3 and Out – Thoughts from Week 3 in the NFL

Check out last week’s installment here.

Replacement Refs

Roger Goodell’s master plan has backfired.  It was his hope we, the fans, wouldn’t notice a material difference in the quality of refereeing between the replacements and the usual refs who have been locked out since the start of the season.

If the replacements did a good enough job, the NFL would gain leverage over the union and they would be forced to concede in negotiations.  Goodell was wrong.  The events of this weekend made it very clear that the NFL needs the old zebras back.

The conclusion of the Packers-Seahawks game Monday night changed the game.  Bad calls can affect the outcome of a game, but this one changed it.

It wasn’t just the botched ‘simultaneous catch’ call or the missed pass interference on the last play.  The defensive pass interference call on Sam Shields a few minutes earlier was equally horrendous.  The replacement refs created the perfect storm that ended up costing the Packers a win.

I couldn’t be more steadfast in my belief that no one should blame these referees.  I have every reason to believe they are doing the best they can.  Do you really think this guy wanted to blow the call and be ridiculed and heckled by the entire nation?

These last few weeks have made one thing abundantly clear – being an NFL referee is harder than everyone thought.  It’s time the NFL sat down with the union and come to an agreement.  Roger Goodell tells players to protect the shield – a metaphor for protecting the integrity of the game and the league.  If this isn’t resolved soon, he will have tarnished the shield he is currently hiding behind.

Parity and Defense

For the last four years I have taken part in a survivor pool.  Typically, after week 3, over 60% of the pool is still alive.  This year 85% of the pool has been eliminated.  I mentioned last week that the NFL is the best league in sports because it is predictably unpredictable, but it has reached a new level this year.  The San Francisco 49ers handily beat the Packers and Lions and then lost to the Vikings?  I’m .500 on the year in my picks and I can’t say I’m disappointed.  The Cardinals and Vikings are a combined 5-1.  The Packers and Saints are 1-5.  Go figure.

Last year, the offenses came out on fire.  Quarterbacks got off to the hottest starts in league history and it appeared as though the rule changes had turned football into more of a basketball game.  Fans of the good ol’ days can rest easy, because this year the story of this young season has been defense.  The Cardinals, Texans, 49ers and Eagles are a combined 10-2 because of their play on the defensive side of the ball.  The Packers, Patriots and Saints have arguably the 3 most prolific offenses in all of football.  Collectively they have 2 wins and 7 losses.  Somewhere Jack Lambert is smiling…

Young Guns

Daryl Richardson RB – St. Louis Rams

Richardson was a 7th round draft pick out of Abilene-Christian University who has won the backup running back job in St. Louis by beating out 2nd round draft pick Isaiah Pead.  He lacks the size of a traditional running back, but his initial burst and acceleration are world class.  Think of him as a slightly bigger Dexter McCluster.  With Steven Jackson nearing the end of his career, it will be up to Richardson and Pead to carry the torch.

T.Y. Hilton WR – Indianapolis Colts

I loved this guy throughout the pre-draft process.  He is cut from the same cloth as DeSean Jackson, but coming from Florida International University with some injury history caused him to slide in the draft.  He should have ample opportunities to fit in with Reggie Wayne at the tail-end of his career.  Luck can make the most out of a guy like Hilton. Their chemistry was on display this weekend against Jacksonville.

Bruce Irvin DE – Seattle Seahawks

Anyone who thought Pete Carroll was crazy drafting Irvin in the first round will end up eating their words.  Irvin is built for the new, pass-heavy NFL.  He has elite athleticism and will make his mark when opposing offenses are in 3rd and long situations.  When given the green light to pin his ears back and rush the passer, he is special.

Luke Kuechly LB – Carolina Panthers

I prefer to find guys who aren’t top 10 draft picks to write about, but Kuechly has played well enough to warrant inclusion in this segment.  He’s already the best player on the Panthers defense and has a great sense for the game.  The Panthers have their offensive centerpiece in Cam Newton, they now have their defensive equivalent in Kuechly.

A Special Note: Torrey Smith

I’d like to end this week’s segment with a special note on Raven’s wide receiver Torrey Smith.  For those who don’t know, Torrey lost his younger brother in a motorcycle accident in the early hours of Sunday morning.  Torrey was a father figure to his younger brothers and sisters as he was the oldest of seven children raised by a single mother.  Twelve hours after finding out that he lost his brother, Smith was suited up and playing for the Ravens in a pivotal Sunday night matchup against the Patriots.  He caught 6 balls for 127 yards and 2 touchdowns and was a big factor in the Ravens 1-point victory over the Pats.  ESPN has shown the clips of Brett Favre’s magical performance against the Raiders following the passing of his father numerous times.  For whatever reason, we are unlikely to see the same fanfare regarding Smith’s performance, but it was equally as impressive.

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