AFC East Report: Week 13

The weekly AFC East Report 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:

Cleveland @ Buffalo; Cincinnati @ New England; Jets @ Pittsburgh; Miami @ Denver;

New England Patriots:

-Only in Boston.

I'm driving into work this morning, it's 6:00am and dark, with the only visible lights being those hideous red ones, glaring back at me from the brake lights on Route 24. I have a lengthy commute (65 miles) so I get ample time to listen to my Sirius NFL radio and local sports station, 850 WEEI prior to my arrival at work each day. I'm hoping that since the Patriots mercilessly pounded the hapless Browns only 15 hours before- that I can listen to the myriad accolades that should be cascaded down upon my beloved Patriots.

But alas, we are in Boston where parochial negativity has replaced blinking and breathing as primary involuntary responses. I'm trying to fathom why Gerry Callahan (who co-screams the morning drive sports show and writes a column for the Boston Herald) is incessantly whining about Corey Dillon going back into the game for one final carry, to gain two yards and put him at the 100 for the game.

Sirius NFL radio aside, it's amazing how little these (talk show) twits actually know about the NFL. WEEI's Callahan for one, who is as annoying as an insect bite on your ass, hasn't a clue about the NFL or the Patriots and has proved this dozens of times and his recent tirade on Corey Dillon is just further proof. Last week, Callahan got on CBS analyst Phil Simms, because Simms claimed that although Tedy Bruschi wasn't fast, he appeared to be in on every play. "Not fast?" exclaimed Callahan, "Show me one MLB faster than Tedy Bruschi!"

Oy vey.

Callahan's ignorance is shining like a beacon now. Don't get me wrong, I love Tedy Bruschi, he deserves to be in the Pro Bowl this year and has been on the NFL's all under-rated team for three or four years now, but there's a reason Brucshi wasn't a first round draft choice, despite finishing his stellar college career as the NCAA's all-time sack leader. Bruschi himself will tell you he is not as athletic or fast as many of his peers. Fortunately, he has tremendous instincts, a non-stop motor and a nose for the ball.

So here we are, at 6:00am on Monday, the morning after The New England Patriots have won their 26th game in 27 attempts and Callahan is bitching about Corey Dillon's "selfishness". Does Callahan realize Corey Dillon took a $2M pay cut to carry the rock in Foxboro? Does he realize Dillon has an incentive clause in his contract that kicks in if he gets eight 100-yard games? Does he realize Dillon has already been removed from a game twice, after running for 94 and 98 yards without getting the chance to go back in and get his "hundred"? Do you think maybe, just maybe Bill Belichick wanted to show Corey Dillon he wasn't trying to screw him by pulling him out again after 98 yards?

Do you think by allowing him to gain those 100 yards, he (Belichick) showed both Dillon and anyone else (including potential future free agents) with an incentive laden contract/s that Belichick was willing to play "fair" and actually give people a chance to earn those incentives? For the record, Dillon now needs to run for 100 yards in only one of the remaining four games to reach that aforementioned milestone.

Obviously if Dillon were hurt, Belichick never would have allowed Dillon to go back in the game so Callahan's entire argument is rendered moot, since his only mantra was "What if Dillon got hurt during that carry" Callahan proves his ignorance yet again with this statement because if he knows anything about Belichick, he would already know the answer. It's the same reason Belichick uses his starters on special teams. You can't coach hoping guys don't get hurt- you simply have to play the best players, whether that's at special teams, running back or anywhere else.

My blood is boiling just writing about this. In March, I will call WEEI (and Gerry Callahan) to talk about the 2005 NFL Draft and the Patriots needs at corner, tackle and wideout and I can promise you he won't know the difference between Mike Williams, Braylon Edwards and Mark Clayton. I can also assure you he has no idea who Ted Ginn Jr. is, despite the fact that he is the most electrifying freshman in the country, not named Adrian Peterson.

This Sunday the World Champs host the suddenly surging Bengals, who at 6-6, would be leading their division, if they played in the NFC West. The Bengals, under second year coach Marvin Lewis come off an improbable win at Baltimore, where QB Carson Palmer tossed for three touchdowns and over 200 yards in the 4th quarter alone, to lead the Bengals to their fourth win in their last five games.

Look out for WR Chad Johnson, (75 catches 1071 yards) who will try to exploit the decimated defensive backfield of the Patriots, on the muddy turf in Foxboro on Sunday. The Patriots have somehow managed to shut down most passing games despite playing without their top three cornerbacks, but have not faced a receiver as gifted as Johnson in a number of weeks.

RB Rudi Johnson, (already a 1000 yard rusher this season) could struggle against the Pats front seven, which has been dominant and is a big reason the Patriots have won by an average of 20 points per game, since their only loss of the season to Pittsburgh, five weeks ago. The Pats traditionally shut down the bigger, plodding backs and although Johnson is a legitimate #1 type NFL back, he is not a threat to turn the corner and take it to the house, as his 4.1 average indicates.

The Patriots (much like 2001 and 2003) have seen their defense begin to completely dominate games during the stretch run and when you look at the many, many players contributing, you can see why; How many teams have 7 players with at least 3 sacks? Or 6 players who have forced two or more fumbles? -Or 5 players with at least two interceptions? How about none? Their greatest strength is their balance and that balance comes from a locker room full of Belichick disciples, who evangelize his expectations and hold everyone accountable for their actions.

Offensively, Tom Brady (despite his 90.4 rating) has been somewhat disappointing, if that's even possible when you are 11-1. Although Brady has improved his pocket presence and has shown nimble feet this year, and while he is still the unquestioned leader of the NFL's best team, he has been uncharacteristically inaccurate and inconsistent this year, throwing too many balls at the feet of his receivers and throwing some questionable interceptions at inopportune times.

Brady has shown tremendous toughness (again) this year and has taken some punishing hits and this observer thinks the Patriots would be wise to invest in their offensive line this off season, either through Free Agency, or the Draft.

Fortunately, this season the Patriots, with the help of Corey Dillon have run the ball 50 times more than they've passed it and that trade with Cincinnati, getting Dillon for a 2nd round draft choice, while not quite on par with the Dutch settlers getting a slab of Bedrock- read- Manhattan- for $36 from the Algonquin Indians, ranks as one of the better deals of this century, anyway.

I like the Pats again this week, who haven't lost at the Razor since 2002.

Pats 27, Bengals 13

Analyst: Craig Natale; natalysis@yahoo.com

New York Jets:

The Jets playoff run can be summarized in one word: Defense. With a capital D. For the third straight game, and sixth overall this year, the Jets stopped an opponent from scoring in the second half, and they now have the #1 ranked point scoring defense as well as being #6 in total yards and yards per play. The media wants to make this game about Chad Pennington's return, and it's understandable, but the substance of their 29-7 win over Houston and their 9-3 record has been defense and the running game. In fact, the offense had a chance to put the game away early but could only come up with two field goals, and the defense grounded an explosive and balanced offense.

Offense:

Yes Chad Pennington returned and yes the offense runs a lot smoother with him in there as opposed to Quincy Carter, but lets acknowledge the real engine which was on display in full force during the second half. The offensive line and Curtis Martin/Lamont Jordan put up 210 yards on the ground, paving the playing surface with Houston's defensive players. Curtis Martin leads the league in rushing and Lamont Jordan is going to be a great back when he plays full time, and fans can only pray the Jets find the cap room to keep him - a doubtful prospect at the moment.

As for Pennington, he looked like his arm wasn't bothering him and while people will use the word rusty to describe him I have a different take. First, I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt with having to shake off rust, particularly on the touch pass he threw that got intercepted. But I have a growing unease about how the Jets use him, or perhaps it's the decisions Chad makes. He completed 11 of his 20 passes to backs and tight ends (the TE's and FB's caught no passes from Carter in prior weeks). I fully understand this is the foundation of the passing game, but it is crazy that it's the majority of the passing game week in and week out when he starts. Consider that he averaged 8 yards a completion with excellent receivers (Moss, McCareins, Chrebet) against a marginal secondary, with a great running game and a great ability to play action fake and it becomes obscene. For two years Herm Edwards has been saying the Jets have to pass deep more often, so is it Chad making overly safe (i.e. wimpy) decisions or is the problem his marching orders from Paul Hackett? For me the buck stops at the offense coordinator, I'm sorry but if Hackett wants the ball thrown deep it will happen.

Watching the Jets (against Baltimore, Cleveland and now Houston), every time the QB makes a mistake the offense turns turtle. This can work against 80% of the NFL because the Jets have a superior running game and defense, but it won't win them a Super Bowl. Every time Belichick watches game film of the Jets going conservative he must smile because he knows he can devise a plan to stop one element of an opponents attack.

Defense:

What can you say except that everyone is missing the point. Watch NFL PrimeTime or the pregame shows and everyone focuses on Pennington and Martin. Yes the running game is helping the defense (time of possession, keeping everyone fresh, etc...) but what's particularly overlooked is the defensive adjustments the Jets are making at halftime to stop opponents. Also, the play of the secondary has been raised several notches since Donnie Henderson called them out a month ago. Andre Johnson had 125 yards receiving but 40 yards came on a catch that maybe only 2 other receivers in the league can make, and another 30 came after he got away with a push off to catch an underthrown ball.

Beyond that Houston had almost nothing go right. They failed on two early 4th down conversions, Carr completed less than 50% of his passes and outside of Johnson completed 5 passes for 32 yards and two interceptions. Dominick Davis had nowhere to run, finishing with 52 yards - his long touchdown run that was called back would have gone for no yards if Vilma wasn't held, so it deserved to be called back. At the top of the list of notable perfomances is David Barrett, who needed a 10 yard cushion to play man-to-man against Johnson (no shame there), but came away with a critical interception and had three passes defensed, the first saving a TD when there was no safety help. Johnson caught one big pass where the coverage was perfect and he actually wrestled the ball away from Barrett, and his other big play was with Buckley covering. DeWayne Robertson is getting better with each game, and single handedly shut down several Houston runs. Rookie Erik Coleman had one big pick, almost two, plus 3 pass break ups. Lastly, DE's Bryan Thomas and Trevor Johnson played well in John Abraham's absence. The only soft spot I saw was Donnie Abraham whose play lately suggests he might be ready for the glue factory.

There was a messy Houston punting sequence where it appeared the Jets had a safety, and later the ref picked up a flag that would have negated a big punt return by Moss to the 4 yard line. At the time it appeared like a critical sequence, but in hindsight the Jets made it academic as it was clear Houston couldn't stop the run and couldn't move the ball.

Next Week:

A road game at Pittsburgh is going to be a great battle. The Steelers are a similarly styled team, playing a physical brand of offense and defense. Neither team minds keeping the score close as long as they limit mistakes, so expect a hard hitting low scoring game where the team generating the most turnovers wins. Offensively the Jets are going to have a hard time dominating on the ground against the #1 run defense in the league, so this side of the ball will be similar to a Bills game where Pennington is going to have to be the difference. That means he must stand in against a ferocious pass rush and be able to stretch the field at times. LaMont Jordan should log a lot of carries since his size matches up better against the Steelers type defense, and Justin McCareins will be counted on heavily to help move the chains. On defense, a key strategy has to be putting pressure on Roethlisberger. He's shown he's willing to take a sack to avoid an interception, so the Jets must create negative plays to stop that offense. They may be without John Abraham who sprained his knee, in which case we might see a lot of blitzing. I think the final score will be 20-17, with the Steelers a slight favorite because it's a home game. If this were at the Meadowlands I'd favor the Jets.

Analyst: Chris Dellapietra

Miami Dolphins:

Dolphins lose to Bills 42-32 The Miami Dolphins fell to 2-10 after losing to the Buffalo Bills 42-32 on Sunday. With Pro Player Stadium about 1/3 empty, the Dolphins showed some offensive spark early only to be done in by seven turnovers, an opening kickoff return and another interception return for touchdowns.

A.J. Feeley showed signs of emerging as a bonafide NFL starter as he led the Dolphins with three first half TD passes and a 24-21 half time lead. Feeley, whose TD passes went to WRs Brian Gilmore, Chris Chambers and TE Donald Lee, finished with 303 yards. But five interceptions later, including the eighth to be returned for a TD this season, and the boo birds were calling for third-stringer Sage Rosenfels to take over. RB Travis Minor ran well and gained 82 yards on 20 carries while WRs Marty Booker and Chambers each chipped in five catches. The offensive played better than in past weeks but was still manhandled at times by the big and aggressive Bill D-line. One disappointment was TE Randy McMichael's lack of involvement in the offense netted only two catches for a mere 14 yards.

The Dolphin secondary gave up four Drew Bledsoe TD passes while failing to come up with an INT. Bledsoe scorched the Dolphins on the last play of the third quarter with a 69 yard TD toss to rookie Lee Evans and followed it up with a 30 yard TD strike to Eric Moulds in the fourth. Miami's defense also yielded 91 to hometown hero RB Willis McGahee. Of the bright spots on defense, rookie MLB Derrick Pope showed for the second consecutive week in a row that he can be an impact player. Pope showed excellent range in pass coverage and closing speed when collecting one of three Dolphin sacks. OLB Eddie Moore also showed flashes of promise an speed as well.

The Dolphins are 1-3 in their last four games, they have lost winnable games against Arizona, Seattle and Buffalo yesterday. For every positive the Dolphins earn by playing hard, they falter shortly thereafter either by penalty, fumble or interception. The shortcomings of the 2004 Miami Dolphins are incredible and there is no improvement on the horizon. Next up, the Denver Broncos in what is sure to be a cold Mile High match-up.

Analyst: Chris Dellapietra

Buffalo Bills:

The Bills come off a game vs. Miami in which they allowed the Dolphins, no offensive juggernaut to be sure, to hang in the game on the merits of their best offensive game of the season scoring a season high 32 points, all by the offense. The Bills only put this one away at the final two-minute warning with Pat Williams' batted pass, interception, and fullback-like jaunt into the end zone on a spectacular one-man-show play. This was also in spite of a +4 turnover ratio on the game and with 6 Dolphin turnovers on the day. The fact that this game was even close I find to be somewhat contrary to current media and fan notions that this team has truly improved over last season.

As well, in a game vs. one of the worst rushing defenses in the entire league this season, and now minus Zach Thomas, easily the best defensive rush defender out with injury, in a game where there was absolutely no excuse not to have the rushing game behind the highly, and in this writer's opinion prematurely, touted running back dominating the game, it was Humpty's second standout game of the season that carried the offense.

There's been a lot of hoopla over the Bills' "resurgence," however this writer fails to see much improvement this season by the offense, if any at all, which the Bills bent over backwards to correct and spent virtually all their resources attempting to do so. Rather, it has been the special teams along with a returning top-rated defense that has carried the success of this team by-and-large. In fact, without standout special teams play, instead of 6-6 the Bills would likely be 2-12 or 3-13 had the special teams only been as good as it was last season.

So how good are these Bills, particularly the offense, from last season's team?

To date, the Bills have beaten six teams currently 6-6, 6-6, 2-10 (twice), and 4-8 with only the 9-3 Jets coming off a Monday Night game as their only win vs. any team poised to make the playoffs of than the "by default" Rams or Hawks as the division winner out in the pathetic NFC West. The Hawks have beaten teams a combined 18-54 to date. The Rams have beaten teams a combined 23-49 with two of those wins over Seattle. Even the Jets, 9-3, have beaten only one of three teams better than .500 (San Diego, week 2) on the same easy schedule that the Bills have had.

Versus teams with winning records, the Bills are 1-4 not including a loss to now 6-6 and faltering Jacksonville. Why this season is different than any other during the Commander Tom-Humpty era is beyond me. Truly. I will perform a more complete analysis in forthcoming week(s). But suffice it to say for the moment that in 2002 the Bills played 9 teams with winning records and were 2-7. There were mitigating circumstances in both of those wins each vs. the Dolphins. Versus 8-8 teams the Bills were 1-1. Versus five teams with losing records, the Bills were 5-0.

In 2003, the Bills played nine teams with winning records and were 1-8, again, with the win being with mitigating circumstances vs. New England. Versus 8-8 teams the Bills were 1-0. Versus six teams with losing records, the Bills were 4-2.

This season, to date, the Bills have played five teams with winning records and were 1-4 in them, again, with a mitigating circumstance regarding the Jets as the sole team beaten. Versus 6-6 (.500) teams the Bills are 2-1. Versus four teams with losing records, the Bills are 3-1.

Last season, the average starting field position for offensive TDs scored was the Bills' own 34-yard line. This season, to date, the average starting field position for offensive TDs scored is the opponents' 49-yard line. In other words, in the other half of the field. That represents a delta from last season to this one of 17 yards in the Bills' favor in average starting field position on drives on which TDs resulted.

Last season, the average starting field position for drives on which FGs were scored was the Bills' own 37-yard line. This season, to date, the average starting field position for drives on which FGs were scored is the Bills' own 46-yard line. That represents a delta from last season to this one of nearly 9 yards in the Bills' favor in average starting field position.

Has this been for lack of opportunity? Absolutely not! Last season, the Bills began their offensive drives within their own 30-yard line on 112 occasions. Of those occasions, they were able to score a touchdown 8% of the time, or on nine occasions. This season, in 73 times having begun a drive within their own 30-yard line the Bills have managed to push the rock over the goal line only 6.8% of the time or on only five occasions to date. Does this inability to move the ball without being set up much closer to the goal line indicate an improvement on offense?! Methinks not!

Moreover, on scoring drives this season in total, the Bills have amassed 1,929 yards. Extrapolated for 16 games, that projects out to 2,572 yards. Last season the Bills' combined yardage on scoring drives was 2,641 yards. The 1,929 yards to date can also be contrasted with that amassed throughout the first 12 games of last season at 2,153 yards.

On scoring drives producing TDs, last season's Bills accomplished this on 1,578 yards, contrasted with the 1,174 yards to date extrapolated out projecting to 1,565 yards. The 1,174 yards to date can also be contrasted with that of the first 12 games of last season, or 1,315 yards. The analysis is similar for FG producing drives.

OK, I give up! So what am I missing? Someone please clue me in. Where are the cameras?! I know, I know, Willis "picks up the blitz" better than Travis! What else? Because I see little practical difference between this season's team and that of the past two seasons. What I am seeing is that the special teams and defense are doing quite a bit more of the offense's work for them!

Sure, the Bills will beat the Browns and San Francisco in two of the next three weeks. I will respond to that by simply asking this, what would it mean if they actually lost to either of those teams? What if they had lost to Miami or Arizona? Or even the pathetic Rams or Hawks for that matter? ‘Nuff said!

They will begin to impress if they can beat the Bengals decisively and beat the Steelers at all if that game actually has any meaning for the Steelers and doesn't feature a parade of 2nd-stringers. Getting all whooped up over a team struggling to beat one of the league's worst teams and only wrapping up the win at the final two-minute warning and on the merits of 6 takeaways and a + 4 turnover ratio does not exactly leave me wringing my hands with anticipation of a ridiculously unlikely playoff appearance, much less so at moving on in them in such a scenario.

And what happened to the defense this past week? A season high 32 points for the Fins offense is not exactly a ringing endorsement for the playoff readiness of this team as the Dolphins rank 30th in scoring offense. It will also go a ways in those two games if the offense doesn't need the NFL's best version of "offensive T-Ball" in order to generate offensive points as they have all season long with the exception of versus some horrid defenses, yet not all horrid defenses.

The Bills offensive yardage, in other words that produced specifically by the offense is just about identical this season.

What's different is the special teams. What's also different is that this season's offense is woefully off pace of last season's offense regarding the amount of yards that it has put up on scoring drives meaning only one thing, namely more of the work in getting the offense across the goal line has been done by the special teams and/or defense.

When the Bills quit getting blown over like a house-of-cards that this team is every time they play a team that will make the playoffs on the merits of actual performance and not a division that is so weak that Miami would be a .500 team in it, then perhaps they will truly have made some form of resurgence. At this point it now appears, if rumors are to be believed, that Humpty has a viable shot at being the starting QB next season as well. Sad!

The Bills have absolutely no shot at winning a Super Bowl with Humpty on the team as the starter. I've said it before and have no trouble repeating it. Having watched him closely for nearly a decade, I promise. Oh sure, the Bills will begin to let the talk about the position being competed flow, but that will simply be lipservice. This is also where Commander Tom excels, via marketing, not in tactical planning or team optimization which is absolutely critical for creating a winner. Make no mistake, Humpty is the crown jewel in Commander Tom's treasury. This team has spent far too many resources attempting to resurrect a dead horse. Opinions aside, there isn't a shred of evidence to suggest that Humpty's changed an iota from the same old Humpty. Nevertheless, Bills fans now have to worry about perceptions once again ruling the day vice objectivity, reason, and common sense.

What should have been a launching pad into next season has now turned into a marketing blitz to buy more time for those responsible for being unable to take an offseason of efforts conducted to reconstruct an abysmal offense and turn it into a far more potent unit than it should be and one showing real improvement, not simply generating a charade built on circumstances clouded over by other aspects of the team!

Early prediction: Bills 27, Browns 9

The Browns had really not been playing all that poorly given the intensity of their schedule up until week 11 or so. They have played seven teams which will almost assuredly make the playoffs as well as Cincinnati twice. Over the past two weeks however they have surrendered 100 points. At present, the Browns are so incredibly banged up that they are a mere shell of the team that began the season. Contrast this with the Bills relatively injury free position and status as the least injured team in the league at last check, and this one shouldn't be close.

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


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