Teams with negative scoring margins in hunt

Former NFL coach and ESPN analyst Herm Edwards is both galled and fascinated by what he sees every Sunday. As a coach, it makes him cringe. As a fan, he can’t help but be entertained.

Garrard accounted for five TDs in last week's win over the Cowboys.
(Sharon Ellman/AP Photo)

“I look at it and say, ‘Some of this is just crazy the way people play,’ ” Edwards said. “But if you’re a fan, it’s great. Even if [your team] only has two wins right now, you’re thinking, ‘We’re in it. We win a couple and this team loses a couple, we’re right there.’ ”

True enough. With the exception of the Buffalo Bills, Dallas Cowboys and Carolina Panthers, just about every team in the NFL is in the mix halfway through the season. Even 2-6 San Francisco, which has been plagued by poor coaching, poor offensive play and bad luck, is only 2 ½ games behind the NFC West-leading Seattle Seahawks. The Jacksonville Jaguars have lost four games by 22 points or more and have been outscored by a staggering 61 points for the season, but the Jags sit at 4-4 in the thick of the AFC playoff race.

Of the 17 teams that have winning records through the first eight weeks, four of them have been outscored for the season. Each of the four (Seahawks, Miami Dolphins, Houston Texans and Tampa Bay Buccaneers) has been outscored by at least 16 points. Houston and Tampa Bay have been outscored by 27.

Compared to the previous four seasons, this is significant. From 2006 to 2009, 66 teams had winning records through the eighth week of the season. Of those, there were eight that had been outscored and only three that had been outscored by as much as 16 points.

In other words, there are more teams this year whose record does not match up with their overall play. In fact, of the previous eight teams to have a winning record despite being outscored to this point, only one (Seattle in 2006) made the playoffs.

“To me, it just shows the inconsistency of certain teams from week to week,” former NFL team executive and current NFL Network reporter Mike Lombardi said. “You have teams that one week can play a competitive game and the next week, they get blown out.

“What I see out there are a lot of bad offensive lines and when you have bad offensive lines, it really affects you from week to week, especially when you go on the road.”

Edwards sees the problem as too many teams putting too much trust in ill-equipped quarterbacks.

“This has become such a passing league that teams that don’t have guys even close to being ready to throw 30 times a game are throwing 30 times a game,” Edwards said.

In fact, the coaching adage, “When you throw it, there are three things that can happen and two of them are bad” seems to have completely flipped.

“Right now, coaches think, ‘Hey, throw it up there because three things can happen and two are good,’ ” said Edwards, who was a defensive back in his playing days. “You get a completion or pass interference. To me, I see a bunch of interceptions, but that doesn’t bother anybody. It’s like, ‘Let’s keep throwing because we need to get the big play.’ ”

The result is either wild, close games or lopsided outcomes.

Houston, for instance, is averaging almost 34 throws per game despite the standout play of running back Arian Foster(notes) (737 yards, 5.7 yards per carry, seven touchdowns). While quarterback Matt Schaub(notes) is talented, the results are telling. The Texans’ wins are usually close (three of the four wins are by a touchdown or less) and their losses have been lopsided (each by at least 13 points).

“Houston is a really inconsistent team,” Lombardi said. “It’s almost like they want to fall behind so that it takes the pressure off and they can just throw it around all game.”

The 3-4 Arizona Cardinals are another example. Despite going with the combination of rookie quarterback Max Hall(notes) and Derek Anderson(notes), the Cardinals are throwing an average of 33 times per game and have a total of 73 in the past two games. Hall and Anderson have combined for five touchdown passes, 12 interceptions, 22 sacks and eight fumbles.

Arizona’s games have been reflective of the uneven quarterback play. The Cardinals have lost two games by more than 30 points and have had three games decided by four points or fewer.

Hall has thrown five INTs and one TD this year.
(Ross D. Franklin/AP Photo)

Moreover, Arizona’s uneven play has contributed directly to the fact that four teams now have winning records despite being outscored. The Cardinals lost to two of the four (Seattle and Tampa Bay) in the past four weeks. The loss to Tampa Bay not only featured four interceptions, but two of them were returned for scores by the Bucs in an eventual 38-35 loss by the Cardinals.

“You have bad teams with bad quarterbacks making it worse by throwing it so much,” Edwards said. “We’ve turned the NFL into a seven-on-seven league, no question. It used to be that if you didn’t have a good quarterback or a good passing game, you’d run it, try to make a couple of first downs, run some clock and protect your defense.

“If you want to change the field position, all you have to do most of the time is get a couple of first downs. Get out to midfield, punt it away, play field position and keep it close.

“Now, everybody is just winging it. I mean, some of the guys who are throwing it a bunch, they have no business. You see the Cardinals with Max Hall and Anderson. [Ryan] Fitzpatrick up in Buffalo. These guys are throwing 35, 40 times a game and they’re not ready.”

Jason Cole is a national NFL writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Friday, Nov 5, 2010