I had to watch this one in Houston where they went to the Texans-Cards game just when OT was starting. So I got to see the Hail Mary completion (and that was pretty cool) but missed the extra session (and that was bogus).
Well, this one smelled a lot like the Miami game, but at least tasted a little better. I came out asking whether Baltimore is any good (answer: probably not) and reassuring myself that it really isn't that easy to win in the NFL. When you experience cognitive dissonance, you tend to rearrange your perceptions to fit the new reality or you extricate yourself from the environment. I learned that in a Small Group Leadership course I took. Anyway, enough for the small talk.
I'm going to get into the analysis of the 5 old conclusions and 5 new ones quickly. No extended foreplay today.
5 Overriding Prior Conclusions
1. Injuries: Lots in the NFL this year. Are ours worse than the league average?
2. Bad TO Differential: Good teams become average with a negative TO ratio.
3. Sanu: Is that how you spell inconsistent in Swahili?
4. Identity / Chemistry / Leadership: Identity changes when stars go down. Chemistry changes when new guys enter the field. Leadership comes from the established veterans who make plays, provide presence, and assist teammates.
5. Dalton-Gruden: Do you ever get the feeling that these guys don't communicate well?
5 New Conclusions
1. This Team Don't Quit: No matter what you want to say about last Sunday, the team's will to compete was impressive. If we could also finish, then the team might be 8-2 right now. But you don't win all the close ones on the road. We won by 3 twice on the road, and lost by 2 and 3 the last two. So we had 5 games, 4 on the road - we were +1 point and 2-2 in the away games and +40 in the one home game against the 5-4 Jets. Don't try to figure this one out CJ'ers. This must be quantum football. Andy Dalton is an electron - sometimes excited, sometimes in low state. Keep him away from the positrons. The D was tough, but Baltimore's O stinks too. This is a weird year. I didn't want to play in a Super Bowl in outdoors New Jersey in February anyway.
2. A.J. Green Is Awesome (and could be so much better): Green has moments of lapses - bad routes, failure to focus, frustration. But damn is that guy talented. I think the guy could be even better if we learn how to throw him open and let him use his athleticism more. 5 feet over his head and 3 feet behind him is a losing formula though.
3. South Beach 2 was a Failed Sequel: I'm talking to you, Gio. Well, he tried on that play. We were 3rd and 2 and couldn't close the book for the second week in a row inside the opponent's 40 in OT. That one has to go mostly on Gruden, a little on the QB (sorry, Andy, you get blamed for everything), and a little on the OL (although they're beat up too at this point).
4. Dalton: Man, this guy can't stay out of the news (for better or worse): Sunday it was mostly for worse. But then he made a couple of plays and didn't quit. If there is a cure for this erratic throwing, Dalton will work out. But a QB with an average arm has to be (almost) always accurate. Sorry, but that's the value statement in a control offense. So we're about back where we were right before the Buffalo game minus Hall, Atkins, Mays, Still, Maualuga. How is it that our D is still our strong spot? As much leadership as Dalton provides by presence, he throws away by failure to perform consistently. Kouzes and Posner are well reknowned leadership authors. They cite the top 4 characteristics of a leader as honesty, vision, inspiration, and competency. Together honesty, inspiration, and competency bring credibility. To get credibility Dalton needs to clean up two things: 1) He needs to correct his occasional body language after negative events - this will promote his inspirational ability to point all in the positive direction; 2) He needs to be more consistent - this will promote perceptions of his competency. Boiling these down further, it becomes simple: he can't have the occasional meltdown of his facial expression (seems picky but is actually a big deal with respect to team chemistry), and he can't have the slightly more than occasional wild pass. We can live with his arm strength, lack of quickness, and developmental field presence if he can just get those two things right.
One more thing - I'm wondering where we're at on Andy's contract extension. Right now Andy Dalton's future contract is a volatile financial instrument. I think the last two games dropped him from a 5 yr, $50 mil deal by about $10 mil. I'm not sure he can earn that money back by the end of the year. For those of you who think that Mike Brown is going to cut him a break, think again. Andy's gotta get those stats back to 65%+ efficiency and TD/INT ratio > 2:1 if he wants that money.
Last thing - is Andy slowing rising or is he on a sinusoidal pattern that averages out to a straight line? Probably high and low doesn't get you anywhere with respect to playoff talk. Slow and steady (think the Chiefs Alex Smith) wins the race.
5. Identity: Didn't I mention that above? After the Baltimore game it seems that Mike Zimmer may actually be the true identify of this team. What if Mike Zimmer gets snatched to a head coach job after this season? Where would we be in 2014 without the defensive don? Are we ready to go without him. It's not fair to get all your guys snatched, but that's reality right now. Baltimore isn't that good. They just lost to the Browns two weeks ago. Miami isn't that good either. They just lost to previously winless Tampa tonight. The Fish had lost 5 in a row before beating us. The Ravens had lost 3 straight before beating us. We're on the trough of Andy Dalton's period.
What most of us want is just a simple Super Bowl win. Every time we get a whiff, we get knocked down. The thing to remember here, CJ folks, is that the O is operating with most of its starters. A few guys are banged up, but they're still out there. The O is failing this team and this season just after we spent our top draft currency to bring weapons, allegedly have a top 5 OL, and argue that we have the best TE tandem in the league. Meanwhile, the D is hanging by a thread and is (mostly) still carrying us. While, yes, the NFL is a tough job, the truth is that we don't have the maturity and consistency on O right now to be legitimately competitive every week. What that means in playoff talk is that Mike Brown probably will still be looking for his first playoff win come September 2014. I can deal with that, but what are we going to do differently to change that when we thought we had the bases covered in September 2013. You think it over and drop me your 2 cents.