Author: Al McMordie - Thursday, August 21, 2008
It's not your imagination: The Dogs have been barking loudly this NFL
preseason. In Week 1 the dogs were 9-5-2 against the number, which is not
unusual with the first look at all the teams. But Week 2 was even more extreme,
with the underdogs going 11-4 ATS (with one game lined at PK'em).
Two of the biggest surprises were the Raiders and Dolphins covering (though not
to me, as I had Miami as a big play). Oakland had to travel 3,000 miles to play
at Tennessee and play the Titans, who have done well in the preseason under Jeff
Fisher. Don't be fooled by the Raiders rolling up 380 yards, as most of it was
on the ground (224 yards). One plus is that young quarterback JaMarcus Russell's
mobility allowed him to use his feet to escape trouble and allow his receivers
to break their routes to come back to the ball. That's a plus in preseason
against second stringers, but could be less so in the regular season against
onrushing NFL linemen.
Miami used two quarterbacks in Week 2, newcomer Chad Pennington and rookie Chad
Henne (from my alma mater, Michigan). Reports are that the coaches like the two
Chads a lot and they've been getting most of the reps. Which means you're likely
to see them in Week 3, before teams generally play the backups in Week 4 to
prevent injuries to key players.
The Dolphins were a dog at Jacksonville but controlled the game against the
listless Jags. Henne was 17-of-26 for 133 yards while Pennington was 5-of-6 for
55 yards. Best yet: No turnovers! Miami's three scoring drives totaled 13
minutes and 46 seconds.
This was another preseason example of a new coach having an edge. The Dolphins
won as a dog for their new coach, while the Redskins, under new coach Jim Zorn,
are now 3-0 after a 13-10 win at New York. First-year head coaches can have an
edge in preseason as they want their team to play well and win, while more
established coaches often care much less.
Based on the play of the starters in a 19-14 loss to the Dolphins, put
Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio in the established category now, after another
playoff appearance last season. Del Rio was 15-5 SU, 14-6 ATS in preseason play
before this year. Now he's 1-1 SU/0-2 ATS with two weak performances. The
Jaguars trailed 19-0 at home and the frontline contributors didn't play at the
level of a team labeled a title contender.
"It's not near good enough, and it's not acceptable," Del Rio said. "I like for
them to feel this because this is what happens when you don't execute."
Expecting an improvement from their preseason-opening win over the Atlanta
Falcons, the Jaguars watched the opposite occur as the starters struggled on
both sides of the ball through the entire first half. The first-team offense
failed to score and produced just 87 yards.
Meanwhile, the defense allowed Miami running back Ricky Williams to run
roughshod (43 yards and a touchdown on 10 attempts) while it gave up 98 yards
through the air to newly acquired Dolphin quarterback Chad Pennington.
Pennington finished with a 104.9 QB rating while leading Miami to two
second-quarter scores. The Dolphins' starters outgained the Jaguars' frontline
"Sloppy half. We didn't move the ball," Del Rio said. "We got totally stuffed
offensively. Defensively, we never really slowed them down."
Perhaps more disturbing was the lackluster play of the Jaguars' defensive front
seven. Jaguars rookie defensive end Quentin Groves saw significant playing time,
but he struggled to get to the quarterback and couldn't consistently stop the
"We need to play better, that is the bottom line," Jaguars defensive end Paul
Spicer said. "That first half was football, but it sure wasn't Jaguar football."
They get another chance this weekend at Tampa Bay, a team on a short week.
Another dog that has quietly impressed this preseason is Houston. The Texans had
all kinds of injuries last season under second-year head coach Gary Kubiak, yet
finished 8-8. He's building a decent team, one that has balance on offense (he
was the offensive coordinator in Denver under Mike Shanahan), plus an
interesting young defensive front.
The Texans are now 2-0 SU/1-0-1 ATS this preseason after winning at New Orleans,
31-27. The offense rolled up 405 yards as Matt Schaub was absolutely brilliant,
14 for 16 with two touchdown passes, and a dazzling passer rating of 154.9. By
the way, the Texans are 5-1 over the total their last 6 preseason games.
The Seahawks won as a home dog against the Bears, 29-26 in OT, but what really
stood out was the terrible play (again) of the Chicago offense. The Seahawks had
the edge in yards 431-205. For the second straight week, QB Rex Grossman and the
first team offense played the first half. Yet, they have scored 3 and 5 points
in those two halves (and the safety was not by the offense).
Grossman didn't steer the Bears to a scoring drive Saturday, completing 9 of 15
passes for 74 yards and one interception for a passer rating of 44.9. "We didn't
play real smart," Grossman said. The Bears have a short week before kicking off
this weekend, on Thursday, at home against the 49ers. Week 3 is when the
starters generally play the most. It's a good time to fine tune offenses, but
just remember that the dogs have been the story this preseason. Good luck, as
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