Blair Miller > WHAT I SAW – WEEK 9, 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.)
Away from the game(s)
I SAW perhaps the wildest Sunday of the season so far, with a ton of close games and interesting individual performances.
I’m abandoning the look at winless and unbeaten teams at this point, since the goodness of Kansas City and the shittiness of Jacksonville and Tampa Bay all seem like givens at this point.
Also, let’s hold off on a detailed playoff picture because it’s just too murky right now.
Some overall thoughts:
AFC: The conference is looking really weak and confusing right now. In my eyes, both first round byes are up for grabs among Cincy, New England, KC, Denver and Indy. Then there’s another tier of mysterious teams bunched up for Wild Card spots, like…the JETS?! Apart from whoever wins the West (KC or Denver) and perhaps the Colts in the South, no division leads are safe. It’s looking like the December divisional games could have huge consequences.
NFC: Packers, Lions, Bears – oh my! Those three teams all sit tied at 5-3 atop the league’s strongest division – the North – and each team’s weaknesses and injuries pose for some great intrigue as the season gets rolling downhill. All of the other divisions are also up in the air if you ask me – yes, even the South, where the shocking Panthers could make life difficult for the Saints.
Who knows what sort of injuries will happen before January? There will also be a number of impact players coming back to action as the season goes on. Bears QB Jay Cutler is rumored to be ahead of schedule rehabbing from his groin injury, and Percy Harvin is likely to take the field within the month (most likely after Seattle’s bye week), for instance.
Things are so wild that there are now even head coaches to account for on the IR….
I SAW Broncos head coach John Fox undergo open-heart surgery on Monday and is expected to be away for a month or so. Defensive coordinator and former Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio will serve as interim coach while Fox recovers. Denver now has a bye week to adapt. Then they host the undefeated division-rival Chiefs on Sunday night. No biggie.
Get well, coach Fox. You too, ….
I SAW Texans head coach Gary Kubiak suffer what has now been diagnosed as a “mini-stroke” on Sunday night. After building a 21-3 lead, Kubiak dropped to the turf on the way to the locker room at halftime as what few home crowd fans and media members that hadn’t left their seats watched with worry. Kubiak was put on a gurney and taken via ambulance to the hospital. It’s unclear whether the incident will keep Kubiak out of any games.
Houston arguably has an even more accomplished “backup” head coach in defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. I’m not a fan of Del Rio or Phillips, but the latter has dealt with more transitions than the Kardashian’s plastic surgeon(s). Most recently he babysat the Cowboys into the ground before Jason Garrett got asked to keep an eye on Jerry Jones’ baby.
Tragedy aside, I can’t wait until Phillips wins people over with his player-friendly laisser-faire style and gets another head coaching job that he loses several years later because of his player-friendly laisser-faire style. (See Norv Turner for a similarly agonizing coordinator-head coach-coordinator-then head coach again cycle.)
I SAW Dolphins OT Jonathan Martin storm out of the team facility and seek psychological help after being pranked for an umpteenth time.
I don’t want to say much about this unclear situation. All of the guilt seems to be on G Richie Incognito, who has never been Mr. Congeniality. The team suspended Incognito indefinitely. The allegations are as serious as racial taunts, physical threats, and extortion. (Yes, I consider demanding $15,000 from someone for a group trip to Vegas extortion – if that is indeed what happened.)
The ugly incident shows that bullying isn’t relegated to non-adults. Martin has been having a very disappointing last season and a half, which couldn’t have helped matters. Let’s just hope he comes out of this okay.
On Incognito’s behavior: I’ve played on football teams. I understand that there is a pecking order, spoken or unspoken. But I’ve never understood why a player would berate and/or torment their own teammate, especially when both are members of what is often the closest-knit group on the team – the offensive line. That makes bush league look pro. Why abuse a teammate?
I SAW Jaguars WR Justin Blackmon get suspended for the rest of the season for another violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Blackmon’s ability is top-notch, but he just can’t seem to stay on the straight and narrow. (Mind you, I’d like to know what substance or substances Blackmon is abusing.)
Is there anything Jacksonville can do right these days?
Byes: Arizona, Denver, Detroit, Jacksonville, New York Giants, San Francisco
TNF- Miami (4-4) wins vs. Cincinnati (6-3), 22-20-OT
I SAW the Dolphins beat the Bengals in a wild finish – the third safety in overtime in NFL history. Let’s toss out an early TRIVIA BOMB:
Viking Mike Merriweather had the first OT safety in league history in 1989 and Bear Adewale Ogunleye had the other one in 2004. (STATS LLC) So no divisions other than the North ones in either conference have recorded an OT safety.
Now that’s trivial.
It was a crazy ending to a game that Cincinnati had led in most important statistical categories. Miami DE Cameron Wake had been slowed by a knee injury in recent weeks, but on Thursday night he looked like his All-Pro self with 3 sacks. The last one came when he knifed up the middle on what looked like a line stunt and took down Bengals QB Andy Dalton in his own end zone to win the game. Mind you, Cincy lost in one of the more crucial categories, turning the ball over four times to Miami’s one. They also lost something more important….
I SAW the biggest bummer injury so far this season when Bengals DT Geno Atkins tore his ACL. In my opinion, the majority of the top teams this season have inflated records due to weak opponents; less so for Cincy. I know I’ve been a broken record about them making noise in the playoffs, perhaps even snagging a first round bye. Whether or not you agree with that, it’s hard to deny that the Bengals had been looking quite good recently.
Atkins is arguably the team’s most valuable player, and him going down for the year sucks. How’s this for dominance at an increasingly important position? According to ESPN Stats & Information, over the last three seasons Atkins is first in the NFL in sacks (26.0), first in forced fumbles (6) and third in snaps played 1,901 among defensive tackles. His 12.0 sacks last season were the most by a DT since La’Roi Glover in 2000 and he was basically on pace for that mark, with 6.0 through his first eight games before bowing out in the second quarter on Thursday. Atkins’ importance to his team goes above and beyond those numbers, though. As probably the strongest player in the league, he anchors the middle of a game-changing defense that also stuffs the run. He kind of reminds me of John Randle. Now defensive coordinator Mike “Why Am I Not A Head Coach” Zimmer’s talents will really be tested.
The Bengals will make the playoffs, but it’s doubtful that they’ll make the same impact as they could have with a healthy Atkins.
I SAW PROPS to Bengals RB Giovanni Bernard for run of the year so far. Not only did he go all Barry Sanders by weaseling out of a double-tackle in the backfield, but what seems like minutes later he finds another gear to shift into following the second time he cut it back across the field. There aren’t many players who could find that gear.
I SAW an early nominee for one of TFQ’s Upside Down Awards, given following the Super Bowl:
The Back To Basics Award
In an increasingly cerebral league sometimes it makes all of the difference to get back to the simple things.
The Dolphins ran for a season-high 157 yards Thursday. Not only is that an impressive total against a solid Bengals defense but the ground game was just what the doctor ordered after a lame O-line helped the ’Fins to a 4-game skid prior to hosting Cincy. I said it last week (see: Arizona wins vs. Atlanta, 27-13) and I’ll say it again – a struggling offensive line is more likely to regain its confidence through run blocking than pass blocking. It didn’t hurt that stalwart defender Geno Atkins left the game with a devastating knee injury in the second quarter (see above), but hopefully Miami offensive coordinator Mike Sherman has shaken off his Cam Cameron-itis and learned the benefits of a running game to protect his young QB, Ryan Tannehill, who has been constantly under duress this season.
I SAW Dolphins WR Mike Wallace make a long-awaited impact in a game this season. The highly paid free agent acquisition’s most influential play was drawing a 38-yard pass interference call in overtime that ultimately won the battle for field position and thus the game. But the seed was planted throughout the game, while Wallace caught 6 of his 8 targets for 82 yards.
As I’ve mentioned above, the offensive line committed to the run game, which gave them the upper hand overall. From there QB Ryan Tannehill found a comfort zone behind the protection that gave him just enough time to find Wallace – a welcome change from recent weeks. As it stands, Miami is showing some moxie with a potential playoff berth within sight. Wallace needs to keep being a big part of the offense if that goal is to remain plausible. Not only can he produce but Wallace’s ability also stretches a defense and commands double teams, which is good for both the air and ground attacks.
I SAW Bengals DE Carlos Dunlap force his 7th forced fumble over the last 2 seasons. According to ESPN Stats & Information that’s tied with Broncos LB Von Miller for 5th in the NFL over that span.
What’s most impressive about that stat is that there are four players over the last 2 seasons that have forced more than 8 fumbles.
I SAW Dolphins CB Brent Grimes play like a beast Thursday night, despite 302 yards passing from the Bengals and his two broken tackles on one play during that Giovanni Bernard TD (see above).
Overall, Grimes showed the closing speed and tenacity that had raised eyebrows before his Achilles injury last year. Atlanta would have taken too big a risk with their payroll to offer Grimes the $5.5 million that Miami did. That 1-year contract probably has only served to motivate Grimes further, and he’s looking great after an injury that often takes multiple years to recover from.
I SAW PROPS to A.J. Green for being the first Bengals WR with four straight 100-yard receiving games since Carl Pickens in 1994. (Elias Sports Bureau) That PROPS is more for a Pickens shout-out than anything else.
Kansas City (9-0) wins @ Buffalo (3-6), 23-13
I SAW the Chiefs continue their charmed season. This is not a team built to play from behind, but after Buffalo scored the first TD of the game and gave Kansas City their second game trailing by halftime, the Chiefs buckled down and made sure they wouldn’t have to play catch-up any longer. They got to do so against a rookie making his first start (see below), further cementing them as one of those teams each season that ride a weak schedule and some timely breaks along the way en route to the playoffs. (And then flounder the following season once the scheduling process catches up with them for the high W-L record, but I digress.)
The Chiefs won the game the same way they have all season: On the strength of their defense and the turnover game. They converted three turnovers into 17 points – and never turned the ball over themselves. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Kansas City is now the fourth team this season to score multiple defensive TDs in a game – and those teams are 4-0. A more poignant fact is that KC’s seven touchdowns for their defense and special teams ties the total scored by the whole Jaguars team. The unit has a lot of emerging players, but LB Tamba Hali leads them and was Johnny On The Spot again on Sunday, returning a fumble 11 yards for a TD. His 9.0 sacks and 4 forced fumbles still don’t do credit to the impact Hali has on the field. He’s been playing under the radar on a team that had been middling at best. Now he’s getting his due.
The icing on the cake for KC: They now head into a bye week and head coach Andy Reid is 13-1 in his career after his team has a week’s rest. That’s reassuring news for a team staring down division rival 7-1 Denver in two weeks.
I SAW more evidence of the dominance of the Chiefs defense this season in the form of a TRIVIA BOMB:
Kansas City held their ninth straight opponent to 17 points or less. According to STATS LLC that matches an NFL record set by the Falcons in 1977.
I SAW Bills RB C.J. Spiller finally make a big impact for a team that had been hoping for him to have a huge season. Injuries (especially a bad ankle) have limited Spiller, but against the Chiefs he had a season-high 155 yards from scrimmage (116 on the ground) after averaging just 57 per game coming into the weekend. It might be too little too late for Buffalo and Spiller but at least he’s giving it his all. It was clear he was hurting, since he pulled up a bit lame after a few of his big runs.
I SAW myself mention this in a previous week, but Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles still leads the NFL in highest percentage of his team’s yards from scrimmage at his position, with 37. (NFL Network) According to ESPN Stats & Information, no other Kansas City player has accounted for more than 14 percent of his team’s yardage. Charles’ number is too high; he’s taking up too much responsibility in the offense, not only for a non-durable back, but just in general. At least head coach Andy Reid looked elsewhere more than usual on Sunday….
I SAW the Chiefs finally start to feature WR Dwayne Bowe in the passing game. QB Alex Smith had already targeted the big wideout 7 times just 5 minutes into the second quarter – for 5 catches and 46 yards. Four of those catches resulted in a first down.
I SAW Bills QB Jeff Tuel become just the fifth undrafted rookie to start in the NFL over the last 20 years and the first since Max Hall did so for Arizona in 2010. (Elias Sports Bureau)
Give Tuel some credit. His 139 yards passing is a season high for a Bills QB in the first half….Aaand then he shat the bed on the first drive of the third quarter, driving his team to the KC 1-yard line and then serving up a 100-yard interception return for a TD to Sean Smith to tie the game and give up a lead that Buffalo would never regain.
New York Jets (5-4) win vs. New Orleans (6-2), 26-20
I SAW the Jets pull off an upset and in the process sustain their streak of alternating wins and losses to start the season.
I’d like to nominate the Jets as the weirdest team this season. They shouldn’t be that good but they are, and they don’t do it so much by playing ugly as they do by simply gutting games out on a play-by-play basis. There’s an old-school Rex Ryan scrappiness to this group and in my opinion it’s no coincidence that the loquacious head coach is less prominent in the public eye this season. In other words, he’s been less of a distraction.
Don’t look now, but if the playoffs started this week (I know, I know – it’s early) the Jets would be in!
Whatever the case, New York is finding ways to win with a rookie quarterback that they really – really – have to massage wins out of….
I SAW Jets QB Geno Smith throw eight completions. The whole game. According to ESPN Stats & Information those passes were thrown a total of 7 yards downfield.
Talk about making sure your rookie quarterback isn’t put in a position to fail. In defense of the Jets coaching staff, Smith came into the game with a 14.0 passer rating against the blitz. What’s more, apart from a really good defense and a solid O-line, Smith isn’t playing with much of a supporting cast. It makes sense to play so conservatively. Hey – New York has rotated wins and losses all season so 100% of the time it has worked every other time.
I SAW Jets head coach Rex Ryan prevail in the battle of the twin brothers against Saints D-coordinator Rob Ryan. Gang Green won largely on the strength of its running game, which tore holes in the front seven of ’Nawlins. Former Saints RB Chris Ivory had a season-high 139 yards on the ground – 107 of which were before contact. (ESPN Stats & Information) Over the last three games, the Jets’ game plan on offense hasn’t been too mysterious: Pound the rock. They’ve averaged 37.3 carries for 156 yards over than span. It’s about time.
In all, New York had seven plays of 19 yards or longer against the improved New Orleans D. LB Jonathan Vilma came back from a knee injury to start his first game of the season, but he and several of his teammates looked reluctant to take it to the Jets blockers.
I SAW a strong point in support of the contemporary dominance of scoring tight ends, as Saints TE Jimmy Graham joined a short list on Sunday:
Most Consecutive Seasons By A Tight End With 9 TD Catches – NFL History
I mentioned in a previous post that Graham’s lingering foot injury could be reminiscent of one suffered by future Hall Of Famer Gates in the sense that he will barely practice for the rest of the season. So far Graham has been doing a great Gates impersonation in the sense that he is producing despite obvious limitations. Not only did Graham find a limp-y groove and rack up 9 grabs for 116 yards and 2 TDs against the Jets, but when he caught his second TD of the game in the second quarter it was his fourth TD over a span of seven targets dating back to the previous game. Apart from Detroit’s Calvin Johnson I’m not sure there is another more valuable non-QB on any other NFL offense than Graham. But this was still a depleted offense and it showed….
I SAW Saints WR Marques Colston spend the game in street clothes due to injury, and reliable RB Darren Sproles exit the game early with a concussion, leaving QB Drew Brees with fewer options to exploit downfield. In fact, I’m willing to bet that head coach Sean Payton had an assortment of screens and passes out in the flats to Sproles in the script against the aggressive Jets defense, but had to abandon that plan once the back left the game. One thing I do know: New Orleans had to use all three of their timeouts in the first quarter, that’s how out of sorts they looked.
Dallas (5-4) wins vs. Minnesota (1-7), 27-23
I SAW another vintage performance by Cowboys QB Tony Romo that helps speak towards the misconceptions about him. (As faithful readers know, I’m a Romophobe.)
Everyone will talk about how Romo led Dallas to another late win, but Romo simply took what the defense gave him on that TD drive with short passes – and Big D needed a missed Blair Walsh PAT to help them. (The Vikings were forced to try to score a TD on their last gasp drive, instead of tying the game with a field goal had Walsh made the kick.) What won’t be mentioned enough is what happened on the earlier important drive when the pressure to produce was arguably more intense. Romo served up an interception on a crucial late-game drive while trailing the Vikings by 3. The receiver was covered the whole time, Romo stared him down right from the snap, and despite seeing tight coverage, the quarterback threw it. Minnesota had gone 164 pass attempts without an interception – the longest then-active streak in the NFL – to boot.
I SAW for those of you who might argue that the Cowboys still deserve the status of America’s Team, consider this stat that came up during the FOX broadcast: In the 1996 playoffs Dallas beat the Vikings and then lost to the Panthers, who were led by QB Kerry Collins (can I get a laugh-out-loud?). Since the win over Minnesota, the ’Boys have gone 134-139, 1-7 in the playoffs. I suppose if you consider America spending a ton of money while struggling underneath an outsized reputation, then yes, this is America’s Team.
I SAW the Vikings have their worst start in franchise history since 1961. That was their first year of existence. They’ve now lost four straight and it’s hard to see what sort of foothold the players can use psychologically. Get a quarterback and shore up the middle of the defense, guys. With regard to the former, it’s gotta be burning ownership and the front office that they paid millions this year for QB Josh Freeman in a trade, and after a steaming log of a performance he’s been out with a concussion.
I SAW Vikings RB Adrian Peterson score an eye-popping run TD to put Minny ahead 24-20 late in the game. How did the manimal of a tailback manage to stay on his feet after the initial contact? The guy is unreal.
I SAW Vikings RB Adrian Peterson climb an auspicious ladder on Sunday. He became the fourth back in NFL history with at least 11 losses while rushing for 100 yards and scoring a rush TD.
Most Games With 100 Rush Yds and Rush TD In A Loss – NFL History
(ESPN Stats & Information)
(I kept this stat in the blog because there are fun names in it, but upon reflection all it really proves is that good backs on any sort of team – be it good or bad – will end up running often and well, even in losses.)
I SAW the Cowboys win, but they also managed to fall on their own sword yet again due to faulty play calling during the Jason Garrett era. That trend extends back beyond Garrett’s head coaching days in Big D, since he was also the offensive coordinator and play caller when Wade Phillips ran the team. Last week I started labeling an inability to call enough rushing plays to match a roster’s skill set as Cam Cameron-itis (after the former Ravens offensive coordinator who chronically underused Ray Rice), but in actuality Garrett was Cam-Cameroning before Cam Cameron was. (Huh?)
That trend reached a new extreme on Sunday. Here’s the lowdown, courtesy ESPN Stats & Information:
– Dallas became just the 38th team in the Super Bowl era to run the ball less than 10 times in a game.
– They got lucky: The Cowboys are just the second team out of those 38 to win the game.
– ’Merica’s team dropped back to pass on 87 percent of their plays. That’s the highest rate so far this season.
– They got lucky: The media and scouts would have you think that passing is the only thing that wins these days, but including Dallas’ win on Sunday teams that have dropped back to pass at least 80 percent of the time are 6-90.
– They didn’t even bother to hide it: The ’Boys ran 20 plays with an empty backfield – their most this season.
New England (7-2) wins vs. Pittsburgh (2-6), 55-31
I SAW the Patriots hang a Fitty Burger on the Steelers and in the process help the Steelers earn a nomination 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.
Pittsburgh gave up 55 points to the Patriots Sunday – the most in franchise history. The 610 total yards gained by New England is also the most yielded ever by Pittsburgh.
Can it get any lower for the Steelers? It’s not just the offense in disarray. After years of flirting with it, the aging defense is well beyond its breaking point in terms of being able to keep up with opponents in the open field. When you watch Pittsburgh big plays are getting broken, pursuit angles can’t be held and underneath pass routes are getting given away like candy. It’s sad, really – unless you’re a Pats fan. I took the time to break down how much of a get-well game this was for Tom Brady:
Tom Brady – This Season
|First 8 Games||Sunday vs. Steelers|
It should be pointed out that ALL of those stats in the Sunday column are season highs for Brady.
Things came easily for the Pats on the ground, too. RB Steven Ridley came into the game averaging just 64.3 yards and 14 touches per game this season. On Sunday he either tied or set season highs with 124 yards on 29 attempts.
What’s more, the outcome wasn’t even as close as the score indicates. Without a momentum-slowing turnover that helped produce two Steelers TDs this score would’ve been much uglier.
I keep saying that I like the guy – and I do – but I fear that the dark days looming for the Steelers will cost head coach Mike Tomlin his job. I love Tomlin’s demeanor and command of his team, but everybody’s time at a job comes to an end that no one necessarily chooses. I also wonder if Tomlin has benefitted from being able to play the hands-off field general as a coach with a defensive background who just so happens to have one of the best defensive coordinators on his staff in Dick LeBeau. It doesn’t help Tomlin’s long-term job security that LeBeau is 76 years old. If the front office sees it the same way I do, they might break from their tradition of super-long-tenured head coaches (Tomlin is just the third Steelers skipper since 1969, Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher being the other two).
One thing is for sure – it looked like there were 11 LeBeaus out there on the gridiron in New England. I don’t mean that in a good way, like saying that there were 11 coaching minds on the field. I mean that it looked like there were eleven 76 year-olds playing defense.
I SAW the Patriots not exactly clamp down on Steelers receivers either, giving up 400 yards through the air. New England’s D is really missing CB Aqib Talib in the backfield, but at least their struggles let us set off another TRIVIA BOMB:
Sunday’s New England-Pittsburgh game marked just the 5th time in NFL history that both quarterbacks threw for 400 yards and 4 touchdowns. The home QB has won every time.
400 Yards And 4 TDs By Opposing QBs In Single Game – NFL History
|Year||Road QB||Home/Winning QB|
|2013||Ben Roethlisberger||Tom Brady|
|2013||Tony Romo||Peyton Manning|
|2012||Matthew Stafford||Matt Flynn|
|1994||Drew Bledsoe||Dan Marino|
|1986||Dan Marino||Ken O’Brien|
(Elias Sports Bureau)
I remember that Bledsoe-Marino game fondly. It was the first game of the season, Bledsoe’s second one as a pro, and Marino’s first game after returning from a season-ending Achilles injury the previous year. There were tons of whispers that Marino wouldn’t be the same after the injury. It was a wild back-and-forth 35-39 thriller. And I really mean back-and-forth. Only once did either team score twice in a row – when Marino connected with Irving Fryar for TDs at the end of the third quarter and the early minutes of the fourth.
Hell, let’s set off another one, which we can also file under Exhibit Z-45 in the case for how silly the passing game has become in recent years, also courtesy Elias Sports Bureau:
New England became the third team in league history to have 3 players with at least 120 receiving yards and a touchdown in the same game. One of the other two instances also happened this season:
Three Players On One Team With 120 Receiving Yards and a TD In Same Game
|2013 Patriots||Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Dobson, Danny Amendola|
|2013 Cowboys||Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Jason Witten|
|1961 Oilers||Charley Hennigan, Bill Groman, Billy Cannon|
I SAW the Patriots miss another key defender as much as – or more than – CB Aqib Talib (see above), and that man is defensive lineman Vince Wilfork. In the 4 games since Wilfork was lost to an Achilles injury New England has given up at least 130 rushing yards per game – including Sunday. In fact, according to ESPN Stats & Information, only Jacksonville has given up more rush yards over the same span. Ouch. No wonder the Pats made a deadline-day trade for DT Isaac Sopoaga.
Despite their injury issues, New England is still finding ways to make plays. Their current 36 consecutive games causing a turnover is the longest active streak of its kind.
Seattle (8-1) wins vs. Tampa Bay (0-8), 27-24-OT
I SAW the Seahawks grind out a win like it was an axe. Against the Buccaneers they were minus-3 in the turnover margin – just the second team this season to win despite that stat. The giveaways helped put Seattle in a 21-7 hole at halftime. But they came back in overtime and won a franchise-record 12th straight home game. Mind you, the 12th man in Seattle was uncharacteristically quiet at many points during the game, as their team played down to the competition yet again.
I SAW Seattle’s comeback occur in large part because of a tendency that shows itself during many successful comebacks: the team with the early lead starts to shit the bed when the deficit shrinks and coaches start to change the formula that had been so successful in the early going. Even though the Buccaneers had controlled the clock with RB Mike James and a ground attack that had the ’Hawks superb defense on its heels, when Seattle came within a TD of Tampa Bay to start the fourth quarter the Bucs switched to the pass for some reason.
Tampa Bay Play Distribution On Offense – Sunday
|First 3 Quarters||Fourth Quarter & OT|
(ESPN Stats & Information)
*- Includes sacks and scrambles
While I understand the psychology behind the move, it still surprises me how often play callers succumb to the anxiety of a mounting comeback.
I SAW the vaunted Seahawks defense allow 200 rushing yards in two straight games (for the first time since 2002, according to STATS LLC). What’s up with that? While division rival San Francisco is surging, Seattle is showing a lot more kinks in their armor as of late.
I SAW, lost in the second half collapse by the Buccaneers, another solid game from rookie QB Mike Glennon. He wasn’t terribly productive – just 168 passing yards and 2 TDs – but keep in mind that Tampa Bay didn’t really start to look to the passing game until the end of the game (see above). Glennon completed 17 of his 23 passes and looked uncharacteristically poised for a first-year pivot against a defense that often chews up QBs and spits them out. It’s early in his young pro career, but at least the Bucs may have found a viable option at quarterback for the years to come during this awful season of theirs.
I SAW an amazing, muscular punt return by Seahawk Golden Tate in the third quarter that set up a Seattle field goal to cut Tampa’s lead to a touchdown. Amazing return. Just amazing. You only get a handful of plays like this one per season, when a player appears to simply refuse to be brought down, as though his will exceeded his stature. Usually a guy named Peterson brings them to us, but this play was a treat nonetheless.
I SAW Seahawks QB Russell Wilson continue his Aaron Rodgers impersonation.
Rodgers, the Packers quarterback, has been making a career out of playing behind poor pass protection but using his calm demeanor, athleticism and disciplined footwork to perform at a high level. People keep saying that Wilson hasn’t produced as much as he did as a rookie, but all of his major stats are surprisingly similar. Sure, ideally a sophomore QB shows more improvement in the stats than Wilson has, but he’s still persevering despite a markedly more porous O-line compared to last season. According to ESPN Stats & Information Wilson came into Week 9 as the most pressured quarterback in the league, having been under duress on 39 percent of his dropbacks. Sunday was no different, as the Buccaneers got to him on a career-high 55 percent of his dropbacks. But look at how much that pass pressure took Wilson out of his game (hint: not at all)
Russell Wilson – Sunday vs. Tampa Bay
|Under Duress||No Duress|
|Yards Per Att||9.6||7.1|
More importantly, after an iffy first half, Wilson went 15-of-18 overall in the second half and overtime, also rushing for a TD in the third quarter that got Seattle back in the game.
Having a quarterback that can make something out of bad blocking is a great asset, but it’s also playing with fire, as evidenced Monday night in Green Bay when Rodgers went down with a shoulder injury. (see: Chicago wins @ Green Bay, 27-20)
Carolina (5-3) wins vs. Atlanta (2-6) 34-10
I SAW the Panthers pull within a game of the NFC South lead at week’s end. I’d like to say, “Watch out for this team.” I’ve been vocal about their defense and I’m a big Cam Newton fan. But this team has had a soft schedule, and the next three weeks will tell us more about this team’s mettle: They face the Niners, Patriots and Dolphins before a matchup with the Buccaneers. Oh – and they have yet to play either of their two games against the division-leading Saints.
I SAW the Falcons commit four turnovers for the second straight week. It’s a fitting number – four – seeing as how it can signify the number of wheels that have come off of this team. QB Matt Ryan and company have done what they could amongst a flurry of key injuries and a lack of solid play at the line of scrimmage on either side of the ball, but Sunday’s beatdown at the hands of the Panthers represents solid proof that the tipping point has been reached. Carolina QB Cam Newton didn’t even need to play that well to win handily (see below), and Ryan’s mental clock that anticipates pressure is probably sounding off about a full second earlier than desired, which leads to bad decisions no matter how talented a quarterback you are. That explains his very uncharacteristic seven interceptions over the last two games.
GM Thomas Dmitroff doesn’t strike me as the type who will sit on his hands and hide behind the excuse of injuries after a season like this one, so it will be interesting to see what sort of things go down in Hot-lanta over the next calendar year.
I SAW Panthers QB Cam Newton have an equivocal game. On one hand, his timing was off, his aim inconsistent. It was the first game in about a month that the third-year wunderkind has looked out of his element, throwing two interceptions on iffy deep balls. On the other hand, Newton filled up the stat line in a sneaky enough way to earn a win despite spotty play. His numbers look even more impressive in a broader context (via ESPN Stats & Information):
Sunday was Newton’s 18th career game with a passing touchdown and a rushing touchdown. That’s the most by a QB in his first three seasons during the Super Bowl era. In fact, since Newton became a pro in 2011 no other pivot has more than 6 such games. Add on 200 yards passing to those requirements, and Newton’s already had 16 career games with 200-1-1. It’s safe to say that, barring injury, he’ll sit atop this list at some point.
Most Games With 200 Pass Yards, Pass TD, Rush TD – Super Bowl Era
I really enjoy watching Newton play. He’s the closest thing to LeBron James in the NFL in terms of a physical specimen that can influence the game in more aspects than most players. Let’s hope as the years go by that he is more Steve Young and less Daunte Culpepper.
I SAW one injury concern for Carolina to keep an eye on: According to the Associated Press, right guard Chris Scott and his backup Jeff Byers both left the game, and the team was forced to play defensive tackle Nate Chandler there. It’s the sort of problem that might not be that significant in and of itself, but could be a problem if another starter on the line goes down.
It also makes me wonder: Does this mean Carolina dressed just three guards for the game? That seems ill advised.
I SAW Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart make his debut this season after sitting out due to an injury. The result: 43 yards on 9 rushes, and 22 yards on three catches. That’s not too glitzy but like Mike Shanahan Shenanigans, the Panthers have thrived with a chaotic pecking order in the backfield during the Cam Newton era. Hell, Mike Tolbert has five TDs in the last four games with lesser yardage. In other words, Stewart’s numbers don’t raise eyebrows, but they don’t need to as part of an ensemble performance.
Cleveland (4-5) wins vs. Baltimore (3-5), 24-18
I SAW the Browns possibly take another step in what could be a long-overdue turnaround of their fortunes. (Notice how carefully I’m wording that prediction.) Coming into Sunday, the Ravens were 5-0 under head coach John Harbaugh after a bye week (which they had last week) and they’d also gone 11-0 against Cleveland since he and QB Joe Flacco came to Baltimore. Ending those trends don’t make for a revival, but in a town like Cleveland, optimism is served out in increments, so they’ll take it.
The lion’s share of signs for hope for the Browns lies with their stout defense, but the team is also getting help from a very unexpected source – journeyman QB Jason Campbell, who reportedly gutted out his winning performance with bad ribs. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Eriq La Salle’s lookalike tied a career high with 3 TD passes against 5 or more pass rushers – just the third time since the start of the 2006 season that the Ravens have given up three touchdowns when sending pressure.
Which bring us to….
I SAW the Ravens defense striking fear into no one. Everyone assumed that the squad wouldn’t measure up to previous years after being depleted by free agency departures and the retirement of Ray Lewis, but this is something else. The Super Bowl champs rank 14th in the NFL against the pass, 25th against the run and 23rd overall. Worse, they’ve now lost 3 straight and 4 of their last 5. On one hand, Baltimore’s last 4 losses have been by a combined 14 points. On the other hand, this used to be a team that would win those close games.
Oh, and remember how bad the Steelers have looked this season? Baltimore is only one game ahead of them for last place in the upside-down AFC North – and they have to face division leader Cincinnati next week.
All of the negative expectations for the Ravens – the depleted defense, the disappearance of Ray Rice (see below), Joe Flacco not being able to perform to his contract value without a possession receiver – are coming true. In spades. There’s still a significant chance for the Ravens to avoid being another defending champ that misses the postseason the next year, but they’re going to have to turn things around fast to save this season.
I SAW Browns WR Devon Bess score a TD in the second quarter to put Cleveland ahead 14-3 over the defending champs. During the play he gave Ravens CB Lardarius Webb shrinkage. That is to say that the wideout juked Webb out of his pants and it was cold out, so, yeah – shrinkage.
Speaking of shrinkage, someone’s role keeps getting smaller and smaller….
I SAW Ravens RB Ray Rice get held to 9 rushing yards after contact for the second straight game. According to ESPN Stats & Information since the start of 2009 Rice had never had single-digit rush yards after contact in any game with at least 10 carries until this recent mini-slump.
One can make a number of different arguments as to why Rice isn’t playing well: He hasn’t been the same since his hip injury in Week 2; offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell suffers from Cam Cameron-itis; the offensive line is in shambles. One thing that can’t be disputed is that no one interested in Baltimore’s success wants to see QB Joe Flacco lead the team in rushing (25 yards), as he did Sunday.
Washington (3-5) wins @ San Diego (4-4) 30-24-OT
I SAW the Redskins win to remain 1.5 games behind the lead for their division.
Ah, the NFC East. Where an unsung second-year QB can throw as many TDs in a game as anyone ever (see: Philadelphia wins @ Oakland, 49-20), where the Cowboys stress themselves into a division lead – and where an unknown player can net a touchdown hat trick (see below).
Washington is still a very weak team overall, but their offense is getting more and more productive as the weeks go by. They put up 500 total yards against the Chargers – a level of production that would have made for a more favorable score, had the special teams not been dominated.
I SAW the Chargers take the early crown for an Uptight Girlfriend Award: They can go almost all the way, but they just can’t finish the deal.
On Sunday San Diego finished regulation in sad style. After instant replay correctly overturned an acrobatic TD by Danny Woodhead the Chargers had to kick a tying field goal after failing to score from the 1-yard line on three straight plays. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the ’Bolts have scored on just 18 percent of their snaps from the 1-yard line this season – 18 percent. Coming into the week, the league average was 49.
Just try and relax, and let go, San Diego. We can play some music…is it too fast? What can we do to help you get off?
Awww, poor Chargers. Seriously, though. Candles, soft music and Astroglide aside, the Chargers did all they could do, short of finding the end zone – including bucking an historic trend….
I SAW the Chargers block two Redskins field goal attempts in the first half on Sunday.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, San Diego had gone since Week 10 of the 2002 season without blocking a field goal. They were the only NFL team over that span to have failed to get their mitts on a kick attempt. In fact, San Diego’s opponents had attempted a crazy 291 straight field goal attempts without being blocked by the Chargers, and Washington got burned twice in one half.
I SAW Redskins QB Robert Griffin III take a Super Bowl John Elway-esque dive into contact to convert a third down run in the second half. He was also much more aggressive with his decisions in the read-option, using his quickness to draw contact before pitching the ball. To me, this was the sign that RG3 is pretty much back to last season’s form in terms of mindset after his knee surgery. It is probably too little too late with the shoddy defense of Washington, but it’s nice to see.
Then again, the ’Skins ran the table to win the NFC East last season…. Just sayin’.
I SAW the Chargers defense continue its strong play. Yes, they allowed 30 points, but they wreaked havoc all day and had a franchise-record streak of 12 straight quarters without allowing an offensive touchdown until the second quarter.
I SAW Redskins WR Pierre Garcon build on his rapport with his quarterback. Last week, Garcon and Robert Griffin III made some big plays together, but this week was something else. Look at these numbers, courtesy ESPN Stats & Information:
Robert Griffin III By Target – Sunday vs. San Diego
|To Garcon||To All Others|
|Yards Per Att||15.6||5.7|
|First Down %||46||33|
The stats don’t tell the whole story – Garcon made a few acrobatic catches under tight coverage, showing his evolution as a receiver now that both he and RG3 appear to be getting over previous physical ailments.
But there was another Washington player who made even more out of his opportunities….
I SAW Redskins RB Darrel Young make the most out of his dozen-yard opportunity. The former linebacker from Villanova was converted to a fullback after entering the NFL in 2009 as an undrafted free agent, and on Sunday he became the first player to score 3 rushing TDs with 12 total yards or fewer in the game since Steeler great Jerome Bettis did it in 2004. (ESPN Stats & Information) You know you’re scheming some sneaky stat lines when you’re in the Bus’ department – although Bettis managed a hilarious hat trick of TDs on just one yard rushing in that ’04 game against the Raiders.
I SAW some nice looking special uniforms on the Redskins players….
Anyone else feel like the extra Indian-face logo on the sleeves of the jerseys is an eff-you to those who have been calling for the franchise to change its racist name/logo?
Tennessee (4-4) wins @ St. Louis (3-6), 28-21
I SAW the Titans improve to .500 this season by winning against the head coach that built the franchise up into one of the league’s best during his 17-year tenure. Jeff Fisher’s Rams ran into a sneaky-good Titans team and lost their third straight. The loss of franchise QB Sam Bradford is starting to take its toll even though the team is really playing tough like a typical Fisher team does.
I SAW Rams RB Zac Stacy begin to establish himself as a starting tailback, if even for (previously) run-challenged St. Louis. Stacy is short – just 5’8” – but he’s built like a square, and St. Louis has realized that he can pound the line of scrimmage. To wit: On Sunday, 22 of Stacy’s 27 runs and 113 of his 127 rushing yards went between the tackles. He also led the NFL with 96 percent of his runs going between the tackles coming into Week 9. (ESPN Stats & Information)
How badly did St. Louis need a running back to step up? Let’s just say that the first of his two rushing TDs was the team’s first of the season. If Stacy can keep up with the physical demands of being the top back, you can bet hard-nosed head coach Jeff Fisher will want to feed him the pigskin in the games and seasons to come.
I SAW Titans RB Chris Johnson step out of a sad slump to have a big game, with 150 yards on 23 carries (6.5 average) and 2 TDs. I forgot that he could do that.
Does the nickname CJ2K even feel appropriate anymore? It’s like calling Ed Reed a game-breaking safety so far this year. (Sorry, Ed. But you spent a lot of time on the pine Sunday night.)
Consider that Johnson went a career-high 7 scoreless games before finding the end zone against the Rams on Sunday. According to ESPN Stats & Information that touchdown snapped a league-leading 17 rushes in the red zone this season without a TD. Johnson also took until Sunday to have his first 100-yard rushing game, breaking another longest streak of his career of 9 straight games without 100 yards. At this point, Johnson’s production has been so poor that a game like this one no longer represents a return to form. Instead, it’s something to build on and then maybe we can believe that Johnson still has the right headspace (he seems to have the speed) to cut up defenses.
Philadelphia (4-5) wins @ Oakland (3-5), 49-20
I SAW the Eagles pin up nigh unto a Fitty Burger on the Raiders.
QB Nick Foles returned from a concussion to concuss the record books. Foles had some help from his friends – the ones dressed in Silver & Black. Oakland’s defense looked like they were running through a lax practice on Sunday. Actually, they looked a little something like this:
If we could just replace the orange with silver…
After the pylon-ing was over, Foles had 406 yards on 22-of-26 passing (78.6%), a perfect 158.3 passer rating – and an NFL-record 7 TD passes to show for it. He actually threw less incompletions (6) than touchdowns. Crazy. Three teams have seven or less passing touchdowns this season.
Congratulations to the guy who looks like Napoleon Dynamite for becoming just the seventh to put up seven. Let’s send him off with a salvo of TRIVIA BOMBS:
From Elias Sports Bureau:
Foles’ game is arguably the best 7 TD game of all time, because he’s the only one of the group to throw all seven before the fourth quarter.
From ESPN Stats & Information:
Foles joins Peyton Manning and the great Y.A. Tittle as the only 3 QBs in NFL history to throw 7 touchdowns and no interceptions in one game.
Foles is the third QB in league history to throw seven touchdowns in a road game. The other two were Adrian Burk for the Eagles in 1954 and legend Sid Luckman in 1943.
I SAW Eagles QB Nick Foles put up his record numbers against blitzes, standard pass rushes – everything the Raiders could throw at him. He now has 13 TD passes and no interceptions so far this season.
Is there a QB controversy in Philly? There sure as hell shouldn’t be after Sunday. Yes, Vick was anointed the starter by head coach Chip Kelly, and yes, Kelly has said the job is Vick’s once he recovers from his bad hamstring. But no one has run Kelly’s up-tempo offense as flawlessly as Foles did in Oakland, so what would it say to his team if Kelly demoted Foles for Vick, who despite superior physical skills has made too many typically-Vick bad decisions while running the offense? When he got hurt, Vick was completing just 54.6 percent of his passes to go with 5 pass TDs and 3 interceptions. His ability in the run game be damned, that’s not good enough. Unless Foles lays an egg sometime between now and Vick getting a clean bill of health I don’t see how a quarterback change is justifiable.
I SAW Raiders rookie CB D.J. Hayden look like he needed some of this spread on him on Sunday:
Hayden was toasted repeatedly by Eagles QB Nick Foles. The rook didn’t get a lot of reps in training camp due to health issues so it’s tough to be too harsh, but there have been times this season when the first round draft pick looks like a vintage Raiders whoopsie.
I SAW Raiders QB Terrelle Pryor leave the game with a knee injury in the fourth quarter. All reports indicate that it isn’t serious. I saw him leave the game, and it seemed like one of those safety precautions to protect the most important player on the team in an unwinnable game.
Who would have ever thought, say, a year and a half ago, that it wouldn’t be crazy to call Pryor the most important Raider right now? But it’s true. He’s really surprised with his decision-making, the game seems to have slowed down for him and his running ability/athleticism is exceeding high expectations. On Sunday in a bad loss Pryor still found a way to run for 94 (on just 10 carries) yards and pass for 288. Credit should also go to head coach Dennis Allen and the staff for putting Pryor in positions to succeed. Sure, it’s the Eagles defense, but if we can faun over Peyton Manning or Tom Brady when they have good games against shitty defenses, why not Pryor?
I SAW a need for a realty check: Yes, the Eagles offense showed the Raiders who was boss. But Philly hasn’t been the boss for a while. In fact, they’ve been subordinate. TE Brent Celek’s TD in the first quarter represented the first offensive touchdown for Philly since the fourth quarter against Tampa Bay in Week 6.
I SAW Raiders RB Darren McFadden leave the game after re-aggravating a hamstring injury that kept him out of a previous game this season.
And the adventures of the Man Made Of Glass continue….
SNF- Indianapolis (6-2) wins @ Houston (2-6), 27-2
I SAW Colts QB Andrew Luck lead his team to the 10th fourth quarter comeback of his young career. He’s done it in 24 games, the most comebacks in a QB’s first two seasons since 1970. (STATS LLC) Wow.
But this win was bittersweet for both teams, due to head coach Gary Kubiak’s mini-stroke suffered at halftime (see: Away from the game(s)). The Texans had stormed out to a 21-3 lead at the break thanks to surprising play by QB Case Keenum (see below), but it’s safe to say that shell-shocked Houston sleepwalked through most of the second half while Indy mounted its comeback. Kubiak’s absence was obvious, at least in the play calling….
I SAW the Texans abandon their game plan to throw downfield in the second half after head coach Gary Kubiak went to the hospital. Sure, credit goes to Indy for getting their shit together and taking it to a solid Houston defense, but these numbers are pretty telling:
Houston WR Andre Johnson – Sunday
|First Half||Second Half|
(ESPN Stats & Information)
One could argue that what Texans offensive coordinator Rick Dennison did in the second half was try to spread the ball around to different receivers as opposed to feeding Johnson the rock repeatedly, which isn’t necessarily a bad idea. But as QB Matt Stafford, WR Calvin Johnson and the Lions will tell you – if it ain’t broke….
Johnson wasn’t the only wideout tearing up DBs Sunday night….
I SAW Colts WR T.Y. Hilton pick up where Andre Johnson left off at halftime. Actually, it took longer than that. It wasn’t until 5 seconds remained in the third quarter that Hilton scored the first of his three TDs – all of which came within a span of 11:05.
The diminutive second-year wideout figures to become much more involved in the offense now that number 1 option Reggie Wayne is out for the year. So far in his pro career, Hilton has shown much promise and blazing speed but he’s been inconsistent, disappearing from games at times. Sometimes being forced to step up due to the injury of a teammate is a convenient way for a streaky player to find out how to be more consistent. We’ll see.
I SAW Texans RB Arian Foster leave the game with a back injury. He’s had hamstring problems since the summer, and looks to be living in Compensation Injury Land. All of a sudden Foster’s sentiments that sitting out the preseason was a good rest aren’t looking terribly accurate.
I SAW Texans QB Casey Kasem – wait…. sorry, Case Keenum – pass his way up the depth chart on Sunday. After shitting so many beds that he got confused for a geriatric, previous starter Matt Schaub was quietly made a healthy scratch on Sunday after initially losing his starting spot due to injury. Make no mistake – Schaub did sign a fat contract extension last year worth a maximum of $62 million, but according to ProFootballTalk.com’s Mike Florio Houston can save $10 million and a $1 million roster bonus by cutting Schaub next year. Enter Casey Kasem.
Keenum is a rookie who played college at Houston, and he looked very much at home in the first half, throwing a great deep ball and making very good decisions. Before Indy’s second half comeback, it felt like Texans fans were going to start driving around with these bumper stickers:
Everyone would get it, right? Right?
Keenum’s line on Sunday: 20-for-34 (58.9%), 350 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT, 124.4 rating. In his second start. How many games with a QB rating that high has Matt Schaub had in his 87 regular season starts as a Texan? I checked. Seven. Just sayin’.
MNF- Chicago (5-3) wins @ Green Bay (5-3), 27-20
I SAW the Bears win in Lambeau on the strength of their offense, which is surprising given the absence of QB Jay Cutler. Nonetheless, backup Josh McCown led Chicago to 442 total yards – their most ever in a win at Lambeau.
I was critical of the Bears’ failure to sign a better backup than the uninspiring McCown. But although his numbers from Monday night don’t jump out at you, he played admirably against a Packers defense that is beset by injury but not to be taken lightly.
When Cutler went down, word was that head coach Marc Trestman was a fan of McCown – and it showed in the aggressive downfield game plan the first-year NFL head coach designed for the game. What’s more, it sure looked like McCown convinced Trestman to go for it on a fourth-and-inches play late in the game after the special teams unit had already taken the field. You don’t see that happen very often with an unproven backup.
I SAW that if the Packers thought they were ravaged by injuries before Monday night, they didn’t know the half of it. Franchise QB and 2011’s league MVP Aaron Rodgers left the game early with what Rodgers himself is now calling a broken left collar bone. Rodger’s departure made for a surreal time warp to Seattle about a decade ago, when Seneca Wallace stepped in in relief. How much will Green Bay miss their star while he’s gone? Well, look at where he ranks in the NFL since his first career start in Week 1 of 2008:
Aaron Rodgers Since 2008
(ESPN Stats & Information)
I SAW Packers rookie RB Eddie Lacey continue to look like the feature back that Green Bay had hoped for when they took a risk on him in Round 2 of the draft after his stock dropped due to foot problems. After easing back into the lineup after a concussion, the rook is showing the same combination of speed and power he displayed in college at Alabama. In fact, Lacey leads the NFL with 545 yards since he returned in Week 5. Also, his 150 yards against Chicago is the most in a game for Green Bay since Ryan Grant way back in 2007.
The overall result is that the Packers finally have some balance (when QB Aaron Rodgers can play, anyway). Four of Green Bay’s best rushing performances as a team over the last 5 seasons have come in their last 6 games. (STATS LLC) They’ve also had a franchise-record 7 straight games with an 80-yard rusher. (ESPN Stats & Information)
I SAW that the injury to Packer QB Aaron Rodgers (see above) will never be good news for his team, but at least leaning on their rejuvenated ground game should be a positive: According to ESPN Stats & Information since Rodgers took over the starting job in 2008 Green Bay is 33-2 when they call designed rushes at least 40% of the time.
I SAW Bears DE Julius Peppers emerge from a bad slump with his first batted pass this season. In fact, he showed some of his old athleticism by catching that batted pass for his ninth career interception and first since 2010.
STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK FOR WHAT I SAW, WEEK 10 – HERE AT TFQ.