Archive for June, 2006

The Future of Jim Mora

June 30th, 2006 1 comment

Although the “contract extension” Mora received this off-season was notable, I don’t really view it as a contract extension. It would seem that all the team did was guarantee the last two years of his contract (2007 and 2008) and added one more year to the deal. Not much of an extension despite those trying to spin it as a three-year extension.

Recently I received a copy of the’s 2006 Pro Football Preview as part of the arm and leg that I dish out to that site each year for premium access. Not bad as far as preview’s go, but lacking in both the team-by-team analysis and fantasy analysis in comparison to other mags. Like any good publication, they made some predictions about the upcoming season, and chose three teams, coaches, or players for a variety of categories including Super Bowl winner, conference champs, best and worst drafts, best uniforms, worst free agent signing, etc. One of the categories was coaches on the hot seat.

List from hottest to coldest it would seem were Brian Billick, Marty Schottenheimer, and Jim Mora. The former two I can’t argue with as missing the playoffs for either likely will cost them their jobs. Mora was rather interesting to me.

I won’t deny that Mora is on thinner ice than most, mostly because there were 10 hirings of new coaches this off-season. In relative terms, it means that a guy that is probably 70% likely to keep his job looks to be on the hotseat when so many are more than 95% likely to retain their positions.

I really don’t think this will be Mora’s last year in Atlanta. Rich McKay showed a lot of loyalty to Tony Dungy in his final days in Tampa Bay despite pressure from ownership to part ways with him, and growing fervor amongst fans and local media to get rid of him. Obviously in Dungy’s case, keeping him wasn’t too hard since he continued to make the playoffs despite the criticism. McKay’s hand was forced following 2001 by ownership.

I don’t see that as the case here in Atlanta, where Arthur Blank after a different start seems to be washing his hands of major football decisions. He leaves that to the people he hired, namely Rich McKay. So Mora’s job security is firmly in the hands of McKay.

Obviously, anytime you mention McKay, the slim possibility of assuming league commissioner duties creeps into the back of your head. But that’s unlikely to occur until close to the end of the year, which should mean Mora’s job is secure until then. And even if McKay moves on after this year, Blank is likely going to try and keep some form of continuity at the top by giving Mora one more year to prove himself.

I would say that the only possibilities in my mind that this would be Mora’s last year in Atlanta is if the team manages to finish 3-13 or 4-12 (or worse). I think if another 2003-like season occurs in which Vick is injured for most of the year, Mora is going to get a slight reprieve. So basically, the team has to be terrible with Vick at the helm in order to cost Mora his job. Unless of course, Mora loses total control of his own actions and that of his players. It’s not as far-fetched as it seems. Mora seemed to be losing his grip late in the year with a number of fines and bad press. Not to mention he has volatile players like DeAngelo Hall dotted across the roster that can cause a few headaches. But if the past tells us anything, Mora knows how to keep a relatively tidy ship so that the bottom doesn’t completely fall out even if the team does tank a little.

But if the Falcons fail to make the playoffs again in 2006, I could definitely see 2007 being an “ultimatum” year for him and the Falcons. Basically, playoffs or else. Three straight losing years (assuming the team doesn’t go 9-7 and misses the playoffs) would probably be enough to get Mora fired. It’s hard to imagine someone being fired within 2 years of being named NFC Coach of the Year by the media. So I think while his seat is a bit warmer than most coaches around the league, it is far from hot.

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Duckett’s Future

June 29th, 2006 Comments off

There continues to be plenty of talk about the potential trading of T.J. Duckett. Personally, I don’t see it happening. There just really isn’t a market out there for Duckett, unless of course a starter gets injured. But then again, so many teams are liking more and more the smaller, quicker backs, that Duckett is becoming somewhat old-fashioned in the NFL.

Frankly, ability aside, Duckett would start on few teams. Very few teams would want a big powerful runner that doesn’t particularly catch or block well. And I believe moreso than his running skills, those flaws in the passing game hurt Duckett more than anything in terms of his trade value. If he was the type of player that could probably catch 30 or more passes and be effective on third downs as a receiver and/or blocker, then I’m sure other teams would have beaten down the Falcons door long ago to take him off our hands. In fact, if that were the case, he’d probably be starting for the Falcons and thus we wouldn’t be talking about trading him. But it is not the case, and thus we are stuck with a lame duck running back for another year.

Some people think the Falcons will cut Duckett at the end of training camp if he’s not traded. I seriously doubt that. Duckett is a headache waiting to happen to us Falcon fans, but he’s still a very valuable player to this roster. He’s one of the best short-yardage and goalline backs in the league. Sure, he definitely struggled in those roles down the stretch last year, but up until that point he was basically every bit as good as Jerome Bettis. I believe Duckett’s play in 2006 will mirror more of his early 2005 play than that of late. And so the Falcons need him. They won’t be able to hand off to Dunn or Norwood on 3rd and 2 and consistently get a first down. Sure, Griffith can pull some slack if Duckett is lost. Griffith is a good runner, but he’s not the same caliber as Duckett.

So I think if the Falcons can’t trade him this summer (and I doubt they will), they should just keep him this year as a lame duck knowing he will be signed away next off-season by some team. Actually, I’m pretty curious to see what sort of offers Duckett gets next spring. I don’t think many teams will be breaking down his door to sign him to a big lucrative contract like what LaMont Jordan got a few years back. It seems a forgone conclusion that Duckett won’t be a Falcon after this year, but I think if the market doesn’t go his way, you may see No. 45 willing to accept a deal to return to Atlanta.

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Pudge’s Power Rankings – June

June 21st, 2006 Comments off

Here are the June power rankings. You’ll notice there are some significant changes for a few teams, which is not caused really by anything they’ve done or not done in the past month in terms of personnel moves (with exception to the Steelers), but rather based on me tweaking the formulas and tinkering with the numbers a little more. Hopefully, I won’t have to do that anymore, since I’m fairly confident again that these numbers work now. So that next month’s rankings will actually reflect more of what teams did or did not do in the past 30 days to improve.

Once again these rankings are supposed to reflect the ease of a team’s path to the Super Bowl, rather than to say who is and are the best team in the league. You’ll notice the three teams that changed the most were the Colts, Steelers, and Rams. The Colts and Rams improved significantly because I have a bit more confidence in the rushing abilities of Addai and Jackson this month, as opposed to last month. And the Steelers dropped because of lingering questions surrounding Big Ben’s health. I doubt we get an accurate prognosis of his health until August.

RNK TEAM        OVR   RTG   PREV1.  Broncos     8.27  7.64   +12.  Chargers    7.73  7.58   -13.  Patriots    7.33  7.58   +14.  Seahawks    7.60  7.57   +15.  Bears       7.20  7.55   -26.  Panthers    8.13  7.30    -7.  Dolphins    6.80  7.09   +18.  Cowboys     7.93  7.06   -19.  Jaguars     7.00  6.99    -10. Ravens      6.93  6.50   +111. Redskins    7.13  6.61   -112. Colts       6.70  6.57   +513. Cardinals   6.43  6.55   +114. Chiefs      6.83  6.47   +215. Buccaneers  7.47  6.42    -16. Falcons     7.07  6.41   -317. Steelers    6.53  6.25   -518. Bengals     6.50  6.17   +219. Eagles      6.63  6.16   -120. Giants      7.10  6.13   -121. Jets        5.00  5.83    -22. Rams        5.60  5.71   +623. Texans      5.27  5.62    -24. Packers     4.70  5.62   -225. Browns      5.57  5.58   +126. Bills       4.97  5.48   -227. Titans      5.43  5.38   -228. Vikings     4.77  5.39   -129. Saints      5.93  5.33   +130. Lions       4.60  5.27   -131. 49ers       4.30  5.06    -32. Raiders     3.87  4.37    -
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Big Ben

June 18th, 2006 Comments off

For the past few days, I’ve been thinking about writing something about Roethlisberger, but it’s a subject that is a bit difficult to broach.

I like Big Ben. I think he along so with a few other guys like Brady, Vick, Palmer, and others are going to be the core of the elite quarterbacks for much of the next decade or so much like guys like Aikman, Kelly, Elway, Marino, etc. were in the early part of the 1990s. That fifteen or twenty years from now, people are going to be talking about teams like Atlanta, New England, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati looking for that next franchise passer to replace those guys much like Dallas, Buffalo, Denver, and Miami have struggled to find since their big fish called it quits.

Is that future still possible? Of course it is. We still don’t know the full extent of Roethlisberger’s injuries, so we really can’t be sure how much this is going to affect his career long-term. It could be an issue that only has significant detriment to this year or next year, and by 2008 or so Big Ben will be back on track to picking up where he finished this past year.

My ability to judge this situation is predicated on it occurring to the Falcons. Being somewhat a fan of the Pittsburgh Steeler organization, but not being anywhere near the level I am of the Falcons, it’s a bit unfair to judge this situation at face value. Fact is, I believe Roethlisberger was stupid, but I’m not sure how to react to it because it doesn’t effect me deeply. Since this isn’t the first instance of pro football players behaving badly, and I tend not to jump on celebrities and athletes when they do stupid things unless it’s a poor example set for the kids. And truthfully, Roethlisberger may have proven in this incident in his accident to set a better example for the kids than some people think. Roethlisberger’s marketability is built both on his play on the field and his generally pleasing physical features (a roundabout way of saying the ladies like him). He has threatened both with this accident, at least for the short-term, and now those coming up that look to him as a role model may think twice about their reckless activities.

But I’m wondering what my reaction would be if this were say, Michael Vick instead of Big Ben? It’s not as easy a comparison to make as it would seem. Vick has clearly been the face of this franchise since Ron Hill maneuvered to get him a week before the 2001 Draft. Big Ben, not so much. That future has been there for him, but he came to a team that already a face in Bettis. Sure the Falcons had Jamal, but since his injuries his star had fallen quickly by April 2001. Not to mention the Steelers aren’t an organization that needs a persona and talent like Vick to re-invigorate a struggling fan base and reset 35 years of generally disappointing football. Not to mention, what a difference being a sixth year player and a third year player makes for a quarterback. Vick is well into his career as a Falcon and NFL player, and the fact of the matter is that there are those within and without the organization that could see him not being a Falcon for a significantly longer period of time. Big Ben is just beginning and is off to a greater start than Mr. Vick and Mr. Brady. We imagine that Big Ben still has a lot of football to play after he recovers from his injuries, and time can heal some of the wounds that he may have inflicted upon the Steeler faithful just as it can his own.

Perhaps not the case if the same situation occurred with No. 7. For many of the Falcon faithful, an event such as No. 7 joyriding and putting the success of their 2006 season in jeopardy might in fact be the final straw to turn the tide against Michael Vick. There are many of us, including myself, that really see this upcoming season as possibly the final test for Michael Vick to showcase that passing ability that will give us fans complete confidence that he truly is our guy. That he is a little bit more than just a Randall Cunningham, who was an excellent player in his own regard, but never really developed into a championship-caliber player. Yes, Big Ben was going to help the Steelers defend their championship, but few believed this was going to be one of his last opportunities. I’m not going to say that this season is Vick’s last chance. But if I were to take this year and the next two or three years, collectively, it may be.

So again, it’s a difficult situation to compare. Imagine if in 2002, the Falcons had done the impossible and managed to steal a Super Bowl victory that year, and then the following off-season Vick suffered an injury not on the field like he did, but riding around helmet-less on a bike (or similarly reckless activity), I think I would have been much more willing to forgive and forget. If that had occurred now, I don’t think so.

I think honestly if that happened to Vick now, I would want him gone in Atlanta by opening day. Vick is my favorite Falcon and second favorite player in the NFL (Chad Johnson still reigns supreme in my book), but I think such an event would have such a terrible taste in my mouth considering where the Falcons are now compared to three years ago, that I would want him gone. Trade him, cut him, whatever just find a way that he’s shuffled aside and Matt Schaub is now the man in Atlanta. Many might see that as disloyal or vile to turn so quickly on a player I love, but that’s the nature of it. This is football, the game I love. It’s not basketball, where I have far greater loyalty to the players than I do to any team. I am an Atlanta Falcon fan first, a Michael Vick fan second. I like this team for a decade before Michael Vick, and I’m sure I’ll like them for many decades afterwards. Michael Vick currently holds my hopes and dreams for the Falcons, but he isn’t the first and certainly won’t be the last. And him head-butting a car windshield is certainly enough impact to have those hopes and dreams come crashing down around me to the point that I may in fact hate him. Maybe not to the same level of rage that the words “Ryan” and “Leaf” cause to Charger fans, but pretty close.

So for now, I’m just glad Michael Vick didn’t do his impression of a Harley-riding Superman in the middle of traffic. He’s not invincible anymore. When it comes down to my opinion on Big Ben’s actions and misfortune now after seeing them somewhat through the eyes of a hometown fan, I’m definitely reading to make fun of him, but I won’t grab that hammer and nail quite yet to crucify him.

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Steve Hoffman = The Enemy?

June 9th, 2006 Comments off

Anybody that has visited the forums over the past two or so weeks should know that I have been recently voicing a lot of disdain for Steve Hoffman.

Why? Because the man as I said it is a joke. And I’m not backing down from my assessment. They call him a kicking guru, but where are this guru’s disciples? They are missing because there are none. None of his projects in Dallas ever were able to stick in the NFL. Over 16 seasons with that organization, he did manage some production, but nearly the level that the media types are indicating. This picture they are painting that he has taken a majority of no-name, bottom-of-the-well kicking specialists and made them into quality NFL players is a complete farce.

Yes, Zac Derr or Tony Yelk could come out in 2006 and have a great season where they don’t miss a single field goal and nail 3 clutch kicks which include winning the Falcons a division title, conference, and/or Super Bowl title. Will that mean that Hoffman is not a joke, and I should eat my crow? Nope. Because history clearly tells us that even if his “prodigies” have solid rookie years, at some point in the near future they are going to take.

Let’s break down Hoffman’s record thoroughly. Over 16 years as the supposed kicking guru in Dallas, he worked with 10 different kickers. Seven of them had no NFL experience prior to working with Hoffman. Among those seven, only two were good. Those two: Chris Boniol and Richie Cunningham. None of them made in the NFL. Boniol had three good years in Dallas between 1994-96, then left because the Cowboys were being cheap and had 2 bad years in Philly and 1 in Chicago, and was out of the league by 2000. Cunningham had two solid years in Dallas beginning in 1997, then stunk in 1999, and played a total of 7 games in Carolina and Jacksonville over the next 3 years. So what does that say? As long as Hoffman can keep his fingers on these guys, they can do alright? Perhaps, but then when you look at some of his other “prodigies” you start to shake your head.

His latest work came with Billy Cundiff, beginning in 2002. Cundiff was serviceable during his 3.5 year tenure in Dallas, but was never anything special. Nothing that would have made you think that Hoffman had worked wonders with him. Prior to Cundiff, it was Tim Seder and Jon Hilbert. Over two years, they combined to hit only 71.2% of their field goal attempts. Before Boniol, it was Lin Elliott. In a year and a half in Dallas, he connected on only two-thirds of his 39 field goal attempts.

What do these stats tell me? There’s a 71% chance that Derr and Yelk won’t work out. And if they do play well in 2006, at some point in the near future they are going to crash and burn. And that seems a 100% chance of that happening.

I can understand the Falcons desire to take pressure off DeCamillis to work with the kicking game so that he can focus on improving the return and coverage units. But my beef comes with this notion that the Falcons can “go cheap” and since we have Hoffman, everything is going to be alright. No, everything is not going to be alright.

Finding a quality kicker that is going to last in the NFL is difficult, I know this. But finding someone that can be a serviceable guy that can hit 3 out of 4 field goals is not as difficult as it seems. It’s why only 6 teams fielded kickers last year that did not manage to meet that criteria. And only 1 of those teams featured a kicker that hadn’t hit that spot before (so it was arguable that their 2005 season was just a slump year). Can you guess which team he played for? Dallas. Oh, but don’t worry, Hoffman wasn’t with the Cowboys last year, so it’s not his fault right? But I’m sure if he had been doing his job before, the Cowboys wouldn’t have been in such a predicament to have and go out and spend millions of dollars on Mike Vanderjagt this off-season because it’s been 8 years since they had a kicker that would qualify as good. That you can blame on Hoffman.

So I’m definitely looking forward to this season, and see what Hoffman can accomplish. Expectations are low, and that’s a shame considering that this is a team that is coming off a season where they were 1-4 in games decided by 3 points or less. Seems like reliability rather than frugality should be more important coming from the kicking game.

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The Ricky Williams Saga

June 7th, 2006 Comments off

Recently, there has been a bit of a buzz about Ricky Williams. Theismann called him a disgrace, a few have jumped on that bandwagon. Others have indicated that some team is going to be making a huge mistake when he is likely reinstated next year.

I’m here to say, no they aren’t. Ricky is going to be a cheap running back. And the fact is that his transgressions aren’t that bad. Nobody else seems to be saying so I am. On the list of bad things NFL players do: beat their wives, use steroids, rob people, wave guns in the air, run over old ladies, and not see people get stabbed at night clubs, get hit by stop signs outside night clubs, get shot in the ass in night clubs, and get hit by glass bottles in night clubs, getting high in your basement and watching the Flintstones I believe is very low on the collective mindset of football fans in the hierarchy of unforgivable deeds.

Can your average football fan really talk bad about a pothead such as Ricky Williams, when he spends his Sundays getting wasted first in the parking lot, and then inside the stadium? I don’t think so. I’m not saying Ricky’s doing right. He’s setting a poor example for the kids, and is an unreliable teammate. BUt it’s not like anybody is investing millions into this guy. He’s getting paid the significantly less money than T.J. Duckett, Musa Smith, and Marcel Shipp. The benefits outweigh the consequences.

I compare to a similar back in a similar situation, a very talented running back that had a great amount of difficulty abiding by the rules. That player is Lawrence Phillips, who dominated in NFL Europe and Canada, and had numerous opportunities in the NFL, but always managed to blow it somehow. If it wasn’t domestic abuse, it was him missing practices, or something that caused the coaching staff to lose faith in his commitment to play football. Ricky, however, is just smoking a lot. He goes to practice, he works hard, and he does his bit. He’s not throwing teammates under a bus like certain wide receivers and cornerbacks do in this league. Sure, he frustrates his teammates with his unreliability. But in Miami or whichever team he may land himself with in 2007 and beyond, nobody is investing too much money and too much value into him. He’s not going to be the starting running back. Nobody is that stupid to make Ricky Williams the sole component of their ground game. They’re going to find someone like a Ronnie Brown that can fill the void when Ricky messes up again. And he will. You don’t burn this many chances and opportunities to go straight, and then finally get clean. He’s going to mess up again. But it might be three or four years from now. And in that time period, you can get some excellent production from Mr. Williams, because he’s still a running back capable of putting up 1000+ yards in this league.

Should the Falcons be in the Ricky Williams sweepstakes in 2007? No. Would I personally mind Ricky Williams being on this football team? Not at all. He’d be great running behind our line, but unless we had a player like Dunn that is going to get the vast majority of the carries, then I don’t want to many eggs in Mr. Williams’s basket. Plus, I know he doesn’t pass the filter. I don’t think Blank and McKay are above taking on guys with questionable character, the sort of people that have something to prove that they aren’t the bad individuals that others perhaps have labeled them as. Jimmy Williams seems to be a good example of that. But Ricky Williams is another story. He is a “bad person.” Not as bad as some of those people that have committed some of those transgressions I listed above, but he’s still on the bad list. A guy that is and always will be on the cusp of being banned from the game. Because I’m assuming that after the one-year suspension, the next suspension is from the league itself. If I’m not wrong, that’s what happened to Barry Foster, who I hear is trying to get back into the game.

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