I'm glad to see that my match-ups for this weekend's Colts-Pats game got posted in time for rapid e-mailers to get a crack at them. The layout of the match-ups always poses a problem for the technicians in the office, a problem of "formatting," as they say. Actually I don't say it because I don't like to use a noun as a verb. Quite exciting actually. One of the computers blew and lots of little names were flung off the screen, onto the floor, where they were seen scurrying toward freedom. Andrew came through, though, and caught them all in his butterfly net.
So in honor of that dramatic event, I will present match-up complainers, uh, e-mailers first.
Willis from Austin is upset over my choice of Wes Welker over Dallas Clark. One of the toughest choices on the board. Clark has been terrific, a real savior for Peyton and the boys. But Cowboys' offensive coordinator Jason Garrett pretty closely echoes my sentiments when he calls Welker, the greatest hot read receiver in history, his favorite player. And Jason started his collegiate life at dear old Columbia U., so he ought to know.
Phil of L.A. says he's not sure he'd give the Patriots' LG-C combination of Mankins and Koppen the edge over the Colts' Lilja and Saturday. Well, Lilja is a former SI all-pro but Mankins is, I believe, the best in the NFL right now. And I called Saturday and Koppen even.
Mike of L.A. would have preferred it if I'd have matched offense to defense, and vice-versa; in other words, match the people against the guys they have to play directly against. Oh, I've tried to make that work in the past, but after I tried to pair 'em up, I'd always wind up with something totally artificial, such as QB against free safety
From David of Akron: "C'mon, Z, don't waffle on Brady-Manning. Give us your opinion. Who's got the edge?" Brady, because protection has been better, and so have his receivers. But that's strictly for us e-mail chaps. On the Web site, where everyone can see it, it's a tie.
We move to the Patriots, who are becoming one of the most controversial superchamps in the modern era. Did they try to run up the score vs. Washington? Yes. Do I dislike it? Yes. How would I handle it? Don't know. Just let jayvee runners carry the ball once the score hit 38-0, I guess. My senior year at Columbia, we lost to Army, 67-12. In the last 10 minutes or so, the West Point guys were saying, "Don't give up, Columbia. We're not gonna pass any more." That made them even more hateful than usual. So I guess I'm arguing against myself at this point, right? Actually my sentiments are those of Steve Young, who said it was an ugly thing to see the celebrations that greeted each TD, when the score reached the stratosphere.
John of Boston has done a massive research project, listing his top average point differentials, going back to 1970, to prove ... uh, what exactly, John? That the Patriots, whose current 25.5-point differential, eclipses all of them, do run up the score? That they do it, but others did it, too. That previous teams with potent offenses couldn't help it? Well, I admire the research, no kidding, I really do, but they still shouldn't be throwing the deep one to Moss, up 38-0.
Vin of Boston (naturally) feels that the whole debate is asinine, and he gives all the standard reasons why everything was kosher out there. Yo, Vin! Some coaches throw the deep one, up 38-0, and some won't do it.
And we move on to Boston in general and why it's called Beantown when they have a hell of a lot more beans in the Plains states. From Eric of L.A. --"What's your take on all this talk about the Patriots being the greatest team ever?" My take on the talk, or my talk of the take, is the same as when I hear wine dealers describing every new arrival from Bordeaux as the Vintage of the Century. Generally people who indulge in this kind of exaggeration have some stake in the action. Mindless promotion, in other words.
Eric appends this scary note: "Did you hear that scientists believe that redheads are disappearing?" Red heads, maybe, but not normal heads covered with red hair.
"When the Colts were doing the same thing in '04, not many media people wee slamming Peyton and Co. In fact they were glorifying them. What's the difference now with the Pats?" This comes from Tony of Taunton, and Taunton is in, Mass., you dig? Sorry, Tony, I don't mean to be a wise guy about your loyalty to your team, and I now have my '04 book in front of me, and what I see is that the bad Indy stretch involved the four games from Nov. 14 through Dec. 5, 2004.
The Colts had gone 2-2, going into that period, which brought their record to 5-3, and they had allowed 35, 27, 45 and 28 points in those last four games. So they had to be a little worried about their defense, right? They beat the Texans, 49-14, but their offense scored no fourth quarter points. Zero fourth quarter points for the offense again, in the next two blowouts, 41-10 over the Bears and 41-9 over the Lions. Their highest point total came in their next victory, 51-24 over the Titans, but Tennessee had scared them with 24 first quarter points, so they had to be a little geetchy, going into the fourth quarter. They led 41-10, and added 10 points in the period. You could say they ran it up, but you could also say that Tony Dungy remembered all those first quarter points the Titans scored and he wanted to take no chances. I think all this is a lot different than throwing the bomb, up 38-0 (have I mentioned this before?)
From Mike of Philly -- "Do you think this running up the score talk hurts Belichick's legacy?" He goes on to say that prior to this year he was the genius with the hoodie, now he carries the mark of a guy who runs up the score to get even with people who caught him cheating. I think his legacy will be OK. Lots of coaches ran up the score. Al Davis did all sorts of sneaky things to visiting teams, and he still made the Hall of Fame. If I'm still a selector when Belichick's name comes up, he gets my vote, clam dunk, I mean slam dunk!
Which leads us to the Hall, and who says we can't handle transitions? Stelio of L.A. is worried that Darrell Green, "arguably the greatest cornerback ever," will suffer the same treatment of Art Monk and be a perennial loser. Nah, don't worry. Everybody loves Darrell. And arguably is the correct term because I'll argue the point. Jimmy Johnson of the 49ers was the best ever. You ever hear of him? I thought not.
On a much more modest scale, I mean much, much more modest, Frank of Seattle asks if his man, Cortez Kennedy, has any chance at all. He was a fine player, a multiple all-pro selection of mine, but I don't think he was as good as Joe Klecko, and I can't get Big Joe past the doorway. I think this year's class will be too strong for Cortez. In another year ... possibly.
Scott of Shelbyville, Ky., where Bengals fans live, wonders if the Chad Johnson flap is not a distraction from the real problem, i.e., the defense? I think there is room for more than one problem on a team. The Bengals certainly have proved that.
Mark of Deltona, Fla., read an exchange between a Chicago Tribune reporter and the Bears GM, Jerry Angelo. Q: "Why do you think the team has been unable to get the running game going?" The answer involved the usual blah blah about having to play from behind, so they had to throw, etc. The real answer is that he's let the offensive line get old, without coming up with adequate replacements. Also Cedric Benson, Jerry's first round draft choice two years ago, is pretty close to a bust, certainly not as good as the guy he got rid of, Thomas Jones.
Blake of Beaverton, Ore., wants to know where's the sign that says that only the punter or backup QB can hold for kicks ... wait a minute, that came out wrong ... can hold the ball for field goals and extra points. Some guys have a knack for it, they devote time to getting good at it -- they have time to spend. Receivers and that bunch have other more pressing matters to worry about. Part 2 -- how about those crazy spread, punt formations they use in college? Any merit to them? I've noticed the phenomenon, recreationally, as you have. I never called anyone to get the plusses and minuses of it. It seems that it would lend itself to more blocked kicks, as defenses scheme and stunt to get past the formation, but I haven't seen it happen. Thanks for the nice note.
From Patrick of Houston -- How do sideline officials spot the ball on a punt that goes out of bounds? The Ridell Company manufacturers a little gadget called the Spot-O-Meter that all officials carry in their pockets. It tracks the ball, via radar, and then comes up with ... OK, OK, I see a very stern look from someone I just mentioned this to. Actually they do the best they can. They try to figure how far it might go and take a sideline position in the presumed vicinity and hope for the best. I officiated a game once, a pee-wee football game in which my son, Mike, played. The hardest thing, and I never realized this, was spotting the ball, not only on punts but on any plays. You really have to be on top of it.
Better O-line for the Cleveland Browns. Top flight receivers in Edwards and Winslow. The feeling of Derek of Chicago (and thanks, mate) is that Derek Anderson is not quite the God he is being turned into, but more of a "plug in and play" type of QB. He also has a pretty good arm, but it's hilarious how all the deep thinkers who were writing in depth pieces about why Brady Quinn has to play right away, totally neglecting Anderson in the process, are now quoting all sorts of scouts about how they all knew Anderson was going to be great. You ever hear the expression, "Front runner?" My favorite statistic involving Anderson is 14.7 yards per completion, way in front of anyone else. That's the kind of number the old-time gunslingers used to have. A plug-in quarterback? Hell, no.
Here's my type of question: JB Garvin of Dallas, a statistician for more than 14 years with the Air Force, would love to break into the world of sports statistics, and even though he doesn't need to see his question printed, could I possibly supply him with a way to contact the Elias Sports Bureau? Sure, you can phone them at 212-869-1530 or fax them at 212-354-0980. And remember, if they want to know where you got these numbers, remind them that under the Geneva Convention you are required only to supply your name, rank, serial number and date of birth.
And stepping forward, right arm raised in a Mussolini salute, comes our E-mailer of the Week, Alan Horowitz of Silver Spring, Md. Avanti! Here comes his question:
"I remember the old 'stiff-arm' from years ago, but I thought that to be legal it had to be 'stiff.' Today Marion Barber flexes his arm and punches tacklers in the face when they get hear him. Is this legal? If a defender or blocker did this, it would be a 15-yard penalty."
OK, Al, now think this through. Non-flexion of the arm would mean that a ball carrier would have to carry it alongside him, locked in a rigid position, like a club. Then, in order to execute a technically perfect stiff-arm, he would have to either raise it and swing it like a bat, or somehow draw it back and violently extend it, like a spear. Thus the analogy between football and warfare would be complete. Flexion is normal among limbed mammals. It's impossible to avoid. Yes, I think they are allowing more than they used to, in the area of the violent stiff arm. I remember seeing runners flagged for personal fouls in the old days, but not very recently. But you have to understand that these stiff arms do wonders to liven up the highlight shows and give announcers wider latitude for their brand of poetry. And after all, promotion is a big part of the picture, right?