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The Dogs Are Out

   by Al McMordie - 08/21/2008

It’s not your imagination: The Dogs have been barking loudly this NFL preseason. In Week 1 the dogs were 9-5-2 against the number, which is not unusual with the first look at all the teams. But Week 2 was even more extreme, with the underdogs going 11-4 ATS (with one game lined at PK'em).

Two of the biggest surprises were the Raiders and Dolphins covering (though not to me, as I had Miami as a big play). Oakland had to travel 3,000 miles to play at Tennessee and play the Titans, who have done well in the preseason under Jeff Fisher. Don’t be fooled by the Raiders rolling up 380 yards, as most of it was on the ground (224 yards). One plus is that young quarterback JaMarcus Russell's mobility allowed him to use his feet to escape trouble and allow his receivers to break their routes to come back to the ball. That’s a plus in preseason against second stringers, but could be less so in the regular season against onrushing NFL linemen.

Miami used two quarterbacks in Week 2, newcomer Chad Pennington and rookie Chad Henne (from my alma mater, Michigan). Reports are that the coaches like the two Chads a lot and they’ve been getting most of the reps. Which means you’re likely to see them in Week 3, before teams generally play the backups in Week 4 to prevent injuries to key players.

The Dolphins were a dog at Jacksonville but controlled the game against the listless Jags. Henne was 17-of-26 for 133 yards while Pennington was 5-of-6 for 55 yards. Best yet: No turnovers! Miami's three scoring drives totaled 13 minutes and 46 seconds.

This was another preseason example of a new coach having an edge. The Dolphins won as a dog for their new coach, while the Redskins, under new coach Jim Zorn, are now 3-0 after a 13-10 win at New York. First-year head coaches can have an edge in preseason as they want their team to play well and win, while more established coaches often care much less.

Based on the play of the starters in a 19-14 loss to the Dolphins, put Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio in the established category now, after another playoff appearance last season. Del Rio was 15-5 SU, 14-6 ATS in preseason play before this year. Now he’s 1-1 SU/0-2 ATS with two weak performances. The Jaguars trailed 19-0 at home and the frontline contributors didn't play at the level of a team labeled a title contender.

"It's not near good enough, and it's not acceptable," Del Rio said. "I like for them to feel this because this is what happens when you don't execute." Expecting an improvement from their preseason-opening win over the Atlanta Falcons, the Jaguars watched the opposite occur as the starters struggled on both sides of the ball through the entire first half. The first-team offense failed to score and produced just 87 yards.

Meanwhile, the defense allowed Miami running back Ricky Williams to run roughshod (43 yards and a touchdown on 10 attempts) while it gave up 98 yards through the air to newly acquired Dolphin quarterback Chad Pennington. Pennington finished with a 104.9 QB rating while leading Miami to two second-quarter scores. The Dolphins' starters outgained the Jaguars' frontline players 179-87.

"Sloppy half. We didn't move the ball," Del Rio said. "We got totally stuffed offensively. Defensively, we never really slowed them down."

Perhaps more disturbing was the lackluster play of the Jaguars' defensive front seven. Jaguars rookie defensive end Quentin Groves saw significant playing time, but he struggled to get to the quarterback and couldn't consistently stop the run.

"We need to play better, that is the bottom line," Jaguars defensive end Paul Spicer said. "That first half was football, but it sure wasn't Jaguar football." They get another chance this weekend at Tampa Bay, a team on a short week.

Another dog that has quietly impressed this preseason is Houston. The Texans had all kinds of injuries last season under second-year head coach Gary Kubiak, yet finished 8-8. He’s building a decent team, one that has balance on offense (he was the offensive coordinator in Denver under Mike Shanahan), plus an interesting young defensive front.

The Texans are now 2-0 SU/1-0-1 ATS this preseason after winning at New Orleans, 31-27. The offense rolled up 405 yards as Matt Schaub was absolutely brilliant, 14 for 16 with two touchdown passes, and a dazzling passer rating of 154.9. By the way, the Texans are 5-1 over the total their last 6 preseason games.

The Seahawks won as a home dog against the Bears, 29-26 in OT, but what really stood out was the terrible play (again) of the Chicago offense. The Seahawks had the edge in yards 431-205. For the second straight week, QB Rex Grossman and the first team offense played the first half. Yet, they have scored 3 and 5 points in those two halves (and the safety was not by the offense).

Grossman didn't steer the Bears to a scoring drive Saturday, completing 9 of 15 passes for 74 yards and one interception for a passer rating of 44.9. "We didn't play real smart," Grossman said. The Bears have a short week before kicking off this weekend, on Thursday, at home against the 49ers. Week 3 is when the starters generally play the most. It’s a good time to fine tune offenses, but just remember that the dogs have been the story this preseason. Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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