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.

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One thought on “WHAT I SAW, Wk 7 2012

  1. Pingback: NFL Draft Advent Calendar-Door #4: The Packers | The Fifth Quarter

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