What I Saw, Week 8 – 2103

Blair Miller > WHAT I SAW – WEEK 8, 2013

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 most teams reach the halfway point of their season, or as most coaches like to look at it – and even said so in several postgame press conferences this week – the end of the second quarter of their season.  Be that as it may, we saw our first legit slate of dud matchups on Sunday.  The NFL came through anyway at some points – particularly in the Motor City where we saw Marinofake 2.0 (see: Detroit wins vs. Dallas, 31-30).  Also the and-oh’s and the oh-fer’s stood pat:

Undefeated

Kansas City (8-0) – Now they’re even winning games when they play out of character.  The hallmark of their season thus far has been a sack-hungry defense, and lackadaisical offense had to survive despite their teammates coming into the week leading the NFL in sacks and getting just one on Sunday.

Defeated

Jacksonville (0-7) – I’ve been critical of the league’s decision to commit to sending its smelliest garbage to games in London.  SI.com’s Don Banks agrees, and I love his line via another reporter (although the  Brits runs circles around the French in terms of sense of humour and it’s the French who love Lewis so much):

Maybe Jacksonville playing in London for four consecutive years will work after all. As one press box veteran noted Sunday, the Europeans used to love Jerry Lewis, so slapstick does tend to play well across the pond.

Tampa Bay – More and more, I wonder if head coach Greg Schiano has pulled a Nick Saban.

I SAW the trade deadline come and pass on Tuesday with a lot of intriguing rumors (DE Jared Allen going from Minnesota to Seattle being the best) but ultimately end with a whimper.  One trade: Philly sent DT Isaac Sopoaga and a sixth-round pick in 2014 to New England for a fifth-rounder in 2014.  Pretty boring, but I love it.  The Pats are clearly desperate without Vince Wilfork (injury) and they still got what looks like a deal that favors them.  How does Bill Belichick & Co. do it?

I SAW Sports Illustrated’s Peter King make some strong statements against the point after kick:

And the biggest waste of time in sports is the point-after. Six were missed all season last year, and this year, only two of 524 have gone awry. It is positively insane that the NFL doesn’t either eliminate the PAT, move the snap way back from the 2-yard line, or force teams to go for two. Something. Anything. For years, it’s been a nothing play, and the Competition Committee refuses to do anything tangible about it.”

Oooookay, Peter.  I understand your argument against the PAT, but to say that it’s “positively insane” not to eliminate/modify it is emotionally hyperbolic to the point of denting one’s credibility.  Use your English more better.

Byes: Baltimore, Chicago, Houston, Indianapolis, San Diego, Tennessee

TNF- Carolina (4-3) wins @ Tampa Bay (0-7), 31-13

I SAW cause to celebrate in Carolina: The Panthers are above .500 for the first time since 2009 – a stretch of 70 straight games.  (ESPN Stats & Information)  Jesus, that’s bad.

What’s good, however, is the Panthers defense.  The Bucs field goal in the first quarter represented the first points that an opponent has scored against Carolina’s defense in the first quarter all season.  Head coach Ron Rivera’s team is finally getting it together on that side of the ball: The Panthers rank second in the NFL in points allowed, third in overall defense and second against the rush.

Don’t look now, but the Panthers are a legit threat.  After a 0-2 start they’ve won 4 of their last 5, including three straight, making a case as one of those teams each year that capitalizes on a weak schedule.  (They’ve won against the Giants, Rams, Vikings and Bucs.)

Apart from the defense, the story is about QB Cam Newton….

I SAW Panthers QB Cam Newton has been succeeding within a scheme that is more short-pass-oriented than before.  On Thursday against the Buccaneers, Newton went 20-for-24 on attempts that went 10 yards or fewer downfield for 171 yards and 2 TDs.  The story’s been the same during Carolina’s current 3-game win streak:

Can Newton On Passes 10 Yards Or Less Downfield – During Win Streak

% of total attempts 73
Completion % 87.3
TD-INT 4-0

(ESPN Stats & Information)

The broader result: Newton has put up 667 yards, 6 TD passes and no interceptions over the last three games.

I SAW the Buccaneers lose their seventh straight at home, their longest losing streak there since 1977 when they sucked for 13 in a row.  Speaking of thirteen, Tampa has now lost 12 out of their last 13 games under head coach Greg Schiano.  Cue the “fire Schiano” home crowd propaganda, which was reportedly out in full force during prime time on Thursday night.

I SAW Buccaneers rookie QB Mike Glennon heave 181 pass attempts in his first 4 career games, an NFL record according to the NFL Network broadcast.

Am I missing something here?  RB Doug Martin only got hurt last week…must the Bucs be in such Dire Straits?  After numerous big roster moves during the offseason quizzical decisions like this one equate to Tampa Bay getting a lot of Money For Nothing.

Detroit (5-3) wins vs. Dallas (4-4), 31-10

I SAW an early candidate for one of TFQ’s Upside-Down Awards at the end of the season:  

Thief In The Night Award

QB Matthew Stafford & the Lions

Detroit won a crazy game thanks to a Stafford-improvised QB sneak that was so sneaky he might as well have been dressed in a striped outfit brandishing bags with dollar signs on them as he snatched what looked like a win away from the Cowboys.  Well, unless he did it at Krusty Burger.

cartoon robber

(www.thepeacelily.com)

After completing a pass to Calvin Johnson to inside the 1-yard line with the seconds ticking off in regulation and trailing by 6 points, the Detroit offense hustled down to the line of scrimmage while Stafford’s body language gave every indication that he would spike the ball.  But when the teams lined up and Dallas was clearly lackadaisical Stafford took the snap and jumped to extend the ball over the goal line to steal the game.  The move was reminiscent of the sneaky Dan Marino-Mark Ingram TD pass on a fake spike against the Jets in 1994.  Stafford’s decision was clearly off the cuff, with Detroit guard Larry Worford telling the Associated Press: I was just as fooled as the defense was.”

The really fun thing: The Lions had no timeouts left.  If Stafford’s idea hadn’t worked, the game likely would have ended with a Detroit loss that would have made him the goat of the week.

The Lions deserved this win even though they gave up four turnovers and forced none.  According to STATS LLC they became the first team since 2007 to win in such a situation and it was because of huge performances from Stafford and Johnson (see below).

Let’s have some fun and spend a bit more time than usual on this game….

I SAW PROPS to Lions WR Calvin Johnson, who had a day for the ages.  Let’s let this list speak for itself:

Most Receiving Yards In A Game – NFL History

Player Year Team Yards
Flipper Anderson 1989 Rams 336
Calvin Johnson 2013 Lions 329
Stephone Paige 1985 Chiefs 309
Jim Benton 1945 Browns 303

That’s 329 yards off of 14 catches on 16 targets, and a TD.  An argument can easily be made that Johnson’s performance is the best single-game performance by a receiver in history, because Anderson’s record was set in an overtime game.

Ah, Flipper.  Those were fun days back in Los Angeles (before the Rams moved to St. Louis) with he and Henry Ellard hauling in passes from Jim “Don’t call me Chris” Everett.  Hit the link.  That footage never gets old.

There’s a lot more statistical gold to be mined from Megatron’s energon-fueled attack (including more below, after a tip of the hat to Matthew Stafford).  For instance: Sunday’s yardsplosion gives Johnson the NFL two-game record with 484 yards.  (The MMQB)  Also, according to NFL Network, this was Megatron’s 5th career game with 200+yards receiving – an NFL record.  And he’s got, what, 8+ years left in him?  Wow.

Obviously as a receiver Megatron can’t be a lone gun – even if he transforms into one.  For a stat line of that magnitude, he needs a big day from his quarterback….

I SAW Lions QB Matt Stafford have one of the biggest and most entertaining games of his young career, at least since that TDfest against the Browns in his rookie year when he played through a badly injured shoulder.  The highlight of his performance was clearly the game-winning trick TD (see above) but he also threw for his second-most yards in a game as a pro (488) and, despite just one TD pass and two interceptions to Cowboy Sean Lee (one of them an ill-advised throw that the ’backer returned inside the Lions 5-yard line), he was in a zone during the second half.  Personally, when he’s on his game I find Stafford to be one of the more entertaining pivots in the NFL these days.  Yes, there are many more mobile QBs and some (just some) with a better arm, but when he’s playing with positive emotion and slinging touch passes on target from varying arm slots it’s pretty fun to watch.  Some experts think a varied delivery is a flaw in any QB, but it wasn’t for a guy like Brett Favre and it isn’t for Stafford either.  In fact, when done well (which, granted, is very rare) it can help gain access to passing lanes at the line of scrimmage.  It also adds artistry to playing the position.

In all, the Lions racked up 623 total yards on offense for a new franchise record.  Reggie Bush had a good day (92 yards rushing, 8 catches for 30 yards) but we all know the two players most responsible for that mark.

I SAW Megatron achieve a weird stat that might not mean much, but according to ESPN Stats & Information his four times being tackled inside the 5-yard line is the most that’s happened in an NFL game since the start of 2001.

This stat coming up means something….

I SAW a crazy TRIVIA BOMB:

It bears repeating, especially in an era when spreading the ball around to multiple players is the norm: Lions WR Calvin Johnson had 329 receiving yards.  As ESPN STATS & Information points out, there are 16 teams this season that haven’t thrown for 329 yards.  The worst trio of those sixteen are the Chiefs and Redskins who haven’t passed for that many yards in a game since 2009 (c’mon RG3)…And the Cardinals who haven’t done it since 2010.  Jesus, Arizona.

Dear Kurt Warner,

We miss you.

Love,

The Cardinals xo

I SAW the Lions defensive backs play themselves into a hard week of tackling drills against the Cowboys.  It was like Keystone cops out there in a back-and-forth fourth quarter, S Glover Quin morphed into a pylon on WR Terrance William’s 60-yard TD, then two defenders pinwheeled into one another while Dez Bryant legged out a 50-yard score.

I SAW Cowboys WR Dez Bryant’s catch of the year so far, a PROPS-worthy one-handed pin job against his shoulder while getting interfered with.  (No flag was thrown on the play, but one should have been.)  Bryant got a lot of publicity this week for saying he can do everything Calvin Johnson can do – although I heard Brandon Carr tell NFL Network’s Around the League that the comment was taken out of context.  (Shocker!)  Bryant just flat-out can’t match Megatron, if for no other reason than size difference, and, say 329 yards, but that grab in the second quarter on Sunday was a man’s catch that few can accomplish.  (A potential tie for catch of the year so far goes to Redskins WR Pierre Garcon on the same day…see Denver wins vs. Washington, 45-21.)

Of course, as he so often can, Bryant soured thing up by acting like a brat….

I SAW Cowboys WR Dez Bryant launch into a sideline tirade directed at his quarterback Tony Romo and then take on other veterans afterward.  Apart from one missed opportunity when Bryant was open and a bad throw at him on a short sprint out, I’m not sure what Bryant was so worked up about.  Then again, the better Bryant plays, the more entitled he acts.

I generally don’t have an issue with sideline blowups.  Football is an intense game, physically and emotionally.  When these issues come up, I’m reminded of a time back in the day when the Eagles were throttling the Niners and Steve Young went ballistic on everyone.  It was embarrassing.  It also turned out to be a turning point in what was a big season in San Fran.

I’m not saying Dallas will play well because of Bryant’s antics now – far from it.  The young wideout’s passion would be admirable, were it not so misdirected.  It’s very important to note that the audio from the incident at the bench with Romo and the coaches is available and once you hear them merely talking about plays in an animated fashion that exchange was misinterpreted.  But another blowup from Bryant minutes later was more concerning.  You know you’ve acted out of order when you have clean-cut choirboy TE Jason Witten getting red in the face from telling you off.  Leader and defensive end DeMarcus Ware also tried to calm Bryant down and seemed to get pretty pissed off in the process.  The sad thing is that Bryant kept going off anyway.  He is crazy-talented, but will never be a respected voice unless he undergoes a personality makeover.  He told the Associated Press that, “people who have a problem with me are the people that don’t know what’s going on.

I’d say Bryant needs to explain to some of his teammates what’s going on.

I SAW Lions RB Reggie Bush carry the ball like a loaf of bread when he fumbled it to Dallas in the third quarter.   That lack of discipline is the sort of thing that sends a less gifted and/or valuable player to the bench.

Denver (7-1) wins vs. Washington (2-5), 45-21

I SAW a game that got wacky at times – especially late.

Case in point: This one just blows my mind…there were seven turnovers in the fourth quarter.  Seven!

TRIVIA BOMB:

Those 7 fourth quarter turnovers are the most by two teams in a quarter since the Oilers and Dolphins had seven of their own in 1991.  (Elias Sports Bureau)

Aside from spoiling ’Skins head coach Mike Shanahan’s return to the city in which he won two Super Bowls, Sunday’s result might tell us more about the vulnerabilities of the Broncos.  Those fourth quarter turnovers certainly don’t instill confidence in an offense that might still be reeling from its poor performance against Indianapolis last week.  QB Peyton Manning was responsible for 4 turnovers, which is quite rare against an inferior defense like Washington’s – especially the pick-6 he served up to CB DeAngelo Hall.  In short, Clockwork Orange looks a bit off time.  I’m wondering how much those two sprained ankles are nagging on Manning.

On the other side of the ball, the Broncos came into Week 8 ranked dead last in passing yards allowed per game this season, so holding a disorganized Washington offence to 154 of them doesn’t exactly erase doubts about the D in Denver.  Also, like last season, the Broncos’ record might be inflated due to the quality of the competition.  Case in point: Denver has gone 4-0 against the NFC East this season, arguably the worst division in the league for 2013.

I SAW the Redskins defense overachieve for the first time this season.  A normally inept group against the pass, Washington held QB Peyton Manning and the vaunted Denver Clockwork Orange offense to seven points midway through the third quarter   …that is, until they got torn apart in the fourth quarter (see below).

For all their struggles this season, the ’Skins D is at least creating plays.  It notched its 5th defensive TD this season, which is already the most in a season in D.C.  since 1994.  (FOX broadcast)

I SAW Broncos QB Peyton Manning reach the halfway point of his regular season with 2,919 passing yards – the most in NFL history through the first eight games.  After stacking up a franchise-record 31 points in the fourth quarter on Sunday, Denver as a team has an average of 42.8 points per game – also a league record through 8 games. (STATS LLC)

I SAW the Denver defense really turn up the pass rush against RG3 and the Redskins, particularly in the fourth quarter once the Broncos got a lead and the D smelled blood.  LB Von Miller hasn’t exactly blown up the stats sheet since coming back from his 6-game suspension but his presence is clearly affecting blocking schemes and freeing up the front 7 as a group.

I SAW Broncos WR Wes Welker not be one of the people unhappy about his move to Denver from New England this season.  According to ESPN Stats & Information, this season represents the first time in his career that the receiver has had a TD reception in 7 or more games in a season – and we’re only halfway through this campaign.

I SAW PROPS to Redskins WR Pierre Garcon for joining Dallas’ Dez Bryant on the same day for catch of the year so far – a twisting, off-hand one-handed grab for a first down.

Kansas City (8-0) wins vs. Cleveland (3-5), 23-17

I SAW the Chiefs run into a tough Browns team.  Cleveland boasts one of the better all-around defenses in the NFL.  Unfortunately for them their offense is abysmal, and what could be considered a flat game for Kansas City turned out as a win for the lone undefeated team in the NFL anyway.

KC is in pressure territory now.  Whether or not they care about their unblemished record as a team, we’ve reached the point in the season where the and-oh team grows a target on their back – even if they’re the sort worthy of this TRIVIA BOMB:

The Chiefs are the first team in major North American sports to start a season 8-0 after having the worst record in the league the year before.  (NBC Sunday Night Football)

I SAW Chiefs QB Alex Smith continue to demonstrate his inability to complete passes downfield beyond, say, 15 yards.  It’s why WR Dwayne Bowe has been relegated to the side of a milk carton this season, and it’s why this team is starting to resemble the Ravens of 2000, with a lockdown defense and a game-managing offense led by a quarterback whose hallmark is not screwing up too badly.

Mind you, Smith is a godsend compared to Trent Dilfer.  He’s been very poised under pressure, as his franchise-high (since 1986) six times sacked served as mere noise en route to a QB rating over 100.  The Chiefs quarterback has been a breath of fresh air for a rudderless franchise that won two games last season, but his lack of a deep ball to expand head coach Andy Reid’s playbook could come back to bite this team.

There’s more about Smith…

I SAW Chiefs QB Alex Smith elevate the Chiefs this season – as well as improving the Niners.  As pointed out by Peter King at The MMQB, one aspect of the Smith trade that San Francisco stipulated was that should Kansas City win eight games this season the fourth round draft pick the Niners got would change to a third-rounder.  Nostradamus himself would have shat his pants over the notion of the Chiefs satisfying that qualification after 8 games, but that’s what has happened.  Now, San Fran has a chance to have 6 draft picks in the first three rounds next year.  (Assuming the compensatory pick from the league for losing S Dashon Goldson to free agency is a third-rounder, which it should be.)

I SAW Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles go somewhat under the radar so far in this ephemeral 2013 season.  According to ESPN Stats & Information the KC back leads his position with 38.5 percent of his team’s yards per scrimmage.  That should be recognized more but isn’t, given the prominence of the rebuilt defense, the arrival of Alex Smith at QB and Andy Reid as head coach.

I SAW the Chiefs convert nine of their twelve attempts on third down in the first half against the Browns.  It’s tough to lose when you’re playing like that.

I SAW Browns WR Josh Gordon have another big day.  Imagine how putrid Cleveland’s offense would be right now without him.  No wonder the team refused to trade him before Tuesday’s deadline.

I SAW a Dunce cap being fitted for Browns WR Devon Bess, who had three drops and a lost fumble.  The fumble came on a sloppy-ass punt return.  The last straw was on a huge third down late in the game when Jason “Eriq LaSalle” Campbell scrambled for his life all around the ER and threw across his body to a wide open Bess, who slid just in time to get both hands and his stomach on the ball before dropping it.

I SAW cause to ask: Anyone else feel like they’re watching ER when Campbell goes under center?   Or that you’re letting your Soul-Glo?

Campbell:

Jason Campbell

(NFL.com)

La Salle:

eriq-la-salle-darryl-jenks-coming-to-america

Oh yeah.

soul_glo

New England (6-2) wins vs. Miami (3-4), 27-17

I SAW the Patriots get booed at home at the end of the first half after putting up just 59 yards and 3 points before the break.  Then they won and Boston turned their channel to the World Series in St. Louis to see their other favourite team (Celtics too, I know, I know) and life moved on.  This New England team feels more and more like the original Belichick-Brady teams that scrambled around with a depleted roster and won Super Bowls.  Even their star player is banged up now….

I SAW Patriots QB Tom Brady throw for 166 yards.  The whole game.  Then I saw late night highlights that showed how swollen Brady’s throwing hand was, so that explains that.  Nonetheless, Brady had to gut out a poor outing on his part.  Not counting the 2008 season opener during which he tore his knee early and left with 76 yards, it has been since a December outing in 2006 against the Texans (109 before being relieved by Matt Cassel in a blowout) that Brady had such an unproductive day in the regular season.  Since his first year as a starter twelve years ago, the New England star has thrown for less than Sunday’s yardage output only six times including that Chiefs game.

I SAW no one need more evidence that the Patriots offense isn’t playing up to its usual standard.  However, it’s worth noting that QB Tom Brady’s pass to WR Aaron Dobson was the first TD in the third quarter of New England’s season thus far.  (They ended up scoring 17 in the frame, actually.)  This is from a team renowned for adjustments in the locker room.

I SAW the Patriots beat the Dolphins in seven straight on the strength of their pass rush.  With their talented cornerback Aqib Talib sidelined again with an injury (hip) and the sad state of the Dolphins O-line it was clear the Pats wanted to send more blitzers than usual.  In fact, New England blitzed a DB on 14 out of 29 dropbacks for 3 sacks, a forced fumble and just 69 yards on 6-of-11 for ’Fins QB Ryan Tannehill.  Coming into Sunday, the Patriots had sent a defensive back on a blitz five times in all. (ESPN Stats & Information)

I SAW the Dolphins lose their fourth straight game.

As mentioned above, Miami’s offensive line sucks.  They’re really missing left tackle Jake Long who wasn’t resigned by the team after some prolonged injury issues and it shows in the lack of time for QB Ryan Tannehill to be efficient downfield.  On passes thrown more than 10 yards downfield on Sunday, the quarterback was a woeful 2-for-11 for 35 yards and two interceptions – according to ESPN Stats & Information.  Take a look at their telling breakdown of the ’Fins season in this regard:

Ryan Tannehill On Throws More Than 10 Yards Downfield

Weeks 1-3 Weeks 4-8
Comp-Att 22-35 16-50
Yards Per Att 12.6 8.1
TD-INT 2-2 0-5
W-L 3-0 0-4

My take: Teams have realized that the Miami running game isn’t cutting it, so they’re tearing apart that porous O-line.   The state of that unit is killing the Dolphins.  What’s more, it renders expensive wide receiver and free agent signee Mike Wallace useless.

I SAW Patriots S Devin McCourty jump up and, while sailing out of bounds, tip an errant Ryan Tannehill pass back in bounds to teammate Marquice Cole for an interception.  The play was the sort of moment that ultimately justifies the well-known tip drill that defensive backs partake in during practice.  Very pretty.

Cincinnati (6-2) wins vs. New York Jets (4-4), 49-9

I SAW the Bengals beat the Jets – BY a 40-burger.  Jinkies!

Cincy is padding their lead in the AFC North thicker than Richard Simmons’ donut pillow.  The victory was by the largest deficit during head coach Marvin Lewis’ 11-year stint in town.  Their defense is still firing on all cylinders with two pick-6’s against the Jets.  The unit also held N.Y. to 1 net yard in the first quarter – the lowest total by an NFL team since 2009.  (STATS LLC)  The Bengals are making my prediction of them earning a playoff bye seem less stupid than I actually am.

The Jets?  Well, they looked just about as stupid as most people expected them to look before they started surprising people with a resurgent defense.  That D got shredded on Sunday….

I SAW Bengals QB Andy Dalton put up the best performance of his young career – at least on paper.  Dalton threw for 257 yards in the first half en route to a career-high 5 TD passes and a 125.7 rating.    My ears are ringing from the thunder of people running to climb on the Dalton bandwagon.  “Oh, he’s figuring it out; he’s becoming great.”  Easy now.  We’re at the point now with the third year quarterback that he needs to produce in the postseason in order to reach the next level.

Either way, Dalton’s big day is forever connected with an even more improbable performance….

I SAW Bengals WR Marvin Jones pounce out of obscurity to score a franchise-record 4 receiving touchdowns on Sunday.  According to STATS LLC Jones is the first player to catch four TDs in a game since Randy Moss and Terrell Owens both did it in 2007.  For a fifth round draft pick this year, I’d say that’s a solid breakout game.  It was clear that Jets CB Antonio Cromartie was causing problems for star WR A.J. Green, who despite 115 receiving yards had just 3 catches on 7 targets.  So, when the red zone came into play, QB Andy Dalton looked to the other side of the field and picked on corners like rookie Dee Milliner (see below) and the still-disappointing Kyle Wilson.  It’s safe to say the plan worked successfully.

I have one question after Jones’ performance: Where is Mohammed Sanu?

I SAW Jets rookie CB Dee Milliner get benched in the midst of the Bengals’ aerial orgy.  Not the best sign for a 9th overall draft pick assigned to cover a relative nobody in Marvin Jones (see above).

I SAW Jets rookie QB Geno Smith regress in this game.  I’ve already lauded the Bengals defense but three pick-6’s in the last two games is unforgiveable, no matter the opponents.  Unless you’re Matt Schaub, that is.  (Too soon?)

Oakland (3-4) wins vs. Pittsburgh (2-5), 21-18

I SAW Raiders QB Terrelle Pryor turn the first play from scrimmage of the game into history.  The young quarterback took a ride fake handoff and legged out a 93-yard TD run – the longest run ever by an NFL QB.

According to STATS LLC Pittsburgh’s Kordell Stewart, at 80 yards, ironically, held the previous record.  At first glance it seems like someone, somehow, should have run for a longer score but then you consider that very few QBs (even the quickest ones) possess the open field breakaway speed to beat the pursuit angles downfield from defensive backs after passing midfield.

Or, you can also consider how long the Pittsburgh defense is in the tooth.  The first thing I thought as Pryor breezed past the third level: Look at those poor old Steelers bastards try to chase that guy….

CB Ryan Clark tried to offer this…defense (via The MMQB):

You have to understand the beast that’s playing quarterback. Once a guy like that gets in front of the whole defense, he’s a legit 4.4. It’s real.”

What’s also real, Ryan, is that any quarterback shouldn’t be getting “in front of the whole defense” on the first play of the game from scrimmage.  More realer: I bet Pittsburgh doesn’t have a single defender that can run a 4.4 without the help of some sort of ACME product.  Understand that the touchdown came on a zone-read QB keep, which means that several Steelers players didn’t play it honest, and then the rest of them lacked the range to close out on Pryor at some point, somewhere within 93 yards before he crossed the goal line.  That’s more embarrassing than those A-gap dive plays that get broken by tailbacks for the length of the field.

I SAW Raiders QB Terrelle Pryor’s game set off a TRIVIA BOMB:

Pryor had 100 yards for the second time this season.  He is just the fourth QB since the merger in 1970 to have multiple 100-yard rushing games in a season.

QBs With Multiple 100-Yard Rushing Games In A Season – Since The Merger

Player Team Season(s)
Terrelle Pryor Raiders 2013
Michael Vick Falcons/Eagles 2004*, 2006, 2010
Donovan McNabb Eagles 2002
Bobby Douglass Bears 1972

*- 3 times in 2004 with Atlanta

(Elias Sports Bureau)

I SAW that if things weren’t already bad for the Steelers, they saw three offensive linemen leave the game due to injury (Ramon Foster, Guy Whimper, David DeCastro).  Good luck with that, Ben Roethlisberger.

Like the Falcons, this team is done like dinner.

New Orleans (6-1) wins vs. Buffalo (3-5), 35-17

I SAW the Saints play a sloppy game but still prevail over the Bills.  As Brees said during the postgame press conference, it’s nice to be able to make those sorts of mistakes and still come away with a win.  Sure, but it’s also gotta be very frustrating to make said mistakes against an inferior team.

I SAW Bills QB Thad Lewis get overwhelmed by the Saints defense.  In all, New Orleans sacked Lewis four times, forced an interception and two fumbles, and made the young pivot look even more rattled than those numbers indicate.

I SAW what might be a coming out party for Saints rookie WR Kenny Stills.  For What It’s Worth, Mr. Stills got all Springfield against Buffalo, treating the Bills like they were from Shelbyville by churning out 129 yards for 2 TDs on just 3 catches.  QB Drew Brees does such a great job of spreading the wealth – he connected with 10 different Saints on Sunday – so it’s hard to read much into Stills’ output.  But if someone could step into the edge receiver role that Marques Colston used to fill capably and thus compliment TE Jimmy Graham, I’m sure Brees would appreciate it.  So far Stills strikes me as more of a speed guy than a go-to guy – a la Raven Torrey Smith – but stretching the field would make the Saints even more dangerous than they have been while relying on Graham to shoulder the load.

I SAW Saints TE Jimmy Graham play with what has been reported as plantar fasciitis in his foot.  Graham made the most of what little direct impact he had on the game by snagging two touchdowns on three targets for the game.  This injury feels like one that might hold the star tight end out of practice for most of the season, like what happened to Charger Antonio Gates several years ago.  The Saints need him on the field, so you can be sure that the coaching staff and trainers will try to rest Graham as much as reasonably possible.

I SAW the Saints defense continue its surprising play.  After last season’s historic shitshow, ’Nawlins has held 6 of their 7 opponents this season under 20 points.  And next game defensive coordinator Rob Ryan gets to scheme for his brother Rex’s team and its undermanned offence.

I SAW Bills WR Stevie Johnson labour through this game with what appeared to be leg pain, although it could just be the back issue he’s been dealing with – he’s pretty banged up right now.  The Bills primary receiver still managed 7 catches for 72 yards and a touchdown, but his spotty health this season has hampered the passing game in Buffalo.

I SAW PROPS for Saints QB Drew Brees for throwing an NFL-record eighth 5-TD passing game.  He’s atop a pretty impressive list:

Most Games With 5 Touchdown Passes – NFL History

Player # Of Games
Drew Brees 8
Peyton Manning 7
Dan Marino 6
George Blanda 5

(Elias Sports Bureau)

New York Giants (2-6) win @ Philadelphia (3-5), 15-7

I SAW the Giants stink their way to a win, earning their first victory without scoring a TD in eleven years (STATS LLC) and they did it by looking weak against a weak rookie QB in Eagle Matt Barkley after starter Michael Vick re-aggravated his hamstring injury.

I know a win is a win, but this is pushing it.

One thing the G-Men can hang their hat on is that the run defense has tightened up, which is a show of pride.  According to STATS LLC, New York has held top running backs LeSean McCoy (twice), Matt Forte and Adrian Peterson to 189 yards on 67 carries – just 2.8 yards per rush.  If you recall, Big Blue has been throwing around the dreaded “playing for pride” euphemism as early as September.  Better late than never in the NFC East.

Now, if the rest of the team could just stop sucking.

Lucky for them, the whole NFC East can’t stop sucking, so with two wins the Giants are right back into the division race.  Hilarious.

I SAW on QB Michael Vick’s hamstring injury: The Eagles pivot reportedly felt a pop.  With backup Nick Foles’ availability uncertain as he deals with a concussion, Vick’s re-injury could spell a write-off of sorts for head coach Chip Kelly’s first year in the city of brotherly love.  Sunday’s loss was Philly’s 10th straight at home, dating back to September 2012, and after averaging over 420 yards of offense in their first six games, they’ve totaled just 479 total in the last two weeks against the suspect D’s of Dallas and New York.

Even if healthy Vick is not the long-term answer at QB, and rookie Matt Barkley has done nothing to instill confidence in him as the guy to plan the team around (see below).  Kelly’s program will likely require patience, but in a town with little of it things might get worse before they get better….

I SAW an unenviable trend starting to take shape in the first year of the Chip Kelly era in Philly.  Basically, the Eagles are good for what ails you as an opponent – unless you really suck.  Philadelphia’s three wins have all come against teams that were winless at the time, and any team that has had at least one win has beaten them.

Another trend I’ve pointed out before is holding true as well.  I pointed out several weeks ago that the Eagles were somehow leading the NFL in rushing yards, but sat in dead last in time of possession.  That mind-bending stat has softened – but only somewhat.  Philly is now third in the league in rushing yards per game.  However, they trail first place Seattle by just 4.0 yards, and they trail only Minnesota in T.O.P.

Wow.  So the most up-tempo offense in the NFL and the team with the best running back in the league holds the ball for the least amount of game time.  Know why?  Because their defense stinks too much to get off the field.  In the Eagles’ case, their goal of snapping the ball with around 18 seconds left on the game clock even further exposes a weak defense.

I SAW Eagles rookie QB Matt Barkley’s first 4 pro possessions end in a turnover by him.  I’m thinking that’s not a good omen.  The offense picked up a bit when he came in to relieve Michael Vick, but that was deceiving.  Philly was hampered by Vick’s tightness in his leg(s), and any quarterback who was healthy enough was going to be an upgrade after Vick reinjured himself.

I SAW the Giants snap an 8-game road losing streak.  QB Eli Manning has now gone two games without throwing an interception after serving up 15 in his first six games.  Their defense also hasn’t allowed a TD in 10 quarters.  They also suck.

I SAW Giants QB Eli Manning pass Phil Simms at 33,462 for career yards as a Giant.  Not PROP-worthy, but impressive.

San Fran (6-2) wins @ Jacksonville (0-8), 42-10-London

I SAW the Jaguars’ 4-year run as a London team start out as would be expected – with a steaming log of a performance.  I understand Jags owner Shad “Shaka” Khan is at the forefront of the league’s initiative for global marketing, but come on, guys.  Could there have been a more unsavory product to promote abroad than Jacksonville’s?  That would be like if I were shopping North American football to China and I sent the CFL.  Don’t be deceived – the numbers will tell you that the majority of the sellout crowd of 83,559 at Wembley Stadium waved Jaguars flags.  That’s because they were part of a free giveaway.  (via Associated Press)

I SAW the Niners continue to rebound from a rough start to their season.

Yes, this was just a win over the moribund Jaguars.  But San Fran’s motto today could very well be Five Alive.  According to Elias Sports Bureau Sunday’s win marked the first time since 1995 that the Niners have won 5 straight games by 10 points or more, and they have now scored 30+ points in a game in five consecutive tries for the first time since 1997.

QB Colin Kaepernick hasn’t been wowing us like we’d thought he would.  The defense has taken its lumps.  But San Fran and division rival Seattle represent the league’s best versions of teams – ones that can dominate without dominant individual numbers.

I SAW that I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but the London games have to get more marketable to knowledgeable football fans.  Otherwise, it just comes off as shameless, complacent NHL-like expansion and we’ve seen how that goes.

Arizona (4-4) wins vs. Atlanta (2-5), 27-13

I SAW a fitting moment in the Falcons’ season thus far when a black cat ran across the field before the game.  Usually one would expect any bad luck to go the way of the Cardinals, but with just 2 wins this season after almost winning the NFC Championship in January, it’s safe to say that Atlanta is the one getting Karma Sutra’d (when life comes back to fuck you in the ass) – especially by injuries.  On that note, RB Steven Jackson made his first appearance for the Falcons since Week 1, but it was for naught – at least that’s what I’d call 6 yards on 11 carries.  Naught.

To make matters worse, it looks like the short-handedness of the roster and the mistakes around him are finally starting to affect QB Matt Ryan’s game – much like how Eli Manning is trying to do too much in New York, to disastrous results.  Ryan’s a better quarterback than Manning (yeah, I said it), but even the best ones can’t overcome as many hazards as the Falcons have encountered so far.  To wit: Ryan had thrown three interceptions coming into this game, and put up four more against Arizona.  Mind you, that defense is one of the better ones.  But Ryan looked unusually out of sorts in the pocket Sunday.

I don’t want to nail a coffin closed prematurely, but the Dirty Birds are officially on life support.

I SAW a coming out party for Cardinals rookie RB Andre Ellington.  The sixth-round speedster from Clemson was too much for an injury-riddled and slow Falcons defense that looked stunned for most of the afternoon.  The high point of Ellington’s 15 carry, 154-yard day came with a long touchdown run in the second quarter.  That 80-yard score is actually the third-longest run in franchise history, the other two both coming prior to 1960.  (STATS LLC)

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…

Another positive for the Cardinals to take away from RB Andre Ellington’s performance Sunday: According to ESPN Stats & Information, 130 of the rookie’s 154 rushing yards against the Falcons came before contact.  Not only is that the third-most yards before contact by any player so far this season, but it almost matched Arizona’s 159 total such yards coming into the week.  Obviously credit is due in large part to the run blocking.

I mentioned this numerous times over the last few years, but haven’t touched on it yet this season: the best remedy for an inept offensive line – and lord knows ’Zona’s group has been awful the last two seasons – is to get those big guys looking to hit people in the run game, as opposed to pass protection where they mostly have to hold their ground and be hit.  The former can be a huge confidence-builder.  In fact, there have been instances in the past (New England last season, for example) where this momentum gained in the run game actually translates over to improved pass protection.  It’s too early to know if that is the case in the desert, but Sunday was certainly a good start.  I know of one player who was likely happy about the development….

I SAW PROPS to Cards WR Larry Fitzgerald.  His last few seasons have been an eyesore while playing with struggling QBs but that hasn’t stopped him from becoming the youngest player in NFL history to amass 800 career receptions.  His 30 years, 57 days tops the 30 years and 258 days mark set by Cowboys TE Jason Witten, according to the Associated Press.

SNF- Green Bay (5-2) wins @ Minnesota (1-6), 44-31

I SAW the Packers stay in first place in the NFC North.  The receiving corps is decimated, but elite QB Aaron Rodgers is playing great under such circumstances.  The first sign of a clock controlling running game in Green Bay in years is making an even bigger difference.  Head coach Mike McCarthy has been pining for a reliable ground attack for some time, and it showed Sunday: On its first two possessions the Pack ran 31 times for 160 yards that sapped 15:48 off of the clock.  Rookie back Eddie Lacey is continuing his impressive pace over the last month or so, and RB James Starks added 57 yards including a nice 25-yard TD scamper.

When the smoke cleared the score didn’t indicate Green Bay’s dominance.  They never punted and their only drive that didn’t end with a score was a kneel-down to end the game.

If this current group can hold serve like they have been until guys like Jermichael Finley and Clay Matthews – amongst so many others – can return to the field, this team could find itself hitting January with a lot of momentum.

I SAW the Packers go all Jambi on the Vikings.

Micah Micah Hyde, Micah Hy-dee Ho!

Pee-wee_Jambi_400px

(www.makeupmag.com)

That’s right, Green Bay punt returner Micah Hyde had a sweet 93-yard punt return for a third quarter TD that ultimately won the game.  That’s all I have to say about that.

I SAW some numbers that beg serious questions, for which no one can have reasonable answers.  Vikings all-world RB Adrian Peterson has had just 13 rushes in the last three games.  In fact, According to ESPN Stats & Information, Peterson’s three straight games with 13 rushes or less is tied for the longest streak in his career.  Honestly, what’s up with that?

I SAW Packers WR Jordy Nelson solidify himself as a big play wideout.  Actually, Nelson’s 7 receptions for 123 yards and 2 TDs on 8 targets is pretty damn good in general, but his 4 TD catches for over 75 yards since the start of the 2010 season is tied with Atlanta’s Julio Jones for the most.  (ESPN Stats & Information)

I SAW Vikings rookie Cordarrelle Patterson return the opening kickoff an NFL-record 109 yards for a TD.  It’s too bad that Patterson isn’t getting integrated into the offense more (think Tavon Austin in St. Louis, but less so), but he’s sure looked great on special teams so far.

TRIVIA BOMB:

The two longest plays in league history (109 yards) have both happened in the Metrodome: Then-Charger Antonio Cromartie’s 2007 return of a missed field goal and Patterson’s return.

MNF- Seattle (7-1) wins @ St. Louis (3-5), 14-9

I SAW the Seahawks earn an ugly win.

In fact, how did Seattle win this game?

Seahawks vs. Rams On Sunday

Seahawks Rams
Plays 40 71
First Downs 7 23
Yards 135 339
Time Of Possession 21:51 38:09

(ESPN Stats & Information)

It’s been since 2010 (Miami) that a team has won a game with 135 total yards or less and 7 or fewer first downs.  Seattle finished the first half with its lowest yardage output in a first half (37) since 1998.  (STATS LLC)  Worse: They had -1 total yards in the first quarter.

Often, stats like this would be a candidate for our Upside-Down Award, Thief In The Night.  To be sure, it’s not like Seattle controlled the game.  But the Rams defense isn’t to be underestimated and the ’Hawks came out lame, perhaps due to the weird atmosphere in St. Louis, where a B-Team home crowd came out thanks to Game 5 of an awesome World Series being played in town at the same time.  (Actually, Thief In The Night was awarded to Matthew Stafford and the Lions.  See Detroit wins vs. Dallas, 31-30.)

At the end of the day, Seattle continued its best start in franchise history en route to being the first NFC team with 7 wins this season.  For me, this victory doesn’t dent the Seahawks’ reputation as arguably the best team in the NFL.  But one thing does concern me: How does RB Marshawn Lynch only get 8 rushes in a close bruising game like this one?  Hopefully the play calling isn’t getting too complacent with their quarterback’s success against adversity….

I SAW Seahawks QB Russell Wilson continue to win despite blasé stats.  Russell seems to be a really good player that will be good for a while, but he’s under a lot of duress lately.  According to ESPN Stats & Information, Wilson’s career-high 7 sacks against the Rams on Sunday is almost par for the course in 2013 – he’s been pressured on 38.5 percent of his dropbacks this season, most in the NFL.  That’s the main thing that separates this team from their division rival, the Niners.  San Fran has a great bruising O-line.  Seattle doesn’t.

I SAW the Rams prove themselves a solid team.  It’s just so sad that they lost QB Sam Bradford for the season, because despite several hiccups this season they continue to prove that they can hang with the best.

I SAW that the Seahawks have allowed an NFL-best 31.6 completion percentage in the red zone this season.  (ESPN Stats & Information)  Now that’s some lockdown defense.

STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK FOR WHAT I SAW, WEEK 9 – HERE AT TFQ. 

IN THE MEANTIME, FOLLOW US ON FACEBOOK AND @TFQuarter

  

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What I Saw, Week 7 – 2013

Blair Miller > WHAT I SAW – WEEK 7, 2013

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.)

Follow us on Facebook and @TFQuarter

Away from the game(s)

I SAW some interesting scores this week.  But first let’s pause to mourn the loss of two colossal figures in NFL history, especially in Texas.

RIP Titans owner Bud Adams, who owned the team for 54 seasons.  Adams is an under-recognized icon.  He co-founded the AFL, and moved the (then) Houston Oilers to Tennessee.  He was also comfortable going against the grain in terms of race by championing black starting quarterbacks when it was taboo, especially Hall Of Famer Warren Moon, but also Steve McNair and Houston native Vince Young (whom Adams reportedly wanted to draft but his front office opted instead for Mario Williams).  Along with late Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt, Adams made the AFL the league it became and helped merge it with the NFL.  In short, the present status of the NFL in the sporting world is due in large part to Adam’s role in its history.

This week is doubly mournful for fans of the Texans franchise this week, as they lost another icon just days earlier….

I SAW the death of a Bum.  Iconic head coach (and father of Texans defensive coordinator Wade) Andrew “Bum” Phillips died last week.

Known primarily as a players’ coach, the affable and stereotypical ’ol southern coach (Bum used to wear a ten-gallon cowboy hat for road games) made Buddy Ryan look like a city boy.  As part of a cadre of unique coaching personalities, he was part of the ascendance of the AFL teams within the NFL and could have perhaps made the Super Bowl once or twice if not for the Steel Curtain era in Pittsburgh.  (Bum’s Oilers lost to the Steelers twice in the AFC Championship.)

Sad times in Texas and Tennessee.

Now back to the weekend action on the field.

I SAW the NFL continue its crazy ways.  Let’s try to take a peek into the landscape of the months to come – feeble as it might be.

A reliable way to get one’s self considered as batshit crazy would have been to predict that going into Week 8 of the NFL season the Chiefs would be the lone unbeaten team.  To a lesser (and opposite) extent, the same could be said about the Giants, who took until Monday night to notch their first win of 2013.  Crazy thing is, Kansas City looks legitimately legit and New York still managed to look horrible in their win over the Vikings.  That’s life every year at the extremes in the NFL – there are always a few eye-poppers.

Despite going 3-1 this week (Dallas and Philly played one another) the NFC East still looks like the cesspool of the league thanks largely to porous defenses.  The softness in stature of the strongest division in recent history had been in the works for the last few years.  Even less expected: Every team in the AFC East has a record of .500 or better.  Who would have predicted that?

In fact, New England’s relative vulnerability might broaden the playoff picture in the AFC.  At this point – and I can’t believe I’m typing this – Denver and Kansas City could be the two best teams in the conference, making up one of those intense scenarios where the division champ secures one of the top two seeds and a bye week, while the second place team ends up as a Wild Card playing on the road in the first round of the playoffs.  Also, I foresee a dogfight for the conference’s second bye week between New England, Indianapolis and Cincinnati.  All three teams are very good, but have a more glaring mix of strengths and weaknesses than the two AFC West teams right now.

Meanwhile, the NFC looks to be ruled by the West as well.  Seattle stands a cut above at the moment, but would anyone be surprised if division foe San Francisco made a run at them before season’s end?  The Saints seem poised to run away with the South, in large part due to a spate of injuries in Atlanta.  They look like the best bet for the second seed in the conference right now.  (Imagine, for a moment, arguably the two teams in the NFL with the biggest home field advantages – the Rainy City and ’Nawlins – hosting postseason games until they played each other….)  That’s because of the slop that is the East division, and Detroit, Green Bay and Chicago are strong, but they’re going to beat each other up before the season is said and done.

All this speculation is just that – guesswork.  The league is a fun, wide-open party right now.  Unless we’re discussing injury reports….

I SAW a dark day come Monday morning, when the official reports on player injuries started pouring in.

On Monday Night Countdown, ESPN’s Chris Berman tossed out an old Marv Levy quote about roster depth and injuries: “Depth is great until you have to use it.”

A number of NFL teams are feeling that lurch after a Sunday full of serious injuries to key players.  Actually, I can’t remember a single day that saw more players go down that were in the top 5 players or so on their team in terms of importance.  Some of the teams won’t feel as hampered by dipping into their roster as others because they have said depth.  For example, the Bengals have at least 4 capable cornerbacks so the loss of Leon Hall isn’t as crippling as, say, Sam Bradford going down for St. Louis.  But all of these players are so good and play such huge leadership roles on their teams that even top-notch backups won’t ease the loss on the field or in the locker room.

Jay Cutler, QB and Lance Briggs, LB, Chicago – There’s a more detailed take on the crippling day for the Bears in the Washington wins vs. Chicago, 45-41 section.  (CB Charles Tillman also left the game.)  Let’s just say that the roster in the Windy City got winded harder than any other in Week 6.

Brian Cushing, LB and Arian Foster, RB, Houston – I say more about the tragic loss of Cushing below (see: Kansas City wins vs. Houston, 17-16).  Foster’s hamstring injury isn’t necessarily a shocker, given that he missed the preseason with a bad hammy and as such came into the regular season behind schedule in terms of playing shape.  Like Chicago, the Texans lose arguably their two biggest leadership figures on both sides of the ball.

Reggie Wayne, WR, Indianapolis – I’m not even a Colts fan, but this one hurts the most. Indy is on the cusp of something big, but at this point in their development they need as much out of their roster as they can get to pull it off.  Losing Wayne doesn’t just equate to losing the most talented offensive player on the team.  Wayne is arguably the most grounding leadership presence post-Peyton Manning apart from head coach Chuck Pagano.  Now Chuckstrong has to be Waynestrong, while hoping the QB Andrew Luck doesn’t get pushed up against the ropes too much without a consistently open target downfield in the passing game.

Sam Bradford, QB, St. Louis – I go off below, chastising the Bears for having Josh McCown as the best Plan B if the franchise cornerstone goes down.  St. Louis has Kellen Clemons.  Barf.  One could argue that the Rams should have had a better option, given that Bradford isn’t exactly an Ironman.  But GM Les Snead and head coach Jeff Fisher’s rebuilding plan has the team so stocked with youth that maybe they lost sight of the vulnerability at QB during the offseason.

Leon Hall, CB, Cincinnati – When healthy the seventh-year pro has been one of the most underrated corners in the league.  The frenetic attack of the Bengals D under Mike Zimmer relies on tight one-on-one coverage that Hall has been anchoring so far this season.  Dre Kirkpatrick or Adam Jones are more than capable second stringers, but that’s exactly what they are – backups.  You can bet other teams will test whoever steps in for Hall.

Jermichael Finley, TE, Green Bay – Finley’s not the leader or main cog like the players above, but the Packers are so thin in the receiver department right now that his loss is significant.  Plus, the hit on him was one of the more violent ones to date this season and raises concern for the mercurial tight end – who was taken off the field in a stretcher Sunday after already suffering a concussion mere weeks ago.

I SAW the pressure cooker of the baseball playoffs reach a boil heading into the World Series.  A few thoughts on the MLB postseason:

The Cardinals seem almost unbeatable in clutch games.  Boston’s going to need another outburst like Shane Victorino’s grand slam against Detroit if they are going to gain momentum.

To me, that Jose Iglesias grab that everyone is calling a huge clutch catch in Game 5 of the ALCS was a Kenobi swipe.  (Similar to a gratuitous Obi Wan spin from the original Episode IV fight against Vader.)  I won’t call it a TV catch, meaning that it was done for the camera, but Iglesias’ body language had more flare than the difficulty of the catch required.

I was watching Tigers 3B Miguel Cabrera play through pain and fall short in another chance at a title, and I realized in the statistical orgy that is baseball that winning championships may not hold as much weight in a player’s overall body of work than it does in other sports.  Have you EVER heard someone talk about Ted Williams and say, “yeah, but he didn’t win a championship” like others do about all-time greats in the NFL and NBA like Dan Marino or Karl Malone?  Hell, LeBron James was fighting against that criticism before he’d played ten years as a pro, but Greg Maddux was widely considered the best right-handed handed pitcher since Bob Gibson before he won a World Series in his ninth season in the big leagues – and had he not won any titles at all it’s hard to imagine it affecting his legacy.    I’m not sure what that means, but just thought I’d mention it.

I SAW, call it a cheap shot, but I chuckle every time NFL Network analyst (and 3-time Super Bowl-winning star with the Patriots) Willie McGinest laughs audibly when his colleague, former role player and FB Heath Evans, is introduced as a Super Bowl winner at the start of the show.  As is the loving way in the sport of football, know your place, boy.

Byes: New Orleans, Oakland

TNF- Seattle (6-1) wins @ Arizona (3-4), 34-22

I SAW a great celebrity summation of this game, courtesy Cardinals QB Carson Palmer, who said, “We knew we needed to be great, and we were not great today.”

No shit, Sherlock.

I SAW the Seahawks continue their dominance, now off to a franchise-best 6-1 start.  Seven sacks of Cardinals QB Carson Palmer and two turnovers that were converted into touchdowns certainly helped.

I SAW the Cardinals solidify themselves as the anti-Rams.

Over the last few seasons St. Louis, Arizona’s counterpart in the division, has been a bugaboo for the Seahawks and especially the Niners.  But Arizona has been fodder for the three teams, having now lost eight straight division games.  Anyone will tell you: You’ve got to win within your own division.

I SAW Seahawks QB Russell Wilson have a big night in the stadium he started his pro career in.

No joke – since Wilson himself is down for the nickname Danger Russ Wilson (his Twitter tag is @DangeRussWilson), I keep wanting to yell DAAYYNGER!  Watch yourself!”  Even though Mystical and his bastardizing of a Pharcyde sample makes me want to puke.

DAAYYNGER!  Wilson is for real. He’s already up in the top group of quarterbacks when it comes to discipline with footwork – and that is generally what makes an elite QB in my eyes.  He’s so grounded, so healthily monotonous.  Everything smells of “let’s just keep working hard, 24/7/365.”

…I hate to say it, but given the Seahawks history in this department, did anyone else think Wilson was on Adderall during the NFL Network postgame interview?  Some bloodshot eyes, frenetic face…. I digress.

I SAW two pro quarterbacks passing each other in their careers, in opposite directions.  Awkwaaard.

When it comes to downfield passing, Seattle’s Russell Wilson and Arizona’s Carson Palmer are like night and day so far this year.

Russell Wilson Vs. Carson Palmer – Throws 15+ Yards Downfield, Thursday Night

Wilson Palmer
Comp-Att 5-7 2-7
Yards 111 36
TD-INT 2-0 0-1

(ESPN Stats & Information)

In fact, despite the presence of Cousin Larry Fitzgerald, asking Palmer to go deep this season has been ridiculous.  A league-leading 8 interceptions on passes 15 yards or longer downfield makes drawing up the deep ball about as good an idea as Larry and Jennifer making out in Perfect Strangers without Balki interrupting somehow.

I can’t help but notice that Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians isn’t saying much about his QB lately…. Maybe that’s because Carson Palmer has thrown 13 interceptions so far this season – second only to Eli Manning’s steaming log of 15.  This team is officially so bad on offense that feeding Cousin Larry Fitzgerald the pigskin instead of sheep from Mepos is no longer cutting it.  I say that because ’Zona threw its 6th pick this year with Fitzgerald as the target.  That’s tied with Rueben Randle of the Giants for the most interceptions per target this season.  (ESPN Stats & Information)  Giants QB Eli Manning is spreading around interceptions to receivers like Selena Gomez spreads Nutella, but that shouldn’t obscure the fact that the ball is going to Fitzgerald – and everyone who is or isn’t covered in Nutella knows it.  Ask Serena.

Passing deep in Arizona?

balki-moisturepimp-dot-com

I SAW Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch start off relatively quiet and then in the second half look like a man among boys, in particular on a running TD that was (correctly) reversed prior to TE Kellen Davis’s touchdown catch that made it 23-13 Seattle.  Lynch appeared to casually dip his shoulder into LB Darnell Dockett but there was nothing casual about it.  Dockett went flying, his helmet flying even farther after being popped off by Lynch.  Dockett is not a soft player, either.

I SAW the Cardinals reprise their status from last season as the worst blocking team in the NFL.  According to ESPN Stats & Information, ’Zona QB Carson Palmer was put under duress or sacked on 27 of his dropbacks against Seattle – tied for most in a game in the NFL season.  Does Palmer handle this pressure well, like, say, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers?  Well, when under duress this season Palmer is 25-of-55 with no TDs and 4 INTs.  So, I’d say no.  That helps set up a shameful QB recognition….

I SAW Cardinals QB Carson Palmer’s game be so balls on Sunday that he got all testacle-y.

TRIVIA BOMB:

Palmer now has 5 straight games with multiple interceptions.  According to Elias Sports Bureau, he’s the first person to do so since Vinny Testaverde in 2000.

Cincinnati (5-2) wins @ Detroit (4-3), 27-24

I SAW a fitting end to a fun game:

The Nuge (Bengals K Mike Nugent) kick the winning FG in Detroit, in a cat scratch fever of a game.  And the mascot matchup was cat on cat.  Love it.

I SAW that for all the improvements the teams made this season compared to 2012, the same issues dog the Lions in their losses: Lack of takeaways and a consistent running game.  Detroit has forced just one turnover in their three losses, and has failed to rush for 100 yards in any of those games.

I SAW a display of what could arguably be the two top receivers for the next several seasons, in Detroit’s Calvin Johnson and Cincy’s A.J. Green.  Both guys had 155 receiving yards, and they combined for three TDs.  Megatron is the unquestionable boss at wideout, but there are times like Sunday when he forces a defender into a benching (CB Chris Houston) that Green reminds you of the dominant physical skills he possesses.  If the Bengals can learn how to sustain success – and get a QB that can deliver the ball more accurately – he’s going to be a beast.

I SAW the Bengals win in large part because they decided to try and take strikes downfield on offense.  WR A.J. Green came into the game with the NFL’s second-most targets at least 20 yards downfield (14, according to ESPN Stats & Information) and on Sunday he caught 2 of 4 targets in those situations.

This is a complicated spot for the Bengals to be in in terms of offensive philosophy.  Dalton has yet to evolve into a scoring weapon for Cincy – even several big completions on Sunday were underthrown to open receivers, let alone the incompletions – but as his team’s prospects continue to improve on the strength of a stalwart defense it’s getting harder to deny that it needs more big scoring plays in order to win when it really counts.  With no home run hitter at tailback and one at wideout (Green), the burden to produce falls on Dalton.  Maybe he’ll be able to perform to results closer to his career-high 135.9 passer rating in this game, maybe not.  But on Sunday it seemed apparent that offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is at least willing to find out by dialing long distance.

It’s yet another sign of how much so the NFL is skewing towards passing that a top defensive team (Cincy is in the top 3 right now this season, in my opinion, behind Seattle and Kansas City) with strong special teams and a reliable running game has to start trying to take the lid off of their offense in order to stay competitive.

I SAW Bengals CB Leon Hall go down with an Achilles injury.  Hall’s absence is a huge blow to a great defense.  He’s the type of unsung man-to-man corner that enables a strong pass rush like Cincy’s.

I SAW Lion Matthew Stafford be the first quarterback to throw for 300 yards in a game against the Bengals in 20 straight games – mind you, half of those are credit to Megatron….

I SAW PROPS to Lions WR Calvin Johnson, whose 9 catches for 155 yards allowed him to pass Herman Moore for the franchise lead in 100-yard receiving games, with 35…out of 98 played.  Jesus, Megatron – that’s a rate of a 100-yard game every 2.8 games played.  That Hail Mary jump ball that he caught late in the second half among 3 defenders – with a fourth in the vicinity – was a joke.

Washington (2-4) wins vs. Chicago (4-3), 45-41

I SAW an exciting double 40-burger, during which the Bears scored the most points in one loss in franchise history.  (ESPN Stats & Information)

There was another double, worth of a TRIVIA BOMB:

This game marked just the fourth time in NLF history that opposing teams each had one player score three TDs on the ground.  (Elias Sports Bureau)

Games With 3 Rushing TDs By Opponents – NFL History

Year Winning Player Losing Player
2013 Roy Helu Jr. Matt Forte
2008 Brandon Jacobs DeAngelo Williams*
2003 Onterrio Smith Priest Holmes
2000 Warrick Dunn Marshall Faulk

*- 4 Rushing TDs

Unfortunately the game isn’t the only thing that the Bears lost….

I SAW Bears QB Jay Cutler leave the game with a serious groin injury.  In other words, Nutler busted a nut that could keep him out at least a month.  Perennial disappointment Josh McCown stepped in and played well against one of the shittier pass defenses in the NFL.

It boggles my mind that a team of Chicago’s status can allow McCown to be the next option if their starter gets hurt – which he did.  McCown played admirably given the circumstances, but come on.  Reports have Cutler out at least a month with a torn groin.  I’m no scientist like Batman, but if Cutler’s groin is torn enough, a month seems very optimistic.  The Bears have signed Jordan Palmer, who was a QB for the team during training camp.  It was just the start of horrible news in the windy city (see below).

Nutler’s injury comes at an awful time for him.  This is the last year of the QB’s contract and coming into September there were whispers that he could command a deal in the $100 million range if he elevated the Bears to the next level.  But now Cutler is going to miss an open-ended amount of time after putting forth a very small sample set under new head coach Marc Trestman.  Neither Trestman nor GM Phil Emery brought Cutler to Chicago so they may not be too inclined to give him a huge payday unless he can return to the field and guide the team to some success in the playoffs.

That being said, the Redskins defense showed its true colours Sunday as arguably the worst pass defense in the NFL this season by allowing McCown to pass for a 119.6 passer rating in relief of Cutler.  It would be foolish to expect those numbers from the backup quarterback again in the weeks to come.  At least Tresman’s offensive scheme so far this season has been to simplify the reads/decisions in the pocket for Cutler, so McCown won’t have a lot of complexity to adjust to while he takes over.  It gets worse for Chicago, though….

I SAW Bears LB Lance Briggs go down for what is being reported as 4-6 weeks with a broken shoulder.  Chicago’s vaunted D was already playing without several linemen and linebacker D.J. Williams (injured reserve) – and it showed against Washington while Roy Helu Jr. ran all over a run defense that often dominates the line of scrimmage en route to the ’Skins scoring their most points in a game since 2005.  Now Chicago loses their best all-around defender in Briggs, who currently ranks 5th in the NFL with 64 tackles.

Rookie Jon Bostic and Kasheem Greene are going to have to take on a lot more responsibility sooner than the coaching staff would have liked, but that’s life in the NFL.  Oh – and star CB Charles “Peanut” Tillman left with a knee injury too.  Jinkies!

Overall, the Bears were the team hit hardest by injuries over the weekend.  They busted two nuts and a Lance – sounds like a bad cyclist cancer joke.

I SAW Redskins rookie TE Jordan Reed have what could be a breakout performance and a big boost to his team’s overall production on offense.  The former Florida Gator caught all nine of his targets for 134 yards and a TD.  His 17 receptions this season are tied for second-most on the team.

Tight end is a very important position in the read-option scheme that Washington favors, and Fred Davis has been a bugaboo there because he can’t stay healthy.  Reed’s performance leading into Sunday likely emboldened the front office to make the move they made by placing Davis on the inactive list for the game, and the decision to feature Reed paid big dividends.

QB Robert Griffin III is improving on his sluggish start to the season, but has yet to return to the elite form he displayed during his rookie year.  (Case in point: his sixth interception of the season Sunday is already more than his total of 5 last season.)

The best sign of RG3’s ongoing return to full strength was his season-high 84 rushing yards, with a majority of them coming in the read-option.  In fact, the Redskins had a season-high 79 yards on option plays and Griffin had 70 of those – a marked improvement from the first five games of 2013.

Robert Griffin III on Read-Option Plays – This Season

First 5 Games Week 7 vs. Redskins
Rushes 8 8
Yards Rushing 41 70
Yards Per Rush 5.1 8.8
Yards Before Contact 23 69

(ESPN Stats & Information)

Combine what might be a rejuvenated ground game with a playmaking tight end, and it could be good news in D.C. going forward.

I SAW PROPS to Devin Hester who tied Hall Of Famer Deion Sanders for most ever with his 19th career kickoff return for a TD.  Marshall Faulk made a great point on NFL Network’s Game Day Final about how the new kickoff rules have limited Hester’s impact in games, as opposed to his skills diminishing.  Hester’s skills sure didn’t look diminished on Sunday – he ran all over the field to score that TD.

N.Y. Jets (4-3) win vs. New England (5-2), 30-27-OT

I SAW an early candidate for one of TFQ’s Upside-Down Awards at the end of the season:  

Thief In The Night Award

The Patriots saw both a 6-game regular season streak against the Jets and a 12-gamer against the AFC East snapped when New York escaped with a win on an unexpected penalty that set up a winning field goal in overtime.

Former head of officiating Mike Perreria was all over it on Twitter within moments, deeming the call a good one:

The violated rule in question is NFL Rule 9, Section 1, Article 3 (b)(2) and Pats special teamer Chris Jones committed it.  Peter King gives a good take on the incident here.

My take?  It’s a rule, it was broken and there is no controversy.  The flag made possible a winning field goal by Nick Folk – his 16th straight made field goal to start the season.  It’s a surprising lapse by Bell Belichick and his staff.  Not only was a new emphasis on this call communicated to all NFL teams prior to this weekend (at least that’s what the league claimed – and Patriots players denied – via NFL Network on Monday), but pushing a player into the line on a field goal attempt is typical habit for many teams and as such any new rule that draws attention to it should affect one’s coaching strategy.  In other words: New rule, don’t do it.  To lose sight of this and thusly show poor situational coaching is quite un-Belichick-like.

I SAW Patriots QB Tom Brady have his second game without a TD pass in his last three games after the second-longest streak in NFL history of consecutive games with a scoring throw (52).  He also went just 22 of 46 for 228 yards and a pick-6.

I don’t want to say that Brady is having a bad year.  It’s more like he’s having the sorts of season he had pre-2007, when he would just do enough for the team to win regardless of his stats.  Problem: His team lost a game they should have won on Sunday, and he seems more rattled by pressure than usual.

I SAW two eyebrow-raising stats from this game that doesn’t bode well for New England:

The Patriots converted one of their dozen third down attempts.

The Jets ran the ball 52 times, controlling the clock for 46:13 against the Pats.

I SAW Jets rookie QB Geno Smith rebound from an awful pick-6 to Patriots CB Logan Ryan in the first quarter.

What did Smith see out there beyond the hash marks that led him to believe he should throw over there?  He definitely didn’t see Ryan, who took a gimme pick to the house.

I SAW Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski fail to corral a fourth quarter pass with one hand.  What I saw was a drop.  Gronk easily could have put his left hand on the ball as well, but instead tried to pull it down with just the right.  Either it was a lack of discipline at an important time of a close game for Gronk, or a bad decision to let him play if he can’t use his surgically repaired (left) arm on basic plays.

Gronk had 114 yards on eight catches in the game but overall the Gronk-Tom Brady connection looked rusty, connecting just 8 times on what was a career-high 17 targets for the tight end.

I SAW the Patriots defense have its 34th straight game with a takeaway, the longest active streak in the NFL.  (CBS Broadcast)

I SAW Jets WR Jeremy Kerley show some moxie in the clutch.  He caught eight passes, six of which converted first downs on third down plays.

Kansas City (7-0) wins vs. Houston (2-5), 17-16

I SAW myself check myself.  The Chiefs are off to their best start since 2003 and are essentially locked into the playoffs at this point behind a relentless defense and a wisely conservative offense.  Self?  Didn’t think so.

Mind you, Kansas City didn’t look very good offensively on Sunday.  This game was up for grabs, the Chiefs needed a huge goal line stand in the third quarter, and Houston took it to them at times.  But this is the sort of close, physical game that a potential contender needs to win, no matter the deficit.

TRIVIA BOMB:

According to STATS LLC, 31 teams have started 7-0 during the Super Bowl era.  All of them have made the playoffs.  Fifteen of them made it to the Super Bowl, and nine of those won in the big dance.

I SAW the Chiefs start their 18th drive in opponents territory this season after Quintin Demps’ kick return midway through the third quarter.  That’s a big credit to Kansas City’s defense and special teams.

I SAW no balls on the Texans for pulling an early first-quarter Sonya.

Look it up:

Sonya (SAWN-Ya): 1. Warren Sapp’s housekeeper in an NFL Network.  2. Running a draw play on third-and-long.  Originates from when Sapp thinks about what has been occupying his days after retirement and he pictures himself playing Madden Football with Sonya, yelling “you can’t run the draw on third-and-long, Sonya!”

I SAW the first pro start for Texans QB Case Keenum get upstaged by two big injuries.  Well, maybe anything could have upstaged Case Keenum.  But RB Arian Foster left the game early with a hamstring injury that was serious enough to have him back on the sidelines in street clothes by the second quarter.  With its QB position in shambles, the last thing Houston needs is to lose their feature back for an extended time.

I’ve said it before and I’ll likely say it again – the Texans are in a tailspin that might cost both head coach Gary Kubiak and QB Matt Schaub their jobs.  Mired in their first 5-game losing skid since 2005 this team is on stormy seas without a rudder.

The Texans sustained another injury that was arguably more devastating….

I SAW Texans LB Brian Cushing go down again with a left knee injury due to a low block.  Cushing’s season-ending injury injury last year against the Jets is widely recognized as the catalyst for the offseason rule change that tries to crack down on such situations.  Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles’ block was much less egregious than others – even Cushing’s last tragic run-in – but you’ve gotta feel for the Texans backer.  I feel for any athlete who re-injures him or herself in the next season after injuring that same area of the body.  Tough to overcome.

I SAW PROPS to Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles, who rushed for 100+ yards and scored a TD in his first seven games of the season.  That’s the second longest such streak in NFL history, behind O.J. Simpson (9 straight games, in 1975) and ahead of Jim Brown (6 games, 1958).  (Elias Sports Bureau)  That’s pretty good company.

San Francisco (5-2) wins @ Tennessee (3-4), 31-17

I SAW the Niners win their fourth straight after a weak start, starting a long road trip with a victory.  After flying cross-country to Tennessee this weekend, San Fran now jets across the pond to London to face the Jaguars.  Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh has been adept at guiding his team through long road trips before though, and, frankly, focusing against a letdown team like winless Jacksonville is perfect for a travel-distracted team so long as Harbaugh sells it the right way.

I SAW the Niners offense resemble the look of last season on Sunday perhaps more than any other game so far this season.

It’s worth noting that getting back to the past has been in the works for a few weeks in San Francisco.  According to ESPN Stats & Information, the win versus the Titans was the fourth straight game that the Niners have elected to run the ball (not excluding kneel downs) – and the results compared to their slow start have been striking:

Niners on Designed Rushing Plays – 2013

First 3 Games Last 4 Games
% Of Total Plays 35 59%
Rush Yards Per Game 61.0 158.5
Yards Per Rush 3.0 4.5
TD 2 9

Much like the Redskins did against the Bears (see: Washington wins vs. Chicago, 45-41), the Niners also got back to the read-option that had been so devastating last season.  Coming into the game, QB Colin Kaepernick ran the ball nine times for 14 yards all season on read-option plays.  On Sunday he had 5 rushes for 36 yards and a TD.

There are a lot of youngish players on both Washington and San Fran, the read-option is very chemistry/timing oriented, and my bet is that both teams will get more dangerous on the ground as in-season experience grows.

I SAW Titans QB Jake Locker play well in his return from injury.  He put up 326 yards on 25-of-41 passing (60.9%) for 2 TDs, 1 INT (his first of the year) and a 92.1 rating.  A lot of those yards came while playing from behind in the second half while climbing out of a 24-0 hole, but the Niners defense doesn’t give up easy yards.  Locker looked like the game was finally slowing down for him in the pros before he got hurt and it looked like the setback hasn’t taken away from that.

Green Bay (4-2) wins vs. Cleveland (3-4) 31-13

I SAW the Packers win their third straight game to take the lead in a competitive NFC North.

Packers rookie RB Eddie Lacy had another strong day, with 22 carries for 82 yards and a TD.  Yes, that’s just a 3.7 average per carry, but it’s a huge deal for Green Bay to be able to depend on a productive 20+ carries from a running back – something they haven’t had during the Aaron Rodgers era.  As long as he stays healthy, I expect Lacy to carry more of the workload going into cold weather, while the receiving corps is on the mend.

However, some unsung players are stepping up.  WR Jarrett Boykin finished with 8 grabs for 103 yards in his first start.

I SAW the Packers defense regroup in a way that it hasn’t for at least two seasons.  Their opponents have scored just 13 points per game during Green Bay’s 3-game win streak.  (The MMQB)

Pittsburgh (2-4) wins vs. Baltimore (3-4), 19-16

I SAW that you know the season isn’t going your way as defending Super Bowl champs when, trailing 13-9 in the third quarter, you go for an onside kick to try and catch the Steelers off guard and get called for two penalties on the play.  That’s a microcosm of the frustration of Baltimore’s season thus far.

The Ravens head into a bye week having lost three of their last four games, but only by a combined score of eight points.

I SAW the Steelers rookie RB Le’Veon Bell rush for a season-high 93 yards on 19 carries on Sunday – 61 of them coming in the first half as Pittsburgh set the tone.  The team’s 141 yards was the highest rushing total for the team in almost a year.

Bell missed the first month of the season with a bad foot.  He’s a very solid prospect, but I thought that if he had to shoulder much of a load in Pittsburgh in his first year that it would be a bad sign for this team.  Now, things have gotten bad enough in Steeltown that Bell needs to be a bell cow for them.  Early results are promising.

Buffalo (3-4) wins vs. Miami (3-3), 23-21

I SAW the Bills escape with a win on a field goal with 33 seconds left in the game, after blowing a 14-point lead.  It was their first road win in seven tries.  They were seriously on the ropes, but then a Mario Williams sack-fumble gave Buffalo the ball with a manageable distance to cover for a winning field goal.

A sign of resiliency: Buffalo went 9-for-19 on third downs, and QB Thad Lewis managed to steer the team to a W despite getting sacked four times and disrupted far more often than that indicates.

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.) 

That aforementioned sack of Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill serves as a testament to Miami’s season thus far.  In the offseason, Miami let left tackle Jake Long go to St. Louis via free agency, which started a straw-grabbing party ever since to try and protect Tannehill – who, with the lack of an imposing rushing game on his team, largely defines the fortunes of the ’Fins.  The coaching staff came to rest on Tyson Clabo to play right tackle, and he’s been a disaster that has fit in with the rest of the pylons on the O-line .  In all, Tannehill came into the game on pace to set the NFL record for times sacked in a season (STAS LLC) and Miami gave up two more on Sunday to take the total to 26 in 2013.  For those of you scoring at home, that’s shit.

I SAW the Dolphins lose their third straight game after getting off to their best start since 2002.  It’s getting close to having to paste QB Ryan Tannehill onto a milk carton.  (He threw for just 194 yards and two interceptions on Sunday, a 71.2 rating.)

I SAW Dolphins DE Cameron Wake play sparingly after missing the most of the last several games with a knee injury.  Unfortunately for Miami, Wake is more important to this team’s fortunes than it may have seemed.  Their expensive defense is on its heels without a game-changing pass rusher.

Carolina (3-3) wins vs. St. Louis (3-4), 30-15

I SAW Rams QB Sam Bradford go down for the season with a torn ACL on a sideline tackle.  This was one of those weird injury games when the player was just off his game, he and his team were struggling, and then a basic play (running out of bounds) ruined a season.

St. Louis only has $250,000 in salary cap space, which limits their options to replace their franchise QB.  As such, they are riding Kellen Clemons under center.  This feels like the nail in the coffin of the Rams’ season.

I SAW a very scrappy game in Carolina Sunday, with more than one scuffle after the whistle, and some intense response-trash talk from Panthers WR Steve Smith for Rams CB Janoris Jenkins after the game.  I really respect Rams head coach Jeff Fisher, but his players somehow balance a professional image with a very grimy style.  (“Grimy” being that grey area between genuinely dirty and clean.)

I SAW the Panthers win back-to-back games for the first time this season.  They’ve also won three out of their last four by an average of 26 points – and could be gathering steam in a weak division.  You could argue that Carolina has won against lesser teams.  The three such games came in wins against the deficient Giants, Vikings and Rams, and in their lone loss during that span they put up just 6 points against a good Cardinals defense.  But wins and production are the brass tax in an on-any-given-Sunday league, and momentum is a good friend.  So long as they don’t allow the Bucs game this Thursday night to be a trap game on short rest, don’t sleep on the Panthers.

I SAW the Panthers sporting the third-ranked overall defense in the NFL (303.2 YPG).  That might be one of the more surprising statistical developments this season.  They also hadn’t allowed any points in the first quarter until Sunday (as per the FOX Broadcast) – and those came on a safety when RB Mike Tolbert was felled by a busted blocking assignment.

Dallas (4-3) wins @ Philadelphia (3-4), 17-3

I SAW the Eagles lose a franchise-record 9 straight games at home in a game that saw two good offensive teams come out of the gates shitting their pants, with 13 punts in the first half.

I SAW the Cowboys notch their first road win of the season as well as elevate their status to 3-0 within the NFC East for the first time since 2007.  (STATS LLC)

For once it was the defense that stepped up.  After several games of being a punching bag in the passing game, Big D showed some D.  The Eagles were just the fourth team in NFL history to start the season with 6 straight games of at least 400 yards games (STATS LLC), but were held to 278.  More specifically, according to ESPN Stats & Information, Dallas held Eagles QB Nick Foles to 0-for-8 on throws at least 15 yards downfield.  Coming into the game, Foles led the NFL in completion percentage in such situations, with 58.3.  For a pass-weak defense that was missing their best player in DE DeMarcus Ware, who missed the first game of his 9-year career, that’s pretty damn good.  (Just like Falcons WR Roddy White.)

Actually, even more impressive is how Dallas played Sunday with 5 of their 8 defensive linemen from training camp gone with injury.  That’s something for the ’Boys to hang their hat on.  Even better: After Foles left with an injury, rookie Matt Barkley slid into the spot just in time to hand out three interceptions in the fourth quarter.  (Jesus.)  To add to the defensive victory, Dallas held the league-leading rusher LeSean McCoy to 18 rushes on 55 yards (3.1 average).  If coordinator Rob Ryan’s defense rallies for the remainder of the season, it will be this game that it can look back on as the turning point.

I SAW one thing to say on the hit that took Eagles QB Nick Foles out of the game on a rollout play: Get rid of the ball, Napoleon Dynamite.

I SAW Cowboys QB Tony Romo provide the most recent example of the declining value of passing yardage in appraising a quarterback’s value.  On Sunday he made his 100th career start and set the league record for passing yards in a career over that span.

Most Passing Yards Through First 100 Career Starts

Player Passing Yards
Tony Romo 27,485
Kurt Warner 27,441
Dan Marino 27,274
Peyton Manning 26,008

(Elias Sports Bureau)

That’s some solid company.  But my Romophobia forced me to look deeper behind this stat…. So I went stat digging.  How have those same QBs fared in the win column over that same span, especially when it counts most?

Best Winning % Among 4 QBs With Most Passing Yards Through First 100 Starts

Player Win % Playoff Record Over That Span
Dan Marino 62 3-3
Tony Romo 59 1-3
Peyton Manning 57 2-4
Kurt Warner 56 5-2

So the numbers justify my Romophobia to a certain extent.  Though he leads the pack in terms of yardage and regular season winning percentage he has the worst playoff record of the group.

San Diego (4-3) wins @ Jacksonville (0-7), 24-6

I SAW the Chargers win consecutive games for the first time this season.  QB Philip Rivers set the tone by completing his first 14 passes of the game.  Embattled RB Ryan Mathews had his second straight game with 100 yards rushing.   Even against actually competent teams (translation: not the Jaguars), those are two reliable ingredients for success.

I SAW the Jaguars stockpile more bad stats to pile on the steaming log that is their 2013 season thus far.

ANATOMY OF A JOKE:

The Jags are the first team since the 1984 Oilers to lose their first seven games of the season by double digits.  (Courtesy STATS LLC.  The Oilers lost their first 10 games in ’84 by 10 points or more.)

And now a sad, sad TRIVIA BOMB, courtesy of the MMQB’s Peter King.

I’ll let it speak for itself.  Here’s what King wrote:

Jacksonville has played three home games this year and not scored a touchdown.  The Jags have scored 2, 3 and 6 points in their three home games: a safety, a field goal and two field goals … and lost by 26, 34 and 18.  The Jags do not play in Jacksonville again until Nov. 17, against Arizona. In the next three weeks, they’re in London (against San Francisco, in a surrendered “home” game), on the bye, and at Tennessee.  When is the last time an NFL team hadn’t scored a touchdown in its home stadium by the middle of November? In 1977, when Tampa Bay failed to score a TD at home until Dec. 18, in the final game of the season.”

Elias Sports Bureau has more to add to that shit pile:

Jacksonville has scored a pathetic 11 total points through their first three home games.  That’s the fourth-lowest total since the 1970 merger.

Least Points Scored Through First 3 Home Games Of A Season – Since Merger

Team Year Points Scored
Buccaneers 1997 3
Eagles 1971 10
Chargers 1975 10
Jaguars 2013 11
Giants 1976 14

I SAW Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew run nine times for just 37 yards and decline to talk with the media afterward.  I’d say that speaks for itself.  Pray for MoJo.

pray_for_mojo

(FOX Network)

Atlanta (2-4) wins vs. Tampa Bay (0-7), 31-23

I SAW the Falcons snap a three-game losing streak that is almost certainly too little too late for their playoff hopes – even if the roster wasn’t injury-riddled, which it is.

I SAW Falcons WR Harry Douglas step into the role of primary target and go off to the tune of 7 receptions for a career-high 149 yards and a touchdown.  It was the biggest day of Douglas’ career, who starred in relief of injured teammates Julio Jones and Roddy White, but the performance is also a testament to Atlanta QB Matt Ryan and the offensive system the team runs.  (White missed a game for the first time in his 9-year career.)

I SAW Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan work from the sidelines during the game Sunday.  Since he took the job in Atlanta, Nolan had coached games from the press box.  That’s not exactly a reassuring sign for Falcons fans; the change smacks slightly of desperation.

I SAW Falcons RB Steven Jackson miss another game with lingering leg problems, further cementing his status as most disappointing free agent acquisition in the NFL this season.

I SAW that Buccaneers rookie QB Mike Glennon is not the answer at the position for Tampa Bay unless he can make some sort of a jump in terms of slowing the game down.  Glennon’s body language appears poised, but his timing is very off, in the sense that is likely due to taking too long with reads and/or progressions.  There were a few times he should have connected with teammates but he wasn’t able to make it happen.

I SAW PROPS to Bucs WR Vincent Jackson for a slick one-handed grab.

SNF- Indianapolis (5-2) wins vs. Denver (6-1), 39-33

I SAW a soft-milestone game for Colts QB Andrew Luck in a showdown with Peyton Manning during the latter’s overpublicized return to the town that he set records in.

Denver ran into a team that no one should want to play.  You can rest assured that the better teams in the NFL don’t want to face Indy because even if they might play down to the competition, the Colts certainly play up as well.  Indy has beaten three of the more respectable teams in the league in San Fran, Seattle and Denver.  ESPN Stats & Information put together the numbers to support the theory that the Colts were a nightmare for that elite trio of clubs:

Broncos, Seahawks and Niners Against the Colts & Rest Of The NFL – 2013

Vs. Colts Vs. All Other NFL Teams
W-L 0-3 17-1
PPG Differential -10.7 +10.7
Turnover Margin -4 +13

Say what you will about their inconsistent play – and I have – but Indy has yet to lose to a top team – and they haven’t lost consecutive games under Luck since opening day last season.

Luck might not seem like the appropriate focus of this game – especially with the return of Peyton Manning to the stadium he built in Indy – but that’s all the more befitting of the nature of calling Luck Mr. It Factor.

He definitely has It.  But Luck’s really not much of an attention-garnering player apart from the win-loss record and clutch plays…it’s clear Luck is the shit, and that it will last, but if you say “who’s the best QB at x”, the answer will seldom be Luck – unless the category is winning….  That sounds a bit like an early Tom Brady, actually.

I SAW Broncos QB Peyton Manning look mortal in yet another important game.

On NFL Network’s Game Day, Marshall Faulk and LaDainian Tomlinson rightfully pointed out how Manning’s throws lost velocity after a violent second quarter sack-fumble-safety by Colts DE Robert Mathis on the blind side.  The throws didn’t just lose velocity; they lost touch as well in the sense that they got wobbly and hung in the air more than they should have, which could be an indication that Manning wasn’t driving his weight into those throws due to a concern over contact.   The issue came up during Manning’s postgame press conference and let’s just say the stubborn competitor was not willing to admit that Mathis’ hit was or wasn’t a significant issue for his performance thereafter.

Either way, one thing is for sure: The Colts got after Manning.  They sacked or pressured the QB more in one game (32.1 percent of his 53 dropbacks) than he’d been since 2009.  Take a look at the difference between Denver’s undefeated start and Sunday night in terms of pass protection against the blitz:

Peyton Manning Vs. 5 Or More Pass Rushers – 2013

First 6 Games Week 7 Vs. Colts
Comp % 75.0* 25.0
Yards Per Attempt 10.2* 1.9
TD-INT 9-0* 0-1

*- Best among 37 qualified quarterbacks

(ESPN Stats & Information)

On a more general note, Manning’s history of coming up short in big games needs to be more recognized.

I SAW an (over) simplistic way to describe how the Colts handed the Broncos their first loss: They abused the dropback-heavy Jack Del Rio defense of Denver by running a lot of routes out into the flats and to shallow middle.  CB Champ Bailey is old and an easy take for a quick wideout, the safeties have a better nose for the run than the pass, and Denver’s defensive line isn’t tall enough to obstruct a quarterback’s throwing lanes to the areas out on the edge.

I SAW the Colts defensive backs play a statement game – in primarily man-to-man coverage against Peyton Manning, to boot.  Indy DBs Darius Butler and Vontae Davis did a great job of shadowing Broncos Wes Welker and Demaryuis Thomas, respectively.  (According to Peter King, Davis held Thomas to 2 receptions for 4 yards.)  DE Robert Mathis played like a man possessed, and now leads the NFL with 11.5 sacks.  Very much under the radar, second-year LB Jerrell Freeman is starting to really play well, showing range.

Coming into the game, the Colts were a tough team to figure out.  They’d won big games, especially against the Niners, but some other performances left many doubts.  This win certainly doesn’t erase any concerns – an offense that sort of lacks an identity, despite the invaluable leadership presence of QB Andrew Luck that now they must go the rest of the way without WR Reggie Wayne, a defense that could use more speed, young receivers that need more polish – but it equates to a big blow landed among the Top 5 teams in the AFC.

I SAW a huge injury when Colts WR Reggie Wayne tore his ACL trying to readjust his route to catch an underthrown ball by QB Andrew Luck.

The tone of interviews with Luck and head coach Chuck Pagano make the significance of losing Wayne obvious.  He is not only the most accomplished player on the team, but he had really stepped into a leadership role since Peyton Manning had neck surgery following the 2011 season.  Receivers T.Y. Hilton and Darrius Heyward-Bey have been disappointing so far this season in competing for the successor to Wayne, so the injury represents a big challenge for Luck going forward – not just in games, but in the locker room and practices.

I SAW Wes Welker come through in the clutch.

He even caught a pass over his off-shoulder to set up first and goal on the play prior to a killer fumble by Ronnie Hillman late in the game.  I’ve mentioned before that Welker has some holes in his catching technique, in the sense that a baseball hitter can have a hole in their swing, and that throw was right in one of them.  Given how many balls I’ve seen Welker fail to come up with in those situations I’d chalk it up to chance, but it was part of a big fourth quarter for the receiver.  Manning was typically off his game in a big matchup, and Welker had to make a few tough contorted catches as a result.

I SAW that I’ll say this about the significant Kevin Vickerson roughing the passer penalty on Colts QB Andrew Luck in the Colts’ end zone: The weak chest-bump shouldn’t be a violation.  But the players know they shouldn’t really touch a QB after he throws the ball, and Vickerson could have avoided the amount of contact he had with Luck, so it’s on the defender on this one.

MNF- N. Y. Giants (1-6) win vs. Minnesota (1-5), 23-7

I SAW myself smell this matchup all the way from last Wednesday.  You know you have a great game between two titans when ESPN play-by-play man Mike Tirico laments, “Well, at least it’s been a close game” early in the third quarter.

I SAW new Vikings QB Josh Freeman put up a dud in his first game after being signed by the Vikings two weeks ago.  Freeman let too many balls sail on him all night, and even underthrew a few for good measure.  ESPN Stats & Information told the tale: Freeman overthrew his target on a staggering 16 of his attempts on Sunday – the most by any QB in a game since the start of the 2006 season.  That’s Rick Ankiel-bad, and no way to spend $3 million (what Minny paid to sign Freeman after he was released by Tampa Bay).

I SAW that ESPN must have paid into use of the term Double A Gap Blitz, what with the extent to which analyst Jon Gruden milked the play on Monday night.  Gruden is really starting to wear thin as an analyst.  ESPN’s showy production doesn’t help.

I SAW the most hilarious sack I’ve ever seen, when Vikings DE Jared Allen was blocked out, but he reached around his opponent and grabbed QB Peyton Manning’s jersey from behind, holding him there until help came.  The best part was Manning’s facial expression, the “who the hell has me?” look.  The Rhinestone Cowboy got all Spinal Tap and made Eli Smell The Glove.

Spinal Tap Album Cover

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What I Saw, Week 6 – 2013

Blair Miller > WHAT I SAW – WEEK 6, 2013

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 another exciting week of NFL football.  It’s hard to believe that the season is more than one third over already, but there’s that thing about when time flies, right?

Well, time has flown right into the point in the season where the league picture starts to become clearer, at least in the sense that there is a shitstorm of teams clogged up in the middle whose fortunes remain unclear and a set of teams on the extremes which – barring a historical collapse or rally – you can basically pencil in or out of the playoffs.  A snapshot of the extremes, which lost a team at each end, when the Steelers got off the schnied and the Saints stumbled in New England:

Undefeated Teams

Denver: Spread, schmed.  No, the Broncos didn’t cover a record-high 27-point spread against the Jags.  Yes, they still look like the best offense in the NFL by a long shot.

Kansas City: Arrowhead is bouncing again.  According to the Guinness Book Of World Records, the crowd reached a decibel level of 137.5, eclipsing the previous mark held by Seattle last year, at 136.6.

Winless Teams

New York Giants: 0-6 for the first time since 1976.  If Tom Coughlin wasn’t so respected and owed so much by the franchise, he’d get shown the door in midseason.  Instead, I envision an Eagles-Andy Reid sort of amicable parting of ways.  Only this time the head coach will likely retire instead of leading a rebuilding movement in another city, like Reid has.

Tampa Bay: If this team gave us outsiders any indication of its collective mindset maybe we’d get a better sense of how stale things have gotten there under head coach Greg Schiano.  The second year skipper is well connected in the pros, which might help extend his tenure.  But I hear a clock ticking.

Jacksonville: No previous shitty Jags team has started out with a record as bad as the 2013 edition.  Think about that.

I SAW another piece of evidence for the offensive explosion in recent years – albeit the teams involved have experienced markedly different results.  One has a shitty defense, the other does not.  Period.  At any rate, Denver and Philadelphia join a small group of 4 that includes themselves, the 16-0 regular season Patriots and the 1983 Chargers as the only teams in NFL history to gain at least 400 yards in each of their first 6 games of the season.  (ESPN Stats & Information)

I SAW that if there were still somehow doubters within the baseball world that we are in the Age Of The Pitcher, I present to them this year’s playoffs.  The MLB postseason looks more like a set of World Cup scores, with four games ending with a 1-0 score, seven shutouts and 6 more games that saw the losing team muster just one run.  Most of the remaining games have been nail biters too.  I can’t think of another sport that can be so exciting while a team struggles to generate offense as baseball, and this fall is a stellar sample set for that argument.  From opening pitch to closing frame, the anticipation for scoring plays within a sea of K’s and grounders is gleefully palpable.

Byes: Atlanta, Miami

TNF- Chicago (4-2) wins vs. N.Y. Giants (0-6), 27-21

I SAW New York continue its hijinks-laden season.  The G-Men came into Week 6 with 20 giveaways.  They had 21 all of last season.  According to the NFL pregame show Thursday night, those 20 miscues are the most by any team over the first 5 games of a season in 16 years.

The Giants further obliged their opponents Thursday night, thanks to QB Eli Manning’s three interceptions.  That trifecta against the Bears brought Manning’s total this season to 15 – the most picks thrown in a QB’s first six games of the season since Dan Fouts tossed up 16 in 1986.  (ESPN Stats & Information)  The 2-time Super Bowl champion’s struggles this season have prompted a revelation in some circles….

I SAW an NFL Network montage during the pregame show call Giants Eli Manning “one of the most inconsistent QBs in the league.”

Dear Diary, today it finally happened!

Oh, and Thursday’s game leaves few doubters, I’d say.

One of Manning’s most glaring issues this year is making the right decisions when the defense blitzes a defensive back.  According to ESPN Stats & Information Eli managed to throw two interceptions Thursday night out of the mere three times all game that the Bears sent a DB pass rusher.  Manning’s 5 picks so far this season against a blitzing DB are already more than any other quarterback had all of last season.  Those numbers imply that having such a hard time against a blitzing defensive back isn’t commonplace.  The blame should probably be spread around – on Manning for not either taking a sack or throwing the ball away and on the blocking for not picking up blitzes.  Call it what you will.  I call this a team with a toe tag on it already.

Giants Toe Tag

(http://paxarcana.files.wordpress.com)

Can we just write “Giants” on there?

I SAW the Bears snap a 2-game losing streak after starting the season 3-0.  I mentioned above that the Giants came in with a staggering 20 giveaways.  Well, Chicago entered Thursday night’s game with 14 takeaways – one behind the league lead.  In this sense the Bears didn’t capitalize enough against a vulnerable team, but hey – a win is a win.

I SAW PROPS to Bears WR Brandon Marshall, who wore green shoes to raise awareness for mental awareness.  That’s not the PROPS, though it’s worthy.  The PROPS is for Marshall handing out striped green ties to the NFL Network postgame crew, and, in recognizing that Marshall Faulk always wears a matching flower on his lapel, giving the Hall Of Famer a green flower to match his tie.  Not just PROPS; Proper.

I SAW Giants RB Brandon Jacobs jump off of the milk carton and onto the box score with a 106-yard rushing night.  What the what?  Who’s next, Tiki Barber?

New England (5-1) wins vs. New Orleans (5-1), 30-27

I SAW the Saints drop from the ranks of the unbeaten Sunday.  I’m not going to say that New Orleans should be happy with a 5-1 record after the train wreck that was the 2012 season, because even though that’s partly true I also believe that players and coaches are paid to be win-greedy.  But there’s never much shame in losing a close road game to New England.  The only two negatives I saw for the Saints were TE Jimmy Graham’s injury and how the players appeared to be prematurely celebrating a win late in the game.  Oops….

I SAW the Patriots restore a little bit of their clutch reputation with a huge comeback win against New Orleans that came under adversity.

On the matter of said adversity, I’m a bit tired of people sounding like Helen Lovejoy from the Simpsons (Whose tagline is, “Won’t someone please think of the children!!”) “Oh, QB Tom Brady has it so tough with all these unsung young receivers!”  Those same people are likely fond of calling New England a system team, meaning the Pats build a reliable roster and playing style that renders individual players relatively dispensable.  After all, that’s only what head coach Bill Belichick has proven time and time again during his time in Massachusetts, and this season is no different.  Isn’t this team injury-riddled each season, with other players stepping up?  Yes, the offense is missing their starting tailback (Shane Vereen), their monster scorer (tight end Rob Gronkowski), and their Wes Welker replacement has been in and out of the lineup (Danny Amendola, who left Sunday’s game with an apparent concussion) but there’s no shortage of usable parts to plug into those vacancies.  In other words, it’s doubtful that Brady and Belichick have felt sorry for themselves, so let’s not do so ourselves.

That being said, the thrilling win against the unbeaten Saints must have been a breath of fresh air for the Patriots, whose fans were already starting to pour out of Foxborough to change into Red Sox gear and watch their MLB team take on the Tigers in the ALCS.  I’ve been harshly critical of New England’s under-recognized inability to win close and/or big games in recent years. (See last year’s What I Saw Week 6 edition, Seattle wins vs. New England)  On Sunday that didn’t matter, and one of the best quarterbacks of all time notched his 38th win after trailing or being tied in the fourth quarter.  (STATS LLC)  Brady threw a game-winning TD later in the game than he ever had in his career – with 5 seconds left – and rewarded the loyal fans who remained in the stadium.

New England knows it’s a long season and that there are no points awarded in January for feel-good wins before Thanksgiving.  (Belichick is fond of saying that the season doesn’t start until after the US holiday.)  But it’s important for the younger players, who will likely be called upon as the games get more meaningful, to taste these moments.

To support these claims, Thompkins told the Associated Press: “Coach Bill said that it might come down to the final seconds….You had to stick with the system. We just had to go out there and fight to the finish.”

I SAW Saints All-World tight end Jimmy Graham go without a reception for the first time in 46 games.  (STATS LLC)  Graham hurt his foot during the second half, but that wasn’t the big story behind that 0-fer….

I SAW the Patriots defense come up huge against a top-tier New Orleans offense by setting the tone early like it used to during its heyday.  Pats CB Aqib Talib matched up on Saints TE Jimmy Graham all over the field, presenting the star tight end with a size matchup he isn’t accustomed to.  The 6’1”, 205-pound Talib played Graham physically from the start, and held the elite tight end without a catch while guarding him until leaving with a hip injury early in the third quarter.  Talib’s defense was reminiscent of the handsy and bullying coverage that the Pats would exert back during their Super Bowl years – particularly against Marvin Harrison and the Colts in playoff wins.

Peter King of Sports Illustrated, in his MMQB column, was obvious in his praise of Talib but it’s sloppy to explain Graham’s quiet day prior to his injury (foot) by limiting the story to Talib.  After all, the corner missed almost all of the second half.   When Talib went down New England’s defense stood pat and kept their team in the game with big stops of the Saints offense in the waning minutes.

In all, QB Drew Brees and the Saints offense had a surprising 7 three-and-outs, and Brees was held in check.  I took a look back on his career and on Sunday he was held under a 50 percent completion rate for just the 6th time in his whole career, with just one of those having come since 2006.  Brees also failed to throw for 300 yards for almost a calendar year (a 9-game streak).

Unfortunately, the Pats D will have its mettle tested even further….

I SAW Patriots LB Jerod Mayo leave the game with a torn pectoral muscle, which could sideline him for most of the remaining season.  Bad news.  The middle of a defense is a crucial area to hold, and now New England has lost its two best players in that capacity – Mayo and DL Vince Wilfork, who is already lost for the year with an Achilles injury.

I SAW tons of other media sites point this out, but screw it – it’s pretty funny.  Check out local radio guy Scott Zolak’s call after New England’s winning TD.  He’s the guy that refers to unicorns, show ponies and “the beef” (sweet throwback on that last one) during his orgasmic celebration following the score. Hey – this guy’s played in a Super Bowl.  Cut him some slack.  I won’t.   Looking forward to Drugs In The Broadcast Boothgate.  Then I’ll lead the Free Zolak movement.

Green Bay (3-2) wins @ Baltimore (3-3), 19-17

I SAW the Packers show some of the same injury-adversity-moxie they had to call upon during their Super Bowl run to end the 2010 season.  Green Bay had sustained several injuries coming into Sunday, but then lost LB Nick Perry from a decimated linebacker squad and saw wide receivers James Jones and Randall Cobb leave the game with injuries.  The absence of the latter two players left Packers QB Aaron Rodgers with just two wideouts for the better part of the game.  Green Bay gutted out the win – one that could be a character-building milestone, hinting at things to come.  They did it behind some vintage Rodgers big plays, as the QB’s seven completions in the second half totaled 199 yards according to the FOX broadcast.

I SAW the Ravens end a 13-game home winning streak against the NFC while their offense continued to struggle against so-so defensive teams.  This time Baltimore went just 2-of-14 on third downs, averaging 11.2 yards to go on the penultimate down.  (ESPN Stats & Information)  That’s not a winning formula.  Another non-winning formula, according to the same source: Baltimore runners were hit behind the line of scrimmage on 9 of the team’s 21 called rushing plays.  Jesus.

QB Joe Flacco had a good game statistically (342 yards, 2 TDs, 112.6 rating) but even with the return of WR Jacoby Jones from injury he can’t connect with his receivers for big plays.  Torrey Smith had another forgettable game with just 1 catch for 12 yards, which is becoming a huge part of the problem.  I’ve been critical of Baltimore’s dedication to the run game (and I still am) but when you can’t get the ball downfield through the air and you can’t rush with consistency the two deficiencies play off one another and handcuff an offense.  It will be interesting to see if the Ravens offense can find their way out of this demise.

I SAW Packers RB Eddie Lacy have his first 100-yard game as a pro (120 on a 5.2 average) – one week after gaining 99.  Everyone has been saying it for at least a year and a half, because it’s true: If Green Bay can develop a consistent running game they will be very tough to stop.

San Francisco (4-2) wins vs. Arizona (3-3), 32-20

I SAW Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians continue to learn firsthand the long-term issues that have plagued the ’Zona offense for years – since the retirement of QB Kurt Warner, actually.

Coming into this season, Arians was effusive in his praise of free agent acquisition QB Carson Palmer.  From what I’ve seen, the earlier signs of Palmer’s dead-arm syndrome were a false alarm.  His ball still has pop to it.  But this is the same old Cardinals franchise, meaning WR Cousin Larry Fitzgerald and a bunch of subpar Imperfect Strangers.  Palmer just isn’t enough of a game-changer to reverse that trend.

The Cardinals came into the game converting just 9% of their third down-and-long plays.  (FOX Broadcast)  They continued to fail in that department early on, one such play resulting in a safety.  By game’s end Arizona was 5-for-13 on third down overall, which just isn’t going to cut it against an elite Niners defense that loves to play aggressive when knowing they have any room for error.

I SAW that Niners TE Vernon Davis has been rediscovered within the San Fran offense – in a big way.  On Sunday VD burned hard.  He lit up the Cardinals for a career-high 180 receiving yards and became the first tight end to have 60-yard scoring receptions in consecutive games since Bob Trumpy did it for the Bengals for three straight games back in 1969.  (Elias Sports Bureau)

Overall, the San Francisco offense is getting back to its winning identity, with RB Frank Gore toting the rock 25 times for 101 yards behind aggressive blocking from the offensive line and QB Colin Kaepernick doing enough to keep his team in the lead by cranking out his first game in the last five with 200-plus passing yards.  The strength of the Niners offense – and any read-option offense – is balance and strong line play.  It looks like the San Fran coaching staff is getting back to the basics that have made them an A-tier team.

I SAW the Niners defense also returning to its usual ways, forcing 4 turnovers for the second game in a row.  I’ve been particularly impressed with the play of rookie S Eric Reid who not only grabbed his team-leading third interception of the season against the Cardinals, but flies all over the field with a nose for the ball in the same way his predecessor at the position, Dashon Goldson, did.  (Golston signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent last summer.)  Obviously Arizona isn’t the team to challenge San Fran’s recently inept run defense, but one thing at a time.

One piece of bad news for the Niners D on Sunday: DT Glenn Dorsey left the game with a hamstring injury.  Dorsey was already replacing Ian Williams who was lost for the season in Week 2.  One way in which these Niners remind me of the old storied Ravens squad in the early 2000s is how they both relied on stability in the middle of the line to allow the linebackers and safeties to capitalize on their range and playmaking ability.  If the interior of the D line becomes a hindrance for San Francisco it could have bigger consequences than some would expect.

St. Louis (3-3) wins @ Houston (2-4), 38-13

I SAW the Texans cement themselves as the first legitimate snake-bitten team of the season while mired in a 4-game skid.  Embattled QB Matt Schaub came into the game having thrown an interception that was returned for a TD in an NFL-record 4 straight games.  Schaub was responding well in the first half as his team fell to an early lead, but then he went down with an injury.  Determined to carry the torch to help ease his team deeper into the septic tank, backup T.J. Yates came in and served up a 98-yard pick-6.  By game’s end Yates had added another interception and a 45.3 passer rating and the Texans had given the ball away four times in all.

It seems ridiculous to say this – even in today’s wildly unpredictable NFL scenario from year to year – but what was widely considered an elite team during the offseason is now pretty much dead in the water.  And sinking.  Fast.  It didn’t help when the hometown fans stuck their heads up their asses by cheering Schaub’s injury, drawing the ire of Schaub’s teammates, Rams players and just about everyone else.

The offense is killing this team, one that didn’t score a TD against a once-reeling Rams D until the fourth quarter.  And St. Louis was without starting CB Cortland Finnegan as well.  Not good.

I SAW ESPN STATS & Information point out that Texans DE J.J. Watt has played short of expectations this season.  He hasn’t disrupted a dropback in his last two games played.  In fact, the reigning Defensive Player Of The Year has disrupted a pedestrian 5.5 dropbacks all season.  Last season, Watt had 17.5 such plays through his first six games.  (Disrupted dropbacks: sacks, passes defended, batted balls, interceptions.)

I’ve watched a fair amount of Houston’s plays this season, and I can’t agree that Watt isn’t playing as well.  First of all, it’s silly to expect him to match what was arguably the best season ever had by a D-lineman (especially in a 3-4 scheme).  Also, I’ve seen Watt be very disruptive in both the run and the pass in his first 6 games, but the undeniable demise of the Texans passing game and the resulting field position and closer scores have made it harder for the whole defense to get to the quarterback.  A pass rush is often only as good as its team’s lead on the scoreboard.  Watt’s team is proof of that.  In short, he’s still the man, and playing like it.  It’s just not as noticeable on the stat sheet.

I SAW the Rams drop two TRIVIA BOMBs:

St. Louis scored two touchdowns in a 6 second span Sunday (a 2-yard TD pass, followed by a TD on a fumble return during the ensuing kickoff).  The last team to score twice faster was the Panthers against the Cardinals in 2009 when they did so in 5 seconds.  (Elias Sports Bureau)

Alex Ogletree’s 98-yard pick-6 of T.J. Yates (see above) was the longest interception return for the franchise since 1980 when Johnnie Johnson legged one out for 99 yards against Green Bay.  (ESPN Stats & Information)

I SAW that if the Rams can establish rookie Zac Stacy as the starting running back – and he can live up to the responsibility even marginally – it could huge for what has been a woefully one-dimensional offense.  In the last two games the fifth round draft pick has had a total of 32 carries for 157 yards.  That isn’t a whole lot to write home about but considering what the state of the St. Louis backfield was prior to featuring Stacy it’s a godsend.

I SAW need to take the Rams seriously.  I thought this coming into the season, and then they came out flatter than Otto after Ken ran him over with a steamroller in A Fish Called Wanda.  But now the team has reset its perspective, putting the slow start behind them – as evidenced by the “2-and-0, 2-and-0” chants in the locker room after the win, according to the Associated Press.  St. Loo has won two straight after what seems to have been an “it’s a new season” card played by head coach Jeff Fisher.  He is among the best there is in his profession, and you can bet his team is ready to give the opponents on the rest of its schedule a hard time, no matter what the result is in the win column.

Cincinnati (4-2) wins @ Buffalo (2-4), 27-24-OT

I SAW the Bills end a 6-game winning streak against the Bengals at Orchard Park (STATS LLC) by losing another heartbreaker.  Buffalo has now lost its 4 setbacks by 25 total points, but they experienced a pleasant surprise from a player who was on the practice squad a few weeks ago….

I SAW Bills QB Thad Lewis play admirably in relief of injured rookie E.J. Manuel.  The former undrafted Duke Blue Devil has bounced around the league since being signed by the Rams in 2010, and got his second career start Sunday.  Lewis tried to make the most of the opportunity despite facing one of the league’s best defenses in the Bengals, which, by the way, held New England’s Tom Brady to his first TD-less game in 52 tries.  Given that fact, going 19-of-32  (59.4%) for 216 yards, 2 TDs, no INTs, a 100.5 rating – with a rushing TD to boot – is a damn good showing for a guy who wasn’t even practicing with the offense until last week.  He showed unexpected poise by not crumbling under the failure of fumbling the ball away in the third quarter of a close game, rebounding to throw a TD on 4th-and-8 in the fourth quarter while trailing by 14 points, and then tying the game in the final minutes with another.

As is the case in pigskin-cursed Buffalo, Lewis suffered a foot injury but is expected to be able to play next week against the Dolphins.  If he can’t play it’s possible that Matt Flynn of all people – who was just signed on Monday – would be the expected starter.  I haven’t seen the details of Flynn’s new contract with Buffalo, but I’m willing to bet it has a tad fewer zeros in it than that robbery deal he inked with Seattle two years ago.  I feel like Flynn and his agent must’ve carried the cash out of the team offices in sacks with dollar signs on them, cackling all the way….

I SAW Bills QB Thad Lewis receive the sort of praise that really annoys the shit out of me.  Here’s what Buffalo offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said about his interactions with Lewis in preparing him for play after starter E.J. Manuel was injured (via NFL.com):

I was blown away when I first started talking to him.  I started asking him all these questions, and he knew the answers.  I said…’How’d you know all this stuff?’  He said…Well, coach, this is my job.  I’m learning it just like I’m the starter.’

Alright – I understand that to have a guy on the practice roster whom you just signed at the end of August possess a detailed knowledge of the offense while he has to run the opposing team’s scheme against the starting D in practice every week is a good thing.  But it shouldn’t be impressive that a player does his job when he’s paid to.  I suppose this sort of thing happens in all walks of life and it’s a sad sign of a typical work ethic but it’s frustrating to hear praise like the sort Hackett gave Lewis.  I mean, if I was a coach and my guy couldn’t answer those questions, I’d want him released unless he was a physical specimen.

I SAW Bengals QB Andy Dalton respond to recent criticism of his productivity this season while his team’s defense continues to set the tone in games.

For the first 5 games of the season Dalton had been see-sawing between completing at least 70 percent of his passes and then managing just 50 percent or so the following contest.  Worse, he had yet to pass for 300 yards in a game, and had failed to find the end zone in the two games before Sunday’s in Buffalo.  But thanks to improved pass protection and a better showing by the Cincy offense all around, Dalton threw for 337 yards and tied a career high for TD passes on the road, with 3.

At best, Dalton is still a work in progress.  His yardage total against the Bills is just the third highest of his three-year career.  He slumps in the playoffs (mind you, it’s been against the stout D of the Texans both times) and although he doesn’t have the noticeable meltdowns some of his counterparts are prone to, he also seems unable to impose his presence in games as much as a franchise QB should.  It’s too harsh to assess the young quarterback’s presence as a negative for his team at this early stage of his career, but with his defense playing at an elite level and a competent roster around him on offense, Cincinnati’s fortunes depend upon Dalton stepping up his game while his team’s window is open.

Not coincidentally, Dalton wasn’t the only Bengal who stepped out of a slump Sunday….

I SAW Bengals WR A.J. Green have a bounce back game Sunday against the Bills.  Buffalo’s defense came into the weekend ranked 15th in the NFL against the pass, but their (inconsistent) pass rush helps make up for oft-overmatched coverage on the outside.  Green used that as an opportunity to grab 6 balls for 103 yards and a TD after averaging 5.5 catches and 49.75 receiving yards over the 4 previous games.  It wasn’t just due to inferior defensive backs, though.  I thought the Pro Bowl wideout looked much more crisp in and out of his breaks, and didn’t have the same mental lapses he’d been suffering from in recent weeks.  He also reminded us of his talent for aerial end zone receptions with his TD catch.  When Green plays dominant ball, it opens up the offense and makes life much easier for QB Andy Dalton who, frankly, needs that help to play well.

Detroit (4-2) wins @ Cleveland (3-3), 31-17

I SAW the Lions pass a decent gut check, after falling behind 17-7 at the half to a very game Browns team.  Detroit suffered a tough loss last week in Green Bay that threatened to take the team closer to its moribund mindset during last year’s disappointing season than its current rebound feel.  But whatever went on in the locker room at halftime must have worked: The Lions outscored the Browns 24-0 in the second half, largely on the strength of, well, most everybody.  The defense buckled down, 121 total yards by RB Reggie Bush during that span didn’t hurt – nor did QB Matt Stafford’s 15-of-21, 165-yard, 3 touchdown output.  It can be a sign of a contending team to regroup so well after a bad first half.  I thought that head coach Jim Schwartz and his staff might have lost their players during low moments of last season, but it looks like this team continues to be healthier than outsiders perceive it to be.

I SAW the Browns fail to win 4 straight games.  If they had reached that mark it would have been just the second time since 1999.  In this sense, reality showed up in Cleveland on Sunday – in the form of a crazy-dumb “throw” by QB Brandon Weeden.

If you click on the link, you’ll see why I put the term throw in quotation marks.  You might also want a barf bag before you watch the highlight because Weeden tries some sort of backhand-underhand 15 yard flip to no one but Lions defenders that makes Brett Favre’s worst ideas look like genius.  That fourth quarter “pass” is the dumbest “throw” I’ve ever seen in an NFL game.

Weeden hasn’t exactly thrived under pressure.  According to ESPN Stats & Information he entered the week as the NFL QB with the highest percentage of dropbacks sacked or under duress, with 38.  On Sunday he threw 2 interceptions in eight plays under duress.  It’s a mixed bag in terms of the explanation for this.  I see holes in the pass protection, and I see a heavy-footed quarterback who doesn’t get the ball out as fast as I know head coach and offensive guru Rob Chudzinski would like.  Either way, the results are undeniable:

Brandon Weeden With/Without Duress – 2013

Under Duress No Duress
Comp % 30.0 65.5
Yards/Att 3.5 7.7
TD-INT 0-4 4-1

But that’s no excuse for the hot potato he served up as an interception.

I SAW Lions QB Matt Stafford put up his 13th game with at least 3 touchdowns passes, breaking the franchise record held by Bobby Lane.  (STATS LLC)   In five years with just one noticeably above-average receiver, that’s pretty damn good.  In the process, he might have acquired a much-need red zone threat to compliment WR Calvin Johnson….

I SAW Lions QB Matt Stafford connect with TE Joseph Fauria three times for three touchdowns.

TRIVIA BOMB:

Fauria is the first player to finish a game with 3 TDs on 3 receptions since Marcus Robinson (coo-coo-ka-choo!, as ESPN’s Chris Berman used to say) did it for the Vikings in 2005.  (ESPN Stats & Information)

I digress.  Two of the Stafford-Fauria TDs were caught in the end zone.   According to Elias Sports Bureau, the duo is now 4-for-6 on passes in the end zone.  Stafford is just 3-of-10 to all other teammates – including a drop by Calvin Johnson.  Just sayin’.  Maybe the undrafted free agent from UCLA will end up fading into obscurity but for now anything that takes the heat off of Megatron in the red zone is welcome.

I SAW Lions TE Joseph Fauria say this about teammate, RB Reggie Bush:

He’s not a dual threat or a triple threat, he’s a quadruple threat.  He does everything.

I’m going to plead the fifth dimension on this one.

Kansas City (6-0) wins vs. Oakland (2-4), 24-7

I SAW the Chiefs improve to 6-0, largely by making life difficult for Raiders QB Terrelle Pryor.  One way to stymie a young and relatively untested NFL quarterback is to give them tons of different looks, different pass rushes.  KC did this to pronounced effect: 10 sacks and three interceptions forced.

As LB Tamba Ali told The MMQB’s Peter King after finishing with a career-high 3.5 sacks,

We don’t want to give the quarterback time to think.  We bring a lot of confusion. Sometimes it looks like all the pressure is coming from one gap.’’

To wit:

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Kansas City sent 5 rushers or more on 38 percent of Pryor’s dropbacks (18 out of 47), the most he’s faced in his brief career.  The easiest way to confuse a passer with blitzes is to send them from the defensive backfield, which forces less conventional coverage reads for the QB and can actually lead to hot reads for easy gains (a “hot” receiver is one who is open immediately in the space vacated by a blitzing pass defender).  However, an inexperienced player under center often doesn’t make those reads and ends up under duress.  KC sent a DB after Pryor on 7 out of 47 dropbacks and held him to no completions, an interception and five sacks on such plays.  Think about that: seven plays, six of them resulting in either a sack or an interception.  Wow.  Looks like Pryor has something to work on in film sessions.

I SAW that this game is no aberration: The Chiefs defense is for real.  You can say that their disruption of Raiders QB Terrell Pryor on 36 percent of his dropbacks (17 out of 47) comes against a bad team, but keep in mind that KC owns three of the four highest percentages of dropbacks disrupted in a game this season.  And one of those performances came against the Eagles, whom you almost have to have rockets strapped to your backs to disrupt a play in time in Chip Kelly’s fast break offense.  The defensive backs aren’t to be overlooked either.  They are one of the best such units in the league this year, and give the pass rush extra time to reach the quarterback.

In terms of versatility per down, peep this graph from NFL Network:

Chiefs sack graph

To me, this team is actually starting to look more like the sort of team Hall Of Fame coach Bill Parcells would build, as opposed to what we’re used to seeing from Reid and his years in Philly.  I don’t want to take former Giants QB Phil Simms down one or five pegs by implying that he could be aligned with Alex Smith (after all, Simms had one of the most efficient performances in Super Bowl history), but the fact is that both players benefitted from a well-rounded havoc-wreaking defense, a dependable running game, polished special teams…and a play calling strategy that accounted for their lack of a feel for throwing the deep ball.  Whether he wants to or not, Reid can’t open up this offense and start trying to lengthen the field.  He knows this.  He also knows he has a quarterback that focuses on not turning the ball over like a rich man’s Trent Dilfer when the latter was a Super Bowl-winning Raven.  There’s no reason to believe that the Chiefs’ pseudo-conservative approach can’t sustain success.  (Why else does anyone ever support something conservative in the first place?)  But mark my words: their lack of downfield playmaking on offense will come back to haunt them if they face a team with an offense that can take Kansas City out of their comfort zone on the scoreboard.

I SAW what I think is a TRIVIA BOMB, but should really be a CROWN OF SHIT:

According to Elias Sports Bureau the Raiders are the first team to allow 10 sacks, commit 11 penalties and 3 turnovers in a game since…the Raiders, in 1998.

Take that, Trent Reznor.

Seattle (5-1) wins vs. Tennessee (3-3), 20-13

I SAW the Seahawks win their 11th straight game at home on Sunday thanks to a defense that held the Titans offense without a TD.  (Tennessee’s lone touchdown came on a botched hold on a field goal attempt by the backup holder.)

I SAW Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch rule the day with his first career game gaining at least 75 rushing yards and 75 receiving yards.  (His 77 yards in the passing game are a career high.)  It’s funny how we don’t hear much about Lynch, even though one could make the argument that he is the most dependable element of the team’s production on either side of the ball since he arrived in the Rainy City.  Maybe it’s due in part to the lack of focus on tailbacks in this day and age.

I SAW one of the telling differences between an A Tier team and a B Tier team: When a unit from the B Tier faces their adversary, they tend to lie down.  Such was the case for the Titans offense when it ran into the Seahawks defense on Sunday.  Tennessee gained just 223 yards of total offense, RB Chris Johnson was held to 33 yards on 12 carries (2.8 average) and QB Ryan Fitzpatrick managed just 171 yards and a 46.8 rating.  (Sidebar: No team is making the playoffs with Fitz under center.)

Denver (6-0) wins vs. Jacksonville (0-6), 35-19

I SAW the Broncos come out slowly against the Jaguars, which shouldn’t really be that much of a surprise given all the talk about the Vegas-record 27 point spread and how hard it must be for any team to maintain top-notch focus in preparation for such a game.   But let’s not call a 16-point win something to fret over.  Yes, QB Peyton Manning had his first game this season with less than 300 yards and a 100 rating, and threw a pick-6 for his second interception since January.  But come on.  Manning also threw 2 touchdowns to give him 22 so far – the most in NFL history through the first 6 games of a season.

I SAW Broncos RB Knowshown Moreno have a 15 carry, 42-yard, 3-touchdown game against the Jaguars.  Moreno’s impact on this game is telling beyond the stats.  Manning seemed very complimentary and trusting of the back after the game.  The Denver QB often checks down to run plays at the line of scrimmage depending on the defense, and it opens up his options if he is more willing to dial up Moreno.

I SAW the return of Broncos CB Champ Bailey from injury.  While people kept talking about how Bailey’s would improve the pass defense I kept thinking about how badly the perennial Pro Bowler got burned in coverage last season, particularly in the AFC final against Baltimore.  I don’t want to take anything away from Jaguars WR Justin Blackmon in his own return to the field, but let’s just say that Bailey was essentially left on an island against the second year wideout, and….

I SAW Jaguars WR Justin Blackmon snag a league high 14 receptions so far this season, for 190 yards.  I never truly understood the knocks on Blackmon’s on-field performance that held sink him to the 5th overall pick in the 2012 draft.  Yes, I say “sink” because from what I saw of Blackmon’s ridiculously dominant days at Oklahoma State he was a better choice than RB Trent Richardson (Browns, traded to Colts) or OT Matt Kalil (Vikings) – both of whom were taken after quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III but will end up having much less impact in games than Blackmon.  He is a lot like Dallas’ Dez Bryant – a tad undersized but very stout, strong and superbly athletic as a wideout.  He has better hands and focus than Bryant as well.  Let’s hope his off-field issues are behind him.

Even for the Jaguars, this start is historic – the worst the franchise has ever had.  But Blackmon is talented enough that he might be able to keep them in games.  He really has looked that good so far as a pro.  Cecil Shorts III, the Jags’ deep threat wideout, left the game in the first quarter and allowed the Denver D to focus on Blackmon.  The former Oklahoma State star torched the Broncos anyway.

I SAW a POTENTIAL formula for defending Broncos QB Peyton Manning and the juggernaut offense he’s been leading this season.  Jacksonville didn’t come after Manning.  Instead, they flooded the field with pass defenders who played physical ball.  Maybe Jags defensive coordinator Bob Babich went back and looked at some of those old games when New England used to do the same sort of thing to Manning and kill his playoff runs.  I know I would.  Regardless, Jacksonville sent more than four pass rushers on a ridiculously conservative one out of 42 Manning dropbacks.  The result: The team that came into the week leading the NFL with a gaudy 185.6 yards after the catch average managed just 116.

All told, Jacksonville gave up 407 yards of offense, but kept most of the action in front of them, limiting the big plays that Denver has thrived on.  You can bet that the Colts took notice of this in preparation for Manning’s return to Indy this Sunday.

You can consider this over-analysis based on just one game and only about 70 yards less YAC, but that’s what happens when one looks for ways to beat a team that’s looked as good as Denver has looked so far.

I SAW, on the other side of the ball, the Broncos defense for the better part played a lifeless game against the Jags.  Case in point: CB Chris Harris led the team with 11 tackles in the game.  I’ve been saying all season that the Denver DBs would be the Achilles heel of this team, but this is something different, a knock on the pursuit angles of the front seven.  For now let’s chalk that up to a bad game.  Either way, star LB Von Miller returns for next game after serving a 6-game suspension for a violation of the substance abuse policy, and that will make a big difference.

I SAW a TRIVIA BOMB:

Sunday was the first time in his career that QB Peyton Manning has lost 2 fumbles in the same game.  Impressive.

Pittsburgh (1-4) wins vs. New York Jets (3-3), 19-6

I SAW a moment of biased viewing/reporting on my part: It feels good that this matchup is relatively meaningless.

I SAW the Steelers come off a bye and notch their first win of the 2013 season – and their 600th as an NFL franchise.  They had been off to their worst start since 1968.  That season they started 0-6 en route to a 2-11-1 train wreck.  Obviously Pittsburgh is hoping for a better season than that.  I still think the Bengals are one of the best teams in the AFC, but I drink and the win-loss records in the division are closely cropped so there’s hope in Steeltown.  Like there’s hope in the fight against cancer.

I SAW myself assume that head coaches Rex Ryan (Jets) and Mike Tomlin (Steelers) respect one another as defensive minds…but I wonder if some coaches with a more, shall I say, subdued demeanor think, “shit, I have to talk to this crazy jerk for a while now during warm-ups?”

I SAW what might be misconstrued as a pride win for the Steelers defense.  Pittsburgh came into the week as the only NFL team without a takeaway this season, but they picked off Jets QB Geno Smith twice.  That makes sense if you consider that defensive coordinator and Hall Of Famer Dick LeBeau is now 16-2 against rookie passers.  (STATS LLC)

I don’t want to piss on Pittsburgh’s parade, but according to ESPN Stats & Information the Steelers held Smith to about half as many yards (64) passing against a four-man rush as the defense averaged over its first 4 games this season (127).  In other words, LeBeau didn’t too a lot of exotic stuff with blitz personnel; he just called the game with discipline, waiting for the rookie to make mistakes, and Smith obliged.  Call it a capitalization on an inexperienced QB.  Let’s not call it a turnaround for the Steelers D.

I SAW something for any crazy person who would like to question how important QB Ben Roethlisberger is to the Steelers.  TRIVIA BOMB:

According to STATS LLC, Pittsburgh is 14-1 since the start of 2010 when Big Ben has a passer rating of 100 or higher.  (He put up 113.8 on Sunday.)

Philadelphia (3-3) wins @ Tampa Bay (0-5), 31-20

I SAW Eagles QB Nick Foles play a great game Sunday.  The second-year pivot went 22-of-31 for 296 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs, a rushing TD and a 133.3 passer rating.

I joked about the chance of Foles taking the starting QB job away from an injured Michael Vick last week – and so did head coach Chip Kelly, as I pointed out – but you could hear the vultures’ wings flapping above Vick’s starting job yet again.

Pundits like to argue that Kelly has to adapt the game plan with Foles under center since he possesses less talent for running the ball than Vick.  However, contrary to what the new young athletic QBs might indicate, you don’t need to be a good downfield runner to execute the read-option offense.  That scheme is mostly about misdirection and timely reads by the quarterback, not necessarily the welcome and added threat of him being able to break off long runs.  Foles has very good footwork (he was, after all, scouted and drafted by QB guru Andy Reid, who has a great eye for that aspect of the position) and if Sunday was any indication (as just one game) Foles is more accurate than Vick with his throws – not just in terms of aiming at targets, but hitting them at the right time and in the right spot to generate yards after the catch.  I’ve often thought that Vick is the anti-West Coast offense quarterback in the sense that he throws to receivers instead of throwing to areas they will run to.  If Foles takes over the job it will either be due to that aspect of his game, another injury to Vick, or a set of turnovers by the veteran QB.

I SAW on the other hand, that Sunday might not be an indication of anything beyond Foles being able to bitchslap the Bucs.  Consider this:

Nick Foles NFL Career As A Starter

@ Tampa Bay Vs. All Other Opponents
W-L 2-0 0-5
Pass Yards/Gm 338.5 219.8
TD-INT 5-0 3-4

(ESPN STATS & Information)

Yeah, so forgive Eagles head coach Chip Kelly is he isn’t sold on Foles as the starter yet, despite a great performance.

I SAW Eagles QB Nick Foles score the first rushing TD against the Buccaneers defense of the season.  For a defense that doesn’t get any respect, that’s not bad at all.

I SAW the Buccaneers drop their tenth game out of their last 11 played.  Ouch.  I’m going to play this card until more people notice/agree, but head coach Greg Schiano looks and acts like George W. Bush.  Now, he’s going to have to put on that familiar Dubya the-sky-is-falling-but-I’ll-still-act-like-a-petulant-asshole persona.  Wait – he already is.  That’s the beauty of acting like an asshole while occupying a leadership position – it does and doesn’t work well.

I SAW PROPS to Eagles RB LeSean McCoy, whose 630 rushing yards and 871 yards from scrimmage are the most in franchise history through 6 games.  (STATS LLC)

Carolina (2-3) wins @ Minnesota (1-4) , 35-10

I SAW Vikings RB Adrian Peterson run for 62 yards on 10 carries while mourning the death of his 2-year old son from a beating at the hands of some 27 year-old prick I don’t want to mention.  If anyone deserves a pass for an off game, it was Peterson on Sunday.  But he put up admirable numbers with that 6.2 average per carry.  Unfortunately his defense sucks and was beset by in-game injuries (see below) so Minny was in too deep a hole in the second half to use AP appropriately.

I SAW an already-undermanned and subpar Vikings defense get further beset by injury.  Rookie CB Xavier Rhodes sprained his ankle, LB Desmond Bishop is lost for the year with an ACL tear (I call him Arch Tutu…not sure how many will get that…) and most -ahem- hurtful to Minny was sophomore S Harrison Smith going down with turf toe.  I tend to believe that Smith’s leadership role on defense is as much due to the Vikes’ struggles as it is to the Notre Dame alumn’s talent.  Either way, it will be a big deal if he misses time.  Turf toe can be a bitch.

I SAW Panther QB Cam Newton look like his scintillating rookie self with a turnover-less 20-for-26, 242 yard, 3 TD, 0 INT, 143.4 Rating, 30 yards rushing and 1 rush TD performance….gasp!!….Ah, I miss the days when it was a jumbled run-on, exasperating sentence just to describe Newton’s offensive output.  Granted, the Minnesota defense is shit, but Newton is emotional enough of a player that games like this are great confidence builders.

SNF- Dallas (3-3) wins vs. Washington (1-4), 31-16

I SAW the Redskins offense show signs of improvement – outgaining the Cowboys in yards, 433 to 213 – but ultimately get undermined by turnovers and special teams.  Dwayne Harris had 222 return yards for Dallas, thanks largely to two returns that were each longer than 85 yards.  Washington stayed in the game with a well-balanced attack (216 yards rushing and 217 yards passing) until midway through the fourth quarter when ’Skins QB Robert Griffin III fittingly capped an inconsistent day (a 54.5 passer rating, 77 yards rushing at an 8.5 clip per carry) with a fumble near his own end zone that made it too easy for Big D to extend to a 2-possession lead.

At this early point it’s tempting to want to slam the door shout on Washington’s playoff chances, but this team looked sunk last season before ripping off a 9-game win streak to win the NFC East last season.  Does anyone really see that sort of thing happening again, though?  It will be easier to gauge RGIII’s impact over the next few games, now that he’s essentially past the training camp phase in his practice reps following his offseason knee rehab.  In the meantime he and his team will have to hang their hat on the fact that they play in the suckiest division in the NFL.

I SAW a point of clarification after my anti-Tony Romo rant in last week’s column.  Yes, I am an admitted Romophobe.  But the Cowboys star isn’t a bad quarterback overall.  I just don’t like how he gets much more charitable assessments because he plays for what is still somehow called America’s Team.  What’s up with that by the way?  Apparently America is about spending shitloads of money to merely fall flat of expectations year after year…. Okay – maybe they are America’s Team, then.  I digress.  My point: Romo might shit the bed in clutch time more than a race driver on Ex-Lax and he may show the personality of a comatose mute in interviews, but he does have talent.  He showed it on a TD pass to Terrance Williams in the third quarter, rolling to his right and dropping a touch pass in the bucket while on the run, which demanded challenging footwork.  In fact, according to ESPN Sports & Information, Romo’s 18 TDs and 1 INT on throws outside the pocket ties Aaron Rodgers for the league best touchdown-to-interception ratio since the start of the 2011 season.  However, there’s just no consistency to Romo’s mental execution, such that those plays are exceptions instead of the rule.

I SAW the Cowboys get hit with two very significant injuries:

Star DE DeMarcus Ware could be out 3-4 weeks with a quad injury – a huge blow to an already-battered defensive Line in Big D.

RB DeMarco Murray hurt his knee, and his status is uncertain.  So far in his short pro career, Murray just can’t stay on the field long enough.  Dallas had better hope Don Juan DeMarco can suit up soon – he has accounted for 84 percent of Dallas’ rush yards so far this season.

MNF- San Diego (3-3) wins vs. Indianapolis (4-2), 19-9

I SAW the Chargers march up and down the field on the Colts defense – almost literally.  San Diego became just the ninth team since 2001 to have four consecutive scoring drives of at least 10 plays in a single game.  (ESPN Stats & Information)  It was simply too hard for the Colts to overcome that, what with star sophomore QB Andrew Luck forced to watch from the sideline for all but 21 minutes of game time.

TRIVIA BOMB:

The only team to have more than 4 such consecutive drives in a game over that span was the 16-0 2007 Patriots, who had 5 of them in that 56-10 flogging of the Bills.

I SAW Chargers QB Philip Rivers continue his renaissance in San Diego.  I was wondering if the brain-farting Rivers of 2012 was going to resurface after last week’s three-interception skid mark against the Raiders, but the veteran quarterback answered with another commanding performance.

There’s still plenty of time for Rivers and the ’Bolts to take one of their typical swan dives, but I took a look back at him at this point last season and the difference between those numbers and 2013 is noticeable.

Philip Rivers – Through First 6 Games Of The Season

2012 2013
Comp % 66.5 72.6
TD-INT 10-9 14-5
Rating 85.3 108.7
Sacks Taken 18 10

Just as importantly, Rivers had his third game without a turnover on Sunday after a nightmarish season of miscues in 2012.

I SAW the Colts shoot themselves in the foot yet again with drops on third down.  The one by WR Darrius Heyward-Bey that looked like a sure TD had to hurt.  In fact, according to ESPN Stats & Information Indy is tied for the league lead this season with 6 drops on third down.  That might not sound like much, but missed opportunities on third down can lead to shortened possessions on offense, which gives the defense short rest and can wear that D down – which is exactly what happened against San Diego on Sunday.

I SAW the Chargers jump offside (encroachment, technically) on the first play of the game.  That’s high school-dumb.  I don’t care if Colts QB Andrew Luck is a ventriloquist or Jedi mind trick master.  There’s no excuse for that.

I SAW PROPS for Colts WR Reggie Wayne, who became the 9th player in NFL history to amass 1,000 career receptions.  Peter King had a nice snapshot stat analysis of Wayne’s career here.  In summary: Wayne hasn’t declined from his elite level of production.

STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK FOR WHAT I SAW, WEEK 7 – HERE AT TFQ. 

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