What I Saw, Week 13 – 2013

Blair Miller > WHAT I SAW – WEEK 13, 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.

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Away from the game(s)

I SAW the final quarter of the 2013 season on the immediate horizon.  No more byes, no more kids gloves.  The playoff race is already going hard.  And it’s not without its usual double takes.  For instance, the Redskins joined Atlanta and the Texans as the only 3 NFL teams to be mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.

If you had told me in August that the Texans and Falcons would be out of the playoffs before the Jaguars, I’d have had you committed.

Speaking of the Falcons and Texans, even teams that are sure to fall short of the postseason provided excitement on Sunday, with two OT games (Vikings-Bears, Falcons-Bills) and another near-defeat of the Patriots, this time from Houston.

It was the fifth straight week that we got to enjoy at least one overtime result.  Hopefully December’s slate of playoff-relevant games will be as zany.

Playoff Picture

AFC

(1) DENVER (10-2): Okay, we know Denver’s playing better than anyone in the AFC this season.  The Clockwork Orange offense is a thing to behold.  It reminds me a bit of the old Peyton Manning Indy days, when all the receivers were getting fed well and the tailback was ripping off chunks of yards too, as Knowshon Moreno is currently doing instead of Edgerrin James back in the day.  So let’s talk about their weaknesses/concerns instead.  Their defensive backs are the obvious weak link on the team.  This has been drastically clear with CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie out and making the nickel backs look like shit when they have to rotate in to compensate.  Champ Bailey is back, but I stand by my claim that this development downgrades the secondary.  One factor I’m not sure many people have noticed: Denver has proven themselves with big games against their last four opponents, who have a combined record of 32-16.  But their next four adversaries are a mirror image, with a 16-32 record.  Remember last season when the Broncos cakewalked through December only to come out stale and lose to the Ravens in their first playoff game?  Whatever head coach John Fox did last season to keep his players sharp (welcome back, coach), he might want to mix it up this time around.

(2) NEW ENGLAND (9-3): It feels like the Pats play down to their competition more during the Belichick-Brady era than they used to, but they’re still legit – if not for any other reason than the fact that they have seen almost everything throughout their years.  Any discussion about New England losing the AFC East is a waste of time.  What this team needs to do is further develop continuity in the passing game now that WR Danny Amendola and TE Rob Gronkowski have been able to stay healthy after missing time.  In Week 16 they get a chance to exact some revenge against the defending champ Ravens after losing the AFC final to them last season, and if the Broncos stumble against a December full of trap games, that game could also help to decide home field advantage in the AFC.  New England is an eye-popping NFL-best 45-6 in December since 2001 so they can’t be counted out of the top seed by any means.

(3) CINCINNATI (8-4):  Sunday’s win over San Diego was huge, giving the Bengals a 2-game lead on the Ravens for the AFC North crown.  I’m not convinced that Cincy can win their first playoff game since 1990 if QB Andy Dalton can’t start to slow the game down a bit.  There’s little doubt about the defense, which in my book is the deepest D in the pros, and the running game is stout (8th-best in the NFL).  But Dalton hasn’t had a passer rating better than 83 since October, and if he can’t start to beat defenses it will be the same “can’t win the big game” monkey that get affixed to the third-year quarterback’s back.

(4) INDIANAPOLIS (8-4): All they need to clinch the division is the Titans losing to the Broncos next week.  Count it.  But the Colts are a legit case for worst division champ in the NFL.  They’ve capitalized on their own shitty division, going 4-0 thus far.  Against the rest of the NFL they tend to look like a tem that has yet to develop an identity, which is indeed the case.  QB Andrew Luck is the obvious choice to help forge that collective persona, but when the running game, defense, and turnovers don’t fall in Indy’s favor it’s too much for Luck to overcome without enough receivers.  The Colts have only scored 11 points more than they’ve allowed, which is an indication of the flaws on both sides of the ball.  It’s tough to envision this team not going one-and-done in January.

(5) KANSAS CITY (9-3): I know this is an iffy stance to take, but I’m reiterating my view of the Chiefs after first loss to the Broncos two weeks ago.  They almost handled Denver with two of their top three defenders being non-factors, (LBs Tamba Hali was a shadow of his usual self with a bad ankle and LB Justin Houston was inactive).  QB Alex Smith continues to hear the murmurs of QB whisperer Andy Reid and really did look more comfortable making downfield reads than he has since the Niners playoff win against the Saints two seasons ago.  With Houston and Hali able to play well I still give Kansas City the advantage over Denver, should there be a postseason rematch.  That being said, KC is the most ideal candidate for an early exit from the postseason.  It felt accurate, so I looked it up: The last time the Chiefs didn’t go one-and-done in the playoffs was when Joe Montana was the QB during the 1993 season.  The silver lining wasn’t without a cost, though.  LT Branden Albert is listed as day-to-day after being carted off the field Sunday with a knee injury and TE Anthony Fasano sprained his own knee and added a concussion to boot.  Keep an eye on those injuries – they’re under the radar but significant.  Of course, all of this is moot if defensive coordinator Bob Sutton can’t find more ways to hide CB Marcus Cooper, who has been an absolute disaster over the last three weeks.

(6) BALTIMORE (6-6): Just strung together their first back-to-back wins since September.  Jeez.  Here’s how I see it – The Ravens will likely need nine wins to avoid being yet another Super Bowl winner to miss the playoffs the following season.  That means that a 2-2 finish to their season might not cut it.  The problem: Baltimore has an even split between home and road games remaining and they’re 5-1 at home, 1-5 on the road.  Head coach John Harbaugh and his team will thus need to win at least one road game in December and those just so happen to be at Detroit and Cincinnati – two teams that should be vying for better playoff position and thus will be bringing their A games.  For all the flak the Ravens offense has taken this season, it’s the D that will need to clean up their act.  Baltimore has scored (slightly) more on the road than at home this season, but the defense has yielded an average of two TDs more per game when they have to travel:

Ravens Home vs. Road Comparison – 2013 Season

Road Home
W-L 1-5 5-1
Points per Game 21.2 20.3
Opponents PPG 26.8 12.3
Turnover Differential -6 +3

(ESPN Stats & Information)

THE CONTENDERS

SAN DIEGO (5-7): Yeah, I know I predicted the Chargers would be in the playoffs last week.  But if you survey the AFC landscape there’s a really big difference right now between a 6-6 and 5-6 record.  Baltimore has the leg up, but the ’Bolts have that over the rest of the group on the bubble.  Three of their last four games are at home, but the lone away game is in Denver.  It’s all on QB Philip Rivers, and I’m sure that prick wouldn’t have it any other way.

TENNESSEE (5-7): If the Titans can earn a split over the next two weeks against Denver and Arizona they get to close out the season with the Jags and Texans.  I just don’t see the other teams in this crowd faltering enough to give Tenny the help they need to make it into the playoffs.

MIAMI (6-6): Beating up on the Jets now that New York has reached their typical December sewage mode isn’t much to raise them in my playoff picture.  But hey – it’s still a lot better than losing a game, which several other contenders did in Week 13.  WR Mike Wallace’s resurgence has to sustain itself, because points will need to be scored against his old team, the Steelers, followed by a game against New England.  In my mind, those two games sink this squad.

PITTSBURGH (5-7): If the Steelers aren’t already finished after their tough loss to Baltimore on Thanksgiving Day, the injuries suffered along the offensive line in that game will make it so in time.  An O-line that came into the game already missing multiple starters – especially center Maurkice Pouncey – say G Kevin Baechum, OT Mike Adams, G David DeCastro and OL Fernando Velasco all leave the game with lower body injuries.  Even if a few of them can gut out their ailments, it’s just too much for a team that’s on the playoff bubble at best.

NEW YORK JETS (5-7): The Jets are on this list only because of math.  Stupid math.  It’s never appropriate when the offense that best resembles a Paul Walker ride home (too soon?) is still alive for the postseason, but here we are.  If New York makes the playoffs it should set the talk of playoff expansion back at least a half century.

NFC

(1) SEATTLE (11-1): Yeah, their defensive backs look uncomfortable as they weather a spate of injuries and possible suspensions.  Yeah, RB Marshawn Lynch didn’t look great.  But there are two facets to Seattle that are carrying the day: The disruptive play of the front seven and the unflappable presence that is second-year QB Russell Wilson.  Imagine if WR Percy Harvin wasn’t still sidelined as a big play option for Wilson.  (Harvin took cortisone injections in his ailing hip and sat out Monday night’s game.  Not good.)  He played opposite his idol Drew Brees, and Wilson’s throwing mechanics and poise are eerily reminiscent of the New Orleans quarterback at times.  Notice I haven’t mentioned his exceptional running ability; his passing accuracy demands that much credit.  Wilson leads a team firmly buckled into the drivers seat for home field advantage.

(2) CAROLINA (9-3): I know.  I smoke and I drink and sometimes I am wrong about stuff.  But after the Saints seemed disinterested to bring their game to the Seahawks Monday night, my gut is developing affection for the Panthers and them taking at least one of the two head-to-head games against New Orleans over the next three weeks.  That should give them the second seed.  In the same way that pro baseball is eschewing conventional stats to evaluate pitching and hitting performance, QB Cam Newton is my league MVP right now – you just won’t find much of the argument manifest itself on the stat page.  He just finds a way to get his team downfield, and the D clearly feeds off of that momentum.  It seemed a distant memory during last season’s dark times, but the exciting Newton vibe from his Heisman year is being reborn just a little bit.

(3) DETROIT (7-5): After a tour de force performance by their defense against the Packers on Thanksgiving Day and a 4-1 record in the NFC North, the Lions look poised to win their first division title in 19 years.  But this team still looks undisciplined, committing four turnovers in the win, amongst other mental miscues.  In fact, according to ESPN Stats & Information, Thursday’s win was the fifth game this season when Detroit committed at least three turnovers.  They’ve done so in three straight games, and only the Giants have more overall this season, with seven.  That’s gotta burn this team eventually.

(4) PHILADELPHIA (7-5): Currently sits tied with Dallas atop the NFC East, but the Cowboys won their only meeting so far.  It seems like that division comes down to the final week of the season every year, and this season is no different – Philly plays in Dallas Week 17 and needs help plus running the table to play into January.  I don’t care. Maybe I’m a Romophobe and all that (I am), but my playoff picture looks less like one hanging over a white trash motel if the Eagles surpass Dallas for the division title and finish a worst-to-first push.  One knock on the Eagles – 2 home wins don’t restore confidence in that venue after a 10-game skid at the Linc.  And their pass defense is killing them (see Philadelphia wins vs. Arizona, 24-21).

(5) NEW ORLEANS (9-3): They could still take the NFC South, but not easily.  If New Orleans gets a home game in the Wild Card round, pencil them in for a win.  Otherwise, they’re on their heels.  Is there another team hoping to avoid an outdoor game more than the Saints?  They’ve now gone 8 weeks without winning a game outside.  Monday night’s shellacking at the hands of Seattle reiterated two things: the defensive backs are left scrambling a bit in coordinator Rob Ryan’s scheme, and the offensive line has some holes to plug.  The loss turned out to be a bigger setback than it should have been, when the team’s plane broke down when they tried to leave the Rainy City on Monday night.  It’s a harsh uncaring world, this NFL.  After that glitch shortens a week of preparation following QB Drew Brees’ lowest yardage output in a full game since 2006 (147) New Orleans takes on Cam Newton and red-hot division rival Carolina.

(6) SAN FRANCISCO (8-4): WR Michael Crabtree made his return Sunday.  TE Vernon Davis played great, but nearly got his dick pulled off (see San Francisco wins vs. St. Louis, 23-13).  QB Colin Kaepernick played another solid game.  Most importantly, the defense is grinding it out again.  The return of LB Aldon Smith likely helps, but over the last few weeks I’ve been hearing DL Justin Smith’s name more than ever this season.  San Fran really needs that trend to persist.

THE CONTENDERS (All of whom apart from Dallas, who could take their division, likely need to run the table):

ARIZONA (7-5): QB Carson Palmer had another good game, but the injury to RB Andre Ellington quietly upset ’Zona’s offensive balance.  As good as this defense is, Sunday was a reminder that they are prone to the same mental lapses in the defensive backfield that undid this team late last season.  I really like this team right now, but the bottom line is that with the loser of Carolina-New Orleans for the NFC South taking the fifth seed and the Niners a favourite for the sixth, I just don’t see the Cards breaking up that pair.  If they do happen to make the playoffs, they better figure out how to guard the tight end.  Arizona came into the week having allowed the most yards and touchdowns in the league to tight ends and then gave up a season-high 9-for-12 and 3 TDs to Eagles TEs.  (ESPN Stats & Information)

DALLAS (7-5): Only a team so used to late-season disappointment could treat a win against a 4-8 team as character building, as many Cowboys players did after coming from behind to beat the Raiders on Thanksgiving Thursday.  Don’t let their overachieving performance against Oakland fool you – Big D came into that game far from big on D.  In fact, take a look at the list of shit stats Dallas has put up this season (via the CBS Broadcast), all of which are the worst in franchise history:

Dallas Defense – 2013 Season

Total Yards Allowed per Game 432.2
Pass Yards Allowed per Game 298.5
Completion % 64.6
Yards Allowed per Rush 5.05
First Downs Allowed per Game 25.0

In the Cowboys’, um, defense, their front seven has endured a lot of injuries.  The likely return of LB Sean Lee next Monday night against the Bears couldn’t have come soon enough.  However, even when healthy they are a very undersized unit.  It’s time for the front office (aka Emperor Palpatine, Jerry Jones) to address the personnel on the first two levels of the defense in the offseason.  For now, it will be the side of the ball that sinks this team before QB Tony Romo gets a chance to do it like he usually does.

CHICAGO (6-6): Have virtually clinched the award for most injury-riddled team in playoff contention.  Reports on inured QB Jay Cutler range from him playing next week to not seeing the field again this season.  How much does that matter, really?  For the first time since before the Lovie Smith regime it’s the defense that is killing this team.  GM Phil Emery has a very tough offseason ahead.  Cutler’s contract is up, but he hasn’t played enough games under new head coach Marc Trestman’s scheme for a sample pool that justifies the $100 million contract Cutler might seek (if Joe Flacco can get one, why not Cutler?).  Josh McCown has been a pleasant surprise as a replacement, but not enough to be the franchise QB.  There are tons of holes to address on the defense and offensive line.  Will those needs force Emery to push his chips in on Cutler so that he can use the draft to shore up the D?  Sounds like I’m already talking about Chicago’s offseason….

GREEN BAY (6-6-1): Really on the ropes now.  Taking it in the hoo-ha via a Thanksgiving Day Shocker from the Packers was the second-last nail in the coffin.

turkey shocker

Sorry – I just love that drawing.  If true, the swirling rumors that QB Aaron Rodgers might get shelved for the season would be the last nail.  Green Bay gets the lowly Falcons next, but after that it’s three teams that might be jostling for the postseason in Dallas, Pittsburgh and Chicago.  More to the point: I see the Wild Card teams coming from the South and the West.  That leaves The Pack and the Bears out in the cold.

NEW YORK GIANTS (5-7): Needs to win the division to extend their season, and in the goofy NFC East, anything is possible.  But they won’t.  The defense has cleaned up their act, Andre Brown has rejuvenated the ground game, but the receivers are the downfall of this team’s chances.  No one has risen up to be a reliable threat opposite slot receiver Victor Cruz and as such the salsa dances have been minimized because opposing defenses can just manhandle the undersized Cruz and watch the ball hit the turf.

ST. LOUIS (5-7): On this list out of respect for their defensive front seven.  They’ve got as much hope of making the dance as I do of keeping this post short.

I SAW one important overall note: There are still five teams in the NFL that are undefeated at home, listed in order of strength of home field advantage: Seattle, New Orleans, New England, Cincinnati, Denver.  I put the Broncos last on this list because they went 0-1 in the playoffs at home last season.  4 of these 5 teams seem poised to secure a first round bye in the postseason.  Hopefully I’m wrong, but that could make for some lopsided Divisional Round matchups.

I SAW punishment pending for the Steelers and head coach Mike Tomlin for his getting involved in a kickoff return by Ravens KR Jacoby Jones on Thanksgiving Thursday.  I’ll say this: If the incident spawns a newfound concern for the enforcement of keeping players and coaches behind the sideline, there could be a rain of penalty flags the likes of which we haven’t seen.  No one respects that rule.

I SAW a few college football notes, as the BCS division closes out its regular season:

If you live in a cave and missed it, you don’t care about the Auburn upset over Alabama.  But you should.  It was the best football game from start to finish that I’ve watched since ’Bama-LSU two years ago, and could just be the #1 craziest ending I know of.  To have a second given back at the end of regulation of a tie game, and to have the missed field goal attempt after that decision get returned for the winning touchdown is just pure bananas.

One of the storied schools in Division 1 history hopefully ended its drama at the coaching position.  Former USC assistant coach Steve Sarkasian helped create the Heisman fest under Pete Carroll and now returns to Los Angeles to supplant interim coach Ed Orgeron who filled in after Lane Kiffin was fired in the airport.  I’m not crazy about this hire.  Sarks went just 34-29 in 5 years at the University of Washington (1-2 on Bowl Games).  It’s not so much the record that bothers me, as it is the offensive guru’s inability to strengthen the program through recruiting.  Wearing the red and yellow of the Trojans will raise Sarkasian’s currency in recruits’ living rooms, but will it be enough?  The Pac 12 is in a time of change, and USC wants to crest the wave.  We’ll see.

I confess: I’m a big Michigan fan.  And I don’t like giving games away, either.  Screw the supporters of the decision by Wolverines head coach Brady Hoke to go for two instead of force overtime against then-#3 Ohio State.  In moments like those, a lack of confidence in one’s players is often misunderstood as moxie by outsiders.  I bet the Michigan players saw right through it.  Extend the game, Brady.

Everyone I talk to assumes a Florida State-Ohio State championship game.  Let’s make sure the Buckeyes can get past Michigan State in the Big 10 final first.

Denver (10-2) wins @ Kansas City (9-3), 35-28

I SAW the Chiefs put up a better showing against the Broncos than in the first game these two met.  KC kept reasonable pace with Denver in terms of yards gained.  They also won the battle for both turnovers forced and time of possession.

I know I sounded crazy when I said something similar after the last time the Chiefs lost in this matchup, but considering how well Kansas City played yesterday without 2 of their 3 best defenders – LBs Tamba Hali and Justin Houston (see below) – I’d still take them over Denver in a bad weather game…. maybe even just overall if they face each other again and KC is more healthy.  QB Alex Smith looks much more comfortable throwing downfield, and if WR Donnie Avery wouldn’t have dropped a few passes he might have won the battle against Denver’s Peyton Manning.  The Chiefs defense is somewhat punchless at the moment, but Smith’s added comfort level when looking beyond 10 yards downfield helps compensate for that.

I SAW the Broncos Clockwork Orange offense tick on and on and on.

This week’s feature producer was WR Eric Decker, who set a franchise record with 4 TD receptions in the game by working the deep patterns on the Chiefs secondary all day. Decker is the first player to catch three passes more than 30 yards downfield in a game since Malcolm Floyd did it in 2010.

It was an even bigger day downfield than usual for QB Peyton Manning, who’s 80 percent completion rate on deep throws downfield was the highest in a game with more than 5 such attempts since 2006.  (ESPN Stats & Information)

Just as scary for opponents is that RB Montee Ball’s 117 yards rushing makes him a compliment to backfield mate Knowshon Moreno.

I SAW PROPS to Broncos QB Peyton Manning for his 13th season with at least 4,000 passing yards.  That’s astounding.  I took a look: Marino and Favre did it six times, Brees seven, Brady five.

I SAW the Chiefs announce that LB Justin Houston will be playing next week against Washington.  That’s good news:

Chiefs Opposing QBs This Season – With Justin Houston On/Off Field

On54.8 65.6Off
Comp% 27.9 94.4
Yards per Att 6.7 10.8
TD-INT 10-12 4-0

(ESPN Stats & Information)

It’s worth noting that in Houston’s absence fellow ’backer Tamba Hali tried to play through an ankle sprain and was woefully ineffective as he limped around against the Broncos O-line.

I SAW a vintage Andy Reid offensive display Sunday.  The diving TD by RB Jamaal Charles to bring the Chiefs within a TD of Denver in the third quarter capped a drive that had eight first downs.  The Chiefs head coach called a game that mixed up screen passes, dump offs, hand-offs to Charles and the occasional strike downfield to tire out the Broncos defense and keep QB Peyton Manning and the Clockwork Orange offense on the sidelines as often as possible.

I SAW the Chiefs defensive backs show again that they are the most glaring weakness on the team.  I mentioned how badly CB Marcus Cooper has played in the playoff picture, but he’s not the only DB giving up big plays.  In fact, KC it tied with the Rams for the most plays this season given up with at least 40 yards after the catch, with 5.  (ESPN Stats & Information)  It’s no longer a secret anymore – hit the Chiefs on the outside for big gains.

I SAW Broncos head coach John Fox return to the team after the Chiefs game, following a 4-week recovery from heart surgery.  He looked great in his press conference, saying he’s lost about 10 pounds and it shows – in a good way.  Kudos to defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio for his 3-1 record running the team in the interim.  It’s unclear if Fox will be back on the sidelines for Sunday’s game – his status is day-to-day while he readjusts to the physical demands of the job.

Philadelphia (7-5) wins vs. Arizona (7-5), 24-21

I SAW a game that said more about the Eagles than the Cardinals.  Arizona saw its win streak stopped at 4 games but still looked like a solid potential playoff team.

TRIVIA BOMB:

Arizona hasn’t won 5 in a row in 36 years.  That’s right – they are 0-8 when going for 5 wins in a row since 1977.  (STATS LLC)

Philly, on the other hand, has won four straight and improves to 5-0 in games that QB Nick Foles plays from start to finish.  The Eagles are also playing with a newfound and perhaps somewhat unjustified confidence on defense.  Newfound because the Philly D got their second strip-sack of the season against the Cards; unjustified because, what, just two such plays all season?  According to ESPN Stats & Information, only the Buccaneers have so few, with 1.  Philadelphia is also tied for 21st in the NFL in sacks (29). The Eagles DBs aren’t subpar – the team’s 15 interceptions is tied for sixth-most in the league – but any defensive backfield gets exposed when the pass rush isn’t shortening the time that receivers have to get open downfield.    Hence the league-worst 296.8 passing yards allowed per game.

I SAW the Eagles defense hold its last eight opponents to 21 points or fewer.  This unit is by no means striking fear into opponents but that’s a pretty solid turnaround by coordinator Bill Davis and the staff after coughing up 27.5 points per game in the first month.  The defensive front has become much more aggressive with their pass rush and it is paying dividends.

I SAW Nick Foles.

Nick Foles.  Wow.  The Eagles QB has now thrown 19 TDs against 0 interceptions so far this season and boasts an NFL-high 125.2 passer rating.  Yes, Foles’ stats span just 6 starts (he doesn’t have half the attempts of Peyton Manning) but don’t let that fool you, nor the sophomore’s 199 passing yards per game.  Foles has the league’s second-ranked rushing attack on his side so he doesn’t have to put up 35-50 attempts like the Peyton Mannings or the Drew Breeseses.   However, he still makes the most of his looks.  Foles’ 9.14 yards per attempt is tops in the NFL among qualifying quarterbacks.

Sunday was the first of Foles’ start that I watched most of.  I thought he looked great – and that was against one of the league’s better defenses.  He has what I call constant touch, in the sense that he rarely throws wobblers; Foles’ throws always have tight spin and thus often find their mark.  He has a golfer-like consistency to his hip rotation when he throws the ball, and obviously has a good sense for head coach Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offense.

Above all else, the Eagles are 5-1 when Foles starts the game.  When former head coach Andy Reid and the Philly brass took him in the third round of last year’s draft it felt like an afterthought.  But Reid arguably knows QBs better than anyone else in the pros, and when the new regime started to overhaul the roster, Kelly saw it fit to give Foles equal opportunity for the starting job in training camp.   Michael Vick’s sexy skill set won the day, but in the end the NFC’s Player Of The Month for November has risen from afterthought to maybe-starter to someone as deserving of rising star status as some of the other 2012 draftees that we’ve all been so horny over since the summer before last.

I SAW the Cardinals wideouts achieve more balance.  In recent weeks, Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald had put up somewhat disparate stat lines but against the Eagles they each had 5 receptions and a TD plus 99 and 72 yards, respectively.  Problem is, it wasn’t enough for a win with RB Andre Ellington’s absence rendering the offense one-dimensional.

This is a weird offense.  It seems like several of the skill positions are coming into their own despite a poor O-line.  How many years can head coach Bruce Arians get out of QB Carson Palmer before the franchise opts for a different option?  Timing and chemistry are everything, so it will be interesting to watch this club try to put together a winning offense while the window of opportunity with an elite defense stays open.

Cincinnati (8-4) wins @ San Diego (5-7), 17-10

I SAW the Bengals come off of their bye and look good out west on the road against the Chargers.  Cincy still looms just one game back of New England for that second seed in the AFC….

I SAW the Chargers lose four of their last five games to whittle their playoff hopes down to a splinter.  San Diego will probably have to run the table to give themselves a chance to play in January, and they’ll almost certainly not pull that off if their offense gets stopped again like it did against Cincy….

I SAW the Bengals prove that they can still be a dominant defense without star tackle Geno Atkins.  They’re giving up more yards in Atkins’ absence but on Sunday they kept a red-hot Chargers offense out of the red zone.  San Diego had at least three red zone scores in every season entering this week, which is amazingly productive.  (ESPN Stats & Information)  Against Cincy that offense hit a brick wall, reaching the end zone only once on 11 possessions and they fumbled away that opportunity.  As tackling machine, LB Vontaze Burfict explained to the Associated Press after the game: “Just when they’d get to the 40-yard line, we had to stop them. That’s what we’re good at. They cross the 50 and everybody stepped up to make plays.”

Indianapolis (8-4) wins vs. Tennessee (5-7), 22-14

I SAW Colts QB Andrew Luck rebound from a loss yet again, but in a bittersweet manner.

TRIVIA BOMB:

Luck tied Kordell Stewart for the second-most pro starts by a QB in NFL history without back-to-back losses, with 28.  Dan Marino has 33.  (Elias Sports Bureau)

True, Luck and his team won the game to get closer to the AFC South title.  But the second-year QB is still forcing things and looking out of sorts.  He had a lackluster 200-yard game with an interception and a 59.4 passer rating.  Over the last 4 games Luck has averaged a 66.8 rating.  Much has been made about the absence of injured WR Reggie Wayne, and for good reason.  But there’s more to Luck’s current hardships.  He’s not the type to mention it, but the offensive line is grasping at straws – they allowed 5 sacks Sunday – and Luck is paying for it with little time to get the ball away before getting hit.

Indy can clinch the division with a win or a Titans loss next week, but they’re by far the most flawed AFC team in position to win their division.

I SAW that QB Andrew Luck and the pass blocking aren’t the only issues with the offense in Indianapolis.  The receiving corps was average enough as a group when veteran Reggie Wayne was healthy.  With Wayne out for the season the rest of Luck’s targets haven’t really been that.  On Sunday that trend continued while Colts players caught only 53.1 percent of the passes thrown their way (17 completions of 32 targets, as per ESPN.com).

Darruis Hayward-Bey has been especially disappointing.  He caught just 1 of 5 targets on Sunday while his team needs him to try and pick up some of the slack left by Wayne.  Good luck with that.

I SAW the Colts shore up their bad pass defense downfield, partly due to Ryan Fitzgerald’s recidivism to a bad decision maker.

The Titans quarterback had been doing well, posting three straight games with a passer rating of 100 or more coming into Sunday but it wasn’t meant to last.  Fitzy’s huge contract extension that he signed in Buffalo ushered in a phase of brain farts in crucial moments that result in turnovers, and his mistake-prone self came through against the Colts like Mr. Hyde on steroids: 3 interceptions and a 47.2 rating.

In a way, I feel for Tennessee.  They’re balanced enough through all three phases that it feels like they’d be ahead of the iffy Colts if they had gotten a healthy season out of starting QB Jake Locker.

I SAW the Colts elect to bench RB Trent Richardson in favor of Donald Brown.  Indy traded a Round 1 pick in the upcoming draft for Richardson, 2012’s third overall pick, in September.  Many others and myself were critical of Cleveland for making the trade, but at this point the Colts have gotten the arse end of the stick in the deal.  It’s never been a good thing to settle on Brown as your starter, but he’s clearly outplaying Richardson:

Trent Richardson vs. Donald Brown For Colts – 2013 Season

Brown Richardson
Yards per Rush 5.7 2.9
Yards After Contact/Rush 2.3 1.5
First Down % 24.6 14.2
TD 3 2

(ESPN Stats & Information)

Richardson had better find a way to win back the hearts of the Colts’ front office.  Opening day favorites Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard both had to go on injured reserve this season and there isn’t enough room next year for all those tailbacks on the roster.

I SAW Colts K Adam Vinatieri tie a career high with 5 field goals.  I usually don’t mention such a thing because several of a kicker’s 5 FGs tend to include a few chip shots, but Vinatieri also tied an NFL record with four made field goals from 45 yards or longer.

San Francisco (8-4) wins vs. St. Louis (5-7), 23-13

I SAW the return of Niners WR Michael Crabtree.  When Crabtree went down with an Achilles injury in the offseason the consensus was that San Francisco had lost their biggest playmaker downfield until at least November.  On Sunday he welcomed himself back with 2 receptions on 4 targets for 68 yards – 60 of which came on one play on which the wideout caught the ball with an open field ahead of him but was chased down from behind.  Many are writing that off to his ongoing recovery, but Crabtree never had breakaway speed to begin with.  The moment nonetheless indicated the lack of a game-breaking receiver: The 60-yarder was the longest play of the season for the Niners from that position.

To point out that Crabtree’s return is huge for San Fran is to point out the obvious, but I’m not so sure his impact will register in the box score the way many seem to expect.  Even if he does, though, I think his presence will do wonders for Anquan Boldin, who will see opponents’ best coverage less often and for the psyche of QB Colin Kaepernick and the rest of the offense.  (To wit, Kaep’s line against the Rams: 67.9% completion, 275 yards and a 111.5 passer rating.)  It’s such a change in mindset from having two receiving threats (Boldin and TE Vernon Davis) to being able to press the coverage with three reliable targets.  You watch – this team will have more swagger going forward.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the increase in confidence even spreads to the running game and the defense.

After all, what seemed to happen with the Niners during their early season struggles was that they were having a hard time finding their identity.  Perhaps Crabtree is a part of that identity, and now he’s back.  Just in time, too, because he and his team host the Seahawks next week.

I SAW Niners TE Vernon Davis have a Ron Jeremy sort of day.  That is to say that Davis’ genitals had an up-and-down day.

First, Rams safety T.J. McDonald availed himself of the tight end’s dick on a crossing route, giving a whole new meaning to the term “aggressive reach-around”.

But VD’s unit rebounded well and even started to defy gravity later in the game when he hurdled would-be tacklers on two separate plays.  The second one into the end zone was somewhat gratuitous, but hey, when the other team tried to tear off your junk and it survives, you start jumping up and showing it to them.  Check out the two plays here.

I’ve never understood how a grown man lets another grown man jump directly over him without stopping it, but I’ve also never been a seven-foot Frenchman standing in front of Vince Carter either.  I liked what Deion Sanders said about the second hurdle during NFL Network’s Game Day Final: “Do you know how tight your eyes have to be closed to have a man jump over your head?”

I SAW Niners left tackle Joe Staley leave the game with a knee injury.  If he’s unable to go next week against the Seahawks, it could spell trouble.

I SAW Rams WR Tavon Austin catch four passes, but for only 25 yards.  I took a look at Austin’s stats so far this season, and the only times he averaged more than 10.7 yards per reception were the two games prior to this one when he broke free on a few plays to score on long plays that skewed the average.

I know that the coaches want to get the rookie the ball in space in order to make use of his quickness, but how about finding him in spaces farther downfield a few times?

Carolina (9-3) wins vs. Tampa Bay (3-9), 27-6

I SAW the Panthers extend their franchise-record win streak to eight games.

Don’t look now, but the huge matchup against the Saints in the Big Easy next Sunday night is for the lead in the race to earn a first round bye in the playoffs.

The fickle and short memory of the sports world can be funny at times.  Eight weeks ago head coach Ron Rivera’s team was 1-3 and there were calls for his head after some questionable gambles on in-game decisions.  Now, the Panthers are on cloud nine, and fans have taken to celebrating the risk-taking nature of Rivera, nicknaming him Riverboat Ron.  It just goes to show you the extent to which perception is formed by what’s happening in the win column.  There are some facts to back up the accolade too, though.  Carolina is 8-for-9 since a Week 2 loss to Buffalo when going for it on 4th-and-1.

The Buccaneers had been playing very well during their 3-game win streak (for serious), but rookie QB Mike Glennon’s NFL-record streak of eight straight games with a TD pass to start his career went down too, as the best defense in the league in terms of scoring held Tampa Bay out of the end zone.

I SAW Panthers QB Cam Newton have the second-longest run of his pro career, a 56-yard scramble in the first quarter that helped set up Carolina’s first TD of the game.  While it might surprise some that Newton has just two runs of 56 yards or longer in his 2+ seasons in the NFL, Newton’s impact on the ground is undeniable, especially when it comes to taking it to the house.  Check this out:

Most Games With A Passing TD and Rushing TD – Since 2011

Player Games
Cam Newton 20
Tom Brady 6
Matthew Stafford 5
Andy Dalton 5
Mark Sanchez 5

(ESPN Stats & Information)

Wow, does that list ever indicate the lack of scoring capability in recent years by quarterbacks via running the ball.  Tom Brady is second on this list?  C’mon, you QBs.  Newton rules this category so fully that his 5 games with rushing and passing TDs during his team’s current 8-game win streak is good for a tie for second on this list.  He’s the LeBron James of the NFL: A size-speed-athleticism combination that makes for some stats we’ve never seen before.  In this case, that’s actually true: According to Elias Sports Bureau, Newton’s 20 games in the aforementioned category in the first three seasons of his career blows Steve Grogan’s previous record of 11 out of the water.

I SAW Buccaneers CB Derrelle Revis leave the game with a shoulder and chest injury.  It’s been a tough first season for Revis in Tampa Bay, with numerous physical setbacks and a lot of time spent playing zone defense where he clearly looks out of his element.  With Revis I’m taking the same approach as I’ve explained about Robert Griffin III: Their torn knees have healed enough to play with full range of motion and flexibility, but the overall strength/burst in the joint needs another year or so to be back to normal.

I SAW Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams sit out this game with a quad bruise.  It’s interesting that Carolina’s defense and QB Cam Newton are exceling so much that the never-ending injuries plaguing the backfield haven’t hurt the team as much as one might expect.  FB Mike Tolbert has been his usual unsung self as the (banged-up) glue that holds the unit together.

New England (9-3) wins @ Houston (2-10), 34-31

I SAW the Patriots further cement their status as a (pseudo?) dynasty by clinching their 13th consecutive winning season.  According to Elias Sports Bureau only the Cowboys (1970-85) and the Niners (1983-98) have more, each with 16.  Not that it’s a big deal, but I predict that New England will own the record in time.  Barring injury or an unexpected retirement from head coach Bill Belichick I just don’t see he and QB Tom Brady allowing a sub-.500 season over the next four years.  Those Niners and Cowboys teams were showing all sorts of signs of a looming rebuilding period at the end of those streaks, this Pats team isn’t.

I SAW Patriots QB Tom Brady gathering steam as the playoffs get closer.

He’s thrown more TDs in the last four games combined than he did over New England’s first eight, and is finally starting to put up the numbers we’re accustomed to from him.

Tom Brady – This Season

First 8 Games Last 4 Games
Comp % 55.7 70.1
TD-INT 9-6 10-2
Pass Yards per Game 228.0 360.8

Brady is an equal-opportunity passer, but the main reason for his turnaround is no secret: The Return Of Gronk.

Patriots NFL Rankings Before And After TE Rob Gronkowski’s Return

Before After
Points per Game 22nd 7th
Red Zone Efficiency 30th 11th
Pass Yards per Game 19th 10th
First Downs per Game 16th 5th

(ESPN Stats & Information)

In fact, Brady might have eyes for his Boy Toy TE too often.  Despite Gronk missing the first six games of the season he’s still been the intended receiver on four of Brady’s interceptions – twice as many as any other Patriot.  But feed Gronk ball still work good lots….

I SAW PROPS to Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski for catching the fourth-most touchdowns in NFL history over a player’s first four seasons.

Most TD Receptions In First 4 Seasons – NFL History

Player Year TD Receptions
Randy Moss 53 1998
Jerry Rice 49 1985
Bob Hayes 45 1965
Rob Gronkowski 42 2010

(CBS Broadcast)

The most impressive part?  Gronk miss eleven games with ouch.

I SAW the Texans’ franchise-record losing skid swell to 10.

Part of Houston’s journey into taking it hard-ship has been especially torturing.  Sunday’s loss to the Patriots was the third Texans home game during which they dropped their pants for the opponent after jumping ahead by double digits.  (See what I did there?)    Houston also bent over for the Colts and Seahawks.  According to Elias Sports Bureau, you have to go back to the infamous creamsicle Buccaneers in 1980 to find a team who lost more such games in a season, with 4.

I SAW PROPS to Texans WR Andre Johnson for becoming the second-fastest player in NFL history to 900 receptions.  In fact, he only fell one game short of Marvin Harrison, who did it in 149 games.  (STATS LLC)  Considering Harrison had some big-headed guy wearing number 18 throwing to him and Johnson has had a parade of bums, I’ll consider it a tie.

Miami (6-6) wins @ New York Jets (5-7), 23-3

I SAW a manhandling more thorough than the final score indicates.  In fact, all the Dolphins had to do was bring their B game to whip the Jets and Gang Green took care of the rest.  Actually, it’s more like gangrene than Gang Green, and soon we can hopefully amputate the festering Jets from playoff scenarios.

The first half was more than enough to turn the stomach of even the thick-skinned.  Miami outgained New York 265 yards to 39 in the first two quarters.  For crying out loud, the ’Fins ran more plays (50) before halftime than the Jets had total yards!  It’s no surprise, then, that Miami owned the time of possession, to the tune of 24:12-5:43.  The leader of this bed-shitting was QB Geno Smith, who was sent to the pine for the second half (see below) in favor of Matt Simms.  The home crowd fans cheered Simms when he came on the field at first, but I’m pretty his 59-year old dad Phil could have fared better than his son did Sunday: getting sacked three times and going 9-for-18 for just 79 yards and an interception.

I SAW Jets QB Geno Smith lie another rotten egg in the first half on Sunday: 4-for-10, 29 yards (2.9 per attempt), an interception and an 8.3 passer rating.  That was more than enough for head coach Rex Ryan to opt for Matt Simms in the second half, benching his second round draft pick.  It put myself through the horror of calculating Smith’s numbers over the last 3 games since a barely passable performance in an upset win over New Orleans:

Comp Att Comp% YPA YPG TD INT Rating
21 55 38.2 4.7 86.3 0 6 13.9

That’s the rookie’s totals over that span.  It essentially took Smith 2.5 games just to put together a shitty game’s worth of stats.  He’s also mustered just single digit completions for four straight games.

I can’t help it, Jets fans.  Does this shitstorm under center remind you of anyone, particularly when passing against an added pass rusher?

2 Jets Quarterbacks Against 5+ Pass Rushers – 2012-13

Mark Sanchez Geno Smith
Comp % 49.7 49.2*
Yards per Att 6.7 6.8
TD-INT 5-8 4-5
Sack % 10 14

(ESPN Stats & Information)

*- 2-5, 8 Yds, INT, sack on Sunday vs. Miami

I think its about time to admit that the folks running the Jets haven’t the faintest clue when it comes to addressing the QB situation.  Seriously, is Phil Simms available?  Miami, on the other hand, might have found their first truly dependable passer since some guy named Dan….

I SAW Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill surpass 3,000 yards passing for the second straight season.  Sure, the 3,000 plateau has lost its luster in this pass-happy era, but considering how quarterback-starved Miami fans have been since the Marino era – and give the fact that until the last two weeks WR Mike Wallace has been a virtual no-show (see below) – Tannehill’s production is a breath of fresh air.  What’s more, he’s the most sacked QB in the NFL, and you don’t hear a negative word out if his mouth in press conferences.  He just goes about his job while playing under constant duress like a real professional, reminiscent of Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers.

I SAW the Jets bring WR Santonio Holmes along very carefully after missing practice all week due to a hamstring problem.  Holmes was on the field for a scant handful of plays and registered zero receptions, telling the Associated Press, “It was a coaches’ decision” in that way that sounds disgruntled with being held out of action.

On one hand, you’d like to see Holmes, the best player by far on New York’s offense, being worked back into the offense more assertively with his team’s playoff hopes on life support.  On the other hand, if Holmes is that valuable it’s understandable to be careful with him.  After all, the medical staff should always be given the benefit of the doubt – provided the “coaches’ decision” was indeed made under such advisement.  Either way, it’s a bummer to miss out on the only playmaker the Jets have.

I SAW Dolphins WR Mike Wallace put in another solid day’s work.  His last 2 games combined: 20 catches for 209 yards, 2 TDs – a damn well overdue output from an expensive free agent signee that had just one TD in his first 10 games as a Dolphin and 54 total yards in the two games prior.  If Tannehill-Wallace can find an even higher level of production, it could be enough to make some noise in late December, maybe even January.  Maybe.

Minnesota (3-8-1) wins vs. Chicago (6-6), 23-20 OT

I SAW Vikings RB Adrian Peterson once again put his team on his back and carry it to victory.  Banner days from AP seem to come on a monthly basis.  Sunday: 211 yards on 35 carries.  With the performance Peterson became the third fastest to reach 10,000 rushing yards in NFL history, behind greats Eric Dickerson and Jim Brown.  His fifth 200-yard game of his career is tied with Tiki Barber and ranks second behind O.J. Simpson’s six.

FYI: Peterson took 101games to eclipse 10 large.  Dickerson took an impressive 10 games fewer, with 91 and Brown took 98.

Peterson has made a habit out of abusing the Chicago defense, but the injuries on the Bears D were evident on Sunday.  According to ESPN Stats & Information Peterson thrived when Chi-Town put eight or more in the box.  His 147 yards against those alignments is more than the total yards Peterson had gained in any game so far this year.

I SAW Bears WR Alshon Jeffrey have another breakout game – one that helps demonstrate the shift to a pass-oriented era.  Jeffrey tore up Minnesota’s defensive backs and in the process his 249 yards broke the franchise record for receiving yards that he set earlier in the season against the Saints (218).

The second year wideout has been progressing into a big play guy and on Sunday put up his second 200-yard day of the season.  Cleveland’s Josh Gordon did the same today (see Jacksonville wins vs. Cleveland, 32-28) and the two sophomores became just the fifth and sixth players all-time to do such a thing in one season:

Most Games With 200+ Receiving Yards and a Receiving TD – Single Season

Player Year Games
1961 Charley Hennigan 3
2013 Josh Gordon 2
2013 Alshon Jeffrey 2
2011 Calvin Johnson 2
1968 Don Maynard 2
1963 Lance Alworth 2

(ESPN Stats & Information)

In short, the former South Carolina Gamecock cocked the game of the Vikings DBs.  Jeffrey also gets PROPS for a Rock Biter-strong hands demonstration on his TD catch that gave Chicago a 10 point lead in the third quarter.

rockbiter

That was some Chris Carter-type shit.

And Jeffrey has been so good for his backup quarterback….

I SAW Bears QB Josh McCown further develop a rapport with WR Alshon Jeffrey.  I was harshly critical of the Bears front office for having McCown as the backup to Jay Cutler, but McCown had been great in relief of the starter.  In fact, McCown has a passer rating of 100.8 this year, and hasn’t had a game worse than 92.9.  He’s also had just one game out of 6 with a completion percentage lower than 61 percent.  And he likes feeing Jeffrey the rock – for better or worse:

Josh McCown By Target – Sunday vs. Vikings

Jeffrey All Others
Comp-Att 12-15 11-21
Yards per Att 16.6 5.0
TD 2 0
Drops 0 2

(ESPN Stats & Information)

I SAW Minnesota rookie Cordarrelle Patterson score a slick 33-yard happy feet TD run.  Patterson is the first Viking first year player to score a touchdown on a run, pass and kick return.  (STATS LLC)

I SAW Rhett Ellison and the Vikings get hoodwinked when the RB was whistled for a facemask penalty that negated field goal in extra time.  On the ensuing third down RB Adrian Peterson lost a few yards, forcing K Blair Walsh to attempt a 57-yarder, which he pulled wide left.  I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a home crowd so shellshockingly quiet on a potential game-winning field goal in OT.

Atlanta (3-9) wins @ Buffalo (4-8), 34-31 OT (Toronto)

I SAW the Bills lose this game in large part to two late-game mistakes.  Buffalo had driven to the Atlanta 30-yard line near the end of regulation only to have WR Stevie Johnson fumble the ball away.  Then, TE Scott Chandler coughed up the rock on his team’s second play of overtime to help set up the Falcon’s winning field goal.

The Bills needed this game to stay close to the pack of AFC teams contending for Wild Card berths, but timing sucks.  Instead of getting the snake-bitten Falcons in frigid Orchard Park, Buffalo had to travel north to Toronto and play the Falcons in a dome – conditions that Atlanta are accustomed to.

The loss extends Buffalo’s streak of non-winning seasons to nine and likely also gives them a 14th straight season missing the playoffs, which is the NFL’s longest active streak.

On the matter of the NFL in Toronto….

I SAW another so-so showing of support in a Toronto game despite the game going into overtime.  The announced paid attendance was 38,969, which is noticeably less than the capacity of 46,470 at the Rogers Centre.

But you know what the biggest problem is with drawing fans to these games?  The Bills play in them.  I don’t care that Buffalo is so close to Toronto geographically.  I’m a Torontonian, and over the last decade or so the increase in league coverage (especially online) has dispersed what used to be a large demographic of “default Bills fans” that followed the team mostly because they were the only one available on TV half of the time.  Many of that fan base has gravitated towards other franchises theses days, in no small part due to the consistent shittiness of the Bills.  Believe me when I say that Toronto sports fans are far, far too familiar with failure to willingly take on another perennial loser.

Because of this guilt by association, I think an expansion team would have much more success than moving the Bills north of the border, but low attendance in these Bills games will likely be enough to scare the league away from the idea.  It doesn’t help that the league office doesn’t have the balls to put more weight behind the project and schedule more popular teams to face Buffalo in T-Dot.  The Patriots would fill the seats.  Just saying.

Seriously, NFL – why talk about expansion beyond the US when your timid approach to marketing those areas is to give the British the Jaguars, the most unappealing sight this side of British cuisine, and Ontarians a team from a city that even Canadians make fun of?  Who are they consulting for these expansion experiments, Gary Bettman?

I SAW Bills RB C.J. Spiller finally shake off the injury blues and put up a big game.  It’s been a frustrating season of lower body issues for Spiller, whose role was seen as one of the keys to Buffalo’s success this season.  Spiller has admirably gutted it through 11 games now this season, but Sunday’s 15 carry, 149-yard day was just the fourth time the tailback has had 15 or more attempts in a game, and his third game with more than 77 rushing yards.

Well, playing the Falcons defense sure helps.  Atlanta defenders don’t like contact, which worked out well against Spiller.  His 131 rush yards before contact was the fourth-highest total by an NFL running back this season.  He wasn’t exactly dodging to the outside, either – 140 of Spiller’s 149 total yards came in between the tackles.  (ESPN Stats & Information)

Speaking of another banged-up player that has helped his team regress….

I SAW Falcons WR Roddy White pull a Spiller and put up a big game after a season thus far filled with time missed and games limped through.  In fact, White’s 143 yards against Buffalo is nearly double his season output coming into the game.  Jesus.  Atlanta has been beset by injuries this year – the loss of WR Julio Jones to IR and Steven Jackson for the majority of the first half of the season – and White’s iffy status all season means that QB Matt Ryan has been playing without his most reliable downfield threat not named Tony.

Jacksonville (3-9) wins vs. Cleveland (4-8), 32-28

I SAW the Jaguars improve to 3-1 since their bye.  Not a typo.  QB Chad Henne and the Jacksonville offense were able to make use of the field position gained from 3 Cleveland turnovers while the defense did just enough to hold off the onslaught that was Browns WR Josh Gordon (see below).  It looked like the back-and-forth slugfest between two yawners would end on Gordon’s 95-yard TD grab that gave Cleveland the lead late in the game, but the Jags flexed their quizzical resilience as of late and went down the field to win the game.

I SAW the Browns sink back to their incumbent place near the bottom of the league.  Cleveland looked good at times this season behind a solid defense – hell, they were still reasonably alive for the postseason coming into this weekend – but reality came crashing down in the form of a recent 6-7 slump.  Disappointing QB Brandon Weeden started for Jason Campbell who was out with a concussion and the sophomore struggled through 2interceptions and a lost fumble only to suffer a concussion himself and be questionable for next week.

That means we could get a taste of – wait for it….

Alex Tanney!  Come on down!  That’s right!  The second-year pivot from Monmouth, Illinois stands 6’4”, weighs in at 220 pounds, may or may not like pina cooladas and getting caught in the rain, and when you click his stats at ESPN.com it’s blank!  Alex also might start for the Browns against the Patriots!

Price is right

Oh, Cleveland.

They also just signed Caleb Hanie, who is apparently more likely to face the Pats than Tanney, despite Hanie’s not having taken a live snap since 2011.

I SAW a close game won on a wicked end zone catch by “Jorts” – Jaguars WR Cecil Shorts, who, as a Jag, is more like poor jorts than shorts – over his wrong shoulder to catch the Browns with their jorts down.  Actually, it was to catch CB Joe Haden with his jorts down.  Normally Haden is like Urkel, with his jorts up around his armpits but in recent weeks he’s been getting burned.

Steve-Urkel-Family-Matters

Did I blow thaaaaat?

Haden blew two: Steelers WR Antonio Brown flew by Haden on a simple go route last week, and on Sunday he bit on a double move by Jorts to surrender the winning TD during the final minute of the game.  Credit Jacksonville’s QB Chad Henne for an in-the-bucket toss on the play, but Haden’s misstep on the fake from Shorts was another uncharacteristic display from an elite cover guy.

Shorts grew up in the Cleveland area, so this performance was special for him.

I SAW PROPS and squeals and gasps and PROPS for Browns WR Josh Gordon after one of the most impressive consecutive games by a receiver in NFL history.  Last week he set the franchise record for receiving yards in a game (237) only to surpass that against the Jags on Sunday (261).  As the pro player ever with consecutive 200-yard receiving games, Gordon’s 498 yards topped the 2-game mark of 484 that was set earlier in the season by Lions WR Calvin Johnson.

The 6’4”, 225-pound second-year wideout has a size-speed combo that rivals Brandon Marshall, Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson, just a notch below Calvin Johnson.  Similar to those All-Pro caliber players, Gordon has all the attributes of a possession receiver but is also a lethal deep threat.  Only Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown’s six TD catches of 20+ yards is better than Gordon’s 5 this season.

Gordon also has three straight games with 100 yards to tie the franchise record and closed to within 41 yards of Braylon Edwards’ team mark of 1,289 yards in a season – showing how starved Cleveland has been for a downfield threat. (ESPN Stats & Information)  Keep in mind that this beasticle not only missed the first 2 games of the season on a drug suspension, but he’s putting up these numbers with either Brandon Weeden or Jason Campbell throwing to him.  Trade rumors swirled around Gordon at the in-season deadline.  Cleveland has to be glad about hanging onto this monster – one who could potentially help woo a free agent quarterback to help sustain the team’s progress.

SNF- N.Y. Giants (5-7) win @ Washington (3-9), 24-17

I SAW this game get a little bit Fight Club.

His name is Logan Paulsen.

The Redskins tight end came through with a second quarter TD grab to give his team a 14-0 lead.  The Washington fans were feeling it; it looked like a feel-good win was on the way after a week of more controversy.

But when the dust settled after the game it was the Redskins franchise laying on a table like a dead slab of Meat Loaf with its head blown open.

Project Mayhem, however, was carried out by the refs….

I SAW the officials botch the end of the Sunday nighter in a way I’ve never seen before.  The sequence has been widely dissected at this point – a detailed explanation can be found here.    

Obviously the Redskins would have taken a markedly different approach to the last two plays if they’d have been aware of the proper down and distance.

Referee Jeff Triplette has got to stop the action and ensure both teams are aware of the down and distance.  Instead, here’s the head referee’s take on the moment, via theMMQB’s Peter King:

After the game, in a pool report with a local writer, Triplette said he felt it would have been ‘an unfair advantage’ to Washington to stop the clock and get the down situation straight with his crew and the chain gang.

No.  Eff the advantage.  Get the play right.  That’s your job.  Apart from enforcement of the rules, what’s “fair” shouldn’t enter into any interpretation of the rules.  Getting the proper calls – and thus thee situations they create – communicated to the players, coaches and fans should.

Maybe one member of the Redskins was getting karma sutra-d.  Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan had a win gift-wrapped for him as a Bronco in 2008 on the infamous Ed Hochuli fuckup.

I SAW Giants DL Justin Tuck tally 4 sacks after coming into the game with just 2.5 on the season.  All of his QB takedowns came in the second half as part of a defensive surge that turned the tide on Sunday and ultimately won the game to keep the Giants’ slim playoff hopes alive.  (Actually, Tuck’s four sacks came in a wild span of just 7 Redskins offensive plays.)  Check out the night-and-day performance by Big Blue’s D against the ’Skins:

Giants Defense Sunday vs. Redskins

First Half Second Half
Points 14 3
Yards 227 96
Sacks 0 5
Takeaways 0 1

(NBC Broadcast)

I SAW Redskins QB Robert Griffin III come out on fire to start this game, going 16-of-17 in the first half, only to have the wheels come off after the Giants defense adjusted at halftime.

I can give you some people who might not be so keen on all the primetime games Washington has been scheduled for this season after making a big splash in 2012: RG3 and his offensive line.

Robert Griffin III In Primetime Games – Career

2012 2013
W-L 2-0 0-5
Pass Yards per Game 131.5 236.2
Rush Yards per Game 67.5 52.0
TD-INT 1-0 6-4
Times Sacked 1 21

(ESPN Stats & Information)

MNF- Seattle (11-1) wins vs. New Orleans (9-3), 34-7

I SAW the Seahawks take a 2-game lead over the Saints and Panthers for home-field advantage in the playoffs – and Seattle holds the tiebreaker over both those teams.  In other words, the ’Hawks can still lose two out of their next 4 games and still secure the number 1 seed in the NFC.  That’s called being in the driver’s seat.

I SAW this game get out of hand early thanks to a 17-0 first quarter in favor of the Seahawks.

The Seattle offense had a great day, amassing 429 yards of total offense against a solid New Orleans defense, but it was the ’Hawks defense that dominated this game.

Drew Brees and the Saints had arguably their worst statistical performance since the QB came to New Orleans in 2006.

–       Brees’ 147 passing yards on Monday night was his lowest total as a Saint (excluding a 5 attempt, 46-yard performance in Week 17 of 2006 when he rested for the playoffs).

–       He failed to complete a pass 15 yards or more downfield for the second time since 2006.

–       New Orleans’ 7 points and 188 total yards were the lowest such numbers during the Sean Payton-Brees era.

Coming into the game, much was made about the absence of two of Seattle’s DBs – Brandon Browner (injury) and Walter Thurmond (suspension) and how Brees would exploit weakness downfield.  Obviously that didn’t happen.  In this new era of no-huddle and countless variations of the West Coast offense, I’ve never seen a group of defensive backs – at least 6-7 deep on the roster, too – be able to defend beyond 3 seconds after the snap like Seattle’s can.  It gave Brees fits, exposing an overrated Saints offensive line.

Special kudos goes to linebacker K.J. Wright, whom the Seattle coaches told to shadow All-World TE Jimmy Graham and leave his teammates to worry about the rest of the squad’s responsibilities.  The plan paid off.  Graham scored his team’s lone TD, but caught just three passes for 42 yards.

There was one ’Hawks defender who didn’t look so good….

I SAW Seahawks All-Pro CB Richard Sherman look beatable for what I’d say is the third game in a row.  If we are to hold corners to the original standards of the term “cover corner” Sherman’s game is falling short of that over the last month.  (Under the current, less exacting standards, sure, he’s a beast.)

I SAW Seahawks QB Russell Wilson do what the best stars do – play his best game in the most important matchup for his team so far this season.  Wilson’s line: 22-of-30 (73.3%), 310 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INT, 139.6 passer rating – and 8 rushes for 47 yards (5.9 average).  The second-year star connected with nine different receivers, none more than five times each.

STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK FOR WHAT I SAW, WEEK 14 – HERE AT TFQ. 

IN THE MEANTIME, FOLLOW US ON FACEBOOK AND @TFQuarter

 

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