fitzpatrick before the seventh day of the 2012 league year and be exempt from nearly $49 million of it. You can read the details HERE, but suffice to say it’s an extremely team-friendly deal. Imagine this type of deal happening in the NBA…

Some folks (such as NFL.com’s Michael Lombardi) point to Fitzpatrick’s recent struggles as a product of poor pass protection, but I don’t but it. The Football Outsiders have the Bills ranked as the best protecting line in football, and through week 11, Fitzpatrick has been sacked only 11 times—best in the league among Quarterbacks who have started every game. Sacks aren’t the end all-be all of pass rush indicators, but I’ve watched the Bills on numerous occasions, and he’s had time. Please, bring back the FITZMAGIC.

2. Can the Bears succeed without Jay Cutler?



Are you ready for various sports columnists to make the half-hearted case for Jay Cutler as league MVP? It’s coming, believe me. Aaron Rodgers will inevitably win the MVP award as he’s carried the Packers to a perfect record despite one of the league’s worst defenses, but Cutler has been the life force of a very mediocre offense. Matt Forte is a fantastic player, but Chicago’s offense is nothing without Cutler’s incredible arm, mobility, and ability to make plays on the run—which he is forced do to quite often.

Chicago’s offense line has certainly improved from earlier in the season, or last season, where Cutler was sacked a league high 52 times, but Cutler’s skill set is a large part of that improvement. I don’t know if there is anyone with a stronger arm in the league. Cam Newton, Matthew Stafford, and Mike Vick may have an argument, but NO ONE can sling the ball down the field with such power and accuracy off balance. Cutler has fast become my favorite quarterback in the league to watch. Talking Heads and Draftnicks are always drawling on about “the velocity” a Quarterback can put on the ball; sometimes, if you look closely, you can actually see the flames emanating from Cutler’s balls.

I’ve seen Caleb Hanie play once, in last season’s NFC championship game. As the Football Outsiders guys write HERE, he played well considering he was up against the league’s best pass defense. Furthermore, the Bears enjoy a weak slate of pass defenses the rest of the way, and Hanie has one of the best safety valves in the league in Matt Forte. But Cutler is the sole reason Chicago’s offensive line has looked semi-competent, and assuming Hanie doesn’t have the same physical abilities as Cutler (a reasonable assumption—few do), he’ll be under constant pressure. Regardless of what happens we're about to learn the real value of one of the most talented Quarterbacks in football.

3. Kevin Smith is the absurdity of this NFL season in a nutshell…

Let’s approach this from a fantasy perspective: in 2009 Kevin Smith was, on average, selected in the third round, 34th overall according to the Fantasy Football Draft Calculator. But he tore his ACL later in 2009, struggled to fully recover in 2010, and frankly never really looked like the player he was at Central Florida. In his last year of college football, Smith ran for over 2,500 yards and 29 touchdowns—Superstar numbers.

Now consider the day he had on Sunday: 16 carries for 140 yards, 2 rushing touchdowns, 4 catches for 61 yards and a receiving touchdown. Smith, who hasn’t looked like a remotely competent professional football player in two years, had the best rushing performance of the day Sunday, and one of the best of 2011. It makes one throw their hands in the air, exclaim “por que?!” to whatever higher being they worship, and wonder at the absurdity of the NFL. It’s good to have you back Kevin Smith, but please, don’t kill my fantasy football team next time, okay?

4. For the love of God, the 2011 Packers aren’t as good—or better—than the 07’ Patriots…

I’ve wrote that Aaron Rodgers is having the best season a quarterback ever has in past columns—even better than Tom Brady’s legendary 2007 performance. But really, this Packers team is NOT the 07’ Patriots.

Let’s start with their respective running games. The 2011 Packers are the 7th most efficient running team according to the Football Outsiders and 21st overall in terms of total yards. They make the most of their opportunities, but aren’t exactly killing it on the ground. Pretty much what you would expect from a pass-first offense with a Quarterback like Aaron Rodgers. The 2007 Patriots were the 2nd most efficient running team per the Football Outsiders and 13th overall in terms of total yards. A little better than the Packers but pretty much the same story.

So what about the defenses? The Packers possess the league’s 27th ranked defense, below the much maligned Patriots, Bills, and Broncos defensive squads. They’ve given up 390 yards per game, 21 points per game, and 3,918 total yards—30th in the league. The only reason they’re not worse is because they’ve got a +12 turnover differential and are second in the league in takeaways. The 2007 Patriots had the league’s 12th ranked defense. They allowed 288 yards per game, 17 points per game, and 4,613 total yards—third in the league. They were one of the best pass defenses in the NFL that year if you can believe it.

Furthermore, through the first ten weeks of the season Green Bay has, per DVOA, faced on average the 22nd ranked defense while in the same time period New England faced on average the 16th ranked defense. And through those first ten weeks, the 07’ Patriot’s offense was more prolific, scoring a staggering 41 pointer per game. The Packers have managed “only” 35 points per game.

So what can we take away here? The Packers boast an incredible offense, led by a Quarterback having an all-time season carrying a mediocre defense that couldn’t stop a nose bleed. The 07’ Patriots boasted a competent defense, one of the best passing defenses in the league, and statistically speaking, the best offensive attack ever. And that offense, ohhh that offense. I’ve never seen a team blitz the league with such ferocity like those 07’ Pats, and I’ve never been so damn sure that a team couldn’t lose. I’ve never seen a team operate with such precision, such surety, such explosiveness as those 18-1 Pats, and I’m just not getting that feeling from the Packers.

But hey, maybe I’m just a homer…

5. Andy Dalton is…spectacular.



I wrote about how excited Bengals fans should be about Andy Dalton and A.J Green after week five. Incredibly, they’re even better now. I thought Andy Dalton had his best game Sunday against the Ravens despite throwing three interceptions in a losing effort. It looks to me like all the criticism Dalton took about his arm strength before the draft was completely unfounded…the man can sling it. Some of the deep balls he threw against the Ravens were jaw-dropping—Dalton’s accuracy is outstanding. Consider Dalton’s huge day against the Ravens, than remember he was playing the best defense in the NFL without his top receiver, rookie wideout A.J Green. In the 2012 draft the Bengals have their own first round pick plus one from the Raiders. Two first round picks after the year they drafted their franchise quarterback and wide receiver? The Bengals are primed for the best two years of drafting in league history.

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