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SPF's Week Ten Pre-Pregame Show

Posted: Nov 10, 2007

SPF will stick by this point - no team set the NFL back more than the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.  This "champion" brought the worst part of hip-hop's "thug" culture to NFL through the real life violence of Ray Lewis, whose murder acquittal and immediate re-acceptance as an NFL front man set the stage for all kinds of off the field troubles capped off by Michael Vick's fall before this season.  Roger Goodell got on this a little too late.

Beyond the off the field issues, the Ravens also brought a style of football to the NFL that in reality was fool's gold.  It led to the belief that you can win Super Bowls with a great defense and a decent, game-manager at QB.

Since developing QBs takes time and commitment, teams were happy to abandon this process for the quick fix of defense and a boring, but mistake-free offense. 

However, rules changes came limiting defense's abilities to disrupt offenses followed by QBs developing like Peyton Manning and Carson Palmer.  The tables turned.  This year we have seen teams that have playmaking offenses make the leap while those with the game-managing kinds fall by the wayside.

SPF's opinion is hooray!  Ending the years of unwatchable 13-9 ballgames can only make the NFL more appealing in the Footprint.  This week has several matchups that highlight the Ravens' paradigm starting with a key AFC South showdown.


Jacksonville at Tennessee (NFL Films game preview)

SPF presents its "Game of the Week!"  Wait... what was that?  Oh, we're sorry.  The Jacksonville sports media via Sam Borden just weighed in to tell us that this game doesn't really matter as long as the Jags find their way to ten wins and squeak into the playoffs.

Boy, Jack Del Rio must have had some CIA training in his past.  It's amazing to SPF how he can get the media to sell his message.  SPF has some thought-control antidote in storage so let us set the record straight.

1.  A goal of any franchise is to (a) become competitive and then (b) start to compete for a Super Bowl.

2.  The Jags have mastered (a) under Del Rio but are nowhere near (b) right now since they are the third best team in their own division.

3.  Until the Jags can show their fans that they can beat either the Titans or the Colts, they are a "wild card team losing on the road in the first week of the playoffs" at best.

Break out the champagne, Jack.  Maybe Sam Borden will join you in a glass.  Jacksonville's football faithful are going to take a pass.

The fact is that although the Titans and the Jags claim to be the same kind of team (good defenses, with ball-control, game-managing QBs), they aren't close at all.  The Jags defense has had massive breakdowns in each of their losses, most recently to the Saints in an effort described by Del Rio as "embarrassing".  A pedestrian offense with a decent defense won't get you very far.

On the other sideline Jeff Fisher remains humble, in contrast to Del Rio's self-congratulation.  They have quietly pulled within a game of the Colts giving them a chance to win the AFC South outright.  This team is a testament to Fisher's ability to lead an organization. 

Just to show even more media obfuscation, the Jags always seem to get the tag of "the team that everyone underrates" while the Titans don't get any credit.   ESPN, especially, seems to have it in for the Titans.  First, it was Sal Paolantonio calling Jeff Fisher the most overrated coach in the NFL.  Now, another no name writer from Page 2 claims that Vince Young is holding the Titans back.  Huh?  The team has only two losses - a close 22-20 loss to the Colts and a road loss to Tampa in which Vince Young couldn't play in the second half due to injury.

SPF is going to dub this game "The Raven Bowl."  Why?  Because both of these teams have strong, but differing ties to that team.  

First, the Titans were beaten by the Ravens in the playoffs following the year they went to the Super Bowl.  Since the Titans were similarly defensive-minded, coaches and GMs around the league saw this as a trend - win with great defenses and game-managing QBs with the Ravens merely taking the mantle that the Titans once held.

The problem is that the Titans weren't really like the Ravens.  They had a great QB in Steve McNair who could challenge a defense unlike Trent Dilfer.  They had other weapons.  Jeff Fisher is a defensive coach, but that made him more likely to attack opposing defenses so that they couldn't get comfortable.

On the other hand, the Jaguars bought into "Ravens Ball" hard.  Jack Del Rio was a Ravens' defensive assistant.  The Jags GM, James Harris, got his start in the Ravens front office.  Of course, the hidden benefit to "Ravens Ball" was that you could win on the cheap, something that also appealed to Jags owner, Wayne Weaver.  No big time QB was needed so no big paycheck was necessary.

The funny and telling thing about "Ravens Ball" is that the GMs who came from the Ravens, both Harris and Phil Savage in Cleveland, starting drafting offensive players.  The difference between Cleveland and Jacksonville this year is that Cleveland is using these players and Jacksonville is not preferring to let them sit on the sidelines.

It is easy to criticize offensive players like Del Rio has done, but SPF will stick by our opinion which is that Del Rio is doing nothing to take advantage of his offensive talent.  He holds them back with his approach to offense starting with his game-managing QB corp and ending with conservative play calling.

Meanwhile, Jeff Fisher has rebuilt his team, ironically allowing his old QB McNair bolt for the Ravens.  So far, McNair hasn't done a whole lot in Baltimore while Fisher went back to work building Titans 2.0 down in Nashville.  Yes, the defense is tough, but the offense is deceptively effective and challenging to opposing defenses because Vince Young can attack his opponents in so many ways.

SPF hopes for a decisive Titans' win "Ravens Bowl" so that  "Ravens Ball" can come to end today at LP Field.  Then, maybe Wayne Weaver can see that GM James Harris has left him with a great roster that only needs a coach willing to use his offensive talent.

Atlanta at Carolina (NFL Films game preview)

Just because SPF wishes to debunk "Ravens Ball" that doesn't mean we don't understand the importance of defense.  It only means that teams need good offenses as well.  This game shows this as well as Petrino (offense) meets Fox (defense).

The reasonable knock on the Panthers was that they stood pat on offense this past off season.  That has hurt them for sure.  The Falcons stepped back on offense by losing Michael Vick, but they are still somehow moving forward with Joey Harrington under center.

This game could mark the turning of the tide for next year in the NFC South.  Atlanta's difficult season has begun to find a hair of traction while Carolina is struggling.  Both teams lost their starting QBs for the year, but in different ways.  Vick was understood to be the centerpiece of the Falcons while Jake Delhomme was seen by fans as merely an instrument to get the ball to Steve Smith.  SPF would say that Delhomme's importance might have been slightly underestimated.

The Panther's post game press conference after their loss to the Titans demonstrates their offensive troubles.  SPF has been on the Panthers and John Fox for not finding  and developing enough young offensive talent.

Meanwhile down I-85 way, the Falcons are showing a few signs of life.  In this candid interview with GM Rich McKay, he reiterates the difficulties of losing Vick and his strong belief in Bobby Petrino's tenure as Falcons coach.  In his post game PC after the Falcons beat the 49ers, Petrino shows a smile for the first time in a long time.

Watching the pre-game press hype of this game shows that despite the difference in these team's records, they are on the same level from an emotion and confidence standpoint.

St. Louis at New Orleans (NFL Films game preview)

"An 0-4 start is either going to throw you in the tank or give you and edge."  Those words were spoken by Saints QB Drew Brees after the Saints beat the Jaguars last Sunday to climb back to .500 at 4-4.  Brees couldn't have been more right since his team's opponent this week was similarly sitting at 0-4 and quickly went into the aforementioned tank.

Veteran teams are tough to handle.  Coaches need to win them over or they will lose them quickly.  Bobby Petrino has seemingly overcome this under much tougher circumstances in Atlanta, while Scott Linehan lost his offensive vets very early, and they have yet to return to his corner.    Linehan can talk about injuries, and there have been many, but Linehan lost his team early on.  Injuries are part of the game falling under that larger cliche, adversity.  Teams handle that or they don't.

"They're used to winning," said Drew Brees about the Rams in the presser for both teams.  He's right which is why the Rams' slide this season has been so dramatic.

SPF can't imagine that the Rams will break out this week against the Saints.  It doesn't seem likely at all.  One coach is using his weapons on offense.  The other is not.

Philadelphia at Washington (NFL Films game preview)

Tom Boswell's has this season's Redskin team down.  They are a dignified bunch who has made the most of a season led by an inexperience QB with lots of key o-line injuries.  At 5-3, the Redskins should be happy to be in the hunt.

SPF just isn't sure that Redskin nation is buying this.  This team has spent loads of dollars and draft picks on offensive weapons, but they still don't really utilize them.  Watching and listening to Santana Moss and Jason Campbell speak about the offense's struggles, one can hear their frustration.

We know that Joe Gibbs is a Footprint legend from his first tenure as Redskins coach to his time as a NASCAR champion team owner.  However, Gibbs is holding this team back in the same way that Jack Del Rio is down in Jax.  He refuses to use his weapons.  Every game the Redskins lost came down to their inabilty to execute on offense when it mattered.

Meanwhile, the Redskins dreaded division rivals, the Giants and the Cowboys, are throwing the ball around overcoming their early season defensive problems.  If the Redskins lose to the Eagles today, where exactly do they stand?

Boswell calls them mediocre.  SPF thinks that isn't due to their roster, but to their coaching.  We won't be surprised to see the Skins lose this critical home game.

Buffalo at Miami (NFL Films game preview)

Miami is another victim of "Ravens Ball."  Yes, this team has sported a fantastic defense in recent years, but their offense has been horrific.  Their lack of playmakers has been evident for years.  Their choice of game-managing QBs (Jay Fielder and Trent Green) kept them from developing the young QB they desperately need now. 

The team hired Cam Cameron thinking that his offensive coaching skills could tweak the offense just enough to make a Ravens-styled playoff run.  Instead, they are 0-8 with no wins on the horizon. 

Despite all of that, Cam is sticking with [a] Lemon at QB because he "gives us the best chance to win."  So, SPF supposes that rookie QB John Beck gives the Fins a 0% chance and Lemon gives them a 5% chance.

The other benefit of "Ravens Ball" is its ability to give the coach cover.  He can keep talking about execution rather than aswering questions about developing offensive talent.  Cameron has been a master of this, but the jig is up.  The local Miami mediahas begun to openly question Cam's credibility.

How low can the Dolphins sink?  Let's see after they lose at home to the Bills.


Dallas at NY Giants (NFL Films game preview)

These two teams are the reverse-Ravens.  Despite the fact that the Giants were the Ravens victims in that dreaded Super Bowl win, the team never bought into the Ravens philosophy.  Both the Giants and the Cowboys loaded up on offense whenever they had the chance while desigining defenses based on speed which can be susceptible to big plays but can also create big plays through sacks and turnovers.

These two teams began the season with porous defenses, but overcame that with great offense.  Now, both of these teams have decent defenses that are improving each week.  One listen to Wade Phillips talking about his defense and new acquisition Tank Johnson shows how his confidence in that unit is growing.

This game will be pivotal in deciding the NFC East.  It should be a great one to watch.

Cincinnati at Baltimore  (NFL Films game preview)

This might as well be "Ravens Bowl II."  Cincy coach Marvin Lewis was the Ravens DC during the Super Bowl championship.  Brian Billick is still coaching the Ravens. 

Many around the NFL should have taken notice when Lewis built his team with offense.  This supposed Ravens guy drafted a Heisman-winning QB in Carson Palmer and created an offense that looked a lot more like the Colts than the Ravens.

SPF's criticism of Lewis this year has been with the offense.  While others have focused on Cincy's poor defense, the offense has struggled as well, losing confidence each week.  Maybe they should stop talking about Chris Henry

If this offense hinges on a 3rd WR that can't stay out of trouble off the field, then they need to take a hard look at what they are doing on offense.  The Saints lost a much more critical element when Deuce McAllister went down, but Sean Payton has found ways to right that ship. 

Marvin Lewis needs to stop worrying about tackling and defense.  The defense is bad and must be revamped in the off season.  His concern should be with his offense and its regression.

Lighting up his former team just like Pittsburgh did might be a great way to make some progress towards next season.


Indianapolis at San Diego (NFL Films game preview)

The Colts let one slip away, and Tony Dungy knows it watching him discuss the loss to Pats.  This week, the Colts need to shake that defeat off and get ready for the Chargers.

The Colts should be able to put the Chargers away because the Bolts have been so inconsistent all year.  This team, although led by an offensive coach, has relied way too much on its defense without having a passing game that can attack their opponent.

The Chargers, like the Jags, only await a real coach to take their fine personnel back to an elite level.  The Chargers' offensive struggles have really taken the luster off this game.

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