Blog Entry

Top Ten with a Twist: Biggest surprises

Posted on: September 22, 2011 11:04 am
Wade Phillips has revitalized Houston's defense (US Presswire).

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Every year, it’s easy to predict how some teams and players will perform. For instance, this year it was easy to see that the Patriots were going to be awesome, the Colts were going to struggle without Peyton Manning, and some unheralded running back somewhere would surprise everyone with his fantastic performances (Houston’s Ben Tate for example, playing in place of last year’s unheralded/awesome running back Arian Foster).

But, as always, there have been some major surprises through the first two weeks that virtually nobody could see coming. Which is why we follow sports (and the NFL, in particular) in the first place. It’d be boring if we knew everything. But the fact we didn’t know just HOW terrible the Colts would be without Manning is what makes watching pro football a good time.

Therefore, this week, we introduce the Top 10 with a Twist list of the players and teams who have surprised us the most in the first two weeks of the season. No Tom Brady mentions in here. Instead, we give you Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jimmy Clausen's replacement.

10. Redskins: Remember how we all laughed at Rex Grossman when he proclaimed he thought that Washington would win the NFC East? Well, look at which squad is at the top of that division. That would be the Redskins at 2-0, ahead of the Eagles, Giants and Cowboys. It’s because Grossman has played well, running back Tim Hightower has had a resurgence and the Redskins rank No. 6 in points allowed (they were No. 21 last season). Hey, maybe, in addition to being a pretty decent quarterback, Grossman is quite the soothsayer. 

9. Dunta Robinson: I have to admit that I was shocked that the NFL fined the Falcons cornerback only $40,000 after his egregious case of head-hunting against Eagles receiver Jeremy Maclin last Sunday night. You’ll recall Robinson was fined $50,000 the first time he was caught head-hunting last season (that figure was reduced to $25,000), and though the NFL will say this case was different and less severe, I don’t buy it. We called on the NFL to suspend Robinson, and I didn’t think we’d see that. But I didn’t think we’d see less of a punishment than the first time he went helmet to helmet. Though we live in a time when Roger Goodell’s disciplinary decisions oftentimes don’t make sense, this was a shocker.

8. Bills: It’s only been a few years since the Bills started a season 2-0, but could you tell me the last time Buffalo started the season 2-0 and then finished with a winning record? You’d have to go all the way back to 1996, so obviously, the Bills aren’t going to start celebrating anything quite yet. But the way quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick continues to play (which, in itself, is a shocker) and the way running back Fred Jackson continues to pile up yards and the way coach Chan Gailey continues to turn around this team, it’s well … a little surprising. And it’s gotten them into first place in the AFC East (well, they’re tied with the Jets and the Patriots, but the Bills alphabetically are at the top of the division, so there’s that).

Johnson7. Kenny Britt: Yes, we knew Kenny Britt had talent, but we didn’t know he’d explode like this after his rather interesting offseason. So far, he’s recorded 14 catches for 271 yards and three touchdowns, and considering, in his best season before this one, he totaled 42 receptions and 775 yards, this is looking like a breakout year for him. Now if he only can stop getting arrested in the offseason …

6. Chris Johnson: You might find this selection strange, considering I placed Johnson in last week’s list -- the top-10 candidates for comeback player of the year. But after a Week 1 in which he was underused (only nine carries), Johnson ran for 53 yards on 24 chances last week. Which means that for a player whose stated goal is to break the 2,000-yard mark again hasn’t even cracked the 100-yard mark for the entire season. Considering he just signed a $54 million contract, his output has been rather disappointing. Maybe we shouldn’t have been so surprised. Johnson did, after all, hold out from training camp. But Johnson has been so good in his career, the fact he’s been so underwhelming is a little off-putting.

5. Chiefs: How do you go from winning the AFC West crown to being absolutely horrible the next year? How do you go from being pretty decent last year to being absolutely atrocious now? Some injuries (Tony Moeaki, Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry), some in-fighting between general manager Scott Pioli and coach Todd Haley (supposedly) and some brutal defense. Whatever the cause, Kansas City has been outscored 89-10 combined by the Bills and the Lions. Considering the Packers, the Steelers, the Chargers (twice), the Patriots, the Bears and the Jets still are on the schedule, the Chiefs might be in for a colonoscopy of a year.

4. Cam Newton: People were split about how Newton would affect the Panthers this season. Some thought he’d be terrible (I’m guilty, as charged). Some thought he would excite the masses in Charlotte with his on-field play and his off-field charisma. But nobody really knew for sure. Remember, about a month ago, we thought Jimmy Clausen might beat out Newton for the starting job (gosh, we were so naïve back then, eh?). But even those who thought he’d be a solid quarterback have to be taken aback by these numbers: a 62.7 completion percentage, 854 passing yards, three scores (we’ll ignore the four interceptions so far) and the record for most passing yards in a pro debut and most passing yards by a rookie. Sure, the Panthers are 0-2, but Newton has been pretty incredible.

3. Bill Belichick: Who would have guessed the Patriots coach would ever allow anybody to film his life for a documentary? The first episode of A Football Life: Bill Belichick on NFL Network was an interesting look at the best coach in the league and what he’s like in the meeting room, the locker room and, interestingly enough, on a boat in Nantucket. Belichick comes off like a cold-blooded SOB around the media, but in this documentary -- the second part of which will air Thursday, and supposedly, he really shows his emotions in that episode -- you can see the guy is actually human. And considering Belichick would be the 32nd NFL coach who I ever believed would agree to something like this, it’s a pleasant surprise.

2. Faking injuries: Did anybody think this stuff wasn’t happening before? Just because Deon Grant might have been faking an injury to slow down the Rams’ no-huddle, hurry-up offense  last Sunday (Grant, by the way, takes GREAT offense that you’d even think so), that’s not to say this tactic hasn’t been used for many, many years. It has; it’s usually just not so obvious. In fact, you can read this brief article from the NY Times in which the Bengals ask the league to look at players faking injuries. That article, by the way, is from 1989.

1. Wade Phillips: He wasn’t the most-respected head coach (I think the second season of Hard Knocks with the Cowboys gave the impression he was kind of a bumbling Texan who let people walk all over him), but as a defensive coordinator, he’s done a wonderful job in Houston. Since changing Gary Kubiak’s defense to a 3-4 and since the team signed Danieal Manning and Johnathan Joseph in the secondary, Phillips has helped Houston become the top defense in the league, allowing 10 points and 271 yards per game (both rank No. 1 in the NFL). Who would have thought that after last season when the Texans secondary was burned in just about every game they played? Phillips, though he might never get another head coaching job, is saving somebody else’s job right now. We knew Phillips would be good. We didn’t think he’d be this good, this soon.

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Since: Nov 3, 2006
Posted on: September 23, 2011 3:25 am

Top Ten with a Twist: Biggest surprises

10. Redskins. Not a surprise to me, I knew McNabb was washed up and Shanahan was a good coach.
9. Dunta Robinson. Watch the clips closely, this guy is more unlucky than dirty. They are high speed collisions but he actually makes an effort both times to lead with his shoulder, an effort which is thwarted by the receiver.
8. Bills. That was a legit surprise. So they've beaten the Chiefs and the Raiders, the fact that they won both of those is still surprising, Buffalo has been pretty bad in recent years. 
7. Kenny Britt. Knew the guy was good, and never understood why Prisco hated so heavily on Hasselbeck, especially with CJ the ultimate decoy now on his team, not a complete shocker.
6. Chris Johnson, it's only two games, the guy was out of camp, you know he's what the defenses focus on first, and he just got paid.
5. Chiefs, another actual surprise, I didn't think they would look this bad even if I thought they would take a step back. 
4. Cam Newton, it's only two games and I don't think a defense has treated his arm with much respect yet, that may change. The real surprise here is how many times the Panthers let him air it out, I thought the Panthers liked to run the ball. When you went 1-15 last year I guess trying something new can't hurt.
3. Bill Belichick, I could care less.
2. Faking injuries, I thought we all knew this went on? The only surprise is why are they suddenly overreacting to it this week.
1. Being a Cowboys fan I saw the immediate change when he took over defensive responsibilities in '09, the guy can coordinate a defense with the best of them.

Since: Feb 13, 2007
Posted on: September 22, 2011 9:35 pm

Top Ten with a Twist: Biggest surprises

Look I'm a Panthers fan so understand this when I speak about Dunta Robinson. 1. The first incident you mention, he knocked himself out let alone Jackson. And 2. Just like the last time, the WR went low and leaned into Dunta's launch. Not on purpose mind you and launching is 'sadly' still illegal, but come on, it's football not twiddly links, this is a game of controlled violence, and what he did, didn't bother me for one second.

Onto Wham Bam Thank You Cam, I'm glad he is doing good things for us, he is still a bit erratic, but his INTs against Green Bay came from him trying a bit too hard, and being a little Favre-esque. But I like that about him. The fact it's only his second game with many more to come, is a good omen. However, my concern as a Panthers fan is the defense, we have hemoraged yards to a good then great offensive teams and worse still we have lost Jon Beason, and Thomas Davis (again) so it's not likely to improve. And yet even that said take away one kick return for a TD, and a bomb pass in the next game, and Carolina might be on that D guys.

Finally on the faking injuries front I remember another more recent team famous for this...there where called the *cough* New *cough* England *cough* Patriots *cough* *cough* so's more common then you think.

Since: Jan 2, 2010
Posted on: September 22, 2011 1:34 pm

Top Ten with a Twist: Biggest surprises

ya know Fitzpatrick could really be the real deal. First time i saw him was when the eagles went to cincy and ended up in a draw in what was one of the worst games i can recall ever viewing, but i remember thinking " this fitzpatrick guy is not that bad. Fast foward a few years to 2010, and he he is in buffalo. I watch im mount an insane comback in the 2nd half against cincy and I think to myself " the Bills may have found a guy. Now this year he is off to a hot start and I guess i shouldn't be shocked becuase the guy has been quality for a bit now. We know the bills could run but when your putting points on the board through the air...IN BUFFALO?!?!?!? You have to be above average.  Not that he was the best but the last time i saw a bills qb take hold of that offense was Drew bledsoe

Since: Aug 30, 2007
Posted on: September 22, 2011 12:17 pm

Top Ten with a Twist: Biggest surprises

I think Cam Newton has been the surpise of the season so far, by miles. He has been everything I expected him not to be so far.

Since: Apr 11, 2011
Posted on: September 22, 2011 11:16 am

Top Ten with a Twist: Biggest surprises

We didnt think Wade would make the Texans this good this fast either.  And yes we(our texans) have played the Colts and the Dolphins, so this week will be a real test.  But they have been remarkable so far.  If there is an award for asst coach of the year, Wade wins hands down.

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