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.

 

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2 thoughts on “WHAT I SAW, Wk 8 2012

  1. Pingback: What I Saw, Wk 11 2012 | The Fifth Quarter

  2. Pingback: What I Saw, Wk 13 2012 | The Fifth Quarter

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