Point 1: Some people think Vince Young has put it all together in Tennessee. He hasn’t.
A couple of weeks ago, the media and the fans were buzzing about 49ers quarterback Alex Smith after an impressive stint in relief of Shaun Hill, nearly bringing San Francisco back from a large deficit against the Texans. Smith was handed the starter’s role while optimism spun out of control that he had finally found his groove.
Since then, he’s 1-2 as a starter, including a narrow 10-6 win on Thursday night over the Bears in which he passed for just 118 yards. He has thrown three touchdowns against five interceptions and has been sacked 10 times.
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It’s likely many of those same people who had high hopes for Smith a few weeks ago are now wondering why he’s not playing like he did against the Texans.
It’s because Alex Smith is still Alex Smith — a quality, second-string quarterback.
So now that the Titans are 2-0 with Vince Young as their starter, voices are being raised hailing his return, questioning why coach Jeff Fisher didn’t switch to Young before Tennessee had dug itself deeply into an 0-6 hole.
The answer is simple. Vince Young is still Vince Young — an inconsistent performer who is at best a second-string quarterback in the NFL.
Though some are blinded by the euphoria that winning brings after a six-game losing skid, here are some facts from Young’s performance over the past two weeks. He has completed 73 percent of his throws, but has moved the ball through the air an average of only 149 yards per game and thrown one touchdown pass. He has run the ball 17 times for an average of 2.6 yards per rush, scoring once.
Pretty mediocre stuff, to put it nicely.
And to reinforce the fact that he hasn’t shaken his inconsistency at the position, check out these stats. Young is completing nearly 77 percent of his throws in the first half against just 44 percent in the last 30 minutes. When the team has a lead, he’s completing nearly 85 percent of his throws, but just 38.5 percent when the Titans trail in a game. Worse yet, he’s completing just 45.5 percent of his third-down passes.
Those trends don’t bode well for the Titans, as they show Young is at his worst when the leader of the offense is needed the most.
The Titans’ victories have come at the expense of two very inconsistent teams — the Jaguars and the 49ers — who have a combined record of 8-9. Tennessee takes on the Bills this weekend and could nab a third victory in that game. But then the Titans face Houston, Arizona and Indianapolis on consecutive weekends — which will likely be the stretch where the wheels will more visibly fall off of Young’s current bandwagon.
Point 2: The Colts have plenty of reasons to try to unload safety Bob Sanders, but it’s not likely to happen until 2011.
The hard-hitting, yet freakishly fragile safety recently saw his season end abruptly after just two game appearances. After bouncing back from offseason knee surgery, Sanders reportedly tore a biceps muscle and has been placed on the injured reserve list.
Thanks to a renegotiated contract he signed back in February, Sanders is hitting the Colts’ cap for $6.1 million this season. That’s roughly $2 million each for a pair of tackles and the one interception he logged before being sidelined once again by an injury.
While the tremendously talented defender inspires his teammates with the heart of a lion when he’s on the field, it’s hard to imagine that Indy’s front office hasn’t recognized his 5-foot-8, 206-pound frame just doesn’t hold up when put under the duress of his all-out style of play.
Over six seasons, Sanders has appeared in just 47 regular-season games, including 45 starts. That’s an average of just under eight games per season. In four of those six seasons, he has played in six games or fewer, and he has never appeared in all 16 contests in a single season. His injury history, in addition to his current biceps tear, includes knee, foot, shoulder and rib problems.
But here’s the other fact that the Colts can’t continue to ignore — no matter how enamored they are with Sanders as a player and a person. While he has been able to play in only eight contests since the start of the 2008 season, the Colts have posted a 20-4 record, including an 8-0 run this year. Fortunately for Indy, safeties Antoine Bethea and Melvin Bullitt have played at a high level — especially Bethea, whose numbers match up well to Sanders’ contributions on a per-game basis since signing with the team back in 2006. And when you consider Bethea is a former sixth-round pick and Bullitt was an undrafted free agent and both are earning bargain-basement salaries, it’s hard to justify Sanders’ drain on the Colts’ salary cap.
But Sanders’ contract for 2010 will likely lock the Colts into holding onto him for one more season. According to a league source, he still has $5.7 million in deferred bonus money pending vs. a scheduled cap hit of $7 million in 2010. While it may seem to be more economical for the Colts to cut him loose so they could save $1.3 million, for that small of a difference, it’s likely they would take the risk he might stay healthy next year, boosting his trade value.
Additionally, Sanders also has a $5 million deferred roster bonus due in March that appears to be guaranteed money, according to the same source. If it is guaranteed, the Colts are really stuck until 2011, when they could gain $4.4 million in cap space by releasing him if they can’t find a trading partner.
Point 3: Three undrafted receivers are on pace for 1,000-yard seasons.
While teams scramble each year for top receiver talent through the NFL draft process, clubs also find overlooked talent in the undrafted pool of players. Sometimes, these players take a few years to move up the depth chart, while others are cut by the team that initially signed them, excelling at a later date with a new club and coaching staff.
Three good examples are the Cowboys’ Miles Austin, the Chargers’ Antonio Gates and the Patriots’ Wes Welker. All three are on pace to top 1,000 yard threshold this year.
Austin, a fourth-year receiver out of Monmouth, has appeared in 45 games for Dallas since his rookie season, but logged his first three NFL starts this year. He has become the big-play receiver that Dallas had lacked, averaging 22.7 yards per catch this season. Quarterback Tony Romo has targeted him 46 times and Austin has responded with 27 catches for 612 yards and seven touchdowns. And 81.5 percent of his catches have moved the chains for Dallas.
Meanwhile, Gates is off to another strong start in his seventh season with the Chargers, catching 42 of the 64 passes thrown in his direction. The veteran tight end has rolled for 590 yards while averaging 14 yards per catch and scoring twice. He’s averaging 73.8 receiving yards per game, has caught seven balls for gains of 25-plus yards and has given San Diego a first down with 71.4 percent of his catches.
Although Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker has played only six games because of being hampered by an injury earlier this year, he has had 72 balls thrown to him and has grabbed 55 of them for 568 yards. The speedy slot receiver is averaging 10.3 yards per catch, earning a new set of downs for his team on 60 percent of his catches. While he has
caught only two passes for 25-plus yards, Welker is averaging 94.7 yards per game and has scored four times.
Point 4: Tom Brady needs to grow up.
There’s no doubt Tom Brady is one of the most talented quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL. He’s one cool dude in the pocket and has the focus, field intelligence and steel-willed determination to be a consistent winner.
He should be attracting a huge following of fans — even outside of New England — who admire him and respect him, even if he doesn’t play for their favorite NFL team.
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But until he can show more class as a person, that’s never going to happen. And that’s a real shame.
Brady’s latest immature gaffe probably went unnoticed by most people who watched the Patriots defeat the Dolphins on Sunday. And while it wasn’t a headline-making transgression by any means, it just left me scratching my head wondering why it’s so hard for him to conduct himself in a manner that is more reflective of a true professional and a more likeable human being.
With New England holding a 10-point lead and just 28 seconds left, Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne tossed a short pass to Ronnie Brown, who ran out of bounds around the 50-yard line. After his momentum carried him past Brady and a few other Patriots, Brown turned around and started to trot back onto the field, carrying the ball in both hands in front of him. As Brown passed by, Brady attempted to swat the ball out of his hands, but the running back noticed the move, pulled the ball away and continued onto the field.
While it wasn’t an action worthy of an unsportsmanlike conduct flag, Brady’s action was not only unsportsmanlike, but it was also childish — especially for a highly successful, 32-year-old man. And it sets a poor example for younger players who look up to him based on his talent. It wasn’t a playful move made with a grin on his face or during a lighthearted exchange between him and Brown. In fact, the veteran quarterback almost appeared to be doing it absentmindedly with a deadpan expression, which leaves you wondering what was going through his head. It was something you’d expect to see from a high school player, not a future Hall of Famer.
Honestly, can you imagine Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, or any number of other classy NFL quarterbacks doing something so silly?
Maybe he just wanted the game to be over and was disgusted the Dolphins were still running plays. Or maybe he has a personal ax to grind with Ronnie Brown.
Or maybe he just needs to grow up and stop behaving like a spoiled, self-centered, rich kid.
Point 5: After an erratic start, the Dallas Cowboys offense is doing plenty of things right.
Earlier this year, the Cowboys offense was a bit out of sync while their running backs were sidelined by injuries and quarterback Tony Romo got off to a roller-coaster-like start.
But at the midpoint of the season, Dallas now sits atop the NFC East.
So what’s fueling the offense’s success as the team has gotten healthier, discovered rising stars like wide receiver Miles Austin and seen Romo seemingly settle in a bit?
The Dallas offense is consistently getting off to a good start on first down, gaining 4-plus yards nearly 51 percent of the time. That’s the sixth-best mark in the league. Romo is completing 70.3 percent of his throws on first down to contribute to that success. That success has certainly contributed to the Cowboys’ having the lowest rate of three-downs-and-out possessions in the NFL at 13.3 percent.
On second and third downs where they need fewer than 4 yards to move the chains, the Cowboys convert 78.3 percent of the time vs. an NFL average of 58.7 percent. And when they’ve pushed their way down the field into a goal-to-go situation, they are third-best in the league in capitalizing on those opportunities, scoring 12 touchdowns in 19 trips and settling for field goals six times.
Thanks largely to Romo’s new connection with Austin, Dallas is fifth in completions of 20-plus yards with 31 this season for an average gain of 35.9 yards. Austin has 11 of those catches, Roy Williams five, Patrick Crayton and Jason Witten three each and five other backs and receivers share the balance. Those receivers deserve a lot of credit for the team’s success in moving the ball, ranking third in the NFL in yards after the catch with 1,218 while the NFL team average lags far behind at 896.
Also noteworthy are Marion Barber’s efforts in the fourth quarter, rushing for 173 yards on 28 carries — 6.2 yards per carry — while Romo is the only quarterback at this point in the season to have over 1,000 passing yards in blitz situations.
Point 6: I was wrong about Bengals running back Cedric Benson.
Before the season, I saw plenty of reasons for the Bengals to be optimistic about their chances of returning to the playoff picture. But the big question mark I called out was their rushing attack, spearheaded by fifth-year back Cedric Benson.
It just didn’t make sense to me they were entrusting him to provide a much-needed balance in the running game to help take full advantage of their passing attack.
After four seasons in the NFL, the former first-round pick by the Bears still hadn’t made his mark and appeared to be on a slide after consecutive seasons where he averaged roughly 3.5 yards per carry. But this year, in his second season in Cincinnati, Benson has rolled up 837 yards in eight starts, averaging 4.2 yards per carry. His six touchdown runs during the first half of the season tie his career season-best he set during 15 games for the Bears. Benson has notched four 100-yard games this year, including a 189-yard performance against his former team back on Oct. 25. He’s shown an explosive burst through the hole with 22 runs of 10-plus yards. And he’s fumbled once during his 198 carries.
Benson looks as if he has finally applied himself fully to his trade, and the results are speaking volumes about his ability to be a starter in the NFL. If he can stay focused and avoid the lapses in work ethic that sometimes accompany success, Benson will help make Cincinnati a team that other AFC clubs won’t want to face when the playoffs kick in.
Point 7: On third down, nobody blitzes more than the New York Jets.
Out of 82 third-down pass plays they’ve defended this year, the Jets have blitzed 63 times for a league-high 76.8 percent. That pressure has yielded five sacks, resulting in a 7.9 percent sack rate.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are second in blitz frequency on third down at 67.4 percent, recording a sack on 6.5 percent of those plays. And although the Philadelphia Eagles are third at 55.2 percent, their efforts have resulted in the best success rate of the three teams at 12.5 percent.
In terms of total sacks logged on third down, the Arizona Cardinals lead the league with seven, followed by Philadelphia’s six. But in terms of percentage of success, the Oakland Raiders are the NFL’s best with a 17.2 percent success ratio, logging five sacks on 29 attempts during their 75 third-down pass plays — which leaves you wondering why the Raiders don’t blitz more frequently on third down.
You can follow Ed Thompson on Twitter. A member of the Pro Football Writers of America, Ed Thompson’s player interviews and NFL features are published across the Scout.com network and at FOXSports.com. Statistics referenced in this article are provided by STATS, LLC. Copyright 2009 by STATS, LLC. Any use or distribution of such Licensed Materials without the express written consent of STATS is strictly prohibited.