Sunday's Icy Issues
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Sep 23, 2006
Loyal readers of the Cold, Hard Football Facts (Hi, Uncle Jessie!) know that we often lie awake at night, ruffle our newspaper blanket and contemplate the Big Issues of our time.
Where does A-Rod buy his tampons? Will roller derby make a comeback? And can somebody go get us a goddamn beer?
Our deepest thoughts often turn to football, too, and to the most pressing issues facing Planet Pigskin. Here are the Icy Issues that have kept us awake in recent nights ... and our Icier Answers.
Icy Issue: Will the real Joe Gibbs please stand up?
Icier Answer: Apparently not.
The Cold, Hard Football Facts like to look at football from a macro, big-picture point of view. Therefore, we put a lot of stock in proven performers like Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs, who's been a champion in the nation's two most popular sports.
Offense has been the hallmark of Gibbs's NFL entries. He's famously won Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks, while his 1983 Redskins, which lost Super Bowl XVIII to the Raiders, fielded the highest-scoring offense in NFL history at the time.
The 2005 season, the second year of Gibbs's second tenure, seemed to indicate that Washington was moving in the right direction. The Redskins went 10-6 for their first winning record since 1999. The season was highlighted by a radically improved ground game and a late-season flourish (six straight wins).
The Redskins have since lost three in a row (including last year's playoff loss to Seattle) and have scored just 36 points in those three games.
Icy Issue: Is New England Denver's bitch?
Icier Answer: Yes.
The "pundits" will tell you, much like your stockbroker, that past performance is no guarantee of future results. And this little pigskin aphorism certainly has its merits, especially at the pro level, which tends not to have the institutional memory – or the inequities in talent – often found in college rivalries.
With that said, some things defy comprehension, logic and history, like Denver's decades of dominance over New England. The Broncos are 25-15 (.625) all-time vs. New England, including 2-0 in the playoffs. The losses have ranged from end-to-end ass whippings to excruciating last-minute nut-kickers. Away at Mile High? Home at sea level? It doesn't matter.
Great New England teams have suffered the same fate. The famous game in which Shannon Sharpe feigned calling the president to send in the National Guard "because we are killing the Patriots!" took place at New England – in 1996, a year that New England went to the Super Bowl. Denver won, 34-8. The Broncos laid a 34-13 beating on the defending AFC champions the following season in Denver.
Even the seemingly invincible Belichick-Brady combination has not been immune. They are a remarkable 69-17 (.802) against the rest of the NFL, but just 1-4 (.200) against Denver.
Icy Issue: What the hell year is it?
Icier Answer: It is, in fact, 2006...but you would never know by looking at the college football scores in your Sunday paper.
On Saturday, Nebraska and Oklahoma, two traditional rivals who formerly fielded the premier pigskin programs in the country, looked like the dominant teams of yesteryear. The Cornhuskers scored two touchdowns in every quarter and didn't allow a point as they shut out Troy, 56-0. The Sooners went a field goal better, putting up 45 points in the first half and cruising to a 59-0 victory over Middle Tennessee State.
The last time that the two schools held their opponents scoreless on the same day was Nov. 6, 1999. Both teams pitched identical 37-0 shutouts at home, with Nebraska beating Texas A&M and Oklahoma blanking Missouri.
Now, seven years isn't that big of a time warp. Alcohol has certainly washed away large chunks of decades for many of us. But to find the last same-day instance of Nebraska and Oklahoma both scoring at least 50 points while shutting out their opponents, you have to travel back 90 years – to Oct. 7, 1916!
The Cold, Hard Football Facts probably don't have a huge following among nonagenarians, but if you were reading a Sunday paper back then, these are the scores you would have seen:
- Oklahoma 140, Southwest Oklahoma State 0
- Nebraska 53, Drake (IA) 0
Icy Issue: Will Kanye West blame George Bush if New Orleans loses Monday night?
Icier Answer: Yes.
Hey, the president can conjure up tempests and plagues. Fixing a football game will be easy.
Icy Issue: Can New Orleans stop the Atlanta ground game?
Icier Answer: No.
The Saints defense has allowed a respectable 3.5 yards per carry so far this season – but they've played two of the most inept offenses in football. Green Bay averaged 3.4 yards per carry last season (only Arizona was worse) and Cleveland put up 3.8 per carry, which firmly placed the Brown in the bottom half of the league. This year, Green Bay and Cleveland are averaging 3.9 and 3.4 yards per carry, respectively.
Now, the Saints find themselves up against a Falcons team that has adopted a pre-war offense and – at this early point of the season – is on pace to set every rushing record in the history of man.
Icy Issue: Will the real Reggie Bush please stand up?
Icier Answer: Not yet anyway.
College football's 2005 Heisman Trophy winner and one of the most electrifying players in recent memory has been unspectacular in his first two NFL games.
Bush has caught 15 passes for 120 yards, rushed 21 times for 72 yards and returned 7 punts for 58 yards. That's 43 touches for 250 yards, an average of 5.8 yards per touch. His longest play is a 23-yard reception.
But that's just the first two games of a potentially exciting career. And more importantly, New Orleans is 2-0 in those games.
Icy Issue: Will the negativity in New England ever stop?
Icier Answer: Never. Negativity is like radon in New England – it pours from the bedrock of the region.
The Patriots have won three of the past five Super Bowls and established themselves as the undisputed most dominant team in the NFL over the past decade. They've even set every win streak in league history in recent years – in an era in which pro football is supposedly set up to prevent such streaks.
So it's surprising to hear the negativity from many corners of New England – including the usual suspects in the media – about every Patriots personnel move.
The latest source of angst, of course, is the trade of Deion Branch to Seattle. It seems like a reasonable move by New England. They avoid paying top dollar for a guy who averages 3.5 TDs per year. And, now, a Patriots team that could win 12 games this year and make a deep run into the playoffs gets two No. 1 picks in the 2007 draft. It will appear like an embarrassment of riches come April.
The Patriots, meanwhile, are as loaded with talent as they've ever been. Sure, they remain a bit thin at linebacker – but their core of Super Bowl hero Mike Vrabel, future Hall of Famer Junior Seau, perennial playmaker Tedy Bruschi and stud OLB Roosevelt Colvin is one most teams would he happy to go into battle with. The team has the best collection of talent in the offensive backfield that it's ever had. Its defensive front is filled with No. 1 draft picks, including one, Ty Warren, who was a monster with 11 tackles last week, and the team's only perennial Pro Bowler in Richard Seymour. The receiving corps is a potential weakness. But as the Cold, Hard Football Facts have shown, Tom Brady can tear apart defenses throwing to Diet Pepsi Machine.
The "controversial" off-season moves, meanwhile, are all going New England's way, as they so often seem to do. Injury rumors have swirled around Adam Vinatieri since Indy's training camp, and he will miss today's slobberknocker with Jacksonville. Willie McGinest has recorded just four tackles and 0 plays of note in Cleveland. The Browns are 0-2, already mired in controversy and destined for another disaster of a season.
The bottom line is that the New England system works – until proven otherwise.
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