Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Climbing Mount Olympus - or - Facing the Atlanta Falcons

Ok, time to get down to the nitty-gritty, the bottom line, the heart of the matter, the quintessential truth that is the Miami Dolphins first matchup of the regular season.  

The Atlanta Falcons are good.  In fact, they're QUITE good.  They offer several mismatches for the Dolphins, and other than the season finale versus the Steelers, I can think of no tougher matchup for the Dolphins.  Don't get me wrong - I don't think the Falcons are as good of a team as the Steelers, but I do think the Dolphins have the most issues 'mano a mano' with the Falcons, and I will begin the discussion below, and offer a simplified game-plan to counteract these mismatches and hopefully produce a win.  I do believe a win vs Atlanta would be the first step to a successful season, and ultimately would end the media's obsession with believing Mike Smith was/is a better coach than Tony Sparano.  I'm doing this today, because I believe this is the discussion we all care about now, or at least should be caring about now, and I believe we'll still be talking about it after the next five days leading up to the game.
Where do I start with the Falcons?  The obvious thing would be to say how great their offense is, but since it's so obvious, let's start with the defense.  

Mismatch #1.  John Abraham vs. Jake Long.  Think of Long facing Abraham as the equivalent of him facing Joey Porter.  Abraham and Porter are neck and neck in career sacks, and last year they were neck and neck as well, with Porter edging out Abraham's 16.5 sacks with 17.5 of his own.  But there's a big difference.  Atlanta runs a 4-3 and Abraham is a sure tackler and run stopper as well.  This means no downs off for Long, who will have Abraham plus blitzes from Mike Peterson to deal with.  While there's no doubt Long can step up to the task, the task will be unrelenting.  Atlanta's biggest defensive weakness is it's depth, so the starters will likely play as much as possible.

Mismatch # 2.  Peria Jerry vs. Jake Grove.  Anyone who's been following Peria Jerry knows this rookie has been pretty much unstoppable in the pre-season.  In fact, he's looked like instead of stepping up to the NFL, he's been transplanted into a high school game level of competition.  For Miami to keep Chad Pennington upright, it's not just the ends they have to worry about.  Atlanta has been getting most of it's pressure up the middle, as Jerry has been unblockable one-on-one.  Obviously there's the ramifications of broken lanes versus the run as well.  For Miami to move the ball they'll have a very big challenge in controlling the line of scrimmage.

Mismatch # 3.  Matt Ryan vs. Miami's Secondary.  I'm not worried about applying pressure so much as I am about Ryan's ability to fire lasers.  I was not really impressed by his rookie numbers all that much, but seeing his throws, you can't help but be impressed.  He throws bullets that get there in a hurry.  The Falcons receivers can get deep in a hurry and Ryan's throws don't usually give safeties and corners time to recover even on the slightest misstep. 

Mismatch # 4.  Michael Turner vs. Miami's Linebackers.  The one thing I noticed as the biggest strength of the Falcons during the pre-season was their offensive line just completely dominating the line of scrimmage.  While I have no doubt that Langford, Ferguson or Starks could wrap up the bruising running back, the truth is it's likely they'll be blocked off and he will get to the second level more often than not.  The key here is if the combo of JT, Crowder, Ayodele and Porter can wrap up Turner and his reliable backup Norwood and not allow them to drag out an extra 3 or 4 yards. 

Mismatch # 5.  Tony Gonzalez vs. the Miami Dolphins.  In five regular season match-ups, Tony Gonzalez has been a thorn in the side of the Miami Dolphins, averaging 5.6 catches for 75.2 yards and a shave under a TD a game.  Most of us will never forget the 7 catch, 140yard, 3 TD game he burned us on a few years back.  And he hasn't really lost a step, in fact, he's gotten bigger and stronger, in my estimation, and has looked to be a very big part of the Falcons offense.  Joey Porter and JT can't cover this guy, and as they'll probably be rushing the passer anyway, I doubt Yeremiah Bell could cover him on his own either.  The problem with Gonzalez is that he plays football like he's playing basketball.  He doesn't look to get wide open, he simply looks to get in front of the defender and create a passing lane.  Once he's done that he uses his long arms to reach for the ball, keeping it safely away from any defenders reaching in.  As long as he can 'post up', he's unstoppable.
So those are the main concerns I have heading into week 1.  Yes, Roddy White is a fantastic young receiver with the rare combo of speed and size, but his success actually will hinge on some of the things already mentioned above, i.e. the O-line giving Ryan time to wind up (he has a slow motion but a rocket release as well as the running game opening up the passing game.

So, how do we get around these mismatches?  Well, I'm a strong believer in doing whatever it takes to win the game, and sometimes it's not all about winning more battles than the other guy, but winning the right ones.  So here is my game-plan for overcoming this tough week 1 opponent (please chime in with your own strategies):

The biggest battle in any football game is the battle for control.  Controlling the line of scrimmage, controlling time of possession, and controlling mistakes.  Any team that can do these three things is in pretty good shape to come out on top at the end of the game.  It's often not as apparent as in a basketball game - consider the LOS is the rebound in bball.  If a basketball team out-rebounds, controls the possession clock, and commits fewer turnovers/fouls than the other team, it's practically a guaranteed win.  So the Dolphins have to do that as goal number one in every game.  This is the foundation.  Long offensive drives, the defense getting off the field on 3rd downs, no penalties and turnovers.  That's how you get the law of averages on your side.  But I know it's easier said than done.

Now, onto the mismatches that Atlanta presents:

1.  There must be an additional blocker in the backfield. ON EVERY DOWN!  Long is good but shouldn't be left alone in this fight.  Ronnie Brown is the best stand-up blocker option here.  Polite can move people when he's running downhill, and Haynos' height can be an issue in the backfield.  Brown also presents the best check-down option and would help to keep the defenders honest as they look for the screen.

2.  This one isn't as simple.  The thing here is for Grove to try to get Jerry to bounce over to Donald Thomas, taking him out of the direct middle.  Thomas' upper body strength would then be better matched for the bull-rushing Peria.  Vernon Carey, meanwhile, should push the left end out to the tight end/perimeter, and offer help on either Jerry or the aforementioned end.  This should allow a gaping hole up the middle for Ronnie Brown to burst through.  Also effective here would be an I-formation play action.  Having Polite as reinforcement in the middle, the tailback would fake the run then ease into open space for the checkdown if no one was open downfield.

3.  No doubt this is the key that the media will hone in on as the biggest game-breaker.  but obviously it's not.  As good as Ryan is, Atlanta is not going to come out trying to throw the ball 40 times.  They are a run first team.  The key to Ryan not having a stunner of a game is actually to stop the run.  Without the play-action fake, the Falcons receivers should be matched up well by Will Allen and Sean Smith.  Allen's close coverage and Smith's rangy arms will make any quick passing to the outside relatively dangerous.  So ultimately the key to stopping Ryan is to stop Turner first, then throw the sink at Ryan in an effort to force quick throws.  I know this sounds pedestrian, but Atlanta's o-line will not allow it to be so.

4. Turner is a bruiser, and Norwood is an excellent change of pace.  Once again, the key here is fundamentals.  The linebackers have to tackle quickly and sharply.  There should be no heads-down launching at these guys.  They need to be wrapped up and that starts with good positioning.  The LBs need to 'stay at home' so to speak so as not to over-run any plays.  Remember that messy play vs Carolina in the pre-season when Deangelo Williams should've been stopped in the backfield but bounced out to score from 28 yards out?  Exactly the kind of thing we should try to avoid by not over pursuing.  I'd much rather give Turner 2 or 3 yards all day long than have him break on or two big plays due to poor tackling and bad positions.

5.  Like I said above, it's not about winning all the battles, just the right ones.  Despite Gonzalez's domination in the NFL, the truth is, it didn't really help his team win games or make any of his quarterbacks look good.  He is unstoppable in man-coverage, unless you get between him and the QB.  This goes hand in hand with the LBs staying at home like I mentioned in point # 4.  Do not leave the middle of the field unprotected in the 5 to 10 yard range from the LOS.  Gonzalez almost always runs dead center about 7 yards and posts up.  The best defense against this is to get in the passing lane.  Obviously this can't be done on every play, and ultimately, this mismatch shouldn't be considered a top-priority.  Let him get 80 yards receiving.  Without the big plays down the field and the strength of the running game minimized, it won't matter in the end.  

It's all about controlling what you can control.  Time of possession, mental errors, line of scrimmage.  By doing these things, we should be scoring points as a result.  He who scores the most wins the game.

Tin's Score Predictor:     MIA 27  ATL 31 
 

43 comments:

  1. Vontae Davis is now #21
    Sean smith is now # 24
    Also new # 93

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  2. Wow, good thing I haven't ordered my Smith jersey yet...

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  3. new # 93 is quentin moses.

    on the jersey changes, Smith was # 4 and Davis was #1 in College, so they've switched to these numbers for this reason

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  4. Will be an interesting game
    Dolphins Secondary and LBs falling into pass coverage concerns me
    Overhyped media circus is over on sean
    sean smith will responsible for Dolphin "L"

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  5. Wow
    Tin U really getting a Steve Smith jersey? Or Rod Smith

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  6. Falcons will be the first victim. Their D won't know what to expect from the Fins and will be caught out of position trying to defend the Wildcat threat. D is ahead of offense this early in the season and Miami's D will make dodos of the Falcons. Low-scoring win for Fins.

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  7. Home SuperBowl 2010September 8, 2009 at 1:44 PM

    MIAMI 12-4
    AFC CHAMPIONS
    First Home SuperBowl in NFL History

    Ronnie Brown
    15 TDs
    1400 YDs
    Pro Bowl again

    Ted Ginn
    Finally little breakout season
    10 TDs
    Over 1000 YDs


    ***** The DYNASTY BE FINS! *****

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  8. Home SuperBowl 2010September 8, 2009 at 1:44 PM

    MIAMI 12-4
    AFC CHAMPIONS
    First Home SuperBowl in NFL History

    Ronnie Brown
    15 TDs
    1400 YDs
    Pro Bowl again

    Ted Ginn
    Finally little breakout season
    10 TDs
    Over 1000 YDs


    ***** The DYNASTY BE FINS! *****

    ReplyDelete
  9. The Knight who says Ni!September 8, 2009 at 2:08 PM

    Tin, good run down. The Falcons are an up and coming team like we are. Hey their head coach won coach of the year over ours. They have some top talent on offense and some good defensive players. 

    A couple of things I noticed. John Abraham stinks against the run and always has. He's a pure off the corner pass rusher like Porter. Yet Joey can do other LB like things even though Abraham is more of a DE. All Jake has to do is push him outside on running plays and Abraham will gladly go that way. He is not a tough run defender. This might not be the team to run reverses against though because this is a fast but undersized defense. Like the Colts the following week. They play the same defense so this could be good for us in that way.

    If we're going to get our running game going, these are the two defenses to start with. They're both undersized but quick. We have to push them around or we might find trouble down the road. I'm not worried about our backs breaking tackles, they should, but we have to get that push.

    As for our defense against the Falcons offense. It starts with stopping Turner and the running game. Do that and Matt Ryan isn't as good like most QBs.

    Gonzalez has always killed us but that was with the Chiefs. We'll see how JT handles him differently. JT is a strong MFer and might be quick enough and strong enough to disrupt Gonzo. Most of his big games against us came when we played against our 4-3 defense and we had nobody at SOLB going up against him. I think we'll roll a safety his way late after JT does some hand to hand combat with him.

    Keys to the game:
    Stop Turner and their running game
    Pressure Ryan
    Slow down Gonzo and White

    That's the game. I think our offense is a mismatch against the Falcons defense. We're bigger and fast.

    Dolphins 31 Falcons 17

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  10. "The defense struggled to stop the Chargers on third down in the first half (allowing 7 of 8 conversions), but Chris Redman rallied the troops to victory with a rushing score and a last-second go-ahead TD pass to Eric Weems.

    I'm not sure what games you watched where Peria Jerry looked like he was playing against people in High School but this is from the Falcons web site & what I saw from their defense when I watched them against SD.  Jerry is a work in progress & so is the rest of Atlanta's defense outside of Abraham. 

    Here's another nice nugget from a newspaper called the Ledger-Enquirer in Georgia, "The Chargers led 21-10 as the first-team offense ran smoothly even with LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates watching from the sideline." 

    So I ask again, what game were you watching???

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  11. The Knight who says Ni!September 8, 2009 at 2:21 PM

    Perry was playing against college players and now everyone is as good as him. He'll be a good player but he better be Warren Sapp good or he'll be on his back more times than not. LOL

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  12. Knight,

    After watching the Falcons play the Chargers, this defense is EXACTLY what Dr. Sparano ordered!!!  They're undersized & can be overpowered which is what Grove was brought in to do.  I think the biggest challenge we face against the Falcons which is clearly stopping the run & or at least just SLOWING Turner down (more than one guy needs to bring this beast down) is going to be their biggest challenge as well.  I would give them a healthy dose of R&R for three quarters & then bring in a fresh Cobbs after we've worn them down.  I'm not predicting a score but I am predicting a Dolphins' win.

    BTW--Hope your enjoyed your vacation. 

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  13. Home SuperBowl 2010September 8, 2009 at 2:35 PM

    MIAMI 24  ATLANTA 31
    sean smith resposible for Dolphins loss

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  14. "sean smith resposible for Dolphins loss"

    Home,

    You just won't let go will you???  The Falcons are a run first team, that's why Ryan, Flacco, & Roethlisberger had such good rookie seasons!!!  If we can somehow, someway slow Turner down & prevent him from gashing us for long yardage, we'll beat them.  

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  15. So you watched the San Diego game and you didn't see Jerry just blowing by
    their center time and again? I watched them play Baltimore and he had 4 solo
    tackles, a sack, a QB hurry and looked like a wily vet out there and this
    was lined up against one of the best centers in the league, in fact, he's
    had to line up against Matt Birk, Jason Brown, Nick Hardwick, and Dominic
    Raiola so I wouldn't underestimate this guy.

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  16. *...won't let it go...

    Sorry. :)

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  17. The Knight who says Ni!September 8, 2009 at 2:56 PM

    LOL @ Home

    You've officially entered the retarded stage. LOL

    The Dolphins allowed 0 TD passes and less than 200 yards passing per game in the preseason going 4-0 and you rip on a rookie corner who made two great picks? WTFAYTA? LOL

    Tin, Perry is a good player but let's see what happens in the regular season. Marco Coleman dominated in the preseason as a rookie and looked rather average when the real games begun. I don't get too much more than perception from the preseason.

    It's 0-0 for every team.

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  18. No.  I saw SD kicking the Falcons ass in without playing LT or Gates.  I was so impressed with Rivers, Vincent Jackson, & Sproles that the only thing I noticed is that Sproles might be their best RB & that we have a good chance of dominating the Falcons' defense.   

    In all fairness to Jerry this is the only preseason game I saw the Falcons play.  I didn't see them play the Ravens.  However, IMO their defense looks very beatable.  

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  19. Yeah but we don't have Rivers, Jackon or Sproles....lol

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  20. Eeek!  You have picked us to lose.  Are you trying to be objective?  <sigh>  I am comforted by the prediction you had of the NO game.  :-E

    I ordered some Dolphin gear this weekend since I have the most inept family at picking up on a hint.  What does a girl have to do to get a CP jersey?  Don't answer, it's rhetorical.  At least I don't have to worry about CP changing his number! 

    And lastly, HSB2010, I wish you would let this SS thing go.  It's as if you are hoping he has a major f'up just to prove your point.  This whole thing is worn paper thin at this point.

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  21. For the record, in the NO game, the Dolphins left 21 points on the
    field....(shrug)...

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  22. The Knight who says Ni!September 8, 2009 at 3:30 PM

    Throw blitzes at Matt Ryan he's never seen before (only one year of NFL experience) and somehow someway keep the pressure on him up the middle. He's a pocket passer, take away his bread and butter. That starts with the running game lead by Michael Turner. Make that difficult and everything else becomes a easier. Run the ball! Don't do this and I agree with Tin's prediction of ATL 31 MIA 27.

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  23. Exactly the reason I predicted that score...because no one ever listens to
    my advice....

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  24. The Knight who says Ni!September 8, 2009 at 3:59 PM

    LOL

    Our interior DL and outside pass rush is the key to this game. We will score on their defense.

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  25. See new blog post to see who WON'T be scoring in Atlanta this weekend...

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  26. Dude, I don't get a couple of things...unless of course you don't actually root for the dolphins ;)

    1) Many of these are "key" matchups, not mismatches. Jake Long vs. Abraham is far closer to being "too close to call" than it is a mismatch in Abrahams favor. Randy and I have both pointed to this being a key matchup to gauge Longs progress.

    2) You buy into too much hype. Ryan hit a wall last season, and it's hardly a slam dunk his skills vs. our secondaries is a "mismatch"...again, key matchup maybe but mismatch? Only if you're a Falcon homer. ;)

    3)Peria Jerry vs. Jake Grove? If this proves to be a mismatch I'll be impressed with you calling it (and I'll say so too!), but until then it seems like you mighta fallen in love w/ this rookie predraft?

    4)Tony Gonzales didn't kill us LAST year! Which brings me to my point...he's old. He should be respected of course, but "mismatch"? We'll see about that.

    I actually don't mean to diminish all the great effort you obviously put into this stuff Tin, and you've said some thought provoking things, but why all the gloom and doom? You turn into a Jet fan all of the sudden :)

    *note, all references to Tin being a fan of another team are jokes ONLY!

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  27. One other thing Tin, that I can't believe you didn't mention:

    ATLANTA'S SECONDARY STINKS!!!!

    It's gonna take more then the 4 times collectively that Abraham and Jerry beat Long and Grove to prevent CP from finding holes in that swiss cheese secondary.

    I actually would be mildly surprised if we don't win this game, and since I don't have any dolphin players to prove worthless (to stroke my own ego), I'll be rooting for the fins in this one.

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  28. Also looking for Ronnie Brown to have strong first showing in in his home state of Georgia

    2 TDs
    138 yds

    Good Day for Brown

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  29. The Knight who says Ni!September 9, 2009 at 6:57 AM

    Gonzalez always scores on us and he did have 7-64 1 TD last year against us. Based on the score Tin put up I don't think he doubts we can score on Atlanta.

    Ryan did hit a wall last year but he starts fresh this year. I'm not as impressed with Ryan as a lot of other people. I think Michael Turner is their meal ticket. I still say we win 31-17.

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  30. Home SuperBowl 2010September 9, 2009 at 7:19 AM

    is the mystery guest on 9:43 AM comment

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  31. Jahndoh,

    In the end it's all conjecture and opinion, but beware you should never underestimate your opponent.

    As for Ryan hitting a wall, he only hit the wall in the first round of the playoffs, not bad for a rookie who'd never played 16 games (every offensive snap), and don't forget our own Chad Pennington hit a wall at the same time too.  In fact, while Ryan went 'THUD!', Pennington went 'SPLAT!!'

    Oh, and Gonzalez had 7 catches for 64 yards and a touchdown against us last year which are pretty good numbers for a TE.

    I'm not trying to bring doom and gloom, but I don't think we'll go 16-0 so I have to be realistic and I do think playing Atlanta in week 1 in their house is going to be tough.  I know everyone is already jumping ahead to the Indy game, but in my opinion this is a harder game.  And of course, if Miami follows my simple game plan they should come out on top, but the other team will be trying as well! ;)

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  32. "Based on the score Tin put up I don't think he doubts we can score on Atlanta. "

    The score also doesn't fit the analysis. Based on what I read we don't have a chance of putting up 27 pts. on them, Abraham and Jerry will be blowing up the run and pass all day!

    Thanks for setting me straight on Gonzales' game vs. us last year, I usually comment on these boards based on what I remember (rather than what I looked up), and I didn't remember him killing us last year. I'm probably still stinging from years past when he put up 100+ yards and multiple TDs.

    "  I know everyone is already jumping ahead to the Indy game, but in my opinion this is a harder game.  And of course, if Miami follows my simple game plan they should come out on top, but the other team will be trying as well! ;) "

    Fair point. A theme I harp on all the time...both teams are full of professionals, getting paid to beat the other guy in front of them.

    Should be fun!

    Cheers fellers.

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  33. As herdfan has already pointed out on numerous occasions, I'm rubbish at
    predicting scores and should not be taken seriously! :)

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  34. Good job tin.  Now can you take it one step further and show us a match up between our cheerleaders and the falcons ones.

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  35. oh i like the falcons outfits because of the colors....but the Dolphins have
    better tans...but I gotta say, overall the cheerleaders from those teams in
    Texas are top-notch.
    You ever been to a game (any sport) of which you have no interest in either
    team and you end spending 90% of the game staring at the
    cheerleaders/dancers?

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  36. The Knight who says Ni!September 9, 2009 at 8:08 AM

    Ronnie Brown should have a big day against Atlanta.

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  37. yeah, every and any preseason game i have been too. 

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  38. LOL
    For me it's every Sacramento Kings game I get invited to.

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  39. uuuggggg, the NBA, i would rather be forced to listen to barry manilow while reading the rantings of Home about how sean smith is going to lose us a game, then watch a bunch of selfish show boating dribble and shoot blow hards.

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  40. uuuggggg, the NBA, i would rather be forced to listen to barry manilow while reading the rantings of Home about how sean smith is going to lose us a game, then watch a bunch of selfish show boating dribble and shoot blow hards.

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  41. Home SuperBowl 2010September 9, 2009 at 9:49 AM

    lol ffr

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  42. The Knight who says Ni!September 9, 2009 at 2:07 PM

    I read that Vontae Davis fully participated in practice today so he'll probably be active for Sunday's game. On the other side John Abraham (knee) didn't practice today.

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