Where Are All the Rushing
With teams like the Packers, Bears, Cowboys, Redskins and Broncos simply unable to run the ball this year, and players like Donovan McNabb, Kyle Orton, Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning and Matt Schaub all having 400-yard passing games already, it occurred to me that maybe the NFL is becoming even more pass-heavy. According to Pro Football-Reference, the total amount of rushing yards in the league through three games is 10,406 and the total amount of passing yards is 21,523. That's ratio of 2.07 to 1. Last year, the season totals were 111,851 to 59,739, or a ratio of 1.87 to 1. Is that significant? I'm not sure. Early in the year, teams aren't dealing with bad weather (which could make the balance more run-heavy as the year goes on), and even if weather has nothing to do with it, a three-game sample with this kind of difference might just be a fluke. Incidentally, in 2008 it was 108,177 to 59,370, or 1.82, and in 2007 it was 109,722 to 56790 or 1.93.
Assuming the passing game is taking on an even bigger function in the offense, and considering more teams are using not only tandems, but three-back committees these days, that should boost the value of rare workhorse backs like Rashard Mendenhall, Arian Foster and, of course, Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson as these guys could get a disproportionately large share of the league's rushing yards among startable backs.
Pass-Catching TEs are a Dime a Dozen.
Besides Antonio Gates, Jermichael Finley and probably Dallas Clark, does it really matter when you drafted a tight end? Dustin Keller, Aaron Hernandez, Tony Moeaki, Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen are just a few of the options you could have plucked off the waiver wire and been fine with. I don't doubt Vernon Davis will produce, and I would even be patient with Brent Celek (Michael Vick's favorite receiver in Atlanta was Alge Crumpler), but at this point, most NFL teams use the tight end as a passing-game weapon, so there's no shortage of them in leagues that start just one.
One side effect is that TEs are hurting some WRs – at least early on. Jermichael Finley is cutting into Greg Jennings' targets in Green Bay, Keller is arguably the Jets' No. 1. Moeaki has more targets than Dwayne Bowe, the Lions two tight ends (Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler) have combined for 39 while Calvin Johnson has 28, Shockey has three less than Marques Colston, and that's not even counting the three most heavily targeted TEs, Gates, Clark and Davis. You'd think an increase in passing yards overall would offset the proliferation of pass-catching TEs, and it has in some cases – clearly Clark's league-leading 27 tight-end targets haven't hurt Austin Collie. But now there are at least three and sometimes four viable options in most passing games, so we might wind up with fewer receivers like Roddy White or Brandon Marshall who dominate the ball.
Why Aren't There More Antonio Cromarties?
The need for sustainable population growth is one answer, but with all the tight ends playing like wideouts, and plenty of wideouts (Marshall, both Johnsons, Vincent Jackson whenever he returns, Colston, Fitzgerald, Malcom Floyd, DeMaryius Thomas, etc.) nearly as big as tight ends, why are the vast majority of cornerbacks six feet tall or less? At 6-2, 210, Cromartie, who did a decent job on Marshall Sunday night, at least has a chance to go up with the bigger receivers and bring down the ball. Nnamdi Asomugha is also 6-2, 210, but aside from the 5-11 Darrelle Revis, most cover men are going to get overmatched by these giant targets. At what point do defenses adapt and start bringing in 220-pound corners and 240-pound safties? Of course, if they did that, you'd see smaller, quicker players like DeSean Jackson be absolutely untouchable. But it's odd that only the offense has a wide range of targets, but the guys guarding them are largely the same size.
Dumb and Dumber
With 1:44 to go and the score tied in Monday night's game with one timeout left for the Packers, the Bears had a first down at Green Bay's nine-yard line. At this point, the Bears should have taken a knee three times and attempted a chip-shot game-winning field goal. Not only would it assure there were only five seconds left on the clock, but it would reduce the risk of a fumble. Instead the Bears were stupid enough to try to score the touchdown, giving the Packers an opportunity to get the ball back down seven with 1:35 and a timeout left. But the Packers were just as stupid, so they actually stopped Matt Forte three times, saw the clock run down to five seconds and the Bears make an easy FG to win the game. How can professional coaches not know the odds of Robbie Gould hitting an extra point are far higher than the odds of Bears stopping the Packers from scoring a TD with 95 seconds left and timeout?
On the bright side, we did get to see the always fun desperation multiple lateral kick return.
Things to Take Away from Week 3
• The Steelers are such a well-run organization even Byron Leftwich a few years ago and now Charlie Batch can play well in place of Ben Roethlisberger. Remember what happened to the Cowboys two years ago when Tony Romo went down and Brad Johnson took over? The Steelers should be considered the odds-on Super Bowl favorite at this point.
• Matt Moore wasn't good the first two weeks, but the switch to Jimmy Clausen this early seems like the Panthers have already given up on the season. Which is surprising since they finished last year so strong. Steve Smith's value takes a hit.
• Austin Collie leads the NFL in catches, receiving yards and TDs, i.e., he's got the triple crown right now. No idea whether he'll finish as a top-15 receiver.
• Beanie Wells will be a top-15 back yet. Derek Anderson is terrible.
• LeSean McCoy has four touchdowns already, but only 34 carries through three games. That's a 180-carry pace. And the Eagles have been ahead in two of their three games for most of the way.
• Sebastian Janikowski has already missed five field goals.
• Mark Sanchez is an above-average NFL quarterback, and his best receiver, Santonio Holmes, returns after one more week.
• Mike Martz never used the tight end much before, but Greg Olsen is one of his team's best two receivers, so Martz will get him the ball.
• The Packers will bring in another running back to replace Brandon Jackson.
Things to Look for in Week 4
• The Ravens and Steelers slug it out in Pittsburgh.
• Donovan McNabb returns to Philly
• The Niners have to win in Atlanta with a new offensive coordinator to avoid falling to 0-4.
• The Pats go to Miami for a big division game on Monday night.
Beating the Book
Bears +3.5 at Giants
This line seems out of whack with the undefeated Bears getting more than a field goal against the hapless Giants. But Chicago's been fortunate so far – a cheap win against Detroit on an overruled touchdown catch by Calvin Johnson and a punt return touchdown and a bad fumble by James Jones in Monday night's game. The Giants have made a lot of stupid mistakes, but they moved the ball with ease Sunday, and already have their backs to the wall. Avoid the trap and back New York.
Giants 27 – 20
We're 2-1 in this forum and 24-21-3 on the season. We were 10-7 in this forum last season, 131-122 overall. We were 12-5 in this forum in 2008. From 1999-2009 we've gone 1439-1262 (53.3%, not including ties).
The full article comes out on Thursday morning.
Surviving Week 4
The Ravens came through last week, but so did virtually everyone else so the landscape hasn't changed all that much. For this week, there are two overwhelming favorites – the Packers (vs. the Lions) and the Saints (vs. the Panthers). Other viable choices are the Colts (@Jacksonville), the Falcons (vs. the 49ers) and the Chargers (vs. the Cardinals.) According to the Yahoo! Survivor Game 47 percent of the field is on the Saints, 9 percent on the Packers, 9 percent on the Falcons, 7 percent on the Colts and 6 percent on the Chargers. This is a bit of a no brainer for me – I'm taking the Packers who are an overwhelming favorite and because so many people used them against the Bills two weeks ago, offer the best payout for the risk. If I had already used Green Bay, it's a tougher call, and one for which I'll crunch some numbers in the Survivor Column which comes out Thursday night.