Monthly Archives: October 2012

NFL at midseason — bests & worsts

POINT

Ben Roethlisberger, my choice for NFL MVP through the first half
of the 2012 season. (my training-camp photo)

The bests and worsts of the NFL, through the first half of the season:

 

 

****** TEAMS ******

 

BEST TEAM

Atlanta Falcons

You might think this is a no-brainer, but until their complete domination of the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, I was dubious of the Falcons’ undefeated record. They could easily have been 4-2, or even 3-3, if it hadn’t been for great fortune. But, man, did they look solid in Philly. They’re 7-0, uber-talented – starting with QB Matt Ryan and his receivers – and confident.

Runnerup: Houston Texans

 

WORST TEAM

Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs haven’t led one game at any moment in regulation; they took their only lead at the conclusion of their overtime win in New Orleans in Week 3. They have the league’s worst turnover ratio, at -18, and are as poorly coached (by Romeo Crennel) as any NFL team we’ve seen in some time.

Runnerup: Jacksonville Jaguars

 

FASTEST RISING TEAM

Green Bay Packers

The Pack’s victory at Houston on Oct. 14 probably is the most impressive win by anybody this season. QB Aaron Rodgers has fully bounced back from whatever mini-funk he’d sunk into late last season. And the Packers defence has been fabulous, just a year after being the leakiest in the league; it leads the league in sacks with 26, just three shy of its 2011 total.

Runnerup: Denver Broncos

 

FASTEST SINKING TEAM

New York Jets

Since crushing the Buffalo Bills in Week 1, the Jets are 2-5, have lost their best player on both sides of the ball (CB Darrelle Revis, WR Santonio Holmes) and their starting QB Mark Sanchez has completed just 51% of his passes – for just seven TDs against seven picks, 184 yards a game and a dismal passer rating of 67.2. Plenty more of all this to come.

Runnerup: Philadelphia Eagles

 

MOST ENIGMATIC TEAM

Dallas Cowboys

It’s crazy, but owner/GM Jerry Jones might actually be correct – the talent is there to win a Super Bowl. Problem is, the capacity is also there among too many key players to screw up too often for the club even to make the playoffs, probably. Again. Tony Romo, for instance, on the same drive (let alone in the same quarter or game) can make throws like both an all-pro and a bad college backup. A shame, because the Dallas D is for real.

Runnerup: Detroit Lions

 

BEST HEAD COACH

Joe Philbin, Miami Dolphins

Everyone laughed at the Dolphins in August, especially after the club had traded away its most talented offensive player (WR Brandon Marshall) and best defensive back (Vontae Davis). Yet coming off a 6-10 season, the Fins are 4-3. They’re the only AFC team on a three-game winning streak, and their two losses before that were both in OT. Every respected talent evaluator said rookie QB Ryan Tannehill wasn’t ready to start, but he has been a solid playmaker. The Dolphins D is vastly under-appreciated too – allowing the fewest points in the AFC, and third fewest in the league.

Runnerup: Lovie Smith, Chicago Bears

 

 

****** PLAYERS ******


MOST VALUABLE PLAYER

Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh

A controversial pick, yes. But by definition of this category, no NFL player has meant more to his team’s success so far. Big Ben’s elite quarterback play and leadership was the glue that held the 4-3 Steelers together through a shaky first 5-6 weeks. Through three games, for instance, the Steelers running game was inept (125 yards total), the offensive line awful (nine sacks allowed) and the defence was reeling from myriad injuries. Yet Roethlisberger has been elite from Game 1’s opening kickoff.

Runnerup: Peyton Manning, QB, Denver

 

BEST PLAYER, OFFENCE

Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay

Yes, Aaron again. He’d be the first to admit both he and the rest of the Packers offence stumbled a bit out of the gate. But since the replacement officials jobbed Green Bay out of that win at Seattle in Week 3, he’s been better than ever. The numbers: 70% completions, 18 touchdown passes, two interceptions, 121.1 passer rating. And that’s after the Packers’ top running backs went down, and with WR Greg Jennings mostly sidelined.

Runnerup: Peyton Manning, QB, Denver

 

BEST PLAYER, DEFENCE

J.J. Watt, DE, Houston

The second-year man is redefining 3-4 interior defensive line play, not only with his league-leading 9.5 sacks but with his 10 pass knockdowns. The only person disappointed in his stats is him – that’s how high his goals are. He affects a game like no other defender in the NFL. Since the playoffs he’s been doing it each and every week.

Runnerup: Tim Jennings, CB, Chicago

 

COMEBACK PLAYER

Peyton Manning, QB, Denver

He’s Mr. Commercials for a reason. The elder Manning is playing as well as any offensive player in the league right now. In his past five games, he’s more prolific than any QB (324 yards per game) and his passer rating of 109.0 trails only Rodgers’. Most impressively, Manning has thrown only one interception since he obviously had arm issues in the Week 2 loss at Atlanta – and that was when a novice receiver ran the wrong route at San Diego. Neck, shmeck. He’s back.

Runnerup: Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota

 

BEST ROOKIE

Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington

RGIII has been as dynamic as promised. His passing numbers are not prolific but he’s top-shelf efficient. He has thrown only four touchdowns in the past five games, but he continues to make clutch plays – in the air and on the ground – that has veteran NFL coaches shaking their heads. And he’s just getting started.

Runnerup: Alfred Morris, RB, Washington (uh, good draft, Shanny)

 

BIGGEST BONEHEAD

Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas

He makes many a spectacular play both as a receiver and kick returner. But Mr. Off-field Rules gives as many back with stupidity, laziness, inattentiveness or craziness. At least three of Tony Romo’s interceptions are on Bryant. There’s no way his antics couldn’t be having a negative effect on team morale.

Runnerup: Tamba Hali, Kansas City Chiefs

 

BIGGEST BU$T

Mario Williams, DE, Buffalo

But it’s not his fault. Really. He has said he was ineffective in the opener because Jets’ Austin Howard (in first career start at RT) used illegal hands-to-the-face tactics. And a mysterious left-wrist injury has hampered him since. So ignore his general ineffectiveness and just keep the money coming.

Runnerup: Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit

 

 

MY ALL-PRO MID-SEASON TEAM

(2nd-teamers in parentheses)

 

Offence

QB: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay (Peyton Manning, Denver)

RB: Adrian Peterson, Minnesota (Alfred Morris, Washington)

TE: Rob Gronkowski, New England (Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta)

WR: A.J. Green, Cincinnati (Roddy White, Atlanta)

WR: Victor Cruz, NY Giants (Steven Jackson, Tampa Bay)

SLOT: Percy Harvin, Minnesota (Wes Welker, New England)

OFFENSIVE LINE: Houston Texans (New York Giants)

 

Defence

DE: J.J. Watt, Houston (Jason Pierre-Paul, NY Giants)

DE: Jared Allen, Minnesota (Chris Clemons, Seattle)

DL: Haloti Ngata, Baltimore (Kyle Williams, Buffalo)

DL: Geno Atkins, Cincinnati (Ryan Pickett, Green Bay)

OLB: Clay Matthews, Green Bay (Daryl Washington, Arizona)

LB: NaVorro Bowman, San Francisco (James Laurinaitis, St. Louis)

LB: Patrick Willis, San Francisco (Jerod Mayo, New England)

CB: Tim Jennings, Chicago (Casey Hayward, Green Bay)

CB: Cortland Finnegan, St. Louis  (Antoine Winfield, Minnesota)

S:  Thomas DeCoud, Atlanta (Ed Reed, Baltimore)

S: Stevie Brown, NY Giants (Jairus Byrd, Buffalo)

 

Special Teams

PK: Phil Dawson, Cleveland (Greg Zuerlein, St. Louis)

P: Brandon Fields, Miami (Andy Lee, San Francisco)

PR: Leodis McKelvin, Buffalo (Marcus Thigpen, Miami)

KR:  Jacoby Jones, Baltimore (Percy Harvin, Minnesota)

THE SEASON’S TOP 10 STORYLINES, UPDATED:

These are the Top 10 storylines we figured would dominate this season, originally written Sept. 3 for our kickoff package.

On some predictions we were bang-on. On others, umm, not so much.

Herewith, at the NFL’s halfway point between Weeks 8 and 9, are updates:

 

1. PEYTON MANNING.

Twenty months, four neck surgeries and a change of scenery later, is Manning fully healed? Can he still make all the throws? Can his neck hold up to the hits? Can he be the Peyton of old, or just an old Peyton? Nobody’s sure. Probably not even him.

UPDATE: Um. Yeah. He can still play. Magnificently. Nnnnnext.

 

2. THE SAINTS.

No one knows how the bounty scandal will affect the Saints on the field. Will Payton’s absence hurt the offence more than many realize? Will the distractions prematurely exhaust the squad’s focus and mental energies?

UPDATE: Yes and yes – to degrees no one imagined possible. But worse than both of those factors has been the Saints’ league-worst defence. Even Drew Brees and the New Orleans offence can’t keep up on the scoreboard. The Saints deserve their 2-5 start.

 

3. REPLACEMENT REFS.

The season will start with replacement officials temping for the league’s full-time zebras, who are locked out … Can you imagine the stink that would follow a blown game-deciding call? The longer the lockout lingers, the bigger the mess the NFL will have on its hands.

UPDATE: Hooboy, did we nail this one. We’ll be watching slo-mo replays of the “Fail Mary” for decades to come. You remember, when Seattle beat Green Bay on a last-play bomb on Monday night that even nine-year-old girls (well, at least mine) could see was an interception – but which was ruled joint possession and, thus, a game-winning touchdown for the Seahawks?

 

4. NEWBIE QBs.

Five rookies will start on Sunday: Andrew Luck (Colts), Robert Griffin III (Redskins), Ryan Tannehill (Dolphins), Brandon Weeden (Browns) and Russell Wilson (Seahawks). Expect some low-scoring games to start the season.

UPDATE: Hooboy, did we ever blow this one. Scoring never has been higher in the NFL. And the rookies have shocked with their high level of play. Especially RGIII, Luck and Tannehill.

 

5. TEBOW-SAURUS REX.

If anyone believes the New York Jets quarterback situation this season is going to end up in anything other than disaster, raise your hand. Rex Ryan insists Tim Tebow can help the Jets win. And he might well be right, when they reveal precisely what second offensive package they’ve been cooking up for him. The disaster will come when starting QM Mark Sanchez inevitably screws up to the point where frustrated New Yorkers would rather see Tebow start.

UPDATE: We’re practically there. But we’re all puzzled as to why the Jets have barely used Tebow and his wildcat-ish sub-package. If they’re still holding parts of it back, then, like the titular Dr. Strangelove said to the Russian diplomat in that 1964 dark-humour classic: “Of course, zee whole point of a Doomsday Machine is lost if you KEEP it a SECRET!”

 

6. CAN THE GIANTS REPEAT AGAINST THAT SCHEDULE?

Head coach Tom Coughlin knows what it takes to follow up a Giants Super Bowl win with a gangbuster start the following season, having led one in 2008. His defence is even better this time, and QB Eli Manning has more weapons at his disposal on offence. But that schedule.

UPDATE: After laying an egg in the opener against Dallas, and barely coming back to beat Tampa Bay to avoid an 0-2 start, the Giants have rolled. They’re 6-2. But no more Clevelands or Carolinas ahead.

 

7. AS THE NFC EAST TURNS.

Which team will implode first? The Eagles or the Cowboys?

UPDATE: Both teams are 3-4 and imploding about equally horrifically right now. Get a front-row seat if you can. Shield your eyes if you must.

 

8. TAKING TO THE AIR UP (NFC) NORTH.

The Detroit Lions might feature the game’s most scintillating passing combo in years, in QB Matthew Stafford and WR Calvin “Megatron” Johnson. Not far behind in aerial-circus wonderment is Green Bay’s QB Aaron Rodgers — with any of WR Greg Jennings, WR Jordy Nelson or TE Jermichael Finley. Don’t sleep on the Bears’ reunited duo of QB Jay Cutler and WR Brandon Marshall.

UPDATE: We’re all still waiting for the Stafford-to-Megatron thing to start happening again – what a head-scratcher. Rodgers now is as sharp as ever, even without the injured Jennings (groin). And Cutler-to-Marshall indeed has proven dangerous.

 

9. LATER START FOR LATE AFTERNOON GAMES.

UPDATE: I had this wrong last time. Only the 4:15 games moved to 4:25 p.m. EDT. Effect? Negligible.

 

10. IS EXCITEMENT ABOUT THE BILLS LEGIT?

Buffalo Bills GM Buddy Nix and head coach Chan Gailey have hitched their wagon to QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, WR Stevie Johnson, RB Fred Jackson and, especially, to DE Mario Williams, the $100-million free-agent signee. Most observers remain unconvinced the Bills will contend with the Patriots for the AFC East title. Some remain skeptical the team will even remain long in the playoff hunt.

UPDATE: Bingo. Williams so far has been the bust of the year among free-agent signees, and Fitzpatrick’s ceiling seems to drop by the week. Playoffs? Not likely.

 

 

@sonofbum recalls ‘great days’ with Bills

Wade

 Wade Phillips, defensive coordinator of the Houston Texans.

HOUSTON, Texas – He’s both the son and father of an NFL coach.

He himself has 36 years of pro coaching experience, renowned for turning crappy NFL defences into good ones.

He has the coolest Twitter handle ever – @sonofbum.

And he’s the last head coach to take the Buffalo Bills to the playoffs.

Wade Phillips is now 65, and he’s working wonders with the defence of the AFC’s best team, the 6-1 Houston Texans – who play host to the 3-4 Bills on Sunday afternoon.

After six turns as a defensive coordinator and three as a head coach in the NFL since 1981, Phillips a year ago joined the Texans under head coach Gary Kubiak.

He promptly installed his 3-4 attack defence and turned a unit that had ranked fourth worst in the NFL in points surrendered per game (26.7) to fourth best (17.4). Similarly, his 2011 defence allowed the second fewest total yards per game (286) after allowing the third most (377) the year before.

This season his Texans defence remains among the league’s best. It ranks third in fewest total yards allowed per game (283), sixth in fewest points (18.3), second in third-down conversion percentage (27.5%) and is stingiest in pass-completion percentage (52.8%).

Phillips might not be nearly the character his cowboy-hat-wearin’, crew-cut-sportin’, southern-sayings-drawalin’ father Bum Phillips was, when he was head coach of the Houston Oilers in the 1970s and New Orleans Saints in the 1980s.

But despite having experienced a few too many times an old adage his father once famously coined – “There ain’t but two kinds of coaches in the NFL: Them that’s been fired, and them that’s gonna be fired” – @sonofum has done dadgum good in his own right.

WadeTwelve years later, Phillips’ turn at the helm of the Bills looks kind of impressive in comparison to the string of awful regimes that have followed his.

Check this out.

When Phillips was both head coach and vice-president of football operations in Buffalo from 1998 through 2000 – after a successful three-year turn as Marv Levy’s defensive coordinator – the Bills won 60% of their games and made the playoffs in two of three years.

What’s more, his Bills were 5-1 in prime-time games, and were 4-2 against New England and 3-3 against Peyton Manning’s Indianapolis Colts.

His 1999 team is the franchise’s only one since Levy’s early-’90s Super Bowl powerhouses to post a winning record on the road (5-3). His teams averaged four Pro Bowl selections per year, whereas the Bills the past four years have had four Pro Bowl selections combined.

On and on we can go with this.

Indeed, Phillips’ defences as Buffalo’s head coach ranked sixth, first and third in the NFL, whereas since then only two Bills defences have been ranked higher than 14th (the 2003 and 2004 units both were ranked second).

His 1999 defence was particularly strong, surrendering just 266 yards and 14 points per game. By pitiful contrast, this year’s sad-sack defence allowed more of both in one half against New England, San Francisco (both halves) and Tennessee.

Phillips, though, was far from perfect.

FlutieThe way he managed his Bills coaching staff and, especially, his quarterbacks – Doug Flutie (a CFL import from the Toronto Argos, left) and Rob Johnson – exposed himself to ample and justified criticism.

Yet Phillips did not neglect the offensive side of the ball, as many defensive-minded head coaches do. His three offences ranked sixth, 11th and 11th in the NFL. Only two Bills offences since have ranked higher than 14th – namely, the two that immediately followed his (13th in 2001, 11th in 2002).

“We had some great days in Buffalo,” Phillips told me before the Texans crunched the then one-loss Baltimore Ravens, 43-13.

“In fact we have friends coming in from Buffalo to our ball games now. There are great people there. I really enjoyed it there. We were 29-19, in the playoffs, and didn’t have a losing season. I’m proud of what we did there.”

The most memorable game in his regime, of course, was the heartbreaking playoff loss at Tennessee – the “Music City Miracle,” in which the Titans won on a kickoff return for touchdown with 16 seconds left, when tight end Frank Wycheck threw a cross-field lateral to Kevin Dyson, who darted 72 yards to paydirt.

The Bills haven’t been to the playoffs since.

MouldsBuffalo fans and many others (raises hand) always thought Wycheck’s pass was a forward lateral, thus the score should have been called back. Video replay upheld the on-field call.

Count Phillips among the disbelievers.

“Until they threw the forward lateral, we had the game won,” Phillips said, shaking his head.

“I think we had a heck of a team while we were there, and I was hoping it’d be longer. But it wasn’t.”

Ralph Wilson fired him in January 2001 – a month after the owner had whacked GM John Butler – because Phillips had refused to fire his assistant coach Ronnie Jones, whose special teams were the league’s worst.

“I felt we needed a change and that my request was reasonable,” Wilson said in a statement after firing Phillips. “I did not want to release Wade, but his refusal left me with no option.”

It should be said that Bills fans, spoiled by their team’s four consecutive trips to the Super Bowl after  the 1990-93 seasons, had much higher expectations then. Phillips’ job was to return the team back to that level of excellence. He didn’t.

Phillips went on to run defences in San Diego and Atlanta, before Jerry Jones hired him as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys in 2007. Phillips lasted four years in Jerry’s world.

Phillips’ son, Wes, remains with the Cowboys as assistant offensive line coach.

Now with the Texans, and sporting hair whiter than a Buffalo lawn in January, Phillips is coaching defence as effectively as ever.

And @sonofbum’s dad continues to offer him sage advice.

“He’s doing great. He’s 89 years old, and I still talk to him after every game,” Phillips said. “He’s always telling me what I should have done. And he knows – he’s right.”

 

THE WADE PHILLIPS FILE:

BORN: June 21, 1947 in Orange, Texas

COLLEGE: Linebacker at University of Houston

DAD: Bum Phillips, head coach of Houston Oilers (1975-80) and New Orleans Saints (1981-85)

SON: Wes Phillips, current assistant offensive line coach of Dallas Cowboys

COACHING CAREER:

1969: Graduate assistant, University of Houston

1970-72: Defensive coordinator, Orange H.S.

1973-74: Linebackers, Oklahoma State

1975: Defensive line, University of Kansas

1976: Linebackers, Houston Oilers

1977-80:Defensive line, Houston Oilers

1981-85: Defensive coordinator, New Orleans Saints

1986-88: Defensive coordinator, Philadelphia Eagles

1989-92: Defensive coordinator, Denver Broncos

1993-94:Head coach, Denver Broncos

1995-97: Defensive coordinator, Buffalo Bills

1998-00: Vice-president of football operations/ head Coach, Buffalo Bills

2002-03: Defensive coordinator, Atlanta Falcons

2004-06: Defensive coordinator, San Diego Chargers

2007-10: Head coach, Dallas Cowboys

Since 2011: Defensive coordinator, Houston Texans

BUFFALO BILLS UNDER WADE PHILLIPS:

1998: 10-6, made playoffs. Lost 24-17 at Miami in wildcard.

1999: 11-5, made playoffs. Lost 22-16 at Tennessee in wildcard.

2000: 8-8, no playoffs. Started 7-4 but lost 4 of last 5.

** Wade Phillips regime: 29-19 (.604)

BUFFALO BILLS SINCE WADE PHILLIPS:

2001:  3-13, no playoffs. Gregg Williams head coach

2002:  8-8, no playoffs.  Gregg Williams

2003:  6-10, no playoffs. Gregg Williams

** Gregg Williams regime: 17-31 (.354)

2004:  9-7, no playoffs. Mike Mularkey

2005:  5-11, no playoffs. Mike Mularkey

** Mike Mularkey regime: 14-18 (.438)

2006: 7-9, no playoffs. Dick Jauron

2007: 7-9, no playoffs. Dick Jauron

2008: 7-9, no playoffs. Dick Jauron

2009:  6-10, no playoffs. Dick Jauron/Perry Fewell

** Dick Jauron regime: 27-37 (.422)

2010: 4-12, no playoffs. Chan Gailey

2011: 6-10, no playoffs. Chan Gailey

2012: *3-4, no playoffs. Chan Gailey

** Chan  Gailey regime*: 13-26 (.333)

*-so far

 

CHALKBOARD: How Brady picked on a Jets safety

We all know NFL offences, more and more, are going into hurry-up mode – especially to prevent the D from substituting out of a disadvantageous personnel mismatch.

In this week’s chalkboard session, we provide a classic example.

Here’s the situation.

With 1:37 left in last Sunday’s game in Foxboro, the visiting New York Jets have just taken a 26-23 lead on the New England Patriots.

The Patriots come out after the kickoff in an ‘11’ formation at their own 21-yard line – with one running back (speedy smurf Danny Woodhead), one tight end (Rob Gronkowski) and three wideouts – Brandon Lloyd, Wes Welker and Deion Branch.

The Jets counter with a hybrid nickel sub-package. That is, with cornerbacks on each of the three wideouts and two deep safeties, but with a sixth defensive back (strong safety Antonio Allen) lined up as a linebacker along with two actual linebackers, behind a three-man line.

The thinking of Jets head coach Rex Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, presumably, is that Allen matches up better than any linebacker would against either the tight end, Gronkowski, or the running back, Woodhead.

But it’s still a mismatch, and a bad mismatch at that. We suspect the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady knew it.

On first down, Brady throws complete to Gronkowski on a slant for 15 yards; Allen is tardy on the coverage. Clock still runs, Patriots hurry up.

On second down, Allen is responsible for covering Gronk again, but is slow to diagnose the simple out route, even slower to catch up to Gronk and yet worse at trying to tackle him. Gronk drags tacklers for a 12-yard gain in all, up to the Patriots’ 48.

With the clock still ticking, and 45 seconds left at the snap, this is the diagrammed play in the above video – the one that puts the Patriots in field-goal range.

The Pats quickly come to the line, and realign – with Woodhead in the backfield staggered left, Lloyd flanked left, Welker in the slot left, Gronkowski slotted to the right and Branch flanked right.

The Jets cannot substitute, unless they choose to take a timeout, which they don’t. But this time the Jets have Allen swap sides in the linebacker trio-of-sorts, to Brady’s left.

It is probably not a coincidence that Brady intends to pick on Allen again, and thus will look for Woodhead this time, not Gronk.

Brady drops back, looks right, toward Gronk, but then comes back left and hits Woodhead on a route – a fake-right, dig-left. The fake to the right fools Allen, briefly freezes him, and Woodhead has two steps on him once he catches Brady’s pass.

Woodhead is faster than Allen and zips upfield for a 20-yard gain before the deep safety on that side, LaRon Landry, can haul him down.

The Jets had rushed only the three linemen (two outside backers and a tackle), which the Pats O-linemen easily handled.

So, in three hurry-up plays in which the playclock never stopped, the Patriots are at the Jets’ 32-yard line with 22 seconds to go. The Pats get off two more plays – an incomplete and a seven-yard completion to Woodhead – before Stephen Gostkowski nails a 43-yard field goal as time expires in regulation, tying the game 26-26.

In overtime, the Patriots would again drive methodically in the no-huddle, hurry-up shotgun – 54 yards in 12 plays – to get another Gostkowski field goal.

Mark Sanchez’s subsequent lost fumble would seal the Patriots’ victory.

LESSON: If you aren’t going to blitz Brady in the two-minute drill, as the Baltimore Ravens successfully did in Week 3 to get the ball back and win it late, you’d better have safeties and linebackers who are fast and able enough to cover Gronk, Woodhead and Welker.

Otherwise, forget it.

Tamba Hali knows dirty, all right

Hali

Chiefs OLB Tamba Hali merely made a tackle of C.J. Spiller on
this play
in Buffalo on Sept. 16. (Reuters)

——

The Oakland Raiders are a dirty team – according to a Kansas City Chiefs player who, six weeks ago, allegedly attempted to wrench one Buffalo Bill’s head off, and twist another’s arm off.

So he’d know dirty. Evidently.

“It’s a tradition,” Chiefs outside linebacker Tamba Hali told the Kansas City Star’s Adam Teicher on Wednesday. “The Raiders, they come in, they cheap-shot, they hit you.”

The 2-4 Raiders visit the 1-5 Chiefs on Sunday afternoon in the 103rd matchup of those AFC West rivals.

“I’m not saying (any) names. It is what it is,” Hali continued. “We’ve got to be ready and keep our composure, stayed poised and be able to get this win.

“(The Raiders) play dirty. We’ve got to come out swinging. We’ve got to be ready for that. (If) you let them do it, they’re going to enjoy themselves doing it and they’ll run over you.”

You don’t say?

Hali threw that rock whilst standing amid the shards of his shattered glass house.

You might recall the story we wrote after the Bills slammed the Chiefs 35-17 on Sept. 16 at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Late in the first half, a Chiefs defender took a couple of attempt-to-injure “cheap shots” at a pair of Bills, according to two Buffalo offensive linemen.

The Chiefs player? One Tamba Hali.

The Bills were on the Chiefs’ 2-yard line with 4:21 left in the first half, after another long gain by Buffalo’s C.J. Spiller.

K.C. stuffed Buffalo running back Dorin Dickerson for an eight-yard loss. That’s when Hali apparently lost his cool.

“I think I tripped or something and fell, so he thought I was trying to cut him,” Bills left guard Andy Levitre said after the game. “And he tried to twist my neck. He took both of his arms and pinched them around my helmet and (twisted), so that got me going a little bit. So I reacted to that.

“We were talking back and forth, and on the following play he tried to come inside, and I threw him on the ground.”

That play was a touchdown, a 10-yard pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Scott Chandler that put the Bills up 21-0. Hali, presumably miffed, instantly targeted rookie Buffalo left tackle Cordy Glenn, “trying to (twist his) arm out of the socket,” according to Bills centre Eric Wood.

“We’re not going to stand for that,” Wood said.

Within seconds, as we observed from the press box, three Bills linemen jump on Hali, as the rest of their teammates were celebrating the score. It was quite the scrum but, incredibly, no flags were thrown by the replacement officials.

Both Levitre and Wood said afterward that several disgruntled Chiefs later “started jawing off” like they did last year during the Bills’ 41-7 victory.

Wood said Hali went after “Andy and Cordy — guys that are performing. (The Chiefs) get ticked off. You get a team down, and like I said, they’re going to take some shots at you. That’s why we weren’t taking our foot off their throats at the end.

“It’s something I’m sure the league will review.”

An NFL spokesman on Thursday said Hali was not fined following the KC-Buffalo game.

Regardless, however dirty the Raiders might have been under previous head-coaching regimes in the Al Davis era, that has come to the end under new GM Reggie McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen.

Allen is a no-nonsense disciplinarian who has said he won’t stand for any of that cross-the-line stuff. Mere false-start transgressions drive him crazy.

If anyone, then, is apt to lose his cool on Sunday and cross said line in Kansas City, he probably won’t be wearing white, silver and black.

 

The curious case of Mario Williams’ ‘procedure’

MarioThe curious case of Mario Williams’ injured left wrist gets more curious by the day.

Less than 24 hours after the Buffalo NewsTim Graham reported that the NFL’s highest-paid defender was considering having surgery on his sprained left wrist, Bills head coach Chan Gailey announced the following on Wednesday afternoon:

“The update on Mario is he had a procedure done to relieve some discomfort in his wrist, and we expect him back for practice next week. That’s all I know at this point.”

Williams (right, my photo at OTAs in June) signed a six-year, $100-million contract with the Bills in March. Yet he has not been a high-impact defender through seven games.

He has 3.5 sacks, tied for 32nd in the league. The 6-foot-6, 292-pound pass-rush specialist tallied those sacks in two road games (1.5 at Cleveland, 2.0 at Arizona), meaning he has been held sackless in Buffalo’s five other games, including all three at home.

Can a defensive end be a high-impact player without notching a sack? Yes. Has Williams? In four of seven games (against the New York Jets, New England, San Francisco and Tennessee), no.

The 3-4 Bills have a bye this week, before playing back-to-back games at Houston and at New England.

Now to the curiosities.

Did Bills team doctors diagnose the need for surgery? Did they perform whatever the “procedure” was? Was it done in Buffalo, or in Houston? Was it done Tuesday or Wednesday? And what is the exact nature of the injury?

Gailey on Wednesday claimed he didn’t know answers to any of those questions. Curious indeed.

Now, this must be said. Head coaches in contact sports – especially in the NHL and NFL – usually are about as willing to enlighten us all on their players’ injuries as U.S. presidential candidates are to honestly explain their personal-policy 180s.

A decade or so ago, Toronto Maple Leafs coach Pat Quinn introduced the concept of the ridiculously vague “lower body injury.”

And New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin often issues this manner of terse reply when asked to elaborate on an injury, such as a couple weeks ago with regard to wide receiver Hakeem Nicks’ banged-up knee: “It’s a knee.” But what, specifically? “A knee.”

We’re neither suggesting nor expecting that Gailey and the Bills be held to a higher revelatory standard.

What we are flat-out stating, however, is that increasingly – for a month-and-a-half up until Wednesday’s announcement of a “procedure” – Gailey and Williams had not been on the same page with their public pronouncements about the wrist injury.

Gailey had said repeatedly that Williams’ injury was nothing more than the usual aches and pains that all NFL players put up with:

**    Sept. 10 (after the opening loss at the New York Jets): “He has been bothered by that wrist a little bit and it probably had some effect. I think that it is becoming smaller and smaller every day.”

**    Oct. 3 (after the loss to New England): “He has been getting some treatment, but it has not been a thing that has kept him from ever practising or anything like that. How much it bothers a guy, we have guys with ankles, knees, hips and shoulders. Everything bothers you during a season. How much? Only a player can answer that. But it is not enough for him to not make every rep in practice and do what he is doing.”

**    Oct. 10 (after the loss in San Francisco): “He has not missed one day of practice, he has not missed a snap of practice, and he has not missed a game. It is one of those things that everybody has bumps, bruises, kinks and something like that. It is just something you work through.”

**    On Monday: “I cannot speak for him. I cannot tell you whether he is being affected by it at all, a little bit or what it is. I cannot tell … I ask him how it is going and he says it is all right.”

Williams, however, has gone out of his way to ensure that reporters know the injury is in no small part to blame for his sub-standard play:

**    Sept. 12, after the loss to the Jets: “I had a little freak deal a couple weeks ago. Unfortunately, it was right before the regular season.”

**    Sept. 16, after the win against Kansas City in Week 2: “I casted my wrist and just went at it. I wish I did that last week.”

**    Oct. 3, after the loss to the Pats: “I have to … (be) able to use my hands and stay healthy. (There’s) just a little deal going on, but we have already mentioned that before and it is just lingering a little longer than expected … I am a hands-on player. It is all about power with my game … It is definitely frustrating for it to happen when it did happen, and not when anything counted. That was the biggest thing. Coming out of the fourth preseason game …”

**    Oct. 10, after the loss to the Niners: “My biggest thing is I feel like I need to use my hands better. I need to get my hands, in general, healthy because I am a hands person. I am a power person.”

That Williams had publicly discussed his wrist injury with greater concern, and in greater detail, as criticism over his production mounted cannot be overlooked. He did not mention it following Buffalo’s victories over Cleveland (Sept. 23) or Arizona (Oct. 14).

But, hell, if it weren’t for the fact the NFL investigated both Williams’ injury and the reason the club went weeks without putting it on its injury list, we wouldn’t even know what the ailment is – a sprain.

Neither the Bills nor Williams has been that specific.

For not listing Williams among its injured from the get-go, the NFL last Friday fined the Bills $20,000.

Bottom line, if you believe Williams’ and Gailey’s public comments, the defender apparently was more willing to discuss the debilitating nature of his injury with reporters than with his own head coach.

That’s the most curious thing of all.

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J.J. WATT SAYS MARIO CAN’T BE MARIO IF INJURED

J.J. Watt says his former teammate and current Buffalo Bill, Mario Williams, is one of the most powerful pass rushers in the NFL.

That is, if he’s healthy.

“I don’t know what his injury is exactly, but if you’re anything less than full strength, that’s going to be hard to do,” Watt, the Houston Texans defensive, told me in Houston on Friday.

Watt, in his second year, leads the NFL with 9.5 sacks and 10 pass knockdown.

Williams played six seasons in Houston before signing with Buffalo in March.

“He was my lockermate,” Watt said. “He’s a very good football player. I learned a little bit about power (from him). I mean, the guy is one of the most powerful guys in the game.”