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The Shutdown Corner NFL Roundtable: Week 11 Edition

Doug Farrar
Shutdown Corner

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With the Denver Broncos seemingly intent on setting football back several decades, can a run-heavy option offense succeed to any degree in the NFL?

The Mighty MJD: I think you can mix it in here and there, sure, but to go full Rich Rodriguez? There's no way that's viable as a long-term, every-down offense. Teams are too fast and coaches are too good. It won't take long for someone to develop a blueprint to stop it, and then what? Either your quarterback can throw or he can't.Which, to me, is the key question in the whole Tebow thing? Surely, John Fox doesn't feel like he's going to do this for the next decade, so why spend so much time and effort on it now? Do you just try to make a run at the playoffs this year, and try again to find a quarterback in the offseason? Is there no point to giving Brady Quinn a shot this year? Or maybe Fox does think this is the future of the Broncos. It's hard to figure the end game.

Chris Chase: Rex Grossman also started this season 3-1. (Repeat x3)

Maggie Hendricks:
To some degree? Sure. It can win a few games against teams without strong run defenses. With the right personnel, it can even get a team to a .500 record, but a team without a well-rounded offense will not get to the playoffs and certainly not win a Super Bowl. That kind of offense will also likely grind down both running backs and QBs; injuries and diminished production over the course of the season would hurt them as much as the linebackers who would stop it.

Doug Farrar: The recent history of different option packages in the NFL tells me that the Broncos will indeed have success with what they're doing. As I detailed in this article, they've set things up to fool defenses in ways that are virtually unstoppable against defenses that aren't extremely disciplined. When you're running blocking schemes and receiver packages against playside, you force linebackers to key on the wrong things and defensive backfields to move away from the ballcarrier. Then, it's a numbers game against a front four. In addition, once you have defensive ends reading the quarterback option, they can't blitz — that's how the Broncos neutralized Kansas City's Tamba Hali last Sunday. Factor in that Tebow's one of the best red-zone runners in the NFL, and I think the Broncos will be well-served to stick with this plan through the rest of the season.

Of course, the question is — what happens in the offseason? Do they stick with Tebow as their starter, or do they go a different way?

Is it about time to think of the Houston Texans as the best team in the AFC? If not, why not?

The Mighty MJD: I do not. Why not? Because of this.

The Schaub news is traumatic for Texans fans, because yes, for most of Monday, I was confident in saying they were the most complete team in the AFC. With Schaub down, though, it's hard to see it. Nothing would make me happier than Matt Leinart coming out and shocking the world with a confidence and command that we've never seen from him in the NFL. But I'm probably not going to bet my house on it.

Chris Chase: They're good enough where the suggestion that they're the best team in the AFC can't be dismissed as easily as other provocative statements I've heard today like "the option offense era is coming" or "the Patriots have already clinched the AFC East" or "Jim Caldwell is actually doing a masterful job in Indianapolis." (OK, I never heard the last one. But it's only a matter of time before it's debated on one of those Deadspin-Slate roundtables.) Pittsburgh gets my vote for AFC's best although there is one key difference between the two: There's a reasonable chance Pittsburgh could miss the playoffs. There's almost no chance Houston does.

Maggie Hendricks: Yes. Their record, their personnel and their play establish that. They beat the Steelers, who have an identical record, and their loss to the Raiders came right after the death of Al Davis. No team was going to stop the ghost of Al from his team getting a win, baby. Houston has outscored their opponents 132-42 in their last four games. They're the best team in the AFC.

Doug Farrar: Chase and Maggie turned in their answers before the full extent of Matt Schaub's foot injury was revealed, but I think the Texans are actually set up pretty well to continue their successful season without Schaub. First, the Texans have the best offensive line in the NFL, and as they showed against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Sunday, they force opposing defenses to focus on that. Second, they have a great defense that has played consistently well. Third, they play a host of 4-3 teams that play a lot of Cover-2 down the stretch, and as unimpressive as Leinart has been through his career, he's always tended to play much better against Cover-2 and other 4-3 base coverage teams. This isn't a Colts situation where everything falls apart after Peyton Manning gets hurt — the same things that helped Matt Schaub will help Matt Leinart.

What in the Sam Hill is really going on with the Eagles? And do you see Andy Reid coaching that team in 2012?

The Mighty MJD: I'd put the chances of Andy Reid returning for 2012 at about 70/30 in favor. I think he'll probably be able to save his own job by sacrificing Juan Castillo, which absolutely should happen anyway. For whatever the reason, Jeffrey Lurie is either in love with Reid, or in love with the idea of having the same coach for years and years and years, Steelers-style.

Chris Chase: If Lee Majors taught us anything it's that there always has to be a fall guy. Ignoring the question of whether Andy Reid is the problem in Philly, he's the one who's going to have to suffer, if only because Michael Vick isn't going anywhere. So, is Andy Reid the problem? I'd say no; it's not his fault Vick still hasn't figured out how to avoid getting hit on runs or that DeSean Jackson is more concerned with playing for a contract than a team or that Eagles ownership decided to defy recent history by trying to win a Super Bowl via free agency.

Maggie Hendricks: A coach that doesn't know how to handle his talent is in over his head, and a quarterback who has had the crap kicked out of him in every game (and who doesn't get help from the referees) is too beaten down to lead.

Doug Farrar: At this point, I think it would be better for all involved for Andy Reid and the Philadelphia Eagles to part ways. The Eagles are a disaster from a personnel perspective despite their individual talent, and that goes to coaching. I have heard coaches say before that after about a decade (Reid's been there since 1999), a coach's message tends to lose its effectiveness, because a lot of veterans have heard the same things over and over. A change might do everybody good.

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Who's better — Cam Newton or Andy Dalton?

The Mighty MJD: Right now, it's about a coin flip, but if you're asking me who I'd rather have for the next 15 years, I'm about to go Cam. It's not even close. There's not a whole lot to separate them right now in terms of decision-making and mental ability, but in raw, physical ability? It's not even close. I take Cam Newton, all day long.

Chris Chase: If they swapped teams, would either be discernibly better or worse? Probably not. I'll stick with Cam and make the following prediction, which I'll begin at the end of this sentence, the one I'm writing now: 6-3 Cincinnati finishes the season with one more win than 2-7 Carolina. That sounded better in my head than it looks in print. Let's go with two more wins.

Maggie Hendricks: Cam Newton. He has 1000+ more passing and rushing yards than Dalton, but has been sacked 10 times more. Comparing the win statistic is ludicrous because Carolina's defense is Swiss Cheese while the Bengals are blessed with cheddar.

Doug Farrar: I've been far more impressed with Dalton than I expected based on his college tape, but the people crediting Dalton with "winning" games for the Bengals need to consider a few things. First, according to Football Outsiders' metrics, the Bengals were actually more efficient when passing in 2010 than they are right now. Meanwhile, Newton has transformed one of the worst offenses in recent memory. Dalton also has better receiver and a much better defense to lean on. The baseball intelligentsia has finally realized that the wins stat for an individual player doesn't mean everything when a team is flawed.

In the same way that Felix Hernandez and Zach Grienke have won Cy Young awards despite their won-loss records, people should be able to work beyond the farce of "quarterback wins" and realize that while Dalton's done a wonderful job of fitting into an already quality team, Newton's had an unusual transformative effect on his new team — and he's had much less to work with from a franchise perspective.

Has San Diego's window of opportunity closed, and should A.J. Smith be looking for alternate employment as a result?

The Mighty MJD: I think as long as you have a quarterback as good as Philip Rivers (and I'm choosing to see this year's interception total as an aberration, because that way, I don't have to squeeze my head into a woodchipper), the window remains somewhat open. And I don't think A.J. Smith is a bad GM. If he insists on retaining Norv as head coach, though, then he's got to go. He's been very loyal to Norvell, he's given him every reasonable chance to succeed with a quality roster, and it hasn't happened. It's time for Norv to move on. If A.J. Smith can't make that happen, then it's time for A.J. Smith to move on, too.

Chris Chase: It's way too early to be having this conversation. Let's wait until the Chargers go 5-6, win five straight to close the season and then lose in heartbreaking fashion in the wild card game before we discuss the particulars of A.J. Smith and Norv Turner's job security. 

Maggie Hendricks: If they were in anything but the AFC West, I would say yes, but my nephew's peewee team could put together a win streak in the AFC West. If Philip Rivers could calm down enough to stop making boneheaded mistakes in crucial moments, the Chargers could still win the four games necessary to win the west.

Unfortunately, I don't see that happening, and I don't see Smith keeping his job. He has made too many dumb mistakes that have resulted in the Chargers losing good players, and keeping bad ones, to be employed by an NFL team.

Doug Farrar: The Chargers' window has indeed passed, and Smith is the man to blame. He's been trying to prove that he's smarter than the league when it comes to player evaluation over the last few years, and while he is a great executive when he has his head on straight, his lethal habits of lowballing his best players and trading draft picks for players who aren't always worth those picks have left the cupboard more bare than it should be.

Philip Rivers did an amazing job in 2010 with a roster that was taken apart by Smith's hubris, but even Rivers has reached the breaking point in 2011. It's sad to see a quarterback of his caliber enter what will almost certainly be a rebuilding phase, but that's where things seem to be headed. And no, Smith should not be tasked with that rebuild.

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