Icy Issues: compassion for the pigskin impaired

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Sep 27, 2007



With all the tender, loving compassion of South Park's Eric Cartman, our rotund, self-centered, John Elway-worshipping 8-year-old cartoon alter-ego, the Cold, Hard Football Facts offer you another weekly edition of Icy Issues from around the NFL.
 
Icy Issue:  What does Lovie Smith's decision to bench Rex Grossman mean for Chicago?
Icier Response: It means Chicago has replaced Disneyland as the happiest place on earth.
 
It also means that the Bears have taken the ball out of the hands of one of the most inept passers in the NFL and put it in the hands of one of the most quietly productive and underappreciated passers in the NFL.
 
Grossman has tossed just 1 TD to 6 INTs this season, while compiling a dreadful 45.2 passer rating. Only Minnesota's Tarvaris Jackson has been worse (40.0). Griese, meanwhile, enters the Detroit game on Sunday with a career passer rating of 84.5, 19th in league history and one spot ahead of Hall of Famer Jim Kelly.
 
Griese has tossed 104 TDs in his career (to 80 INTs), most of them in a four-year stretch in Denver (1999-2002), when he was faced with the unwinnable task of replacing legend John Elway. The results were mixed, but the offense clearly outpaced the defense during Griese's time in Denver, averaging the 9th best in football. Anything close to that type of performance, when paired with Chicago's defense, would make the Bears an imposing team.
 
Compare Griese's 104 & 80 to the 28 TDs and 32 INTs in Grossman's career and the only rational question is "what took Lovie Smith so long to pull the trigger?"
 
Griese has been holding a clipboard on the Chicago sideline for more than a year now, watching the Bears offense go from promising to disastrous, as evidenced by its 11.0 PPG here in 2007.
 
The Chicago offense has nowhere to go but up, and replacing Grossman will be a much easier task than replacing Elway.
 
Icy Issue: Will New England go undefeated?
Icier Response: Only if they're the greatest team in NFL history.
 
It's just three games into the season, and there's already constant chatter around the country about New England's chances to go undefeated. It's definitely premature talk considering that only one team in 87 years of NFL football has fought its way through an entire season without a single loss or tie.
 
Several teams in the early years of football went unbeaten, but had numerous ties. Jim Thorpe and the Canton Bulldogs, for example, went 21-0-3 in 1922 and 1923. Sid Luckman and the Bears went 11-0 in 1942 and outscored their opponents by nearly 27 PPG (34.2-7.6). But then they rendered one of the most dominant seasons in NFL history meaningless by losing 14-6 to the Redskins in the league title game.
 
All of which leaves us with the legendary 1972 Dolphins, the only undefeated, untied team in NFL history. But those Dolphins had a rare, even historic advantage over any of the other great teams in league history, including the 2007 Patriots.
 
The 1972 Dolphins faced one of the easiest schedules ever.
 
Just two of Miami's opponents that year had winning records, and they were barely above mediocre: the 8-6 Giants and the 8-6 Chiefs. Every other team on their regular-season schedule that year was .500 or worse, often much worse: Miami's opponents that year were a combined 70-122-4 (.367). That's an average of 5-9. The 1972 Dolphins, in other words, as great as they were, played nobody.
 
So here's the basic formula:
 
One of the great teams in NFL historyOne of the easiest schedules in NFL history = Only undefeated team in NFL history
 
The Patriots, as great as they look, simply won't have that same luxury. The Patriots have an October 14 date in Dallas against a team that, in all likelihood, will be 5-0. Then, in a five-game period from November to December, the Patriots face four legitimate playoff powers: Indy, Philly, Baltimore and Pittsburgh, the latter of which has looked every bit as strong as New England in the early going.
 
If New England emerges from that stretch with a 13-0 record, then we can seriously consider the talk of an undefeated season – but not until then.
 
Icy Issue: Which decision is stacking up as the worst of the 2007 off-season?
Icier Response: It's a tie between San Diego's decision to fire Marty Schottenheimer and San Diego's decision to hire Norv "I Aspire to Be Rich Kotite" Turner.
 
There are only three words to explain San Diego GM A.J. Smith's decision to fire Schottenheimer at the end of last season: blind, irrational panic.
 
Led by Schottenheimer, the Chargers went 14-2 in 2006. In the entire 47-season history of the franchise, they had never won more than 12 games – a mark they reached three times, including once under Schottenheimer (2004). His .588 winning percentage (47-33) is second in franchise history to original coach and Hall of Famer Sid Gillman's .614 (86-53-6). Former coach Don Coryell and his famed air show went just .552 during his time in San Diego (69-56). 
 
But the best regular-season in franchise history wasn't good enough for San Diego management. The team lost a hard-fought game to the Patriots in the divisional playoffs. It wasn't exactly as if the Chargers had lost to a bunch of bums. They lost, instead, to the greatest post-season team of our generation.
 
But Smith, to put it bluntly, panicked. Spurred, too, by reported personal animosities within the organization, he dropped the hammer on Schottenheimer a month after the loss to New England. Given Schottenheimer's history of post-season futility (5-13 record), it might have made sense – if Vince Lombardi were out there looking for a job.
 
But he wasn't.
 
So Smith turned to the featherweight Cheesy Poof of NFL coaches, Norv Turner. After a completely not surprising 1-2 start this year in San Diego, Turner has a career record of 59-84-1 (.413). The fact that anyone would hand the keys to an organization over to Turner is beyond perplexing. And now we're seeing why: a powerful 14-2 team of a year ago has declined by every single measurable category, except for frustration.
 
Perhaps the most damning stat is the lack of production from LaDainian Tomlinson, considered by many the best ballcarrier of his generation and a sure-fire, first-ballot Hall of Famer. In the Turner system, LT averages a dreadful 2.28 YPA (57 carries for 130 yards).
 
The Chargers sent 11 players to the Pro Bowl last season, everyone from their QB to their long snapper. This year, they'll be lucky to nail down a couple charity Pro Bowl spots based upon reputation alone.
 
Hmmm ... what's different about the Chargers this year? Oh, that's right. Lousy coach.
 
The decline is no surprise. Turner has never been a good head coach anywhere, certainly not comparable to Schottenheimer. So it's illogical to expect the Chargers to be as good under Turner as they were under Schottenheimer.
 
Smith might have heeded the recent lesson of Tony Dungy. He, too, had a history of post-season futility, with a 5-8 playoff record heading into the 2006 season. He, too, was one-and-done after a 14-2 campaign, losing at home to Pittsburgh in the 2005 playoffs. But Indy GM Bill Polian didn't panic. He kept the coach around for another year – and why wouldn't you after a 14-2 season? – and was rewarded with a Super Bowl championship last year.
 
Icy Issue: How badly do the Colts miss former left tackle and potential Hall of Famer Tarik Glenn?
Icier Response: They don't.
 
Indy's second-round draft pick Tony Ugoh has stepped in and performed at an incredibly high level for a rookie left tackle, often the hardest position for rookies to master. The fact that he's replacing the All-Pro anchor of the powerful Indy offensive line is even more remarkable.
 
The stat sheet says it all: the Indy offense remains one of the best in the league, averaging 31.0 PPG, while quarterback Peyton Manning has been sacked just three times.
 
Ugoh, meanwhile, has squared off against former Pro Bowl defensive ends Will Smith (New Orleans) and  Kyle Vanden Bosch (Tennessee) and 2006 No. 1 overall pick and emerging defensive star Mario Williams (Houston). Only Vanden Bosch has got to Manning in those three games.
 
The Colts are 3-0 and appear ready to roll through another season as if the great Glenn had never left.

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