By the Numbers - Week 10

I’m not going to claim to be the world’s best when it comes to making NFL predictions but I did say last night that I thought Michael Vick was going to feel a cumulative effect of all the hits he has been taking this season.

About 10 minutes later he was walking slowly to the locker room with a glassy look in his eyes. He suffered a concussion and eye injury early in the Philadelphia Eagles 38-23 loss to the Dallas Cowboys and was done for the night – at least.

Hopefully, the Eagles’ offensive linemen felt a tiny bit guilty about the pounding they have allowed their quarterback to take this season. Although, to be fair, half of those guys now find themselves on the injured list as well and it is very much a patchwork unit being sent out onto the field each weekend.

Rookie signal-caller Nick Foles entered the fray in Vick’s absence and it would be fair to say he had his ups and downs against the Cowboys. Foles clearly is more of a pocket passer than Vick ever could hope to be and he has a strong arm – but can he survive behind that offensive line without Vick’s mobility?

Foles went 22 of 32 for 219 yards and 1 touchdown. But he also threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown and lost a fumble that was recovered in the end zone for another six points for the Cowboys.

Eagles fans have been clamouring for Foles for some time now and those calls have intensified with each error-filled performance from Vick during the losing run.

Of course, it has been hard for head coach Andy Reid to go away from Vick. The head coach has been under severe pressure to keep his job and he probably felt his veteran passer gave him the best chance to succeed each week, particularly behind that offensive line that had the most mobile man in the NFL running for his life every Sunday.

Reid feels a sense of loyalty towards Vick after bringing him to Philadelphia and giving him a second shot in the NFL. And that put the coach in an awkward position between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

Now, Reid might have a certain amount of freedom to go away from Vick and to give Foles an extended run under center. If Vick is out of this weekend’s game against the Washington Redskins, Reid will have the perfect, ready-made excuse to turn things over to the rookie.

And if Foles avoids a potential disaster, Reid doesn’t have to justify too much to Vick. After all, let’s not forget that Vick himself won the starting job in Philadelphia when Kevin Kolb got hurt and the Eagles never went back to their former, short-lived number one.

The difference here might be that Reid desperately needs to win to stick around in Philly so he might go with whoever gives him the best shot each weekend. But, in the long run, it might make sense to see what they have in Foles.

Finally on the Eagles, I think Reid needs a fresh start and might be better served getting away from a fan base that has clearly had enough of him. Eagles fans have booed Reid heartily even when he has taken his team into the playoffs over the years.

I remember walking out of Lincoln Financial Field with Greg Brady a couple of years back when the Eagles had been knocked out of the playoffs by the Super Bowl-bound Green Bay Packers. We had just called the game for BBC Radio 5 Live and were shocked at the vitriol being directed at Reid following the loss.

As we trudged through the snow, the freezing night air was filled with “Andy out” chants and the disgruntled and borderline aggressive fans were even burning their jerseys in dustbins. I can understand the disappointment at losing in the playoffs, but the Eagles had still enjoyed a successful season.

I actually think Reid will relish the chance to start afresh if given an opportunity in a new city. He looks tired and drained and we should remember that he lost his son, Garrett, to a drug overdose this summer with the body being found in a dorm room at the team’s training camp. That, of course, must have taken its toll on Reid.

While a quick hop to San Diego could be on the cards – Reid is building a house there – it looks more and more like he needs a Jeff Fisher-like year out of the game before making a return with some re-charged batteries.

Of course, by then, Vick will be playing somewhere else, exciting and frustrating his new fan base in equal measure.

Now onto this week’s numbers...

9 of 22 for 124 yards and 1 interception... That was the stat line for Mark Sanchez on Sunday night as the New York Jets tamely conceded a 28-7 defeat to the Seattle Seahawks. The interception came down near the goal-line with the game very much in the balance. Sanchez also lost a fumble and is clearly showing no signs of getting better any time soon. I applaud Jets head coach Rex Ryan for sticking with Sanchez as long as is humanly possible – but the player is not making it easy on his coach. Ryan knows that Tim Tebow is probably not the long-term answer so you have to off-set any short-term spark he gives the team with the fact that Sanchez’s time in NY will be done at the point when you turn to the high-profile backup. Denver happily made the move to Tebow last season because John Elway knew Kyle Orton was not the long-term answer and he had one eye on Peyton Manning coming via free agency. If the Jets are 100 per cent ready to move on from Sanchez, they might as well give Tebow a shot, although I don’t think it will help them. Jets fans should not expect miracles. All this guy will do is run around a bit more, make the occasional play on the fly and ad-lib his way to a win here and there. If the Jets are not completely ready to go away from Sanchez, they have to stick with him. But Ryan might be tempted to chase short-term success to stave off any calls for his job. Since opening the season with a thrashing of the Buffalo Bills, the Jets have lost six of their last eight and are staring at another playoff-less campaign.

27-171-1... Adrian Peterson continues to amaze and defy logic in his first season back from torn knee ligaments suffered last Christmas Eve. Normal human beings are not supposed to come back as quick and, more evidently, as strong as the man Vikings fans aptly dub ‘Purple Jesus.’ All Day carried 27 times (who says the age of the workhorse back has passed?) for 171 yards and 1 touchdown as Minnesota ran out 34-24 winners over Detroit. What impresses me the most with Peterson is that he can plough over defenders and work his way through the heart of a defense when necessary, but he still has the speed and explosiveness to rip off a big run. Vikings fans will also have been pleased with the return to form of second-year quarterback Christian Ponder, who was a vital part of their 4-1 start before falling off the grid in recent weeks. Ponder looked decisive and was in a nice rhythm, even without the injured Percy Harvin, completing 24 of 32 passes for 221 yards, 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. But now the hard work begins for the 6-4 Vikings – they will have six games remaining when they come off their bye this week. Five of those six games will be against Chicago (twice), Green Bay (twice) and Houston. Ouch!

15... This statistic came courtesy of our friends at ProFootballFocus.com as the New England Patriots missed 15 tackles during what turned out to be a far-too-close-for-comfort 37-31 win over the Buffalo Bills. We make a great deal of New England’s recent dominance of the Bills and Tom Brady is now a perfect 11-0 at home against Buffalo. But the truth is that there wasn’t much between these teams and the Bills eventually hurt themselves with 14 penalties, two Fred Jackson fumbles and Ryan Fitzpatrick’s poorly-thrown interception to Devin McCourty in the end zone in the game’s waning moments. It was a game that was there for the Bills to take before Fitzpatrick made that late error. Again, the Patriots seem to be involved in far too many shootouts and this was a game, at home, that was far trickier than it ever really needed to be. It is telling that most of the aforementioned missed tackles came from members of New England’s defensive backfield because the secondary continues to be the thing holding Bill Belichick’s men back. That said, they are 6-3 and, of course, Tom Brady gives them a chance to win every weekend – provided they score 35 points or more!

Monday Musings...

  • Sometimes a team that becomes much more competitive still has to find a way to get over the finish line and getting into that winning habit can often be the most difficult hurdle of all. The much-improved St. Louis Rams had that look about them on Sunday night as they gave the San Francisco 49ers all they could handle but still only came away with a 24-24 tie. The Rams were up 14-0 but somehow allowed the 49ers back into it despite San Francisco being down to backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick, subbing for the injured Alex Smith. Then they seemed to have the winning touchdown in the bag only to allow a late David Akers field goal to send the game into an extra period. Things got worse in overtime as the Rams hit the self-destruct button and twice allowed the 49ers off the hook when the game should have been done and dusted. Danny Amendola caught an 80-yard pass from Sam Bradford on the first play of overtime, moving the Rams to the 2-yard line. But the massive play was wiped out by an illegal formation penalty. Then, Greg Zeurlein nailed a 53-yard field goal to win but that too was negated due to a delay of game penalty. Of course, Greg the Leg missed the ensuing 58-yard attempt and the NFL saw its first tie since 2008. Rams head coach Jeff Fisher will be proud that his team hung in there and played tough against the 49ers – but he will also be stewing that two silly mental mistakes cost them a guaranteed win. The key is that the Rams learn from the pain of letting an opponent off the hook so easily when the win was all but assured and act more ruthlessly in the future.
  • Put me down for a copy of ‘Bud Adams’ Motivational Tactics’ for Christmas after his Tennessee Titans recorded a 37-3 hammering of the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. Just one week earlier, Adams had put his entire franchise – including head coach Mike Munchak – on notice and stressed that their performance during a 51-20 embarrassment against the Chicago Bears was not acceptable. It was a different story on Sunday night. Chris Johnson looked every inch the franchise back while rushing for 126 yards and a touchdown but the real spark, in my mind, came with quarterback Jake Locker returning from a shoulder injury that had kept him on the sidelines for the past five weeks. The younger and more athletic Locker offers more playmaking ability than his veteran counterpart Matt Hasselbeck and he certainly out-played Ryan Tannehill, who threw three interceptions in a struggling display for the Dolphins. Locker threw for two touchdowns as the Titans completed a quite remarkable turnaround from the previous week. I still wonder how much they can build on this victory, but it was a nice few hours in the Florida sunshine for the visitors from Tennessee.
  • Norv Turner had a press conference meltdown following the San Diego Chargers’ 34-24 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but it is hard to blame the under-fire head coach. Leading an NFL team is a stressful business at the best of times, but particularly when you’re fighting to stay alive in the playoff race and your job is on the line. Having attended many post-match press conferences, I can assure you that the pain of defeat is literally etched across the faces of the head coaches standing at the podiums. So I think we can forgive Norv for biting the head off the stupid journalist who asked: “Is it acceptable if your team plays hard but still continues to lose?” I almost thought it was a joke question, but sadly that was not the case. The reporter in question was serious and either a) stupid b) very stupid or c) trying to wind Turner up and goad him into a reaction. Let’s hope it was option C. While it is more important for my under-11s soccer team to play good football and to play the right way rather than to win games, that’s not the case with grown men in the NFL! This is a winning business and those who don’t win on a regular basis will find themselves out of work. I don’t think this outburst is going to save Norv’s job come the end of the season, but I also applaud him for taking this reporter to task for asking such a ridiculous question. No wonder so many American journalists don’t bother phrasing their questions at all and simply ask in a lazy fashion.... “Can you talk about xxxxx.”

Final Thought

Those of you hoping to see a new team represent the AFC in this year’s Super Bowl in New Orleans might be in luck because the Houston Texans are making America sit up and take notice with their 8-1 record. On a rainy night at Soldier Field that was made for fumbling, the Texans – led by 100-yard rusher Arian Foster - took care of the football and pounded out a hard-fought 13-6 win over the Chicago Bears. Matt Schaub did throw a couple of picks but those mistakes didn’t really hurt his team as much as the four turnovers hurt Chicago. This was a match-up of playground bullies and the Texans went toe to toe with the Bears, punching their hosts firmly on the nose. There is a long way to go, for sure, but the Texans have the physicality to match up with any team in the league and, as we have seen in recent seasons, defense does still matter when the post-season begins. That will make the Texans a very tough out in the post-season, especially if they’ve locked up homefield advantage in the AFC.