Blair Miller > WHAT I SAW – TURKEYGASM 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 Special Thanksgiving Thursday Edition
Welcome to TFQ’s annual Turkeygasm, folks!
Hope you’ve dusted off the tryptophan blues and shopped off that family time-induced hangover this Black Friday.
Q: How would families survive holidays without alcohol? A: Pot, I guess.
Q: What’s sexier than turkey dinner?
Thank god this bird got a Brazilian job….
A: Thanksgiving Day football!
Week 13 is bursting with intrigue. The Saints start their batshit crazy 4-game stretch, the Chiefs get another crack at the Broncos, Tennessee-Indy all of a sudden could help decide the AFC South, and who knew Chargers-Bengals would have the potential ramifications it does?
But first we get the annual trifecta of Thursday games, and while parts of the day weren’t pretty there was a lot of exciting things going on, so let’s get to it.
Detroit (7-5) wins vs. Green Bay (5-6-1), 40-10
I SAW the Lions rip off 37 straight points en route to a 40-Burger over the Packers.
It was a milestone day in the Motor City in numerous ways:
According to the Fox Broadcast:
Thursday’s victory was the first Thanksgiving Day win for the Lions since 2003. (Keep in mind that Detroit plays on Thanksgiving Thursday every year.)
Detroit had its most rushing yards in a game since 1997, with 241.
Surprisingly, the win was QB Matthew Stafford’s first against Green Bay.
The Lions not only snapped a two-game losing streak – they beat the Packers for the first time in six chances.
According to ESPN Stats & Information:
The 30 points was Detroit’s largest margin of victory on Thanksgiving Day since 1997 and their biggest win over Green Bay on Turkey Day in 21 meetings.
The win was also the Lions’ largest over the Pack since 1973.
Coming into Thursday, the Motor City had lost 15 out of 16 overall to the Cheeseheads.
I SAW the Packers suffer their first 5-game winless streak since 2008 (which includes a tie last week). In The Most Obvious Non-Coincidence Dept., those five games are the ones QB Aaron Rodgers has been unable to play in or finish since breaking his collarbone.
It’s too early to write off Green Bay’s playoff hopes – they could conceivably run the table and squeeze into January with a 9-6-1 record – but they’re on the ropes worse than Ali was against Foreman in the Rumble in The Jungle. On Thursday both sides of the ball came out flat for the first time this season, with disastrous results. In fact, only one other team in the last decade has been outgained by more yards in a game:
Largest Single-Game Yardage Margin – NFL, Last 10 Seasons
(ESPN Stats &Information)
Remember that silly game in the snow when Tom Brady and Randy Moss made a joke out of the Titans? The Lions gave it to the Packers as hard as that on Thursday.
Let’s say that Detroit gave Green Bay a Thanksgiving Day Shocker, Turkey-style….
I SAW Lions DE Ziggy Ansah notch his sixth sack of the season, the most among NFL rookies this season. What’s more impressive is that according to ESPN Stats & Information all six of them have come as part of a 4-man pass rush. In other words, no Lions were blitzing on those plays to overwhelm the opposing offensive line. On the other hand, tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley attract enough attention from blocking schemes that Ansah rarely sees any double teams.
Nevertheless, not bad for a kid who never played football until 2010 at BYU.
I SAW Lions LB DeAndre Levy make his league-leading sixth interception Thursday. He’s been a huge presence in a pass defense replete with weaknesses.
I SAW the Reggie Bush experiment continue with high success. It was roundly believed that the Lions offense desperately needed a playmaking running back to open up the playbook, and Bush had done just that. His line on Thursday: 20 carries for 117 yards (5.9 average) and a TD, plus 5 receptions for 65 yards (13.0 average). The numbers are even more impressive if you consider that backfield mate Joique Bell had 19 carries of his own (for 94 yards), most of which came in the second half to burn clock once the lead was established. When the game was more in question, Bush had 132 yards from scrimmage in the first half.
From a broader perspective, the former _____ winner (I can’t say “Heisman” because he had his award earned while at USC stripped for financial violations) had his seventh 100-yard rushing game of the season. Only Jamaal Charles (9) and Matt Forte (8) have more.
Conversely, another running back wasn’t able to sustain his own success in the game….
I SAW Packers RB Eddie Lacy get bottled up by the Lions front seven on Thursday. The rookie tailback had been a godsend in Wisconsin for much of this season, but not in this game. He gained just 1.6 yards per rush (16 on 10 carries) and didn’t have a run longer than 4 yards. Overall, Green Bay fail to record a rushing first down all game. According to Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first time since 1990 that the Packers failed to record a first down on the ground in a game.
I SAW Packers CB Sam Shields return from a hamstring injury to play some of the better defense on Lions WR Calvin Johnson I’ve seen this season – at times. In a testament to the unstoppable force that is Megatron, Johnson still put up 101 yards and a touchdown on 6 catches.
Dallas (7-5) wins vs. Oakland (4-8), 31-24
I SAW the Raiders snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Oakland started off great. Dallas handed them a fumble on the opening kickoff that they returned for a touchdown.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, Raider Greg Jenkins’ fumble return for a TD off of the opening kickoff on Thursday was the first time that had happened since the Saints’ Tyrone Drakeford pulled a scoop-and-score against the Panthers in 1999.
Then, for the whole first half the Silver & Black marched down the field on America’s Team like they were America’s doormat, at one point converting six straight first downs, five of which came on completions by the surprising rookie QB Matt McGloin. The Penn State alum looked great in the first half, but after halftime a usually weak Dallas defense decided to shut down the league’s 5th-best rushing attack, holding it to 51 yards for the game. When the Cowboys D was able to focus on McGloin, they carved him up in the glavin like a TurFrink-y and the chains stopped moving. After a conversion on the first play of the second quarter, Oakland didn’t get another first down on offense until the fourth quarter and was never able to regain momentum.
I SAW the Raiders take it to Dallas in the first half, with a confidence not seen from the Silver & Black for several years.
I’ll say this about Oakland: They’ve shown a lot more character than I expected them to in head coach Dennis Allen’s second year on the job. I admit I didn’t have much faith in his ability to keep the team together through what would surely be tough times that would include the usual bad breaks, like Mad Made Of Glass RB Darren McFadden’s 685th injury of his 6-year career. The quarterback position has undergone the sort of flux – the birdbrained trade for Matt Flynn in the hopes he’d win the starting job, the ascension of Terrelle Pryor to uber-talented but awfully flawed status, followed by being forced to start Mr. Afterthought, Matt McGloin – that can derail a franchise’s season. It’s not like the Raiders are taking the league by storm or anything. After all, they have twice as many losses as wins. But they’ve looked really good for stretches, and through the darkness have found several players that they might be able to depend on as they continue to rebuild after the salary cap purgatory that the final years of late owner Al Davis (not to mention the dooming trade for Carson Palmer afterward) relegated them to. I’m thinking RB Rashad Jennings, CB Mike Jenkins, and even McGloin, be he a competitor with Pyror for the starting job, a la the Nick Foles to Pryor’s Michael Vick, or a solid backup that any team would like to groom.
Of course, it could all fall apart at a moment’s notice like it so often does in Oaktown. But that looks less likely than usual.
I SAW Cowboys QB Tony Romo turn around a dud of a first half with a perfect second half.
Really. After an 11-of-20 yawner in the first half – including a second quarter during which Oakland outgained Dallas 135-0 in total yards until a 2-minute drill from the ’Boys – Romo rebounded with a sterling 12-of-12 second half and finished with a 101.7 passer rating. How’d the Big D quarterback turn it around? By keeping it short and simple, stupid. According to ESPN Stats & Information none of Romo’s second half passes traveled more than 14 yards downfield….
Here I go! This is the moment when I succumb to my Romophobia and have to point out the quarterback’s shortcomings despite his good play.
I might as well just throw a title on this repetitive criticism….
A Romophobic Outburst
Over the last week or two I’ve been hearing the same comment from experienced former pro QBs-cum analysts like Kurt Warner and Phil Simms: One of the main reasons for Romo’s improved performance this season is that the Dallas coaching staff has simplified the offense, narrowing Romo’s options on reads so that he makes less mistakes.
Does that sound like an elite quarterback to you? Will we ever hear that about Brady, Manning, Brees or Rodgers?
I SAW – by god, it’s true, I did see – the Cowboys stick with the run game instead of panicking when they fell behind on the scoreboard. I’ve harped on this for at least a year, but Dallas’ offense – particularly skittish QB Tony Romo – desperately needs balance in order to succeed. On Thursday they found some, in stark contrast to earlier in the season:
Cowboys Rushing – 2013 Season
|First 11 Games||Thursday vs. OAK|
|Rush Play % Of Total||31.6*||46.0^|
|Rush Yards per Game||79.7||144|
(ESPN Stats & Information)
*-3rd-lowest rate in NFL
^-Team’s 2nd-highest rate of the season
It paid off in scoring, too. Somehow this was RB “Don Juan” DeMarco Murray’s first game of his career with multiple rushing touchdowns. How can that be?
Baltimore (6-6) wins vs. Pittsburgh (5-7), 22-20
I SAW another vintage hard fought match between these two bitter rivals. It’s generally close, though: According to the NBC Broadcast, Steelers versus Ravens has been decided by an average margin of victory of 5.4 points per game since 2008. That’s the lowest margin of victory for any divisional rivalry in the NFL over that span.
So, as is so often their tendency, Baltimore and Pittsburgh traded blows in a game during which points were at a premium and players dropped like flies. The heaviest injury moment came late in the game when Steelers rookie RB LaVeon Bell got hit so hard in the helmet on a TD attempt that it went flying and Bell had to be helped off the field after a scary moment of what looked like a loss of consciousness. It seems like at least one violent collision of this sort happens in every game between these two teams. Pittsburgh eventually scored on that drive to cut the Baltimore lead to two points with just over a minute left, when an Emanuel Sanders dropped pass in the end zone on what would have been the tying two-point conversion lost the game – albeit on a tough ball to catch. But I always say: If the pass hits you in the hands you’ve gotta do what you’re paid to do – catch the damn ball. After that, all the Ravens needed was a failed onside kick attempt to enhance their playoff hopes.
I SAW an early nominee for one of TFQ’s Upside Down Awards, given following the Super Bowl:
Tony Robbins Defense Award
Sometimes all an offense needs to do in order to get its confidence back is play against a bad defense. Sometimes one team’s D stands above the rest in terms of being a get-well tonic for slumping O-s. This award goes to the defense that most consistently made their opponents feel better about themselves.
The Steelers Defense
I’ve been fairly critical of the play of Ravens QB Joe Flacco since being signed to that humongous contract in the offseason, mostly because he hasn’t played nearly well enough to justify the elite status of that deal. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Flacco had completed just 52 percent of his passes against five or more pass rushers coming into Thursday night’s game – good for a ranking of 31st among 38 eligible quarterbacks. Not exactly the poise under pressure one hopes to see from a guy getting paid over $100 million.
But against Pittsburgh on Turkey Day Flacco was hardly the usual basted bird that he has been against the blitz. He went 7-for-10 against five or more rushers Thursday night, his highest completion percentage against additional pressure so far this season.
Gee, I wonder if the aging Steelers defensive backs had anything to do with that? CB Ike Taylor made some good plays at times, but overall the group looked a step behind all night – literally and figuratively.
If S Troy Polamalu’s silly, undisciplined gambles didn’t work every once in a while he wouldn’t be a decent safety, let alone one that many consider a potential Hall Of Famer. Polamalu was up to his usual stare at the quarterback, lose the receiver he should be covering antics against Baltimore on at least two plays: The long completion on a bomb to WR Torrey Smith to the Pittsburgh 1-yard line near the start of the game, and in the second half when he abandoned his man, RB Ray Rice to rush Flacco. On the latter play, it was all Polamalu could do to jump desperately at the ball while it sailed over his hands and to a wide-open Rice for an important first down. How a player as “seasoned” as Polamalu would make such a decision is beyond me. He likely streaked towards Flacco because he read the play somewhat accurately. But if he knew the play was going to be a pass and saw that Rice was releasing to the flat and thus wasn’t going to block him, there’s simply no way the safety could have gotten to the quarterback in time to influence the play before the pass was thrown. The pre-snap defensive alignment gave no indication that another defender was going to be able to rotate into the space vacated by Polamalu, either. The play was vintage stink from Polamalu: Smellin’ of Troy.
It was all part of a bigger picture depicting a set of DBs that was overmatched against a receiving corps that has been struggling to produce this season.
I SAW the Ravens defense go about its usual business. It might not be as outstated as it has been in years past when it was led by future Hall Of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, but it’s getting the job done and still retains some of its previous identity. I bet you didn’t know that Baltimore has allowed the least rushing TDs in the NFL this season – they allowed just their second one on Thursday. LB Terrell Suggs hasn’t had the impact he usually does, but his fellow ’backer Daryl Smith has done an excellent job of manning the defense after Lewis’ retirement. Add the usual deft acquisitions like DE Elvis Dumervil (free agency), LB Arthur Jones (drafted this year) and CB Corey Graham (signed before last season from Chicago and is really coming into his own) that have upheld the tough physical standards of this D, and all of a sudden the Ravens look ready to push their way into the playoffs. Well, maybe not so much on the road. The D gives up two TDs more on average on the road than at home. (ESPN Stats & Information)
I SAW Steelers WR Antoino Brown have a quieter game than usual but still maintain a singular level of production. He only managed 5 catches for 59 yards against the tough Baltimore corners, but Brown is the only player in the NFL this season to record at least 5 catches and 50 receiving yards in every game. (ESPN Stats & Information)
I didn’t think so a year ago, but it’s looking more and more like the Pittsburgh brass made the right decision inking Brown to a big deal last year and letting Mike Wallace walk via free agency last summer. (Wallace has been the most disappointing free agent acquisition this side of Atlanta’s Steven Jackson.)
I SAW Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin get dirty with Ravens KR Jacoby Jones on a kickoff return late in the third quarter.
Check out the footage. Pretty bush league, yet kinda funny.
I know Jacoby Jones was on Dancing With The Stars, but that doesn’t mean he wanted to tango with Tomlin while he was streaking down the sideline en route to what, to me, looks like what could have been a touchdown had Tomlin not tried to use his ass to impede Jones, with a hilariously aloof look on his face…looking up at the scoreboard where he surely saw Jones heading his way.
Tomlin told the Associated Press, “I always watch the returns on the JumboTron. It provides a better perspective for me. I lost my placement as he broke free and saw at the last second how close I was to the field of play.”
Riiight. Either way, this was no dance. This was more like some Public Enemy shit. Tomlin bum-rushed Jones’ show.
STAY TUNED FOR THE REGULAR WEEKLY EDITION OF WHAT I SAW, WEEK 13 – HERE AT TFQ. IN THE MEANTIME, ‘LIKE’ THE FIFTH QUARTER ON FACEBOOK.