Welcome to the first of our new features shining a light on sport from across the pond. MatchPint's first ever international correspondent, Pete Dombrosky, has cast his eye over the NFL's also-rans. This is Part Two of four in an end of regular season round up. Head on over here to see Part One. Enjoy.
New Orleans Saints (7-9)
Either you feel bad for the Saints or you feel like they got what they had coming. Personally, I feel for them. I still remember the years of the “Aints,” when you’d see more paper bags with eye holes than actual faces in the stands at their home games. Drew Brees put the team on his back and won a Super Bowl in 2009 and rescued an emotionally downtrodden city from the brink of complete misery.
Now three years later, they went 7-9 (which actually seemed fortunate) in the wake of the infamous bounty scandal. Head coach Sean Payton was suspended for the season and the team crumbled in his absence. Although they could pass at will on just about any team, New Orleans finished 25th in rushing; the offensive line was poor at run blocking and the Saints running back by committee just wasn’t that good at, you know, running the ball. I won’t say anything about the Saints defense other than the following: They were easily the worst in the NFL and a sieve stops spaghetti sauce better than they stopped offenses.
On a positive note, what I keep coming back to is how well New Orleans were able to move the ball through the air. Yes, Drew Brees threw more picks (19) than anyone except for Tony Romo but he also threw for more yards (5,117) and touchdowns (43) than anyone. Brees has some outstanding targets like Marques Colston (83 REC, 1,154 YDS, 10 TD), Lance Moore (65 REC, 1,041 YDS, 6 TD), Jimmy Graham (85 REC, 982 YDS, 9 TD), and running back Darren Sproles (75 REC, 667 YDS, 7 TD). If the defense improves, there’s no need for a ground game (seriously). Get that sorted and this team will be contenders once more.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-9)
Although the Bucs were perfectly mediocre this year, they certainly had their ups and downs. Mostly downs mind. Tampa Bay aren’t mad keen on defense and the secondary avoided passes like they might explode with shrapnel and broken glass if defended (they were the worst in the NFL against the pass). They didn’t particularly enjoy rushing the quarterback either, ending the season with the league’s third-lowest sack total. “But Pete,” you say, “somehow they found a way to win seven games. They didn’t just wave a magic wand and finish two victories shy of a winning season.” Correct, and it had nothing to do with the defense.
On the scoring side of the ball, the Bucs were actually a pretty entertaining to watch, even when they wore their hideous orange cream sickle colour throwbacks (that were even too ugly for the ‘70s when they originally wore them.) The most integral chap in the Bucs offensive arsenal was the man known as the Muscle Hamster – Doug Martin. He was the NFL’s sixth-leading rusher and caught 45 balls for 454 yards. He’s one of those scary-hard runners and after he runs through you, he’s tough to catch. Once his rookie contract runs out, the Bucs are going to owe him a wealth of riches.
Not to be outdone by the rushing game, playmaking receiver Vincent Jackson commanded attention like a fireworks factory set on fire. Although he’ll cost Tampa Bay $55.55 through the next four years, it appears he’s worth it. He’s a big play threat and probably the best wideout the team has ever had.
San Diego Chargers (7-9)
When you take a look at San Diego’s roster, it’s astonishing that they aren’t better than 7-9. When I rattle off names like Phillip Rivers, Antonio Gates, Ryan Matthews, Danario Alexander, Eric Weddle and Malcolm Floyd, my brain tells me that if they all played on the same team, they would be successful. But alas, I am a fool.
They started off 3-1, but lost the next three and never won consecutive games again until the final two contests of the season. Phillip River’s career continues to plummet downward after throwing for the second-most interceptions (15) and the third-fewest yards (3,606) of his career. He also threw what came to be known as “the worst pick-six ever.”
San Diego ranked 24th in the NFL in passing yards per game and were 27th on the ground, averaging 91.3 yards per game. And even when star running back Matthews was healthy, he failed to reach the century mark on the ground in the 12 games he played.
Tough titties huh? Still, San Diego has deeply pleasant weather so it’s not all bad.
But in all seriousness, the Chargers will be going through a transformation with a new head coach and general manager. It’s been the status quo under former coach Norv Turner and GM A.J. Smith and neither of them were able to get much from the team they put on the field. Now that the two are gone, the real consolation is that they still have the players I mentioned above and they might get some people in charge that now how to use them.
Miami Dolphins (7-9)
Fins fans should call this season the “yeah but” season. Firstly, the Dolphins did improve their win total by a game. Yeah, but their point differential went from + 18 to - 29. Well, they were only three wins shy of making the playoffs. Yeah, but they lost to garbage barges like Oakland, Arizona and the Jets. Miami allowed the fewest points (317) in the division. Yeah, but they were only a touchdown and extra point ahead of finishing tied for fewest points scored (288) in the division.
What you can’t question is the resurgence of Reggie Bush. When he arrived in the NFL with the Saints, it looked like he didn’t have the stuff to be an every-down back. But Miami increased his role, thus increasing his productivity. He put up 986 yards on the ground and caught 35 balls for 292 yards.
Miami should also be excited about quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and not just because of his smoking-hot wife. The eighth-overall pick from Texas A&M had a solid rookie campaign, tossing for 3,294 yards and 12 touchdowns. Yeah, but he threw 13 picks. There were bound to be some growing pains. And he did throw five fewer picks than rookie phenom Andrew Luck.
As far as Tannehill’s receivers went, they weren’t numerous or tremendously productive but Brian Hartline had easily the best season of his career, snagging 74 passes for 1,083 yards. He’s now a free agent with a big payday coming, but if the Dolphins want to keep developing Tennehill’s talent, it’d be wise to write a big old check for Hartline.
St. Louis Rams (7-8-1)
Saint Louis were bad again, but did anyone really expect anything different this year? It was an inexperienced team full of youngsters (the roster had an average age of 25.3 years) and a lacklustre defense that started out the season determined to prove the world otherwise, but failed fairly miserably. Go figure.
Offensively, they weren’t a whole lot better. Their ground game was 19th in the NFL and they were 18th through the air. These numbers were in spite of running back Steven Jackson’s 1,042 yard season and Sam Bradford’s 3,702 pass yards, respectively. Now in his third year, former No. 1 pick Bradford hasn’t exactly excelled the way he was supposed to; he’s thrown for 45 touchdowns in 42 games as a starter, but he’s also been picked 34 times with a record of 15-26-1. He’s certainly not the cause of all the Rams woes, but he hasn’t been good enough to power through them.
Rams optimists out there will quickly point to Jackson as the standout of the team. He reached the 1,000-yard mark for the eight-straight season. That’s somewhat reassuring, but rumour has it he might not return next season. Should he retire, St. Louis have the option of using rookie Daryl Richardson. He was the second-to-last player drafted last year, but he was able to rack up 475 yards on 98 carries and 163 yards on 24 receptions. The receiving core isn’t too bad either with the likes of the small, but able Danny Amendola. He’s hurt too often, however, so guys like Chris Givens and Brandon Gibson (St. Louis’s two leading receivers this year) will have to continue to play well. All in all, the Rams are basically a boring team slowly trending upward. There’s absolutely no reason to watch them, but give them half a decade and they might just do something interesting!
Does Pete know his stuff? Has anyone get an unfair slating here? Let us know on the comments below.
Coming up tomorrow - Part Three.
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