Wednesday, October 5, 2011

NFL Post Mortem, 10/3

Mention QB Alex Smith to a hard-core 49er fan a few weeks ago and you were likely to get sprayed with expletives, like "he's a blankety-blank passer, a no-talent blankety-blank, a blankety-blank leader who'll never lead our team to the playoffs."

But in the last two weeks a maddening pattern has emerged. Now there are two Smiths. In the first half, he's blankety-blank Smith, overthrowing and underthrowing receivers, handcuffing the offense, leading the team to certain defeat. But then in the second half he turns into Tom Brady, hitting clutch passes, throwing the ball to the perfect spot, doing everything right that he did wrong in the first half.

In the last two games, both on the road--in Cincinnati and Philadelphia--Smith fueled second-half rallies, powering the Niners from behind to the kind of nip-and-tuck victories rare to the Niners since Steve Young retired in the '90s. Against the Eagles in the third quarter he was a miraculous 9 for 9 for 179 yards. Suddenly the 49ers, largely thanks to Smith, are 3-1 and one of this season's surprises.

Now what? How long can Smith be succcessful with this Jekyll-and-Hyde routine? Will he sink back into blankety-blank Smith or soar into Tom-Brady territory? My money is on blankety-blank Smith......

Jets fans are just as puzzled by their QB. Mark Sanchez, they fear, is riding an accelerating downward spiral. You won't see a QB play any worse than he did in Sunday's beating by the Ravens, 34-17.     .

Sanchez' signature was all over this defeat. His three fumbles and an interception led to 17 Ravens' points. Baltimore QB Joe Flacco also had a horrible game, but next to Sanchez' stinker, Flacco's failures--including 10 for 31 for 163 yards with an interception--didn't seem so bad.

Sanchez didn't bomb all by himself. He had lots of help. His albatross is the offensive line, which is in chaos since All Pro center Nick Mangold sprained his ankle in week two. There's a good chance Mangold, the stablizing influence, may be healthy enough to play in Sunday's crucial contest against the Patriots.

The Steelers' QB Ben Roethlisberger can empathize with Sanchez. Big Ben is bottoming out too. Last Sunday, in that 17-10 loss to Houston,  he was really bounced around--sacked five times and on the ropes the rest of the time. But like Sanchez, he has a scapegoat--the same one, and just as valid. Roethlisberger is operating behind an offensive line so crippled by injuries that it's sunk to the league's lower depths--new territory for Steelers' O line. With all the juggling of linemen, a rookie (Marcus Gilbert), obviously learning on the job, has landed at right tackle. To Roethlisberger's dismay, he's a slow learner and the QB has the bruises, including a banged-up left foot in the Houston game, to prove it.....

Just how big of a lead does Dallas have to give QB Tony Romo to insure victory? You'd think 27-3 in the second half would be a fat enough cushion. But the Detroit Lions chewed that up fast, rumbling by the Cowboys, 34-30. Here's what happened. As every defensive player in the league knows, Romo is easily rattled and rushed into throwing interceptions--three this time, two that went directly to TDs.

But Romo isn't a bad QB. Throw out the interceptions and his numbers for the Lions' game (34 out of 47
for 331 yards) are impressive. But until he conquers his tendency toward back-breaking turnovers, no lead is safe with this guy.....