The Monday Morning Hangover

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Sep 23, 2007

By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts Stuperman
We're still not sure what was uglier this past Sunday: the Eagles' "Team Sweden" uniform throwbacks, or the Detroit defense, which was humiliated in a 56-21 loss to the Eagles.
Perhaps the Lions were so repulsed by the look of Philly's gaseous sweaters that they just didn't want to get too close.
Certainly, Detroit dropped off the "maybe they're pretty good" list and dropped onto the "they're going to get crushed by anyone with a decent offense" list.
Second-year coach Rod Marinelli was supposed to work wonders with the defense, but getting no help from the front office doesn't help. The Lions, who were 30th in points allowed and 27th in yards allowed in 2006, drafted offense with their first two picks and traded CB Dre' Bly for two offensive players. Great for the Lions' flashy new offense, not so great for the defense (as we pretty much made clear in our Fillability Index during the off-season).  
After Sunday's debacle in Philly, Detroit is again at the bottom of the defensive standings, 29th in yards allowed, 29th in points allowed.
Worse, they're going to get QB Jon Kitna killed. The man is 34 years old, was sacked 64 times a year ago and has been sacked 12 times already this year. That'll happen when you throw 127 times (including sacks) and run it 54 times. That equals 7 pass attempts for every 10 offensive plays. If any team has ever won a lot of games in the NFL with a playcalling ratio like that, it's news to us.
Even at the height of San Diego's famed "Air Coryell" show (1979-81), the Chargers were a much more balanced offense than Detroit has been this year: they never passed more than 56 percent of the time over that period.
Detroit's backup is J.T. O'Sullivan, who in addition to sounding like a bad chain of Irish pubs, is totally inexperienced. It showed when he had to play through a Kitna injury in Week 2 and tossed two picks while taking three saicks.
If the Lions are still over .500 three weeks from now, it'll a hell of a shock to everything the Cold, Hard Football Facts have to say about how the NFL world works.
But don't worry, Matt Millen will fix it.
Also dropping off the "maybe they're pretty good" list were the 49ers, who played hard but were totally outmatched in talent by Pittsburgh on Sunday.
San Fran will be a little tougher to bury than Detroit, but they're averaging 4.1 yards per play (30th) and are coming off a 2006 season in which they were last in scoring defense.
Still hanging on to the "maybe they're pretty good" sleeper label despite losing their first game were Houston (hung tough without Andre Johnson vs. Indy) and Washington (improved defense).
When Jacksonville came out and allowed 282 yards rushing in Week 1 vs. Tennessee, the Cold, Hard Football Facts were stunned, as if hearing one of us lost his virginity or something.
Never mind that the numbers pointed to a big Jaguars season in 2007 – how could their run defense, so stout in 2006, be so terrible?
It so happened that their first three games on the schedule were against three of the most prolific run offenses in the league (at least by 2006 numbers), and now the score stands: Jags run defense 2, Great running offenses 1.
The Falcons ran 25 times for 82 yards (3.3 YPA) against Jacksonville in Week 2, and Denver could only manage 2.7 YPA yesterday. That's more in line with the 3.48 YPA the Jags surrendered in 2006, and leads us to believe that the Game 1 meltdown was just a one-off, like the Led Zeppelin reunion concert coming this winter.
So don't worry, Jaggernauts. The Cold, Hard Football Facts still have a Whole Lotta Love for ya.
Atlanta QB Joey Harrington will get plenty of praise around the league this week for his play in Sunday's 27-20 loss to Carolina, and more power to him. The walking punchline was 31 of 44 for 361 yards Sunday, impressive stuff ... even if it came in a loss, something Harrington has experienced more than his share of in his five-plus-year NFL career.
It looks like this will be Harrington's sixth straight season on a double-digit loser, with three different franchises. But this loss wasn't Harrington's fault.
However, even more impressive on the Atlanta offense was the play of Harrington's right tackle, Todd Weiner. On a day when Harrington was throwing on three of every four plays, Weiner held  Carolina DE Julius Peppers to the big shutout – no sacks, no tackles. Weiner over Peppers was a nice moral victory for the Falcons, which might be about the best they can hope for this year.
Minnesota is certainly doing its best to squander the most dominant defensive line in the game. Last year, the Vikings fielded the third-best run defense of the Super Bowl Era, surrendering just 2.83 YPA, but could only ride it to six wins.
That run defense number for 2007 stands at 3.1 YPA (4th in the NFL). The Vikings are also No. 4 in scoring defense (12.0 PPG). But they're 1-2 thanks to their punchless, useless offense, which has scored just three offensive TDs in three games - two fewer than former Minnesota superstar Randy Moss has scored all by his lonesome in New England.
Under Mike Tice, the Vikings were all offense and no defense. Under Brad Childress, it's the other way around. The end result? Sheer, unadulterated mediocrity – five straight seasons between 6-10 and 9-7, and another one looking to be in the cards for 2007.  
What in the name of Beattie Feathers is going on with the Carolina running game? The Panthers were both unlikely to run (24th in attempts) and generally substandard at it (19th in yards per carry, 3.92) in 2006. They were even worse in 2005, averaging 3.45 yards per tote. All of a sudden, they're running it like Jim Brown – sixth in attempts (92), seventh in average (4.64).
DeShaun Foster, more or less the poster boy for average running backs, is pounding out 5.2 YPA (including 6.1 YPA yesterday against Atlanta), and the Carolina offense (11th in scoring at 25.0 PPG) is carrying the more-heralded defense (20th, surrendering 22.3 PPG).
During our lone foray into the fantasy football realm this past summer, we suggested that you'd be better off taking the always incredible Peyton Manning with the No. 2 pick in the draft over a streaky bunch of running backs that all had question marks.
The din from fantasy geeks was loud and proud: you guys who write about real football are total idiots! Gotta take those RBs! Maurice Jones-Drew over Manning! Yep. We're three weeks in now, and the score reads:
CHFF 605, Fantasy Shut-Ins 0.
"Fantasy stud" Larry Johnson has no touchdowns and is 29th in yards. Stephen Jackson? Fifteenth in yards, no touchdowns. Even LT looks like used garbage.
A look at the running back leaderboard shows just how off all of the preseason tout lists were, and while they might shake out as the year goes along it goes to our point: a top QB like Manning, who will definitely finish the season with 28-40 TDs and 4,000 yards, and is the sure thing these flighty RBs are not.
Of course, we meant to say Tom Brady should have been the QB to pick ...
In our 1st and 10 poll from last week, we asked if you knew who NFL tackles leader Barrett Ruud was. In a brave show of (possibly drunken) honesty, an overwhelming majority of you admitted you'd never heard of the Tampa linebacker.
Well, Ruud kept his spot on top of the tackle list through Week 3 (pending Monday night) with 27 for the season, and also has two passes defensed, a pick, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
With Tampa Bay on top of the NFC South, if Defensive Player of the Year were chosen right now he'd get the nod. Fortunately for the league's bigger names, there's plenty of season – and hype – left before any such decisions are made. 
But for now, way to go, Barrett. Wuu-huu!
Dallas CB Anthony Henry, who had a huge game in the Cowboys 34-10 win at Chicago last night, leads the NFL in both interceptions (4) and passes defensed (11). Those are incredible numbers through three games, a pace that would give him 20+ picks and 60 pass breakups.
Consider that last year, Asante Samuel led the league in passes defensed with 24 for an entire season, and had 10 interceptions. Henry's nearly halfway to both numbers and has 13 games to go.
Henry ranked second in passes defensed a year ago with 22, but grabbed only two interceptions. More importantly, the Cowboys' secondary has a Defensive Passer Rating of 66.9 – a big step up from last year's 83.2. 

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