Posted by: Mike Cornelius | September 16, 2010

Only Week One, But Some Alarm Bells Are Already Ringing

It’s only Week One, and every good NFL fan knows that there is nothing more foolish than leaping to conclusions based on the results of Week One. Still, there are at least three teams that were highly-touted in the pre-season that have a lot to think about as they begin preparations for Week Two.

Less than eight months ago the Indianapolis Colts were 4 point favorites in Super Bowl XLIV. While they wound up losing that game to the New Orleans Saints, not many people would have guessed that in their very next meaningful contest they would be run over by the Houston Texans. That would be the Houston Texans who are coming off their one and only winning season in the nine years since they started play. And by “winning season” I mean 9-7.

On Sunday Arian Foster shredded the Colts defense, running for 231 yards and 3 touchdowns. Foster was signed by the Texans as an undrafted free agent, and won the starting job over Steve Slaton in training camp. But I’m not about to call him the new Jim Brown. Rather what stood out on Sunday was the woeful state of the Colts defense. Houston’s offensive line, aided by fullback Vonta Leach, opened gaping holes in the Colts line and made Foster’s job a lot easier. 

Meanwhile the Colts entire rushing game amounted to 44 yards, just two more than Foster’s longest run. So while one game does not make a season, the Texans-Colts matchup may well have exposed two very big problems for Indianapolis. The first is their defense, which in truth has always been a little sketchy throughout the Peyton Manning era. That’s understandable to a degree; after all, when your offense is capable of putting 30 or 40 points on the board every weekend, defensive dominance isn’t so important.

In addition, one of the reasons Manning has been so successful is that through most of his career Indianapolis has matched his throwing ability with a solid running attack, led first by Edgerrin James and more recently and less notably by Joseph Addai. But Addai’s performance Sunday was underwhelming at best, and probably not helped by the fact that because they trailed throughout the contest the Colts were forced to go to the air more early and often. If Peyton Manning continues to throw 57 passes per game, he’ll compile some amazing personal statistics, but the Colts won’t win very often.

While the Colts were participants in the last Super Bowl, it’s no secret that the Dallas Cowboys harbor great hopes of becoming the first team in NFL history to have home-field advantage in the next one. Super Bowl XLV is slated for Cowboys Stadium next February 6th. But if they continue playing the way they did against the Washington Redskins last Sunday night, the only way the Cowboys will get into the big game is by paying for tickets.

In falling to Washington by a score of 13-7, Dallas looked uninspired and sloppy. One has to give credit to the Redskins’ defense and coordinator Jim Haslett, but it’s not as if Washington’s offense was out there putting the game away. In his first serious game in burgundy and gold quarterback Donovan McNabb was a middling 15-32 passing, and the Washington offense was unable to score a touchdown.

In the end of course they didn’t have to; thanks to two gifts from Dallas, one at the end of each half. Trailing 3-0 with the ball on their 28-yard line and just four seconds left in the second quarter, Dallas inexplicably went to the air as Romo threw across the field to Tashard Choice.  When Choice was hit and coughed up the football, DeAngelo Hall scooped it up and ran in for the score, giving the Redskins a ten point halftime lead. The play should never have been called, Romo should never have pitched out across the field (if you’re going to throw in that situation, throw the ball as far down the field as you can), and Choice should never have tried to pick up additional yards through heavy traffic.

But that example of dumb and dumber was nothing compared to the final play of the game. After scrambling for what seemed an eternity Tony Romo finally hit Roy Williams in the end zone for what appeared to be the winning score. But even as Dallas celebrated in the end zone, sharp-eyed fans in the stands saw the yellow penalty flag resting on the turf in the Cowboys’ backfield. Replays showed offensive lineman Alex Barron with a hold on Brian Orakpo so blatant that “headlock” is probably a more accurate term. Game over. While it counts as a win for the Redskins, there’s no escaping the fact that the Cowboys beat themselves. Teams that do that don’t go far in the playoffs, or necessarily even make it to them.

And then we have the New York Jets. What’s that you say? You don’t remember analysts being all that high on the Jets in the run-up to the start of play? Well, if you’re talking about neutral observers, you’d be right. But the Jets don’t need support from such analysts, not when they have their own loudmouth coach Rex Ryan to sing their praises. In his second year on the sidelines, Ryan has guaranteed a Super Bowl win for a franchise now two generations removed from Joe Namath making good on his similar guarantee.

In his first season Ryan led New York to a wild-card berth and an improbable run to the AFC Championship Game, where they lost to the Colts last January. Along the way he entertained the media with a series of over-the-top pronouncements that at the time seemed brash and audacious. The problem is that there’s a pretty fine line between being brash and being a boor; and in season two Ryan increasingly seems to have strayed across it. This was especially so in an HBO series which covered the Jets in training camp.

On Monday night Ryan’s squad opened their season at home in their brand new stadium against the always tough Baltimore Ravens. To be sure New York’s defense, which carried the team through most of last season, was again stout; nearly matching the famously tough Baltimore defense led by Ray Lewis. But the offense was pathetic, amassing just 176 total yards, only 6 first downs, and failing to score a touchdown in the 10-9 loss. Second year quarterback Mark Sanchez passed for just 74 yards, and the team converted just a single third down situation in 11 tries.

Worse still, the Jets played a fabulously undisciplined game, committing 14 penalties, 10 in the first half alone. Those numbers are obviously not the mark of a well-coached team. It doesn’t get any easier for New York, what with the seemingly resurgent New England Patriots coming to New Meadowlands Stadium this coming Sunday afternoon.

In fact all three of these Week One losers face Week One winners this weekend. When the new campaign seemed to offer so much promise, none of the three will want to start off going 0-2. In Indianapolis, Dallas and New York, the season is young but there is already cause for concern. And maybe Rex Ryan should consider whether it might be a good idea if he just shut up and coached.

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