Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Upon Further Review: Jags Cover 38-31

Another nice win for BadNFL, although I must admit that it was a nerve-wracking cover. The Jags ultimately won the game by 7, enough to cover, but it was hardly the type of comfortable blowout that BadNFL fans enjoyed last week. My pick, which was largely premised on the Raiders' struggles when traveling east, may have been right for the wrong reasons, as the Raiders actually came roaring out of the gate strong only to blow the lead late. In fact, many game recaps are crediting Maurice Jones-Drew's halftime speech with rallying the lethargic Jags and propelling them to an impressive second-half comeback. And comeback they did, scoring 31 second-half points and demonstrating impressive resolve in fending off a late Raiders' charge.

In doing so, the Jags exposed the Raiders' poor rush defense. The Jags' ground game continued to impress, generating 200+ yards for the 3rd week in a row and even deploying several sophisticated option plays that yielded significant positive yardage. Many analysts have pinned responsibility directly on the Raiders' defense, which continues to be vulnerable to committed rushing attacks. And in my defense, I predicted that this game would be decided in the trenches, and that the Jags' two-pronged attack would prevail over the Raiders' overexposed defense. Fortunately, the strength of that rushing attack was enough to overcome a superb day for Jason Campbell and a subpar day, YPA-wise (albeit with 3 TDs), for Gerrard.

At the end of the day, the Raiders surged back to tie the game with under two minutes left, thanks to an incredible run by the streaking Darren McFadden. But luckily, the Jags got a nice kick return, and on their first play from scrimmage (as a 3-point non-cover is looking exceedingly likely), MJD busted a 30-yard gamewinning TD. It may not have been the prettiest victory, but I'll take it.


1. What happened to the East Coast Travel theory? It's hard to say. Of course even a sound theory will fail to explain every single game, so it's possible that the Raiders' fast start here was simply an outlier. But looking back on it, there may be some other explanations. Some have pointed out that Tom Cable implemented a substantial schedule change regarding the road trip leading up to this game, and that the change may have helped the Raiders' biological clocks adjust. Of course, pointing to such a change seems like a simplistic explanation, given that other coaches have no doubt thought of such a stratagem before.

On the other hand, maybe this was a trap game for the Jags as they looked ahead to a huge division clash with Indy next week. BadNFL has obviously struggled with the concept of trap games, and I'm hestiant to blame the Jags' early struggles on the looming Colts, but it's a possibility.

Instead, maybe the East Coast travel factor weighs more heavily in games early in the season. I could see teams like the Raiders learning to adjust to the travel by the time December rolls around. That's one thing I intend to look into in the offseason -- a comprehensive analysis of East Coast travel, broken down by month and type of opponent.

Finally, it's possible that the Travel Theory did pay dividends after all. While logic would suggest that it would impact the beginning of games, as players' feel sluggishness commensurate with the time of day, it's also possible that the effects begin to catch up to players in a major way in the second half. That seemed to be what happened here, as the Raiders' defense completely wilted down the stretch.

2. The Seahawks continue to frustrate -- BadNFL fans undoubtedly noticed the 49ers absolutely waxing the Seahawks this last week. Yes, these were the same teams that played week 1, when BadNFL picked the 9ers -3. And it was primarily those same players, plus stud 49ers' RB Frank Gore, that participated in the Week 1 disgraceful Seahawks' blowout. Very aggravating.

3. Hilton 100 theory hits big again -- the only qualifying pick was Giants -3 @ Vikings, which shifted to -4 once the game moved to Ford Field in the wake of the Metrodome's collapse.  Either way, the Giants easily covered, winning 21-3. Hilton 100 picks now have a record of 12-3, with a vast majority of those 12 being double-digit covers. Wow.

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