Indy-SD game was 'special'

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Nov 11, 2007



By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts fellow sufferer
 
If there's ever been proof that special teams do matter, it came in Sunday night's bizarre Colts-Chargers game.
 
As we discovered in our brand-spanking-new Special Teams Index, San Diego's special teams were tied for second-best in the league through the first half of the season while Indy's were right near the bottom at No. 26.
 
And the Chargers rode that special-teams train right to one of the biggest wins of the year.  
 
The Colts came into the game No. 22 in net kickoffs and No. 32 in net punts, while the Chargers were 11th in kick returns and net punt returns. Darren Sproles' two return scores for the Chargers will surely get both San Diego units in the top 10 now, while the Indy cover units must be looking for somewhere to hide this morning.
 
And Adam Vinatieri, "Mr. Reliable," was an uninspiring No. 21 overall on our field-goal kicking rankings thanks to two misses from close in and a lack of kicks from long range. And that was his ranking before last night's disaster. Vinatieri's two missed field goals Sunday were another black mark on Indy's special teams, and the last errant kick left them with a pivotal road loss.
 
Veteran special-teams coach Russ Purnell (sixth year with the Colts) has some 'splainin to do – and given the lack of job security for assistant coaches, some resume fudging to look into.
 
Another game that was a special-teams mismatch according to our index was the Bills-Dolphins "battle."
 
Miami fielded our No. 25-ranked special teams in the first half of the season while the Bills were the unquestioned No. 1 with solid scores in each of the major special-team categories.
 
There were no game-turning big plays in Buffalo's 13-10 win, but special teams did play a big part. Buffalo's average drive started just past the 34 yard line, thanks in large part to Roscoe Parrish's four punt returns for 80 yards.
 
Meanwhile, Miami's average drive started at the 21 with three kickoff returns averaging 13 yards – and a Ted Ginn touchdown runback called back due to holding.
 
Was it a huge difference? No, but in a 13-10 game, every yard counts. Give Buffalo's special teams to Miami and vice versa, and we're probably talking about the Dolphins finally getting a win.  
 
THE ELITE BEN ROETHLISBERGER
Don't look now, but Big Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers are back in 2004/05 form and perhaps proving that 2006 was nothing but a skipped step on their indomitable march of excellence.
 
Some of the Trolls have even suggested that Roethlisberger, and not Peyton Manning, is the second best quarterback in the NFL.
 
Maybe not yet, our hasty friends.
 
But there's no doubt Roethlisberger has done more by his age than just about any quarterback in history.   Roethlisberger, who's just 25½ years old – five years younger than Tom Brady, six years younger than Manning – already has a record 15-1 rookie season under his belt, not to mention a Super Bowl ring earned in his second season after winning three straight road playoff games.
 
He also boasts a 41-14 (.745) career record as a starter (including playoffs), second only to Brady's 91-26 (.778). (Philip Rivers is third, at 19-7; .731.) 
 
Brady has generated all the attention this year – and deservedly so – with his mind-boggling numbers, including 33 TD passes. But when we adjust for the number of attempts, we find that the distance in TD production between Brady and Roethlisberger is not that wide.
  • Brady averages 1 TD every 9.1 pass attempts, tops in the league.
  • But Roethlisberger is right there, averaging 1 TD every 11.0 pass attempts, second in the league.
  • Media darling Tony Romo averages 1 TD every 12.7 pass attempts, third in the league.
There's one other area where Brady and Roethlisberger are neck and neck: After Big Ben led the Steelers to a come-from-behind win over Cleveland yesterday, both he and Brady have the same passer career passer rating: 92.2.
 
Actually, if we're being technical, Brady has a slight edge with a passer rating of 92.2186, a blade-grass ahead of Roethlisberger's 92.1507. But that's nit-picking. A single completion or incompletion one way or the other over the course of their careers would tip the balance back in Big Ben's favor.
 
That's close, folks.
 
And that's elite company.
 
SAINTS PICKED THE WRONG ULTRABACK
The unsanitary worlds of fantasy football and media hype have conspired to make Reggie Bush a superstar.
 
Bush has six touchdowns this year for the Saints and a few two-point conversions, which is a good solid number for your fantasy team – all that matters, to a certain segment of NFL fan. And he's handsome and prone to the highlight run, so there's little problem overexposing him from Augusta, Maine to Vista, California.
 
But Bush's terrible sophomore season continues, and Sunday was a pretty good example of what he brings to the table.
 
While it was Drew Brees' struggles that keyed the Saints' home loss to St. Louis, Bush did his part. Bush was targeted for use 13 times, 7 on handoffs, six on pass attempts. And he managed just 44 yards on those 13 tries, a 3.38 average you'd rather see from your backup fullback.
 
His longest play of the day was 13 yards – no surprise, since this "incredible playmaker" hasn't gone over 25 yards on a single play in any of the 175 times he's possessed the ball this year.
 
Bush was pretty decent as a rookie thanks to his great second half, but still only averaged 3.6 a carry – and his all-time longest NFL run is 22 yards. He's taken a big step back in Year 2 with the Saints, and ad men should be forced by law to review the numbers from Jacksonville second-year man Maurice Jones-Drew before making any offers to Bush.
 
Jones-Drew, who was overshadowed by Bush when they both played together in La-La Land (Bush at USC, J-D at UCLA), has been the player the Saints thought they were getting.
 
Drew is averaging 5.3 yards a carry and 10.2 a reception for the Jaguars, great numbers that are actually a shade down from his scintillating rookie year.
 
But the Jaguars, despite a 6-3 record, get no publicity, and Jones-Drew (drafted 58 spots behind Bush in the 2006 draft) wouldn't get recognized if he was wearing his jersey.
 
Oh, and Jones-Drew's base salary is $360,000 this year. Life isn't fair.
 
THE HESTER STRATEGY
Raiders coach Lane Kiffin caught a lot of flak for announcing that his Raiders would kick deep to Bears returner Devin Hester, but the move turned out to be just right. Well, sort of.
 
With the two biggest legs in the league on his side (K Sebastian Janikowski and P Shane Lechler), Kiffin booted away.
 
And Hester was totally stymied by the Raiders' punt coverage teams, averaging 2.2 yards on six returns. However, Hester did return a kick for a TD, but it was called back by penalty.  Perhaps Kiffin knew the Bears would hold.

This minor success for Oakland was the lone bright spot on the day for the Raiders, who are back to laughingstock territory at 2-7.
 
ANOTHER IMMORTAL RB IN DENVER
The list of 100-yard ballcarriers for the Denver Broncos continues to grow, after Selvin Young picked up 109 yesterday in a 27-11 win over Kansas City.
 
For those keeping track at home, he's now the 10th Denver running back to rush for more than 100 yards in a game under Mike Shanahan.
 
Can you name all of them? Sure you can: T errell Davis, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, Clinton Portis, Quentin Griffin, Tatum Bell, Reuben Droughns, Mike Bell, Travis Henry and Young.
 
BACK TO BIG PLAY BALL
The Lions were winning early games with big plays and high hopes, but they had moved into the contender list after three straight solid wins – 23-16 over Tampa, 16-7 over Chicago and 44-7 over Denver.
 
As the story went, the Lions' crazy Mike Martz-ian ways were being tempered by head coach Rod Marinelli's defensive approach.
 
Then Sunday happened.
 
If you missed it, the Lions had -18 yards rushing on eight attempts in their loss to Arizona, and generally went with the "let Kitna sling it around" approach. Of course, the Lions were playing from behind for much of the game, but does Martz need an excuse to throw on every down?
 
The Lions' defense actually played a solid game, allowing not a single play of over 20 yards and forcing four turnovers, but the offensive craziness did them in.
 
PACKERS OFFICIALLY EN FUEGO
In the wake of a dominating 34-0 win over Minnesota yesterday, Green Bay is officially the hottest team in football, or at least in the NFC.
 
The Packers are 12-1 over their last 13 games, tied with the Patriots for the best regular-season mark in the NFL over that period.
 
Brett Favre is getting all the attention. And perhaps deservedly so. He's showed many signs of his old self, as evident by his 351 passings, 3 TDs and 0 INTs yesterday, not to mention a league-leading 2,757 passing yards through nine games.
 
But credit is absolutely due the Packers defense, which has surrendered a mere 14.2 PPG over the last 13 regular-season games. That's a championship-caliber performance.
 
The Packers also lead the entire NFC with a 3-0 record against Quality Opponents, and a very impressive +10.7 PPG scoring differential in those three games. Only the Patriots have a better record against winning clubs, and only the Patriots and Steelers have a greater scoring differential than the Packers in games against Quality Teams.
 
Dallas has generated most of the NFC buzz this year, but they've outscored their four Quality Opponents by just 0.2 PPG.
 
Bottom line: if the season ended today, Green Bay would be our clear favorite to represent the NFL's senior circuit in Super Bowl XLII.
 

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