Ear To the Ground - Week 9
Updated 11/5 by Bob Magaw, Exclusive for Footballguys.com
"The cosmos speaks in patterns" - Roger von Oech (paraphrase of Heraclitus)
"Luck is the residue of design" - Branch Rickey (Brooklyn Dodgers GM - integrated baseball)
"Our business is winning" - Bill Parcells (Ex-Giants/Patriots/Jets/Cowboys HC, MIA grocery picker and future HoFer)
The subject matter of ETTG is IDP with an emphasis on Dynasty leagues. Ear To The Ground was chosen for this column's title to convey a sense of detecting rumblings in the distance... an ability essential to project a prospect from college to pro and rookie to veteran. It will consist of three sections: Team Reports (Watchlist), a Defensive Rookie of the Year Meter, and a new section... The Lateral (rogue, guerilla offensive coverage). The emphasis here will be on the impact positions of LB, DE and S. Exceptional DTs and CBs will be noted for leagues that differentiate DE/DT and S/CB. Dynasty content is geared towards youth. Like most successful working rosters that employ a blend of production and potential, there will be a balance of rookie and veteran coverage in the mix. While by the nature of much IDP coverage new names will bubble up to the surface from week to week, ETTG will try to identify key players early on and provide a synoptic overview for the whole season as it unfolds.
MLB Curtis Lofton is having a breakout year in just his second season, behind only the peerless Patrick Willis in the LB standings. He is pacing for nearly 130 SOLO tackles, and 4+ FFs in 2009.
FS Jairus Byrd has surged into Rookie Defensive Player of the Year contention by tying an NFL record, with two INTs in three consecutive games. He definitely isn't going anywhere, even when former starters Donte Whitner and Bryan Scott both return to full health (Whitner expected to slide to SS and Scott destined for the bench). Keep an eye on MLB Paul Posluszny He is currently #60 LB, but has missed half their games (after missing 13 games as a rookie in 2007). The former star from LB U (Penn State) is producing at a blistering clip of 6+ solos per game (projecting to 100+ solos over a full season) along with an INT and FF already, and would be closer to a top 3 LB if he could have replicated this pace in the four missed contests. He has good size (about 6'1" 240 lbs.), more than adequate athleticism, just turned 25, and could have quite a bit of upside (with the all important caveat...if he can stay healthy).
FS (talented and versatile athlete also CB/KR) Danieal Manning has been one of the most pleasant surprises at the safety position this season. He has been all over the field, with a LB-like 40+ solos, 1 sack, 1 INT, 2 FFs & 1 FR, elevating his IDP production into the rarefied top 5 DB realm. It will interesting to see how former top five overall DE Gaines Adams gets acclimated to his new surroundings. Coughing up a second round pick in the 2010 draft was a steep price, and an indication that they intend to position him to succeed. In fairness to the front office, the Cover Two defense is predicated on getting maximum pressure from the front four, and starting DEs Adewale Ogunleye and Alex Brown are aging (the former could be a free agent next year).
ILB Keith Brooking (8-3 & 1 sack) still has something left in the tank. The long time Atlanta institution and local product was a Falcon castoff in the offseason, but has been a revelation next to Bradie James on the inside, capably filling the role it was hoped Zach Thomas would last season, but ultimately proved not up to. Brooking is #28 LB (somewhat eclipsing James at #34 LB), and has provided vocal veteran leadership for a defense that has lacked it at times in recent years. OLB DeMarcus Ware is heating up, with 5 sacks in his past three games (after none in the first four). He led the NFL with 20 sacks last season, and could be about to get on an extended roll. It certainly helps when the Cowboys offense plays as well as it has since emerging star WR Miles Austin was thrust into the starting lineup. Maybe not coincidentally, Ware's breakout coincided TO THE GAME with Austin's ascent. CB Terence Newman (6-1 & 1 FF) is having one of his best seasons in terms of IDP production, and is knocking on the door of the top 10 DBs.
The Broncos finally threw their rider, the brilliant rookie HC and enfant terrible, Josh McDaniels, for their first loss of the season. The 2009 Orange Crush has been nothing like the grotesque 2008 iteration, very nearly reversing the curse from worst to first. A big cause of their downfall was giving up three TDs in the second half, their first of the season. The Ravens have a potent, ascendant Flacco-led offense, and the first half of the season was not a Mile High mirage. The Denver stop unit is significantly better, in large part due to better defensive coaching, and through creating schemes that put their players in better position to succeed (which amounts to the same thing). The defensive resurgence has led to some quality IDP production, including ILB D.J. Williams (#8 LB, 11 tackles with 8 solos against BAL) and OLB/converted DE Elvis Dumervil (#15 LB, 10 sacks second only to Jared Allen's 10.5), as well as the ageless and venerable FS Brian Dawkins (#19 DB, 7 - 1 Sunday), though the latter two were even higher in the standings earlier in the season. ILB Andra Davis also had a robust box score (8-1 with a sack), but is down to #36 LB, and like Dawkins, is probably close to the end of his career, for dynasty purposes.
FS Antoine Bethea (#8 DB) has been making a name for himself in recent seasons with 2007 Defensive Player of the Year Bob Sanders missing so much time. He has been rock solid again this year, pacing for a LB-like 90+ solos with a ball hawk-ish 4 INTs. He has no doubt been helped by the strong play of dynamic DE duo Robert Mathis (#10 DL) and Dwight Freeney (#15 DL). While it seems like they have been in the league for a while (particularly Freeney), they are just 28 and 29, respectively, and both still in their prime.
New York Jets
ILB David Harris (#5 LB) continued to get it done in a losing effort, with 5 solos and 1 sack. Coveted free agent running mate Bart Scott (#41 LB), who was supposed to be the top LB, asserted himself for one of the few times this season, pacing the Jets with 8 tackles (7 solos) and also chipping in a sack. FS Kerry Rhodes (#66 DB) has been a big disappointment in IDP leagues.
Rookie SLB and top 5 overall pick Aaron Curry has struggled a bit in the past few games, falling behind fellow LBs Brian Cushing and James Laurinaitis in the running for Rookie Defensive Player of the Year. WLB Leroy Hill and CB Marcus Trufant were back after long absences, but it didn't have a big impact in a game which saw the Cowboys passing attack dominate. The Seahawks are reeling, continuing a downward spiral begun last season, and have a lot of aging players (Matt Hasselbeck, Walter Jones, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Patrick Kerney, Deon Grant, etc.). After ruling the NFC West for the better part of a half decade, the Arizona Cardinals look like the class of the division. MLB David Hawthorn has been a super sub for Pro Bowler Lofa Tatupu (placed on IR). After a 15 tackle performance earlier in the season, he had a 5-3 box score, but more notably, 2 sacks and 1 FF.
St. Louis Rams
Congratulations are in order for rookie HC Steve Spagnuolo's first win. Second year DE and former second overall pick Chris Long also got his first sack of the 2009 season. MLB James Laurinaitis continues to be a strong candidate for Rookie Defensive Player of the Year (though if HOU SLB Brian Cushing keeps up his incendiary pace, he will be a mortal lock to win). FS O.J. Atogwe has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Rams general offensive ineptitude in recent seasons, and is again parlaying that state of affairs into top 10 DB IDP production.
Defensive Rookie of the Year Meter
Top 5 DROY Candidates
- Brian Cushing, SLB, HOU, 1.15, USC (6'3" 245)
36 Solo Tackles, 30 Assists, 1.5 Sacks, 2 INTs, 2 FFs & 7 PD (#3 LB Overall and Top Rookie LB)
- James Laurinaitis, MLB, STL, 2.3, Ohio State (6'2"245)
46 Solo Tackles, 10 Assists, 2 INTs, 1 FR & 3 PD (#15 LB Overall and #2 Rookie LB)
- Jairus Byrd, FS, Buffalo, 2.10, Oregon (5'10" 200)
19 Solo Tackles, 10 Assists, 7 INTs & 9 PD (#4 DB Overall and Top Rookie DB)
- Aaron Curry, SLB, SEA, 1.4, Wake Forest (6'4" 255)
34 Solo Tackles, 5 Assists, 2 Sacks, 2 FFs & 3 PD (#33 LB Overall and #3 Rookie LB)
- Louis Delmas, FS, DET, 2.1, Western Michigan (6'0" 200)
32 Solo Tackles, 7 Assists, 1 sack, 1 FR, 4 PD & 1 TD (#25 DB Overall and #2 Rookie DB)
Standing on the Verge...
- Rey Maualuga
- Brian Orakpo
- Larry English
- Clay Matthews
- DeAndre Levy
- Robert Ayers
- Clint Sintim
- David Veikune
- Paul Kruger
- Aaron Maybin
- Michael Johnson
- Connor Barwin
- Everette Brown
- Tyson Jackson
- B.J. Raji
- Evander "Ziggy" Hood
- Fili Moala
- Sen'Derrick Marks
- Ron Brace
- Roy Miller
- Patrick Chung
- William Moore
- Jairus Byrd
- Mike Mitchell
- Dominique Barber
- Al Afalava
- Rashad Johnson
- Alphonso Smith
- Malcolm Jenkins
- Vontae Davis
- Sean Smith
- Derek Cox
- Darius Butler
- Ryan Mouton
- Sherrod Martin
- Darcel McBath
Injured Reserve List
- Peria Jerry (knee - not torn ACL)
- Cody Brown (dislocated wrist)
- Bradley Fletcher (torn ACL/LCL)
Rogue, guerilla offensive coverage (because there aren't any defense-only leagues)...
Latest notes from the Shark Pool on Miles Austin's emergence, in the wake of his historic first three starts (21-482-5)
- Austin got his against the Seahawks despite Romo spreading it around. Though being just one of 10 Cowboys Romo threw to, he led the team in receptions and yards (5-61-1... Witten had four & Crayton had three catches respectively, and no other WR/TE had even 40 receiving yards), and one of the three TD receptions.
- The reception and yardage numbers were relatively muted compared to the previous two games, but if you projected even today's subdued box score and threw out the preceding games white hot numbers (including 400+ yards & 4 TDs), it would still yield about 80-1,000-16. Of course, a lot of mischief can be created by extrapolating from microscopic, vanishingly small data sets and sample sizes. In defense of this exercise, obviously we have nothing else to go by regarding his starting production BUT his three starts.
- A 16 receiving TD season projection does sound excessive on the surface. On the other hand, he has 5 in the past three games, so if he gets 11 in the next 13 games, that would be a 16 TDs per season pace (for context, I think Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson led the NFL in 2008 with 12 each). But for our purposes, if Austin does keep up the 80 receptions and 1,000 pace (based on today's reduced, more mortal, perhaps realistic numbers) and had EVEN 8 TD, I think that would project to better than top 20 numbers (? what it takes to be top 20 surely varies from season to season). Variously and alternatively, with 5 TDs in past three games, he would only need 3 TDs in next 13 games to get to 8 TDs... or if we throw out past two surreal games, he would need 7 TDs in next 15 games, worse than half as good as the TD "pace" he produced today? The point being, maybe where some are still talking about Austin as top 20 potential (and in some cases those are the people UPBEAT in their projections, not even referring to the still no doubt skeptics and pessimists), that could be closer to his FLOOR. What might his ceiling be? Nobody knows, probably not even the Cowboys and Austin himself. But with each passing game, his prospects are looking brighter, and his potential seems to get additional upticks.
- Another reason I would recommend to the attention of the board to suggest maybe he IS capable of sustaining some form of prolific TD production (barring injury)... he is not just a speed merchant, but has the size (6'3" & approx. 215 lbs) AND hops (think I heard he had the best VJ among his Combine's WR class?) and good hands (of late) to be a formidable red zone weapon. He is increasingly reminding me of a bigger Chad Johnson in terms of how fluid his movement skills are for a good-sized WR, as well as his mature and developed route running chops. Also, while Austin makes Romo more dangerous, a newly weaponized, more empowered Romo makes Austin more dangerous (if that isn't too tautological).
- The Cowboys have been scoring more prolifically and (surprise, surprise) winning more in the past three games since Austin cracked the starting lineup. They scored 96 pts in first four games prior to Austin's momentous starting gig opportunity (24 PPG), and were 2-2 at that juncture. In the three games since that coincide with Austin's insertion into the starting lineup, they have scored 101 pts (nearly 34 PPG... 10 PPG better and would I think be among top five if not three teams in the league projected over the first half of the season) and are 3-0. Felix Jones was back today and looked good, and the defense seems to be playing better the past two games, but arguably Austin is the common denominator in the offense's recent scoring outburst/explosion leading to all THREE victories in the team's current win streak.
- What if defenses start paying more attention to Austin (bet on it). The more defenses focus on Austin, this will help Romo (who has proven in the past, when at his best, adept at taking what the defense gives him and getting the ball in the hands of the open receiver), the other WRs & TEs, the run game, etc. In theory, if because of this, more drives are sustained and they end up in the red zone at a more prolific rate, Austin could do about the same if he gets a slightly smaller piece of a bigger pie.
- On his first catch in the highlights above, Austin EXPLODED past SEA CB Ken Lucas to get inside position for the slant/skinny post on the left. He LOOKS like he will be problematic to jam due to his rare combination of size, strength, quickness, speed, athleticism, physicality, toughness, competitiveness, etc. Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin are among the top WRs in the league not only because they are physical specimens and freakish athletes (that is a given), but also because of their intangibles (ie - competitiveness, will, desire to be great, work ethic, etc.). IF Austin has those kinds of intangibles (he has had to work hard just to get this far, so hopefully he won't quit working because he has "arrived"), he does have impressive physical tools and athletic gifts with which to work with and improve on.
- The Eagles MNF game in a week should be the best test yet how "for real" Austin is. Samuel and Brown are an above average CB tandem (Samuel league's INT leader over past few seasons?). That said, I wouldn't say the back half of the secondary is elite (especially absent the departed Brian Dawkins), and PHI could be vulnerable to the deep ball. That dovetails with Austin's big play ability, though as I have said elsewhere, imo the difficulty for CB/DBs tasked with covering Austin is complicated by his exceptional versatility, and ability to run all the routes. He is much more than JUST a deep threat.
Looking at Romo's historical production, since becoming the starter (about seventh game of 2006 season), he averages about 20 completed passes per game.
Combining that fact with additional information discussed in the thread...
In the pie chart cited above, a hefty slice/serving, about a third of the passing game, has run through Austin in his first three starts. A third of 20 is close to seven receptions per game. Austin does in fact have 21 receptions in his first three starts. Keeping up that torrid pace would yield about 112 receptions over 16 games. But even going down to five per game would = 80 per year.
Historically, Austin scores a TD every five times he touches the ball (9 career TDs, 44 career receptions and one rush). It is very possible that some of those were due to the element of surprise and not facing top defenders when he was still a situational, role player. Probably that was less of a factor past few weeks, against ATL and SEA (we have to assume his 250 yards against KC got their attention). Actually, since becoming a starter, he has bettered that pace (5 TDs in 21 receptions - a TD about every four catches). Even using the more conservative 80 receptions a year, and the more conservative TD every five receptions, that would yield 16 TDs. Even lopping off 30-50% from there would still lead to 8-10 TDs.
Some kind of downtick is expected, as defenses in some cases start to roll coverages to him more aggressively. But the Cowboys have a pretty good team, and can make opposing defenses pay in lots of ways if they pay TOO much attention to Austin.
I think it is possible that by the end of the season it will be more common to think of Austin as a potential top 10-15 WR with upside than top 20-25.
* If you think about it, his level of development and receiving skills are incredibly/improbably refined given his background...
- Didn't play football until something like midway through his junior year
as a prep (how many top NFL WRs in recent history could we say that about?
He might be an athletic freak of nature and phenom, analogous to Akeem Olajuwan
in the NBA, who I think had largely played soccer prior to starring at Houston
for Phi Slamma Jamma ((with Clyde Drexler, Michael Young, Larry "Mr.
Mean" Micheaux, Alvin Franklin, Benny Anders, et al))... former KC RB
Christian Okoye was a track and field freak who was I think improbably the
Nigerian national champion in the 100 yards AND shot put ((imagine if the
Jamaican shot put champ beat Usain Bolt in the 100 meters!!!)), with no prior
football experience, prior to going to Azusa Pacific JC in CA).
- Came from tiny Monmouth (he was the first prospect from there to ever make
- No starter reps in DAL until about a quarter of the way through his third season.
Perhaps mitigating that is that he got discovered and mentored by DAL OC Jason
Garret's dad, a Cowboys scout, through the good fortune of living and playing
at a college just a few blocks away from his house. He also has an outstanding
positional coach in Ray Sherman.
The scary thing is, Austin could get better with increased reps and experience.
Thanks for reading Ear to the Ground. All comments or questions invited - firstname.lastname@example.org.
HOT ROD YOUR HEAD WITH FBG.COM!