This week's Thursday night game is not for fans of good offensive line play.
The Dolphins will likely be without left tackle Jake Long, their best pass-blocker, so third-string-turned-starter QB Tyler Thigpen will likely be hurried all night long. Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler won't have many chances to set his feet when he throws either – his line's poor play is a large majority of the reason that the Bears are tied for the league lead in sacks allowed with 33. Instead of adjusting his offense to help buy Cutler time, or to get rid of the ball more quickly, offensive coordinator Mike Martz is stubbornly sticking to his seven-step drops that keep getting Cutler hit and pressured into making bad throws that frequently result in costly interceptions.
Neither team can afford to lose this game. At 5-4, the Dolphins will fall extremely far behind in the AFC East race with a loss, and the 6-3 Bears will fall out of first place in the NFC North. The Dolphins lost their top two quarterbacks in the space of one week, and they will probably rely heavily on the Wildcat formation as they did during the third quarter of their game against the Titans. The Chicago Bears' defense will be hard-pressed to stop this formation, because its lack of recent use means that teams have not been practicing and preparing for it. This means that the element of surprise, a huge advantage in football games, will be on Miami's side. Chicago's defense's in-game adjustments and play recognition will be key to slowing down the Wildcat and forcing Miami to pass. Miami will be hard-pressed to pass against the Bears' extremely disciplined Tampa-2 scheme, but if they have to do so, Dolphins offensive coordinator Dan Henning should Try This!
Trends and Tidbits
I’d like to apologize ahead of time for the quarterback-centric nature of this week’s Trends and Tidbits. I generally try to focus on stories about players other than quarterbacks when possible, but this week it simply was not possible.
- Michael Vick is 31 other teams’ worst nightmare right now. He’s always been a dangerous athlete, but the way to beat him was always just to spy him with your most athletic linebacker or defensive end, and force him to throw. Now Vick can pick defenses apart from in the pocket, necessitating better coverage downfield. It’s a lose-lose situation for defenses. If they put too many men in coverage, they will be torn apart on the ground. On the other hand, if they send one or more defensive players to spy Vick, it will leave holes in the coverage that he is now finally capable of exploiting.
- The Tennessee Titans’ season is now resting on Vince Young’s maturity and Randy Moss’s work ethic. This is troublesome for Tennessee. Young has shown lately that he simply isn’t the tough, gritty competitor that a true franchise quarterback has to be. Young was healthy enough to be the number two quarterback, and when he came in the game he was running as well as he had been all year long. Kerry Collins started the game, playing through a torn tendon on the middle finger of his throwing hand. It visibly impacted his accuracy, and there is no way that Young, despite his game-sealing turnovers, was not the best option on the Titans’ roster. Despite this, he chose to sit out the game. He was the same way in the Titans’ game against the Chargers before their bye week. He left the game after re-aggravating an ankle injury, but never needed to go back to the locker room. The only “treatment” he required for the rest of the game’s duration was simply a bag of ice on his ankle. On the Titans’ final drive, with the game on the line, the Titans had the ball in Chargers’ territory on 3rd-and-2. The camera zoomed to Young standing on the sidelines, ice removed and cleats on. Despite this, Collins stayed in the game, throwing two incompletions to end the Titans’ comeback hopes. Nothing could have kept Steve McNair out of the Chargers game in that 3rd-and-2 situation, and McNair without a doubt would have started after a bye week to rest the injury. For someone who makes a habit of comparing himself to McNair, Young needs to take a page out of McNair’s book, grit his teeth, and do whatever it takes to win. Young has all the physical tools to be successful, but he seems to lack the warrior instincts that the league’s all-time greats all possess.
- In stark contrast to Young, Mark Sanchez showed the exact type of toughness that a franchise quarterback has to have. He severely hurt his right calf, but finished the game and frequently made scrambles to elude the pass rush and keep the Jets alive. His willingness to play through pain is exactly what a team needs from the quarterback position. Quarterback was considered to be the Jets’ biggest question mark going into the season, but Sanchez has turned it into one of the team’s biggest positions of strength.
- Donovan McNabb’s contract extension was the right move for the Redskins. The knee-jerk reaction to McNabb’s performance on Monday night is to blast the Redskins for signing McNabb to an extension. However, the extension is actually a sign that the Redskins are finally making a wise investment. I’m not buying the media’s explanation that McNabb became a terrible quarterback overnight when he moved to Washington. Look at his surrounding cast – expecting McNabb, or any quarterback, to lead the Redskins to the playoffs this year is simply unrealistic and unfair. With a decent supporting cast, McNabb can turn the Redskins into contenders in the NFC East. However, this is going to take a few years, which is why securing McNabb with a long-term deal is a necessary move. The organization has McNabb’s back, even though Mike Shanahan doesn’t. Shanahan has quickly alienated his team in less than a season. Between the handling of the Albert Haynesworth situation and the benching of McNabb, Shanahan has become the coach that absolutely nobody wants to play for.
- Matt Schaub was hospitalized with bursa sac issues on Tuesday night, and that could very well knock the Texans out of the playoff race. In the 2008 offseason, Peyton Manning had infected bursa sacs, missed the preaseason, and was completely out of sync until week 5 of the season. Not only was Manning unable to step into his throws properly, but handoffs to his running backs were extremely awkward. For this reason, if Schaub plays again this season, expect to see a lot of pitches and stretch plays. - Hank Koebler, IV
Hank is a sports journalist attending the University of Missouri's school of journalism.
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