WHAT I SAW, Wk 9 2012

Blair Miller > WHAT I SAW IN WEEK 9, 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 the first weekend of the 2012 season that didn’t provide several nail-biting games but instead featured more blowouts.  That’s okay, though, because the NFL finds ways to excite its fan base each week and this one was no different, with numerous standout, record-breaking performances by individual players for their winning teams.

First, however, a foray into the ongoing orgy of drama that is the New Orleans Saints’ 2012 year.  Will there be a North American sports franchise more jubilant to close the book on this calendar year?  I think not…

I SAW Saints head coach Sean Payton’s existing contract get tossed out by the league office.

Given the embattled nature of New Orleans’ season, the knee-jerk response is to rally behind Payton and his employer, Tom Benson.  But a look at the facts changes this attitude.  For one, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported on Sunday that Payton’s deal was not approved by the league prior to being submitted.  That’s not the best idea.  On top of this, Schefter pointed to a clause in said contract that stipulated Payton would be free to get out of his deal prematurely if GM Mickey Loomis left the team.  Had the league allowed this contract/clause to stand, it would have set a dangerous precedent that undermines the integrity of coaching contracts.  Seen in these lights, the league’s decision seems much more understandable.

The one thing I don’t understand is the already-rampant speculation about Payton’s next job.  FOX’s Jay Glazer told NFL Network that Payton is “absolutely” planning to remain a Saint, and Sports Illustrated’s Peter King has reported that the Saints’ organization is angry that the recent contract situation was leaked to the media because of how committed the team is to keeping Payton within the fold.  Above and beyond that, though, is the fact that Payton is as emblematic of his current team’s deep connection with the New Orleans community as QB Drew Brees is.  There is the possibility that Payton would want a clean slate after the bounty scandal and the resulting one-year suspension he’s serving, but he sure doesn’t seem like the sort of man to turn away from the bond he has fostered with both Brees and ‘Nawlins.

On the matter of his relationship with Brees, the most likely spot for Payton to land should he leave the Saints – according to rumors – is Dallas.  If Payton leaves Brees to coach Tony Romo, he’s by no means the genius we all take him for, unless he’s got a penchant for masochism.

But there’s one funny story that this Cowboys-Payton connection reminded someone of…

I SAW PROPS to Saints head coach Sean Payton, time machine-style, when Sports Illustrated‘s Peter King reposted and old MMQB anecdote from the 2010 scouting combine that connects Saints head coach Sean Payton and Cowboys owner, The Emperor Jerry Jones.

On Friday night, the Saints’ staff at the Combine gathered in a private room at St. Elmo Steakhouse, the 108-year-old Indy foodie landmark, for a final celebratory nod to the Super Bowl won over the Colts. This is a group that likes its wine, and likes to have fun. At the restaurant, word passed that Dallas owner Jerry Jones would have his Dallas group in this exact room Saturday night for a team dinner. Jones, one of the waiters told the Saints’ group, even phoned ahead to make sure a magnum of a wine he loved, Caymus Special Selection cabernet sauvignon, was ready to be served at dinner.

“Sean Payton told the waiter he’d like to have that wine, too. The waiter told him: Sorry, sir. We’ve got only one bottle of it left, and it’s reserved for Mr. Jones.

“Payton said he’d like to have the bottle nonetheless. I assume there was much angst on the part of the wait staff at that point. My God! Who do we piss off? One of the most powerful owners in the NFL, or the coach who’s the toast of the NFL, the coach who just won the Super Bowl?

“Here came the bottle of Caymus Special Selection, and the Saints’ party drained it.

“But drinking Jones’ wine wasn’t enough. Payton gave the waiter some instructions, took out his pen … and, well, the Cowboys party found at the middle of their table the next evening an empty magnum of Caymus Special Selection cabernet sauvignon, with these words hand-written on the fancy label:


World Champions XLIV

Sean Payton

That’s the kind of thing Jones will get a big laugh out of. And remember.”

Now, I’m not so sure I can picture Jones laughing instead of fuming at Payton’s one-upping.  The Emperor comes off as much more self-conscious than a southern stereotype, knee-slapping, “aw-shucks” oil man would ever be capable of.  But King knows Jones and I don’t.  Either way, Payton’s prank is balls-out and outstanding.

I SAW a reason to acknowledge the Niners during their bye week.  They’re riding high – especially QB Alex Smith and their ruthless defense.  The bye comes at a good time, because last week it gave the players and coaches opportunity to attend the San Francisco Giants’ World Series victory celebration and let it soak in on their time off.  That should only serve to stoke the flames of the Niners’ desire for a championship of their own.

I SAW a cause for excitement for next Sunday night’s game.  When the 7-1 Texans face off against the 7-1 Bears it will mark the first true marquee matchup of the season, with two surefire playoff teams meeting at Soldier Field.  It should be a great game, largely determined by the play of Chicago’s offensive line against (Houston coordinator) Wade Phillips’ pressure-happy defense.

Byes: New England, New York Jets, San Francisco, St. Louis

TNF- San Diego (4-4) wins vs. Kansas City (1-7), 31-13

I SAW that AFC West matchups are already back to their uninspiring car wreck status that at least three teams from the division seem to provide each season.  Any Chargers employee whose job was in danger before this game can’t breathe easy yet.  Without a horrible fourth quarter by the Chiefs – who had two turnovers returned for TDs in the final 15 minutes – San Diego would have been embarrassed even by winning, given the fact that they only had a 10-6 lead after three quarters.  In fact, members of both teams in this game should still fear for their futures.  Call this game the Postponing The Inevitable Bowl.

I SAW Chargers QB Philip Rivers do his best Alex Smith impersonation (…really) by going 18-for-20 in this game.  Alas, against Kansas City does it even matter?

I SAW the Chiefs have committed a total of 28 turnovers so far this season.  According to the live broadcast on NFL Network, that’s the most such gaffes through eight games since the 1997 Saints.

I SAW that on Monday Chiefs head coach Romeo Crennel essentially fired himself as defensive coordinator… is that akin to dodging a bullet, or having it scalp you?

Linebacker coach Gary Gibbs steps into the role vacated by Crennel – a role similar to the one taken by Todd Bowles when Juan Castillo was let go after helming a similarly inept unit in Philly.  The two are mostly similar in that it’s a tad misleading to call either change a “promotion.”  An assistant will tend to welcome any promotion for the benefit of his career, but taking over one of these defenses might feel more like drawing the short straw.

Pittsburgh (5-3) wins @ New York Giants (6-3), 24-20

I SAW MetLife Stadium fill up for this game despite the awful disaster caused in the Greater New York area by Hurricane Sandy.  While some find it incredible that so many Giants faithful would attend the game while living without power in their homes, I wonder – what else do they have to do?  I’m not saying that anyone without electricity should be bored – far from it.  But just as players use the game as a distraction from personal tragedy, so can fans.

At any rate, the intense collective emotion that filled the stadium from warm-up until postgame likely played a role in shaping this game into an otherwise unexpected defensive battle.  What might have been even more unexpected was the team that controlled it…

I SAW the Steelers defense outplay the Giants offense and ultimately win the game for Pittsburgh.  The Steel Curtain stifled New York’s running game – holding it to 68 yards on a 3.1 average per carry – which largely contributed to winning the field position battle, as Big Blue had just two trips into the red zone all afternoon.

The best sign for Pittsburgh’s D is that it forced QB Eli Manning into one of the worst games of his career, completing just 10 of 24 passes (41.7%) for 125 yards and a 41.1 rating.  The Steelers defensive backs looked great as a unit without All-Pro S Troy Polamalu, who has only played in two games so far this season due to injury.

I’ve mentioned before that Polamalu’s body is starting to fail him.  No one on the team will ever say it, and the safety still has big-play capability whenever he’s healthy, but watching the chemistry between the Steelers DBs without him on Sunday makes one wonder if Pittsburgh may have made a mistake in signing the banged-up 31-year old to a 4-year, $36.5 million contract extension last fall.

I SAW that despite being outmatched by the Steelers defense on Sunday, when QB Eli Manning was sacked early in the fourth quarter it marked the first time he had been sacked by Pittsburgh in three career games against them.  Impressive.

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

The Back To Basics Award

In an increasingly cerebral league sometimes it makes all of the difference to get back to the simple things…

The Steelers O-Line

Many had laid the once-vaunted Steelers’ running game to rest around mid-October – myself included, when, in What I Saw Wk 6, I said,  “it is time to argue that Pittsburgh is no longer the team we’re used to seeing.”  At that point, the Steelers had no productive ball carrier and ranked second-to-last in the NFL in rushing, with a un-Steeltown-worthy 74.8 yards per game.

Apparently the Steelers aren’t so disinterested in running the ball after all.  Sunday’s win against the Giants marked the third week in a row since week six that a Pittsburgh tailback rushed for 100+yards in a game.  Jonathan Dwyer provided the first two such performances, and last week Isaac Redman gave us the most telling indication that the Steelers offensive line is back to its old self thanks to some old fashioned, up-the-middle run blocking.  Redman went off for 147 yards on 26 carries – all of which were between the tackles, according to ESPN Stats & Information.  Those 26 attempts are the most between the tackles by a Steelers running back since the 2010 season.

In other words, Pittsburgh seems rededicated to pounding the rock up the middle and, as the second half on Sunday proved, it also helped the offensive line with their pass protection of QB Ben Roethlisberger, who had more time in the pocket than usual.  Getting back to the basics with a run game helps the O-line twofold because it gives them a more confident energy by seeking out contact and driving defenders back and it keeps those same defenders more honest so they can’t pin their ears back and come at blockers when passing plays occur.

I SAW the Steelers show newfound depth in their kick return game.  Pittsburgh’s talented return man – and leading receiver – WR Antonio Brown left the game in the first half with an ankle injury, but RB Chris Rainey looked great while amassing 173 yards on only 5 runbacks.  Alas, that depth may have run its course in the second half when Rainey was lost as well, to a rib injury.  Now Pittsburgh might be without their punt returner and kickoff returner for next week.

I SAW Steelers WR Mike Wallace extend his track record as a bad negotiator.  After a holdout during the offseason Wallace started the regular season shakily.  On Sunday he wasn’t targeted at all until the final minutes of the first half, at which point he ran a lazy route by not coming back on a comeback route (that IS the route’s name, after all) and dropped the ball even though Ben Roethlisberger was able to force it into him with tight coverage.  Later, Wallace would make up for the gaffe…

I SAW PROPS to Pittsburgh receiver Mike Wallace for making a mockery of pursuit angles when he used his blazing speed to pull in a pass from Ben Roethlisberger and take it 51 yards to the house early in the fourth quarter.  The score cut the Giants’ lead to 20-17 and it was Wallace’s ninth career receiving touchdown of 50 yards or more.  I looked it up, and that ties Wallace for fourth among active players who have had 50+yard receiving TDs by the age of 26:

1 Randy Moss 1998-2003 15
2 DeSean Jackson 2009-Present 11
3 Chris Johnson 2008-2010 10
4 Calvin Johnson 2008-2011 9
T-4 Mike Wallace 2009-Present 9
5 Greg Jennings 2006-2009 8

I loved how Michael Irvin described the dink-and-dunk play on NFL Network’s Gameday Final: “[Roethlisberger] dinked the ball off and Mike Wallace dunked the defense.”

I SAW a rare bad decision by Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin in the fourth quarter while trailing 20-17.  His offense had the ball inside the 5-yard line on 4th down and Tomlin elected to try a fake field goal attempt that had kicker Shaun Suisham taking a pitch from holder Drew Butler and running wide with the ball.  Predictably, Suisham was chased down and tackled by the Giants.

Really?  In a crucial game against the defending champions you essentially decide to let what could be the fate of the game rest on the athleticism of your kicker?  In such a defensive battle, you’ve got to tie the game instead.  The Pittsburgh defense ended up forcing a three-and-out on the ensuing Giants possession to downplay the decision, but calling that fake was still a bad call.  Tomlin usually never gets too cute like that.

Denver (5-3) wins @ Cincinnati (3-5), 31-23

I SAW QB Peyton Manning and the Broncos keep rolling with a come-from-behind win in the fourth quarter.  Both Denver and Manning are still adjusting to their new lives together, but aspects of the relationship should be familiar to both parties – at least where clutch comebacks are concerned.  Just as former Broncos star (and current team president) John Elway used to be, Manning is especially gifted at pulling out games in the final 15 minutes – more gifted, actually.  According to Elias Sports Bureau Sunday marked the 48th fourth-quarter winning drive of Peyton’s career, which puts him in first place all-time among QBs during the Super Bowl era – eight ahead of Elway.

Peyton Manning 48
Dan Marino 47
Brett Favre 42
John Elway 40
Warren Moon 35


I SAW that it’s no small coincidence, then, that the Broncos have outscored opposing teams in the fourth quarter this season by an aggregate score of 103-23.  That’s the largest such margin in the NFL.

I SAW that winning a close game after a slow start on offense might have been a good thing for Denver’s situational preparedness.  The Broncos have won four of their last five games and have averaged 31.6 points in those games, so finding the end zone had come relatively easily in recent weeks.

I SAW Broncos QB Peyton Manning achieve yet another distinction: Best all-time passer who is still, in his own words, “a work of progress” after an injury.  On Sunday, Manning went 27-for-35 (77.1%) for 291yards, 3 touchdowns, 2 interceptions and a 105.8 rating.  The Denver QB (still weird) came up just 9 yards short of tying Hall Of Famer Steve Young’s NFL record of five consecutive games with 300 yards and 3 touchdowns passing (STATS LLC).  I’m sure the rest of the league is politely hoping that Manning is wrong about more progress to come.

I SAW that the most obvious change for Peyton Manning after coming to Denver is the receivers he throws to.  Obviously Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne are irreplaceable.  But understand that both of them – though probable Hall Of Famers – were 6’0”, with an average weight of 188 pounds.  Peyton’s two new starting wideouts, Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas are both 6’3” and average 224 pounds.  That’s in increase of three inches and 36 pounds to the size of target Manning can aim at, and it also provides more jump-ball opportunities to increase his confidence.  Don’t underestimate that factor.

I SAW this week’s “Duh, really?” moment when, after the loss, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis told the press, “Losing is bad.  We’ve lost four games in a row and we have a hard road to go.”

It’s even worse than that, Marv.  Your team has lost three in a row at home, with the last victory there coming in week 2 versus the Browns.

I SAW Bengals sophomore QB Andy Dalton underthrow receiver A.J. Green, leading to an interception by Broncos CB Champ Bailey.  There’s no shame in getting picked off by one of the best cornerbacks of his generation.  However, Dalton has now thrown an INT in every game this season.  That doesn’t necessarily equate to a decline from Dalton’s impressive rookie season, but it sure isn’t an improvement either.

I SAW the Bengals probably don’t want to see Peyton Manning and the Broncos in the playoffs…Manning has now won all of his eight games against Cincy, tossing 3+TDs in five of them.

I SAW that if Cincinnati thinks they’re still seeing a Manning in their sleep, it’s probably because of the sick serendipity that after facing Peyton on Sunday they have to take on Eli and the Giants next week.

Indianapolis (5-3) wins vs. Miami (4-4), 23-20

I SAW one of the better games so far this season – and another installment of the QB rookie takeover.  Andrew Luck and (a resilient, hobbled) Ryan Tannehill squared off Sunday.  It wasn’t that long ago when a rookie showdown at the quarterback position would provide a comedy of errors.  This example?  Well, only halfway through their rookie seasons, Luck looked amazing (see below) and Tannehill was impressive after it was unclear if he would even play due to a knee injury.  The end result: both teams combined for 881 yards of offense – and no interceptions.  Clearly a team can still miss with a high draft pick on a QB (even the Vikings’ choice of Ponder isn’t yet yielding sufficient fruit), but the examples of how prepared contemporary rookie pivots are just keep coming every week.

I SAW the Chuck Pagano cancer saga gather steam in the media.  Unfortunately, I’m already sick of seeing his postgame locker room speech.  However, one particular part of it struck me – not because of the emotion, but rather the way he articulated it:

“I mentioned before the game that you guys were living in a vision, and you weren’t living in circumstances.  You know where they had us in the beginning, every last one of them. But you refused to live in circumstances and you decided consciously as a team and as a family to live in a vision, and that’s why you bring things home like what you bring home today.”

…”living in the vision” as opposed to “living in the [perceived] circumstances”…

That’s a great way to reword the maxim of not listening to the critics and following a collective dream.  Finding just the right kinds of words to use in order to connect with players can be the key to winning over a roster, or losing touch with it.  Pagano seems to have a talent for that part of the job, and his team already has a talent for pulling out wins under adverse conditions.  To wit: since Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia the Colts are 4-1 with wins of three, four, six, and three points.

I SAW Colts QB Andrew Luck say this to Sports Illustrated’s Peter King about his head coach, Chuck Pagano:  “I love him.  We all do.”

What’s striking about that sentiment is that the two men have been working together for mere months.  Either Luck’s a very loving person, or Pagano’s one of the more endearing leadership presences around the NFL.  If one considers the heartfelt accounts about each man from past colleagues (Stanford for Luck, the Ravens for Pagano), my guess is that it’s a bit of both.

I SAW Sports Illustrated’s Don Banks get a little too caught up in the moment when he asked,

“…if Indy’s turnaround story continues, will Pagano generate support as a coach of the year candidate? Would the award, if it has to go to someone on the staff of the surprising Colts, be shared by both interim coach Bruce Arians and Pagano? It’s an interesting and unprecedented question to try to answer.”

It’s actually a very easy question to answer.  Pagano shouldn’t win the Coach Of The Year award any more than Peyton Manning should have won MVP last year.  An award shouldn’t be won due to more absent than present for the greater part of a season.

I SAW that Banks nailed it right on the head, however, when he declared, “Manning might take his Broncos big places this season, but Andrew Luck is nobody’s consolation prize.”  Which bring us to…

I SAW PROPS to Colts rookie QB Andrew Luck for arguably the best regular season game ever played by a rookie quarterback.

There were iconic moments in the clutch:

Luck rolled out of the pocket during the last minute of the first half and showed amazing poise for a rookie, calmly keeping his eyes down field while on the move with three Dolphins defenders closing in on him at top speed.  Just before getting pounded to the turf, Luck threw the ball in a tiny window to WR LaVon Brazill on the sideline for a first down.  The drive stalled and Indy settled for a field goal, but the rookie’s calm while scrambling to get his receivers open on the play made for one of his better plays of the afternoon.  Later in the game, Indy’s new franchise pivot hooked up with WR Reggie Wayne while being brought down by All-Pro DE Cameron Wake.

Like his fellow rookie QB in Washington, Robert Griffin III (who said as much as this to the press over a week ago), Luck always believes the play he’s running is going to work one way or another.  That’s because both players have such a connection to the feel of a football play that they know how to respond to virtually any situation – by getting the ball where it’s smartest to put it.  It’s once in a generation (if not less) that we get to watch two rookie quarterbacks who both understand how to play the position – and can execute all of it – as thoroughly as Luck and RG3 do.

There were the numbers:

30-for-48 (62.5%), 433 yards, 2 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 105.6 rating.

That’s a 48-pass outing without an interception – from a rookie.

Luck was 13-for-17 (68.4%) on third down against the best defense in the NFL in terms of third-down conversions allowed coming into Sunday.  Six of Indy’s thirteen conversions were from ten yards or longer.

Luck was an impressive equal opportunity passer – one who has clearly evolved as a quarterback beyond the tight end-oriented scheme he played in college.  All four of his top receivers in the game had at least five receptions and 75 yards, and three of those were wide receivers.

There were the milestones:

Luck’s 433 passing yards are a new rookie record.  By now you have to either live in a cave or have a brain like one to need more evidence that we’re witnessing a new era for QBs.  This list is for you caveheads out there:

Most yards in a game by a rookie in NFL history

Andrew Luck 433 2012
Cam Newton 432 2011
Ryan Tannehill 431 2012
Cam Newton 422 2011
Matt Stafford 422 2009
Matt Leinart (what are you doing here??) 405 2006

Luck beat out Newton again – this time for the most pass yards as a rookie through eight games, with 2,404.

He also matched his predecessor, Peyton Manning, with his fourth 300-yard game as a rookie (a record).

There was the factor the numbers don’t show:

Luck’s starting center, Samson Satele and right tackle Winston Justice both left the game with injuries but he executed numerous successful audible calls and allowed the Dolphins to sack him just once.

In the end, maybe the best way to sum up this game is as the best clutch game so far by a quarterback this season – rookie or not.

I SAW an aside: both Luck and RG3 were exceptional students at big colleges.  I bet they love being able to focus on a playbook, without having to put in all those class and study hours at the same time.

I SAW PROPS to Dolphins RB Reggie Bush for going all circa USC on a second quarter rushing TD, with a reverse-across-the field move initiated by a two-footed jump cut that left about half of the Colts defenders with broken ankles.  The former Heisman winner* then juked out one last defender at the goal line for good measure.

*-Yeah, I know Bush was stripped of his Heisman.  In my eyes, that season still happened.

It’s nice to see Bush back to his younger self’s strength on cuts after years of battling lower body injuries.  In fact, he’s running with even more of a tough edge than ever and he showed some newfound ’tude by jawing off to CB Cassius Vaughn when the Colts DB knocked him over after scoring on the play.

This is the first run of Bush’s career that truly showed the mixture of balance and speed that made him the second overall pick in the 2006 draft.  To any of us who haven’t yet started to take Bush seriously as a workhorse back, it’s time to change that.

I SAW PROPS to Dolphins Olivier Vernon, who vaulted himself over two Colts blockers and immediately jumped again to block an Adam Vinatieri field goal attempt in the second quarter.  He did it all before Indy’s linemen even knew what was going on.  It was an impressive show of athleticism.

Not to undermine the PROPS, but looking back Vernon won Special Teams Player Of The Week in part because he did the same thing last week to the Jets.  If you’re Indy you’ve got to catch that sort of thing during film sessions and be prepared for it.

I SAW Colts DE Robert Mathis quietly going about his business this season, with a sack in 8 straight games.

I SAW an occasion to ask: How many people thought the Colts would win three games all year, let alone three in a row to have them in the thick of the playoff hunt?

One non-Flanders un-sexy thought for Indy fans: If the playoffs started today, the Colts would face Peyton Manning and the Broncos in the first round.


Think un-sexy thoughts, Indy…

Houston (7-1) wins vs. Buffalo (3-5), 21-9

I SAW the Texans continue their winning formula of pounding the rock on offense and shutting down opponents on defense.  Case in point: Houston improved to 39-5 when they run the ball at least 30 times during the Gary Kubiak era and they held Buffalo to 0-for-3 in the red zone and 2-for -11 on third down.  That about sums things up – for both franchises.

I SAW that if you needed any more evidence that the Bills defense was overmatched against the Texans rushing attack consider that RB Arian Foster tied Peyton Hillis and Thomas Jones for the least amount of yards gained after contact while rushing for 100 yards in a game over the last four seasons (16).  That means Foster was allowed to run free for big-time yardage before being touched by any defender.

I SAW myself wondering, is there a more underrated QB right now than Houston’s Matt Schaub?  On Sunday he won for the tenth time in his last eleven starts.

Chicago (7-1) wins vs. Tennessee (3-6), 51-20

I SAW the Bears erect a five-storey woodshed to take the Titans out to en route to extending their current win streak to six…

The whupping started quickly.  Chicago scored a team-record 28 points in the first quarter on the strength of forcing three turnovers in the first thirteen minutes.  They had already slapped a fitty-burger on the Titans with ten minutes left in the game, and the 51 points was their most in a game since 1980.

Faithful fans of Da Bears audibly took over LP Field in Tennessee to cheer on their team, which is now, according to coldhardfootballfacts.com, on pace for 472 points, which would break the franchise record set by none other than the 1985 Super Bowl champs (456)…

I SAW, while on the topic of the famous 1985 Bears team, to edge towards blasphemy – as NFL Network did by showing this statistical comparison:

Bears’ first 8 games in 2012 vs. 1985

2012 1985
Win-loss 7-1 8-0
Points allowed per game 15.0 14.3
Yards allowed per game 318.1 305.6
Takeaways 28 29
Sacks 25 32
Touchdowns 7 2

Even if you don’t agree with the comparison to the ’85 team, what’s tough to disagree with is the claim that this defense is more intimidating right now than Chicago’s has been since then…

I SAW PROPS to the Bears defense for continuing a reign of terror that the word “stifling” does not do justice to.  The Titans had only two drives that lasted longer than five plays – and one of those ended with a fumble-turnover.  Chicago’s D has 28 takeaways this season – a gaudy 3.5 average per game.  LB Brian Urlacher looked like Joe Montana on the run while doing it, but he added another interception return for a TD against Tennessee, giving the Bears a mind-blowing seven for the season.  Not only do they trail just two teams in league history for the full-season record in that category (the 1961 Chargers with nine and the 1998 Seahawks with eight), but as what might be the silliest midseason stat I’ve ever seen, Chicago’s defense has scored only two less TDs on its own than the nine it has allowed in eight games.  That’s unbelievable.

I SAW PROPS to the master ball-puncher.  No, not the NBA’s Chris Paul.  It’s Bears CB Charles Tillman.  The NFC defensive player of the Month in October got off to a ridiculous start to November by forcing four fumbles in this game.  (Three of the fumbles were recovered by Chicago.)  According to NFL.net, that’s the most in a game since 1994.  Tillman added nine tackles for good measure.

Obviously jarring the ball loose is old hat for the man they call “Peanut.”  Tillman now has 36 career forced fumbles.  To put that into perspective, future Hall Of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis has 19.  According to STATS LLC with the four on Sunday, the Bear passed his teammate DE Julius Peppers and DE Dwight Freeney of the Colts for the second most forced fumbles since 2003 – the leader being Colts DE Robert Mathis with 38.  I haven’t seen a player show this sort of instinct for being around turnovers since Tampa Bay’s Mr. Everywhere, linebacker Derrick Brooks – who was coached for much of his career by his then-defensive coordinator, Lovie Smith, who now coaches the Bears.

What’s really amazing is that Tillman has been doing this from the cornerback position.  As Peppers explained to the Chicago Sun-Times:

“It’s different because most of mine come from the blind side of the quarterback and getting strips that way.  He does it while the guy is looking at him and trying to run him over. He does it in a different way so I think it makes it a little more impressive on his part.” 

I SAW the lone bright spot for the Titans in this shellacking: RB Chris Johnson ran for 144 yards on 16 carries (8.8 avg) – 80 of those coming on a TD run – against the NFL’s best rushing defense in the NFL before the weekend started.  CJ2K added to his league-record total of 80-yard rushing TDs with five and he tied the great Jim Brown for the second-most 110-yard rushing games through a player’s first five seasons with 28 (STATS LLC).

Green Bay (6-3) wins vs. Arizona (4-5), 31-17

I SAW the Packers snap out of their tendency to play down to their opponent – at least for a week.  It was a good win for the team’s psyche after looking soft in an ugly win against the Jaguars last week.

I SAW the Cardinals go 0-5 so far since their 4-0 start to the season.  Arizona’s offense clearly has their issues, but their defense has been performing woefully below expectations during the slump.  The defensive backs have looked particularly bad at times – perhaps none worse than the 72–yard Tom Crabtree catch-and-“run” TD.  Crabtree was so open that he was able to lumber down the field for a score despite it looking like he was running on a treadmill.  Crabtree told the press that it was his longest TD grab since “probably high school” (ESPN.com).  The dyke was leaking all over the place for the Cardinals, though, as Green Bay also ran for 176 yards – its highest total since ’09.

I SAW Packers WR James Jones make a nice Eric Moulds-esque jump-ball TD grab in the first half for his career-high eighth scoring reception.  After years of underachieving with bad patterns and numerous drops Jones has seized the opportunity with Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson missing time due to injuries.

Seattle (5-4) wins vs. Minnesota (5-4), 30-20

I SAW that the matchup between the NFL’s two leading rushers coming into the weekend didn’t disappoint.  Beast Mode is still in full swing, as Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch put up his league-leading fifth 100-yard rushing game of the season with his usually dazzling combination of speed and power.  Lynch got some end zone skittles once again… The Skittles commercials are already weird so they should start getting Lynch to do some Old-Spice-whacky-style ads for them.

On the other side was the bionic man, Vikings RB Adrian Peterson, who continues to amaze everyone with his performances less than a year removed from a devastating knee injury.  He ripped off 144 yards in the first half against what was the fifth-ranked rushing defense in the league coming into the game.

However, that same defense deserves some credit for adjusting their approach in the locker room at halftime.  According to the Associated Press, Seattle made some corrections to gap responsibilities along the line and held Peterson to just 38 yards in the second half – with three carries for losses or no gain.

I SAW that Vikings RB Adrian Peterson – though still amazing, showed for maybe the first time that he’s not fully healed from his knee surgery on the second play from scrimmage when he made a great run to break a play wide open, but was chased down at the one-yard line by Seattle’s Brandon Browner.  Peterson’s been great – and still was in this game  – but it appears it will still take some time for his body to access that extra gear or two.

I SAW Vikings QB Christian Ponder throw an interception to Seahawks CB Brandon Browner late in a game Minnesita was trailing by a score of 30-20.  The throw was an awful decision.  WR Percy Harvin was the intended receiver but was noticeably hobbled (see below) and Browner looked more like the receiver running the route from the onset of the play.  There shouldn’t have been anything that Ponder saw to lead him to make that throw.

The second-year QB had a dismal finish to this game, going 11-for-22 (50%), with just 63 yards, four sacks and an interception.  If the scent of a QB’s game were integrated into passer rating, Ponder’s would have been even lower than his 37.3.

Sunday marked the second game out of his last three that Ponder had thrown for less than 70 yards.  His hot start is now just a memory, and as such Minnesota has become one-dimensional on offense.  They can’t sustain drives long enough.  (Despite RB Adrian Peterson’s big day the Vikes possessed the ball for only 24 minutes total.)  That’s having an adverse effect on their defense, which is experiencing a similar downswing in performance.  As I’ve mentioned before, Minny has a brutal schedule remaining: At Detroit, BYE, at Chicago, at Green Bay, Chicago, at St. Louis, at Houston, Green Bay.  If the Vikings can’t get their passing game back in gear, that stretch is going to kill their playoff hopes (it might regardless)

I SAW that Seahawks QB Russell Wilson is now 4-0 at home, with nine TDs and 0 INTs.  What’s really cool about this crazy rookie QB class is that each quarterback is so different from the other.

I SAW Vikings WR Percy Harvin twice left the game with a questionable return and twice came back (Associated Press).  Minnesota’s other MVP finished with just six touches for 34 yards.  QB Christian Ponder is going to have a hard time turning his play around if Harvin isn’t healthy.

I SAW Seahawks WR Golden Tate start to come into his own.  The third-year wideout still suffers the occasional mental lapse, but they’re less frequent.  It also looks like he’s getting a feel for the tempo of the pro game now that he has more consistent play from the quarterback than he did during his first two years in the NFL.

Carolina (2-6) wins @ Washington (3-6), 21-13

I SAW the Panthers come into the nation’s capital fired up by some quizzical bulletin board material, courtesy of the Redskins.  The home team sported some 1937 throwback uniforms (see below) and welcomed some former star players into the stadium for a halftime PR play.  According to ESPN.com, the game had been dubbed as Washington’s “homecoming.”  In fact, the Game Day programs in the stadium even said so on the cover.  Typically, a college team selects a pushover opponent for their homecoming game to help ensure a win.  That wasn’t lost on the Carolina players, who reportedly came in plenty ticked off.   It showed; the Panthers played with the hard-hitting attitude that they’ve sorely needed all season, especially along the defensive front.

I SAW PROPS to the Redskins for their matte-finish 1937 throwback helmets.  According to the Associated Press the paint job was an attempt to make the helmets look like the leather helmets of the time.  I don’t see it, but I still love the matte look.  (The only other football team I can recall doing so has been the 31-flavours of the University of Oregon’s uniforms.)

I SAW that QB Cam Newton and his team were better than his counterpart Robert Griffin III and the Redskins on Sunday.  Newton’s had a rough year thus far, and he’s had critics aplenty.  But in this game he made confident and quick decisions and put his throws where they needed to be.  His performance could be a turning point for the struggling pivot.  Sure, it came against the brutal Redskins defense, but it’s the psychological turnaround that can be just as important for Newton as anything else.

I SAW the Panthers find their way back to prioritizing the running game.

Carolina’s pass-run ratio Sunday was 23-27, which was a welcome change from the 239-212 ratio coming into the game.  The efficiency of the offensive line in generating running room was just as crucial.  Carolina’s hogs consistently had the initial push, and it showed in the rushing average: 4.8 yards overall, with RB Jonathan Stewart averaging 5.1 yards per carry, QB Cam Newton 4.6 and RB DeAngelo Williams 6.2.

I SAW that Redskins QB Robert Griffin III and RB Alfred Morris became the first rookie QB-RB teammates in history to have 500 yards each.  They’re also the first set of first year teammates of any positions to combine for that same amount since Chuck Muncie and Tony Galbreath did it for the Saints in 1976.  I get the feeling that whatever final mark this duo sets by the end of the season will stand for some time.  Give (coach) Mike and (coordinator) Kyle Shanahan credit for continuing to run a balanced offense in a league that is increasingly less interested in such a thing.

I SAW that Washington is 11-for-14 on fourth down this season.  That’s very impressive with a rookie QB-RB duo (see above).  However, Shanahan Shenanigans intervened in the second quarter when head coach Mike Shanahan decided to go for a third fourth down in one drive – this one from the Panthers’ two-yard line – and QB Robert Griffin III ran to the outside but was stopped for no gain.  Methinks the coaches had gotten too self-aware of their own immediate success on fourth down instead of making the proper situational call.

I SAW the Redskins start to consider shelving WR Pierre Garcon for the season (according to NFL.com).  Not only do all of these injuries make it harder for Robert Griffin III to lead a productive offense, but it poses a challenge for GM Bruce Allen as well.  It’s hard to know which moves to make next offseason to improve an ongoing rebuilding process when the intended roster doesn’t get to play much together.

I SAW Panthers WR Steve Smith snap a slump of Megatron-like proportion when he caught his first receiving TD of the season in the second quarter.  Huh??

I SAW the officials experience an embarrassing moment in this game, on Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams’ 30-yard rushing TD.  First, while Williams was breaking away along the sideline a referee anticipated him stepping out of bounds and blew the whistle, prompting the Redskins defenders in pursuit to stop running.  However, the Carolina back never touched the sideline and continued into the end zone.  The worst part was that the officiating crew let the TD stand – an error that the league publicly recognized on Monday, via its website.  Imagine the maelstrom of criticism this miscall would have been subject to had it been made earlier in the season by the scab refs. 

I SAW that if recent history is any indication, the ’Skins really can start planning for next year…Washington is currently 2-6 in November under head coach Mike Shanahan, and 5-15 in this month since 2007.

Baltimore (6-2) wins @ Cleveland (2-7), 25-15

I SAW the Ravens sitting on the most precarious and/or deceiving 6-2 record in recent memory.   Sure, they won their 15th straight game following a loss and improved to 5-0 after a bye week under head coach Jim Harbaugh.  But they went almost 30 minutes in the middle of Sunday’s game against the Browns without a first down on offense.  The best thing that happened to Baltimore aside from the victory was that QB Joe Flacco didn’t suck, but that could have just been an “up” game in his seesaw season.  It’s clear that the injuries on defense are affecting all three phases of the game for the Ravens.  I said it before and I’ll say it again – if this team can somehow secure a higher playoff seed despite the key losses John Harbaugh deserves serious consideration for Coach Of The Year.

I SAW the Ravens continue their NFC North dominance.  In winning their tenth straight against Cleveland on Sunday, Baltimore extended their divisional win streak to eleven games.  That’s the second-longest win streak within a franchise’s own division since realignment in 2002.

Team Streak Span
Colts 12 2004-06
Ravens 11 2010-12*
Seahawks 10 2004-06
Eagles 10 2003-04

*Active streak

(Elias Sports Bureau)

I SAW that Browns owner Jimmy Haslam should think twice about replacing head coach Pat Shurmur.  I’ve defended Shurmur’s job before, but it’s worth noting his player’s discipline.  Despite two rookies touching the ball the most within Cleveland’s offense – QB Brandon Weeden and RB Trent Richardson – the interception in the third quarter broke a streak of 209 offense snaps in a row without a turnover.

Detroit (4-4) wins @ Jacksonville (1-7), 31-14

I SAW that things are looking on the up-and-up for the Lions – with 3 rushing TDs in the first half from RB Mikel Leshoure (a franchise record) and an overdue integrated role for WR Calvin Johnson – but they still have a weak defensive squad for sticking it out in the midst of what is arguably the league’s toughest division.  After all, Detroit is now at .500 – and in the basement of the NFC North.

I SAW, while on the Calvin Johnson issue, Lions fans must be miffed that it took until a game when Megatron was removed for 12 of Detroit’s offensive snaps (due to a heavily wrapped left knee) for the All-Pro wideout to be consistently involved in the offense.

I SAW Lions QB Matt Stafford continue to gobble up passing yards.  According to Elias Sports Bureau, Stafford is the second-fastest quarterback to reach 10,000 yards for his career.

Quarterback # of games to reach 10,000 passing yards
Kurt Warner 36
Matt Stafford 37
Marc Bulger 38
Dan Marino 38

I SAW the Lions make things easier on themselves for once this season, getting out to a comfortable 21-0 first half lead.  By scoring three TDs on five offensive possessions in the first half against the Jaguars they matched their season total coming into the week – on 43 possessions.

I SAW green stench lines rising up out of Jacksonville.  Jaguars owner Shahid “Shaka” Khan has been vocal about trying to promote his team in Europe and has signed on for multiple games in London in the coming years…

…Ship this stinkbox off to the UK NOW.

–       Jacksonville started with three consecutive three-and-outs and gained one first down by the time Lions RB Mikel Leshoure scored his third TD of the day.

–       “Come on, that’s pathetic for an offense to have 12 plays in the first half and be 0 for 4 on third downs,” Jags QB Blaine Gabbert said. “We can’t afford to shoot ourselves in the foot or else it’s going to be a poor showing like that.”

–       Jacksonville had nine drops last week.  They had at least four more on Sunday – two of which turned into interceptions.

–       The team is now tied for the worst start in franchise history.

–       London doesn’t seem enticing enough?  Take a look at Jacksonville!  The Jaguars are 0-4 this season, thanks to being outscored 126-34 at home.  That’s an average losing margin of 23.0 points per game.

If it weren’t for Kansas City the worst team in the league right now would be the Jaguars by a long shot.  Jacksonville still has the lead for that distinction on paper, but the race for the first pick of next year’s draft is on….

Tampa Bay (4-4) wins @ Oakland (3-5), 42-32

I SAW PROPS to this season’s first nominee for another TFQ Upside Down Award, given at the end of the season:

Cornucopia of Milestones

Awarded for a rare occurrence of multiple records set during a sublime single-game performance.

Doug Martin, RB, Buccaneers

Despite the loss of Pro-Bowl G Carl Nicks for the year, the rookie Martin came up huge in front of more than 60 family members and friends.  The former Boise State standout hails from Stockton, CA – a short drive from Oakland – and he had a day for the ages, with 251 yards rushing (a 10 yard average per carry) and 4 touchdowns.  His scoring weren’t all cheap short ones either.  Yes, one of them was only a yard long, but the other three went for 45, 67 and 70 yards.

Martin set the franchise record for rushing yards in a game, but a performance of this magnitude needs to be placed within a league-wide context.  He joins former Bronco Mike Anderson as the only two players in league history to run for 250+yards and 4 touchdowns in one game during the Super Bowl era.  He also became the first tailback since at least 1940 to have three TD runs for 45+yards in a single contest (Elias Sports Bureau).  What isn’t being reported as much, however, is the fact that Martin went into the locker room at halftime with just 31 yards and no scores.  That means his second half is so good its place in history can’t even be appraised – according to Elias, league stats per quarters and halves were not kept back far enough to conclusively place that crazy output within this historical context.  Rest assured, though, 220 yards and 4 TDs in one half is officially crazy.

Remember Martin’s big game last week against the Vikings?  Put the two weeks together and the guys has 486 yards from scrimmage over a two-game span.  According to ESPN Stats & Information there are only four backs with a higher such output all-time – and check out Martin’s company:

Year Player Yds from scrimmage in a 2-game span
1977 Walter Payton 525
1954 Ollie Mason 503
1977 Walter Payton 502
1963 Jim Brown 494
1976 O.J. Simpson 488
2012               Doug Martin 486

It says a lot about Martin’s last two games that the next-most recent two-game output higher than his came in 1977.

(What’s absolutely ridiculous is that Walter Payton exceeded it twice during the same season.  Jesus.)

In a lot of non-RG3 and Luck years, Martin would have been talked about as a candidate for offensive rookie of the year earlier in the season.  If the Tampa Bay tailback stays even half as hot as he was on Sunday it’s going to be a tough, three-way vote.

I SAW that it’s not just RB Doug Martin who is clicking on offense for Tampa Bay – it’s the whole squad.  The Buccaneers averaged 36 points on 477 yards per game in their last four games.  That’s the most points by one team in the NFL over that span.

I SAW a resilient play by Raiders QB Carson Palmer on the 2-point conversion to cut the Bucs’ lead 35-32 late in the game.  The scoring drive preceding the play was rife with pass pressure but Palmer persevered and the conversion was no different.  He shrugged off contact and at the last moment lofted a ball into the end zone that rookie Juron Criner went up in the air and caught.  Palmer’s arm may be a shadow of what it once was, but he still has his moments in Oak-Town, tallied up on Sunday by 414 yards, and 4 touchdowns.  Another “wow” moment was the 3 total passing TDs he threw in the fourth quarter during the comeback attempt.  Not so “wow”: The interception he threw on the next Oakland drive after the two-point conversion.  Or the one on the following drive.

I SAW Raiders RB Darren McFadden leave the game with a high ankle sprain.  Run-DMC’s status for this coming week is uncertain, but don’t hold your breath since this is a guy who last year said he wouldn’t play after a foot injury unless he was 100 percent.

SNF- Atlanta (8-0) wins vs. Dallas (3-5), 19-13

I SAW Falcons QB Matt Ryan lead his team to an 8-0 start behind his season-high 342 passing yards.  All I have left to say about Atlanta this week is: Remember the (playoff win) asterisk to their perfect record.

I SAW the Cowboys continue their stint as what SI.com’s Don Banks aptly describes “one of the most exasperating teams in the NFL.”

As it has for some time now, the problems start at the top, with Dallas’ owner Jerry “The Emperor” Jones – who really stepped in it during an interview with Bob Costas when he admitted that he’d have fired the GM if it wasn’t him.

I know this might get me strangled from afar by the force, but: Swallow your pride and fire you anyway, Jerry.  Obviously you’ll still make the final decisions with respect to player personnel, but try having someone else do the legwork for a while.  Your legwork in securing a coach and a deep roster has sucked thus far.  Apart from your aforementioned hubris (oh, yeah, and paying someone else), what could go wrong?

Jones sure isn’t getting wowed by how Garrett dazzles his audience during postgame press conferences that follow Dallas losses…

I SAW that Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett deserves a medal for being articulate and creative when explaining his team’s defeats this season.  After Sunday night’s loss the head coach expressed these sentiments to the media after losing to the Falcons (via the Associated Press):

“There’s a reason they’re undefeated halfway through the season.  This is a challenging place to play at. I thought we did some good things in the ballgame. They did more good things. We didn’t do enough to win this game in all three phases of our football team.”

I thought that Garrett’s explanation sounded familiar so I took a look back at previous Dallas press conferences following losses…

After loss to the Ravens in week 6 (via ESPN.com):

“I felt we fought really hard and well through a lot of different adversities in all three phases.  [The Ravens] have been awfully good for a while. This team’s been awfully good in this place for a while. We gave them everything they could handle.”

Those are strikingly similar statements.  What is more subtly consistent during Garrett’s speeches after losses are his hapless compliments to his own players and opponents that smack of excuses, not optimism.

At Seattle in week 2 (via cowboys.com):

“If you don’t do the things that winning teams do it’s hard to win in this league, particularly on the road against a team like that in that environment and early on in this game in that ballgame we didn’t do the things necessary…”

After loss to the Bears in week 4 (via the Associate Press):

“We have a pretty good feel for what their front is going to do, what their pressures were, what their coverages were…They’re just very good at it. It’s not very exotic.”

It’s safe to say that famous athletes and coaches can fall back on mindless platitudes.  Last year, womens’ tennis pro Caroline Wozniacki said what many athletes think but never say while gritting their teeth through one tedious press conference after another.  When told by the media that her press conferences were “boring” because she always gave the same answers, Wozniacki retorted, “That’s funny, because I always get the same questions.”

Point taken.  There’s also something to be said for the notion that a locker room speech can differ vastly from a head coach’s demeanor in public.  But Garrett’s display is a bit much.  The positivity is particularly galling, since his talking about how well his team played in losing, is inaccurate when it occurs ad nauseum.  And not one bit of Garrett’s press conferences this season so far as hints towards the presence of any charisma, personality or other coaching intangibles that could extoll Cowboys players to play beyond themselves.  Garrett’s mindless coach-speak after losses isn’t much more than a possible symptom to a lack of personality, but for a coach who has long needed to breathe life into his team it’s a frustrating thing to watch.  The numbers bear out Garrett’s blandness as well – he’s 16-16 as head coach of the ’Boys.

I SAW, according to NFL Network, that when Cowboys QB Tony Romo puts up 40 attempts or more his team is 0-13.  If that’s not the defining characteristic of Romo as an overrated quarterback, I don’t know what is.

MNF- New Orleans (3-5) wins vs. Philadelphia (3-5), 28-13

I SAW the Saints’ slim playoff hopes get kept alive as New Orleans handed Philadelphia its fourth straight loss.  Don’t fool yourself, Who Dat Nation – the Eagles mostly beat themselves.  On five trips to the red zone Philly had two field goals, one pick-6, one fumble lost and one last-ditch turnover on downs.  Ugh.

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.) 

Some advice for anyone thinking Eagles head coach Andy Reid should have played rookie QB Nick Foles Monday night instead of the slumping Michael Vick: Take a good look at the Philadelphia offensive line.  Reid would be risking a christening of Foles into a (former Bills QB) Rob Johnson-like state of chronic panic by thrusting the former Arizona Wildcat into the fray with this injury-ravaged and porous offensive line.

(After signing a bloated contract with Buffalo after one good game as a Jaguar, Johnson – OP, Original Panic – had a knack for shitting his pants at the slightest sign of a pass rush with an impressive snap-panic-panic-panic-turnover consistency.)

Say what you may about the bad year Vick’s having but he’s bound to be able to withstand this sort of onslaught better than someone who has never played a regular season snap as a pro.  From the first drive when Vick was hit on 5 of his 9 attempts until the bitter end, the Eagles’ hogs sucked.  The total of seven sacks allowed in the game doesn’t do justice in describing how the Eagles QB was hit in what seemed like every second or third play.

It’s worth pointing out that injuries have forced four new starters into action along the line.  That makes chemistry nearly impossible to create and it’s affected the play calling as well.  Analyst Jon Gruden said during the live broadcast that head coach Andy Reid told him he’s never been so conservative in his play calling in his career because of the state of his O-line.

I SAW the funniest play in recent memory.  On a kickoff return late in the third quarter the Eagles sent Brandon Boykin and Riley Cooper back to return.  Cooper laid face down on top of the “S” in “Saints” painted on the end zone turf until Boykins caught the kick and threw a Music City Miracle-like lateral to a now-standing Cooper.  The play worked – kind of.  Cooper went unnoticed while lying prone, and thus had a relatively clear path en route to scoring.  However, Boykin’s pass turned out to be an illegal forward pass and the TD was nullified.

If stale coaching in Philly is an issue, it wasn’t with Bobby April, the special teams coach on Sunday.  The play was a very cool, creative way to take advantage of the typical sightlines and attention cues for a coverage team, similar to the Bears’ sleight of hand last year.

Essentially, Cooper hid in plain sight and provided the funniest talent for camouflage since LL Cool J played Captain Patrick Zero in the Robin Williams film, Toys.






2 thoughts on “WHAT I SAW, Wk 9 2012

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    off topic but I had to tell someone!

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