Blair Miller > WHAT I SAW – WEEK 10, 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 Week 10 provide us with a handful of statement wins:
– The Jaguars and Buccaneers both got off the schnied, winning their first game of the season. (Let’s get the poop cleared out first.) Does this mean that the Chiefs – the lone undefeated team – will fall next week? Stay tuned.
– The Saints took the Cowboys out behind the woodshed – big time. All of a sudden New Orleans needs every win it can get because….
– The Panthers showed that, yes, they can beat a top team. They have yet to play their two games against the division-leading Saints so the NFC South could be theirs for the taking.
– The Lions gutted out a win in the Windy City to take the lead in an injury-riddled NFC North, within which Detroit is the only team not getting crippled by injuries.
– The Ravens prevailed in a virtual must-win game to stay within shooting distance of the Bengals in the AFC North.
– In one game, the Rams made the statement that they can’t be ignored – yet – and the Colts showed that they can lay a big fat egg.
I SAW the most surprising Game Of The Year So Far looming next week, as the undefeated Chiefs go to Denver to face the 8-1 Broncos. By surprising I mean that few of us would have had Kansas City at 9-0, much less relevant for this game when the season started.
The overall matchup garnering the most attention, of course, is the league-leading defense against the NFL’s best offense:
– The Broncos are shorting out scoreboards this season, having put up the most points in NFL history through the first 9 games of the season with 371. (TRIVIA GRENADE: The 1950 Rams held the previous mark, with 358.)
– The Chiefs lead the league, allowing just 12.3 points per game. I did some brief stat digging to put that in perspective. The 2000 Ravens hold the record at 10.31. The only other team to do better than Kansas City since then was the Buccaneers in 2002. Both Baltimore and Tampa Bay won the Super Bowl those years. Just sayin’.
– I love the veteran feel the Chiefs defensive unit has to it, despite the core group having played only a few seasons together. KC gives up 326.9 yards per game – 23rd overall – but they know when and where to give them up. Andy Reid is the leading candidate for Coach Of The Year, and deservedly so. But former GM Scott Pioli built this defensive roster and deserves due credit.
Here’s something to throw everything all off-kilter: According to NFL Network’s Total Access, in the second half of the season Peyton Manning has gone 1-2 and averaged 142.3 passing yards per game with a passer rating of 76.3 against the league’s #1-ranked scoring defense.
As I would expect any conscientious fan to think, this game will just as likely come down to how many points the Chiefs can score as opposed to how many they allow. If you combine KC’s last three seasons they have just 30 TD passes to Manning’s 33 so far this season alone. In other words, the Chiefs D could play an otherworldly game and still lose if their teammates on O can’t find the end zone.
Broncos fans sighed in relief Monday after an MRI revealed no structural damage to Manning’s sore ankle and proved that he is going to play Sunday night. I’ll be curious how much Manning practices this week, and how limited he looks when he does.
I keep hearing pundits say, “oh, Peyton will be fine. He’s not a mobile QB anyway.” Those people likely haven’t played quarterback and aren’t thinking about how much agility and sound footwork is required to just hand off the ball and/or move in the pocket.
It’s rare to see Manning hurt, so there’s some intrigue here. How will he compensate to handle a destructive Chiefs pass rush that leads the NFL with 36 sacks? Will he be able to work his typical play action magic (see: Denver wins @ San Diego, 27-20) if his footwork is hindered by the ankle? Will he take a shot of some magic painkiller prior to the game?
One thing’s for sure: If Manning is willing to admit that his ankle feels “pretty sore,” as he did during the postgame press conference, you can bet that it hurts like a bitch. It’s a juicy, juicy storyline to ponder during the time leading up to kickoff.
I SAW that Bullygate, aka the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito scandal, isn’t likely going anywhere for a while. It’s like when Chief Wiggum was stuck in the hot dog machine during “Bright Nights, Beef Jerky”: It’s going to get worse before it gets better.
A few thoughts on the matter before I put the scandal to bed until concrete findings are shared:
No one directly involved with the situation is going to be better off for this. The best we can hope for is that the saga – regardless of what has actually happened – helps in the cause against bullying in all age groups.
I was surprised and happy to hear Michael Irvin say this on NFL Network Thursday afternoon during Around The League (I’m paraphrasing): You don’t get to decide how much someone else feels abused. Surprised, because that sentiment comes from the man who once stabbed a teammate in the neck with a pair of scissors because he wouldn’t get out of a barber chair. Happy, because maybe Irvin has changed his outlook on such matters as he’s grown older, like he has with other things.
This is a very serious situation, so I make this analogy not to belittle the gravity of it all – but this feels like an A Few Good Men thing….
Martin had struggled mightily for the first season and a half of his career. It wouldn’t be the first time that a team culture had begun giving the weak link a hard time to see if the man will either crack and quit the game or toughen up and become the player they think they need him to be. Think giving Private Santiago a code red because he couldn’t keep up – and that if that’s true the unwritten disciplinary code of football needs an amendment that, at times, requires stringent punishment. Think “you’re under further suspension, you son of a bitch.”
Kinda looks like an older Incognito…though Jessop should be played by head coach Joe Philbin – only if it’s true he knew about the bullying.
So who ordered the code red? Was it a phenomenon perpetuated by rogue player(s), or was it something that parts of the team staff understood as “the way things go” and thus either turned a blind eye to, or advised players to test Martin’s mettle? Incognito was interviewed by Fox’s Jay “White Ahmad Rashad” Glazer and this is what Sports Illustrated’s Peter King said on The MMQB:
“Glazer said Incognito wouldn’t answer whether Miami coaches ordered him or anyone on the team to ’toughen up’ Martin because he was playing soft. By not answering, of course, Incognito said plenty.”
That part of the interview was left out of the on-air footage, but was reported by King.
To stay with the analogy, we can all handle the truth in this situation. So let’s wait until it comes out – if it can, via the investigation – before we get too into the he said-she said analysis.
Byes: Cleveland, Kansas City, New England, New York Jets
TNF- Minnesota (2-7) wins vs. Washington (3-6), 34-27
I SAW not a lot of defense being played in this game, which was to be expected.
Well, Kevin Williams and the Vikings D-line turned up the pass pressure in the second half but that’s about it. Both defenses have a reputation of being soft against the pass and there were indeed lots of missed tackles downfield, but I was repeatedly shocked at how often the front sevens of both the Redskins and Vikings got manhandled by the opposing O-line. There were so many times when offensive tackles didn’t even need to seal off the edges – they could just basically engage the defender and start to sashay with him away from the play and huge holes would appear as if it was some embarrassing square dance.
As a result, some bad players looked pretty good – like Minny QB Christian Ponder, who was playing some of the better football of his pro career until injuring his left shoulder by diving at the goal line pylon in the third quarter.
I SAW Vikings RB Adrian Peterson have a quiet statistical day by his standards, but still tear off some impressive runs. It’s hard to contextualize the numbers Peterson puts up, but consider that his 75 rushing yards in this game is his lowest total in a Minnesota win since the 2011 season. (STAS LLC)
I’m still not sure I’ve seen a running back as literally unstoppable as Peterson. He had 63 yards (5.3 average) on a dozen carries with at least 8 defenders in the box. According to ESPN Stats & Information Peterson leads the league with 5.9 yards per carry with at least 8 men in the box. How do the merely human players usually fare in such a situation? The average for rest of the league this season is 2.8.
AP keeps etching his name in the history books. He currently ranks fifth all-time for rushing yards through a player’s first seven seasons. Counting Thursday night’s 75 yards the Minnesota tailback needs 925 more yards to catch LaDainian Tomlinson’s record in that category – or 132.1 yards per game over the last 7 games. That’s very much within the realm of possibility for a manimal like Peterson.
Most Rushing Yards – First 7 NFL Seasons
|Player||Yards (Including Week 10)|
(ESPN Stats & Information)
That’s some damn fine company, by the way. This whole list will eventually comprise of Hall Of Famers. (If LT and Peterson don’t don gold blazers at some point, I’ll eat my laptop.)
I SAW the Redskins stand at 3-6 for the season. That’s the same mark they had heading into their bye week last year before they ran the table to finish 10-6 and win the NFC East. Will that happen again? Likely not. Washington’s defense is even worse this year than it was last year, and QB Robert Griffin III only now resembles the player he was during his stellar rookie year.
As an aside, I saw the Sports Illustrated’s Jim Trotter put CB DeAngelo Hall on his midseason All-Pro team. I wish I could afford what Trotter is smoking.
I SAW a dumb time out by the Vikings with :38 left in the game, a 7-point lead and the Redskins needing to scramble and run a play in the red zone with no time outs. Lucky for Minnesota, Washington couldn’t find the end zone and the Vikes won on US soil for the first time this season.
I SAW Redskins QB Robert Griffin III take a lot of hard hits from the Vikings. I also think we shouldn’t talk about that sort of thing so much. Most of the tough licks RG3 endured were actually in the pocket. Defenses are going to try and hit him as much as they can because that’s what is typically done with a dual-threat quarterback, especially in the read-option. It doesn’t matter where he is on the field, and he’s not going to change the way he plays. (I personally thought a few of them could have been late hit penalties, given that I’ve seen weaker cases draw a flag.)
I SAW NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock point out one of the under-recognized advantages of the read-option offense: That the run-heavy scheme tends to pull a safety into the box to stack 8 defenders there, thus ensuring single coverage on the outside. Redskins WR Pierre Garcon isn’t an elite wideout in my eyes, but because he gets to work against a lot of man-to-man he’s starting to put up some good numbers this season.
I SAW Redskins RB Alfred Morris have another big game: 26 rushes for 139 yards. Morris lead NFL running backs with 5.3 yards per carry and he gains a lot of it the hard way. On Thursday the second-year back ran for 73 yards after contact – the most in one game in his career – but he’s also fifth in the NFL with 2.2 yards after contact per rush according to ESPN Stats & Information. That’s probably a guy you want to get a second-half carry in the red zone, (offensive coordinator) Kyle Shanahan. He didn’t. ’Skins lose a close one. Go figure.
I SAW Redskins S Brandon Merriweather get his first INT of the season during the early moments of Thursday night’s game. And he didn’t even need to tear someone’s ACL to do it….
Detroit (6-3) wins @ Chicago (5-4), 21-19
I SAW the Lions sweep the season series with the Bears for the first time since 2007 and in the process (with a Packers loss) take the lead in the NFC North for the first time since Week 5 in 2005. (STATS LLC) Not only is Detroit starting to string together good games in all three major phases of football – offense, defense, special teams – but they’re getting back that swagger they had two years ago when they won 11 games.
Give the Bears credit for Detroit’s win, though. The pseudo-Sonya (a draw on third-and long) to RB Matt Forte on the two-point conversion that could have tied the game with :40 left was so predictable. Lions DT Nick Fairley anticipated the play, but anyone with a cold could have sniffed that out. It showed when virtually the whole defense flowed to that spot at the snap.
I SAW a lesson for all of us: Never underestimate Jay Cutler’s groin – until he injures his ankle. After injuring his nether regions against the Redskins in late October it was expected that the Bears quarterback would be out at least a month, but he worked his way back to playing condition sooner than that, and came out slinging against the Lions. He looked good – for a time. Warm-ups were crisp and his throws had serious zip and accuracy to them when the game began. According to the Associated Press, the Nutler suffered a high ankle sprain in the second quarter, which seemed to aggravate his groin, which led to him bow-legging his way through a stale second half by the Chicago offense until backup Josh McCown was put in on sympathy duty.
I SAW the Lions offensive line continue it’s surprisingly consistent pass blocking. Detroit as allowed a league-low 10 sacks so far this season – and it’s not as if QB Matthew Stafford is a fleet-footed QB who can buy his hogs time, either. This is the number one reason for the turnaround in Motor City.
I SAW the Lions defense play a statement game Sunday. It wasn’t just the way that they limited Bears QB Jay Cutler in his return from a groin injury; it was how they bottled up RB Matt Forte. Chicago’s feature back gained just 49 yards from scrimmage in a game where he needed to take heat off of his quarterback because Detroit played daring, ball-hawking defense at the line of scrimmage – especially on the outside edges.
I SAW the injuries to the middle of the Bears defense get harder to deny when Lions RB Reggie Bush managed 105 yards on 14 carries (7.5 yards per rush) – 85 of those yards coming in between the tackles. (NFL.com)
That sort of weakness in between the hash marks tends to translate to a poor pass rush, which can give opponents better opportunities to throw deep. To wit: According to ESPN Stats & Information, Chicago has allowed an NFL-worst 56.7 completion percentage on passes 20 yards or longer downfield this season. (Last year they allowed just 29.0 percent.)
One DB was at a particular disadvantage Sunday….
I SAW that Bears CB Charles “Peanut” Tillman just can’t handle Megatron. The peanut got honey roasted by Lions WR Calvin Johnson. But honestly, who doesn’t? The way Johnson dominates with his cartoonish combination of size and speed is starting to become a joke. He’s dominating his position even more than Minny RB Adrian Peterson dominates his. Tillman is a very imposing and physical corner and beside Megatron he looks like a Hasbro toy.
Through his first 100 NFL games Megatron has been chewing up yardage at a pace never seen before, with the exception of one man:
Most Receiving Yards Through 100 Games – NFL History
(ESPN Stats & Information)
To make matters worse for Chi-Town, Tillman was put on the short-term injury list Monday.
I SAW PROPS to Lions WR Calvin Johnson, who passed Herman Moore for the franchise record for career TD receptions, with 63. Moore played 11 seasons in Detroit; Johnson is partway through his seventh.
Carolina (6-3) wins @ San Francisco (6-3), 10-9
I SAW the Panthers finally get a chance to test themselves against a good team – and they passed with flying colours to extend their winning streak to 5 games.
Since losing to the Seahawks in a close Week 1 game Carolina has gone 5-2, but that stretch was against teams that had a combined record of 15-43 coming into this week. In fact, the only team out of those seven with a record of .500 or better was the 4-4 Cardinals.
The rest of Carolina’s schedule is a much heartier test. After this intense tilt, they host the Patriots on Monday night, then the Dolphins, the Bucs (okay, so there’s that), then at the Saints, home to host the Jets and the Saints again before finishing off the regular season in Atlanta. What this means is that the level of intensity the Panthers took into Sunday’s game will need to be sustained. If they can finish .500 or better for the rest of the season, that crucible will be just what this young team needs to prepare for the playoffs.
I SAW the Panthers defense prove themselves as a squad not to be messed with. Not only did they hold the Niners to 151 total yards from scrimmage, but they also got stingier as the game went on against a Niners offense that tends to wear down their opponents. Carolina gave up just 45 yards in the second half, and I had to double-check this by going over the play-by-play, but San Fran had four yards in the fourth quarter. Four. QB Colin Kaepernick had just two completions in the final frame and was sacked three times.
With rookie DT Star Lotuleilei exceeding expectations and busting up the middle of the line of scrimmage, defensive ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy have become deadly. The Niners have one of (if not the) best offensive lines in the game, and they were shredded at times on Sunday. Add an overachieving secondary and some amazing linebacker named Kuechly, and it’s clear that Carolina spent the offseason becoming a candidate for an elite defense after playing the role of punching bag last year.
What’s most impressive on this D is the ability to penetrate and hold the edges at the line of scrimmage without dialing up many blitzes that would isolate their defensive backs in single coverage. Check out how well Carolina’s ability to bottle up a solid offense manifested itself in the stat line, courtesy ESPN Stats & Information:
– Kaepernick was sacked 6 times – a season high – and four of those came when Carolina rushed four defenders or less. He hadn’t been sacked 4 times so far all season.
– Kaepernick had his first game of the season without a single scramble. When he left the pocket he went 0-for-4 with two sacks.
– The Niners gained just 44 yards after contact on 32 rushing attempts, their lowest of the season. (And 12 of those 44 yards came on one run by Frank Gore, so it’s even worse than it looks.)
– San Francisco averaged 3.9 yards after the catch (43 yards on 11 receptions), also their lowest output of the season.
If there’s any doubt about the defensive backfield, at least it capitalizes on the disruption of the front seven – Carolina is tied with New England for the NFL lead with 9 interceptions on balls thrown 10 yards or longer.
To repeat: Keep in mind that this all came against one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. All the physical Niners offense could manage was 2 conversions on third down.
In a word: Dominance. Surprising dominance. Take notice, NFC. You have your first surprise playoff contender that no one wants to play.
I SAW the return of Niners WR Mario Manningham after being out for the first half of the season rehabbing a leg injury. He only had 3 catches for 30 yards, but with Michael Crabtree still out with a bad Achilles and Vernon Davis leaving this game with a concussion, any addition of capable bodies in the receiving corps is a welcome change in San Francisco
On the matter of Davis’ injury: When he left the game it was a death knell for the San Fran offense, who had no downfield playmakers at that point. It’s no coincidence that the penetration up front by Carolina picked up once they knew they could favour the short game in Davis’ absence.
There was an even more important concussion victim for the Niners that went somewhat under the radar….
I SAW Niners rookie S Eric Reid leave the game with a concussion. There’s a reason no one has been talking about the departure of All-Pro safety Dashon Goldson as a free agent in the offseason. It’s because Reid has played so well that there’s been a virtually seamless transition from Goldson to him. It’s not just his great stats like 5 takeaways that show Reid’s talent. He has that golden combination of speed and instinct that one looks for in a safety – it’s the thing that makes it seem like Reid is all over the field. He’s a heavy hitter when he arrives at the ball too.
If Reid misses much time it could pose big problems for the Niners defense. They have to face TE Jimmy Graham and the Saints next week, RG3 and the Redskins the week after that, and then two weeks later they have their rematch with the Seahawks. Not the best time to have your safety get a concussion – especially with the deadly Graham looming next Sunday.
I SAW Panthers QB Cam Newton finally win a close game as a pro. Since the start of his rookie season in 2011, he and Josh Freeman lead the NFL with 5 losses in games decided by 3 points or less. Sunday’s big win over the Niners was Newton’s first win in such games. His stats from the game won’t impress anyone – 16-of-32, 169 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, 52.7 rating, 7 rushes for 17 yards – but if the third-year pivot has taken up the mindset of his team, he won’t care so long as there’s a notch in the win column.
I SAW an old reliable star make his mark on this game. Panthers WR Steve Smith started out quiet, getting just one target from QB Cam Newton in the first half Sunday. But after some locker room adjustments, Newton started looking for his number one wideout and it paid off to the tune of 6-for-8 for 63 yards. That doesn’t sound like much, but think of the quality of the Niners defense. Newton is going to need a go-to guy in tough times as the season wears on, and this game reminded those in doubt that Smith can still play that role.
I SAW Niners LB Aldon Smith return to the team after being treated for substance abuse. He wasn’t ready to make an impact yet after more than a month away from the game and as such played in limited snaps, but that’s okay. Ahmad Brooks has been filling in well as the edge rusher in Aldon’s stead – on Sunday he had three sacks.
Denver (8-1) wins @ San Diego (4-5), 28-20
I SAW Broncos QB Peyton have yet another huge day, but all of it was overshadowed by the incident near the end of the game when he aggravated a high ankle sprain that he suffered a few weeks ago. Manning went 25-of-36 (69.4%) for 330 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INT and a 135.2 rating. It’s not even December yet and he’s already thrown for 30 touchdowns – the eighth season he’s done so, second all-time behind Brett Favre’s nine. (ESPN Stats & Information) He’s even outdone his previous self and tied his nemesis, who holds the record for TD passes in a season:
Most TD Passes Through 9 Games – NFL History
|Player||Year||# of TD Passes|
All of the other three instances listed above were MVP-winning years for that QB. Just sayin’.
Like I said, though, all anybody cares about right now is the state of Manning’s ankle/mobility heading into the big tilt against the Chiefs next week (see Away from the game(s)). In fact, one of the biggest Ankles Heard Round The World since Curt Schilling bled out in a sock has been fixated upon so much that it’s easy to forget head coach John Fox is still sidelined after heart surgery.
I SAW Broncos QB Peyton Manning getting it done the way he always has: Off of play action passes. Back in his Colts days, Manning would make a killing on play action even though Indy’s running game was consistently at or near the bottom of the NFL. Now he has a viable ground game led by RB Knowshon Moreno and it shows. Not only was Denver 9-of-9 on play action passes for 187 yards and three scores against the Chargers, but according to ESPN Stats & Information Manning leads the NFL with 1,317 passing yards (a whopping 40.5 percent of his total yardage) on play action. That’s 431 more yards than the next closest quarterback, Tom Brady.
I SAW the real key to Denver and QB Peyton Manning’s unprecedented success, and it’s something I’ve mentioned before.
Apart from Wes Welker, Denver’s receivers are just so big.
One clear indication of this is how the WR screen out of a bunch formation has been gold for them this season because they can set up a huge ball carrier out wide in space behind equally huge blockers. The Broncos seem to run more wideout screens over the last month or so than I can recall any other team run before. On one such play Sunday Demariyus Thomas took one for a 34-yard TD – untouched.
I SAW the Chargers drive inside the Broncos’ 23-yard line on three of their first four possessions – and come away with just two field goals to show for it. That’s the story of this game: San Diego squandering opportunities against a team you need to pounce on every chance you get.
Blowing chances is starting to be a recurring theme for the ’Bolts after failing to find the end zone on first-and-goal against Washington last week, which forced overtime.
I SAW very serious cause for concern when Chargers left tackle King Dunlap suffered his third concussion of the season on Sunday.
I’m no doctor or a scientist. I’m not even Batman. And I realize that neurology is a young science, particularly as it applies to sports medicine. But shouldn’t there be a point where, regardless of the daily testing, a player has been concussed too many times to be allowed back on the field in a given season? Maybe three times is too few; I don’t know. I do know that when I played Canadian university football that our starting tailback had to sit out the remainder of the season after having a certain amount of concussions. That was almost 20 years ago. If a middling league north of the border in the mid-1990s was on top of such a thing, shouldn’t the NFL be? Like I said, maybe Dunlap’s case doesn’t justify it. But when I read about a guy averaging a concussion every three weeks, it makes me wonder.
Philadelphia (5-5) wins @ Green Bay (5-4), 27-13
I SAW the duel all of us have been waiting for all season: Nick Foles versus Seneca Wallace. Well, I don’t know about you but I marked it down on my calendar when the schedule was released.
Whatever. Nothing that magical can last forever, so Wallace bowed out with a groin injury and Scott Tolzein took over for the Pack. I admit it – I didn’t have that on my calendar. But the November calendar for Foles continued full of eye-popping play….
I SAW Eagles QB Nick Foles have another big day, equaling an NFL record with 16 TD passes without an interception to start a season.
Much of the talk about Philly’s offense since new head coach Chip Kelly took over has been about the style of play he coached in college at Oregon. Not only was that scheme predicated on an up-tempo pace but it also employed a lot of misdirection plays in the backfield – not just to free up running angles but also to buy receivers space downfield. If that’s the case, then Foles is playing like a QB meant for the position. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Foles threw out of play action in 14 of his 18 pass attempts against the Packers, the most frequent use of play action in any game since the start of the 2006 season. The sophomore pivot has 6 TDs in the last two games on play action.
A more simple, conventional argument for Foles as starter: Philly has been waaay more efficient in the red zone with him as opposed to Michael Vick (who was inactive again this week with a hamstring injury).
Eagles Passing – Red Zone, This Season
|Yards per Att||6.3||2.0|
(ESPN Stats & Information)
Kelly will keep playing coy about who is the starter going forward but it will only be to keep opposing coaching staffs on their toes, if even for 5-10 minutes’ worth of practice spent on the possibility that Vick could go under center. And not to take anything away from Foles, but once RB LeSean McCoy started taking over the line of scrimmage it forced the Pack to put extra defenders in the box and open up deep passes in single coverage. That’s what the good passers do – pounce on what they’re given.
For now, Foles is the man. He should be. If Jeremy Lin can get a fat contract after his (more impressive) streak in the NBA two seasons ago, Foles can at least stay on the field.
I SAW the Packers lose their first back-to-back home games since 2008 during Aaron Rodgers’ first year as a starter, and their worst loss at Lambeau since 2006 (when they bowed down 38-10 to the Jets, according to the Associated Press).
This team is in trouble. QB Scott Tolzien played pretty well after being signed from the practice squad when Aaron Rodgers was diagnosed with a broken collarbone last week – 24-of-39 for 280 yards, a TD and 2 INTs. If Philly hadn’t gotten out to a lead Green Bay could have relied on their resurgent ground game, led by rookie Eddie Lacy. Instead, Tolzein had to put up 39 passes – an occurrence that would have melted Vegas kiosks if people had bet on that happening.
What’s more concerning, however, is the defense. Philly wideouts Riley Cooper and DeSean Jackson were getting behind the defense in those ways that make you shake your head and wonder what’s going on during practice in Green Bay. RB LeSean McCoy put up 155 yards on the ground. Injuries are a big reason why the Packers are struggling. Instead of their Super Bowl season several years ago when they were able to play through the roster setbacks, this season’s losses might be too much to bear.
I SAW the Eagles maintain a strange stat during head coach Chip Kelly’s first year at the helm: They are 5-1 on the road, and 0-4 on the road.
Funny, Philadelphia sports fans seem so hospitable.
Seriously, though. Philly is riding a 10-game losing streak at the Linc. They’re going to have to find a way to generate home wins if they are going to keep making a run at the NFC East title.
I SAW a weird stat: Eagles WR DeSean Jackson’s 55-yard TD grab was the first 50+ yarder allowed by Green Bay since week 4 of 2012. That’s surprising given how brutal the Packers have been against the pass in recent years.
On the subject of Jackson….
I SAW Sunday serve as a reminder that Eagles WR DeSean Jackson still has the speed and skills to break big plays. In fact, take a look at who he ranks better than in long pass TDs since he came into the league in ’08:
Most 50-Yard TD Receptions in NFL – Since 2008
|Player||50-Yard TD Receptions|
Sidebar PROPS to Victor Cruz. The Giants wideout is tied for third on that list after giving the rest of those players a head start by taking until 2010 to become pro.
Baltimore (4-5) wins vs. Cincinnati (6-4), 20-17-OT
I SAW the Ravens come away with a win they almost gave up during the last second of regulation. Baltimore jumped out to a 17-0 lead at halftime, only to see Cincinnati close the gap to 7 points before attempting a Hail Mary bomb at the end of regulation. As anyone who knows much about football will say, as a defensive back in that situation you just want to knock the ball to the ground instead of trying to catch it and risk a tip-drill reception. But Ravens S James Ihedigbo had a split-second brain fart and in what looked like a raw reflex to raise his arm in the air he got caught with his hand on the ball on its way down. A defender’s worst fear in that moment came true: The ball drifted over to wide open WR A.J. Green in the end zone to send the game to overtime.
Cue redemption. In OT Cincy tried a questionable swing pass to RB Giovanni Bernard on fourth down and Ihedigbo sniffed it out, forcing Bernard back towards a willing tackler. Give the Ravens DB some credit. He could have let that gaffe on the Hail Mary overshadow his 9-tackle, 2-INT day. (The first two picks of his pro career.) But he kept his head in the game, and gets an assist for the win instead of being the goat for a loss. On the next possession, Justin Tucker nailed a 46-yard field goal to give Baltimore a much-needed win.
The Ravens still have a chance at the AFC North and their sixth straight trip to the postseason, trailing the Bengals by a game and a half. They need to extend history, though: since 2008 they are 9-1 in November home games and they get 2 of their remaining 3 games this month in Baltimore.
I SAW the Bengals defense persevere despite missing several DBs, LB Ray Maualuga and top player DT Geno Atkins, who was lost for the season with a knee injury last week. The unit held the Ravens to 189 total yards on offense – the second lowest output for a winning team this season. (Seattle eked out 135 in a win against St. Louis.) Alas, Cincy still managed to lose their second straight OT game. Going forward, if they want to start to rule the division, the Bengals had better find a way to handle the Ravens. They have lost 5 of the last 6 matchups and face them again on Week 17 in what could be a huge game.
For starters, another playmaker needs to emerge offensively. The D is holding up its end of the bargain and A.J. Green had his franchise-record fifth straight game with at least 100 yards receiving despite consistent double coverage. Someone has to find a way to get open downfield in the single coverage Green creates for them – and I don’t just mean a fluky 4 TD-catch game.
Speaking of an offense that needs more big plays….
I SAW Ravens QB Joe Flacco continue to play below the value of his new $100 million contract.
The offensive line is in shambles. The running game is dead – unless you consider RBs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce averaging 2.7 yards per rush as a sign of life – and the receiving corps lost its lone possession receiver (TE Dennis Pitta) in the preseason. But that both explains and fails to justify Flacco’s bad season.
So here’s what we’re looking at for $37.8 million this season, as the Baltimore Sun details in their breakdown of Flacco’s deal: A 59.9 completion percentage, 256.3 passing yards per game, 12 touchdowns to 11 interceptions and a 77.3 rating. Then again, these numbers aren’t all that far off from the 5th year pro’s usual regular season output.
The most telling stat is Flacco’s ineffectiveness to produce with the deep ball. With all due respect to the guy, he isn’t exactly a polished short-to-intermediate passer. Flacco often makes his mark with a few deep bombs and that hasn’t happened much this season.
TRIVIA (STINK) BOMB:
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Flacco’s 32.1 completion percentage on throws of 15+ yards downfield ranks 30th among qualifying QBs. Even worse, he has yet to throw a TD pass on throws of 20 yards downfield in 40 attempts this season – the most attempts in the NFL without such a completion among QBs this season. Hell, Josh Freeman is second, and he’s only thrown 17 such passes – and Flacco had four of those types of completions in last year’s playoffs alone.
So much for the big-play potential of this offense. No running game either? What you get, then, is a shitty offense.
I SAW the Bengals set themselves back in the first half by getting penalized for more yards than they gained (114-102). No wonder they fell behind in the score. That’s no way to win games.
St. Louis (4-6) wins @ Indianapolis (6-3), 38-8
I SAW no one see this coming. Sure, the Rams are a tough team to play – especially their defensive unit – but wow. The Colts managed just 74 total yards in the first half en route to digging themselves a 28-0 hole at the half that would later balloon to a 38-0 trip behind the woodshed until Indy squeezed out a pride TD and 2-point conversion with just 1:35 left in the game. That first half production is the Colt’s lowest since the heydays of Dan Orlovsky in 2011 (Associated Press) when some guy named Peyton something-or-other had some neck thingy.
After seeing them play so well against top NFL teams this season, it was hard to imagine any team handing QB Andrew Luck and Indianapolis their collective hat to this extent – let alone St. Louis, who is without their franchise QB Sam Bradford (ACL tear) and had struggled to put points on the board recently. But the Rams forced five turnovers, three of them interceptions by Luck, who looked more like the questionable-decision-making rookie from last season than the improved pivot he’s been this year. Like in 2012, Luck put up yardage – 353, to be exact – but had some issues when pass pressure forced him to make quicker decisions under duress. Starting guard Mike McGlynn left the game with a broken thumb, but that hardly explains the discrepancy between Luck’s poise against the blitz leading up to this week and Sunday’s poop fest.
Andrew Luck vs. 5+ Rushers – This Season
|First 8 Games||Sunday*|
|Yards per Att||6.9||1.5|
(ESPN Stats & Information)
*- 3-11, 16 yards, 1 INT, 2 sacks vs. Rams
One explanation is that this is the first game during which Indy really felt the absence of elite WR Reggie Wayne, who is out for the season with a knee injury. According to ESPN Stats & Information Indianapolis targets their wide receivers on passes third-most often in the league this season, at 66 percent. That didn’t really change against the Rams, but the results aren’t nearly as good without Wayne:
Andrew Luck Targeting Wide Receivers – This Season
|Reggie Wayne||All Other WRs|
|Yards per Att||8.7||6.7|
Perhaps most telling: The Colts were 2-for-12 on third downs Sunday. As the sole veteran presence among the starting wideouts, Wayne was Luck’s security blanket in those situations. Speedster T.Y. Hilton is doing an admirable job of trying to provide extra yardage in Wayne’s absence (he caught 7 of his 8 targets for 130 yards against St. Louis), but to expect anyone on the current roster to replace Wayne’s presence is foolhearty. It might be a good time for offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton to start to lean a bit more on the run game, or at least to involve the backs and tight ends more in the passing game.
I SAW Rams rookie WR Tavon Austin finally go off. But it’s not like offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has found a way to get him a lot of touches yet. Austin’s 310 all-purpose yards came on just 2 receptions, 1 carry (for 4 yards), 4 punt returns and 1 kickoff return. (That’s just three touches on offense.)
How good is that big-play output? Let’s just say that the only two first year players who can match that number had (in my opinion) the two best rookie seasons in league history.
Rookies With 3 TD of 50+ Yards In A Game – NFL History
(Elias Sports Bureau)
Another similar pro-Austin fact – also from Elias Sports Bureau: If we add 5 more yards to the qualifier, the rook joins another distinguished group.
3 TDs of 55+ Yards In A Game – NFL History
|2001||Tavon Austin||St. Louis||Colts|
What’s striking about Austin is how effortless it looks for him to blow by all 11 opponents on the field. More striking: Sunday was the first time we truly got to sample that speed and/or talent during Austin’s rookie year.
I SAW Colts DE Robert Mathis get two sacks to set a career-high 13.5 that also happens to lead the NFL this season. He also set the franchise record for multi-sack games in a season, with 6. So I guess Mathis will be okay without his former bookend in crime, Dwight Freeney. (Freeney is now a Charger and out for the season with a quad injury.)
Two other bookend rushers are wreaking havoc, however….
I SAW Rams defensive ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn take it to the Colts – to the tune of 7 tackles, 3 sacks, 4 QB hits, 2 tackles for loss and Quinn forced a QB fumble that Long returned 45 yards to the house. These two guys are young, hungry and without weakness when they’re on their respective games. Quarterbacks and coaching staffs in the NFC West are going to have headaches for a while just thinking about this pair.
Arizona (5-4) wins vs. Houston (2-7), 27-24
I SAW the Texans suffer their franchise-record seventh straight loss. I’d say we have a winner for the biggest fall from glory this season (sorry, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Atlanta). This team is a shitshow – there’s so little going right. QB Case Keenum is showing promise (see below) but as far as I can tell, Houston’s two best players are the only ones playing as well as one would expect: DE J.J. Watt caused some fumbles and WR Andre Johnson had some sick TD grabs, despite the loss.
Let’s take a look at the two most popular problems the team is experiencing:
I SAW the Cardinals ruin the American Top 40 Countdown by making Casey Kasem (nee Case Keenum) look like the undrafted second-year QB he is, as opposed to the ageless tanned celeb who always makes it to the top of the charts. In his first two starts, Texans QB Keenum took on two likely playoff teams – the Chiefs and Colts – threw for 4 TDs, no INTs, 10.53 yards per attempt and posted passer ratings of 110.6 and 123.4. On Sunday Houston’s defense wasn’t interested in giving Keenum a chance to get a rhythm. The Texans sent an assortment of blitzes at Keenum, with notable success:
Cardinals Pass Defense By Rushers – Sunday vs. Texans
|4 Rushers or Fewer||5+ Rushers|
|Yards per Att||6.5||2.4|
|% of Passes Off-Target||4||21|
(ESPN Stats & Information)
Keenum is still playing well, considering that he wasn’t supposed to be playing at all until starter Matt Schaub both injured his ankle and played his way out of the lineup prior to going on the injured list. But it’s too little too late at a position that never had a positive foundation to build on this season.
I SAW Texans RB Arian Foster change address from Compensation Injury Land to Surgeryville.
Foster has been dealing with multiple ailments since sitting out the preseason with hamstring and back issues – a combination that often never gets better until extended rest and/or surgery occurs. After weeks of either limping through plays or watching on the sideline in street clothes, Foster has elected to have season-ending back surgery. One could argue that Foster’s summertime blahs were the starting point for the depressing season Houston is having.
I SAW that it’s far too premature to include a horrible offensive team in the playoff picture, but at 5-4 the Cardinals aren’t to be taken lightly by anyone. Their defense is for real (once again) and can bail the offense out enough to scrape out wins.
If they don’t get close enough to a Wild Card berth, the Cardinals could still figure into the playoff rankings by making life difficult for other teams. Out of their six remaining opponents, four of them are going to be mixed up in divisional battles that will determine playoff spots: Indy, Philly, Seattle and San Fran.
I SAW future Hall Of Fame safety Ed Reed get released by the Texans after his disappointing play following hip surgery in the offseason. Wow. How fast the mighty can fall.
Seattle (9-1) wins @ Atlanta (2-7), 33-10
I SAW any hype about this game being a rematch of last year’s Divisional Round playoff game come off as forced. At least for this season, these are two teams headed in drastically different directions – which the large margin of victory for Seattle indicates.
It’s weird to say it, but the Falcons were good for what has been ailing a stagnant Seattle offense. QB Russell Wilson threw for 287 yards and a 134.6 passer rating, and RB Marshawn Lynch beast-ed his way to 145 yards and a TD on 24 carries. It’s the first time this season that the ’Hawks offense has clicked in both facets. It’s not the first time the Dirty Birds have looked worse than dirty on defense.
I SAW the Falcons lose 6 of their last 7 games. QB Matt Ryan looked like shit, RB Steven Jackson looked like shit…it was shitty.
This is how low Atlanta has sank: Their lone TD on Sunday was just their third in the last three games. This is a team that ranked 7th in the league in scoring and 8th in the NFL in total offense last season.
I SAW Seahawks WR Golden Tate have another big game as he continues to evolve as a wideout. Against the Falcons, he showed that he can be an improv target for QB Russell Wilson when the latter is under pressure from the blitz.
As an aside, that one-handed, over-the-off-shoulder TD grab was dead sexy. Ungh.
Last week I mentioned that Wilson has been the NFL quarterback most under duress this season, so it behooves the Seattle offense to see these two guys develop a rapport in tough situations. According to ESPN Stats & Information Tate caught 4 of his 5 targets for 56 yards and a TD when Atlanta sent at least 5 pass rushers. Wilson had the second-best day of his pro career against the blitz on Sunday (9-of-12 for 164 yards and 2 TDs), and Tate’s ability to find ways to make himself a target when the pocket broke down was a large part of that.
In all, Tate snagged 6 passes for 106 yards and a touchdown. He had a bullish punt return last week as well, and looks like he’s getting a better feel for playmaking. He and (injured) Percy Harvin could make up a very difficult duo for opponents to cover.
New York Giants (3-6) wins vs. Oakland (3-6), 24-20
I SAW the Giants win in as ugly a fashion as some of their losses have looked. QB Eli Manning: 12-of 22 (54.5%), 140 yards, a 70.3 rating. He threw maybe his ugliest interception of the season – and that’s saying something – a telegraphed and stupid pick-6 to Tracy Porter to give Oakland the lead at halftime. New York turned the ball over three times, beginning with a fumble on the opening kickoff by Jerrel Jernigan that staked the Raiders to a 7-0 lead within the first minute.
Sadly, this sort of stench is what the Giants have been giving off all season. How 67-year head coach Tom Coughlin wasn’t the first head coach to suffer a stroke on the sidelines this season is beyond me. (I kid. Get well, Gary Kubiak.) The things he’s had to witness this season….
But on Sunday the G-Men also actually caught some breaks for once, like in the second quarter when Cooper Taylor returned New York’s first blocked punt for a TD since 1988. (STATS LLC) Don’t look now, but New York has won three straight, and just like every other crappy team in the NFC East, they have a chance at the division title.
I SAW Raiders QB Terrelle Pryor play hurt against the Giants. His hamstring is the main problem right now, but there might not be a part of Pryor’s body that isn’t banged up. He still gutted it out on Sunday. Unfortunately for the Silver & Black it didn’t translate into a good game. Oakland gained just 213 yards on offense and scored just one TD, which came gift-wrapped courtesy an opening kickoff fumble. (See above.)
I SAW any doubts about how desperate the Giants were for a running game get erased with 30 carries for RB Andre Brown in his first game of the season after rehabbing a leg injury. To Brown’s credit, he delivered: 115 yards and a TD, giving him the longest active streak of 100 yard rushing games, with 6. (Granted, it’s an injury-asterisk streak.)
I SAW Giants S Antrel Rolle look like his old self, tearing all over the field and leading the team with 12 tackles and a sack to boot. Rolle has never been able to stay healthy for too long, but when he is he’s one of New York’s best players.
Pittsburgh (3-6) wins vs. Buffalo (3-7) Buffalo, 23-10
I SAW the Steelers get a fool’s gold performance against the Bills.
A win is a win, – especially after the spanking the Patriots gave them a week ago. But a still-aging Steelers defense (that’s how time works, I hear) that ranked second-last overall in the NFL coming into the weekend merely pounced on an injury-riddled offense that had a rookie QB back in action after missing several weeks due to injury. The 227 total yards given up by Buffalo and 3-of 14 on third down shouldn’t be much for Pittsburgh to hang their hats on. You can bet after last week’s humbling and the candor of head coach Mike Tomlin that this team isn’t celebrating.
I SAW Bills WR Stevie Johnson get mired deeper in Overcompensation Injury Land on Sunday, leaving the game with a groin injury. Buffalo’s best scoring threat on offense has seen his lower body and back effectively ruin his season.
Between he and RB C.J. Spiller and of course the injuries to the quarterback position, when was the last year that Buffalo didn’t see their offense get beset by injury?
I SAW the Steelers play an adequate game on offense against the Bills. Adequate. After the game, QB Ben Roethlisberger flatly denied reports that he was disgruntled with coaching and management and wanted to be traded. The one part of that statement I don’t buy: No one gets along with offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
Jacksonville (1-8) wins @ Tennessee (4-5), 29-27
I SAW an early candidate for one of TFQ’s Upside-Down Awards at the end of the season:
Thief In The Night Award
The Jaguars ended a 13-game skid and notched their first win of the season by beating the last team they won against – the Titans. One black eye among a myriad of sad moments for Jacksonville in 2013 has been the open-ended suspension of second-year WR Justin Blackmon. On Sunday, karma smiled upon the sad Jags and their ugly-ass helmets (make up your mind – cool matte black, or frilly gold) when, late in the fourth quarter while his team was protecting a lead, a different Jag named (Will) Blackmon took the ball from the grip of QB Ryan Fitzpatrick like a bully takes a kid’s change in the cafeteria, and took it to the house. According to head coach Gus Bradley (via the MMQB’s Peter King) Blackmon was playing nickelback for the first time as a Jag. The rare strip-6 essentially sealed Jacksonville’s first win of the season. (Tennessee had another chance late, but it depended upon a desperate onside kick attempt.)
It sounds way-too-weird to say it, but the Jaguars are 4-2 in this series over the last six meetings. So I guess this means that there is only one team in the NFL that could legitimately worry about Jacksonville. Well done, Titans.
I SAW Titans QB Jake Locker go down for the season with the dreaded Lisfranc injury. He suffered on a handoff, of all plays. It’s been a tough and injury-riddled pro career so far for the young quarterback. I thought Tennessee drafted him too high…maybe that’s the case, or maybe Locker still has a bright career in front of him. But he’s had some tough breaks thus far – literally.
I SAW the Associated Press report that every Jaguar player will receive a game ball for their first win of the season.
There’s a failing franchise right there – one that rewards being less than mediocre with game balls.
I SAW the Titans commit four giveaways. If that loses a game against the shittiest team in the league, it’s safe to say that 4 turnovers don’t equal success.
SNF- New Orleans (7-2) wins vs. Dallas (5-5), 49-17
I SAW the Saints hang nigh unto a fitty-burger Sunday night.
Anatomy Of A Beatdown/Blitzkrieg of TRIVIA BOMBS:
– New Orleans set a new NFL record for first downs in a game, with 40 – a most unenviable 40-Burger for the Cowboys defense, which lost LB Sean Lee during the game for at least several weeks (groin). To put that silliness in perspective, Dallas’ offense ran 43 plays as a team. Oh – and New Orleans ran 80 plays in all. So half of their plays went for first down. Ouch, Dallas.
– The Saints gained a franchise-record 625 total yards on offense, including 242 yards rushing – the team’s highest total on the ground since 1990. (STATS LLC)
– 165 of those rushing yards came before first contact. (ESPN Stats & Information)
– Saints QB Drew Brees completed a career-high 19 consecutive passes in the first half, 5 behind the NFL record of 24 set by Donovan McNabb and – gulp – Matt Schaub. (NBC Broadcast)
– Brees didn’t throw an incompletion on third down.
– Cowboys QB Tony Romo didn’t throw a completion on third down.
– Dallas gained just 193 yards on offense and held the ball for less than 21 minutes and had just 9 first downs (one due to a Saints penalty) – on 10 possessions.
On a similar note….
I SAW the Cowboys defense continue to hold this team back. You can say that the franchise-worst 625 that they allowed to New Orleans was partly due to the injury of LB Sean Lee (see above) but their second-worst showing ever came with 623 yards coughed up against the Lions this season. (ESPN Stats & Information)
I SAW that something had to give for Cowboys QB Tomy Romo
If there’s ever a time when it’s fair to expect the Dallas QB to win, it’s in November.
Highest Win Percentage In November – QB To Debut Since 1970
(Elias Sports Bureau)
Romo came into the game having lost 2 of 3 games against New Orleans, though, and got whooped in this one.
A Romophobic sidebar: Once again, a limited perspective on the stats ends up overrating the Dallas quarterback. I mean, look at the names on that list. Apart from Brady, can we agree that it’s fair to say Romo is on par with the likes of Flacco and McMahon? Seriously – Romo’s better than that sketchy pair. But the company he keeps on this list undermines its legitimacy. The media will tout it in defense of Romo anyway.
I SAW Saints WR Marques Colston step up his game at just the right time, with the second half of the season gathering in intensity and TE Jimmy Graham playing through a foot injury. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Colston caught four passes of 15 yards or more (on 5 targets), equaling the amount of such passes he’d caught all season coming into the game.
I SAW a trend that exposes Cowboy Jason Garrett’s inadequacies as a head coach.
Sunday marked Garret’s 42nd game as coach of the ’Boys (god, has it been that long?). Dallas is 21-21 over that span – a perfectly Garrett-like bland and equivocal record. But upon a closer look the inability to beat good teams is undeniable.
Cowboys By Opponent’s W-L At End Of Season – Since 2011*
|.500 or Above||5-19||27th|
(ESPN Stats & Information)
*- Using current W-L for 2013 opponents
I SAW Saints rookie S Kenny Vaccaro leave the game with an injury. New Orleans had better hope he’s not out for long.
I SAW PROPS for Saints QB Drew Brees who had his 15th career game with 4+ TD passes and no interceptions, tied with Tom Brady for the most all-time.
MNF- Tampa Bay (1-8) wins vs. Miami (4-5), 22-19
I SAW the Buccaneers host a big halftime party to induct Warren Sapp into the Ring Of Honour and then give the fans their first win of the season.
But it didn’t come easy. As the Dolphins crept back from a 15-0 hole this game started to feel like so many other close Bucs failures this season. Keep in mind that in four of Tampa’s losses this season they led in the fourth quarter, only to lose either in OT or within the last 89 seconds of regulation. (STATS LLC) That monkey has been sent packing from the collective back of this franchise, partially at least. If you consider one win during a shit season something to cheer about, that is.
I SAW that you should see my comments in Away from the game(s) for the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin story. I want to leave it at that, other than saying that the Dolphins looked like a weary team Monday night….
I SAW that I’d say a franchise-low 2 rushing yards for the whole game by the Dolphins (NFL Network’s Game Day Final) is an indication of a weary team that was missing one side of its offensive line for some blah-blah-blah reason. Now I’m done.
I SAW that the Miami O-line has been a disaster all season, no matter who plays there. They’ve now allowed QB Ryan Tannehill to get sacked more than a British welfare recipient. Opponents have taken Tannehill down for a loss 37 times this season. That’s over four sacks allowed per game on average. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s shit.
I SAW Buccaneers QB Mike Glennon become the 6th rookie to get his first pro win on Monday night.
STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK FOR WHAT I SAW, WEEK 11 – HERE AT TFQ.