NFL: Into the Off-Season

The Loose Ends

by Rick Rockwell

Much like the janitors sweeping up all that confetti at the end of the Super Bowl, stowing away the column for the off-season is a necessary task, but that question lingers. Will anyone notice? Or for that matter, does anyone care?

Well, there are more than a few storylines to tie up for the football faithful, so if you count yourself among those, don’t worry. This will be a short final ride.

Let’s begin where we left off, with Super Bowl XLIII.

The Pittsburgh Steelers certainly came through on the final prediction. However, this column did not foresee how close the final contest would be. Actually, to his credit, despite some equivocation, Michael Wilbon successfully predicted that the Steelers' defense would cause a fumble and win the game because of it in the last 90 seconds. Despite the controversy at the end (about whether quarterback Kurt Warner actually fumbled), that’s just what happened.

Despite a 17-7 halftime score, the Arizona Cardinals never seemed like they were out of the contest. Their fourth quarter rally likely happened for two reasons: strong offensive adjustments by Cardinals’ Coach Ken Whisenhunt and his coaches and a fatigued Steelers’ defense. This is why Whisenhunt is coaching and this writer is just an armchair quarterback. Last week, the advice was to find a way to push the Cardinals' running attack and roll out Warner to offset the Steelers’ pass rush. The Cardinals certainly used rollouts but instead of leaning on the running attack they put running back Edgerrin James into swing pass routes, which gave him sideline running lanes. James’ success forced the Steelers to adjust and then the Cardinals went back to their usual game plan of getting the ball to stellar receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

In the end, despite the loss, Warner acquitted himself well, throwing for 377 yards. Warner, by the way, has the three highest passing yardage totals in Super Bowl history.

So this piece of advice to the Cardinals: sign Warner (who becomes a free agent in the off-season) to a short contract and tell back-up hotshot Matt Leinart to be patient for another few years.

Other key notes:

  • Despite howls from some, the officiating in the Super Bowl was excellent and restored faith (that was waning) about whether holding was actually a penalty in the playoff season.

  • On the prediction front, it seems this column correctly predicted the mess that would result in Dallas in the wake of Bill “The Tuna” Parcells. (Check the other predictions from two years ago and most are also close, although the prediction of the Cardinals' success was a year off. The thinking there was the team would stick with Leinart, not Warner.) Dallas actually performed a bit better than expected in the first season without Parcells, but not this year. The Cowboys have the talent to get to a Super Bowl, but they don’t have the coaches or team spirit to do so. Unless Jerry Jones stops tinkering and Wade Phillips starts disciplining (and neither is likely) and works harder on conditioning his players, Dallas won’t make the Super Bowl next year either.

  • Speaking of Parcells, his work in Miami has reinstilled interest in this writer in the Dolphins. Longtime Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga finally sold the team, and so that opens the door to even greater future success.

  • Other predictions? Writers who are now using the word "dynasty" next to the Pittsburgh Steelers should reconsider. Until the league sees what a rejuvenated Tom Brady looks like back at the helm of the New England Patriots, all bets are off.

  • The Denver Broncos and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, despite horrible collapses at the end of the season will regret dumping their coaches come playoff time next year. Both moves were premature. For almost all of the other teams who made coaching moves, the change will likely be for the better.

  • Finally, even though this column decries the potential return of Michael Vick to football and thinks a year of additional suspension (or worse) is more than called for in his case, the league is already buzzing about his return. If quarterback Brett Favre doesn’t come back next year (and no, this column dares not get into that prediction) could Vick end up as a Jet? Or maybe as a Viking? Stay tuned, stranger things have happened.
2008 Season Predictions: .613

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Scotus said...

I agree that they should keep Warner, but I say trade Leinart. It's not going to work out. He was never great to begin with, and now his confidence has to be shot. Send him to a team in need of a young QB (Rams, Jets, Lions, Bears, etc.) for draft picks, and get a new back-up.

Also, I don't think it's too soon to talk about a Pittsburgh dynasty. With the exception of a good offensive line, it's the most complete team in the NFL. I don't see how they don't win at least two more championships during Roethlisberger's career.

As for Vick, I still don't think he'll ever make it back to the NFL. I'm sure teams are looking at him, but when it comes time to actually pull the trigger, I think fear of public backlash will prevent them from doing so. At best, Vick is CFL bound.

Rick Rockwell said...

SCOTUS…as always you make some serious points and I appreciate your weighing in here on the last football piece of the year.

Perhaps you are correct about Leinart. But he is far from a bust. As you know, I think it is the rare quarterback who is ready to produce right out of college… I think for most it really takes three or four years. I’ve never been with the NFL’s youth movement at QB. But the Cards really need Leinart as insurance. What happens if Warner has another spell like at the end of his days in St. Louis and only can start nine games over the course of two seasons? Sure, that probably means he retires earlier. But whom do the Cards turn to then? Then again, who knows what they could do with draft choices as you point out… they are probably a few linemen (defense and offense) and a defensive back away from being able to repeat as division champs. In the end, I still like Warner with Leinart backing him though.

As for Pittsburgh… you are right about the potential. John Clayton over at the ESPN site who I respect… has the Steelers… or the Patriots… or the Chargers in next year’s Super Bowl. I think the Steelers have to have one more before the word dynasty should be used. The last dynasty was the Patriots… and that was over awhile ago… despite their attempts to reload…

As for Vick… well… I will shed no tears if your prediction comes true.

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