The 2007 NFL season may be known for the Patriots going undefeated, or as the year that the Colts repeated but it will always be remembered as the year that Sean Taylor was murdered. It's A tragic asterisk that's simply too important to ignore.
The Cowboys defeated the Packers 37-27 in a very important game that may well have given Dallas home field advantage throughout the playoffs. I wasn't able to see the game, heard about a half on the radio and have little sense of what transpired. The latest is that QB Bret Farve is not seriously injured. It would seem a great injustice if this great warrior would take his young team so far and not be able to command them in battle when it will matters most.
Banged up in the secondary and at running back is just the tip of the iceberg for the Giants. The in fighting that has destroyed this team the second half in past years is apparent again. With the Giants it's always someone else's fault but the bottom line is that coach Tom Coughlin can't keep his team playing at a consistent level for more than a half season.
TE Jeremy Shockey and WR Plaxico Burress are my team barometers and they are both playing without intensity and are lacking in effort. If RB Derrick Ward can play he should help to open up the woeful ground attack but QB Eli Manning has the look of a rookie again, confused and frightened. This offense is going to struggle against the Bears. WR Armani Toomer looks old and slow these days.
Don't expect the Bears to do anything to make Manning more comfortable. They still have some defensive weapons to press Manning into mistakes. The Bears retain a slim hope of making the playoffs and that road goes through the Giants. QB Rex Grossman is as erratic as a player can get but expect him to test the ailing Giants secondary deep especially with WR Bernard Berrian.
The fault for the Giants collapse every year must lie at Coughlin's feet. Other coaches with less talent keep their team focused and level longer. The first order of business for the G-Men in 2008, long before the draft, should be to find a new coach that can keep control of his team.
Bears 23 - Giants 17
I've been giving grades to the Jet players for years and it's time for a new report card. Individual grades for the season are in parenthesis.
Quarterbacks Grade C-
I like QB Chad Pennington (C). He's made the most of limited talent and a lot of smarts but I support the Jets decision to go with Kellen Clemens (C-) and see what he's made of.
Physically there's a lot to like about Clemens who has a much stronger arm than Pennington, is a better athlete and has shown good awareness in the pocket. Clemens, however, has not shown any ability to read the field and see open receivers. He goes through long stretches without completing passes. I graded Clemens a C- because there's no reason to expect much at this point in his career but to be a competitive team in 2008 the Jets will need more than he has shown.
Offensive Line Grade D-
Trading G Pete Kendall was perhaps the most critical loss for the Jets in the off-season as they decided to draw a salary line for their linemen and their line play and offense have suffered for it. OT D'Brickashaw Ferguson (C) was the 4th pick in the 2006 draft and has started almost every game since but he hasn't shown even flashes that he might develop into an elite player. G Adrien Clarke (F) simply hasn't measured up. He's slow into his blocks at the point of attack and is weak in pass protection. C Nick Mangold (C+) was exception last year but without Kendall next to him he hasn't developed the instincts and lacks strength to make up for Clarke's inadequacies. With a better guard Mangold could develop into an top center. Anthony Clement (C-) and Brandon Moore (D+) have been only adequate at times and an offensive line is like a chain - it's as strong as its' weakest link. Particularly worrisome is this lines' inability to kick out vs. opposing linebackers limiting running plays to short yardage.
Running Backs Grade C-
RB Thomas Jones (C+) has undeservedly been blamed for the Jets weak rushing attack. Jones has consistently run with effort and intensity but where there are no holes there is little ground to be gained. FB Stacy Stutt (F) has been replaced on the depth chart by FB Darian Barnes who has had little playing time. The FB position hasn't been pulled its' weight. RB Leon Washington (C+) has been a revelation on kick returns (3TD) but his rushing yardage is almost invisible after a promising rookie season.
Receivers Grade C-
WR Laverneus Coles (C) is finally showing wear and tear on his undersized body. His tenacity and willingness to take punishment has been a great asset to the Jets and Redskins but his career may be winding down. WR Jericho Cotchery (B-) is the proto-typical 2nd receiver. Big and strong, tough, aware with good hands and ability to run after the catch, he still lacks the ability to clear when doubled. He gives 100% every play but he lacks the tools to be a primary threat. WR Chris McCareins (F) catches have declined every year that he has been with the Jets and he seems to drop as many as he catches. He doesn't block well, won't go over the middle and has only been useful as a deep routes decoy. WR Brad Smith (D-) has shown good athletic ability but he has weak hands.
TE Chris Baker (C-) is a competent blocker and has very good hands but he isn't a reliable receiving threat. He's simply too slow into routes. The Jets have quantity at TE if not quality but TE Sean Ryan, TE Jason Pociask, TE Joe Kowalewski and TE/LS James Dearth have had too little playing time to properly grade individually. Clearly with 7 catches for 60 yards between them they aren't a threat offensively and the fact that the Jets carry 4-5 TE indicates the need to augment in pass protection.
Defensive Line Grade D+
You have to start with DT DeWayne Robertson (C-) who was selected as the 4th overall pick in 2003. Talented but inconsistent, with the Jets defensive schemes they are hurting when he doesn't play well. He had a huge game against the Steelers collapsing Roethlisberger's pocket allowing the Jets to apply consistent pressure. NT is perhaps the most strength intensive position in football and it often takes younger player a few years to mature into effective NT. The Jets simply have too many needs to do anything other then wait on Robertson.
DE Sean Ellis (D+) is a steady, unspectacular player whose best years and ability to consistently apply pressure are well behind him. Kenyon Coleman (D+) has been better against the run but has added little to pass pressure. DT Sione Pouha (C-) has subbed to some benefit but this is a group lacking in depth or dynamic qualities.
Linebackers Grade F
LB Jonathan Vilma (D) has seen declines in his number of tackles over the past few years as linemen increasingly targeted him. Before his injury his play had been reduced to ordinary, not what you want to see from your star backer. The fault shouldn't rest solely on Vilma's shoulders because Victor Hobson (F) and Bryan Thomas (F) have been awful, simply nothing positive here to speak of. Eric Barton (D+) has been the most consistent of the Jet veteran linebackers but that's not a compliment. To understand the Jets inability to get pressure on the passer and inability to stop the run it all begins with their weak linebacking corps. Brad Kassell is the best of the reserves but there is no effective depth and if there were they would be getting more playing time.
The Jets situation at LB is bleak but there is a bright spot in rookie 2nd round pick David Harris (A-) who has been a tackling machine. His tackles vs. Dallas fell to 6 after 3 excellent games in replacement of Vilma against Buffalo, Washington and Pittsburgh. Excellent in pursuit and a sure tackler the Cowboys targeted him and without better play from his backer mates expect his numbers to remain subdued as they were vs. Dallas. Still, he's the only LB worth watching on the Jets.
Secondary Grade C
Not an outstanding unit but it's the deepest and most aggressive on the Jets. Rookie (1st round) CB Darrell Revis (B) has made his share of mistakes but he doesn't seem to repeat them. Revis has been solid in run support and is flashing signs that he may soon become a solid corner. FS Abram Elam (B-) can be overly aggressive (penalties) but he's exactly what the mild mannered Jets need. He's only had any meaningful time in the last 5 games and has registered 35 tackles. Keep an eye on Elam. Both FS Eric Coleman (C) and FS Erik Smith (C-) have started at some point during the last 2 years and are usually competent in nickel/dime packages. CB David Barrett (D+) is the weak link often getting out of position and he has been the guy that other teams usually beat going long. Kerry Rhodes (C+) has been weaker in run support than in the past but that may be due to Elam and Revis picking up the slack. Rhodes has been the playmaker in this group for several years, he has been to the pro bowl but he isn't playing at that level in 2007. Then again, which Jet is? Hank Poteat (C-) and Andre Dyson (D) round out the group.
Kickers Grade C+
Kickers are easy, are they kicking clutch and then look at the stats. K Mike Nugent (B-) has been good if not with the strongest leg. P Ben Graham (C-) has been getting a lot of opportunity to punt and while he's close to his career averages he is netting slightly less. Don't expect Graham to tackle anyone though.
JETS vs. DOLPHINS
Who is Clemens going to throw to? Cotchery is OUT, Coles is questionable. The Jet passing game prospects are bleak. Pennington is a resourceful QB who reads the field well and he could manufacture some passing while Clemens simply hasn't shown that he can. The offensive load falls to Thomas Jones and the Jet OL that is simply not equipped to overpower the likes of DE Jason Taylor.
Dolphins 2nd year QB John Beck throws a nice pass and showed some smarts against the Steelers in the Pittsburgh soup but I have my doubts about his arm strength. In recent years the Fish have been able to run on the Jets and I see no reason why that won't continue and take pressure off of Beck.
The Dolphins get off the schneid and get the Jets back into the race for the #1 pick in the draft.
DOLPHINS 16 - JETS 10
Next week: Jets MOCK draft.
Safe Home to all.