AFC East Report: Week 8

The weekly AFC East Report is a new feature, which breaks down the AFC East Division. Each week, analysts who are avid fans of each of the respective AFCE teams, will present an objective analysis of their team and summarize important developments and key updates on each team. A weekly read of this column will keep you posted on all the important developments within the division.

This week's AFCE games:

Jets @ Buffalo; Arizona @Miami; New England @ St. Louis

Miami Dolphins:

Dolphins fall to 1-7 after 41-14 loss to Jets

Monday Night Football turned out to be Monday Night Misery for the Miami Dolphins after getting trounced by the arch rival New York Jets. Miami has subsequently sunk to an unprecedented 1-7 record at the midway point of the 2004 season. Worst of all for the Dolphins, the entire nation got to see a once proud organization with a winning tradition embarrass itself in every phase of the game.

Miami's offensive woes continued when they attempted running the ball...passing the ball and blocking on the line. The NFL's lowest scoring unit scored a meaningless TD on the last play of the game to make the score look more like a blowout than the actual massacre it was. A beaten Jay Fielder went the distance at QB despite complete ineffectiveness and inefficiency. RB Sammy Morris, who has shown flashes the past few weeks, was swallowed up all night by a tenacious and upstart Jet defense.

Tight end Randy McMichael played well, caught an early TD and continued to impress by making big receptions. The O-line?...unacceptable would be a kind word...they are by far the weakest unit in the league. The biggest disappointment has got to be 2004 #1 pick (who Miami also traded a 4th rounder for to move up one spot to select) Vernon Carey. If Damion McIntosh and John St. Clair are starting ahead of him...he'll be one more draft day blunder Dave Wannstedt and Rick Spielman can add to their resumes.

The Dolphins defense had more holes than a leaky boat on Monday night and allowed the Jets to beat them by the largest margin in their long and storied rivalry. More bad news came on Tuesday when it was learned veteran LB Junior Seau would be out for the year with a torn pec muscle...at 35 this may be the end of the road for old #55. DE Jason Taylor and MLB Zach Thomas did their best to hold off the wolves, but it was to no avail as the losses of DTs Tim Bowens and Larry Chester and DE Adawale Ogunleye have clearly left a huge void. Even the secondary struggled by giving up two long TD passes and helping to allow two Jet running backs to rush for over 100 yards. Enough said! It was truly horrible to watch for those who didn't doze off by halftime.

This Sunday brings the Arizona Cardinals to town...the same Arizona Cardinals who have not won a road game since the Clinton era (actually two years or so). There were plenty of empty seats at Pro Player two weeks ago for the Rams...this weeks game may be played in front of only family and friends. Expect Miami to rally and pull out a victory while building up the hopes of Dolphin faithful going into the bye week! Jay Fiedler has already been given the starting nod at QB by Coach Wannstedt. Wanny also said there will be no other changes in the lineup for this week's game except for Seau's replacement....Eddie Moore. As for Moore, see above comments regarding Vernon Carey...just plug in 2003 draft...2nd rounder....and leave in blunder. Enough said!

Analyst: Chris Dellapietra

Buffalo Bills:

Usually I make the trek from the D.C. area to Buffalo for several games per season and try to make it to a road game or two as well. This season however the Arizona game will be the only home game that I attend due to the fact that I am averse to pain, agony, and have better ways to spend several hundred dollars and two days of my time. I'd just as soon be tarred and feathered than be subjected to sit through some of these games this season.

Nevertheless, this past game was interesting and entertaining and very much fun to have been at. But it also was what it was and not what it was not.

What it was:

It was a phenomenal special teams effort.
It was an OK game by Willis McGahee but not a showcase game to be sure.
It was a game played in cold, rainy, and windy weather versus a young up-and-coming team that is among the league's worst and one that rarely plays in such weather.

What it was not:

It was not a good offensive game by and large.
It was not a complete defensive game.
It was not a great game by Drew Bledsoe.
It was not a superlative overall performance in spite of the bottom line score.

Special teams carried this game on their backs. Terrence McGee took one to the house on a kickoff return, his second of the season, for seven. The special teams set up the other five scores as well. Special teams handed the ball "T-Ball" style to the Bills offense at the Arizona 26-yard line, the Bills 45, the Arizona 19, the Arizona 11, and the Arizona 30. McGee, Clements, and Moorman are the heroes of this game! The average net yardage of the five scoring drives was about 28 yards. That should spell it out loud and clear.

Many fans will rave about the play of Willis McGahee. But the single word that I will use to describe his play is "inconsistent." McGahee had 30 carries for 102 yards with two touchdowns on a per-carry average of only 3.4 yards. The problem that I had with his play is that of his yardage total, half came on the second drive of the game which was a phenomenal series for him as he provided all of the yardage to get into the end zone producing 50 yards on four carries. It was superlative. But after the first two drives, he provided a lackluster 48 yards on 25 carries and fewer than two yards-per-carry on the other 11 drives. His second rushing touchdown required three attempts from the Arizona 2-yard line. The Cards defense has allowed 4.5 yards-per-carry on average this season and this after this weekend's game. McGahee and the Bills were able to average only 3.4 ypc, more than a full yard less.

This was a game played vs. an opponent that has not performed well on the road, one that rarely faces weather conditions such as those at the Ralph on Sunday, in spite of the fact that it was not horrendous, just simply bad, and a team that is not good and presently 2-5. It is a team whose rushing attack is led by a 35-year old running back that has not had a 1,000-yard season since 2001 and a QB who hails from Sam Houston State and is not exactly among this season's "Who's Who in NFL Quarterbacks." It was also a game whereby the Bills were fortunate to have been able to capitalize off of almost unheard of special teams play.

Consider that the offense scored only once on any drive begun within 70 yards of their own goal line. The offense had 97 net yards through three full quarters of play. Bledsoe was 5-of-13 for 38 yards through those same three quarters. They were unable to put the game away until early in the fourth after being set up at the Cardinal 19 yard line by staunch defensive play and a 34-yard Nate Clements punt return. Two additional special teams set-ups iced it. On its own, the Bills offense was once again unable to generate any scores originating in its own half of the field other than on one drive begun at their own 45-yard line. Four runs by Willis McGahee and a five-yard Cards penalty put the ball into the end zone. The Bills' offense only had 209 yards of offense on the day vs. a very mediocre Cardinal defense. Other than McGahee's first touchdown producing drive, the Bills had the following net yardage totals in the other nine of ten first offensive drives of the game: 19, 0, -13, 0, 1, 3, -1, 15, 7.

The defense gave up nearly 100 yards rushing in the first half in spite of the Cards not having a passing game to draw heat off of it. The play calling of the Cards was so incredibly predictable and lame that the fans in the stands were making an open mockery of it as well. Nevertheless, had the Cards been able to maintain that pace throughout the second half, they would have put up nearly 200 rushing yards. The Cardinals' offense outperformed the Bills offense on the day from the perspective of moving the ball. They did so on the road in front of a hostile crowd and the accompanying noise, in weather that they rarely play in, and against a tougher defense than the Bills' offense faced. If the special teams efforts had been reversed, then the result of this game would have been quite the opposite, plain and simple!

Bledsoe threw two touchdowns although one was a designed short swing pass to Tim Euhus that even I or just about anyone else could have thrown with most of the yards to the end zone coming after-the-catch. Bledsoe did little to move his team down the field at all throughout the game. His biggest contribution was simply not gift-wrapping the ball at inopportune times, which he almost did, just not quite. In fact, the very first offensive touchdown was four runs by Willis McGahee beginning on the Bills longest offensive drive all day of 55 yards. Bledsoe never touched the ball other than to dish it off to McGahee. The four other scores in this game came on special teams set-ups at the Cards' 26, 19, 11, and 30-yard lines. Other than the aforementioned "McGahee drive," the Bills managed only 86 net yards on 9 drives prior to the fourth quarter. Bledsoe had numerous poor throws missing the mark by a long shot and at least two passes which could very easily have been intercepted.

The special teams clearly set up the offense in this game. Offensively and defensively the Cardinals at least matched the Bills, with a fraction of the talent, sadly. Had this game been in Arizona, the outcome may very well have been the opposite. Without that special teams effort the offense would have been fortunate, contrary to my pre-game prediction, to have put up 10 points. Given that this type of special teams effort is rare, the Bills should slip right back into their usual ways next Sunday at home vs. the Jets again barring a letdown coming off of this Monday night's game.

Early prediction: Bills 16, Jets 27

Analyst: Mark Weiler; mweiler.billsreport@cox.net

New England Patriots:

Heading into the halfway point of the season, the Patriots will either be 6-2 after consecutive losses and scrambling to get people healthy, or 7-1, with the Pittsburgh debacle but a hiccup along the way to yet another deep run into the playoffs.

The Patriots lost for the first time in 400 days Sunday, after being dominated on both sides of the ball. Could one expect the Pats to go on the road and beat a good Steeler team without their two starting corners, (Ty Law, Tyrone Poole) two starting tackles, (Matt Light, Tom Ashworth) starting running back (Corey Dillon) and top wide receiver (Deion Branch)?

I think the last time the Patriots were healthy, they were having cocktails at owner Robert Kraft's estate, collecting their Super Bowl rings back in July. The facts are clear, when you look at how many players they have already placed on IR;

Dana Stubblefield (DT) Rodney Bailey (DE) Dan Klecko (LB-FB) and rookie 3rd rounder Guss Scott (S) have already been lost for the season. With Ty Law and Tyrone Poole also out of action, the Patriots are paper thin in the secondary and forced to use rookie Free agent Randall Gay at one corner spot and 2nd year man Asante Samuel at the other.

Law has reportedly cleaned out his locker and the speculation is that he'll be lucky to be back in time for a late season playoff push- (He was last seen on crutches, wearing a protective boot over his left foot.) It should be noted that while Law was in on the first two series of the Steeler game, Big Ben and Co. went three and out twice, after attempting two long passes.

With Law out of the game, it took but two plays for NFL Rookie of the Year shoo-in Ben Roethlisberger to hook up deep with Plaxico Burress for a 47 yard TD, burning the aforementioned rookie Gay. There is no clearer illustration of Law's value (regardless of salary) than that. Of course Pittsburgh also ran the ball almost 50 times for over 200 yards, so Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork clearly need to step up their game and give Richard Seymour some help inside.

Offensively, the Pats have also lost Rookie TE Benjamin Watson, 5th year tackle Adrien Klemm and rookie WR P.K. Sam for the year. All told, that's 8 players lost for the year and many, like Branch, Troy Brown and Corey Dillon that have either missed substantial time or complete games due to injuries. That's 15% of the entire 53-man roster, out for the season and we still have 9 regular season games left to play.

So what happens now?

The Patriots have to travel to St Louis, where Mike Martz and the Rams have had two weeks to prepare for the Pats, just like Bill Cowher and his Steelers did the week before. Going on the road is hard enough in the NFL, playing opponents back to back, who have each had a bye the previous week to prepare, is equally daunting and tantamount to trouble.

The Patriots will have a very difficult time covering the Rams without Law and Poole, so expect the Rams to put up a significant number of points on Sunday. Tom Brady, coming off his worst game of the year, will have to lead his limping offense into St Louis and try to win a shoot-out with Marc Bulger, Torry Holt, Issac Bruce and Marshall Faulk, ‘et al.

If Corey Dillon is unable to go, the Patriots have no chance of winning this game. Rookie RB Cedrick Cobbs (4th- Ark) has had exactly one carry in his NFL career and isn't even ready to handle his blitz pick-ups and other blocking assignments, nevertheless run the ball. Kevin Faulk has proven for 5 years that he is only a 3rd down back, at best.

For some reason, TE Daniel Graham has been uncharacteristically absent from the stat sheet these last two weeks. After scoring 5 TD's in his first 5 games, Graham has been a non-factor in the passing game and one has to wonder why Charlie Weiss has not called Graham's number, especially since the running game was so hideous against Pittsburgh last week.

I expect the Pats to take one more step backwards, before they right the ship and make a run towards the playoffs;

Rams 27-26

Analyst: Craig Natale; natalysis@yahoo.com

New York Jets:

There will be no Jets report this week. Nick Romano will have an update next week.

Analyst: Nick Romano


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