Football Friday: Week Seven!

This is an actual quote alleged-human-being 270 pound James Harrison made in defense of hitting a defenseless 200 pound man with his head in a Colosseum Environment:

“There’s a big difference between being hurt and being injured. You get hurt, you shake it off and come back the next series or the next game. I try to hurt people.” – James Harrison, #92, Da Yinzers

James Harrison is a special player. I don’t say that to sound like the ten-times concussed Troy Aikman, or the 7*-times concussed Steve Young (*”officially”… but of course, he played a decade before baseline testing), or any of the other add-nothing-to-the-broadcast-ex-jock-talking-heads that can barely string sentences together from their cranial trauma. I say that because the greatest play I’ve ever seen in a football game was his return of a Kurt Warner interception 100 yards for a massive momentum-changing touchdown in the Super Bowl two years ago. You can watch it here. If someone wants to brag about bringing the manly game, that play gives two dozen examples in 20 seconds. If you’re James Harrison: YOU HAVE NOTHING MORE TO PROVE.

It is also rare in the history of the sport to find a guy who has so deliberately gone out of his way to knock other players unconscious. There is precious little difference between hurting and injuring when the target is the head.  I can think of three other instances when Harrison went for the head… just against the Broncos. He went after Orton this year in the preseason. Last year he needlessly flipped a Bronco upside down on a crossing pattern in the fourth quarter with an 18 point lead. “It’s the way I play the game” is his defense. (Aside: Broncos are no more innocent. Notre Dame product David Bruton said reforms to the game around tackling would effectively “rob certain players of their talents”. Since when was decapitation a major at Notre Dame?) Broadcasters have called last Sunday’s action “Bloody Sunday”, a bit extreme considering that the actual religious warfare in the streets of Derry, Northern Ireland left 26 unarmed civilians dead. Yet the intent behind several tackles last week was disturbing. Both of Harrison’s tackles, Dunta Robinson’s and Brandon Meriweather’s, were shots intended to be highlight reel hits. I don’t buy the “bang-bang” play argument at all. Football players should pride themselves on the physicality of the sport. Defensive players more so than offensive players. Blame the Sportscenter highlights, but “innocent bang-bang plays” are how defensive players immortalize their 5 seconds. In basketball, the ultimate is to “posterize” another player with a dunk over their head, a nod back to the 80’s when Jordan and Wilkins posters were hung in boys bedrooms across America and usually someone like Danny Schayes of the Nuggets had a ball careening off his chest. Since defensive players rarely score points, this is their exclamation mark on the game. Destroying someone has been a part of the game for years, but the glamorization of it is recent phenomenon. This has come despite increased knowledge of brain trauma and an awareness around helmets in many sports.

The best voice for why this is a huge problem is outside the traditional sports media, and (as usual) found in the writing of Gregg Easterbrook. The religious-following of The National Football League and it’s constant exposure directly impacts one million high school athletes. Today, “95% of all people playing football in America are High School boys.” Monday Night, Trent Dilfer was describing on ESPN that players are trained to attack with their helmet first and drive it upward through the neck and chin area. I have no idea if this is true or not. But I also know that my shoulders are prone to subluxation dislocations. I know how easy it is to put my shoulders back in their socket. My head?

Yep, as a consequence to policing monster hits, good quarterbacks are going to reclaim the middle of the field this week. Fearless (or too badly concussed) wide receivers will again dare middle linebackers and strong safeties to cover them. Yep, scoring will go up as a result (by the way, it is down this year). But really, watch Steve Young try and spit out a sentence after a Monday Night game. This is one of the brighter guys to ever play the game, and his brain is scrambled. One of the theories behind why Lou Gehrig died of ALS was that he was hit by pitches more than any other player in his day… and he never missed a game. He lived to all of 37. I’m a dad of a 7 year old who just started (and loves) karate. Once he actually starts sparring and kicking, I’m investing in a Type III mouthguard to provide him with the maximum concussion-prevention. My generation was the first generation that started paying attention to brain injuries and started wearing helmets. It was also the first maniacally sports-obsessed generation and the downstream recipient of major impacts to sports like Title IX. Instead of the prevalence of helmets diminishing injuries, it increased the risks athletes have been willing to take. Concussed girls soccer players, cheerleaders and volleyball players are now increasingly common as young as 11, and the dangers of brain injuries in far more graphic and close to home examples every year. Just with the one million boys playing high school football, The National Football League has a significant moral dilemma. Add to that all the other children playing contact (and non-contact) sports, and Roger Goodell is at a point where his $20 million annual salary needs to up the ante on leadership. With $7.8 billion in annual revenue ($1 billion more than baseball), if the league chooses only to provide window-dressing to the issue at hand, it will likely choose a Congressional Scandal similar to the one that rocked baseball a half decade ago with steroids.

Enough Nostradamus, onto the bold predictions. Rebounded last week going 9-5. Bold Underline the predicted winner.

Northern Kentucky at Fulton County: This is a hard pick. The Bungles are dysfunctional but have beat good teams (Baltimore) already this year and are coming off of a bye. Atlanta was not very good against Philly. Robinson’s own stupidity will probably have him out of this game which will open up the passing game for Cincy. But Carson Palmer’s steady regression will likely be their undoing. Neither team can afford a loss due to who is in their division, but Atlanta should find a way, especially at home where they are 15-1 with Ryan at the rudder (only the Donkeys have beat him at home. Go figure).

At Least We Tailgate Better Than the Rest of the AFC EAST at Crab Cakes Really Are Great Football Food: Baltimore has it’s own share of head hunters, but the respect given to the Ravens is out of their (excuse the word choice) execution, and not because teams fear them. They  wear other teams down at the point of attack, and take away what those teams are best at. They do this on both sides of the ball. What’s especially terrifying in this game is that the Bills are not good at anything and have nothing to takeaway. If Joe Flacco is an elite quarterback (John Clayton says he is because he won twice on the road in the playoffs… by that logic, Terrell Davis’s 8 straight 100 yard rushing games in the playoffs makes him a first ballot Hall of Famer, something Clayton himself thinks is nonsense), this game will be a 40 point blowout. Flacco is not elite, so the Ravens will win by at merely 20.

We’re 1-5 and Look out NFC WEST at Even Wade Phillips is a Prospective Candidate to Coach Us Next Year: Look out, the Niners are about to get hot and ride a two game winning streak before they spend an entire week in Piccadilly Circus. Beating the Raiders was no mean feat mind you, given that it was raining and both teams, even the Niners, had to play in it. How they kept their brains from cramping, no one knows. That’s sarcasm you’re smelling. This must be a sickening year for Carolina fans, but it shows how vital it is to be a multi-dimensional offense in The National Football League. Bronco fans have been whining about their lack of running game and that it allows defenses to key in on the passing game. The reverse has been the problem in Carolina for years, and now they take turns watching Moore and Clausen try and keep their QB Rating under 39.6.

Death Star Commander Moff Tarkin & Mike Shanahan... separated at birth?

General Tarkin at Anakin Skywalker: I’m gonna fly my Nerd Flag to predict this outcome. When has Jay Cutler, ever, made anyone pay for doubting him? His best game as a pro came against the Browns in a midseason match up that didn’t matter. This is almost as big a game as he’s ever been in, because he has to go against the guy who drafted him, and whose job was lost due to his performance. The Skins have no business at 3-3 and gave Manning a run for his money last Sunday Night. The reason they are competitive at all is because Shanny is coaching really well. He’ll lay an egg or two before the season is over, where his strategic game-planning completely backfires, but unless he’s unsettled with injuries, he has Jim Hasslet to launch blitz after blitz at a quarterback who (because of a concussion) is readily flustered and prone to dumb plays. I’d frankly like the Bears chances more if Cutler was on the road; having to face Shanny for the first-time at home with the fans’ expectations riding high? Oy. Three picks or four sacks by halftime for the DC-D.

Trent Edwards against A Fairly Decent Candidate to win the AFC West: I’m curious, are there any Jacksonville Fans out there? After Maurice Jones-Drew’s Fantasy Value, is there a single player on the Jags that anyone outside of two zip codes in Northern Florida cares about? Anyone? Anyone? I don’t dare diss on the Chiefs because I still can’t tell if they’re for real. This might be a blow out and inflate their heads as the season gets harder, but the Jags were a suspect 3-2 team last week and they’re a bad 3-3 team this week.

An Organization So Classy, Their Owner is Ambassador to Ireland… Except they have a couple notable exceptions in #7 & #92 at The South Beach Sound Machine: I have a very hard time imagining a Bill Parcells affiliated team starting the season 0-3 at home, but that might just be the case Sunday night in Miami. This will be the first real test Roethlisberger has this season, and Miami can play decent defense. I can easily see how the Dolphins defense could shine in this one, but I don’t see how their offense can shine. Brandon Marshall likes to call himself “The Beast”. He will have to be a very special player to effect a positive outcome. So far this year, he has Pro Bowl numbers in catches with 37 (over 7 per game); but his Brandon-replacement in Denver, Mr. Lloyd, has 34 catches… for 200 more yards and more scores. The Beast is a pansy in the Red Zone.

Uncle Buck and the Boys at Sportsmanship: It’s What’s for Dinner : No DeSean Jackson. Vick is not starting. Jeremy Maclin cannot beat the Ravens-Lite as a playmaking wide receiver by himself, and losing their versatility means that Ravens-Lite and The Mullet will make their life miserable. The ‘Iggles have so far survived their quarterback controversy with aplomb. I can’t see that lasting in a market like Philly.

Let’s Be Honest: Sam Bradford! at Let’s Be Honest: Josh Freeman!: Pick ’em. I have no clue. These are two young teams with quarterbacks that are probably going to be stand outs for a long-time. I’m not sold on Freeman, but he is way-ahead of schedule. Bradford is insane. People compare him to Peyton Manning. Peyton Manning got 3 wins in his first 16 games. Bradford is there in six.

Mike Holmgren will be on the sidelines in three weeks at “Oh yeah, that’s how we do dat, who dat”: Granted, it was the Bucs that the Saints steam-rolled last week. But all it takes is one game of “back to normal” and a locker room dynamic changes, especially with someone as charismatic and revered by his players as Sean Payton. Even though it’s the Mistake by the Lake visiting Mistakes with our Lakes (interesting subplot only my demented mind probably thinks of), this is a measuring stick. The Saints barely beat the miserable Panthers earlier this year at home. If they don’t score big style points this weekend, they may not be a playoff team. If they do, and Reggie is back in a week or two, look out.

We Still Have Larry Fitzgerald, Therefore, “We” are Still Relevant at Service Package 2010: If this was played in the University of Phoenix Stadium, the score would probably be the same, just reverse the teams points. I’m still not convinced Paul Allen’s Seahawks are functioning like a repaired version of Vista on my PC or are actually a decent break-through that I refuse to pay money for like Windows 7; afterall, tearing apart the Bears’ offensive line is hardly unprecedented and that’s their only quality win of the year. But at home, they’re beasts. Similarly, Arizona has the best coach in the NFC West, and while they’ve been smoked twice, they have a winning record. I do think that the flack about six or seven wins being sufficient to win the NFC West is garbage and these two teams and Sam Bradford are the three reasons why.

It’s Always Halloween in the East Bay at It‘s Always Halloween When Mayor Hick Orders you to Wear Orange: Disgusting trend of the week is this, Oakland has won their last two visits to Denver and three of the last six. When Shanny last his groove against Al Davis, that was the telltale sign to Bowlen. Thankfully, the Raiders are visiting earlier in the year to avoid the embarrassment of a critical December loss at home to a terrible team. A lot has been written about how terrible Josh McDaniels is as a coach, and I’ve critiqued his clock management in this space. But last week’s loss was a failure of his players to execute a perfect gameplan. Parrish Cox should have stuck with Santonio Holmes on the last gasp fourth down pass interference play and Sanchez would have never thrown to him; instead, he found a speedy receiver deep in single covered by an aging safety. That was a cagey throw by a young quarterback. But it showed that despite big injuries everywhere, Denver has players and McDaniels does have a brain. There’s nothing like a visit by Oakland to get on the right track.

The Guys Who Make Plays When They Matter at The Guys Who Make Plays When They Don’t Matter: Fascinating match up. Tom Brady owns San Diego, and this is a must-win game for the Chargers at the only play they’ve won this year: home. All four losses have been on the road, and they have not won in division. The only advantage San Diego has in this game is that they were surgically picked apart by Sam Bradford last week, and Tom Brady would like to do the same this week. Additionally, the Pats need to blow out teams in the air because they’re not good at running the ball, so if the San Diego secondary steps up, they have a chance. But ultimately, how does Philip Rivers, who can’t make a play when his team needs him to, beat New England? San Diego is in trouble in more ways than the usual. How does the Number One offense have a hard time selling out a game against New England?

I will not disparage this space with any reasons why Minnesota will lose at Green Bay. Let’s just say aside from Peterson, I’m sick of everyone in Purple.

"Me fail English? That unpossible"

Ralph Wiggum Keep His Job Another Week at It’s Been Two Weeks, Let’s Have a Crisis in NYC: The Giants have returned to “dominating defense” and “manhandled teams” with a “stifling defense” and Perry Fewell is making the 4-3 look positively cool. Perry Fewell also coached (interim) the Bills. That Karma takes years to go away. Meanwhile, the Cowboys have found new and exciting ways to lose. These two teams have played some crazy night games in recent years, including Tony Romo’s debut in 2006 and the Giants wrecking the opening to the Taj de Jerry last year (both Cowboy losses, incidentally). The Giants were a very good team early last year and started believing what people were saying about them and imploded. See quotes above, but they’re due. The Giants are decent as long as the other team cooperates. The Cowboys so far seem like an all-too-compliant candidate for such cooperation, but they’re not a 4 win team. They may not be a playoff team, but they’re also due to right some wrongs. Good thing football doesn’t require a strong command of the English language.

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