What I Saw, Week 15 – 2013

Blair Miller > WHAT I SAW – WEEK 15, 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 a later edition of What I Saw than unusual….With no Thursday night game to start the week early – thank god, see below – I was hoping to hold out and hear more news about injuries and the Cowboys debacle.  While we got more juice on the Romo saga (see Green Bay wins @Dallas, 37-36), as of this posting the status of Aaron Rodgers is still unclear (I’ll say more about that in the same section), Wes Welker is likely not going to play this Sunday with a concussion but that’s not yet official, and Joe Flacco will play against the Pats, but with a brace to protect his sprained knee.

UPDATE (Friday, Dec 20, 2013): Rodgers has been ruled out for Sunday’s game by Mike McCarthy; league and Broncos sources say that Welker is likely to miss the remainder of the regular season.  That report was updated by NFL Network’s Albert Breer, who says that Welker will play in Wk 17 if he passes concussion protocol next week.

On that note, let’s roll!

I SAW a hangover weekend after one of the wildest times ever in Week 14.  Let’s call it hangover week – as I’m sure many of us have felt over the last day or two as Xmas parties start to dance in our heads like Jameson gumdrops.

There were some entertaining moments – it’s the NFL, for Christ’s sake – but it seemed like the top teams weren’t interested in seizing opportunities to gain playoff leverage, and there were a handful of blowouts.  Seven teams had a chance to clinch something in terms of the playoff on Sunday but only one did (the Chiefs clinched a berth).  Apart from the Patriots game, even the close ones were uninspiring.

But – in the Be Thankful For What You’ve Got Department, Sunday’s 763 points scored was the most in one day in NFL history. (ESPN MNF Broadcast)  Let’s also cross-reference that with the We’re All Shamelessly Desensitized To Scoring Department.

I SAW another one to add to the We’re All Shamelessly Desensitized To Scoring Department – Passing Division.  According to NFL Media, there have been 722 touchdown passes, the most through the first 15 weeks of any season.  The previous high was 663 in 2010.  An increase of 59 passing TDs is nothing to bat an eyelash at.

I SAW what might be the year of the anti-elite QB.  By that I mean that injuries and the like have forced so many expensive pivots to the sidelines in favour of what looks like a Salvation Army parade.  According to ESPN Stats & Information Washington’s Kirk Cousins became the 16th quarterback to start a game this season with a 2013 cap figure of less than $1 million.  For the record, Cousins’ figure is $598,172.  The lowest cap figure for a starting QB this season so far: Scott Tolzien, at $261,176.

I SAW the last Thursday Night Football game of the season in Week 15.

Thank fucking god.  That insult to the intelligence of any fan during commissioner Roger Goodell’s push for increased player safety is frankly too tiring.  Football’s condensed weekly slate is one of its hallmarks and adds to its unique anticipation-analysis-catharsis cycle; I remain wary of a schedule that doesn’t allow more than 2 days in between NFL games.

Playoff Picture

(seeds & order are predictions)

AFC

(1) KANSAS CITY (11-3): I know, I know.  And I drink a lot.  And the Broncos have the tiebreaker of having swept Kansas City.  And the Chiefs play the Chargers and Colts to finish the season.  And the Broncos play the Texans and Raiders.  And Denver’s Clockwork Orange offense is the shit.  And KC might rest players if they can’t control their own destiny.  And they only look their best against bad teams.  And.  To be sure, KC’s recent 3-game losing streak took the shine off of Cinderella’s slipper, placing their success further under the radar than when the team was the undefeated darling of the league.  The MMQB’s Peter King even went so far as to say that “Nothing happened at the top of the AFC race. Absolutely nothing” – a careless appraisal considering that the Chiefs are now tied with the Broncos atop the AFC West.  But I truly believe that the Chiefs are the AFC team with the least flaws.  They also play the best complimentary football (all three phases lifting one another) in their conference.  They might very well still pull a patented KC one-and-done in January – and if they do I’m betting QB Alex Smith will be the reason why – but until then I’m a believer…more of one than I would have ever expected in August.

(2) NEW ENGLAND (10-4): They really shit the bed last week, losing in Miami when they could have taken the lead for the first seed in the AFC.  It was bound to happen, though.  The Patriots had been walking a razor’s edge, playing down to inferior opponents.  Speaking of razors, Gillette Stadium: New England gets the privilege of closing out against Buffalo at home, but in the meantime have to travel to Baltimore next week to face an archrival Ravens team fighting for its playoff life.  I talk about the Saints’ need for home field advantage in at least the Divisional Round, but without a defense that travels well New England isn’t playing well away from home.

Patriots – This Season

Home Road
W-L 7-0 3-4
Points per Game 29.9 22.9
Opponents’ Points per Game 20.7 23.7
Turnover Differential +8 -2

(ESPN Stats &Information)

(3) CINCINNATI (9-5): All of a sudden their Week 16 game against the Ravens is enormous.  It’s actually possible that the loser of that game won’t make the playoffs if Miami or San Diego grabs the sixth seed.  I still like the Bengals by a whisker, just because they face the Vikings next week while Baltimore has to host a pissed-off Patriots team.  Either way, Cincy sure didn’t look very interested in January while laying that egg against Pittsburgh Sunday night.  It’s possible that the injuries they’ve weathered are starting to tire out those who have picked up the slack.  But this team is still a sleeper on offense: In the AFC only Denver, New England and Kansas City have scored more points.

(4) INDIANAPOLIS (9-5): I’m tired of writing about the Colts.  Isn’t it just perfect that they whupped a shitty team?  These guys are maddening.  What’s even more maddening is that they could very well beat a more deserving team in the playoffs, especially since they get a home game.  (If there isn’t a better example this year for realigning home field advantage according to win-loss record, I’d like to see it.)  Despite their flighty play, Indy has gone 29 games without back-to-back losses.  (STATS LLC)  Now, if they can just lose in Week 17….

(5) DENVER (11-3): So blow me – I don’t like this team.  The Clockwork Orange offense is a thing to behold, but I’m not beholden to this team as a postseason contender.  I don’t care of you’re the Greatest Show On Turf (those Rams teams had an underrated defense, coordinated by Lovie Smith, by the way) – you can’t win a Super Bowl with a defense that ranks 22nd against the rush (105.4 yards/game) 23rd overall (371.5 yards/game) and 24th in points allowed, with 26.6 per game.  Not even the most prolific offense in history likes knowing that history indicates they have to put up 27 points to win.  I’ve also said it before, and I’ll say it again: With his resume of egg laying, QB Peyton Manning needs to win at least one big playoff game before I believe in this team.  Their solace is that they get the easiest remaining schedule of any team according to win-loss record: The Texans and Raiders, at a combined 6-20.

(6) MIAMI (8-6): I want San Diego or Baltimore here, but the brass tax is Bills-Jets.  Those are the Dolphins’ last two opponents of the regular season.  Miami has a hold on the ever-precious momentum factor as well, having won three in a row and snapped a seven-game skid against the Pats on S9unday.  It’s crazy, but the Dolphins are still capable of winning the AFC East (they won’t).  Head coach Joe Philbin deserves consideration for Coach Of The Year just for having his team in the playoff picture with WR Mike Wallace taking until recently to produce, as well as the Bullygate scandal that not only threatened the climate in the locker room but also cost two starting offensive linemen.

THE CONTENDERS

SAN DIEGO (7-7): Man, that Week 17 game against the Chiefs could be huge.  I realize that the Dolphins have a 1-game lead on the Chargers and a softer schedule, but I still think San Diego can take the sixth seed by bringing their A Game, which is a preferable state to be in going into the playoffs either way.  San Diego has only looked more unstoppable on offense as the weeks have gone by.

BALTIMORE (8-6): They won a grinder on Monday night – just their second road win of the season – and they’ll have to keep doing that to either end up a Wild Card or AFC North champ.  Facing the Patriots and Bengals to end the season isn’t exactly consolation.  Neither is the fact that their field goal kicker was the only Raven to score against Detroit.  I’ve been quick to criticize QB Joe Flacco and the failure on the part of offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell to utilize the running game, but there’s even more issues with the Baltimore offense.  Wither WR Torrey Smith?  He has yet to catch a TD longer than 15 yards downfield this season.

NFC

(1) SEATTLE (12-2): The Seahawks are still technically the only team to have clinched a playoff berth in the NFC – but that’s all they’ve clinched.  They only have to win one of their remaining games (against the Cardinals and Rams) to clinch home field advantage throughout the postseason.  Seattle’s defense is first in the NFL in terms of scoring, overall and passing yards allowed, tenth in rushing yards allowed.  The ’Hawks aren’t without their flaws (and remember what Denver did with a cakewalk December last season), but while every other team in the league other than Kansas City has been showing more and more flaws, the beast of the NFC just keeps rolling.

(2) CAROLINA (10-4): I have the Panthers here because I expect them to beat New Orleans next week at home to gain the upper hand in the NFC South.  After that, they have to win in Atlanta – which could be a trap game, and thus a decent barometer of where this young team’s head is at en route to the postseason.  Carolina’s defensive backs are still the weakest link on the team, but Captain Munnerlyn knows how to make the most of turnovers.  He’s returned a remarkable 5 of his 7 career interceptions for touchdowns, including one last week against the moribund Jets.  The Panthers suffer from the same disease as the Chiefs in that most of their wins have come against inferior teams, but that doesn’t make them any less dangerous in the sudden death crucible that is the playoffs.  Besides, they came as close as most teams to beating the Seahawks in a Week 1 12-7 loss – and that was before they got rolling on their recent hot streak.

(3) CHICAGO (8-6): QB Jay Cutler wasn’t exactly dreamy in his return from injury, but he’s still the best quarterback on the Bears.  Josh McCown did a great job.  Now he rivals the Lions’ backup Shaun Hill as the league’s best understudy.  My point is that he’s best applauded, and then hoped to not be seen again for some time.  There’s no shame in that; it’s a problem every NFL team wants.  Chicago’s defense might be their undoing – they have to face the up-tempo Eagles next week – but the Lions are moving backwards (again) and the Packers still likely have to win in the Windy City to pass Da Bears in the standings.

(4) PHILADELPHIA (8-6): I see the Eagles winning the NFC East in part due to reason and in part due to disinterest in watching the Cowboys stink up the postseason.  Philly did nothing to raise confidence by laying down against the Vikings on Sunday.  That loss served as a harsh reminder that the two worst defenses in the league reside atop the NFC East – Philadelphia’s and Dallas’.  The Eagles rank third-last in total yards allowed, and second-last in pass defense. Philly plays the Bears next week and Dallas gets Washington before the two teams face one another in Week 17.  If Sunday was any indication, the Redskins are playing with pride, and the Chicago will give up chunks of yardage to the Eagles’ high-octane offense.  Bottom line: The Eagles get gouged by the best WR combo in the NFL next week (Chicago’s Alshon Jeffrey and Brandon Marshall) and, well, let’s just say that I’m not going to trust the Cowboys to take a win-and-you’re-in game at the end of the season.  They lose those.

(5) NEW ORLEANS (10-4): After beating the Cardinals and the Niners, having to face the NFC West this season finally came back to bite the Saints in the ass.  The Seahawks two weeks ago and then the Rams threw an upset win in their face on Sunday blew them out.  You could consider the St. Louis an afterthought game for New Orleans, with it being sandwiched in between two huge games against division rival Carolina, but all December games are heavy with importance.  New Orleans might rank up there with Seattle as the two toughest places to play, but the Saints are a much more flawed team on the road than the Seahawks.  If Drew Brees and company can’t beat the Panthers next week they could end up playing away from home to start the postseason.  Recently, when I watch this team I start to wonder if the players are starting to look burned out, particularly on defense where the roster hasn’t quite caught up with new coordinator Rob Ryan’s aggressive style.  I don’t think any other team needs a home game to start their January run than New Orleans, which has lost 4 of 5 on the road.

(6) SAN FRANCISCO (10-4): It’s strange that the Niners are, in reality, a step away from watching the playoffs at home because they are arguably the second-best team in the NFL, let alone the conference.  I expect them to win 12 games – they finish out hosting Atlanta, then in Arizona – and see a January rubber match with Seattle at some point.  San Fran isn’t just good; they’re finding their groove and gathering momentum at just the right time.  WR Michael Crabtree’s value as a solid third option downfield was epitomized by his Td on Sunday being the first scoring reception on the team this season by anyone other than Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis.  This team has won four straight.  They’ll need to win five more in a row to make it back to the Super Bowl.

THE CONTENDERS (All of whom would need to win the division, apart from Arizona.)

DETROIT (7-7): No longer controls their own destiny after an ugly loss to the Ravens on Monday night.  The Lions have the luxury of facing the Giants, then the Vikings to finish the regular season, but those are just the type of games that a frustrating team loses. Detroit has lost four of their last five games, and according to ESPN Stats & Information they have dropped the most passes, thrown the most interceptions and committed the most turnovers in the NFL during that span.  I’ve heard about the improved defense all season, but QB Matt Stafford and the offense knows they have to score 25 points to win (the Lions give up 24.2 points per game, ranking 16th in the NFL).  For whatever reason, this team tends to regress when they have to press on offense, so that’s a foreboding formula in the Motor City.  I agree with NFL Network’s Willie McGinest, who pointed out that every other NFC North team lost their QB for an amount of time and the Lions needed to pounce on that.  They didn’t.  You burn, you learn.

GREEN BAY (7-6-1): You’ve got to love a murky playoff picture that allows a team like the Packers to keep slugging away at teams, fighting for their postseason lives while their elite quarterback can do nothing but watch from the sideline (for now).  When they tied the Vikings in Week 12 then got thumped by the Lions the following game I thought that hope among the Cheeseheads would be as decayed as a block of stilton by now, but Green Bay has won their last two and, if you can believe it, can win the NFC North if they win out (versus Pittsburgh and at Chicago).  Amazing.  I’m a huge believer in momentum, and the Pack sure as hell gathered a lot of it in their epic comeback win in Dallas on Sunday.

DALLAS (7-7): The vultures are so horny while hovering over the Cowboys right now that those aren’t droppings you hear pelting the team’s dying carcass from above.  In blowing a 24-point lead to the Packers Sunday Dallas assured itself of a fourth straight season with at least seven losses.

TRIVIA BOMB:

Sunday’s loss to the Packers was the first time in 43 such games in franchise history that the Cowboys lost a game after leading by at least 20 points at halftime.  (ESPN Stats & Information)

QB Tony Romo has a choking problem but the D is the real problem in Big D.  Even as an admitted Romophobe I can see that the quarterback is pressing under the expectation that anything less than 30 points will likely lose games.  (The Cowboys allow 27.5 points per game, ranking 26th in the NFL.)  I get into that more below, in Green Bay wins @Dallas, 37-36.  The other problem – a discussion for another day – is that the Cowboys aren’t going to go anywhere in the playoffs with Jason Garrett as head coach.  He wouldn’t know situational football if it handed him a pink slip, which is what owner Jerry Jones should do.

ARIZONA (9-5): Well, if the Cardinals make the dance, they’ll have certainly earned it.  Their last 2 games: At Seattle, against San Francisco.  They’re doing it in several unexpected ways too.  One of the worst offensive lines I’ve ever seen last season gave up a league-leading 58 sacks.  This year Cardinals QBs have gone down just 38 times.  Part of that is due to the poised play of QB Carson Palmer, whose resurgence after what seemed like a case of dead arm is also surprising.  Many – including myself – had written off DE John Abraham when the Falcons tossed him to the trash heap last summer, but for a cool $4.6 million over 2 years (only $1 million of that guaranteed) he’s given Arizona 11.5 sacks, his most in a season since 2010.  The arrival of head coach Bruce Arians in the desert might not be much of a coincidence along many of these lines.  I’ve mentioned before that the championship window for this team is uncertain but for now they might very well be the best team not to make the playoffs this season.

TNF- San Diego (7-7) wins @ Denver (11-3), 27-20

I SAW a lot of websites call this game the “upset of the season”.  Really?  A team in a win-or-go-home situation that is on an offensive hot streak beating a team that has been gradually showing more and more weaknesses is the biggest upset of the season?  Seems like a desperate need to give things a “best” title.  I’m not saying this game wasn’t an upset, but I can tell you that I was surprised more by other results this season (say, the Colts over the Broncos and Seahawks) than Thursday night’s, which I wasn’t really surprised by at all.

I SAW the Chargers keep their playoffs hopes alive with a big win in Denver.  The Bolts ended the Broncos’ divisional win streak at 10 games and flex their muscles on defense.  Okay, so maybe the group was overachieving but that can easily morph into a gathering of momentum at just the right time.  At one point in the second quarter San Diego held Denver’s Clockwork Orange offense to 13 yards on 13 plays – a stretch that included three consecutive three-and-outs and just one first down.  QB Peyton Manning had a passable stat line – 27-of-41 (65.9%), 289 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT, 92.4 passer rating – but a lot of that was produced near the end of the game when Denver was playing catch-up.

In fact, the Chargers dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, as evidenced by an eyebrow-raising 177 to 18 advantage in rushing yards.  San Diego RB Ryan Mathews is also finding his groove at just the right time.  His 127-yard night was the first time all season a back has surpassed 100 yards against the Broncos.  Lately his moves look crisper than ever and he’s finding his way around the edge very quickly.  Another Charger, however, has been grooving all season long….

I SAW Chargers QB Philip Rivers spin it all night.  He was positively on.  Every big ball was on a perfect trajectory and a bulls-eye.  The net result was an efficient use of his mere 20 attempts: 12 completions for 166 yards, 2 touchdowns, no interceptions and a 120.0 passer rating.  Rivers was talking shit all game like his usual self, too.  The way he’s rolling, I wouldn’t want to take him on in a playoff game – especially if the run game can add balance and play keep-away when necessary (see above).

I SAW Chargers WR Keenan catch two touchdowns, giving him four in the last two games.  The first one was awesome.  It takes a certain amount of fun-balls (maybe that’s the most apt term for football players with an energetic approach to their game) to hurdle a defender while you can tell that another potential tackler is in position to rock you before you land on the ground.  Give Allen credit for taking the initiative and making the move so fast that S Mike Adams couldn’t gather himself to put a hit on the receiver.  Allen was the eighth wideout drafted but he’s exceeding the pack taken above him in terms of productivity this season.  I don’t want to oversimplify via comparison but after almost two seasons lost while trying to find its way, the San Diego offense has rebounded behind a triple threat of targets for QB Philip Rivers.  TE Antonio Gates is the mainstay, while Danny Woodhead stands in for Darren Sproles and while Allen isn’t the physical beast that Vincent Jackson was, he’s the crucial downfield piece the equation needs.

I SAW the Broncos O-line look more vulnerable than usual.  Cory Luiget was tearing them apart for most of the game.  He only had one tackle for a loss and one QB hit but as usual with Broncos QB Peyton Manning you’re not going to bring him down or put him under duress in time.  Instead, the key is to force him to dump the ball because he anticipates pressure well (sometimes too well) and functions less well with less room to step up into his throws.  In other words, don’t be fooled by the Denver offensive line holding the Charges to just one sack and 2 QB hits.  They didn’t maintain a passing pocket and they couldn’t open up any holes for the running game.  That has got to be a concern for the coaching staff going forward.    

I SAW Broncos QB Peyton Manning play just fine without WR Wes Welker.

Sure, Denver lost a game they were expected to win.  Sure, the offense wasn’t churning out yards like it usually does.  But, as mentioned above, the Chargers shrunk Manning’s pocket.  Also, Andre Caldwell fill in capably in the slot position usually played by Welker, with 6 receptions for 59 yards and two touchdowns.

Green Bay (7-6-1) wins @Dallas (7-7), 37-36

I SAW Cowboys QB Tony Romo choke.

A Moment of Romophobia

Romo threw two interceptions in clutch time to essentially lose his team the game.  Both of the picks were very athletic catches by Green Bay defensive backs.  On the first (and most controversial) one the throw wasn’t awful. Kudos to Packers CB Sam Shields for a great fingertip pick, but Romo put the throw in a place where either defender or target could catch it and that’s not a good idea.

The media world blew up when head coach Jason Garrett verified during his postgame press conference that the play had originally been called a run but Romo had audibled to a pass based on the defensive alignment.  It’s been a while since I’ve seen a coach throw his QB under the bus like that…typically that doesn’t happen, and usually Garrett defends Romo to a fault.  Maybe Romo is wearing even the blandest of coaches thin.

What’s more, Troy Aikman was on the ball when he noted that the Cowboys should have been running the ball instead.  But that sounds like a broke record, doesn’t it?

In fact, days after the loss offensive coordinator Bill Callahan told the media that he made a mistake in giving Romo the option to check down to a run.  Translation: After more than seven seasons as a starter in the pros Romo isn’t savvy enough to make those decisions on his own.

One last knock on Romo: We all see stats that make arguments on either side for the embattled Dallas QB.  Here’s some convincing numbers to go against the douchebag as clutch:

Tony Romo In The Fourth Quarter – Since 2011, Game Within 7 Points

First 10 Minutes Last 5 Minutes
Completion % 66.1 60.3
Yards per Attempt 9.4 6.5
TD-INT 16-0 2-8
Passer Rating 131.5 59.7

(NFL Network)

I SAW other obvious problems with the Cowboys, especially the defense.  Dallas made the change to a 4-3 scheme by hiring Tampa Two guru Monte Kiffin.  The problem is that the scheme has to get a pass rush with four linemen or else it’s fucked, and the personnel along the line is woefully inadequate to do so.  It doesn’t help that DeMarcus Ware has been disappearing often in games, like he did on Sunday against the Packers.

I SAW the Packers score a TD with less than 6 minutes to go in the fourth quarter to close the deficit to 6 points, at 30-36.  Green Bay kicked the PAT.

I don’t get these moves.  You’ve gotta go for 2 there so that a Dallas FG doesn’t make it an 8-point game.  No harm in being down 6 instead of 5.  But then again no head coaches seem to agree with me.

I SAW an outstanding TD catch by Cowboys WR Dez Bryant in traffic to give Big D a 12-point lead late in the game.  At the same time, it’s crazy that a Packers defender didn’t get a mitt on the ball first, and if only the mercurial wideout could keep his head on his shoulders….

I SAW Cowboys WR Dez Bryant whip a water bottle around on the bench, and then leave the field with over a minute left because, according to Bryant, he was going to cry.

My new nickname for Bryant should be Glen Davis.  Both are big babies, even prior to Sunday.  Dez needs to keep his emotions in check.

Glen Davis drool

I SAW the Packers defense do their best Cowboys impersonation, allowing the Dallas offense to gain a franchise-record 332 yards in the first half.  That might win the moribund NFC East, but it wont’ suffice in January.

I SAW the status of Packers QB Aaron Rodgers remain unclear, as of late Thursday.  The star quarterback has been throwing well, but isn’t yet medically cleared.  Call me nuts, but I think that Green Bay should go with backup Matt Flynn next week in a must-win instead of Rodgers, who is bound to be rusty.

Chicago (8-6) wins @ Cleveland (4-10), 38-31

I SAW the Return Of The Nutler!

Cutler birdx2

I’m back, bitches!  Roberto – get me my jersey!

The first game for Bears QB Jay Cutler since spraining his ankle in a game on November 10didn’t start out too sexily as he threw two first half interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown.  Both of those picks were on tipped balls, however, and the quarterback and his team overcame those plus another fumble that was returned for six to best the Browns and keep their tenuous hold on the NFC North lead.

Cutler’s line: 22-of-31 (71%), 265 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT, 102.2 passer rating.  Not bad at all, considering that his 2 picks happened during the first 22 minutes of the game, during which the Bears scored just three points – and that Cutler undoubtedly had some rust to know off after sitting out almost a month and a half.

Did Cutler learn anything while watching backup Josh McCown play so well in the meantime?  It’s early and difficult to say.  But here’s a possibility: Looking to more receivers, more often.  Cutler often gets tunnel vision for his elite wideout Brandon Marshall, but the emergence of WR Alshon Jeffrey and McCown’s success in spreading the ball around while putting it up for grabs and letting receivers too much of the work might be something is trying to integrate into his game, if Sunday’s numbers are any indication.

Jay Cutler By Target – Sunday vs. Browns

Brandon Marshall All Others
Comp-Att 6-13^ 16-18*
Yards 95 170
Yards per Att 7.3 9.4
TD 1 2

(ESPN Stats & Information)

*- Both incompletions to Matt Forte

^- Both of Cutler’s interceptions came on throws to Marshall

Obviously those numbers indicate that Cutler still has eyes for Marshall – not that there’s anything wrong with that.  Marshall is, after all, still one of the top 3-5 receivers in the NFL.  Any change, especially after a prolonged absence on Cutler’s part, will be more gradual than one game.  But 18 attempts to the rest of his targets with a strikingly high success rate should help impress upon Cutler the benefits of picking up a few tendencies from his backup.

The impressive TD catch by Jeffrey is a good example of Cutler having some faith in his receivers to use their superior physicality in order to win battles for deep balls, instead of trying to thread needles like he usually does.  It sounds crazy to say, but on NFL Network this week Kurt Warner said that when he made the adjustment from The Greatest Show On Turf in St. Louis to having the top WR duo in the NFL – Larry Fitzgerald-Anquan Boldin – in Arizona (with a time of stink as a Giant in between) he actually learned from McCown, then his backup, to put the ball in places where his big wideouts could win battles, as opposed to finding fast guys on the run like he did as a Ram.  If Kurt Warner can learn from McCown, it’s not much of a stretch to surmise that Cutler could pick up a thing or two from him as well.

I SAW that the Browns needs to address the glaring lack of talent at running back in the offseason if they’re truly serious about turning the franchise around.  Many teams are proving that you don’t need household names in the backfield in order to have a balanced offense, but Chris Ogbonnaya and Edwin Baker are more like outhouse-hold names.  Christ, head coach Rob Chudzinski and the coaching staff had to hand off to TE MarQueis Gray twice in order to try and get something going on the ground.  Gray had 30 yards on two carries, but overall Cleveland managed just 93 rushing yards – against the worst run defense in the league (Chicago came into the game allowing 157 running yards per game).     

I SAW Browns WR Josh Gordon have a quiet game by the standards he’s set this season: 3 catches for 67 yards and a touchdown.  Nevertheless, Gordon’s 1,467 receiving yards give him an average of 122.25 receiving yards per game in 2013.  As The MMQB’s Peter King points out, that’s about 40 yards more than the franchise record for a season, set by Mac Speedie (85.7) 65 years ago.

That’s PROPS.  In his best season Jerry Rice averaged 115.5 yards per game – and if Gordon could have maintained that pace while playing all 14 games so far (he was suspended for the first two), he’d be on pace for the first 2,000-yard season ever.

Miami (8-6) wins vs. New England (10-4), 24-20

I SAW the Patriots get Karma Sutra’d.  (When life comes back to eff you in the ass.) They had been tempting fate for too long, and it wasn’t going to last.   But this result just shows that New England is still paying down, aka is the better team.

I SAW the Dolphins snap a 7-game losing streak to the Patriots, New England’s longest win streak ever against Miami.  Check out the dominance in the series until Sunday – and the drastic reversal of fortune:

Patriots Head-to-Head vs. Dolphins – Since 2010

First 7 Games Sunday vs. Miami
W-L 7-0 0-1
Points per Game 31.1 20
Points per Game Differential +17.1 -4

(ESPN Stats &Information)

I SAW Dolphins defensive back Michael Thomas have a great storybook game.  Peter King is all over it like press on new here.  Call me a Scrooge but the problem with storybook games is their heavy romanticism – and I’m a romantic.  Thomas was a hopeful subpar player who got a moment to shine, and kudos to him for shining.  But he could just as well end up a bum…remember David Tyree?

I SAW Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill go off Sunday against a weak Patriots defense.  I don’t want to say that Tannehill is a better quarterback than Colt Ryan Luck but he’s underrated and waaaay hotter than Luck right now.  

I love that Tannehill has been a quiet, yet striking presence as a leader on this team through Bullygate and the travails that come with a perennially disregarded team fighting for the playoffs.  His 25-of-37 (67.6%), 312, 3 TD, 0 INT and 120.6 performance came against a slumping Pats defense, but Tannehill has been cobbling together winning days while his receivers rotate disappearance acts.  Tannehill seems for real.

I SAW a shattup-a-your-face about Gronk being injured.  It was the defense that lost this game, as it should have lost a few others that Brady pulled out of the fire at the end.  When receivers Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman combine for 23 catches, 270 yards and a TD – and Brady puts up 364 yards, you’d expect a win.  If anything, the absence of rookie starting wideouts Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobkins hindered Brady’s pass completion rate: 61.8.  If you consider that the average height of Brady’s last three targets in the end zone on Sunday had an average height of 5’11”.  As such, the offense wasn’t really hampered.  If you think that, Miami’s defense is much better than you realize.

On the other hand….

I SAW some weakness of the Patriots.

The Patriots fall to 3-4 on the road (they’re 7-0 at home).  That lack of domination away from home might be the most marked difference in this year’s edition of the Pats compared to most others during the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era.  Before this season, New England had only once lost more than two road games in a season since 2005: 2009, when QB Brady spent almost the whole season on inured reserve.

Here’s another weakness: Normally New England seals the deal against divisional opponents but this season they’ve lost 2 divisional games in which they held a ten-point advantage.  Coming into this season the Pats had been 39-1 against the NFC East with QB Tom Brady as a starter and a 10-point lead.

Minnesota (4-9-1) wins vs. Philadelphia (8-6), 48-30

I SAW the Eagles fail to gain the upper hand in the NFC east with a loss.  Then gain, that’s how the NFC East rolls these days.

I SAW Minnesota WR Greg Jennings jump off of the milk carton and into the box score.  Jennings became just the fifth Viking in franchise history to have at least 10 receptions, 150 receiving yards and a receiving TD, joining Randy Moss (twice), Chris Carter, A.C. Carter and Sammy White. (ESPN Stats & Information).  It was Jennings’ first 100-yard game of the season.

This is just one of the examples from this game of Philly’s ineptitude on defense.  Minny QB Matt Cassel also started off with going 9-for-9 with 163 yards and a TD in the first quarter en route to the highest passing yardage output (382) since Brett Favre wore the purple..

If the Eagles are going to make the playoffs, they’re going to need to either outscore people or overachieve on D.

I SAW the Eagles learn a lesson they didn’t need to learn:

Eagles Record By LeSean McCoy Rushes – Since 2010

W-L Win Percentage
20 or more Carries 14-2 .875
10-19 Carries 14-23 .387
Fewer Than 10 Carries 2-7 .222

(ESPN Stats & Information)

To wit: McCoy had just 38 yards and 8 carries in Sunday’s loss.

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

The Timmy Smith Where The Hell Did That Come From?? Award

Vikings RB Matt Asiata run for three TDs in Sunday’s in over the Eagles.  Not only was it Asiata’s first career start, but he’s the first player in the NFL to rush for his three first touchdowns in his first start.  (NFL Media)  Alas, the top two Minny running backs, Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart, might be back nest week, so you’re out, shushie.

I SAW Eagles QB Nick Foles play his shakiest game to date despite a career-high 428 yards.  He missed on a lot of passes and looked like the clock in his head had shortened against a weak Vikings defense that sacked him four times.  I don’t think this game should dent peoples’ positive perception of Foles.  He still looks solid.

Carolina (10-4) wins vs. New York Jets (6-8), 30-20

I SAW the Panthers give up their most rushing yards of the season – 157.  I don’t see that as a concern because New York doesn’t have any other viable options in terms of scheme.

I SAW DeAngelo Williams jump out and play a big game.  It’s not exactly off of the milk carton material because Williams is in and out of healthy states too often to make that claim, but his 168 total yards on Sunday was a surprise.  According to ESPN Stats & Information it’s his most in a game in four seasons.  He should thank the screen pass dearly: He has 87 receiving yards off of those, third-most in a game this season.

I SAW that I’m liking the Panthers this season – big game for them this Sunday – but I am flat-out tired or writing about the Jets.  Sorry, Gang Green.  Your taste in a team blows.

St. Louis (6-8) wins vs. New Orleans (10-4), 27-16

I SAW a disparaging loss for the Saints, who now basically have to win in Carolina this Sunday to keep hold of the NFC South.  QB Drew Brees has been forcing it against this season, as evidence by 5 of his 10 interceptions this season coming on throws to All-Pro TE Jimmy Graham.

I SAW myself mention in the Playoff Picture (see above, in Away from the game(s)) that the Saints defense looked burned out under new coordinator Rob Ryan, then I saw this stat to support that claim: Over their first seven games of the 2013 season New Orleans forced 15 turnovers for 48 points.  Over the last seven games they have just two takeaways.  (And no turnovers or sacks against the Rams in Sunday.)  (STTAS LLC)

I SAW the Saints bench LT Charles Brown and release kicker Garrett Hartley, who made just 22 out of 30 field goal attempts this season.  I hear a lot of people saying that head coach Sean Payton is sending a message to his team, but that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me with the playoffs just three games away and the biggest game of the season looming on Sunday in Carolina.  I think Brown and Hartley were simply stinking it up, mostly started to do so in recent weeks, and thus had to go.

I actually wonder if the message can be anything but a negative influence on the players.  It doesn’t help that Terron Armstead, Brown’s replacement, hasn’t played a down on offense this season.  In fact, Armstead’s pro experience amounts to 17 snaps on special teams.  He blew many scouts away at the NFL combine last summer but that came after a college career at Arkansas-Pine Bluff.  Throwing him into the fray against a rabid Panthers front seven is quizzical to say the least.  For New Orleans’ sake, hopefully Payton and the coaching staff know something us outsiders don’t.

I SAW the best entry for the Rams in the Who Knows Who They Are Department: This seasons they have won 5 games by double digits and lost 5 games in double digits.  That’s whack.

Kansas City (11-3) wins @Oakland (4-10), 56-31

I SAW Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles in charge.

Charles in Charge-Jamaal

It started on the first play from scrimmage – a 49-yard screen pass that Charles took to the house.  It ended with a hilarious five touchdowns, nearly tying the NFL single game record.  Several of the scores were hilarious because Charles scored virtually untouched.  I’ve noted several times this season that Charles gains a higher percentage of his team’s offense than anyone else in the league, and now we see why.

Mind you, the Raiders defense is improved, but no match for Charles and his team blocking. I looked it up, and legendary Gale Sayers had his famous 6-TD day against a Niners team that allowed 402 points that season (1965), second only to the Vikings, with 403.  That’s why stats are so powerful – they’re remembered and/or communicated with more ease than the moments they attempt to quantify.   Credit also goes to the offense as a whole, which did maybe the best overall job of downfield blocking I’ve ever seen.  Most of Charles’ scores were virtually untouched.

I SAW the Chiefs continue to be one of those top teams in a single season that beat up on lesser franchises.  The last two weeks are a good indication of this.  According to NFL Media, Kansas City is the only team in NFL history to score at least 25 points in the first half of consecutive games.  (The Chiefs also did it in December 2002.)

While a team that earns its keep against inferiors is one to be wary of, I don’t care.  The Chiefs are a team riding momentum and confidence so far on their quest for a January run.  They need only to win three, maybe two, games to make in tie Super Sunday.

I SAW Raiders QB Matt McGloin squeeze out his first steaming deucer of his rookie season.  His four interceptions cost his team dearly, but by my count at least two of those were due to just trying too hard.  I hope McGloin gets a chance to compete for a starting job nest summer.

I SAW the Chiefs equal the best rebound season after a 2-win season.

Teams With Most Wins Following 2-Win Season Or Worse – NFL History

Team Year Wins
Chiefs 2013 11
Colts 2012 11
Dolphins 2008 11
Colts 1975 10
Raiders 1963 19

I SAW the Raiders commit seven turnovers on Sunday.  As I said about the Redskins (see: Atlanta wins vs. Washington, 27-26), that won’t win you games.

Think some fans in the Black Hole were bored by halftime?

 

Seattle (12-2) wins @New York Giants (5-9), 23-0

I SAW the Giants quarterback shit the bed in a virtually meaningless game.  With a brutal 5 picks on Sunday Eli Manning now has 25 interceptions this season.  Has now led the NFL in picks in 3 seasons out of his 10 played.  Worse, he’s heaved up 81 interceptions in his last 62 games.  For those of you scoring at home, that’s shitty.

Let’s drop a TRIVIA BOMB on Eli:

With 168 career interceptions as a Giant, Eli Manning passes Conerly for the franchise record.   He also has the most games with at least 4 interceptions in the NFL since his 2004 rookie season, with 5.  Mind you, Tom Brady’s on that list.  (ESPN Stats &Information)

I SAW the Giants gain only 54 yards while getting shut out on the first half.  After the break, they answered by not getting into Seahawks territory until half way through the fourth quarter…also while getting shut out in the second half.

I’m pretty sure I tied a toe tag on the Giants in early October…. This teams a dead man walking.

I SAW Seahawks CB Richard Sherman solidify his argument for Defensive Player of the Year, defending three passes and intercepting two.  I think Sherman’s put up the best performance of a defender this season, but in a race with no clear-cut favourites he’s suffered lapses and the drug violations of his fellow Seattle defensive backs could affect voters.  By the way, has there been a more open competition for that award in recent years?

Arizona (9-5) wins @Tennessee (5-9), 37-34-OT

I SAW, with all due respect to the Cardinals, a game involving two teams that won’t make the playoffs.  So we’ll be brief.

I SAW myself liking Arizona as a team for this year and perhaps next, but one stat I saw this week made me doubt myself: The Cardinals went 4-0 versus the shitty AFC South.  It’s the franchise’s first interconference sweep since realignment in 2002 (STATS LLC) and also a serious inflator of ’Zona’s win-loss record.

Nevertheless, the Cards have won six of their last seven but it will likely fall short of a playoff berth.  Arizona can – and likely will – win 10 games in 2013, but miss the dance.  That’s life in the Cold Tub Division, the NFC West.

I SAW a postscript for the Mike Munchak era in Tennessee (assuming he gets replaced in the offseason): The Titans lost their third straight game, and their eighth in their last ten.  What’s more, they also lost their fifth consecutive home game – their longest such skid since moving to the Music City in 1997.  (ESPN Stats & Information)  I personally like the job head coach Munchak has done thus far, but those numbers are hard to deny as motivation for dismissal.

I SAW that, according to the Associated Press, a mere few thousand or so stuck around to watch extra time after the hometown Titans fell behind 34-17, so let’s do the same thing and move on.

Indianapolis (9-5) wins vs. Houston (2-12), 25-3

I SAW a ho-hum game from ho-hum teams.

Although there is a scant possibility that disappointing Indy could jump up to the AFC’s third seed (but they need a lot of help for that to happen, including from themselves next week on a visit to Kansas City) I see the Colts a lock for the fourth seed and the Texans, well, they’re pretty much a lock for the number one pick in next year’s draft.  As such, let’s just take a quick glimpse at this game and move on.

I SAW Colts QB Andrew Luck: 19-of-32, 180 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT, 82.8 passer Rating.  You’re going to have to find a way to put up better numbers against much better teams than that, Luck.  Reggie Wayne, Schmayme – if you’re elite, you find a way.

I SAW PROPS to Colts De Robert Mathis.  Finally removed from the shadow of former teammate Dwight Freeney who spent this season on IR in San Diego, Mathis passed Freeney for the franchise marks for sacks in a season with 16.5 and career sacks with 108.  (Freeney has 16 and 107.5, respectively.)

I SAW PROPS to Hall Of Fame running backs Marshall Faulk and Eric Dickerson, who were inducted in to the Colts Ring of Honor at halftime.  Even though Dickerson spent the twilight of his career in Indianapolis, I’m surprised it took this long for his induction.

I’ll admit it – this PROPS is mostly because Faulk is my favourite TV analyst working today.  And as a player, no one since Gayle Sayers was as smooth with the football in his hands as The Nicknameless Marshall Faulk, as NFL Network anchor Chris Rose calls him.

San Francisco (10-4) wins vs. Tampa Bay (4-10), 33-14

I SAW Niners TE Vernon Davis become the first player in franchise history since 2001 (Terrell Owens) to score a receiving TD in five straight games.

I SAW PROPS to Niners RB Frank Gore for his seventh 1,000-yard rushing season in nine career seasons.  Gore’s career blossomed during a transitional time for the NFL.  The league became more and more horny about passing as his years have gone one, but he keeps churning those smart feet and legging out the dats.

I SAW nobody surprised by this result.  Yep.

Atlanta (4-10) wins vs. Washington (3-11), 27-26

I SAW the Redskins commit seven turnovers, the most by any NFL team in a game this season.  That’s not going to win games.  BUT: QB Kirk Cousins took the lion’s share of the blame after the game – something starter Robert Griffin III hadn’t been doing – and this team will rally around Cousins and LB London Fletcher who seems prepared to retire at season’s end.  I predict this team will come out strong and beat Dallas on Sunday.

I SAW Mike Shanahan elect to try for a winning 2-point conversion after a last-minute TD pass to WR Santana Moss instead of kicking the PAT and likely going into overtime.  If you didn’t think that the Redskins had folded up shop this season when they benched QB Robert Griffin III, it’s clear now that winning this month isn’t being taken as seriously as usual in D.C.

I SAW Redskins QB Kirk Cousins play a good game Sunday: 29-of-45 (64.4%), 381 yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs, 94.8 passer rating.  If Cousins’ productivity feels reminiscent of that of his shelved teammate, it’s because it is – at least in a terribly small sample size.

Redskins Quarterbacks – Their First 2 Career Starts

Robert Griffin III Kirk Cousins
W-L 1-1 1-1
Teams Points per Game 34.0 32.0
Pass Yards per Game 263.0 355.0
TD-INT 3-1 5-3

Washington also was 5-of-10 on third downs.  Let the salivating over Cousins begin!  I keep hearing Pink Floyd’s “Money” while watching highlights of his performance against the Falcons.

Let this serve as an opportunity to remind people that head coach Mike Shanahan and his son, offensive coordinator Kyle, can still coach it up.  I won’t go quite so far as Marty Schottenheimer did on NFL Network when he said Shanahan is still the best coach in the business, but the soap opera of gossip that has swirled between the coach and his star quarterback RG3 – that, along with the recurring suckitude of Washington’s offense this season – has distracted from Shanahan’s status as an excellent coach.  It’s hard to envision even the elite coaches weathering a storm like the one in D.C. this season (don’t forget that Andy Reid was basically chased out of Philly last season with arguably less hardships endured to make it so) and Sunday’s game was potential evidence that the Shanahans are still good at having their quarterback prepared for success.

Mind you, it helps to prepare when you’re facing an atrocious defense:

Opposing QB vs. Falcons – This Season

    NFL Rank
Completion % 57.1 T-2nd
Yards per Attempt 8.0 4th
TD-INT Ratio 3.6 2nd

Falcons GM Thomas Dmitroff has some work to do this offseason.  Three rookies started in the defensive backfield Sunday.  They’re a good solid group of youngsters, but without a pass rush they’re being fed to the wolves.

I SAW PROPS to Falcons TE Tony Gonzalez who became the fifth player – and first tight end – in NFL history with 15,000 receiving yards.  He and Jerry Rice are now the only two players with at least 1,100 catches, 15,000 yards and 100 TD grabs.  (NFL Media)  We’re all going to miss you when you’re Gonzo.

Buffalo (5-9) wins @Jacksonville (4-10), 27-20

I SAW myself mention in Away from the game(s) that I’d spend less time on the meaningless games.  Remember that?  Buh-bye.

Nono – wait!  Both teams were eliminated from the playoffs with the Dolphins’ win.  That is all.

SNF- Pittsburgh (6-8) wins vs. Cincinnati (9-5), 30-20

I SAW a frustrating laydown job by the Bengals.

With losses by Denver and New England, Cincy was in a great position to gain playoff leverage.  Instead, they dropped their pants to Pittsburgh Sunday night.

As the playoff loom I don’t know what to think of Cincy.  That’s typical of this franchise under head coach Marvin Lewis.

I SAW the Steelers get closer to avoiding their first losing season in a decade, thanks to WR Antonio Brown who is fast becoming their most valuable player on offense not named Big Ben.  Brown had two TD in the first quarter – one on a reception, the other on a punt return – and over the past month has looked virtually unstoppable.

I SAW Bengals punter Kevin Huber get his jaw broke by Steelers S Will Allen on a block during a punt return.  The league has disciplined Allen.  My take is similar to Huber’s: Big hits happen in football.  While I would like to believe that Allen knew he was hitting the punter instead of a “regular” player, I know the chaos of a special teams play, and it’s at least possible that Allen didn’t know who he was leveling, that man being an almost-useless tackler.  At least.  I still call b.s., though.  Allen is a very aware player, and probably knew he was hitting the punter.

I SAW The MMQB’s Peter King detail Pittsburgh’s rebuilding task ahead of them:

At the NFL’s one-day meeting in Dallas last week, the league projected the 2014 salary at $126.3 million, a rise of just over $3 million from this year’s cap. That’s not going to do the Steelers any favors. As their contracts stand now for 2014—according to the underrated site overthecap.com—the Steelers are set to spend two-thirds of their cap on seven players: Ben Roethlisberger ($18.9 million cap number), LaMarr Woodley ($13.6 million), Ike Taylor ($11.9 million), Lawrence Timmons ($11.8 million), Troy Polamalu ($10.9 million), Heath Miller ($9.5 million) and Antonio Brown ($8.5 million).”  That’s a tough road ahead.

MNF- Baltimore (8-6) wins @Detroit (7-7), 18-16   

I SAW the first time I’ve started off a game with a kicker in appositive light.  Ravens K Justin Tucker set an NFL record: 15 or more FGs in four straight games, all of which being wins.

In the name of drunken Christmas parties and your eyeballs getting tired of my shit, I’m gonna leave it off quirky-styles, with a kicker.  I’ve covered my thoughts on the playoff hopes for the Lions and Ravens in Away from the game(s).  See you next week!

STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK FOR WHAT I SAW, WEEK 16 – HERE AT TFQ. 

IN THE MEANTIME, FOLLOW US ON FACEBOOK AND @TFQuarter

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One thought on “What I Saw, Week 15 – 2013

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