Cramming for Kickoff
By Christopher Liss
RotoWire Managing Editor
I know I'm not the first person in the world to complain about this, but the officiating was particulary bad this first week. Not only did the refs completely invent an offensive pass interference call against Tim Carter of the Giants on a crucial fourth-quarter play (an injustice about which I've said plenty already), but there was Randy Moss getting a 15-yard taunting penalty for flipping the ball to Nate Kaeding on the sideline, Lorenzo Neal and Michael Turner getting a penalty for celebrating a touchdown for their pal Steve Foley and Sean Taylor getting flagged for making a good hit to break up a pass play. Hopefully, this was just a fluke, and not a reflection of any policy put in by new commish Roger Goodell.
In case anyone is listening (or reading) there are three major changes that should be made:
First off, referees are human, and they can't possibly see all the illegal grabbing, holding and shoving that goes on among 22 players, so certain fouls will always be missed. But there's never an excuse for calling something that didn't actually happen, merely because you saw some circumstantial evidence that it might have. This was the case with Carter's penalty where the ref saw the defender slip after Carter made his break and inferred that Carter shoved him. He didn't see Carter shove him, he inferred from the circumstances. Rule No. 1 then is if you don't see it, don't infer it, and no matter what, don't call it. This should be part of their training.
What a waste to have instant replay and not be able to use it in a case like Carter's where one look at the tape shows beyond any doubt that the call is wrong. A judgment call like pass interference is no less important than any other call, so what's the problem? And the standard for review would still be "conclusive evidence" to overturn a call, so coaches would still have to use their challenges judiciously, and many calls would stand.
It's a joke that Moss flipping the ball constituted taunting, or that the Chargers "bull dance" for Foley, who pulled a Koren Robinson, but with worse results, also did. Taunting is a form of unsportsmanlike conduct, and to me, that entails trying to show up the opponent in a meanspirited or humiliating way. Getting in someone's face, spiking the ball at them - okay, throw a flag. But you have to understand the difference between that and good-natured celebration, and these refs, for God knows what reason, apparently did not. Either that, or they're under some idiotic directive from above, possibly from the new regime.
Around the League
Let's get caught up quickly on the major developments of the last few days:
Unless your his friend or family member, forget about Green - you can always find a suitable replacement quarterback on the waiver wire. No, the problem with this is for the orphaned running backs, wideouts and tight ends he leaves behind. Green's injury makes Damon Huard the quarterback, which means you can forget about Eddie Kennison and Samie Parker indefinitely. Tony Gonzalez's value takes a hit, as well, and even RotoWire's top pick, Larry Johnson, deserves a mild downgrade. Of course, if Johnson were due for 30 carries a game before under run-happy coach Herm Edwards, he's due for at least 30 carries and five receptions now. At 6-1, 230 and with great burst and power, Johnson is still going to be good, but he'll be facing eight-man fronts all day, and he'll see less red-zone opportunities until Green returns.
People are excited about Branch, but consider that he's small and lacks the straight ahead speed to beat defenses deep. His career-high in touchdowns is five, his career-high in yards is 998 and his career average in yards per catch is 12.9. He has great hands, runs good routes, and he'll have another great quarterback tossing him the ball. But why should Branch's role be any different in Seattle than it was in New England? Darrell Jackson is still the No. 1 receiver there, and if Jackson's gimpy knee is what made them go after Branch, then Nate Burleson will fill the David Givens role. Plus, Bobby Engram's still around. The interesting thing is that the Seahawks were interested enough in Branch to pay him $13 million in guaranteed money AND part with next year's first-round pick. Moreover, they just gave Burleson $5.3 million guaranteed as part of a seven-year, $49 million deal this offseason. This makes us doubt Seattle has confidence in Jackson being 100 percent for any length of time this season. Still, Branch's skill set and situation limit his upside.
On the flip side, someone's got to fill the void in New England. At 6-1, 212 and with 4.38 speed, rookie Chad Jackson might have been the top candidate, but he missed almost all of training camp with a hamstring injury, and it will probably take him a little time to acclimate both to the NFL and the Pats' system. At 6-2, 215, Doug Gabriel, who was also inactive for Week 1, is even bigger, and is also a downfield threat, but he, too, needs to learn the system and get over a bum hamstring. That left Troy Brown and Reche Caldwell on Sunday, each of whom did very little. And Ben Watson, who was as hyped as the Cowboys' defense this preseason, played passably, but didn't get open enough to be a major factor in the game, either. For now, Gabriel's probably the best bet, followed by Jackson, to have an impact at the wideout position, and until they do, Watson might not have enough room to operate. And as my colleague Mike Salfino pointed out during our XM radio show Monday, New England is likely to run the ball more this season as their defense is better, and they now have two healthy and capable backs to share the load.
This was a major problem last week for Jake Delhomme, and the entire Carolina offense, as Keyshawn Johnson is a harmless possession threat these days, and there's no one ready to step in and be the 2004 Muhsin Muhammad if Smith can't play. Hamstring problems often linger, especially in quick, explosive receivers, so for now, temporarily downgrade the entire Carolina attack. Two players who could benefit are Drew Carter, who showed some ability to get downfield in last year's playoffs, and DeAngelo Williams who could get some work if Carolina gets desperate for a playmaker. Still, don't overreact yet, as there's still a chance Smith returns for Week 2 - though we'd be surprised if he were 100 percent.
Below the Radar
White was inactive for Week 1, but considering where the Titans drafted him, where the team is headed and that the two players ahead of him on the depth chart, Travis Henry and Chris Brown, are not part of the team's future at the position, White is going to get his chance before long.
Julius Jones got most of the work Sunday, while Barber saw just three carries, and as a result, Barber could be available for cheap. Jones isn't durable, getting hurt both in college and the pros, and at the very least, Barber should get a bigger piece of the load even if Jones stays healthy.
Donte' Stallworth put up the big numbers Sunday, while Brown had just two catches for 20 yards. But last season when Joe Horn went down, Stallworth was a disappointment as the Saints' No. 1 receiver, catching just one pass of 40 yards or more and averaging just 13.5 yards per reception. While some of that was due to having Aaron Brooks throwing him the ball, having Brooks as a quarterback never hurt Horn's production, and given Stallworth's tenure in the league and where he was drafted, my feeling is he'd have broken out already (or at least shown more flashes) if he were destined to be a star. Brown's only in his second year, and hasn't played all that much with Donovan McNabb, but don't be surprised if he and not Stallworth emerges as the team's No. 1 as the year goes on.
Buckhalter, who missed the last two seasons with major knee injuries, looked healthy in Week 1, rushing for 50 yards on eight carries in relief of Brian Westbrook. Buckhalter could see some goal-line work, and were the injury-prone Westbrook to go down, Buckhalter's role would increase.
Cotchery, who caught six passes for 65 yards and a score Sunday, isn't particularly fast, but he has decent size, he's tough and he's able to get open in the middle of the field. He's unlikely to be a superstar, but he's capable of being a reliable possession threat and occasional red-zone target.
Beating the Book
The Bucs pick didn't work out so well for us last week, but at least they took the drama out of it. Overall we went 10-6 against the spread in Week 1.
Redskins +6 at Cowboys
The Cowboys defense looked awfully good this summer, but that shows us yet again how little the preseason means. It's funny because it will still be hard to ignore next year when some player or team looks great in August. In any event, we like the Redskins here because we think six is a lot in what should be a tough game between two evenly matched division rivals. Expect a close game decided by a last second field goal, more likely a missed one in this case. Back Washington.
Cowboys 20 - 17
For the rest of this week's slate, check out Beating the Book
Surviving Week 2
The Patriots made it interesting for us last week - and while all that matters is that they won - I'd typically prefer not to sweat it out like that, especially in Week 1. While we steered people away from Arizona, who won a little easier than the Pats, but not entirely convincingly, we also steered you away from Carolina, who lost.
This week, we're a little torn between the Chargers and Colts because while we don't believe in saving teams, this case might present an exception with both being very good percentage plays against bad teams, and the Colts very likely to be a good team later in the season. Still, we're going to burn Indy right away for three reasons: (1) You never know what will happen down the road - last year, no one could have imagined the Eagles being bad; (2) We trust the Colts to beat the Texans just slightly more than we trust the Chargers with an untested quarterback to beat the Titans; and (3) we expect a lot of people to want to use up the Chargers and save the Colts - that means if the Chargers lose, and the Colts win, the payoff is bigger - more teams get eliminated. If the Colts were to lose, and the Chargers won, we think fewer people would get knocked out because most people will save the Colts. In other words - and this is pure speculation - we imagine the Colts will offer better "pot odds", so to speak.
For the complete take on Survivor, strategies and rules, check out Surviving Week 2
Article first appeared 9/13/06