WHAT I SAW, Wk 8 2012

Blair Miller > WHAT I SAW IN WEEK 8, 2012

One Legendary Coach Bill Parcells-ism: “I go by what I see.”

Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot by watching.”

This is What I Saw from the past week’s NFL action.

(A list of TFQ’s PROPS from this column will be posted monthly.)

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Away from the game(s)

I SAW weather actually trump the sports world from Sunday to Tuesday night, the opening night for the 2012-13 NBA regular season.  It was mentioned last week that this column would have to top a woman with a city on her hat…(See: What I Saw, Wk 7)  Mother nature did it for me, surely guaranteeing a fish in someone’s underwear somewhere in New York City and evoking memories of this epiphany.

Shooter McGavin was right that no force on earth could stop it, but it brought no mudders to NFL Sunday.  Oh well.  Seriously, though, all good wishes and hopes for those affected adversely by Hurricane Sandy’s historic landfall on the East Coast.  One much less important thing the storm delayed was the NFL trade deadline, which was extended until Thursday.  Here’s what happened:  One measly move thus far (as of early Wednesday morning).

NFL Network’s Ian Rappaport revealed that the Lions traded a “mid-round draft pick” to the Jaguars for WR Mike Thomas.  Not a bad move, after the loss of WR Nate Burleson for the year.  His backup, Titus Young filled in admirably on Sunday (see: Detroit wins vs. Seattle, 28-24) and Detroit already used a second-round pick on Ryan Broyles this year, and he’s coming on as well, which is nice to see.  (Broyles was a beast at Oklahoma but didn’t finish last season due to a bad knee injury.)  As such, Thomas shouldn’t immediately threaten to start.  Rather, this move was a trade for depth.

I SAW a random-realization PROPS for former Niners QB Steve Young.  I heard it mentioned on TV this week that Young began only eight seasons as a starter in San Francisco.  I’d never really thought about that.  And he made the Hall Of Fame with a Sayers-style brief dossier.  Impressive.

I SAW another Niners thought from the past.  I watched another well-produced episode of NFL Network’s “A Football Life”, this one about former San Fran owner Eddie DeBartolo.  The show does an excellent job of depicting DeBartolo as the trailblazer for current owners of pro sports teams that lavish perks upon their players, such as Mavericks owner Mark Cuban in the NBA.

The Niners provided evidence that ownership and spending on travel luxuries can make a difference in the win column when they won 18 straight road games over the course of three season under DeBartolo’s ownership – an NFL record.  Players were quoted during the show crediting the feeling that they weren’t even on the road with treats like individual hotel rooms helped them feel more comfortable on road games.

I SAW the film Looper a few days ago.  Not bad.  Sort of felt like two separate movies that each needs more to them, but both were solid.  Those of you who have seen it will know about the infamous person named The Rainmaker.  The Ravens have discovered this week that they have their own Rainmaker in the form of OL Bryant McKinnie, who, according to Dan Hanzus of NFL.com, has had a lawsuit filed against him by the father of rapper Trick Daddy for $375,000 owing at South Florida strip clubs.  Classy.  Meanwhile, Trick Daddy’s dad owns strip clubs.  That explains a lot.

What explains even more is that Mr. Daddy’s daddy could be full of shit.  Here’s what McKinnie told The Baltimore Sun the following day (via NFL.com):

“I got no papers, I was never served…  I just called my lawyer about this because this is a bogus story.  I just read the article.  He was working at those places and he’s tried to borrow money from me. People can put anything out there. What strip club gives you a $375,000 tab. It just sounds stupid to me. I’ve never heard of this in my life. This is bogus to me. For it to be even reported is stupid to me.”

Byes: Baltimore, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Houston

TNF- Tampa Bay (3-4) wins @ Minnesota (5-3), 36-17

I SAW the Vikings’ chances for the postseason sink faster than Thor’s hammer in water.  They needed this game badly because the rest of their season is dreadfully tough: Seahawks, Lions, BYE, Bears, Packers, Bears, Rams, Texans, Packers.  Jinkies!  You read that correctly – 4 of the last eight games are against Chicago and Green Bay, including a stretch of three straight weeks with the first two games on the road.  Last year Buffalo and San Diego started 4-1, just like Minnesota did this fall.  With that slate of games looming ahead it’s not hard to see the Vikes falling in the same fashion those teams did in ’11.

I SAW that somehow – somehow – Vikings RB Adrian Peterson is even shiftier at higher speeds than he was prior to his knee surgery.  After a more physical run during the first quarter NFL Network colour commentator Mike Mayock called Peterson “one of the angriest runners I’ve ever seen.”  That mindset might help to explain Alll-Day’s performance thus far this season because he’s cutting hard.  Barry Sanders hard.  (Not as fast as Barry, but as hard.)  Sometimes with a fearless player a severe injury and the resulting rehab steels a guy – if it doesn’t even amp up his intensity – when he gets back in games.  In other words, AP is angry and it shows while his feet attack the turf with an intensity and balance as though he’s showing that knee and the doubters who is boss.  The craziest thing is that Peterson told NFL Network’s Ladainian Tomlinson that he isn’t 100 percent yet.

I SAW Buccaneers WR Mike Williams show that he’s becoming one of the better end zone boundary receivers in a while with his silky-smooth footwork to stay inbounds on a leaping TD to put Tampa up 20-7 with 4:30 left in the first half.  (He made another great sideline grab over the top of a jumping CB A.J. Jefferson in the third quarter.)  Since coming into the league in ’10 Williams has made some Chris Cater-style* plays in the back of the end zone.

*- Check the Carter link at 2:20 to see what I mean…Randy Cross gives him PROPS over Jerry Rice – and Cross was Rice’s teammate.  (Shout-out to The Original, Raymond Berry at #2, by the way.)

I SAW Buccaneers rookie RB Doug Martin look great Thursday night with 31 touches for 214 total yards and 2 touchdowns.  It’s always nice to see an all-around tailback prospect live up to his billing early.  Martin ‘s movements are very smart and crisp when he has the ball in his hands, and he knows where to be when it isn’t.

I SAW Buccaneers Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks get put on injured reserve with a toe injury.  It’s a huge injury for the Bucs.  Nicks was an anchor for Tampa’s line, and now they are without both starting guards from training camp.

I SAW PROPS to Vikings DE Jared Allen for an entertaining and impressive sequence in the 3rd quarter with his team trailing 30-17.

Allen beats  LT Donald Penn on second-down incompletion and Penn gives Allen some cheap shots after the play.  Allen takes exception, and the two start swinging at each other.  Penn is seriously larger than the All-Pro defensive end, but after several blows by each, Penn ends up flailing his arms while Allen holds him at bay with one arm by the facemask like a cartoon.  The ensuing double penalty makes the crowd upset while Penn and Allen continue to talk trash to each other.  It goes on so long that even Penn’s fellow linemen start to chastise their tackle for not being able to shut up.  When the Bucs line up for third down on the next play, Allen whips the crowd up into such a frenzy that Tampa has to call a timeout to regroup. For some reason, Penn starts talking to Allen again during the timeout – again against the obvious objection of his teammates.  By the time the timeout is over the domed stadium was even louder than prior to the timeout.  What happens next is priceless.  The ball is snapped, Allen pops Penn underneath his shoulder pads and flashes past him for a sack on Josh Freeman.  Bedlam ensues.

The Rhinestone Cowboy owned that prolonged moment in a visceral way.  It didn’t end up creating a change of momentum in the game, but at the time it sure felt like it could.

I SAW Vikings QB Christian Ponder fail to put up the sort of turnaround game that would have been good for his team.  Ponder hasn’t looked half as comfortable running the offense over the last three weeks than he did to start the season.  Defensive backs are starting to sit on receivers’ pass routes more often because they know – as this column has stated a few times this season – that Minnesota’s offense runs the trendy short pass scheme.  The Vikings sure haven’t burned any opposing DBs yet this year – Ponder’s sweet hookup with do-everything Percy Harvin in the second quarter was the longest TD pass by the quarterback in 2012.  It was for 18 yards.  Translation: Minny’s offense is about as explosive as something that never explodes.

New York Giants (6-2) win @ Dallas (3-4), 24-29

I SAW the Giants improve to 4-0 in The Emperor(Dallas owner Jerry Jones)’s  new palace and in doing so won their sixth games out of their last seven since losing to the Cowboys on opening day.

It was yet another lowest of the low for the America’s Team.  According to ESPN things got so brutal that Jones was booed when he came on that giant TV of his during a public service announcement about breast cancer awareness.  Yikes.

While I’m on the topic…America’s Team?  Still?  Really?  “Big D” is now a paltry 14-13 in their new Jones Mahal stadium.  More indicting upon their legacy as a top-tier franchise is that the ’Boys are 99-100 in the regular season this century.  That’s about as average as a team can get.

I SAW PROPS for Cowboys TE Jason Witten for reminding the doubters that he’s still very much a force to be reckoned with by having 18 receptions.  According to Elias Sports Bureau it’s the most catches by a tight end in league history, and fifth-most among any player in one game.  One grab came courtesy of a sick one-handed stab Witten made of a ball thrown behind him in the fourth quarter.

I SAW Giants S Stevie Brown come up with two interceptions and a fumble recovery against the Cowboys.  The third-year pro has come out of nowhere to play savior for yet another battered DB crew in New York.  Brown now has 5 picks in six games and the consistency with which the G-Men continue to divine defensive back play from lower-string guys year in and out it getting ridiculous.

I SAW Cowboys RB Felix Jones commit an awful fumble at a crucial point in the fourth quarter.  If there’s anyone who needs to be cut loose sooner than head coach Jason Garrett, it’s Jones.  There should be no surprise that the tailback’s focus is lacking after his having failed a conditioning test earlier this year.

I SAW PROPS for Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul for a gorgeous close range interception of Dallas’ Tony Romo that he took to the house, and then dunked over the (10 ft. tall) crossbar.  What athleticism for his size.  Has any defensive lineman other than Julius Peppers ever thrown it down after a score?  Wow.

I SAW Cowboys QB Tony Romo throw for a career-high 437 yards while scrambling to come back in spite of himself and his team’s turnovers Sunday.  He set up three different receivers – WRs Miles Austin and Dez Bryant; TE Jason Witten – for 100 yards apiece.  According to ESPN the only other time Dallas has done this in a single game was against the Niners in 1963.

But as he so often does, Romo was able to overcome the positives of high yardage by turning the ball over.  The Dallas quarterback now leads the league in interceptions, with 13.

I SAW the Cowboys defense continue to play great this season, and keep their team in it while fighting back from a 23-0 deficit.  Holding Giants QB Eli Manning to a 51.7 completion rate and a 48.2 passer rating doesn’t happen every day.  If the Dallas defense got up for every game like it has twice this season against New York they’d really be transcendent.

I SAW Cowboys WR Dez Bryant continue to disappoint – especially in the early going of Sunday’s game, when he was responsible for Dallas’ first two turnovers.  The first came when he failed to shorten his pass route and run across the safety’s help over top.  As a result, Romo threw the ball to a space where S Stevie Brown was able to pick it off.  Then, Bryant tries to catch a punt over his shoulder (another sign of horrible discipline), muffs the punt, recovers it, and then fumbles the ball moments later anyway.  He’s just so talented…

Ah, talent.  There has to be some sort of high amount of evidence of it, some practical application beyond raw physical ability and excelling at vague non-football tasks such as combine events and the like.  No one takes piano players, watches them do crazy things with their wrists and/or fingers and then when the pianists keep fucking up during a concert say, well, at least they’re talented.

Another bad, telltale sign for Dez came when he was yelling at his QB, Tony Romo, on the bench and Romo was ignoring him, a la Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens in Philly years ago.

I SAW that WR Dez Bryant wasn’t the only Cowboy with his head up his ass.  Apart from TE Jason Witten’s performance (see above) the route running and overall execution on offense blows.  The unit even started arguing with each other to boot, as halftime neared.  And 19 yards rushing on 17 attempts for the game…I understand that starting back “Don Juan” DeMarco Murray is out with an injury, but what’s easier to coach than run blocking?

Things like routes, play calling and attitude come down to coaching.  No execution, the coach’s job should be executed.

Atlanta (7-0) wins @ Philadelphia (3-4), 30-17

I SAW the Falcons improve to 7-0 with their first win in Philadelphia since October of 1988.  (They had gone 0-6 there since, including two playoff losses.)

Atlanta looked good doing it, too.  The Dirty Birds came right at Philly, showing a bit of that killer instinct they’ll no doubt need again in the weeks to come while flashing out to a 24-7 lead by halftime.  They didn’t need to punt until the fourth quarter, either – around the same time that “Fire [Eagles head coach Andy] Reid!” chants started pouring down from the Eagles “faithful”…

I SAW myself feeling sorry for Philadelphia’s Todd Bowles.  Bowles was promoted to defensive coordinator after the firing of Juan Castillo.

In essence,  Bowles was handed the keys to a broken-down, underachieving defense with its recently fired predecessor’s body still warm and in the trunk.

Who wants to drive that trash heap?  If Sunday’s game was any indication, probably not Bowles.  The one silver lining may have been that the Eagles sacked Falcons QB Matt Ryan three times, but they were Philly’s first sacks since week three.  Ouch.  Otherwise, the Eagles defense regressed further:

–       The Falcons converted a first down on their first nine third downs of the game – three of them thanks to penalties on Eagles defenders.

–       Philadelphia allowed three plays of 37 yards or longer.

–       Coming into the game, the Eagles had allowed 18.5 points per game (subtracting two TD returns on their offenses’ turnovers).  The defense Bowles coached Sunday had given up 21 points with over five minutes remaining in the first half.

–       The defense failed to force a turnover by Atlanta.

To be fair, if Bowles has made significant changes to the defensive philosophy it will take more time for them to take proper effect.  But the former DB coach sure isn’t getting his closest players up to speed with any changes, as the defensive backs got burned repeatedly and looked lost in doing so.

I SAW Falcons WR Julio Jones have a big game against the Eagles, but in making that beautiful over-the-shoulders catch for a TD he further demonstrated his “circus hands” – the ability to make the circus catch, but a tendency to drop the easy ones.  Still, contrary to the opinion of many, good hands can be taught.  If Jones can learn that, with his size-speed combination…look out.

I SAW many – including myself – wonder in frustration about how Eagles RB LeSean McCoy could be handed the ball in just 16 running plays.  But in the defense of head coach and play-caller Andy Reid, his offensive line is struggling after a few key injuries.  According to ESPN.com, McCoy was hit behind the line of scrimmage 5 times out of those 16 rushes, which is a fairly high rate.  In fact, in the first 5 games of the season, Shady was hit behind the line on only 19.6 percent of his runs, whereas in the last two games that number as ballooned up to 40 percent.

Reid is going to have to come up with some creative ways to free up McCoy – his most consistent scoring threat – or else the seat under Reid’s rotund ass is going to get hotter still.

I SAW Eagles head coach Andy Reid lose after a bye week for the first time during his tenure as skipper in Philly, snapping a 13-year streak.  His team is now also mired in a three-game losing streak.

Obviously, the chances of Reid keeping his job after this season look pretty stark.  There is at least some cause for optimism next week, as Philadelphia’s offense could fashion a turnaround game against New Orleans, who have allowed more yards over the first seven games of their season than any team in history.  The defense will still have its hands full against QB Drew Brees but, win or lose, if the Eagles can’t get well against the Saints’ defense then the sky in Philly really will fall for the hardest fans to please in the league.

Pittsburgh (4-3) wins vs. Washington (3-5), 27-12

I SAW the Steelers sport some majestically odd throwback uniforms Sunday in commemoration of their 80th season.

I have to admit that – apart from the neon, Oregon-wannabe crap the Seahawks are pushing on us – I tend to subscribe to the “uglier-the-better” theory for uniforms.  As far as unis go, obnoxious is fun.  I loved the 1934 replicas Pittsburgh wore against Washington, those inmate outfits with khaki game pants.  Then again, I also loved those brown and yellow jobs the Broncos used three years ago too.

I SAW a big pride game for the Steelers defense.  Many had predicted that the aging squad would be further exposed against the Redskins’ dynamic QB Robert Griffin III.   Furthermore, Washington came into Sunday leading the league in rushing offense, and say what you will about Pittsburgh’s defense but they do not get gashed in the run game.

Case in point: the ’Skins managed a season-low 86 yards rushing as a team, and RG3 was held to just 8 of those after averaging 66.9 in his first seven games as a pro as Steeler defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau improved to 14-1 against rookie pivots since taking the job in Steeltown in 2004.

In a pass-heavy league, Pittsburgh’s number one-ranked pass defense has yet to allow 270 yards passing in one game this season.  Their run defense is ninth in the NFL and the unit is second-best in the league overall.  They still aren’t quite what they used to be, but clearly the reports of the collective demise of these defenders have been greatly exaggerated.

I SAW that Redskins QB Robert Griffin III brought his accuracy once again, but some of his teammates forgot their hands at the hotel.  Washington receivers undermined the efforts of their quarterbacks with an unforgiveable nine drops.  That won’t do in any game – let alone one against a defense that allows few opportunities for success.

I SAW the Steelers improve to 400-253-2 since the merger in 1970.  That’s the most wins of any NFL franchise in that span.  (Courtesy STATS LLC)

I SAW the Redskins cut the Steelers’ lead to 10-6 in the second quarter by converting a TD on fourth-and-two (the extra point was blocked).  On the play, Washington improved to 7-for-7 on fourth down plays in the 2012 season.  They missed on one later in the game, but finished at 8-for-9 so far this year.  That’s yet another indication of the poise of rookie QB Robert Griffin III.

I SAW that at least Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan can admit when his own Shanahan Shenanigans get out of hand.  On Sunday his offense ran a trick play, when WR Josh Morgan took an end-around hand off but then pulled up and threw a deep ball – to QB Robert Griffin III.  The play was a near-disaster, with RG3 getting called for pass interference and then getting lit up on a hit from Steelers S Ryan Clark at the end of the play.

Not being afraid to let your QB run with the ball is one thing.  Sending him downfield to risk getting hit defenselessly if/when a wideout floats up a pass to him is another thing entirely.  Shanahan didn’t dodge the bullet from the press on Monday, telling reporters through WJFL-FM Radio that, “after looking at that play, you feel like a complete dumb shit.”

I SAW Redskins CB DeAngelo Hall continue to prove he’s a head case by unleashing a profanity-laced tirade at an official late in the game.  Hall was ejected from the game.  Sometimes I wish there was more mandatory counseling for players like Hall, so that they can be protected from themselves.

I SAW that it’s taken a while but the Steelers have a virtual embarrassment of riches at the skill positions on offense.  Though noticeably injury-depleted, the backfield continues to come up with plays in both the run game and passing, they have four receivers capable of beating coverage on any play, an oft-unsung tight end who’s having one of the best years of his career in Heath Miller – and one quarterback who is pretty happy about it.  Ben Roethlisberger told the Associated Press after completing throws to nine different receivers against the ’Skins that, “it’s fun having so many weapons and being able to throw to anybody.”  (Ironically this comes the first year after beloved WR Hines Ward retires.)

There may indeed be friction between Big Ben and his new offensive coordinator, the abrasive Todd Haley, but when the offense is clicking (even against a shitty pass defense like Washington’s) everyone’s smiling.

Chicago (6-1) wins vs. Carolina (1-6), 23-22

I SAW the Panthers really look like they were going to be able to finagle their second win against the heavily-favored Bears while nursing a 19-7 lead…and then the fourth quarter came and the kind of things that happen to a snake-bitten team happened to Carolina:

Panthers P Brad Nortman shanked a punt for six yards to give the Bears the ball on Carolina’s 38-yard line.

(Six yards!?  The word “shank” doesn’t do that heel-ball justice.  Nortman skanked the punt.  Horrible skank.  Better.)

That untimely skank set up a Jay Cutler TD pass to Chicago TE Kellen Davis with under seven minutes to go in the game that cut Carolina’s lead to 19-4.  (Davis, by the way, did what any 6’7”, 260+pound athletic freak would do to celebrate: dunk the football over the crossbar from a standstill.  Nice.)  On the Panthers’ next play from scrimmage, WR Steve Smith slipped on a route and Bears CB Tim Jennings stepped in front of the ball for a pick-6 to give Carolina the lead.

Each team would exchange field goals before Chicago came out with the victory but that 3-4 minute stretch that started with Nortman’s skank was the stretch that broke an already-broken camel’s back for the Panthers.

I SAW that the Panthers won’t feel better about much until they get that elusive second win – and more.

Carolina is the unhappy owner of the worst record in the NFC, and if what WR Steve Smith said to the Associated Press after the game is any indication, the atmosphere in the locker room is going to shit:

“It’s getting old…  There is a tradition growing here, and I’m not sure which way this tradition is going…  Not heartbreaking. Tiresome, monotonous, a few guys in here are perturbed and [ticked], but we’re beyond heartbreak. We’re just getting upset.”

That sounds pretty heavy.  Right or wrong, now that it’s clear the spirit of his team is low, team owner Jerry Richardson’s instincts will now likely lead him to (after firing GM Marty Hurney last week) put his head coach Ron Rivera under the microscope.

That might not go so well for Rivera, a former defensive coordinator who had some explaining to do after the game – and he didn’t to it terribly well.  Panthers S Charles Godfrey told the Charlotte Observer (via NFL.com) that his defense’s play calling during the Bears’ winning drive was, shall we say, predictable.

“They threw the same pass play I think all the way down the field…  That was a great play for that coverage, and they just ran that play all the way down the field. And the coverage we were in, we just stayed in that coverage.”

Rivera – again, a former defensive coordinator – had this explanation:

“We were trying to keep the ball in front of us. It’s one of those things where if you jump it and they double-move you, now all of a sudden it’s a touchdown or the ball is in field-goal range. We were trying to make them systematically beat us.”

Note the last sentence.  Mission accomplished, Ron.

I SAW the Bears defense put up yet another intimidating performance.  Chicago has been on top of offenses all season, as though there’s raw meat taped all over them.  A big part of it is the 6 interception returns for touchdowns so far this season.  I did some digging and it turns out that the Bears have the most pick-6’s through a team’s first 7 games in NFL history.  As would be expected, converting turnovers into instant points seem to be part of a winning formula:

TEAM YEAR INT TD’s W-L (thru 7 gms.)
Chicago 2012 6 6-1
New Orleans 2009 5 7-0
Green Bay 2008 5 4-3
Detroit 1967 5 3-3
Green Bay 1966 5 6-1

Chicago now trails the single-season record of 9 interception returns for a touchdown.

I SAW that the Bears defense has six TDs off of interceptions this season.  Panthers QB Cam Newton has five TD passes.

Newton likes to evoke Superman when he scores…  I still think SuperCam can be an elite QB in time, but right now season number two feels more like that stretch in Superman 2 when Superman loses his way and starts to sulk in a diner all day.

I SAW an early nominee for one of TFQ’s Upside Down Awards, given following the Super Bowl:

“Paper Wall Blocking Award”

You know when college teams come out of the tunnel and burst through a paper banner?  Often offensive linemen or whole O-lines end up barely sufficing as such while getting torn apart by defensive fronts.  This dubious distinction is given for the paper-thinnest protection offered for an NFL QB in 2012. 

Chicago offensive line

The Bears O-line did everything they could to prevent a Chicago win, allowing six sacks on their already-battered QB Jay Cutler – three of them by DE Greg Hardy, who had just two sacks this season prior to Sunday and had never had a multi-sack game in his career.  But Cutler gutted it out and the offense overcame the poor pass protection as a unit to pull out a win by leaning on its quarterback and go-to wideout, Brandon Marshall.

I SAW another outburst of negativity from Panthers WR Steve Smith after Sunday’s loss.  Smith sounded resentful at best over the compliments being rained upon Bears CB Tim Jennings.  Some of Smith’s feelings were likely influenced by the fact that Jennings’ pick-6 came as a result of Smith slipping (see above), but the 12-year vet wasn’t shy about blowing it off.

“I know you want to pump him up. I’ve been kicking his (butt) every time I’ve come up here and today no was different. Do you disagree? I didn’t think so.” (Associated Press)

As crudely as he put it, Smith’s right – and one can understand his foul mood too.  In 2 career games at Soldier Field while Jennings has been a Bear, Smith has 15 receptions for 299 yards – but no touchdowns and an 0-2 record to show for it.

New England (5-3) wins vs. St. Louis (3-5), 45-7

(London)

I SAW an amusing storyline in London surrounding the game at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.  Not to disregard the “any given Sunday” maxim – because it’s generally valid – but the Rams left to go across the pond several days before the Patriots and there was speculation that it could give St. Louis an advantage in the game.

Well, for the Pats the result was pretty much the same for them in old England as it is in New England.  Maybe the most impressive accomplishment for the Patriots in Europe was that they were so efficient at packing up the woodshed and taking it all the way with them to take the Rams out to it.  St. Loo leaped out to a 7-0 lead.  Then, it was 45-7.

I SAW PROPS for the New England offense. Recall from last week’s column that the Patriots had tied the 1999-2000 St. Louis Rams for most consecutive regular season games with at least 350 yards on offense, with 16.  That streak didn’t come anywhere close to being threatened Sunday, and fittingly enough the Pats set the record by passing the franchise that had previously held it.

I SAW business as usual for Patriots QB Tom Brady against a very good set of defensive backs: 25-for-35 (71.4%), 304 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INT, 131.1 rating.

This game was Brady’s 50th game with 3+ passing TDs.  Only Brett Favre, Peyton Manning and Dan Marino have more.

I SAW PROPS to Rams WR Chris Givens for some historic big play capability over the last month and beyond.  According to Elias Sports Bureau Givens has now gone five straight games with at least one 50+yard reception.  That’s not only the longest active streak in the NFL – it’s the first time it’s happened since Pat Studstill did it for the Lions in 1966.  Studstill.  PROPS to a guy named Studstill while I’m at it.

I SAW Patriots RB Stevan Ridley rush for 125 yards for the third time this season.  Didn’t see that coming.

I SAW New England TE Rob Gronkowski catch another pair of touchdowns Sunday, and he capped both of them with some fun celebration routines, beginning with an impersonation of the British Palace Guard at shift change.  But the changing of the guard happened 2.5 seasons ago when Gronk broke on the scene and started setting a pace that could end up being the most productive in league history for a receiver of any kind in his first three seasons:

PLAYER First 3 Seasons TDs
Randy Moss 1998-2000 43
Jerry Rice 1985-87 40
John Jefferson 1978-80 36
Bob Hayes 1965-67 35
Rob Gronkowski 2010-12 34

ESPN Stats & Information

Gronktastic.  Really – is it that hard to envision Gronk finding the end zone ten more times over the next 8 games?

Miami (4-3) wins vs. New York Jets (3-5), 30-9

I SAW – don’t look now – but the Dolphins  have won three in a row, loom just a half-game behind the Patriots in the AFC East and didn’t miss a step with backup QB Matt Moore after rookie Ryan Tannehill left the game with a knee injury on Miami’s second possession of the game.  If Tannehill has to sit out for a stretch the ’Fins should be fine with Moore, who could easily have been the starter to begin the season.  In fact, I thought Moore had earned a crack at the job after his impressive performance to finish last season.

I SAW the Jets get thoroughly outplayed and outcoached in all three phases of the game by the Dolphins Sunday.

New York’s special teams players stunk in particular, selling out their coach, the esteemed Mike Westhoff.  The J-E-T-S shat, shat, shat out a punt block that was returned on them for a TD, a 35-yard field goal attempt for their team that got blocked, and an onside kick attempt by Miami that was recovered by the Dolphins.

Backup QB Tim Tebow looked awful in allowing the punt block.  Not only did he appear to choose the wrong player to block, but he also let the player he chose push him back at least 5 yards.

I SAW the Jets drop to the bottom of the division with this bad loss, and for all the weekly talk from head coach Rex Ryan about regrouping and addressing issues, have the Jets addressed ANY of their problems adequately over the last month?

It’s hard for Rex to address those when he doesn’t have the roster that allows him to do so.  NFL Network’s Kimberley Jones provided this week’s “Duh, really?” moment when, in attempting to explain the challenge ahead of Ryan in trying to make non-QB changes she said New York’s is “not exactly a deep roster.”

No shit, Kimberley.  There have been Turtle Pools deeper than this roster, and the blame should fall squarely on GM Mike Tannenbuam.  To me, the biggest surprise of the last several weeks is that another GM (Carolina’s Marty Hurney) was fired this year before Tannenbaum.

At least the seemingly bottomless slump receives mercy next week in the form of New York’s bye.  But barring some strange trade before the Thursday deadline (what are they going to trade?  Even their flooded-out city isn’t an asset these days…) it’s tough to see Tannenbaum solving any of their problems during the break.

Of course, the main problem is that he’s got one QB who can’t throw well backed up by another QB who can’t throw well either…

I SAW a debate NFL Network’s Total Access on Wednesday: Who has more upside, Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill or Jets QB Mark Sanchez?

Really?  The only upside Sanchez had left him last week in the form of Eva Longoria.  It would have been nice if Sanchez had gotten some winning vibes from Tony Parker via one degree of jamming.  Maybe it didn’t last long enough.  Instead, the quarterback’s passing performances continue to make opposing defensive backs look like this:

(Courtesy tinyhacker.com)

 

I SAW Jets QB Mark Sanchez throw 54 passes Sunday (he completed 28 of them).  The team only rushed 21 times, despite the fact that they averaged 5.0 yards per attempt.

What’s up with that (NY off. coordinator), Tony Sparano?

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Sanchez either over or underthrew 14 of his 54 passes, including an interception, which translates to 25.9 percent.  (It felt like a LOT more than that.)  Coming into Sunday, Dirty Sanchez was the dirtiest thrower in the NFL, having over or underthrown 23.4 percent of his passes.

Screw what the Dolphins defense might have been giving you, Sparano, that is NOT the guy to try and ride to victory.

I SAW a big head-shaker next week.  Did anyone foresee that when Miami visits Indianapolis that it would be a meeting of two teams above .500?

Detroit (3-4) wins vs. Seattle (4-4), 28-24

I SAW the Seahawks needing to finish more consistently.  Seattle should be better than a .500 team.

One of the big problems, as head coach Pete Carroll acknowledged to the Associated Press after the game, is the defense’s play on third downs.  The ’Hawks let the Lions get a first down on 12 of their 16 third down plays – three of them on Detroit’s final drive that won the game.

The penultimate down is officially a bugaboo for Carroll’s D.  His squad is one of the best defenses out there, ranking fifth overall, fifth against the run, 13th against the pass and third in scoring.  However, Seattle is 27th in the league on third downs, allowing opponents to convert on 44 percent of them.  That flaw will come back to bite them more if they can’t adjust.

I SAW the Lions score two TDs in the first half Sunday.  If you don’t think that’s newsworthy, consider that Detroit had just one touchdown in the first half coming into the game.

I SAW Seahawks TE Zach Miller make an amazing one-handed, diving self-tip TD catch.  Just wow.

I SAW myself feel for Lions S Louis Delmas, who left the game with a knee injury against the Seahawks to the same joint he had surgery on in August that held him out of the lineup until two weeks ago.  The kid just can’t seem to stay healthy over the last two years.  Delmas is currently day-to-day.  Detroit really needs him.

I SAW Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch rip off a 77-yard TD run that reminded fans that the bruising back they call Beast Mode also has impressive breakaway speed.

I SAW Lions WR Titus Young step up big-time to fill in the role left vacant by Nate Burleson’s season-ending injury.  Young had 9 catches for 100 yards and 2 touchdowns – all career highs.

Young’s QB, Matthew Stafford, is still throwing well overall.  But he needs Young to become a consistent producer ASAP because the number one wideout is stinking up Ford Field…

I SAW Lions WR Calvin Johnson drop another pass – this time in the end zone at a  key moment near the end of the game.  Megatron is having a perplexing slump.  Offensive tackle Guy Whimper of the Jaguars has as many receiving TDs as he does.  Gasp, whimper.

Green Bay (5-3) wins vs. Jacksonville (1-6), 24-15

I SAW that, yes, the Packers played a sloppy game.  But given their current injuries and the start they had to this season, a win’s a win.

I SAW Jaguars QB Blaine Gabbert grit his teeth, playing with a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder and passing for 300 yards for the first time in his NFL career.  Just because you played hurt doesn’t mean you still don’t suck though, Blaine.

I SAW PROPS for Packers WR Donald Driver for catching what turned out to be the game-winning TD in the fourth quarter against the Jaguars – in his 200th regular season game.  Driver is now the 22nd wideout to play in 200 games, and just the second Packer player to do so after Brett Favre.

I SAW ESPN Stats & Information report just how good Packers QB Aaron Rodgers is with the money ball.  In other words, Rodgers was 2-for-2 on his throws into the end zone against the Jags.  For the season, he is 14-of-22 on those passes, with no interceptions.  That 14-0 TD-INT ratio is the best in the league.

I SAW a memo to Green Bay: 2.5 yards per rush on 26 attempts against the 29th-ranked run defense coming into the weekend isn’t going to cut it.

Cleveland (3-4) wins vs. San Diego (2-6), 7-6

I SAW that the Chargers have now scored six points in their last 6 quarters played.  Brutal.

The Bolts have now had two games this season during when they failed to score a TD.  The last time San Diego did that in one year was in 2000 when they went 1-15.  (That team did it three times.)

Just sayin’.

I SAW the Browns win their first game since new owner Jimmy Haslam took over the franchise he shelled out $1.05 billion to own.  Let’s hope for head coach Pat Shurmur’s sake that there are more to come this season.  He’s helped put together a solid young core on both sides of the ball and it would almost be an orphan-like move to separate the players from their mentor at this point.  Unless a big name coach becomes available, what’s the harm in giving him another year with rookie QB Brandon Weeden – and without CB Joe Haden’s 4-game suspension?

I SAW Chargers QB Philip Rivers make his 103rd straight start, the second-longest active streak among QBs to Eli Manning’s 127.  (STATS LLC)  Other than that, Rivers’ game was about as uneventful as you can get: It was just the fifth time during his career that Rivers went without a TD or INT.

I SAW Chargers RB Ryan Mathews fumble again Sunday.  That’s now twelve fumbles in 31 career games for Mathews – several of which he left early due to injury.

If the Chargers have indeed used the banned substance stickum on their hands, which the league is investigating them for, you can be sure Mathews’ name is clean.

I SAW PROPS to Browns RB Trent Richardson for winning the respect of the great Jim Brown for playing at a dominant level while dealing with an always-painful rib injury.

Recall that Brown caused a stir on draft day this year by calling the Alabama product “ordinary.”  But inflicting pain while playing through obvious amounts of it is likely a surefire way into Brown’s granite heart.  After the game – and greeting Richardson at his locker after he came off the field – Brown addressed the issue to the Associated Press:

“That’s my partner.  I’m so happy he didn’t take anything I said the wrong way. He’s a player. He’s making sacrifices for his team. He’s hurting now more than you think and he’s out there making plays.”

Richardson scored the only TD of this game.  According to ESPN Stats & Information, Richardson is the first Cleveland rookie with 5 TDs on the ground in the first 8 games of the season since Ron A. Johnson in 1969.  And he’s doing it by playing a physical style, to Brown’s liking:

“Great running backs break tackles.  You do that, you are in control. You keep the ball. The other team is disheartened. That’s football.”

Indianapolis (4-3) wins vs. Tennessee (3-5), 19-13

I SAW PROPS to Colts RB Vic Ballard for his crazy-fun back-asswards dive for the game-winning touchdown in overtime.  He corralled a screen pass from Andrew Luck, took off for the end zone and when he threw his body toward the goal line he got turned around upside-down in midair but continued to extend the ball beyond his head.  The call of a TD was reviewed, but really, aside from lack of indisputable evidence the PA announcement from the referee should have been,

“The play on the field was far too cool to reverse, so the call stands.  Touchdown Colts.  Game over.”

Ballard’s twirling dive was one of the coolest-looking airborne scores in the last three years, the other two being Jerome Simpson’s flip-TD and LeGarrette Blount’s reaching spin.

I SAW Titans rookie WR Kendall Wright make a silky-smooth over-the-shoulder lunging TD grab against the left sideline of the end zone to put Indy ahead 10-3 at halftime.  Wright was the Redskin’s Robert Griffin III’s favourite receiver at Baylor.  He has blazing speed, and if he can get a consistent chemistry going with a QB, look out.

I SAW rookie QB Andrew Luck and the Colts win their fourth game of the season.  That’s already one more win than Peyton Manning had during his first year as a pro in Indy.  Fitting that it came against the Titans in Tennessee – Indianapolis has now beaten Tenny in 7 of their last 8 meetings, and 7 of the past 10 in the Music City.

Oakland (3-4) wins @ Kansas City (1-6), 26-16

I SAW the first truly meaningless game on the NFL schedule this season, in the sense that both teams have iffy prospects at best for the near future.  And it was ugly, mistake-filled football.  The next such game looms Thursday night between the Chiefs and – you guessed it – another AFC West combo: the Chargers.

The old NFC Central – the current NFC North members plus Tampa Bay, prior to 2001 when the league added the Texans and realignment occurred – was once labeled the Norris Division by ESPN’s Chris Berman back in the day because it was silly and hapless to try to make sense of with a cluster of perennially underachieving clubs, much like the NHL division of the same name was at the time.  Things have changed.  There isn’t a name for it, but the AFC West took over the cesspool mantle from the old NFC North.  Sure, Peyton Manning and the Broncos look in control right now, but beneath them it’s a trio of teams who seem to be a long way from inspiring fear in any opponent.

I SAW Raiders QB Carson Palmer extend his franchise-record streak of 13 straight games with 200+yards passing.  I just couldn’t believe that, so I looked it up.  It’s true. Even the NFL’s MVP in 2000, Rich Gannon, had a game below 200 yards during that season (164, in a loss to the Niners).  I feel like Drew Brees just passed for 200 yards in his sleep, while I’m typing this on Tuesday night.

I SAW Chiefs QB Matt Cassel enter the game to replace Brady Quinn, Medicine Woman in front of the K.C. home crowd that is accused of cheering for Cassel’s head injury that made way for Quinn two games ago.

Awkwwwwwwwwaard.

I SAW that all is not lost for the Chiefs yet this season.

Look at it this way: Kansas City has yet to give up a lead this year.

Look at it this way: That’s because they haven’t had a lead once in their first seven games!  (Their lone win game in OT against the Saints.)

It’s the first time a streak that long has happened since 1940.  That is ridiculously bad.

Now I appreciate why a KC home fan would be using this sign on Sunday:

(sbnation.com)

I SAW that if the Chiefs do end up winning another game head coach Romeo Crennel might not realize it.  He sure as hell didn’t have a clue as to how his own team was being managed on Sunday against the Raiders.  According to NFL.com’s Marc Sessler, when Crennel was asked why RB Jamaal Charles only had five carries in the loss he said, “Now that I’m not exactly sure.”  Wow.

How long ago does that “We love Romeo & (GM) Scott Pioli” feel-good upset of a 13-0 Green Bay team last December feel now?  Kansas City has now started a season 1-6 for the third time in the last five years.  That doesn’t bode well for the future of Crennel or Pioli.  But the Pioli situation is a bit more tricky to act upon, because, as Sports Illustrated’s Peter King has pointed out, next year’s general manager will likely be saddled with the task of drafting the Chief’s next QB.

SNF- Denver (4-3) wins vs. New Orleans (2-5), 34-14

I SAW – finally!  That’s the defense Broncos QB Peyton Manning expected when he signed on as a free agent in the offseason.  According to Peter King, the 252 yards that Denver held New Orleans to on Sunday night is their lowest output in the Saints’ last 39 games, dating back to opening day, 2010.  (Thomas Morestead’s eight punts is also his single-game high over that period.)  Give defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio some credit.  He used to give Manning fits as the coach in Jacksonville for years, and now as Del Rio’s players get more accustomed to his scheme it’s making the quarterback’s life easier.

Manning hasn’t had to adjust to the rigors of playing in the cold in Denver after being spoiled with a dome in Indianapolis, and when that time comes a defense like that will make a big difference.

I SAW – my god!  That’s the shit-awful defense we’ve all come to expect from the Saints.  Or is it?  Wait – it was even worse Sunday night, when ’Nawlins yielded 530 yards to Denver, which is the most the team has allowed since QB Drew Brees signed as a free agent in ’06.

The stinkitude of the Saints defense is just as foul when looked at from a broader perspective as well: It is the first unit in NFL history to allow 400+ yards in seven straight games.

This defense also helped elicit a very worthy PROPS…

I SAW PROPS to Broncos QB Peyton Manning for a truly unique milestone.  He completed 70 percent of his passes, threw for 300 yards and tossed 3 TDs for the fourth straight game.  That’s a record – and a good one.

What about that arm strength issue?  That underwent a serious test after Manning’s thumb was jammed hard against a Saint defender’s helmet while following through on a throw.  Don’t underestimate how difficult it can be to throw the ball with good rotation after jamming a thumb on one’s throwing hand.   But Manning’s velocity looked great after hurting the thumb.  The balls were awfully wobbly at times upon leaving Manning’s hand once the thumb prevented good grip, but he would push the ball with his delivery and it would arrive right on time – with accuracy.  You can’t do that with a weak arm.

I SAW PROPS to Saints QB Drew Brees for his TD pass to RB Darren Sproles that tied the game in the second quarter.  That touchdown extended Brees’ record streak of 50 straight games with a TD pass, AND it was the 300th of his career – tying him with John Elway for 6th all-time.  (Brees would later pass the Bronco Hall Of Famer with another TD, and trails Tom Brady in fifth, at 316.)

I SAW something else that will make Broncos QB Peyton Manning happy as well as his defense: a running game that put up 225 yards Sunday night.  True, it was against the inept D of New Orleans (see above), but Manning hasn’t had a workhorse back like Willis McGahee since he played with Edgerrin James.

I SAW Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas gain 100 yards receiving for the third time in his last 4 games.

NBC’s analyst Chris Collinsworth made a (rare) good point when he noted during the game that, “Peyton Manning might be one of the better wide receiver coaches in the NFL.”  It’s not hard to tell that Manning is coaching up his young receivers, and Thomas benefits the most from that.  You can bet Manning wants him to maximize his potential.  Peyton hasn’t has a wideout with the size Thomas has, and that makes the QB’s life easier, with a bigger target to throw to.  Also, Thomas is in a situation similar to the Saints’ TE Jimmy Graham, who played basketball until a scant few years ago and is still learning the game.  Thomas was drafted by Denver out of Georgia Tech where they ran the triple option, so his learning curve is steep as well.  Obviously it wasn’t tapped into enough with Tim Tebow under center during his rookie year, but with Manning showing Thomas the ropes – and putting him through the intense reps after practice that Manning is famous for – the kid can get a lot better.

I SAW the Broncos lose a fumble for the 12th straight game.  According to STATS LLC that is the longest streak since the Cardinals lost one in 18 straight from 1996-97.

Talk about playing with fire…

MNF- San Francisco (6-2) wins @ Arizona (4-4), 24-3

I SAW the Niners become the first team to score more than 21 points against the Cardinals this season – and they did it behind the unprecedented play of QB Alex Smith.  Smith went 18-of-19 for the game for a 94.7 percent completion rate, which is the highest such mark for an NFL QB with at least 15 attempts (ESPN Stats & Information).  And the lone incompletion came on a wide-open drop by Delanie Walker.

It’s like Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh is the QB Whisperer.

I SAW Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald receive a lot of attention and tests over the course of two Arizona drives for a possible concussion Monday night.

Can there not just be an “indisputable evidence” principle applied to these situations if concussions are truly being taken seriously?  In other words, if it takes over ten minutes to discern if Fitzgerald should be on the field or not, then he probably shouldn’t be.

I SAW that Cardinals rookie WR Michael Floyd might have to steal away the NBA’s Shawn Marion’s nickname of “The Matrix” if he makes any more ridiculous horizontal one-handed catches like the one he pulled off Monday night.  Is it me or was there an inordinate amount of one-handers last week?

I SAW “All-Bran” – Cardinals WR Early Doucet (what else do you do after an All-Bran breakfast but take an early doucet?) – get lit up by Niners S Dashon Goldson on the biggest clean hit I’ve seen all season.  They’re still cleaning the skid marks out of the turf in Arizona…

I SAW that, for all the talk about the Cardinals’ O-line and quarterback play as the weaknesses they are, two other glaring deficiencies showed up in spades for Arizona Monday night: the lack of personnel in the run game and the inconsistent play of the defensive backs – even the talented CB Patrick Peterson.

First off, ’Zona’s putrid 7 yards rushing is a franchise low since 1953 when the team was still in Chicago.  Second, Niners WR Michael Crabtree outplayed Peterson – particularly on his two TD grabs.

Not to take anything away from Crabtree but he’s not the first this season to burn Peterson repeatedly (see: Miami’s Brian Hartline franchise-record day).  The second-year ’Zona CB has the body size and skills to be a shutdown corner, but he’s going to have to be a lot more consistent that this to earn the distinction.

I SAW that, sure, Cardinals QB John Skelton has won games for that team, but come on.  Red Skelton would intimidate a defense as much as the quarterback does right now.

I SAW PROPS to Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald for still fighting and clawing for a TD try in the last minute of a game long lost.

Poor Cousin Larry. He’s played with twelve different quarterbacks since 2004.  That probably exceeds the total population of Mepos.

(moisturepimp.com)

STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK FOR WHAT I SAW, WEEK 8, HERE AT TFQ.  IN THE MEANTIME, ‘LIKE’ THE FIFTH QUARTER ON FACEBOOK.

 

WHAT I SAW, Wk 7 2012

Blair Miller > WHAT I SAW IN WEEK 7, 2012

One Legendary Coach Bill Parcells-ism: “I go by what I see.”

Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot by watching.”

This is What I Saw from the past week’s NFL action.

(A list of TFQ’s PROPS from this column will be posted monthly.)

Away from the game(s)

I SAW the perfect opening for “What I Saw, Wk 7”, courtesy Misa Malone during the seventh-inning stretch in game six of the MLB National League Series Sunday night.

(FOX Network)

Proper.  In fact, what’s more proper than a hat with a metropolis on it?

Last week: Platform shoes with fish in them.  This week: A hat with a city on it.  It’s going to be tough to convince somebody in pop culture to put a planet in his or her underwear next week.

I SAW eight games air at 1:00 EST Sunday and just two at 4:00.  Come on, NFL.  You know this is the age of hi-def home viewing and the NFL ticket, right?

I SAW myself being so sick of the Saints bounty issue.  (Great to see suspended LB Jonathan Vilma on the field Sunday, by the way.  He’s appealing his suspension and thus is allowed to play in the interim.)  One simple remark: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has appointed his predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, to review the issue in what is being called an attempt to remove potential bias from the equation.  According to Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, the law firm that Tagliabue works for in Washington – Covington and Burling – is representing Goodell in the defamation suit Vilma has filed against the commissioner.

Keep reachin’, Rog.

I SAW more evidence of the constant rabbit hole reality that is the NFL from year to year: Coming into week 7, there were more teams with a winning record in the NFC West than there was in the whole AFC

Also, coming into week 7 all four teams in the NFC West were ranked from second to fifth in the NFL in scoring defense – Seattle, San Francisco, Arizona and St. Louis, in descending order.

I SAW a mounting issue with regards to accurate reporting of injuries.  Obviously this isn’t a new phenomenon by any stretch, but the last week or so has seen a convergence of instances that serves as a moment for reflection on reporting injuries.

First of all, honesty in injury reports is long dead, yet still punishable by the league – kind of like speeding.  It is indeed policed at least to some extent, because both the Redskins and Bills were each fined $20,000 by the NFL “for violating procedures on reporting injuries.” (Associated Press)

However, the situation surrounding two Ravens defenders reminds us of the mockery that is continually made of injury reports.

First, S Ed Reed verbally revealed last week that he is playing with a torn labrum.  In a follow-up interview, Reed stated that many injuries go unreported…

…In other words, teams cheat all the time – it’s all good.  Great.

Non-reporting of injuries is only part of the problem.  Even when injuries are reported there are cases where the accuracy of an injury’s severity – and thus a timetable for a player’s return to being healthy enough to play – is cast into serious doubt.  Let’s take Reed’s teammate, LB Terrell Suggs who all of a sudden was able to play at near-to-full capacity Sunday against Houston with little to no warning.  Last year’s Defensive Player Of The Year ruptured his Achilles tendon six months ago.  Attention turned to Suggs’ potential comeback after last week when LB Ray Lewis and CB Lardarius Webb were likely lost for the year and Suggs’ presence on the field became more of an immediate need for Baltimore.  Throughout last week reports abounded from the Ravens that Suggs’ “will not play” in the game against the Texans Sunday.  Then as the weekend began, it was reported that Suggs would play “12 snaps” in the game until as recently as Sunday morning.

How many snaps did Suggs end up playing against Houston?  44, or 55% of the Ravens’ defensive plays!  It’s been noted by NFL Network and NBC that the Ravens staff had targeted the Texans game for the linebacker’s return….  This bullshit needs to stop.  A guy’s hurt, he’s hurt.  Report it.  If you have a timetable for their rehab/return, don’t lie about it.  This sort of thing is beyond gamesmanship at this point; it’s an epidemic of rule infractions.  And even though there’s the “aww, everyone’s doing it anyway” argument, brazenly manipulating how injuries are conveyed to outsiders doesn’t do much to help change the culture around player safety and being open about injuries, does it?

I SAW that the inevitable has finally come.  Former NFL QB Kurt “Flanders” Warner has started a cult.  Check the Super Bowl MVP out on NFL Network:

(NFL Network)

Nananananananana, nananananananana, LEADER!!!

To go on a tangent, check out Lindsay Rhodes’s necklace…pretty loud.

Then check out the ornate crap Rebecca Haarlow has around her neck:

(NFL Network)

Apparently the NFL Network has taken a page from Chotchkie’s, the restaurant from Office Space and mandated flair for each (female) personality.

The main point: Viewers want to think about football, or at least something other than “what the eff is that around so-and-so’s neck?”

I SAW occasion for…

“QUESTION OF THE WEEK”

A new weekly addition.  Feel free to comment.  Or don’t.  Just thinking out loud.

This week blood dope – and cyclist – Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles by the International Cycling Union, further casting his cancer fighting endeavors into ethical confusion.

Is the Livestrong money dirty money?

I SAW soon-to-be-retired team president of the Browns (and Super Bowl-winning head coach) Mike Holmgren lean forward into the microphone during a press Tuesday conference and, with the smile of a Cheshire cat, say:

“I do miss the coaching part of it.  I really do.”

Hmmmm…

Jerry Jones is going to be using that footage as porn for the next two months.

Byes: Atlanta, Denver, Kansas City, Miami, Philadelphia, San Diego

TNF- San Francisco (5-2) wins vs. Seattle (4-3), 13-6

I SAW that the Seahawks need to rake in some division wins before they can really start to talk playoffs.  While Seattle hasn’t lost outside of the NFC West (4-0), it hasn’t won inside of it either (0-3).

I SAW Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh make the correct call near the end of the game when he elected to waive a holding call on the Seahawks in their own end zone on a fourth down play with 43 seconds left and a seven point lead.  In doing so, San Francisco got the ball on Seattle’s 20-yard line.  Bookies everywhere jizzed their pants because of the move, since the Vegas spread was 7.5 and Harbaugh turned down a 9-point lead.  (Numerous reports claim that the point swing cost $75 million in legal wagers.)

Harbaugh made the right decision, but I hope it had nothing to do with wanting to avoid potential injury to his players with the Seattle onside kick(s) attempts that would ensue after the safety, as Peter King and some NFL Network personalities surmised.  Under almost any circumstance no head coach – especially one with the apparent makeup of Harbaugh – should be influenced by concern for players getting hurt when calling plays.  The reason declining the holding penalty was the way to go was because, as outlandish as the prospect of the Seahawks scoring 10 points in 43 seconds seems, it’s still much more likely than them doing so while Niners QB Alex Smith downs the ball twice.

I SAW Niners QB Alex Smith is still a work in progress, despite how much the early going of the season may have hinted otherwise.  He managed to put one good drive together for the winning TD on San Fran’s first drive of the second half – 5-for-5, 60 yards and a TD – but otherwise Smith’s game was a write-off.  The San Francisco quarterback led his squad to just six first downs in the first half, and without that third quarter TD drive he went a paltry 9-for-18 for 80 yards, 0 touchdowns, 1 interception and a 39.1 rating.  In Smith’s, um, defense, Seattle’s D is among the best in the league.  But the NFC West is a defensive orgy, and if Smith can’t keep it up against that pressure he’s in for trouble.

I SAW that maybe it’s my love for Gene Kelly – and specifically Singin’ In The Rain – but I love this blurb from Sports Illustrated’s Don Banks about Seahawks QB Russell Wilson coming off his week 6 win (mind you, Wilson couldn’t handle the best defense in the NFL Sunday with a 38.7 rating):

“If Russell Wilson keeps throwing like he did in the mist of the fourth quarter against New England, I can see a “Slingin’ in the Rain” ad campaign coming his way in Seattle this season. I don’t know if he can do a little Gene Kelly number in the street with the hat and umbrella, but the Seahawks rookie quarterback may be the most refreshing story in the NFL this season, and we’ve only just begun to hear about him.”

I SAW cause for both shame and kudos during one play in the second quarter.  Niners LB Patrick Willis stayed step-for-step with Seahawks WR Braylon Edwards on a seam route into the end zone.  Kudos to Willis’ speed, and shame on Edwards’.

I SAW that Seattle head coach Pete Carroll is 61 years old.  I’ll have what he’s having.

I SAW NFL Network’s analyst Mike Mayock come up with a great name for the defense-heavy NFC West this year: The Cold Tub Division.

I SAW my favourite quote from a player so far this season, when Niners DL Justin Smith was asked how he felt that ’Hawks RB Marshawn Lynch gained 100 yards against San Fran in a losing cause:

“…Stats are for losers. [Smith’s teammate, DE Aldon Smith, laughs]  Seriously!  I mean, I’ve been on those teams, in those locker rooms: ‘what’s our pass defense [ranked], what’s our run defense?’  That’s loser ball.  Let’s go out here and try and win some games and forget everything else.”

New York Giants (5-2) win vs. Washington (3-4), 27-23

I SAW PROPS for Redskins rookie QB Robert Griffin III for, well, winning over the Giants’ hearts.  Is that the right thing to say?  The New York D-linemen are usually pretty acerbic towards opponents, but even before Sunday’s NFC East tilt N.Y. defensive end Osi Umenyiora wasn’t shy in praising Washington’s quarterback:

“They have a very good football player on their hands.  We have a problem on ours.” 

After the ’Skins had lost the game – but RG3 dazzled fans and players alike – even the yappy DL Justin Tuck couldn’t resist complimenting his rival during the postgame press conference:

 “I’m pretty mad at the football gods for putting him in the NFC East.  To face that guy twice a year is going to be a headache. He takes away from your enthusiasm for the game a little bit, when you play a play perfectly and he still has 4.3 speed to run by guys and make plays.  I don’t think there is anybody in the league just like him.  If I was going to run that offense and they asked me to pick between Vick, Cam Newton, RG3, I’m probably taking that guy.”

Griffin wasn’t perfect by any means.  He turned the ball over twice.  But the things he did had little to no sense of flukiness about them, and sent a wave of respect earlier during a career than we usually see.  Ironically, Carolina sophomore QB Cam Newton represents the physical equivalent of the NBA’s LeBron James – think combination of size and athleticism – but it’s RG3 who’s getting the baffling amounts of near-unabashed praise from teammates and opponents reminiscent of LBJ.

I SAW a large part of the reason for the adulation that Redskins QB Robert Griffin III is getting for his season thus far is due to his play in big moments.

Take Sunday: RG3 fumbled the ball away early in the fourth quarter with his team trailing the Giants 20-13.  It was Washington’s third turnover in the second half after coming into the game having committed just 5 all year.  It could have been a time to believe that it wasn’t meant to be for his team, but RG3 showed poise and kept coming at the G-Men.  After cutting the lead to 4 with a field goal, Griffin was faced with fourth-and-ten at his own 23-yard line with 2:07 left in the game.  RG3 was flushed out of the pocket and saw no one open, with Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul coming his way.  No problem.  Griffin simply danced JPP into submission to buy time for TE Logan Paulsen for a first down completion.  A FOX camera showed New York defensive coordinator Perry Fewell laughing in disbelief as Griffin sauntered back to the huddle.

The Rookie Of The Year to-be wasn’t done.  (Is it fair to consider Griffin an MVP candidate yet?)  Three plays later he uncorked the best touch pass in the league thus far this season in the form of a sweet deep ball to WR Santana Moss, in stride and somehow right in between the 8 and 9 on the front of Moss’s jersey even though it was an over-the-shoulder catch.  Touchdown.  23-20 Washington.  This kid can ball.

Unfortunately for all of Griffin’s late-game heroics, Giants QB Eli Manning once again orchestrated a last-gasp win by finding WR Victor Cruz for a TD bomb…

I SAW Giants QB Eli Manning continue to make up for his average play in the first three quarters by shining in the fourth.  His 77-yard hookup with WR Victor Cruz 19 seconds after Santana Moss’s TD catch marked the 22nd winning drive of Manning’s career in either the fourth quarter or OT and his league-leading eighth drive of that sort since the start of 2011.

Manning also continued his dominance on another, more obscure level: wins as a QB in October.  According to NFL media statistics, Eli is 26-5 (.839) as a starter in October.  It’s the best record among quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era (min. 20 starts):

QB                              October record                      Winning percentage

Eli Manning                          25-5                                         .839

Kordell Stewart                       16-4                                         .800

Daryle Lamonica                     18-5-3                                     .771

Tom Brady                             33-11                                       .750

Sonny Jurgensen                     21-7-3                                     .750

Note: Ties prior to 1972 did not count in winning percentage.

I SAWPsssst!  Hey, Eli!  Nice fourth quarter again, but we all saw you make a lousy INT (to a stationary LB Rob Jackson) and a bunch of erratic throws until then – again.

I SAW the winner of this week’s “Thief In The Night Award”

New York Giants

If you don’t think the Giants stole this one away, consider that the victory was the second in franchise history while allowing 480+ yards of offense.

I SAW Redskins WR Santana Moss come out of hibernation to influence a game like he hasn’t done in some time.  Welcome back to the big time, Santana.

I SAW things won’t be getting any easier for ’Skins quarterback Robert Griffin III.  It’s been quite impressive to watch RG3 play at a star level without arguably his most talented receiver – WR Pierre Garcon, who has been in and out of the lineup with a foot injury – but now he’s also lost his leading receiver until this point, TE Fred Davis, for the season to a torn Achilles tendon.  Some reports have Garcon out until at least Washington’s week ten bye.  There’s a lot of pressure on Griffin and aging WR Santana Moss now.  What might be the most impressive thing about RG3 at the moment is that it already seems believable that he can weather this storm…

I SAW Giants QB Eli Manning shouldn’t get too much praise for the game-winning TD pass to WR Victor Cruz.  In fact, most of the credit goes to Redskins DBs Josh Wilson and Madieu Williams because they had high-low double coverage on Cruz but just shuffled their feet on the spot like deer caught in the headlights while Cruz streaked right past both of them on a simple seam pattern to get under Manning’s pass.

Washington QB Robert Griffin III is playing without key receivers (see above) and behind a weak offensive line, but should Washington end the season short of the playoffs the main reason will likely be their pass defense – namely defensive backs the likes of Wilson and Williams (and Williams in particular, whose hips on that play were as closed as a nun’s on Sunday).

I SAW that Redskins QB Robert Griffin III both contributes to and thrives off of a top-notch rushing attack – much like last year’s rookie sensation Cam Newton did in Carolina (and might need to revisit in order to turn a moribund season around – see: Dallas wins @ Carolina, 19-14).  Washington has 13 straight games with at least 100 yards rushing.  That’s the longest active streak in the NFL.  The ’Skins also lead the league in rushing offense, averaging 177.7 yards per game, their nine runs of 20+ yards is tied for second overall, and they’re tied with the Texans atop the NFL with 11 TDs on the ground.

I SAW that even though the Redskins are the best rushing team in the NFL the Giants should be concerned about the state of their run defense after Sunday.  Washington galloped to a season-high 248 yards on the ground.  RB Alfred Morris ran for a career-high 120 yards – with 112 of those between the tackles (according to ESPN.com) – and averaged nearly a full yard per carry higher in that area in the game against New York than he had coming in (5.6 versus 4.7).

The Giants got gashed up the middle repeatedly by an offensive line that is shoddy at best.  That same defense got exposed on the outside by run plays to the edges in a loss to the Eagles in week 4.  G-Men defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has to get his front seven to play their spots better than they have been before the rest of the team burns itself out trying to overcome that deficiency.

I SAW PROPS for a truly impressive streak that is on the verge of being snapped.  Redskins LB London Fletcher (arguably the most underrated player of his generation) has played in 231 straight games.  For an undersized and hard-hitting middle linebacker that is amazing.  Unfortunately Fletcher left Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury and his status for next week is doubtful.

I SAW Redskins RB Alfred Morris and QB Robert Griffin III sit at first and second in the NFL for rushing yards by a rookie this season, respectively.  As impressive as it is to see RG3 up that high, come on rooks!  You can’t outrun a QB?

I SAW the Giants get their chance to redeem an opening night loss to the Cowboys next week in Big D – the stadium in which N.Y. QB Eli Manning has yet to lose, and where he marked his territory by writing this on a wall in the visitors’ locker room after winning the first game played in Jerry Jones’ new stadium:

(Photo: NBCDFW.com)

Green Bay (4-3) wins @ St. Louis (3-4), 30-20

I SAW the Packers offense has rediscovered itself after a rough start:

First 3 games                                     Last 4 games

TD                              5                                                          17*

Yards/play                  4.7                                                       6.1

Red zone conv.           4-7                                                       12-14

Yards/game                  304.3                                                   401.5

–ESPN Stats & Information

Note the asterisk beside the 17 TDs in the last 4 games.  That’s because QB Aaron Rodgers has provided 16 of those scores.  The reigning league MVP has been feeling it lately, completing 73% and throwing 9 touchdowns against no interceptions over his last two games.

I SAW PROPS to Packers QB Aaron Rodgers for breaking Dan Marino’s NFL record for fewest career interceptions at the time of his 150th TD pass.  Rodgers has just 42 picks compared to the now-second-place Marino’s 69.  That’s a difference of 27 interceptions.  Impressive.  Most impressive.

I SAW that the “Green Bay is back!” argument took a more than slight hit when S Charles Woodson was diagnosed with a broken collarbone after Sunday’s game in St. Louis.  It’s not the same side as the one the future Hall Of Famer broke in the Super Bowl two years ago, nor is it as severe, according to Packers head coach Mike McCarthy.  But it’s a serious blow to a vulnerable Green Bay defense that had become so dependent upon Woodson that he had been playing linebacker on some plays.

I SAW Packers rookie CB Casey Hayward make his first career start thanks to an injury to Sam Shields.  Heyward picked off his fourth pass in three games.

I SAW that the Rams offense isn’t doing its otherwise overachieving team any good by failing to find the end zone.  RB Stephen Jackson took until Sunday against the Packers to run for his first TD of the season, and behind a beat-up O-line that is playing just two starters from opening day St. Loo belongs in the loo with just 10 TDs total all year.

I SAW Packers QB Aaron Rodgers make one of the best throws of the season on a touchdown pass to WR Randall Cobb in the fourth quarter.  Rodgers again showed why he has the most disciplined footwork of any quarterback in the league when he rolled left and somehow got set fast enough to send a bullet downfield.  Hall Of Famer Marshall Faulk called the throw “ill” on NFL Network.  It was.

I SAW a rising star in Packers WR Randall Cobb.  The second-year player who played some time at quarterback at Kentucky in college has shown an all-around skill set.  Cobb has been a threat from a myriad of positions in various formations so far this season, and he’s been remarkably reliable while doing so.  According to ESPN Stats & Information, Cobb caught all 8 of his targets on Sunday for 89 yards and 2 TDs.  Now there has been just two times this season that a receiver put up a perfect catch percentage with 8 targets or more – and Cobb is responsible for both of them.  (The first time: 9-for-9 and 77 yards in week 1 vs. the Niners.)

Rodgers spoke glowingly of Cobb during the postgame press conference while noting that Cobb “sees the game through the eyes of the quarterback” since he’s played one and that the two teammates are starting to develop good chemistry.  With Rodgers’ favourite wideout Greg Jennings still benched with a bad groin and the offense stepping out of an identity crisis, Cobb couldn’t have come on at a better time.

New England (4-3) wins vs. N.Y. Jets (3-4), 29-26-OT

I SAW last week’s column propose that the Patriots have gradually been losing late-game mojo since their ’07 Super Bowl loss.  (See: week 6, Seattle wins vs. New England, 24-23).  On Sunday against the Jets, New England won the first of what has already been their fourth game this season decided in the final two minutes.  Obviously snapping that streak is a better development for the Pats than losing their battle with New York, but it took overtime to beat an inferior team playing without its top defender.  New England also gave up 13 unanswered points in 4:07 of game time in the fourth quarter to lose the lead.  In these senses, the Patriots still can’t close out games.

Why not?  According to the Boston Herald, New England QB Tom Brady was asked that on WEEI-AM’s Dennis & Callahan on Monday:

“Well, we’re trying to do it.  I don’t think you just flip a switch.  I wish it were that easy, and maybe there were times when it did look that easy.  Maybe we just spoiled some people in the meantime because it’s hard to win, man.  It’s hard to win.”

Brady will have to forgive opponents, fans and the media if they don’t hurry to comfort the award and record-adorned face of the Patriots.  In fact, it’s too bad that Brady can’t have the same thankful perspective held by Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin when it comes to having “spoiled” fans.  See below, SNF- Pittsburgh wins @ Cincinnati, 24-17.

I SAW Patriots CB Devin McCourty erase the Jets’ first TD of the game Sunday by taking the ensuing kickoff 104 yards for a touchdown – the second-longest in team history to Ellis Hobbs’ 108-yard return of his own.  (Both TDs were against the Jets.)

Then…

I SAW Patriots CB Devin McCourty fumble the ball on a kick return at a key moment in the game because of some lazy-ass holding of the football.  At some point late in the game, Pats head coach Bill Belichick must have stripped off the pullover sweater he was wearing.  He was sporting the all-business cutoff sleeves by the time K Stephen Gostkowski kicked the game-tying field goal at the end of regulation.  Look out, Devin.

I SAW, despite the fact that they aren’t blowing out teams in games during which they are favored, New England is still a productive machine on offense.  According to ESPN.com, the Patriots gained 350+yards for the 16th straight regular season game.  Only one other team has done the same thing: The Greatest Show On Turf for the St. Louis Rams in 1999-2000.

I SAW that new Patriots WR Brandon Lloyd is a disappointment so far.  On the surface his stats this year are subpar – 36 receptions, 407 yards and 1 TD.  Analysts have debated the reasons for Lloyd’s lack of production compared to recent years but the wideout himself is mostly to blame because even though he’s been a reliable receiver over the years he’s not getting it done when Brady throws his way so far this season.  On Sunday against the Jets Lloyd only came up with one reception (6 yards) while being targeted seven times.  ESPN Stats & Information says that this 14.3 catch percentage is Lloyd’s lowest in a game since missing his only target in a week 14 game with the Bears in 2008.  He also dropped two balls Sunday, which is just his second game with multiple drops in the last five years.   Without CB Darrelle Revis on the field for New York, New England had to have expected Lloyd to contribute more than he did.

Sunday isn’t just one localized game either.  Lloyd has had 100 yards receiving only once in seven games this season, and has surpassed 75 yards just twice in the same span.  He hasn’t gained more than 27 yards on a reception, and for the season has caught 53.8% of the balls thrown his way.  Compare that to Giants WR Victor Cruz who despite several drops of his own this year has came through on 61.7% of his targets, or the struggling Calvin Johnson in Detroit at 57.6%.

I SAW Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski catch two touchdowns Sunday.  It was the first time this season Gronk has caught two TDs in a game, but the 10th time in his career.  Through 39 career games he has 32 scores (31 receiving, 1 rushing).  Wow.

I SAW a nice walk-off sack by Patriots LBs Rob Ninkovich and Jermaine Cunningham on Jets QB Mark Sanchez to seal the game in OT.

I SAW Jets head coach Rex Ryan drop to 0-4 against the Patriots in New England.  Anyone else picturing Tom Brady saying, “Kiss these rings, bitch”?

Tennessee (3-4) wins @ Buffalo (3-4), 35-34

I SAW Titans RB Chris Johnson look like his old self…Too bad it was against the most disappointing defense in the league this year.  The Bills reached a new low in allowing CJDeuceK to squeeze out 195 yards on just 18 carries – his best showing since a 228-yard outburst against Jacksonville in Week 8 of 2009.  Johnson showed amazing speed on an 83-yard TD run, leaving the whole Buffalo defense behind after 15 or 20 yards, tops.  But that’s what the Bills defense will do for you in 2012.

It was a milestone-ridden nightmare for the Buffalo D where Johnson was concerned.  The 83-yarder gave the Titans back four 80+ rushing TDs in his career, passing the likes of Barry Sanders and O.J. Simpson for the most all-time.  According to Elias Sports Bureau, Johnson also joined franchise greats Earl Campbell and Eddie George by becoming just the third player in the club’s history to have 30 100-yard games and surpass 6,000 career yards rushing.

I SAW this game finish with an anticlimactic fourth quarter (7 points, albeit inside of the last 2 minutes), given how the first quarter went.  Titans RB Chris Johnson’s 83-yard TD run and Bills KR Brad Smith’s 89-yard kickoff capped a 3-touchdown spurt that took place over just two plays from scrimmage and 30 seconds of game time.  It was the fastest three-score span since the Raiders and Patriots scored three times in 26 seconds on Dec. 14 (courtesy STATS LLC).

I SAW Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is quite the barometer for his team.

In Buffalo’s 3 wins, he has 5 TDs and 0 INTs.  In his 4 losses, Fitzpatrick has thrown 10 TDs and 9 INTs.

I SAW this week’s “Duh, really?” moment, brought to us by Bills head coach Chan Gailey after his team’s oft-ugly play on Sunday.  Gailey said this to the Bills’ official website:

“I think we have to reevaluate everything.”

NOW you’re saying this?  Historic back-to-back trips out to the woodshed in September didn’t jump-start that plan?

Someone (owner Ralph Wilson?) needs to rap Gailey on the forehead, “Hello, McFly!?”

 

Houston (6-1) wins vs. Baltimore (5-2), 43-13

I SAW the only two AFC teams with winning records coming into the week meet in Baltimore and both teams couldn’t have seemed like they were heading in more different directions…The Ravens were outgained on offense 420-176 and outrushed 181-55.  Houston’s QB Matt Schaub put up a rating of 100.7 to Joe Flacco’s 45.4 for Baltimore.  The Texans held the ball for almost 40 minutes while scoring the most points in a game against the Ravens since 2007.

…These teams were both 5-1??

I SAW a huge bounce-back game for the Texans defense against the Ravens.  As a team, they limited elite running back Ray Rice to 42 yards rushing and held the Baltimore offense to a longest pass play of 15 yards.  Understand that the Ravens led the league coming into the week with 34 offensive plays of 20+ yards.  It was exactly the kind of performance Houston needed after getting undressed by QB Aaron Rodgers to the tune of 338 yards, 6 TDs and 0 INTs one week ago.

Individually, pass rushing linebacker Connor Barwin finally got his first sack of the season, and CB Johnathan Joseph returned a Joe Flacco interception for a touchdown despite a nagging groin injury and sore pride after getting toasted as much as a burnt bagel by Rodgers.

Now the Texans can head into their bye week with their confidence about as high as it was prior to their upset loss at home to the Pack.

I SAW Texans DE J.J. Watt continue his reign of terror.  True he failed to record a sack for the first time this season but the fact that he’d had at least one in each of his first six games is impressive in and of itself.  More to the point, Watt deflected his ninth pass of the year, which means he’s already a more effective block man than Kwame Brown ever will be in the NBA.  The defensed pass came in the second quarter, and was corralled by CB Johnathan Joseph for a TD (see above).

I SAW Texans QB Matt Schaub play great in the first half, completing 12 passes in a row at one point and throwing 32 times before halftime.  That was about all he had to do, seeing as how Houston engaged in what can be considered the epitome of autopilot, throwing just five times in the second half.

I SAW, as the bad stats pile up for the Ravens defense, one thing is becoming more and more clear despite the slew of injuries Baltimore has sustained: This squad really misses their old coordinator, Chuck Pagano.  (He of the leukemia in Indianapolis.)

I SAW one more stat for that pile: The Ravens are 26th in the NFL in defense, allowing 400 yards per game.

I SAW Ravens LB Terrell Suggs make an improbably fast comeback from an Achilles injury to play a lot in this game, and make an early impact before the score got out of hand.  His team may have lied through their teeth about his injury (see: Away from the game(s)), but what a feat.  T-Sizzle fo’ Shizzle. 

I SAW that Ravens QB Joe Flacco es flaco.  (“flaco”: Spanish for thin, or weak.)

His recent play has been, anyway.  That’s why Flacco should have thought twice about pulling an Eli Manning in the offseason by saying he considers himself among the elite quarterbacks in the NFL.

For Baltimore’s last 3 games (starting with the near-debacle in Kansas City) it’s been clear to everyone that their defense is falling apart at the seams.  That’s when his team needs Flacco to come through the most.  His response: A 53% completion rate over that span, 2 TDs and 4 INTs and two games with a passer rating of 55.6 or lower.  The cherry on top came this Sunday when Flacco averaged a JaMarcus Russell-like 1.79 yards per attempt.  Tim Tebow’s prayed higher averages than that without a football.

Hall Of Famer Marshall Faulk made a good point during NFL Gameday Final on Sunday: If you want to be elite, how are you going to play without a defense or a running game, like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees can?  (Faulk also mentioned Eli with the proviso that the Giants’ defense and ground game disappear sporadically, which is true, but Eli is not elite yet.)  In other words, there are a lot of reasons for the Ravens’ struggles that aren’t directly related to Flacco, but an elite QB pulls his team above those issues with his play.  Flacco has been doing the opposite of that – to the extent that one might wonder how much of his success and/or win-loss records are owed to having the stellar defense he’s had to give him field position and time of possession since he entered the league in ’08.  Worst of all for Flacco is that this is a contract year for him.  Each piece of evidence he provides to contradict his self-appraisal of elite could cost him cash.

I SAW that there is another longer-standing concern offensively for the Ravens than QB Joe Flacco’s play as of late: Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.  The play-caller suffers from the same running play impairment that afflicts Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett, but Cameron’s decision-making as such is more galling because he has RB Ray Rice on his roster.  Rice is a team-first player, but he has to be frustrated with being used mostly as a safety valve in the passing game instead of a bell cow ball carrier.  The best proof of Baltimore’s predictable and pass-oriented approach is that opponents are getting frank about it in public.  Witness what Texans LB Connor Barwin told SI’s Peter King:

“We knew they’d be throwing a lot, because they’d been throwing so much — more than anybody except the Patriots coming in…  I think spying Rice helped. We did that on a lot of third downs because we knew Flacco liked to go to him so much on third down.”

Barwin was wrong, statistically speaking.  New England did indeed lead the NFL in pass attempts after six weeks with 243, but there are a handful of other teams in between them and Baltimore’s 212.  But the rest of his point is still valid in that the Ravens aren’t running the ball much and thus not forcing defenses to stay honest.  And don’t think Sunday’s lack of rushing attempts was because Baltimore was playing from behind either.  On their first drive of the game (a 0-0 score), Cameron called 3 run plays out of the first 4.  Rice gained 26 yards on just those three plays.  Then, in his infinite wisdom, Cameron called for a pass on 8 of the next 9 plays – and the lone rush was to fullback Vonta Leach – and was forced to settle for a field goal, punt and give up a safety on the drives during that span.   What’s up with that?

At this point Baltimore is tied for 19th in the NFL in rushing attempts.  Has the geographical proximity to D.C. got Cameron thinking Rice is Stephen Strasburg?  What’s he doing, saving an All-Pro back for later when it’s too late?  You have a top-three tailback, Cameron.  Use him.  You’re not being graded on your ability to adhere to the newest passing trends; you’re being evaluated on wins and losses.  Keep this up, and the latter will outnumber the former, and you’ll be ignoring running backs somewhere else.

I SAW a cause for concern for those of us who love to watch Ravens LB Ray Lewis play football.  Sports Illustrated’s Peter King had producer Bob Angelo of NFL Films on his podcast last week.  Angelo put together the NFL Network show Ray Lewis: A Football Life and in doing so spent the whole 2011 season with Lewis.  The producer said this about the chances of a comeback for Lewis after tearing his biceps last week:

“He wants to be a fan. He wants to tailgate. He wants to be a dad. Do I think we’ve seen Ray’s last game? I think so.”

Say it ain’t so, Sugar…

Dallas (3-3) wins @ Carolina (1-5), 19-14

I SAW Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett invite former Redskins Hall Of Fame coach Joe Gibbs to speak to his players Saturday night, the eve of their game against the Panthers.  According to the Associated Press, Gibbs spoke to the players about “battling through adversity” and about some of Gibbs’ own bad mistakes he’d made during games – no doubt addressing Garrett’s own poor clock management in last week’s game against the Ravens…

Really, Garrett?  Your move as an embattled head coach is to invite the retired head coach of a division rival to tell the players what you’re not telling them yourself – and have him defend your douchery of the game clock for you?  Sad.

I SAW Panthers QB Cam Newton get his sulk on again after another tough loss – but this time he had some good points about Carolina’s need for more balance on offense.  In other words, run the damn ball more.

If Newton had known his employer would be as responsive to his bitching as it has turned out (see below), maybe SuperCam would have spoken out sooner, because the ground game still wasn’t a focus against Dallas Sunday.  Despite talking about establishing the run coming into the game, starting RB Jonathan Stewart was held to 35 yards on 10 attempts.  The other top tailback on the roster, DeAngelo Williams carried twice for 4 yards.  Once again, Newton led Carolina with 64 yards on 6 carries, but few of them were designed run plays so the lack of commitment to the run was even worse than it looked.

As QB Robert Griffin III & Co. have shown in Washington by leading the league in rushing, the best way to keep defenses guessing with a dynamic QB is a steady diet of run plays.  The Redskins currently lead the NFL in rushing, and that has helped them score the fifth-most points in the league at 28.7 per game.  The Panthers used to understand this too – last year they were 3rd in the league with 150.5 rush yards per game and also ranked fifth in scoring (25.3/gm).  This season they rank 13th, with 113.7 yards rushing and have scored more than 14 points in just 2 out of their six games.

What’s weird, though, is that Carolina isn’t passing more.  In fact, Newton is passing less per game this season (29.5) that last (32.4).  The best possible explanation lies in personnel.  The front office failed to add any solid personnel on the offensive side of the ball during the offseason, and that has placed more pressure on Newton and what was already a suspect offensive line.  Pair that with some bad gambles – such as sticking with WR Brandon LaFell (only 17 catches for 279 yards) and thus not getting help for the aging Steve Smith – and the result has been a step backwards for Newton, who clearly isn’t handling the pressure well.  Just take a look at the roster.  Last season it was credit to Newton to get such a group of players to compete like they did.  This year it’s a sign of bad management.  In the NFL one can’t expect to ascend levels of hierarchy by standing pat.

Newton’s boss, owner Jerry Richardson must think so too, because on Monday he fired general manager Marty Hurney, and the rest of the team continued to speak out in defense of their young quarterback.

Either way, things aren’t gong to turn around in tobacco country unless those running backs start producing.

Hey – that reminds me…

I SAW a nominee for another of TFQ’s Upside-Down Awards, given at the end of the season:

“Milk Carton Award”

Given to a heretofore-productive player who has dropped off the face of the NFL map without ample explanation.

DeAngelo Williams, RB, Panthers

3.5 yards per carry, 2 total TDs and a longest rush of 27 yards.  Tennessee’s Chris Johnson provided the distraction while stinking up the first six weeks while someone stole off with Williams.  Carolina is still waiting to hear from his captors.

I SAW Cowboys WR Dez Bryant drop yet another potential TD ball.  In the words of the ESPN Monday Night Countdown Crew: Come on, man.

I SAW proof that a defense doesn’t need to pick the ball off to play top-notch pass D: Dallas ranks third in the league in pass defense, but is tied for last in INTs with just 2.  However…

I SAW NFL Network’s Albert Breer report on Tuesday that Cowboys LB Sean Lee might miss the rest of the season due to a toe injury.  Don’t underestimate the loss of Lee, should he be shelved for the year – especially in pass coverage.

I SAW statistical proof of the pressure on Panthers QB Cam Newton to play close to perfect: Carolina is 0-13 when he throws an interception and 6 of those are just one-interception games.  The team around Newton should be able to overcome that.

Minnesota (5-2) wins vs. Arizona (4-3), 21-14

I SAW that the Cardinals have a problem on their hands.  Since their surprising 4-0 start Arizona has scored only 33 points in in 3 games.

I SAW that the ’Zona offense isn’t the only thing coming back to earth – so is the play of Vikings QB Christian Ponder.  After his own surprising 4-game start with no interceptions, Ponder has thrown six of them in the last three games.

The Cardinals’ get the award between the two for most disappointing, though, because they couldn’t score enough to win despite Ponder’s shitshow, featuring 58 yard, 2 INTs.

I SAW that the first thing Minnesota needs to address in the offseason is their lack of playmakers on offense.  The Vikings are only gaining yards at the 23rd-highest rate in the league (335.7 yds/gm), but have two of the players with the most 100-yard games from scrimmage this season.

Player                                     Games with 100+ yards from scrimmage

Adrian Peterson                      5

Percy Harvin                           4

Ray Rice                                 4

Wes Welker                             4

–ESPN Stats & Information

 

I SAW a “Paper Wall Award” flashback with this week’s winner:

The Cardinals O-line

Arizona QB John Skelton may have made his case for replacing the injured Kevin Kolb against Minnesota, but he did so under constant duress thanks to the five pylons lined up in front of him that continue to make their own case for the full-season version of this award.  Skelton was sacked seven times, giving the Cardinals 35 on the season – most in the league.

New Orleans (2-4) wins @ Tampa Bay (2-4), 35-28

I SAW Saints QB Drew Brees continue to amaze despite the circumstances surrounding his team.  He threw for 313 yards and 4 touchdowns Sunday against the Bucs…in the first half!  It was his second 4 TD game in a row, and the 18th of his career (4th-most all-time).  Brees has also thrown for at least three scores in 5 of 6 games this year.

I SAW a nominee for another Upside Down Awards:

“Tony Robbins Defense Award”

Sometimes all an offense needs to do in order to get its confidence back is play against a bad defense.  Sometimes one team’s D stands above the rest in terms of being a get-well tonic for slumping O-s.  This award goes to the defense that most consistently made their opponents feel better about themselves.

The New Orleans defense

Yes, the Bills’ D is keeping pace with the Saints’ squad still, but ’Nawlins is more consistent in their getting schooled by opposing offenses this season.  Just take a look at the production Tampa Bay heaped up:

As a team, the Buccaneers’ 513 yards of total offense is a season high.

(They came into Sunday averaging just 313.4 yards per game – 27th in the NFL.)

Tampa QB Josh Freeman threw for 420 yards – a career high.

The Bucs scored touchdowns on their first three possessions of the game against New Orleans, putting Drew Brees in an all-too-familiar hole to dig out of.

WR Vincent Jackson caught seven balls for a team record (and career-high) 216 yards – on an injured calf.

Even when the Saints try not to suck as much as possible, they still make history:  Jackson failed to score on a 95-yard catch during which Saints S Malcolm Jenkins chased him down and tackled him at the 1-yard line.  More on what Jenkins did in a moment.  First, take note that, according to Elias Sports Bureau, the play was the longest reception without a TD since a 98-yard catch on December 10, 1972 by….my main man, Ahmad Rashad!

(For those of you who didn’t watch enough Inside Stuff in the 1990s, the NBA show was hosted by Rashad and he would call everyone from Michael Jordan to the on-set janitor “my main man.”)

I SAW the highly publicized run-down by Saints S Malcolm Jenkins of WR Vincent Jackson rub me the wrong way – not the play itself, but the subsequent praise for Jenkins.

I realize that the play ended up preventing a TD in a close game after Bucs RB LeGarrette Blount lived up to his last name and got stoned on three straight runs from the 1-yard line, but screw this instance of applauding a “hustle play”.

Stop congratulating athletes for trying as hard as they can – that’s their job!  What a HERO!   The fact that a bad calf hobbled Jackson only made it all the more unjustifiable not to take up chase, and thus less impressive that Jenkins did.

I SAW Saints WR Joe Morgan is a ninja, if his TD catch from the second quarter is any indication.

Indianapolis (3-3) wins vs. Cleveland (1-6), 17-13

I SAW the first head-to-head matchup between the five rookie starting QBs go down in The Town Of Brown, between Andrew Luck of the Colts and the Browns’ Brandon Weeden.  Luck came away with the victory; already giving his Colts one more win than they had all last season.

I SAW my heart go out to Browns G Jason Pinkston and his family after Pinkston was hospitalized Friday with life-threatening blood clots.

Oakland (2-4) wins vs. Jacksonville (2-4), 26-23-OT

I SAW disaster for the Jaguars.  The second half sounded like a bad horror movie at times: “Henne to Jennings”.  Oh, boy.

Word is that starting Jags QB Blaine Gabbert may have torn the labrum in his non-throwing shoulder.  The team is also saying that Gabbert should be able to try to practice this week, but if the reports about his shoulder are anywhere near accurate any significant hit could knock the sophomore quarterback out again.

Worse still, Jacksonville’s best player by far, RB Maurice Jones-Drew injured his foot on his first snap of the game and left for the bench two plays later.  Reports say that the team has already declared Jones-Drew out for next week, and there is concern that this could be a long-term injury.

Pray for MoJo.

Pray for the Jaguars: After QB Chad Henne took over (with Rashard Jennings already having relieved Jones-Drew) Jacksonville gained just 66 yards on 2 first downs.

I SAW the two worst pass rushing teams so far this season go head-to-head in Oakland.  The Jags and Raiders combined for seven sacks Sunday, but seeing as how each squad had just four sacks apiece – total – coming into the game, those takedowns don’t change the fact that opposing quarterbacks are feeling about as numb to the pressure from these teams as Pamela Anderson’s throat was with Tommy Lee.

I SAW Jaguars WR Cecil Shorts look more like jorts while fumbling in overtime to essentially lose the game.

I SAW the field at Oakland-Alameda County Stadium covered entirely with grass for the first time this season because once the MLB’s Athletics finished their season there was no need to preserve the dirt areas needed for baseball games.  It’s about damn time.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The Raiders have to either move or figure out a way to play with a proper, consistent surface all season.  For a rich franchise to stick with the current setup is bush league – and unsafe to boot.

SNF-Pittsburgh (3-3) wins @ Cincinnati (3-4), 24-17

I SAW PROPS to Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin in an interview with Bob Costas that aired before the game.  When asked about his feelings about the local media acting as though the sky is falling because Pittsburgh had a losing record coming into Sunday night, Tomlin said that he embraces it, that he wants Pittsburgh fans to “feel spoiled” and hold the team to a high standard.

Tomlin is one of the rare head coaches throughout the years with a refreshingly grounded perspective.  It’s great to hear him talk when he says things like that – and it’s not hard to understand how his players are so loyal as a result.

I SAW the Steelers’ banged-up defense come up big in a gut check game – especially guarding electric WR A.J. Green, who was held to just one catch (a TD).  It was a group effort too, with 3 sacks, 3 QB hits and 3 passes defensed all helping take Bengals’ QB Andy Dalton out of his comfort zone.

I SAW Bengals DL Geno Atkins look like Hall Of Fame lineman Gino Marchetti in the third quarter when he manhandled Steelers OL Willie Colon en route to a sack.  Once Atkins got a grip on Colon’s chest the Pittsburgh O-lineman looked powerless.  That is one strong man.

I SAW it take until week seven for the Steelers to notch their first road win of the season.  Not good.

I SAW that if the Bengals ever want to take their game to the next level they’re going to have to find a way to win against their two biggest division rivals.  Cincy is 0 for their last 9 against the Steelers and Ravens, and 2-12 against Pittsburgh at Paul Brown Stadium.

I SAW that Steelers WR Mike Wallace is not a good negotiator.

In a contract year, Wallace keeps playing below expectations and Sunday night was the topper thus far with 4 drops.  He’s just not going to get paid if he keeps puling a Dez Bryant that often.

MNF-Chicago (5-1) wins vs. Detroit (2-4), 13-7

I SAW that – though it should have been clearer to the media sooner – the Bears are officially a force to be reckoned with.  Barring an injury to QB Jay Cutler, of course…

I SAW that Bears QB Jay Cutler will probably politely disagree with those who are saying DT Ndamukong Suh isn’t an impact player because that was some impact Suh created when he twirled the Nutler over his leg and cracked him into the turf.  (Cutler left the game but returned in the second half with bruised ribs.)

Suh is an accomplished artist at painting the fine line between dirty and fair play.  His style is somewhere in between those extremes.  Let’s call Suh’s style grimy.

I SAW that the Lions are going nowhere fast if they keep playing Tebowball, meaning sucking hard for three quarters and then trying to make up for it in the fourth week after week.

Some of the blame has to start falling on offensive coordinator Scott Linehan for his scheme’s predictability that helped contribute to all-world WR Calvin Johnson going without a TD catch from starting QB Matt Stafford all year, and seeing just three targets Monday night.

It’s not just the coaches’ fault – or the players’.  Similar to the Panthers, Detroit’s front office never did anything to build around their existing stars, content to sit on a team that, in hindsight, was overachieving last season.

Things aren’t going to get any easier now that WR Nate Burleson is out for up to 8 months with a severely injured leg.  It’s up to Linehan and his staff to get either Titus Young or rookie Ryan Broyles ready to fill in or else it’s going to be even harder to get Johnson the ball.

I SAW Lions S Amari Spievey get carted off while leading Detroit in tackles Monday night, continuing the slew of injuries to his team’s defensive backs this season.

The Lions offense is anemic and the front seven can’t get enough pressure, but it’s their defensive backfield that is the biggest problem.  Apart from the injuries CB Chris Houston is killing them.  He just can’t locate the ball on throws aimed in his direction.

I SAW Bears’ turnover-horny CB Charles “Peanut” Tillman continue to prove that he’s the best athlete at punching balls since the NBA’s Chris Paul was in college.

STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK FOR WHAT I SAW, WEEK 8, HERE AT TFQ.  IN THE MEANTIME, ‘LIKE’ THE FIFTH QUARTER ON FACEBOOK FOR MORE REGULAR UPDATES.

Coming Soon To A Sunday Near You – Braxton Miller, OSU

Blair Miller > COMING SOON TO A SUNDAY NEAR YOU

Throughout the college season TFQ will look past the Heisman hopefuls and surefire NFL players to examine a lesser-known prospect who could later rise through the ranks and make an impact in the pros.

Braxton Miller, Sophomore QB, Ohio State

Who knew an embattled football program could find its savior within a year?

It started with tattoos and cash that Ohio State players exchanged for jerseys and other team memorabilia and exploded into the resignation of then-head coach Jim Tressel (for knowing about the infractions and doing next to nothing about them).  The result: The Buckeyes were hit with scholarship limitations, one year’s NCAA probation and a one-year ban from postseason bowl games.

But the light at the end of the tunnel showed itself fairly early, when uber-successful head coach and Ohio native Urban Meyer (he of two BCS championships at Florida) signed on with OSU for six years.  Just as he had done before at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida, Meyer has already turned Ohio State into a force to be reckoned with – no bowl eligibility be damned – thanks to a 7-0 start to the 2012 season, and he’s done so by riding the superlative talents of his starting quarterback, fellow Ohioan Braxton Miller.

The Dark Age the Buckeyes football program cast itself into is one of the only reasons that Miller is still going under the radar where casual college football fans are concerned – it certainly isn’t his play.

Miller led Wayne High to the Div. I state title game two years ago on the strength of 2,167 yards and 17 TDs through the air, and 658 yards and another 17 TDs on the ground.  The Ohio Mr. Football finalist and first-team all-state pivot came to Ohio State and showed immediate promise in his freshman season, but after a year of experience and an offseason under the tutelage of Meyer – a mastermind of the spread offense who elevated Niners QB Alex Smith to the first overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft – Miller is flourishing this season, as the numbers indicate:

Year    Comp-att        %        Yards              TD/INT          Rating                        Rush   TD     

2011    85-157             54.1     1159                13/4                 94.9                 715      7

2012    96-159             60.4     1271                11/4                 98.3                 912      9

Not bad at all for a young QB running an offense under adverse conditions – and with his third coach in as many years.

What should NFL scouts make of Miller?  It’s a bit early to tell, but let’s consider the hypotheticals.  At 6’2”, 210 lbs. his size might not wow them.  His body type is similar to Michael Vick (6’0”, 215) or Robert Griffin III (6”2”, 217), but if you’re waiting for another Cam Newton (6’5”, 245), don’t hold your breath.  However, his height is more than…passable.  His arm looks really good this season, but the spread offense tends to minimize the need to make certain throws that occur more often in the pros.  Then again, maybe half of the NFL will be running the spread option by the time Miller gets there.  (It’s not that far-fetched in the most copycat-oriented of the four major North American sports.)

The dual-threat capability is what makes Miller so valuable.  According to nfldraftscout.com, his 40-yard time has been as low as 4.46.  Even more rare for a QB are his moves with the ball.  Michigan’s Denard Robinson might be thought of as the most talented rushing QB in the nation, but he’s more of a cut-and-go guy.  A quick look at some of Miller’s scoring runs on youtube show a quarterback with the feet and moves of a receiver or tailback.  In other words, what the OSU star may lack in the air, he more than makes up for on the ground.  nfldraftscout.com seems to agree – in a QB-heavy BCS league, they’ve rated a mere sophomore 8th out of 114 quarterback prospects.

He’s also showing signs of a good learner by making better decisions in his sophomore season.  For example, he has increased his completion percentage while passing more often in his second year while also cutting down the sacks he’s taking.  (In 2011, Miller was sacked 39 times all season, averaging 3.25 per game, whereas this season he’s whittled that down to 12 – a 1.7 average.)  There’s a chance he’s making better decisions about when and where to run with the ball as well, since his average per rush has gone up from 4.5 to 7.1.  Of course, that could instead be attributed to Miller’s increased speed and/or skill, but that’s hardly a knock on the kid.

There is the obvious concern that Meyer’s skill as a coach has exaggerated Miller’s production.  That’s possible, especially given how proficient QBs Smith and Tim Tebow were at passing the ball in prior incarnations of Meyer’s offense.  But that caution shouldn’t be exaggerated either.  For one, a certain quarterback plummeted in the very same draft in which Smith was taken first because it was believed that Cal head coach Jeff Tedford deserved most of the credit for his success.  That QB: Last year’s NFL MVP, Aaron Rodgers.  Secondly, Miller’s physical gifts – his arm, agility and speed – are head and shoulders above each of those aforementioned QBs at the same point in their collegiate careers.  More importantly, Miller’s skill set fits perfectly into the growing trend of versatile pivots being set by his predecessors, Newton and Griffin III.

Miller’s play has been so impactful at this point in the season that debate is already swirling about including him on the Heisman trophy ballot while he plays on a team restricted by sanctions and banned from bowl play.  In fact, there is already talk that Miller’s potential role in the Heisman race could, in effect, be Ohio State’s bowl game.

There’s a good chance that Meyer’s Buckeyes could go undefeated this season. If so, his young QB will have to grit his teeth and watch the playoffs instead of influencing them himself.  But if he continues to improve his skills, he won’t be waiting long in the green room of Radio City Hall during whichever NFL draft he chooses to enter.

Miller will almost certainly play at least another season at OSU, which should give scouts and fans a better sense of his talents and how he will fit into the pros – but by then, barring some sort of setback, he’ll be on everyone’s radar.

Lest anyone doubt, consider what Meyer said about his quarterback on The Dan Patrick Show last week:

“He’s ridiculous.  He does things that I’ve never seen athletes do.  I’ve had two [players like that]: Percy Harvin and Braxton Miller”