Matt Harab

NFC midseason divisional report card

Dak and dunk is not working out. Tim Warner/Getty Images

NFC East

Redskins (5-2) A:  If we were listing “where the hell did this come from” teams in the league, Washington is right at the top and so is Adrian Peterson.  Talk about resurrection from the dead, he is fifth in the league in rushing, and Washington is just solid everywhere. It is so important to win in the trenches, and this team basically dominates the point of attack  in every game on both sides of the ball. They’re doing it with an old school running back, quarterback, and philosophy. Can they keep up on the scoreboard against the big boys down the road?

Eagles (4-4) B -: Let's just be honest, this team does not look as good as they did last year.  Carson Wentz is playing well coming off the injury; that is the lone bright spot for a very one dimensional team.  Wentz has 13 TDs and 2 interceptions, and keep in mind he has not played in all eight games. He looks great, but this team has zero quality wins.  Atlanta, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, and the NY Giants. None of those teams are above .500. Many people think Philly will win this division and four of their first five games are within the division. Show us you’re a true champion Philly.

Cowboys (3-4) C: Dallas fans, are you ready for a really alarming statistic? They have 16 plays that have gone at least 20 yards this year.  THAT’S IT. That is second worst in the league as they trail only the Tennessee Titans. The word that comes to mind when you think about this “Dak and Dunk” offense is underwhelming.  They are the Anti-Kansas City. It’s bland, stale, and just completely unimaginative. Dallas has a great defense this year, but if the combination of playcalling / Dak’s playmaking ability doesn’t improve soon, this team will go nowhere.

Giants (1-7)  F: As a Giants fan this has been the worst season of my life.  I’ve gone through every stage you go through during a break up. 1.) Desperate for answers 2.) Anger 3.) Sadness 4.) Acceptance.  I would like to get to 5.) “redirected hope” but there is no hope with no answer at QB for the future. When you go through a breakup you eventually realize there are 100,000 other fish in the sea and and you go fishing.  I have no idea what the Giants plan is to get a QB, offensive line and defensive line together. This team sucks.

NFC North

Bears (4-3)  B-: There is so much to like about this team. The Khalil Mack acquisition, young innovative offensive mind as the head coach, playmakers all around.  But I think the story in the first half of the year for Chicago is “they could have drafted Patrick Mahomes OR DeShaun Watson.” Mitchell Trubisky is the hot girl that you FINALLY get a chance with.  You ask her out, set up this great date, get a haircut, get your sister to iron your shirt, clean your car and go to pick her up…. Then at the end of the night you drop her off, shake your head and say to yourself damn, her personality SUCKS and she’s got this zit on her nose I cannot unsee. Such a disappointment.  I’m not saying he cannot improve, I’m not saying he’s bad, he’s just a bit disappointing given the weapons and coach that he has and the quarterbacks they could have had.

Vikings (4-3-1) B -:  Just like Philly, lets review the wins.. They have beaten the Jets, Cardinals, Eagles (nice), and San Francisco. Three out of the four are just not very good.  Not having Dalvin Cook has hurt them a lot this year and you just would like to see more from them. Coming into this season I thought they were the most balanced team outside of the Rams.  Solid at every level offensively and defensively but they are losing close games to good teams. They play three divisional games to start the second half, show us who you are.

Packers (3-3-1) C:  This is the only division in football where the team with the best quarterback is not leading the division. Aaron Rodgers needs help from his running game, offensive line, wide receivers and defense. That’s right, he’s more on an island this year than Russell Wilson.  They have not won a road game yet this year and Rodgers' magic has personally won two games for them this year. They SHOULD win this division, but they’ve been underwhelming so far.

Lions (3-4)  C: This is about what I expected the Lions to be this year.  Detroit is this year’s “Never bet on them OR against them” team.  They will have days where they beat Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, and they will have days where they lose to the Jets and 49ers.  They are the hands up in the air to the side, confused face emoji. I don’t know what else to say, they are who they are, a slightly below .500 squad.

NFC West

Rams (8-0)  A+: The Rams are just a force, plain and simple.  Where to start with the compliments? Offensive line is tremendous, Todd Gurley is an MVP and Sean McVay is Coach of the Year.  Is that enough? Defensively they get after the quarterback, and if I were to criticize one thing it would be one on one man coverage. However they have had injuries in the secondary this year. Tough stretch of games coming up though against the Saints, Seahawks and Chiefs (how lucky is Mexico City?)  We’ll see if they take a loss..

Seahawks (4-3) B-:  This team has overachieved, no question about it. A running game has finally emerged with Chris Carson, and you have got to give Pete Carroll a ton of credit in addition to Russell Wilson.  If I told you at the beginning of the year that a team with Chris Carson, Mike Davis, David Moore, Ed Dickson, Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett as the top skill position players would be averaging 8.5 yards per play (sixthth in the league) you would tell me to get off the internet and stop writing. That’s what they’ve done and it’s impressive.

Cardinals (2-6) D:  I am fearful of Arizona screwing up Josh Rosen’s first year just like I am of Cleveland screwing up Baker Mayfield. They fire their offensive coordinator and just are not giving him a great chance to develop right now.  Nobody expected this team to be good, but Rosen has to LEARN. He has a 55% completion percentage and a 69.0 Passer Rating. I put a lot of this on the coaching staff who can’t get David Johnson working correctly either. This team has had bad leadership since Bruce Arians left.

49ers (1-7) D:  One bad decision ruined this team’s season. Jimmy Garoppolo not stepping out of bounds on a play where he tried to get more yards, cost him a healthy ACL. Dude, you are the FUTURE and the FRANCHISE. Be smarter in the future.

NFC South

Saints (6-1)  A:  I don’t think we’ve seen the best of this team yet, which is scary.  Mark Ingram was suspended the first four games of the season and just like last year, this defense started slow. I think they only get better from here with Michael Thomas having a career year and the threat of running the football with two quality backs is super scary to any defensive coordinator.  Drew Brees, just like Tom Brady, has not declined with age. I love this team.

Panthers (5-2)  A: Cam Newton has at least two touchdowns in each of his last six games.  Norv Turner has come in and totally progressed this offense. John Harbaugh gave a quote after Carolina beat Baltimore last week saying “They out-schemed us.”  That is the offensive coordinator doing one hell of a job, and that is Newton buying in. With 13 touchdowns and 4 interceptions, he has a 97.4 passer rating which is the second most he has averaged in his career.  Cam is also completing 66% of his passes which is the best percentage in his career. I CANNOT WAIT until they play the Saints the last two weeks of the year

Falcons (3-4)  C: Injuries have killed this team on both sides of the ball.  Having said that, I believe they have the best trio of wideouts with Ridley, Sanu, and Jones.  I’m actually relatively curious if they can make a push for a wildcard just because of the offensive firepower they have.   

Bucs 3-4  C: The Fitzmagic flame was rekindled last week, but realistically this team is going nowhere.  They fired their defensive coordinator already and they have a really long-term quarterback dilemma.  Is Jameis Winston their guy? The 10 interceptions in four games leads me to think the answer is no.


 

Roughnecks 34, Vipers 27

Roughnecks vs Vipers: Good, bad and ugly

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Saturday night's game between the Houston Roughnecks and the Tampa Bay Vipers had everything you could have hoped for in an XFL game. There was a lot of scoring, five lead changes throughout the game, and even June Jones complaining to the refs caught on tape. Sounds like the perfect XFL game. The Roughnecks were able to outlast the Vipers and remain undefeated to start the season. The winless Vipers put up a good fight, but they were ultimately no match for the Roughnecks' high-powered offense.

The Good

The running game is finally starting to come into fruition. James Butler had his best game as a Roughneck as he rushed for 72 yards and scored on a two-point conversion. The offense stalled to start the game, but midway through the second quarter, Butler had a 30 yard rushing gain which eventually set up a P.J. Walker touchdown run. Butler was able to ignite the offense and Tampa's defense had a hard time stoping him throughout the rest of the game.

For three straight weeks, P.J. Walker has been the best player on the Roughnecks. He continues to shine in the spotlight and looks to have some key improvising skills as well. On two occasions Walker was able to elude tackles for huge gains. One of which was a 35-yard scramble from his own end zone (which we will talk about later), and one was an 84-yard touchdown. Phillips was able to escape a blitz to find a wide open Cam Phillips who took it to the house. The duo of Walker and Phillips could be the best QB-receiver duo in the league.

Speaking of Phillips, last week's XFL's Star of the Week made a good case to reclaim that title Saturday. Phillips added three more touchdowns to bring his season total to eight which is still the most in the XFL. He is showing that he is a leader in the locker room as well. When Wide Receiver Kahlil Lewis was being interviewed, Phillips went by his side telling him they were going to win the game almost in a comforting way. A team with good chemistry can make it far in any league.

This week I'll add two additional points to the "Good" category, for the offense played that well. Throughout the game, Jones and his staff and players made constant adjustments to Jerry Glanville's blitz happy defense. Nothing works every time, all the time, but Walker, Butler, and the receivers used the blitz against the Vipers in an artful display of misdirection and speed. The Roughnecks have scored 99 points so far this season, the most in the XFL. If the three-headed monster of Walker, Butler, and Phillips continue to play this well, the June Jones offense will run and shoot their way to the championship. My last prop is to ESPN for sending A-List reporter Dianna Russini to cover the game from the sidelines. Her professionalism and personality were on full display when she spoke to the players and coaches adding much needed credibility to the broadcast team. Thank you ESPN.

The Bad

The defense continued to play soft in the middle. Adjustments made by Mark Trestman after the second quarter seemed to work, for the Vipers were able to run the ball with ease. They implemented short screens that killed the linebackers and led to incremental gains throughout the second half. Running plays and screens were very effective against the Roughnecks' zone coverage. Luckily, the Roughnecks' offense was able to keep pace and outscore the Vipers offense.

This season, officiating hasn't been a big issue in the XFL. For the most part the games have been called well, and there has not been any disastrous mistakes made by referees. That is until the blatant pass interference that wasn't called against Sammie Coates. In the 3rd quarter, Walker threw a deep ball to Coates in double coverage when Micah Hannemann "made a play on the ball" and ended up in the face of Coates. This disrupted his route and prevented him from making an attempt to catch the ball. It should have been a pass interference without question. This play was almost as bas as the Saints-Rams interference call. (Sorry Saints fans). Even though the Roughnecks still won the game, this was by far the worst call of the season and should be looked at by the league office. Even Coach Jones had something to say about the referee who didn't make the call.

The Ugly

One of the best things about the XFL is being able to hear what the coaches are saying during games to their players, to reporters, and in this instance, what they are saying to referees. Coach Jones referred to the ref as "freaking sorry ass" and stated that "For you not to see contact on that (play), I'm wondering what the hell you are doing in this league." I think the most surprising thing in all of this is that Jones used freaking instead of a different word. Stuff like this does add great entertainment value to watching an XFL game. This wasn't really ugly, but it was too entertaining not to put in this somewhere.

Nick Holly and Sammy Cotes were highly ineffective Saturday. Both players are seemingly being phased out of the offense after having great Week 1 stats. This is understandable as Phillips and Butler have become the focal points on offense for Walker to distrubute the ball. Going forward these two could see their amount of receptions diminish if they don't show signs of improvement as the season progresses.

P.J. Walker's 30+ yard scramble from his own 2-yard line came with a little bit of controversy. Walker was able to elude rushers and pick up a massive first down conversion. At the end if his run, he fell to the ground and got back up to spike the ball thinking he was down and the play was over. No Vipers' player touched him so when he spiked the ball, Tampa played it as a fumble. A Vipers' defender picked up the ball and proceeded to run to the end zone. The officials stopped the game to review the call and determined Walker gave himself up, and that the play was dead. That was a close call, and could have been detrimental to the Roughnecks maintaining their undefeated season. Walker should be more careful when doing crazy things like this.

The Roughnecks look to remain undefeated as they travel to face their in-state rivals The Dallas Renegades. Both teams are coming off an impressive an impressive victory, and are looking forward to the fight for Lone Star supremacy on Sunday March 1st.

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