The leadoff e-mail started, "Please don't take this the wrong way ..." I immediately fastened my seat belt. Things only could get worse. And they did. Basically I was told, among other things, that given my modus operandi, I was not fit to rank 32 NFL teams. The e-mailer was Andrew from Birmingham, the Alabama one. Which isn't all that far from Atlanta, and that's what he was upset about.
I ranked the Falcons 18th, sight unseen, although as I explained (was it really two weeks in a row that I explained it?) I will soon be highlighting them on my must-see list. You can imagine how this went over with the Big A, which is Andrew.
"I told you not to write that ... I told you that you'd only get in trouble with all that mea culpa stuff," said The Flaming Redhead, who grew up under the shadow of Catholic Guilt.
Right as usual (Isn't it tiresome to be right so often?). I reveal too much. I could never get a job with the CIA, even a menial one. But let me explain one thing. I don't watch pieces of games. I watch them in their entirety, because there are nuances you simply don't get if you hop around from game to game. I usually catch the local, New York area game live, and then comes the long, and I do mean long, TV vigil, after three VCRs have recorded half a dozen games. Sometimes, if a game finishes early, I'll get a piece of another one. Then there's the Sunday nighter, then the Monday nighter, then more tape viewing. Then dinner.
This schedule has gotten me through a breakdown of 30 NFL teams so far, most of them at least twice. I'm sorry that the Falcons are not among them, but they will be soon. This is the way I do things...have been doing them for as long as VCRs have been around. I think you'll find that many of your most prestigious rankers of clubs and selectors of all-star teams undergo a lot less exposure. I'm sorry if I have offended you.
• Might as well get all of this out of the way. From Gregg of Aurora, Ohio -- "Don't defend your rankings by saying, 'Just wait and see. They'll end up where they're supposed to.' It's a cop out. It's like Wimpy from Popeye saying, 'I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.'"
Gee, I never heard Wimpy say that. But be that as it may, I will never say that wait and see thing again. Or write it. Just see if I do.
OK, come on, step up, take your best shots. I can bear it. Just a minute ... let me remove the plate from my head first. There! OK, wotta we got?
• "Plate in the head or plate FOR a head, you dumb ... " No, Michelle from Phoenix didn't really say that, but I'll bet she wanted to. Say, Michelle, you're from Phoenix, and so's my wife, Linda, so maybe the two a yez can get together and water the cacti or something. No? Stop banging your shoe on the desk. I was just kidding.
Team A, Arizona (4-2), beat Team B, Dallas (4-2), and yet A is 10 (ten!) places below the defeated B. "Has Dr. Z fallen asleep and bumped his head?" she writes. ( Have I bumped, uh, bumped, uh bumped, uh...?)
OK, here's the way it is. Before the game, 14 places separated them. The number has been cut to 10. The toughest thing about ranking the teams after the first few weeks of the season is that you lose the integrity of head-to-head. Thus, the Jets, who ran up 56 points on your Cardinals, are ranked below them.
I don't hear any Jets fans complaining, mainly because their blood has not been heated to a boil by a merciless southwestern sun. Arizona is a brutal place in which to play. Everyone knows that. Let the Cardinals win one on the road, say at Carolina after the bye, and you'll see some very kind treatment in the old Z-Rankings. No, wait a minute...I just promised someone that I wasn't going to do the "just wait" number. You see how quickly things slip out of the poor old head, once it gets bumped a few times?
• Whew, I'm getting worn out. What now? Oh. my. This one has reduced my wife to ... my God, she's got a tear in her eye. And she's mailing in a photo she took at ... can it be? Yes, it's the Mendocino Headlands, one of our favorite places in the world. I need a moment to get myself together. This is in answer to a very gentle, very sentimental e-mail from Matthew Fee from San Francisco. He and his girlfriend are moving from San Francisco to Denver. It is time to propose. They both love Mendocino.
"Do you have suggestions for where one might propose?" he asks. Of course, he's my E-mailer of the Week, and all that. I knew the answer right away, but just to double check I proposed the question to The Redhead, who, if you didn't already know, is a photographer of considerable skill, and she ran and got this view of the great Headlands and put it on the Z-Express to Dominic. And here it is.
You go down Main Street, which is the main drag in town, past the hotel, heading for the ocean, turn right when you can't go any more, turn left at Lake St., keep going to the end and you're at the Headlands, stretching to your right. We walk there every morning when we're out there. Very few other people are around ("Once they get a look at you," says the Redhead. Come on now, honey, this is deep.) It is one of the most wonderful and most romantic places on earth.
• "With all due respects," writes Rob of Toronto, "how can you not know that Michael Roos is quite possibly the best left tackle in football?" The rest is a litany of Michael's great deeds this year, once again reminding your faithful narrator that he really is somewhat of a fool, as if he didn't know that already. When I mentioned the anonymous nature of possible Pro Bowlers on the Titans, I was referring to players not easily identifiable by the great mass of the public...you know, folks who get their expertise from ESPN. I know all about Michael Roos. His dossier is in front of me now.
Sorry, but I didn't see him against Mario Williams and the Texans. A so-so day against the Vikings. Jared Allen beat him for a forced incomplete. Allen is having a strange year. Sometimes tackles get help with him, sometimes they take him on alone. It wasn't like that last year. He's into the wide rush now and doesn't come down off it the way he did last season. Don't ask me why.
Tennessee's running game, and Roos' drive blocking, against the Vikings, was nowhere ... 76 yards and a 2.3 average. They scored 21 points off turnovers.
Against the Ravens he had a good day pass blocking, against Terrell Suggs or Trevor Pryce or Marques Douglas. The alignments constantly change. Roos got stuffed for a loss on a running play, and again the Titans' ground attack was ineffective, 21 carries and a 2.1 average. Stewart, the tackle on the other side, is a better drive blocker anyway.
Is Roos one of my possible Pro Bowl tackles? Too early to tell. The Patriots' Matt Light was the best LT I saw early in the year. Flozell Adams of Dallas, whom I picked last year, is a strange player. Sloppy techniques, but effective in nullifying the guy he's playing against. I don't usually select linemen like that. I can't shake my old world preference for the booming drive blockers, but that's just me.
• More rankings now. From Brian of Toronto: "What have the Pats showed you to rank them higher than the Toronto Bills?" Nothing. I'm leaning too heavily on past performance and image. It's a mistake we tend to make. I could add something referring to a future adjustment, but there's one dude out there who would get mad at me. Toronto? Toronto? I really don't like to see American businesses outsourced this way, Brian.
• Ted of the Dartmouth Medical School, Ski Slope Trauma Unit (just kidding ... "some joke," says wife) gets thanks for the nice thing he wrote, and a puzzled look for the "make your own rankings on the side." I guess this is a promotion we run and which I am oblivious to ... uh, to which I am oblivious. Is this kind of playing with modeling clay or Tinker Toys? Forgive my ignorance. "It's unforgivable," says someone nearby, which leads me to the next query, this time from Randy of K.C.
"Does the Flaming Redhead really banter or are you writing both sides?"
Who can supplant her?She rides at a'canterFair ready to banter.OH YES!
• A very serious, technical question from Brian of Bowling Green, Ky. "Why do so many teams stick slavishly to these zone blocking schemes in almost all circumstances?" He goes on to groan at the sight of an unblocked Ray Lewis raising hell (and getting spectacular TV accolades), whereas when the Chiefs turned him over to Brian Waters one night, he was invisible.
First of all, I echo your feelings. Everything is pass blocking now, creating a comfortable situation for the QB. And I think a dedicated adherence to the kind of run blocking rules we learned often are given lesser attention. This is lame, I know, and I'm sorry. I am as puzzled as you are.
• From Dino of Monterey, Mexico, formerly of Buffalo -- "What is your opinion of the current use of throwback uniforms? I don't like it all when one team is wearing the throwback and another team is wearing the normal uniform."
From Z of Denville and Mountain Lakes, N.J., formerly of The Apple -- Sounds like a competitive disadvantage to me. I think it depends on how far back you want to throw them. I think it might be fun seeing both teams come out in tiny leather helmets and those heavy cloth pants. OK, Dino, I've had my fun. From an aesthetic sense, I like some, don't like some. I never got a sense of artistic unfairness because only one side is theme-outfitted and the other wasn't. Personally, I like those padded, puffy things they wear in gladiator-type shows, you know, where they flail at each other with giant toilet-plungers.
• Phil of Colorado Springs asks a question he knows and I know is not serious, but he wants to provoke a colorful response from your faithful narrator, and just try this with Peter King's mailbag and see how far you get. OK, here it is. What if the NFL added eight more teams, maybe from the CFL, and then bumped the worst 12 teams down a notch to the B-Division next season, just as the British soccer leagues do. Then they'd have to work themselves up and everyone would be scurrying like mad not to fall into the swamp. I've got a better idea. Send the owner of the worst team to the Continental League the following season, and let him wheel and deal with a salary cap of around $250. Ask me another one, Phil. We can get a lot sillier, you know.
• From Steve of Scarsdale.
"Hello Dr. Z."
"Let's say you are an average NFL player today."
You are an average NFL player today. Why aren't you joining in with me?
OK, OK, signals off. What organization would I want to play for, basing my decision solely on strength of the organization. If you count the coach in there, probably the Carolina Panthers. Moneywise, I'd probably do very well if I somehow got into Dannyboy's comfort zone in Washington. Yeah, I know, too many probablies. Steelers, Giants, Titans, Jaguars, Colts, there are some fairly strong organizations. I think I'd do pretty well with Eric Mangini and Mike Tannenbaum on the Jets. Colts, too, except that Tony Dungy's retiring. Emotionally, I'd be very well suited for the Raiders ... or at least the Redhead would. Just kidding, Steve, just kidding. OK, send me to the Colts and promise me that Tony will stay on.
• The Tuck Rule was called in Dallas-Arizona, but when the abortive effort was ruled a pass, why wasn't the play then penalized for grounding? This comes from Eric of Miami, and don't I know you? Are you the same guy who's a wine distributor in NYC? You're not? OK, same name. What you said certainly makes sense. I have this game on tape ... caught the end of it, but not the play you mentioned. The ref, Pete Morelli, seemed a bit fuzzled, in general, from what I saw. My son used to call the Tuck Rule the Schmuck Rule.
• Under normal circumstances Scott D. of Sewickley, Pa., home of Chuck Knox, would be my E-mailer of the Week because with typical Sewickley passion he attacks the idiot repetition of a word, in this case, "football." (But, as you guessed, the award has gone to the cause of true love this week, so we can't mess around). Oh my God, the color commentators -- "He's a heckuva FOOTBALL player ... up and down the FOOTBALL field ... they can run the FOOTBALL," etc. "I know what freakin' sport they're playing already!" he hollers.
Yeah, we all have our hangup words, phrases, idiocies. My favorites are the modifiers of Speed.
"Foot speed." (arm speed?)
"Raw speed." (Cooked speed?)
"Flat out speed." (Flat in speed?)
And so on.