What I Saw, Week 5 – 2013

Blair Miller > WHAT I SAW – WEEK 5, 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 a slew of great matchups resulting in a crazy run of close finishes.  Week 5 was the first truly exhilarating weekend of the 2013 season, and in typical fashion it served to jumble things up.  Six teams with at least a share of their division lead heading into the week ended up losing on Sunday.

Once again, a glimpse at the extremes:

Undefeated teams:

DENVER: The most obvious choice for President of the undefeated club thus far.  The defense has looked bad the last few weeks, though.  QB Peyton Manning is on an historic run, but talk to me when he improves on his 9-11 playoff record.  I’m sure to mention this again.

KANSAS CITY: The other undefeated AFC West team is the biggest shocker.  Andy Reid has shown that he still has “it”, that the demise in Philadelphia was just a job’s timeline running its course.  However, despite the stifling defense that KC is bringing week in and week out, the QB Alex Smith-led offense is no threat to put up big gains.  That could come back to haunt them.

NEW ORLEANS: Geaux ’Nawlins!  Geaux an overachieving defense and a return to a Sean Payton-led offense!  If they come down to earth, it will be either injuries or an exhausted D that does it.

Notice that there are significant holes to be punched in each undefeated team….

Winless teams:

JACKSONVILLE: The Jags get the leg up on the shitbag squad because they’ve played 5 games, and the only other winless team that has matched that is the Giants, who won the Super Bowl two years ago.  More importantly, Jacksonville sucks.  Hard.  According to the Associated Press, QB Blaine Gabbert actually heard his hamstring pop when he injured it, so that’s not good.  Neither are the Jaguars.

NEW YORK GIANTS: I’ll leave my roast of QB Eli Manning for the game section (see: Philadelphia wins vs. New York Giants, 36-21).  Let’s just say that Big Blue is really blue.  Like, beaten-up-and-left-in-a-bag-in-an-interstate-ditch-because-it-doesn’t-deserve-better kinda blue.

PITTSBURGH: An historically top-tier franchise shouldn’t fall this low so fast, but take a look at the Giants.  I love head coach Mike Tomlin, but at some point his job might be in jeopardy.

TAMPA BAY:

Oh- they cut QB Josh Freeman too (see below).

So there you have it.  The 3 worst teams in the NFL are the Jags, Giants and Steelers.  And all three of them really do suck.  Don’t let Pittsburgh’s bye – and thus a non-loss – deceive you.  Steeltown looks like it might have to start shackling up the windows for a multi-year rebuilding process that QB Ben Roethlisberger might not survive.

I SAW the Buccaneers release QB Josh Freeman, who turned around and signed with the Vikings.

What to make of this signing?  Although it should be private business, I wish we knew more about Freeman’s supposed drug violations, if/how the team leaked them, the extent that played into the quarterback’s release, et cetera.  Regardless, Minny inked Freeman to a $3 million deal for this season, so one would think he’s in the mix to start at QB.  Might we have an in-season quarterback battle on our hands?  Whatever the Vikings tell the outside world, no pivot should feel secure in their job on that team right now, and that’s the way it should be, with onetime favourite Christian Ponder failing to establish a feel for the reads and timing required for downfield passing.

I SAW a case against certain overpaid NFL QBs that is worth drawing attention to.

Embattled quarterbacks Tony Romo and Matt Schaub showed that they have things in common.  Most notably: Spoiling their team’s chances with bad decisions.  No position can hamstring their team more with a brain fart than the quarterback.  Dallas and Houston experienced that firsthand in Week 5 (see below).  In a discussion on NFL Network’s Game Day Final, Kurt Warner and Deion Sanders (with LaDainian Tomlinson) were talking about QBs for top-tier teams that falter in the clutch, and they said this about the well-paid ones that haven’t been able to step up in the clutch – which applies to Texan Matt Schaub (the topic of conversation during the broadcast), Cowboy Tony Romo, Giant Eli Manning and Raven Joe Flacco, despite their lucrative contracts:

Warner: “If you’re going to win a championship, that IS the league: Who can make the play at critical moments at the quarterback position?  those guys win championships.”

Deion: “Is it so watered down now that we just gotta condone these quarterback that we know come crunch time they’re not going to take us to the glory land?”

Warner: “We’re not just going to condone them.  We’re going to pay them 100 million dollars!…. [amidst shouting from Sanders and LT] Why am I doing highlights?”

Good question, Flanders.  Dust off the ol, diddly-ol crumb-catcher and get in there!

(Yes, Eli and Flacco have won 3 Super Bowls between them, but they aren’t elite.)

I SAW myself with mixed feelings about the new Major League Baseball playoff format that adds an extra 1-game playoff game to accommodate a second Wild Card team.

On one hand, it’s fun to watch the intensity, pitching rotations be damned.  It was especially delicious this year, with the Rays having to win back-to-back 1-gamers because they tied the Rangers in the regular season – and now they’re in the shit with Boston.  Fun stuff.

On the other hand, imagine if the Pirates – whose fan base has been waiting 21 years for a playoff appearance – bowed out after just one game.  I think any self-respecting ball fan, regardless of what they think about the Pirates, would agree that that would suck.

Byes: Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Washington

TNF- Cleveland (3-2) wins vs. Buffalo (2-3), 37-24

I SAW an exciting game…not sure if it was because, or in spite of, the fact that it turned into a Brandon Weeden-Jeff Tuel battle at quarterback.

Both starting QBs – Buffalo’s E.J. Manuel and Cleveland’s Brian Hoyer – were knocked out of the game early on, and both plays were hits of the violent sort while the quarterbacks were running with the ball near the sideline.  And when a team needed to step up, the suckiest sports city that ever sucked answered the call.  I’ve said this:

https://twitter.com/TFQuarter/status/385968536977305601

            The Browns – yes, the Browns – came through for Cleveland one day after the Indians were ousted from the MLB playoffs.  Despite the reputation of either Buffalo or Cleveland there wasn’t a turnover until there was 1:44 left in the game left, when the rookie QB Tuel served up a pick-6 to seal a Browns win that bucks a serious trend, given that Cleveland hadn’t won 3 of their first 5 games in 12 years (NFL Network broadcast).  And they’ve done it with the usual sheepish expectations from the media and fans.

The Browns seem to be rebuilding the right way – with a smash-mouth defense that can grit out wins while the offense finds its way, be it trading one of their three most valuable players on that side of the ball (so long, Trent Richardson) or by weathering a dramatic see-saw at quarterback.  Defensive coordinator Ray Horton came over in the offseason from Arizona and he’s continuing his run of success with putting together well-rounded D.

Give Weeden credit too.  He came in to this game having been a healthy scratch at starter after being drafted in Round 1 just last year.  After starter Brian Hoyer was knocked into next season by Bills super rookie LB Kiko Alonso, Weeden started off shaky (few wouldn’t) and was booed by the fans on each early incompletion, but the embattled sophomore stepped up to lead the offense to a win with solid decision making.  Keep in mind that Weeden didn’t take a single snap in practice this week while rehabbing.

On the topic of Hoyer: It’s such a bummer that he went down with a season-ending knee injury.  His story had been looking like a storybook one while he excelled in his chance to prove himself after years on the bench.  Now, the tale looks more like a bittersweet one where injury may have dashed the hopes of a pro athlete.  Like I said, bummer.

I SAW PROPS to all-time great Browns RB Jim Brown, who was honoured in Cleveland at halftime Thursday.  Hell, the Mayor even declared October 3rd Jim Brown Day.  The team wore all brown (save for the trademark helmets), and although the occasion was a rarity I hope they sport those unis again.

I SAW NFL Network (via Ian Rappaport and Michael Silver) tell a nice behind-the-scenes story about the Trent Richardson trade that had Browns Chief Executive Officer Joe Banner and Colts GM Ryan Grigson negotiating in an intense and concentrated timespan.  Cool bit, but my question is: What, exactly, is Cleveland GM Mike Lombardi’s job if Banner is playing the role he did in this trade?  Is Lombardi just a scouting/draft guy?  Just curious.

I SAW PROPS to Browns PR Travis Benjamin, who had a huge night Thursday.  His scintillating 79-yard TD return to give Cleveland the lead at halftime was enabled by bad tackling angles by the Bills, but who cares?  It was all about the Benjamin, who well into the game was outgaining the Buffalo offense and finished up with a team-record 179 punt return yards – eclipsing the 166 put up in 1993 by one of my all-time faves, Eric Metcalf.  (STATS LLC)

I SAW the Bills enter into another soul-tearing lurch early in a season.  With the injury to starting rookie QB E.J. Manuel, backup Thad Lewis takes over under center, fresh from getting released in August, then signed to the practice roster.  So I guess head coach Doug Marrone isn’t smitten with Jeff Tuel….

Denver (5-0) wins @ Dallas (2-3), 51-48

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

The What-Just-Happened-I-Can’t-Breathe-And-My-Pants-Are-Full Game Of The Year

Not only did this game see a double 40-burger, like the majestic KFC Double Down, but it was garnished with a Fitty-burger, had a vintage Romo pant-shitting, and saw a see-saw momentum game until the very end.  I’ll let the rest of the stats speak for themselves.

I SAW Clockwork Orange tick onward.  The Broncos offense is averaging a HEAVY 40-burger through five games.  Actually, Denver is averaging 46.0 points per game!  Impressive.  Bit it didn’t start off that well….

I SAW the Broncos come in to the game as the only team in the NFL to have scored on each of their opening possessions this season.  Dallas went on a long TD drive lasting almost 7 minutes to open up the action on Sunday, during which shots of an anxious bench-ridden Denver QB Peyton Manning found their way into the broadcast.  If previous experience is any indication, that’s usually just a way to piss Peyton off.

I SAW that the Broncos offense goes downhill.  All the time.  That’s a term typically reserved for a running game but that’s how dominant and taxing Denver’s aerial attack can be on a defense.

I SAW Cowboys RB “Don Juan” DeMarco Murray make a man’s cut upfield on his TD run to the outside that made it 14-0 Dallas in the first quarter.  Murray has been showing great strength this season.  Let’s hope he can stay on the field.

I SAW Broncos RB Knowshown Moreno have a big game, which is just deadly for Denver opponents in general.  19 carries for 93 yards (4.3 average) and a TD might not jump off of the stat sheet, but it provides the sort of balance Edgerrin James did for the Peyton-led Colts during some of their most dominant years on offense.  It’s nice to see too – Moreno has fought through injuries for some time, and it’s safe to say that he’s earned the starting spot if he can hold it.

I SAW that you can accuse me of taking the easy way out (disclaimer: I’m a Romophobe), but Cowboys QB Tony Romo played an all-too-typical Romo game Sunday.

The good: 25-of-36 (69%) for a franchise-record 506 yards, 5 TDs, 1 INT, and a 140.0 Rating.

The bad: that one interception to LB Danny Trevathan, which came in the dying minutes of a humongous tie game.

Vintage Romo: put up great stats, fuck up and lose a big game.  There are some who like to argue that Romo is a good clutch player.  Indeed, there are numbers to back that up since Romo’s first season in ’06:

4th Quarter Passer Rating – Since 2006

Player Rating
Tony Romo 102.0
Peyton Manning 101.7
Aaron Rodgers 100.4
Tom Brady 97.1

(NFL Network’s Around The League)

However, I’m betting the farm that those numbers come either against shitty teams or in a less meaningful game or both.  In fact, ESPN gave up this stat during Monday Night Countdown over the same span:

Most INT In 4th Quarter/OT When Tied Or Leading By 7 Pts Or Less – Since 2006

Player Interceptions
Tony Romo 8
Tom Brady 7
Matt Ryan 7

Granted, there usually isn’t much shame in being on a list with Brady and Ryan.   But those two elite quarterbacks get the benefit of the doubt, being on consistent double-digit win teams that are often in close games due to the target painted on their backs.  Dallas, on the other hand, is a team with higher expectation than their roster tends to permit, and as such needs their top-paid QB to eek out wins for them when the opportunity arises.

In big games, when his team needs him, Romo tends to shit his pants.  In this case he served up an interception deep in his own territory to a linebacker whom he should have seen, on a pass he shouldn’t have thrown because his was tripping over a lineman’s foot during his windup.  (Credit NFL Network’s Game Day Final for highlighting that aspect on a replay.)  Romo ended up short-arming the throw – almost sidearm, really – and giving the game away.  He might win some big games, but when you think of heartbreaking losses for Dallas over the last decade or so, they involve a huge gaffe by their overrated quarterback.

The Denver defense got good initial pressure on Romo, but it was seldom enough to finish the play.  Instead, Romo was able to make a simple move to get free and find an open receiver against defensive backs that were forced to cover downfield too long.

On the other hand, Romo still can’t make the right decisions.  Another telling moment on Sunday came on a play in the second quarter when he had a solid pocket for about 8 seconds by my count, and he took a sack.  That can’t happen to a QB who is paid more than Jesus.

Future Hall Of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson put it aptly on NFL Network’s Game Day Final, although he didn’t necessarily mean it the way I’m going to interpret it.  While explaining how well Romo played against the Broncos, LT said that he and his fellow analysts (Deion Sanders and Kurt Warner) had played great games only to have that one moment during them lose the game.  Very true.  But it seems like Romo has waaay more of those good-numbers-oh,-that-one-play sort of games than the other QB he gets favorably compared to.

In this week’s MMQB, Peter King says that Romo played “the game of his life.”  Sure – that game does sum up his NFL life: Great numbers, with one dumb decision that negates those stats in a close loss.  Yes, Manning threw a similar interception earlier in the fourth quarter.  But the point against Romo is that when he makes those mistakes they are a product of the pressure of his team needing him to come through in a must-score “final” drive.  When that pressure rears its head, the Dallas quarterback screws up and loses.  By definition, that’s not winning football.

I SAW that even Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is suffering from the same affliction his franchises’ fan base suffers from: The “We’re America’s Team, We Must Still Be Good Even Though We Suck” disease.  Jones called Sunday’s loss a “moral victory.”  That’s a borderline immoral thing to say.  Maybe your team can lose the last 11 games of your season while winning “moral victories”, Jerry, and you can explain how your team is a morally sound 2-14.  I’ve referred to Jones as The Emperor before, as in Palpatine.  Seems apt: the Empire is rusting around him, but the propaganda is still coming out strong.

I SAW Broncos DE George Selvie wrench Broncos QB Peyton Manning’s helmet to the side, and Manning showed no visible signs of discomfort afterward.  It went unnoticed, but after all the fanfare about Peyton’s neck surgery less than two years ago, I’d say that was a good sign.

I SAW Broncos QB Peyton Manning score his first rushing TD in the last 62 regular season games on Sunday.

I SAW both Cowboys WR Dez Bryant and his counterpart, Bronco Eric Decker, lose balls in the sun thanks to the oh-so sexy windows in Cowboys Stadium that let the daylight through in patches that are jarring for a skill player to deal with looking back while on the move.  Sure, the windows are an aesthetic plus, but they’re also an example of the exhibition of a rich sport getting in the way of the game.

Cincinnati (3-2) wins vs. New England (4-1), 13-6

I SAW the Patriots suffer their first loss of the season in a strange game that finished during some of the most torrential rain in a pro game I’ve ever seen, especially given how difficult the camera filters these days can make it to notice precipitation.  You could hear the rain hitting the microphone in your living room. The Bengals ran a successful fourth quarter TD drive, built an ark, and after loading on the last pair of Giraffes, stymied QB Tom Brady and the Pats on yet another possession with an interception that sealed the win.  The TD-less effort from New England came off worse than rotten chowdah – Brady’s 52-game streak with a TD pass was put to bed (he finished second all-time, two games behind Drew Brees, who set the record last season.)  As the game clock expired, the rain was noticeably tapering off.

If you ask me, Tim Tebow made like Flanders and asked god to smite the team that cut him earlier this year – or, if you don’t believe in god, maybe Gandalf.  Here’s what was probably going on in the clouds above Paul Brown Stadium:

tim-tebow-god-jesus-2

(godonnybrook.com)

I SAW the Bengals come into Sunday with the worst record in the NFL against the AFC East since 1988 – 5-22.  (Elias Sports Bureau)  Don’t tell Cincy that.  They are playing like they need to bow to no one this season, on the strength of a defense that keeps proving they are for real.  On Sunday New England was held to 6 points for first time since 2006.  The Patriots were also held without a TD for the first time since 2009 – in large part due to a huge goal line stand by the Bengals on fourth-and-1 in the final quarter.

This defense is legit, and looks like the best squad head coach Marvin Lewis has helmed since he was the defensive coordinator back in the legendary Ravens days around the turn of the millennium.  Consider that they have taken Bears QB Jay Cutler, Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger, Packer Aaron Rodgers and now Patriot Tom Brady out of their games and beaten them.  (They were even able to overcome their team’s 4 turnovers while handing 2011 MVP Rodgers and his team a big fat L.)  At this point, Cincinnati has a league leading 19-game streak of holding opposing quarterbacks to less than 300 yards passing.  Oh – and they also went the last 2 games without starting CB Leon Hall.

Any time a defense can shut down Brady it garners attention.  I am not too keen on ESPN’s QBR stat, but this is too noteworthy to ignore: According to ESPN Stats & Information, Brady’s 16.8 Total QBR on Sunday was his lowest since 2006.  Eleven of his 38 throws were off-target (almost 29%), which is his worst rate in a game over the last 2 seasons.  I still see Brady and Peyton Manning as two of the best QBs of all time, but one (nitpicking) knock is that they both seem quite human when protection breaks down, as opposed to a player like, say, Aaron Rodgers who continually puts up striking numbers while under duress.  Up until this season, unblockable DT Geno Atkins was the focal point of a front seven that was above average but not awe-inspiring.  Now, Atkins anchors a bloodthirsty crew that is adept at both the run and the pass in a way that resembles the stout D’s in Seattle and San Francisco.

The Bengals’ only defensive hiccup came when they ran into the whack experience that was the Brian Hoyer Honeymoon in Cleveland.  In other words, in a sport where people are fond to criticize success based on the strength of opponent, Cincinnati’s D has stepped up against three recent Super Bowl-caliber quarterbacks and I stand even stronger by my call for the Bengals to take a playoff bye now that they have the head-to-head edge against the Pats.

I SAW PROPS to Patriots QB Tom Brady – not for going without a TD pass against the Bengals on Sunday, but for having a 52-game streak of consecutive games with one, second all-time to Drew Brees.

Longest Consecutive Games With A TD Pass Thrown – All-Time

Quarterback Games Years
Drew Brees 54 2009-12
Tom Brady 52 2010-13
Johnny Unitas 47 1965-60
Brett Favre 36 2002-04

I SAW that for all their documented shortcomings in recent years, the Patriots defense now has a takeaway in 32 straight games – the longest active streak in the NFL. (STATS LLC)

New Orleans (5-0) wins @ Chicago (3-2), 26-18

I SAW Saints QB Drew Brees earn his first career victory at soldier Field in 4 tries.   (In fact, it was New Orleans’ first win in the Windy City since 2000.)

Drew Brees was a machine.  Peep ESPN Stats & Information’s breakdown of Sunday’s performance against the Bears: Brees completed 82.9 percent of his passes (29-of-35).  He went 25-for-27 on passes within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.  He went 10-for-10 targeting TE Jimmy Graham.  (The pair had never gone more than 6 targets without an incompletion until Sunday.)  He was also 9-for-9 to RB Pierre Thomas.  Establishing a comfort level with Thomas is nothing new – Brees is now 86.8% successful on his attempts to him – but he hadn’t targeted Thomas 9 times in one game since 2008.  It’s not like this is a news flash, but the return of head coach Sean Payton in ’Nawlins has made Brees dangerously versatile again.  Don’t let the dominance of Graham fool you (see below) – Brees is on fire in that way which makes good players out of anyone at the other end of his passes.

I SAW Saints TE Jimmy Graham get all Armin Tamzarian and continue his Reign Of Terror against NFL defenses.  The Bears defense chock-full of tenacious veterans in the backfield, but Graham torched them for 10 catches and 135 yards.  Who knows what sort of numbers the All-Pro could have right now if he hadn’t missed time last year.  It was Graham’s fourth straight 100-yard game, which ties a league record for a tight end.  According to STATS LLC, no one has done that since Tony Gonzalez in 2000 – except Graham in 2011.

I SAW the Bears are starting to get beat up at defensive tackle.  Stephen Paea was already out with a toe injury coming into Sunday, and then Nate Collins left the Saints game with a knee injury.  That forced Landon Cohen – who had been signed off waivers just ten days earlier – into the fray.

Chicago’s personnel and scheme on defense depends in large part on solid play in the middle of the line, so mounting injuries there might be a storyline that goes unnoticed if the Bears start to falter defensively.

I SAW Bears second-year WR Alshon Jeffery go off for a franchise-record 218 yards on 10 catches.  He broke the old mark held by…wait for it…Harlon Hill’s 214 on Halloween in 1954.  (We all saw that coming.)  Let’s hope that Sunday’s outburst was a coming out party as opposed to an anomaly, because even 218 yards couldn’t buck one growing trend….

I SAW a simple formula further exposed.  I’m not the strongest supporter of these stats in general but in this case the fact that the Bears are now 0-4 when WR Brandon Marshall accounts for fewer than 20 percent of the team’s targets (ESPN Stats & Information), which it telling.  I’d argue that this stat is actually deceiving, that Chicago is more dependent upon their star wideout than that record indicates.

Indianapolis (4-1) wins vs. Seattle (4-1), 34-28

I SAW the Colts gain sole possession of the lead in the AFC South.  They outslugged the Seahawks by serving up a dose of Seattle’s own medicine.  Indy didn’t really sex up the stat sheet but they found a way to force a win.  In fact, the Colts won despite allowing the ’Hawks to rush for 218 yards (6.4 average) and run more than three dozen plays in Indianapolis territory (STATS LLC).  Indy’s defense is playing like the well-coached unit head coach Chuck Pagano should be producing, and overall the story has been different players stepping up each week – another sign of good coaching that makes a whole locker room want to contribute.

One player keeps bringing a winning game more often than the rest, though: QB Andrew Luck.  Sunday’s come-from-behind win provided Luck’s ninth game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or OT, tying an NFL-best since 1966.

Most Game-Winning Drives In 4th Quarter Or OT In First 2 Seasons

Seasons Player Game-Winning Drives
2012-13 Andrew Luck 9
1997-98 Jake Plummer 9
1998-99 Peyton Manning 9

(Elias Sports Bureau)

The Colts QB was in some ways only as good as he needed to be: 16-of-29 (55%) for 229 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INT and a 104.0 Rating.  But it was the way that Luck led the comeback – he is so methodical, in a way that makes him look the same in the second quarter as he does trying to steal a win during the closing minutes.  It helps that he is sporting the sort of polished footwork that only throwers like Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers has.  Both players are sneaky-athletic, Luck even more so because of his height, at 6’4”.  Knowing one’s skills and preparation can take care of things if one simply focuses has a way of getting a player dialed in, and for all his young mistakes Luck looks attuned to the NFL at a startlingly early point in his career.  Best of all, he seems quite un-phased by it.

I SAW the Seahawks snap a 9-game regular season winning streak.

QB Russell Wilson looked good, and RB Marshawn Lynch put up another 100-yard game on the ground.  The popular explanation will be that uncharacteristic defensive miscues sunk Seattle, like the long completion to Colts WR T.Y. Hilton in the first quarter.  But the ’Hawks D played very well, especially if one credits Colts sophomore QB Andrew Luck (see above).  If Seattle’s defense is being held to so high a standard that Sunday’s showing isn’t enough for a win, then it’s up to the offense to help out.  Hopefully they will be able to find some explosiveness when free agent acquisition Percy Harvin can get some time at receiver.  Otherwise the Seahawks are in danger of more lapses on offense like in this game, when they converted just 2 of their 12 third downs.

I SAW Seahawks second-year QB Russell Wilson become the fifth player in NFL history to lose a game while passing for 200 yards and rushing for 100.  Strangely enough, another sophomore – Oakland’s Terrelle Pryor – is on the list too.

Players With 200 Pass Yds, 100 Rush Yds In A Loss – NFL History

Year Player Team
2013 Russell Wilson Seahawks
2013 Terrelle Pryor Raiders
2002 Donovan McNabb Eagles
1990 Steve Young 49ers
1952 Tobin Rote Packers
1951 Tobin Rote Packers

(ESPN Stats & Information)

Can I get a throwback PROPS for Tobin Rote?

Tobin Rote-Packers

Actually, let’s bake up a twisted TRIVIA BOMB-PROPS BOMB THING for Rote.  Yes, that’s right – that Tobin Rote.  The same one I know you’ve heard of because he played for the Toronto Argos in the CFL.  Less famously, he actually ranked 1st in the league in rushing yards, second in rushing TDs and 3rd in passing TDs during his 6-year span in Green Bay from 1950-1956.  Only Hall Of Famers Bobby Lane and Norm Van Brocklin had more touchdown passes during that same span.

I SAW diminutive Colts WR T.Y. Hilton show a potential formula for success against Seattle’s defensive backs, the Legion Of Boom.  At 5’9” the second-year speedster had 5 catches for 140 yards and his first TD of the season – mostly against All-Pro corner Richard Sherman, who looked frustrated at times.

Make no mistake – the Seattle DBs are big boys.  Sherman is 6’3”, 195 lbs., CB Brandon Browner is 6’4”, 221, S Kam Chancellor is  6’3”, 232 and S Earl Thomas stands 5’10” but weighs 202 and hits like a truck.  Come to think of it, has there been a bigger set of starting DBs since the Mel Blount rule was introduced in 1978?  (Just look at the size of Blount in those highlights.)  That change legislated the 5-yard contact zone for defenders, beyond which physical contact became illegal.  Ever since then it has been taboo to have two or three hefty DBs, let alone all four.  I can’t recall the last time the Seahawks faced a tiny water bug like Hilton, and it showed on Sunday.

I SAW PROPS for Colts DE Robert Mathis for passing the career 100-sack mark on Sunday.

I SAW no need whatsoever to make excuses for a team as good as the Seahawks, but keep in mind that for the last 2 games they have fielded just 2 of their 5 starting offensive linemen.  Just sayin’.

Green Bay (2-2) wins vs. Detroit (3-2), 22-9

I SAW no Megatron.  That’s the easiest way to explain Detroit’s loss – that they were without their star wideout Calvin Johnson, who sat this game out with a bad knee.  Whenever Johnson is more human than machine his team is at a disadvantage.  According to ESPN Stats & Information, that argument is pretty tough to deny:

–       Lions QB Matthew Stafford came into Sunday having been pressured on a league-low 12 percent of his dropbacks this season.  Against the Packers and without Johnson Stafford was sacked or under duress on 22 percent of his dropbacks.

–       Stafford hadn’t thrown for less then 100 yards to his wide receivers since Week 13 in 2009 when he had to exit the game early due to injury.  On Sunday he went just 10-of-21 for 93 yards to his wideouts.

–       Detroit dropped 5 passes against Green Bay – a single-game high in the NFL season thus far.  On 39 targets this season, Johnson has just 1 drop.

Without their robot-pistol-whatever guy, Detroit’s offense was rendered one-dimensional, which as most of you regular readers know, in my mind signals huge problems for an offense.  No one else can take the top off of the defense (stretch the coverage and get behind safety help) for the Lions, which shrinks the field for the remaining playmakers.  To wit: RB Reggie Bush was held to 44 yards on 13 carries, and was stuffed short on first downs, forcing the Lions into long yardage situations in the later downs.  From there, the Green Bay offense leaned on Detroit like a Texas Hold-’em winner raising against a losing hand.  If you can accomplish this nuance of the game, you tend to coast to a win, which was essentially what the Packers did on Sunday.

I SAW an intriguing TRIVIA BOMB:

The Lions have lost 22 straight road games against the Packers – the longest losing streak against a specific opponent in NFL history.  (ESPN Stats & Information)  Now, the NFC North is looking like it might be a dogfight heading into December, with the Lions, Packers and Bears – oh my! – showing enough talent to make the playoffs, and the Vikings aren’t exactly pushovers either.  The Lions get their rematch in Detroit at the end of November but if the teams should meet again in January, you can be sure that Green Bay wants that game at Lambeau.

I SAW Packers rookie RB Eddie Lacy run for 99 yards on 23 carries in his first game back after missing time due to a concussion.  This game was physical, and closer than the score indicated.  As much as pundits want to say that the run game is expendable in Green Bay, the Pack needed Lacy’s presence in the ground game and pass blocking.

Baltimore (3-2) wins @ Miami (3-2), 26-23

I SAW Ravens LB Terrell Suggs put up 3 sacks in the fourth quarter Sunday, helping enhance his team’s recovery on the defensive side of the ball.  Baltimore held Miami to 3 of 16 on third down, 6 sacks, 2 yards per rush and under 24 minutes in time of possession.

QB Joe Flacco has had a hard time so far this season, in part due to injuries and a deficient offensive line.  But the Ravens D has kept the team in the thick of the early AFC playoff picture.

I SAW that yes, I’ve dubbed the Broncos offense Clockwork Orange, but I think the indoctrinating torture from the movie of the same name needs to be administered to Baltimore’s offensive coordinator, Jim Caldwell.  That would mean that Caldwell would have to sit – with his eyes propped open – in front of footage of RB Ray Rice on the sideline so that the mere notion of this makes the coach sick.  Why does there even have to be a discussion needed about Rice’s role in the offense vis-à-vis a winning formula?  There shouldn’t be.  The tailback had 33 carries for 102 yards.  According to ESPN Stats & Information Baltimore is 23-3 during Rice’s career when he has at least 25 touches – and 30-24 when he plays and has less than that.

I SAW the Dolphins have some defensive injuries mount up.  Pro Bowl DE Cameron Wake tried to play with a bad knee but eventually left the game, LB Dannell Ellerbe went down with a shoulder injury and CB Nolan Carroll hurt his ribs.  That might no sound like much, but Miami needs its defense to play at a high level while the offense still tries to find a groove (especially between QB Ryan Tannehill and WR Mike Wallace), and losing starters on defense puts pressure on the other side of the ball.

Kansas City (5-0) wins @ Tennessee (3-2), 26-17

I SAW the Chiefs get off to their best start, at 5-0, since 2003 when they won their first 9 games.

Head coach Andy Reid is doing great work, obviously.  But Sunday’s game showed some issues, most importantly some stalled drives on offense – to the tune of 1-for-12 on third down – that allowed Titans subpar backup QB Ryan Fitzpatrick to outgain the Chiefs in the third quarter, making what could have been an easy win turn into a cause for concern for KC fans.

The bottom line: 5-0.  Wow.

I SAW backup Titans QB Ryan Fitzpatrick rally his team with 17 unanswered points in the second half…but it wasn’t enough to overcome the shitty start, what with the 5 straight 3-and-outs for Tennessee’s offense to get the game started.

Philadelphia (2-3) wins @ New York Giants (0-5), 36-21

I SAW the Giants start 0-5 for the first time since 1987.  New York has been putting up a pile of stats that flies are buzzing around.  They rank 10th in the NFL in passing, but are also dead last in rushing, 20th in overall offense.  The G-Men are 7th in overall defense, 11th against the pass and 4th against the rush, but 31st in sacks.  New York also leads the league in turnover margin, at minus-13, thanks to 20 giveaways (Pittsburgh is second with just 11).

Another steamer:  N.Y. tied a record with a 5th consecutive game allowing 31+ points.  The other team is the 1954 Chicago Cardinals, who finished that season at 2-10….

Give the G-Men some credit, though!  They scored 21 points Sunday after having been outscored 69-7 in their two previous games.  Jesus.

I SAW Giants QB Eli Manning go just 24 of 52 Sunday.  Sure, there were the 3 interceptions, but that completion rate is just awful.

It’s hard to be accurate when you’re caught in a tailspin.  One turnover in particular was horrible, even Favre-like, as Eli tried to throw a desperate short pass while being taken down by a defender.  I’ve been vocal in my criticism of Eli in recent years, especially given how disproportionate I think his ability is to his reputation and contract value.  Like Baltimore’s Joe Flacco he has shown crucial playoff moxie, but puts up shit numbers in the regular season compared to their laughable elite status and contract.  ESPN Stats & Information lays out some good numbers to make me feel better about not believing in Eli, given how badly he stunk in multiple facets of Sunday’s game:

–       LONG: Manning was 3-of-16 (18.8%) passing 15 or more yard downfield.  No QB since the start of 2008 has had fewer completions in such situations.

–       SHORT: Manning went 5-for-14 (35.6%) on passes within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage – the worst of any quarterback with less than 10 attempts this season – with two interceptions.  Eli has completed just 54.1 percent of his passes of 5 yards or shorter, well below the NFL average of 69.7, and he’s thrown a league-high 4 interceptions in that range so far in 2013 (he had that many all of last season).

It’s gotten to the point of silliness: Manning had 3 intentional grounding penalties on Sunday.  According to STATS LLC no other QB has had more than 2 grounding penalties in a game since the start of the 2001 season.

This all came against an Eagles defense that ranked 31st in the league against the pass coming into Sunday.

I SAW a harsh, but an amusingly apt tweet from Mike Tanier (via MMQB):

https://twitter.com/MikeTanier/status/386095858644557825

I SAW Eagles QB Nick Foles conduct 4 scoring drives – including two fourth quarter TD passes – in relief of starter Michael Vick, who left with a hamstring injury.  Sure, it came against the moribund Giants but more people need to understand that backup QBs typically take maybe 1-5 snaps in practice leading up to a game, so Foles did a good job with little to no preparation.

Cue the vultures circling around Vick’s career as a starter, yet again.  I don’t see why Vick would lose his job to Foles, given how well he was running Kelly’s offense.  Keep in mind that Vick had 79 yards rushing and over 100 yards passing before going down in the second quarter.  On Monday, Philly head coach Chip Kelly told the press that Foles could win the starting job…or did he?  This is what Kelly said on the matter (via Comcast Sportsnet/CSNPhilly.com):

“If he plays well? Yeah, there’s always open competition,” Kelly said. “So if Nick goes out there and throws 100-for-100 and throws 27 touchdown passes, then, yeah.”

50246-so-youre-saying-theres-a-chanc-toCD

(via www.pandawhale.com)

St. Louis (2-3) wins vs. Jacksonville (0-5), 34-20

I SAW – yeah, yeah, I know.  A win is a win in today’s crazy NFL.  But does Sunday’s victory really say anything about the Rams?  Really?

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

Tony Robbins Defense Award

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

The Rams snapped a 3-game losing streak thanks to Jacksonville’s 22nd ranked defense coming into the game, which let St. Loo score a franchise season-high 34 points.  QB Sam Bradford didn’t have an eye-popping day, but 3 TD passes and a 105.3 rating was just what he and his offense needed to stave away the critics for one week.

I SAW Jaguars top draft pick (#2 overall) OT Luke Joeckel suffer a high ankle fracture that will keep him out for the rest of the season.  That’s a bummer for a team all too familiar with bummers.  Actually, QB Blaine Gabbert hurt his hamstring and didn’t return to the field either.  I almost want to rename the Jaguars The Bummers.  Their 112 combined losing margin through 5 games is tied for the second-worst in such a situation since the 1970 merger.

Worst Point Differential Through 5 Games Since Merger

Year Team Point Differential
1971 Eagles -123
2013 Jaguars -112
2009 Rams -112
2001 Redskins -112

(Elias Sports Bureau)

I SAW Jaguars WR Justin Blackmon return from a 4-game suspension for violating the NFL’s drug policy and catch a 67-yard TD for his first reception of the season.  Blackmon ended up with 5 grabs for 136 yards and a TD for a team desperately in need of more playmakers.  He’s not enough to turn the Jags into a winner, but he might make some games more interesting.

I SAW PROPS for Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew for reaching 10,000 career total yards.  If only the poor guy had spent more seasons on a winning team…pray for MoJo.

Arizona (3-2) wins vs. Carolina (1-3), 22-6

I SAW Cardinals LB Daryl Washington remind everyone how important he is to the ’Zona defense.  In his first game after serving a 4-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy Washington had 9 tackles, 3 for loss, 2 QB hits and an interception against the Panthers.  The Cardinals D is way better than any one player on their roster – it’s a legit squad, even if its teeth are dulled somewhat by losing coordinator Ray Horton to Cleveland.  For instance, Karlos Dansby and Calais Campbell were also key participants against the Panthers.

I SAW the Cardinals defense continue to hide the stench of their team’s offense.  QB Carson Palmer threw 3 more interceptions against the Panthers as ’Zona gained just 4.3 yards per play on offense.

A win is a win, and Arizona has 3 of them already.  But the victories won’t keep coming in such a competitive division until the O can get its shit together.

I SAW that I know I’ve said Cardinals CB Peterson had been getting burned too much for such a talented a corner, but obviously he can make tons of plays – as evidenced by his 12th interception on Sunday, tied for second-most in the NFL since he entered the league in 2001, with Packer Tim Jennings (Seahawk Richard Sherman has 14).  He also appears to be playing with much more discipline. That’s bad news for opposing receivers and QBs.

I SAW Panthers QB Cam Newton put up another equivocal performance.  He put up 308 passing yards and a 6.3 average on 4 rushes, but he threw 3 interceptions, had a 47.8 rating and was sacked 7 times.

I’m not sure if these statistics from ESPN Stats & Information necessarily serve as a defense of Newton’s poor play, but he isn’t doing well when opposing defenses blitz.  Coming into Sunday the third-year QB had faced at least 5 pass rushers on an NFL-leading 44 percent of his dropbacks, but he had been doing relatively well against such adversity.  Arizona brought that sort of pressure on 60 percent of their plays against Newton, with much better results:

Cam Newton Against 5+ Pass Rushers – 2013 Season (so far)

First 3 Games Sunday vs. Cardinals
% of dropbacks 44.0 60.0
Completion % 63.2 50.0
TD-INT 2-1 0-3
Sacks 4 7*

*- Most in NFL over last 6 seasons

Either Newton needs to play better under duress, the Panthers need to put better personnel around him – or both.  Lots of both, probably.  On Sunday Carolina had 9 penalties and 4 dropped passes – 2 of them from aging wideout Steve Smith.

Above all else, Carolina needs to get better at finishing in the red zone.  Newton himself said so during his postgame press conference.  After all, he completed 14 of 21 passes in the first half but the Panthers couldn’t take it to the house.

SNF- San Fran (3-2) wins vs. Houston (2-3), 34-3 

I SAW something very cool and fun – something we may not see again.  Thanks to an MLB playoff game in Oakland on Saturday and the resulting 24 hours it takes to convert Oakland-Alameda County Stadium for football, the Raiders-Chargers game was rescheduled to an 11:30 EST start, like a Midnight Madness showing.  (For those of you in Toronto that like TIFF, you’ll get that reference.)

NFL After Hours.  One game in San Francisco, then a trip across the bay for another.  I loved it.  Halftime at 1 am.  It worked great, but it didn’t hurt that the venue for the late-night theatrics came in the Black Hole.  Either way, it was a blue moon occurrence that I reveled in.

I SAW the Texans find themselves in third place in the AFC South.  That’s one of the most surprising developments in this early 2013 season.

I SAW Texans QB Matt Schaub have an NFL-record fourth straight game serving up a pick-6 – and it only took 90 seconds for it to happen.  Niners DB Tramaine Brock jumped on a predictable edge pass from Schaub and took it to the house.  Two more interceptions followed to earn Schaub a pity benching in the fourth quarter.

I personally don’t think that the 3 INTs by Schaub were all that horrible.  Dallas’ Tony Romo’s gaffe in the clutch against Denver was worse (see: Denver wins @ Dallas, 51-48).  In fact, I’ve watched each of the interceptions numerous times and they seemed mostly due to sneaky and instinctive play calling on the part of Vic Fangio – and a failure to recognize this by Schaub.  In this sense it still feels like the picks are on Schaub.  The only way I can think how to put it is that the quarterback seems to have lost his sense of space, in the sense that football players can be like chess pieces that compete for territory.  The interceptions that Schaub threw Sunday night indicated that he didn’t realize that Niners defenders would be where they ended up.  The good news for Houston: That sort of thing can be revived in a QB. The bad news: If it isn’t, it’s a death knoll for a team.  And a head coach’s job security…

I SAW Texans head coach Gary Kubiak say this about the dismal performance by his QB Matt Schaub: “Hopefully that’s rock bottom tonight.”

Ouch.  He might inadvertently be referring to his own job too if the coach can’t right the ship soon enough.  Coverage of the NFL has a too-short memory, and the last two impressive years by Houston have obscured the middling season that it took for Kubiak to get his team to the top of the AFC South.  It’s time to remember those years.

I SAW Niners QB Colin Kaepernick have another off day on the stat sheet – 6-of-15 for 113 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 89.0 Rating, 1 rush for 14 yards – but Houston’s defense sports a formidable front seven.  Either way, it didn’t matter because San Francisco got back to their identity by running the ball behind arguably the best blockers in the NFL….

I SAW the Niners pound the rock.  According to ESPN Stats & Information, San Fran ran a designed rushing play on a season-high 67.3 percent of their plays against the Texans.  They also gained 118 of their 177 rushing yards before contact, which makes it 2 straight weeks that the Niners surpassed the century mark in that category.  This trend will need to continue for success:

Niners On Designed Runs – 2013

First 3 Games Last 2 Games
% Of Total Plays 35.4 62.4
Rush Yds/Gm 61.0 185.5
Yds Per Rush 2.9 5.1
TD 2 5

Houston’s defense came in ranked just 23rd in the NFL against the rush coming into Sunday, but the point is that San Francisco is getting back to their identity – with glowing results.  It’s no coincidence that after being outscored 56-10 in two defeats to the Seahawks and Colts, the Niners have won their last two games by a margin of 69-14.

In the bigger picture, the Niners improved to 3-2 and trail the Seahawks, who fell to 4-1 after Sunday’s loss to the Colts.  Seattle still owes San Fran a rematch in The Bay and WRs Mario Manningham and Michael Crabtree are due back within the next month, so it’s not going to be hard for Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh to paint a positive future for his players.

I SAW that I’m tired of the media talking about Niners CB Nnamdi Asomugha being inactive for a game like it’s a bad thing for his team.

Late Night- Oakland (2-3) wins v. San Diego (2-3), 27-17

I SAW Raiders QB Terrelle Pryor show some skills Sunday night. In the first half he went 13-for-18, for 141 yards, 2 TDs 0 INT and a 131.9 Rating.  He wasn’t able to carve up the below-average Chargers pass defense the way an elite pivot could, but he was clearly toying with San Diego when he was improvising and sustaining drives.  I didn’t expect Pryor to have much of a future in the pros, but at this point it looks like I could be wrong.

I SAW that I like Chargers head coach Mike McCoy’s offensive mind.  As an offensive coordinator in Denver he ran vastly different but successful offenses with Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow and Peyton Manning at quarterback.  But in the second quarter on Sunday the ’Bolts elected to go for it on fourth down and inches, trailing 14-0 to the Raiders.  The call: a delay handoff for an inside to Danny Woodhead.  Too fancy.

I SAW a bit of the old Philip Rivers on Sunday night.  By that I mean big yardage (his third 400-yard passing game of the season) but three interceptions.

I SAW Chargers RB Ryan Mathews, Man Made Of Glass, head to the bench with an apparent head injury Sunday night, saying “I’ll see you on the bench, [fellow Man Made Of Glass] Darren McFadden!”  Run DMC was in street clothes for this game thanks to injury.  Both the Raiders RB and Mathews spend more time with doctors than Michael Jackson.

Seriously, though – concussions are a serious matter.  I know; I suffer from them myself at the moment.  Moving on.

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

At Least Let Us Keep The Shirts On Our Back Award

Matt Flynn, Raiders (formerly)

I get it, Matt Flynn.  You should be bummed.  You got cut from an NFL team and your career is up in the air.  But you should really be clinking glasses of Cristal with your agent for getting paid $14.5 million over the last two seasons for just one start.  Yes, you took that 600-yard passing game in 2011 and milked it harder than the last cow on earth, while two teams agreed to take on a hilarious contract.  Seattle saw you and they fled.  Oakland has done the same thing.

I SAW the Raiders have their biggest halftime lead since 2002 on Sunday, at 17-0.  For those of you scoring at home, that’s shit.

I SAW PROPS to Raiders DB Charles Woodson for scooping up a loose ball and taking it to the house against the Chargers, and in the process scoring his 13th defensive TD, tying him for the most all-time with Darren Sharper and Rod Woodson.

Can we say that Woodson is a Pick Magnet?  (I can’t get enough of that starting sequence.)

To cap it, Woodson iced the game with his 52nd career interception, tying him for 17th all-time in that category.  Call me a Michigan whore, but I’m throwing up this ad from last year, with Woodson and fellow Wolverine Heisman winner, Desmond Howard.

Woodson-Howard-Michigan Ad

MNF- New York Jets (2-3) win @ Atlanta (1-4), 30-28

I SAW the Falcons prove themselves to be the most recent franchise to have fallen on hard times this season after years of success.

The Atlanta defense is in shambles.  The Jets averaged 5.4 yards per rush (118 yards on 22 carries) Monday night.  More importantly, Hot-lanta’s D was so bad that it made rookie QB Geno Smith look like a 10-year veteran (see below).  That’s exactly what Falcons S William Moore said following the game, at any rate.  GM Thomas Dmitroff failed to address the team’s glaring need for a pass rush during the offseason beyond adding DE Osi Umenyiora to replace an aging John Abraham, which played a large role in Smith’s success.

More than the defense, the most obvious culprit has been injuries.  Free agent acquisition RB Stephen Jackson has been out of the lineup since the first possession of the season, which has rendered the offense much more one-dimensional than head coach Mike Smith would have liked.  On top of that, five other starters had been lost to injury coming into Monday night – and things only got worse.  WR Roddy White left the game with a bad hamstring and RB Jason Snelling got sidelined with a concussion.  The worst news, however, came on Tuesday when it was announced that WR Julio Jones sustained a foot injury that could threaten to keep him out for the rest of the season.

In other words, things might even get worse for the Falcons.  This can’t be what future Hall Of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez envisioned when he decided to delay retirement one more year.

I SAW Jets rookie QB Geno Smith put up his first truly impressive stat line: 16-of-20, 199 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT, 147.7 Rating.  In fact, the first-year pivot joined Chad Pennington and Ken O’Brien as the only 3 quarterbacks in franchise history to throw three touchdowns in a game while completing at least 80 percent of his passes. (ESPN Stats & Information)  To top off his night, Smith led the Jets on a comeback drive with four straight completions and an 8-yard scamper to set up Nick Folk’s winning field goal as time expired.

As I just mentioned above, the Falcons defense failed to pressure Smith enough.  But for a kid who came into the game leading the NFL with 11 turnovers so far this season (8 of them interceptions), this is a huge step in the right direction, and shows that Smith possesses one of the crucial elements needed to succeed as a pro quarterback – unflappable confidence.  After falling from what some scouts saw as top-QB status all the way down to being chosen in the second round of this year’s draft, the West Virginia alum could have crumbled under the weight of his miscues to start the season.  Instead, as ESPN reported, Smith personally apologized to each member of the New York defense last week, then went out and played a game worthy of a top QB.  Who knows what Smith’s career will look like when it’s all said and done.  For now, he’s showing promise.

I SAW PROPS to Falcons TE Tony Gonzalez as the second player in NFL history to have 200 straight games with a reception.  (I shouldn’t have to tell you who the other guy is.)

STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK FOR WHAT I SAW, WEEK 6 – HERE AT TFQ. 

IN THE MEANTIME, FOLLOW US ON FACEBOOK AND @TFQuarter

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One thought on “What I Saw, Week 5 – 2013

  1. Pingback: What I Saw, Week 6 – 2013 | The Fifth Quarter

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