Monday, November 22, 2010

Monday Morning Quarterback: Sanchez, Eli and VY

Lots of quarterbacks made big noise yesterday, for better or for worse.

Mark Sanchez (Jets)

Sanchez is really starting to come into his own over the last few weeks, posting three straight games with a completion percentage above 56, something he did just three times in the season's first seven games. That's not the most impressive stat ever but more importantly, he has led the Jets on game-winning drives in each of those games, none more unlikely than the one he led yesterday against Houston.

The Jets were up 16 heading into the fourth quarter, but allowed 20 unanswered points to the Texans and found themselves down 27-23 with under a minute to play and no timeouts. With the stadium emptying fast, Sanchez completed two short passes to LaDainian Tomlinson before throwing a strike to Braylon Edwards between two defenders to set up a six-yard fade to Mr. Clutch himself, Santonio Holmes, for the game-winner.

Last year, it was the Jets defense and running game bailing out the turnover-prone rookie quarterback. This year, the defense is faltering in key situations and the running game hasn't averaged over 4.0 yards-per-carry since October but Sanchez has been there to pick them up. For all the Sanchez doubters heading into the season, there are just as many people now seeing just how good this kid can be.

Eli Manning (Giants)

You had to see this one coming, no? Manning is doing his best Mark Sanchez circa 2009 impression, with 18 turnovers (16 interceptions, 2 fumbles) in the first 10 games of 2010. As a result, the Giants have lost two straight after rolling scrub teams for a few weeks and are 6-4, on the outside looking in to the playoffs since the 7-3 Packers, Saints and Bucs are currently battling for the two NFC Wild Card spots.

I know losing the always-reliable Steve Smith has affected Manning, but he is just making stupid throws at bad times. Many of his interceptions earlier this season were deflected balls off his receivers' hands but over the past few weeks, these picks are on him.

People want to toss all the blame on Hakeem Nicks for the pick-six against Dallas, but Bryan McCann jumped the route and Manning didn't pull back and throw elsewhere. Nicks didn't finish a covered route, but a great quarterback (this Manning is only "good") recognizes the play isn't there and goes in another direction.

And I would be remiss if I didn't mention his fourth-down fumble. Hey Eli, have you ever heard of sliding? If you hit the ground and fumble on a slide, the play is dead. If you half dive-half slide forward like the awkward athlete you are when you run with the football and fumble without even being touched, it's a fumble! And a loss for your team.

Vince Young (Titans)

While the first two quarterback on this list will keep that team affiliation next to their name for years to come, I'm not so sure Young is in a Tennessee uniform much longer. After hurting his thumb and getting pulled from Sunday's game, he continued to prove he's about as mature as fellow Class of 2006 quarterback Matt Leinart, throwing his jersey and shoulder pads into the stands and reportedly telling Jeff Fisher he wasn't walking out on his teammates, but on him.

Really Vince? Fisher is one of those coaches you don't mess with; he always has his players' backs and has been one of the league's finer coaches over the past decade. Young has one year left on his contract and the Titans will have a big decision to make. His 98.6 passer rating doesn't tell the whole story; Young has 10 touchdowns and 6 turnovers (but just 3 interceptions) in 9 games this year.

I still think Young can be a viable NFL quarterback, but the bloom is coming off his rose. It's hard to envision him becoming a star anymore, he just doesn't make enough plays with his arm or even his feet; he has just 125 yards and no touchdowns on the ground this year. He's not good enough throwing the football to make up for that lack of ground work and if the Titans feel the same way, they may cut their ties with the former Texas star unless he and Fisher can work out their differences.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tripodi's Top Teams: Week 11

1(5). Atlanta Falcons (7-2) - If football was played in 59-minute games instead of 60, the Ravens would be this week's top team. In the end, that shows how little these rankings actually mean. But the Falcons get the nod this week over the other 7-2 teams and represent the NFC at the top for the first time this season.

2(4). New York Jets (7-2) - ESPN has the Pats above the Jets but last I checked, the Jets beat New England head-to-head and beat Cleveland last week, the same Browns team that steamrolled the Pats just one week before. The Jets have been fortunate but they've also taken advantage of the opportunities teams have given them. And Mark Sanchez has been great over the last two weeks.

3(6). New England Patriots (7-2) - This team is inconsistent, particularly on defense, and it may be because they started four rookies on that side of the ball this week. Peyton Manning usually has field days with young defenses so this week's matchup with the Colts should be a good test. Put together two solid wins against top-10 teams and you will see the Pats higher on next week's list.

4(2). Baltimore Ravens (6-3) - Can't drop a team too far for losing a nail-biter against this week's top squad. Losing to Carolina, on the other hand, would definitely mean a drastic fall. Don't expect it.

5(1). Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3) - Pittsburgh struggled on offense until they were down big and Ben Roethlisberger tried to bring them back. They struggled on defense too, especially against the pass, and they will have to get things together for Oakland this week. If they sleep on the Raiders they might regret it come next week.

6(3). New York Giants (6-3) - They still get the nod as the NFC East's top team, but losing like that to a Dallas team that was asking to be buried is not the way to prove you're "the best team in the NFL," which is what I heard Giants fans claiming all last week. Good luck stopping Michael Vick this week; the Giants could very easily go from NFC's top team to Wild Card hopeful in just two weeks.

7(7). New Orleans Saints (6-3) - The Saints should get Reggie Bush back this week from a broken leg and with upcoming games against Seattle, Dallas, Cincinnati and St. Louis, we could soon be talking about them as the NFC's best. Especially the way their defense was playing before the bye.

8(11). Philadelphia Eagles (6-3) - Michael Vick is an absolute monster. Fifteen touchdowns this season without an interception is just unreal, especially considering the degree of difficulty on some of these plays. He's extending plays with his mobility rather than relying on it to escape and if he keeps this up, there's no doubt in my mind he's the NFL MVP. How's that for a reclamation project?

9(9). Green Bay Packers (6-3) - What happened to AFC dominance? Maybe in the top five but the fifth NFC team hits the rankings before the fifth AFC team and Green Bay has a shutout victory to their name over the AFC's top-ranked team this week. No Ryan Grant, no Jermichael Finley, no problem apparently. With a mean defense and a great QB, this team isn't going away.

10(8). Indianapolis Colts (6-3) - From one MVP to another, Peyton Manning struggled to find his receivers last week against the Bengals and no matter how well Jacob Tamme plays, he will continue to miss Dallas Clark. But he won't face corners like Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph every week; let's see how he bounces back against an inexperienced Pats secondary before pressing the panic button.

11(12). Miami Dolphins (5-4) - Tyler Thigpen will start tonight at quarterback with both Chads likely done for the season. Thigpen was serviceable at the end of the 2008 season with Kansas City but even with a repeat, this looks like a team destined to miss the playoffs unless the Jets, Pats, Ravens or Steelers slip up.

12(10). Tennessee Titans (5-4) - Randy Moss didn't do much in his debut against Miami, explaining why Tennessee drops below the Dolphins this week. Tennessee is a solid team but they sit in the same boat as Miami; hoping one of the AFC East or North contenders slips up is their only chance at the playoffs unless they catch the Colts, a definite possibility.

13(13). Oakland Raiders (5-4) - Unlike the Dolphins and Titans above them, the Raiders can win their division with 9-10 wins. But with a tough upcoming schedule including Pittsburgh, Miami, San Diego and Jacksonville, Oakland will have to do it against real football teams. Let's just say I'm still on the San Diego bandwagon.

14(16). Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-3) - The Bucs disposed of Carolina like they should have and now hit the road for games at San Francisco and Baltimore before heading back home to host Atlanta. Is this the stretch of games that sends Tampa's record back around .500?

15(15). San Diego Chargers (4-5) - The Chargers do this every year don't they? They make us think we overrated them at the start of the season, some people write them off, and then they come storming back halfway through the season. It only works when your division is terrible, which the AFC West has been over the past few years. By season's end I think it will be Philip Rivers and Michael Vick fighting over the MVP award.

16(18). Chicago Bears (6-3) - They lead their division on the strength of their Week 3 win against what looked like a fading Packers team, but things have changed. The Bears are just 3-3 since that win while Green Bay is in the top 10? It's just hard to get behind a team that struggles to protect its turnover-prone quarterback. With Miami and Philadelphia on tap, we'll see what the second-half Bears are made of.

17(14). Kansas City Chiefs (5-4) - I said Denver didn't qualify as decent and if they don't, what do the Chiefs qualify as? This game was over early; when a running football team falls behind like that, it's a wrap. A bounceback should be in store against the Cardinals, but a 1-2 division record will make it tough for this team to take the West.

18(NR). Jacksonville Jaguars (5-4) - The Jags got lucky to win in regulation but are trending upwards while the Texans (and the Chiefs above) are trending downwards. But the 42-20 drubbing in Kansas City three weeks ago keeps Jacksonville below the Chiefs for now. That and a remaining schedule that includes just three teams under .500 doesn't bode well for the Jags moving any higher up these rankings.

19(NR). Seattle Seahawks (5-4) - This team is really only competitive because of Matt Hasselbeck. That and the putrid mess that is the NFC West, where no team has a positive point differential. A trip to New Orleans should knock Seattle right back outside the top 20, where everybody in the division belongs anyway.

20(17). Houston Texans (4-5) - This team is lucky to hang on to a spot in the rankings and now they face the Jets, Eagles, Ravens and Titans (twice) in their next five weeks. That makes it hard to envision a move up anytime soon and might result in a team that once hovered around the top 10 dropping out of the ranks completely.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Another bogus Gold Glove for Jeter?

As a Yankees fan and (obviously) a Derek Jeter fan, it hurts me to sit here and write negative things about him. But as somebody who watches at least 120 Yankee games every year I know what I see on the field and what I don't see is a Gold Glove-caliber player at shortstop in New York.

Of the nine AL shortstops with enough chances to qualify, Jeter had the fewest errors (6), the best fielding percentage (.989) and the third-most double plays turned (94). Forget the fact that a good amount of those double plays would not have succeeded without fellow Gold Glover Robinson Cano, who turns a double play quicker than any second baseman I've ever seen.

Now before I go to the non-statistical analysis (which is more the basis of my argument), I will throw two more stats out. Jeter was second to last in range factor (3.76), which calculates his number of chances per game and consequently, his range. But Jeter was second in zone rating, which in some way calculates how many balls you field in a shortstop's "zone," which is any ball in play that is fielded at least 50 percent of the time.

Jeter was behind just Jason Bartlett in zone rating; coincidentally, Bartlett was the only AL shortstop with a lower range factor than Jeter. I may be misreading these statistics but it seems like it's easier to have a high zone rating when you don't get to the difficult balls; difficult plays lead to errors which lead to a decrease in your fielding rating within your "zone."

Also take into account that Cano, who definitely deserved his gold glove, had a negative zone rating. If anything, that fact disproves the legitimacy of using zone rating to determine whether a player is worth of a Gold Glove and makes Jeter's high zone rating more of a negative on his candidacy than a positive.

Maybe because Cano has great range but sometimes makes an error or throws a ball away on a ball that other second baseman wouldn't get to, his zone rating is lower? I ask that as a question because again, I don't really understand the statistic and don't really care, but this is how it looks to me.

Enough with the stats though because as always, they don't tell the whole story. As someone who watches the Yankees religiously throughout the regular season, I see how Jeter's advanced age affects his defense.

In his prime I saw Jeter as an above-average shortstop worthy of one or two Gold Gloves in seasons where he performed better than his standard. Baseball is funny like that; guys always have outlier seasons to their career numbers, either up or down.

To say Jeter is bad defensively now is wrong. He still does what you're taught to do when you're young, which is make the plays on the balls that are hit to you or within your "zone." But when you see a guy like Alexei Ramirez or Elvis Andrus play, you realize that maybe Jeter isn't a Gold Glover.

Yes, Ramirez had the third-most errors in the AL (20) and Andrus wasn't far behind with 16. But Ramirez had a ridiculous 213 more chances than Jeter, about 1.3 extra chances per game. And with 14 more errors, he made about 0.1 more errors per game than Jeter. Andrus had 106 more chances than Jeter, about 0.65 extra chances per game and only 0.06 more errors per game.

Is an out worth an error? Out of those 213 extra chances for Ramirez, he made 199 extra outs and 14 extra errors. Andrus made 96 extra outs and 10 extra errors in his chances. Would you rather have a shortstop that can get to more difficult balls, which have a higher chance of becoming an error anyway? Or a shortstop that doesn't have the range to get to difficult balls, in turn making the chances he does have easier?

Jeter's range just isn't what it used to be. On more than one occassion this season, I found myself saying "oh, he would've made that play in his prime." Balls in the hole that he used to get in front of and make routine plays on he now can't get to, has to backhand them and try his patented jump-throw across the diamond, which tends to result in a safe baserunner.

I'm a huge Derek Jeter fan, don't get me wrong. Watching a lot of games, while telling me his range isn't what it used to be and that's he's more of a liability at shortstop than an asset as a result, also allows me to see the intangibles he brings to the field every day.

I hate beating a dead horse because everybody else says the same thing, but I need to make it clear that I have nothing against Derek Jeter as a baseball player; he is everything you want in a leader. He's just not a Gold Glover anymore.

He wasn't last year and he isn't this year. Ramirez and Andrus make more errors, but they make a heck of a lot more plays as well. And as much as a handful of those errors inevitably lead to runs, wouldn't you think that at least a handful of those extra outs save just as many (and most likely more) runs?

This year's voting just proves that the Gold Glove is nothing more than a popularity contest. Sorry Derek, but people have a right to question your award this season, like they did last season. It's just how it is.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Tripodi's Top Teams: Week 10

1(2). Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2) - They had a big lead against Cincinnati only to watch it nearly evaporate in the second half. The fact that the first sentence I write about this week's top team is negative proves that this spot is likely to be a revolving door all season long.

2(4). Baltimore Ravens (6-2) - After a too-close-for-comfort victory against the Bills, the Ravens came back and shut down a decent Dolphins team that I've been overrating all season. Tonight's matchup with Atlanta will be a good barometer to measure both teams.

3(6). New York Giants (6-2) - For the second straight week the Giants destroy a terrible team and jump a team that was ahead of them and also won. They've won five games in a row and many are arguing they are the league's top team right now. I'm not ready to go there until I see them beat somebody (best win: 4-4 Houston) but this team is clicking on both sides of the ball.

4(5). New York Jets (6-2) - The Lions were the better team through three quarters but, like the bad team they still are, gift-wrapped the game for the Jets. But like the good team they still are, the Jets took advantage and Mark Sanchez took what could be a big step forward with an impressive fourth-quarter comeback. I would still like to see them move the ball better before moving them any higher than this.

5(7). Atlanta Falcons (6-2) - Atlanta took care of business against an up-and-coming division rival and breaks into this week's top five for the first time all season. I didn't think I'd see the day this season when two NFC teams were in the top five, but here we are.

6(1). New England Patriots (6-2) - They were at the top solely because they were the only one-loss team. Now that they aren't, they drop to last out of the 6-2 clubs. The Browns are improved this season but you can't allow 200 yards on the ground if you want to win, especially with a very average offense.

7(8). New Orleans Saints (6-3) - The Saints have been inconsistent this season but they showed that they can still run up the score on a listless opponent and dominate in multiple facets of the game. They've allowed just 36 points in their last four games, including three games holding opponents to 10 points or less.

8(3). Indianapolis Colts (5-3) - It seems harsh to drop the Colts five spots after losing to a good football team on the road but they were a little too high last week to begin with. Peyton Manning is not going to be happy with anything but a dismantling of the Bengals this weekend.

9(11). Green Bay Packers (6-3) - Green Bay did what teams are supposed to do against Dallas this season: win by 30-plus points. They head into their bye on a three-game winning streak and will get a chance to essentially end Minnesota's season in Week 11, but a loss could shrink their division lead to just one game.

10(10). Tennessee Titans (5-3) - The Eagles were close to taking this spot but it's hard to justify dropping a team that's fresh off a bye and just picked up some guy named Randy Moss. Not to mention they crushed the Eagles less than three weeks ago, albeit without Michael Vick. I'm curious to see if Moss can make an instant impact this week; he usually does in his first game with a new team.

11(13). Philadelphia Eagles (5-3) - Michael Vick's return almost catapulted this team back into the top 10 and it only took a week. Say what you want about him but he's a winning NFL quarterback; he's proven it before and he's doing it again now. I can't wait for Sunday Night Football in Week 11 (Eagles-Giants) but first things first; Philly needs to take care of business against a fading Redskins team this weekend.

12(9). Miami Dolphins (4-4) - Pennington will replace Henne as the team's starting Chad but this team is better than their record says; their four losses have come to four top-10 teams (New York, New England, Pittsburgh and Baltimore). That proves they aren't elite but with only three games left against top-10 teams, this team could make a run at 9-10 wins. It just may not be enough in the AFC this season.

13(18). Oakland Raiders (5-4) - Despite sitting a half-game behind the Chiefs, it's hard for me not to put them above Kansas City after their victory this weekend. Their only two wins of consequence have come against K.C. and San Diego, but those are two wins the Chiefs' resume doesn't include. If Jason Campbell keeps winning, I see no reason why he shouldn't keep the starting gig even when Bruce Gradkowski is healthy.

14(12). Kansas City Chiefs (5-3) - The Chiefs still can't beat a decent team and really need a road win against the Broncos this week to avoid falling into a tie at the top of the AFC West with the Raiders (and the Raiders own the tie-breaker). Good thing for them Denver doesn't qualify as decent.

15(NR). San Diego Chargers (4-5) - Three straight teams from the AFC West huh? As inconsistent as the Chargers have been, they have two straight wins over Tennessee and Houston and a quarterback playing like an MVP. Coming out of their bye they should have Antonio Gates closer to full strength, not to mention the return of Vincent Jackson in Week 12. If this team can shore up their issues on special teams, I think they should be the favorite to win the West. With one game left against both Oakland and Kansas City, they essentially control their own destiny.

16(15). Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-3) - Raheem Morris admitted that the Bucs were no longer the NFC's best team after losing to Atlanta. Sorry Raheem, you never were. I love Josh Freeman, Mike Williams and the other young talent on this team but they just aren't there yet. Watch out next season though because these Bucs will be ready to make noise.

17(14). Houston Texans (4-4) - You can't lose at home to a battered 3-5 football team if you want to be considered a contender. A trip to Jacksonville could cure what's been ailing this passing attack but if they don't fix their own issues in the secondary, it's going to be a long week/season.

18(17). Chicago Bears (5-3) - The Bears barely hung on in Buffalo as Jay Cutler avoided mistakes against a defense that only has one interception this season. With Minnesota, Miami and Philadelphia on tap in the next three weeks, this team better get going or they're going to drop quickly out of the playoff hunt.

19(16). Washington Redskins (4-4) - How do you drop three spots without losing? You have quarterback issues, that's how. With upcoming games against the Eagles, Titans, Vikings and Giants it's now or never if Washington wants to stay in the NFC playoff picture. I think they end up 5-7 in four weeks and in the market for Jake Locker or Ryan Mallett, since I don't see Andrew Luck falling to whatever draft pick they get. I hate to say it, but it looks like the Eagles traded McNabb at just the right time.

20(19). St. Louis Rams (4-4) - Another team that fell after a bye week; how do these rankings work anyway? I have a feeling the Rams might be the only NFC West team to crack my top 20 for the rest of the season and if they somehow lose to the 49ers this week, the division won't have a representative in Week 11. Sam Bradford is hands-down the best quarterback in this division and he's only played eight career games.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Jets Midseason Report Card

You would think a team tied for the NFL's best record and leading their division, albeit via tiebreaker, would get top-notch grades across the board. You would be wrong.

The Jets could easily be 4-4 riding a three-game losing streak right now, but things went their way in the fourth quarter of games against Denver and Detroit. I know good teams find a way to win even when they play terrible football, but it doesn't exactly inspire hope for the season's second half. Regardless, here goes:

Quarterback - C

Some people may disagree with giving second-year pro Mark Sanchez what is considered an "average" rating, but I think it's just about right. After throwing 12 touchdowns and 20 interceptions as a rookie, not to mention losing 8 fumbles, the Jets asked two things of Sanchez coming into the season: Take a step forward from last year and protect the football.

Through eight games, Sanchez has thrown 10 touchdowns and just 5 interceptions. All of those interceptions have come in the past three weeks, but it's hard to blame them all on the quarterback.

Both interceptions against Green Bay came when Packers defenders outmuscled the Jets receivers and stole possession. You can say that Sanchez threw the ball into tight coverage and set his receivers up for failure, but this is the NFL and professional receivers should be able to hang onto the football when it's in their hands.

Sanchez's completion percentage and yards-per-attempt are virtually identical to last year, but his growth has come in the ability to hit big plays down the field and limit turnovers (6 through 8 games, compared to 28 in 16 games last year). That completion percentage, lowest of all NFL starting quarterbacks (53.5%), hasn't been helped by his mediocre receivers dropping passes every week, notably the once sure-handed Jerricho Cotchery.

When the Jets have tried to play dink-and-dunk football, Sanchez has struggled. But when Brian Schottenheimer has given his quarterback the opportunity to throw passes in the 15-25 yard range or deeper, Sanchez has looked good. The Jets need to continue to allow Sanchez to throw down the field more if they want their offense to actually move the football; turnovers will inevitably come, but Schottenheimer needs to play to the strengths of his quarterback and Sanchez needs to show the ability to shake off any interceptions he throws.

Running Back - A-

This rating would be an A if it weren't for the Jets struggles on the ground in the past three weeks. LaDainian Tomlinson looks rejuvenated and both he and Shonn Greene are averaging over 4.5 yards per carry. Three straight games under 60 yards for Tomlinson might lead the team to increase Greene's workload, especially considering Tomlinson's advanced age.

Tomlinson should remain the starter; after all he's a better pass blocker and receiver out of the backfield. But look for the Jets to keep LT fresh for the playoffs by giving Greene more work down the stretch. Greene looked better than Tomlinson against the Lions, which means maybe that increased workload is coming sooner than most think.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends - C+

The Jets passing offense as a whole has been decidedly average. Jerricho Cotchery is having arguably his worst season as a pro and the only thing consistent about Braylon Edwards is his inconsistency. Santonio Holmes hadn't done much since returning until his long catch in overtime on Sunday that set up the game-winning field goal.

Dustin Keller has been the lone bright spot so far for the Jets, matching his career touchdown total (5) and only 88 yards behind his career high in receiving. If Holmes can continue to acclimate himself to Sanchez and the Jets offense, the combination of him on the outside and Keller on the inside has lethal potential. That would sure help the offense as a whole and would probably bump this grade into the B-range by season's end.

Offensive Line - B+

The line has been stout this season, even after losing Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca in a move I still don't understand. The rest of the line has remained intact and has done a good job in both pass protection (just 12 sacks allowed) and in the run game, opening holes that Tomlinson hasn't seen in years.

Matt Slauson was a target of serious ire in the early season, as he was constantly getting beat off the snap and allowing pressure on Sanchez up the middle. Slauson has improved as the season has gone along; you don't hear his name quite as often on TV broadcasts and as a lineman, anonymity is always a good thing.

Defensive Line - B+

After losing Kris Jenkins to a second consecutive season-ending knee injury, Sione Pouha has filled in very nicely and the Jets are a top five run defense. They still lack a top-notch pass rusher (12.5 of their 17 sacks have come from linebackers and safeties) but in a Rex Ryan defense, pressure is generally applied through the blitz.

The combination of Shaun Ellis, Pouha and Mike Devito has been extremely stout against the run and has made the loss of Jenkins go almost unnoticed. If they can continue to play at a high level, which I think they can, teams that rely on the running game will have trouble against the Jets.

Linebackers - A

Another reason the Jets are a top-five defense against the run: their linebackers are awesome. Bart Scott and David Harris may be the best inside linebacker combination of any team that runs a 3-4 and Calvin Pace, Bryan Thomas and Jason Taylor give the Jets lots of options on the outside on running downs and in pass-rush situations.

Pace's return in Week 5 sent Taylor to the bench, which says a lot of the Jets depth at the linebacker position. Thomas may never live up to his first-round draft slot but he has been especially solid against the run and he and Taylor are a perfect complement to each other.

Secondary - B-

After their secondary was exposed in the AFC Championship Game in Indianapolis, the Jets spent their first-round pick on Boise State's Kyle Wilson. Wilson was seen returning punts on Sunday against Detroit while Drew Coleman handled nickel duties. If anybody has seen Drew Coleman play, they know he's not very good, which says a lot about Wilson at this stage of his career.

Darrelle Revis is finally back to full health; anybody who wants to question that should just check out Calvin Johnson's stats from Sunday. Antonio Cromartie struggled a bit early but has since shown that he was well worth the third-round pick it took to get him from San Diego.

The Jets safeties leave a lot to be desired in pass coverage at times, but the way Ryan likes to blitz they aren't always playing the pass anyway. Jim Leonhard can stick but he was victimized by Brandon Pettigrew on Sunday for one touchdown (almost two) and his height (5-8) will always limit him in coverage.

Eric Smith and Brodney Pool have played well in Kerry Rhodes' stead at free safety but with Rhodes back to being a playmaker in Arizona, the Jets do miss him as they rank in the middle of the pack in takeaways. They also rank 20th in yardage defense, as teams have chosen to pass against the Jets rather than running nowhere.

The major issue I've seen so far with the secondary is penalties. When you blitz as often as the Jets do, you leave your defensive backs on an island and when you don't get to the quarterback, it's hard to cover NFL receivers man-to-man for more than 4-5 seconds.

This had led to many illegal contact, holding and pass interference calls against New York. For this secondary to play up to its potential, they need to scale back the penalties and play disciplined football. If they can avoid giving opponents free yards, this defense will be even better.

Special Teams - B

What the Jets lack in special teams flair and big plays they make up for with consistency. Brad Smith (over 30 yards per kick return) and Jim Leonhard (over 10 yards per punt return) may not be home-run threats, but they give the Jets good field position and take care of the football, something a team with a great defense looks for in their special teams unit.

Nick Folk has been reliable in the kicking game making 16-of-18 field goal attempts while Steve Weatherford is just outside the top five with 17 punts inside the opponents' 20-yard-line, another boon to the field position game New York likes to play.

The coverage teams have done a good job like always under special teams coach Mike Westhoff, who doesn't get the credit he deserves for how disciplined his special teams units have been over the years. The Jets may not be flashy on special teams but that doesn't mean they don't deserve a solid grade.

Overall Grades:
Offense - C+
Defense - B+

The Jets have some work to do on the offensive side of the football. They need to re-establish a running game that is stuck in neutral and jumpstart the passing game. Fixing one aspect will also help the other thrive and if the Jets can get back to their ground-and-pound mantra while mixing in enough passes and playing to the strength of Sanchez (play-action rollouts, throwing beyond 10 yards, pretty much anything besides dink-and-dunk football) they should be able to move the football and put up enough points to win every week.

Defensively, a healthy Revis changes everything. The Jets are already great against the run and Revis' ability to shut down the opponents' top target in the passing game will allow Ryan to dial up even more blitzes, which in turn should lead to more turnovers and big plays. I expect a big second half from the Jets defense and if the offense can follow their lead, as average as they've looked of late, this team could make good on their Super Bowl promise if things fall into place.

Considering there are no great teams in the NFL this season, just a bunch of really good ones, anything is possible. Even the Jets winning a Super Bowl. Don't count on it, but don't discount it either.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Playoffs a possibility for the Knicks?

I know, I know: It's only been four games. I must be smoking something because this is a blasphemous statement. But read through before you tell me I'm crazy.

The Knicks went on the road last night and beat the Bulls by 8. They had an 18-point lead at halftime and despite the somewhat close score, the game was never really in doubt (unless you're a cynical Knick fan that thinks they're going to lose whenever their lead is cut to single-digits in the fourth quarter; yes, I'm guilty).

But the Knicks just couldn't miss a three-point shot. They were 16-for-24 as a team last night including a much-needed 4-for-4 from Danilo Gallinari, who had yet to find his shooting stroke in the season's first three games. And they used this uncanny accuracy to beat a team many have predicted as a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference, albeit playing without big free agent acquisition Carlos Boozer.

Neither team seemed particularly inclined to play defense on this night, but what people who hate the NBA don't realize is that it's extremely difficult to guard beyond the three-point line when a team is making almost 70% of their shots from deep. And it's even harder to cover somebody with the quickness and ability of Derrick Rose, who has the ball in his hands most of the time the Bulls are on offense.

What you can take from what I've written so far: I think the Knicks can make the playoffs based on one good road game against a team that is projected to be great but was missing their second most important player. Sounds silly doesn't it? But it's really not.

Many had a pretty clear top four teams in the Eastern Conference heading into the season. The Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Orlando Magic and Chicago Bulls were expected to be the frontrunners. Everybody was down on the Atlanta Hawks after their ugly playoff exit, so they were put behind these teams but still are obviously in the playoff mix. That's five "surefire" playoff teams in the East; can you name any others?

Cleveland, Milwaukee and Charlotte were the other three playoff teams from the East last season. Cleveland lost some guy named James, Milwaukee is off to a 1-4 start and the Bobcats have started 1-3. And for the record, no team that didn't make the playoffs last season is above .500 in the entire conference.

By my count, that leaves seeds 6-8 wide open for a team like the Knicks. Right now, I look at three teams besides New York who could take those spots based on my preseason thoughts and my thoughts four games in. The 2-2 Pacers, the Bucks and the Bobcats.

Cleveland, Detroit, New Jersey, Washington and Toronto are all terrible. Philadelphia has a lot of talent on their roster but chemistry might be an issue, not to mention an overloaded stable of talented swingmen which could be a revolving door all season. Now does it make sense that the Knicks could make the playoffs?

Are they a 45-win team? No, but it will probably only take 40 wins to make it in the East, potentially a couple less. The Knicks have five players that can score 20+ points on any given night in Amar'e Stoudemire, Gallinari, Raymond Felton, Toney Douglas and Wilson Chandler; they have all done it at least once this season. And while defense may be a struggle at times, they say that sometimes the best defense is a good offense, right?

I will say that Stoudemire needs to cut down on the turnovers if the Knicks are going to make a push. He has 25 turnovers in four games this season, including three games with at least 6. It seems like he can't handle the ball being in his hands as much as it has been, since he's been used to playing pick-and-roll with Steve Nash for most of his career.

With the offensive talent on this Knicks team, it seems like Stoudemire may be better off playing within the offense rather than having the offense run through him. A lineup of Felton, Douglas, Gallinari, Chandler and Stoudemire has so much offensive firepower that Stoudemire can just get his in the flow of the offense.

With all this talk about offense, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention second-round pick Landry Fields, who has started for the Knicks and been an excellent glue guy. He has an NBA-ready game after four years at Stanford, plays good defense and makes all the hustle plays. Fields has been in the right place at the right time consistently this season and is the perfect fifth starter for this team, as he doesn't need the ball to stay in the flow of the game.

After the money the Knicks spent this offseason, it would be a disappointment if they didn't make the playoffs. And if they find a way to add Carmelo Anthony to the mix, they could even start to challenge the East's top five teams. Make your move, Denver, we want Melo!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Tripodi's Top Teams: Week 9

1(3). New England Patriots (6-1) - They haven't beaten great teams in the past 2 weeks (San Diego and Minnesota don't even crack my top 20) but they sit as the lone one-loss team in the NFL, which gets them a week atop the rankings. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady won't let this team overlook Cleveland before a Week 10 date with the Steelers.

2(1). Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2) - It's hard to drop the Steelers too far after losing to the reigning Super Bowl champs in their home stadium. I have less confidence in them not to overlook the Bengals with the top-ranked Pats coming into town in Week 10 than I do in the Pats doing the same with the Browns. If all goes right this weekend, that epic matchup will determine Week 11's top team.

3(5). Indianapolis Colts (5-2) - You know the expression "we don't rebuild, we reload?" Well the Colts could lose every offensive player not named Manning, throw somebody else in and have success. No Dallas Clark, no Austin Collie, no problem. Manning makes those guys what they are anyway, so he just makes their replacements useful as well. Right, Jacob Tamme?

4(4). Baltimore Ravens (5-2) - The Bills took the Ravens to OT two weeks ago and while Baltimore still got the W, allowing 34 points against Buffalo raises some questions. This team is good offensively, but they aren't good enough to push for a Super Bowl if their defense is shaky.

5(2). New York Jets (5-2) - Green Bay isn't a bad team, especially defensively, but getting shutout at home is just embarrassing. The Jets have now thrown up two stinkers on offense, both coming when they had more than a week to prepare. It's a good thing this team looks like a longshot for a first-round bye; they may have to worry about just making the playoffs in a very competitive AFC.

6(8). New York Giants (5-2) - The Giants and Falcons were both 1-0 in the past 2 weeks, but New York jumps Atlanta in the rankings? Both teams have good quarterbacks, excellent running games and a superstar wide receiver but the difference here is defense; the Giants may have allowed 35 points to Dallas but they are still top 10 in both pass defense and run defense. Perry Fewell has done wonders to bring this defense back to prominence.

7(6). Atlanta Falcons (5-2) - I'm still worried about this team defensively since they allowed 29 second-half points to Cincinnati and let the Bengals crawl back into the game through the air. Their 27th-ranked pass defense will need to improve if they expect to challenge the Giants and even the Saints for NFC supremacy.

8(7). New Orleans Saints (5-3) - After a terrible loss to the Browns, the Saints came out with a spirited defensive performance to knock the Steelers out of the top spot. Drew Brees took care of the football and the Saints defense stepped up. Whenever Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush are ready to return, this team could become extremely dangerous again.

9(10). Miami Dolphins (4-3) - If it weren't for a controversial call at the goalline, Miami would be 5-2 with a win over Week 7's top-ranked team. Instead, they sit a spot behind the team that actually did beat the Steelers.

10(11). Tennessee Titans (5-3) - Heading into their bye, the Titans have some work to do on defense on their way to Miami, a game that will have important Wild Card implications for both teams.

11(14). Green Bay Packers (5-3) - I said the Packers could be 3-6 after next week and they've done the complete opposite. They squeaked by a disaster of a Vikings team and while the Jets were able to completely shut down Green Bay's offense, the Packers defense didn't let New York get on the scoreboard. With a matchup against another disaster of a team in Dallas, the Packers should be 6-3 heading into their bye. Talk about a resilient team.

12(16). Kansas City Chiefs (5-2) - The Chiefs are 5-0 against teams outside the top 20 of these rankings. They are 0-2 against teams in the top 20 (Indianapolis, Houston). Outside of Oakland this week and Tennessee in Week 16, they don't have any games against a top-20 team the rest of the way. Looks like 12-4 is a realistic possibility; too bad that will all come crashing down in the first round of the playoffs.

13(9). Philadelphia Eagles (4-3) - Michael Vick's return could catapult this team back into the top 10 within a few weeks, but that loss to Tennessee definitely hurt their short-term stock. Spots 9-14 this week are pretty interchangeable.

14(12). Houston Texans (4-3) - Losing to the Colts on the road is nothing to be ashamed of, but the Texans had a chance to beat the Colts in Indy and sweep the season series; both would've been franchise firsts. But in typical Texans fashion, they couldn't win that game to put themselves over the top. Until that changes, Houston will forever be another explosive, average team.

15(19). Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-2) - The NFC's version of the Chiefs, they've beaten one team with more than 3 wins and that was the rookie-led Rams. You have to beat somebody before I believe in your 5-2 record and your coach's claim that you're "the best team in the NFC." The Bucs will have that chance going into Atlanta this week, but I don't see it happening.

16(15). Washington Redskins (4-4) - It has to be bad when you're benching your starting quarterback (or any quarterback, ever) for Rex Grossman. Their bye comes at a perfect time to allow Donovan McNabb to rest whatever is ailing the old man and get their backfield healthy; if Ryan Torain can't go in Week 10, we'll see a lot of Keiland Williams (and a lot of Eagles in the backfield).

17(13). Chicago Bears (4-3) - If the Bears could only protect Jay Cutler, which they can't, this team could challenge Green Bay in the North. As it is, it looks like nobody will. This team definitely teased us with their 4-1 start.

18(NR). Oakland Raiders (4-4) - Dare I say the Raiders look good? A win over Kansas City this week will bring Oakland within a half-game of the division lead and this team sure can run the football. If they could only stop the run they might be a legitimate contender, but those struggles are a recipe for disaster against the ground-pounding Chiefs.

19(NR). St. Louis Rams (4-4) - Two years ago, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco led their teams to the playoffs as rookies. Last year, it was Mark Sanchez. Sam Bradford will try to extend the streak of rookie quarterbacks in the playoffs to three seasons and with the state of the NFC West, a great running back and an improved defense, I like his chances.

20(18). Seattle Seahawks (4-3)
- Oakland's defense is decent, but 3 points?!? And Seattle is supposed to be good defensively against the run
, but they allowed Darren McFadden to run all over them, although they aren't the first defense to do that this year. The NFC West looks like it could be won by a rookie.