Sunday, October 09, 2005

Waiting for Monday Night

(Just a heads up, but this post is all over the place ... which is what happens when I try and comment on three games -- only two of which have been played -- after watching 12 consecutive hours of football. You've been warned.)

One of the bad things about having a team go 15-1 the previous season is that they'll inevitably end playing a bunch of games on Sunday and Monday night. And while that's all well and good if you really enjoy listening to Joe Theismann or Al Michaels, it sucks if you actually have to go to work the next day. This is a problem Cardinal fans don't have to worry about (unless, of course, they're playing in a foreign country).

Anyway, I spent all of Sunday watching NFL pregame shows, NFL games, or NFL post-game reports. One of the ancillary benefits of living in DC is that I get to see every Ravens and Redskins game, no matter how bad either team might be. This year it's the Ravens going away, but that's a whole other issue (that's comically being taken up here). I was stuck with the Detroit/Baltimore game at 1pm, followed by the Denver/Washington game at 4pm. I honestly don't like watching games with the sole purpose of hoping a team loses, but for 10 hours Sunday that's exactly what I did.

(I say 10 and not 8, or 12 hours because I was only half-heartedly hoping the Bengals lost. I actually like the Bengals as much as you can like a team in the AFC North when you're a Steelers fan. I think Carson Palmer might be one of the top 5 QBs in the NFL, I think Chad Johnson is hilarious -- although I wouldn't want him in Pittsburgh -- and I like the job Marvin Lewis has done in Cincy. That said, I still want them to lose enough games so as not to pose any problems for the Steelers. So I only gave 50% when hoping they lost to the Jags last night. Plus, I very well couldn't hope Jacksonville won by 50 since they're coming to Pittsburgh next week.)

Well, the Ravens certainly didn't disappoint. They played maybe the most embarrassing, selfish, unprofessional 60 minutes of football I've ever witnessed, and that includes the state playoff game in "Friday Night Lights" when Permian got smoked by the Carter High Cowboys. Baltimore's ineptitude was initially funny -- I mean, I can watch Anthony Wright throw interceptions all day -- but by the start of the 4th quarter, it was actually turning into a slow-motion train wreck; I wanted to turn away, but I just couldn't.

What's so funny is that all preseason talking bobbleheads couldn't quit pimping this team for the Super Bowl. I was pretty sure that the offense would still be abysmal (it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that Boller wasn't magically turning into Vinny Testaverde in one off-season), but I figured the defense -- at least the starters -- would still be one of the best units in the NFL. I did think that the Ravens were pretty thin at cornerback -- after Chris McAllister and Samari Rolle, you've got two octogenarians in Deion Sanders and Dale Carter. But never in a million years would I expect to see what I saw today. I spent most of Sunday afternoon fielding phone calls from my buddy Andy that invariably started off with one of us saying: "Did you see that -- how awful was that call?" And then we'd make some joke about Ray Lewis being a cartoon character who's impossible to take seriously at this point in his career. Two plays later this process would repeat itself ... all game long.

Thank god I'm not a Ravens fan. If I were I might actually have to switch my allegiance midseason. Can you imagine if stuff like this happened in Pittsburgh? First of all, I can very easily see Cowher decking a player who continually got dopey unsportsmanlike conduct penalties; or touched an official; or gave the fans an obscene gesture. Sheesh. One thing I remember telling myself during the 2003 season was that no matter how many games the Steelers lost -- and there were plenty -- the players always stuck together. (Actually, there were two things I told myself every week. The other thing was usually some form of, "well, if Pittsburgh wins the rest of their games, they'll make the playoffs.") This is definitely not the case with this Ravens team, and I'm just glad I'm not a fan. OK, that's enough about that.

I also watched the Bengals/Jaguars Sunday night game and one of the things that immediately stood out was that neither team did a particularly good job of stopping the run. But of the two teams, the Bengals got the worst of it. Fred Taylor should've probably gone for 200 yards, but thanks to two really dumb downfield holding penalties by Jimmy Smith. If Cincy can't stop bruising 230 lbs. backs running up the middle, they could have some problems when they face the Steelers. But their offense is so potent, that they can overcome a lot of their defensive shortcomings. (They are 4-1, so they must be doing something right; and they actually had a chance to win the Sunday night game.) Chad Johnson scored a TD, but didn't do much more than that, but rookie Chris Henry had a couple of big catches in a 4th quarter drive that resulted in a 25-yard TD catch.

Henry was supposed to be a first round pick, but he couldn't stay out of trouble at West Virginia and the Bengals ended up getting him in the 3rd round. He was basically Pittsburgh's Fred Gibson except that he's good.

Jacksonville looks a lot like the team that the Steelers saw last December. They like to hit people, run the football, and find ways to get Jimmy Smith involved in the passing game. They started a rookie left tackle in Khalif Barnes, but the Bengals didn't get a lot of pressure on Leftwich. Rookie Matt Jones still underwhelms, but I'm guessing that has a lot to do with the fact that he's a converted QB, doesn't really know how to run routes, and looks lost a lot of times when he's on the field. That's to be expected of a rookie, but the problem is he was the 21st pick in the draft, taken right before Mark Clayton. And more importantly, the Jags probably had other needs they could've addressed with that pick. Of course, I was the same guy pimping Matt Jones as the Steelers first round pick back in the spring, so take that for what it's worth.

Speaking of reaching on a draft pick, how about Byron Leftwich? He's not the reach; the Jags hit the jackpot with this guy, but the fact that Jacksonville drafted him meant that the Ravens traded up (and gave up a first round pick in 2004) to get Kyle "My Man" Boller. That's all I'll say about that. Leftwich looked pretty solid last night, but like I mentioned earlier, he wasn't really pressured. If the Steelers follow a similar game plan, he'll eat them up too. I'm sure Dick LeBeau will be calling me sometime later in the week for my scouting report. I'll let you know how that conversation goes.

Finally, I was watching Playbook on the NFL Network, and it's basically a ghetto version of NFL Matchup with Jaws and Merril Hoge (by the way, this is far and away the best show on ESPN). I mean, when you've got Sterling Sharpe and Butch Davis doing the analysis, you really can't expect too much. Anyway, during one segment, Ben Roethlisberger was asked to name his favorite play from the 2004 season and he came up with the 50-yard bomb he threw to Plax during the first Pats game.

Sharpe followed the segment up by asking the question, "and you know who's no longer in Pittsburgh to catch long passes from Big Ben? Plaxico Burress." He went on to say that Hines Ward is the only receiving threat on this team, and if he were the San Diego Chargers he would dare Roethlisberger to throw the ball deep to Antwaan Randle El. Stuff like this used to really bug the crap out of me, but now I just shake my head and say some modified version of, "(insert name of idiot television bobblehead), you are very dumb. I hope in your next life you come back as Sean Salisbury. No, wait, I take that back. I hope you come back as Brian Billick."

This is what happens when the Steelers don't play on Sunday. I have entirely too much time on my hands. This can't be a good thing.